Monday, July 23, 2012

Hello, San Diego

We moved into a new home in San Diego in July. It's a big change.

I did not expect to leave San Francisco or to live in San Diego. The first time I visited here, I did not like it. When I returned for a second visit, many years later, it was not my choice of destination. But the place charmed me, unexpectedly. It's hard to resist friendly people and warm weather. Later on, we decided to try living here.

We live in Carmel Valley, which opens to the ocean at Torrey Pines beach and runs eastward. The land channels pleasant ocean breezes to our neighborhood. 

Each day we work at settling in and exploring. All three of us ride bikes along a long, paved bike path through the valley. 

So far life has been good here. The big decision still scares me a little. In my past experience, stepping forward, stepping outward has always led to good things, but not always directly. I'm reminded of an article in GQ magazine that explained this issue of when to jump in life.

It strikes me that Willy survived all her epochs because she was . . . .  just better at cutting to the chase than were her companions, whoever they were. In some way, her secret has been always to decide. She decided to marry people. She decided to work. She decided to move to Lisbon. And she decided to have fun. It's the sort of honesty that one could use as fuel to motor through many different epochs in life.

Guy Martin, Travels With An Expat, GQ, March 1992

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Driving Through California

We left San Francisco and drove south. I rarely left the city, so everything looked new to me. California is much more than cities and beaches. There are miles of these rolling, golden hills dotted by oak trees that look like broccoli. 

We spent a warm night in Bakersfield, then drove on to the foot of Tejon Pass, between the Tehachapi and San Emigdio Mountain ranges. These are desert mountains, and the desert terrified me for most of my life. I hated the lack of water, shade, people. It's called "desert" for a reason, after all; people are not well-suited to live here! Desert! Get out!

But something about this mountain pass excites me, visually. The mountains look soft under their yellow grass, but they are extremely steep. I expect sharp, naked rock to break through at this altitude, but it doesn't.

My knuckles were white on the wheel as we crawled over the giant anthills. I asked Misa to take photo after photo of the mountains as we passed, and she said, "You are NOT coming back here to paint pictures!" The girl knows me too well. 

At last we coasted down the long slope to the sea. I heard Joni Mitchell's song California in my head, and wondered if I'd see her standing naked on a rock.

When I grew up, there were a thousand songs about being free in California, and we all got sick of the idea, which was unfortunate. There really is a feeling of freedom and possibility here, such as I have not experienced in other places. Here it is, all this space, all this warm, fragrant air. What will you do with it?

Will you take me as I am?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Good-bye, San Francisco

I first saw San Francisco in 1986. I was married and living in Dallas, Texas. My wife wanted to come see the city on a three-day weekend, and on the third day I decided to move there. We were walking on Ocean Beach, very close to the house I'd later live in. I said, "So how long do you think it will take, two years?"

"No, John, at least five years."

Exactly one year later, we rolled into town, on Columbus Day weekend. Monday night we slept in our first apartment, and enjoyed this view:

For the next twenty-five years, San Francisco and I were thick, inseparable. Many months passed, without crossing a bridge out of this seven-mile square.


The first apartment was across the street from Lincoln Park, where I painted many pictures.

The second apartment was a few blocks further inland, and gave us views of the Golden Gate and downtown, as well as the stunning Holy Virgin Orthodox Cathedral.

1989 - with Regina Pettus and Sara Pate
Coming to San Francisco and making a life here gave me confidence. Many people attempt this and many of those who attempt it fail. The place seemed to accept me. I could think and work effectively in this unusual environment. Equally important, I was able—often by invisible means—to afford living here. On the scale of my small, ordinary life, this was a triumph of the will.

San Francisco is a good place to be alone with your thoughts. The weather is almost always cold, and many people do not speak english. If you want to pace up and down on the beach and brood, you'll have plenty of space and no interruptions. 

This atmosphere was perfect for me; I'm a champion brooder. In the course of these many years, I had plenty to brood about. I turned thirty, then forty, then fifty. I went through a divorce, bought a house, married again, had a baby and sent him to school. In San Francisco the normal milestones are the most difficult to achieve. If you want to ride your bicycle through downtown naked, you will be encouraged and fifty people may join you. But buying a house and having a family are so difficult that many people don't even make the attempt. 



Living space was especially problematic. I didn't mind this so much, as it forced me to trim down my belongings to the bare minimum. 



My son was upset when we told him we were leaving. He said, "I feel lucky that I lived here." I agree, and so does the rest of the world. I rarely traveled unless I was forced to, but wherever I went, in New York, London, Tokyo, people invariably nodded with admiration when they learned that I lived in San Francisco. When I explained that—at that time—I lived in a tiny apartment with no view, that I got everywhere by foot or bicycle, they shook their heads and replied, "Yes, but you get to live in San Francisco!" 

They were right. It was a rich existence, worthy of its own Very Rich Hours. Good-bye, San Francisco. We'll meet again some day, and laugh at old times.