Jane Messina explains why she is here and what it was like in LA

Why on earth are you here? That is the most common response to telling people I grew up in Los Angeles. It’s often from a taxi driver or store clerk — somebody who doesn’t have to stick around for my response — but even when I have time to explain, I’m smart enough to know they don’t really want my long-winded non-answer.

So when asked this question again recently, along with its frequent follow-up question — “what’s it like growing up in LA?” — it occurred to me I could give this frustrating non-answer right here, albeit in 500 words or less.

My answer is frustrating because, while I can explain what it’s like to be 16 and drive up to an hour every day to school, just hoping to make it to the cafeteria in time to grab a doughnut to stuff in my face before 8am English class, I cannot tell you what it’s like for everybody to grow up in LA.

That’s because, no matter what one says about LA, there’s absolutely no debating that it’s MASSIVE.

LA is 40 suburbs searching for a city; it’s six-lane highways, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and road rage; it’s mountains, valleys, and coastline; it’s Beverly Hills mansions and the crime-filled streets of Compton; it’s wannabe actors alongside hard-working immigrants; it’s a land of opportunity with a dried up river. I could go on and on, but my point is that depending who you ask, you’ll get a different answer about what LA “is”.

In fact, I maintain that very few Angelenos can confidently say where the city begins or where it ends, or fully comprehend the vastness of circumstances within its non-existent borders.

So now you may understand why on earth I’m in Oxford.

In some ways it’s a complete mishap; I’ve followed no particular plan besides pursuing my interests, and somehow I’ve ended up living in Oxford making maps of infectious diseases for a living (and the best part is, I’ve got no idea what’s next). But in other ways, it makes complete sense for me to have arrived here, even if only temporarily: Oxford is the anti-LA.

In the shallowest of ways, this is obvious. Oxford is green; LA is brown.

It never stops raining in Oxford; it never rains in LA.

Oxford’s pretentious elite is intellectual; LA’s is vapid.

You can easily live in Oxford without a car; without one in LA you may as well give up. But fundamentally, Oxford is the anti-LA because you can wrap your head around it. Perhaps during the seven years of my life separating the city of dreaming spires from the city of angels, I was actually searching for a place I could grasp without feeling lost all the time.

I’m not saying Oxford lacks complexity, or that I know all there is to know (that 800-year-old gravestone being a reminder), but after only two years here, while it may not be home — wherever that may be — it’s a place I understand, and that’s no small thing.