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san francisco: beauty in what's broken
my real thoughts about san francisco after living here for 4 months.
we’re driving in the middle of the night, during my last day in san francisco blasting music, talking about our hopes and dreams for the future after a day in the half moon bay. we drive down to South Bay to discover what even are the secrets of Sandhill road. We see the likes of Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia, and see the YCombinator sign, wondering when it could be us there someday. I remember wondering what this magic YCombinator thing was when reading Paul Graham essays and being exposed to this magic of silicon valley. and now I’m here - a place I’ve been wanting to see since I was a little girl. We drive to the other side to Mountain View, and see the enormous tech offices that almost mimic a university campus, with bikes, free food, and tennis courts.
I lay soaking up the sun in mission dolores park. I see a group of Facebook new grads having their weekly sunday picnic - I can tell because they have their special Facebook picnic blanket. There’s the farmers markets on the weekends at the Ferry Building, sparkling lights at the Palace of Fine Arts, and the iridescent water by the Marina. I walk by the gorgeous houses in Pacific Heights and the Presidio and look at it and wonder - when I’ll get the chance to live somewhere like that. San Francisco is the epitome of beauty.
In San Francisco, you never have to be alone. Meet the right person at an event or on twitter, and most likely you’ll get the chance to join their crew - board games nights, bonfires, writing clubs, parties, and more. The community is very open. The people here are some of the most curious ones I’ve ever met. From serendipitously organizing brunches to talk about curious ideas, randomly playing the ukulele at someone’s office to physically annotating large essays to experiencing reading in multiplayer, there has been nothing short but exciting events I’ve been grateful to experience.
But with beauty, there’s also pain. The center of San Francisco is filled with human beings fighting for their lives and living on the streets. We never see it, because we techies only uber everywhere or do everything we can to never step foot in the vicinity. We cling to our purses, lock our car doors, and take all of our belongings out of sight. All the problems are hidden under the surface, and aesthetics everywhere else. This part of the city looks nothing like the rest. I will say though, I’ve personally never felt unsafe while in the city. Maybe it’s because I was living in North Beach/Telegraph Hill, but usually these people never really bother you - just mind your own business and go about your way. It doesn’t feel right that there’s such a contrast in the ways of living just a few blocks from each other.
A few blocks away, there’s a bunch of techies at a party. Some of the parties slowly turned into networking events, and every single person in my circle was evidently only in tech. I never knew what to talk about. Conversations started to shift towards the dreaded “so what do you do”, and I had to explain a start-up they probably haven’t heard of. Then in an attempt to talk about something that’s not work, they ask what I do on the weekends and I just say hiking or exploring SF, just like everyone else does here. I don’t blame them though. I wouldn’t know what to ask either.
I look around the room, and I’m maybe only one of 5 or 6 other girls. I wonder, where are all the women here? It’s also been hard making genuinely close friends that I can be vulnerable with, apart from the ones I already knew. Everyone has so many things going on, that it’s hard to make strong connections in such a short amount of time.
All dinners are on a VC’s dime and free happy hour drinks on the weekdays. SF can be distracting at times. After going to all these events, I realized the real people that are hustling aren’t the ones always going to these all the time. There’s so much noise to tune out. The power is in knowing when to say no and developing your own agency on what you want to spend your time on. This is a really difficult choice.
I pack up my life in a suitcase and head back to Toronto, my heart heavy. SF feels like a utopian bubble - so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It almost feels unfair having these privileged and fun experiences when life for my parents in their 20s was drastically different from mine. They weren’t debating whether to drop out or stay in school to follow their dreams, they were fighting tooth and nail to even get to go to university in the first place.
Sometimes when you look at something for too long, it doesn’t seem that beautiful anymore. The things that are beautiful, are also inherently broken. Cities, too, are flawed, as are people.
So, there’s a choice that needs to be made. You can choose to see beauty, with its flaws, as a rose is never without its thorns. These past four months, I’ve learned to stop putting people and places on a pedestal. And that includes San Francisco.
And there are people that are working to fix what’s broken. We need more spaces to help those -1 to 0 people that are at the crux of exploring their purpose, looking to learn without having the pressure to talk about the output they’ve had. We need more resilient people-first communities instead product-first communities. More vulnerability, diversity, and interconnectivity to bring creatives and other fields to the city. We need to acknowledge our privilege and keep this in perspective on how we interact with the rest of the world.
This is my attempt to try to understand my feelings about the city after living here for four months. I’ve also only listed my own observations, but more time needs to be spent to understand why this exists. I know my experience can be very different than others, but I don’t think anything I’m saying is truly novel either. But I want to say more than that “SF was great, with really cool people, nature, and stuff.” I want to acknowledge its problems, but be hopeful for what changes can be done in the future, and also be a part of it.
to find the beauty, in what’s broken.