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 And all the furniture I used to know and love has been replaced by new and shinier things.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.
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.
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.
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.