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During the London Olympics of 2012, while other people were cheering on Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, my mother was busy discovering an American Idol winner – Phillip Phillips. His game changing song from that competition, “Home,” had been usurped by NBC as the official theme of the Games. The earthy tone of his voice, the heartfelt lyrics, my mom couldn’t help but be swept off her feet and over to her local library to borrow a copy of his CD. She uploaded the music onto her iPod, and began playing the summer anthem in a never-ending loop on her morning hike.

A year later, amidst the aftermath of a taxing break up, I received a phone call one day from my mom crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she’d been listening to “Home.” My initial instinct was to laugh – the thought of my 57 year old mother crying over an Idol was pretty priceless – but then she said she’d been envisioning me. She knew Aaron, my ex, hadn’t been the right guy for me, but she was desperately wanting me to find a loving, supportive partner. “I’ve been praying for your future husband,” she said, “for a man who will say those things to you.”

As sappy as this all might sound (especially to a non-believing feminist like myself), my mom’s words hit me hard. If I’m being completely honest, I had watched that season of American Idol with my ex and I had cried during Phillip’s win and preceding victory song. While the whole show is designed to bring the audience to tears (“My parents died and I became a prostitute to feed my 9 brothers and sisters”), it wasn’t the perfect camera angle on the singer’s tear-stricken face, nor the utter delight of his friends and family that had moved me on the couch that night. No, it was the song. The simple, haunting, beautiful “Home.”

When I think of the word home, the first image that pops in my mind is the house I grew up in. It was a beautiful two story craftsman overlooking the bluff in Portland, Oregon. My parents had bought it for dirt cheap (it was in a low-income neighborhood), and renovated it, restoring its 1930s charm. One of my earliest memories is of the day they got the keys to the house, and I ran up the stairs and into the master bedroom. The realtor had left a giant white teddy bear in it, and four year old me exclaimed loudly “My room!” And so it was.
We lived in that house on Willamette Blvd. until I turned 16. The housing market was booming, and my parents turned a large profit on the sale, buying another fixer in a much more desirable neighborhood. Two years later, they turned that home for a profit, and bought yet another, much larger fixer, and thus began their later in life careers as house flippers. They now live in Rancho Mirage in a chic single story mid-century with a sweeping view of the mountains. While they own several rental properties now in the desert, they intend on staying in this house for a long time. It’s become home.

When people ask me where I’m from, “where home is,” I find it difficult to answer. Even though my childhood house is the first thing I think of, Portland no longer feels quite like home. My parents have left, my brother’s in transition, my few high school friends I keep in contact with our dispersed across the globe. The only thing keeping me anchored in the Northwest are my grandmother and my memories. According to my cell phone, home is technically my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage. Every time they phone me from the landline there, it shows up on my caller ID as just that – “Home.” And in some ways, that’s correct. But, after living in my Los Angeles bungalow for over seven years now, my place in Hollywood certainly feels like home, too. Especially after a month or two of traveling abroad, which I’m prone to do annually, I usually can’t wait to get home to my charming one bedroom guest house. (Except for the summer I lived in Paris – for me, that city strangely feels like home as well).

The point is, while all of these ideas of home are tied to a place – the house in Portland, my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage, my Los Angeles abode – the actual concept of home is far more abstract. And that’s what Phillip Phillips song has captured so beautifully. The main verse, the one my mom wants a man to say to me, reads “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Although he uses the word place, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t matter where in the world he and his love are, it will be home. As that old adage beaten to death by kitschy wall ornaments and Christmas tunes goes, home is where the heart is.

As I write this, I am still single, and have yet to find a man singing Phillip Phillips songs to me. But unlike my mom, I’m not really worried about it. While I look forward to meeting that special someone and creating my own family someday, I take comfort knowing I’ve always had a place to call home.

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Home Sweet Los Angeles

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I sink into an inevitable depression every time I return from traveling. It’s one of the ramifications of being abroad – in getting to experience the world in a larger sense, my own small life back home takes on a glow of insignificance. It’s like being shown a buffet of all the best offerings of cuisines from Thailand to Turkey to Timbuktu, and then being told I will only be served chicken and steamed vegetables for the rest of my life (or until I can afford that next plane ticket). Not that I don’t like chicken and steamed vegetables. In fact, after three weeks of subsisting almost entirely on carbs, meat, beer, and wine, chicken and steamed vegetables sound like downright heaven. But as the bloat subsides, so does their appeal, and pretty soon I’m left hungering for one more slice of jamón ibérico, one more pain du chocolat, one little stein of Austrian brew…

Knowing this about myself, I made a concerted effort this time around to change my mentality. Even before I left Europe, I devoted a small chunk of time on a Seine river bike ride planning my return strategy. I would take my newly acquired rosé-colored glasses and use them to see afresh the city where I had spent my entire adulthood. I would write a blog about Los Angeles illuminating all of the things I had missed before in my day-to-day complacency – architectural details on downtown buildings, neighborhood coffee shops with handcrafted soy candles, funky galleries featuring hip young artists. There were angels somewhere out there in LaLaLand, and I was going to locate them. For too many years I had been decompressing from travel the wrong way – lamenting the end of my exotic experience instead of embracing the beginning of a new perspective. Well, not this time! I told myself, pedaling fiercely along the cobblestones of Île de la Cité. This time I’m coming home happy! And you wanna know something? I did. I came home happy.

For about 36 hours.

I touched down on the evening of July 11th, a huge smile across my face. Mostly I was relieved to survive yet one more harrowing excursion in a big chunk of metal hurtling through thin air 30,000 feet above the ground. But I also found myself in awe over the golden light basking the urban sprawl. I’d forgotten just how expansive Los Angeles was, how many places I had yet to explore, people to meet, restaurants and shops and museums to patronize. The mountains beckoned me to come hike them, the ocean to run along its sandy beaches. There were so many wonderful things to do in my hometown, and with the new enthusiasm Europe had gifted me with, I would do them all!

But not that first night. That first night I would just drive home with my friend, try and form coherent sentences about my trip, pick up a few groceries, then collapse on my bed. My bed. Of all the things I’d left behind over the past month, my bed was probably the thing I had missed most. Aside from the Carlton, most of the beds I had been sleeping on hardly deserved their title. They had been more like… cots. I snuggled up with my teddy bear, turned off the light, and passed the eff out.

I was so excited to begin rediscovering Los Angeles that I woke up that first morning at 4:30. (Alright, fine, I had jet lag, but I was trying to reframe things.) I made a damn good gingerbread cappuccino, watched the sunrise, spent a couple of hours on one of my stories for my acting class, worked out while watching the pilot of The Leftovers. It felt good to be back, and it was nice having the time to myself, knowing everyone was still asleep and I didn’t have to reach out quite yet. I was enjoying the quiet.

Around 10am, I decided it was finally reasonable to start texting people. The malaise had begun to creep in after only 5 hours, and I knew I needed to act fast. Luckily, my friend Jairo quickly picked up the ball I was dropping, and invited me down to his place in Culver City to go for a bike ride along the beach. He showed me his regular route, a wonderful pedestrian path stretching essentially from his backyard all the way down to Redondo Beach, and we conquered a solid 25 miles, broken up by margarita pit stops. We got back to his place around 6, took a little nap, then headed out to Malibu for an outdoor screening of Back to the Future for a friend’s birthday. It was exactly the kind of LA outing I had had in mind only a few days before in Paris. Ahhh, Paris…

The next day was a little harder. The World Cup and my friend Hannah helped alleviate things a bit, but I could feel the quicksand of depression beneath my feet. By 6pm, I grew so tired of flailing around in it that I gave up. I left the lovely people at the porch party I was at and returned home, exhausted, sad, defeated. Why was I already crossing over into the dark side? How was it possible that I was already becoming jaded?

Over the next 48 hours, I tumbled head first into the black hole I’d been so afraid of. There were flashes of glorious light – throwing a spinning descending angel on the pole at S Factor, tap backs with the beautiful Jenny C. at SoulCycle, the insightful lecture from my profound mentor Diana Castle at The Imagined Life – but it couldn’t seem to stop the plummet. What was I doing in Los Angeles? What was I doing with my life? Who am I, what am I, why am I? I skipped from news article to news article, website to website, put 20 books on hold at the library. I read 15 pages of Romeo & Juliet, then 10 of the Silicon Valley pilot, then 5 from a Richard Linklater script. There was so much to do and see and read and watch and people and places and restaurants and plays and artworks and and and – – –What was I going to write?!

I felt crushed by the weight of my own desire for experience, immobilized by the sheer vastness of the world and the shortness of life. My body ached, my mind ached, my heart ached. I was mad at myself for not being stronger, for succumbing to my old tendencies, my old insecurities. Why hadn’t I been able to bring Europe home with me? Where was that joie de vivre? I laid my head down and cried…

I woke up several hours later to the sound of my phone vibrating. It was a text from a friend, asking about dinner that night. I rubbed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, still groggy. I listened to the whir of the washing machines coming from next door, the soft Spanish murmurs of two neighbors on the other side of the fence. Laughter erupted between them, a joke I would never understand. I smiled, thinking of the various languages I had just been immersed in the last few weeks, the places I had been. Six different cities in 24 days. No wonder I’m exhausted, I thought, reliving the culturally-packed days and fun-filled sleepless nights. No wonder it’s hard to readjust. I forgave myself for the nap, the tears, the tumbling existential thoughts, and picked up the phone.

Sure, what time? I texted back, and watched the three little dots on the screen. 7, any preferences on place? I thought about it for a moment, then responded. No, not really. The dots reappeared, then- great, let’s do Sugarfish. I grinned, immediately excited by the prospect of one of my favorite sushi restaurants. That sounds amazing, I replied. See you at 7.

I reached across my bed, grabbed my computer, and opened it up, finally ready to get to work. Maybe Los Angeles doesn’t have centuries old boulevards, beautiful parks brimming with roses, and awesome public transportation, but at least it has more than chicken and steamed vegetables.

 

Paris, je t’aime

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One of my favorite shirts is a tank top with a broken heart and the phrase “Paris is overrated” on the front. It’s one of those hipster racer backs I picked up at Urban Outfitters a few years ago, and every time I wear it, without fail, someone comments on it. “So you don’t like Paris?” They ask. “Bad experience?” I smile and shake my head. “No, no, quite the opposite. It’s a rather poor attempt at irony, you see, because Paris is my favorite city in the world. But… she always breaks my heart.”

I first fell in love with Paris when I was 14. My mom took me on a tour of France the year before I started high school, and it remains one of my most cherished memories of our relationship. So many of my passions in life can be attributed to her- art, reading, movies, food – and on this three week trip she transferred her lifelong love affair with France to me. The Musee d’Orsay, Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, prix fixe lunch menus, cathedrals and chateaus- she squeezed as much in those few weeks as possible. I fell for the country quickly, of course, being at that age where the heart longs to know more than it can yet understand. But it was a kind of puppy love, the love of a burgeoning adolescent still much too unsure of her own self to truly appreciate the beauty and depth of another.

It wasn’t until a decade later when I chose to do a summer session in Paris that I really fell head over heels in love with Paris. After my grandfather passed, he’d left his grandchildren a tidy little sum of money, and I wanted to do something special with it, something I would always remember, rather than paying rent or grocery bills (also important, but not quite the tribute I had in mind.) I had always wanted to study abroad in France, as my mom had, and I needed the language credit to graduate UCLA. It all seemed to line up perfectly, and so with no hesitation I booked the French class and my flight. It was the best decision I ever made.

It’s almost impossible for me to describe those two months in 2010, living in the 15th arrondissement with Lara Dvorak, one of my female soulmates. It was a kind of extended joy I’d never known, a restless excitement that never seemed to dull. The closest thing I’d felt to it was my first real boyfriend in adulthood. The romance, the sensuality, the heightened reality, the late nights and blissful mornings. It was the type of high one had to eventually crash from. I couldn’t believe people actually lived in Paris, spent there whole lives walking her streets, breathing in her energy. Did they look at her the way I did, with fresh hungry eyes? Or had the relationship evolved, moved past the lust and the dizzying thrill of the new and into something deeper, or more settled, or, God forbid, complacent? I wanted to know what happened after the honeymoon period was over, but I didn’t get the chance. My last day approached right around the time you say “I love you” and mean it. I cried the entire way to Charles de Gaulle, staring out the window of the RER, my heart in pieces. I’ll be back, I tried to comfort myself, it’s not over.

As I write this, four years after that summer, I feel the same heartache again, having just left the city of lights. Like my last visit in 2011, our time together this go-around was painfully short. Four full days, five wine filled nights. I didn’t try to cram everything in as I had done in London a few weeks prior, but rather, having learned from that experience, enjoyed the city with a more relaxed patience. That’s not to say I didn’t maximize my time, but instead of trying to see everything in the Louvre in two hours, I meandered through one wing slowly, maybe even just a room. It was the gentle, meaningful kiss, not the hurried, sloppy deed, performed like a chore.

And what a kiss it was. I’d almost forgotten how it felt to be embraced by Paris, wrapped in her beauty, her taste, her smell, the scent of freshly baked bread curling through the streets on my morning runs. I savored every bite of tuna tartar, beef filet, macaroon, warm chocolate cake, baked goat cheese. I found respite in the cozy spaces, the restaurants and bars with ten seats, the antique shops barely large enough to fit a trio of trim girls, every inch covered in hats and shoes and purses telling a thousand stories. It’s not that I don’t appreciate wide open spaces and large homes and yards and vast dining halls that don’t require a reservation, but there’s something about the scale of Paris that really registers with me. There’s a reason I’ve lived in my tiny Hollywood cottage built in 1919 for 8 years. I like things small and intimate and full of history and character. In Los Angeles so much feels transient, here one day and gone the next. But in Paris there’s a sense of permanence I find profoundly comforting. History adding to itself instead of subtracting. Even the night clubs can last for decades, enjoying fresh permutations like the famous Raspoutine.

And then of course, there’s the art. During that first summer of love I had made an effort to visit a museum a day, and had nearly succeeded in my goal. This time around I made no such attempt, spending just a few hours on a rainy afternoon in the D’Orsay, but one need not visit a museum to experience art in Paris. All you have to do is step outside. Every street, every park, every way you turn you are bombarded with the artistic spirit. It’s almost too much, like that unbearable moment right before release. The little death. Perhaps this is what I love most about the city, why I fell in love in the first place. Truth, beauty, creativity – these things take time to develop, to build up, and Paris has been working on it for centuries. She is a master, and I a willing apprentice, wanting desperately to learn from her.

Riding the train to the airport this morning, I cried once more, overcome by sadness and longing. I didn’t want it to end, I wasn’t ready for the breakup. I needed more time, there was still so much to do, to feel, to experience. Why did it have to be over already? And then I realized, it didn’t have to be. Yes, I would be boarding my plane in a few hours. Yes, I needed to get back to Los Angeles for work and for other reasons. But it wasn’t actually the end, the affair wasn’t actually over. Unlike the on again off again lover who may eventually leave forever, Paris isn’t going anywhere. In fact, she is waiting for me, ready to take me in when I am finally ready. It’s up to me to someday make the commitment and put together the pieces of that broken heart.