The Los Angeles River is my brain. Maybe it’s your brain too. Maybe it’s the whole damn modern Western world and every brain in it.

This is the story of the deadly taming of a river, the deadly taming of the human imagination, and what can be done about it.


Today, many residents of Los Angeles believe that they live in a desert.

It’s an easy enough mistake to make, what with the vegetation parched and brown and ready to combust ten months of the year. What with the water-conservation measures and Chinatown and the long years without rain.

I love flying. I love everything about it: airports, planes, plane food, watching a film on a three-inch screen, the whole notion of time zones. I think it must be a childhood thing: I spent a lot of my early years in the air between London and Tokyo, London and Connecticut, where my family lived, so now the sight of the horizon curving far off and the ding of seat-belt warnings and the tetchy, matronly flight attendants on British Airways make me feel perversely cosy.

Besides which, flying keeps me alive. I have unintentionally but perhaps inevitably, given these proclivities…

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had to say goodbye to the other member of our family: Maggie, our souldog and the funniest, most magical, hugest-hearted being ever to walk the earth.

From the depths of my grief, I’ve had a visceral sense of where religion comes from. In the first few days, when I felt blind with pain, suffocated by the knowledge I would never see her again, I repeated over and over, “I know she’s still here with us.” Like all clichés, it’s comforting partly because it’s so familiar. …

A year ago, I spent a night eating gumbo at a stranger’s house in New Orleans.* I was in the city researching some writing about places. Specifically disappearing places. Did you know that Louisiana is disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico? (There are many reasons, including human interference in the course of the Mississippi, fossil fuel companies cutting trenches in wetlands, and human-triggered rising sea levels.) People have already lost their homes, and as more land disappears, hurricanes are making ever-greater and more deadly landfall. …

Hello, here’s an overshare: last week I discovered I have a low ovarian reserve. I.e., not many eggs left.

I was surprised by how much this news undid me. My husband and I have been ambivalent about the idea of children anyway. For my part, there’s so much I want to do in the world, so much I want to see and write and so many ways I want to connect. Could I do it all if I had children? Then there’s the commonplace of my generation: how fair is it to bring children into a world in ecological and…

This is where I spend most of my waking hours:

A cupboard (that’s “closet” for the Americans) converted into an office in the flat I live in in Los Angeles. It’s bananas to me that I’ve ended up spending thousands of hours in this cupboard more than five thousand miles from where I was born.

I’m not complaining. This is the best office I’ve ever had: it’s not distracting, and the mess my being seems to generate can never get overwhelming in a space this small. It’s also where I’ve done my favourite work, perhaps because of its cupboardness. It’s…

At a certain point in the winter of 2014–15, I developed a Pavlovian fear response to rain. I was living in the Mojave Desert at the time, in a tin can of a trailer my husband Charles and I called Joan Rivers, because she needed a facelift or eight.

There aren’t many deserts where I’m from in southeast London, so I was surprised to learn that actually, it does rain in the desert. Much more than you might like, in fact, if every downpour brought cascades of water gushing through your roof, into your 250-square-foot home.

I remember lying in…

Bus Stop E, Graham Road, Hackney, London

Almost a decade ago, I spent a year in Buenos Aires, living in a series of strange flats: a converted hostel where my flatmates would practice tango on the roof (yes, really); an almost bare apartment, tiled throughout, where I took to barricading the door against my very emotionally available landlady; and for a few weeks in early winter a room in a curiously humid home filled with maybe half the world’s supply of plastic plants.

Every night of that year, in every one of those flats, I’d close my eyes to wait for sleep and, sooner or later, find…

Ellie Robins

Writer at the Guardian, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. A wanderer learning to live in place. Web: Newsletter:

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