The soft wash of cars driving over pavement is the river of a city, and as I lay awake it comforts me. The buildings rising improbably against the night are the tall forests of our city, and they surround us like a canopy. The lights strung and dotted in the darkness are the beating souls of a city, and their endlessness is also comforting. I may not know you but I see your light. And they may not know it yet, but together, this a different form of being.
Last week I was in Beijing. Forget what you know about China, no one knows anything about China. I was there for 4 days, two of the days were sunny and bright, one of the days had a deathly level of dust – borne in by Gobi desert sandstorms – and one of the days was just hazy.
On the ride in from the airport, I could see the wind. The roads were lined with trees whose names I do not know, but were bright green overleaf, and underside, were a more muted yellow-green. The wind fluttered the leaves, making them shimmer like pinpricks of light dancing in the water, like thousands of glittery tassels glued on a dancer’s dress, like the back of a serpent weaving its way into the trees, tossed this way and that as the branches bent under its weight.
Then, near the hotel where I was staying, the wind blew off snow-white clumps of seeds from the willows that lined the street, making it look like it was occasionally snowing. Like one or two snowflakes had made their way from the upper reaches of the Arctic and gently flit in, despite the sunshine, despite the wind, despite the distance, to be borne by a miraculous puff of wind, to land on the table where I was sitting, inside.
I’ve resolved to return to my roots and be grateful, every day.
Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time
Without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone
Jorge Luis Borges, “Limits”
It turned out, the stories you told yourself spanned several lives, the tram that you would take to the terminus, the fried fish you were going to eat by the bayside, on a sunny day, the stairs you were saving for a more inspired time. You haven’t seen the museum exhibits, you didn’t read your meditations under the gnarled baobab, you didn’t say hi to the stranger working behind the burger stand.
And those ice cream flavors that made your mouth water – still just pastel hues and the sweet smell of butter, nothing more. There, you were going to take your daughter on a clear day, there, you were going to take the ferry on a free day, ultimately an imaginary day free of the crush of life’s minutiae, a day that does not exist.
It has crowded you, it has covered the stuff of life, the underlying strata on which kids and babies joy. For you, the bell rang sooner, the tram arrived and has already left.
One of the ways I got out of depression was by trying to forget everything. Depression is a symptom of being anchored to your past, and I wanted to throw it all away.
So I did. There was a period in my life in my early twenties when I erased everything. Pictures, digital or physical, notes, letters, emails, everything. Everything that was associated with even a tinge of pain. Letters and emails from and to people who didn’t return my calls anymore. Pictures of exes and ex-friends who I felt sure, didn’t remember me anymore so why should I remember them. Memories of awkward conversations, embarrassing moments.
I purged things from my hard drives and actively blocked my memories, when I felt myself reminiscing. I blocked the day’s events from my mind, and laying in bed, only thought about the future.
I thought that in order to avoid the pain, I needed to become harder, more inured to things. So I pretended I didn’t remember people, the places, and the conversations I was generating on a daily basis.
“Oh, we met before?” I would say.
It was therapeutic, at the time.
But by thinking only of the future it replaced depression with anxiety. And also, in so doing, I effectively made it so I didn’t exist during those years. I have no way of knowing who I was back then. Because these days, I really wonder. I’ve lost a part of my life.
It’s a tradeoff, maybe I went too far.
I think this is a movie whose core subject is life in your twenties in Los Angeles. It’s in the guise of a musical, strung out in the plot of a love story.
The fact that Mia gets her car towed and has to walk to the yard to pick it up – this happens more than people know.
The indigo and deep blue cool colors that suffuse the nights. The pretty lights of LA seen from above the hills. Very accurate.
There is more distance between people than in other cities. Because of cars, because of the space between buildings, because people will say ‘yeah, let’s go out,’ and then feel lazy and not want to because of the inertial wall of getting dressed, getting in your car, navigating the traffic and finding parking, etc. Like Mia not wanting to go out in the beginning of the movie. Although it’s probably now with Uber.
When everyone moves to LA, you cast your social net as wide as possible, but then you meet someone, and your circle becomes smaller. Then, like in the movie, you interact with few people besides the one you’ve chosen. It resonated with me that Seb and Mia talk to almost no one but each other. It’s a very lonely life set amidst a beautiful backdrop.
LA is a desert. It’s a city of dreams that can just as easily be mirages, and you move there to pursue something. Living there is to choose to alternate between absolute technicolor euphoria, and the somber nights when the distances between people seem uncrossable.
Then: when you’ve made it, you’ll look back and wonder if this is actually what you wanted, when you were 25.