How to Be Not Otherwise

by Jessica Brookman in ,

FACT: You can have any lifestyle you want if you can bear the cost of what it takes to get there.

Two years ago today, I was behind the bar at the Argonaut on H Street in Washington, DC, slinging drinks and listening to people’s problems. I worked at four different bars that summer while I started a freelance career, finish paying a set of ridiculous loans, and scrapped to save the cash to get my ass to California...on a hunch.

I love bartending, though. You go, you talk to people, you get money, you go home. There is a lot of dignity in that. It paid much better than my first freelance gigs. By September that year, I was on a cross-country roadtrip. I had only managed to save crumbs but it was time to go. Thanks to friends all over the country; I hit California 9 days later and only $500 down. No job and no apartment. My only plan was to make it work.

Ready. Set. Hustle your fucking ass off.

This was the cornerstone of that first Californian year. And, chaos...on every level. Putting together work. Losing work. Getting fired. Falling in love. Getting cheated on. Getting a concussion. Getting more work. Getting stalked. Losing friends. Moving into a house. Getting too much work. Breaking up. Moving out of a house. Cancer scare. Surgery. Some bad investments. Rebound dating a shirt-thieving actor. Renewed broke-ness. Road trip. Car death. Drama. Stupidity. Frustration. (Heartbreak) x 10^6. Hashtag Los Angeles.

I hope that was exhausting to read, because it nearly killed me to live through it.

Nearly. I am alive. Very much so. More importantly, I am me. More than ever. I’m guessing there are easier ways to learn who the fuck you are but there’s nothing quicker than fire.

So what’s left after a firestorm? Just me, some empty space and some of my incurable hunches about where to go next. It’s two years from that picture behind the bar. I’m a million miles from there. 

I am in Los Angeles. And Los Angeles is no place for a soul. 

I don’t need to tell you that so much of LA is spiritually dead, grasping, or vocationally full of shit. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find it faster than an aspiring actress-slash picks out the producers in a crowded, low-lit bar. It is nothing new. We’ve heard that LA story. It’s written up and down the Santa Monica mountains, to the beach in a Maserati convertible and all the way back to Figueroa.

And if that scene isn’t your thing, there is another side of LA reserved for people wearing a false modesty that simply fails to conceal putrid combinations of indignation, fatigue, and self-loathing (the composition therein varies by neighborhood, naturally). If you hang out over here, you get really good at throwing shade and casting a side-eye. One can hardly exist without the other. Yin. Yang. Soulless Samsara.

But when you’ve spent a completely sufficient number of evenings fending off one or the other side of these industry pleasantries, where do you go? 

I don’t know. But I’m on my way there right now. I’ll send you postcards from the road. If nothing else, I am making an artform out of slipping the noose of any definitive category or label. Maybe I will predominantly settle into one. Maybe not. I don’t know.

Not-knowing is not comfortable most of the time.

I spend a lot of time alone, working, and shaking trees for money. Even on the days where I feel like I've lost my mind, I remember that the alternative is pretending. And then discomfort doesn't seem like such a high price to pay. It won't kill me. I’ll take it. Come what may. 

At the very least, I have the dubious honor of genuinely confusing people at parties when they ask that stereotypical LA question...

I am Not Otherwise.  

If, at the end of my life, the only thing I have to show for all of this struggle is that I didn’t take shit and that I made a few people think about how they spend their days, that will be enough. But I've got a hunch...

I am me. If that makes you uncomfortable, good. Then it's begun. Let the bridges I burn light my way.



*[Thanks to the inimitable Felicia Sullivan for inspiring this. An award-winning writer and binge-inducing food photographer, you can find Felicia’s work @]