Get to Know D.J. Waldie


Welcome back to 'Better Know a SoCal Blogger' on KCET.org, where we feature our city's plethora of fascinating and first-rate blogs. This week we are speaking with our very own D.J., Waldie, a blogger bent on withstanding the "harsh, judgmental line" that has been forged in opposition to Los Angeles.

The Basics:

Blogger name: D. J. Waldie
Official name of blog: Where We Are
Do you have a day job? My readers probably know that I've been Lakewood's Public Information Officer for nearly 32 years.

When did you start blogging? I've been writing on the Web since 1996, when the city of Lakewood posted its first homepage. Since then, the city's Web presence has grown, but KCET Local is the first sustained blogging experience I've had.

How many hours do you spend online/on your computer? My work puts me in front of a computer for nine or ten hours a day, partly to manage and edit the city's sites and partly to write or edit city publications.

Where do you physically blog from? From home, mostly.

Can you provide a link to the blog's first post? Here is the first one I can find.

What are you currently reading? Anything and everything about Los Angeles. Right now, it's Richard Rayner's A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.'s Scandalous Coming of Age, a book about crime and its aftermath in 1930s Los Angeles.

Story continues below

The Lowdown:

What is your blog about? Place. Where We Are is about place, about the connection between where we are and what (and who) we are. Long ago, I acquired a sense of place from the contingent materials of an everyday life, from its imperfections, really. We live on land we've wounded by our being here. Yet we must be here or be nowhere or have nothing with which to make our lives together. How should one act knowing that making a home requires this? How should I regard my neighbors, complicit with me in making our place? It's possible to answer with fury or neglect. It's possible to be so rootless that the questions are merely ironic.

But isn't there a fundamental problem with space in Los Angeles? There is. Desire has gone virtual. The machinery of celebrity is global. Gambler's logic prevails. And power is supposed to have moved to a non-place paradigm, moved off world so to speak into the no place of the Net. If true, Los Angeles is mostly stuck in a late 19th century idea of health and happiness in the sunshine of a particular place. The men who grained power in Los Angeles by acting on this idea felt that places mattered, and that their place was at the edge of something - the continent, a new century of consumer desire, the Pacific - and there was no place else to go. No one with a blog believes that there are any edges now . . . or centers.

So your ideal reader is someone interested in the city's bright spots? Yes, someone who is willing to fall in love with Los Angeles.

Why did you decide to finally move your words on over to the internet? Writers write. On walls, paper, stone, clay, and liquid crystal displays. While each of these sites of writing does, in fact, bear upon what is written, they are more or less the same in evoking the writer's act of writing. I write. The Web is there to be written on.

And many people certainly do write on it. Are the number of blogs actually to blame for the ruin that is today's journalism industry? A newspaper - a journal - is, as the name implies, a site for what is written for the day on which you read it. Bloggers write for this ephemeral, daily account of what seems (at the moment) to mean something. What distinguishes the two forms of the ephemeral - journalism and blogging - is tradition, the presence of editors, and a salary. Journalism has them; blogging (as yet) does not.

What are your favorite of the L.A. Blogs? I read Erin Aubry Kaplan, Brian Doherty, and Jeremy Rosenberg pretty much in that order.

You've made a career out of defending a city that has been lambasted by many. What criticisms have annoyed you most over the years? There is a harsh, judgmental line in American thought that stretches from Lewis Mumford, through Peter Blake in God's Own Junkyard, to James Howard Kunstler in Geography of Nowhere, to Andres Duany in Suburban Nation that defines all post-World War II, mass-produced housing as a failure, not just a failure of design but of the spirit. Kunstler, at the 1999 Congress of New Urbanism, dismissed post-war suburbs as "the place where evil dwells." As far as I could tell by their lives together, my parents did not escape to their suburb. They didn't imagine it to be a bunker in which they could avoid the demands of living with other people. My parents and their neighbors understood, more generously than the critics, what they had gained and lost by becoming suburban.

What's your favorite thing to do in L.A.? Maybe it's something we don't know about? Wander. I wander in L.A. on foot, by bus, and occasionally as a willing passenger in someone's car.

But, of course, you yourself must have some criticisms of the city. Any you care to share? The builders of my suburb turned lima bean fields into housing tracts with an astonishing degree of good luck and wisdom. Some of the good luck has run out of suburban development in the past forty years, and much of the wisdom in the building of places like Lakewood has been ignored. Have suburbs failed as a result? In Southern California, suburbs like mine are all we have. They'd better not fail, or 13 million of us will be homeless. Of course, new suburbs can be made better, and what we value in older suburbs can be preserved from more loss. The preference of a majority of people for neighborhoods that look remarkably like mine won't go away, even though the suburban frontier has grown harsher. Hopeful, imperfect people live in my suburb. Their hope has sometimes led them to acts of courage and generosity. Their imperfections lead them to unkindness and abuse and sometimes to violence.

Yet, for all those earnest traits, Angelinos are an apathetic people, by-and-large, when it comes to city politics. To what would you attribute that lack of civic engagement? The city's notoriously unaccountable system of local government was designed specifically to leave voters cold. The city's charter, even after recent reforms, remains suspicious of public life. It still contains cruel assumptions: that the city's working-class people should be politically neutral, the city's governance should be in the hands of dispassionate technicians, and that its elected leadership should be a bland board of directors. No wonder then, that Los Angeles residents of color see only an eyeless mask instead of a comprehending human face when they turn to a city government framed on these principles. Or that middle-class Anglo voters, because they were urged to turn their backs on city governance, now accuse city government of being remote. This city has failed to give its residents what they critically need - reasons to be faithful to each other that go beyond the politics of shared grievances. This city has not inspired faithfulness because it had not offered much that stood against the easy belief that no shared loyalties are possible at all.

As historically-minded as you are, could you provide our reader with some of your favorite writing on the city of Los Angeles?

  • Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (Americans and the California Dream) by Kevin Starr

  • Landscapes of Desire: Anglo Mythologies of Los Angeles by William Alexander McClung

  • Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County by Leonard and Dale Pitt

  • Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham

  • Southern California: An Island on the Land by Cary McWilliams

  • The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory by Norman M. Klein

  • The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved by Judith Freeman

  • The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles by Scott Timberg

  • The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles by William Fulton

  • Where I Was From by Joan Didion

  • Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past by William Deverell

  • Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology by David L. Ulin

What books, then, are left to be written? Ten years ago, I wrote this in the Los Angeles Times Book Review:

The former literature of Los Angeles is nearly finished - the literature of Anglo unease with race and sunshine in our ruined utopia. The literature that runs from Nathaniel West to Joan Didion is passing away. The literature to come isn't here yet. When it is, it will finally be comfortable with the autumn heat and the pitiless light in a season of drought.

Its writers will be more familiar with the real streets of Teheran or the imaginary ones of Tenochtitlán than those of Greenwich Village. They will be disturbingly frank about the presence of God (or gods) in the suburbs. They won't be Emersonian. Because many of them will have gone in a day - not in a lifetime - from birthplaces in villages and barrios to East LA, Glendale, or Long Beach, their writing will be crowded with ancestors whose grievances cannot be dismissed by our longing for perpetual adolescence.

Our literature won't be like the South's literature of remembered guilt or the East's literature of transgression and assimilation or the West's literature of isolation by nature's indifference. The best of the L.A. literature to come will be tragic.

The standard for the excellence of its stories won't have been set in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, but by women talking at a hearth baking chipati and men whispering in Spanish before slipping between strands of barbed wire across any border south of here. It will be a literature that cures our willful amnesia about Los Angeles and restores Los Angeles as the northernmost capitol of the tropics.

It will be a mongrel literature for a mixed people. It will not be written for the comfortable. It may even be redemptive.

With all that said, will Los Angeles always remain your home? I'm not sure. But probably.

Thanks so much to D.J. Waldie for his insightful comments in this installment of Better Know a Blogger. For even more insights into the city of Los Angeles, check out Where We Are right here at KCET.org.

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading