Monday, October 7, 2013

Turn Around

I live in a small town in Los Angeles county (which I realize sounds like an oxymoron to those unfamiliar with Southern California). It's a great place to live when you love culture and food the way I do. In minutes, I can eat at fantastic Asian or Mexican restaurants; see paintings and sculptures created by some of the finest artists of all time; hear a world-class symphony in a world-renowned landmark; sit and have the tension baked out of me at my choice of jimjilbangs; visit gorgeous beaches that have been memorialized in film and song; or find unearthly peace in one of my religion's largest and oldest temples. Millions of people live in the valleys to the south, east, and west of my house, as is evidenced by the sometimes horrendous traffic on our legendary freeways. 

But just days ago, I realized with a shock that I live on the edge of wilderness. Our house backs up to the San Gabriel Mountains, and we regularly have coyotes, mule deer, and black bears ambling down our street and generally causing a ruckus. And the other morning, I was walking our dog and looked up at the mountains, which were wreathed in a mist that made them look even more forbidding and inaccessible than usual. What lay beyond them, I wondered. When I got home, I looked us up on Google Maps and realized that civilization basically ends just feet from our front door--because beyond those mountains lies the Mojave Desert. 

What's more, 45 minutes to the south of us is the Pacific Ocean. Paddle out into that in a straight line, and you wouldn't hit land again for thousands of miles. When I look at where I live while contemplating these two wild borders--the mountains and the sea--Los Angeles suddenly feels very small. And what lies beyond my house and neighborhood and city feels like a gift that has been waiting for me all along. The great Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai wrote, " As the peach-blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown, I have a world apart that is not among men." Seeing the world around me in this new way was a radical shift in perspective for me, one that gave me a bit of a sense of vertigo.

Sometimes we need a similar shift in perspective when it comes to our writing careers. Those of us who are still waiting for our careers to take off, or who are hoping to take things to the next level, may at times feel like we're on the edge of a marvelous city, with all kinds of wonders just beyond our grasp. We may feel envy or a sense of injustice when someone else we know is admitted through the gates, while we remain outside, hoping for a chance to enter. We may have had some success, but it might not feel like enough, or as though things are moving much more slowly than we would like. When will it be our turn?

But maybe, when frustration rises, we just need to turn around. Have you been looking in one direction so long that you've forgotten what's behind you? Perhaps if we do an about-face, we'll see how far we've come on our journey and realize the bounty with which we've been gifted. And we, like Li Bai, will be able to retreat into a world that is not among men--and find peace there. 


  1. I needed to read this. It's easy to get caught up in the "things that should happen" and sort of downplay the things that have already happened, or the things we've accomplished.

  2. Gorgeous! So true in so many aspects of life.

  3. This resonates because I was born and raised in the very Mojave desert of which you speak, and the desert in which I currently live is, indeed, lush and green by comparison.

  4. Beautifully put, and just what I needed to hear.