Based on that subject line alone, this post could be about Memphis or about San Francisco.
I’ve lived in each for roughly 20 years, and each city has equally inspired and disappointed me. What’s more: I’ve only lived in these two places. Their molecules, atoms, food, water, and oxygen is what makes me me. And I’m wrestling with my relationship with each place and what it represents to me right now. In other words: I feel peace in neither home.
But this post is about San Francisco. I wrote about my frustration with a place that once represented so much hope to me here and here recently. But lately, I’d been starting to hate my house itself. Which is striking because I’ve long been so proud of being able to provide it for my kids, and I worked so hard to keep it after my divorce. I bought this house off little more than my words as a woman who so many powerful forces have tried to silence. I’ve hosted dozens and dozens of transformational dinner parties for amazing women here. How could I hate this place?
Like San Francisco, my house was the home of so much pain along with so much that was good. The pain had become suffocating, especially when my kids weren’t there. The piles of stuff I never have the time to go through didn’t help. Some weekends, I’d take the time to sort and to purge, but then it all starts to build again. It feels Sisyphusian, but more than that, all that stuff would become sad, suffocating ghosts crowding our house when my kids were at their dad’s. Reminders that my heart was gone, and I was just left here with the stuff.
As these feelings mounted, I tried coping by leaving the city on weekends I didn’t have my kids. But this plan of coping has diminishing returns. My house was neglected, my life in San Francisco was neglected, and spending two weekends a month out of town was clearly financially unsustainable.
Recently I’ve had a surprising number of conversations with amazing women in our network who are contemplating divorce. And I find the advice I’m giving them—you can cheat which is unfulfilling and unsustainable, leave, or recommit and do the work—is similar to the advice I need to be giving myself about my relationship with my home and my city. Which is fitting as my house and my neighborhood are in many ways my most enduring co-parent for my kids.
So far, I’d been coping with a broken relationship by enjoying the newness of other places and forgetting. (AKA “cheating”) As anyone who has survived a broken relationship knows, that isn’t a cure. (Caveat here for mutually respectful open relationships where everyone is on the same page. I’m just talking about the deception part.)
Leaving was out of the question for a few reasons. For one thing, my kids are in an amazing school. But it wasn’t just that ol’ “for the sake of the kids” line keeping me here. I do love so much here, even still. The micro, if not the macro. My corner story guy. The shop in the Mission that has given me 15% off for nine years because Eli was their first registry baby. The Burmese Food. The Indian Food. That chicken sandwich. The parks. A city so small I can walk anywhere, so temperate that I can run outside all year round. Where I can escape to nature in nearly any direction. And a place in one of the most competitive and lucrative ecosystems on earth I’ve spent decades fighting for.
If cheating on my city is out, and leaving is out, what is left but doing the hard work to reconcile?
I’ve been working on that in a few ways in recent weeks. I’ve learned so much doing hypnotherapy for the last few months about how you can retrain your mind from going down the same old mental pathways. It started with having confidence that I could change this dynamic inside myself.
I’m doing 30 minutes a day of cleaning and decluttering my home. I’m not really, that’s a lie. But that’s my goal and even hitting that a few times a week makes a huge difference. I’m doing small things like misting essential oils and meditating and jotting down the things I have loved and currently love about living here. Making a note of the moments I am happy, not just dwelling on what makes me sad. Post-It reminders may be in my near-future.
I decided to show my old reliable house the same love we’ve been showing our new Airbnb. Broken toilet seat? In an Airbnb, we’d get that fixed immediately! Can’t risk losing a star for a $20 toilet seat! But somehow in my own house, we’ve had a broken toilet seat most of Eli’s life. WHY? I just bought a new shower curtain to replace the totally grimy one we’d had since…2008. WHY?
I don’t have the money to hire an interior designer or a contractor to make this home what I’ve always wanted it to be, but there’s definitely a few hundred dollars for a little bit of self-care here and there. (I’m at peace with my divorce, but a little bit of self-care could have gone a long way with my marriage as well.)
I am trying to enjoy what I love about living here as if I have made the decision to leave in the future. What would I miss if it were my last year here? Recently, it was such a gorgeous day, so late in November, I insisted my kids go on a hike with me before our planned trip to the zoo. I stopped by a shop and bought us a gorgeous spread as a way of tempting them. We did that same hike I did up to Corona Heights that dark weekend I wrote about last month. That weekend when I looked out over the city and sobbed hopelessly and said I was sick of its sh*t.
This time, we ate amazing food, Evie told me a way-too-long story about time travel that never really had an ending, and Eli perched on different rocks enacting various Disney princess.
Here’s his Ariel:
We talked about Radish, a dog I dreamt about one night that has taken on mythic proportions in my house. We talked about how much Radish would love this spot, and all the other places in San Francisco that Radish would love. We spotted our favorite things to do in the city from so high up. All the many singalongs we’d done at the Castro Theatre. The absurd obstacle courses we set up for our family in the Dolores Park Playground. We talked about how lucky we were to live here as tourists around us took selfies with the incredible views.
What none of those tourists up there could see was how much better the view looked to me with Eli and Evie in it. But also, how the brilliance of these two kids—my gender-fluid dancer and badass confident DJ—have been so informed by what’s good about this place. They not only make it better, like the blending of two sets of your parents’ DNA, they have been partially made by San Francisco. I can’t ever hate their dad because he helped make them, and so he can’t be all bad. And it’s the same for San Francisco.
I haven’t forgiven San Francisco, and we aren’t at peace. In no way a fun fact: I actually got poison oak on this hike. Even when I try, San Francisco is there f*cking with me. But I’m not leaving and I’m not cheating. I’m doing the work. We are raising these kids together.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Any experience or thoughts on MeWe social network?
- Has your company been acquired and you don’t want to work for the acquiring company?