Stranger in a Strange Land

My time in San Francisco has been spent essentially living in other people’s worlds. With both of my two relationships, I lived in their worlds. I was the new kid in town. I never had a world of my own here. I’m not sure how it could have been otherwise.

Now that my plan is to move back east, I’m giving up the opportunity to create my own west coast world.

I moved to San Francisco in the summer of 2008 as a kind of expat. I’ve been an expat before, in Ireland, Spain, Singapore, Australia, Japan, and France. I know what it feels like. San Francisco felt like this—perhaps less foreign but equally unfamiliar. This was not my city, not my State, not my geographic identity. I don’t look at the golden hills and feel at home.

My idea of San Francisco was some mixture of hippie Haight-Ashbury crossed with patrician Pacific Heights. I had never heard of the Mission much less any of the other neighborhoods. I fell into a corporate type apartment in Golden Gateway which had no local identify of any discernible kind.

I won’t write about the world I lived in with EL. I’ve erased that world from my life, and never want to revisit it. It was a beautiful world for a while and when it was over it died for me.

With my wife it’s different. I happily entered her world. I joined the South End Rowing Club—a true center of her world, and now mine. Her friends became my friends. We went only to the restaurants she liked. She showed me a Northern California I had never seen: Big Sur, Mendocino, Yosemite, West Marin, Lake Tahoe. At her inspiration we drove the southern Oregon coast; we went to Ireland; we went to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. These were her trips that I became part of. This was her life I became part of.

I liked this life I adopted. For the most part—with one glaring exception—I liked her friends. (The exception should have given me pause.) They became my friends, too. I never realized she didn’t like that I had fit so smoothly into her world; and that later I would be faulted for not having lived in my own world, rather than hers.

An irony is that the one world that was exclusively mine was a men’s group that by definition didn’t include her.

One reason I’m leaving San Francisco is to return to my world. I cannot linger in the ruins of these worlds I’ve lived in here. I cannot live in a world haunted by memories of lost love.

I pretty sure she doesn’t understand this. It’s not the way she’s lived her life. She seems not to attach emotions to places or things. She’s lucky.

In an interview talking about finding meaning in life, Jordan Peterson said, “Happiness is a shallow boat in a very rough ocean.”

He continued:

Happiness is something that descends upon you; it comes upon you suddenly. And then you should be grateful for it because there’s plenty of suffering, and if you happen to be happy, well wonderful. Enjoy it. Be grateful for and maybe try to meditate on the reasons that it manifested itself. It can come as a mystery. You don’t necessary know when you’re going to be happy. Something surprising happens, and delights you. And you can analyze that. You can think I’m doing something right, I’m in the right place right now, Maybe I can hang on to that. Maybe I can learn from that.

My boat has been too shallow, and the ocean way too rough.

I’ve looked for happiness in the wrong places. I have believed that the women I’ve loved can make me happy. They have and then they didn’t. I should never have counted on that kind of happiness. My happiness needs to come from within, not delivered externally.

I have only been let down by women. Maybe I’m the cause in the matter; maybe that’s the way life is. Maybe it’s San Francisco.

I know that once back in the north-east, I will be in my world. I won’t be an expat. I know both the map and the territory. Maybe I’ll have a chance to show some new person in my life my world.

I  welcome that change. That possibility.

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