ON THE NATURE OF LOVE & MOTHERS

I've made this journey before. I know this road, and though it's been nearly five years since last I sped west on it's path, I am reminded of who I was then, who I am now, and how five years and two 1500-mile road trips toward destiny will change who you are forever.

 On June 29th, 2012 my dad and I packed up my two-door Honda with everything I knew I'd need in California. Mostly books, clothes, and a few household items. Anything else I'd get in California. Maybe everything I'd ever needed I'd get in California. There are no words to describe the feeling of pulling out of my driveway that day. No words, not because the feeling was so beyond description that I couldn't possibly do the feeling justice with language, but rather no words because most of what I felt was "nothing." An excited numbness that was terrifyingly underwhelming. . I'll never forget waking up in my room that morning knowing that would be the last time I'd ever wake up in that house as a child. I'll also never forget how betrayed I felt by my own emotion in that as much as I could intellectually comprehend the gravity of that moment, I wasn't heartily moved by the weight of what I was venturing to do in the way I had expected. 

It's amazing how the brain and body work together to get you through some of life's most overwhelming moments. 

I'll never forget standing in my family's room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino saying goodbye to my mother and sister (They both flew to Vegas so that the four of us could spend some time together before I made it out west). While I don't remember the exact color of the carpet in the room, I remember it was surprisingly bright. Like red or purple. I remember the light was dim and the room has a nice view. What I remember most though was the inescabible feeling of being completely ill-prepared to say goodbye to my mother. What do you say as you bid farewell to the person who birthed you, clothed you, taught you to speak, read, write, sing, laugh?

"Well, Mom it's been a real pleasure getting to know you, take care a yourself down there in Oklahoma. Don't forget to write..."

"Mom thanks for all the good times, they sure were swell. See you around..."

There's nothing to say. Nothing that this then 19 year-old could come up with. I think the thing that blindsided me was the guilt. That I knew my mother and my family was grieving to see me go, and I was choosing to go anyway. I knew they were not holding my choice against me, but rather wanted me to go, though the guilt still crept in. I remember thinking the look on her face and the sound in her voice was my fault. My mother has always been the encourager and I knew she was also cheering me on at the same time, but the conflicting emotions were the most I'd ever had to process at once. 

I got to Los Angeles that evening. I went to bed that night and have since that moment called California home. 

So here I am again, back in Oklahoma. Loading up another Honda, making another trip west. This time as a very different person, but also still ever so much the same. Saying goodbye to the same people, driving out of the same driveway, taking the same interstate. Pursuing the same dream. But this time the only transplant is my mom's old car, now mine, sure to travel many miles between the 5, 405, and 101. 

It's a special thing, what the road does to you. You spend enough time on it and you get to know people in a new way. Maybe that's why Jack Kerouac was so insightful. I know it's taught me wonderful things about the people I love. The serenity of the landscape, so untouched by development, coupled with the constant sound of the passing road underneath. It's almost spiritual, practically lulling you into an alternate reality where the only thing that matters is where you're going and who you're going with. 

This second journey from Oklahoma to California doesn't carry with it the storm cloud of confusing emotion and expectation as it did the last time. This time is simpler, quieter in a way (at least in my head). This, paired with the fact that I've learned a lot since the last time I drove this road leads me to a much more reflective state, where I'm able to listen more... Listen to stories about my family, where they came from, how they made it, and what they've lost and won along the way. I'm able to understand my own context in my family, where I've gone wrong, where I've been confused, and what I can contribute in the future. I ask questions, my mother answers them. She asks questions, I answer them. Like the rhythm of the road, our dialogue moves from Oklahoma, through New Mexico and into Arizona, from Arizona onto Los Angeles. And another 1500 miles later, I'm wiser. Definitely stronger. And filled with gratitude. Because it seems the more I learn about my family, the more I learn about how complicated life is. It seems for every mile from here to Oklahoma, there's something new one of us has had to overcome. But for every one of life's challenges, there are ten things most unmistakably beautiful. 

Like my mother. When I think about my mother I cannot comprehend how I could ever be so blessed to have a woman like her as my very own mother. The blessing is not lost on me, so much so that I have thought to myself many times before things such as "how did I get so blessed? What did I do? What do I do with such a gift? How can I be worthy of such a blessing?."

The sobering reality is that I didn't do anything to gain such a wealth. It is, however, curious how revealing this is of my own humanity and incapacity to conceptualize divine and unconditional love. That I did not nor cannot do anything to win God's favor, but that I simply have it because he loves me. That he wants to show me that love more fully and has thus so lovingly chosen to do so by giving me a mother whose likeness I (at the age of 5 or 6) compared to the beauty of Barbie and exceeding that of cathedral stained-glass. Who has taught me every day what love in action looks like, A pure reflection of God's unconditional love. The fact that he requires nothing in return but loves us freely has proven a concept so disarming to humanity that we have killed each other over it... the idea that one does not have to be or do anything to be worthy of something so extraordinary.

As much as we like to tout love and acceptance these days, as a general rule it's a very conditional love and acceptance we're dishing out. Love in it's essence is an extremely simple thing. In order to be Love, it cannot exist under conditions. Conditional love ceases to be love, because it does not require sacrifice. At it's core love is sacrifice. 

Hindsight is in fact 20/20... A cliche only because it's so true. Thinking back on nearly five years since having left home, I wonder what that moment in the red or purple carpeted room at The Hard Rock Hotel was like for my mother. I'll never completely know, but I can imagine. To have spent your days and many sleepless nights dreaming about, praying for, and loving a small human that is now much larger and willfully leaving you to do the exact thing you raised them to do... I cannot fathom what that feeling must have been. How it must have hurt like hell. What I also cannot imagine, but hope one day to have the selflessness to endure, is the sacrifice accompanying that pain.

My mother has never once made me feel guilty for leaving home, she has only encouraged. Not just that day, but the many after when the 1500 mile distance has felt almost suffocating. When life get's to be too much to handle in the big city, and you're one parking ticket away from being penniless. But that's who my mother has chosen to be: a person for other people. A choice she makes daily and a choice I am learning to make. The choice that I believe God is calling all of us towards, in spite of the accompanying sacrifices and potential for pain. To choose to live for others and pursue a life of meaning measured by the people whose lives we've put ahead of our our own. 

When I am filled with hope for the future, it is by way of God's expansive and enduring love... A love he has made known to me in many ways, but by none so transforming as through the example of my family. 

 

Happy Mother's Day Mom! Thank you for loving me... I love YOU!

 

LA'S ARTS DISTRICT: Culture and the Consumer

(or the death of the American luxury retail giant) 

"The world is changing faster than ever before." A phrase that is as much overused as it is true. In 50 years, I think we will be looking back on the decade between 2010 and 2020 and regard it as one of absolute cultural revolution and reimagining. One where human behavior proved, yet again, to be ever evolving and ever so complicated. 

There's something funny about the dollar. It's unappologetic propensity for telling the truth makes it our best friend and worst enemy. If you want to know a person's insecurities, their fears, their hopes, just look at their bank account. We can also discern a great deal about humanity by looking at urban movement and changes and how a culture's psychology is reflected in where (and how) it's people choose to live. 
Of the many defining characteristics of Millennials, one that is proving most characteristic is our rapid return to major urban centers. In America, we've sloughed off our suburban subdivided beginnings and taken up 5 floor walk-ups, subways, overexerted freeways, and astronomical housing prices. Our dollar has spoken and we want to be in the center of it all. 

"...The giant American fashion/luxury conglomerate is dying. And we're not mad about it."

The evidence for this shift is showcased all across America, but what I want to look at specifically is how the Art's District of Downtown Los Angeles and the culture it fosters is the ultimate indicator that the giant American fashion/luxury conglomerate is dying. And we (the consumer) are not mad about it.

When I was in high school, all the girls were lusting for Michael Kors, Coach, and Juicy Couture. The guys were all over Polo RL, Hollister, and Sperry's. And of course everyone was losing their shit over that infamous Abercrombie moose. To say that these brands are now irrelevant is a gross understatement. They are all in one capacity or another apart of a larger parent company and based on the shelves of Ross and T.J. Max, are struggling to maintain their former exclusive status. But take a walk down 3rd street in DTLA and you won't find a single conglomerate. Nothing mass-produced. And almost everything manufactured in America (maybe even just down the street) or in Europe. Sustainable fabrics, ethically produced, ecologically minded, narrative driven. 

As an outspoken believer in the power of narrative, I'll be the first to say that I believe that human's are inherently drawn to anything tied to story. We like the idea of a character or cast of characters behind what we are consuming. Look at the popularity of coffee shoppes and locals-only juice bars. The idea that you are walking into a story and the people pulling your espresso shot or cold-pressing your carrots and kale are the characters is something we millennials have embraced with reckless abandon and ephatic hashtags. We've seen the corruption of Big Money, and decided we'd rather have Trevor with the handlebar mustache and depression-era overalls brew our pour-over than a scantily clad mermaid touting her over-roasted beans and two-year-too-late reclaimed wood aesthetic. The idea that the beans in my Chemex brew were sourced from across the equator and have been loved and romanced into giving their all for my caffeinated enjoyment is a much more compelling story. Now how much of this is actually true versus how much is just self-congratulatory indulgence is up for debate. But this trend isn't just relegated to coffee. 

I think what this cultural shift is also telling us is that our individuality and identity is more important to us than ever, and proving that we are different is paramount. The under-side of this could be telling us some uglier truths as well.

Take a look at the everybody-gets-a-trophy generation and you'll find millions of young people striving for individuality, sometimes manically trying to prove that they are indeed truly unique, as though someone has called it into question. Like a guilty conscience or a guilty-until-proven-innocent court, millennials can sometimes be proactively defensive about their identity, often reminding others via social media, that there is no one like them. Whether explicitly stated or more subtly implied, as a group they have figured out that sharing their experiences and purchases in an integral part of conveying identity. If your goal was to prove that you were like no one else, then drinking the coffee, buying the clothes, and listening to the music that no one else knows about means you're ahead of the curve and "not like everyone else." Solid logic, right?

While I don't believe that this rhetoric is what the multi-million dollar growth of Downtown LA's arts district is based on, I do think that it helps stimulate it's progress. It certainly proves that even though we have started to move away from mass-production, the consumer age is still strong. And when your identity is expressed through everything from the pepper grinder in your kitchen to the shoes on your feet, you will never be done finding new ways to "express" yourself.  

Is this an exhausting merry-go-round of peacocking and social media showmanship? Or do these changes offer a glimpse into the mind of a more empowered and contentious consumer? I believe that as millennials grow older and earn a greater living, build families, and mature, we will see how the narrative driven imagery of independent brands fares. I personally believe that if it propels people to towards awareness, then goodness can surely come from it... Even if the "likes" you get on the way are as transient and meaningless as the 300 dollar jeans you just had to have in high school (now only 6.99 at Goodwill).

DTLA M I D N I G H T

The other day I took a little trip downtown to try and capture some of the ever-so-rare rain Los Angeles received this weekend. Unfortunately for my photographic documentation much of said rain had either dried or been sucked into the gutter. That said, downtown is still distinctly beautiful at night with or without rain. What I love about downtown is that it is arguably the grittiest part of the "old" LA. You can see years of weathering in its face and a tiresome while still persistent edge in its energy. Downtown has had to fight to stay up and has come out battered and beaten but beautiful ever still. There is a poetry to its struggle and an invigorating rhythm to its fight. In many ways it is the purest expression of this city's heart as the once beautiful star and icon of a town born out of glamor and style, ever clinging to its past while still existing to serve the present. To tell the story of where it has been, what it has seen, and what it has learned. It has been in the midst of greatness come and gone, yet is ever seeking the hope that tomorrow will be greater. That it can reclaim what it once was. 

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then venturing into downtown LA is to get lost in its gaze. To see as this city sees. And to peer into a million souls.  

 

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LA FROM ABOVE

If you've ever driven across Mulholland Dr. or even heard of the iconic road stretching across the Hollywood Hills, you know that the accompanying views of the city are almost unearthly in their grandeur. There's certainly something to be said of the mystery of this winding street which inspired the title of one of David Lynch's greatest works.
Whether you're going across at day or night, to be so within the city yet so removed from the action is a rare experience and to enjoy this almost voyeuristic view of one of the largest cities in the world is entirely inexplicable. It is one of the many things that make LA so unique as a city and what gives this desert it's subdued romanticism. There is nothing so exquisite as the midnight view of a sprawl extending into forever.