September 18, 2018

Seduced by the Light of Los Angeles

In a magnificent, glassed corner office I visited on my trip to L.A. last week, I watched the setting sun create layers of golden, coral and magenta light. The delicate, ethereal light felt close and intimate, as if I was surrounded by thousands of radiant Shabbat candles.

In New York City, my home, one is lucky to catch a glimpse of sunlight in winter. Indeed, long stretches of Manhattan streets often are devoid of light and cellphone service. The quiet beauty of the elegant townhouses can compensate for the lack of natural light during the winter months — but only for so long.

It traditionally has been believed that greatness comes from struggle, that pushing against challenges and restraints helps an artist or thinker to master their craft. The Torah defines a righteous person not as someone who has succeeded but as someone who has persevered. “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up,” wrote King Solomon in Proverbs. L’fum tzara agra — according to the effort is the reward, says Rabbi Ben Hei Hei in “Ethics of the Fathers.”

The same has been said about the weather — that parts of the world where sun and warmth reign year-round tend to be less creative than those that wind through the seasons.

There is logic to this theory. Both truth and beauty wrestle with darkness and light — one needs to be able to feel the darkness to create the light.

But my trip to Los Angeles made me less sure whether that perspective should be interpreted so literally.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you and inspire you.

Each morning the brilliant sunshine nearly burst into my hotel room, intent on energizing whatever it touched with its rays. No doubt the seduction of sunlight induces some people to create nothing more than cozy settings on the beach, or to run and rollerblade in pursuit of physical perfection.

But L.A.’s light isn’t vacuous. It’s steeped with all the essential attributes of the universe. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

I left New York City on a snowy, dark morning and returned on a rainy, dark night. Yes, living through winters here is a rather immersive, dark experience — one that has spawned thousands of richly drawn poems and paintings.

But if one doesn’t have the luxury of hibernating in a candlelit room for five months, the cold, the wind, the harshness all become stressors, deflators. Sure, one can use the opportunity to rummage through one’s soul, to peel away layers of inauthenticity and find the melancholy of a world that often appears insane.

But that is not the whole truth. Darkness needs to be entwined with light, with hope.

The distinctive, dreamy haze of Los Angeles’ light gave life to the movie industry and continues to define the city in art and literature. And yes, ironically, the air pollution lends the light a particular shimmer.

And so I say to you lucky residents of Los Angeles: Engage with this multifaceted, often mysterious light in ways that resonate emotionally and spiritually. Let it take you to a place where you can see and feel the complexity of the world, the controlled chaos, the particular dance of darkness and light that leads to curiosity and self-reflection.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you, inspire you, infuse your world with poetry and passion, but also with the dignity of restraint. Let it lead you to the shadow of darkness, but come away with the light of wisdom.

When I returned to New York City, I brought with me a gift from the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai — a blue crystal butterfly. It now sits enchantingly on my desk, attempting to impart L.A.’s scintillating light into the complicated, animated, yet ultimately gloomy NYC winter.

Every time I look at it, I think of the lyrics of my son’s favorite song: “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. …”

It is the light in our hearts, I will teach him, that will retain that spirit through many winters to come. Or, we can just move to L.A.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday).