I’ve been wanting to email you/write you/talk to you for awhile now. I’m here in LA and it feels so strange. Like it does when you come back home from college. I’ve only been gone a short while, but it already feels like another time. I have a casual nostalgia, and a longing for the attachment I had to it. I miss it even while I’m in it. But I feel this push to go on from it, like I don’t want to stay here for too long. My energy and motivation are already up in San Francisco. I can feel the pull toward there, and the opportunity.
Whenever I come back here from being away, even for a few days, and think of LA as a place outside of me, that doesn’t belong to just me, I think of you. There’s a hypnotism about this city, and LA Country. An allure that brings you here, but never really seems to keep you here. I imagine it was the same thing in the 70s that brought you here too, or at least brought your spirit. The cool beyond cool. An aloof relaxation, where nothing is too serious, but everything is possible. Dreams are lost but temporarily, and new ones spring up in their place. Failure and hardship are almost expected here. It’s a badge of honor to work hard for your creative pursuits here, be it in business, art, music or entertainment. Long work days, grinding just to get by, and hopefully coming out on top, with a house in the Hills and a relaxed lifestyle where your 30s never end.
It still is that Neverland. A party without chaos. A whirlpool which only you let yourself get sucked in. There is not much pressure here, but only such sweet promise that you would be a fool not to pursue it. If that promise ever delivers is a different question. As a city, it has never found a real identity. You can feel the young people here starting to pick it up though, and roll it along. Even though this place is slow moving, it never seems to give up on itself.
It isn’t an angry place, as compared to hard urban areas, but instead more of a content one. Anyone who doesn’t see the appeal of LA probably has an itch that they keep on scratching. It isn’t a city that will push you if you don’t want it to, and what you find here are the type of people who are attracted to that notion. People who want to forget about the places others feel the need to go. People who want to achieve goals on their own terms with a community they choose, as opposed to a well established one. That said, the quiet anonymity here will eat at you if you let it. Like tired atheism, the indifference of the universe can get into your head when you are in a desperate place, go reach out to it, and nothing but an echo is returned to you.
Los Angeles is a reflecting pool. You stare into it, and all it does is stare back. It is so much bigger than yourself to the point of being a size and concept you can never truly grasp. You will always remain the largest thing you find here. The only piece you can ever truly know here is yourself. The culture is reflected in its landscape. A place of canyons and never ending ocean, it is both cavernous and beautiful in it’s minimalism. The freeways are reborn everyday, waxing and waning with a veracious pressure that peaks at 10 and 6. Then there comes the slow drain into the night, when their emptiness with haunt you, their wide swaths of black pavement stretching through desert hills. The middle of nowhere isn’t in vacant land though, but in working class neighborhoods, cut off from the charisma of the city by the highways that have come to define here.
The questions of the future of this city lie there, on the outskirts hanging on it’s eastern edge. That foreign country has been stealthily growing. Los Angeles is in a civil war over what it means to be a true Angeleno. Is it the transplants that have built the public identity of this city as a mecca of entertainment over the past 80 years? Or is it the people that make up the largest cultural fraction of this pie, the Hispanic and Spanish speaking population that has supported the economy here for decades? Those living outside of Southern California remain largely unaware of how dominate a people they are here, and how tightly their traditions and language remain with them.
Their neighborhoods are becoming more and more integrated into the fabric of LA proper. Young white free-lancers who see themselves as creative and liberated, can no longer afford to live in the most commonly recognized hip neighborhoods. It isn’t the first time they have emigrated en masse to traditionally Hispanic neighborhoods, but the recent push seems to be approaching cultural awareness more genuinely than times past. The lines between who is a gentrifier and who is staunchly Mexican-American, especially in the younger generations of the latter, are not so clear. People that grew up in these neighborhoods, who went on to become educated and successful, are returning to them and settling into newly refreshed real estate and sometimes, but sometimes not, safer communities.
I’m rambling now, getting wrapped up in thinking about the mystery of here. There is no central authority on the cultural factions of this city. It is too large a place for one journalist to consult one business owner considered a high source on the region. The city is too young and rapidly expanding to have developed a true public-facing identity within it’s own boundaries, much less one that a whole country could come to understand. Considered vapid and superficial, it’s under appreciated for it’s subtlety and nuance. What you come to truly adore about LA when you live here aren’t the type of things that sound very significant, or are simple to explain.
Community and overwhelming energy that are absent in the suburbs or rural America are what usually attract people to large cities. They do not come to them for isolation, so it is baffling to the likes of New Yorkers and San Franciscans why you would want to spend so much of city-living being wrapped in the blanket silence of an automobile, or quiet urban streets. That type of isolation can be comforting, while knowing there are 11 million people who share in that coldness with you. There is an unusual determination it takes to feel at home here.
I didn’t think this is what I would be writing out to you. I’ve missed talking to you about my thoughts, many of which come out that I didn’t even know I was ruminating on until I say them to you. I want to hear what you’ve been thinking about. And I want to hear it over and over again. I hope you’ve been doing well, and it seems like you have! So what has been on your mind? Have you been considering anything lately? I know you are always reading. And sometimes it is easier to discuss these types of things in writing. Tell me tell me.
Kayaking Lake Tahoe on a blue, choppy afternoon. (at Lake Tahoe)
A runner attacking a slab in the mountains.
Photo: Erik Schulte
Probably the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed firsthand. (at San Gabriel Peak Trail)