We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Bitting and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, how do you think about risk?
Well, at the tail end of this 2020 moment, I’d say just living is taking a risk! And then there are the many everyday heroes who step to the line and into the fire to keep the rest of us kicking and breathing. There’s a corporeal alchemy, a wiring, and blood metallurgy, perhaps, that goes with that. For some, there is no other choice. I’ve always admired that kind of devotion, rigor, and tenacity in the face of crazy insane odds and obstacles. No doubt there’s a heartbeat of dysfunction somewhere in me, thrumming in the shadows. That finger-in-the-socket survival instinct. Well, we do the best we can, right? It’s all energy, and I suppose evolving on a personal level has much to do with learning to wield and channel that force–the good, bad, and in-between, into something…Beautiful? Worthy? Artful? Or at the end of the day, simply…Kind? Still, how many times have I stood under a cold, bright moon in a dark parking lot somewhere wondering What the hell am I doing?! And yet, the books get written, the children raised, degrees completed, jobs claimed, the prizes won. It takes taking chances, sticking your neck, chin, shoes, and pride out. Pushing into the threshold, the unknown. It’s true in writing and making art as it is in life. Also kind of thrilling when you stop being afraid or caring what anyone thinks which only happens after you’ve lost more than a few rounds and played the fool. That’s when gold–life’s unexpected shimmerings appear. This fall, I had forty students to instruct via Zoom and various platforms I’d spent the summer constructing for my university courses. I wanted to deliver something special that would help carry them through the turmoil, terror, dis-ease, and uncertainty, and me along with it. Then, nearing November, and huddled in my office with lit up instruments, twinkling fairy lights, book shelves, and our collective classroom faces, falling fast into the Wonderland of our poems and stories, I heard the call to join our campus tribe of election poll warriors—I, an adjunct poll soldier, happy to do my training, don my PPE, hold my instructional manual down there in the converted dining hall for the next five days as we ushered waves of citizens through the miraculous voting procedures, regardless of any lack of agreement about candidates and party persuasion. It was an edifying, illuminating experience I will never forget, and I thank the university and city officials who embraced my participation in this mystery dance of Democracy. The night of the final count, things were looking a little bleak, and I returned to my hotel room (I had to be back to lecture in my office early in the morning) to watch the news, worry and feel discouraged after a fifteen hour shift counting ballots and following chain of custody protocols, the emotional farewells with my fellow workers who felt the same parting haze of confusion and trepidation. Around midnight, a call came in from my actor husband, Phil Abrams, and our son, Emmet, who were now on their way to the hotel to film a self tape we’d been asked to make for a national banking commercial. What? Now? They want a longtime “natural” couple. He said. We can just be ourselves. Okay, whatever, I thought, I mean, at this point in a raging pandemic and out of whack election—what to do but let go, relinquish fear of more terrible outcomes? How else survive the slings and arrows, the onslaught of chaos? So we did it, in a hotel room, our budding filmmaker son doing his best considering the weirdly lit and curtained corner of room 325. I’m sure it looked like a hostage video. We sent it off the next day. I thought nothing more. But then…boom… the unexpected call back… a Zoom meeting, this time filmed in my campus office with casting director and, no doubt, executives in suits somewhere out there in the pitch Zoomland abyss. A few days later, we booked the job. Contracts, fittings, testing appointments, Covid delays and more fittings quickly ensued. The shoot day arrived, and at one point, my husband and I found ourselves the spotlit focus of an Encino suburban cul-de-sac of houses, us the bulls-eye occupants of the front seat of a stationary car with all the windows pushed out to make room for a slew of cameras, accompanying crew folks and production hands–every angle of perception covered to capture our made-up faces and tucked & tailored bodies, the script lines we repeated on the (brilliant guest artist: Child) director’s cue. After the first few takes, (I will never forget it) my sweet husband turned to lean in close, his voice full of wonder, a fleck, perhaps, of pleasant surprise: Wow, you are great! He whispered. Honey, you’re doing really well…
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’ve written four books of poetry, a book of sonnets with photo collaborations, and I have a new manuscript waiting to launch from the docks when the winds of publishing fortune determine that to be. I get excited when I can get a line or four down that I really like. That surprise me. That I never knew existed in the musty, spidery sub-chambers of my mind. The world excites me, in all its glimmering and banged up simplicity. Attempting to capture even a fleeting sliver of that can be serious, complex business. I love it when my students have those break throughs. It makes for a delicious domino effect.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Although right now we are limited along with much of the rest of the world, I am finding long walks around the Marina Del Rey area of Los Angeles to be soothing and inspirational. The jetties and shorelines. I never get tired of looking at the sea. Places like Benny’s Tacos and Hilltop Coffee & Kitchen provide delicious, plentiful, nourishing meals and are just minutes from there. The pandemic-lightened traffic these days makes heading east down Wilshire Blvd to catch some remnants of L.A. Deco architecture a mini-adventure I never tire of. Ditto the Chicken and Waffles at Roscoes, and salmon tacos at Creme de La Crepe, run by the nonpareil French proprietor, Severine. There are two Roscoes en route to Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood, by the way, another old canyon haunt where my husband Phil Abrams and I first lived thirty years ago, and my character actor great grandmother, the screen gemstress Beryl Mercer resided in an apartment behind Musso & Frank back in the 1930’s.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Dr. Barbara Rico hired me to teach at LMU a few years back on a referral from another great writer & scholar, Dr. Gail Wronsky. Along with superstar of Poetry, Dorianne Laux, I feel deeply grateful to these women for their mentoring. Also big shoutout to Poet and Film Scholar Dr. James Meetze who ushered me into the Film Studies brigade at UOAG. My family, friends, and fellow poets & writers are essential to my being able to thrive as a writer and instructor. Finally, it is all about my students. Teaching, writing, and discovering alongside them is the most important work I do.
Feature photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher