Does Your Identity Depend on Your City?

Los Angeles



I was reflecting a bit on the book Million Dollar View which I posted about on the blog yesterday. I may be off-base about this, but I got the feeling that one of the lead characters so deeply identified with the bohemian aspects of her city of choice (and, as it happens, birth) that she had a very difficult time finding herself as the city changed around her. Now, some of that was undoubtedly because she disliked the changes, but I wonder if the city’s changing identity left her feeling lost because they were no longer in sync.

I have lived in Los Angeles 16 years (as of July 28th). That doesn’t seem even remotely possible to me. Perhaps it’s the relative lack of seasonal change, or the fact that the city is so massive that I still get physically lost, but I don’t understand that kind of time in any real way. After reading the book, I wondered if Los Angeles is part of my identity now, or if the Midwestern upbringing still dominates (is Ohio still part of my blood?).

Part of the difficulty is that Los Angeles doesn’t really have one single identity. We have the Hollywood clichés, but that’s not really what the city is about when you live here (unless you choose to spend a lot of time at the bars/clubs on Sunset). Brentwood, where I used to live, is very different than East Los Angeles or Downtown.  The closest I can come to describing the city is that there is a constant flow of people in and out of it, all looking for a better life.

In that respect, I suppose I do identify with Los Angeles. There’s a want in me to create, and I’ve certainly encountered my share of creative types here. No one is surprised if you tell them you are a writer here, that’s for sure! I am looking for a better life. It doesn’t necessarily involve granite countertops, but it involves being fulfilled in what I’m doing.  But is that really a desire limited to Los Angeles? I can’t imagine that if I still lived in Ohio that would be any different.

I’m not rebellious. I’m not brash. I’m not a big risk-taker (other than that whole quitting my job thing). I’m also not a 21-year-old blonde hanging out at the beach (but then very few of the beachgoers are). I am grasping at something, but it’s not really for position (though I would certainly like a seat at the table). I’m not driven. And I’m not good at selling myself (perhaps my greatest weakness). Does that mean LA is not a part of who I am?

If I left LA tomorrow, would I feel like I lost a part of myself somehow, or would I just miss the familiarity of the place?  Would I be someone else in a different place, or would all the things that are part of me here, just move to a new location? I don’t have a clear answer.

Do you think your identity is entwined with where you live? Do you long for another city where your heart beats in time with the traffic and the footsteps of the crowds? Are you a different person depending on your location—or are the differences found only in the trappings and not in the essential you?



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