We just had another tremor. I was waiting in line when a total stranger clutched on to my arm. I was about to confront the person when I felt my legs dance from a completely different order, not originating from my brain. Then all was back to normal, we smiled at eachother and kept waiting. It has become commonplace to have the earth turn liquid on us, just as liquid turns solid with cold.
A week and a half have passed since the 6.6 earthquake of Jan.17. Our school is located right on this previously unknown fault line. The epicenter was 10 miles away, in Northridge, where three-story buildings became one-story, parking lots folded, gas mains broke causing block fires, a whole university was condemned, thousands became instantly homeless from house damage and fear. 2,000 aftershocks registering 2.5 or more have been recorded. The earth has tried to shake us fleas off but we have held on and now mutated back into ants, we have almost resumed life to normal- clearing freeways and providing water at amazing speed. About 50 people died during the earthquake. Others live stronger.
Sleeping in my pick-up truck last night (which has suddenly become the envy of many), I woke up to what sounded like an underground implosion- >>FWAH-BOOM<< from the earth- I woke up afterwards but had a lucid retroactive memory of it. Kept looking out my windows for a gas fire between moments of sleep.
My institute has yellow police-ribbons going all around it as though a big bandage keeping it together. It is "red-tagged" for the moment. No one can go in until the city says o.k. and the school president says o.k. and the provost says o.k. and our dean says o.k. And with each aftershock over 3.3, the whole school has to be checked all over again and then o.k.s, etc.
Two dorms are condemned- they moved a foot off their foundations- very drafty. More homeless. Porta-toilets provide resolution for tight-leggers who don't want to run off into the sparse woods. A tent city has been established as our new campus. Still no gas and water and the coldest weather of the year and rain and no mail. But we are alive, even the two iguanas belonging to Jill from downstairs. (They were very very stiff and unamused when they were finally found, clutching to the corner of the ceiling.) Nerves are still taut, chairs are knocked over at the slightest shake, muscles are sore from tension, conversation is distracted by thoughts of ceilings falling.
People testify about the earthquake any chance they get, hoping to rid themselves of the experience by spilling it out their mouths. Most were asleep at the time but no one remained that way. Some thought this was their time to go, some got under chairs for a moment of safety-training insight, others thought they were being attacked and beat up, one girl was certain she was on a boat in a storm as a glass of water poured over her, and three different people have spoken about how they believed they were being possessed- Meholtchick thought the same and when it was all over he asked his roommate whether it was him or the room that had been possessed. One girl got spliced by falling glass, in her painting studio, and dragged herself out of the building, naked and bleeding, then fainted outside. She returned to Canada. Michael went back to England. Lourdes back to Mexico. Laoora back to Iceland. And others back to Germany and the East coast. Withdrawal rate has gotten to 25% so far. School will be extended by two weeks and will take place in rented and donated places around Santa Clarita valley and Los Angeles. The president of the school, Steven Levine, even talked of relocating our entire school, this semester, to the Lockhead Missile base, which would give us a cafeteria of 10,000 sq.ft. and a fabulous security system. In case you have thought of renting this place at some future date, it costs $250,000 a month though they might give it to us for $125,000/mo. And they say there will be no tuition hike! They didn't get any earthquake insurance because of the small deductible= ten million dollars. One generous parent has helped with a $10,000 donation which will help in keeping this private institution greased for the lengthy and costly work ahead- they are talking of tearing down and rebuilding damaged foundation walls.
I just had a class in a storefront, which made our discussion on consumerism take on a ghostly shadow of the whole situation where education becomes a product rather than a process (many people are withdrawing because they don't feel they will get their money's worth- very valid but relative.) Luckily, this shake-up has brought us ALL, students-staff-and faculty, to the same level: smelly, cold, and clueless. Resourcefulness and improvisation have reclaimed the importance they should have in every day life. Maybe that is why the lecture seemed so much more engaging.
Because I did not experience the most severe earthquake (I was long-weekending it in San Diego), I may perhaps be feeling survivor's guilt and I have consequently had a very impressive dream that has brought my mental faculties to a state of empathy:
[ In a green and misty land, much as I imagine Ireland to be, I was having breakfast in a country-style diner. I was with several friends in this crowded place, all obviously unable to eat at home because of the ravages of the earthquake. The diner was on a small cliff, perched over calm grey waters. It was located at the end of a rolling stretch of lawn and in between several hovering barn and silo structures.
Once in a while as we were eating, somebody would say "What was that?" We would freeze, hear nothing and continue eating. The tremors grew a bit then dissipated. But my nerves synapsed harder each time and I excused myself for air. Once outside, a thunderous earthquake began. I knew I would be crushed under the shoddy thin-walled barn if I didn't get out of my spot. The earth continued to pitch and I realized I could only move from the petrifying centri-gravital force if I moved in the same disorganized fashion as the shakes. I had to get 'in tune' with nature. Once I was out of danger from being collapsed upon, I then realized that the earth was cracking open all around. Again I had to dance the quirky earthworm to remain on the few integral islands of land. The earth kept on shifting and I looked in all directions and recognized that my relative position was safe, then it all stopped.
People shuffled out, zombie-eyed, from the diner. I asked my friends if they paid the bill and was a bit annoyed when they said no. They requested that we leave away from there, maybe over to Antartica, and off we went.]
Why don't we act upon our dreams? What if they are they indicating resolutions to our fears or intuiting the future? Well... people argue there is natural danger everywhere: some freeze for months, others die of thirst or flood, fires lick the land clean and winds coat it with disarray. Though sometimes it seems like Los Angeles submits to all of these and more (are riots natural outbursts?), our greatest disaster takes only 30 seconds of our time- talk about instant gratification- and then we are left with nothing. None of this nonsense of endless days of cold stripping away our defences, or of water inching up the walls, or of wind battering at the door. It might wake us early some days, like 4:31 am, but at least it's an efficient monster and makes its point quickly. Though some of us are still waiting for the punchline.
May this new year of 1994 prove to be as peaceful as it has proven to be exciting. The balance already seems to exist in nature, it is up to humans to fit in. It seems the only real control we have is self-control.