Monday, December 1, 2014

Dear Los Angeles,

Los Angeles, my feelings for you are complicated. On the one hand, you have all that sweet mid-century architecture, a wide selection of vegetarian food, picnic weather in October, and several of the best people I know (and, okay, a couple of the worst, but this is the plus column).

You also happen to house the hub of my chosen industry. There is no other place where so much of the population can relate to the simultaneous contentment and nauseating uncertainty of following your creative passion. And there is certainly no other place where one has such unparalleled proximity to potential collaborators, professional idols and unabashed dreamers.

The thing about you, Los Angeles, is that mingled with that ever-present yellow haze, you also have this intoxicating air of possibility. The word "no" is rarely spoken. "Maybe" is emblazoned on the city crest. Maybe your pilot will be produced, maybe that marquee actor will sign on for your film, maybe everything will click. But when you try to grasp on to something, to pin it down, you realize that air of possibility is often just that: air. Swirling around you, making you feel cool, when really your body temperature hasn't changed at all.

Perhaps that's a good thing. Perhaps living in a state of maybe is useful. Perhaps it fuels creation, makes a person dig deeper and work harder to find that extra something that will transform the maybe into that ever-elusive yes. Perhaps that air of possibility puts wind in the sails of our figurative boats.

But what if that pleasant breeze and constant gentle movement is making people forget that their boats also have oars? That they can also move ahead on the strength of their own arms and backs? What if everyone is just floating indistinctly, waiting for the breeze to eventually take them in the direction they want to go, their own power over their fate becoming an afterthought, a last resort?

Los Angeles, I wonder if you ever consider the inherent peril in a system that has the majority of people awaiting permission to move forward. The unbalanced power structure that impacts every level of interpersonal interaction, infusing so many encounters with an awkward transactional dynamic in which the less powerful individual has something to gain from the more powerful. The negative effects that being on the needy end of that dynamic can have on a person's psyche and, by extension, their creative output. The way it drives creators to generate rehashed versions of past successes rather than nurturing the stories that authentically reside within, that have a chance of saying something true and organically felt.

And as rough as this dynamic can make things for those on the downside of the equation, it's no October picnic for the powerful either. Those who dole out "maybe's" each day, more often than not just avoiding the confrontational "no" that might come back to haunt them even though they have no plan to ever make that "maybe" a "yes."

And it extends outside their offices--the casual hang, the trip to the barista, the family reunion--the hopeful are everywhere in LA. It's easy to see why a person in that position might begin to avoid those in a lower power tier altogether, to seek out only those in their same bracket, to dodge those uncomfortable bullets of expectation. And what then? The decision makers are now confined to a tiny, unnatural universe of like-minded privilege and rarified air. They no longer walk amongst the people, and therefore they no longer know anything about the experience of the people, and therefore they no longer tell stories that reflect the experience of the people, and the product becomes a glossed over, unrecognizable version of reality that gets branded as "Hollywood."

So, Los Angeles, you see why I resist you even as you pull me in. I worry that my choices are either to be one of the hopeful, waiting breathlessly to be granted entry, or one of the gatekeepers, retreating ever-backwards from the human experience that is actually the city's main export. And I don't like those choices, because productivity and authenticity matter. But I also know there are surely more than just these two options. Because I know Los Angelenos who are creating great, original work, who are grounded human beings, and who remember their own oars. People who may be battling a flawed system but who also seem to be coming out ahead. Knowing that those people exist doesn't make me any less conflicted about you, Los Angeles, but it does manage to make me slightly more optimistic.


  1. MG, Appreciate your distinct observations about Los Angeles. The role of arts in LA is often overshadowed by the dearth commercial content created. If you keep close to the pulse of the arts around town you will be deeply impressed by the variety, potency and inspirational prospects. Keep your eyes on the prize, that of the creative process and you will prosper without fail; particularly in Los Angeles where the pipelines converge mightily. Thanks for sharing your thoughts aspirations. Looking forward to future reading!

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    1. I sincerely appreciate the depth of your feeling-sense for what is around you. You find a way to express that which others feel, but remains intangible. You give it words which, for me, brings more understanding between my head and my heart. Thank you