The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles: A Brief Reflection on a Year Away From Home

California sucks.

Everything you’ve heard about the place is (mostly) true. It’s beautiful, all of it: the mountains, the deserts, the forests, the shorelines, and the people, too. Everything grows here. It’s lush and alluring. Almost every day is sunny and warm, and the nights never get too cold. And sometimes, it feels like the entire world has eyes on what’s happening in California. I tell people I live in Los Angeles, and their eyes get wide, imagining the glitz and glamor of Southern California life.

And it fucking sucks. 

Photograph of mountains in the near distance with parking lot in the foreground and some bushes just beyond the asphalt. The picture is mostly sky, which is shades of gray and brown due to abundant wildfire smoke. The sun is a tiny red dot hanging just above the peak of the mountains; it's apparently just before sunset.
View of the Shasta Valley from a Rest Stop on Interstate 5 During Peak Wildfire Season, September 2021. [Nadya Markowska]

But you know that already. Many of you have already left California, or at least have plenty of experience with the place. Many of you came to Oregon because you had opened your eyes to the open secret that California sucks, or at least realized that Oregon is simply a nicer (read: cheaper) place to live.

But I didn’t know that. I had to learn the hard way.

I want to say that I was always skeptical of moving to California, but that’s not really true. I think I confused being nervous about starting over in a new place with skepticism. It was a great big step into the unknown for me, but a positive one. I had an optimistic eye on Southern California. After all the anger and bitterness that I swallowed over my time in Oregon, my time writing about the troubles amid our nation’s Great Decline, I thought a fresh start in the sunshine was what I needed. New opportunities in a place where no one knew my name, a place to put some distance between myself and what haunted me. As the song says, it never rains in Southern California.

A photograph taken in the middle of a street of beach homes arranged on either side of Ocean Drive. There are some cars parked on either side of the road, but otherwise there's no traffic, not even pedestrians. The sky is blue, with a distant marine layer coming in off the ocean, and a few darkened palm trees laid up against the sky.
Street View, Ocean Drive, Oxnard, CA cir. February 2022. [Nadya Markowska]

Now that I’m making my return to Oregon, once again packing my bags for the misty forests of the Pacific Northwest, I can view this year in Los Angeles as a sort of extended sabbatical. A working vacation, if you will, or perhaps an experiment in living among the hustlers and dreamers trying to make it in L.A. 

If I had moved to Los Angeles as a naive, bright-eyed teenager, I might’ve fallen in love with the place. If I was like the many starlets, playwrights, screenwriters, singers, and Queers that have been drawn toward these never-ceasing lights and sounds, maybe I would’ve found a place for myself – perhaps a little loft in Hollywood or a handsome little cottage in Pasadena. Maybe if I was a little more eager to submit myself to the American tradition of hustling for hustling’s sake, I wouldn’t be writing this on the first day of my last month in the City of Angels.

I have a novel in me, and if I were more foolish and easily impressed, it would be another entry into the pantheon of California novels–just another cheap imitation of Steinbeck, Didion, Thompson, and Chandler–further mythologizing this place where mythology is mass produced and swallowed whole. I have entire notebooks all around me, as I write this, filled with observations and musings about California and Angelenos. As it turns out, I just wanted to write City of Quartz – a book that says everything I want to say about Los Angeles in more eloquent vitriol than I could ever muster. This city is a palace of lies built on stolen land, whose primary industry is exporting those lies, importing everyone else’s goodwill, and subsisting in the meantime on palpable human suffering. 

If you can’t tell, I don’t like California, and I can’t wait to leave. In a past life, I might view a return to whence I came as evidence of failure – a step backwards. But this time, I don’t feel that way. California has taught me so much – both about myself and about America at large. I can’t deny that this year living among the wannabes in the City of Quartz has fundamentally changed who I am – how I identify with the world, how I view myself, and my relationships to work, politics, and culture. Had I never come here, I might’ve never come to accept certain truths about myself, nor would I have had the opportunities to put my values and beliefs to the test. L.A., for all its flaws, gave me a proving ground to experiment with everything I’ve come to believe. 

In Los Angeles, I helped organize a labor union that will surely go public not long after I leave – a story I cannot wait to share when the time is right. I reconnected myself to the plight of the working classes–not in theory, but in hard, often brutal practice, which is to say that I worked–hard. And though I very much did not want to work, it helped recenter the way I think about the world. In fact, I stopped thinking and started doing

But, most importantly, my time in California–this strange year of radical personal transformation–reminded me of the things that are most important in life. I made some wonderful new friendships with kind, warm, radical, and generous people. I learned to forgive, and I learned to let go of anger, resentment, and that soul-sucking self-loathing that I had allowed to take root in my heart. I fell in love all over again, and I get to keep that love with me as I return to where I belong – where we belong. 

Somehow, Oregon has become my home. I never stopped thinking of home. But I understand, now, that I had to leave, because leaving is the only way I could come back. Leaving was the only way I could learn the truth about myself.

A palm tree-lined avenue in Ventura, California that has been sealed off to all automobile traffic. Pandemic-era street seating is seen on the right side of the photo, separated from the street by some low hedges and picket fences. There are some pedestrians on the left of the photo, two women and one man, each holding to-go cups containing drinks. The street climbs a low hill up to a majestic, Spanish-colonial era building that now holds City Hall. The sky is gray and overcast beyond the City Hall in the background, where the sun is clearly about to set.
Buenaventura City Hall as seen from Main Street, Ventura, CA cir. February 2022. [Nadya Markowska]

Last year, I left Oregon an angry and bitter man looking for a reason–any reason–to give up. And now, I’m returning exactly 393 days later as a proud woman, full of love and hoping to blossom in the crisp Northwestern air. I can’t wait one minute more to get back to the place I love. I am eager to return to a place that I feel comfortable, a place that I understand on some strange and intimate level. And I can’t wait to get back to writing about that place, too, because writing means sharing – and I want to share a part of myself with all of you. 

My name is Nadya Markowska. You don’t know my name, because no one does. You might know me by an old name, a different byline, one that you can probably figure out with a bit of sleuthing and close reading. But I’ll leave that for you to figure out, if you want to figure it out at all. It’s not really important anymore, because this is a new name that represents the new person that I’ve become since I moved away. 

And now I’m coming home – once and for all.

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