A gentle breeze blows across the outdoor terrace as I sit underneath large stone columns, sipping iced coffee, scribbling in my journal, occasionally looking up from my writing to stare out and scan the hazy blue L.A. skyline, reminding myself where I am. It’s a Tuesday afternoon, the first day of fall, and I’ve reserved these few hours as a much-needed time out. To be with myself, to write, to wander and to daydream. It’s something I rarely do, but today, it seemed important.
It’s amazing how protective I am of this time. How annoyed I am that the Getty Center should be as busy as it is on a weekday afternoon well past Labor Day. I have to restrain myself from glaring daggers at the woman who plops down at the table right next to me – really? There are at least two dozen other tables scattered across this expansive patio. Why choose that one? I flinch at the shrill shriek of a child, and then scowl at his parents. I cringe at the clusters of people who hover for a time right next to my chair, talking loudly, oblivious to any concerns about personal space.
I shouldn’t be annoyed. After all, I chose to come here, to this public place. If I wanted solitude, I should have stayed at home. But solitude is something I’ve had too much of lately. My one-bedroom bungalow is fine for privacy and quiet concentration, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of inspiration. It doesn’t offer many opportunities to fill the well, to stimulate the senses, to let in new experiences, to promote new ideas. I can work and work and work, but the well of creativity quickly runs dry without new images, new life, to draw from.
I suppose that’s why I’m here. It’s why I rose early to get my work done so that I could take the afternoon off. So that I could ascend to this beautiful place high upon a hill, so that I could browse artwork and gardens, so that I could look down and marvel at this massive metropolis that I call home.
I didn’t really come here to write. I knew I wouldn’t get much done, though I made a valiant attempt at it. I came here to be. Because on this beautiful September day, the first day of fall, a day which also happens to be the second anniversary of the death of my mother, I told her that I would. I told her that I would try harder to reconnect to my life. To allow myself to gaze with wonder at beautiful things that she would have enjoyed, like the texture of the paint on Van Gogh’s Irises, and the lush vegetation and tranquil streams in the Japanese garden, and the stunning stone architecture that’s everywhere in this place.
I told her that I would, and so I did. Or at least, I tried. I wandered the West Pavilion and lingered for an inordinately long time among the small but stellar collection of Impressionist paintings. I walked to a lookout point and stared down at the city, at the suckers stuck in gridlock on the 405 freeway, grateful that at this moment, I wasn’t one of them. I put away my phone, taking a hiatus from the emails and the texts and the Facebook messages, recognizing all the while how difficult it was for me to do this, and that was exactly the reason why I should.
I find it nearly impossible to take time outs like this. Time outs just to be with myself and to think and to reflect and to not have to do anything. Chalk it up to my OCD, but relaxing is almost guilt-inducing for me. I always feel like I should be accomplishing something, not just sitting around. Even when I watch a movie, it’s something I’m studying for acting class. Or when I really need to do some deep thinking, I’ll go for a run, because at least I’m getting a workout in at the same time.
But all of this compulsive doing hasn’t done much to help me out of the lost space I’ve inhabited these last couple of years. Checking things off the to-do list – while satisfying – hasn’t done much to help the cavernous, nagging hole in the pit of my stomach. Productivity hasn’t cheered my flagging spirits or healed my persistent heartache. I have been doing a lot, but clearly I have been doing something wrong.
So, on this day, I made a promise to my mom that I would take some time out – even just these few hours – and I would soul search. And I would listen to what my soul said, and I would act.
I suppose I can’t expect one afternoon to solve all of my problems. After a few hours of taking in beauty, of soaking in the sunshine, of trying just to be, I didn’t feel any clearer than I did before. I didn’t experience any profound epiphanies, and I didn’t feel any closer to knowing ‘what’s next’ for me. But I’m still glad I did it. I’m glad that I allowed myself this time. Mostly because it made me recognize that I need to do more of it; to make space in my life for time like this. To relax. To be still. To imagine. To dream. To take in the world and to wonder about it. And to breathe.
Perhaps knowing that – and doing it – is a start. At least, for now.
Until next time, friends.