Six Months Later: Lessons from La La Land

“I’m always gonna love you.”

“I’m always gonna love you, too.”

This was the moment that broke me. It wasn’t right. Nobody should ever- ever– tell you they love you and then leave you anyway. That’s not love.

Word ArtLike all great art, La La Land reflected my life and infused it as well, and it’s impossible to share my thoughts about the movie without including the parallel story of what was happening in my life at each time I viewed the film. Three viewings, three totally different positions in life, and three unique lessons- who’d have thought I’d get so much from a modern-day musical? (Just kidding, nobody is surprised at all. But check it out anyway.)


The First Time

The first time I saw La La Land I was new to New York, pretty uncomfortable with my job, and trying to recover from the ends of some life-defining relationships. Things in real life were a bit tough and I was excited to see a good old-fashioned Hollywood happy ending.

Unfortunately, everything falls apart and Emma and Ryan don’t end up together. But not only do they not end up together- no, that would have been too easy. Instead we have to watch through their eyes every moment that might have gone differently and maybe could have saved it. It tore my heart out, because I can do that too. We all can tick off every single twitch that we believe caused somebody to leave when we think we might have had the power to get them to stay. Now I wanted the movie to end in the midst of this fantasy; I had no qualms suspending reality to ease the pain of loss.

But the movie doesn’t end a moment earlier to preserve our delicate emotions. It says, “Yep. That sucked and they know exactly why, but it doesn’t matter how much you can know or deduce or problem solve. Sometimes you just can’t fix it.”

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

La La Land dances back and forth between surreal romance and moments that are so real that they hurt. I’ve had that flashback. I’ve had that breakup. I want a movie to tell me I can go back and fix it, or to tell me that it didn’t matter because it wasn’t “the one” and when it is I will know and I will never let it go.

 

La La Land refuses to give me that peace. La La Land gave us romance and music and dance and art and what can only be described as the experience of falling in love through city and sound. And then it shows that love’s end. Not only does the love end, but we see very clearly that those who were once in it have a desire to somehow travel back and change the past in order to get their fairy tale ending.

 

Theirs isn’t the typical dramatic breakup, and yet it hurts so much more. It’s okay to be sad and angry when somebody does you wrong, but what about when somebody does you absolutely right? What about when somebody drives four hours and spends the night alone in a place he’s never been in order to force you to confront your dreams, and then afterward tells you that you should follow your dreams and not him, but that he’s still always going to love you? What are you supposed to be hurt about then?

In Ryan Gosling’s character I saw myself. I operated better in dreams than in reality and I would do anything for a person I cared about- especially pushing them toward their purpose. How could a person this passionate and giving deserve a love that doesn’t work out?

My bewildered lesson: just because something ends doesn’t mean that it wasn’t amazing.


The Second Time

The second time I watched La La Land I had just met somebody very special, somebody who made me not so bummed that my first love hadn’t worked out, somebody who got really really sad when I shared that I had wanted the fantasy ending to be real. This person was honest, supportive, kind- all the right things. Being with him made me realize what I’d been missing in the past.

This time around, I realized that Emma Stone’s character is kind of selfish. We spend most of the time centered on her, and when they break up it’s only after her play doesn’t go well. Having identified much more with Ryan to begin with, I started to feel a sense of vindication. Yes, she loves him, but she doesn’t always give him the treatment he deserves. Now I wasn’t so sad that the relationship didn’t work out. Instead, I saw it as a necessity for these two people to each follow their own path.

My liberated lesson: Emma Stone is selfish and Ryan Gosling is too good for her anyway.


The Third Time

The third time I saw La La Land, the somebody from before had become enormously important in my life. He had helped me to heal from past relationships and past losses. Also, we disagreed sometimes; we accidentally hurt each other by virtue of being two separate people meshing into one life together, and that’s how I learned that love doesn’t mean that everything goes perfectly. Love means that I will always forgive you.

That’s what Emma and Ryan mean when they say, “I’m always gonna love you.” They mean that, yeah, it hadn’t worked out. (The movie had been giving us clues the entire time: their relationship is best at night and in surreal places, and the first time they were together in daylight is when they break up.) But that doesn’t mean that their relationship wasn’t worth it.

If things had gone perfectly with all of our first loves we would have been spared from pain (that’s what I had at one point wanted). But being spared from that pain means that we wouldn’t be ready for life. As we learn in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain.

My final lesson: Maybe the best thing our first love can do for us is push us to our dreams and then kiss us goodbye.


So, what did I learn from La La Land? First: ending is not a failure. Ending is a sign that something happened, and then we grew. At the end of the movie, something even bigger is happening for each of our beloved characters (yeah, I’m not so mad at Emma Stone anymore). That’s the second lesson: not fitting into a relationship doesn’t mean that either partner is a bad person. There’s still an opportunity for learning and growth, and that is never a waste.

The final lesson is about the strength it takes to recognize that a person belongs in the past tense and that this doesn’t mean we can’t have love for them in the present. This movie demonstrates all of the different roles love can play for us: Love pushes, love excites, love challenges. Most poignantly, love hurts. But, the most important lesson of all: love heals.

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32 Things I’ve Learned in New York City

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One year and four days ago today, I pulled a Rachel from the Glee Season 3 finale and stepped off a bus with a suitcase, officially New York City’s newest resident. I was not singing and there was no camera pan around me; in fact, I felt calm. This felt right.

A few things that happened in the next year: I started a job. I finished a job. I found an apartment. I found another apartment (I found a subletter; I found another subletter). I traveled to Boston and Philly and Chicago. I built a committed relationship with another person.

Something I didn’t do much of was writing blogs. I just couldn’t find my story. However, even though I haven’t written about much of it, I have learned so many things since I’ve moved to New York.

In honor of one full year in New York- and staying in one place for more than a year for the first time since college- here are the 32 things I’ve learned in New York.

  1. Everyone’s needs are important, but the person who’s the loudest usually gets theirs met first.
  2. One of the most important ways we can respond to all of the bad things that happen is having willingness to see other people as people and having willingness to truly forgive.
  3. Humility is essential if you ever want to like another person.
  4. The best leaders are not the ones who know how to be right. They’re the ones who will admit it when they’re wrong.
  5. It’s never too late to reconnect with a person or thing from the past.
  6. Don’t try to park a car on the Upper West Side 30 minutes before you have to leave for work on a street cleaning day.
  7. One of life’s great joys is harmonizing with other people (literally and figuratively).
  8. You really can’t come home again- but some things never change.
  9. Sometimes when you don’t plan and just go with it the end product is far better than something you could have come up with originally.
  10. People have much more in common than we realize, but we only find the similarities if we look.
  11. There is truly no queso in the world that compares to Tex Mex, although more restaurants could stand to start trying.
  12. It’s okay to admit that you’re having a hard time. People might even want to help.
  13. Pretty much anything can happen with a spirit of adventure and a Metro card (unless you’re trying to take the B train. Then nothing can happen.)
  14. Texas really is the place that people love to hate. That hasn’t changed anywhere I’ve been.
  15. Asking a person about their passion is an amazing way to connect and to see them for who they are.
  16. Taking your morning run through Central Park, past the Imagine circle, and back by the Met does not ever get old.
  17. Hope and possibility save lives.
  18. Managing people means questioning whether you’re a good person pretty much every day, but it also gives you a lot of perspective.
  19. Being right is way less important than being with the right person.
  20. Time is not what indicates whether a place feels like home.
  21. Things become astonishingly clear when you pause everything and just start writing stuff down.
  22. Everything changes. That includes people.
  23. It’s actually happening- we’re growing up. My friends have babies and I can no longer eat plain icing without getting a stomach ache.
  24. I have a weirdly good memory for event dates or what I ate for dinner on a random day in March, but if you ask me what my apartment building looks like I definitely couldn’t tell you. (We all have different abilities!)
  25. Categorizing people pretty much only makes things worse.
  26. Every place you go, you will find pockets of good.
  27. Tragedy always brings people together, and it always makes them go beyond the kindness they thought they had.
  28. Inspiration comes from feeling safe and valued; even the most creative person’s abilities can be totally stifled by a poor environment.
  29. Welcoming a person actively and immediately is one of the hugest ways to impact their entire experience.
  30. Never silence another person. Never silence yourself.
  31. Winter can actually be cool! But only if you see the Rockettes. Also, there is very little redeemable about the month of March.
  32. Turmeric lattes. Enough said.

That’s all at the moment- here’s to even more in the next year. As for now, it’s time for Round Two! Let’s do this, New York.


PS: This type of blog has become a bit of a tradition. See also what I learned in Boston and Austin.