20 October 2014
Venice Beach Photo Diary (and why I'm one step closer to being the happiest I've ever been)
My trip to Venice Beach would definitely have to be one of the highlights of my most recent trip to LA. The last time I was there, the ocean had swallowed one half of my favorite pair of slippers, and my dad—seizing his opportunity to make a dad joke—told me to throw the remaining half into the water. He said it might come back to me one day, the next time I'm at the beach on the other side of the world, and while nine year old me highly doubted that, the slim chance of it actually happening excited me enough to make me oblige. I had to walk all the way back to our hotel barefoot, but I didn't really mind. Back then, it felt like giving back to the earth (when in all honesty, my dad and I probably did more damage than anything else).
That was six years ago.
Six years ago I didn’t care too much about anything but getting my hands on my very own Build-A-Bear stuffed toy (a rabbit, to be more specific). Six years ago, clothes were the least of my worries (although pastel colored plastic heels with feathers on them were something I wore around the house quite often with its matching tiara; and if you go four years further back, wearing a bikini in the snow was a good idea for me).
And boys? Crushes? Love? Such things barely fit into my vocabulary back then. As far as I was concerned, Nick Jonas was the only boy in the planet meant for me (it seems I got an early start on crushing on unattainable boys with curly brown hair), and love was the look my father gave my mother every time their eyes met.
That was it. It was simple, and I cared about nothing. I didn’t care what my classmates would think of me once I got back that summer; I didn’t care what my teachers would say when they found out I went on for another year without memorizing the multiplication table (and six years later, I still kind of don’t have it memorized [second grade decisions biting me in the ass almost a decade later]); and I obviously didn’t care what strangers thought about the way I lived my life (unless the stranger was Nick Jonas, because in that case—do you think he’d prefer it if I kept my hair long or short?).
So coming back to Venice Beach after six years—six, long, important years of my life—invoked such an odd feeling from me, and that’s me putting it lightly. I mean, how else am I to make you feel the gravity of the situation I’d willingly put myself in: coming back to a place where the last time you’d been, you were an entirely different person, your slate as clean as it was new, your worries extending only up to whether or not your parents would drive you to the mall so you could buy that teddy bear you wanted, and your cares… well, the list of things you cared about was so short it was almost non-existent.
I kept half-expecting, half-hoping for my old pair of flip-flops to be swept towards the shore and kiss my feet again as if it had been waiting for me all this time. In the back of my mind I kept wishing for it to wash ashore so that for once, I’d feel more like my old self again. So that for once, I’d finally have something from my past that was tangible, proof that there was a me before this present I’d rather not be. Lately, that’s all I’ve ever been doing anyway: grasping at whatever memories I have from better days instead of making more to look back on. It’s kind of weird though. The memories replay vividly in my head, but it’s like trying to keep your clenched fist filled with water.
You know, I’m not entirely enamored by the person I’ve come to be—someone who’s so worried about descending into a downward spiral that to avoid it, I allowed my deep ends to become so shallow that if a mouse dove into it, it still wouldn’t get wet. I’d gotten so caught up in this and that and everything in between that I’d become the last thing I wanted to be: a vapid, social-media obsessed zombie who cared more about her Instagram feed than the finer things in life.
In concerts, I’d be watching my favorite artists through a tiny screen, and they’d be made up of a million tiny pixels the way I saw them, instead of the flesh and bone they truly were. I didn’t know why I kept filming everything when in fact I knew I wouldn’t watch it later on, and over time I progressively stopped filming and lived more in the moment, but still: that didn’t change the fact that I was a vapid, non-undead zombie who kept her eyes glued to a screen more often than she looked up and saw the world. I’d become so numb that while I appreciated all my blessings, I didn’t appreciate them enough.
The worst part about it was that I was aware. I was aware that every attempt I made to combat my downward spiral, I slipped further down into the shadows. I knew I was more than what I’ve come to be, and every time that glimmer of hope glinted under the moonlight, I took one step back up and out of the darkness’ grip.
But it was exhausting. For every one step I climbed, I fell further back down at least twenty, and it was a constant struggle between who I was, who I wanted to be, and who I was becoming. And when you’re waging a war with yourself, the last thing you’d want to be is under a microscope, with watchful eyes surrounding you, keeping track of your every move. It’s hard enough to figure out who you are on your own; even harder when you’ve got other clueless teenagers telling you (or at least trying to tell you) what to do.
Every time you’d accomplish something, such as climbing ten consecutive steps back out into the sunlight, instead of applauding you for it, they’d invalidate you, say it wasn’t your doing, it wasn’t accomplished out of your own will, but rather, because of something else you couldn’t help—your family, your background, or some sort of wealth that they had no proof of. It was as if no one was allowed to do any good, but them. No one was allowed to be trying their best but them; you either had to be the best at something, or nothing at all.
And for days, weeks, months, nightmares terrorized me in my sleep, induced by the ghost of my own thoughts. I was beginning to think it was all in my head. I mean, it was always the same thing: me getting stuck in an elevator that went down when I pressed the upwards arrow, stopped on the sixth floor when I pressed fourth, shook when I tried to get the doors to open, and died when I cried for help. And I knew it was a dream; even in my slumber I was aware, and that was the worst part—not being able to wake yourself up from a reoccurring nightmare, as if your own body was tying you to a chair and saying: “Watch this, damn it; you’ll wake up once you realize what it is I’m trying to tell you.”
When I looked up the meaning of my dream, I felt as though the foundations that I stood on shook. The very wall that I thought kept me protected from outside forces crumbled and fell, and I felt exposed to the world—vulnerable, you could say, as if an impostor caught in the act.
Dreaming about being stuck in an elevator that did opposite of what you programmed it to do meant that you’d lost control of yourself, if not your entire life.
And being there in Venice Beach, where the sun was shining brightly, and my lack of WiFi and LTE kept my gaze pointed straight ahead, I managed to put things in perspective.
Why did a couple of tiny pixels on my screen thrill me more than getting out in the open and exploring every beautiful inch of the world? What was it about blogging and tweeting and posting on Instagram that was more important than seeing all you could see? Why like a photo of someone at the beach, instead of going to the beach? Was it not all a game, a popularity contest on who had more followers, who had more sponsors, who was being featured in magazines, and who had more people liking their photos?
Something happened to me recently, and it was like looking into a mirror and seeing a monster where your face should’ve been. I saw myself in other people, and I was disgusted. I was disgusted and I was appalled, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Was that really who I was becoming? Was that really who I wanted to be?
I took a step back, out of the picture, and realized that if I’d stuck around for a second longer, I would’ve forever been ingrained into that painting—a dull, monochromatic image that might be pretty to look at because it’s minimalistic and oh-so-modern, chic, fashionable, or whatever adjective fashionistas are using these days to describe what was in. But the image, the image when you truly looked at it, falls short when you look closer to try and see if it had any depth to it.
In Venice, I came to the conclusion that that was what I’d rather be doing. I didn’t want to be staring at a screen all day, and if I was, I didn’t want to feel obligated to post things to keep strangers updated on my life. If I was going to be staring at a screen all day, I will be writing or keeping contact with my friends, furthering myself in whatever field it is I want to excel in—and not wasting away writing one hundred forty characters about how much I want to kiss a certain boy band member (78 retweets, 141 favorites; it is nice to know how many people feel the same way, though. #thethirstisreal).
And then now? Now it seems as though my thoughts at the beach had come a full circle, finally completed by this one last instance in my life that shook me awake from the nightmare I was living in. For months, I was in denial about what I had confirmed very recently, and it put me in the worst slump I’d ever been in—sitting still for minutes on end, and then bursting out crying for no reason.
But now I’ve put all that behind me. By accepting it, I had managed to move on, and so I’ve closed that book, and I’ve learned from all that it held within its chapters. I’ve come to terms with all that had happened, and I finally accepted who I was in that brief period in time instead of denying myself that ‘phase’ (for a lack of a better term).
An obvious fact that I’ve only come to fully understand is that when you’re a teenager, every day matters. Who you were in January will no longer be who you are in February, and that’s okay. You can’t hate yourself for that. You have to understand that you are human, and that means a constant evolution of self. There is no, and there will never be, a permanent state of being.
So to my readers: a few things are going to change around here. I might not be on as much as I used to be, but I can assure you—if any of you even care—that this is for the best. Or at least, for my best. In doing this, in my letting go of the race in which I had unknowingly and unwillingly gotten myself into, I will finally take one step further out into the sunlight and become the person I want to be. It was never a game for me in the first place; I didn’t set out to blog or tweet or Instagram for the sole intention of becoming recognized in the streets. I did it because it was a form of self-expression, so why start now? Why let go of what made me see my craft as something genuine, as opposed to forcing it because I’ve been told that I had to or else.
My trip to Venice Beach gave back to me more than the pair of slippers I wanted to reunite with. My trip to Venice Beach was the release I’d been looking for, and I feel so blessed to have spent my time there with the best group of girls I could’ve ever asked for.
It was as if by allowing the waves to cradle me in its arms, I had been cleansed and spit back out into the world to tell you this: Don’t ever be afraid to look your inner demons straight in the eye. Chances are, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. You have what it takes to exorcise them; you have the strength and the courage to free yourself from their grip, and the first step in doing so is by believing you can, and that you will. The next step? The next step is just doing it.
So go on then. I believe in you.