I’m often asked by the teens I teach if I’m living the life I want and if I consider my life a success, and what that word means to me. I like that they ask me these things. Maybe they’re contrasting their perception of my existence as a teacher with their own lives or the lives of their parents, family members, or wealthy celebrities they admire. Maybe they are trying to understand what “sacrifices” are made in order to feel various forms of contentment. Maybe they are smarter than I am and are trying to knock some sense into me by asking me to consider the choices I’ve made that led me to work in a field that is honorable, but basically a service industry. Obviously, I don’t know how to answer them.
In the nineties, when I was not a teacher, I had a big stucco house that was built in 1993. I guess we call those things, McMansions. It had land and a view of rolling, California countryside and then beyond that, farm fields and the ocean. It looked upon the cities of Marina (my hometown), Seaside, Monterey, Pacific Grove, even Pebble Beach. At night, the lights twinkled in the distance and I’d get a chill up my spine, standing in my kitchen, looking out of the double-paned window and thinking about my younger self inside of the trailer on the Monterey Bay that I was raised in, that my parents still live in, on that tourist-filled landscape within my purchased view.
The recent HBO miniseries, Big Little Lies, set and filmed on the Monterey Peninsula, brought back memories of standing in that kitchen, or on the five acres connected to that kitchen. Not unlike the scenes of the main female characters staring at the ocean, right outside their big, beautiful glass doors– something wasn’t right.
There was this feeling I had where I knew it was all wrong. Not mine. Not earned. Maybe it was my understanding of the cost of it all; what I thought I had to endure in order to be there. Maybe that feeling is something that limits me and maybe I’ll never be able to (or even want to) get rid of it, because of the mindset and experiences I've had, that comes with being born and raised poor and in a trailer.
Side Note: Mobile homes in a Monterey Bay trailer park seem to now go for around one to two hundred thousand dollars (or more, or less).
I get such a rise from Pulp’s song, Common People.
Every once in a while I watch concert footage of them online, performing that song and the crowd just goes nuts, and I am right there with them. It’s our song. It’s my song. I love it. I have roots in there, with those roaches climbing the walls and that means something. It’s then I know that I’m so much better off being one of many in a crowd, and not a tourist (of any kind). But you know, the song only lasts for about four minutes–
When I left the McMansion and moved to Los Angeles, I chose to live in Hollywood after talking with someone who was renting an apartment in West Hollywood. He said that I most certainly should not live in Hollywood, because it is better described as, Hollyweird. His warning had the opposite effect, as that solidified it for me. Unlike some of the identifying labels placed upon my life by others and myself: poor person, “rich” person, victim, free spirit, survivor... I am and will always be a proud, card-carrying, weirdo, so it’s where I moved to then and it’s where I live now.
Nowadays though, I complain about Hollywood and Los Angeles a lot, and I miss the landscape of the Monterey Bay (and Santa Cruz) like crazy, but in a way that feels outside of myself, in a "I know 'the grass is always greener on the other side'" sort of way.
TRAINS AND CARS, ROADS, TRACKS AND TUNNELS
I like the train. In the same way I prefer making my way through Los Angeles via the L.A. Metro system, as opposed to my car, I like that I’m here, in Hollywood. When I'm on public transportation, I am faced with the truth that we are ALL relatively crazy, sad and angry. We are good and bad. We are working hard and at the end of the day most of us are very tired. In L.A. I don’t trust my car (But I make sure to have one, and a new one, at that!). It's a shiny metal, plastic and nylon bubble that takes a third of my monthly wages and lies to me by allowing me to believe that I'm safe, comfortable and apart from everyone else.
When I sit on the bus and train, I have no buffer between myself and the people who, like me, are most often visible examples of the exhaustion and mental illness we all suffer from. It’s usually not very pleasant, but I prefer this.
After all these years, have I put myself back in that figurative “trailer?” Maybe. Did my personal experiences with "wealth" that was so directly linked to abuse and acquiescence, spoil my desire for a “better” life? Is my preference for the train, and the ecstasy I feel when I listen to that Pulp song, just twisted up, metaphorical versions of those metal, plastic and nylon bubbles that lie to us and tell us that we’re safe, comfortable and (in this case, most importantly) apart from everyone else?
I tried living in Echo Park for a while, a few years ago, and I was just another comfortable human parasite, like so many people in this town; a tourist claiming ownership, like I was in that house built in 1993.
These days, I feel so strange when I make my way through the Warehouse District, downtown, watching all the people with or without ridiculous amounts of cash in their pockets who seem to feel perfectly at home in this curated landscape. Many feel safe in secured, guarded buildings with sparkly, new outdoor/indoor activity spaces that feel like theme park alleyways, lined with patches of freshly rolled, Non-GMO grass.
Many are living with several roommates, because that's what it takes. Recently built vegan tea houses that serve organic ghetto foods at prices only people earning six figures can afford to eat on a regular basis are filled with casually dressed (mostly white) people, journaling in their notebooks, texting their friends while observing the occasional skid row straggler or under-the-freeway-ramp tumble weed roll by from the other side of a double-paned, shiny, new wall-sized window.
All the refurbished brick and wood and display cases holding glossy pastries will never truly welcome me because I simply don’t have enough Instagram followers and if I ever do, and they ever do, I hope I will know better than to trust this kind of hospitality. The succulents planted on the walls must be so confused. The buildings seem to have been dropped down like Dorothy’s house, landing on an industrial version of Oz.
All that being said, I know very well that my own “weird” area is now completely overrun by thoughtless humans doing the exact same thing in their overpriced condos while wearing outlet mall active-wear and working on their “core” inside of the branded yoga studios on the first floor of their buildings, but I kind of prefer the clarity exhibited in their horribleness.
There are also the homes. The old homes in the hilly neighborhoods near my apartment. I have my fantasies about the people who live in them and have lived in them. Popular stuff I connect to as my “culture,” since I quickly imprinted myself upon anything that came out of the stereo system and television in my childhood homes, placed before me on domestically shelved altars, like metal and charcoal-tinted plastic gods covered in shiny knobs and fake-wood laminate.
I like thinking about the film and music industries rooted in Los Angeles and featured in biographies and film documentaries and its “history” that my mind associates with restaurants, hotels and the houses in and around these hills and my apartment. I know it’s silly, but I'm not the only one...
The reality is that I step out my door to witness rampant mental illness, addiction and sexist male douche-bags pretending they earn more than they do by spending more than they have and are likely to stand in line for hours in order to buy pairs of limited edition, corporation-branded sneakers, decorated by artists that are being resold at ridiculously inflated prices at boutiques on Fairfax and Melrose avenues.
The reality is witnessing the sad people. The fresh-faced and hopeful dreamers that may or may not “make it” in this town, whatever that even means anymore–
It’s also the kids who have nice clothes and good places to live but pass out on piss-filled street sofas after a night of partying that went way over their heads. It’s the tacky tourists getting taken advantage of by the hustlers on Hollywood Boulevard. The sex work. Survival. The writers, musicians, actors and artists who practice everyday and do what they do in their tiny apartments and wander around these streets, hoping to meet someone that will read their screenplay or get them the right meeting and change everything.
OKAY I'M A TOURIST
I’m not a Los Angeles native, I’m from somewhere else, just like everyone else. I’m a Nor-Cal transplant who took an academic detour in Kansas City and graduated (with a ton of debt) from art school in 2010. I should be downtown, taking advantage of the gentrification, in order to further my career. In fact, I’m very happy for my friends who are doing such a thing, and are working as hard as they can to do what they set out to do, and are selling their work or surviving as full time artists. I support them. Instead though, I take the public transit to and from The Valley to my job as a teacher of tweens and teens who, for the most part, come from families not unlike those I grew up around, worked for, and tried for a time, to be. Carmel has been replaced by Malibu and Pebble Beach might as well be Calabasas.
I’m often asked by the teens I teach if I’m living the life I want and if I consider my life a success, and what that word means to me. Obviously, I don’t know how to answer them.
Sing along with the common people.
Sing along and it might just get you through.
Laugh along with the common people.
Laugh along, even though they're laughing at you,
and the stupid things that you do
because you think that poor is cool.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher who dabbles in fashion. I'm planning for this blog to be an ongoing series of relatively abstract thoughts, videos and images related to my experiences as a person who teaches art to teenagers.