Fog City Blues
I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not uncommon for us to barely cross even ONE off of the list. Never accomplishing the others leaves us feeling depressed from either our lack of will power (be it a resolution to “cut back on sweets”) or the recognition that we never have any time (be it a resolution to “work out more”). Or what’s listed might just feel like it’s too nebulous and lofty a goal (be it to “start writing”). I know that these lists of 10–20 some odd goals are usually the types of changes that just don’t happen overnight. But hell, I wrote my list anyways because despite the impending depression, the act of writing the list itself does bring immediate inspiration, hope and perspective to my life. The act of writing things down almost feels, well…enough. And with that I realized that I may have just accomplished one of the scariest goals on my list of resolutions — “start writing.”
I constantly read about the benefits of journaling for mindfulness. I see the surprisingly successful paths of bloggers. I research and collect articles and essays posted by strong voices in the field of design. It’s easy to see the importance and benefits of writing — it’s why it has always been one of my resolutions — yet I never write. I’m paralyzed by the self conscious questions of “What do I write about? Why would people want to read it? What can I contribute?” Then I stumbled upon an article published by Julie Zhuo, a designer (and writer) whose works I love to read. Not only is she a female voice in the design community but her writings are insightful and so relatable — maybe because she’s an empathetic product designer. Just this week Julie published an article “Write in 2016.” She shared how she developed her own practice of writing and why. Then she came right out and called all of us out for making excuses about why we say we can’t and don’t write. She helped by giving a few tips: “Don’t obsess over your audience. Don’t try to write what you think other people will want to read. Write about what you are excited about, because the best writing tends to reveal a piece of yourself anyway.” It was hearing this from someone I respect — someone who has been through it and wants to share the experience of writing — that finally inspired me to just do it. I decided to answer her call to join her and write.
So here are some more of my words. Written about a small stretch of my life’s thread, they are words that reveal a piece of myself and the story of making a home in San Francisco.
Here in this wacky, dynamic and diverse city, it seems so commonplace to be from somewhere else. Almost everyone is a transplant, but you don’t hear many people sharing their struggle of how they arrived. For me, it was not an easy feat relocating across the country. To pack up everything you own (or less) and leave your comfort zone for the unknown is liberating and terrifying at the same time. My father gave me a bit of advice when I was preparing for my journey to the opposite coast. He told me it would take YEARS before this new place would feel like home. He said there would be exhilaration but not without heartache, and he told me to expect ups and downs along the way. He surely knew, because at just about the same age of 27 he packed up his life and started a new one moving from NYC to LA.
I was leaving behind a lot of people, places and things that I loved that seemed to make me, me. But I was a passionate, single and adventurous 27-year-old filled with wanderlust. After traveling abroad during my time in college all I really wanted was to live a life of exploration. After some unfortunate life disappointments in Boston I figured there was no better time to pack up my belongings, ship them out across the land and root myself right in the heart of a city known for stealing hearts — San Francisco. As a hopeful romantic I absolutely expected to be rewarded for my risk-taking and to immediately find everything I was looking for. Though as it turned out, this wasn’t as easy and direct of a path as I had thought. Just moving somewhere new didn’t magically make everything better, brighter, happier or clearer. Life had its way of getting involved and making things a little, well…foggy.
Karl the Fog is this city’s mascot. I smiled when I first read about him and saw the photos he posted on his Instagram account. His humorous commentary on the city made me laugh but it didn’t take long to see his serious side. Not much time passed before I really started to feel how much the fog affected me. I went as far west as I could go until I hit the Pacific expecting to blissfully outstretch my arms to the ocean to celebrate my journey of 3,000 miles. But where was the beach? I couldn’t see it; it was too foggy. I thought the hardest part of my journey was behind me, but I was starting to realize maybe it had only just begun.
My first few weeks in the City by the Bay were a whirlwind of activity. Crazy sights and sounds provided an overload of stimuli. I knew this city was known for its smells, but I didn’t expect them to assault me. I knew it was known for its bums, but I didn’t expect to see so many, well, bare-bottomed bums. Yes, asses! In my first week I plopped right down into the heart of the Mission district atop an air mattress on a cold wooden floor while outside my bedroom window drunks fought in the wee hours and bums did their business in the daylight hours; this was all a grittiness I wasn’t so used to.
This, however, was a striking contrast to the romantic side of the city. I had arrived the 1st of October. The weather was surprisingly still pleasant with a cool breeze and warm sunlight, so coming from New England it felt like spring. Every day people were gathering in the parks enjoying the outdoors, meeting friends at cafes, eating delicious street food or drinking the locally roasted coffee. There were parts of the city that reminded me of Europe, and each neighborhood felt so different from the next that it was a travel lover’s dream! I wanted to get to know every piece of this strange and beautiful place. So I began. I picked pumpkins at a patch in Half Moon Bay. I ate tacos and drank strawberry agua fresca in a Mission taqueria. I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and up the coast to barbecue oysters on Tomales Bay. I climbed Bernal Hill, Twin Peaks, Potrero Hill and Nob Hill. I shopped the Alameda Flea. I saw a live organ performance at the symphony. I celebrated the dead on Dia de los Muertos. I rode my bicycle down the Embarcadero. I saw a play at a community theatre. I heard a concert at the Fox. I listened to bluegrass in Golden Gate Park. I went swing dancing. I started piano lessons. I tried yoga. I crawled through the city seeing and doing and tasting and taking it all in — and this was only in the span of two months! I thought to myself, “Moving somewhere new is EASY!” This was a vacation!
But naturally, with the changing of the seasons (which is notably less noticeable here), patterns shifted and fog started to roll in. Things began to look a little less clear. Two months rolled into three and life started to settle down. So-called new friends became busy, money became tight, work became boring and roommate life became challenging. I definitely wasn’t on a vacation anymore. All of the comparisons between my life here on the west coast and my life there on the east coast constantly ran through my mind. I felt lonely. I felt sad. I felt displaced. I had the harsh realization that my life was starting to feel not so different anymore. Where had the magical whirlwind and romanticized movie plot disappeared to?! Now it was just real life, with its ups and its downs, its exhilaration and its heartache. It felt messy. My mind was in a fog with unanswerable questions: How can I be so excited to be here and still feel sad? How can I be grateful for all of these gifts and still ask for more? How can I live in the present while seeking more from my future? How long will I stay here? How many friends will I make here? Will I find love here? How can I afford to live here?! Why am I here? These questions felt like a dense fog hovering over me, and with limited visibility I wasn’t able to see the road ahead or any directional signs to guide me. In a moment of sheer “WHAT HAVE I DONE!?” remorse, I thought again of Karl. Sure, he swims up and over the hills of the city rolling his way through the tree tops and settles in for a bit but he doesn’t stay for long. One quick shift in the winds and he’s off, whooshing by to take in another beautiful sight like the Golden Gate Bridge or the blue Pacific. I realized that as quickly as the weather changes in the bay, life can change. It comforted me that my fog would eventually lift too. What made me anxious and confused and foggy, I learned, was just part of the effects of moving far away and starting over. You get a balance of that which is effortless with that which is a struggle. A balance of the freedom of the new with nostalgia for the old. Everything is a balance. Even in this fair city you get the sights with the smells, the cool with the crazy, the sun with the fog.
I have spent a part of 2013, all of 2014 and 2015, and now begin 2016 living in San Francisco. I have moved apartments (and neighborhoods), changed jobs three times, found new friendships and fallen in love. I have camped underneath the Redwoods. I have ridden the wine train through Napa. I’ve eaten bao buns at The Chairman Truck and Secret Breakfast ice cream at Humphry Slocombe. I’ve learned to ride a motorcycle. I’ve ridden that motorcycle with 200 others through the streets of SF. I have attended a handful of art openings. I’ve started taking French lessons. I have been crawling through this city seeing and doing and tasting and taking it all in, and it has only been two years.
Moving across the country isn’t easy. At times it can feel like the clearest right decision you’ve ever made, and other times it can feel quite foggy. But I can certainly say it has by far been one of my greatest adventures. So here’s to a 2016 that’s filled with more exploring, new friends and new lessons in the city that has made me a home and stolen my heart — and to making good on my New Year’s resolutions.