After organizing an event that, to everyone who witnessed it, probably went fine, I had a series of panic attacks. When the majority of my dread-causing responsibilities concluded, I expected to feel relieved, which only made me feel worse when I didn’t, and instead found myself crumpled in a heap next to the entrance of a parking garage, unable to put off dishevelling until arrived at a more suitable location. Frightened by the extent of my inconsolability, I journeyed homeward through a cycle of crying, then fast walking toward transport, then crying again, then sulking on the sidewalk before boarding MUNI.
By the time I made it home, my most prominent desire was to dial 911 and be carted away, but that kinda seemed like a lot, so I instead ate a bowl of microwaved noodles and willed myself in the direction of friends, inspired by all the self-help articles that promise companionship makes you feel better. Aware that I had more “best self”-demanding activity around the corner, the grittier parts of me opted to rally.
Surrounded by revelry, I made it through exactly one hour of friendly banter before deciding that the articles were wrong – I did not feel better – and fleeing toward the nearest shade-providing foliage to begin hyperventilating under. I replicated the earlier cry/walk/cry/transit combo back home, then completed variants of sobbing and pacing in my room, then contemplated losing my mind in the company of an understanding friend. In the absence of one of those, I called the Alameda County crisis hotline, occupied with problems more pressing than taking a moment to locate the SF County counterpart, and talked to a nice man who said smart, gentle things in a soothing and validating way that only hundreds of hours of professional training can teach. I thanked him and meant it truly, then fell into a sticky sleep.
For days after, an emotional weightiness hung limply around my form, like silly string but for depressives. I have since navigated back to my baseline mood (not particularly concerned, lightly amused, the human embodiment of this emoji: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), but my experience of the world continues to feel slightly off-kilter as if my life is being directed by an overzealous film school student who swears by the Dutch angle.
It’s unwise to judge a whole era of life based on just one really bad day. But I am not a rational being, so I often do it anyway – that is, wonder if living in America is a mistake, and whether my true calling really is to have mindless fun in the tropics.
Being back in SF, being back home, sometimes feels like a regression. I look around and see myself wandering down the exact same streets, again – and this time I’m alone. I blipped out of existence, had a nice time that’s entirely irrelevant here, then blipped back in, but older and with less justification to fuck around. I enjoyed a long-lasting happiness, mistook it for stasis, and am subsequently aggrieved and annoyed whenever I experience anything other than a joyous time, like when I feel out of place in the communities I was most excited to explore, or have a panic attack for the first time in four years, or entertain the narrative that I’ve abandoned a perfectly satisfying life in exchange for hard work in the name of nebulous, entrepreneurial-coded aspirations like pursuing “limitless beliefs” or the “realization of my potential”, whatever the fuck those mean. I worry that I’m getting worse, not better, and that I’m falling into all the same trappings of Americana that got me the first time around: (the pursuit of) sex, money, status, vices of other shapes and flavors.
I was nobody when I was 20, and that felt apt – who's done anything by age 20? But now I’m 24, and I’m still nobody, and the alarm bells are starting to ring. I either gotta get to work on becoming somebody, or let go of the notion that I should.
San Francisco has a unique way of reminding me that I’m not shit and doing so in a way that I understand well. In other words, not only am I not shit, but I am not shit in a very nuanced way specific to this regional subculture, and I will continue not being shit until I’m accepted to YC, or launch a third space, or start a Substack newsletter and convince a thousand of you to pay for it. The problem is, I probably won’t do any of those things, nor do I especially want to.
I am just a girl – and I really like that girl! And I’m not sure when that stopped feeling defensible as “enough”.
When I was on the phone with the crisis line operator, I expressed that I was exhausted by my own dramatics, my outsized reaction to stressors that a more composed version of me would handle in stride. In response, he offered that I might be having the exactly right-sized reaction to a scary amount of new inputs: moving again, and again, and again, yeeting myself off various relationship/career escalators and popping back up without first assessing the damage, renouncing a myriad of former ideologies and losing their associated identities, being in sudden and dizzying proximity to unthinkable sums of money, overcommitting out of hope, withdrawing due to shame, running enthusiastically into batterings of the heart and ego, smiling weakly in the aftermath.
The communicable surface may appear like the same old, same old – yes, I’m in the same physical location, yes, I’m still figuring it out – but objectively and in the felt sense, I know that I have changed since the last time I was here.
In 2020, I was living in Napa and making $21/hour permitting telephone satellites, several of which are scattered around the Bay Area. My favorite one lives inside the One Hallidie Plaza sign in Union Square opposite Powell St BART.
It’s my favorite because you’d never know a satellite was in there unless someone told you, which is why I always make a point to mention it to whomever I’m with when we pass by.
Most of my life’s work is like that satellite: ignorable, and also very, very important. Unseen but effortful. Unnoticed yet meaningful.
Invisible hands ensure the world stays spinning; mine are among them.
I am trying to make peace with the fact that the vast majority of my life will be known to nobody except me – and that even I will forget, and already have forgotten, large swaths of it. I am trying to act upon my belief that even temporary, solitary, delible things are worth doing, like trying every ice cream flavor at the neighborhood shop or learning how to ollie in a little corner of Golden Gate Park. And I cherish the every-once-in-a-while when I get to share something that was once known by only me, each time I pass a metaphorical One Hallidie Plaza sign and get to let someone in on the majestic and miniscule secrets of my daily milling about, each time I get to say, Hey, check this out. You wouldn’t know, but there’s something inside of that, and I’m the person who put it there. I’m the reason a certain thing works. Isn’t that neat? Isn’t that special? Doesn’t that count for something?
I cannot predict how I will slot into San Francisco, or really, this entire chapter of my life. But I am committed to showing up for it. In part, because I already bought nice furniture and would literally rather endure a year of dissatisfaction than move my bed frame again. But mostly because I can’t shake California.
The silly, splendid truth is that I’m California through and through, even when it’s dragging me back kicking and screaming, even when I’ve exhausted my ability to pretend to know about AI, even when I’m crying on the sidewalk hot-faced and weary, and you step around my heaving body because you’re California too, and you’ve seen this so many times that it doesn’t even register as suffering anymore. I’m California all the way, in my accent, in my distaste for the cold, in my remarkable ability to construct a well-balanced grain bowl. I’m California when I defend Erewhon, I’m California when I put you on somethin’, I’m California when I’m riding the N train toward slick city skyscrapers, when I’m in Chinatown brushing egg tart crumbs off my lap, when I’m gazing out of my big bay windows that overlook the city’s best intersection – 9th and Irving – the coffee drinkers stationed like immovable landmarks, the bakery next door emitting warm wheaty fumes, the soupy fog slipping into my backyard to caress the lemon tree I’ve always wanted, my two tabi-slippered feet planted in place, back on the soil that raised me.
If you sit too still, SF happens to you. But if you want, and if you’re lucky, you happen back to SF.