When I first begged my friend Henry to take me San Francisco in August 2009, he said yes, but warned, “you’re going to hate it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because energy-wise, you’re at about a 10. And San Francisco is at about a 3.”
“So? I’m ready to slow down!”
He shook his head at me. “That will you put at about at a 6. Just wait. After a week, you’ll be ready to leave.”
He was wrong. After 36 minutes in San Francisco, I was convinced that I was meant to live here.
A year and a half later when I arrived off the plane from New York and met all my new co-workers in the San Francisco office, they looked me quizzically said, “are you sure you’re not from California?”
In other words: I fit in. I didn’t look back. I visited New York in August and thought, “Good riddance.” I visited in November and thought, “overrated!” San Francisco was perfect.
Then in December, I’d been here long enough to realize I wasn’t on vacation. I visited New York in January and thought, “hmm, snow and indoor heating!” I visited in May and thought, “Ahhh HOME.” I visited in June and thought, ” omigodthisisthecoolestplaceeveritswarmitexcitingwowwearehavingsomuchfun.”
For months in San Francisco, I’d been feeling slow, unmotivated, and uninterested in doing things that used to give me satisfaction – such as shaving my legs. But from the moment the plane’s wheels hit the ground at JFK, I was racing around, trying to do everything, perpetually fascinated, and desperate to get my hands on a razor (and not in a bad way. Unless you think leg-shaving is a form of oppression, in which case, see you in San Francisco.)
When the time came to leave New York, I was heartbroken. Well, heartbroken would be a very strong, over the top, potentially inaccurate term to describe how I was, but if you want to get anyone’s attention in New York, that’s how you have to roll. Anyway, to put it in San Francisco terms, I wasn’t feeling so rad about getting back to the Bay Area.
Within two days of being back here, I was feeling lazy, passive, and was rocking a solid quarter inch of stubble. When my mom texted me on Saturday evening to let me know that Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman were at the table next to her at her birthday dinner and sang her happy birthday with the waitstaff, it completely sent me over the edge – kind of like some loser teenager from the middle of nowhere who has never been to NY and doesn’t realize it’s not cool to care about famous people.
But I started reminiscing about the days when I worked in theater in NY and we did a reading with Jason Bateman and I thought he was such a jerk but I talked back to him and we ended up laughing about it and then I met a famous literary agent and since I didn’t know he was too important to talk to me, I asked for his card and then he took me to lunch and WOW did I used to be much cooler (and much more 22 years old.)
By time I met up with my friends I was on the verge of a meltdown and announced with a crack in my voice, “I think I hate San Francisco.”
Despite what people would lead you to believe about how nice everyone is in San Francisco, I think some people were a bit offended. The one true California native in the group looked at me with total sincerity and asked, “how could you hate it? It’s so nice here.”
“Exactly!” I shouted. “Too nice! Why aren’t you more angry!!!? You need to be more angry.”
She laughed. “What is there to be angry about?”
“That’s my point! You shouldn’t need anything to be angry about! You should just be angry! Plus, it’s boring.”
Another friend cautiously intervened. “I don’t think San Francisco is all that boring. It certainly doesn’t have the same energy as New York, but it’s not boring. Maybe the problem is you.”
“Well– fine! So maybe I’m not making enough of an effort to have fun. But — it’s so slow here! It’s soul crushing!”
“I’m not talking about finding stuff to do. I’m saying, are you happy? As in, with your life? With what you do everyday?” Given my current state, making me answer the question out loud just seemed implicitly unfair. We changed the subject.
Then we went dancing (something people in San Francisco must make a concerted effort to do because not every street is not teeming with exuberant electric pulse.) When it got be 2am, the bars closed, and I started walking home.
I thought about what my friend said. Since I recently made the decision not to move back to New York with my company, I figured it was worth it to a) think about whether she was right about my life and b) figure out why I was sticking to this seemingly self-punishing decision. I thought about how for some people, New York was crowded and stressful and made everything worse – but for other people (like me) the noise of New York was soothing.
If, hypothetically, you’re not happy with with your “Life,” New York is so noisy you can’t hear yourself think about it. Things like famous people and fancy restaurants and fighting just to earn your space on the curb can make you forget about a lot of other things that might be bothering you, such as your roommate or the fleeting and existential natural of life on earth.
In San Francisco, you can plan all the activities you want, but in between the activities, you’re stuck with yourself. There is no noise, no excitement, and no Jay-Z song blaring from every f*cking car that rolls down the street to create the illusion that there is something more enticing out there than your own mundane existence.
I may be right – that San Francisco is bad for my brain chemistry and that a born and raised New Yorker can’t be happy anywhere but New York. But I’m not going back until I can go with purpose. I’m not going back just because I’ve realized what millions of failed meditators know: sitting with yourself is a pain in the ass. Because as the enlightened people have learned, it’s totally necessary if you ever really want to go anywhere.