A few hours separate one coast – and one world – from another. This morning, I braved gutsy hurricane-like winds in San Francisco, now I’m warmly tucked in to my Brooklyn nook. Air travel, akin to time travel, will never cease to amaze.
So there I sat at 4:30 am PST, my thoughts dripping steadily like the rain drops coalescing on the airplane window. My SFO – – > JFK flight was delayed. We had been stuck on the runway for nearly 2 hours before the pilot was forced to head back to the gate to refuel and wait the storm out. Storm gusts blew at more than 15 knots per hour. (know what that means? neither do I)
For 72 hours before, I took in San Francisco like a vagrant. I stayed at a humble artist’s hotel with morbidly beautiful paintings adorning the wall (my first two room options consisted of one: a crying geisha, two: a stripper staring me down). I finally settled on a more calming bedroom backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese ‘Starry Night’.
Night time brought walking escapades through the city, often with nary an idea of where I was going. Thankfully there were friends who led the way through various neighborhoods. Interesting to observe their tendencies. Just like some New Yorkers shudder at the mention of certain neighborhoods (ahem Williamsburg), San Franciscans have similar reactions to particular areas (Marina?) Ultimately, each neighborhood has a distinct character and way of life that makes San Francisco what it is. In addition to downtown, there are neighboring suburbs: Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Oakland, Marin County etc. which collectively comprise the Bay Area, a whole other world to itself.
I jotted mental notes comparing San Francisco to New York. Each is arguably the ‘golden’ city on its own coast so, of course, I was evaluating the potential of each as a future home.
The main differences I noticed:
– Residential: San Francisco, while urban, is markedly more residential. You’ll see long stretches of houses and apartments even in the thick of downtown. In Manhattan, aside from maybe the Upper East and West, that’s unseen. And even in neighborhoods like those, Manhattan retains an utterly cosmopolitan environment.
– Style: San Franciscans are more casual. Admittedly, I spent all of my time at startups (one in downtown, and another in Palo Alto) but even around the more corporate Financial District I sensed a greater level of openness and earthiness. New York, while scrappy in ways, is all business with its swank and suits.
– Health: San Franciscans veer natural. They are close to the outdoors with hiking paths, access to mountains and actual room to breathe. Living in New York, meanwhile, might take a year off your life. Physically and mentally, you drive yourself sick between riding the subways, battling anxiety and other neurotic souls, while being lured into oil-dripping street Halal food. But…it’s New York.
I spent most of my time in the more touristy parts of San Francisco: Union Square, Ferry Building, Financial District. Next time, I’m intensely interested in understanding the people, values, and pace of the city. This visit was far too short to get at the city’s real essence. But from the few people I did encounter (including the good samaritan who paid my MUNI fare because I didn’t know you needed exact change) – I’d say it was quite nice.
– seeing my childhood best pal and longest friend to date, Diana
– eavesdropping on “big ideas” at Ground Up Cafe, a shared space for employees in the AOL building (which houses several startups and Stanford’s startup incubator)
– touring the ZeroCater office and shadowing their account managers for a very accurately depicted “day in the life”
– eating cioppino and sea dabs for the first time at a homey family-owned Italian restaurant in North Beach
– exploring the bar scene. Local Edition (located in the Hearst building; the displays of old San Francisco Chronicle editions with typewriters make this a news nerd’s heaven) and Bourbon & Branch (prohibition-style bar with great whiskey & gin cocktails; there’s an old-school library too)
– being a tourist and eating overpriced hamburgers and martinis while overlooking Union Square. Totally worth it.
“Look at all those fish swimming in a fish bowl down there.”
Thanks for a great time, San Francisco. I hope I get to spend more time with you one day.
Ideation is like a breezy joy ride along the Pacific Coast Highway. With all the smiling possibilities and wind-in-your-hair serendipity, the drive is exhilarating.
I can spend hours bouncing ideas. Things usually end on a high but eventually, like a joy ride, I have to get out of the car. Make moves. Get shit done.
Oh, how I often yearn to stay in the car. After all, who wants to stop and park on a windy road high on the cliffs when the view is just so perfect behind closed doors? But it is all just a sight – or a very good brainstorming session – if you never get out to explore what is actually possible given the surroundings.
Ideas are a dime in a dozen. A good idea that can actually happen takes discipline and a neurotic focus on the “how”.
I have yet to actually drive the Pacific Coast Highway. But I imagine that when I do, the wind will blow my hair into an effortless tussle amid the mind-blowingly beautiful backdrop. I’ll laugh endlessly with the love of my life as we beat on in a red Mustang, not a care in the world, all the while wondering what the crashing surf below is like. Maybe we’ll stop the car and actually hike down. I hear the beaches are inaccessible. Even better. Once there, we’ll build a sand castle and claim territory.
Of course, this is all imagination. I’m a dreamer. I have no idea where to park, how to get down to the beach, or who this hypothetical partner-in-crime would be. Dreams are grand, yet far too easy.
Always dream. Thereafter, execute. Marry inspiration with pragmatism. It’s the only way anything will happen.
It’s tempting to turn cynical in an age when we’d rather send a text than pick up the phone to say thank you. (myself included) Should I even mention the Middle East turmoil, lackluster economy, and our own personal heartbreaks? Life sucks and yet, the world is still a beautiful place.
Sunset in Bali, September 2009
It’s become tradition for me to list the things I’m grateful for on Thanksgiving Eve. Life isn’t rosy, but we still have it good. It’s not that I hope we turn a blind eye to the woes of the world. I just hope that on a day like Thanksgiving, we celebrate the places where these woes are absent, enjoying dutifully and in good taste what we have. If for any reason, because that’s what the damn day is for. (Strong language for a genuinely good holiday – I mean it!)
Pray that peace comes to the Middle East and other war-torn regions, that basic necessities reach those who are starving for these things, and that we may each become a version of our best self. Then put those woes aside and enjoy a nice meal with loved ones. (If you can’t, maybe order good Chinese takeout?)
To whoever is reading this, thank you. Your readership- however distant, frequent, or haphazard – creates a kinship that the most untainted part of me can only believe stems from something true and pure.
Without further ado (and before I turn too Zen)
23 Things I am Thankful for on my 23rd Thanksgiving
1. Me. You. The world. Creation.
2. The number 2. Not being the leader, but the first follower. It is by being the first follower that the lone nut is transformed into a leader.
3. My family, without whom, I would certainly be starving, poor, and (likely) dead.
4. My friends, for without whom, I would certainly be depressed, less interesting, and (likely) dead.
5. Humor, all forms.
6. Unconditional love.
7. The ability and right to think.
8. The ability and right to communicate.
9. God and His unending grace.
10. Food (special appreciation for all things wine and cheese).
12. Good beats, rhythm, and dance.
13. Danza Kudoro– 175 plays and effectively the most played song on my iPod since I danced to it on the streets of Italy last summer. I listen to it almost everyday and am still not tired of it. I’ll be grateful until the day I am.
14. Technology. Love it hate it, you wouldn’t be reading this without it. (so you better love it)
17. New York City. Waking up and seeing the Chrysler Building from my window keeps my head justifiably in the clouds.
18. Beauty, seen and unseen.
19. First-responders, technicians, janitors, EMTs, transit operators – you make our world work.
21. The person who brought my passport to Lost & Found that time I was scrambling to find it 5 minutes before my flight from Singapore back to the US,
22. The fact that ‘itis happens to me on a regular basis – gluttonous proof of my excessive well-being.
23. The future and all it holds. There is much more to learn. Hope abounds and that cannot disappoint.
Many of my friends are in relationships. It didn’t occur to me exactly how many until today, when I was talking to my Mom about my plans to visit a friend and her boyfriend. They’ve found jobs in the same city and now live close enough to see each other regularly.
“Are you jealous of her?” she asked.
“Jealous? That she lives in San Francisco and has a stable job?”, figuring that if I had to go on the defensive about my employment and living choices once again, I might as well beat her to the punch.
“No,” she sighed. “She has a boyfriend she can see all the time. You don’t. Aren’t you…lonely?”
Subtlety is not her niche. I’ve been prodded by my Mom about my weight, intellect, and inability to cook before. But hearing her hint at my loneliness was possibly one of the most piercing truths my single 23-year old self has heard in a long, long time.
I’ve dated and been in quasi-relationships before, but nothing serious. It’s not that I’m against relationships. And it’s not even like I’m one of those girls with absurdly high standards, waiting for “the one”. I have no checkbox criteria.
I think the reason I’m still single is precisely because I don’t think about it a lot, despite how it’s now made increasingly apparent by my mother and number of committed friends.
I’ve been called independent, intimidating, asexual even? So, let me make this clear. I’m none of that. Maybe a little independent, but not to the point where I want to stand solitary for the rest of my life. I also don’t mind being objectified. I love my body; straight men probably do too, and I feel empowered by that. I am single, straight, and willing to mingle. But in the right ways. Ultimately, I value certain things in life including God, my time, career, and dignity. Anyone who unnaturally imposes on any of these I probably won’t be able to comfortably date or be in a relationship with.
Some have said that my somewhat fickle relationship complex may be a sign of something deeper. By never being taken seriously as a child, I’m now trying to overcompensate by acting like super independent woman. Perhaps. But enough psychoanalyzing. All I know is that when the right person comes, everything else in life should flow seamlessly. There are no doubts, little compromise, niente stress. I don’t think that’s too high of a standard. Until then, I will continue enjoying my (in)dependence.
And Mom, no jealously on my part. The third wheel on a tricycle is the best part.
I’ve created my own office in the flight attendant waiting area at JFK. I accompanied my friend who was flying out a couple hours before me, so I’m 4 hours early for my flight. I figured the down time and lack of Internet access would force me to focus, write, and plan. I went to the bathroom and Starbucks for 10 minutes and this is what I returned to:
Yes, that’s my computer tucked away in the back. …I was effectively crowded out. So much for focus.
I’m going to be away from the city for two weeks, which will do me good. I have a lot of thinking to do about my future. Whether that means settling into a full-time position which provides stability and structure (at the cost of less free time), or continuing the freelance lifestyle with more time for friends and passion projects (at the cost of a routine that keeps me somewhat sane), a cost-benefit analysis will probably be involved.
Holidays and retreats from the norm are reminders that our routine lives are often stuck in bubbles. Life in New York- as dynamic as it is- is not life, nor is life an act in suburbia with my parents. These are simply snapshots. Indeed, the compilation of everything – the fence posts and everything in between – is life. I’m coming to the realization (reluctantly) that my favorite song lyric from Conor Oberst’s Bowl of Oranges does not sing quite as true anymore:
But if the world could remain within a frame like a painting on a wall.
Then I think we would see the beauty.
Then we would stand staring in awe at our still lives posed like a bowl of oranges,
like a story told by the fault lines and the soil.
Life is not a painting on the wall left for admiration, nor is it still and immovable. It is dynamic, changing, fluid; a river, more than a tree. However, I don’t ever want to stop believing it is beautiful.