Keep it simple, silly

Friday, October 22, 2004

I'm in LA! I start a 9-day course with Byron Katie ( tomorrow, so you won't hear from me again at least until that's over.

I'm starting to settle in a bit here, but it's early days yet. I'll keep you posted after the course, when I've got a better idea of where I'm at and where I'm headed. Meanwhile, if you've got a minute, there's some reading below that you may appreciate.

I hope life is treating you well!



They say it never rains in California, and it hadn't rained properly at Dharmananda for months when I left. It was cloudy, but the raindance we did the day before seemed to be having no effect.

Ora-nika ora-nika
Hay-nay hay-nay

Around and around we danced, repeating the verse ad nauseum until it transformed from scattered joinings-in to an indelible etching on our collective memory.


It took a while, but I think Huey must have got the message. The night after I left, record October rainfalls drowned the region and didn't let up until the drops stopped bouncing and started soaking deep under the soil.

Jump ahead 26 hours to my arrival in LA (and if it were possible and meant avoiding the discomfort, I would have), and as we descended through the clouds upon this incredible monument to consumption, rain again lashed the wing to my left, horizontal strips of water poured like supermoths into the light, preceding reports of mudslides and floods across the city on the radio of the shuttlebus to my hostel.

This morning, as I ventured out for the first time, I found myself sheltering from this rain at the end of Santa Monica Pier, reading about its history and noting that in one year LA had only 1" of precipitation. The Australian guy on the shuttlebus told me he's been here 16 times and it's never rained.

Landing in LA is an eye-opener. The hugeness of it is one thing, but what really stunned me was the roads. Chiselled into its landscape are endless highways and freeways: 4 lanes, 6 lanes, 8 lanes, 10 lanes, more. Roads, carparks and everything that facilitates the use of vehicles would easily take up half the area of this vast city. This is not an exaggeration. And at any time of day or night the roads remain in heavy use - almost as though, like airplanes, there simply isn't enough room to park them all.

Being the major centre of the state that best represents the nation's obsession with efficiency, this would ironically have to be close to the most inefficient use of space and resources in the world. Having flown on the way over islands in the Philippines where village and agriculture and land all melded as one, and the precise fields surrounding intensive human habitation around Taipei, landing in LA amazed me. Even the airport, as busy as it is, seemed far larger than it needed to be. No wonder this country is fighting so desperately for the last of the oil, no wonder Kyoto remains so far from their reality: this place has a physical dependency far greater than the farthest-gone drug addict, this place is completely addicted to oil and no amount of rehab can save it.

Oil was just one of the pollutants infesting Santa Monica Beach this morning, though.

At Taipei Airport yesterday I felt lost, confused, unsure of why or even where I was going, wanting to be back home with the cows and the chooks and the garden and the platypus and the beautiful people at Dharmananda. Tired, stuck in a terminal for six hours, unable to sleep and with over half a day ahead of me in the air, these sentiments may well have been understandable. I awoke this morning, still a little groggy but more alive than on that sleepless terminal lounge, needing to somehow connect. The beach seemed the obvious place - the morning before (technically, anyway) I was being buffeted and bucketed by powerful easterlies carrying eye-stinging raindrops across the beach at Brunswick Heads, on the other side and down a bit of the mammoth body of water we call the Pacific Ocean. It seemed only natural, therefore, that a wander along the beach on this side would be a good thing to do.

The beaches were very different. The clean, white sand of an empty Brunswick beach contrasting sharply to the row of empty orange bins and clutter of junk washed up by the tide at Santa Monica. Plastic bags swam like jellyfish in the surf while I wandered past an endless assortment of trash strewn across the beach: oil bottles, drink bottles, a dead rat, a withering yellow rose, tennis balls (four), bloated cigarette butts, assorted bits of plastic and wood, and a smell - something like stale cigarettes mixed with rotting sea creatures - combined together as sea spew.

And then, in the middle of what once must have been a beautiful foreshore, I came across one source of this sea spew: a stormwater drain pouring out a dark brown goo, cutting deep through the sand and channelling into the ocean. This is a beach that fills with people every hot summer weekend, as the regularly placed pale blue lifeguard towers attest. But today it was empty, except for the towers, a wandering Australian, countless orange bins, a sign saying not to swim near the stormwater, and miles and miles of sea spew.

It may not often rain in LA, but it'll take much more than a downpour to cleanse it.
Ora-nika ora-nika
Hay-nay hay-nay

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Where am I in all this? I think it’s fair to say I’m a little bit lost. Directionless. Hopefully like the calm before the storm. My course starts tomorrow, and I guess this time was always reserved for readjustment. I am lonely, too. Like the realisation has just dawned on me that I’m all alone over here, that while I travel deep friendships will be hard to come by. That’s struck me fairly hard. I’m on my own and have nobody really to turn to. Only now am I beginning to understand the value of the contacts people have been giving me – a chance to touch base with some level of intimacy, however fleeting. A little like my first months in Melbourne, only this time there is no family, nothing to turn to when each step becomes a struggle, when the light turns dim and even my shadow leaves me.

But if this is what it takes to understand the value of companionship, of friendship, then let it be, let me learn.

And looking around me, I can see I’m not the only one being taught this lesson. Travellers are a lonely bunch, by and large, and touching base, connecting with them is a task made all the harder by their idiosyncrasies and inabilities in communication. I am but one of them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

This city is growing so fast there doesn’t seem to be enough room for everyone. Half the people at the hostel I’m staying at have moved here but have nowhere else to live.

Melissa is a beautiful young woman who, like so many others, has come here to act. From Minnesota, here relative innocence concerns me. So many stories abound of beautiful young women like her coming here with stars in their eyes and ending up in tears. There are too many people willing to take advantage of people like her, and too few to help her.

A fast talking guy collecting money for kids with AIDS brought the message home strongly. He told me how it was illegal to sleep under doorways here in Santa Monica, how it was against the law to give people food. He has been working with homeless people for years and is appalled at the latest laws. He told me how the stars liked to hang out here, and how they didn’t want to be surrounded by poverty like that. I asked him about all the bleeding hearts we see on the television and he told me it was all just part of their act. “They’ll ask you what kind of car you drive and where you live,” he said, “And if the answer isn’t the latest Mercedes or Lexus and a house on the beach, then forget it. They’re not interested in you.” There are people like this everywhere, I know: people who try to shield their insecurities with money and possessions. This is not unusual. But I guess it just occurred to me that these same people could each pitch in a few dollars towards the sort of support and facilities that could get the people that so offend them off the street, instead of blindly trying to deny their existence by attempting to ban them from existing. I’m sure they’d be happier for it, and it couldn’t hurt their PR.

Patricia is a single mother of a college girl. In her forties, at a guess, she’s done it all and she’s still doing it hard. Her daughter has gone to private schools but Patricia is living in a hostel, temping at a law firm and trying to find a shared apartment for under $800 a month. She wants to be a writer, but how she’s ever going to find the space in her life to do this is beyond me. Not so long ago she was running a restaurant, but the economy went bad and in one season it was all over. We don’t hear too much about the US economy going bad; the stats they choose to show us have been worked in such a way to minimise the evidence, but Patricia seems to know all about it. She was caught in the middle of it.

You wouldn’t know about a bad economy here in Santa Monica, though. At least I can’t see it. Expensive cars, expensive clothes, lots of trendy shops, ads for Botox and plastic surgery. No, if the economy’s gone bad here they’re doing a great job of keeping up pretences.

But I guess it’s a question of proportion. Some people have more than ever, some have less, and maybe the measure of an economy’s health is where the people in the middle are at.

And I don’t believe they’re here in Santa Monica.