Oct 2006

Livin' in La La Land

Depending on how one looks at this place, one can see a sea of broken dreams or an ocean of opportunity.

L.A. is a land of extremes where wealth and poverty co-exist in delicate honeycomb compartments, separated only by the thinnest of walls, and fame and insignificance walk side by side on the heaving concrete sidewalks. Always, the threat of violence looms, and at the same time people stand on street corners with signs encouraging motorists to honk for peace.

You don't have to go looking for despair in this town. Despair will find you. Your job, if you are going to survive here, is to actively, persistently, chase it away.

From the Hollywood hills, sunshine, relentless sunshine and optimism stream down. Multi-million dollar homes challenge the laws of physics, dangling way out over steep precipices, held up only by what must be unwavering belief in personal and global security on the part of their owners. You have to admire that ability to defiantly look out at the clogged smoggy lowlands and each day claim the American Dream as your own.

This city is living proof that it's easier to fall down than to fall up. Down here in the clogged smoggy lowlands the daily battle's a little more challenging. Noise from constant traffic is maddening. Garbage trucks squeal and roar up and down the streets. Cars, stretch limos and monster SUV's transport everyone everywhere. Nobody walks. Nobody bikes. Police helicopters whirl above in Blade Runneresk monotone. There's barely a patch of grass to be found to stretch your limbs. Homeless people sleep in doorways on the far side of desperation. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood is filthy, seedy, lined with useless t-shirt shops, promising nothing. And air quality... ugh... gasp.

I have this theory, though, that the output of works of beauty by artists is directly proportional to the ugliness of the urban landscape in which they live. Sometimes it feels like a fair trade. Toronto, for example, is shrouded in the dullest grey for months on end, but the arts and culture scenes make it feel like one of the most colourful and lively cities on the planet. In cities like Vancouver, where people are surrounded by such natural beauty, the need for the creation of beauty is less pressing. Los Angeles, due to the degradation of its nature, has perhaps the most urgent need for poetry, music, colour, beautiful stories...

My friends warn me: "be careful not to take the place too seriously," "make sure you have something to fall back on," and "don't get lost."

Never being one to shy away from bellies of beasts, here I am in the churning belching gut. It's only because I know its exact opposite exists that I'm able to maintain, for the most part, my light heart. And a light heart is the only way to fight despair. Luckily, somewhere along the way, I became an optimist blessed with a healthy balance of child-like wonder and irreverence. Some of the most enlightening adventures in my life have happened when I've lost my way.

Call me an idiot, but I actually believe that taking the place seriously, not having anything to fall back on, and getting lost, for a time, is the right way to do L.A. In fact, it's kind of the only way to do anything. It's the only way I'm able to look at this place and see the vast ocean of opportunity.