A few days ago I was talking with a dear friend about why we both loved cities so much, and why I was having such a good time out here in Los Angeles. We both agreed that cities are so very life-affirming. The masses of people, the noise, the hurry, the constant occurrence of things to see and do, even the sometimes readily apparent immorality… it all provides a sense of humanity at its most honest and most essentially human. It’s a sense that is very hard, if not impossible, to find in the South or in a rural area. And that’s not to say that rural areas or the South are worthless, or not life-affirming, or not human. Sometimes they can be everything you need. But cities… well, they’re a different type of humanity entirely. This was sort of all encapsulated in my trip down the Venice Beach boardwalk yesterday, where there are beggars, artists, musicians, hippies, muscle freaks, bikini babes, skateboarders, druggies, street preachers, restaurants, tattoo shops, and medical marijuana stores all crammed in next to each other. And it’s obvious that they love it that way, and I couldn’t help but love it too.
I am sad every time I leave a city I visit, because I’m usually visiting for such a short time that I feel like there is so much more to see and I was only able to catch a glimpse of what might be hidden beneath the surface of a very temporary life in a place. That’s how it’s been with Paris, London, Chicago, Boston, and New York City. But Los Angeles has been different. I’ve been here for two months. I spent the the entire cross-country drive alone in my car, and the greatest majority of my days here have been spent by myself. And while this might sound depressing or lonely, I don’t feel that way about it at all.
Being alone allowed me to decide each day what sort of person I wanted to be and where I wanted to go that day. It allowed me to make a life here without any real prejudgements or biases that come with living in a place where you know the surroundings and people know you. It gave me time to think about what sort of person I want to be in the larger sense, what I can do to grow in my architectural work, and what kind of life I want for myself in the future. All because I was free to choose what kind of life I wanted for myself each day. I was able to experience things for myself and then have time to think about whether or not those were good experiences and ones that should be repeated. I was able to learn how to better understand myself, the world and people around me, and God’s place in all of it. I was able to learn so much about life in these two months.
Driving back from a bar last night (as an aside, one of the things I learned about myself is that I am totally okay with being the sober driver whenever we go out), I took a back way to Jennie’s house and from the backseat she remarked to her roommate, “We’ve lived here for a year and Josh knows it better than we do.” All obviously joking aside, that’s kind of what I loved so much about this time spent out here. I learned a place. I learned the streets, I learned how to live in a relationship with the people around me, most of them strangers I’ll never see again. I learned what being a part of humanity means, and how to relate to my place in it. I learned more about what I can and can’t be, do and don’t like, want and don’t really care about.
In the two months here I’ve slept in a shed, been to Las Vegas twice, camped at the top of a mountain, danced in clubs and drank at bars and houses, successfully defended a pool table with a teammate for nearly two hours, been awed by single restaurants that serve breakfast, burgers, mexican, and chinese all day, been to too many backyard parties to count, seen three important concerts, gone without regular televison or internet, seen great architecture, visited museums and cultural landmarks, watched TV shows and movies being filmed, read books, played basketball with strangers on a street court, gotten sunburned, went to a baseball game, watched more movies than I can remember, learned the pleasure of smoking Nat Sherman cigarettes in a Hollywood club on a Monday night while a band plays and burlesque dancers perform, decided that I’d love to live here, saw God in a lot of his incarnations (male, female, homeless, rich, black, white, Latino, Asian, young, old, plants, fireworks, noise, speed, relaxation, sleep), and met an unbelievable group of people my sister and her roommate call friends.
So am I sad to leave? With all the life here, going back to Charlotte is going to be a little like dying.