L.A. — It’s “About to Happen”…

I’m spending a month in LA this month (October), a month that includes my birthday.  I was hesitant to spend my birthday here, as I usually like to do something “very special” for that day.  I worried LA might not have the “right” or “special-enough” thing to qualify for a birthday visit.  But, I wanted to be here for a month, and this is the month when all the atoms in the universe coalesced to place me here.  So, I will spend my birthday in LA.  (I am pretty sure many people actually come to LA just so they can spend their birthdays here…)

I trust it will be exactly what it needs to be…

I’m really enjoying my month so far, much more than I was expecting, actually. I spent a week in Venice back in July, and I was kind of traumatized by it.  I love Venice.  But it is a very complex place.  Weird, fun, edgy, hip, grimey, crimey, beachy, artsy.  It’s so many things.  Including noisy and chaotic…at least where I was in Venice.  This time, I’m up in Beverly Glen, a canyon neighborhood just above Beverly Hills and Westwood (UCLA area).  It is turning out to be a wonderful spot for me.  The neighborhood is quiet and peaceful and even borders a nature preserve (Stone Canyon Reservoir).  I actually found a “secret” (well, maybe…) hiking trail within walking distance of my house.  It was such a treasure to discover!!  It may not truly be “secret”, but I wasn’t expecting it, so it was a secret to me.  I celebrated with an internal “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “YES!” with each new turn, as I wove my way through the bushes and along the ridge that opened up to wonderful views of Beverly Glen Canyon on one side and the reservoir on the other.

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(Surprise hiking trail with wonderful sunset-mountain light show…)

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(Enjoying the view of the reservoir)IMG_4252

(Stone Canyon Reservoir)

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(Hiking along the ridge–canyon on the left, reservoir on the right)

“Exploring” (in nature) has always been one of my favorite pastimes.  As a child I used to love to ride my bike to semi-wild areas in my town (those reachable by bike, anyway) in south Georgia and wade up streams and through forests, looking for especially cool or beautiful spots, interesting plants, old oak trees (because they were the best for climbing), animal bones, or anything else that would captivate…  I remembered this about myself while I was up on the ridge poking around.  It made me smile….

One of the fun discoveries I made on this little exploring trip was a labyrinth!  Someone had apparently constructed it some time ago, as many of the rocks had washed away or been removed.  But plant debris in the shape of the labyrinth pattern indicated it had been there a while.  I replaced a few of the missing rocks but ended up getting side-tracked by an idea I had to construct a stone “girl friend” for my own amusement.  I was thinking, “What a nice labyrinth, and what a nice spot.  I wish I had someone to share it with…”  And…Viola!  I made a friend.  Literally.  Out of rocks.  It was super fun.

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Gave me an even bigger smile!

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I love creating things!

My strong passion for art is definitely one of the reasons I was/am drawn to LA.  I love the dynamism here.  Creativity is palpable to me in this city–more than just about any other place I’ve ever experienced.  I’m not sure why that is exactly, as I know there are many artists and brilliant, creative people in every city.  And I usually seek them out.  But, I guess there just must be some kind of relatively harmonious “frequency match” for my particular style of creative expression here in LA.  (We are dealing with merging of energies, after all…)  Or maybe there’s something especially attractive (to me) about the combination of creative + social + various other elements here…

I do have a kind of glamorous side to my personality.

That’s possibly what does it.

And the warmth.  I love the beachy, sunshiney, palm tree, convertible vibe of LA.  Glamorous, warm, hip, creative, eclectic, hopping.  It is a lot of things.  There is so much energy here.  When I have passed through on shorter visits I tended to be completely fascinated and totally overwhelmed.  I am very sensitive to energy.  A lot of chaos does me in.  So, generally speaking, I don’t really love cities–as they all are a bit inherently chaotic.  But I do like them.  I probably am coming to realize that I may be someone who’s most at home in nature but who enjoys visiting the city … perhaps even regularly

There is a lot to like about LA, actually.  And definitely plenty to not like so much, also.  Everyone knows the traffic is horrendous.  It really is.  I find that you can only go out between 12 and 3 on weekdays.  Maybe 11-3.  This is very limiting, especially if you are a night owl, like I am.  If you miss this window, you will have traffic.  Just expect it.

Relaxing into the inevitable helps…(with traffic, and all things…)

The chaos, noise, grime, and crime are definitely other less desirables of note for me.  Miles and miles of random kind of junky, strange stores in Hollywood and central LA are also not my favorite.  But, it’s a city.  A range of ambience is not really a surprise…  Plus, I like to focus on the positive…

One of my favorite things about LA is the feeling I speak of in the title of this post.  It is always “about to happen”.  And I don’t mean that “it’s about to but never does “.  No.  “Always ready to go” is what I mean.   Just waiting for you.  Me?  Yes, you!  Kind of like “just add water” pancake mix.  LA is “just add yourself” or maybe “just add yourself and a few hundred (or thousand) other people”.  There is always a buzz, always a flutter, always the option to go down to … wherever … and find the feeling of being a part of something that is greater than you.   And while the vibe on the highway is definitely kind of “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself”, I find a much more friendly, interactive vibe in the individual neighborhoods of the city.  People will speak to you at a coffee shop (usually), especially if you smile or say hello.  Or at a park.  Even if you speak to no one, there is definitely a sense of being swept up in the action…of being a part of the whole dance that is being collectively danced.  Your individuality contributes, but the force of the whole is definitely much greater.  I really, really love feeling this.  It is invigorating and beautiful.

It is so nice to belong.  I think it is very human to enjoy that feeling.

So…this month…I am enjoying belonging.  To the human race.  To the city of LA.

And, to life itself.

Now…Switching gears a bit… I want to talk a little more about what I’ve seen and done in LA (the “travelogue” part of my post).  I’m only 1/2 way through my time here.   And, I’ve done most of the very “LA things” on previous visits (Hollywood, Santa Monica, and, as I mentioned, Venice).  So, this month I’m focusing on parts of LA that I don’t know as well–Silverlake, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Topanga.  Plus any surprise others that come up.  The real (overt) purpose of this visit (and of my whole sabbatical journey) is to find my next home.  I’m considering LA, so I need to get a sense of what it would be like to live and work here–not just sight-see.

Westwood.

Westwood, the home of UCLA, is quite close to Beverly Glen.  I was very pleasantly surprised to discover I could drive to and from the UCLA campus in about 8-10 minutes, each way, even during high-traffic times.  It is a beautiful, peaceful little enclave nestled up against the Bel Air hills.  I had no idea it would be so scenic or serene.   Lots of trees and green.   I actually had a job offer (to do my psychiatry residency training) at UCLA a number of years ago, but I declined because I thought it would be too stressful for me (at the time) to live in LA.  When I now see UCLA (for the first time), I am kind of shocked.  It’s not stressful at all!  I am still happy I did my residency at the U of Arizona.  It was the right place for me for many reasons, but UCLA is not “LA”.  It is a little bubble of pleasant university “spirit” and relative peace and tranquility.

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(An original Rodin sculpture in the Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA.  I remember learning about this piece in a college art history class at Duke.)

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(The beautiful main campus)

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(More sculpture garden)

I really enjoyed UCLA.

Beverly Hills.

I’m a little bit fond of glamour, so I like Beverly Hills.  I know, I know.  It’s overly manicured and superficial.  But it’s also peaceful and pretty.  Beverly Hills is not my personal version of Dreamland or anything.  But if I was to say I don’t like it a bit, I would be lying.  I do like it a bit.  I like the tree-lined streets with very little traffic.  I like the pretty gardens.  I like the views of the hills in the distance.  The palm trees that sway in the breeze.  I like the feeling of safety that is there.  In and of itself, Beverly Hills would probably be boring to me, but as a neighborhood in the middle of LA, I find it kind of refreshing.  I know that’s probably uncool to admit.  But I’m just being honest.  To me (and my experience of it is admittedly minimal) it is calm, almost soothing…a little micro-oasis.  I’ve noticed myself pleasantly sighing when I arrive back there (after a day out in the “real world” rest of LA) on my way home to Beverly Glen.

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(In Glam Girl mode on Rodeo Drive–the residential portion of the street.  It’s wide, quiet, and lined with beautiful, mature trees.)

Central Los Angeles.

I haven’t done that much in Central LA so far, but I did venture to the Grove shopping center—by accident.  I was driving through town to get to Silverlake, and I drove past the Grove.  I had heard of the Grove (when I lived in Tucson) from someone who’d spent a lot of time in LA.  She said it was “a very nice shopping area” (or something to that effect).  It didn’t look like much on the outside, so I drove around the block hoping to get a better view.  I ended up on a one way street leading directly into the parking garage (with no turn around).  Yikes.  Okay.  I guess I’m going to the Grove.  Turns out, I really enjoyed myself!

The Grove is like Disneyland for adults.  There is a large fountain, bridge and stream (not “natural” per say but quite nice still), music playing, outdoor cafes, upscale shopping, mature trees, manicured garden areas, sculptures, upscaled bathrooms (with attendants and mints), free (highly organized and efficient) parking, interesting architectural elements, random employees blowing bubbles (for ambience), a trolley, and a general air of “festive”.  I walked around for a few minutes, sat on a bench, watched some people, enjoyed the collective feeling of excitement, and then I went back to the car and kept going.

But, for a few minutes there I participated in the “dance” I spoke of earlier.  The dance of LA.  This dance was specific to “shopping at the Grove”.  It was definitely interesting and even quite fun.

Being curious helps me enjoy a wide variety of things.

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(“Disney-like” scene at the Grove)

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(There’s even a trolley.)

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(And huge pinwheels that actually work…)

I also have eaten at the hip and fabulous Cafe Gratitude in Central LA.  (There’s one in Venice as well.  And Berkeley.  And Oakland.  Probably some other locations, too.)  They have a variety of different (and actually, rather elegant) “veggie bowls” with simple, positive names so when you place your order, you are saying an affirmation.  “I Am Whole” is my favorite.  I’ve eaten it at three of the Gratitude locations.  It has seaweed (dulse, I believe), kim chee, quinoa, kale, sunflower sprouts, and sweet potato with a yummy (possibly tahini-based) sauce.  I also really like the Immortality elixir (add cacao) and the 100% organic cacao-mint milkshake with Vitamineral Green super-nutrient powder added.  Oh boy!  They need bigger straws because the cacao pieces get stuck on the way up.  Other than that, it is my favorite milkshake ever!  Fresh mint on top.  Delicious.

Silverlake.

Silverlake is a mello, hipster, artsy neighborhood.  It is home to one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever tasted.  You can find it at Intelligentsia Cafe on Sunset Blvd.  (You can also find a similarly amazing cappuccino at another Intelligentsia in Venice, by the way.)

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Silverlake has many funky, charming cafes, shops, vintage stores, restaurants, etc.  It is definitely “its own crowd”.  Very different from other parts of LA.  Somewhat more similar to the vibe in Venice.  Artsy and hip, but not as weird.  I ate a late lunch at a place called the Casbah Cafe while I was in Silverlake.  It is a curious mixture of Parisian + Moroccan + Spanish/Central American foods and decor.  My friend chose it, but I actually stopped to photograph it before I realized it was “our spot” because it was so charming.

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My friend recommended the Central American-style chicken soup (complete with 1/2 an ear of corn, potatoes, bay leaves, and avocado on top).  It was good for sure, but I actually preferred the gluten-free dark chocolate torte I had as an appetizer.  (I’m a best-first kind of girl…when I can be…).  They had many delicious-looking pastries (the French influence) at this place.  Do not go here if on a diet.

Silverlake has many sweet little streets with lovely, quaint homes perched on hillsides.  The views are incredible, and the vibe is peaceful.  There’s lots of Spanish architecture, which I love.  It’s not quite as “hipsterish” up in the neighborhoods as it is on the streets.  This was a surprise.  But, I liked it.

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(Sunset hillside view from one of the residential streets in Silverlake.)

Well…That just about wraps up what I’ve done in LA and what I think about LA … so far….  I still hope to make it to the Arboretuem, The Getty, and Topanga Canyon in the coming weeks.  My mid-month evaluation one-liner is I like it.  I probably don’t see myself living here full time, though.  But, that’s why I’m here…to find out how I fit with LA and how LA fits me with me.  To do the dance.  And in doing that dance, we may both be a little different for having had the experience.  This month has definitely already made a big impact on me.  LA, however, may not really notice if I just pass on through.  But she might.

After all, I did leave her a friend on the side of the mountain…

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CIAO!

That Ojai Charm…

Ojai is a beautiful, enchanting town (more like “artist colony”) nestled in the mountains between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.  It is a gentle, colorful spot–yellow grasses, orange rocks, green forested hills, white stucco buildings, and pink skies.  When I was there (July), it was warm and dry.  But breathtaking.  There is definitely a feeling of magic–in the mountains, the town, and her people.

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Even though the climate is rather dry, there still is a feeling of obvious femininity in Ojai.  “Her” mountains and valleys feel soft…Golden.  At sunset the the sky and mountaintops throughout the valley turn a rosy pink for a long moment–aptly named “the pink moment” by the locals.  It’s like a sigh from the heart.

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I ran away to Ojai.  Well, I ran, and Ojai caught me.

Something like that.

I was fleeing…

Los Angeles…

It’s probably more correct to say:  I was fleeing my own overwhelm that happened in Los Angeles.  Los Angeles was just being herself.  I was the one having a problem!

I had decided to spend the month of July in Venice, the artsy/edgy coastal LA neighborhood.  I rented an apartment online, like I had done every month before (on this/my roaming “accidental sabbatical”)–an apartment that looked peaceful and pretty.   But, I arrived to a well-styled but old and small apartment in a less-then-optimal part of Venice.  The walls were thin and the light was dim.  I heard neighbors on both sides all through the day and most of the night.  Across the street, too.  There was no A/C, so windows had to be open at all times.  It was very hot, and there was no fan (though I bought one…).

I feel it’s important to say that I did have a few good experiences during my time in LA.  As is typical with me, good experiences often involve flowers.  This particular flower encounter was with a beautiful pink hibiscus growing street-side in a fairly busy part of Venice.  I was so happy to see it!  It was almost like seeing a friend at exactly the right moment (…when you need them the most).  Such a beautiful flower it was!   Really, a notable contrast to kind of grimy sensation that seemed to growing inside of me.  It was a good moment, and I was cheered up.  (Briefly.)

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Mostly, the city seemed to test me.  And I definitely failed!

It seemed like people had decided to make the vacant lot behind my building a neighborhood trash heap.  It was unsightly and contributed to a kind of (again) less-than-optimal vibe in that part of the neighborhood (people pulling up in cars to dump things, loitering, etc.).  Walking home from the hip Abbott-Kinney Street (which was in walking distance–one of the desirable selling points of this apartment) at 5pm (not even dark yet) left me feeling kind of squeamish.  And then when the across-the-street neighbors shot off fireworks until 4 in the morning on July 4th (the open windows didn’t help), I knew I could not stay there.

I was tired, hot, frustrated, frazzled, and even a bit fearful.  It was time to go.

Fortunately, my landlord was (is) a kind person.  She did not want me to be unhappy, and she did not mean to mislead me regarding the listing.  So, she let me out of my lease, and after five days I packed up my car and drove to the quiet, peaceful security of Ojai.

I was so tense from the stress of my five days in Venice that I could feel my body literally unwinding (muscles untensing) every mile I got further away from the city.  It was a good feeling.  I was grateful to be leaving.  But as I left I realized I was probably saying goodbye to some dreams I’d had involving LA.  And that was a little sad.

I am a psychiatrist…a very whimsical, creative psychiatrist.  Also, a holistic psychiatrist.  And a yoga instructor and an herbalist.  There aren’t too many psychiatrists like me.  So, at times, I’ve dreamed of living in Los Angeles–expressing my creative blend of art and medicine and holistic healing to a large, diverse, and, I imagined, receptive audience.  I wanted to reach the most people with my work, help the most people with my ideas.

But if I couldn’t even handle LA for 1 week, how could I hope to live there?  No, I must not be meant for LA.  That must not be how my dream of helping more people is going to be realized…  It was a little sad to admit that, but at the same time, I was so (relatively) traumatized by the experience of the past week that I was really willing to accept dream demise–anything to get me out of LA…

(Interesting note:  I actually am back in LA again this month {October}–this time in a quiet, peaceful canyon cottage in the Beverly Glen/Bel Air area.  It is going much, much better, though I still don’t know if I’m meant to stay here…It’s amazing, however, how much difference a neighborhood makes.  It’s also important, I believe, not to give up on dreams at the first sign of difficulty.  So, I’m giving it another shot.  Under excellent conditions.  If I do not wish to stay in LA after this month, then I will feel much better about making that choice from a place of peaceful empowerment (versus nervous system overwhelm).)

So, I found a little apartment at an artist’s compound just outside of Ojai.  It was perfect in almost every way.  Quiet.  Amazing 360 degree views (up on a ridge).  Large art installations in the yard.  A playful ambience, complete with trampoline and aerial silks…  The apartment was colorful with lovely paintings.  And a tub–one of the most healing (important) elements in a home, in my opinion.

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The internet connection was not perfect, and this caused a little bit of tension with the landlord (as I really must have steady, fast internet for my work–online psychotherapy and coaching via video/web conference).  (The host was attentive, however, and got it fixed quickly.)  There also was not a formal “den” or lounge area.  So, that wasn’t totally ideal.   It’s nice to have a comfortable place to relax (other than the bed).  The apartment was a kitchen/office + bathroom + bedroom.  No den, no sofa.  But, it was peaceful.  And I was happy.  There was a very nice outdoor space with grass and rocks and plants.  It was nurturing.  It was a very good spot to land.  I was grateful.  Very grateful.

On my first day in Ojai there was a special event happening in town–The One Love Festival.  One of my favorite musicians from Kauai (where I spent four months earlier in my sabbatical)–Elijah Ray and the Band of Light–was playing at this festival.  I was super excited to dance to one of my favorite musicians again–this time on the mainland.  It was the perfect way for me to continue to release the stress of my botched LA adventure.

So, I headed downtown to the festival–very excited for a bit of aloha love in music form…  Elijah has many beautiful, uplifting songs.  I recommend checking him out on YouTube if you are not familiar with his music.  He has one song in particular that I really love.  It is called “Last Goodbye”.  It is about the journey of conscious evolution, transitioning to a higher reality, and how important it is that community support each other during this transition.  It is very tender; yet, the melody touches your soul in a deep and powerful way.  I do not believe he has recorded this song, unfortunately, but it impacted me so strongly (when I first heard it on Kauai) that I dreamt about it for several weeks.  I could not get it out of my head during waking hours either.  It was clearly affecting my consciousness…on many levels.

The festival happened at beautiful Libbey Park in downtown Ojai.  I loved this park.  Very sweet.  Really, all of Ojai is very sweet.  The park is just an wonderful example of the overall energy of community and harmony you feel in Ojai.

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(Libbey Park during a free classical music concert later in the month)

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(Libbey Park fountain)

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(Libbey Park Ampitheater–Shyla Ray Sunshine (a local Ojai musician) performing during the One Love Fest)

I loved the One Love Festival.  It was just what I needed to lift my spirits.  Aloha blessings from Hawaii, peaceful community interactions, warm weather, art, music, and fresh air.  It was perfect.  And again, I was grateful.

Thank you Ojai.

One of the best things that happened for me at the One Love Festival was I purchased some Jin–a cultured probiotic tea–from a local “elixir artisan” who called himself Shiva.  It was seriously the most potent, delicious beverage I’ve ever tasted in my life.  (After drinking the incredible brew, I definitely felt Shiva was likely deserving of his name.)  I felt so amazing when the bottle was empty that I likened the whole experience to drinking a liquid blessing.  I took Shiva’s number so I could purchase some more, but I was never able to reach him.  Thus, it was a one-time miracle.  That was okay.  I was so glad for the experience, even if singular, I couldn’t possibly feel anything other than happy.

On my walk back to the car I spotted one of the most delightful sights of my entire month in Ojai–a crocheted tree!  It is at the front entrance of Libbey Park and really is just a(nother) wonderful example of the artistic undercurrent running though this special place.

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I also saw an incredible, painted bus in the parking lot….

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And some lovely woodsy areas…

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I was definitely catching Ojai fever.  I loved it here!

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Over the month that followed I had many amazing experiences.  I ran into friends from the Big Island (Hawaii) at the charming Sunday Farmer’s Market, ate at the delicious Farmer and the Cook restaurant, and met up with one of my friends from Kauai who had actually moved (full-time) to Ojai.  She took me to an incredible spot just outside of town where there is a beautiful river and refreshing swimming hole.  Again, it was just what I needed.  Cleansing–washing away any residual stress of my botched “LA experiment”–and welcoming me to this sacred, healing valley…

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I spent most of my time in Ojai resting, meditating, smiling, and unwinding at my peaceful home-for-a-month in the hills outside of town.  My favorite evening ritual was to jog down the road to the Villanova Preparatory School where there was a lovely cross-country running trail that wove through the tall yellow grasses and mostly Mesquite (I believe) forest.  There were a number of owls that lived in this forest, and I was blessed by several close encounters and sightings.  As a healer, I have always felt a connection to owls, but I’d never seen so many so close.  It was a true gift.  I miss them.

I also really miss the beautiful pink rose bush growing on the property where I lived.  I spent many evenings sitting quietly by this bush, watching the sky change colors and allowing my heart to be opened and uplifted by the incredible beauty of each delicate blossom.

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After a few weeks had passed, I felt so peaceful and inspired by the magic of this place that I decided to start on an art project I’d been planning (and putting off) for several months–a seed bead mosaic of a dolphin set against a Hawaiian sunset sky.  The project was physically small, but it was going to be big in terms of time and focus.  A quiet artist’s compound in a peaceful valley was the perfect place for beginning an epic creative journey…

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I adore dolphins and have missed them since I’ve been away from Hawaii.  So, I wanted to create this piece of art to honor the connection I feel to them and to remind me that that are in my heart no matter where I am…

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I worked outside almost every night–enjoying the pink moment (you can see it on the tops of the mountains in the distance) with my precious princess of a feline muse–Kashmir.IMG_2836

I didn’t finish the piece in Ojai, but I got a solid start.  The dolphin came alive in the enchanted Ojai valley… and its creation happened to coincide with a impassioned conversation (about dolphins and Hawaii) I had by surprise with a new friend (also an artist and fellow nomadic blogger) who was headed to Hawaii (from Ojai)  in just a few weeks.  Meeting her seemed to provide the final little nudge of inspiration I needed to finally get going on the project.

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And again, I was grateful.

Ojai was a charming, magical, nurturing sanctuary.  I really strongly considered staying there.  But when the dolphin was finished, I somehow felt complete as well.  It was a wonderful place to restore my energy and my spirits–to reconnect with nature, flowers, a sense of community, and, apparently also, dolphins.

I feel so blessed to have been “caught” in the welcoming arms of Ojai.  Now she will forever be a healing second home to me.

Thank you sweet Ojai.  ❤  I will always be grateful….