When I try to put into words how I feel about leaving San Francisco, my hometown and the city I’ve lived and worked in for the past five years to move to New York on May 1st, 2013, the words get jumbled up in my head and I feel like crying. In some ways I think that this essay could be a five-word sentence:
Leaving, though necessary, is hard.
Throughout the past five years in San Francisco I have planned to move to New York, though my plans have shifted and grown along with my perception of what I want from my life and who I am as an artist. What initially began as a battle cry of “I hate it here! I’m leaving!”, whenever my newly-adult life in San Francisco felt difficult or overwhelming, eventually became something far more nuanced and complicated. San Francisco is my home. I love it here. And I’m leaving.
It’s difficult to write about leaving when it isn’t colored by a sense of bitterness or regret, nor is it centered around a feeling of absolute certainty that it is the right move. If I were writing a break-up letter, it would be far more along the lines of a “it’s not you, it’s me” tome than a “I hate you and everything is your fault” diatribe.
…For Real This Time
This was not always the case. I had a rough transition out of college and into the “real” world. Perhaps I thought it would be easier because I was moving back to the place I grew up, but a terrible internship experience right out of college and the equally awful administrative jobs I scrambled into place for myself in order to pay my exorbitant rent quickly robbed me of my self confidence and left me feeling embittered and stuck.
Because I was young and frustrated, I blamed San Francisco for my lack of self-confidence as a theater artist. I blamed it for the choices I made to stick myself into dead-end administrative jobs. The reason I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do was because San Francisco didn’t provide me with the opportunities to do it. San Francisco was the cause of my many disappointments, and it enraged me.
New York became my mecca. It was the place I would go where I would be embraced and challenged by an artistic community that respected me. It was the place I would find myself. It was where I had to go.
But somehow, I kept on not-leaving.
I developed, instead, a completely exhausting and somewhat interminable cycle where I would get frustrated with my life in San Francisco, say I was leaving, make plans, announce them to my friends and family on both coasts, and then stay.
Why Doesn’t Anyone Believe Me?!
It would be nice to say that I woke up one day and realized that I was wrong, that San Francisco wasn’t the reason why I wasn’t doing the work I wanted to be doing, I was, and understood that moving to New York wasn’t going to magically cause me to have all the self confidence and drive necessary to do the work to become a successful artist. But it was nothing so cinematic, or so sudden.
Instead, the back and forth of my announcements that I was leaving, then staying, then leaving again, started to undermine my sense of self. The more time that passed without an actual move-by date set in stone, the more I started to feel like a coward. I started wondering if maybe I wasn’t driven or talented enough to move to New York.
And This Is Why
I did a lot of therapy and drew a lot of Ugly Comics and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself before I really understood that it doesn’t matter where I am in the world if I’m not invested enough in my work to do it regardless of the support I receive, or don’t receive, for it. I started working again. And eventually I saw that my plans to move kept changing not because I was a coward, but because in a deeply secret place tucked away in the corner of my guts next to the place where I know I have to leave, I kept hoping something would happen that might make me stay.
It’s just that nothing did.
Once I understood that I had to do the work regardless of where I am in the world, I could finally step back from my frustration and disappointment with San Francisco and assess what is missing for me here. Much of the theater I see here feels safe to me, like the wild and beating hearts of our actors and our audiences isn’t to be trusted. I’d see new work and leave the theater feeling as though what I had just seen was good at best, or lazy at worst. The more theater I saw, the more ravenous I became for work that thrills and challenges me, and the better I could understand that I just wasn’t finding it here.
I also couldn’t figure out how to make that kind of theater myself. I tried pulling together a theater group to do Viewpoints work, but we didn’t quite gel. The art collective I helped form wasn’t a theater group, and I didn’t want to force it to be. Although these experiences helped me to bring my creative goals back into focus, I still didn’t find what I was looking for. I saw that, instead of wanting to run away from the challenges of becoming a working artist by moving to New York where it would be “easier,” I just haven’t been able to find the community I need in order to make the kind of work I am ravenous for.
I’m leaving so I might expand the parameters of what I know, to break my life open and poke at my darkest and most-terrified places until I start to see what I am truly capable of. Maybe I still won’t find what I’m looking for in New York. It’s certainly possible. But I know that leaving San Francisco after all of these years will teach me how to run towards what I want rather than away from it, or sort of half-jogging along the side of it. I have not been great at being patient as my life has formed itself, I’ve not yet found a way to truly enjoy the dips and turns and stagnations of becoming an artist. I have instead spent most my time ravenous for some other, almost-articulated artistic life. But I’m learning how to be patient and ravenous.
As I have fought for and with this place, given up on and re-claimed it, built relationships and jobs and deeper ties to San Francisco, I’ve searched for this nebulous and formidable something that has remained just out of my grasp. The longing to find it beats in my blood, rushing through my veins; “I want, I want…” something bigger from my life, something more. And for whatever reason, I haven’t found it here. I don’t yet know what kind of life this wanting will build. I only know that when I find what I’m looking for, I will know in my bones that I’m home.