February 20, 2005

this city

It's not that I dislike Los Angeles, exactly. In fact, there have even been stretches of time – long stretches, though not recent ones – where I liked this city. Where I enjoyed the stark hills that cradle the sprawl, relished Santa Monica beach and the Venice boardwalk, adored shopping at the farmer's market for fresh fruit year round – outside! In shirt sleeves! In February!, and found the ubiquitous red tile roofs of the Moorish style houses charming and the equally ubiquitous profusion of bird of paradise, agave and lavender (Southwest desert meets Mediterranean seaside) appealing. I still do like all those things. I like aspects of Los Angeles. But, equal and opposite, I feel a desolation here. An unrelenting loneliness and sense of isolation. Is it the human condition in the post-modern world? Maybe so, but I think it's worse here. Anywhere on the West Coast, really, (US and Canada both) and probably in a number of western-edged states. To me, it's all about the automobile. This city – and much of the countryside around it – was built on the assumption of private, individual transportation. Therefore this second largest city in the US was built out rather than up. Relatively few high rises and a whole hell of a lot of sprawl. Yes, where I live we can walk to the store. But why would we? It's not that pretty a walk, and where it is, people aren't out on the sidewalk enjoying the view. There's no crush of humanity when you're all in your cars pulling into the valet station. There's just metal and exhaust and lots and lots of road.

Damian had a play date this afternoon, and as the kids played at being kitties and flying their frogs in Kid Knex rocket ships, his friend's mom and I were chatting. I told her of our plans to vacate this metropolis, vamoose, scram, get out of Dodge. She listened, nodded, contemplated. She asked how long we'd been here. I told her (seventeen years). She said, "And you've never really settled here." Yes. That's it exactly. It no longer feels alien to me, but it also doesn't have the pull of home. It doesn't feel like where I belong. It doesn’t – or I don't – fit.

I can say a lot of negative things about this city's culture and social attitudes. I think some may not be wholly true, just as no sweeping stereotype can capture a mass of people. And in a way I'd like to explore that, if only because my next novel takes place here and I'd like to capture what exactly I feel about this surreal environment, this manmade oasis with its lure of glamour and success and the concurrent and necessary desperate hunger that leaches out of the creaky Yugos and leased Beemers alike as their owners look in the rear view mirror and primp for their next meeting, but also the reality of some very hardworking gardeners who pause and smile so sweetly at the toddler who wanders past to watch with such wide eyes and the reality of people who work well outside the prevailing industry and so haven't taken on the protective coloration therein, who are living their non-glamorous non-hungry lives alongside the confusion of Hollywood. I'd like to put it all down on paper in a way that doesn't fall into the usual clichés, though they're hard to avoid because so many have a ring of truth, or is it that if you say them enough, they become reality? I don't know. Maybe I'll have more of a sense from a distance.

As I contemplate leaving, I also contemplate this city. What is the essence of a place? I find I'd like to understand. If I can. Before I leave, or maybe after. Because I am indeed ready to leave. To go back to a part of the world where I feel at home. But I'd also like to digest these past years, understand where and therefore to some extent who I was and have become.

Posted by Tamar at February 20, 2005 11:51 PM | TrackBack

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Posted by: Scott at February 21, 2005 08:03 AM

Of course you leave a city to write about it. Of all my novels, only one was written in the city where it begins -- all the others were done after I left. And think of Joyce and Dublin! It's like departure sharpens the outlines of a place.

Posted by: Chris at February 21, 2005 08:47 AM

Wow, I didn't realise that you'd been there for so long. The way you talk about it, and the way you talk about NY I guess I'd always figured you'd moved there - I don't know, before Damian was born obviously, but not that many years before.

Which says it all about how you've never really settled there I guess.

Posted by: Kay at February 27, 2005 01:12 AM
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