We had the good fortune of connecting with Toti O’Brien and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Toti, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
Many things make me happy, with different types of happiness… some quieter, some louder. Among the “loud happy,” here are two things that give me an immediate, sharp thrill of exhilaration, which then lasts for hours. One is the sight of wild animals. Not in a wild animal park. In nature or rather in town, perhaps at its edges, where built and un-built intertwine. Recently, a pair of does playing tag under the oak trees, then a hawk taking a bath and leisurely preening its feathers, made my day. The other cause of instantaneous happiness is to get up and dance. Any social dance, with anyone, possibly someone I don’t know, possibly a lot of different people. Similar result is achieved just by listening to peppy music in my car or in my kitchen, the silliest the best, and dance on my seat or else at the sink . Why. For dancing… well, it’s the closest to flying I have experienced as a human. I know there are other things… like skydiving or surfing… but for me the nearest status to weightless levity is dancing. And I like the kind of dancing everyone can do, without special skills, the kind we all understand, like a universal language. For wild animals… I just feel immensely honored by them allowing me to share for a second their irreducible freedom. They remind me that such thing exists.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I believe I am especially fortunate, having stubbornly pursued since childhood various forms of expression, adamantly refusing to give one up in favor of another though, of course, that meant I signed up for the slowest and hardest possible climb. But the silver lining of it was that I shared my path with creatives of all different kinds, and a huge quantity of them, which is simply marvelous.
That’s the beauty of it… to be a community, to find endless similarities with a zillion of people who make and love the things I make and love. As I said, I have practiced all my life few different disciplines, all quite modestly but all at a professional level, meaning I was paid for doing what I did. I have been and still am a performer (actor/dancer/singer/musician)
Juggling those balls in the air wasn’t easy… in fact, they kept falling. And I kept picking them up. The word “discipline” is key, is it? I guess it is. And patience. I could say patience is the lesson I learned along the way… but I am not sure. It seemed to be there from the beginning. Once, while playing a table game, I said “I am a slow winner.” “And a graceful loser,” my opponent replied.
I am a slow winner and a graceful loser… which implies being quite impervious to frustration, and absorb rejection quite easily. Those were traits that I seemed to have since the start, and they helped all along. Perhaps the lesson I truly learned as I went was flexibility. If you don’t get it this way, in this form, think of another way, another form.
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.
I would bring my friends to the Descanso Gardens, one of my favorite places. Then, depending on their tolerance for natural settings, I’d segue with a number of other gardens… Arboretum, Rancho Santa Ana, the Huntington, plus some less known delightful little ones, such as the Arlington and the Storrier Stearns, in Pasadena. I would certainly go to Griffith Park, to see the town from above, and if possible to Mount Washington, driving up Angel Crest, to watch daylight fade and the city lights starring the night. I’d go for a freeway ride over the two bits that I find superlative, 134 westbound, between Figueroa and the 2, 210 westbound between La Tuna and Sunland, possibly also northbound 2 from Downtown. I’d take a long stroll, walking or biking, along the Los Angeles River. Possibly I’d go bird watching at Deb’s Park, day or even night, depending on available programs. I’d go see the wales, taking the boat at Long Beach or San Pedro. Both aquariums, Cabrillo and Pacific. I would take long walks in Downtown, day time and in the early evening, making sure I include Central Library, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Central Market, all the wonderful public art, Allison Saar’s beautiful “Embodied” sculpture… it is endless. I’d go to a free little stretch of beach, past Malibu, to watch the pelicans. I have just started, of course. It could go forever.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
They ALL deserve All the credit. ALL of my friends (which include, of course, relatives, and the dead as well as the living) save me every day.
Personal photo: Jordan Ancel Folk Dancing: Pat Cross and Donald Krotzer Music at Brand Park: already credited Poetry Feature: Marthe Aponte Toti with her artwork: Maja Trochimczyk