Four years ago, I arrived in LA in a burning fire. Or at least it felt like that, stepping off my red eye from New York. It was just after midnight, but the heat emanating from the tarmac felt like high noon. I immediately hated it.
After stopping at baggage claim to collect the belongings I either couldn’t afford to ship or my mama couldn’t be bothered to store back home in Atlanta, I took a taxi to the hippie commune near USC’s campus that I’d call home for my first year of grad school.
It was actually a house, but I had five roommates, including a happy-go-lucky drug dealer named Doug who used his illicit profits to handcraft jewelry in a kiln. Our landlord, Jan, and his wife lived in the guesthouse behind our abode. Jan was in a band, and their jam sessions around the backyard bonfire went on into the early morning. These jam sessions were often fueled by the drugs Jan bought from Doug.
It was a colorful time to live. It was an awfully loud time to live, too, so I moved to Koreatown before settling into my current apartment in Mid-City. With each move, I hoped to find a piece of LA that fit into the puzzle of my life.
My friend Cynthia recently shared with me a funny short story she wrote about a woman who fantasizes about an apartment that will magically come not only furnished, but also bearing the perfect life she wants to have. Reading it, I realized over these four years I’d not only done some fantasizing of my own, I’d also let Los Angeles rub off on me.
So much of what qualifies as happiness in this city, particularly the entertainment industry, comes from ticking off a list of achievements. The apartment with a clutch parking spot? Check. The first luxury car? Check. The high-power job, the film deal, the hot agent? Check, check, triple check.
Don’t get me wrong: those things are awesome, and I have my own similar list. But they take a while to obtain, so what do you do in the meantime to fight the feeling that the incessant sunshine is trolling you?
Hitting the four year mark in this desert, I’ve reflected on my accomplishments, which include getting an MFA in Screenwriting from a fantastic program, and I couldn’t have done any of them without my friends. Also, a therapist. But, yes, my friends have been great.
They’ve given me rides when I didn’t have a car. They’ve read my scripts when they probably felt too tired to write their own. They’ve stayed up all night with me binge watching Girlfriends - a funny show about awful friends - when times were low. And in return, I’ve gone to their improv shows, stand-up sets, plays, script readings, and screenings. These auditions for the big moments often get overlooked, but they’re the ones that stick with me. They inspire me to wake up each morning before running outside to move my car before I get a ticket.
They are the moments like my lunch earlier this week with an old friend from grad school who I hadn’t seen in months. Over food from the adult high school cafeteria that is the Paramount Lot’s Cafe, we gave each other updates, both joyful and sad. Then she asked me the question everyone here seems to dread because you have to choose between being fake and the crushing reality of shittiness. “So how are you? Really?” she asked.
I took a deep breath, mulling my answer.
“You know what?” I finally said. “It’s scary to admit this, but I think I’m actually happy. It’s a weird feeling.”
Yes, it’s true. I’m happy. And I’m terrified.
I’m terrified that I might finally get what I want this time.