The funny thing is that after almost thirteen years away, I still feel a very strong connection to California and the Bay Area, though Los Angeles (where I never lived) is the place I miss most. But after all those years, my affection and nostalgia for San Francisco (where I actually did live) has never really returned. The connection I feel to California — and in some ways, it still feels like home — does not extend to the place that actually was home. I don’t fully understand this, and sometimes it makes me a little sad.
When I lived in San Francisco. It was very common for my fellow residents not to think of themselves as Californians. They identified almost exclusively as San Franciscans, whether they’d lived there more than six weeks or not. While the earlier version of me was pretty obsessive about the place is well, I always saw myself as a resident of California first and of San Francisco second. I didn’t fall into the trap of believing that all civilization ended when you left the sacred 49 square miles, and I grew to love the state as a whole.
And I still love it. I’m generally ready to visit on a moment’s notice. If economics were not a factor, there are places I would still consider living in California. It’s still very much a part of me, and I think in a lot of ways I became so fluent in the culture that I still often think in “Californian.”
I know I have this annoying tendency to think of cities in much the same way most people think of lovers, and I’m self-aware enough to realize that part of the problem I have with San Francisco is the same problem one has with just about any ex. It’s hard to think about San Francisco without remembering how much I really despised it by the time I left. I dwell on the bad ending without thinking so much about the good times that preceded it. But I still regularly consume material about the history of the city, and I still have memories of good times there, but they don’t leave me with a particularly warm and squishy feeling.
The last time I was in SF, for a conference in Oakland in 2015, I found my visit to the city to be so off-putting that I’m still not sure I’ll ever return for even a quick visit. That was sort of hard for me to cope with; when I wrote about the rest of the trip, I never got around to finishing that last section where I would have talked about being in San Francisco. I couldn’t quite express my feelings, and I still can’t. I don’t believe, though, that all my antipathy toward the city was based on past experience . I really do think it is a very different place now, and it’s not a place that I particularly like. In fact, I don’t think I’d particularly like it now even if I had no history or background and were visiting for the first time.
Part of this is probably also related to the fact that I’m much more inclined to live in the present and the future these days, which is a good and healthy thing. I’m glad that I’m not “pining away” for my old life in San Francisco, but it would be nice to be able to muster up at least a little nostalgia for something other than an imagined historical past I never really experienced in person anyway.
I guess the tl;dr here is that I have a complicated relationship with San Francisco, but I still feel very connected to California, and that I don’t really know how to write about all of this…and probably should no longer even try. But a Twitter conversation this evening about this article reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do it anyway, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I don’t think I succeeded, but it killed a few minutes before bedtime.