Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tale of Two Cities

I'm positively bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, having just returned from the second day of Robert McKee's Story Seminar. This is the writing workshop that was dramatized in the movie Adaptation. Great stuff! I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

So my trip down to LA was an awesome mini vacation. I was there four days during a four-day heat wave and each day was hotter than the last. "You heated up the town. It cooled down as soon as you left," my sister told me over the phone.

It was a homecoming, in an odd sort of way. I feel like I've finally figured that town out and learned how to enjoy it, after all the pain it delivered to me in the past. Before, I was a big-eyed little mongrel from the wrong side of the tracks, and any time someone said "boo!" I'd jump.

With the wrong attitude, LA is the perfect launch pad for one's self-destruction, and because of bad memories I had been bashing it ever since I left. Early in my adulthood, I whithered in the unrelenting Southland sun, finding the nurturing shelter I needed in the sweet sensitivity of the Bay Area. But now, it's like I've grown my desert spines, and for the first time since leaving I'm receptive to its crazy, sexy, flashy, driven energy.

LA can be a blast if you don't take it all so seriously (it doesn't hurt that I can jump on a plane when it gets to be too much). It's a serious con game down there, and I mean that in the full sense of the phrase -- confidence game. It seems like everyone is trying to throw you off your game, spook you into flinching. I used to cringe at it all and get psyched out, my shy self hating all the showboating and posturing that seemed necessary to get ahead.

But I've changed enough to not see it that way anymore. I believe in myself so strongly now, I understand you don't need to perform, you just need to be yourself and hold steady. And what's really cool is that like attracts like, so when you're in a good space down there, you meet others who are too. Yes, there are some lovely souls who do not adhere to the prevailing "let's be assholes to each other" attitude. And in a way it's even easier to find the real good people when you put out that laid-back San Francisco vibe, since admittedly they are more rare!

Here's a pic from the trip. Faces blurred to protect the not-so-innocent! This is at a trendy seafood place in Hollywood where we saw the fat kid from Superbad - he was very sweet when I ran into him coming out of the loo. I actually saw tons of celebrities down there, pointed out to me courtesy of a friend who accompanied me. I don't think I would have noticed otherwise. But it was fun to realize they were there -- they made for great wallpaper to my own my little adventures.

Going out with a couple of my girlfriends down there at another posh eatery (the kind where the waitstaff are all obnoxious wannabe actors), we noticed how many women - as beautifully dressed as they were - looked uncomfortable in their own skin. We just ignored them and had a great time amongst ourselves. So I say if you don't buy into that insecure, competitive bullshit, you've already got a headstart. But I do think it's harder to get centered in LA. Of course it is - because LA has no center! At least not geographically, as for the rest you can decide for yourself.

So my change of heart about LA has come as a pretty big surprise to my loved ones. I mean, I've been talking shit about my hometown for 12 years straight! "What?!" was my soft-spoken sister's reaction when I told her I kind of missed it down there. "Are you feeling well?" is what my best friend asked. What gives? In two words: The Mission.

I knew that moving into the tragically hip Mission five years ago would eventually arouse a backlash within me. All those heroin-chic, thrift shop fashionistas with their "you're either with us or against us" extremism, self-righteous tattooed smugness and hypocritical "we're against the dominant paradigm" alternative uniformity is starting to get to me. I am not lookist, don't care about all the pot bellies or plumber's cracks. I don't even mind the scabby look so much. But when these same denizens of Valencia Street try to make me feel like I don't belong here because I haven't raked my appearance over in the mirror to erase any signs of the dreaded Establishment, then I've just about had it.

What one of my friends who is African-American says about the South is that she doesn't mind it there, because at least the racism is out in the open. That's how I feel about LA when it comes to appearance. The superficiality is out in the open. Not hidden in holier-than-thou tripe.

Here in the City, I used to feel like I had to bend over backwards to prove myself as a diplomat of the conventionally attractive. Places like Burning Man parties, where when I'm lost in the sensual embrace of one of my girlfriends on the dancefloor, a frumpy girl will try to butt in and get grabby -- without even a smile on her face -- because she feels oppressed by our display and wants to put us on the spot for her discomfort. I've learned that you can never please the deeply insecure, who usually end up projecting their own feelings of inferiority onto you by blaming you for perceived slights. I find people like this to be the most self-centered of them all.

There may be a tyranny of the beautiful people in LA, but in the City it's like that communist ideal where we are all supposed to be the same and not make anyone feel bad by standing out. But what if I stand out naturally? I used to go to efforts to try to ugly myself down before going to certain social events in the City, because I knew that people wouldn't talk to me otherwise. Enough with the pc double standard - why is it only trannies that get to look hot here?

I was even accused of being an interloper at one private polysexual play party I attended, which of course the accusers knew was ridiculous. It was simply their way of making me feel unwelcome. OK I'll stop, I don't feel sorry for myself - I'm not going to cry "don't hate me because I'm beautiful!" - I'm just pointing out how the Bay Area has its own brand of lookism and snobbery. But I still love it up here. Every place has its trade-offs.

One little snippet of a conversation I overhead sitting outside a bar and grill on the Sunset strip encapsulated LA nicely for me. These two women were talking animatedly over beers about a mutual acquaintance who had just published a book.

"It's fucken awesome, don't you see? She wrote a book! Who cares what it's about. It doesn't even matter what it's about. The fact is she wrote a book and got it published."

That's LA for you. Super into achievement, but a bit short on content - LOL! San Francisco has its intellectualism, though we sometimes get lost in all that processing. I am learning that there is room in my heart to love both cities, flaws and all.


Modern Hero by Roger Woods