L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas
'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' by Dionne Warwick
Growing up, we had a digital jukebox in my Dad’s pub and whenever I was left alone to clean the bar I would put on a mixture of hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Whether I realized it or not, the lyrics of Dionne Warwick’s 1968 classic created an image of LA that stuck with me for many years to come. So much so, that when a friend suggested I move to LA and live with her, my immediate reaction was that there would be no way I could possibly pull it off. My impression of the city (more like a combination of 10 cities, let’s be honest) was of people struggling to make their way and of dashed dreams. Which, to be honest is not untrue, but is certainly not the experience I had.
Alongside my perception of Los Angeles was my perception of Americans, which I can safely say I share with the majority of Irish people. The stereotypical ‘American’ to us is painfully chirpy, says things like ‘Have a nice day!’ and has a shockingly bad knowledge of any continent outside the United States. I quickly learned that the perception we have of the American people is almost certainly informed by the stark contrast between their demeanor and our own. The Irish people are known as being some of the friendliest, chattiest and most ‘fun’ races in the world… But due to what I think is a symptom of the combination of Catholic guilt, toxic masculinity and generations of alcoholism, we are also a very pessimistic and stoic people. If you ask an Irish person how they are, nine out of ten times the response will most likely be ‘I’m grand,’ which essentially means ‘Nothing traumatic has happened as of late so I’m tipping along… and even if it has, I won’t bother you with it.’ An American, however, is more likely to be forthcoming with how they honestly are, and this is something that I have grown to love.
I have grown to love the tactility of the American friends I have made, the constant verbal affirmation of how much they love and appreciate you, the honesty, and the willingness to discuss and pull-apart the foibles that are buzzing around your brain. I am also aware, however, that this may be quite specific to the holistic and mindfulness-obsessed sensibility of the Californians; I mean, it’s quite likely that I would have had an extremely dissimilar experience in NYC (pesky east-coasters!). I appreciate and love the Irish penchant for sarcasm and downright ridicule of each other, but I have come to learn that there can be room for both, and LA has burrowed with a little more earnest into my psyche.
I have grown to love sitting in the inevitable bumper-to-bumper traffic in Los Angeles. You cannot understand the meaning of loving to drive unless you’ve driven in California. Sure, the added two hours of sitting on my rear has not done my physique any favors, but there is something to be said for the sheer sense of elation I get when I hit Pacific Coast Highway first thing every morning. Even if I have tossed and turned the whole night previous and barely caught forty winks, seeing the palm trees and lifeguard huts silhouetted against the brilliant morning sun bouncing off the sea has more of an ability to wake me up than a strong Flat White; the occasional flirty glimmer of a dolphin or seal is something that I will find very, very hard to forget. It’s safe to say that my internal ‘happy place’ is set in stone for years to come; whizzing down PCH, windows down, sunnies on, the sun on my cheeks and Young-Holt Unlimited’s Soulful Strut gracing my ears.
I returned home for the Christmas holidays and found myself recounting and repeating the same 4 or 5 anecdotes and observations; my first earthquake, how I had to change the way I pronounce my name so that the Americans didn’t misinterpret it as ‘Case’ (Irish people have a very soft ‘t’), the numerous Tinder date disasters… But one of the most notable contrasts I found myself commenting upon is the importance that Americans put upon their profession in the context of who they are as a person. When you meet someone new here and introduce yourself, the first question they ask is: ‘So what do you do?’. Initially, I was quite insulted but grew to learn that it’s just the norm here. I’d like to think that I’m not wrong in presuming that most Irish people would be a little put off if that was the first thing asked of them as opposed to 'Where are you from?’ or ‘What would you like to drink?’. I am not in any way implying that the Irish are not hard workers but let’s just say that once the clock hits 6pm, we are much more likely to leave than your average Los Angelan. It’s made me realize that maybe the Irish don’t take their careers seriously enough but also that some of those in the US marketing world could also take a leaf out of our book. This is certainly something I’ll be taking home with me. I can safely say that I have grown to love my own potential over this last year and I don’t think it’s a lesson I would have learned in Dublin.
During my time here at Hydro, I have also learned a lot about my own writing through constructive criticism. I have always had a habit of trying my best to sound eloquent and striven to write beautiful things. However, over time, I have learned that I need to write with more honesty. I didn’t realize that my brain was so analytical until I began to notice a strong pattern in every piece I wrote that was comparable to the arc of a thesis dissertation. I have identified my strength, and is there anything more valuable than that? I also noticed that people seemed somewhat disillusioned by the tone of my work in comparison to my personality. I am the class clown and I have always loved to make people laugh. However, very little of what I write is humorous at all… and I think people find this strange. I, on the other hand, find it empowering. It’s relieving to have an aspect of my life that doesn’t carry the pressure of having to always be the upbeat and energetic being that I am in person. My brain is a pensive place and I am so happy to have discovered that writing is the best way for me to explore it and invite others into the conversations that I want to have.
So, what am I leaving with? I’m leaving with a pride that’s manifested from having taken this leap alone. I’m leaving with a stronger belief in myself and my abilities. I’m leaving with a faith in the fact that I can do anything I put my mind to. I’m leaving with the confidence that if I want to explore the world, I can do it. Sure, it’ll probably involve a few loans and some scary decisions, but nothing is impossible and no matter how much we think we are ‘tied’ to a place, it’s just an excuse. I’m leaving with a tattoo of a Topanga Coyote because I fell in love with the Santa Monica mountains and the beauty and miraculousness of a place that can exist so closely to one of the biggest metropolis’ in the world. I am leaving with a new perspective on what I am capable of.
On a freezing night in New York City in 1963, whilst pining for the warm winds of Los Angeles, the lyrics of a song came to John Phillips almost fully formed. The song that he penned that night became an anthem for wistful dreamers everywhere. I have no doubt that when I’m home in Dublin and my socks are soaked from an unexpected downpour that my sentiment will be similar. Let’s just say that I’ll be leaving LA with more suitable lyrics in my head.
All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
'California Dreamin’' by The Mamas and the Papas