Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@LosJeremy) asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?"
This week he hears from Keren Taylor, Executive Director of WriteGirl:
"I've been here for a little over eleven years now.
"I was born in Vancouver, which is a beautiful city but can be a little small-townish. I spent fifteen years in New York. But I really came to L.A. by way of Las Vegas.
"I spent two years living in Vegas. I grew accustomed to sunsets and space and sky. When I moved back to New York, I couldn't tolerate seeing just slices of sky through tall buildings. I lost my tolerance also for those endless winters.
"At the time, my husband's family lived in Los Angeles, so he wanted to move out here. My whole family is still in Vancouver -- my parents, my sister, two brothers, nine nephew and nieces and my first great-niece. I'm the only one who left.
"So for us, it was West Coast or bust. I lobbied my job at the time to transfer me -- and they did.
"We flew here from New York, and stayed with friends for a while, until we found an apartment. It was uneventful, as a journey.
"Our possessions and furniture came later, in a huge truck. We found an apartment on a hill in Los Feliz -- the truck driver didn't love the angle of the hill, but made it work.
"Our first purchase in L.A. was a dining table -- we were in a little store in Los Feliz looking at one we really liked when suddenly there was a huge jolt -- it sounded like a truck had driven into the building.
"When we went outside the store, everyone came out of their businesses and homes, remarking on the event -- our first earthquake. It felt like a sign to us, so we bought the table!
"Once I got here, my entire life changed. Yes, I was able to watch great sunsets again. Also, I was laid off about a year after arriving. Even during that first year, though, I knew I was searching for something more.
"That something turned out to be WriteGirl, a non-profit I launched then and still run today. WriteGirl's mission was to bring women writers together to help girls. People came out of the woodwork to participate -- people who wanted to give back to the community; who wanted to connect with others; who really had an open heart, an open spirit and a creative spirit.
"That first year in L.A., I didn't feel like I could find my tribe. I know that finding your people is a lifelong journey, but in those early days, I just couldn't seem to connect with the people I wanted to connect with.
"WriteGirl allowed me to find that community. My best friends are all now involved with the group -- either because I met them through there or because they were my friends already and I roped them into getting involved.
"I visited Los Angeles a few times before I moved here. And what I'd always loved about the place was the smell of jasmine flowers in the evening.
"At dusk, there is this moisture in the air. And every trip I'd ever made here, I've always smelled these night-blooming flowers. I was so entranced.
"It's sort of funny that that's my main L.A. recollection. And maybe that is a little bit more glamorous than some other parts of L.A.'s reputation from afar, but for me, that jasmine scent drew me here.
"Something else that attracted me is the diversity of the landscape -- how spread out L.A. is; how many different and separate communities there are.
"I am an explorer, really. I like to be able to go to new places. I feel like in L.A. I will never run out of neighborhoods to go to for culture and for music and food and to go on hikes and walks.
"I live now in El Sereno and it has become my favorite neighborhood. I tell the name to some people and they have never heard of it before -- which is hilarious because it is huge. It is a gigantic area east of Downtown. I have now dubbed it, "South Pas Adjacent," when I speak with that group of friends.
"El Sereno has great hikes and a great park. My friend calls it, 'Lou Dobbs Park,' but it's because she can never remember the name -- it is actually Ernest Debs Park. I have to keep calling it 'Lou Dobbs' because it makes me laugh every time.
"You asked me what other areas do I favor? The list, like the city, really is endless, and I used to have a goal to visit one new neighborhood per month. But just to name a few: Larchmont, which is a lovely little street with so many great little stores and boutiques. Echo Park, where I lived for a while and still didn't explore every nook. Artesia Boulevard, where they have all the great Indian restaurants and sari shops and newspaper stands.
"Both my parents are of Ukrainian heritage. My mother was born in Canada and my father came to Canada from the Ukraine when he was very young.
In 1978, I visited Russia with my parents. I have a few mementos of that trip and just the other day, I pulled them out and put them on a shelf. I want, somehow, to have a connection to the Ukraine.
"I also have, in a storage unit, a full set of Ukrainian dishes. These are the gifts you give to a new bride. They have never left the box.
"Oh, my mother is going to absolutely murder me! But they are in brown cardboard boxes in a [self] storage unit. One day soon I need to excavate them and, I don't know, maybe I will sell them on eBay. I mean, this is a full set of Ukrainian cross-stitch dishes.
"I'm not entirely certain how that connects to L.A., but one of the things that is really wonderful about arriving in a new place is that it gives you permission to re-invent yourself a little bit. And I most definitely did that.
"There are cities that imprint themselves on you -- they almost get in the way of your own discoveries and your own development because these cities have such strong personalities.
"L.A. doesn't get in the way -- and I don't mean this to be negative. Our city is kind of here in a nondescript kind of way, like, 'Okay, what do you want to do?'
"Not everyone in Los Angeles has those same luxuries of choice.
"One thing that's been interesting to see is the division in L.A. between East and West. It still fascinates me that people who live on the westside don't in general go to the eastside. And people who live on the eastside have a whole different set of experiences.
"I see that cleaving so clearly -- many of the girls in WriteGirl don't have experiences on the West at all. They live in the East and they struggle in the East and they have challenges in the East.
"We took some of our girls to the Skirball Museum a few years back. They had never been over there. They had no idea. It was like taking them to the moon. It's kind of shocking to know that our youth can be right here but not really here; not really able to fully experience what all of L.A. has to offer.
"The Metro is growing and hopefully that will help more easily bring people to different neighborhoods. Public transportation is the biggest challenge for us, for sure, as an organization. It is so, so hard sometimes for girls to participate because they can't get here.
"By the way, WriteGirls -- like Los Angeles -- is truly global. We have girls who have come from Thailand, from China, from Korea, from the Philippines, from South America, from Mexico, from Canada, from all over the place.
"They are so busy trying to live their lives here that they often are not looking back. We encourage them to do so. I remember at one of the first-ever WriteGirl workshops, one of our girls was from Korea. She wrote about the currency and how much she missed the feel of the coins. It was really so wonderful to be with her while she wrote and reminisced."
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
WriteGirl's annual poetry drive takes place this May. A WriteGirl reading is scheduled for March 23, 2013 at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. For more information, visit this page.
Top image: Keren Taylor speaking at Disney Hall during the 12th Annual WriteGirl Songwriting Workshop. Photo courtesy Keren Taylor / WriteGirl
Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Also contact or follow Rosenberg on Twitter @LosJeremy
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