I’ve been tremendously terrible at updating this for a couple of months. Be not afraid: I have several maps in progress that will be most impressive when completed.  At least one of them involves all the beer in Los Angeles.

On making a place feel like home

It’s December 2013, it’s finals week at UCLA, and it’s cold outside.  If anything, the changes in season can be a not-so-gentle reminder that time is passing.

I’ve been a resident of Southern California for just under a year and a half now, and my, the time has passed.  I shouldn’t be surprised, every person who is older than me (and who will always continue to be older than me) always has told me about time flying.  And finally, even as quick as it all has gone by, it feels a little more like home than it ever has before.

I never hesitate to tell my students that transition is hard.  Really hard.  I would gander than most person’s families have never really moved much in the last two or three generations.  Maybe their parents were the first to leave the Midwest in search of warmer weather.  But it doesn’t matter, because even if you didn’t move across the country for college or a job, it’s all still very difficult.

It’s also not atypical to fall out of love with a new environment immediately after loving it more than anything you’ve ever loved before.  Really.  It’s called a honeymoon phase for a reason: it’s short, it’s great, and it’s over before you know it.  And when you leave the honeymoon phase, it’s always going to be a long climb back to making a place feel as comfortable as the place you felt before.  (Assuming, of course, that you were comfortable in where you were before).

from lostinamerica.tumblr.com
from lostinamerica.tumblr.com

So after a year and a half of being in California, what’s the secret to making a place feel comfortable?  What’s it take to make new digs feel like “home” ?

Unpack and settle.  This may seem like common sense, and for many college students who do not have a lot of “stuff,” maybe a little less tangible.  But even if you don’t have a lot of things to unpack, it’s always worth taking the time to decorate one’s living space, whether if be a residence hall room, apartment, or bunk space.  It’s about setting an area where you feel comfortable, however that looks like to you.

Go out and explore.  The first time I moved out of Southeastern Michigan and moved into Mid-Michigan, I spent a lot of time on my bicycle, riding around Lansing.  I went to the Zoo, the state Capitol, all over Michigan State University’s campus, the malls, the local restaurants and markets, and everything folks suggested I do.  When I got to Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time making a “bucket list” of all of the things that UCLA students did before graduation and a list of the major cultural establishments in the region.  I’ve been to a LOT of them in the past 18 months, checking them off as I go.  And you know what, when people come to visit, they say that I’m a good tour guide.

from stayrustic.tumblr.com
from stayrustic.tumblr.com

Connect with those that have lived here before you.  It’s just as good as anything else on this list: talk to those who have grown up in the region, who have worked at the college, etc.  What do regulars do?  Do you want to be like them?  Even if you don’t, you’ll know and that will make routine a little more easy.

And last, spend the time.  I mentioned that the climb back to comfort would take a while.  It will.  The little comforts of life are not going to return with ease or a snap of your fingers, no matter how hard you try.  It’s going to take time to find your groove, and while that might not be easy, it’s “okay.”  Accepting that this is going to happen is part of the process, and it’ll make it easier to move forward when the time comes.

from lostinamerica.tumblr.com
from lostinamerica.tumblr.com

One Year, pt. 5

Q: But wait Tom, where are parts 3 and 4?

A: Some posts turn out not to be distinguishable enough in the long run to be worth posting.

Now, it may seem like an insignificant distinction to others that I chose not to post everything that I’ve ever written, but if there are more lessons to be learned over the years… one big lesson for me has been patience.  Being patient is not something that I’m particularly good at (and I partly blame society), but sometimes, it’s a good thing to sit back and let life simmer.

Resuming where I left off, and a month into this post(s), there are plenty of lessons that I’m sure the world would love to hear about.  However, I don’t have the real desire to share all of them, because in the end, they are lessons better left to be learned through one’s own experience than they are lessons that can be read from any professional’s website (I’m looking at you, Thought Catalog!).

However, one of the biggest boons of being a part of the Los Angeles and UCLA community is that it has afforded me many opportunities to try new things.  Food, music, shows, art, outdoors, etc.  I suppose that I would continue to have new experiences no matter where I landed my feet after graduate school, but the reality is that Los Angeles is a very different place than Michigan.  And it’s a space out of a comfort zone that professionals can strive for, if they seek it like I have.

In order to wrap up these reflections (which really means that I’ve lost the interest in posting about it any further), I thought I’d share some of the pictures that I’ve taken since arriving here in LA.

Back in the Mountains (Angeles National Forest)
Back in the Mountains (Angeles National Forest)
Downtown LA (after visiting "Unique LA")
Downtown LA (after visiting “Unique LA”)
Making Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal cookies for my coworkers
Making Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal cookies for my coworkers
For a few months, I rode 16 miles a day to commute on a bicycle older than me!
For a few months, I rode 16 miles a day to commute on a bicycle older than me!
...And continued to go to Renaissance Festivals
…And continued to go to Renaissance Festivals
The Pacific Design Center
The Pacific Design Center
UCLA Class of 2013!
UCLA Class of 2013!
Visits to San Diego
Visits to San Diego
Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour
The Getty Center
The Getty Center
And of course, the Griffith Observatory
And of course, the Griffith Observatory

Truly, the glorious part of moving to a new part of the country is experiencing the cultural institutions, the people, and contributing to it as if you have been there all along.  Until the next urge to reflect (on this blog) hits, that’s all for now.

One Year, pt. 2

Now two days have passed since I left southeast Michigan for Los Angeles.   Of course, I figured that I’d resume my storytelling about my latest year in Los Angeles and not just continue on about my cat…  …but he did cause me lots of trouble.

So, we (said partner and I) were off on our adventure.  The drive itself was rather boring – intentionally.  Given the load of the U-Haul and the 4 cylinders I was towing it with, woefully near the maximum limit, I figured that it’d be best to take it easy.  I think the fastest I ever drove was 65 mph, and that was going downhill somewhere in the mountains in Arizona. The route we took:

Detroit to Los Angeles
Detroit to Los Angeles

Of course, I did know what the end result would be exciting and new (palm trees, sunshine, gainful employment), so the boredom wasn’t the worst part.  In fact, when I had flown over before to interview for the gig, I captured some great sights that fueled my desire to experience things that were different from southeast and mid-Michigan:

Flying Over
Flying Over
Canyons!  Mountains!
Canyons! Mountains!

At some point, I knew that I’d have to brave some of the inclines and declines of elevation changes in New Mexico and Arizona (per this picture), and those were some of the best parts of the trip.  It’s not that the Great Plains are boring, it’s that they are very repetitive and cows, sheep, and Flying J gas stations lack a certain notoriety for me to care about every single one.

That said, the last sight I captured in Hamtramck (where our flat was) was one of the most interesting farms I’ve ever seen:

Urban Farm in Hamtramck
Urban Farm in Hamtramck

Only a few weeks prior, I was volunteering at this old plot of land, digging borders for planters, carrying concrete and steel bars for fence supports, and helping them seed and water their first beds.  I found it to be a great experience, uniquely “Rust Belt” in America, and full of diverse individuals who were attempting to make their community better, no matter what adversity they were up against.  This particular plot was a city owned housing lot that Hamtramck couldn’t sell due to judgment against the municipality years ago as a product of housing discrimination.  Until the city is able to build and provide housing for those that they discriminated against, the city is unable to sell plots like these – so the only use for them is to let the public take care of them.  Fortunately, the public does and this is just one example.

Now, the farms don’t really end in America.  California is one of the biggest agriculture states (the Central Valley is arguably some of the most fertile soil in the world), and everywhere in between the lands are endless fields of… grain.  And if you’ll scroll back up briefly to notice the route that we were taking, at some point, we started to parallel U.S. Route 66:

Route 66 in Baxter Springs, KS
Route 66 in Baxter Springs, KS

Although I bet that many Americans (myself included) and others have a yearning to see the “Great American Highway,” most of it seems rather nondescript (note the McDonald’s sign).  We quickly got back on the interstate and cruised to Oklahoma.

At some point it was bound to get hot, hot, hot.  In no small surprise to me, we left OKC for Albuquerque on the hottest day of the year in 2012 at a balmy 106*F.  When you’re towing nearly a thousand pounds… a fear of overheating either the engine or transmission can make one uneasy.  It looked like this in New Mexico (or maybe Arizona, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter):

Desert
New Mexico Desert

Fortunately, after such a stressor, Albuquerque to Flagstaff (AZ) was a short drive.  Flagstaff had waiting for us some great beer, great food, and cold weather.  A 60 *F night is quite unexpected after being 50* warmer the same day.  After staying the night, the last leg of the drive began.  We passed Kingman, AZ and Needles, CA, crossing over the mighty Colorado as we descended from elevation into the Mojave Desert.  Traffic was light, and we made it into Los Angeles after rush hour – pulling into Westwood just after 8:30 p.m. PST.

I started work at UCLA the following Monday – leaving the road behind.  I’ve only had the joy of going on a few small trips since arriving here (Monterey, CA, Las Vegas, NV, and San Diego, CA stand to mind), but as boring as it can be, the road grants a sense of freedom that helps in transition.  America, and all of her repetitive cattle, sheep, and truck stops, never let us down as we took a big leap into what seemed to be a chasm between Detroit and Los Angeles.  Not a literal chasm, obviously, but more of a oh-God-this-is-actually-happening reality slap chasm.  If you will.

Now, I am a fan of California.  I don’t think there are many that aren’t.  But given the appropriateness of moving to a city like LA as a twenty-something (it’s not that cliché), it’s treated me well so far:

Royce Hall, UCLA
Royce Hall, UCLA
Sunset near Mt. Waterman, Angeles National Forest
Sunset near Mt. Waterman, Angeles National Forest
Off of the PCH (US 1) near Big Sur/Monterey
Off of the PCH (US 1) near Big Sur/Monterey

My plan is for this reflection to continue (at my leisure), and to get to some of my student affairs musings, personal growth observations, and the like.  But these pictures are just as interesting – and the trip is a good foundation for what’s occurred so far.  Stay tuned.

One Year, pt. 1

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my departure from southeast Michigan to start the journey of coming to Los Angeles to work at UCLA.  It’s hard to underscore how quick time has passed since packing everything up in Hamtramck and hoping that my subletted apartment was going to be actually, physically there when I arrived in Westwood 5 days later.  But it all worked out – didn’t it?

When I was packing in Hamtramck, or rather, was helping my partner pack everything up, I lost my cat.  My cat, Moses, had chosen to hide out somewhere that I didn’t know existed in our flat: behind the bathroom sink.  I presume he disappeared somewhere into the wall or another galaxy.  I was devastated.  I’d only had the cat for maybe 7 or 8 months, but he was really important to me.  I thought he had run out while the doors were open and we were moving furniture into the U-Haul.

Nope.  The cat came out of the bathroom sink sometime in the morning.  Who knows how he got in there, where he went, or what was going through his mind.  I’m sure he knew that we were moving again (not exactly a cat’s favorite activity) and decided to hide out.  I, on the other hand, was incredibly relieved.  Of course, given the stress of a big life transition (moving across the country for a job with your partner while driving a tiny car TOWING a U-Haul), the fun was far from over.

A few days prior, I took Moses to the veterinarian to get a check-up and some sedatives for the ride. Five days in a car was not going to be easy on the furball, but I knew he’d be fine if he was calm.  The doctor prescribed him (me?) Acepromazine – and to take a half tablet in the morning before getting him in the car and going.  But, as I had forgotten to break the tablet in half, I gave Moses a whole pill. And therefore freaked out when I realized I potentially had poisoned my cat by forgetting to break the pill into two. The ensuing matter was a crazy bit of driving to CVS, getting peroxide, forcing the cat to ingest said peroxide, and vomit up the Acepromazine and give him a proper dose.

If I haven’t conveyed it yet, this day was a bit of a stress-inducing matter.

And yet, Moses was fine.  And so am I.  It’s an entire year gone by, I now have moved twice in Los Angeles (one from my sublet to an apartment with a roommate to another in an apartment with just my partner) and I have lived to tell the tale.  And I didn’t even have to vomit to get by.

moses
Moses, my cat