An Idealized Paradox?
California was and still is known for its golden opportunity to experience something different. It is widely regarded as an experience that cannot be achieved in any other place in the world. The lush surroundings provide a getaway. The many different cultures provide a rich diversity. The many opportunities one can pursue. The lights, the glitz, the glamour, the weather, all of these are what make California, California. Than there are the hardships, the violence, the crime, the economy, soaring gas prices, the action hero governor. These characteristics of California can steer away people from going to California, but it is these characteristics that in fact, make it that much more of an idealized paradox to live in. With pleasure comes pain, with pain comes pleasure. California provides this uniquely interesting mix of pleasure and pain. Without it than California wouldn’t be so special after all. California might provide many paradoxes, but it is these very paradoxes that make California and the people living in it, a much more fulfilling experience.
In Judith Lewis’s “Interesting Times,” she explains to us that with all the glitz and glamour California provides it also provides many hardships and hard times. She has
gone through the greatest moments of her life in California but also endured many not-so-glamorous occurrences in California. A couple of days after the Rodney King beating and the riots that soon occurred after in L.A., Judith Lewis attended a wedding, and at this wedding she “learned that the saying ‘May you live in interesting times’ is not entirely a curse” (295). She said this statement because she has been through a lot in Southern California, more specifically L.A. Not only is this statement true, but also it is a reality. Every experience, good or bad, helps build character. And California provides many different experiences such as crimes, violence, and many earthquakes. Another unique paradox California has that many people don’t know is the number of frequent earthquakes that hit California. Lewis recalls:
On the morning of January 18, 1994, I drove east on the 10 freeway, detouring with the masses around the segment near La Cienga Boulevard that had collapsed in the Northbridge earthquake. Stunned and dizzy and guzzling coffee, I was struck by a comforting thought: Every driver on the side of me was in much the same shape. We were united by shock and sleep deprivation. (297)
Lewis proves that going through an incident like this can bring people together in times of distress. That is a promise inside of a paradox. California is bittersweet. Its promises of the bright lights and glamour are evened out by its many paradoxes that might stray people away from California. In my opinion, some people like living in California not because of its promises but because of all the diversity and hardships. Some people look at those paradoxes as promises. Lewis likes the fact that her life is not the typical lifestyle that is portrayed by many people of California. She loves the battle between California’s promises and its paradoxes because it gives her a reason to wake up. It challenges her mental toughness.
In James J. Rawls’ piece, “California: A Place, a People, a Dream,” he also explains to us that California is not what everyone hypes it up to be, that California is a mixture of both the good and bad. Rawls also states “opportunity and success – these promises are at the heart of the California Dream” (23). The main reason many people go to California is for the exact reason Rawls stated. The opportunity is here, albeit in the technology business such as Silicon Valley, or in the entertainment industry such as Hollywood. The opportunity comes in different forms depending on the person. Many immigrants come to California to support their families working minimum wage or even below. Although the opportunity is there, it might not be the best opportunity available. Success cannot be measured by the money you make but if you have fulfilled your dreams. Success is one thing but how you attain success is another. According to Rawls, “there’s another paradox in the California Dream – the paradox of plenty. Money-making is kind of a fixed mania for many Californians, and the evidence of California’s riches is plain enough” (28). It would seem that in California money grows on trees. It seems in the past and present day of California that money is the driving force of this state. Every promise of the California Dream always involves money, whether it is the success of making big money or the opportunity to make some money. But people tend to realize that some people make money on way and others make money another. Car-jackings, violence, crime, gang activity are some of the only ways people can make money. The Rodney King riots are a good example of that. Many of the people in the riot were rioting because of Rodney King almost being beaten to death. But most broke into stores and stole anything and everything they could get there hands on. But it is these incidents take make California unique. One day you can be getting a tan than going out for a fancy dinner in Beverly Hills and the next day you might make a wrong turn onto a wrong street and be car-jacked and knifepoint. It is very intriguing that many people talk about the promises of California but fail to emphasize the paradoxes. Many people would love to have the best of both worlds.
Both Rawls and Lewis have similar opinions of California, but also have distinct different views. They both agree that this great state of ours has its ups and downs. Judith Lewis doesn’t necessarily appreciate all the bad things that happen but she appreciates how she becomes a better person after all is said and done. In some ways Lewis also explains that all of those troubling times help bring communities together. Whether it is rich or poor, young or old, white or black, California will carry out its promises but along with it comes it paradoxes. Rawls on the other hand, admits that there are many opportunities for success in California but also explains “California is no longer seen as a land of health but as a dark precinct of social pathology. Wide publicity is given to the state’s rate of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide – clear evidence that California is now the land of failed dreams and broken promises” (27). His perception on present day California is very dark and gloomy. Rawls looks at all these paradoxes in a very different way Lewis does. Rawls believes that Americans take heed in what is going on in California. Too much of a good thing might be bad for some. On the contrary though, Rawls also informs us that these very same promises and paradoxes provide a perfect balance for California and that the promises of California will bring in newcomers regardless of all its paradoxes.
California was not and still not, by some, always highly regarded as both Lewis and Rawls suggest. Many people tend to think of California as going through an identity crisis, that California is every so changing because it wants attention. Kevin Starr, a Professor of History at the University of Southern California, also reiterates that view; he professes “California has always been a figment of its own imagination, ever struggling for identity, ever inventing itself.” In most cases, he is true. The journey itself is a very an experience that can change someone’s life, such as people who don’t live in California. It is these experiences that give California its uniqueness and identity. People who don’t live in California tend to think of California as the state in which dreams come true, the dream of striking it rich, such as the Forty-niners did, or the chance to hit stardom in Hollywood. They may be right but they do not see that there are also many other advantages to going to California and not just for the money and bright lights. California also provides the opportunity to live a steady life. That life might include earthquakes, crimes, riots, and gangs, but that adds a little adventure to it. California shouldn’t be known for its glitz and glamour. It should be the state that should be known for adventure and challenge. California challenges many things. It challenges the mind, toughness and mental toughness. If people can’t make it in California because of its many paradoxes then they should question if they can make it anywhere else. The many challenges and obstacles California provides help build character and also offers a different perspective of California to others. It turns out that California is much more than the beaches and parties and technology.
In Mike Davis’s book “City of Quartz,” he says: Los Angeles, it should be understood, it is not a mere city. On the contrary, it is, and has been since 1888, a commodity: something to be advertised and sold to the people of the United States like automobiles, cigarettes and mouth wash” (17). LA is known for its high crime rate, heavy pollution, bad traffic, strings of earthquakes, yet people still flock to LA like it is heaven. There is a simple yet complicated explanation for this. California has its ups and down. But a closer look at these ups and downs explains why California is a state that many people out of state yearn for. Although it provides many asperities, it has an overwhelming edge is prosperity. California is always on top of the nations, even the worlds, technology, especially in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley provides a promise of technological advancement and a chance at a good paying job. And while many people out of state go to Silicon Valley looking for jobs, there is also the aspect from many immigrants to go to California to work on farms and other low paying jobs. According to PBS.com, “Northern California’s legend is built on the cutting edge technology of Silicon Valley allowing much work to be done by fewer hands. Southern California is driven by the energy of millions of immigrant workers whose collective labor is fundamental to the economy of the region”. With this in mind, it is important to notice that despite all of the hardships in California, it still provides a great deal of opportunity and hope. Many people who live out of state move to California because it is those exact opportunities they are looking for.
Both Judith Lewis and James J. Rawls shared an idea, the idea that California wasn’t exactly the Dream state or anything even close to it. They both agreed that California had both its promises and paradoxes yet it was an intriguing place to live. Lewis loved all the adversity in L.A; it made her a much stronger person. Even though there might have been incidents that
might cause most other people to leave the state, she embraced it, knowing that it was a part of the California lifestyle. According to US Consensus Bureau, “between April 1, 2000 and July 1, 2006, there has been a population increase of about 7.6% in California compared to a 6.4% increase in the US”. This population increase is due to the fact that many people are moving to California and also shows that many people tend to move to California than any other state. But there also some cases where people flee California because of its sometimes harsh lifestyle. Many people including, Rich Geib, although left California for the exact reason Judith Lewis stayed, still had such an influence in their lives that they still have some reminiscence of California or L.A. Geib acknowledges his experience on his personal website, “I left Los Angeles with both a deep sadness in my heart for the Godforsaken place and a seething contempt for it in my head. It was never my desire to contemn Los Angeles, but I found the status quo so bitterly unsatisfactory on a number of different levels. Instead of beating my head futilely against the wall forever, I simply went someplace else. However, the nearly ten years I lived there were for better or for worse a huge influence on my life.” Although he left he didn’t want his kids to grow up on L.A because of all the gang violence and crimes, he still has a special place in his heart and mind for L.A. Living in California, specifically L.A. gave him an edge in mental toughness compared to people who live in a dull state. It challenges every aspect of the human mind to live everyday like it is the last. Most Californians live with that mentality, such as me. All of the continuing hardships and obstacles in California can make a person realize that although there are dreams and aspirations out there, where else can you find a state where you can be getting a tan than get your carjacked the very same day. It is an experience that cannot be taken part of in Delaware, or Arkansas. California is a unique state with a unique bunch of people.
California is a special state filled with many adventures and challenges a person who moves her must overcome. I have been living in California my whole life and everyday is a unique day. Driving down the streets of a bad neighborhood, unexpected earthquakes, getting my car broken into, is part of life in California. Without it I would almost be robotic in a sense that my life would have the same daily routine over and over again. There are still all the glitz and glamour that this state promises but it is not those promises that make me want stay here. It is the paradoxes. In a sense, I agree with Judith Lewis, because she looks at all these paradoxes in a positive way. She got mentally tougher as the years went on and so did I. To some people, California isn’t a lifestyle, it IS life. It is the life that most people who come to California can appreciate once getting acquainted to all the paradoxes here. California is known for its promises but should also be known for its paradoxes. People who live in California smile in the face of adversity.
Lewis, Judith. “Interesting Times.” Maasik and Solomon 293-97.
Rawls, James J. “California: A Place, a People, a Dream.” Maasik and Solomon 22-30.
Maasik, Sonia, Solomon, Jack, eds. California Dreams and Realities. 3rd Edition.
Boston: Bedford/ST. Martin’s, 2005.
Davis, Mike. City of Quartz. New Edition. New York: NY, 2006.
Geib, Rich. “Leaving Los Angeles.” Richard Geib’s Universe. 2 Dec. 2006
“California: Expect the Unexpected.” California and the American Dream. 11 Apr. 2006
PBS online. 26 Apr. 2008 < http://www.pbs.org/california/topicfeature.html>.
California QuickFacts from the US Consensus Bureau. 2 Jan. 2008 US Consensus Bureau.
22 Apr. 2008 < http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html>