Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nobody Knows You and Nobody Gives a Damn

And that’s the best possible scenario, I realized, as I my car crested one highway and I caught sight of another and another, each bump in the road studded with radiating boxes-on-wheels, each one driven my somebody I’d quite likely never know.

I’ve said before that I never expected to end up in Los Angeles, much less to end up here and like it. More than a few people who know me expressed their doubt that I’d last long. A year and a half later, I’m still here, and I’m happier to be here, a short drive from friends but effectively alone. No, I’m not a sociopath. I’m not experiencing some late-onset emo phase where I get off on my own sadness. And I’m not fishing for event invites from readers living in the greater Los Angeles area. I’m being mature, clear-headed and honest about the way I work.

As I type this, it’s the longest I’ve ever gone in life without traveling, and no, I don’t count the few days I took to see the Grand Canyon as legitimate travel. I haven’t left the country in six years, and that knowledge weighs heavily on me, not because I need to relax on some foreign beach and look at the ocean from a different angle, but instead because travel affords me an opportunity I previously could never experience at home: solitude. Wherever I’d gone and whomever I’d ridden alongside, I took a moment to head out on my own in a strange place. Even for just a day or an afternoon or an hour, I got to stand somewhere where the birds sing a different song and, in that spot, I could feel the exhilaration that comes with having no one know where you are.

Maybe that’s not a sensation everyone finds comforting, but I do.

Have you ever read the novels of Louise Erdrich? Like William Faulkner, Erdrich is one of those authors who revisits the same families (but different generations) and the same places (at different points in time). One recurring location in her works is the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota. The town shares its name with a figure from Greek mythology: Argus the many-eyed monster, who is watching even when he sleeps. The reference is especially clever because Erdrich is hinting at her tendency to feature multiple narrators — more than one I, in the sense of first-person pronouns — while also telling the reader that her small fictional town is an all-seeing, always-watching entity. In the sense of Argus having inescapable eyes, Erdrich’s town works like every small town with an unnecessarily sharp focus on its residents’ personal lives. That’s how I felt in the town I grew up in and that’s eventually how I came to think about the city I lived in after college. This I did not find comforting.

So while the constraints of time and money have prevented me from traveling, I guess I’ve arrived at a compromise by living and working in Los Angeles. This asphalted-over mess of a city has so many neighborhoods, so much to do and so much sheer space that I can now see which way the wind blows and just go in that direction. Without fail, I can find a spot where I can stand and feel that exhilaration of knowing that nobody who knows me knows where I am, nobody where I am knows me and I can do what I want without worrying about surprising or disappointing or confusing someone who thinks that have a good handle on who I am. I’m not completely untethered here in Los Angeles, but the leash is long enough that I can wander.

I suppose it will be interesting to learn whether this is a phase or this is just the kind of man that I am.

Things about L.A., previously:

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