There isn’t much more of an emotional experience for me than driving through Downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley then back again; a route I know all too well yet still find so much nuance and newness in.
It’s the path from the place I live now back to the place I grew up in, from the future to back to the past and all the moments in between – both places that hold so much of my history but so much of my current hustle as well. The appointments. The auditions. The schools. The snacks. The boyfriends, the best friends, the strip malls where I learned to drive and the high rises I still look up at with awe. I cross “over the hill” into “The Val” and I’m instantly transported into the person I’ve always been. It’s all there, the same yet so different. My heart caves at the “For Lease” signs and expands with the familiar neon lights. Each block holds a memory, each zip code a sense of déjà vu.
The nostalgia eats me alive.
You know those dreams you have where you’re in a place, but it seems slightly “off?” Maybe it’s supposed to be your middle school homeroom, but your cousins are there and the blackboard is white. Or you’re walking down the grocery aisle, then suddenly it morphs into a pet shop where the Fuji apples used to be.
Having lived in the city I grew up in for my entire existence, that’s what my life has always seemed like to me – and the feeling I get when I drive down Ventura Boulevard. Morphing without warning, shifting without reason. I cannot tell if yesterday was yesterday or if it was two decades ago. If the block to my right has always been there or if it’s reconstructed out of an old orange grove. The past seems more like last night’s dream than a distant memory: it’s all where I left it, yet things are just…different.
As I prepare for a move across the country to a city I adore, I cannot help but sit and stare out the window a little bit longer than usual and breathe a bit deeper (when the city smog lets me). I think about change, I think about transitions, I think about how our lives are nothing more than a story playing itself out – which is really something, if you think about it hard enough.
This “City Of Angles” is my safety blanket in a way I can’t express. Sure, the space is familiar, but it’s more of the energy within that space that keeps me feeling safe. The feeling she, L.A, brings me…it’s less of a “home” feeling and more of an extension of myself. The twisted freeways, the blue and green signs and the busy off-ramps. The movie theater I got my first kiss, the beach where I fell in love. This city tells the story that made me…well…ME.
Why is it that our biggest moments on the inside are sometimes the smallest on the outside – and vice versa? Why is it we’re told it’s the opposite that must be true? We make movies and build holidays around this stuff, but the people who know better can see the meat is really within the minutia. Yes, our turning points sometimes come in the I Dos and the contracts and the big old forks in the road – but more often than not, those are just an external manifestation of a hundred huge micro-moments when we made a shift or stood our ground for the first time over and over again.
We feel it’s the big things that are supposed to define us: our extracurriculars, our SATs, our college major, our career choice, the person we marry, the life we have – ergo, the legacy we leave. But in actuality, our legacy is everything in between. It’s the play you saw at five years old that stirred something in your heart. It’s the tears you cried after the SATs but dried three minutes later because you had to show up for a team you couldn’t let down no matter your personal struggles. It’s the teacher that made you think outside of the box or called you out on your shit or was the first one to identify your fearlessness (even before you believed it yourself). It’s the kisses in the movie theatres and the times you said no when the easy option was to say yes. It’s the pivots you made when your heart felt that something wasn’t right, and the beelines you made when it knew everything was. The big moments are easy for others to understand, and they’re clear ways to designate your chapters. But the only person that matters when it comes to actually reading your story is YOU.The only person that matters when it comes to reading your story is YOU. Click To Tweet
Navigating transitions hasn’t ever really been my strong suit. I was born into a sea of nostalgia, a family of collectors and traditions and story upon story told over and over. And they’re all in Los Angeles, all amidst its familiar streets. Those boulevards have been like talismans to me my entire life, signifying good luck or a safety net around the corner.
It’s so easy to blur my story with the ones of my community – it all seems the same sometimes. In the past I’ve felt an obligation to turn the pages for others, to modify my story to fit the narrative that surrounds me. My legacy is easiest to understand when others get it, I’ve thought. It’s where I derive my importance and my worth. In the ease. In the fact that I can live this dream of past moments without ever fully waking. I can know each step of the way.
And so a part of me raises her eyebrow at the fact that I feel so ready. I should be frantic, I should be mourning. I should be soaking in every single moment and wondering/worrying how I will fare. It’s unknown, after all. And I know my relationship with the unknown.
But I do. I feel so ready. And I think it’s because I am always celebrating and mourning simultaneously. I am constantly soaking in each moment like it’s the last, treating what I see as final. Like it’s the last time my eyes ever will transfix on the slow-moving clouds, or the shadows on the buildings, or the way the same hawk lands in the very same place outside my window each season. I notice the little things that remind me of myself, the constants that have painted the backdrop and nuance in my story for so long. I’ve collected moments and made each hour a tradition. It’s not morbid or morose, it’s just this immense gratitude and awareness that it’s all something that will feel like a dream I woke up from not too far off in the future.
I wonder if that’s the secret to navigating transitions. To notice the moments before you realize they were moments. To speak with intention in each sentence you make.
I look around at Los Angeles and I wonder what the future holds for our relationship. Will she still feel like an extension of myself once I come back to visit? Will my memory of her be something I can’t quite pinpoint when I’m trying to describe her to others, decades in the future, ones who might only know a watered-down version in the future, a half-magical version of her greatness? I know my version isn’t her pinnacle of awesomeness per se, but it sure as hell has been a great one to me.
We all have a place we call home, or at least a vision of a place we’ve once called home. And when we stray from that familiar safe haven, it’s easy to succumb to the idea that we SHOULD be thrown for a loop. That we’re about to wake. What happens then, we wonder? Will I fade into the darkness, too? If I am not my surroundings and I am not my talismans…then who am I?
As I sit here now, in the soon-to-be-morning darkness on my soon-to-be-sold couch in my soon-to-be-old home, I know that my present will soon be that dream I woke up from. I cry at the loss that hasn’t even happened, and I cry for the ones who might never know L.A.’s true heart. I wince at the thought of anyone trying to change her, to alter her, to shape her into their idealized Mecca. Because what I see now is perfection, her dirty streets and dilapidated shops, the creatives walking with the corporates and the homeless laughing with the hipsters. I want to save her charm, bottle it up or trap it in a snow globe. It’s where I fell deeply in love over and over again, the place that takes my breath away no matter how shitty the day has been. She is my friend, lover, teacher, mentor. She is family who I don’t always agree with but love down to the core.
But maybe that is the true beauty of it all. We all get to choose the magic we see and the dreams we wake up from. No version is better or worse, we just decide where our incarnation and perception fits into the mix. We can mourn the change and the loss or we can celebrate the ever-evolving dream that’s always in motion. It’s all there, things are just different. We can choose whether our transitions mean hard starts and stops, or if they just mean we’re in the midst of our story – an ever-morphing dream we’ve never really needed to wake up from.
I choose to celebrate. And I choose to keep dreaming.
We all get to choose the magic we see and the dreams we wake up from. Click To Tweet