A Mining Town in Lotus Land
Learning journalism in paradise
By Kate Carraway
It would have made more sense to go to New York. Other girls in my position, girls with fresh undergraduate degrees from good schools, fistfuls of clippings, supportive daddies and some intellectual audacity would have spent the first months of their professional lives as interns or junior writers in the hushed offices of Hearst or Condè Nast. Though by most measures I’m interchangeable with these other girls, it was crucial for me to learn how to write in California.
Plenty of people make the same move, but usually it’s to work in film or television and to wear sparkly yoga pants to parties. I wanted to learn how to write the way I think. There’s a very specific tradition of literary journalism in California, and I wanted to spear it, or at least hang out and watch while other people did. I needed to be somewhere purposefully transgressive so that my work, as it was, could be nurtured. I saw most mainstream publications, especially those out of Canada, as restrained and apologetic–the immediacy, the weirdness, the “new new” journalism that I craved seemed to be absent. The weekly I went to work for was apoplectic, textually animated and funny. And, I’m not an idiot, so I waited until winter hit Toronto before I packed my shit and moved to California.
My experiences (personal, profes sional and cultural alike) in Los Angeles and Orange County were manifold, as they will be when you’re stupid-young and have a few months to hang out in such a sanctified environment. In my case, it was the Fonzie apartment/nanny’s quarters attached to my Californian sister’s house near the ocean in Laguna Beach, the freewheeling editorial office of the left-leaning alt weekly that sucked me and my work into their folds, and the houses, cars and nightlife of a Bizarro cartoon version of my Ontarian friends.
In Toronto, I was (am) into music and I attended mostly smallish shows, which means that I’m culturally lazy but so are my friends so it’s not really my fault. In LA, every kid that’s into any kind of art, especially independent art, goes everywhere and sees everything. My friends hauled me around to mega art expos, tiny galleries, skate shops, boutique openings, taco stands, ski towns and tons of rock shows. Art, music, readings, sports and shopping were on equal footing. Some of the best bars were in mini-malls. Everybody drove drunk, and with abandon, all over two counties to hit any number of shows and exhibits and themed house parties. Like Toronto, everyone knows everyone, has fucked everyone, has lived with everyone, and the cohesion in the independent arts community is as apparent as it could be for a place that houses millions upon millions of people. Somehow, the only movie I saw in California was “Sideways,” with my pregnant sister in an otherwise empty theatre. I also visited Target and the car wash on the regular, but those are unrelated Californian (and Orange Countian) phenomena.
Time moves faster in California, it seems, and as such the state’s weighty cultural history is cast aside for whatever’s newest. My obsession with SoCal punk rock, which initially turned me onto the paper I worked for and the region itself, wasn’t shared with actual Californians. None of my friends, except for one who’d grown up in the DC hardcore scene, cared about what is to me an essential musical legacy. The coddling and bigupping of Toronto’s music community in particular never seemed as worthwhile as it did when I saw the alternative. California (and Texas, strangely) remains a professional lynchpin and creative muse, but this city’s got soul, and if not a rich history, the promise of one.