Visiting a former life: When nostalgia plays tricks on you
This week I visited Los Angeles. It was my first extended trip since I walked away from the city of wandering angels.
I met up with old friends and revisited familiar locations that I abruptly left almost four years ago. Jumping into the past is both energizing and intimidating.
Will I feel disconnected from my old friends? Will I want to stay in the past? Will this trip trigger an existential crisis that will leave me curled up in a ball screaming, "Who am I?!?"
The longer I've lived away from Los Angeles the more I've romanticized it. I conveniently forgot the aimless journey I was taking there, long nights crying myself to sleep or staring at the ocean sky hoping life would finally happen.
I moved to Los Angeles when I was 20 after being offered an assistant position at an actor's production company. It took me five years to realize that I didn't want to put someone before me for the rest of my life, and I moved to Austin to take a stab at the one thing I knew for certain I enjoyed — writing.
Though I still have a very long way to go, I can't believe that a goal I set out to achieve (becoming a professional writer) has actually materialized. I would not have been able to do this in LA. Austin has brought me more professional and creative joy than I ever could have dreamed of in Los Angeles.
I often ignore that fact though, choosing to spend dramatic evenings listening to M83 with a bottle of wine, visualizing a drive down Santa Monica Boulevard at night with the warm breeze playing with my hair as I pretend to be a Bret Easton Ellis character.
With any former defective relationship, it's easy to recall the tender moments that made you fall in love in the first place and forget the disease the plagued the union. Now all I recall are snippets of cognitive nostalgia.
On this trip, to make sure I didn't lose myself, I wore a cowboy hat: a symbol of who I am now and where I'm coming from. I wore the darn thing my entire visit. Though I was sweetly referred to as "cowgirl" and received many compliments, I was surprised to have been on the receiving end of a few glassy-eyed stares and snickers. People assumed that because I live in Texas, I must not know Los Angeles. Oh, I get her alright.
It was hard not to ramble on about the beauty and honesty of Austin while speaking with friends. I often had to check myself, sounding like the obnoxious gal who just recently landed herself a new boyfriend, "In Austin, they have music festivals every weekend and a movie theater that makes you fall in love with movies all over again and food carts on every corner and alcohol is super cheap!"
"We get it. Austin is great," my friends would say.
While getting a drink with a friend, the bartender proudly stated that happy hour beer was $5. I had to do everything not to laugh and snottily say, "In my city, beer grows on trees, buddy."
However, as my time in Los Angeles wore on, I found myself not missing the 80 percent humidity, 90 degree days and land-locked placement of my new city.
Every day of my visit I was drawn to Venice Beach, where I sat breathing in the ocean as if for the first time. A lightness overtook me as I floated through the boardwalk. No oppressive blanket of dampness held me down. The ocean air combined with encounters of dear friends from my past and a visit to a television production (Californication!), I was finding myself torn between two lovers: a passionate, but unstable one from my past and the new, healthy one I currently date.
Nostalgia is a powerful force. It confuses and plays tricks on you. It makes you question your choices in life and entertain throwing everything you've gained just to relive your youth. It's a mirage that sits in the center of your brain, one that will never fully go away but you can only hope will dim with time. Unless you like to feed it.
Occasionally I'll hear a comparison between Austin and Los Angeles. "Nobody living in Austin is actually from Austin," I often hear locals say. This statement is a common proclamation spoken in LA too.
Austin will never be LA. Austin knows who it is and always will, regardless of the change around it. At its core, Austin is one of the most genuine cities in America.
Because Austin knows who it is, I know who I am.
Though the passion and intrigue of Los Angeles will always be a shining bright patch of grass over the hill, I will chose the road going in the forward direction.
I worked so hard to get here, why would I turn back?