Friday, April 28, 2006

I'm going to jail, isn't it wonderful?

So said George Bailey. I'm not going to jail, but I'm feeling rather Bedford Falls nonetheless.

There's no accounting for mood shifts. Last week I finished a draft of my dissertation chapter on El Vez, The Mexican Elvis. My sister agreed to buy my condo and we both came out the better for it, my mortgage issues over and her in a great place to live. My grey baby was as cute as ever. Still, things crashed down into a melancholy mix of isolation, alienation, and regret. LA seemed impenetrable, the prospect of making friends impossible, and I seemed to myself nothing more than a long list of should-have-dones and wish-I-wases (wases is not a word, I know, but grad students (emulating established academics) are adept at coining neologisms, although these are usually more clever and abstruse than wases).

Why? And why now do I feel elated? Objectively, nothing has changed. In fact, I could pose an argument that things are worse. I've been done with the draft for over a week and have not put word one to paper on the next chapter. I've rebuked on a promise I made to myself that I would go out and experience one LA thing each week - a museum, a park, an area of town, whatever. I haven't even cracked the guidebook I bought. I finished a pleasure book while ignoring my dissertation buddies Adorno and Bourdieu. I've ridden my bike, but not enough.

And yet.

Isolation slips into integration. Today I feel lucky, fortunate for having friends and family, thankful that the heart is big and the world is small and that I can be here and still present in all the other theres that all the people I know inhabit.

Sure, Pottersville has better music, neon lights, and stiff drinks. But give me Bedford Falls today.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

When a Minneapolitan Moves West

When a Minneapolitan moves west to Los Angeles, people (usually people not from Minneapolis) repeat the following phrase over and over, "You're going to love it."

When this Minneapolitan moved west to Los Angeles (I arrived one month ago today), she thought, "Why?"

And then, more irritably, "Why do people who don't know me or know anything about me assume that I have escaped some horrible fate by moving here? Why is my love of this city taken as a given, treated as the most obvious thing in the world? Why should I love it?"

A decidedly sour attitude to have when moving to a new city, I know. But here's the thing - despite the unending, subzero winters and the short, mosquito-plagued summers, I love Minneapolis. I could tell you all the reasons why, but that's not really the point of this blog. But you should know that Minneapolis is a great city. Beautiful, cultured, progressive; a little diamond of a town. You should also know that, growing up in the Midwest, we are constantly put on the defensive by people from the coasts who believe that there is nothing of value or interest (unless you want quaint, country, or kitsch) in the Flyover Land and that anyone with half a mind would have gotten the hell out of there as quickly as possible. To their eyes, we are all toothless hicks who speak funny, ride tractors to school, and are utterly thoughtless in all that we do.

It's that sort of arrogance, that sense of entitlement, that security in the fact that the promised land can only be found near an ocean and not in a state spotted with lakes, that I am resistant to.

Also, I am The Least Likely Person to Move to Los Angeles:

  • I am not here to make it big in the movies. I am not here to work in film or television. I am not enamored with celebrity culture. In fact, I do theatre, the red-headed stepchild of the arts. I am here to finish my PhD, find a teaching position, and stage plays.
  • I am not into fashion. This is inevitable when one spends more on books than on clothes. Which I don't mean to say with a snobbish air; I bring it up because this is the reality of graduate school (despite what you might see on TV). Graduate students, especially graduate students in theatre, are broke. We make no money, and what we do make, we end up spending on small-scale theatre productions or on beer (graduate students are also, by and large, heavy drinkers). My relationship to fashion is further alienated by the fact that I study consumer culture and view it as an atomizing, competitive social system that continually produces and frustrates desires, preventing any sort of true pleasure or happiness in order to maintain social/class/power/economic/cultural inequality under the illusion of democracy, freedom, and overabundance (this is really simplified; if you'd like to know more, I can expand).
  • I am not good at small talk. See bullet point above if you don't believe me. Wouldn't it be easier to say, "I love the lines of the new summer fashions," smile, and be done with it? Being socially awkward is another inevitable result of graduate school, I believe. Grad school makes you boring to 99% of the people on this planet, often times including yourself.
  • I am not young enough for such a move to be magical. I'm 33, and everyone knows that cross-country relocations to find yourself and start a new life are best done in your 20s. The world is all possibility then; you want to meet new people and experience new things; you have the energy and stamina to work shitty jobs and stay out all night partying; it seems normal to live with 5 roommates in a crappy apartment and eat ramen or not eat at all; it is a time of life when all you want is to break away, to start fresh, to be somewhere else. At 33, these yearnings have passed, the energy has dissipated, and you find joy and comfort in different things - a cat on your lap, a good book, a long bath, a night at home.

So why did I move to LA? For the best of all reasons, of course: love. I am deeply, madly, and passionately in love with my boyfriend, and my boyfriend lives in LA. It's a long, unlikely tale (either terribly romantic or strangely insane, depending on your perspective) between us, one that I may get into at some later time. Or not. But he lives here and I couldn't bear to be without him and now I live here, too.

And I don't want to be the sort of resentful person I probably sound like in this post, standing here but always looking back, spouting off reasons why this city and I will never mesh, why Minneapolis is such a better place than where I am, simply flipping the Coast vs. Midwest attitude that I so quickly condemn in others.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. I want to learn to love LA. While I refuse to wholeheartedly accept this love as a given, I will accept it as a possibility, and I will undertake it and this blog as a process. This is me getting to know a city. This is me learning to make friends and establish roots. This is me spouting off about any number of things. This is me writing (or avoiding writing) a dissertation. This is me being confident. This is me being afraid. This is me learning to love LA.