I did my time doing drugs in the desert. After moving to Los Angeles, I bought crystals for energy balancing, had a psychic read my tarot cards, complained about the traffic, and then later learned to accept the traffic. I ate some damn good Cuban food and visited lots of taco trucks. I bought tickets to a music festival and spent four days dancing in the desert with a group of friends, popping molly and taking tabs of acid like it was candy.
I seamlessly blended into the SoCal culture that was different in many ways from my native East Coast lifestyle. And I was relishing it, until the things I loved about my sliver of life in California started to turn on me. The ceaseless sunshine grew daunting, almost mocking. Countless hours in a car started to feel isolating and unmanageable.
I saw driving – the LA staple – as a task that limited the serendipitous encounters found in other cities. Parking tickets started to feel like targeted threats. The quirky features of the City of Angels that inspired me to stay, and still inspire many other residents to stay, suddenly felt like a binding contract I regretted signing and desperately wanted to break.
Naturally, I stubbornly ignored this feeling. Stubbornly ignoring feelings is one of my talents. Instead, I did my favorite things in the city: drinking on hip rooftop bars in Venice Beach, eating acai bowls in the sand while watching the waves crash, going to Melrose Trading Post on Sundays, hiking up dusty mountains, eating ramen in Little Tokyo.
I chased that sunny, warm vibe I had been hit with like a drug upon arrival. Nothing stuck. I fell further into a galaxy of confusion and anxiety. I had been bragging to family and friends about “how, like, totally awesome it is to live in L.A.” and “yes, I would definitely live here for at least ten more years.” I was stumped on why that excitement couldn’t be wrangled back into my brain.
While evaluating my time in the city, looking for clues, I realized I was anxious most the time and not sleeping well. For consecutive months I had been high for some portion of each day. Okay, yeah, I was mostly just smoking a lot of weed and I had a medical card, but that level of escapism isn’t healthy.
I had never been an anxious human before, or needed to rely on a substance to survive months at a time. Yes, I recognize that people do have legitimate reasons for smoking daily or taking prescription pills. I am not one of those people.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert has an interesting concept about cities and their inhabitants. “Every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there,” Gilbert writes. I still haven’t quite figured out what Los Angeles’ word is, although Gilbert defines it as SUCCEED.
What I do know is that my word didn’t match up with L.A.’s word. Long before deciding to move away, I began seeing all the glaringly awful things about the place. You tend to do that when you’re unhappy. I observed how the narcissistic and materialistic values that run rampant among younger generations seem ultra condensed in the city of stars.
I observed the overrated hype of California in general that can easily float into people’s heads, inflating egos and building superiority complexes. It’s just another state, not utopia.
This is not to say that Los Angeles is a bad place. There are many different experiences and lifestyles to sculpt there. I know people who move and love it. I also know people who move there and leave shortly after. Obviously, humans have varying preferences and goals and values. Individuals need to honor what they value most in life, identify and chase their own goals, and find people and places that call forth joy. I decided that my time dancing in the desert and being perma-tan was done. I was no longer living my dream, but someone else’s.
There are too many places on Earth to dwell in a city that causes misery. Go out and find a town, village, city or wilderness that matches your word and your energy. Live in a city for a few years, decide you hate it, and move. And remember it’s okay if you hate L.A. Most things don’t live up to the hype.