The Romanticism of Californication

Some may say the humor in Californication is crass, low brow, raunchy, and dirty. To those people, I say you’re missing the point. Sure, it’s a sex comedy, similar to HBO’s Dream On that aired in the 90s, but with a lot more unsavory scenes when it comes to sex. However, Californication is a show deeply rooted in romanticism—exhibited in the theme of unrequited love and the setting of Los Angeles.

As a writer, I’m envious of Hank Moody to an extent. Though he finds himself in a high order of drama, I can respect the love he harbors for Karen, his baby momma and muse. He’s the tortured artist who got lucky and found his other half; then, riding that wave of love was incredibly prolific, and when it ended he couldn’t write. It’s a hell of a thing when writer’s block comes on and if it’s attributed to loss or heartbreak, it’s even worse. And that’s essentially the dilemma of Hank; a man trying to find his way after the ‘end of everything’. He delves into sex, alcohol and drugs, and rock n’ roll; and though I don’t condone his methods of self medication, as a writer I can understand them. When you find your other half, that perfect someone and things just click, you can’t imagine losing it. When it’s gone, you numb the pain in whatever way you can.

Hank is a tragic romantic looking to get back what he lost and punishing himself in the process. Los Angeles provides the perfect landscape for it—a city of glitz and under the surface, horrifically rotten. I believe it was LA historian, Mike Davis, who said “Los Angeles is a sunlit mortuary where you can rot without feeling it”. There have been times in my life where I could definitely relate. But as a writer and human being, you can’t wallow forever. You have to rise out of the murk, which Hank never really does in the series—kind of my major gripe with the writing. And though the series has various short-comings, I think it delivers as a strong depiction of what it’s like to be a hopeless romantic in a city where romance may very well be dead. In the end, we all want a Karen–a muse, a lover, a savior–our other half.

Good luck out there! As Hank would say, “It’s a big bad world.”

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The Swirl: Race and Dating in LA

It’s well-known that Los Angeles touts itself as a cultural melting pot—a liberal Mecca with a thriving culture of art, music and film. It’s a place of sophistication and forward thinking, and where the only societal pressure is to be the hippest version of you. People are free to date whomever they like, and most onlookers won’t give a second glance. Having lived in the South where interracial dating is still taboo, LA is in direct opposite. I have had the pleasure of dating women of various ethnicities. What I look for in a woman has always been substance and depth. I’ve always been attracted to a woman who has something to say and isn’t afraid to say it. And in my life, these women have come in various tones and shades.

 

However, like with anything, there is a less appealing side to what talk show host and radio personality, Wendy Williams, calls “the swirl”. On three occasions, I’ve dated women of European descent—most recently, German. She was a sweet, attractive and pleasant woman. Though we had our disagreements and ultimately a failure to sustain what we had, we ended things on honest terms. Yet, there was always an elephant in the room. She always seemed apprehensive to introduce me to her friends with the exception of her roommate. Once, as we sat in a Mexican restaurant near her hometown, a young white woman she recognized approached us. They greeted each other quickly and without introduction, the woman left and my date seemed relieved she didn’t stick around. I didn’t bother asking who it was, since it wasn’t my business, but it was strange.

She would later explain she had no black friends, and limited friends of color. Out of curiosity, I once asked her, why that was? She didn’t really know, but she assumed she just spent time with people who were mostly like her. I found it odd. Living in a metropolis like Los Angeles, I had grown up with friends from all ethnic backgrounds, and I realized how much of a gift it was. I learned so much about other ethnicities and cultures. I learned to see the beauty of humanity; tolerance was imprinted into my upbringing. My parents had a diverse group of friends as well, and I remember as a child thinking that’s how friendship should be—a melting pot.

In a later conversation, she explained she had dated black men before, but nothing serious had materialized. Her friends thought she simply had “the fever”, and that it was more of a phase she was going through since she could never stick it out with a man of color. She assured me that wasn’t the case; instead, she felt she could only see herself marrying a black man. Every now and then we’d have conversations concerning race and identity. She didn’t know much about black history, and rarely shared any tidbits about growing up German. We never attended cultural events in the city, or ventured into neighborhoods that predominately had an ethnic make-up other than white. She lived in the valley, and much of our time was spent there. Looking back, I realize there were times she was clearly uncomfortable. It made me wonder, was I that edgy accessory? Was I the equivalent of getting a tattoo or a piercing in an unexpected place? Was it a case of fetishization and rebellion?

I remember in high school how certain girls from prominent white families would take a black boy to the prom. It was seldom that they would date them for longer than a month, but for the prom they were showcased in photos with the star black athlete—the award-winning wide receiver, the basketball playing MVP, the captain of the wrestling team. Sure, one could say girls just like athletes, but it was peculiar.

I’m an eternal optimist and a racial deconstructionist. I believe racism will only be eliminated when great distinctions in color no longer exist—similar to what was broached in the National Geographic article, “Changing Faces: What Americans Will Look Like in 2050”. But I’m also a realist and understand the nature of people—some like to experiment, and LA is a great place to do it without facing judgment. However, there is something inherently racist in doing so. I faced moments where I felt less like a person and more like “the non-threatening black guy she was dating.” She once said, “From your voice on the phone, I’d never guess you were a black person.” This wasn’t so alarming since I’ve heard it all my life, and I’ve actually mastered sounding ambiguous on the phone—it’s helped me land job interview after job interview. Yet, it still bothered me. What is talking ‘black’? It’s a concept I’ve never gotten. I’m college educated with a master’s degree, so sue me. I read books, sometimes a book a week. Am I an anomaly? I don’t know, but I sure feel like one sometimes. It all boils down to cultural understanding and experience. I don’t think the girl I dated was a closet racist. On the contrary, I think she saw race in America as something that could be shelved and perhaps not really dealt with. After all, people can connect over music, films, food, books, etc. But there will always be that elephant in the room, and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

I believe people should date others not because of their racial identities, but because they find them interesting. But if you are going to participate in “the swirl”, just be sure you’re dating someone who has a true interest in your culture. Since it’s a component to identity, someone who has no understanding or interest in learning about where you come from, may have an even less interest in really getting to know you on a deeper level. 

I’d like to think these issues are going away soon, but I think they are here to stay for a while. Misunderstandings and stereotypes are traps, and if they burrow their way into a relationship it will prove to be disastrous. More education is needed and an even greater willingness to expose our ignorance to each other, especially if love is at stake. For those participating in the black and white “swirl”, for your next date, skip the romantic comedy and check out “Dear White People”. It might be just the thing that lets that elephant out of the room. 

Good luck, Dreamlanders!

 

The Rewind

Looking back on a past relationship is never pretty. It requires having to filter through moments you thought mattered but didn’t. Those moments that resonated on an emotional level, but for the other person were simply a series of seconds that made up the minutes of some mundane event. It’s harsh but real. When entering a relationship, you must face the possibility that the person you are with isn’t with you because they love you. They can be with you because they fear being alone. Or you may be that experiment–that person they think will save them. 

The following are rules when rewinding through the past:

1. It’s going to hurt–it’s going to hurt bad. Even if you weren’t in love with the person, humans have an insatiable need to never give up. There’s always going to be that feeling of–“What if I tried harder?” or “Communicated more?”. The fact is, there is nothing you could have done. In the words of James Caan, “Sometimes we just don’t mix.”

2. Was it really romantic? Romance is a major part of sustaining a relationship. For some, they believe sex over romance will keep something going, but that always fails. Sex changes things. What begins as one thing, is something completely different in the end. You don’t include love, respect, romance, faithfulness–it’s doomed. It’s imperative that you ask yourself, was it ever romantic. Did you get those butterflies in your stomach when that person came around. I’ve felt it a few times in my life and it’s unmistakable. The most recent was with a girl, almost a year ago. She’s gone to Louisiana now, but I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I remember standing at her door and waiting for her to open it. I always had a lump in my throat and my stomach was doing flips.

3. Were you inspired? This is major because I’m a firm believer that the person you’re with should inspire you in some way. You should wake up and want to be better for that person because you care what they think of you. If you don’t feel inspired by the moments shared, then they weren’t anything special.

4. Now this is difficult but were they always present in the moment? Was there a time you caught the person drifting off or looking at someone else in front of you? Were they always intently focused on you, like you were the only one in the room? It’s painful to confront but it must be done. If you ever felt like they weren’t fully engaged–eye contact, body language, listening, etc. Then you experienced that so-called “connection” alone. They were simply occupying the chair next you.

5. This may be the hardest, but were they honest with you? Honesty is key, always. Was there ever a time when you just knew they were holding back information (omission), maybe even flat-out lying? I’m one for the truth, no matter how terrible it is. However, there are those who con and through deceit, gain your trust and access to your heart. But with any lie, it falls apart sooner or later. That little lie was a sign of things to come. It meant that you didn’t truly matter, not enough for the person to be straight with you. And it can easily snowball into cheating or more terrible forms of deceit. 

In the end, we do the best we can. Dating and relationships of any kind come with risk, but with great risk is the potential for great reward. In the city of dreams, it’s easy to get lost. But Drake put it best, “Know yourself, know your worth.” Don’t ever compromise. Good luck out there Dreamlanders!