Every morning is like leaving the party everyone wanted to be at and regrets the next day. The party I don’t want to go to, but wasn’t invited to anyway.
Young women clutching their elbows, shoulders slightly hunched. It’s usually chilly out and if our eyes meet it’s just our eyes. It’s too early for hello. If they were to say anything I feel as though it would be, “These heels were a bad idea,” and “I should have brought a jacket.” The young white men I see look serious and they walk, briskly. Sometimes they’re passed out on the sofas that are always left on the sidewalk, boxer shorts revealed, as their new pants have been attached mid-thigh since they got dressed the night before; their hair still stiff and spiked and coated in molding clay.
I live right, smack in the middle of Hollywood and nearly every morning, I'm up and out of the house with the sunrise.
I walk speedily onto the Walk of Fame in order to reach the nearest underground train stop because I teach art and creative writing to teenagers in The Valley; the same Valley I first heard about while living on the Monterey Bay, about a day’s drive north of Los Angeles, where I lived as a teenager.
When I was a teenager, I saw Moon Unit Zappa perform her and her dad's song called Valley Girl on a show called Solid Gold. The song was part of the soundtrack to a movie about teenagers who lived in an area near Hollywood. I liked it but I had a hard time understanding her performance at the time, as it felt like art, and I didn’t yet know what performance art was, and although I could recognize his name and face, I was unfamiliar with her dad’s experimental work.
Between movies like Valley Girl, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the TV show, Square Pegs, pop culture was teaching me about the teenager who was glib, cynical, had more money than I did and hung out at the mall. She used a particular form of slang one could learn from the official Valley Girl handbook (sold at everyone’s local mall) if they weren’t from the San Fernando Valley, but really, you had to be from The Valley in order to not sound like a joke.
Now I teach a new generation of teens raised within that “cultural” landscape. I think that’s kind of funny.
Hollywood is the place where famous people live together. That's how I had always seen it, and I guess that’s how it is. I was about six years old when the TV characters, Laverne and Shirley decided to leave Milwaukee for California, and by California they meant Hollywood. They weren’t actresses, they worked in a beer factory, but they were going to make their dreams come true. It was in their theme song, so goodbye Milwaukee! I announced to my mother that I too wanted to move to California in order to make my dreams come true and was surprised to learn that we were already there. As a matter of fact, I was born there. It didn’t seem right at all.
Still, TV felt closer to my personal desires for a life, and by then I had learned that famous people get what they want, so Hollywood was going to make my dreams comes true. Hollywood would be the great leveler. I was raised within the perceptions that come from having no extra money and therefore opportunities were a luxury given to others. I was determined, however, to make a good life, a creative life, one that included art (which I was told I was good at), adventure and fun.
My parents dropped out of school at a very young age and maybe that’s why they didn’t allow me to embrace the academic opportunities that were presented to me, stating that because we didn’t have money, I was doomed for the same sort of life they chose. -It was a hard road out, but I wasn’t having any of that. Hollywood became a fairy godmother. That’s how I’m trying to make sense of it, anyway.
As I began to live through my twenties, the Internet began developing and I felt a connection between the access this technology gave regular folks like me and the energy of Hollywood; the place where one goes to be “discovered.” I truly believed that I could use both as tools that would help me develop, claim and share my importance, my value in the world and once I was discovered, because I would surely be discovered, I would not have to be a miserable worker who lives without art, adventure and fun.
I’m not an actor, and I’m not a rock star and I don't work in a beer factory. I’m now an introverted Los Angeles-based fine artist and writer who’s been online since 1996 and as far as I can tell I still haven’t been “discovered.” To be honest, I don’t even know what I’d be discovered as. A fancy pop culture blog once took my photo and labeled me as a tailor, which makes some sense as I had made the outfit I was wearing, and a poet magazine, for some reason, described me as an interior decorator. I am an outsider and I have to admit that I enjoy being one.
Right before I made my move to Hollywood, I hadn’t yet gone to art school and didn’t yet understand the history of my craft, or the value of it through time. New York felt exclusive, daunting, even though that’s where it seemed artists were supposed to live. I wasn’t ready for it. Contemporary painters I read about, who lived there, seemed to understand the importance of their work. I wasn’t confident enough to believe in or defend its value. I felt as though Hollywood wouldn’t know the difference.
Turns out it was a safe move, and I learned a lot. There were people in the art world here who began to teach me things, and after one full year, I was led to the Midwest, to school, to learning the importance of my work and those who came before me.
In Kansas City, where I went to school, I missed it. I missed the plasticity, the commodity and I still perceived it as a sort of freedom; a way toward “success.” I felt confirmed that pop stardom was a universal leveler of man kind, that anyone, if they truly believed, could reach “the stars.” Then I moved back to Los Angeles and into a graduate writing program led by a poet who loved Los Angeles but hated Hollywood and I continued to fight for its value in my life; its validity. It was going to give me that freedom I had believed in for so long. It had to. I claimed that the ridiculousness of it could be manipulated and perceived as something valuable. After all, it was what led me to trust my purpose as an artist and writer when no one in my day-to-day life did.
But now I have to admit that he’s right. I’ve been here for a while and I’ve observed a lot and I’ve made peace with what brings me happiness and that happiness most often does not come from anything that this town has to offer.
I also spend nearly every day with young people who are buying into what I bought into for so long, but in a new way. The monster has evolved. Notoriety and fame is close to these Valley kids, and I see that it doesn't really matter what one does in order to get it.
The people these children see, everywhere, receive attention for being terrible, vapid, thoughtless people and I can no longer pretend to see the good or humor in it.
I'm no longer able to ironically worship symbols of gluttony, apathy and greed because I've been faced with the fact that it hooks people into a cycle of delusion, undefined desire, destruction and neurosis, and the worst of it, for me, is when it sinks its teeth into those who started out being in on the joke.
I was recently sharing with someone my feelings of disinterest in regard to friends of mine who are making art and writing about the shittiest pop culture. I said that I was bored and feeling uneasy because for so long I believed in it, and now I'm making judgments. I said that I feel like I’m betraying something. One of them said that it's like being in a sausage factory. A lot of people enjoy a good sausage, but no one wants to eat one inside of a sausage factory, and that's it.
I was raised by people who guided me to form some kind of “keep it real” ideals while feeding me chemicals and preservatives (just like everyone else) and placing me in front of TV commercials, magazines and catalogs, advertising the godliness of stuff. I was told to not follow my dreams but then given access to Hollywood by way of the day-to-day media. The TV told me to “believe” while also telling me that I needed to purchase Oreos and gym memberships.
To survive like roaches or crows or rats; to be strong with the best and worst of what I’m given, and to thrive within the grime has felt like my life’s challenge. But what feels like the realest part of me, beyond what I’ve absorbed and been taught, wants to live with goats and chickens in a forest with tall trees near a brook somewhere. Perhaps I had to hold on to some sense of having a mission in life, and this is the one my conditioning brought me to.
Here in Hollywood I walk around and it feels like a hex. I feel like I’m in the root of the worst of all deals. Like the eye of a storm, I’m inside of it and standing still. At this point I’m just watching.
But there are those moments, and I’m having them, when I realize that I’m here– right smack dab in the middle of the life I spent my youth dreaming of. I’m right here. The Hollywood apartment, the “discovered” creative friends who honor me and what I do, the devotion to art-making, the parties (that I am invited to), the fact that I can wear crazy outfits and deal with anyone in almost any situation, with confidence. I’ve made it to this place, and I send it to her. This feeling. It may not mean as much to me now, but to her it was everything.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher.