Recently, a friend invited me to lunch on the lot at Fox Studios near Century City. My friend has a schedule more crowded than an LA freeway, so I was happy to catch up with her. I was also quietly thrilled to be on the movie studio lot even though I have been actively avoiding the film industry for the last decade.
When I first moved out here with the intention of selling out to film, I discovered that most people in film script development were either manically pumped up or extremely depressed. Since I do not like either extreme, I started to explore other forms of writing. Besides, I wanted to keep the movies up on the screen where they still bring me joy.
After our lunch in which I learned all the TV shows I should be watching, I hugged my friend goodbye and walked down New York street to get to the exit on Pico. Nobody was filming on the fake street, and the brownstone stoops, store fronts, and sidewalks patiently waited to be transformed into any season, any mood, any time. The street could be anything, and I wondered if that was what Los Angeles was.
Is LA, at its heart, characterless, so that it can be anything you want it to be? What is LA? I tried to think of one word to summarize the vast urban sprawl. Hollywood? The dream factory, the magic store, as they say in The Muppet Movie. The beach? The sand, the surf, the mighty blue Pacific. The freeway? Clogged with the traffic. The freeways are important. They are necessary for movement from home to somewhere else and back home.
Is LA just a freeway? A six lane road where you feel like you're going fast at forty-five miles per hour? Is it a treadmill where you run nowhere? Is it a Cathedral, a testament to our time, still under construction, always under construction? Is it where I live with NPR on the radio and a can of flat diet soda in the cup holder?
Is LA my home? I have lived here for ten years, but it doesn't feel like home. Where is home? Is it the place where I was born? Is it the place I grew up in? Is it the place where I lived before I moved to LA? Is it nowhere? Is it buried deep inside me? That sounds stupid. Is it a place I haven't gotten to yet? If I haven't gotten there yet, why am I still in LA?
I am still in LA because the sun shines 300 days a year. The temperature usually sits around seventy degrees. Sure there are hot dry days and the June gloom and the Santa Ana winds coming in off the desert, but the weather is so constant that one does not have to think about it. When it rains, it's melodramatic. When the temperature drops to fifty degrees Fahrenheit, people put on winter coats and hats. When else would we get to wear them?
In her song "California", Joni Mitchell sang:
Will you take me as I am?
Strung out on another man?
California, coming home.
If you want to stay as you are or if you want to become someone else, LA will take you. You don't have to ask. You can be whoever you want to be. You can have any name you want. I created a name for a blog and it kind of stuck. It happens. The past is unimportant. . .unless you want it to be, but honestly why would you want it to be. In this way, LA is the most American of American cities. LA can become whatever you need it to be as you become whatever you want to be.
In LA, folks can shine so brightly they could be stars even though they're not famous or astronomers. There are the folks moving onto the next thing or trying to figure out how to move onto the next thing or not realizing that they have to move onto the next thing. And maybe this motion is what gives LA its energy. Folks come, folks go, some stay, some don't. Change is the constant and transformation is the norm. What do you want to be today? How can you be different from yesterday?
In this environment, I can try out new forms of writing. I wrote my bad first novel in LA. I wrote stories. I wrote essays. I wrote plays. I can play. I can sail. I can hike in the mountains. I can walk along the beach. I can observe folks talking loudly on their cell phones. I can dye my hair different colors. I can do so much in LA, but I also long to get out of it. Where do I want to go? Do I want to leave mentally or physically?
I have an appetite for motion. I feel most myself when I'm walking or sailing a boat. As a writer, I seek variety. Write plays, write books, write essays, write fiction. Keep moving and keep writing. I can't do one without the other.
Where do I want to go next? It's a question I ask both on the page and in life. There's so much to see and do. Might as well see and do it all. Might as well write it all.
My greatest delight about LA is that I can turn my back on it and walk away. LA doesn't shout at me to come back like the kid at the end of Shane. LA doesn't impose itself on me. LA doesn't haunt me. LA doesn't care that it's not my home. LA doesn't care that I need to spend time out of the sun to get my work done. LA doesn't care when I sail away or drive away or walk away. LA takes me as I am. Sometimes I am strung out on another man, but that's a whole different essay for a cold rainy night by the fire.