Love letter to Los Angeles

Dear Los Angeles,

I’ve loved spending the last four years with you.

I don’t know if you know this, but when I left Colorado for you, I wasn’t in a good place. My heart was a mess. I was a patchwork of regret and resentment and anger and grief, acquired from the past years of broken relationships and teenage confusion, and I wanted out. I needed out.

You were my Out.

At first, that’s all you were. You were the big city cliché that every small town girl dreams about. You were all bright lights and sparkly promises and break-out talent. And I was ready to face you. I was ready for the change that would really get my life going. I was ready to run away from my problems, my past, my misjudgments, my mistakes. And then the unthinkable happened.

I got scared.

I found this the other day, something I wrote the night before I left for USC (August 16, 2010):

“…I really didn’t think that I was going to be all that homesick. I mean, I don’t like it here. I hate it here, in fact. All I’ve ever wanted is to get out of this town. So why do I suddenly feel so scared when I think about leaving?”

Guess what. 17-year-old me was a coward.

I was scared of facing my problems so I decided to run away from them, and then I got scared of running away (go figure). I was afraid of everything while pretending not to be, which just made it worse. The only reason why I didn’t back out of the impending 8-hour drive then and there, was because I am more proud than I am cowardly (although those may be somewhat interchangeable words), and didn’t want to have to tell my dad that I needed to unpack the truck he’d just spent most of the day loading.

I came to Los Angeles looking for my courage.

And guess what. 21-year-old me is still a coward.

The difference is, 21-year-old me knows it.

Part of that is your fault, Los Angeles. I cannot count the number of times you have forced me to say the words, “I am afraid.” Little things, like navigating public transportation by myself for the first time in my life. I am afraid. Attending a college of 40,000 people where I knew LITERALLY no one. I am afraid. Learning to drive on the 110. I am pee-my-pants terrified.

Trying to find a new church. Inviting someone I didn’t know to hang out. My first acting class. Interviewing for internships. Realizing that I want to pursue writing. Facing post-grad life. Trusting my friends with stories from my past.

Los Angeles, you made me realize how scared I am, at all times. You made me take a good long look in the mirror and say, “I have no idea who I am, or what I’m meant to be doing, or why I’m here on this planet.” You made me anonymous in a city of John and Jane Does, all trying to get someone to recognize their names.

And if not for you, I wouldn’t be who I am now.

I wouldn’t have learned that it’s possible to love where you’re from. I wouldn’t have learned that it’s okay to miss home and not know what the heck is going on. I wouldn’t have identified in myself the very same issues I used to point out in others—the low self-esteem, the desire to fix everything, the fear of seeming weak. Before you, I wouldn’t even allow myself to say that I am a work-in-progress.

Los Angeles, you have given me empathy. You have taught me that failure is inevitable. You have made me fall in love. You have made me cry. You have drawn new lines on my face. You took the girl who came to you cradling her plans to her chest, and threw a wrench right into all of them.

You took a child and wreaked havoc all around her.

You took a woman pretending to be strong and wrecked her.

Thank you.

Because of you, I had to find a way to stand up. And stand up. And stand up again.

Los Angeles, you are 24-hour Pantry Cafés and races to catch the last bus of the night. You are unplanned highway detours and the valley smog tangled in my hair. You are 3 AM firetruck sirens and the old woman outside Seattle’s Best who needed to hold my hand, just for a second.

You are the theatre-goers outside the Pantages, dressed in black sequins and heavy eye makeup, and the yoga-doers in Atwater Village who talk about juice and ballroom dancing and that time they met that author they hated. You are theme parks over the ocean and the man in Santa Monica who hula-hoops in roller blades and a lime green top hat.

You are my best friend and my worst enemy.

And because of you, I discovered a real need for Someone bigger than myself, because “myself” was too much of a disaster zone to handle alone. God became real to me here. God woke me up here. God opened my ears and eyes here, in a city of the deaf and blind, a city where nobody listens and nobody sees.

Los Angeles, I see you.

I see your slums and your skyscrapers, and I raise you a roller coaster heart who only knows she wants to survive. I see your orphaned homeless and your Hollywood starlets, and I raise you a girl who belongs to a kingdom not of this world. I see your Metro stations and your valet parking lots, and I tell you, I am not going anywhere, yet.

Los Angeles, you forced me to fight every day to stay me when I didn’t know who me was.

Los Angeles, I’m figuring me out.

Los Angeles, I love you.

–Samantha Chaffin

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10 thoughts on “Love letter to Los Angeles

  1. clclewis801 says:

    This is so inspiring. My prayer for you Sam, is that you grow comfortable in your own skin, that you blossom as an author. That you dream bigger then ever before, that you find a place you can spread your roots, that you continue to have adventures. I am a huge fan of your writing. I’m the same age and still “a small town girl” as the city I live in is nowhere near what LA is. I can only imagine what you have learned. I think although we both learned something different…the lessons I learned were just as hard (just as life changing). When I started writing again it was because I didn’t really fit in at school and needed to have somewhere to turn. My writing was my solace and by posting poems online (some happy and some sad) I was able to better deal with the crushing feelings that dominated my teenage years. I still feel like a fish in the sea sometimes. As a student and a novice author I often feel like I really need to grow into my dreams and soon. But I am seeing enough change in my day to day life to smile and know that God really is blessing me. He really is making something out of my dreams and those hours spent in a good book or reading a friend’s blog really do add up to something. So keep on writing on Figment, for journals, for fun, for a novel (when you get a novel published I am going to run around screaming). So yeah, have an awesome day Sam…and remember that your life really is making a difference in the world 9if only to a few people and to your family) it’s still monumental! 🙂

    • samchaffin says:

      Oh my gosh, Starflower! Thank you so much. Your poem is beautiful, and I am so, SO happy that you shared it with me. I never cease to be amazed by your talents, and I’m so honored to hear that my story may have had any kind of impact on your work. I have no doubt that your writing will (and has already) touch many, many others. 🙂

  2. thejaneite says:

    Gosh, Sam. I’m actually teared up here- no flippancy from me this time; this is beautiful, and you are a beautiful person and I am so blessed to know you. I think of you as one of the most fearless, exuberant, brightly-shining people I’ve ever “met” and I can’t tell you all that you’ve put into my life to help me shed my own fears. You’re incredibly inspiring to me, and you always remind me to be brave, whether you know it or not. The paragraph you began with, “Los Angeles, I see you.” near the end was amazing to me. You have such an incredible way with words, and I’m so blessed to have gotten to see bits of your life, through your blog and our conversations and your writing. Thanks fr sharing this. Thanks for reminding me and helping me to be brave.

  3. Kim says:

    Sam, this post is brilliant. I’ve never been to Los Angeles – everything I know about it comes from their reality tv or Block’s books. I don’t I’ll ever understand until I have a chance to visit, but your letter was just wonderful and heart-warming and slightly scary (because of the struggles and adventures you went through that made you stronger… but weren’t so fun when they were happening). I’d like to think that I could be as brave as you were. Especially since I may yet move some day and become a stranger in a strange land, haha. If that time comes, I’ll be coming back to this post to read it again.

    • samchaffin says:

      Thank you so much, Kim. I know, my perception of L.A. before I left CO was so influenced by TV or books—sadly, L.A. gets a reputation because of Hollywood and the celebs here. I really hope that you get to visit one day and experience it for yourself! There’s nothing like it.

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