Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bye Bye LA-LA, Let's Hit the Road

Friday night I met D at the airport and after agonising over the choice of cars (colour and size-the most important aspects of a car, obviously), we finally hit the road.  We spent the night in Santa Barbara and had an amazing breakfast in a seaside cafe (Esau's Cafe if you're ever there).  It had a wonderful small town, hippie, surf-loving feel to it.  D even overheard some of the locals chatting about the 'new guy who just rolled into town in his gas-guzzling Volkswagon van - 'what a hypocritical hippie surfer dude' - is what I imagine they were thinking).  Sadly we had a lot of ground to cover, so we jumped back in the car, loaded up on supplies and made our way to the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) via Highway 101. It was a spectacular, sunny, beautiful day, and foregoing the terrible radio choices, we opted to drive in silence much of the way,  chatting about the scenery, life and our road trip plans.  The first stop was Hearst Castle.  William Randolph Hearst's humungous, towering building that he, rather unbelievably, called a home at one point.  It is a stunning architectural achievement, designed by a woman no less!, built on the top of a high hill within the Santa Lucia mountain range.  The gardens surrounding it are an awe-inspiring achievement as well, given there is no natural top soil available on the grounds.  And the pools!  Oh the swimming pools....  It took an unbelievable about of self restraint not to do a canonball into the brilliant blue waters of the Neptune Pool.

We plodded on, venturing back to Highway 1 and enjoying the most magnificent drive I have every witnessed.  D gripped the wheel with white knuckles and we constantly wove around the dramatic bends in the road, whilst trying to catch glimpses of the sea to our left and the mountains to the right.  We pulled over multiple times to take photos, to gawk, and mutter the words we can't seem to stop saying 'it's sooooo beautiful' and then back to the car.  We were racing against the clock, hoping to be off the road before dark.  There is no way you could safely navigate that road at night!  And we were successful.  Sadly that meant blowing through Big Sur (a fantastically cool looking camping and hiking area).  But in Monteray we were able to sample seafood at a 'British pub'!!  Felt like home.  Well.....an attempt at it at least.  The calamari steak in a mushroom sauce melted in the mouth and was a real find.  And D's clam chowder was tasty as well (or so I was told - curse my bloody lactose intolerance!)

Next up was San Francisco!! A city I'd been longing to visit my whole life.  We spent the first afternoon walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge and taking countless photos.  And personally, I spent the day struggling.  It suddenly occurred to me that P will never take this trip with me.  He'll never see these sights alive in the flesh.  And it hurt to think how much he would have loved this holiday, the utter joy he would have experienced in scaring the crap out of me on every bend on Highway 1, while I  nagged him to 'slow down!' and shouted 'it's not funny anymore!'  And every time D shot me a look as if to say 'you're so silly', I saw P arch his eyebrow at me, and give me a look that always wounded me just a little bit, giving him the perfect excuse to 'make it all better'.  And I hate every moment that takes me away from the present.  It doesn't feel fair to compare.  But my memory is more powerful than I realised.  And like in the films, when the lead character experiences a death of a loved one, P's face seems to be appearing everywhere I turn these days.  He's in Chinatown with me, peering into the shops, he's nibbling on sushi for the first time (again) and hating the taste of eel while I lap it down, he's in the car, he's always in the car with me, and he's on the top of the mountains, taking in the view.  He's everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

On a Holiday from Life

Wow, I've been sleeping a LOT.  Well, a lot more than normal.  This late night owl who's used to going to bed at 1 or later, has been crashing at 11 or earlier most nights.  Ok, so some of it might be jet lag, but more than anything, I'm relieved to be an ocean away from my day to day life.  They say you can't run from your problems, but I would beg to differ.  I have so successfully run away that in retelling stories I keep finding myself talking about P in the present tense.  And then I correct myself and it's slightly awkward for all involved.

Ok so maybe you can't run away, completely.

But it is nice to have a reprieve.  I know I will crash a hundred times over when I return to my empty flat, but for now, I am enjoying feeling like old me.  Pre-grief me.  Pre-16 months of hell and then some  me.  I still don't have my old energy back.  That 'get up and go' seems to have been lost.  I never thought I would ever define myself as 'lazy'.  From an early age, I couldn't even sit still and watch TV or a film.  I always had to be doing something.  Now, however, the moment I'm left alone (which is rarely on this holiday), I seem to sink into the sofa and zone out, my body feels three times it's weight and my brain goes blank.  I guess I'm using a lot of energy to play the role of the 'old-me'.  I know no one expects this of me.  And it's not a purposeful choice on my part either.  It's just easier.  And frankly, much more fun.  

Loving the La-La Life

I was not expecting to love LA.  Hell, I wasn't even expecting to LIKE it.  I was just hoping for some nice weather and a chance to catch up with a few friends.  I guess I also hoped my assumptions might be wrong.  You see, I originally booked this trip with the intention of scoping out potential cities which might tempt me back to the US.  This was before I realised that the US only offers 2-3 weeks holiday a year to most employees...and before I decided in my heart that the UK was where my future laid.

And yet.  I have found myself tempted by the allure of the LA life.  I keep having to remind myself that this is a holiday.  This is not reality.  Sure it's wonderful when you get to spend your days aimlessly driving about the city, gawking at stunningly beautiful houses, admiring the picturesque mountains, and spending time with friends.  But would I love it just as much if I tried to make it as an actor in this daunting city?  Would I enjoy it as much when struggling navigate the dense traffic in order to make it to work on time?  And making friends in LA seems impossible; if you're an American, adrift in a sea of struggling actors, in a town where few frequent bars due to the inevitable need to drive home.  The Brits here, on the other hand, seem to find a ready-made group of friends in the Brits in LA group.  I was honoured to be welcomed by the attendees at the Brits Breakfast on Tuesday, as I accompanied my British friend.  They were a very kind and friendly bunch.  Although, it appeared to primarily function as a networking event, it was clear they were also a very supportive group of individuals.  And I found myself wishing that I could join the group, as at times, I feel more at ease in a group of Brits than almost my fellow American.

After a light breakfast, we sought out Crumbs Bakery for their vast selection of tantalising cupcakes.  I had a thin mint chocolate cupcake, with mint icing and a chocolate ganache.  It wasn't the best cake I'd ever had, but the flavour was delightfully nostalgic.  (Thin mints were always my favourite Girl Scout cookie growing up.)  Then after a few hours of searching for a rental car for me, we hopped in the car and took a short jaunt to Santa Barbara.  What a beautiful little suburb.  I wish we'd gone down to the water but it was an unseasonably cold evening and none of us were properly dressed for the weather.  So after a healthy dinner at True Food Kitchen (this city is heaven for a wheat-intolerant, lactose-intolerant girl who enjoys vegetarian food), we watched a film at an older cinema.  I miss the days before multiplexes.  When cinemas only housed a few screens, and you could chat at length with the cinema workers about films......Anyways....Life of Pi in 3D was incredible.  Truly beautiful.

Today was a day of exploration.  I managed to get fairly close to the Hollywood sign on my own, manoeuvring the narrow, windy, incredibly hilly roads with...ease?  No, no, whilst holding my breath, and praying I didn't go rolling down the hill into another car (automatic cars are hard to drive on hills!). And then a good friend took me on a fantastic tour of the Hollywood Hills, pointing out great views and telling me all about LA (and frankly selling the city fantastically well).  Then we had lunch at a cafe popular amongst celebrities (Billy Zane was there today!) - M Cafe in Melrose.  OUTSTANDING food.  At a reasonable price as well.  Gluten free vegetarian wrap?  With a kale salad?  Yum.

Today was rounded off perfectly with a stand up gig by Russell Brand at Largo.  He was amazing.  I was never really a Russell Brand fan but for $25 I couldn't pass up the opportunity.  And boy am I glad I went.  He was hilarious and philosophical.  He spoke about spirituality and yet he brought humour to it.  He made me think and he made me laugh.  And then he hugged me afterwards.  I couldn't have asked for more.  Followed by a late late dinner at In n' Out Burger.  It felt like a proper 'LA' night.  And it was good.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Multiple Lives or Multiple Chapters?

Today marked the end of the first week of my USA tour.  The past few days have been a constant reminder of where I came from and how different my life is compared to my high school dreams.

Setting down in NYC allowed me time to recall the magnitude of American cities.  New York is on a completely different energy level to London.  It is hard to explain to anyone who has never lived in London, especially those from the US, but whilst it is one of the largest and most populated cities in the world, I will always love it for it's small city feel.  Perhaps it's the lack of touring skyscrapers, or overly wide streets and sidewalks.  Or maybe the old world charm of the city lends a provincial feeling, the buildings are not as harsh and unforgiving as in New York, and possibly it's the abundance of parks, green spaces, and quiet suburban areas that gives London an all together different type of 'city-living' experience.  I was surprised to find myself homesick for London only a couple days into my stay in the Big Apple.  And I was shocked by the simple, strange observations I have gained thusfar on American living.

It's amazing the little things you forget when you emigrate.  Insignificant, minor things that make you feel like a foreigner in your own country.  Like when I go to turn on a light...I automatically reach to press a dimmer switch in or turn it like a dial to adjust the lighting level, only to be met with a simple light switch that flicks on by lifting the little switch up.  This may be too much information, but even the  means by which you flush a toilet is different.  I keep going to press the button on top (like in the UK) and then having to search for the handle on the side.  Bath tubs are insanely shallow.  It's no wonder I didn't discover the joys of a bath until I moved across the pond.  Tax added at the end of a sale always throws me. Why can't you include the tax in the price like in the UK?!  And driving on the right side of the road is entirely disorientating.  These minor things would seem like normal observations when travelling anywhere else in the world, but for me, as an American who spent most of her life in the US, it feels oddly unsettling.  How could I forget these minute things?

But if NYC made me feel like a foreigner, a visit to my parent's place, and the task of sorting through all my college, high school, and childhood things was an all together different kind of awakening.  Flipping through my old journals, I was reminded of the independent, MASSIVELY driven, dreamer I used to be.  I was going to live a life in the theatre; money was not important.  I didn't care if I never became a success.  All I wanted was to 'see the world' and 'live life to the fullest'.  But then again, aren't we all a bit like that in college?  It's easy to think that money isn't important when your bills are minimal and student loans are your source of 'income'.  Then graduation comes, and the bills start rolling in.  Your friends with 'real jobs' are going out to eat, to concerts, and on holidays and inviting you along and suddenly, money is really a necessity.

I didn't make the transition any easier on myself by choosing to start an acting career in another country, where my 'type' and my accent is just not needed in abundance.  So I started to wonder if I'd never moved abroad how different would my career be?  Would I still be the overly ambitious single girl of my youth?  Would I be a jobbing actress in Chicago or NYC?  Back then I felt stronger, more independent, and sure of what I wanted.  But of course, grief changed me and grief is the price you pay for love.

And finally it hit me....so maybe I didn't follow through with my career ambitions.  In the early days, I confided in a friend that I felt I too had died with P.  His response was simple:  'Many people live multiple lives in one lifetime.'  But while I am prone to feel that I have already lived my share of lives, started over again and again, I want to think of these as chapters instead.  Just because I have moved on to a new chapter, without P, does not mean I cannot flip back to the pages of our relationship and find strength in the love we shared.  And perhaps in time, I will find myself revisiting the pages of my college days, rediscovering my old independence and ambition once again.

Looking back can also offer perspective.  I am prone to jealousy.  I'm not proud of it, but it's true.  Watching my cousin's success over the years has been hard at times.  As she headlined a musical that toured the country, I was still performing in unpaid plays with runs that lasted a meagre two nights.  But she has worked hard for her success, and I know those friends of mine who are forging incredible careers for themselves are forced to make tough sacrifices.  In the end, I chose to spend time with P over auditions and I chose to travel.  In the past 7 years I have seen and done more than I ever dreamed possible.  So why am I moaning that my career is not where I expected it to be?  It was a choice I made.  And a choice I don't regret for one second.  After all, 20 year old me wanted to 'live life to the fullest'.  I'm pretty sure she'd be proud of 28 year old me.  

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Let the Adventure Begin!!

Well the day has finally arrived.  In less than 6 hours I'll be heading to Heathrow, readying myself to board the relatively short flight to NYC.  I couldn't tell you how many times in the preceding weeks I've been asked by friends and strangers alike 'Are you excited?!'

My answer was a quick 'Yes' months ago, but as the time neared, I began to realise that excitement had sneakily morphed into an intense sense of anxiety.  This isn't the first holiday without P.  If you remember, I travelled to Madrid back in May 2011 to stay with a friend.  I spent time in Florida just months after P died for 'un-Christmas' with my parents.  But my body is making this feel like the first.

The other holidays were a blur.  I coasted through them in a kind of haze.  Dealing with the difficulties, and the sudden surges of griping grief pains by retreating into a state of denial or 'shut down mode', as I like to call it.  I felt like a shell of myself.  An empty vessel.  I was on holiday, but not from my grief.  It followed me like a dark shadow, resting heavily on my shoulders.

It's presence is now more distant.  I feel my grief walk alongside me, lurking behind me, always.  But somehow, I feel like I've gained a small amount of control over it.  I'm no longer scared of the Grief Monster.  I may be caught off guard by it, from time to time, feel it threatening to consume me.  But I do not live in fear of it.  If it wants to overwhelm me, it will.  So be it.  Those times when I've ended up on the kitchen floor, in a puddle of tears, screaming to the sky, thinking my tears would never cease....well you know what happened?  The tears stopped.  I got up off the floor, dusted myself off, and started again.  I'm getting used to this process.  And I think my friends are too.

But herein lies my anxiety.  My friends in the UK have witnessed some of this grief journey.  Much has been private, but I know they've seen me change before their eyes.  From the girl who struggled to meet another's gaze, who looked gaunt, pale, and lifeless to a woman who is attempting to move forward, stumbling, struggling, but still trying.  My friends in the US did not know P.  They have not been here to witness the aftermath.  What will they see when they look at me?  Will they see my scars?  I worry they will ask about P and his death, and equally, I worry they will not.  I worry I will appear too OK and I worry I will breakdown.  I am accustomed to putting on my 'happy face' for a few days at a time, but 7 weeks?  I'm not sure my public facade will remain intact.

And then I think - how little credit I seem to be giving to the people I have grown up with?!  I know so many of my friends wished they could have been here for me.  So why worry?  Why stress?  Because that's the Grief Monster talking!  As for me, with 5 1/2 hours to go, I am eagerly, expectantly, enthusiastically EXCITED.  Let the adventure begin!