October 2016

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When I was 17 years old, I had a lot of feelings.

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I was also fortunate enough to be in the possession of a newly minted driving license and semi-regular use of my dads bottle-green Vauxhall Corsa. When anxiety crept through my veins, cruel words skittered around my brain or sadness started seeping through my thin skin; I had a solution. I would get in my car armed with a teetering tower of cassette tapes. I would drive, and I would drive, and I would drive. As I travelled further from my stifling attic bedroom and out into the wider world, I wouldn’t stop until I had put enough distance between myself and whatever had got me tied in knots.

I only had a car for two sweet years of spontaneous 2am trips to service stations, daring the boys at college to ‘race’ (cheers Ryan Gosling) ordering a hundred McDonalds Apple Pies through the drive-through window and the myriad of novelty car-uses you can find in the heady days before full-time employment and any sort of responsibility. Then I moved away for university and my name was removed from the insurance policy, never to return.

Since then I’ve never lived anywhere that would warrant having a car. Cut to… actually let’s not count the years as there are many; I have settled in a city that is defined by just that. Whilst it’s an urban myth that it’s ‘impossible’ to live in Los Angeles without car, it certainly makes it easier to navigate the 503 square miles of city. After not driving for so long, I had to start the process pretty much from scratch. Muscle memory isn’t too reliable when you learnt using manual gears, and driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s like viewing everything in a mirror and my first year here has been dominated by sweaty palms and second guessing if I’m really on the right (wrong) side of the road or not. I also had to take a test to legally drive with a state issued driving license. 17 is the perfect age to revise road theory and take long Sunday lessons with patient parents. 32, plunged into a foreign country with a full-time job, is not the perfect age to revise road theory that refers to the British ‘pavement’, as sidewalk and the British ‘road’ as… pavement. Confused? Welcome to my world. It’s also not the perfect age to practise driving on your precious weekends when you could be at the beach or the mountains or doing something that doesn’t fill you with the sinking suspicion that everyone is trying to kill you.

But, as I ticked over into my thirteenth month here I took my practical test and passed. Highlights included my examiner asking me to point out where the window defroster was (there is no frost in LA, ever) and the part where practically the whole test route was dug up for roadworks and the nice chap barely seemed to know where he was going, let alone how to instruct me. Oh and I got tooted three times by drivers who didn’t appreciate my ‘actual stop’ at the red diamond signs, far preferring the iconic ‘California roll.’

On Friday night, I was home alone. Nick was out of town. I was battling the germs that come along with the first rain of the year, because I am a soft Angeleno these days. I was feeling gloomy. And then I was in the driving seat before I knew it. And I drove, and I drove, and I drove. The sky above me was water colour blooms of burnt, bronze and blush. Neon signs, twinkling headlights and sparkles in the sky that could be stars or planes or something else entirely. Silhouettes of birds, and the metro rumbling over head. It’s truly impossible to feel lonely when you’re in LA traffic. The comfort of person after person making their own way in the world, but on the same stretch of road as you.

I may have switched skylines from the mill chimneys of Bradford to the palm trees of California… but I’m so happy to have rediscovered the peace that can be found in a dusky drive to nowhere, anywhere and everywhere.

 

A Year On

Tonight, for the first time in over a year, I felt the urge to write. To sit down with a candle burning, Bon Iver playing and to type my heart and brain into this blank space until it started to make sense to me, and I guess, to you.

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That process, in itself, proved to be a pretty accurate comparison for how I am feeling. I go to log on and can’t remember what the URL is to even access my blog CMS. I panic. I realise the URL from my designer lays in an old hotmail inbox that I haven’t logged into for over a year. I try to log on, and I don’t know the password. So after 15 minutes of frustrating faffing with codes sent to UK mobile phone numbers I no longer have, and even more archaic ‘back-up’ email addresses, I reset the password. The inbox is frozen in time. The last email received was the day of my wedding, which feels so impossibly long ago. The recent-message-list is peppered with shipping company chasers, ‘deep clean’ flat quotes and a reservation reminder for a leaving dinner at my favourite London tapas restaurant. Hotmail welcomes me as Miss Barker, and of course that’s not me at all anymore. I finally find the buried treasure URL I’m looking for in a 2011 email chain, and then… I try the only 4 passwords I can imagine I used, and am instantly locked out. Too many failed log-in attempts. Please try again in 20 minutes. By this point I am hot with rage at the tediousness of how something that used to be second nature, that used to be so me, could now be unobtainable.

I’m finally here and I feel like the virtual riddles of ‘old me’ versus ‘new me’ from the last hour pretty aptly sum up the effect that moving 5437 miles across the world has had on my mentality. I’ve become fractured into two versions of myself, and it’s only tonight that I have put my finger on that. And realised that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Moving to Los Angeles is obviously an opportunity of a life-time and there isn’t a day that I don’t feel incredibly hashtag-blessed hashtag-grateful that this California Dream happened to me. To a girl that grew up in Bradford, didn’t even step foot on an aeroplane until she was 18 years old, and has stumbled from city to city, room to flat to room, never quite finding anywhere that felt like home. However in true Hollywood style, the highs of been high and the lows have been low. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the hardest thing I have done in my whole life and that I was woefully unprepared for that when I signed the contract and shipped out on my LA adventure. There was an additional factor in the tough-stuff in that I had also spent all my time leading up to the move, planning a wedding. It was worth every second, but I feel like the big-life-happenings of the past two years have left absolutely no breathing space for me being me. And I almost haven’t. I’ve got my head down, gritted my teeth, put my nose to the grindstone and all the other turns of phrase about body parts. I’m not saying I’ve been a hermit because you have probably followed me on Instagram or the YouTube videos and seen the sunsets, the weekends away, the cocktails and the galavanting. What I am saying though is that I haven’t quite known who I am in those situations and unless you’ve transplanted yourself into a whole new world then it probably sounds bizarre. In the same way I find it peculiar that 2016 has so far been both the happiest and toughest years of my life.

To better illustrate what I mean; tonight I found a box that still hadn’t been unpacked from our shipping delivery. It was full of dusty unloved vinyl that I bought on a whim in 2004 and have never owned a record player since. But recently we bought a dinky sky-blue one, so I greedily dug them all out and played them one after another after another after another. The soundtrack to such a specific period of my life had me slow dancing to myself around my apartment; evoking such strong memories of damp leaves in Leeds’ Hyde Park as I traipsed from university lecture halls to my bar maid job. My attic bedroom in my Hessle house-share. The nights out with sticky floors, the obsessive friendships, the walks of shame as the sun rose and the birds started to sing, the stubborn self-confidence that you can only muster when you’re yet to even begin to figure life out. The experience was so jarring on so many levels. Firstly, the brief transportation back to a decade old version of my life. Secondly, I realise I have barely listened to music since I moved. Instead I listen to podcasts obsessively, finding comfort in the company of faceless voices discussing wrongful convictions and folklore and 1920’s Hollywood scandals and how to Lean In to my career that fill my brain and prevent it from wandering anywhere. My consciousness is filled with shiny-new disposable stuff, and kept at arms length from music that might send nostalgia flooding into my world that is so far from the one I’d be reminded of.

This is so hard to articulate and I imagine you’re reading this with a healthy dose of side-eye by this point. Perhaps what I am feeling is what it is to grow up, and by removing myself from the places that I did grown up – the change is impossible to ignore and more dramatic? For the past two years I think I’ve pretty much denied myself access to ‘past’ me, as it has been so crucial to focus on this new life I’m hastily building. I don’t have the same solar system of family and friends here who know me so well they can see through any ‘I’m-fine’ bravado; of which there has been plenty lately. They are on a different time-zone. We are trying our best with exotic stamp-marked snail mail, army-mission planned Skype calls and the holy grail: transatlantic visits! But there are times when it’s 7pm on a Friday night and I feel melancholy and it’s 3am for them and the loneliness is crushing. I send my SOS texts but I know they will only be answered when I have finally fallen asleep, and by then it’ll be a new sunny day in LA and most likely, I’ll be feeling chirpier and keener to focus on new news than my wallowing.

I have put an unreasonable and unattainable amount of pressure on myself to enjoy every second of life in LA. I’ve felt incapable of putting my hands up and saying this is really bloody hard work sometimes. I’ve felt it would be a failure to admit it’s a challenge. I’ve felt that so many people would love to be in my position that I have to suck it up and put on a brave face. When actually, that builds barriers and only puts double the distance between me and the people in my life; both old and new. I think the break through I had today is that I absolutely need to be all versions of me. I need to remember everything that has bought me on the journey to a point where I am sat in America, surrounded by those things I traipsed from room to flat to room, and with a snoring rescue pup warming my feet.

I guess I wanted to say, I am okay – but at times I have been very much not okay. Leaving behind everything you know and adapting to a new culture, a new job, a new city and a new status as somebody’s wife is bound to be a stretch. Just doing one of those could cause a tailspin, so climbing a mountain of them was bound to create a noticeable shift. It’s taught me so much though, and I am proud of the fact that a year on I am finally shifting gears into a new phase. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am confident about the dynamics I need, and those that the distance is actually benefitting. I am in awe of my inspiring husband, who has ridden his fair share of rollercoaster dips and dives in this past year too but continues to make my wellbeing his priority.

I am adapting to a quality of life that will allow me to listen to records, to wake up to catch the sunrise, to feel the sand between my toes and to stitch together the pre-LA and the post-LA me.