In a city that lives while its bright stars die
And you start to get old when you turn 25
Where else can you go when you’ve got that drive?
When you move to a big city and end up staying many years, your attitude tends to go from enthusiasm to detachment to the kind of cynicism that drips off every word in Allie X’s “Not So Bad In LA”.
Don’t expect a linear progression: the constant overlapping of these moods will make you dizzy like a wild rollercoaster ride, as you try to reconcile the drag of routine with the joy and beauty you came seeking, or remind yourself there’s still plenty to be excited about in spite of everything you’ve become jaded with. But everything new, unexpected or strange is only new, unexpected or strange the first time; you’ll never look at the place through a newcomer’s eyes again, just like you can’t unsee, unhear or undo your life.
I’ve been in London almost ten years now. That’s most of my adult life. While there was a lot about growing up I didn’t know ten years ago, I was sure I’d learn most things as I went along; now, in true mid-thirties early-burnout fashion, I feel I know much less than I should, and struggle to keep my head above the water more than most (because everyone else has all their shit together, of course).
By the standards of anyone who thinks success and happiness require the brazenness of youth, I’m past my expiry date. By the standards of those who believe it’s never too late (to change career path, to write novels, to pack my bags and go live near the sea), I still have plenty of time. But I feel the city has aged me beyond recognition, and now, instead of convincing myself I’ve got a whole life to enjoy, I can’t help but wonder how close I am to the point where the opportunities I missed outnumber than the ones that lie ahead.
Living in London has made me smarter, more curious, and prouder than ever to be my own person. It has also driven me mad with exhaustion, flung me right into the rat race I swore I’d never run, and taught me lessons in contradiction, inequality and unfairness that could dishearten much stronger souls. This is who I am now. I may contain multitudes, but that doesn’t mean I’ve learnt how to get the best out of them yet.
If I look back ten years, I can’t tell whether I’ve changed for better or worse, and sometimes not knowing what to think or do feels plainly and simply paralysing. I want to stay and prove I can thrive. I want to leave and stop pretending everything’s fine. I have no idea where I’d go, or when, or how — or even whether I’d be able to make a living somewhere else. And let’s face it: there are a million sunk costs, big fears, and small but priceless pleasures that keep me here. That’s what Allie X means by angels all left but we’ll stay, I guess. Or, at least, that’s why this line makes me stop in my tracks every single time.
(Song recommendation by Federica S.)