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Archive for September, 2009

Today I am just hanging out in my hotel room, not really in a sightseeing mood, and I’m feeling a little like one of those crazy writer hermit types.

My friend noticed me on line at 6:45 this morning, so she called me. What I admire about my friend is that she puts herself out there without a lot of reservation. She was talking to me about an experience she had, and she kept saying “I can’t believe I did that” and “I can’t believe I said that.” But she just keeps doing and saying anyway. I love that about her.

I am finding that when we can be totally honest about what we’re experiencing, feeling, and being in life, the right things show up, be it a friend, a movie, a place, a book, music, a piece of art.

The key is that we really have to be present for whatever is showing up and not just for the happy “ I feel so wonderful moments.” We have to be there for all of it, even the “I am not feeling so hot or good about myself” moments.

I want to share an example of what I mean by this:

The other night I wanted Italian food, so I got on line and looked up local ratings for Italian restaurants and found one in Torrance that had some pretty good reviews. I love sites like this that give us a fighting chance before we spend our money.

I thought, well, I’ll just call them and see if I can order something to go (in Italy they call it take away.) Then I thought that one of the greatest things about going to a well-reviewed Italian restaurant is the ambiance. I was not going to be able to experience that if I get “take away” food.

I have noticed while traveling on my own that it does not draw a lot of attention when I dine alone at lunch; no one seems to consider it strange or weird. But when I dine alone at dinner in a romantic setting—or any setting for that matter—I get all kinds of interesting looks. I don’t know what makes it so alarming to people.

In fact I almost did not go out that night for dinner because I was thinking that it’s not acceptable for a woman to dine in public alone during the evening. Then I asked myself “Where the f*@ck did that come from?” Did I really believe there would be cops coming after me or I would be stoned to death if I chose to eat dinner alone at a restaurant? Am I going to be a bad influence on society for eating alone in public?

That is so silly, but it was exactly what was going on in my head, and I almost did not even question it.

I punched the address into my GPS and easily found my way there. (The GPS is my new HERO! I have never had one before this trip and am definitely worshiping it.) I have been here over two weeks and had it not been for this electronic jewel that my awesome boss bought for me, I would still be trying to find my way to work and back to the hotel instead of having time to write and see some of the sights.

The restaurant was in a corner of a busy shopping complex. It had a cute little courtyard surrounded with funny looking bushes strung with white lights, cheap outdoor patio furniture with wobbling tables, and a water fountain mounted on the wall. No one was sitting outside—it could have had something to do with the heavy layer of smog that was starting to settle on the city—but the smog didn’t offend me and it was very warm out, so I asked if I could sit in the courtyard.

I chose the table right in front of the fountain and listened to it intently, while observing through the bushes the busy parking lot activity, and the strange mixture of sirens and car alarms. The voice of Frank Sinatra piped confidently through the restaurant and into the courtyard.

This little restaurant in a busy suburb of L.A. was trying its hardest to be romantic in a concrete jungle.I wanted to call it the Little Restaurant That Could! I felt a sense of connection with its status as I, too, was trying my hardest to be romantic by dining in an Italian restaurant alone in a big city, despite the age-old voice of our society yelling into my ear, “Not possible!”

An absolutely gorgeous waiter served me; he had a beautiful, authentic smile and presence. I sat sipping a glass of wine and shooing fruit flies as the sky became darker and the white lights on the little bushes became more magnificent, turning the little Italian courtyard wannabe into something beautiful.

What was interesting is that this courtyard had many of the elements I had written a few weeks earlier in a screenplay that I have been working on: one of the scenes takes place in a courtyard of an Italian restaurant:

Guests move out to the courtyard; a beautiful fountain flows; vines climb white pillars that surround the perimeter of the courtyard. Lattice-topped arbors with small white lights hover over each table. A five-man band plays Sinatra tunes.

Of course many Italian restaurants have this particular ambiance, so maybe it was not that profound an observation, but the parallel fascinated me in that moment.

As people walked up to the entrance, they did not notice me in the corner of the courtyard by the fountain. In fact, not one person turned to look at the little patio, which amazed me because the patio was the first thing that grabbed my attention.

However, when people walked out they would stop and stare at me sitting in the empty courtyard as if I were a rare exotic animal in a cage. They would turn and look at me two or three times. An older lady literally raised her eyebrows as she poked their husband’s arm and pointed me out.

I continued to sit there surrounded by the little white lights and the sound of the fountain, listening to Sinatra, sipping my wine, and feeling a little smug and dreamy about my ability to conquer the women-cannot-eat-dinner-out-alone syndrome. Or I may just have been high on the evening smog. I felt romance right there in my own presence, happy and serene while dining alone outside in the middle of a smoggy city, and I didn’t need anyone’s validation, not even my own. The moment just was, and I was in the moment.

Every once in awhile the handsome waiter would come out like a proud gatekeeper tending to the wild exotic animal in the courtyard. OK, I am not exactly exotic, but this is my story. He would sit on the table next to me and just chat, as if taking a break from the formal dining room inside. I was having fun being a spectacle of society.

Why not let ourselves experience things even if the circumstances are not exactly what we expect or perceive that they should be? It is when we put expectations on how things or people should show up in our lives that we experience disappointment. Why not meet things more often exactly for what they are?

Maybe we will find a little magic.

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What I like about LA

When I was growing up, people would say, “You don’t want to go to L.A.—it’s a horrible place! It is dangerous, stinky, and pretentious. It’s a place where your dreams get shot down.”

I took that to heart until just a few months ago when my boss said he was going to open an office in L.A.

These words fell out of my mouth: “I’ll go to L.A. and open the office for you.”

Many strange looks later and some severe questioning from my friends about what the hell I was doing, I find myself sitting in a hotel room in Torrance, California, with a sunburn, a wireless computer, and a rocket stick, sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. Pretty awesome— and I mean that!

What I like most about L.A. is what I was told to fear and expected to be turned off by.

The traffic here is entertaining: You can drive really fast through most cities and do these little sprints between traffic lights .

The boulevards are fascinating and great for the directionally challenged. If you can find a boulevard, you can pretty much get to where you need to go—or damn close to it. My boss bought me a GPS, so now I am fearless about getting out and about in L.A.

The 405 is an amazing freeway and a great place to people-watch at peak hours. Where else are you allowed to engage in a race with a gorgeous cop down a freeway… (I have not actually done that.)

There are a lot of lanes to keep you busy and interested in what is going on: fast cars, loud music, motorcyclists in flimsy t-shirts weaving the proverbial death wish through traffic. I even saw a fancy white drag car with my favorite number 12 pulled over on the side of the freeway by one of those amazing looking cops.

Yesterday I took a little trip to Venice Beach, a funky little space on the ocean that has been the source of inspiration for many writers, photographers, sketch artists, and hell-and-brimstone sermons. I think it would be fun to create a theme party based on its charm and lack thereof.

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There is something about listening to Rod Stewart that just fits with the apocalyptic palm trees, fire engine sirens, helicopters, cop cars, and first aid trucks all mixed together with rollerblading beauties, 60-year-old men flexing at muscle beach, strung-out junkies curled up next to the tattoo artist, skateboarders, medical marijuana facilities, and Feng Shui hole-in-the-wall shops. Bob Marley and Jim Morrison permeate the air and help to sell all manner and color of paraphernalia.

Where else can you witness this shift in paradigm: flawless people walking around with an exhausted expression that clearly says, “I am so sick of being beautiful” and those who have been dealt a few physical oddities in life walking with the confidence of Anthony Robbins.

Venice Beach is like Star Trek’s Quarks bar on the promenade.

The odd mixture of people, street vendors, trapeze artists, and activities clash so perfectly that it takes all of your senses and questions the reality of any sort of order that might have existed before approaching its path.

I come from a very small town, so the vastness of L.A. is fascinating to me. There are so many great little restaurants and places to see, and the best are often tucked away in scary-looking neighborhoods.

So what determines scary and why?

I took a chance the other day and challenged that question. I asked myself what was so scary about a particular area, lifestyle, or architecture of a neighborhood Was there anyone around doing anything that was actually corrupt or threatening? Was it scary because the people were not like me? Did they fit someone else’s story about what is scary?

My answers were not even my own; they had been passed on to me from the opinions of others.

So I decided to do my laundry in a “scary” little neighborhood. Attached to the laundromat was a great little Asian restaurant where the people were so kind, the food was great, the prices were reasonable, and it wasn’t scary at all.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t be alert to possible danger, and yes, there are some bad neighborhoods, but I think it is important to ask ourselves what we’re afraid of, and if the answers are laced with prejudice, religious preference, expectations of how others should live and dress, or how much money they have or do not have, and if our fears are based on someone’s belief system that is not even our own, we are going to miss out on many very cool encounters, experiences, insights, smiles—and some really great food.

Here’s to diversity and the spirit of discovery and to the likes of Quark who inspire the mingling of oddities and perfection.

Much Love from L.A.

Laree’

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