Category Archives: California Dreamin’

Find Yourself Here

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This fall I’ll be taking a Place Branding course where I will study how places – cities, countries, etc. position and market themselves as tourist destinations.   As an avid traveling and marketing geek, these are always campaigns I’ve noticed, but with this class looming less than 5 weeks in the future (I arrive back in Michigan in 4 weeks…), I’ve started to pay extra special attention to the examples I expect will come up in our discussions.

One I’ve noticed, not because I’ve seen it out here, but because I live out here and remember seeing it before I knew I would live out here, is the advertisement campaign for California.  You’ve seen them I’m sure.  The narrator introduces the kind of “work” they do in California with footage of surfers, shoppers, skiers, wine drinkers, etc. and they conclude with Governator and his wife asking when you can start – the tagline is “Find Yourself Here.”

It’s a good campaign, and I look forward to discussing it soon.  They showcase what they have and play up on the idea that almost everyone has about California – that it’s a laid back, no work all fun kind of place where you can do everything you love and nothing you don’t.  It’s a Mecca – a place people dream about going to chase (and more importantly, to achieve) their dreams of being a rock star, an actor, an silicon valley entrepreneur, a completely free hippie, or just generally a beach bum.

Of course though every campaign is designed as an ideal, and the reality is not always as it is portrayed, the secret of a good campaign is to have more truth than lies – substantially more.  Part of what makes this campaign effective is how true those ideas and that tagline are.  Not only are there all those things to do out here – you really can surf, hike, sail, explore a dessert, ski, drink fabulous wine and eat incredible food, see stars (plastic people) and stars (big balls of burning gas), be cooler because you are gay, shop until you drop (or the loan sharks come), smoke weed legally, not own a parka without fear of hypothermia, etc. etc, but the people here live by the laid back attitude that the ads portray.  This state really does have everything, and a place with everything is a place where you ought to be able to find yourself – somewhere.  Not only that, but this place is more than the sum of its parts.  As I’ve said before, I’ve got a thing for making places into ideas, and California is the ultimate and is a place that becomes an idea for almost everyone.

The couple people I know who moved out here really have found themselves here. One moved to San Francisco shortly after high school as an act of freedom – a gay teen in a less-than-liberal family, he knew what he had to do to be free and he did it.  From what I hear, he’s calm, content, and happy with who he is and where he’s going.  Another friend moved out here after a whirlwind youth and the tragic death of a lover, and she has the same story – calm, content, and happy with who she is and where she’s going.

Then there’s me.  I don’t want to live here.  I’m not a California girl.  And yet the funny thing is, I found myself here too.

I found myself here because I learned to stop caring what other people think, what might be the “best” decision, what I have to do to be the smartest, prettiest, skinniest, most cultured, most interesting person I can be.  But where as my friends found themselves here because they found their people, I found myself here because I didn’t.  Californians do the opposite of almost all of those things.  They care tremendously what other people think, and though that manifests itself differently from NorCal towns to San Francisco to LA, it’s true across the board.  And when I got here, I learned to stop caring.  Recognizing early that I wouldn’t fit in (or be the smartest, the prettiest, the most interesting), I just stopped caring to fit in, and I’ve really gotten to enjoy not paying attention to what other people think.  I do what I want – I carry a purse the color of a traffic barrel even though my coworkers laugh and the Marin-moms in their LuluLemon pretend not to stare.  It’s obnoxious, I know it’s obnoxious, and I like that it’s obnoxious.  Sometimes I’m obnoxious, and when I want to be I will.  I cut my hair and didn’t care how it looked (and most people out here have long hair),  just because I knew I needed a change.  I wear makeup and paint my nails when I feel like it, and I don’t when I don’t (even if my face would look “cleaner” with some foundation).   I started talking and thinking and acting professionally without calculating every move I make because I wasn’t worrying every second of every day whether they would think I was the best intern they ever had.

And doing all of those things has made me free.  They’ve helped me find myself – my authentic self, not just my carefully monitored and semi-censored self.  And while I can’t perceive myself from the outside, I think it’s actually made me a cooler person.  I’m more relaxed, happier, and more genuine. Despite my disregard, I’ve made some friends, some men have thought I’m pretty, and everybody who sees my work tends to think I’m a pretty bright crayon.  Finding myself has also allowed me to realize what I really value – loving people, having a job you’re passionate about, exploring the world as well as your soul and the back yard, and having a creative outlet.  I’m really looking forward to the things I have back in Michigan – my family, my friends, 5 more moths rent free, graduate school, a flexible schedule that will let me get things in order before I start my new life, and the good prospects I have for a new beginning in January.  And now that I feel like I’ve found myself, I’m ready.

Hoping wherever you are, you find yourself there.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

yours.Rachel

The Spinach Incident

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It’s lunchtime and I’m eating spinach – just spinach.  Ok, that’s an exaggeration.  I’m eating spinach with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   Appetizing?  You must be salivating uncontrollably right now.

No, the SoCal skinny isn’t getting to me, it’s just what happened to be in the refrigerator.   When I moved from my luxury condo on the bay to a Best Western in Slumsville, I had leftover food, and I decided to bring it along with me, storing it in the office fridge, and to eat it during the week instead of going out to lunch.  Virtuous, and the right thing to do, right?  Good for my bank account and my expanding waistline, I thought, and true to form I carefully planned which meals I would eat out so as to have just enough food in the work fridge but not too much.  Then when I reached in today, excited for my scheduled and delicious salad, I realized I left my goat cheese behind in the luxury fridge.

I laughed a little, thinking that my place of employment – a port with men in coveralls and a sign velcroed to the bathroom door that you flip around to say occupied or vacant – is probably the kind of place that repels goat cheese.  I’m not sure how well goat cheese would fare in a place like this.  Probably about as well as me.

So what’s a girl to do?  I pulled the spinach out, dressed it with the oil and balsamic vinegar I brought, and began to eat.  Crunch, crunch, crunch.  Mmmmm…

After I went two full days asking anyone I could for something to do, I finally gave up on being the good intern and decided to alternate a previous menial project for another department (to my boss’ glee – he was thrilled not to have me nagging him anymore) with daydreaming and soul searching.  And because I’m bored and blogging at work, I’m convinced my pathetic excuse for a lunch means something.  I’ve decided this incident – the spinach incident, as I plan on referring to it – is a microcosm for my summer.

This internship was exactly what I needed.  It broke the marketing bubble I’ve been living in for the last 6 years, reminding me that most people don’t think like agency people, which means the clients I want to work for in the future won’t think like the people I’ve been working with for the last six years.   Being here has taught me how to communicate with them, and even how to understand how and why they think the way they do (and how valuable Excel can really be.)

It’s also taught me what I really value in a job – what I love, what I need, and what I can’t stand.  I used to think maybe I just fell into experiential marketing, and that I might be just as happy somewhere else where I could work in an office, have clients, or do a little writing.   Now I see how wrong that is.  I realize how much I want to do marketing – experiential especially – and how much I wish I was in a workplace that values what I have to give.  When in the city I found myself hanging around near the convention center, peeking in the windows, hoping to catch a contact high from someone running the show.   Today at the office we are hosting a number of guests for a series of meetings, and I keep secretly hoping something will go wrong and the admin won’t be able to fix it all and I’ll have to step in and make sure things work out the way they are supposed to.  I’ve been getting excited to return to school in the fall and to start work 6 months from now somewhere I love.  If I were still in Michigan, I may not have felt like that or felt it nearly as strong.  Also, this summer I visited a place I never had before, toured it somewhat extensively, and decided it’s not anywhere I have the particular desire to make my home.

I’m like Pop-eye, and fate, my Olive Oyl, is feeding me spinach to make me strong.  As I put each bite in my mouth, I know it’s good for me.   I haven’t eaten much that’s green lately (except avocados, which I suspect are a different nutrient group), and I can feel my body crying out for anything that isn’t a carbohydrate or sugar.   The last couple weeks I’ve been subsisting off pasta, fruit, yogurt, and granola, and though each of those is healthy on its own, a (wo)man cannot live on (granola and fruit) alone.   I’ve had the sense to order meat when I go out, and in the last week I think I’ve eaten more beef than I had in the previous three months.  (thank you to the great nation of Mexico for bringing Carne Asada with you when your crossed up the border).  So with that need filled, all that was left was the green stuff.  Really, plain raw spinach is exactly what is missing in my life and exactly what I need to eat to make my mind and body healthy and whole.

But boy, when you chomp into a mouthful of plain raw spinach dripping with vinegar, it’s pretty gross.

“People have to really suffer before they can risk doing what they love.” – Chuck Palahniuk

yours.Rachel

And All I Need is Something Real

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I’ve got a friend who always talks about her people.  Honestly, it was something I never really felt like I understood, and it was one of the great mysteries that divided us.  She has her roots, her people, and all these things that tie her to a place.  A place that she recently left, for another place where she has similar roots.   How painful does that sound? Choosing to rip yourself from the place and people you love, choosing to leave in part because it makes sense and in part because you’re soothing the wounds that were open when you lived in the first place because you weren’t in the second.  Ouch.  (and sorry to twist the knife.)  Being the clever, quick thinking business woman that I am, I came up with a solution to her problem.  Don’t have roots.

Perhaps I should have started this with an apology to my friends reading this.  It’s not that I don’t care about you – I really, really do, and I hope you know that.  But I’ve been developing this idea about far away friends, and it’s something I’ve come to accept as a reality – I know too many people destined for too many diverse and great things to expect one town to hold them all.  And it’s a kind of glamorous idea – having friends all over who you can call when you just happen to be across the country, knowing you will always have a hug and great conversation wherever you go.  The time you spend together becomes quality, not quantity, and you cherish the evenings and weekends and maybe rare weeks when you get to see the people you truly love.

The other thing about this framework is it leaves you free.  I’ve been fond of saying for some time now that the kind of commitment I’m ready for is a cactus.  Drop an ice cube in there every few weeks to keep it nourished, and tuck it easily into a carry-on bag to take it on a plane – you’re good to go! That’s what I want.

I spent high school so incredibly rooted – in a relationship, in a church community, in the school community, in a tight-knit and cancer-tastic family – that by the time I left all I wanted to do was be free.  Cutting ties wasn’t quite as easy as that, but time and a lot of temporary relocation finally cut those roots or at least stretched them to a sufficiently light and freeing distance.  I threw a few darts, broke a few hearts, and dragged a few people through the mud with me, but for the most part I was free.  I went wherever I pleased.   New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Rome, Spain, Morocco.  Granted, I did still have financial roots, but those where flexible enough that they allowed me to fly – literally.

When the economy crashed my flight path did as well, but I bunkered down, telling myself this was just an ellipsis until when I would be in the air again, and then I would fly free as a bird to a place where I knew no one.   Then California landed in my lap, and I jumped at the chance to fly again.

But when I got here, I was alone.  Not surprising in itself, but what surprised me was how much that bothered me.  I was always the introvert – the girl who went to the museum by herself.  The girl who wanted no more commitment than a cactus.  What did I need anyone else for?

In Northern California I never really made friends – the office people weren’t really my people and the suburbanites definitely weren’t either.  I got used to it, did fine, consciously avoided alcoholism and watched a lot of Netflicks.  But then when I got to San Diego, something happened.  I met people. Mostly single serving friends – the kind who I met at a bar and spent the evening with or who took me out to dinner after work, but I like them and if I were here longer I would love to go see their favorite unknown band at a hole-in-the-wall place or play with their children.   And because I’ve met these people, I feel alive.  I’m sure the weather and the view from my balcony help, but the real reason I feel alive and on fire here is because I’m connecting with other human beings. Listening to their stories, sharing mine, and talking about life.  Laughing.  Wondering.  Growing.

It’s not that I’ve decided when I get back to Michigan I’m staying – I’m still leaving, and almost nothing anyone could do would make me stay.  But what I know now, without a doubt, is when I arrive wherever I will be, I need to find people.  I will need people, every day, who I care about and who care about me.  I will need to get involved, take the ropes and tie myself down, and begin to love and be loved.   And this love, these roots, will let me fly.

A sentiment echoed by millions of other people before?  Absolutely.  But did that make the moment I realized it for myself any less meaningful?  Absolutely not.   Dear Tall Friend, I get it.  I know it’s a little late, but you know I’m a stubborn bitch.  Love, Short Friend.

“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” – Albert Einstein

yours.Rachel