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On moving between worlds
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We have reached the ambivalent part of this British adventure. I write this like it’s a part unlike all the others, but the truth is that my life seems, all too often, to run on ambivalence, so this is familiar (cozy, even) territory for me. Many of my years in Vienna were fuelled by ambivalence, and my life in LA feels utterly rooted in it: neither were places I would have, given my druthers, chosen on my own, and yet I have lived wonderful and full and challenging lives in both places. Our Cambridge departure date seems to be galloping toward us, though it is still two and a half months off, and I feel a sort of horror show of contradictory things about yet another geographical and emotional shift.
This is the part where I warp my experience of all of it: our time in Cambridge and our lives in LA. Cambridge becomes the most charming tiny city on earth, with its walkways and clustered shops and greenery everywhere and devotion to academia. The primary school is so close and so good! Communal living is the way to go! I don’t worry for one second about my child’s safety and she has so much independence! I walk a gazillion steps a day! We are so close to friends I’ve missed, so many European cities at our proverbial fingertips. LA begins to pale in comparison and there is nothing about the place — save my friends and family and maybe my kitchen and my bed — that is worth returning for. Not the beaches or the sun, the palm trees or canyons or sun sets or fresh lemons falling from friends’ trees.
Obviously this is a huge distortion on both sides — Cambridge is claustrophobic and I love living so close to our SoCal beach — but I know no other way to live. Perhaps it is a very weird, very ineffective survival mechanism. I am forever comparing absolutely everything: cities, countries, marriages, life choices, families, careers, people. It never ends and it doesn’t serve me in any sane way. For someone who is, supposedly, securely attached, I have a hell of a lot complicated feelings about what everyone else is doing all the time, what’s better in this place or that, in this arrangement or the other one, settling for good enough be damned. I spent my first few years in Vienna desperate for New York and my early years in LA pining for Vienna. On and on it goes.
But in this case, I can see what I’m doing from a mile away, perhaps because now I’ve been here so many times before. I know that what I’m doing to LA — transforming it into something unilaterally bad — is nothing more than a trick of my mind, a way to keep me here, in Cambridge, for as long as possible.
And yet I find my thoughts returning to LA now more and more, to friends and community, of course, because those are the things I have actively missed, that will draw me back. But also to the other things, perhaps because I do not want to return to a place I’ve unwittingly (and unnecessarily) vilified so completely.
How, I keep mulling, can I carve out a life there that feels more sustainable? Perhaps that’s the difference: life here feels sustainable. Sustainable! What if that were actually the barometer we constructed our lives around — whether we can really do them, day in and day out? Here I can walk into town, I can work these kinds of hours, I can get my kid to and from school without any fuss, we can go to concerts a few blocks away for not much money. It feels like a life that can be worked on repeat without making me fray at the edges.
That’s the thing about life in LA. Sometimes it just feels like too much: too much driving, traffic, pollution, noise, violence. Some of this is me, of course — the way I have built up my schedule and work commitments and all that invisible labor crowding into every free space — but some of it is the way the city is constructed, the way the car is another limb that must be used to get absolutely everywhere, the way you have to work to find calm and quiet, the lack of cafés and parks within walking range, the way you can’t really bike without worrying about being hit by a car. The ways the city was not built with people in mind.
Whenever friends here ask us how we like living in LA, the answer is always fraught, my husband and I exchange awkward glances. I adore our friends there, I answer, and our community, the miracle of having landed in the best little Jewish preschool in town, which opened us up to an entire miraculous world of magnificent people. The network of love and support we have there is unlike anything I’ve experienced before: it’s not a friend here, a friend there, a cobbled-together family. It’s a veritable web. Well, that’s the most important thing, everyone answers, and so, so rare!
It is. It is! And I long for those Saturday mornings when I can show up at synagogue and find dozens and dozens of people to hug and laugh and pray and cry with. That, to me, is joy; it overwhelms me with gratitude.
But under it all will also be the niggling feeling that a place can be a good friend, too, a companion in life that serves you or doesn’t. A place that makes you feel, above all, safe — in body and in soul, something lacking in every single American city and small town these days. A place that can bolster your sense of sanity and ease, that can make you feel that all this is more than just bearable.
Some of this is in one’s own mind, of course, and this is what I’m now after. How can I make LA a place that serves me, that feels more liveable? (So many people do!) The best definition I have ever heard for self-care, years ago from an old friend, was creating a life one doesn’t feel the need to escape from, and this is how I’d like to feel about LA: that is it not something I am merely tolerating until I can run off to somewhere new. What, I wonder, would make it so? Please, flood me with ideas.
SUMMER + FALL CLASSES! I am cooking up writing classes for the fall, and Summer School will be back on starting in July. More info coming next week. xx
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