Recently, on a long plane ride, I watched the movie ‘happythankyoumoreplease’. Now, I’m not one to recommend movies, so I won’t. The reasoning for this is that I am impervious to insensitive or offensive scenes. I manage to completely forget bits with excessive swearing, e.g. ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’; I can block out adult-only content ala drug taking in ‘Trainspotting’; and I fail to remember where there are incestuous innuendos, e.g. ‘Babel’. So be warned, if you watch the movie, you will need to either have a fast forward button handy or be as morally corrupt (or, arguably, as innocent) as I am.
Anyway, the movie is about a man who inadvertently adopts a homeless boy. But there’s one particular scene that stood out to me, mainly because I’m living in L.A. trying to get a feel for this city before my PhD classes start on Monday. This movie is in New York, where a conversation takes place between Mary Catherine (cousin of the lead actor) and her boyfriend Charlie. Charlie wants to head over to the West coast. Mary Catherine is not so sure … and, SPOILER ALERT, is pregnant although she doesn’t know it. it goes like this:
Charlie: You think it’s wimpy to want to leave New York?
Mary: Yes. Huuungry!
Charlie: Wait, no just… curious – why do you hate Los Angeles so much?
Mary: Because it’s the epicenter of all that is awful.
Charlie: You know, the coolest person on the planet lives in Los Angeles.
Mary: Who’s that?
Charlie: Bob Dylan.
Mary (unimpressed): Dylan lives in Los Angeles?
Charlie: Well… Malibu… but yeah.
Mary: Never been hungrier.
Charlie: Wait. Dave told me this great thing about L.A…. he said he figured it out. He said the whole town is a blank canvas and whatever you bring to it, that’s what it is. It’s just this random collection of neighbourhoods where it’s always sunny, and it basically reflects wherever you are back at you. You’re happy, L.A.’s great. You’re not, L.A. sucks. But it has nothing to do with Los Angeles, cause get this … there’s no such thing.
Obviously, firstly, there is a city called Los Angeles. At least I hope there is, because I’m living in it and studying a PhD (both of which could be imaginary, I guess, but let’s go with it). But I’ve wondered whether this idea is plausible – that your experience of a city could be determined by what you bring to it. And, if that were true – what would it say about you??
You see, for me, L.A. is full of people with amazing stories. Stories of spending thirty years in prison – applying for parole twenty times and being denied. Stories of dedicating oneself to working with the poor despite the recent death of a spouse. Stories of people from the Middle East SO passionate about their faith and country, they would risk death to conduct interfaith dialogue in a respectful way. Stories of immigration for a multitude of reasons. Stories of boyfriends that are conflicted and trying to do the right thing but failing in all the ways that matter. Stories of children that were abuse victims and yet have overcome all odds to turn themselves around and offer forgiveness to the very people who hurt them.
Maybe it can be described as full of character, in all senses of the word.
Someone recently encouraged me to write down my initial thoughts once I’d landed, because with every experience we bring expectations and projections of what it will be like. And as anyone living abroad would tell you, six months in to the experience, it’s rarely the same thoughts. For me, I had a scorn of Hollywood and a tendency to despise those bar-tending in the hope of an audition. I was told “L.A. is a mile wide and an inch deep”.
But my friend Jim said something very profound, munching on fries in an Old Town Pasadena cafe, when I brought this saying up with him. He agreed there was an uncomfortable networking vibe that pervades conversations – unless you have no agenda to be in the film industry, which we all three quickly agreed we shared in common! And then he said “I think L.A. is a mile deep. But no-one’s asking the right questions. If you ask the right questions, then you see the depth”.
Sooooo!! That is my little revelation for today… my lemon-spritzer idea I’ve been squirting on myself… what questions do I need to ask to get to the heart of the matter? Because I’d much rather live open-heartedly and share the pain that I see behind the eyes of those who I’m speaking with than hide behind my comfortable picket fence, and experience nothing at all. I’d rather be brave, and see it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.
And then, my next question is, what do we do with the story once it has been told? How do I find God at work in it, and allow myself to be enraptured again at His story’s design? Well I’m not sure how it’s happening, but it’s happening. I’m in awe of the scarlet thread that is woven through all of humanity. Even in L.A… well, actually, more so in L.A. than ever before.