The other day I had a morning that started out ordinary. Though I’d slept well, I woke up dragging, so on my morning dog walk I queued up a playlist from the years when I was coming of age as a music fan.
I grabbed a coffee and started heading back to the house when a familiar blast of guitar and drums kicked in and suddenly I was transported right back to the heady days of early adulthood, where I could practically feel all the cells of my body revolt in an undefined longing.
It was like a wormhole had opened up right there on Echo Park Avenue and now I was 18 and all I wanted to do was put on a ton of eye makeup and some insane shoes and go out and mess with the world, whatever strange and dirty road that took me down. (The stranger and dirtier the better.)
“Oh,” I thought. “This again.”
It’s a feeling that doesn’t come very often these days, but it’s as familiar to me as the smell of old books or bread baking in my grandmother’s kitchen. I guess you could call it a craving — it’s a cross between antsy and exhilarated and desperate, and there’s definitely a grasping aspect. Serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, all itching for me to get more more more by any means. And it brings with it an imprint from an earlier self who carried that feeling around for years and years. It’s probably why I continue to sneak cigarettes long after the youthful rebellion phase of smoking ended. Same thing with having a few too many drinks now and then.
I can go months without indulging in either. And then one day the urge will hit and I’ll be desperate to feel something just really *out there* in the realm of experience. Transcendence, escape, oblivion, whatever. Substances are just the easiest way in.
I’ve always been a sucker for the wild. One of my favorite things to do is to drive north to Pasadena from Los Angeles on the 110. With the windows down, the radio up and warm air rushing around me, steering my car through the tight curves of the oldest freeway in the American West feels alternately liberating and dangerous, a ride I should probably approach with a little more caution.
The lanes on the 110 are so narrow that the road isn’t actually considered a freeway, but rather a parkway. The Arroyo Seco Parkway, to be specific. It takes you from the chaos and dirty heat of downtown to the idyllic suburban wonderland of Pasadena over the span of 10 miles, miles during which the constriction of the three lanes means you have to be on alert for any slight veering off by a neighboring car that could push yours sideways, knock off a mirror, scrape your paint, or worse. I know a guy who got a DUI on the 110 heading back to the city after a few beers at a pool party; he couldn’t keep steady in the lanes. Another friend refuses to take the road at all because the ingresses and egresses make her so anxious. On some entrances, you have a runway of 100 feet or so to get on even speed with the flow of traffic. Same with the exits. If an off ramp gets jammed up on the wrong side of a twisting lane, you simply don’t have much time to stop. And yet instead of being closed down, the 110 has been designated a State Scenic Highway, National Civil Engineering Landmark, and National Scenic Byway, and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
When people ask me what I like about living in Los Angeles, one of the first things I think about is the 110. I like hopping in the car and going anywhere I want, blasting the music I want to listen to in the free air, and singing at the top of my lungs if I feel like it. It’s one of the most therapeutic activities I can think of. For better or worse, there is something about L.A. that still feels lawless and wild. Like you can get away with things here.
I’ve given up just about all my vices, but this deep need to feel out of control hasn’t faded. It just happens less often these days. Cravings hit and I start thinking about ways to escape — myself, my life, my existence. And why? I think it’s at least partially about lowering my inhibitions. If I had it my way, every once in a while I’d enter into a primal space with other people who also have no inhibitions. Who’ll do and say whatever it is they’re thinking, not just what seems appropriate.
And when you look at it in that way, it seems like what I’m really longing for is a deep brush with the truth. For an unvarnished experience of connection with other people. To see how raw and exposed and weird things can really get. But let’s be honest, there’s something incredibly self-destructive at play. Considering how much time I spend on practices that build me up, it’s baffling to deal with urges that want to rip me down, even if only temporarily.
For the longest time I thought this meant something was deeply wrong with me; like I was incapable of growing up. Why else would I be interested in instigating dangerous conditions in my life when I’m old enough to have seen firsthand how destructive such conditions can be?
A.J. Daulerio writes a wonderful newsletter about recovery called The Small Bow, and in one issue, he talks about a lunch date with a celebrity addict (referred to as “The Client”) at The Chateau Marmont:
“All the people he called over lingered until The Client got distracted or blew too much smoke in their face and then they’d leave. They were impressed until they got closer and saw how sloppy he was. Still, I was jealous. I missed that smell of sweaty beer and cigarette breath and chlorine hair. I missed the antics and the potential for chaos before dinnertime.”
And there it was. CHAOS BEFORE DINNERTIME. Evidence that I’m not the only one who finds the idea of ripping my shit up for no good reason appealing, at least on occasion. My heart.
In Los Angeles the notorious Santa Ana winds kicked up again last week, ushering in a season of downed trees and wildfires and power outages. As Joan Didion said, “the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” Patt Morrison has called them “a toll that our putative paradise makes us pay.”
People hate them but I love them because of that air of unpredictability, and for the weird, static-y feeling they bring to the air. Anything can happen! But Jesus. Why am I like this?
Sometimes when I think about why I write this newsletter, which is something of a mystery to me, one of the reasons I come up with is that I want to show that you can be OK in chaos. That the idea of reality as something stable and predictable is an illusion, and that the less you tell yourself that’s how it should be, the better equipped you are to handle yourself when it becomes blindingly obvious that it isn’t. Because it inevitably will.
And maybe it’s because I believe this that I want to see chaos. Like I’m testing the theory. Like the universe wants me to test the theory. And maybe even prove that it’s true.
But maybe there’s something else that could explain it. Or maybe there’s just no explanation, that destructive urges are just part of the human condition. I’m hard pressed to say. But it is fun to think about.
On to some other things I thought were worth sharing this week:
“But I learned fast how to keep my head up 'cause I
Know there is this side of me that
Wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just
Fly the whole mess into the sea”
Perfectionism is a Missed Opportunity
“As perfectionism rejects and discards the value of chance, Trickster knows that a mistake is an opening. For them, perfectionism is a missed opportunity. Something happened that you couldn’t have thought of. What luck!”
Basically everything Jessica Dore writes is magic. I love her practice of parsing meaning out of myths and symbols.
Conspiracy and Me
“I'm most susceptible to conspiracy thinking when I'm at my worst. When my core needs around agency, connection, belonging, and meaning aren't being met in healthy ways, I gravitate towards the nearest, loudest thing that soothes my psyche.”
A wonderful essay by Rob Hardy about how he got sucked into conspiracy thinking — and how he found his way out.
A Poem by Alex Dimitrov
Truly, Anything Can Happen
That’s all for this time. Thanks for reading, as ever.
p.s. I needed this.
p.p.s. Share this with a friend who knows about being close to the edge.
The photo, I'm a Highland Park resident. It's oh-so familiar. I moved here from Hollywood in 2014, and for a couple of months I had anxiety about getting onto the 110 from Ave 52. All better now.
You had me at Didion and sealed the deal with Patt Morrison. I've attended some KPCC voting events where Patt spoke. Such a fan.
And the feelings you feel, yes. The next time I get on the 110 I'm going to blast some music and scream my head off. If I don't have a toddler in tow. Ha!
This was my first read of yours. Looking forward to exploring more.
Have a great weekend.
So much to relate to here, Sara. Thank you. But this:
"Cravings hit and I start thinking about ways to escape — myself, my life, my existence."
And the lines that follow? Oof. Well done.
Here's an October poem I love:
by John Haines
from Winter News
In the quiet house
a lamp is burning
where the book of autumn
lies open on a table.
There is tea with milk
in heavy mugs,
brown raisin cake, and thoughts
that stir the heart
with the promises of death.
We sit without words,
gazing past the limit
of fire into the towering
There are silences so deep
you can hear
the journeys of the soul,
downward in a freezing earth.