At Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego. I took a photo here in 2004 on my last day in San Diego. There I was over 12 years later.
I first stepped foot in L.A 12 years ago. We were driving in from San Diego and made a pit stop by the Comedy Store on Sunset to see who was performing that night. I walked out of the car to a line-up of people and never thought that would be my first moment in a city I'd seen in movies, dreamed of and thought about since I could remember.
I'd grown up wanting to be an actress and instead of worrying much about fitting in when I was younger, I always figured I'd end up in places away from all the people who made me feel bad, boring, and uncool all those years as I turned into a teenager.
But somewhere along the way my life had taken a different turn and I stayed in Montreal, on some sort of spiritual quest with new friends and new questions. I spent time in different houses, driving along different streets and talking in different cafes while we tried to figure out what to do with our lives.
My surroundings were diverging and we were discussing things that mattered, and that was enough for me. Dreams of fame and fortune in exotic places would have to wait.
The biggest part of that dream, I later realized, was a longing to find my people. A dream to be amongst like-minded characters. To live in a space where no one calls you crazy; no one shakes their head at your antics but instead, joins you in them.
Does that have to remain only a dream? I always figured big cities filled with strangers would be the best places to find that.
And what better place to find your team of dreamers than in the city of angels and broken dreams?
I've yet to find a team, but I've found some of my people scattered around the globe-in Beijing, in South Korea (mostly the unmarried Koreans who are challenging the traditions of their country). Some who've stayed with me, some I've met at bookstores, some now live in Nepal and some in the U.S.
Still longing for a stage, I made teaching my stage. You can act silly with kids and it's a way to catch their attention and bring the classroom together. To ease my nerves during my first few months of teaching in Nanshan, China I would get into character every morning, and use my short walk to school as a way to meditate. It took a few years to completely feel at ease with a bunch of little strangers during my second kindergarten in Busan. Some days, those kids were my best (and sometimes only) friends when I first arrived in the country.
It's been a lot of work (and lots of unpaid days), and not a lot of planning-I sort of "just go with it", while remaining true to the bigger picture of my dream and taking some chances along the way.
I woke up New Years Day and my first conversation that morning was with an aspiring artist from Brooklyn. He was promoting his brand, selling t-shirts online and looking for funding to produce an album. Way too many stories like his in L.A. Also there are way too many stories like mine; that solo-female traveler, trying to find the good in the world and looking for love and writing all about it along the way. Is the market overstuffed? While I remain a pessimist, my new friend just preached about the "dream" and to keep going. After about twenty minutes of sharing our hopes and dreams for the new year he got to his computer and to work, while I packed my things and wandered off for the day. Keep going.
The day unravelled as I ended up in places more familiar. I sat in a cafe on 1st Street in the heart of Little Tokyo. People watching, writing and sipping my coffee (I'm a pretty good multi-tasker) I soaked in the energy everyone carried with them that day for the new year. Walking up and down the streets of sunny L.A and to visit the Temple around the corner, people were buzzing. Filled with hope.
I'd never heard of Skid Row until I drove past it New Years Eve and New Years Day. January 1st I took my first ride in an Uber, as that was the only way for me to get into the busy section of downtown L.A and Little Tokyo from my AirBnB, and everyone that morning warned me not to walk. It was a short 8-minute ride with a driver named Jorge, as we passed run-down streets lined with broken tents, tarps, pieces of newspaper. People wandered, looking in all directions and looking lost. Feet reached the outsides of many of the tarps that bucketloads of people seemed to be calling "home" for a long, long time. I drove through the backroads of Beverly Hills a few days later, where signs were put up for pedestrians (peasants?) to not pass. I've seen more 7$ lattes than I can count. People speak of change. People seem to be hopeful, especially the first few days of the New Year. But I can't forget wandering through Silver Lake in L.A last week and passing a 1$ store filled with everything from off-brand maxi pads and week-old blueberries while right across the road there was a cute organic grocer. The clientele was very different from what I could see from the window of the organic place.
Watching the beginning of Obama's farewell speech last week, I think I wasn't alone in the thoughts running through my brain-like regrets, missed steps, things done differently, hope lost.
I'm sure Obama's been doing an extra dose of soul-searching since that Election Day. I'm sure we all have. I can't help but feel as vulnerable as the POTUS right now, who still speaks of change, who still (hopefully) believes in hope, and who wonders what the hell happened from that moment someone crazy got elected until now? What have we done? What have we yet to accomplish? He had two terms to do stuff. I had years of living abroad and traveling-why didn't my life completely transform and become all that I envisioned? I've been blogging for a few years now, why do I feel like I haven't made any progress? Why are my dreams pilling up, my reading lists saved for later only getting longer? When do we feel like that "hope" has been achieved? Conquered?
My first week alone in L.A I stayed at a hostel by Venice Beach. It's a neighbourhood I've dreamt of being in for years now. I spoke with lots of locals, trying to get a sense of the community and how things have changed since its heyday in the 60s. I wandered trying to breathe in the energy of the past poets and beatniks who were once there, and the unknown ones who still remain. My hostel was filled with mostly international folk, from Italy to New Zealand. They were all surprised and shocked at this "America" they were seeing. All the tents by the beach. All the wanderers. The homeless and the drifters. Then they down another Budweiser on tap. What is this country? This city? They ask. Why are things just so?
I tell them the name means the City of Angels.
As for me, I'm still looking for my team. Maybe right now I'm in the midst of building a little team. Everyday is work. Maybe soon I'll get paid again. And I'm going to continue to be a little crazy, and keep in my heart what's right so that in the end, there won't be any regrets.