Sunday, November 20, 2005

Comfort Zone

I went way out of my comfort zone last weekend. I went down to LA, saw an old high school friend, and dropped copies of my book at several far-flung bookstores. I drove miles and miles. That place is a spread-out urban sprawl that makes San Francisco look like a quaint little hamlet. It's not just the Big City thing. I grew up in Manhattan, but I always feel completely at ease there. I feel like a fish out of water in Los Angeles. For one thing, I am an avid walker, and there is nobody on the streets. I met my friend at a place on Sunset Boulevard for brunch. Except for the long line outside the restaurant, the neighborhood was a ghost town. As I strolled along with my camera, I felt solitary, exposed. The easy anonymity I feel on the streets of New York or San Francisco was absent. I felt scrutinized by every car that passed by. At a crosswalk, a family in a rented convertible called to me, asking for directions. I smiled and shrugged; surely feeling even more disoriented than they did. I must have been hiding it well.

Years ago, I would meet my dad in LA once a year when he came out from New York on business trips. These were fun visits, since I felt protected and provided for, entertained. This time I was alone, which was sort of fun - no family agenda to consider, only my own. But it was hard selling my book, which is essentially selling myself - not my strong suit. It was good seeing my old friend, who works in the movie business, but whose descriptions of her life seemed about as imaginable to me as life on Mars. In my long drives, I saw dusty Christmas tree lots springing up amidst scrubby palms wrapped with tinsel. I saw the beautiful Pacific Ocean at Venice Beach, and put my toes in - the water so much warmer than it is up here. I saw some very bad, vapid art and some very good, intelligent art.

But at the end of it all, my return home was a welcome relief. I could see my familiar world from a different angle, like looking at my surroundings in a mirror where all is recognizable, but wonderfully reversed, and therefore new. Maybe it is important to move out of our comfort zones from time to time, to do things that are unfamiliar or difficult. Maybe it's necessary to be awakened to the unfathomable lives and lifestyles of others, to push past our preconceived notions and allow some compassion, and to see our selves more clearly in the process.