27 May 2018

a new yorker moves to los angeles

It’s possible to leave New York for good.

Yesterday, my old friend Merrill and I were hiking the Canyon Drive trail and she asked me what’s changed for me since I’ve moved from New York. We talk about New York a lot, she and I, because we’re from the city and we often romanticize the place we used to know growing up in the 80s. She grew up on the Upper East Side and I, in Brooklyn. We talk about the days when one would never go below Avenue A, the graffiti on the subways, the porn and pimps in Times Square before Guiliani took a vacuum to it, and the racial composition of Brooklyn, which, over the years, has become increasingly white.

I told her about Cynthia Nixon’s campaign on Twitter, and about the MTA and she said, the MTA has always been garbage, to which I responded, yeah, but it’s like the garbage of the 80s. It’s as if we had made progress (i.e. the mythical 2nd Avenue subway, safety, trains that actually run) and suddenly we regressed to the 80s, where, if you got your arm caught in between a subway door you’d remain like that until the next stop. Or the time when the B train decided to stop running, just because, and I was stranded in Southern Brooklyn. Or the times of day when you’d never venture on the subway platform in fear of your life. While the subways are demonstrably safer, the rides and delays bring back memories. Those were the days, we sighed, Natalie Merchant style.

So, what’s changed? She asked. And I said, everything. Then I made a joke about the only way I’d ever go home was in a body bag.

Here’s the thing: New York will always be home, but now it feels distant, out of reach. It’s like opening the door to your house and seeing the furniture rearranged. You know you had the table here and the bed there, but somehow they’ve disappeared or changed form. And every time I go back the city feels less familiar to me–sort of like a good friend I used to know, but we’ve lost touch over the years. New York has too many bad memories and I feel smothered whenever I return. And all the furniture I used to know and love has been replaced by new and shinier things. Things that seem hollow and transparent. Unreal.

I suppose my view will soften in time. Perhaps my trips back will feel less painful and there will be a time when I can let my hard feelings go. I’m hopeful for that time and the ease and quiet it will inevitably bring.

What do I love about Los Angeles? Everything. The spring jasmine. Cactus. The evening chill. Space on sidewalks and in apartments. Humid-free summers. Avocados that taste like avocados. Dinner parties. Fine wine in supermarkets. The beach, mountains, and desert in reach. The untouched towns. Legal and affordable CBD. Salads you actually want to eat. The abundance of healthy food and flexible meal options on menus. The art and photography museums. The Huntington Library. Wanderlust yoga. Garbage disposals. Nicer people (this is up for debate and is something Merrill and I bickered over during our hike. She thinks the people aren’t nicer compared to New York, rather I’ve just gotten nicer. We’ve known each other for a while, and we have the kind of friendship where we feel comfortable calling out our bullshit). Wearing pajamas to the grocery store and nobody caring. The tacos. SPACE. Did I say that already? Whatever, it bears repeating.

What do I hate about it? The bread (I’ve found ONE good bagel place). The too-bright light. Beverly Hills. The lack of public transit from the west to east side because of…wait for it…Beverly Hills. Water you can’t drink out of a faucet. The fact that it takes a month to get anywhere, and if you don’t live within a 5-mile radius of your friends, forget having a social life (one of the reasons I moved from the Westside). Rattlesnakes in the canyons and coyotes climbing down from the Hills. A celebrity-conscious culture because they’re everywhere. Especially where I live now. People who are fervent about eating local and organic to the point of annoyance, but don’t have a problem doing blow and Botox. The lack of a professional network (all of my clients are on the east coast). When I tell people I’m a writer and they ask what screenplays I’ve written and I shake my head and say no, I write books. The traffic and the professional ghosting.

How have I changed? I’m less self-absorbed. I’m patient. I’m kinder. I don’t go at life so hard. I don’t put up with the shit I used to. I’ve become more private and less angry. I’m present. I’ve gotten clear about my career. I savor and value time.

Felix is living his best chubby life.

Even though Felix has clearly been living his best, belly-bearing life, I’ve had a ride. Come August, it’ll be three years since I left New York and I’ve felt ALL THE FEELINGS. Two years ago, I got diagnosed with depression at 40 after I seriously contemplated suicide. After a year of intensive talk therapy and meds, my psychiatrist determined that my drinking problem wasn’t really a problem, it was a means to cope with my lifelong depression. I drink now, but not that much–mostly wine with dinner or with friends. Not like how it used to be in New York when I’d start drinking and couldn’t stop.

I can’t even begin to explain how meds and therapy have saved my life and I’m grateful for that. I value my life every. single. day. Some people have told me not to talk about depression online, but I’ve never been good at listening to bad advice and I think it’s important to keep talking about mental illness as a means to educate people and remove the stigma. Still, I know people who think that sad = suicide and I have to calmly explain that people who have depression and get sad sometimes are experiencing human emotion, not simply contemplating the end. The illness doesn’t rest in the binaries, and the nuances bear exploration and explanation.

I lost a few close friends of mine, for reasons I won’t get into because I want to respect their space and life, but the breakups were painful. Especially with one friend whom I’ve known since my book publishing days and I never conceived of the day when we wouldn’t be close. That break took so time to recover from. Another friend was someone with whom I went to college, and I can’t quite forgive her trump vote and her gleeful excitement over this hateful time we find ourselves in. I didn’t make the decision lightly, but there are lines and she leaped over the one I’d created.

I’ve come to realize that some friendships are necessary for a period of your life and sometimes those relationships carry an expiration date. And that’s okay as long as you enjoy the relationship for what it was during the period you needed it.

I’ve also made some new, extraordinary friends and have cultivated deeper relationships with existing ones. I love the people in my life right now and I feel more connected to my friendships than ever.

The food game is strong.

I never thought there would be a time when I didn’t want to make and photograph food. But there was a year when I felt practically allergic to my camera. I didn’t have the interest or income to whip up new dishes on the regular and the idea of doing so when I did have the cash felt exhausting. For a time, I wanted to eat my food instead of photographing it, and I think having sat between the two extremes I’ve come to a place where I get excited about new cookbooks and good food and sometimes I’ll want to share it and other times I’ll just want to Dyson it.

That was one extreme from which I moved away from and the other was the obsession with my body.

I’ve had lifelong issues with food and my body and I went through periods of bloat, bulimia, extreme exercise and dieting, and I’ve straddled the size spectrum (from a double 00 to size 8/10). I was a size 8 for most of college and when I graduated I spent the next fifteen years being surgical about what I put into my mouth (insert all jokes here). Then I had a four-year job that eviscerated me and my health and I gained 40 pounds. I spent a year and thousands of dollars to drop them to regain half that weight when I fell into a deep depression during my first year in Los Angeles.

I’ve come to realize, albeit really fucking slowly, that I’m not healthy on either side of the size spectrum. Now, this is not a general disclaimer about weight or health–this is specific to ME and MY BODY. I tried the 6-day a week exercise routine I had in New York and I kept saying, fuck this noise. It was too hard, too expensive, too painful, and too cruel on myself. I wanted a workout I would actually enjoy and if that meant not being thin, well, fuck it.

I like moving my body, but I don’t like punishing or torturing it.

I’m also aware that exercise is only a small part of the equation. I was on that low-carb life that was gluten, dairy, and five hundred-other-foods-free, and, in retrospect, I wasn’t happy with that either. Now, I’m slowly getting to a place where I have balance. I don’t like the sweets that I used to because my palate’s changed, but I realize I can’t have chips and guac every day. I’m working on that part of my life right now and my body may fall where it needs to fall as a result and I’m also learning that that’s okay too.

My body, like for most women, is a work in process. And I’m trying to wear blinders to how society thinks a woman should look versus what is healthy for each individual. Being thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy.

When people prattle on about L.A.’s obsession with weight and appearance, I have to laugh because New York is exactly the same. I lost count of how many bone-thin women were “doubling up” on their SoulCycle classes while subsisting on kale and green juice.

Appearance is endemic to our culture, not our geography.

flowers in bloom.

During the hike, my friend Merrill and I were talking about privilege and she looked over at me and laughed over the fact that I’d brought a Tod’s bag to a hike. Seriously, Felicia. But! But! It’s a cross-body! It’s functional! It’s the bag I wear all the time! We fell into guffaws over my ridiculousness, and then I said, in all seriousness, that this bag is one of the few designer items I own. I’ve either sold, donated, or given away the rest of it and I only have that which I need. I have a few pairs of shoes, a few bags, and the same ten things I wear ALL THE TIME because I’m a creature of habit who isn’t fashionable. I never want to think about what I have to wear; I just want to pull something easy and comfortable out of my closet. And this put me to thinking about objects and the empty spaces they never cease to fill, and how my desire to fill those empty spaces got me into severe debt to the point where I filed for bankruptcy this year.

I’m open about that too–what I learned and how I’ve taken responsibility for the poor choices I’ve made. It feels good to no longer have an insurmountable weight on my back, feeling Sisyphean about my debt and my inability to pay it off. I filed for Chapter 13, which basically means I pay all my creditors back in a five year period with manageable monthly payments. Student loans are separate to this, but it’s definitely a lot less than what I was dealing with before. And it’s a relief to be smart about my money and buy only what I can afford. No more shopping my feelings or buying things I’ll invariably regret later. Every purchase comes with careful thought and consideration.

Do I miss my impeccable credit? Sure. Do I feel a little ashamed? A little. But the relief subsumes all of that. And who cares what anyone thinks? Everyone has their own burden to bear.

Finally, I’ve gotten laser-focused when it comes to my career. I’ve written a lot about this on medium, on second acts and being comfortable in the fact that I’m different. I’ve been thinking a lot about the woman I used to be, the doer, the creator, and how I lost a part of myself in a job I was in for four years. The irony is that without that job I wouldn’t have the expertise and network I do today so I have to consider the complexity of these decisions.

I’ve made the decision to solely focus on brand development and storytelling for small businesses, agencies, and start-ups–predominately working with women and POC. I’m tired of getting white men richer and I want to use my experiences to raise those who’ve rarely blown past the ceiling. The shift has proven a smart one and I’ve got plans for a podcast and live coaching classes in the works. We’ll see.

All I know is that this blog was the first step in going back to the woman who did things instead of talked about them.

10 Comments

  1. Bushra wrote:

    What a fantastic post! Your journey has always encouraged and inspired me to think, think, think about where I am at and how I can make things better for myself. You’re amazing.

    Posted on 5.27.18 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      Oh my goodness, Bushra! Thank you 🙂

      Posted on 5.27.18 · Reply to comment
  2. Marci wrote:

    Wow! I have been following your blog for years and with this post you really seem like a person who has taken ownership of her mistakes and success and melted them together to be a new and better version of herself. You seem calmer and kinder (not that you were mean before) and someone who truly understands who they and want they want. Congratulations!

    Posted on 5.27.18 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      Marci,
      Thank you for writing (and for reading all these years)! I do feel my move here has changed me in ways I hadn’t imagined, and although a lot of it came at a cost I don’t regret any of it. I had to trudge through all the shit to get to where I am now.

      And I’m definitely kinder. I wasn’t always my best self through the years and I’m actually proud of the person I am now.

      Warmly, f.

      Posted on 5.27.18 · Reply to comment
  3. Melissa F. wrote:

    Always love reading your posts, Felicia, and am glad to see you back in my Feedly. Sounds like things are better for you — I remember those dark times you had several years ago.

    Also dealing with a friend breakup like you experienced — I always imagined us being in each other’s lives forever, and we’re not, and it’s the most difficult thing.

    Cheers. Glad you’re well. Keep writing — about all of it.

    Posted on 5.27.18 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      Melissa,

      Aren’t friend breakups the absolute WORST? They’re much more devastating than partner breakups. I’m sorry you’re going through one and I feel your pain. I’m sending lots of love, light, and strength along the way.

      Warmly, f.

      Posted on 5.27.18 · Reply to comment
  4. Barbara wrote:

    So nice to read your words again; so much growth and so much I identify with ( esp friend break ups and how devastating they are). I love your writing and have missed it.

    I was just thinking of you yesterday as I made some strawberry arugula salad recipe you posted about years ago. …

    Posted on 5.29.18 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      Barbara,
      So great seeing you again! that salad WAS good. I’m glad you’re still a reader and thanks for the love.
      Warmest, f.

      Posted on 5.29.18 · Reply to comment
  5. Arlene wrote:

    I’m so glad your blog is back!

    Posted on 5.31.18 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      thank you, sweet friend! xo

      Posted on 5.31.18 · Reply to comment

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  • We spend our time devoted to the periphery. If periphery was an altar trust that we’d all gather and worship. We cleave to the shiny objects that are social media, email, podcasting—we’re told we have to be diversified—at the expense of the one true thing you create. The thing by which you want to be known and remembered. We give equal (if not more) weight and devotion to that which surrounds our thing instead of getting laser-focused and refining our skills, being a student—all to keep getting better at the thing.
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Trust me, I want to do ALL THE THINGS. Now, I ask myself what portion of my day have I committed to being a better writer, a better storyteller and brand builder? Am I learning something new, regardless of how minor that something is? Or am I zeroing in on the things that are conduits and bridges to and from the work. You’ve created all these points of entry to a thing that isn’t as good as the vehicle that got them to the thing.
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Think about that. Prioritize. .
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  • So, I fell down in the middle of the street while walking to an important meeting. I scraped up my knee pretty bad, but kept it moving, because I have a long-term play to earn as much as I can to move somewhere super remote and quiet by the end of the year.
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It’s weird to think that I’ve lived in NY for the first 39 years of my life, Los Angeles for the past four, but I’m watching old episodes of Shetland and wondering how I can get myself to a remote farmhouse, cabin, outhouse, etc. All I need is good WIFI for work.
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But an island in Scotland isn’t realistic, so I’m setting my sights closer to home, California. And I’ve got time to research, thankfully. .
Until then, I’ll keep plugging, keep writing, keep up with newly-revisited healthy habits.
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  • New post up on medium. Link in bio.
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“If I had my way, I’d never leave my house. My home is small, and I know every inch of it. An 800-square foot box with two windows, walls, and a doorbell that plays instrumental Julio Iglesias. Half the rooms are cloaked in effulgent light and the other a cool charcoal black. I’ve become fluent at oscillating between the two. I don’t even love the space in which I live, but I’m hard-pressed to leave it.”
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  • I live in a city of four million people, which was a marked improvement from my home, New York, of eight million. I snapped this photo during my trip to Cape Town (488K people), and during that trip we traveled to towns of four thousand people and it was GLORIOUS.
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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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I’m considering another move when my lease is up to a small AF town in California not too far from the Redwoods and the ocean. I LOVE California, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the US. And I love the idea of FEWER people. Quiet to write. Maybe I can get a dog friend for my Felix! .
So, we’ll see. Does anyone here live in a remote or super small town? If so, what do you love about it?
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  • My breaking point was over a hazelnut. A hazelnut that cracked my tooth at two-thirty this morning. Because I was stress-eating granola. But it was the three thousand dollar bill to fix said tooth that did me in. Only a few weeks before, a persistent ache in another tooth turned into a five-hour fiasco involving a dentist, an endodontist, a $5,000 bill and me texting a friend — while the fifth shot in my mouth was kicking in, and I was inhaling nitrous gas like a glass of water in the fucking Sahara — ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS BULLSHIT?
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My dentist tried to reassure me, after rejecting my pleas for a fifteen-year repayment plan, that this particular tooth had already booked a one-way ticket to a root canal, so I ended up saving $2,000! Oh, cool. So, instead of dropping ten grand on two teeth, I was only paying eight. Like I have eight thousand dollars just laying around, waiting to be flushed down the dental toilet. Apparently, the hazelnut was my salvation. I started laughing and continued laughing. For a while. To the point where everyone in the waiting room was uncomfortable.
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****I wrote about teeth, money, and debt in my latest medium post. Link in bio.*****
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  • This is our one life. We love. We lose. We overcome. We break in ways we never thought possible. We climb, ravage, and wreck. While it’s possible that every story has been told, that knowledge doesn’t stop us from reading, watching, listening, and feeling. It doesn’t disconnect us from someone’s unique experience. Instead, we live for the retelling: how individuals bear that which is familiar or common, and how their singular experience feels fresh and new.
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Today, I wrote a tutorial about crafting plots. Instead of vivisecting plot arcs — because frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch — I invite you to consider three simple questions: what story will sustain your interest for 70,000 words? Can you commit to your story and the sequence of events that unfold for months or years of your life? Does your novel have the weight to capture and hold your reader until the end?
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This year, I’m committed to sharing what I know for FREE. I’ve got no classes to sell after this (I actually hate the idea of teaching writing; I’d rather be doing it), but lots of people have asked for the goods and I believe if you’ve got the skill and privilege, you should be sharing it.
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  • Want to write a book? I'm sharing a six-part series in how to get the job done. The first two I'm previewing on Medium. Yesterday, I wrote about writing killer dialogue. Today, I'm sharing how to craft compelling characters. If you love what you read, consider sharing and clapping (more than once!). link in bio!
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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  • Want to write a book? I got you. Below is an excerpt from my latest medium piece—the first tutorial of six I’ll be sharing on writing mechanics. You’ll get the other 5 later this month if you’re on my email list. Link in profile!
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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