I am sitting on a veranda in the California sunshine, typing up a story about my last two months living in Los Angeles.
I am not new to odysseys, journeys where I leave home for months at a time. I’ve travelled and worked and played around Europe, and Bali, and many places that called my name when I needed a change.
I know I bring my emotional baggage with me wherever I go — crammed in the 28-inch seatback of my Spirit airlines flight, wrapped in the folds of a too-thin comforter on the too-cramped couch I’m crashing on. It is a loneliness that knows no zip code.
But I can meet my emotions differently when I’m on the road. I can see my fears from a new angle and unpack them with fresh perspective.
Whenever you meet and spend time with new people, especially in a new place, I find you create a mirror of yourself. You get a fresh chance to present how and who you are with the world. You get to make new first impressions, which is really less about influencing others and more about showing the world how you see yourself.
I read the book The Four Agreements in an overpacked Korean sauna on President’s Day in LA, and the way it described how we create The Victim and The Judge and The Book of Law in our heads made scary amounts of sense to me. I embark on these adventures to get away from the negative characters and storylines I’ve made up in my head, which for whatever reason also get tied to a location. I get caught up in victimizing and judging myself according to the rules and goalposts I’ve decided I’ve missed or broken by comparing myself to everyone else in that city.
Getting to present a new first impression in LA gave me a chance to practice the first agreement in the book: be impeccable with your world. I sought to introduce myself from a place of joy and eagerness and honesty about who I was. Refrain from gossiping or spreading negative words. I found it thrilling to start over like this — a breath of fresh air for my self-esteem and self-image.
It’s much harder to face people who have made up their minds about you and try to show how you’ve changed since they met you.
I am changing. I believe some people widen their growth as they age. They continue to open up and try new things and question the way they live life. My dad is an inspiration this way to me. He is having more adventures and life-changing experiences and relationships every day as he approaches his 75th birthday.
I see other people narrow down and grow into their most comfortable patterns — the ones that come easiest — and these are usually the ones laced with the word “don’t.” I don’t want to do such-and-such. I don’t like so-and-so. I don’t want want to try something new. I don’t want to experience discomfort.
It is never comfortable to try to change yourself. And, I believe you don’t notice you’ve changed till after you’ve done so. One day you wake up, and you realize by looking in the rear-view mirror, that you’ve been acting and responding to the world differently. All change is imperceptible, and all growth is painful, so all change feels painful at first. I get why people don’t want do it.
The first month I felt a constant displacement in LA. I felt more insecure about myself than ever. What was I doing out here? How lame and worthless was I to be living with no tangible plans on some friend’s couch? I sat with this pain and self-loathing and discomfort, and time moved very slowly. Each day I woke up not liking myself, or my life felt laborious.
But I sat with that unease, and then one day I woke up in the second month of being here, and I couldn’t remember having felt sad for the last couple of days. It had just stopped at some point. I can’t explain when it happened. Something internal has shifted when I wasn’t looking, and I woke up eager to experience the day without expectations.
After this shift, the rest of the time out West flew by. I was happy just being myself and spending time with best friends. Getting my work done and then going for a run as the sun set over the “correct” side of the horizon (the one with the ocean-view!). Now, on my last day out West, the sunshine and empty hours of LA suddenly seem to precious to me.
My home is in New York, and I am excited to go back, and see old friends and my dog Star and my apartment. I am also excited to meet NY with frankness and to not get swept up in my former mantra: “Worry.” Or NY’s drug of choice: “Adrenaline.” Or my need to be busy and schedule-filled every second, lest I feel enormous unexplainable guilt. A friend of mine in LA pointed out that I love getting emails and having my calendar booked because it simulates a feeling of “I’m doing things” and “I’m important.” It’s a faux sense of self and purpose.
The mantra of LA has been: “No worries.” Every meeting I’ve missed or plan I’ve had to reschedule has literally been replied to with: “No Worries!” The energy out here may be languid at times, but my favorite part of LA is that most people have open, flexible schedules. Friends and I can spontaneously see a movie or have an ocean-side bonfire or go on a hike or go dancing late night at The Spot bar on Motown Mondays. Conversely, I sent two emails to friends about my triumphant return to NY, two weeks ago, and almost no one was available for a Friday or Sunday night weeks in advance. Everyone was busy.
Friends of mine in LA want me to move out here. They tell me how light and free I seem to be. But my home right now is in NY, and that’s where I need to meet my fears when I’m not on an amazing get-a-way but just living day-day. I went through an existential struggle between wanting to just throw everything to the wind and move out West and also being so excited about the creation of a new theater and school and community in NY. I loved the creative energy I felt in LA; I love that I am starting a new business in NY. I love defining myself as an artist and a performer and storyteller. I love that I can use my left-brain too; I actually enjoyed setting up government forms and balancing books and building a beautiful website for it from scratch. I fret that I have to choose between these two sides of me; but the choice I’m making for now is that I want it all. I am going to manifest both my artistic and business dreams, at the same time, and I’m not going to let old feelings and insecurities get in the way of working hard to do it. I love that I get to return to NY feeling powerful about myself, celebrating my new narrative, and letting the old victim and judge go.
I’m not ruling LA out for the future. Maybe by wanting it all, I’ll end up being bi-coastal. Why not, if I can make it work? We only get this one beautiful, short trip around the sun, and I’m committing to keeping myself as open as possible on that journey, to try new things and not cling to what I know out of security. It is the letting go of knowing what’s next that let me smile again, like a crazed kid trying his first summersault on the jungle gym.
And most of all, I love and am so grateful for my chosen family, in all three coats (the West, The East, and The Mid…aka Chicago), how they help me to grow and support my journey and let me share my life and love with them. They bring me closer to my heart.
My Top Five Things About Los Angeles:
- The Animal Actors Show at Universal Studios Hollywood.
- Driving on US-1 with the windows down and un-ironically blasting “Teenage Dream.”
- Dancing in disco looks at Oil Can Harry’s, a vintage 1970’s gay bar with shag carpeting that has never been changed and where the average age is 60+ and completely non-judgemental.
- The best Thai food I have ever had: at Night Market + Song in Silverlake.
- Starting a short hike at 4:30 PM so that you can catch the sunset everyday.