When Los Angeles goes gray

Today feels like a writing day. It’s September 20, (nine days before the 2-year anniversary of this blog, might I add), and it’s gray outside. Los Angeles doesn’t feel like the kind of city that should ever be just gray. It’s the kind of place that should drip with fuchsia and robin’s egg blue, reek of artificial flavoring and the dumpster in the alley behind my building.

It feels like a writing day to me, because I grew up writing only when it rained. Something about the way the water hit the windowpanes opened the creative floodgates in my head. And here I thought I’d outgrown my weather requirements, but look at me now—it gets the slightest bit chilly and I immediately have an existential crisis.

now I'm gonna talk about art okay

I kind of had another one on Saturday night and Sunday morning, when I played cello in a small orchestra at my church. Back when I lived in Colorado, I was used to being in a musical family. My dad was a worship leader and bassist at our old church, while my mom played piano and violin.

We used to have the whole church band over to our house for rehearsals, and my mom would cook vegetarian casseroles with pasta and mashed potatoes, and sometimes we’d have homemade wontons if my dad felt like busting out the deep fryer. I remember hearing strains of Christian artist Tommy Walker’s “Break Through” from the stereo in our old music room, and singing harmony to myself as I listened to my parents’ praise team practice.

When I moved from Colorado to Los Angeles for college, I sort of forgot about those nights I spent as an 11-year-old, not-so-patiently waiting for my turn to sing with the band. It struck me as sort of surreal that I grew up listening to Tommy Walker through boombox speakers, and last weekend, I sat behind him in person, playing cello as he paced the length of the stage with his electric guitar.

Memories came rushing back all at once. I’m actually shocked that I didn’t lose my place in the music.

LA Natural History Museum

Of course, it wasn’t just that. It was also when I went to the Natural History Museum last week, paused to look out over the neighboring pink and white-dotted Exposition Rose Garden, and thought about the first time I saw it. As a freshman, on my way to my first college football game ever. It was at least 95 degrees outside.

I know I keep writing about nostalgia, and I’d apologize. Except I don’t know why I’m apologizing.

Maybe the fact that I keep writing about the past is how I know that I’m still a little scared of my future.

Today, in my Intro to Poetry writing class, I very nearly dissolved into tears while giving a reading of the autobiographical poem I wrote. It wasn’t that I was nervous (I’m a theatre major, for crying out loud). I don’t usually write poetry, so I’d even rehearsed my reading in my room, facing a mirror, thinking, I can do this. Toootally got this.

But when it came to speaking the deeply personal words I’d written about my past, stories of love gained and lost glaring me in the face, in front of people I hardly knew—I almost gagged on my own heartbeat. My poor classmates had to sit there and listen as my voice shook, and watch as I became locked in a struggle with myself to hold back the flood. And the whole time I was choking out the words, I was thinking, AREN’T I OVER THIS YET?!

I don’t know much about life, guys. I’m 20 years old. I know virtually nothing (not the kind of thing you want to hear from somebody about to get a college degree?) about life.

I don’t know how other people deal with the trauma of facing the fact that you could very well be leaving everything familiar behind in less than 7 months, and I don’t know how other people figure out how to do the “real world.”

But I do know that sometimes, you need to go to bed at 9:30pm on a Monday, because you’re too tired to marry another noun to a verb.

Sometimes, you need to stay up waiting for the world to stop looking over your shoulder, so you can write the next sentence of the first draft that’s currently RUINING YOUR LIFE.

Sometimes, you need to bawl like a little baby in your poetry class while pouring out the story of your life.


One of my classmates came up to me at the end of our poetry workshop and knelt down by my chair as I packed up. I glanced up at her, and she says, “I’m floored.” I stare at her. I have no idea what she’s talking about. And then she holds up her copy of my poem, one of the thirteen copies I printed so people could comment on them and return them to me. Everyone else had already done so. I’m about to reach for hers, but she holds it just out of reach.

“I didn’t make any marks on your poem,” the girl says, watching me, “because I’d really like to keep it.” I hear the question there. Is it okay? Are you okay? Please don’t cry. I blink a few times. “But if it’s too personal for you, and you’d rather I didn’t…”

I shake my head, mostly because I don’t trust myself to speak. She offers me a smile. “Thank you,” she says.

Thank you. Thank you. She doesn’t know what she’s just done.

Sometimes, you need someone to have the courage to ask you, “Can I keep this?” Can I keep your life close? Can I hold this in my hands a little bit longer? Can I tell you that I’ve been there, too?

Sometimes, you need that tiny, God-sent assurance that it’ll be okay. It’s all good. You toootally got this.

And if you don’t, it’ll still be okay. Because God’s sending you a nice, gray writing day.

Samantha Chaffin


9 thoughts on “When Los Angeles goes gray

  1. Aubrey Cann says:

    Love this post! It made me laugh (the “I almost gagged on my own heartbeat” part) and gave me the best kind of chills (the “Thank you. She doesn’t know what she’s just done.” part). Keep writing!

    • samchaffin says:

      Right? I heard once that something about water stimulates brain activity (hence why I always come up with my best story ideas in the shower…typical), but that could be an old wives’ tale. Haha

  2. Bri says:

    I was reading your blog this weekend and it encouraged me to write everyday. I am not surprised that the young woman in your class wanted to hold onto your poem…your words are so *gasps* inspiring and whimsy and just right for the moment when you read them.

  3. Kim says:

    “Sometimes, you need someone to have the courage to ask you, “Can I keep this?” Can I keep your life close? Can I hold this in my hands a little bit longer? Can I tell you that I’ve been there, too?”

    OMG, when I read those lines, I kind of lit up. The same thing happened to me recently and it was totally surreal and I had no words for it. I tend to stick to fiction because, well, it’s awesome. My desire to write non-fiction is pretty miniscule and is usually only fueled by wanting to remember some funny event vividly (because even at 25, I’m not remembering all the things I took for granted I would. But. That may also mean I wasn’t made to me a non-fiction writer, haha).

    Anyway, I took a few non-fiction classes in grad school (becuase one can’t live on fiction alone… and have the proper credits to graduate). I wrote a few pieces, including one about my year on accutane (and the instense, disheartening journey before it). I’m not embarressed by talking about such things like acne – I mean, I had to live with it for most of my life! – so it was fun and refreshing to get to write about it and share it with the class.

    Well, so a few months later, I’m graduated, living in the “real world,” when I get an email from one of the younger MFA students. I didn’t get to know him too well, but we had a good rapport in class. Still, it was totally out of the blue for him to ask me for a copy of that essay. He lost the original and just wanted to read it. That’s it. I was stunned… and sent it to him shortly after.

    I don’t know if I had a moral in mind for that, but I had to share. I understand your anxiety about graduating – believe me, I was a terror to put up with post-graduation until I gained my bearings. Just do the best you can. Enjoy the days you have left in academia 🙂

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