From the outside, everyone looks at New York City as this multicultural mecca with people and cultures from all over the world co-habitating within 5 boroughs. While that may be true, it is very easy to live in the city and never socialize with anyone outside of your socio-economic status (or people just like you), especially if leaving the island of Manhattan requires a lot of negotiating. That was my reality when I lived in NY from 1995-2000. I was living in one of the most phenomenal cities in the world and I was doing everything I set out to do: graduate college, get a cool job in “the city” and get my own place. I just did it all within my comfort zone.
I had a killer apartment in Chelsea that was ridiculously cheap and after some time of living alone, my roommate from college, who is someone I’ve known since I was 9 years old, moved into the tiny bedroom that had remained empty since I moved into said apartment a year prior. I ran with a posse of about 15 people. Almost everyone I knew I had known since high school or was a friend of a friend from college. We went to bars not clubs and drank a lot… I mean a lot…. most of the calendar year below 23rd Street and then in the summer, out on Fire Island. We were never Hamptons people. That required way too much effort and the environment could never support our variety of shenanigans. For a long while there, I was happy and having fun.
At 24, I was working at a design studio in SOHO and I loved my co-workers. We hung out outside of work where I had more opportunities to dip my toe outside my little world. They were more creative than my other friends and quite a few of them were significantly older. There was one particular guy, Peter, who was definitely not your garden variety of creative. It was through him I learned about squatting (living in an illegal abandoned building) and Burning Man. I remember one year at Christmas, I was in the holiday spirit as usual. I was buzzing around the studio singing Christmas carols and doing my own little jig as I sometimes do. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too. Come on, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”
I headed out of the office to go get a bite to eat and when I came back to my desk, my screen saver on my computer was changed to a picture of Santa Claus on the roof of a building with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a hand gun in the other. I was shocked. I laughed, because I guess it was funny. But I was shocked. I thought to myself “What?… Huh? Some people aren’t into Christmas?” It took me a minute. Even though I’ve been to way more Bat Mitzvahs and Bar Mitzvahs than the average American, it had never occurred to me that regardless of religion, some people just might not be into Christmas. Peter was laughing. He was highly amused with himself as I was probably annoying the fuck out of him. But my world was turned on its side that day. My bubble burst. My little safe world of thinking I knew everything just crumbled before my eyes. Wait? Not everyone is like me?
This was such a blessing in disguise. This was the imputes of my desire to “go find myself.” It wasn’t long after that Peter invited me and another co-worker out to Burning Man. And this was the Burning Man back when there were no signs or welcome committees and only 10,000 people. I wanted to be cool, but that experience was so out of my comfort zone it freaked me out a bit. But after that I realized there was so much more to this reality and if I stayed in my version of NY I would miss it all. That following year I decided to move out to San Francisco. I planned to only stay for a year; I wanted to learn more about myself and to make sure I was me, because of me and not because of my surroundings. It turned out at after a year in SF I had only begun to scratch the surface of the complex, deep, expansive person I am, and I quickly learned that finding yourself can take a lifetime.
I’ve been out here in San Francisco for the better part of 17 years and like to say it’s the “call of the wild” that keeps me out here. It could also just be the warmer weather and lack of humidity. I’m inclined to think that San Francisco also has a larger capacity to hold space for my brand of being more so than New York and that I’ve probably been a California girl at heart the whole time. And, I’m still finding new parts of myself on the regular. Sometimes they are parts of myself that have been hidden behind a story I kept telling myself and sometimes they are revealed by meeting someone new who inspires me. It’s an ever-evolving process.