A guided meditation led me back to Los Angeles. I lived in New York for two years, but spiritually, I never left LA—at least, I tried not to.
The guided meditation actually took place in Boston, before I moved to New York, back when I was in graduate school and about to embark on a career in publishing. Regardless, it was something I found myself turning to whenever my blood pressure rose uncomfortably high, a common occurrence in New York.
My therapist told me to close my eyes, focus on my breathing, zoom in on the nothing, then envision my power place. I might have misinterpreted the directive, because I’ve grown to understand that inner power places don’t necessarily have to have tangible roots. Some people see themselves swimming, others in a forest they’ve never physically visited.
When I heard “power place,” I immediately pictured myself running in Griffith Park, on a weekday afternoon when it’s not too overrun by visitors, just like I used to do when I lived in a studio apartment across the street from the periwinkle Scientologist mothership on Sunset.
My meditative state built a watercolored memory to which I could always turn: the dusty colors of the San Rafael Hills, the rush of being able to run and walk without needing to sidestep anyone or anything, the view of brush and houses and Downtown, and the fact that I knew there was an ocean just right over there, even if I couldn’t always see it. Even the smog appeared in my meditative dream, because it makes for beautiful sunsets.
You have to seek out sunsets in New York. It takes a concerted effort to get out to the edges of the island or find your way to a rooftop. Access to rooftops in New York is expensive (or dangerous), which means sunset views are too.
Silence is another Manhattan premium—the city that never sleeps never shuts up. I didn’t hear silence for years. I finally found it again last year upon returning to LA, when I camped in Angeles National Forest. The silence was short-lived, because my dog started whining.
But I couldn’t have a dog in New York; our building didn’t allow them, and I was never home. Dogs in New York probably provide their owners with a lot of necessary comfort and support, but all I ever got out of their presence was their wintery reminder that all the yellow snow you see represents all the pee on the sidewalk you don’t see the rest of the year.
But what was most maddening about living in New York was never being alone. I’d go from my Harlem apartment with my husband to wait on a crowded platform for my chance to be shoved onto a jammed train, then get in line to clamber out of the station, surf the Disneyland-packed sidewalks to my office in the Flatiron, share a desk with my intern, greet my boss’s constant flow of visiting clients, surf the nighttime crowded sidewalks back to the station to another packed train, and finally return home to my husband 13 hours later than I had left him.
The only time I was ever alone was when I’d escape to the dressing room at Ann Taylor. It slowly started to become my new “power place” and, as capitalist as you may be, realizing that about yourself feels rotten.
There was one particular afternoon when I desperately needed a few minutes alone. The train had stalled on my way into work, trapping us underground an extra 40 minutes. My office experienced a typical hustle-and-bustle kind of day—I was scrambling to make sure all was in order ahead of time so no egos would flare up. It was hot and stuffy at my shared desk, and after the constant ringing phones and meetings and directives, I ducked out of the office, shared the elevator with two people talking, and sprinted out the building.
Upon opening the doors and looking to my left (you need to look both ways before entering a sidewalk in New York), Billy Eichner bounded toward me with a microphone in hand. There was a cameraman with him and someone holding a poster-board cut-out of the Myspace profile picture frame. Billy was shoving his mic into people’s faces in the way we’ve grown to love, shouting, “Remember Myspace Tom?!”
I immediately ducked into traffic to avoid him and Andy Samberg, who was dressed up as Myspace Tom. I headed straight to Ann Taylor, grabbed a handful of clothes I probably didn’t end up buying, ran into the dressing room, then stared at myself with my mouth shut.
I had pleasant moments in New York, too. I miss the Met, and the summers were luscious. I used to leave a little early for work just so I could walk the 100 blocks along the park and through Midtown. These walks taught me to look up, the only way to really regain a sense of atmosphere and awe in a tightly packed city.
It’s a practice I’ve brought back with me; the bridges in Pasadena and LA’s ubiquitous palm trees are more wonderful when you take a moment to look them up and down.
I counted myself lucky that I only shared my living space with one other person. So many New Yorkers live with extended family or with multiple roommates. Donald Glover said in his SNL opening monologue that it was “so great to be back in New York, especially now that I’m rich.” It’s a hard place to live if you’re not wealthy, and it’s getting harder. The same goes for LA, but at least our Mexican food has the requisite orange grease and in the winter, and you can walk freely without fear slipping on black ice or stumbling into a slush puddle.
I knew I needed to leave New York when I started fantasizing about shoving people. I could see myself clotheslining any amblers who got in my way on the sidewalk. That is not like me. I had a reputation at work as a calming, compos mentis force.
I exuded California cool to East Coasters upon my arrival, but after a couple of years, my fuse grew dangerously shorter. I was wound up so tight, I’d smoke on my way into yoga and on my way out. Only since I’ve been back in LA have I been relaxed enough to quit.
In LA, you never have to dodge more than a few people on the sidewalk. The buses and trains aren’t as bad, either, since fewer people use those too. I have a longer commute now, but the hour it took me to get from 118th Street to 21st Street in New York was only slightly shorter than my LA driving commute from Highland Park to Beverly Hills.
I have my own personal space and no one can elbow me in the face or “accidentally” touch my butt. My car doesn’t smell like pee. Of course, traffic is one of LA’s biggest drawbacks—we’re all just sitting around gassing ourselves, ruining our backs and trying not to hit each other while navigating the classic Angeleno pothole minefields. I know traffic will grow tiresome soon enough, but for now, I’m just grateful to be able to sit alone, in the quiet, taking in the smoggy scenery around me.
I have a dog now too, and we hike a lot. Sometimes we go to the very same trails I used to daydream about in my pedestrian attempts at biofeedback. No matter where we hike, I feel the same rush of power I felt in that first guided meditation. Far more power than I ever felt in an Ann Taylor dressing room.