It goes something like this. When I got home from my book tour in February, I was ready for a change. Specifically, I thought it would be a very good idea to pack up everything we owned and move back to Brooklyn immediately, because I missed it, and because I was 110% sure that I couldn’t take another goddamn summer of not seeing the sun for three months running. David thought this was a slightly less good idea. He had a job he said (details), he didn’t miss Brooklyn with quite the consuming passion that I did, and he’d really gotten used to the non-horrible winters and relative nearness of family in California. I pouted (obviously). He suggested we try Oakland, the Brooklyn of the West and see how a 20-mile move worked for us before we tried a 3,000-mile move.
Ok FINE, HUSBAND.
So, of course, we spent the last two months looking for apartments, every single weekend. First, let me just mention that the rental market in the Bay Area is currently completely out of control. The city is being swept with Facebook money and one-billion-dollar Instagram deals (and sadly has become virtually unrecognizable when compared to the city of my childhood… and noticeably different than the city we moved to five years ago). And East Bay is being swept by foreclosures and speculators, which in turn have whipped the rental market into a frenzy. So even though we were ostensibly moving to the part of the Bay Area where we could get more space (because I also needed a damn desk, no more working on the kitchen table for me), we looked at more than our fair share of cramped basement apartments and two bedrooms where the second bedroom was actually a corner of the living room (surprise!), that all cost way more than our current, spacious, lovely, one bedroom. (Also, argument: if you take my one bedroom, and put a wall up to divide the bedroom into two, I’m probably not going to want to pay you $500 more a month.) And then. Just about the time I decided I didn’t care anymore, and I could work on a kitchen table forever, we found our house.
That’s right. I said HOUSE. (And no, we’re not buying.) Suddenly, we stumbled on a free standing, lovely little house, with a front and back garden, in exactly the neighborhood we wanted to be in… for the same price as all those depressing tiny basement apartments. And then by some miracle, we got it. So we’re moving early next month, and we’ll have a vegetable garden, sun, rosebushes, and be closer to restaurants and cafes (and downtown San Francisco) than we currently are.
I’ll tell you how it goes, because right now, I have no idea.
But here is what I do have a grip on: the last five years. I move very rarely. This will be the third home I’ve lived in since graduating college 10 years ago, because when I move, I stay put. So moving is always a huge opportunity for psychic cleaning for me. I go through all the scraps of paper I’ve collected while living in a home. I glance at notes I’ve scribbled down (unsurprisingly I keep a lot of notebooks). And this year, I decided to take on The Picture Project. Since this is the first home I’ve lived in only owning a digital camera, I suddenly realized that we have five years of unprinted pictures. So, since we signed the lease on the new home, I’ve been gathering them up from hard drives, cell phones, and social messaging sites. I’ve been uploading them, and getting ready to print them and make scrapbooks.
And here is what I’ve realized, looking at countless pictures of our faces: the last five years have been difficult. Yes, the last year and a half has been damn good (if insane, stressful, and packed full). Yes, getting married and honeymooning was a high point. Yes, starting this blog was one of the big gifts of my life. But all in: it’s been a tough five years. You can see it in my face, in almost every picture (except the more recent ones). I’m struggling, and in a very different way than my flat-broke-and-struggling-twenties.
So, as I’ve started to sort through these pictures and scribbled notes, I’ve tried to figure out why that is. And I think, interestingly enough, it’s because San Francisco is the first time we bought in (even a little bit) to the idea of “What our lives should be like.” I’m struggling in these pictures, because I’m trying to cram myself into a box of happy-successful-grown-up-life, and I hate it there.
Long time readers know the story. We moved to San Francisco from New York for David to go to law school, and a New York City temp job I had right before the move turned into a gig as a research writer at an investment bank. I made good money, I worked totally insane hours, and by the time I realized I hated it, the economy had collapsed and I had a partner to get through law school. I was stuck. (Until, of course, I sold a book, and left my job to work for myself and run APW. Winning all the things.)
Looking back at the pictures of the last five years, I can see just what a toll “having it all” had. Yes, I had a job that sounded fancy. Yes, I made reasonably good money. But I woke up at five am, I barely had time to see David, and I was miserable every day but Saturday (the day I didn’t have to dread going back to work, and only had to check my Blackberry three times).
When I was growing up, my feminist mom, who stayed home with us when we were small used to tell me, “I figured out I could have it all, but I realized I didn’t want it all. At least not all at once.” She worked when I was tiny, and used to sob her way through her commute to work after dropping tiny baby me off at daycare. For the record, I stayed at daycare long enough to remember it, and I didn’t mind it in the slightest. But she minded, so eventually she quit to stay home for awhile. Cate Subrosa‘s mom has an excellent line about women and careers, that there are “many ways to skin a cat.” And sure enough, when we were a bit older, my mom wrote a published a book, and then ended up going back to have an extremely successful teaching career. So did she have it all? Sure. In the end. But not all at the same time.
I don’t have kids (obviously). And probably because of my mom, I remain totally baffled that, as women, we’ve decided there are battle lines between “working moms” and “stay at home moms.” (Battle lines so stark that at various points over writing APW I’ve been accused of being in one camp or the other based on a throwaway line, when really, I understand both choices as totally valid and don’t understand why we need camps). But I do think that, in very real ways, kids or no kids, all of us in this country have been sucked into this very insane, very rigged game of trying to have it all. And having it all in 21st century America looks a lot like working way too much, making a lot of money, buying flashy things while we try to pay off mountains of debt (student loan and other), and having minimal time to devote to our personal and family life.
And in the end, I wonder if we’re being scammed a bit. People in most other countries don’t work this much (or have as many cars, I suppose). I wonder if maybe the game isn’t rigged. Because why do I care about making more money if I can never enjoy my time with my family? For me, the answer was working for myself. (Though, frankly, I still buy into it all far more than I should. I feel guilty on days that I could take it easy because my work load is light, because I equate working hard with self worth.) But I don’t think that’s the solution for everyone, or even most people. But perhaps we should all start by burning our Blackberries, and then figure it out from there.
But in the meantime, I’m going to keep putting my photos into photo albums and trying to figure out the last five years.
Photos of our first apartment together by Maddie, AKA Hart & Sol West. I never show pictures of our house, but now we’re moving so I’m showing you a snippet…