Carla Hall is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board. She writes about homelessness, reproductive rights, popular culture, animal welfare, and human rights in Asia and Africa. Before moderating a Zócalo streamed event titled “What Can Poetry Offer Us in Distressing Times,” she called into the virtual green room to share a tale of two fridges, why you shouldn’t worry about being someone’s second choice, and the poem she has inscribed on her ring.
What did you have for breakfast today?
I had a mini bagel with margarine because this is my way of getting a little bit of a bagel without, you know, having to go nuts. But then, after 20 minutes, I went and got another mini bagel—that one with cherry jelly, which is my favorite jelly in the whole world.
I have found that since the stay-at-home order began—because the kitchen is about five feet from where I sit working at my laptop—it's very easy to just go there whenever I'm hungry and continue to have breakfast part two.
When are you most creative?
In the morning. Not too early in the morning. Maybe sometime between 8 a.m. and noon. If I get going writing, I can just keep going. If I can get into that headspace and get out of my own way, then I can sort of ride a wave into the afternoon.
What keeps you up at night?
What doesn’t keep me up at night? I worry about whether I'm going to get a story done on time. I worry about what I'm going to pitch the next day at a meeting. I worry about money.
But I have this way of getting out of it. What I say to myself is: You cannot solve this problem right this minute lying in bed. Bed is about sleeping. And you will only help yourself if you can go to sleep, and then get up tomorrow and resume worrying about it.
I like that. It’s very practical advice. It’s not necessarily optimistic. The problem won't necessarily go away. But since you can't deal with it right now, give it some space.
Yeah. There are very few times in the day when there isn't a moment where you could be trying to solve something. Morning, noon or night, you could be writing up something, you could be studying something, you could be making phone calls, you could be planning a financial budget. All that you can do during waking hours. But when you're lying in bed, there's nothing you can do about it.
What's hanging on your fridge?
Absolutely nothing. I had this apartment with a cheap refrigerator, and, how appropriate, it had magnetic poetry. I had an old, yellowed photo from a newspaper of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 when she was utterly buff—she’s still buff—up there as inspiration. And I think I had some postcards that were funny that people had sent me. I had a collage of my life on that refrigerator. But then I moved to a condo. I have this beautiful stainless-steel refrigerator, and I put nothing on it.
To me, this feels sleeker and more grown-up. But now that I think about it, maybe I should have something on it.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
I remember my mother being pregnant with my younger brother. So I was 3 1/2. And I remember she had these two really pretty, or I thought so, floral maternity outfits. This was ages ago, so it was the old school maternity wear—not the sort of thing that Meghan Markle would have worn. One of them was this darkish blue and white print, and the other was this really rich magenta and white print.
I tend to remember what people wear at different times and different events in my life because I'm very clued into fashion and the way people present themselves. So I remember her wearing one of those, walking around the apartment where we lived at the time.
Another memory: My parents owned a two-flat in Chicago, and we lived in the first floor flat, and my grandmother and her sister lived on the second floor. I remember late at night at my grandmother and aunt’s apartment, looking out their front windows, and seeing my dad taking my mom and putting her in the car and driving to the hospital to have my brother.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Here's one thing that has always stuck with me. When I was a young reporter at the Washington Post I went to New York to interview Edward Woodward. He was a British actor, who at the time was the star of a TV show called “The Equalizer,” which was stylish and really, really cool. He played this guy who went around righting wrongs.
I loved the show, and it was doing really well. So at this point, we were in his trailer, and I'd spent a bunch of hours with him. I was asking him about some role he had gotten. And I said to him, so I heard that James Coburn had been offered that role first and not you. I thought I had discovered this huge thing, and he was probably gonna be upset or whatever. He didn't skip a beat. He looked at me and he said, you know, you're always someone's second or third choice. What's important is what you do with it once you get it.
I was so bowled over by that. I've never forgotten that. And I think it really has helped me in my life. When I've been worried that I got chosen for something or got handed some assignment that I thought an editor didn't really want to give to me, I thought: It doesn't matter that maybe they wanted somebody else to do it before you, or maybe they've got reservations about you doing it. The point is, they gave it to you, and go do with it what you what you want.
What is the last thing that inspired you?
One of the miserable things about this pandemic is that the hair salons are closed. I can't get my hair colored, so my gray roots are growing in, and it's the most depressing thing. I was watching the “Today” show for a few minutes the other day, and one of the hosts, Hoda Kotb—whose hair looks fantastic—was talking about how she had colored her hair at home, and how her hairdresser sent her the bottle to do it.
My hairdresser has offered to do the same thing for me. She offered to FaceTime talking me through coloring my hair, and I thought: She might as well offer to FaceTime talking me through rappelling down Half Dome. But the more the gray roots grow in, the more I’ve been thinking about it.
So here's Hoda Kotb, and she says: I colored my hair this weekend, and I did it just the way my hairdresser told me to, and she was on FaceTime talking me through it. And her hair looked great. I thought, well, if Hoda can do it, I can do it.
This Zócalo event is about what poetry can offer us in distressing times. Is there a poetry reading that comes to mind that you would like to share in this moment?
Thinking about moderating this panel, and thinking about how poetry can lift your soul and also make you think, I was thinking about one of my all-time favorite poems, which is “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. What I really love about it is the first line:
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
I love the wordplay of it. I love anything that has fun with words. And so I love the repetition of morning and morning’s, and I love this image of being inspired—talking about inspired—being dazzled by a minion. I love that image. In fact, I have this ring that I had made for me by a jewelry maker in L.A. a couple of years ago with that line inscribed in it. So I'm often reminded of it. It's not a ring I wear every day. But when I'm going to work, and when I'm living a normal life, I wear it a lot. And so it's always there around my finger.