Over the Christmas holidays, Hollywood does something it rarely does.
It goes home.
Like New York and Washington, D.C., Los Angeles is essentially a rootless place. People come from all over the country — the world, in fact — to make it big, to take part in the bumptious caravan of the entertainment business. Young people dreaming of becoming movie stars or film directors, or even, for the most misguided, talent agents, pack up their meager stuff and head west to a city filled with people who did the same thing, on the same freeway, months or years before.
A long time ago, when a friend of mine was leaving his small town in Missouri to drive to Hollywood to be an actor, his mother hugged him goodbye and said, “Don’t lose your soul.”
Which is one of those things, I guess, that you blurt out when you don’t know what else to say, when the idea of actually going to a place like Hollywood to work in movies or television is alarming and scary. Hollywood, the place and the idea, is remote and mysterious to the people back home. It’s a place where bad things can happen.
I’m sure when my friend heard his mother say, impulsively, “Don’t lose your soul,” he sort of rolled his eyes and thought, “Oh, come on,” the way you do when you’re 23 and your mother says something embarrassingly corny.
But really, when you think about it, that pretty much sums up what the stakes are, doesn’t it? And if “soul” is too spiritual a word, how about “self?” As in: “Don’t lose yourself out there in Hollywood.”
Over the holidays, when we’re surrounded by people who aren’t in this business and don’t know the peculiar tribal habits of the Hollywood millworker, we get asked a lot of well-meaning questions from concerned relatives. And it’s a chance to take stock ourselves. “How’s it going?” our relatives ask.
Good question. Hard to say, sometimes.
Of course, what they’re really asking is, “You haven’t lost yourself, have you?”
You can lose your soul when you make it big, but you can just as easily lose it when you don’t, and let’s face it, most people who work in entertainment, or politics, never quite get as high or as far or as rich as they expected when they piled their belongings into the back of the car and headed to the city.
For most of us, the trick is to figure out a way to be happy with a lot less — or, more precisely, with something a lot different from what we secretly hoped would be a winning lottery ticket and a lot of acres north of Sunset Boulevard. There are so many ways to lose your soul. It’s quite a blessing to have someone, somewhere, keeping an eye on you and your soul, just in case.
Years later, when he was a lot older and had children of his own, my friend’s parents came to visit for Christmas. They were driving around town, collecting some children from school or piano lessons, taking some children to birthday parties, and after some quick turns along side streets, his mother looked at him and sighed, “Well, you really know your way around,” in kind of a sad voice, as if she suddenly realized that this place, Los Angeles, was his home, that he was raising children here, that he wasn’t going to pile his stuff into the back of his car and drive back to a small town in Missouri, that he knew his way around, and that he hadn’t — yet, anyway — lost his soul.
I think that for the people we know back home, there is something bittersweet about our living here, working in this business, making this place our home. They’re happy for us, of course. But they also worry. They also wonder.
Not a bad thing, actually. We should do more of it ourselves.
Rob Long is a television writer and producer and the co-founder of Ricochet.com.