Just over a week ago, I penned a hopeful dispatch from London’s Heathrow Airport in the pages of my journal.
It was afternoon, and I was squeezed into a tiny table at a crowded café in terminal five, scribbling notes about my trip as I waited for my flight to Los Angeles to begin boarding. After two weeks in Europe, I was homeward bound, and I was more than ready to return. I was ready to return to my life and to once again take up the big, important projects – both career and life – that I’d been putting off. I was ready to hit the ground running with a renewed sense of purpose.
And return I did, after a sleepless ten hour flight, a terse exchange with an LAX cab driver – who kicked me out of his car after he learned I’d be paying my fare with a credit card – and a foggy few days spent trying to catch up and reintegrate myself, amidst strange sleep patterns and cloudy, confused dreams in which I existed both in the place I was and the place I’d been, simultaneously. Palm trees in Prague . . . what the??
But my jet lag wore off. And reality set in. And as it did, I found my sense of hopefulness waning. It became difficult, once again, to keep my spirits up.
My post-vacation hangover made me realize something simple, yet true: it’s easy for me to feel optimistic when I’m away, because it’s easier to look at my life for what it could be, as seen from a distance, than for what it actually is, when it’s right up close. Strolling the banks of the Thames or the Vltava, bundled up against the February chill, my L.A. life looked like some sort of sun-soaked dream. A dream that I couldn’t wait to return to.
But my actual L.A. life isn’t exactly a sun-soaked dream. It is much more difficult than the palm trees would have you believe. It’s full of traffic jams and smog and grown up decisions and a high cost of living and endless bills to pay. It’s creative burnout and failed relationships and an ongoing struggle to make peace with my past. More than anything, life in LA. these days is a struggle to figure out who the heck I am after I’ve been so many versions of myself and none of them have worked out.
Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. And yes, it’s disgusting. Let’s get real for a second. I’ve just returned home to Los Angeles, which, weather-wise, is pretty damn pleasant compared to what most of the rest of the world is experiencing in late February. I just spent two weeks in Europe on an incredible adventure – the type of self-indulgent trip that most people only dream of. And all around me in this sprawling, massive, city, there are reminders that my life, for all of my complaints, is not really that bad.
As I scribble these words into my journal, I’m sitting in another café, half a world away from the one at Heathrow. But you can’t really call it a café: it’s a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Right in front of me, in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight, is a most unfortunate business transaction: an exchange between a prostitute and her pimp. She: edgy, nervous, eager to please, fingernails caked in dirt (that’s how close she is to me) with a tiny, scruffy dog in her lap. He: cold, disinterested, rude, and treats her so callously, it’s obvious that he sees her as nothing more than property. My stomach turns and I try to pretend I don’t see them, but it’s impossible. I feel guilty for obsessing about my own stupid problems, ashamed when the girl’s eye briefly meets mine, and then sad, as I look away and cast my eyes downward, toward the floor.
The best thing about my trip to Europe was that it reminded me of the carefree, hopeful girl that I used to be when I lived in London as a twenty-one-year-old college student, when the world stretched out wide in front of me, when possibility seemed limitless and I still believed that nothing bad could happen to me. The worst thing about my trip to Europe was that I returned, knowing for sure that I am no longer that girl.
Real life is very unlike my European vacation, and much more like the scene I witnessed at the Coffee Bean. It confronts you with its realness, with its complexity. Sometimes it’s gritty and sad. Sometimes it forces you to look away.
Every time I leave town, I’m happy. For a time. But then I come back, and the old problems are still here, and I’m still here. And time is passing and life is happening all around me. And I’m not really any closer to figuring it all out.
So I have decided that it’s time. Time to say yes to the here and now – even if the here and now is gritty and difficult and real. Even if it makes me sad. It’s time to commit and connect to my real life in a way that I’ve been avoiding. Time to buckle down and do the hard work. Because you can’t correct what you don’t confront. And the hour is growing late.
This might be the craziest adventure yet. Wish me luck?
Until next time, friends.