The Beginning (Los Angeles).
If you know me and my story, you probably know that I have just moved home to Sweden after a loooong time in the US. You probably also know that I have been homesick almost the entire two decades I was living abroad, and although I definitely enjoyed my adventures, I have always - a l w a y s - had a bit of a dark cloud over me. A cloud of longing, a cloud of second guessing and never ending "what ifs".
Now that I am home again, people often ask me how in the world I managed to stay in a country that I never really felt at home in for so long. And my answer is that I have no clue.
But it has made me to start thinking of life. How it just unfolds in front of you, how life literally happens while you live in the past or wait for something better.
Here's how my story began.
I moved to the US when I was 22. I had just finished a job at Dagens Industri, where I started my career as a designer. This is where I learned Photoshop and Illustrator, by watching others and by reading heavy books on all things Adobe and Mac (this is before internet and Youtube, people!), but more importantly, this is where I realized exactly what I wanted to spend my life doing.
After two years of art school in Stockholm, I was looking for something new and exciting to do - and what is more exciting than moving to Los Angeles and go to college for a year?
My stepsister and I moved to LA the same summer and together we rented an apartment literally one block from the beach in one of the most beautiful parts of LA; Manhattan Beach. I lived life; partying and beaching it, while maintaining school and good grades. School was all of a sudden not just art classes but also English literature, math, biology, political science. To get a college degree in the US, you have to study all sorts of subjects before you can focus on what you're really there for.
School was also a lot of art and advertising, and while I really enjoyed that too, taking all these other classes taught me a lot about public speaking, American politics and the US government. I saw history and politics from a different perspective from the one I was used to. All these different ideas and ideologies opened up infront of me and school was FUN for the first time in a long time. I even managed to ace every single math class along with political science, women studies and art.
School was fun, but also hard. Life in general was hard, being so far away from home. I remember wanting to move home even in my early LA-years because I never felt at home. I think that when you move to a new country and a new culture, you try really hard to fit in, but at the same time not to lose your identity and your values. I also realized quickly that most people in my surroundings were far from as progressive as I was used to. I specifically remember having the argument that same-sex couples should be able to get married (20 years ago, this was very controversial in the US. Same sex marriage wasn’t legal in all 50 states until 15 years later, in 2015.) I think most Swedes don't realize, maybe until now, that the laws and views of people in the US many times are decades behind European countries, especially Scandinavia. It was a new old way of thinking for me and it caught me off guard.
And then 9/11 happened.
A day that I, like everyone else, will never forget. I heard about the first tower on my way to school, I saw the second tower fall on the tv in the school's cafeteria. I was scared beyond belief. All the rumors the following days were hard to manage. Was LA the next city to be hit? Were foreigners really thrown out of the country? Was there going to be an air raid over California? Rumors and paranoia was taking over everything and it was a strange and terrifying time to be so far away from home. Knowing, but not fully understanding, that we were living through an event that would forever alter the world as we knew it.
And in 2001, there was no social media, no Skype, no easy access to comfort by my parents in Sweden. I remember emailing and calling my mom and dad daily for updates and comfort and I have later come to realize that they were pretty worried too.
Right before I graduated with a degree in Fine Arts and Graphic Design, I won the so-called green card lottery. Or diversity lottery, as it is also known.
Crazy as it sounds, I literally got the chance to win a green card to stay in the country permanently. One can wonder why some people win it, while some people (who really really need it) don't get to stay. But, here I was. Why did I decide to become a permanent resident, when all I wanted was to move home?
I don't know.
A green card allowed me to stay after college and my first job was for a marketing company who did product placement for movies and tv shows. One of my tasks was to visit the different movie studios in Hollywood, where I would sign in and go sit in an empty room with just one table, a chair and tons of cameras in the ceiling. I was given highly confidential movie scripts to read, and my job was to find scenes in the scripts where the company could place products for our clients. It was surreal to get an inside of the super secret movie studios and read scripts that would come out a year or so later. My first and only encounter with Hollywood!
Fun fact: LA is B-I-G. And while most people associate LA with Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice, there are many many other (and more beautiful!) parts of Los Angeles. Hollywood is in fact pretty gray, dull and full of concrete and if you ask me, the true beauty of Los Angeles is the beaches in the south west, or the mountains in the north.
And it's not all glamour.
My next job was a very short stunt at the Malibu Times, where I designed the monthly magazine that catered to the "Malibu elite". But this was not the workplace you would think.
Malibu Times sounds pretty glamorous, right? Well, instead it turned out to be a rat-infested (literally!) family run company located in a small shed-like building in the older parts of Malibu. Sure, the magazine wrote about the rich and famous, but O-M-G that time a rat had eaten my coworker's sweater overnight and I found a snake crawling on my desk the next morning - I was gone within a week of that.
My next job was at a small company making natural hair- and skincare. It was my first introduction of designing for the enormous industry of health and beauty - an industry that is huge in Southern California and maybe especially Los Angeles, and an industry that I am actually still designing for.
This job was a great first; I was the company's sole designer and created everything from branding to packaging, store displays, brochures and all training material. I scouted models and directed photoshoots on Melrose Avenue, designed trade show displays and even worked the trade shows in Las Vegas. It's funny how that works; when I was in the midst of it, I didn't really understand it, but afterward I realized that this one job laid the entire foundation for my future career. I am grateful for what this gave me; a career at some of the biggest companies in the US, but also the confidence to later start my own design business.
After this small family owned beauty company, I got my last design job in LA; at Murad Skincare. This was huge for me because it opened up a lot of doors. Murad is as you may know, one of the biggest and most exclusive skincare brands in the US. To design for them was big. I was also the company's unofficial illustrator and did many many illustrations for Dr Murad's books. I absolutely loved working here, and only in hindsight have I realized what an amazing place this was to work for; we had benefits that are rarely seen in the US: 3 weeks vacation, a great health insurance with very low deductible and we got to purchase the products for 10% of retail price. Needless to say, I gave the best Christmas gifts for a long time and my skin was flawless!
My professional career took off, but my personal life... not so much. After having dated a guy for seven years, I decided to leave him. Not on a whim, but it was something that had been brewing for a while. Seven years is a long time, but I finally realized that we weren't at all on the same page regarding the future. I had a five-year plan with goals, and he had a... fI’ve-hour plan at best.
My fI’ve-year plan included three things;
start my own business, have a family and move back home.
Did any of these things happen within the next five years? Yes, one of them. I started my own business as a freelancer. I also stole his parents dog, so I guess that can count as family.
But did I move home? No. I think my whole family expected me to move home after I broke up with this guy. But instead I did the opposite.
I moved as far away as I could. I quit my job and moved to Hawaii!
Next chapter, Life in Hawaii, is coming up soon.