For most of my childhood, I resented the fact that I was born in LA, even when I was 7 years old and mostly unfamiliar with places outside California. Before my parents relocated to the bay area in 1997, they brought me to our new community so I could have an idea of what I was getting into prior to moving day. All of my siblings were out of the house already, so I was the only one who would be affected by the change. Scotts Valley seemed like a nice foothills community, and more than anything else, I was floored by the absence of graffiti. I couldn’t believe we’d be moving somewhere so clean and safe, so I asked my dad to drive me through the whole town twice to check for vandalism of any kind. We found nothing, and I was amazed. It was a blessing to leave smoggy, congested, plastic LA for green, quiet, natural northern California, and I’m glad my mom and dad let me spend the better half of my youth there instead of overcrowded Tinseltown.
That doesn’t mean I had the greatest experiences in nor Cal as the years wore on. Middle school was tough and I spent the first two years of high school dreaming about “getting away from it all” and never having to see some of my peers again. By junior year, I was too ambitious, perky, and excited about my budding friendships and relationships to indulge the negativity. I was just pumped about life, wherever it would take me. At the beginning of senior year, I thought I’d be going to college in Boston, but my entire East Coast family, particularly my father, claimed I didn’t have what it took to endure the relentless winters.
“You will not make it in Boston,” my dad, an upstate New Yorker who’d lived all over the tri-state area, told me in blunt East Coast fashion. “You don’t know cold, Laura. You have no idea what cold even means.”
He had a right to worry about me, because this is what I grew up around:
And this is what I ended up choosing for myself:
If only he could have seen me during my first winter in D.C. I’ve never in my life been more miserable, and all I could think as I trudged to work at 5:00 a.m. on an icy January morning was, “Dad, you were right, and I’m the world’s biggest moron.” That was D.C., which is much warmer than Boston, so if I could barely handle that or NYC, I certainly wouldn’t have made it in Massachusetts.
I didn’t head to the East Coast right after high school, and quite honestly, I would have transferred home by Thanksgiving at the latest had I gone to Emerson College as planned. I attended University of Arizona, a stark contrast to the Boston liberal arts college experience. Though many people never get used to the heat, I took to the dry climate instantly and truly believe I’m my happiest self in Tucson, where the sun never, ever lets me down.
Two years ago, I moved from D.C. to NYC because I preferred the culture up north, and though I’ve been shaken up more than a few times here, the swift life change was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. New York is much more fun than D.C. The bars are livelier, people dress and behave in a more creative way, the public transportation system is exceptional, and pretty much every type of person can be found in the city. You have funny aspiring actors, wealthy and manicured finance professionals, stressed out journalists, nannies putting off their careers, playwrights, advertising employees who think they’re living in Mad Men (I met someone who actually called himself Don Draper a while back … it was insane), etc. Everyone is working towards something greater than themselves, and though the city can be overwhelming, you feed off that energy for motivation. As my friend Frances recently noted, there’s never a boring day in NYC. It may be awful and heartbreaking and royally disappoint you, but it won’t be dull. And I’ve enjoyed that more than anything else during my time here.
An old colleague recently approached me and said, “You know what I like about working with you? You’ve got a laidback West Coast attitude and mentality. New York needs more Laura Donovans.”
I’ve gotten that before, and to be honest, I don’t know if I want to take it as a compliment anymore, mainly because I’ve always felt I fit in better here than I ever did in California. Maybe I just had a rough time growing up, but it did seem like you needed to be 5’10, tan, and blonde to be noticed out West. That’s definitely a thing in LA, but as I’ve mentioned before, Hollywood’s beauty standards have shifted in recent years thanks to courageous entertainers such as Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, and even Tina Fey (who has admitted to being a huge dork until age 24. Me too). They went after their dreams in spite of the pervasive belief, which I gave into, that you have to fit into a specific box to land work in LA. There will always be a demand for the classic tall and thin look, but talent and drive seem to count more than ever now.
I’ve spent the past few years working tirelessly in online media. Yes, I loved seeing my byline on the internet and in print. Yes, I appreciate having a solid Twitter following. Yes, I value the glamour that comes with being a journalist/editor/writer. But I figured out a while ago that I was coming dangerously close to hitting a ceiling professionally, personally, and financially. I realized I didn’t want to write for the internet forever — not the way I’d been doing it for many years.
The truth is, I’ve written plenty of stories that went viral. It gets less and less exciting each time. I benefited from feedback, both good and bad, and hearing that I’d helped readers in some way. I don’t care about page views anymore, and I’m sad to say I used to justify some of my throwaway posts in the name of numbers, which is all most editors care about (and they have to be this way with so many competitors publishing the same story). I want to write to entertain people, even though I’m nervous to start from scratch and tackle the basics of screenwriting with a totally clean slate.
My NYC lease ends in April, which will be here before I know it, but after that, I think I’m heading back to my birthplace — LA — for better or worse. Sure I’ll miss my turbulent, hilarious, memorable former life in NYC, not to mention the amazing friends who’ve been crazy enough to stand by me this whole time, but I’ll be closer to my family, and NEVER HAVE TO WEAR AN UGLY PUFFY JACKET AGAIN.
Sorry, but after three disgusting, wet, and downright traumatic winters on the East Coast, I’m completely warranted in using all caps. You won’t find me hating life more than I do during winter, when I have to bundle up until you don’t even realize I’m a human with an actual shape. Anyway, I thought for the longest time that I would go the Andy Anderson “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” route and be an editor in NYC. But magazines aren’t what they were when I was 15 and totally into rom-coms. When Andy Anderson and Jenna Rink of 13 Going on 30 were managing publications, online media wasn’t a thing, let alone the most powerful means to deliver news. We didn’t have BuzzFeed, The Frisky, Jezebel, The Hairpin, etc., generating content all day everyday. Lifelong aspiring writers like myself weren’t yet forced to churn out article after article regardless of quality. Online quotas were nonexistent, and editors had the luxury of prioritizing quality over quantity. Today the industry is different and, I fear, dying. I’d rather not go down with it — not when I can have fun and potentially make other people laugh with another form of writing.
So, even though a part of me is terrified to return to the state in which I grew up and navigate the clogged roads of LA, it is after all my hometown. I had a clean slate when I made my world debut there in 1988, and I am going to treat my new adventure in LA — round two — the same way,
As they say in The O.C., California here [I] come!