To Live And Write In L.A.: Clouds Over Malibu

Photo courtesy of  Aaron Guy Leroux

Photo courtesy of Aaron Guy Leroux

By Hassel Velasco

Currently working on: Untitled Beatles Project
Listening to: Chance The Rapper, “Coloring Book
Reading: Scale by Keith Buckley


It's been almost three years since I've made the cross-country move from sunny Florida to sunny California. I promised myself that I'd start writing a series of recollections about my experiences living in the City of Angels, but I never got around to it. Until now. If you've managed to make it past the badly formed Tupac-inspired pun that is title of this post, I'd like to congratulate you and assure you it does not get better than that.

So why now? Why am I writing about my traffic-filled days, expensive rent, and overall disdain for anything with kale in it? I don't have a straight answer for that. Maybe it's my narcissistic belief that people genuinely want to hear what I have to say, or maybe it's a way to find purpose and soothe my nihilistic belief that we're all just pieces of flesh traveling through the cosmos on a rock at an exuberant rate of speed. Regardless, over the past three years I've learned that writing is my therapy, and documenting the craziness of this city and its inhabitants might make for a good read. I'll let you be the judge of that.

So for as long as Writer's Bone allows me to post my words on here, I'll stop by weekly to give you an update as to what I'm working on, what influences my writing, and how my life in Los Angeles is shaping the torn, old rag-like fabric of my being. Maybe you'll get something out of it. Maybe you won't move out to Los Angeles after reading about driving on the 405 and how full of gluten-free options this place is. Or maybe I'll even lure out some of the masochist tendencies you've hid deep inside for a number of years and you'll join me in this crazy town.


Clouds Over Malibu

It's quite uncommon for me to deviate from what I traditionally write. My writing usually involves an empty wall, a bottle of Jameson, and enough Post Its to fill said wall. Then, I would meticulously overthink every plot point and every line of dialogue on those multi-color notes on the wall—all in an attempt to write a story worthy of my own attention.

Being a screenwriter in Los Angeles is similar to being the drug of choice at any given music festival. There are so many of you, enough to make you sick really, and the only difference is the trip your script can provide is really unwanted, and more than likely a downer. Recently, things have taken a turn toward the interesting. Certain aspects of my life have put dark and overcast clouds over my head, and the thought of putting digital pen to digital paper and just write is scary to me. No format, no structure. It's chaos.

Keeping up with my thoughts is somehow taking over the time I used to work on more pressing projects. I've been working on a Beatles project for the better part of the past six months, but now I find myself writing unorganized, but cohesive, sentences rather than dialogue and action. It's almost as if I'm finding every excuse in the world to stay away from it.

I just finished reading Scale, a novel written by Keith Buckley, the frontman of one of my favorite bands, Every Time I Die. At first I thought it would help break down the walls of trying to write about music and a band. Instead, it fed into a dark corner of my mind where I like to reside when ye olde depression rolls around. It's quite a feat to write a character like Ray Goldman, someone you truly admire one chapter, hate the next, feel bad for at some point, and ultimately relate to in the end. It made me feel disconnected from the world, and provided bricks for the nihilistic wall I've been building since I renounced the belief in any theistic entity.

I'm sure my mother will love reading that last sentence. She'll probably light some candles and pray for me, which is the new normal in my parent's household since I moved out. Being across the country is probably as hard on her and my father as it is on me. But I digress, Scale, a fantastic read. Highly recommend it.

After a couple more pages of dialogue written, I realized I needed to get out of this funk. I took a trip on the 101 heading toward Malibu, a surprisingly beautiful place in the middle of the night. I found a spot near Matador beach where I was able to park my car and indulge in the sea breeze as it hit my face like my thoughts seem to be hitting the overthink button in my head.

After an hour, and some more driving on the coast listening to “Coloring Book” by Chance The Rapper, I started to feel a lot better. You see, I may not be a religious person, but there is something beautiful found in gospel music. “Coloring Book” is an incredible "mix tape." It's gospel influences seemed to counteract the nothingness feeling depression often brings to me. I did not find God, by any means, but it's refreshing to hear other people create something influenced by their passion for faith. I may not ever be able to do that. Scratch that, I will never be able to do that because it's just not in me. But still, I admire and appreciate the art and sounds.

Finally, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to think about the cloud. After weeks of it casting a shadow over me, it began moving away and I began to think clearly. This town, wonderful and full of life, can beat you to a pulp. It can be cruel and unforgiving. I felt alone in one of the most crowded cities in the world, I saw that as a bad thing. But I was out here for a reason, and The Beatles weren't going to write their own dialogue.

I drove home that night and thought about how alone I am out here, and how free that made me feel. For the first time in weeks I felt like myself again, and I felt I could tackle the project at hand. So I began to drive east, began to think about depression and how it affects...effects...affects...fuck it, you know what I mean. Depression your everyday, normal tasks. And it's not a matter of doing things that make you happy, because at the end of the day, you'll still be miserable doing those things.

I love writing, it's like therapy to me, but depression made The Beatles dialogue sound like an Edgar Allan Poe short. In essence, it's all about time, it's all about a process, and it's all about knowing that it's okay to be sad, and knowing that is worth its weight in gold. I drove home, more free and full of positivity that night, but not before a stop by Woodland Hills in the middle of the night, but that's a story for another time.

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