Why Is It So Hard To Leave Los Angeles?

text by Keely Shinners


I leave the States in one week, July 3rd, the day before Independence Day. We have been joking a lot about how post-modern Americana it is, how David Foster Wallace may have used it as a first sentence in something.

When I talk or write about it, I say it differently: I leave Los Angeles in one week.

I have only lived here for a few months. I grew up in Illinois. I moved to Southern California, to a far suburb of L.A., towards San Bernardino. I have only lived in Los Angeles since May. I leave in one week. 

Still, it has become very difficult for me to leave Los Angeles. I have been crying at small things. Such as, the mention of going to Malibu. Such as, petting my editor’s cats (who actually do not like petting, but prefer spanking, the sado-maschochists).

I cry at less sentimental things as well. Such as, Billboard top 40 hip hop songs on the radio and finding a cheap cup of coffee ($1.75 at a place on Spring Street, across from the building where I have worked for more than a year).

Why is it so much harder to leave Los Angeles than anywhere else I have been?

I have a boyfriend in Los Angeles.

(I had a fiancé in Illinois.)

I have a life in California. I go to parties and I am recognized. I have writing jobs that publish my work and encourage me to keep writing.

(At one point, I believe I could have had a life at home too. A wedding in Chicago. A teaching job, like my mother. A big window overlooking Lake Michigan, with a writing desk.)

It’s warmer in L.A.

It’s warmer in L.A.? Really?

This is the one distinction between Los Angeles and other places I have been: in Los Angeles, it is easier to lie. Or at least to embellish. I have told so many lies in Los Angeles and people still believed me, respected me, loved me, even. L.A. attaches itself to a good story, whether or not the story is rooted in anything wholly true.

In L.A., I can say the words, “I am a writer,” to artists and sandwich makers and girls at bars. They nod and sip their drinks and say, “Oh, cool.”

At home, I can barely say the words, “I want to be a writer.” Let alone “I will be,” and certainly not, “I am.”

Los Angeles, city in love with good stories. And me too. I have read so much here. Didion. Bukowski. Eve Babitz.

Malibu is the most beautiful place in Los Angeles.

Malibu is at least the most beautiful-sounding place in Los Angeles because it is called Malibu, because it is attached to black and white photographs of movie actresses and screenwriters smoking cigarettes and drinking cognac on the balcony of so-and-so’s balcony overlooking the sea.

“The first time I came to Malibu, it was spring and the wildflowers had blossomed in the mountains.” I cry as I am writing this sentence. Why?

One, because it is a good sentence.

Two, because it is true. It was spring, and the wildflowers had blossomed, and it was me who was there. I plucked a white poppy flower from the canyon and tucked it in my hair, which was longer then. (I cry again at this story.)

And of course, it is reductive to say that the cats who like to be spanked are just my editor’s cats. These are the cats that posed with girls in black and white nudes, the photographs that I silently poured over when I was fifteen, sixteen, obsessed with a photographer who ran a magazine from his home in San Francisco. Now, Oliver Kupper, my editor, the man who taught me how to be a writer, in a studio apartment in Downtown Los Angeles (where you can apparently get coffee for $1.75 at a coffee place down the street).

I learned to drive here. (I tear up at this sentence too, probably at the word “here.”) I learned to stick half my body out the window when I am merging several lanes of traffic on the 10 east, to anthropomorphize my tiny silver hatchback. I learned to drive buzzed, to drive while putting on mascara, to drive at night, whipping past palm trees at eighty miles an hour. I learned to drive listening to the top 40 hip hop songs on the Billboard charts on Real 92.3, driving up and down Sunset Blvd in the middle of the night.

Sunset Blvd, a road, just a road. But a road attached to so many mysterious and fabulous stories that it has become more than itself. So much so that I remain blissful in Hollywood rush hour traffic, singing songs that I shouldn’t be singing, singing YG.

Why is it so hard to leave Los Angeles?

I will be back in six months, maybe less. Why is it still so hard to leave?

The love I have cultivated for this place permeates several layers of fiction and reality.

I fear I will come back and all of my illusions will have sunk with time, that I will have meetings and responsibilities and even more rent to pay. I will start to complain often of the ambulances and the smell of piss. And then my imagination of Los Angeles will not be so romantic anymore.

More than this, I fear the fantasy will wash over me, that I will be consumed by cognac and cigarettes on the balcony, interviews with people who are photographed often, long drives down Sunset. I am afraid that I will return to Los Angeles and there will be no time to go to the mountains or the beach, to put a white poppy in my hair, and that nothing here will feel so real anymore.

In the meantime, I will be relishing in my ability to say the word “here” until my mother drops me off at LAX and I wave all my kisses goodbye.