“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us.
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
Here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make.”
– La La Land
Four years ago, on Thanksgiving morning, I pulled my car into the public parking lot at the base of Fryman Canyon’s trailhead, paid three dollars to park, and began my ascent up the mountain. The hike at Fryman begins as a steep climb, but after about a mile it levels off, with views of Sherman Oaks to the west. It was a bright, blue-skied morning, no longer hot but still temperate, the autumn winds having blown out much of the smog, offering up a clear view of the sprawling city below.
Both my limbs and my heart were heavy. It was my first Thanksgiving since my mother died, two months earlier. The following week, I would mark another birthday – thirty-two – and then shortly thereafter, I’d travel back to Olympia, Washington to see my father for the holidays, whose rapidly-advancing pancreatic and liver cancer meant that Christmas would surely be his last. And on the drive to Fryman, I had phoned my maternal grandmother, struck by the fact that our conversation had, for the first time in two months, seemed almost normal. Of course, I couldn’t have known that conversation would be the last lucid moment I’d share with her, her Alzheimer’s Disease descending like a fog only days later, never again to lift.
But on this bright November morning, staring down at the city I’d called home for the last thirteen years, I felt remarkably O.K. The troubles plaguing my worried mind were still there, of course, but they weren’t here, at least, not right now. Here, it was just me, and my city. Looking out across that sweeping metropolis, I couldn’t help but feel a familiar surge of pride that a girl from Alaska had made it all the way south, to this iconic place, to this land of movies and myth and magic, and had made it her own.
Seventeen years in, even through the turbulence of these last few years, that feeling of pride has never gone away. At a recent screening of the new film La La Land, a friend remarked that he was happy to see a film about L.A. being made by filmmakers who actually love this city. I couldn’t agree more. Hating Los Angeles is a popular sport, and it’s easy to find fault with the traffic, the smog, the sprawl, the absence of seasons and the preoccupation with all things Hollywood, but I could also argue that any critique about L.A. can be flipped on its head, and used to make the case that it’s that very thing that gives this city its unique – and uniquely wonderful – personality. I suppose my relationship with Los Angeles is akin to an intimate love affair: I see all the bad stuff, all the flaws, and still, I want him anyway.
Considering my own origin story, I guess it’s not surprising that I ended up here. Growing up as an only child (my older half siblings were all nearly grown by the time I came along), with a career-obsessed father and a mother who battled depression, I spent much of the long, dark Alaska winters alone in my room, weaving stories out of my imagination. What a relief it was to finally land in theatre classes in L.A., finding a community of people who were just as odd and eccentric as I was, and who liked to play make believe just as much as I did.
I won’t pretend that my L.A. years have been easy. They haven’t been. I walked a long road and paid a lot of dues to get to a place that now feels only relatively comfortable. I’ve lived in cockroach-infested apartments, worked low-paying jobs that I hated, and had plenty of unfortunate encounters with some of the most awful people you could imagine. I’ve done bad plays in tiny theaters, signed contracts with unscrupulous agents, and suffered humiliation more times than I’d like to admit. More than once, I’ve watched a dream die and had to rebuild it anew, from nothing.
But when times have been their toughest, that’s also when I’ve been at my best. Even when I’ve felt down, and hopeless, I’ve found a surprising ability to live off the collective energy of a place jam-packed with dreamers, hustlers, and doers, all fighting for their vision of how they want the world to be. The innovation and creativity that pulse through this city have, over and over again, given me the spark I needed to try again, one more time. And the urban sprawl? Simply an opportunity to reinvent myself, as each new neighborhood – Culver City, Miracle Mile, North Hollywood – has offered new experiences, new friends, a new life.
For a long time, I was afraid to leave L.A. Afraid of what leaving would mean. That I was a quitter. That I wasn’t tough enough. That I didn’t have what it takes to make it here. But I no longer worry about that. It’s thanks to Los Angeles that my dreams have not only become bigger than I’ve ever dared, but that I actually have the moxie to make them come true. It’s thanks to L.A. that I can now justifiably use titles like “producer,” “creative director,” “playwright,” and “filmmaker” to describe myself. And as I write this blog, I’m sitting in a dressing room underneath a soundstage in Hollywood, waiting to step on to a set with actors that I grew up watching as a child. And that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, doesn’t even excite me, really. It’s just a job. What does excite me is the fact that after I’m done on this soundstage, I’ll head to a small rehearsal studio in North Hollywood for a table read of a play that I wrote, and for the first time, I’ll hear the new draft out loud, read by a new cast of actors. Because the truth is, all of my time in Los Angeles – all of the heartbreak and the hope – has taught me who I am and who I want to be. And that person is someone who is no longer content to live inside someone else’s scenes, or play a part in someone else’s story. She wants to – and has already begun to – write her own.
Until next time, friends.
Amazing storytelling. Always get pulled in, thank you for sharing yourself this way.
Thank you so much! Very kind words. ❤
Congratulations on your play!
I love this so much – I feel about Chicago the way you feel about Los Angeles. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you Jackie! Glad you enjoyed it.
What an elegant love letter to yourself and your beloved city. Well done and write on.
Thank you Melanie. I know you love L.A. too. xx
Inspiring. Relatable. Congratulations.
What is the title of your play?
Thank you so much Melissa! It’s called “War Stories.” We open Feb. 3 in Los Angeles: https://edm.ticketleap.com/war-stories/
Nice. Is it a safe part of LA?
It’s in the North Hollywood arts district and the immediate area around the theater is safe (tons of theaters, restaurants, cafes, stores, etc.), but like most parts of L.A., you don’t have to go too far to get into some dodgy neighborhoods. But that’s life in a big city! Do you live here?
No, north of the Grapevine, and haven’t been clubbing in LA, in decades. LOL
It looks like general seating, is that correct?
Yes, that’s correct. If you’re going to come see it, you’ll have to let me know which show so I can be sure to say hello afterwards!
That is so kind. Have to talk to a girlfriend about it, and planning for the first Saturday performance. Can you give a little”trailer” that I can share with her?
That would be so lovely! Yes, of course. See brief synopsis below and also a link to a previous blog I wrote about the process of writing the first version of this script for its production at Hollywood Fringe Festival. Would be so great if you could attend!
Sarah Kelly and Stacy Ann Raposa are proud to bring War Stories – a world premiere play that opened to rave reviews at the June 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival – to the NoHo Arts District this February!
“Be careful of dating a writer. Sooner or later, they’ll start writing about you.”
The lives of four Angelenos intersect in unexpected and disastrous ways, proving that – in the words of the Classical Roman Poet, Ovid – when it comes to affairs of the heart, “every lover is a soldier.” War Stories is a tale of love and deception that’s both universal . . . and uniquely L.A.
Love it. Sounds ideal for myself and my friend.
Oh good! I hope you can make it!
Bravo darling! Only in L.A. or to someone living among the throng can another open a Hello love, darling and get away with it.
However, I think your post only validates the choices you’ve made and I know L.A. and it’s no picnic moving to and setting roots that take. You’re in the midst of the “journey” though greater success will appear to others as if it happened overnight, but we all know, no matter the goal, commitment and conviction must not waiver and you are an example indeed and a noteworthy one at that.
You have grown and blossomed; even when life does what we all know it will do, through it all you’ve navigated life’s most emotionally wrenching chapters with grace and dignity.
You are succeeding and If I may share my observation that you are living the life you’ve imagined Sarah and I have to believe and do wish, the best has yet to pass.
It’s a beautiful thing Sarah.
What lovely words, Jaime, thank you. You’re quite a poet! And I do hope you’re right. I’m feeling optimistic as I look toward 2017. Wishing you well! Sarah
I’ve been struggling a lot lately watching my dream die. And I find I keep hearing things on various blogs that makes me feel gut checked in the best of ways. Your comment on rebuilding dreams after they die, hit home for me. If I love this dream enough, I’ll find away to rebuild it. Break a leg in February!
Hang in there! The most important thing you can do is just keep going. I know it’s kind of cheesy and cliche but I love the quote: “Everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
I’m wishing you well!
My Great Uncle had a house in San Pedro, so I would visit every summer as a teenager and venture (only briefly) into L.A. with my Mother, Sister, and Grandmother. But I’ve never been as an adult and I’m hoping 2017 will be my year to visit and indulge in all that L.A. has to offer (and do a great deal of wandering). Enjoyed your post, as always, and definitely agree that your talent lends you to living in your own scenes for what I can only imagine will be a very long, promising career.
Thank you so much for your very kind words. I hope you make it back to L.A.!
Hey, that was a great story! 🙂
Hugs. So excited for Saturday the 4th! Feeling a special kinship to those that are the poem. Hugs.
Thank you Melissa! I can’t wait to meet you!
Beautifully written, and especially poignant and on-point as I just saw La La Land a few hours ago.
Thank you so much! Thanks for reading!