January 27, 2010

love with a city

Design Seminar II

I absolutely could not wait to look out the window of the plane and see the 405 and 10 intersection— and the miles of traffic that signified we were above Los Angeles, California—my true home away from home. I looked miles below to the ground. It was brown with layers of cracked earth indicating steep, mountainous terrain. Every now and then I noticed a road with a car traveling on it. “We’re probably nearing Joshua Tree... and the windmills” I thought “about 140 miles to go.” I was on my first Christmas break from Graduate School at Carnegie Mellon University, and I had just spent the past eight months in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—a place dramatically different from Los Angeles. I thought back to the last time I flew into LAX. I had just visited Pittsburgh for the first time and—during my visit—had made the decision to move there for Grad School. My stomache had cringed at the idea that it could be the last time I would fly back. But today—with unbridled excitement—here I was.

Two and a half years ago is the last time I can remember feeling this way on the plane into LA. It was my very first visit. I remember it was night in early August and I could see fireworks all around the city. I don’t know why there were fireworks, though, they quite nicely paralleled the discord in my heart as the plane neared the landing pad. My mom had travelled with me to check everything out—which meant, offer me her opinions on each apartment we toured and each job I interviewed for. We found ourselves in the middle of a small studio apartment just south of Beverly Hills when my landlord-to-be warned me. He said, “Be careful—once you move to Southern California, you’ll never leave. And if you have to leave, you’ll forever be dreaming of the sun and the ocean. Are you sure you’re ready?” Well I wasn’t sure. I looked at my mom and she gave me the “Are you okay living 3,000 miles away from home?” look. “Yes.” I stated confidently. “I am ready.” I think I was shaking as I signed the lease.

Up to this point, I had lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana my entire life. I had just graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelors degree in Architecture. Just ten minutes from mom and dad’s, I lived in a bungalow style house in the garden district with my six-month old yellow lab. I had a decent job at an architecture firm downtown. And besides my recent tumultuous breakup with my boyfriend of one and a half years, I didn’t really have a reason to leave except that I was bored. Bored of my running route around the LSU Lakes, bored of the tunnel vision that many people are diseased with there, and even—I can’t believe I am saying this—bored of the duck and sausage gumbo from The Chimes. “I’m gonna move to California one day” had always been one of those statements I said aloud to people but never had any intention of actually doing. But now my newly single-ness and blasÄ“ attitude towards home had me energetic for something new. So I took advantage of this ‘impulse’ and very swiftly—before it wore off—took the necessary steps to make it happen. The next thing I knew, I was standing in my to-be studio apartment just a few miles east of the Pacific—a few miles south of, well, Hollywood.

A month after my apartment and job searching visit in Los Angeles, I packed the car and made the four-day drive west from Baton Rouge. Most people would say, “It takes an average of six months to love living in Los Angeles.” I guess I’m the exception because it took me about three trips to Runyon Canyon, one trip to the Promenade in Santa Monica, and maybe a trip or two to the beach to be sure that Los Angeles was stealing my heart. The next two years would be fantastic. My dog, Mara and I, would explore every inch of the city and soak in every bit of the sun. I think I knew early on that I didn’t have much time there because I placed precedence on gorging myself in everything unique to Southern California. Beach Volleyball, Westcoast Poweryoga, Marathon Training on the Santa Monica Strand, and hiking in the mountains were only a few of my activities. Each time I went home—though I was happy to be reacquainted with family, friends, and gumbo—I felt evermore distant to the life I used to know there. Flights back to LA had a routine: the fervent search for the 405 and the sigh of relief when it was spotted. It was a routine of unabashed independence. A place where I felt connected to the outside world and freed from the chokehold of life in Baton Rouge.

About a year after I moved to Los Angeles, even though weekend life was really really good, my day job was not. Every day I literally had to tear myself away from my apartment and into my desk chair at work. The sifting through mechanical drawings for the 65,000 square foot monster house I was working on was dramatically different than creating the expressive architecture I had come to know in school. I realized very quickly how much more important money was over innovation in the professional world. And what made things even more depressing, was that there was not much I could do to change the process of induction of Junior Architects to Experienced Licensed Architects—I needed something like 300 units under supervision plus nine exams to obtain my license. This would take three to five years of mouse clicking and drawing sifting. And even after this, the day-to-day work wasn’t guaranteed to change. The architecture profession was becoming the new chokehold in my life.

My daily mantra shifted from “get paid Monday through Friday so Saturday and Sunday can happen” to “how can Sunday through Saturday be seamless?” In other words, “How can I get paid to love every second of my life?” I answered my question with: 1. Become a yoga teacher so you can get paid to yoga. 2. Get a Masters in Design so you can get paid to create. Well, right before I left California, I completed number 1—I now get paid to yoga. Number 2 will commence in May of 2011.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” My mom asked when we pulled onto the 10 freeway to head back East. “No, I’m not ready to go. Not at all.” I replied. In this moment of leaving, LA was the bandaid and I was the skin—this ripping apart was almost too painful to manage. I swallowed a few tears as we drove towards the desert. Los Angeles had taught me about myself and the world—and how to search within to find happiness without.

So here I was—almost eight months since I left—fervently searching for the 405 again. My heart thumped when I first spotted it. Then I saw Palos Verdes, the Hermosa Pier, and the Ferris Wheel in Santa Monica. The sky was blue and the smoky haze of yellow that always hovered above the city was still intact. In a few moments, I’d be released again. Back at home—back in my space of utter comfort and bliss. I knew that it had been the right decision to move away, but my landlord was right on. I would always dream of the sand and the sea, the blue sky, the traffic, and the smog. I was only here for a few days this time, but hopefully next time, I’ll be back to live.

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