first impressions: my first month in los angeles

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People ask me why I moved to Los Angeles. Why I tossed nearly all of my belongings and moved me and the cat out west. Everyone I love lived in a ten mile radius. All of my professional contacts were in the tri-state area, and I had a steady stream of projects. I spent most of my time in a huge rent-controlled apartment in a brownstone in Park Slope. Everything appeared good on paper. Everything was going according to plan.

The only way I can make sense of the past year is to say that I’d become allergic to my home. Space didn’t exist other than in the confines of my apartment. Everyone was loud and suffocating. Days would pass and I’d become exhausted with the idea of going into Manhattan. I was forever tired, depressed and anxious. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write.

In Nicaragua I met a couple from Santa Barbara, and we bonded over our obsessive affection for our cats. At the time I planned a four-state adventure (remember?) My project was an expensive, logistical nightmare and I spent most of my time over thinking how I’d do it all. The couple listened politely, and as I was telling them of my plan I started to feel that it was kind of ridiculous. I’m someone who needs roots; I’m far from itinerant. At the end of my story, the husband said, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the first word that comes to mind. Don’t think about it. Just speak. I nodded; I’d play along. If you could live anywhere in the states, where would you live? he asked. Don’t think.

California.

I’ve been here for over a month and my only regret is that I haven’t moved sooner. I don’t yet have the privilege of perspective–that aerial view–however, the only thing I can say is that California feels right. Everything about being here feels right. Is it an adjustment? Absolutely. Do I miss my friends? So much it hurts. Am I nervous about paying the rent for my expensive apartment? EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. But I don’t regret it. And while I’m not yet at the place where I can give you a narrative, I’ll share my impressions. These aren’t truths; this is me acting like a tourist sketching the shape of things without understanding its true form. Think of it was an outline before it gets fat from fleshing.

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1. FOOD: The best thing about childhood is the wonder. How you always have a first. How all the things that adults take for granted and invariably ruin, are beautiful and complete. While I knew the produce in California was superior, never did I anticipate that I would love eating more than I already do. I’d spend mornings at the farmer’s market in awe. Four variations of avocados, ripe peaches, mountain-reared apples, local chorizo, figs, guava, watermelon, plums, and a dizzying amount of herbs. And when I’m not at the farmer’s market, I’ve eaten lunches in places that make you excited about ordering a salad.

Because salad is an EVENT in Los Angeles.

This isn’t about a pile of sloppy greens on your plate. Oh, no. People take salad to a whole other place. I’ve had peaches, grilled chicken and local goat cheese dressed in a spicy cashew dressing. I’ve had things done to pork one wouldn’t think possible. Being here actually inspires you to eat healthy. And that’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of pizzas, tacos, and blueberry crumble bars–but there’s a real pride about the ingredients and everything tastes better. Eating gluten-free is easy here because restaurant menus are abundant with healthy and gluten-free options.

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2. WATER: All conversations converge to water, the lack of it, how to conserve it, and how it tastes like wet coins shoveled into your mouth. Each tenant in my building has to pay for their individual water usage, so while I have a dishwasher and washer/dryer, know that I’m not just tossing in dirty items, willy-nilly. I have a shower filter and a water filter, because there’s no way I’m drinking out of the tap. And I’ve booked an appointment with a dermatologist next week because the water and my skin are in an acrimonious relationship. While the breakouts on my face have improved somewhat, I’ve scattered bumps on my chest, back and shoulders that aren’t going away.

Also, it never rains. The one night it did pour, my building’s fire alarms blared at 3:30AM, and people were more fascinated by the fact that it was raining than the idea that we’d be engulfed in flames. My neighbors’ reactions were much like this. In Los Angeles, you know the date it rains because it never does. Rain is also an event.

3. NEIGHBORS: THEY EXIST. AND THEY SPEAK TO YOU. Actually, everyone speaks to you here. Let me give you context. In all the years I lived in New York I only knew my neighbors by calling the cops on them or complaining about them. No, it’s not okay to have a threesome while blasting Britney’s “One More Time” on a Tuesday night when I have to be at work the next day. No, it’s not cool to have your dealer pound on my door when he mistakes my apartment for yours. No, it’s not normal to beat your front door with a snow shovel in the middle of July because you’re wasted and your husband’s frightened of you when you go off your meds. The last time I felt any semblance of community was when I was small, living in Brooklyn. Back then it was everyone’s business to know everyone else’s business. We traded stories on stoops and messed around with tire swings in the park or treaded water in the pool in Sunset Park.

Maybe I had the wrong neighbors or maybe I was a shut-in? Who knows. What I do know is that it’s normal in Los Angeles for people to ask about your day and genuinely care about it.

My next door neighbor just moved from Union Square, and sometimes we’ll catch one another on the stairwell and talk about Los Angeles as if we were gathering our findings and comparing notes. We actually lowered our voices and said, people talk to you here, and realized how asinine that sounded as soon as we said it.

4. THE CAR SITUATION: What it relief it was to toss my Metrocard. You can’t even understand how I don’t miss the MTA, LIRR, and NJT. I do not miss Showtime! Showtime! I do not miss being screamed at because my soul has yet to be saved. I do not miss stories about rats and pizzas and men telling me I’m beautiful. Smile, baby. I so much wanted to reply with Cry, baby. I do not miss the collective rage blackout that is the morning commute.

In Los Angeles, most people drive. I do not, which makes sidewalks blissful. I can walk around without having people book a one-way ticket to my sternum. My friends are awed by the fact that I walk four miles to Brentwood or two miles to Venice. For me, anything under five miles is walkable. The buses are pretty amazing and reliable, and I can take cabs for long-distance rides. While I’m still adjusting to life here, I can’t bear the thought of taking driving lessons, and I’m in no financial shape to buy a car, deal with insurance, gas, parking, and the inevitable accidents that will ensue. Most of my friends live in, or near, the Westside, so I’ve been managing well. It’s also amazing that I’m able to supermarkets, fitness classes, and the beach are in walking distance.

When I can afford it, I will invest in a car because there’s so much to see. California offers the desert, mountains, and beaches, and I want to explore them all. I love the idea of being alone in a car and driving to Joshua Tree. I love the idea of being alone, in a car.

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5. MY TRIBE: I’ve read countless articles on the dangers of technology. You’ll be distracted; technology kills conversation and empathy, however, I’m finding a need to rely on technology to connect with those whom I miss and love. I use Facetime, Skype, email, social media and the good old phone to keep up with the relationships one can easily take for granted if geography isn’t an issue. Geography, and the distance between myself, and everyone I love is real, constant.

I miss my friends, and the ease in which I get to see them.

I knew that moving here would be tough. I would have to rebuild my life, establish professional contacts, and make new friends. Logically, I knew all of this and I expected to feel as I do now, but knowing doesn’t make discomfort any easier to bear. It’s hard for me to reach out to strangers and arrange friend dates (fear of rejection), and meeting them (!!!) presents a whole new set of anxieties. I tend to talk too much when I’m nervous. After meeting up with a new friend (I met this lovely women by way of introduction from a mutual friend) and her two sweet dogs for coffee, I text’d the friend who’d introduced us, writing: I really liked her. I hope she doesn’t think I’m…crazy. I’m reconnecting with old friends who I haven’t seen in years and it’s almost as if I’m forging new ground. Yes, we know one another, but we knew previous versions of ourselves so the getting-to-know-you phases is as pronounced in these scenarios because I don’t have the privilege of a clean slate.

And for the first time in nearly a decade, I missed have an artistic tribe. I used to be deep in the book publishing scene in New York and I…hated it. Nearly every minute of it. For a number of reasons I won’t go into. Suffice it to say it’s taken me a while to even consider the possibility of surrounding myself with fellow artists, attend readings and be part of something. After posting questions on a few closed forums on Facebook, I found what I wanted didn’t exist. I was blue for a couple of weeks and then I decided to create that which didn’t exist.

I posted a long call on several local Facebook groups populated by women creatives and artists. Similar to a salon I once co-hosted in New York (which gave me more stress than joy), I offered up my home as a meeting place for a small group of like-minded women who wanted to talk shop, collaborate, or just make new friends. What binds us is our art, our verve, and our drive to build. I was shocked about the overwhelming response, and a friend emailed me and said that Los Angeles is aching for more meet-ups that I’m trying to cultivate–we’re all so spread out!

I’ve been visiting Los Angeles since I was 17 and only now did I realize the geography. When it took me two hours to get home from Silverlake by bus did I understand that L.A. is MASSIVE. No wonder people crave connections–we’re all so far away!

I’m also flying to Seattle ($150 airfare!) for LitCrawl in late October–something, candidly, I would never have done had I still lived in New York. However, I’m staying with a fellow writer friend who has pets and lives far away from where the action is, and I see this as a good thing. I’m excited to see Sarah Hepola talk and a host of other writers read.

Luckily, I enjoy my company and don’t need many friends in my life, but I’m reminding myself that this work, these friend dates, this crippling anxiety–all of this is necessary.

Professional contacts….working on that.

6. THE LANDSCAPE: It’s incredible how a shift in geography will change everything. I’ve a whole new vocabulary to learn, a landscape to navigate. Plants that don’t grow in the East, tectonic plates that keep shifting, land that constantly rearranges itself. Even though I’ve traveled to Los Angeles on and off for twenty years, there’s nothing like setting roots here. My novel takes place in New York, Nevada and California, and much of the book relied on my impressions of the West coupled with research. Last week an idea crystallized for the third book, and I’m excited because it’ll take place in California during the 1920s and present day. This means more land to navigate, more to learn, more to feel.

My friend Pedro once told me that in order to learn a new language you have to think in the language. He’s fluent in five languages so you know I paid him the strictest attention. You can’t translate from the English, he said. You have to think, yo quiero ir… instead of I want to go… in the Spanish. Thinking in another language makes it intuitive; you feel the words as you’re saying them instead of relying on your brain to decode and translate. I feel that way about being in California. Until now I’ve been translating (and I’m still looking at this place through the lens of New York), and it’ll take me time to naturally interpret and speak the landscape so it feels visceral, real.

As you know I’ve a taste for the macabre, and the fact that my new novel centers around the appraising and selling of “touched” property (think cults, gruesome murders, suicides, the occult), I’m oddly excited to learn the language of construction, to see these houses and understand their architecture. There is so much history here, and I’m hungry to learn it.

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7. FELIX UPDATE: In Los Angeles, there is no cowering from the light. In New York, buildings shielded me from the sun, but the light here is clean and abundant. So much so that it’s made my special guy content. I was worried how he’d adjust, and although he initially had a hard time without furniture (translation: boredom), he’s now content. Most days he stares out my many windows, battles with the washing machine and garbage disposal and longs to go out on my deck (not happening, mister). Much of his time is spent lazing in various columns of light that stream into my apartment. He’s so comfortable I wonder if I can send him out on my friend dates in my stead. He’d make for better company, clearly.

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There’s so much more and I know I’m missing it, but these broad strokes are all I’m able to share at the moment. I can only imagine what it will feel like in a year’s time looking at this post with the advantage of perspective.

37 thoughts on “first impressions: my first month in los angeles

  1. I’m so happy that you’re adjusting so well. I too moved from NY to Calif many years ago. Calif is home now. I love going back to NY to visit and play tourist 🙂 Just curious: have you read “A tree grows in Brooklyn” ? Keep having fun!

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  2. What a great post! I can totally relate. I’m a native New Yorker who felt so suffocated in the city, minimized, pressed down by the daily grind, and frustrated and sad by all of the ways they city had changed since I grew up in it. I moved to Belize in June and already feel healthier, happier, and more at home here. There are always trade-offs, but my life here is already way more relaxed than I ever experienced in New York. Good for you for making such a brave move! I hope Cali continues to open itself and embrace you.

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  3. I’m a Southern California Native and I’m always finding new places for adventure. I can’t imagine living without the glorious sunshine and sand 🙂 Glad you are settling in.

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  4. I’m Irish living in Dublin and I loved this post, I’m at a turning point in my life where I’m about to go back home after moving to the city , this post is making me broaden my horizons a bit , think I need a bit of LA sun to heal my battlescars , great job x

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been feeling for the past few years that I want to move to a completely different sort of place to where I am now, you’ve inspired me. Also I have an affinity for California (although I’m aussie) as I spent some time there as a kid, around the Carmel area. NYC seems so hip lately, it’s lovely to hear about California for a change!

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  6. So happy for you! I was wondering what happened to the trip! I feel like moving is essential and change is good for us All. Im looking into leaving nyc and try DC or another young hip city. I feel that once you have a car, you’ll have even better stories! Can’t wait.

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  7. I just moved to LA from Georgia and have the same thoughts all the time about Food, and the water. Everything is so fresh here. The landscape is unbeatable. Mountains and Oceans surrounding you. Everyone hates rain… I also had the same thought about the people and that everyone was so friendly (it’s even friendly for someone who comes from an area that is known for hospitality). For the past few months the novelty has been wearing off a bit, and I’ve been pretty homesick. I’m glad you posted this! It reminds me of the lens I was viewing this place when I first moved, and to not forget how incredible it is.

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    1. thanks! I know I’ll likely get homesick, but that’s what visits back home, to savor the time with the ones you love, is for 🙂

      I’ve done something here I’ve never done–start to become interested in California’s history. Already, I’ve ordered architecture and history books to get a deeper sense of the place I’m now calling home.

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  8. I agree with your take on the food out there. I was recently in SF and Sonoma for a week and back in Florida I’m going through Good Food Withdrawal. Nice piece, I enjoyed reading about your brave adventure.

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  9. I loved reading this post! I moved to California about a year ago, leaving my job and friends behind to be closer to family. I’ve had some disappointments, but overall I’m glad I made the move. I’ve been visiting California from the Midwest since I was 9, and it’s been a dream of mine to move out here since then. I’ve been able to travel along the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I’m glad you’re enjoying your time here as well 🙂

    As far as networking and meeting new people, I’d recommend Meetup.com. I’ve met some great people through some of the social events I’ve gone to.

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  10. Hi Felicia,

    Great post. Reminds me what there is to love about this part of the world.

    I’m still learning to live in the southern California language, and could tell a story about being unknowingly caught in a rip current (not rip tide, apparently, what a way to learn the difference), then rescued by a Baywatch-grade lifeguard, but it’s too cliche!

    Do tell what the doctor says about the water+skin dilemma. Those bumps sound annoyingly familiar.

    Sandra

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  11. I’m so happy that you bit the bullet, Felicia. I’ve lived in Phoenix (twice), Indianapolis (twice), San Antonio (twice), Dallas, Austin, and Germany (twice), and now Binghamton (for the past 13 years). God, I miss learning a new place. A few more years, after the kids are all graduated, I think I’m going to have to take off again. But this place fits my needs in the now. Keep posting so I can enjoy vicariously until then! 🙂

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  12. I’m really enjoying your thoughts on life in California and Los Angeles. As I’ve lived in SoCal nearly all my life, so many of the things you mention seem so commonplace to me. It’s really neat hearing it from a fresh and new perspective, and has made me appreciate life here more than I thought.

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  13. I loved this! I’m from California and glad that you are enjoying it. I plan on switching places with you and moving to New York for all the things that you miss and didn’t enjoy about NY.

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  14. Random question, but… Where/how did you find your apartment? Before you moved or once you arrived? I’ve been reading and loving all your LA posts (as a fellow NYer seriously contemplating the move west)!

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