On visiting NYC again

NYC from the top of the Hearst Tower
NYC from the top of the Hearst Tower

I recently flew to NYC for a work trip. A lot of people assumed I’d be excited to return to my old stomping grounds, as I have tons of friends in the city and had some pretty memorable experiences back east. I was certainly thrilled to go for business, but on a personal level, I was conflicted.

In July of last year, I knew I needed to move on from New York. I’d entertained the idea of relocating to LA in pursuit of screenwriting for a while, and now that I finally had the opportunity to try to make that a reality, I believed it was time to get out. I knew in July that I was ready to leave, but it wasn’t until late September that I acquired the confidence to abandon all I’d created in the concrete jungle for a calmer, sunnier, and healthier life in southern California.

A month before returning to the west coast, I switched my online dating profile to the LA network, which was quite small since this particular dating site had started in Brooklyn and was struggling to carve out a strong presence in Los Angeles. Thank God there weren’t many users on it, as one guy — known then to me as Ian41 — kept popping up on my Suggested Dates list and I clicked on over to his page to see what he was all about. Pretty soon, we sent each other a long email every single day leading up to my move, and shortly after my arrival, we knew we didn’t want to pursue anyone else.

We were very happy from the beginning, and though I had no job or place of my own (I was living in my grandma’s vacant condo in Long Beach at the time), I was more fulfilled than I’d ever been with my Upper East Side apartment or outwardly glamorous media career in NYC. That said, I still felt bad about the fact that I couldn’t necessarily take care of myself. Without stable employment, it was going to be challenging to pay rent, let alone move to LA proper.

When I made it to LA, I took some screenwriting classes, endured a few lousy entertainment jobs, and learned that the assistant route just wasn’t for me. I’d love to produce and write screenplays someday, but I am not going to become an abused runner in hopes that maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet the right people and make it big as a result. So nearly a year after my NYC fallout, I applied for a non-entertainment position at a trendy startup. I wouldn’t be writing, but I’d finally feel good about my professional place in the world again. I ended up getting a job offer on my birthday, when I also learned I’d be flying to NYC for a week to train at HQ. So many changes were taking place, but for once, they felt like good changes. I was so ready to finally feel financially stable again.

Luckily, I also had a family vacation planned right before training, so I flew to Massachusetts first and then took a train to Penn Station from there. It worked out well, butNYC it also meant I’d have to be away from Ian for ten days — the longest we’d ever been apart. I stayed at his house the night before my flight, sulking at bed time because I was scared to go through such an intense process without him. I’m used to coming home to him after stressful experiences and days, and not being able to hug him and debrief on the couch afterward just didn’t seem right.

My first night in NYC was the hardest. I walked from my Times Square hotel to Dos Toros burrito shop on 14th Street. It was a long journey, but I could use the exercise and time to think. It reminded me of how thin I’d been during my NYC days, and all the moving around definitely contributed to that. Nobody walks in LA. I also had to get used to the reality of jaywalking. When I first saw people doing it on 29th Street, I thought to myself, “Are they insane?” Then I remembered that’s normal in NYC and that I’d been a major offender during my own days in the city. Soon enough, I was jaywalking without a care, scrambling to cross the street with green lights hanging above me and taxis zooming in my direction.

On my walk back to the hotel, a lump formed in my throat. It was dark out and suddenly I was reminded of all the nights I’d walked home alone in New York City, sometimes holding back tears or not even bothering to hide my disappointment with whatever had just happened. The truth is, the loneliness I felt living there was unbearable, and even more so upon returning. Suddenly my life with Ian in LA felt so far away, like it had never happened. I’d dreamed it all and was back in the city that had broken my heart in every possible way.

Longing for Ian and his family, all of which I consider my family now, I bought postcards for them at a tourist store. There was a sale for 10 cards at a price of $1, but I only purchased three: one for my nana, one for Ian, and one for Ian’s parents. I scribbled notes for all of them on the street and then proceeded to drop them in the nearest mailbox. I text messaged Ian to let him know, and right then, he emailed me a funny YouTube clip of a “great NYC pizza place” to check out during my trip. The video featured Steve Carell going into a Sbarro, and sure enough, there was a Sbarro across the street from me at that moment.

I relayed this to Ian, who seemed to think the incident was humorous as well. Suddenly the pit in my stomach was gone. I was in NYC solo, but Ian could share the experience with me, and I knew that no matter what, I was going home to him. One day we’d venture to NYC as a pair and try out the real pizza together, but until then, we could mock the crappy chains populating Times Square. It was all going to be fine.

The rest of my trip was spectacular. I loved waking up in Times Square and walking down to HQ in Chelsea. I remember thinking that my life in NYC might have been better and easier had I lived near work and avoided the subway. Had I simply done it wrong during my time in NYC?

When I explained this to Ian, he mentioned staying in NYC for several weeks one summer to work at his company’s firm in the city. They put him up in a four star hotel by the office and he believed living in New York seemed like a breeze. It’s never a breeze, but it’s certainly easier if you can walk to work, and that wouldn’t be very affordable.

It’s also not practical most of the time. If you’re not pushing through crowds on a snowy day, you’re sweating through your clothes on a humid summer morning. Or you’re being jerked around by a wind tunnel, and maybe even attacked by a rainstorm as well. It rained a ton my second and third day in NYC, but I still forced myself to stay away from the subway and use my legs. It wasn’t so bad for a week, but reminded me of how awful my work days in Manhattan used to start thanks to heading to the office in all sorts of bad weather. When you arrive at your desk in wet clothes with nowhere to set down your battered umbrella, you know your day isn’t set up for success.

The work-related stuff was incredible, but I also had a small window of time for catching up with old pals. I told everyone to meet at Smithfield bar on Wednesday evening, and sure enough, I was the first to arrive. I headed to the back of the room to grab a table, where I sat alone for about fifteen minutes before my friend Sophia showed up. It didn’t feel weird to be out and about by myself, but I remember thinking the NYC version of me wouldn’t have been comfortable ordering a drink solo at a popular bar downtown. I would have felt the need to play with my phone or insist to the waitress that more people were coming so as not to seem like a lone wolf. As I implied earlier, however, LA can be kind of an isolating place because of the lack of community, so being alone hasn’t been a source of discomfort for me in a while. I was also underemployed for more than a year, and that kind of solitude can definitely turn you into a bit of a lone wolf. Fine by me.

from sophia
From Sophia

Sophia brought me a box of Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins, as I’m obsessed with the east coast treasure and have made that pretty clear on social media. Shortly after Sophia got there, my other guests arrived. Almost everyone was a former coworker from somewhere, but I only see them as friends now. One girl kept talking about how happy I looked. I agreed but followed up with, “Well, I’ve also gained some weight. LA will do that to you.” It’s true: I’m constantly in my car.

Still, I’d take my healthy weight and hearty diet over what I was during my time in NYC. I lost about seven pounds last summer due to stress and major indecision, but once I got where I was meant to be, and found the person I was meant o be with, I began to look like myself again. A bigger version, sure, but with more to love this time. I also think I’m more fun to hang out with, as I am always happy to order more drinks and food.

We all caught up on our career paths and personal lives, and one former coworker said he admired me for moving across the country and carving out a new life for myself in SoCal.

“When you first parted ways with [our former place of employment], I didn’t know what to think,” he said. “But then I realized it was kind of bad ass. Now you’re doing something entirely different in LA.”

As you know, I came out here to try to write for film and television. That hasn’t happened, and I’ve kind of tabled that dream for the time being (even though I’m working on some scripts of my own), but I also realized along the way that ambition will never be the most important thing to me again. I’ve never been happier than I am now, and I know I’m going to continue having a full, amazing life with the person I love.

old budes
My buddies!

I relayed this to the group, fully aware of the fact that the version of me they used to know never would have said anything like that aloud. They’re an ambitious bunch, but they also value their mental and emotional health, so they were pleased to hear this as such.

The following night, I went out to dinner with one of my boyfriend’s relatives. Like me, she was in town for work, and we met up near my old office. It was surreal walking through the neighborhood of my former place of employment, especially given the changes to the surroundings. One of the major building scaffoldings was gone, filling up the space with the brightness of the sun but also leading me to wonder how I might have handled days of bad weather had that been removed during my time in NYC. I thought back to the countless occasions in which I hurried across the street to get under the scaffolding, dodging whatever horrible weather was attacking New Yorkers at that very moment.

It occurred to me as I strolled near my old work building that my experience in NYC could have been quite different had I chosen not to work in media. What if I’d applied to my new place of employment while living in NYC? Would I have been happier overall with another career path? I thought this over so much that I actually walked past my old office without even realizing it. It dawned on me that I remembered the street name but not the building number itself. Rather than find the exact address on my phone, I kept moving, not wanting to be late to see my boyfriend’s cousin.

When I got to LAX late Friday night, my boyfriend was waiting for me in the arrivals area. We were exhausted but elated to finally see each other again after nearly two weeks apart. Though I hadn’t eaten in more than 12 hours, I couldn’t finish the burrito he’d picked up for me earlier in the day. I was still processing being back, but by the next morning, I was ready to indulge some of the New York bagels I’d packed in my suitcase. We enjoyed a sesame and plain bagel with cream cheese and lox, and we also had a Sopranos marathon the following day. With a mimosa in hand and my head on his shoulder, I could finally appreciate the east coast, but from where I truly belonged.

Exactly one year ago today, everything changed for me

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

A year ago today, I spilled Pret a Manger yogurt all over myself in Bryant Park, barely missing the broken computer bag on my lap. I was on the phone with my friend Marjorie at the time, and for ten seconds, I stared at the disaster in front of me. I had nothing to wipe it up with, so I just used my ratty, yellowing H&M sweater, knowing all too well I’d have to throw away the item of clothing. Just an hour earlier, my life had changed forever — for the worse, I initially thought — and my new job was to clean up the mess with whatever scraps I still had. It was opening weekend for The Conjuring, and I bought tickets to the first showing because what better movie to see when you’re already having a rough day than a demonic horror based on a true story?

That morning, I’d been unceremoniously dismissed from I job I really cared about but ultimately wasn’t right for. Just weeks earlier, I’d blogged about the loneliness of NYC in the summer and how the show New Girl made me realize I eventually wanted to abandon NYC and try to become a screenwriter in LA:

So, in 2.5-3 years, I would like to relocate to Los Angeles — my birthplace, for better or worse — and give screenwriting a try. I know, I know, you can’t just move to LA and create the script for “New Girl” or some other incredible sitcom, but I’m willing to start from scratch and work my way up again, and the good news is I won’t be too old to take a big leap at that point. I’m not far away from hitting a ceiling in the print/online media world.

Relocating to Los Angeles seemed like a long way off, as I had an established career and life in New York, where I’d been residing for nearly two years. I had a strong social structure, talented and fun assortment of colleagues, tiny apartment on the Upper East Side with a hilarious, pint-sized Italian girl with the best laugh I’d ever heard, and good thing going in my improv level two class. So what if I kind of wanted to do something else and live in my birth state, where I’d be closer to my whole family and so much happier? There was more to life than happiness. New York taught me that the moment I set foot on the Penn Station train platform. Life wasn’t perfect in Manhattan, but I was finally settled. I was comfortable.

Of course, that comfort was gone the moment I became unemployed. Suddenly nothing but my lease was binding me to New York, so I was free to pursue my real dream of working in entertainment. I should have thanked my former employers a million times for setting me free, but I was too scared and uncertain of my fate to understand I had a real opportunity to do something amazing: I was less than a week shy of 25. I was young enough to make a complete career 180 and still succeed. Things were looking up.

My brother Michael said my departure from work was a blessing in disguise. Many friends and family members agreed, but they were also worried. Would I ride out the rest of my lease in NYC — enduring yet another brutal winter (the worst in years, as we’d all later find out) — or follow that crazy idea that had recently popped into my head and return to my West Coast roots?

It took me about two months to make the final call, which, of course, was to start fresh in Los Angeles, but a few significant people in my life pushed me to make the move. My mother played a huge role in getting me out here, as she said there were some good UCLA extension classes still open and that I could really benefit from enrolling in the school’s Writer’s Program. My friend Nikki, however, made the best point of all during a phone conversation.

With Nikki
With Nikki

I told Nikki that I hoped to move to LA at the conclusion of my lease in 2014, to which she responded, “Laura, becoming a screenwriter is going to be enough of a challenge. You should get out here as quickly as you can because we already know it’s going to take a lot of time to break into the industry. Besides, you’re going to be in my wedding. You have to be [in California] to help me plan!”

This was true.

The night before telling my roommate Jen that I intended to vacate the apartment within three to four weeks, I started packing up my belongings. My walls were completely bare by the time I went to sleep, and within a week, the room itself was empty save for my bed, a single box of clothes, my laptop, and my iPhone charger. By September, I vowed to leave NY by the end of the month, and I was so checked out of the city in my last few weeks that I switched all my social media account locations to LA, including my newly re-opened dating profile on HowAboutWe.

I’d had some questionable experiences with online dating, but given my desire to start fresh in a new place, I decided to revisit the site and perhaps have a few dates lined up in LA upon arrival.

I had always been told that love sneaks up on you when you’re not looking for it, and only now do I know that statement to be true. I was not looking for love when I activated my profile again. I was actually seeking friends and people to hang out with. Yeah, I thought it would be fun to have an LA romance, but mostly I craved companionship.

My NYC room before I moved out.
My NYC room before I moved out.

At first, I received lots of messages from people in entertainment, and that made me feel better about having to spend a little extra time in NYC. I was already making Hollywood connections and would surely grow that network shortly after moving. But the user who intrigued me most was not an aspiring actor, director, producer, etc., but a lawyer with the sweetest looking smile I’d ever seen.

I clicked on over to Ian41’s profile (I also loved that he included his real name in his username — I was LaurafromCalifornia) and was pretty impressed. He hadn’t filled out much, but he appeared to be well-educated, hard-working, adventurous, and kind. Right after we started messaging each other, I mentioned I wouldn’t be in LA until October but that we could email back and forth until then. We decided to take our correspondence over to Gmail and he said I could email him anytime. I was afraid to take a step beyond HowAboutWe’s inbox system, so it came as a huge relief when he made the first move the following day, September 16, with this email:

Hi Laura,

It sounds like the NYC fall weather is a bad LA winter weather.  At least you’ll miss the NYC winter.  I was freezing when I was there in March, I can’t imagine what it’s like in the winter.  Hopefully the nice weather here will continue in October!

Ian

I responded right away, and before we knew it, we were sending each other long emails every single day. With the stress of neverending moving arrangements, hearing from him became the best part of my day — the light at the end of the tunnel during my tedious cross-country relocation. I suffered terrible insomnia at the time, so I’d be awake when he emailed me at 11 or midnight Pacific time. I’d draft up emails to him but wait ten hours to hit “send” — I didn’t want him to know the girl he was talking to regularly stayed up until 4 a.m. out of misery. Our threads increased in length with each exchange, with both of us easily churning out 1,200+ words each time. They were nice, though, and we continued sending long emails until the day we finally met in person.

Our first date was at a bar downtown, and he told me right away that I should sit by his “good ear” to his right.

“I was hit by a car in London about 15 years ago and I’ve had a ringing in my left ear ever since.”

“My dad was like that,” I said. “Got shot in the head with a BB gun as a little kid. He died of cancer in 2006, but said he was happy to never have to hear the ringing sound ever again.”

Not even five minutes had passed and we’d already shared some pretty significant life events with each other. Sure we’d gotten close via email in the month before meeting, but there was something special about seeing him in person, as well as knowing we could be more than just pen pals.

When we first met, I was fearful about all things-LA. The driving, the parking, the traffic, the unforgiving sun, the struggles of making new friends, etc. I overcame all of this very quickly, and I also realized I was in love very quickly.cutee

I like to tell Ian that I moved to LA under the impression that I’d become a TV and film writer, and while I still want those things just as much as I did when I left New York, I know in my heart that I was really meant to come here for him. Had I not lost my entire identity a year ago, we never would have crossed paths, but I’m so grateful for all the horrible and unfortunate experiences that led me here.

I woke up the morning of July 19, 2013 feeling nervous and ill. The night before, my boss had asked to meet at Pret a Manger around 7:30 a.m., which seemed a little early for a feedback session. I got out of my bed at 6:15 knowing that a difficult conversation was ahead, and I just wanted to get it over with.

Today, the alarm went off at 8 a.m. It’s the weekend, but Ian had some work to do at the office, so we set an alarm as we would on a normal week day. We had some espresso and yogurt (we usually have toast but he just had gum surgery and can only eat soft foods for a while). Though I spilled my yogurt once again, it wasn’t all over me this time. I spilled on Ian’s table. There was a paper towel roll just a few inches away, so I wiped up the mess immediately, not needing to sacrifice my clothes or sit there staring at the disaster, wondering what move to make next. I’ve cleaned up a lot over the last year, and I’m a lot more prepared for damage control now.

Ian, my roommate, and me at the Hollywood Bowl seeing Robyn!
Ian, my roommate, and me at the Hollywood Bowl seeing Robyn!

Earlier this week, I cried for the first time in months about the approach of July 19, not because I longed for the past, but because I was disappointed by my situation and seeming lack of progress a year later. 365 days after the fact, I’m working but underemployed and always, always, always on the hunt for my next opportunity. Why couldn’t I have landed something full-time and forever by now? It made no sense to me.

I brought all this up to Ian, who of course saved the day by laying out the facts. Sure I’m not a successful showrunner or even a writer’s assistant, but I’ve come such a long way in the past year. I switched cities, landed three different jobs in the entertainment industry, completed two screenwriting classes and a workshop, joined a writer’s group, and began writing for HG. I also have a strong group of friends out here … and oh yeah, the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. As my former coworker Alex Alvarez said over fries and cocktails a few months back, I’m doing a lot better than I think.

So there’s where I am one year after a defining moment that flipped my whole world over. I was scared to start fresh again and move to the other side of the country, even though it was my home, but things are slowly coming together for me.

Weird people are bothering me again and I’m relieved

See, I'm a magnet for the eccentric!
See, I’m a magnet for the eccentric!

My biggest fear about leaving Manhattan was losing the awesome stories that come with residing there. I couldn’t even grab coffee at one of the four Dunkin’ Donuts on my block without being harassed, cursed out, intimidated, or cat called by Second Avenue construction dickheads, and though it exhausted me to have every aspect of life feel like work, I could never say I was bored. No matter how miserable NYC and its residents made me, I was always getting into unusual situations that were well received at brunch, parties, reunions, and beyond. This kind of life doesn’t make a person happy, and I know this because I spent almost every single night sleep walking, sleep talking, or sleep yelling, but those little episodes made for compelling stories as well (to everyone except my poor roommate, who regularly woke up to my outbursts). It wasn’t until the end of my NYC experience that we laughed about it together, and I hoped LA would bring fewer bed time troubles my way. I’m thrilled to report I sleep really well now and rarely shout, even though I continue to mumble and spew nonsense on occasion.

I arrived in LA three months ago, and one of the first things I did was go on a date with my current boyfriend Ian. We hung out downtown and I spent most of the evening making NYC comparisons. The bartender kept refilling my water glass on his own, so I told Ian how much nicer and more hospitable LA servers seemed to be than those of NYC. Then the bartender started chatting us up and I pointed out that that wouldn’t have happened in New York, as everyone is too busy there for small talk with randoms. When I waited outside Ian’s building, I thought the guy standing a few feet away from me was the doorman. He of course wasn’t — he was just a well-dressed fellow — and I chalked my confusion up to spending two years in NYC, where doormen work in overpriced apartment complexes.

I talk about it less and less nowadays, but one of the concerns I expressed to Ian was becoming restless and unfulfilled in LA. As Emma Thompson points out in Saving Mr. Banks, nobody walks here, so there are fewer opportunities for peculiar interactions to ensue. Everyone is either driving or working, so it’s a little harder to be accosted by crazies on the street. You might think that’s a good thing, and to an extent, I do too. But I also crave excitement and feel most comfortable around the unconventional.

Weird things have been happening lately, and though the old me would be angry about it, I’m relieved. I’m only 25, and my funny NYC stories shouldn’t be the only material I have for future TV shows and beyond. California is also known for being an oddball hotspot, and I’m glad to be living that again.

On the flight back to LA this weekend, a guy sat next to me and asked whether I was wearing perfume. I’d sprayed some on my neck earlier that day but hadn’t expected it to last, so I was surprised he’d picked up on it.

“You smell like my ex-girlfriend.”

“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said, worried I’d brought this pour soul back to a time he’d rather not think about.

“No, good memories. VERY good memories,” he said.

Then the plane took off and I struggled not to laugh. The rest of the  flight was fairly normal, but I had another dose of weirdness the following day when a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up on my doorstep. They actually knocked for ten minutes (I didn’t think it was knocking at first), and when I finally cracked open the door, one of the women hid behind the other. Something about it felt off, and I couldn’t understand why the other person felt the need to shield her face, but at least I know not to answer the door anymore. I was protected from all that in my various NYC apartment buildings, and now I’m back to the days of dealing with bible salesmen and religious recruiters.

I’m feeling more at home in LA as the colorful characters continue to approach me, so don’t be surprised if I start documenting these experiences more frequently. No place will ever be as weird as New York, but I’m starting to realize that’s not such a bad thing.

I’m 5 months out of NYC and (almost) fully settled in LA

You know what I’ve been doing since I got to California? A whole lot of sleeping. Not excessively — just at decent hours for once. In New York, I’d often stay up all night for no reason at all, but here I go to bed before or around midnight and am energized when the sun comes up around 6 a.m. Did I mention I’m living in an awesome part of LA now? Bye bye Long Beach, hello Los Feliz.

I moved to the Silverlake/Los Feliz area last week and am in love with my neighborhood, partially because I’m on foot so much and it makes me feel like I’m getting some exercise again. I’m right by an incredible hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint, a reasonably priced yoga studio, an arts and crafts shop, a great dive bar my boyfriend loved during his own days living in Sivlerlake, and, of course, Starbucks, my go-to coffee shop. The sun streams through my bedroom window everyday, the house is full of positive and creative energy, and I am not too far from the Disney Studios, where I’ll be interning. LA is so big, but I’m also pretty close in location to my boyfriend, so we never have to deal with traffic when getting to each other’s places. My other new friend Angie is nearby as well. I am surrounded by all the right folks, and the sense of community fills me with so much happiness. In NYC, I needed lots of people around me at all times to feel complete, but here I am just thrilled to be around a few gems, and they all helped me transition more than they’ll ever know.

Everything came together in a cute way, and though I don’t have it all figured out, I’m getting there, and not just by baby steps anymore. It’s taken me a while to find the right house and career opportunities, but so it goes when you choose to abandon the outwardly impressive life you’ve built for yourself across the country and start fresh in your birth city, which you never called home in the first place. I had some connections when I came to LA, but relied on none of them to land the opportunities I’ve received so far. I put myself out there and applied for around 70 jobs. Of those applications, I scored four interviews. The odds were completely stacked against me, especially as a newbie 25-year-old with zero entertainment industry experience, but I kept trying, because I didn’t leave NYC to be a failure in LA as well.

As hard as I’ve been on myself about the tragic, abrupt manner in which my NYC experience ended, I don’t consider my time there a complete failure. I could have continued plugging away and forcing myself to endure like the rest of Manhattan, but I knew by summer that I wanted something happy to talk about for once, not just something funny or insane.

A million years ago, I signed up for OKCupid, which I promptly deleted as it felt too much like MySpace. The site didn’t resonate with me, but a questionnaire inquiry really struck me during my short time on the service: “Would you rather have interesting things happen to you or good things happen to you?”

It was then that I realized I’d been going with the former for way too long, and NYC had been making that way too easy. The wild and unbelievably outrageous stories about entitled Wall Street guys were fun to share over brunch and happy hours every other weekend, and I still talk about the worst ones to remind myself just how awesome my current boyfriend is. The craziness is only entertaining and laughable for so long, and eventually you’re even sick of the ridiculous scenarios you’ve gotten into and your friends don’t even know what to say anymore.

There’s plenty of room for interesting stuff to happen to me in LA, but at the moment I’m indulging all the good in my life. I went to a foreign film movie premiere with my mentor/manager/BFF Budd Burton Moss the other night, and this weekend my boyfriend and I are going to a HelloGiggles event and ice skating downtown (even though it’s supposedly the apocalypse, according to my roommate!). My new roommate and I turned our home into a Winter Wonderland as well — here’s our adorable tree:

the tree

laura and dawn

When the holidays are over, I will be interning in sunny Burbank.

The past few months have been interesting in their own way, but most of all, they’ve been good. Keep it coming, please. My soul is richer than it’s ever been.

Remembering Hurricane Sandy a year later

East Village Hurricane SandyLast night, my spec sitcom course spent the first fifteen minutes of class talking about earthquake trauma. The professor, a native New Yorker, suffered severe anxiety and stress following the Northridge quake in the 90s. I don’t actually remember it even though I was living in LA at the time, but my mom says I ran around in circles in our Glendale residence yelling, “Make it stop!” My parents told me to stand under the doorway, but I wouldn’t listen. My instinct in dangerous situations has always been to run. That’s how I reacted exactly a year ago, when Hurricane Sandy barreled through New York and nearly flooded our building on the Upper East Side.

My roommate Jen, her boyfriend Bradley, and I thought the storm was a joke at first. We assumed the media was hyping up “Frankenstorm” to make everyone panic and have something spooky to talk about right before Halloween, but when all our respective offices and the subway closed up shop for the week, we started to worry. We worked from home the day the storm was set to hit, and for most of the day, everything was calm. We had power, lots of food, coffee from Dunkin Donuts, which was open, and heat. It was boring in a “Paranormal Activity” way, as I stated in an old blog post, which I wrote from a restaurant a couple days after the hurricane as Jen and I were without electricity. Before that, we kept waiting and waiting for something to happen, and when it finally did, it changed us forever:

I’m not going to waste any time trying to come up with an interesting introduction paragraph, partially because my Internet access is limited thanks to Sandy, so here goes: yesterday was the scariest day of my life.

In the afternoon, I said Hurricane Sandy felt a lot like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. I just kept waiting and waiting for something to happen. Once the storm made her way to the UES, she made quite an impact. We were hit with heavy winds a half hour before losing electricity. Then came the boom and hysterical screams. I looked out one of my windows to see tons of water and a broken wall. The cinderblock wall, which separates my building from the next door, totally fell apart.

It only got weirder from there, as I wrote in a blog post for STTF:

After rushing to the living room window, I gasped. Our building was surrounded by water. The courtyard was flooded about eleven feet. I glanced out my bedroom window and saw waves just a few feet below me. There was also an inflatable toy duck floating around. If we were to get any more rain, I feared, the water would reach my window and flood our entire apartment. My heart rate skyrocketed and I headed into the hallway, where I found many of my neighbors huddled up.

“Jen, we have to evacuate right now,” I yelled from the doorway, clearly going through the fight or flight syndrome. “Our building is surrounded by water.”

“If we were going to evacuate, we should have done it already,” she replied. She was so right, but I didn’t listen.

“I have a friend who lives in Harlem. He has power. I’m going to go stay with him,” I replied, throwing on a zip-up sweater and my Hunter rainboots.

“You’re going to run 30 blocks in 90 mile per hour winds? That’s how people die in these storms, Laura. They go outside and get knocked out by a tree or something.”

“I don’t want to drown here,” I told her.

“Well if you’re going to go anywhere, you need to put on better clothes. Your hoodie and sweats aren’t going to cut it in this weather.”

That’s when her boyfriend stepped in and asked me to stay put. They didn’t want to worry about me weaving through the streets of New York during a hurricane — let alone in the eye of the storm.

“You know, Laura, for someone as paranoid as you, you take a lot of risks,” Jen said, inspiring all of us to roar with laughter. “You got coffee in the storm and now you want to run to Harlem, which is unsafe in broad daylight, during a hurricane.”

“I ran track in high school. I can do this.”

hurricane-sandy-subway-flooding-537x373Of course, I didn’t end up sprinting to Harlem for “safety.” I stayed put and watched our street completely flood. The water returned to the East River within an hour, but I had to see the eye of the storm myself. If all hell is going to break loose around me, I have to see it unfold. I must like punishment or something, or I just need to know what’s happening at all times. Either way, you can imagine I wasn’t in a good mental place, and I began having heart palpitations, prompting my roommate and her boyfriend to tell me to sit down next to their bed. Jen herself was stressed, but she hated seeing me so frightened, so she did what she could to calm me down.

Shortly afterward, I went out with a few hallmates for a drink and to charge our phones. We were so drained and haggard at that point that the only thing we could do was indulge some alcohol and pretend it was just another night out on the town.

I don’t want to bore you with too many details, especially since I’ve written about Sandy’s impact on me many, many times. Shortly after the storm, I got severe bronchitis and threw out my back from coughing too much. I was so upset by the sight of pools of water outside my window — to the point where there were floating toys mere inches away from my room — that I had to see a therapist. A lot of people did. I’m not still upset about Sandy, especially since my roommate and I didn’t flood like some of our friends, but it was definitely an eye opener for me. Though I wouldn’t leave NYC for another year, that showed me I had to get out of the city sooner rather than later. With changing weather patterns, hurricanes might become the norm over there, and I didn’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when something unthinkable took place once again.

Hurricane Sandy
After Sandy

Right now, my mom is visiting from nor Cal, and we went out to lunch just a few hours ago. I told her about my column for HelloGiggles, potential new roommate and living situation in West Hollywood, and full-time job leads. On our walk to Mimi’s Cafe, she noted the 75 degree weather, a stark contrast from what I experienced this time last year in NYC.

“Can you believe a year ago you were trapped in your apartment with no power for weeks?” she said. “And now you’re here in the southern California sunshine.”

It’s nice to be in a location free of hurricanes. The Northridge earthquake deeply upset my New York native professor, and my hope is that a possible earthquake in California won’t be as disruptive as Hurricane Sandy. I grew up with earthquakes, but you never know how bad one is going to be — or where you’re going to be when it shakes things up. My fear is experiencing one all by myself in my condo, but even if someone else is here as it happens, it’s not like their presence is going to change anything or make the situation less terrifying.

When Mother Nature decides to get back at us for neglecting the environment, we’re totally at her mercy.

Is my pilot Leonardo DiCaprio or Billy Zane in Titanic? You be the judge.

glee-big-apple

It was 2:30 a.m. in late July and I had all the time in the world. Without any professional duties to worry about the following day, I could seize my late night creativity kick and birth the pilot I’d been wanting to put together for weeks. With zero knowledge of script formatting or TV writing structure, I threw together fifty pages of dialogue, stage orders, and pure, authentic, uninhibited inspiration. Did it look like a TV script? No. The thing was in MS word, for God’s sake, not Final Draft, Celtx, or Trelby, which I eventually downloaded for free. What I lacked in direction I made up for in heart and passion, and when 4:00 a.m. rolled around and I was too pumped and excited about this world I’d created to listen to my body and rest, I mapped out the following nine episodes, planning enough content for an entire season. If anything ever becomes of this show, I know exactly how each installment will play out. I know how it will end. It’s all whirling around in my head, and much of it’s on paper.

The next day, I wrote episode two and got to the middle of episode three before choosing to take a step back. I make a lot of decisions based on creativity, impulse, instinct, and emotion, but there’s a business savvy side to me I’ve never been able to ignore, and I credit that for my strong social media following, Facebook presence, and success as an internet writer/editor/troll. You can be as whimsical as you’d like, but it’s important to work smart and not simply hard. I had tons of ideas for episodes and events in my show, but couldn’t ignore the fact that I knew nothing of the entertainment industry, let alone TV writing. Before continuing, I needed some guidance on how TV writing works. Why pen an entire series without first consulting outside sources who’ve been there?

So, later on in hot, humid July, I pulled the covers over my head and quietly thought about moving back to my home state of California — this time to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. For more than a month and a half, I didn’t tell anyone I intended to return to the West Coast as soon as I could, as I didn’t want to upset my Manhattan friends or worry my roommate that I’d bail on our lease. A two-hour phone call with my mother one night in early September changed everything, and once she began throwing out solutions and ideas for me, I actually started packing up my room. Yes, before I even told my roommate I’d be relocating to the West Coast, I began yanking my clothes off the shelves and tossing them into my multiple suitcase, wanting nothing more than to start fresh at that moment and flee NYC, where I not only couldn’t make it but was becoming the worst possible version of myself.

Everyday, I fought the urge to bark at everyone around me, faulting random passersby for the fact that it’s so hard to live in New York City, which may as well be a war zone with its suffocating train platforms, unsafe subway conditions and unspeakable crime, unpredictable and deadly weather, lowlife catcallers poisoning all five boroughs, children of socialites dominating every single field, nepotism and elitism, truly heinous and embarrassing favorability toward the rich and neglect of the poor, you name it. I had to save whatever was left of my free-spirited California/Arizona identity before it completely crumbled to make room for misery and blind ambition. Some say Manhattan is going to be underwater in the future thanks to global warming and the habits of its selfish residents. That seems tragic, sure, but maybe it’ll restore everyone and provide them the clean slate I sought when I moved back to the West Coast. I know I’m not the only one who’s needed a change of scenery to come back to life.

“Laura, I think what you really need is to come back to California,” my mom said at the start of our now-famous phone chat. “UCLA has a great extension program for aspiring screenwriters. Take classes there, get a little structure, and be back on a college campus. You loved being on a college campus at UA. UCLA is very similar.”

My mom was spot on, and luckily for us, UCLA starts later than most schools and there was still time for me to sign up for courses. I’d just have to miss the first session of spec sitcom writing, but it wasn’t like I was working toward my master’s. I’m only taking one class as Pass/Fail, as I was overly concerned about my absence at the beginning and didn’t even want a “B.” I’m in school for “A”s now, not that it matters. My goal was, and is, to learn. I needed to learn the basics of screenwriting to:

a. give my pilot the attention and edits it deserves

b. have a foundation

c. feel more confident about approaching an industry with which I had no experience

Glee-MisfitsThe moment I verbally agreed to make the life-changing move, I began to clear out my tiny Harry Potter room. By the end of the night, all my clothes were off the shelves, my shoes were packed up, and my books were in boxes. A week later, everything I owned was in California, where most of it came from in the first place. I had to stay in NYC for another two weeks, but I was cool with that. I knew I’d be home before long.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I settled into my bachelorette pad, and So Cal life is truly as good as it sounds. The 75 degree weather and sunlight have replenished my soul and spirit, I don’t feel like a total freakshow walking around in sundresses and pastel colored clothing, everyone is friendly, and I’m spending lots of time at TV show tapings. I’m loving my courses, classmates, and professors, and I’m also having a blast working with Budd Burton Moss, my LA fairy god father, so to speak. It’s great having someone look out for me over here — as well as an adviser who wants me to succeed in this insane industry.

I’ve also noticed a distinct difference between journalism and entertainment. Everyone is struggling in both fields, but it’s more common to seriously struggle in entertainment. I know people who have truly amazing TV gigs one day and no leads the next. A friend of mine currently works on a hit ABC Family show but knows she’s going to need a new gig in December when it stops shooting. Talk about stressful. More so than journalism, you’re truly only as valuable as your latest project/job. Why do you think actresses and actors go nuts? They’re on top of the world one second and totally forgotten the next. I see it happen on all levels here, and if I manage to have some sort of impact on this industry, it will happen to me. I will get down on myself, maybe even more than I got down on myself in journalism. Trust me, it’s not easy being here without something concrete and stable, but I would rather be in my current position than miserable at a journalism job. At least my heart is totally in this. If you’re upset and your heart isn’t in it, nothing is going to push you through the rough patches. And there will be many, so get ready for a wild ride. You don’t feel as bad about lacking a full-time job in entertainment, because pretty much everyone goes through that a million times.

Anyway, now that I’ve read quite a few scripts, become a total nerd in class, done my homework, and spoken with a lot of people who’ve worked in TV and film, I feel more confident about the pilot I created in July. I polished the text today, formatted the whole thing correctly, and now want to show it to anyone willing to give me constructive criticism. I know, I know, it’s better to spec a CURRENT show on TV, and believe me, I’m spec’ing New Girl like there’s no tomorrow, but I also want to invest myself in a set of characters I created. The folks in my series — a 1-hour drama with influences of Glee and Greek — are all total weirdos. There are too many characters, I will say that, but only a couple people in the main crew. Everyone says outrageous things, because I’ve lived enough to know everybody in this world is insane. The levels of insanity set us apart, but no one is sane. Anyway, my biggest concern with the pilot is the fact that each character has the same brand of zany, random humor, and that’s where constructive criticism would help me out. More voices too. It has tons of jokes and one-liners for a “drama” because I value comedy writing, but it’s a light drama like Glee, which also relies heavily on jokes. We’re not dealing with Breaking Bad here. I’m not even sure I have enough darkness within me to put together a show like that. If I do, I couldn’t survive writing it. Trust me when I say writing negative content messes with you. It’s why I published The Wingmen earlier this year. I wanted it out of my life — it was truly weighing me down and breaking my heart.

Anyway, I poured my heart and soul into this pilot. I absolutely did the same for The Wingmen, but I also spent more time on that story. This is lighter, fresher, happier, funnier, and best of all, fictional. Sure it’s based off things I experienced in college, but the main character of my series is not necessarily an onscreen version of me. There are plenty of similarities and her life experiences mirror many of my own, but I’m having some real fun by making stuff up. She’s more sarcastic than I am, and though I’d think a lot of the things she says out loud, I wouldn’t say I’m as cynical as she is. Maybe this girl is the person I wish I could be more like — I don’t really know. All I know is I love establishing personalities and relationships between characters I create. Some are more complex than others, but they all need each other. I’m enjoying the fictional aspect so much — I almost want to say it’s healthier to add an extra layer of fiction, because when it’s all truth and you’re too close to the story, everything about the process hurts.

The Wingmen came close to totally crushing my enjoyment of the writing process. Most of us care more about the finished product than the journey itself, and while I actually like the journey of writing, I almost didn’t make it out of that one. The book will always be in my heart, but the number one reason I chose not to work with an agent on it (and I had offers) was because they all wanted to wait years to release it. The Wingmen had been haunting me for nearly seven years at that point, pushing a decade — I couldn’t drag it out another day. I needed the story out of my life, not keeping me up at night or thinking about the first person I ever loved. Turns out he’s still the only person I’ve ever loved, but that’s my fault. Everyone who tries to love me now is turned away, and I am actively working on not hurting the men who will never hurt me. That’s a story for another day, though. Crystal recently said of my ideal man, “Laura, you want a composed trainwreck. Do you know how impossible and specific that is?!” Yes, I do. She had a point when she added, “There’s only room for one trainwreck in a relationship, so don’t fault a guy for not being a trainwreck.” If anyone’s going to be the trainwreck, it kind of has to be me. I mean, have you read my blog?

As earlier stated, The Wingmen has my heart — but so does this pilot, which brings me happiness, not sadness or traumatic memories of nursing a broken heart and taking care of a dying parent at the same time. I relived my first love, first heartbreak, and absolute worst memory when writing The Wingmen. I know writers are supposed to be self-loathing, because ART, but even I have a limit to the amount of emotional distress I’ll endure for a passion project. Sometimes you have to call it a day and give your heart the TLC it needs, because at the end of the day, your passion project may not be there for you.

I feel better about the state of my pilot, and maybe, just maybe, someday someone with power and the willingness to grow/guide me will skim through it. Most agents want specs of current shows, and I’ve got those too, but in terms of my true love, this is it. This is my Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. I use that reference because yesterday my intro to screenplay writing professor said he feels like steerage when flying coach after business class, lamenting, “It’s like I’m Leonardo DiCaprio without looking like Leonardo DiCaprio!” I’d like to think this pilot will one day look AND feel like Leonardo DiCaprio, and not just to me.

So, which one of you awesome friends of mine will read my pilot and tell me whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio or Billy Zane — you know, the rich creepster in Titanic? Any takers?

still-of-leonardo-dicaprio,-kate-winslet,-billy-zane-and-frances-fisher-in-titanic

I finally put together all my condo furniture (yes, I’m proud of this)

An IKEA Store along Alexandra Road in Queensto...
An IKEA Store along Alexandra Road in Queenstown, Singapore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s no other way of saying this: I hate that DIY is celebrated in our culture, and though I’m surprisingly talented at building things, I’d rather not spend my evenings hammering away on a giant IKEA desk I’m probably going to toss in two months.

Exactly a week ago, my mom and I went shopping at IKEA Long Beach in search of basic furniture for my condo. My friend Sophia inherited my NYC mattress (donating bed stuff over there is virtually impossible), so I got a new bed set in California. I picked out a full, box spring, and frame before anything else. My mom wanted me to have way more than I actually wanted, so she suggested we buy a desk, table, ottoman, etc. As usual, she was right that I’d be happier with more than less, so we left the store with a couple chairs, a desk/table, a nightstand, three giant lamps, a mini lamp, a beanbag, and a mini table for my printer. My grandma has a handyman, so my mom suggested I call him to put the big stuff together.

As much as I would have liked that, I needed a couple projects to occupy myself at night, so I built everything on my own. Besides, shes 82. She has an excuse to get stuff made for her, I don’t. After multiple failed attempts, I finished the table yesterday and am using it now. IKEA does a nice job providing visual instructions for assembly, but there are so many things that can go wrong with complex items, so I messed up the table five times before it finally worked. It’s not in perfect shape, and for all I know, it’ll collapse someday, but it’s doing its job right now. I just don’t know how I’m going to get it out of the apartment when I move in two months. It might actually break during the schlepping process, as the screws aren’t as tight as they should be. Note to self: take the damn thing apart before you get sued for injuring  the movers.

I’m retrieving my TV in a few weeks (my mom has it right now), and at that point, I may as well invest in a couch. That, of course, would require assembly I lack the time or desire to put forth, and lets not forget I’m a tiny 120 pound lady who can barely lift a PC (oh, the plight of thin, willowy girls). My whole body is sore from building this table, and I’m confident that’s not normal. Here’s hoping I can bully some guy into doing it for me when I finally buy a couch. or I’ll just bite the bullet and TaskRabbit that shit.  Thoughts?

Aside from putting furniture together, I really like my new living situation. I never in a million years thought I’d be OK living alone, but it’s great, if anything because I can shower whenever I want and don’t have to be quiet when coming home late. I can also make food whenever I’m hungry, which is usually at some unGodly hour. I’ve decorated the entire apartment, so there are photos, decals, frames, inspirational messages, and posters everywhere. Anything to color the place while I’m the only one in it. I don’t think I’m meant to live solo long-term, but for now, it’s a lot less lonely than I anticipated. It doesn’t hurt having a walk-in closet, two bathrooms, and way more space than I’ve ever known. I don’t miss my Harry Potter room in NYC, but I do miss my friends in the city. You already knew that, though.

There are a lot of benefits to being away from New York, and TARGET is one of them. In college, my buddy Anna and I went there all the time, but the only Target in Manhattan is in East Harlem. I ventured over there once but wasn’t crazy about the area. Harlem wasn’t the scary place I expected, but it sure wasn’t relaxing either. I associate Target with leisurely shopping, and I finally have that again. I guess I can never really adapt to a city if it’s not home to a large, peaceful Target.

Driving in LA isn’t the nightmare I thought it’d be (yet!)

English: Los Angeles skyline and San Gabriel m...
English: Los Angeles skyline and San Gabriel mountains. Français : Le centre ville de Los Angeles et les Monts San Gabriel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are downsides to everything, and in my opinion, there are major flaws with NYC’s wonderful public transit system. On one hand, the 24-hour subway is convenient and relatively inexpensive. There’s also the fact that it’s always crowded, dirty, dangerous, claustrophobic, full of crazies and creepers, and unpleasant. I don’t miss those aspects of the train, but I do miss being able to chill and read while getting from A to B. You can’t do that in LA, a driving city.

I came to southern California earlier this week and haven’t run into too much trouble with traffic or getting places … yet. I also have a ton of excellent iPhone apps (Waze, Google Maps, Apple Maps) to guide me through the chaotic freeways and roads of LA. Before returning to California, I anticipated lots of panic episodes on my part, but I’ve been able to avoid freaking out behind the wheel, mainly because you don’t really have the option of fretting when you’re going 65 MPH on the 101, 405, 5, etc. You can be nervous and discontent, but you cannot lose your cool, or, as the hefty gym teacher says in Mean Girls, you will die.

Last night, I drove from Long Beach to downtown LA, where I met up with a friend who lives in the area. I suggested he pick the places since he knows the city, I just had to find a way over there. It took me 35 minutes or so to arrive, and it was only when I got on his street that I began making mistakes. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing that I save my hesitation and self-doubt for the end of my journeys, but that’s how it works pretty much anytime I’m trying to get somewhere. All is well until it comes time to find the exact address. In this case, I drove past the building and had to turn around, and I ended up going in circles on his block two or three times before locating a parking area.

LA is notorious for distributing tickets and what not, so after I parked, I pulled aside the lot worker and asked several times whether I’d done everything I needed to do. I’d given him my five dollars, but would I need to pay more? In NYC, saying something like this is an opening for negative interactions, but I didn’t think this guy would take advantage of my apparent ignorance and vulnerability. I was also desperate to avoid getting towed.

“You can stay here until 2 am,” he said. “Just make sure your car is gone by then, or else.”

Got it.

Pool in my building
Pool in my building

With that, my friend and I walked over to Bar 107, a fun dive bar several blocks away. I was pretty impressed with downtown LA as a whole, and the buildings actually reminded me a lot of New Girl. Maybe that’s where the show is filmed! After drinks, we headed to Bar Ama, a superb tex-mex restaurant run by an amazing chef, according to my friend. Per usual, I stuck with beer and ordered a pork, rice, and beans dish. I loved the food, but more than anything, I loved how attentive and friendly the servers and bartenders were. I made a point to drink tons of water, and they refilled my cup ten times. That would never happen in NYC — everyone is simply too busy to look out for one customer, but I really appreciated it. I was also amused when the bartender started talking to us and jumping into our conversations. It wasn’t rude — just nice and conversational. I’m still readjusting to the friendliness of California, and I think it’s helping me with the transition.

If you read my Saturday blog post, you know I’m still struggling to adapt to my home state again. I keep waiting for the weather to turn on me and freeze up. More than anything, I just miss my friends in NYC. While I was moving into my large LA condo the other day, I sobbed uncontrollably, and it wasn’t because I now have not one but two walk-in closets and more space than I could ever need. It was because I wanted to see my Manhattan crew — Tom, Alex, Jordan, Liz, Caira, and the rest of the PM staff, my unstoppable roommate Jen, my awesome story purveyor buddy Catherine, Sophia, Emma, and the rest of my improv pals, Maggie, Marjorie, Glenn, Frances, Jordan, Sara, Meagan, everyone.

I love each and every one of my East Coast friends, even those I may have cut off at some point. No matter what happened between us, I appreciated having gotten to know you, and I’m sorry if it went sour before I had a chance to say goodbye. It breaks my heart that I departed the city with bad blood with people, but that’s life, right? Just know that I’ve decided to remember the good stuff about everybody I met back East. I know I wasn’t always my best self, and it’s my hope that I can avoid giving in to frustrations and my own shortcomings in LA. It won’t be easy with the driving conditions, but I’ll do it.

I miss you, Tom!
I miss you, Tom!

Anyway, I had a rough time when I moved in a few days ago. I cried as I folded my clothes in my walk-in closet, which should make me happy since I had a shoebox of a room and closet in Manhattan. I didn’t know what to do with all the extra space, so I just wept in it. I cried as I put together my Ikea bed, hung up my photos, and organized my epic bathroom. I cried in the shower, in the kitchen, and in my large living room, which remains empty because I haven’t gotten around to building my Ikea dinner table.

It wasn’t until I turned on my mini DVD player and put Meet the Parents on as background noise that I started feeling better. Maybe all I needed were the voices of others, to have some company as I unpacked my room and got situated in my new place. I listened to the movie as I built my nightstand, coffee table, and chairs, all of which I bought at Ikea. I’m not crazy about building things, but when I’m emotional, I need projects to take my mind off whatever’s bothering me, and when putting together furniture, I need to be focused enough to follow directions and pound away.

I felt accomplished by the end of the day, and I was pretty satisfied with my room. I love that I have enough room in my living space to own a nightstand, and I’m serious when I say it’s the greatest luxury of all to use the bathroom with the door open. Living alone isn’t as terrifying as I anticipated. The apartment is warm and open, and I always fall asleep to something on my mini DVD player. These days, it’s The Newsroom, which usually stays on until 3:00 am, when I wake up and decide to just sleep the rest of the night without it. It’s not healthy to fall asleep to movies, but it’s what makes me most comfortable right now.

Life is coming together over here. I miss my NYC friends like crazy, but I’m finally reaching a point where I can talk about them without my eyes watering and throat tightening. I love you guys, and I promise to visit soon. Think about coming to see me as well. This is the place that’s restoring my sanity, faith in humanity, and sense of calm, and maybe it’ll have a similar effect on you. There are tough days, but they don’t compare to the hardest, most uninspiring days I had in NYC. I’m where I belong, I just wish I could have taken you all with me.

laurw

PM loves
PM loves

Would you be 17 again if you had the opportunity?

My drive to Long Beach
My drive to Long Beach

Yesterday was my first night in my temporary LA apartment. It was odd to think I was still living in my Upper East Side walkup just a week earlier, but perhaps weirder to consider all I’d done in seven days. I got to California a week ago and spent a few days with family and friends before heading south. My mom and I stayed in Agoura Hills for a night to see our longtime family friend Gerie, whose Arkansas-bred mother used to watch me when I was a baby. Gerie has a 17-year-old daughter in the midst of applying for college, and it was downright surreal thinking about how different and green I was during that period of my life.

We all woke up at 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and the first thing I did was make a cup of coffee. I offered some to teenager Alix but she declined, stating she’s not a coffee drinker yet.

“I was the same way until college,” I told her, staring at the overcast (and, quite honestly, smoggy) sky out the window.

“Do you really need coffee to stay awake? Is it going to be that hard?” she asked breathlessly, eager to digest as much insider information about the post-high school experience as possible.

“No, not really,” I replied, laughing. “I just liked having the morning routine of grabbing a coffee before class. I hated the taste until I brought cream and sugar into the mix. I should probably cut down on that part now, though. It rots your stomach.”

“We’ll see how I feel when I get to college,” she went on. “But for now, I’m fine without coffee.”

“A lot changes when you move out of the house. Just you wait.”

I couldn’t believe this girl, how hungry for details on college life she was. I’d been the same exact way, so thrilled by the prospect of venturing into the world on my own that I let it consume my life, which was pretty comfortable until my dad’s cancer diagnosis on Thanksgiving 2005.

A half hour later, she headed off to school, and I started to want something I don’t think I’ve ever wanted: to be that age again, a blank slate with no baggage, past, crazy stories and experiences, or expectations to thrive in the adult world. I turned 25 in late July, and so far, it just doesn’t look good on me — at least as I transition into a new field and slowly move on from the wild, unsustainable, emotionally exhausting life I had in NYC. It’s nice to drive again and be surrounded by friendly faces, and I wouldn’t live in NYC again unless I had enough money to live comfortably (and not year-round). I have trouble looking at the bigger picture, and I know all of this will ultimately be worthwhile, but at this moment, it seems quite appealing to start fresh and be 17 again, kind of like that silly Zac Efron movie. I long for a time before all the reckless decisions I made in my personal life, before I jumped around the country in search of adventure and opportunity, before I got jerked around by the East Coast, before I made a fool of myself at work and in the dating world, before I’d kissed more than one person, before I acquired a taste for coffee.

I considered this as I fell asleep last night. My mom recently finished the first season of The Newsroom, so I dozed off watching episode four on my mini DVD player. Moments later, the building fire alarm went off. I looked out my keyhole and saw the hall was empty, but retreated to the courtyard anyway because I always embrace the outdoors in times of potential disaster. I noticed a college-aged girl in a mouse costume by the stairs and asked whether she knew anything about the alarm.

“It goes off all the time here, there’s no fire,” she said with a smile.

A couple minutes later, a burly man wearing a construction hat emerged from the building and said there was nothing wrong with the apartment.

“The alarm is so awful over here. You’ve got a million dollar neighborhood with K-Mart smoke detectors,” he said. “You a student at Cal State Long Beach?”

“No, I just moved from New York. This is my first night in the building. Some welcoming, huh?”

“I’m going to fix it. But just know that this happens a lot. Be prepared for it.”

I walked back inside, covering my ears, and was brought back to freshman year at UA. I lived in Coronado Hall, the biggest party dorm on campus. Believe it or not, I didn’t party very much that year, especially at the beginning. I wrote letters to my boyfriend, attended the Newman Center Catholic church, studied hard, and exercised. I had healthy habits, so it was always disruptive and infuriating when drunk idiots would pull the fire alarm at 3 a.m. and make us all evacuate from our beds for the chilly desert night. It happened on a regular basis at Coro, so if that’s the case here, I guess I’ll feel like I’m back in college again, and that’s not the year I’d return to if I could go back to UA.

My first class is Monday, so maybe I’ll feel a little less mopey when I’m learning about screenwriting and among other aspiring TV writers. I also love the UCLA campus, so maybe I’ll feel right at home there. After all, I did take a summer performing arts class at UCLA one summer — the summer I turned 17.

UCLA camp, summer 2005
UCLA camp, summer 2005
At the UCLA dorm, 2005
At the UCLA dorm, 2005

‘And now the war is over and I am enjoying the peace’

New York City
New York City (Photo credit: Johannes Valkama)

Back when I was still pretending I wanted to finish out my Upper East Side lease and stay in NYC until March, I was being considered for a temp position at a real estate company and part-time nannying gig. After interviewing with a mother at Coffee Bean, I emailed the parents of the little boy I babysat in between jobs last year, hoping they’d recommend me for the new nannying gig. They said they’d be happy to sing my praises and expressed sympathy over my shaky employment situation.

When I asked what they were up to, the mom said they’d recently moved to the South, which is an adjustment for the little kids but ultimately a better place for the family. The mother had lived in NYC for more than a decade and described the change as a major relief, stating:

“I have found the transition to the ‘burbs (after 16 years in Manhattan and 20 in NY) to be like suddenly going to a spa…my worst problem is occasional nostalgia and boredom. Manhattanites are so proud of the tribulations we endure, we wear it like a badge…like having served a tour of duty. And now the war is over and I am enjoying the peace…NYC is like an abusive boyfriend, it can make you toxic in your outlook on everything from people’s intentions to enjoying the moment (without worrying about the competition or affording the next moment).”

I totally see what she means. I’ve only been back in California for a day, but the differences between the West Coast and New York are obvious everywhere. As soon as I got home yesterday, I took my dog for a walk so she could get used to me again. I passed a couple of my mom’s neighbors, all of whom waved at me and asked how I was doing, and the friendliness was sincere. There aren’t any expectations behind the unconditional (but perhaps empty) candor of the West. Unlike DC or NYC, strangers here don’t act nice to suck you in and take something from you. They’re just pleasant.

There’s not a ton of insanity on the roads up here, but I know that won’t be the case in LA. I just need to remain calm behind the wheel, particularly when folks around me are honking, throwing up the finger, screaming, tailgating, and, as we say on the internets, trollin’. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I actually got lost in Santa Cruz this morning, and I lived in the area for many years before going off to college. I’m going to have to take a new approach to driving in LA.

Public places are more relaxed over here. This morning, I met my buddy Nikita, her husband, and her two boys at Coffee Cat. Before they arrived, I noticed a whole team of fourth grade soccer players at the register, and that’s when it hit me that I was out of Manhattan and in the ‘burbs. The younguns were welcome there, and that wouldn’t have been the case at any NYC coffee shop.

At one point in the day, Nikita’s son Brandon stood near the coffee condiments table for a short while, blocking one or two adults. In NYC, Nikita would have had to immediately pull him out of the way to avoid getting shamed by impatient New Yorkers. It’s just not and never will be a child-friendly city. That’s another reason I’m glad I left before starting a family — I don’t want my own kids to be raised where they’re not wanted and viewed as a cancer to society, at least while they’re still clogging sidewalks and subway cars with strollers.

cropped-from-fred-flare1.jpg
Love these

The barista complimented my signature pink heart-shaped sunglasses (Fred Flare, I can’t tell you how much love I’ve gotten for this amazing and reasonably priced product — you sure know how to bring positive energy into the world with your items). I told her I bought the glasses online, prompting her to deliver a speech about why internet shopping is the way to go. You don’t get that level of give and take with random people in New York, and sure it’s small talk, but I like establishing a relationship with everyone I talk to, and I can promise you that a little friendliness here and there goes a long way for your sanity and state of mind.

As I mentioned earlier, I know LA is going to be another story. Lots of car drama, lots of fakes, lots of crazies, lots of wannabes snorting crack of their friends’ butts, but on top of all that, there will also be lots of sunshine, lots of great food, lots of creative types, and lots of heart. Like the former Manhattanites for whom I used to work, I am enjoying the peace after the war. And it’s been more than freeing — it has restored my soul, which truly couldn’t have survived much longer on the East Coast.

the harbor

in sb

View from the cliff

SB