We're the ones your mother warned your about...No, seriously. We are.

La La Land - A Year and A Bit in L.A.

On Sunday, I was driving back from Venice Beach, & my friend Rita asked me a question that's been rattling around in my brain for the last two days.

She turned to me and said, "Claris, why did you move to Los Angeles?"

Rita wasn't asking in a mean way. More of a "why here?" sort of fashion. I could give you a myriad of responses - schooling, employment opportunities, already knowing people in the city - on and on and on. But in the end, it all comes down to what probably seems like the dumbest reason of all.

It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

Really, when you break it down to the bare bones, that's what you've got. I wasn't doing well in New England. I really wasn't. I was horribly unhappy with my life, and knew that I didn't really belong there. Or maybe the better way to put it would be that I didn't belong there at this point in my life. There were economic and personal issues that were simply drowning me, and no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I was okay, I really wasn't. I wasn't happy, and there wasn't a definitive end in sight for a lot of it. I just...for lack of a less grandiose turn of phrase, I felt like my soul was dying. There was too much history for me in New Hampshire - if nothing else, I felt like I had to just make a clean break from my time in high school, the three years it took me to get my degree, and the utter sense of isolation and loneliness that came from both of these periods in my life where I constantly felt as though I was older than anyone my age should ever have to be. I had to distance myself from my family for a while, to gain my own footing separate from the entanglements there. I needed to have, even if only for a while, a time in which I could be selfish and walk away, and worry about myself as a top priority.

So I did it. I left. I packed up my car, and I left. Was I running away? Yeah, yeah I was. I was running away because I needed to for my own sanity and sense of self. I wanted to know that I could be a person outside of everything that I'd grown up in. That I could make my own future, instead of having to let my environment decide who I was going to be.

It sucked. Hard fucking core sucked. I got to LA, had no job, had bills to pay, wanted my dog, who was still back East until I found an apartment - had my family telling me to hurry up because they didn't want to take care of my dog. I was scared enough coming out here, and having things crash down continually around me once I got here didn't help. I bounced from temp job to temp job for a while, because through various reasons, nobody seemed to want to hire me. I was too young, I didn't have enough experience, I had too much experience. Hand to the heavens - I got rejected from a job interview because the HR woman told my recruiter that I seemed too confident in my abilities, and one temp gig let me go because I wore jeans on a Friday, even though my supervisor's boss had told me that was fine. I can't make this up. One day, I'll get around to writing an article on the hell that is being a temp in Los Angeles. The only saving grace of my experience is that I know of others who had things thrown at them while on the job, and at least I can say that no one ever tried to physically attack me in an office.

I will regularly joke about working at Snap, a gig that was supposed to just be a temporary seasonal thing to help me put together an apartment deposit, but the truth of the matter is, almost a year after I started, I'm still there, and that job saved my sorry ass several times. I was working like a madwoman at temp jobs and Snap, to the tune of around seventy hours a week. I was living in her apartment, but at the time, it wasn't unknown for Polgara and I to e-mail each other during the day just so that we could communicate. I think at one point, we went for three days without actually seeing each other simply because when I wasn't working, I was asleep. The week of Christmas, I worked 32 hours at my secretarial job, and then did 47 hours at Snap. Pressure? No, no pressure at all, why do you ask?

There I was, living on Polgara's couch until I found my postage stamp of a studio apartment that would let me have my Zoey-girl, then finally getting her flown out here, only to have the first flight reject her because of a mix up in the paperwork from the vet, and finally get her out here the next weekend. Ironically enough, five months after I left, when she was being sent out to me, my sister went from telling me to get my dog to asking if she could keep her. (Pat had to go out and get her a puppy when Zoey was leaving - turns out he got one of Zoey's nephews - same breeder, by total coincidence.) She's got thrall, that Zoey of mine. How do you think I got sucked in by her?

I had a place to live, and I was still looking for steady work. I can honestly say that I learned more about the geography of Los Angeles from doing job interviews than any other single element. Oh god, I feel like I can navigate the high rise section of Santa Monica Blvd and the UCLA district of Wilshire if I were blind at this point. These weren't even for design jobs - this was for admin positions - something, anything that would pay the rent and give me benefits. There was doubt, there were tears - and before I moved here, I would never had been what anyone would label "a crier". At one point, in the space of four days, I'm pretty sure I went into shock in front of DarkLady and Allyson, and I literally just burst into tears at the dinner table in front of Polgara, Little Sister, and Dao Jones. I didn't want to eat. I lost fifteen pounds and a clothing size due completely to stress and worry. (In truth, I wouldn't be against another fifteen pounds, but I'd like to be able to do it without the stress and worry part.)

But every month, I had my rent paid, dammit. My dog was fed, and we had somewhere to sleep. Those were my main goals at that point. Underneath it all, that really is the basis for all my goals. And because I had that requirement to fill, I kept going. I survived. I found out that my friends are people of immense generosity and humor, without whom I would have gotten through the last year, but not nearly as well or as wisely as I did. I walked in one night to find my apartment flooded - unfortunately, I had kenickie just arrived from London, and Robyn on the way in from Pittsburgh, not to mention Chrissy arriving the next night from Toronto. We figured it out, and poor Polgara was the Bronzer Inn that night. I ended up having an...interesting final PBP weekend, and one of the things I will never forget is Robyn walking into my apartment for the first time, taking in the small lake on one side of the room, and remarking, "It's very....nautical."

L.A. is hard. It's not an easy city. It's a place that is fueled by people either in the entertainment industry, or people trying to make money off the people in the industry. One of the things that seemed to mystify employers when I would interview was that I wasn't here for the movies. I just...wanted a job. Frequent exchange would be :
"So...are you an actress?"
"A writer?"
"Director or something?"
"Not at all."
"But you moved to LA from Boston*?"
"And you don't want anything to do with the entertainment industry?"
*I am not actually from Boston. My family is from Long Island, and I spent a decade in New Hampshire before moving to California. However, after a day where I had to explain to two different recruiters where New Hampshire was geographically, I gave up and just started saying I was from Boston when people asked. It was easier.

Oddly enough, for someone that wanted nothing to do with the industry, I kept ending up there. First I worked as an extra, and then for a while, I got a job doing post-production work on third shift, which was all very surreal. I remember one night, I watched the initial bombings of Iraq on NBC at 5 am, and then went back to working on the section of Charlie's Angels II that I was cleaning up. We were at war, and there I was, making sure that the film of three mostly-naked actresses didn't have any scratches on it. Because, in L.A., that's what you do. That's how it is.

Then, in the space of a week, I got a phone call for not one, but two design interviews. The first, at a financial dot com downtown, could only be described as a great way to have a small creative breakdown in the space of an hour and a half - here are your source materials - we need a pop up ad, a flyer, and a book cover in an hour and a half..... ready...go! Looking back at it, the prevailing theory on that one is that the guy was looking to get free design work done, and used interviews as a cover, because while it's common for employers to test on software knowledge, that was, as Chrissy said, "hard core, dude. Scary hard core."

Needless to say, I went into my second interview that week with no small sense of trepidation. None needed. I literally had a job interview where I sat down and shot the shit with the guy that would end up being my boss for about three hours. It was odd solely based on its ease. However, this is California, and nothing moves quickly here, so it would still be two temp jobs and a month later that I'd actually get offered and start the job. (Wanna hear a funny? I interviewed for the job on April 1st. Told ya I can't make this shit up.)

I went back to New Hampshire last April for my sister's wedding, and I was scared to do it. Here I was, I'd been gone for eight months, and I still had no "real" job - I was working at the Getty as a temp, doing post-production on Friday and Saturday nights, and at Snap everywhere in between. All I knew was that the interview for the job I'd eventually get had gone well, as had the second interview, and I was just..waiting to hear yea or nay. For this, I'd given up stable employment doing tech support to leave and go to California. In fact, I wasn't just scared, I was terrified. I literally had to stop my hands from shaking on the way home to my apartment from work that day, and part of the reason I launched NoDignity.com that night was because it gave me something to focus my mind on while waiting before going to the airport so that I wouldn't pace and my teeth would stop chattering. I didn't sleep the whole way to New Hampshire, through eight hours and two plane rides.

Everything back "home" seemed very surreal after the last few months in Los Angeles, and I felt like a stranger. I didn't know where anything was - literally. My parents had had a new house built on the site of the old one, and they moved in shortly after I left. It all felt...funny. Weird. But I was there. I got through it, and the ever-dreaded question of "So, what are you doing out in California?" from various family members and acquaintances. The only visiting I was able to manage was a quick lunch with Megdalen before I went to the airport that Sunday, because I literally couldn't afford to take an extra day to see people, something that I badly needed at the time, but just couldn't do. I returned to L.A., and I couldn't help but wonder if I had done the right thing - what the hell had I really done since leaving NH that justified the upheaval I'd wrought in my life?

Not a week before I got the job that I'm in now, Anya & I were on the phone, discussing if I should consider moving on. It had been almost a year by then, and still I was temping, and my stress levels were through the roof. We literally sat there and talked about whether I should try New York, or if maybe just going north to Seattle or Portland mightn't be a better idea. I was getting ready to let myself give up on L.A., but then it's as thought the city went, "No! Wait! Okay, Okay - try this!" and suddenly, I had a job offer that fulfilled all of what I wanted for employment, albeit less money than I wanted, which meant I have to stay with Snap for a while.

My life is...odd. Really, I'm aware of that. I mean, hell - have you noticed the name of this site? (NoDignity.com, for those of you playing at home who might not have TiVo. ;p) There's a reason for it, people. Even now, with a job where I'm an actual employee (90 days as of Labor Day weekend, baby!), my daily existence seems to be destined to be just the littlest bit freaky. Retail in L.A. alone is an adventure. I didn't know this when I applied, mind you, but the Snap I work at is one that gets a high volume of not only the odd, but also the famous, and the wanna be famous, which makes for an interesting time. Just the other night, I was flirting with a guy, and was disappointed to find out afterwards that he was an up and coming "somebody", because that meant he was probably just a big ball of issues and the general unwritten policy in our store is that we don't hit on the celebrities. Anyone who's seen my LiveJournal can tell you that the title of it is "I can't make this shit up" because, really, I can't.

It ain't paradise, people, I'll admit that. I'll be continuing to work 60-70 hours a week for a while. But I have a larger apartment where it's, well, a non-leaky roof, even if it is in the same buildings. I have a bed to sleep on instead of the futon that I inhabited for seven months. Zoey and I run whenever we can, and I think she's liking the fact that she can come with me when I go shopping because a lot of places in California will let you bring your dog. We still don't really have furniture just because I didn't have any to begin with, and, well, I'm still kinda po'. But the floors are clean, and the laundry is (for the most part) done, and one of these days, I'm going to get to Home Depot to put up those last few drapes.

I've even started painting again, something that I hadn't been able to do since college. Something that, even though I loved it, I was scared to death to do, for fear that I'd lost it. That I had been away too long. Thankfully, based on my first try back, I'm not entirely delusional in my claims of artistic talent. Which is why I've decided to take the next step. I think it's time. I've been in L.A. long enough, and I think I can do it. So this afternoon, I'm going to walk into a gallery for the first time and ask them if they'd be interested in showing my work, and if they're not, who they think might be. I'm sure the first couple of times, I'll get laughed out, but hey - after the last year, if there's anything I'm starting to know how to deal with, it's rejection, right?

I don't know if I'll be in L.A. forever. Maybe I'll end up going back to the East Coast, although I doubt I'll return to New Hampshire. But I'll go back knowing that I've been somewhere else, and that instead of being somewhere because I've always been there, I've chosen to go back. It's possible. Anything's possible. Let me repeat that - Anything is possible. There's a line from the newest Harry Potter book that, while I haven't read the book yet, I believe went something like this :
"The thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve." ~ Ginny Weasley.

What the hell, right? I've gotten this far. I might as well find out.

~ Claris
September 30, 2003
~ Claris' Archives