3325 Division Street, Los Angeles, CA 90065
Lisa Teasley, Author, Artist
The Castle in the Trees
This place, a Castle, that would in practical terms be called a Seminar House, is where diverse groups could come together for the purpose of a collaborative goal.
Lisa Teasley, native of Los Angeles and graduate of UCLA, is the author of the acclaimed novels Dive and Heat Signature, and the award-winning story collection, Glow in the Dark, published by Bloomsbury. Teasley’s essays, stories and poems have been much anthologized; she has done fellowships, lectures and led writing workshops around the world in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Haiti, and China. Her spoken word performance venues include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Broad museum. Teasley is also the writer and presenter of the BBC television documentary “High School Prom,” and is a senior editor at Los Angeles Review of Books. A visual artist as well, her last solo painting retrospective was at the Marie Baldwin Gallery, spring 2019. Lisa was a member of the former art collective, the Yams, who debuted their film at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Her website is www.lisateasley.com.
The Castle in the Trees
Though a traveler, how much more could I love coming home? Particularly when the world still negotiates the fallout from crisis. Los Angeles is my birthplace and heart’s terrain, and I have done my share of complaints during decades of the city’s many neighborhood-identity losses. But from today’s roving view of the Gold Line, the Jacaranda makes a lavender magic carpet of the streets leading to The Castle in the Trees—an epic, majestic, welcoming place to convene and collaborate, after endless months of Zoom meetings.
Usually there aren’t more than two groups doing residencies. More often than not, it’s one large group with one significant goal, but this time there are particle physicists in the project room, climate change leaders in the garden, housing activists in the library, and dancers in the theater. Had I been able to make it when everyone arrived, I would have asked if they would prefer being more imaginative of where to create? The physicists aren’t doing any actual lab work here, as discussed in their plan, they are essentially doing peer review, and could do that in the garden, around the labyrinth, or in the art studio. Maybe the dancers could get them to flash mob. I saw the choreographer, Sen, perform before she had her own company; she has brought only four from her troupe of nine. The movements are visceral with imperative, all hypnotic wave of limbs, torsos, and heads, violent while life affirming.
Noelene, our compassionate meticulous manager, is just above waving from the balcony. She tells me the housing group plans on presenting before the Castle public forum event. The city has called a town hall meeting on the coming wildfires season and they fear their agenda will be postponed again. I’ll ask Beate (the champion who has been here since the beginning when during emergency we were housing two dozen homeless) to take them to the town hall in the castle van, which I hope is not still smelling high of the donated goat manure and blood meal fertilizer that the District One coalition folks volunteered to pick up for the last bunch of gift citrus and pomegranate tree plantings. During the property’s former lives, it held a hotel, a compound, and a monastery, all three having added to the landmark trees of white birch, eucalyptus, ficus, magnolia and desert willow. The Castle at once grew out of and into the trees, this new life of the property finding its name and fertility together.
The Castle is a Seminar House. Though it fits the definition in most respects, it never feels as if it’s the main purpose. When the first collaborative group landed here— star teachers across grade levels for an extended powwow on reconnection with homeschooled students back in the classroom—it was a pleasure to witness faces as they entered a place that can truly be described as breathtaking. Over the course of an intense ten days, I witnessed Type A leader personalities butt heads over differences within public, private, charter and magnet strata, then organize a final morning breakfast where in having traded skillsets and game plans, anyone could see they all had become true colleagues.
I always stay out of the guests’ way but soak in the gist of what’s happening at the communal dinners. Or I take a peek, if invited before the public forum event where they present their projects to the people. This has been delicious fun on countless occasions, and most literally when there were chefs here from far and wide in the culinary world, who treated us to their genius cook-offs, while using L.A.’s diverse population representing more than 140 different countries as a significant baseline to riff.
The library, across from the meditation room, is on the honor system, with an old-fashioned ledger where you sign out books. The meditation or prayer room is large enough for all guests to fit in at once, but there are three hours during the evening when you can sign up for 30-minute slots to have it to yourself. This is next to what I affectionately call the Student Store, with a door that has been signed by everyone who has ever stayed here. It’s the one door that doesn’t look like any you would find in a “castle” and the room has closets stocked with items as practical as scissors and paper, and as impractical as random artifacts donated by guests and visitors. There is also a collection of rare postcards, and people leave coins, works of art, from all over the globe. Marty, who assisted my partner on doing effective studies on mental illness here in the city, created a sculpture of eucalyptus buttons in the form of a moose that hangs over the long project room table. People may bring their fears and anxiety here over whether or not their aims will be achieved or wonder if in the end their results will have any meaning, and yet they always leave here changed. There is a time to do and a time to be, and I see, every time, people finding that balance here.
Beate’s birthday is this Friday. Noelene and I have planned a surprise the current guests are in on as it will start Thursday at midnight. Her special place is Machu Picchu, so a Peruvian band will arrive on the grounds before twelve, to play flute and mandolin at her door. Her comfort food favorites of chocolate, cheese fondue and champagne will be in the kitchen; all are welcome to come eat and sing. My birthday is next month, and the theater will be a one-night dance rave—I’ve always half-joked that I want “Pump Up the Jam” played at my funeral. There is still the need to shake off the nightmare of isolation in recent times, to celebrate humanity, band in togetherness, and bask in that power of joy.