California is the girlfriend that you know isn’t good for you, but you can’t stop loving her anyway. There are so many reasons why you know the two of you will never be together, why it could never really work out, but yet there’s still those amazing qualities, those intimate moments the two of you share that always keep you coming back for more.
So I decided to write a letter to the state that I love so dearly and to explain why, if nothing else than for my own self indulgence, as to how I’ve come to this conclusion.
I love you, but I know this will never be a thing.
I first met you when I was 23 and moved to Venice Beach in hopes to make it big in the music business. But it was only 2 days in when I got into a car accident which I believe, in some sense, set the tone for the next ten years of our relationship.
But let me take a step back.
Everyone has dreams of California. Everyone. Hell, there’s even a song written about it. My dreams started when I was going to school for audio production here in Minnesota and I knew that if I could only make it to California, my future would be full of sunshine, sandy beaches and rubbing elbows with the stars.
But like most honeymoons, my courtship with you started fast and passionate and ended just as quickly.
I made the decision to move to LA, at the proverbial drop of a hat, when I was offered an internship at a recording studio in Hollywood. Before I knew it, I was heading West in my overly packed Mitsubishi Eclipse and drove for two straight days with stars in my eyes and daydreams of “making it” in the music biz.
Ok, so I’m probably (most definitely) being overly dramatic when I said that a minor car accident set the tone for our relationship, but I will say that it certainly didn’t help. Nor did the fact that when I finally settled in, I found myself living in a 10x9 foot bedroom in a small, filthy and definitely not-to-code, 3 bedroom house shared by 7 other people.
However during our brief first go at it, that bedroom was my sanctuary. With my dorm room fridge, a microwave and an air mattress, that in my mind, was a California King, I was happy or at the very least content.
We started to get to know each other better right away and I liked what I saw. Days at the beach. Going to shows to watch undiscovered “next big things” at the coolest of cool Hollywood venues. Exploring the sites which I’d seen while watching movies from the comfort of my parent’s faded living room couch and now seemed a million miles and a lifetime away back in Minnesota. You were everything that I thought you’d be and then some.
But things started to change. Going to the beach was no longer being in awe of the blue skies and perfect palm trees and instead I was noticing the overflowing garbage cans and the extremes of homelessness at every turn. The daily drive from Venice to Hollywood was no longer an adventure of new sites and new experiences, but instead crushing my soul in a never ending view of bumper to bumper traffic. It took well over an hour to drive 15 miles no matter who’s directions and advice you decided to follow. And the very few new people I was meeting couldn’t be bothered to even offer up the time of day when asked in my most polite Minnesotan manner.
I’ll admit it, I was lonely.
I had a small group of people I interacted with from the studio where I worked and the 7 people I shared a house with, but that was really about it. I didn’t have any sort of community and definitely no sense of “belonging.” And it was not for lack of effort either. I reached out to the people that surrounded my small bubble and was always willing to strike up a conversation with someone that looked interesting while exploring this intoxicating city.
However what I quickly realized is that California, and more specifically, LA is a very “what can you do for me?” environment. What I felt is that I didn’t have anything to offer anyone. No connections, no exceptional talents, no model good looks, just me.
And apparently what I had wasn’t enough for you.
Our breakup was mutual. I was not ready for California and California had no time for me. And I was ok with that. So a mere six months later, I was in that same (now repaired) Mitsubishi headed home with my tail between my legs.
You ate me up. You spit me out. It wasn’t our time.
It wouldn’t be until ten years later that we would meet again. But when we did, it’s when everything changed.
In 2016 we met again when I made the journey back for “IVY Goes West.”
While surrounded by some of the best people I know, for a trip up the PCH (that’s the Pacific Coast Highway for those not in the know), we spent the first day at Venice Beach getting to know each other again while cruising around the boardwalk, making fools of ourselves at the skatepark and consuming all of the tacos (literally). I was quickly reminded as to what drew me to you in the first place.
Once the full crew had assembled, we headed north. This is when my true appreciation for what you had to offer and what I had to offer you really started to become a reality.
You see; for us mid-Westerners, there seems to be a sense of something different when you get to the West coast. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of magical concoction of salt, sun and sand, but I know that even the best alchemist couldn’t concoct this magical elixir outside of your borders. However, when you get there, it’s inevitable, you feel it.
It wasn’t until I got away from the city with people who weren’t out for themselves, but also looking to find that community, is when I realized that I was the one putting the pressure on you to fulfill my expectations and fantasies of what our relationship could be. I was projecting my insecurities on you. I thought that all I had to do was show up and you’d take care of the rest. Everything would be perfect.
I now understood that those were completely unreasonable and unfair expectations to put on you and that I actually did have something to offer.
Since that trip, I’ve been back to California no less than 15 times. I’ve driven the entire coast. I’ve spent time in San Diego relaxing. Gone to a wedding in San Francisco. Snowboarded in Tahoe. Spent time with the most amazing family I’ve ever met in Fresno. And some of my best friends in the world have made the move to call California their home. Palm Springs still sucks, but that’s besides the point. And every time I’ve been back to the Golden State and every person I’ve met has proved to me time and time again that my initial impressions of you were wrong.
For any relationship to work, both parties have to be ready and comfortable in their own skin to be able to contribute equally to the partnership. If you’re not happy with yourself, you shouldn’t be looking for someone else to provide you that happiness.
I was looking for California to fix me. To make me happy. To provide me with a life that I could only dream of from Minnesota, but what I learned is that it’s not where you live, but how you live. And that is something that I wouldn’t have learned if it wasn’t for the time we spent together.
I know now that there will always be a place for you in my heart, but I’m fulfilled where I am and as a true Minnesotan and a “No Coaster” at that, I hate to admit it, but I love you California.
Until next time.