August 01, 2015

On Trailblazing

"Do not go where the path may lead. 
Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In New York, I was constantly knocking on doors that never got answered. New York is a city that pushes you away, testing to see if you can handle it. Los Angeles, on the other hand, welcomes you with open arms, but it doesn't give you any special treatment. LA welcomes anyone who's inclined to follow their passion, which means if you have the same passion as a lot of other people, you're not in a very exclusive club. And you're on your own. LA may open itself up to you, but it doesn't help you.

Because of that, Los Angeles is a place where weirdos can thrive. In fact, the weirder you are, the better—LA rewards individualism. There's no matter of fitting in in LA. It's better if you don't. You'll get more attention that way.

LA won't eject you, per see, but if you allow yourself to blend in and be what you think LA is or what it wants, you'll get lost in the shuffle of everybody else trying to do the same thing. And in LA, to be ignored is the worst.

Although there are plenty of other writers in LA, most of them are trying to sell a screenplay or a spec script. There aren't that many aspiring bloggers or journalists out here. It's just not glamorous enough for most people. And that means I've gotten more writing gigs here than I ever did in New York.

When I started putting together events for Atlas Obscura, I wondered where people might want to go. I initially tried to make other people happy—whether it was the people I worked for or with, or the people who might come to the event. And it was OK, but it wasn't very...special.

And then I started pursuing places I'd never been, where I wanted to go. I emailed intriguing characters and notorious recluses. I tried to imagine the weirdest possible excursion, and then I took it one step weirder, using my own tastes as a barometer. I pursued my passion without trying to get cast in a role. I tried to embody my truest self—authentically, organically—in hopes that having a good time, learning something new, and meeting other strange people would be enough to keep me fulfilled. I stopped worrying about being liked or popular. I started to just be.

And it's kind of working. And people seem to like it.

And now I'm doing the same thing for the Los Angeles City Historical Society, a group whose events I always enjoyed as a participant. Now that I'm the one planning them, I'm able to cross some places in LA off my bucket list. And I don't have to go there alone.

I cannot play trumpet like Miles Davis. I cannot paint like John William Waterhouse. I cannot write like Virginia Woolf. I do not have the voice of an angel. I am neither elegant nor poised. I was never socialized as a child. I am overweight among waifs, a brunette in a blonde city.

But I think I can use these things to my advantage. While everyone around me is trying to be someone else, I'm just trying to be me.

And maybe one day, someone will want to be like me.

Related Post:
The Island of Misfit Toy

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