[11 June 2008]
|In Santa Monica you get your coffee from The coolest places on the promenade Where people dress just so Beauty so unavoidable everywhere you turn It’s there I sit and wonder what am I doing here?|
There are three things that make up any human outcome: time, place and circumstance. Sometimes this last element gets amended (by the Donald Trumps and Sun Tzus of the world) as “opportunity”.
In June I find myself in Southern California, USA. A stone’s throw—or at least a freeway hop (which amounts to the metaphysical equivalent)—away from the beaches. So, you got your time, you got your place. And, given that I find myself with a car (an indispensible item if one is to do anything of substance in the City of the Angels), you got your opportunity. Sure, it costs four bucks a gallon now, but the drive’ll cost me, at best, six-fifty. So, we’re talking a bargain—I mean, if you consider what you get in exchange . . .
No matter where you go, lifestyle exists. It is in the configuration of space, the tenor of the place. It resonates in and from the people found there; it is communicated in the cadence of their speech, the clothes they wear, the things they say, the speed with which they move.
Lifestyle is anywhere. And it is always different—even if we don’t recognize it as such. It might not be fully formed, well fleshed-out, or even much appreciated. But it will be there. Invariably, topography, history, politics, economics, morality—one or more—will converge to create a way of life, a mode of being. Hell, in today’s world, even Starbucks will sell you some. It’s not about coffee, but about the person we are who drinksthat kind of beverage under those
calculated, cafe-fully-crafted ambiotic conditions.
I suppose when discussing “lifestyle” one might invoke “culture”—a “way of life”—as a synonym, but these terms are not perfectly equal. Unlike culture, which is often simply taken for granted, unquestioned and understood, there is something conscious about lifestyle today: personal choice, linked—often as not—with a promotional campaign. Because whether it is TV or The New York Times, a gentrified neighborhood in what was once a slum, or that refurbished commercial core dubbed “Old Town” back in your home town, it seems like nowadays everyone is in the lifestyle business. Marketing an aura, selling an image of what people wish themselves to appear to be . . . if not actually become. When it comes to lifestyle, it is not only the sellers, but the buyers who appropriate particular stylings to help define self and convey the “essence” of who they are (or believe they are or feign they are).
Well, that sounds cynical. And it really doesn’t have to be. In the coming entries, I will be talking about Farmer’s Markets and Hollywood and Disneyland and maybe even Major League Baseball—all aspects of the So-Cal lifestyle, yet some of which are detachable; sites of lifestyle, places with activities that are not confined simply to Southern California. Even more, when you get down to it, while these lifestylings may each possess common elements—such as their inherent artifice, their “staginess”, their leisure dimension—their greatest commonality lies in their distinct difference. Each possess inner rhythms, no two being quite the same. Each differs in terms of lifestyling—in terms of how they interact with practitioners, the problems they pose and the possibilities they provide; the people they allow us to become when in contact with them. Strolling down the Walk of Fame and being accosted by a gal dolled up to look like Cat Woman who will pose with you for a fee has nothing much to do with picking up cherries and walnuts and figs and cauliflower for your afternoon brunch from the vendors who have trucked their home-grown goods down from Fresno the night before. Yet both are fruits (pardon half a pun) of lifestyle. Possibly not the entire casaba, but an aspect, evidentia, the corpus delicti of a style of life.
That said, when it comes to lifestyle, circumstances vary from venue to venue, as do values, practices, people, and possibilities.
Similarly, opportunities differ. Life-chances, experiences, outcomes. That is one reason why we travel; it is also something to bear in mind when we settle down to make a life. Assuming we have any choice, a modicum of agency. The lifestyle that we become ensconced within will likely have a great bearing on the person we are, the situations that befall us in the days and months and years to follow.
Of course, not every place in time has a beach nearby; and not every time in our lives affords opportunities to kick back and spend a day on the sand. Or a pier. Like the one down at Santa Monica. A place worth a trip—if you have a few hours, a car, an ability to relax . . .
Yeah, I know that last one can be tough—with all the “shoulds” and “musts” in our lives—to give ourselves the permission to let go can be an ordeal. Imagine all the Catholics out there in the audience counseling themselves to take five, kick back, and promenade for a spell.
can take a little practice.
It is a hard thing for a lot of us to let go. We have so many voices in our heads, mouthing words like “ought” and “have to” and “unavoidable” and “required”. Words that keep us focused, on track, serious, managed. Making our lives hew to the straight and narrow. Keeping the grin from our lips, the twinkle from our eyes, the sparkle from our consciousness.
On the pier at Santa Monica, though, there is a funzone which can help put some of these words on pause; hold them in obeyance, if only for a few moments. The funzone is a modest space reserved for a ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a power drop; the wheel having just been replaced a couple weeks back and auctioned off on ebay for over 100K.
But to get into the proper frame of mind, there is the approach to the pier: an exercise in conditioning; feeding visitors the idea that it might just be okay to sit a spell; catch the breeze on a tree stump, or sit on a bench with a friend; lay down and commune with the local fauna.
Nurture the soul while taking a time-out from the break-neck pace that lies just beyond: on the freeways (and the offices they deposit riders to) no less than a half-mile away.
The pier is a magnet for folks who need to get refreshed; who can come and work on their game. It could be fishing for their evening dinner . . .
. . . or taking their reps on the trapeze . . .
. . . but, importantly: on the pier no one is there to check your time card or critique your specs. There is no “your report’s due” or “get that client’s sig on my desk by tomorrow morning” or “catch the 6:42 out to Minneapolis, we can’t lose that account!” The only thing in your face is the taste of salt, the wind whipping off the white-capped surf, the sound of waves crashing against the shore, the caw-caw of gulls scanning the water for prey, the guitarist crooning “Peace Train” through his pig-nose amp at the end of the dock, as a couple sways in slow-dance time, arms draped over each other’s necks, sharing a long, soulful, sloppy kiss.
The scene is as soul-settling as it is humbling. After a few hours on the pier, what does any of it beyond—back in the everyday-grind-of-our-lives—really matter? The bills, the office intrigues, the social snubs, the impossible gas prices, the kids’ grades, the latest dust-up with the driver one lane over, the dwindling health of loved ones, the decreasing number of available years. Does any of it matter?
Well, of course it does. Of course it does.
But still . . . one of the constructive things about being at the pier is the simplest of messages that we so often overlook: everything about our lives really starts with ourselves. Strolling along the pier one comes to better appreciate that lifestyle is something we choose. It may be hard-earned, it may not be delivered to our doorstep automatically, true. It may only arrive through considerable effort, engaging countless painful choices and chaining innumerable life events. For lifestyle is something we have to reflect on, something that we take on intentionally. Nothing about adopting a lifestyle is easy—no matter what bunk Starbucks or The New York Times sells you. We don’t just open our eyes and there it is fully integrated into our soul. Even those lifestyles that appear to be cop-outs, escapes, fall-backs, retreats—those all require choices, judgments, alternatives jettisoned, avenues eschewed, time sunk.
The Santa Monica lifestyle may feel like escape—like opting for an idyll—but there is something valuable in it. There is meaning in getting away, losing oneself, being someone other than who you imagine yourself to be—if only for a brief moment. One spies possibility; one senses a way of extending him- or herself. In lifestyle that deviates so radically from the everyday, you can apprehand a self beyond your self; if daily life won’t enable you to become someone other than who you are, then at least for a few moments you can try on the cloak of another.
If only to alter perspective; get reenergized, refreshed . . .
. . . before heading back into the jungle.
In the words of Everclear, we go to Santa Monica to “feel the sunshine . . . find some place to be alone . . . leave the fire behind . . .”
|I dont want to do your sleepwalk dance anymore I just want to feel some sunshine I just want to find some place to be alone We can live beside the ocean Leave the fire behind Swim out past the breakers Watch the world die|
It may only be a metaphor, but as a palpable entity, Santa Monica is there to enable us to better see ourselves, by providing a glimpse of an alternate style of life.
And whether it is Santa Monica or not, the message remains the same: take the time, find the place, make the opportunity to explore, so that you might achieve a lifestyle just right for you.