July 13, 2013

Just Visiting?

When you work in retail, you start to anticipate the response "Just looking," which is the polite person's way of saying, "I don't want to talk to you. I don't need your help. Don't try to sell me anything." Even foreign shoppers who speak any multitude of other languages have figured out how to say, "Just looking," and keep walking.

When people go on vacation, similarly they take on a "Just visiting" attitude, keeping their destination city somewhat at arm's length, not trying to get to know the locals or discover its hidden secrets, but rather staying in a nice hotel (and, in my opinion, spending way too much time there), hitting as many tourist attractions as they can, and snapping as many photos of icons and monuments that their friends will recognize on Facebook.

Since I started coming to California - and even when I traveled to Morocco and Tunisia - I've never really been like that. I've always wanted to know what it was like to live there. In my search to find a job that would relocate me to the West Coast, I chose to housesit for friends, and rent rooms in strangers' houses, rather than stay in hotels, so as to learn how to live in L.A., which is very different than traveling on business or going on vacation in L.A.

But now that I have lived here for over two years, I find myself sometimes acting like I'm just visiting. I don't know that I believe I'm going to stay.

Little things in my everyday LA life remind me that I might leave, remind me of what leaving New York was like. As part of the relocation ritual, I painstakingly unfollowed all of my New York-centric Twitter  accounts one by one, and when I started following LA-based accounts, systematically added them to an "LA" list so as to make their eventual and certain unfollowing a lot easier. When filing away my digital photos on my computer, I created subfolders for both NYC and LA under a "Travel" folder - not "Home." Nothing is labelled "Home" on my computer now. Nothing is really "home" for me in life. I go home at night, I go home for Christmas, but neither place is home. Not really.

My (probable or anticipated) transience here is never more evident than in my constant compulsion to explore my LA environs. I am guided by a desperate, looming sense that my time here is limited. Perhaps I suspect that my time on earth is limited (since I honestly never thought I would make it this long anyway, fairly surprised my mother didn't try to drown me in the bathtub as a baby), but ever since moving to LA, I have allowed myself little rest. Sure, I take a few mental health days here and there when I don't leave my apartment (or, really, bed), but I generally use those days to catch up on my photo cataloguing and writing and job finding and networking. Outside of those exceptions, I try to cram in as much as I can - to absorb all the scenery and smog and culture and craft beer and weather and wonder that LA has to offer.

But, as this new city is as ever-changing as New York ever was, everything is ephemeral to me.

And maybe it's my own abandonment issues, the little girl who's favorite pencil got broken in two when she wrote on the forehead of her sister's favorite doll, but I am terrified of anything being taken away from me, of anyone leaving me.

That is, until I choose to leave.

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