Where I Write: The Getty Center.

At 12:27 p.m. on Friday, September 9th, I find a parking spot on the third level of the subterranean garage and open my car door to be greeted by an oppressive wall of heat, the humidity wrapping itself around me as I quickly head for the exit, for higher ground, for cooler air. I take the elevator three flights up, disembark, and approach the bag check line. I open the canvas tote that’s slung over my shoulder, allowing a man in a polo shirt to briefly scan its contents, and then join a small – blissfully so, now that it’s after Labor Day – group of people waiting on the open air platform. The tram arrives and I claim a spot in the back, trying to settle into a comfortable position against the seat’s hard plastic. My limbs are sore from yesterday’s punishing kickboxing class, and my brain whirs from a sleepless night and an early wake up call to complete a project deadline. In truth, there’s so much work waiting for me at home – half-finished projects, a never-ending to-do list, my own personal writing deadlines – that I feel a bit like a delinquent child playing hooky from school, both giddy and guilty about this afternoon escape. But as the train climbs the hill, making its slow ascent toward the summit, a palpable sense of relief rushes through me. No matter how busy I am, I know that I need this.

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Last month, in August, I hit my seventeenth anniversary of living in Los Angeles. Seventeen years. That’s essentially half my life, and longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I suppose there’s no denying it: for better or for worse, I am an Angeleno. And today, needing a brief respite from the hectic pace of this city and the life I live within it, I’ve come here, to my favorite sanctuary high up on a hill: the Getty Center.

If you’re a regular reader of Extra Dry Martini, you’ve probably noticed that mentions of the Getty – with its stunning grounds and gardens and sweeping views of Los Angeles – show up fairly often in my blog posts. I’ve been visiting the museum ever since I moved to L.A. all the way back in 1999, when I was a baby-faced college freshman, newly arrived from a small town in Washington State. And though things have changed dramatically for me over these last seventeen years, the Getty is one part of my L.A. life that has remained a constant.

I’ve come here on New Year’s Day, watching the first sunset of the year set the sky on fire. I’ve come here during the high heat of summer, seeking shade underneath flowering trees in the Japanese garden. I’ve come here when I’ve felt happy, come here when I’ve felt sad, come here when I’ve had something to celebrate, and come here when I’ve been at my lowest, needing to have my sense of possibility restored.

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I often come to the Getty when I want to feel close to my mother – including one trip two years ago on the anniversary of her death that I documented on this blog – because she loved the place every bit as much as I do. She loved the lush, tranquil gardens, the natural light and open spaces that float between the solid and sure travertine stone columns, the small but expertly-curated collection of Impressionist paintings, including its crown jewel: Van Gogh’s Irises, with such vibrantly textured lavender petals and emerald green leaves that I never grow tired of gazing at it.

When it comes to writing, I believe that reflection is just as important as action, and that in order to keep creativity flowing, we must take time to consume words and images other than our own. It’s a concept that Julia Cameron, author of the book The Artist’s Way, calls “filling the well.”

Fortunately, the Getty provides ample space for both, so before I settle in to put pen to paper, I take some time to wander the museum’s galleries and grounds. I get lost in an evocative collection of paintings on loan from the Tate – appropriately titled London Calling – and then am transported to 19th Century France via a black and white photography exhibit called Real/Ideal.

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Exiting the West Pavilion, I pause for a moment at one of the Getty’s many vantage points overlooking the city. As I stare down at this vast, sprawling metropolis, at the traffic inching along the 405 freeway, I can’t help feeling a surge of pride that a small town girl from the Pacific Northwest could come here, to Los Angeles, to the place of movies and dreams, and make it her own. And though L.A. can be brutal (and has at times, been brutal to me), I can’t help but love it, perhaps because of its brutality, perhaps in the same way that a gladiator, bloody and bruised though he may be, loves the arena.

Even when crowded, you can almost always find a quiet space at the Getty in which to write, whether it’s a shaded table tucked away in a corner of the outdoor plaza or a bench in an overlooked section of one of the art galleries. But my favorite place to write is always the breezy open-air terrace, perched above the garden and adjacent to the café. So when I’m finally ready to put pen to paper, that is where I go, choosing the most private table that I can find.

I have several writing projects in the works, but this afternoon isn’t about projects or deadlines. It’s more internal, more introspective. I pull out a brightly colored hard cover notebook recently gifted to me by a friend, called the “Letting Go Journal,” (something I’m actively trying to do these days), the pages of which are peppered with inspirational quotes on that very topic. I flip to the first page and the saying from Andy Warhol printed there makes me chuckle. Yeah, I think. So what? And as the soft September breeze meanders across the terrace, its cooler winds an early indicator that summer is pressing onward toward fall, I begin to write. That afternoon, I will fill the pages of my journal with things that I won’t tell you, with things that I won’t tell anyone, because – for a few hours at least – on this perfect late summer day, this time is just for me.

Until next time, friends.

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Time Out.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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