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Goodbye LA: You Suck and I’ll Miss You

Right Now

As I write this, I’m sitting along the periphery of the waiting area for Gate 35 at LAX airport, my worldly belongings nearly identifiable as they bulge and poke and scramble to find a way out of the carry-on bag they are piled into like refugees.

They have no home, and now, neither do I.

I turned in the keys to the townhouse I shared with my girlfriend Kristin for the last year about 2 hours ago, slowly raising the creaky metal door over the mail slot and sliding them in. Unceremoniously. Heartlessly. I took no photos of the front of the building as I walked away. I doubt I ever took any.

Riding in the stripped, industrial white ‘kidnapper van’ owned by my friend Dustin (who graciously offered to drop me and Kristin off at the airport), I couldn’t help but go over the ups and downs of my time in Los Angeles, and reflect upon what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained, and what I’ve lost.

Remember the Good Things

Los Angeles is many things to many people, but to a large portion of the people who live here, LA means opportunity. There are parallels between the immigrants who have crossed oceans to make a new life for themselves in the United States and the cocktail waitresses, sous-chefs, theatre ushers, and personal assistants who crossed the Rockies to make their living in Los Angeles. Both groups sacrificed much in hopes of striking it rich, leaving their friends and families in order to follow their dreams, damn the odds, and just maybe get famous and beautiful and be a part of it all.

Having lived here for a few years, I can tell you that there definitely is an ‘it all’ to be a part of. This city is cultured, wealthy, half-crazed and beautiful, and just as vain as any celebrity-centric TV show would have you believe. People will wait hours in line outside a club on the off chance that someone will snap a photo of them at that club. Like a cheerleading squad with 12 million members, LA is oiled and operated by freshly minted popularity.

Despite the gilded exterior, at its core Los Angeles is actually quite solidly built, with a vast number of cultures and ideas honestly represented. Though the Hollywood movie industry is based on a system that turns lots of money into very poor films, there is also a thriving independent film culture that is kept crisp and edgy by a population in which nearly everyone is an amateur actor, writer, camera-operator, animator, producer, or sound-guy.

The technology and energy sector in LA is doing very well, and if I’m any judge of these kinds of trends, it’s going to really explode in the next decade. Hundreds of bright, capable, hungry young entrepreneurs are making their mark in Los Angeles with novel concepts, new approaches to old problems, and the business savvy to get their projects funded and keep them afloat until they become self-sustaining.

Speaking of sustainability, the eco-energy market in SoCal is also on the verge of taking off, with dozens of viable new solar, wind, and biofuel companies coming out of the woodwork to take their share of (and leave their mark on) the new energy economy. Networking groups like Green Drinks LA help sustainability enthusiasts from different fields come together and share resources, ideas and organic vodka drinks.

I have definitely changed as a result of my exposure to the LA way of life. When I first moved out here from Springfield, Missouri over 2 years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of policies and personalities. What I discovered is a vast and colorful collage of people who generally work well together despite the millions of individual idiosyncrasies, cultural baggage, and conflicting philosophies.

Learn From the Bad

I could tell all kinds of stories about business people who stabbed me in the back, nightclubs that are really just fancy drug dens, and the myriad close-call experiences I’ve had during my stay here, but I think instead I’ll tell you about something that happened just this morning, because it serves as a nice explanation of the city and its people as a whole.

At about 6am this morning, my apartment was already a whirlwind of activity as Kristin and I hurriedly cleaned and packed and took care of all the last-minute things we weren’t able to get around to previously.

I barely paused when, taking a few bags of trash down to the dumpster in the alleyway behind our apartment, I turned the corner and startled a group of four rumpled men gathered around it. An arm appeared from within the dumpster and the rest of another man followed, holding out his prize to his friend: a bright blue and yellow plastic air pump, made to inflate a Pilates ball.

I knew what it was because, up until the day before, it was MY plastic air pump.

As I covered the rest of the distance between me and the dumpster, I realized that one of the faces of this group was familiar. The guy who does repairs for my building was leading the group, directing what should be taken and what should be thrown back. Like the captain of a fishing boat, he was making sure they brought in the best catch possible. He looked to me as I approached and signaled that he would toss the bags for me. We exchanged grins and nods and I went back upstairs to my life, leaving them to theirs.

A few of my friends in college would dumpster dive from time to time, usually to find lamps or furniture or posters that would spruce up their dorm rooms or cheap rented houses. These men, however, were clearly diving with more purpose, and very likely whatever they find on these excursions make up a significant portion of their income, allowing them to take care of themselves and their families.

If you can understand how this scenario was not uncomfortable for the group of men at the dumpster or for me, then you understand Los Angeles. There is a certain paradox in every glitzy event, photo shoot and feature film that takes place in LA, because, though we elevate and celebrate the wealth and beauty that exists here, it would not be possible without the sheer number of people in the lower economic class who have made this city their home. They love LA and the possibilities it offers so much that they are willing to suffer through any amount of drudgery or potentially humiliating situations to stay.

I should clarify: I wasn’t TOTALLY okay with my morning’s exchange. When I got back to my apartment, I couldn’t help but look at all the things I have (meager though they are, now, after getting rid of everything that wouldn’t fit inside my carry-on) and think, “Wow, I got a pretty damn good lot in life.” It’s great that almost anything that is thrown away in LA has the chance of a second life, but the fact that there are those who need to scrounge these items to make ends meet is not a pleasant thought.

On My Way Out

My lack of willingness to fall into these roles that most people here seem to take up so naturally might be part of why I’m so ready to leave LA for almost anywhere else. This city has treated me very well and I’ve met some absolutely amazing people these past couple of years, but from the start I wasn’t able to muster the level of escapism and intentional self-deception that is required to turn a blind eye to the problems that are glaringly obvious as you walk through almost any part of LA (okay, when you DRIVE through almost any part of LA; it’s not socially acceptable to walk too much here).

I lost a lot of the naiveté I possessed after living in Missouri for most of my life, but I also spent a good amount of my time here avoiding a completely different kind of ignorance that seems to be endemic in any city that has as much to offer as LA: a lack of concern for anything outside of what’s shown in magazines, talked about on the morning news shows, and gossiped about over gourmet miniature cupcakes and green tea frozen yogurt.

As I board the plane that heralds the beginning of my new lifestyle, I’m hoping that I will be able to keep myself from falling prey to the intentional self-deception that I’ve spent so much time and energy dodging while at the same time spreading the innovative notions and warm thoughts toward the future that I’ve been exposed to in LA that have allowed me to build up my business and myself to the point where I am now: able to purchase a ticket to a new life full of new opportunities.

Update: May 9, 2016

There’s a lot to be said here, but I’ll see if I can keep it concise.

I still feel the push-pull of trying to stay aware of the problems inherent to modern society — not just in LA, but everywhere — while still enjoying the good things I’m fortunate to have in my life. I think, for me at least, going too far in either direction would be to miss out on an important aspect of living.

I still feel there are wonderful things about LA, and am thankful for the time I spent there. I had some remarkable experiences, and even the things I look back on negatively because I was treated horribly by someone or couldn’t grok the resolute fame-focus so many people seemed to possess ended up being educational. Helped me pivot and realign with what turned out to be most important to me. Seeing extremes of wealth and vanity and bravado and brazen careerism helped me temper some of those things in myself, which has been wonderful for my sense of self and happiness.

I’m also still enthused about the potential of the energy sector in LA. The startup world there has stumbled since back in the day, but the Southwest US is an exciting place for solar in particular right now. If they play their cards right, it’ll be quite the hub for the post-oil boom.

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How to Throw a Breakup Party

The first question that I would usually get from people when I initially started telling them about Exile Lifestyle was “When will you be coming back?” The second question was invariably “Is your girlfriend going along with you?”

Needless to say, when the inquirers found out that my girlfriend and I would not only be breaking up but also be throwing a wild and crazy breakup party in our empty townhouse before going our separate ways, the reactions were priceless.

Many people applauded our ‘mature approach’ to dating, while others lightly tssked and said it was a shame and that we probably wouldn’t go through with it. All but a few on both sides said that they wouldn’t be able to do it. Too strange. Too much drama.

But though the idea started out as a joke, after discussing it for a while we embraced the idea and decided to really go crazy with it. And you can too.

Before I get in to the logistics that go into planning and hosting a successful breakup party, however, I want to go over the reasons you might want to throw one to begin with. It’s not your typical fare — in fact, I’ve never known anyone else who has hosted one, nor even heard of one that’s taken place — but that’s part of the fun. There are no traditions to break, no expectations to meet. A breakup party is about as tabula rasa as you can get with an event (in more ways than one, I suppose).

Reasons to Throw a Breakup Party

  1. Different paths: sometimes two people who have a wonderful relationship feel that their lives are headed in different directions, and that by being in the relationship they are both being held back and holding the other person back. In this instance, it may make more sense to break up rather than keeping each other from doing what you each want to do.
  2. Relationship creep: It should be no secret to anyone who has dated for any amount of time that, over the weeks and months and years, the relationship changes. This is the result of many different things (hopefully it also means that both parties are continuing to grow) and can be a very positive thing, but sometimes the relationship changes in such a way that the people involved in it don’t want to be involved in it anymore. If this is the case, the mature and rational thing to do is end it before one person ends up killing the other (sounds like an exaggeration, but this actually does happen from time to time).
  3. Reestablishment of independence: Another feature of lengthy relationships is that the people involved tend to lose a bit of their individuality due to the sacrifices that each person makes for the other, the fact that they are almost always together, etc. For some people, this can eventually be too much, and being able to be JUST you again (instead of one half of a whole) may seem like something you need to do.
  4. Antiestablishment: This is probably the least rational reason to throw a breakup party, but to each their own. The idea of most relationships can be a bit abhorrent to some people (you date to find someone to marry, get married and have kids, white picket fences are built, credit cards are used to buy an SUV, trampolines, big-screen TVs, suburbs, 18 or more years of child-rearing, divorce, repeat). In this case, it may seem like a good choice to avoid the traditional relationship path and instead put limitations in place, such as a time-limit (wherein the relationship would end with a party at the end of x number of months or some such). I’ve never heard of something like that happening, but I’m sure it does.

Think about it, and if you find the idea of a breakup party appealing, then you probably have a good reason to want to have one. Discuss it with your partner (which will likely result in a lot more discussions about related things) and if you DO decide that a breakup party is the way to go, be sure to keep the following things in mind.

Things to Keep in Mind When Throwing a Breakup Party

  1. It’s a party: The last thing your friends and family want to do is attend a cryfest that’s more wake than bar mitzfa. Keep things lively, have fun music playing, and have all the trappings you’d usually have at a party (food, drinks, etc).
  2. Make sure everyone is in on it: It sucks to be the one person at a costume party who shows up in street clothing (or vice-versa), and it would suck just as much for someone to show up thinking it’s a normal party, only to find out that there is more significance to it than that. Explain what’s going on clearly in the invite, on your Facebook Events page, and when you are telling people about it. The more your invitees are able to prepare, the less likely it is there will be a cringe-worthy scene at some point during the festivities.
  3. Be innovative: This is a new kind of party, so there’s no reason you should do everything ‘the way it’s supposed to be done.’ For example, my girlfriend and I printed off pictures of the both of us and tore them down the middle (with some really funny results) and taped them to the walls. We also had artwork on display…a guy we met pretty randomly at a gallery opening loved the idea of the party and wanted to show his work at the event. We also set up a Twister board and had a contest called ‘Text Your Ex,’ where the funniest text message exchange between a partygoer and one of their exes won a prize. Because both myself and my girlfriend are moving at the same time, we both had a LOT of stuff we’d yet to sell, so we also had a ‘garage sale’ room of sorts that was a big hit.
  4. Make it official: People are going to want to see some drama, but if everything goes well there won’t be much of that. So how do you keep to the theme? You break up during the party. My girlfriend Kristin and I chose to break up at midnight, and we made it official by changing our Facebook relationship statuses (I know, I know) to ‘Single.’ Not only did we make a statement about the role social networks play in the lives of Gen-Y folk, but we also got one possibly awkward part of breaking up out of the way while among a supportive group of friends. Perfect!

The absolute most-important thing to keep in mind through all of this is that everyone looks at relationships differently, and this model will not work for everyone. In fact, I would hazard to say that it won’t work for the vast majority of people.

Even if you are the kind of person who this kind of thing appeals to, make sure that you have some long, intensive discussions ahead of time. If you’re even considering a breakup party it means that you want to stay friends with the person you are breaking up with, and if this event is in any way not mutual, the likelihood of that happening is greatly decreased.

What do you think? Are breakup parties a mature approach to a difficult situation or a cop-out for those who are afraid of conventional relationships? Have you had an unconventional relationship or breakup? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!

Update: May 9, 2016

This has been one of my more externally referenced and popular posts over the years. I’ve heard from hundreds of people telling me that they’d thrown breakup (or divorce) parties after reading this, and I have people asking me about it after talks and book tour stops to this day.

In the years since this post was written, I’ve penned a book on relationships that maps out some of the more complex rationales behind doing things like this. But primarily it comes back to 1. treating the person you’re dating with respect, 2. communicating clearly with each other, and 3. remembering that there’s no right or wrong way to date. Everything else is up in the air, and if you take advantage of that fact, a relationship can be a wonderful adventure with a person (or people) who add an immense amount of value and happiness to your life.

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What’s Next

In 6 days, I’m leaving LA.

I’ll be spending a weekend in Seattle, helping my now-girlfriend (and soon-to-be ex-girlfriend) move before heading to Missouri to say goodbye to friends and family. The last stop is a quick meetup with my sister in Miami before hopping a flight to EZE in Buenos Aires, Argentina (landing on September 15), where I will be living until January 15, 2010.

I’ve been in Los Angeles for almost 2.5 years, and in that time I’ve come to really appreciate the culture and the people, even though I’m more of a NY guy at heart. I’ll be putting together an official goodbye to LA for the day I leave, but I wanted to give the gilded City of Angels a quick salute now for being a better experience than I thought it would be when I first moved here immediately after college.

The big news is that with a new living situation also comes some serious upgrades to Exile Lifestyle.

I’ll be adding a couple of subsidiary sites to the ‘Exile Network,’ which will allow me to flesh out the ‘travel’ aspect of the site without completely overwhelming the lifestyle design and other aspects of it. I’ll also be starting up an e-commerce shop with recommended EBooks, software, gear, etc etc etc. I’ll try and put everything that I’m taking with me on my trip up there, too, so you can have access to the same equipment I’ve tracked down for my trip and will be reviewing as time goes by (also: if you get the same stuff, then we’ll be twins!).

You’ll start to see more guest authors write for the site, as well, covering topics along the same vein as I would, but with their own personal twist. The first of these articles has already been published (by Mr. Sean Ogle, from Location 180), and I have a few more already in the queue. There are so many really talented and insightful people out there to be exposed to, and I want to make sure you folks have access to all of them.

Along those same lines, I’ll be contributing more to other blogs: writing guest posts as much as possible in order to speak to new audiences and form stronger bonds with my fellow bloggers, who have already inspired and helped me along so much in my preparation for this project.

Finally, I’ve got 2 new EBooks on the horizon; a treatise of sorts on confidence, and a kind of augmented manifesto with a lot of practical suggestions for improving your life (and that sort of thing).

All of this will be happening between my moving away from LA and my moving to Argentina. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks!

I want to take a moment to once again say thank you to all of my readers. Your attention and active participation in the conversations here on Exile Lifestyle are of incredible value to me and other people who are taking on new challenges and working to live their lives to the fullest. I’m humbled by your attention and insight, and I hope to continue earning it moving forward.

Update: May 9, 2016

Wow, lots going on here.

First, can we talk about how wonderful it is that few authors write ‘EBooks’ or ‘eBooks’ anymore? The lazy ‘ebooks’ is so much more pleasing to the eye. I should note that I’m writing this in 2016, the year when the MFA Style Guide finally gave up the ghost and decided that ‘Internet’ could be ‘internet.’ So you can stop hassling me now, autocorrect.

Second, I deleted a sentence from the post above indicating that people should email me if they want to have a guest post published on the blog. I’ve had a message on my FAQ page for ages saying that I don’t accept guest posts (I stopped accepting them maybe five years ago), and was frustrated that people were still pitching me constantly. I wonder if this might have been the culprit — sorry about the confusion.

Third, those two books I mentioned are books that did pretty damn well in the ‘free ebooks’ sense of the word (hundreds of thousands of downloads), particularly this early, before the Kindle was a popular thing that anyone took seriously. That non-money-earning success was what set me on the path to writing books for a living. So a big thanks everyone who told me my so-so books were good! That helped me get to the point where they actually are.

Finally, that weekend with my ex up in Seattle was incredibly bittersweet, and visiting my sister in Miami before leaving resulted in spending hours at a zoo sweating out every beverage I’ve ever consumed right before hopping on an international flight. So an apology to whomever sat next to me on that flight, I guess.