I’m driving into Los Angeles from the airport thinking about unity of opposites. I haven’t been back to LA in several years. I used to live here. Every time I return, I fall back in love with the city, with the sun and the blue skies and the bougainvillea and other flowers, the palm trees and the ocean in the distance. I can’t see the ocean from the 405 freeway, but I know it’s there.
I raised my children here until they were 9 and 11 when we moved to London, England. In the beginning, however, when I first moved to LA reluctantly from New York City, I looked for and found all the stereotypes I brought with me. We landed in our New York suits and jackets and went straight from the airport to Venice beach, where adults were roller skating by the ocean in the middle of a work day. “How can we live here?” I asked my husband, “It’s not serious enough.”
When the real estate agent asked what kind of neighborhood we wanted to live in, I told her that we’d like to live in a mixed neighborhood. She was silent for a moment, then said, “I think Christians and Jews live together over there.” When I explained what I meant, her face clouded and she said, “No one has ever asked me for that before.” This was 1978.
The first writer I met in LA worked for television and wrote for the soap operas, but she had written one novel. She told me, “Nothing has ever taken me so long.” “I know,” I answered in sympathy. “It took me so-o-o long,” she repeated. “How long?” I asked. “A year!”
I despaired. Most novelists I knew would not consider a year a very long time. Why had we left New York?
As time went by, however, and I started raising children and my sense of time and my sense of myself broadened, as I met the writers in LA, found neighborhoods and people from all backgrounds, taught at the university, as I learned the joy of roller skating and biking and running on the beach, especially when one is serious all day long, I fell in love with the city.
So now I am moving down the freeway thinking about unity of opposites, perhaps because I’m in this town of screen plays and movies and have an appointment, but perhaps also because of the recent national debate over whether one can feel bonds to someone who opposes what one believes. Unity of opposites is the dramatic concept in which an antagonist and protagonist are united in a struggle in which one of them has to yield–even die, at least figuratively, before the struggle is over. It is a principle that governs great dramatic works, the element that keeps the protagonist and antagonist on the stage together rather than one of them just walking off and going home. The resolution either breaks the unities at great cost or leads to major transformation.
In the next few days we will be remembering the assassination 40 years ago of Dr. Martin Luther King and the beginning of a tumultuous spring and summer in 1968 when our nation struggled with its unities. Forty years later we are witnessing the fruition and also the complexities of that struggle to realize a “more perfect union.”
In Los Angeles I learned to set aside a whole briefcase of preconceptions and limitations. As I turn off the freeway towards the ocean, I am hoping, actually counting on, the resolution of our national drama to yield transformation and not tragedy.