(5:30 min to read)
My trip to L.A. felt like a lesson in feeling small. Still, even when I got lost, I felt strangely at home. The streets of Santa Monica and Koreatown reminded me of the beach town of Assilah and inner-city of Fes simultaneously. Of course there is a constant contrast and contradiction in moving between L.A.’s neighborhoods. The socioeconomic stratification is different from what I have experienced in other U.S. cities. L.A. has vastly different communities. Although many locals move through seamlessly, there is always the unspoken question of whether you belong in certain areas and spaces. In Santa Monica, for example, due to extensive gentrification, a lot of the time POC are assumed to be visiting for the day or working there as very few actually live there.
On the third day of my trip, I knew I was going to get lost. I was leaving the house of a new friend in a neighborhood I had discovered, and I had a destination in mind: an art show at a brewing warehouse someone invited me to. Still, the city is gigantic and it gobbles you up if you don’t know where you are going. Because it is so spread out, going in the wrong direction can cost you hours. Which is exactly what happened to me. It took two hours to get from an apartment somewhere in Culver City to the warehouse venue somewhere in downtown L.A. (this trip usually takes 45 minutes to an hour). Somehow, I was still going the right way the whole time.
Without internet on my phone, all I had was a static Google maps directions of which bus to get on and where to get off. It took me no time to get on the wrong bus and get off at a different stop. I was at a corner several blocks away from the venue and was met with beautiful rose shops, fragrant and humid, reminding me of the central market back in my home city of Fes in Morocco. After smelling the flowers and following the row of rose shops down the street, I made a few turns and found myself on Skid Row.
Once you get into downtown, it seems hard to get out of, with a grid system that leads right back to the same street you started on. I was officially lost. As I passed an older man in a light blue and white track suit standing on the corner in front of a convenience store something told me to turn around and ask him for help. He knew right away what I needed, and directed me to the bus stop for the 60. He said he came “down here to check on people and help out” but he lived in West Hollywood.
Then Yvette showed up. She had on a blue uniform t-shirt with a circle logo in the corner that read “Help for the Homeless”. Her aura was a commanding one of generosity and humor. She pulled up directions for me on her phone and told me she had once been living out on Skid Row and struggling with drug addiction and now she helps a non-profit to get people off the streets. We got on the same bus and I finally found this hipster art show I was supposed to go to where I found myself in a vastly different environment.
This is when I encountered Ronald Weaver’s photography. The aerial shots he produces of gorgeous, commanding landscapes captured at a direct 90 degree angle 500 feet or so from the ground are stunning. This makes for an image that looks much like observing an ant colony from the 5ft human eye perspective or seeing a snail crawl on pavement. Except you’re looking at people on a huge landscape. These images are captivating because while you may not realize what you are looking at first, in the split instant that you do, your mind does a quick rewind and zoom out to see how tiny we can really be and see ourselves as the small beings that we really are.
Los Angeles is a city that feels like a natural force of creativity and experimentalism and hence on the brink of chaos. It is made of dozens of communities, each of which contain their own culture, and no particular “center”. A city that feels on the brink of chaos also has its own flow. So you can feel small in the wide open expanse of nature and get lost in the bustling chaos of a city that stretches for neighborhoods and neighborhoods. Another part that reminded me of Morocco was the people-centered interactions were significantly common in this big city.
For an introverted person, this trip was intense because I was trying out the solo traveling thing and I ended up spending a lot of time talking to and meeting people I didn’t know. I found that being lost and feeling small made me a lot more open, vulnerable, and loving towards others. I appreciated others’ kindness and recognized it for the benevolent presence of the loving universe. I believe it is so important to get lost. I don’t believe everyone is ready to get lost, but when you are you will find yourself doing it naturally. The chaos that ensues with getting lost makes you look for a compass, and often that calibrating force is yourself. I was never really lost, I was taking the long way to exactly where I needed to be.
When I first got to my friend Miriam’s room in Santa Monica on the outskirts of L.A., I put down my stuff and rushed to the beach. Scrambling through the sand, I sat down on the warm earth, soaking in the sun, and watching the waves. As I closed my eyes… the mountain of worry, stalactite salt mounds of anxiety, dissolved and dissipated at the immense sound of the ocean. Filling the space in between in my ears, there was stillness. I was at the edge of a continent, the ocean before me was big enough, deep enough, blue enough, with enough energy and love than I could ever want or need. Next to its roaring, foaming, never ending, older-than-you-will-ever-be and-still-here-after-you-die, pain-absorbing, waves-crashing self we are all small. To feel as if the universe is big enough to hold me and my contradictions, my complexity, all I have to give and all I have to lose, and still have room for many, many, many more is to feel small, and loved.
The ocean always commands me to be here, now. Whenever I go to the beach with it’s wide open expanse of moving water, always stretching blue sky, and the deep continuous pull of water on sand fills my ears so roundly, my mind quiets and is silent for a while. With the deep sense that there is nowhere else to be, the sound connects me to an infinite source of life and power. It brings salt water to my eyes to know that the ocean remembers me every time* (*nayyirah waheed.)
The importance of feeling small for me comes from the significance of feeling as if I am part of something bigger than myself. When faced with the power of a natural force, you let go to something bigger than you. We begin to understand how we are not the center of the universe, but a part of it, and knowing that is much more fulfilling. Not to be confused for nihilism, however, feeling small is can make you feel more whole and filled in the sense that the universe is big enough for you, your thoughts, your being, and all of your existence. While much of this trip was spent traveling alone, it was refreshing because I felt connected to the whole of people, of the city, of the beach and the birds, the waves, the sunlight, the natural flow of livings beings.