Previously Published May 2013 on Blogetary 1.0.
I love Los Angeles. When I was growing up I never thought I would love Los Angeles. I always figured I would be a San Francisco or New York person. Or Seattle, maybe. In my imagination I might have a cabin at Lake Chelan or a beach house in Malibu, but I also always had a city penthouse, and that was always in San Francisco or New York. Sometimes Vancouver B.C.
In grade school I used to daydream about living in a loft apartment in New York that looked like a warehouse on the outside and was beautiful and Bohemian on the inside. And I’d be a poet/writer/director/actress. I checked out plays from the library and I had my sister act out some of the parts and I’d act out the others. We used the picnic table as a stage.
Then in high school I decided San Francisco was it. That was where my dad lived. That was where all the cool artistic hippies lived. And when I traveled with our music department to Anaheim for the trip to Disneyland, I got a taste for that, too.
After college I lived in Seattle for a little while. Worked, hung out with friends. Worked some more. I didn’t fall in love with Seattle though, and moved back to Bellingham.
Then some friends of mine moved to Los Angeles and I came down to visit on a vacation. “It’s warm,” they said. “We can go to the beach.” I was tired of feeling like I was going nowhere in Bellingham. I was feeling like my only relevance was as “the coffee lady” at Starbucks. No one knew my name; I was just the coffee lady. I wrote sometimes and went for walks, planned going on vacation, used the money to fix the car whenever it broke down instead, dreamed of meeting someone different and not feeling like I was just having a nothing life in a small town. I’d tried working up in Starbucks as a lead clerk and had considered management and I hated it. I felt irrelevant. I felt like I didn’t count, like my voice, even if it was heard, was being ignored.
So, a vacation sounded good. And I took a flight down to Los Angeles California and promptly fell in love with this city. I ran around everywhere in shorts. It was August and uber-hot here, but I didn’t mind. It was glorious. And I was relevant. People move here from all over to follow their dreams and I had dreams. I was relevant. My dreams were relevant. I counted. I may not have counted as the skinny, blonde model, but I still counted.
I made up an excuse about missed flights and extended my stay about about two days. And when I got back to work and realized I was just as bitter and unhappy as I’d been before I left, and that the vacation hadn’t helped, I realized it was time to quite or move or do both. And I schemed and planned, contacted people in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles (in case it wasn’t the location, but just the need to leave Bellingham). In the end, there was a job opening in Los Angeles, and a friend of a friend needed a roommate and by October I was driving down here.
I’ve told this story before in some places, so it may sound familiar.
Los Angeles is a city where people come to follow their dreams. And yes, there’s a serious self-centered eternal-youth culture here. And yes, in some cases, if you’re not rich then no one hears you. But as an artist, you count. This is why I love this city. As vain, vapid and shallow as it can be, if you are an artist, you count.
I lived in San Francisco for a few years and you’d think that artists would count in that grand city. It’s a wonderful city. I fall in love with it every time I’m there. I think it used to be about artists and writers, you can feel it in the bones of the streets and buildings when you’re there, but no longer. Now, it’s a city of businesses and technology. That’s not a bad thing. It’s still a grand city, but when I lived there the discussions at parties always centered around promotions, credit ratings and getting the next apartment (because people were always looking for a better apartment). Discussions about poetry and novel writing were pretty much met with blank looks (at least in my experience). The topic changed to something safer, like dating.
In Los Angeles, for the most part, whether you moved here to become a director and work as a grip or came here to be an actress and work as a waitress, you still count. It took me a long time to really love and get Los Angeles, but eventually I realized that the people who live here get you when you move here. Maybe you will make it. Maybe you won’t. Maybe they will make it or maybe they won’t. Maybe the guy at the next table in the restaurant is regular CPA, but he’s a CPA who knows how to do taxes for entertainers. The tech guy might be the one fixing the PC in the real estate office, but chances are he’s got a girlfriend or boyfriend acting in a production or trying out for a part somewhere. The bank teller with a husband and kids helps business people, regular folk and probably is really used to seeing the yo-yo like balances of people who work in the entertainment and freelance industries.
Nothing is sure here. You might have a job one week and looking for another gig the next. Half the city is freelancing and there’s security in that insecurity. Even the earthquakes know that. In the middle of change and chaos and destruction is creativity and growth. The normal and the other intermix here in a surreal concoction of real and unreal so that sometimes, if you’re not quite with us, you might lose your sense of grounding, of what really is and what really isn’t. But the point is that the people here get why you – the writer/artist/actor/singer/etc.– moved here and you count. Gone are the days where you flounder trying to explain to the Muggles of the world why you do what you do as they fidget and shrug off your hobby. You are relevant.
Until you’re not.
The thing about this grand, epic surreal Hollywood culture is that its demand for perfect youth and beauty has taken over not only Los Angeles, but the world, and has attracted a number of people to this city (let’s say a percentage that wavers between 10 and 25%) who either truly think that’s the only thing that matters or have bought into the surreal unreality that that is all that matters. As far as they’re concerned, if you’re useful, etc., you’re mostly okay. But it’s no secret that youth, beauty and wealth (or usefulness/connections) are the accepted trifecta demanded of the gods of the City of Dreams, or so these acolytes believe. And if you buy into that, or are around people who buy into that, if you start losing one part of the trifecta, then you better get it back or start working harder on the other two. If you lose two, then you better hold onto the last one with a death grip. But, if you are no longer young, beautiful or wealthy (or useful and have connections), then watch out. You are in danger of becoming irrelevant. To those people, you will essentially become invisible. Some of those acolytes of the city gods who once stopped to speak to you in the hallway will nod, looking down or away, checking their phones and muttering things about being late for appointments. Some people you once considered good friends will forget to return phone calls and emails. Where once your struggling with family, health or artistic angst had been met with concern, now it is ignored. You remind them of their own problems, now. And you’re not useful to them anymore.
I’m not pointing all this out on my own account, I have lots of friends over the years who’ve had to deal with this. Some people leave L.A. because of it, some choose to stick around, because if you stick it out long enough this really cool thing happens. It doesn’t feel cool at first, because you’ve gotten used to the mosaic of real, unreal and surreal that mixes around here. But, you’ve also gotten used to the ground shifting beneath your feet, so as it shifts again, you notice that with all that shaking all the dross, all the dirt and grease and crap that was clinging to this mosaic has fallen away. All those useless people who only wanted a part of you because you were useful to them have now disappeared leaving behind only the ones who really matter, who really care. They are the ones who know you really matter and they really matter to you. You all understand the hard work you’ve put into your particular craft over the years and understand that you may not make it big anytime soon, but that your craft is still relevant. You still matter. You are still relevant.