I’m still wrapping my head around the reality that we’ve moved across the country. Away from the natural beauty of upstate New York, and Mom and Pop’s horse farm, away from the self-sufficient lifestyle we were building, where we were learning how to use chainsaws, build fences, wire electrical outlets, train horses, plant gardens and generally enjoy the pleasure of hard, dirty work. We moved away from childhood friendships, family, elderly grandparents, secure and rewarding jobs, to come here. To a city that most of my life I’ve thought of with a disdainful snuffle and eyebrow raise. Why would anyone ever want to live in Los Angeles? The smog *insert dismissive scoff here*! The traffic *insert judgmental eye roll here*! Not to mention the crowding, the heat, the class and racial tensions. Crime, gentrification, and plastic surgery. Earthquakes. Oh, and let's not forget the fires!
When we visited in October of last year, I decided to seek refuge from the 110-degree heat (yes, seriously) in a park, a lovely green space on Google Maps. When I arrived there, I found a huge brown, dusty bowl instead. On my bitter days, that feels like an apt metaphor for this wildly intense and complex city. Yes. It could be seen as quite lovely, but it was not what I wanted, seeking shade and relief from the heat.
We are both facing challenges here. I won’t speak for Jarred, as he is generally more even-keeled than me anyway. And thank goodness we do have each other. That makes the whole shock slightly less, well, shocking. But it takes time to build new friendships, and it’s harder to do that when you’re not in school, or in my case, in work with a regular schedule or office group.
In short: it’s lonely and hot, and it’s disorienting without a regular job, friends or routine. And we both miss home and our friends and family.
But, having said all that, we made the decision to move here so I could chase a dream. This is 100% a self-imposed challenge, with the unwavering support of my husband, who believes in me even when I don't. I am fully aware how fortunate I am that we could even make this move, so I am determined to see it through. If we can, for two or even three years. I don’t want to run away from it before I’ve actually given it that chance. But I also don’t want my husband and myself to be miserable and lonely for three years either, just on principle.
So, as I am grappling with how to find beauty, peace, and connection in what feels like a foreign place, I am relying on a few tools that I thought I'd share. They’re tools I have turned to again and again at various challenging moments. Full disclosure, writing this blog post is one of them!
First. This dream we came here for me to chase? It’s not going to happen overnight (well, OK, there’s a one in a gajillion chance, but that’s not what I’m counting on). I’ve been very grateful to have some amazing experiences and opportunities very quickly after arriving here, but acting is like any other job: it takes years of diligent work to master, along with a little bit of luck. It’s tough to see that horizon stretching in front of me, when we’ve already had several life-experiences that required a long-term view – like medical school, residency, and caring for my mom.
The best tool for overcoming the sense of overwhelm that hits when I contemplate this, is to remind myself to just take it one day at a time.
It feels a bit like when we got married, actually. "Till death do us part" felt kind of intense. One day at a time was easier to contemplate. And as far as L.A. is concerned, we are still in the awkward, getting-to-know-each other phase. We haven’t had enough time together to have a comfortable routine, or to know how to help each other. Those are things that come with time in any relationship. It's far too early to say if it will end in a happy marriage, or in us mutually going our separate ways.
But it can be overwhelming to think of commitment as a long-term decision. And it's unrealistic. We have to keep deciding we want to do a thing, and to work at it, in real commitment. It's more manageable (and I think, realistic) to take it in daily bites sometimes. Today, I am here, and I will make the best of it. Tomorrow, I plan to decide to do it again. But the only thing I have for sure is today. So let's start there!
That brings me to another step: leaving my comfort zone to explore this city, and then noticing the good things around me (connected to gratefulness). Well, technically, that's several steps, but whatever.
Saturday, I decided to try taking a day off from my acting hustle. I parked in front of the TV for several hours until I fell asleep. And when I woke up, I felt groggy and restless, and kind of depressed. So I forced myself to get dressed and to walk to the small, scraggly park that’s a few blocks away. It’s a mini-oasis. Ideally, I'd prefer a spot where I can’t see or hear traffic, but at least at this park, I can put a blanket down and gaze up at a tree.
Yes, there were also some homeless people camped out under a tree nearby, and the scent of marijuana wafted by, now and then. But I chose to focus on the trees, and the sound of birds, and the smell of the grass.
When we make a point to see and acknowledge what is good around us, we tend to be happier. It requires an intentional choice sometimes. In a city like L.A., it's easy to notice all the negatives– the garbage, the poverty, the abandoned lots. But interspersed in there are the palm trees, the rose bushes, the warm sunshine, the sound of a man playing his flute for passersby, and some wonderful people who may become good friends. It's not about trying to hide from or deny the pain in the world. But instead to approach the hard stuff from a more practical standpoint: what can I do to help it in a way that feels meaningful? And to start, the first step is taking care of myself. We can't take care of others if we're not taking care of ourselves first.
And it takes a different kind of diligence to nourish your soul and stay authentic in a place where the reward is more abstract and the problems of the world are more immediate. It can be a challenge to find meaning, beauty and serenity in a city. And it takes patience to find the lovely spots that feed a soul. And the people who share time and ideas and love. It requires showing up each day and staying open to what’s possible.
On Friday, I found myself on the highway, focused on the cars and the traffic and my destination. I suddenly had a flash of memory from when we moved here, only two months ago, and my eyes moved up to the tall palm trees swaying above the pavement. And the signs that said “Hollywood, Next 7 Exits”. I remembered how exciting it was the first time I saw those trees and that sign. THAT is what brought us out here.
Here's the scary truth: it’s far easier to leave a dream a dream.
It takes no courage. No turmoil. It’s easier to sit and wallow in self-pity about what surely could have been if you had just tried. Or had been given a chance. It is a hell of a lot harder to actually take the leap that your dream is POSSIBLE. That you have to go after it. It loses some of its glamour then. Because it goes from a romanticized hypothetical “could’ve been” to the practical realities of “what actually is.”
It's hard. It’s demanding all of my courage, persistence, self and other-love, and constantly showing up again and again. Some days, showing up is all I can manage, but some days, that is enough. But it is in pursuit of something that at its best, brings me more joy and connection than anything else in my life.
So, I am hopeful, even as I grunt and scramble each day. It's weird, scary and exciting to let go of the enormous “what if” I’ve carried around for a decade and a half.
Because now I'm actually going to find out the answer.