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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life in Exile: No Concept Left Behind

Part of what I left behind when we left LA was a concept I had of myself, one which worked there but does not work here. In fact, this concept I have carted around since I was, oh seven or so, has managed to serve me well, so long as I was striving for a career.

But in the desert there is no striving wagon to hop on. I’ve lived in the Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles and now the desert. In all those other areas there was an energy of building something; lives, careers, communities. But the desert is a retirement community, a second home community and a vacation community. Those of us who are left here to wrestle with the whole of the year and not just some pleasant three month sojourn work primarily in one of those leisure industries. What we moved out here for, in fact, was a job (my husband’s) in a hotel. So, life, by definition and execution, here is transient. People have either come out here to relax or retire. Basically one is either golfing or waiting to die.

Of course, if you follow life to it’s ultimate conclusion death is the result for everyone anywhere. Period. But we like to think, as free Americans, that how we occupy that time before death is up to us. My choice was to occupy my time as an actor, then when it was clear that was not going to happen (face for radio, voice for print) to the degree of success that would keep me… well, fed frankly, I looked around and thought to myself, if I can’t be in them, then I at least want to have a hand in making movies. This aim took me through the Bay Area and college, San Diego and grad school and finally LA and career. A career IN the industry of my dreams, mind you, if not exactly the dream job. My foot was firmly in door.

At the time we left LA my job had just ended. I had been working on a TV pilot and then I had our first child. Having a baby in an all consuming industry was going to be difficult, I knew that, but I was confident I would work it out. I had a friend who was pregnant with her first and just getting married, another who was soon to be married, another pregnant with her second. I had a friend and former boss who seemed to have the hotline to babysitters and child entertainments. I had a network that, as more babies of friends were added, would only grow stronger.

And then the move to the desert. Not only did I leave this burgeoning network and (I hoped) an equally swelling career but suddenly the concept I'd indulged all those years no longer worked! And it is not as if we had lived in LA for a while with a baby, tried it, found it too frustrating or frightening (before we left we could walk around with the baby in the Grove or to breakfast in Hollywood and literally be the only people with a baby we ran into all day – it is now baby haven as my last trips back have shown) and made a categorical decision to leave for more child friendly climes. Nor had I tried my hand at Hollywood, failed to get a foothold or achieve what I set out to and in disgust packed up and left as soon as the Fall leaves back home began to change. In Hollywood you can tell the seasons by the yard sales. About every three months, as the failures and disappointments would mount, Moms would call sons and daughters to extol the beauties of the Fall/Spring/Winter/Summer leaves/blooms/snow/gorgeous weather, and followed would be a lot of justifying with, no doubt, some swarthy swearing and impulsive packing of it in. This was helpful actually as Hollywood is fairly mild weatherwise. But I was not one of these casualties. I wanted to be nowhere else on earth at that moment in my life.

Sure I did have disappointments in my career and no doubt more were sure to follow. But I felt certain that I would find another job, act in another play, write another script, make another friend, work on another project... in effect, continue to strive. There were possibilities, you see - energy, movement, people were achieving things! And now, in the desert, I was not amongst them any longer. Worse still, I would tell people I met what I had done for a living or that I was a writer and, at best, the blank stares of incomprehension were monumental. You could hear the crickets in between blinks. At worst I would get the “You know you should move to LA for that” response. I felt pride at my great self-restraint in never yelling “That is where I just bloody said I had been living!” at anyone. Not even once.

So here I was, isolated, (I wasn’t working the first few months) not meeting many people and when I did… well, the above mentioned crickets. The energy as stagnant as a deaad of summer wind. And here is me, with this caaaawn-cept of myself which keeps landing flat and sliding off a cliff. I am Wiley Coyote and this concept is the Roadrunner. No one here it seems to me is striving for anything. I mean (at the time we moved) if you weren’t in real estate everyone else thought you were kind of a numskull for not. So it’s not like I had anywhere to fit in and wasn’t. There was no ‘in’. Not as a preexisting condition at least.

So this feeling, that I’m creative/special/driven/talented/stubborn/lucky enough to accomplish something – to make films! (which, no matter how little the film when you first make them that brand of 'special' is stupendous) fails me utterly. And then is run over by a steamroller that just happens to be passing by, in this hot hot, hot hot desert.

Meep meep!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Life in Exile

I was compelled the other day, by the birth of a friend's baby, to write once again about my feelings living here in the desert. "My life in exile", as I think about it, though my husband despises this phrase, or "my beautiful prison", equally despised by husband, of equal measure amusing to my sister.

I have long thought ('mused' sounds too whimsical for a practice that is normally for me a downer but that is actually a more correct characterization of what I do - thought implies direction, a move, but in the musings about my situation there is no logical resulting action) of living out here, in this desert, as a sort of undefined sentence. It makes me feel sad, angry, humble, extremely difficult to get along with, and at times (way too many, in fact) lethargic - the lethargy, I assume, of a prisoner marking the end of the first decade of a, say, thirty year confinement. Sometimes I feel all those things at once, sometimes back to back in a (for my husband especially and no doubt too for my bewildered children) confusing and irritating string of nebulously-connected-to-any-real-event bad moods. That can last... and last and last for... I dare not say for how long lest social services or my ex-therapist come with the men in white with the funny jacket to sweep me off to somewhere I can be safe. But don't worry, these are mostly times of implosion, and less often, a lashing out at my husband.

No solace there, however.

I know that for my husband this is a done deal, that I'm just engaging in post-mortem equine abuse at this point. But is there any satisfaction for a difficult situation you just can't get out of? Why can't I move on, in fact? I have often wondered what is wrong with me. "Beautiful prison" is only funny because of the kernel of truth it holds. I could barely hope to have landed in a more picturesque place than the valley that embraces Palm Springs, California. Surrounded by rugged, gorgeously light-changed mountains, living in a well run, ecologically friendly city. Kids attending what is now officially one of the best elementary schools in the entire state and the best in our region. So, really, what the hell is my problem?

But I can sooner stop fussing about my predicament than I might, realistically, pack up and move back to my chosen city. I am, for all intents and purposes, stuck.

I have written myself out of some lousy moods before - notably I wrote a novel whilst living here with two toddlers, two cats, not enough money and an alternately always working or underworked underfoot husband in an 800 square foot apartment. I figured it was time to take this exile-hood of mine head on and write about it. It's time, if not to somehow write it away, then to at least put a finger on it, open the curtain and get this thing to rear its ugly head at me. Then, maybe at the very least, I can replace some of the anger and lethargy with amusement.

So, back to this baby that was just born of a friend of mine. I wrote in my journal, "I feel viscerally all the milestones, big and small, I've missed because of my proximity so far flung - the firsts, the births, the heartaches that couldn't be shared in person over a glass of wine but had to suffice over emails, MySpace (yes, I've been gone that long) and Facebook. The friendships I left were only 'off to a good start'. Foundations laid, common experiences shared and the establishment of mutual affections made." But not yet set in stone. So I am not a 'best friend' or someone to 'make sure to get out to visit', but that friend who lives in Palm Springs that is mildly concerned, amusing and/or interested and/or interesting. In short, what I get to share are the neat and tidy formalities of a well wishes cards. Electronic or handwritten and stamped, they are still, necessarily the same finite, detached sentiments. I don't get to get in there, down in the muck of regular life with the people whom I consider my friends. I am peripheral and thus extraneous.

Which, feeling this way, is at least a step up from feeling unwanted. Isolation can do that to you. So, well, that's progress.