Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pack It Up

Three weeks from today I will wake up in my new city – San Francisco.

I will be living out of my suitcase, and much of what will be in that suitcase will belong to Maggie the Cat, as I know she will need her blanket and her toys and her scratching mat to comfort her in her new surroundings. Fortunately, friends will arrive in my car a couple of days later, and with them will be a second suitcase full of things to comfort me – and extra clothes and shoes, of course.

The rest of my stuff – what little there is – will go in storage until I sign a lease on an apartment. Remember the 46 boxes of books I gave away over the past year? Somehow, I still have enough books to fill 14 boxes, though two of the boxes are really small. Of those books I’ve held onto, only three will go to new homes. The rest are now in boxes, taped shut and labeled and sitting in rows in the empty dining room.

Yes! Packing has commenced!

Talking about packing has filled up a lot of time in the past three weeks while I was writing instead of packing. The writing was welcome, several assignments I agreed to take on before proceeding to pack. A week ago Friday, I finished the last assignment at 7:30 p.m. “That’s it,” I said to myself. “No more working until I’m settled into my new place.”

On Monday, I decided I really needed to write one more article, get the July HealthWatch feature finished so my editor didn’t have to find someone else to do the job. Found a suitable subject. Interviewed her. Wrote the article. Turned it in on Tuesday. “There,” I said to myself. “That’s the last of the writing I have to do for now.”

On Wednesday, I packed. On Thursday, another editor at a different publication asked me to add a short insert to a profile I recently completed for her. Writing the insert required contacting the subject of the profile and asking just a couple of questions. Of course, I said -- glad to do it. Called the woman, got her thoughtful response and sat here typing away.

Then I started laughing. Writing is easy. Not writing is so hard for me! I love working with words, choosing strong verbs, eliminating pesky adjectives, letting a subject’s personality emerge through quotes. When I finished the insert, I sent it off and sat around for awhile. “Well, no more excuses,” I said to myself. “Time to get back to packing.”

All day Friday, I packed. Then I cleaned up and went to a wonderful party. People I’ve known for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, even 48 years (that’s you, Susan) were at the party, all gathering to wish me well – and gobble up the delicious food prepared by Gerry and Tom for the crowd. We all laughed a lot, Ken and Charlene sang and as far as I know, Ron was the only one who got weepy. What fun!

Today, the people who are buying the condo stopped by. They wanted to walk through the rooms, see where their furniture would fit, think about what they needed to buy. “It feels like home,” they said. “It’s a wonderful place and we will be happy here.”

I am happy for them, and I will be happy in my new city just three weeks from today. Of course, I have packing to do -- but first, I just had to write this.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Somewhere a Place for Us

Sari lives in the Inner Sunset and speaks of the “neighborhood pride” there. She writes, “I agree that there are many times that it's foggy over here and sunny over on the other side of the city.” Micki lives in Pacific Heights, and warns about the fog in the Outer Richmond and Outer Sunset. Doreen lives “by the beach” in the Outer Sunset and loves every minute of it.

That’s what I’m up to – interviewing people about where they live in San Francisco.

I ask about the neighborhoods, the climates (the city has several “mini-climates”), the coffee shops. Is there a library? A bus line? What about a gym? I ask everybody I speak to who lives there. These conversations take place on Facebook, in emails and on the phone, but they are no different than my rapid-fire questioning of cab drivers, store clerks and people in the ice cream shop that I have pestered during recent trips to San Francisco.

Usually, after pitching one neighborhood or another, the people I am questioning suggest I look on CraigsList to see what’s available. Look on CraigsList? For one year, I have been looking at apartment listings on CraigsList. I have looked at so many listings for so long that I can now recite some of them.

Among my favorites are the listings that offer spaces that have just one window (a converted garage), or narrow rooms and low ceilings or granite countertops but no stove. To clarify, those are my favorite funny listings. My true favorites, the ones that set me dreaming, have big rooms and hardwood floors and laundry facilities in the building – maybe even a parking place! The best of the lot have an ocean view, but here’s what I know about San Francisco – even if where you live doesn’t have a tremendous view, you can just go outside and look around and be amazed and astonished at what you see. It’s all worth looking at!

I will be free to sign a one-year lease on an apartment on June 23. I probably won’t, as at that point I will have been in San Francisco just four days – but I will be out looking. The best gift I have received from looking at CraigsList on many a night is that I know I will have choices, and most of the apartments have more than one window and they do include stoves. On the day I start looking, I suspect I will have just missed an incredible place at a great price – and I bet on the day I sign a lease, an incredible place at a great price will become available.

That’s how life works, but that does not mean that I won’t find a wonderful place to build a new nest. I will.

Where? I don’t know yet. Maybe in the Inner Sunset. Maybe in Pacific Heights. Maybe in the Outer Sunset or the Outer Richmond. Cole Valley, Noe Valley, the Castro, the Upper Haight, North Beach and Hayes Valley all have their charms. When the time comes, I will see what’s available, see what feels right and choose.

As I have sung repeatedly to Maggie the Cat: “There’s a place for us…”
And once I’m settled, I’ll invite Sari and Micki and Doreen over!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stay Tuned... to Mr. Tambourine Man

Going toward love – that’s what my 91-year-old friend and neighbor says I’m doing by moving to San Francisco. My son and daughter-in-law are there, as are all the wonderful members of the extended family I joined just 11 months ago when Joel married Patricia.

When I’m on the Left Coast, will I renounce my beloved only aunt and all her children, who are scattered in several states? Of course not. Will I tear up the connections, turn in the membership cards that bind me to the extended family I have created for myself in St. Louis? No way.

Sitting at Judy and Scott’s table over dinner on Mother’s Day, I promised everyone there that I will never forget our many holiday meals together – that when I sit at new tables, I will even repeat some of the wonderful stories I’ve heard at Judy and Scott’s table over the past 35 years.

Since the condo sold, I’ve been to the Zoo, made plans to walk through the Missouri Botanical Garden and enjoyed several lunch, dinner and coffee dates with dear friends. The next four weeks are filled with more of the same, plus a couple of parties that promise to be fun as long as we all concentrate on enjoying being together and overlook that it may be the Last Time We See Each Other – at least until they visit San Francisco, which they all promise to do.

If we get teary – and we may -- well, I have a secret weapon. When my friend and doctor of Chinese medicine asked me what he could do for me when I popped in for an acupuncture treatment, I told him I needed energy and courage: Energy to keep juggling many oranges without making juice and courage to cope with emotional farewells. I have abandonment issues, I told him. My whole family died before I was 35 years old, and now by moving halfway across the country, I am abandoning people I love.

Exactly how do I do that?

I told Michael Max that I don’t know how to do what I am about to do, emotionally, physically or financially. But as my neighbor reminds me, I am going toward love. I am also going toward a massive body of water, water filled with the song of the humpback, water that rushes in to steal the shore and then hurries away, water that offers sound that calms me and fury (nothing pacific about it) that excites me. I’ve already signed up to volunteer one day a week with the Oceanic Society – writing and helping out on whale watches, as needed!

The first big body of water I met was the Gulf of Mexico, 40 years ago. We drove along the beach, and when the car stopped, I got out and walked right into the water. Home! I tried once before to move to a place where I could live by the sea – Bandon, Oregon – but the job I was offered there required a 60 percent pay cut. I know now that Bandon offers exquisite natural beauty but not so much a life of the mind.

San Francisco is a city with a life of the mind – many minds, from what I hear – but also rich culture, startling vistas, bustling neighborhoods and endless opportunities to grow and change. So yes, I am going toward love, but I also am going toward newness, a chance to begin again, adjust and improve. My dear neighbor is certain all that is possible – in my life, her life, all of our lives.

“I am not my story,” she said at dinner the other evening. We agreed that it is important to respect and learn from our pasts, our stories, but it is equally important, if not more important, to stretch, to move beyond, to write new chapters based on new experiences. Think exciting plot twists, introductions of unexpected characters, rich new material that shakes up everything!

As I go toward love -- and give in at last to the lure of the ocean -- I have no idea what words will form paragraphs on the pages of the next chapter in my story. I have picked out some music. Sing it, Bob: “To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea…”

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

California, Here I Come!

Good News: I sold the condo!

Some details remain to be resolved, but everything looks good and I’m already fond of the people who soon will dwell in The Salmon Sanctuary. On my list of things to do today:

• Buy new toys for the cat.

• Buy a Sharpie.

• Buy a new Cardinals tee shirt.

What a short list – and a grand day! I have just finished tons of work, and to celebrate, I applied for three freelance jobs based in San Francisco. Then I set about doing the errands on my list.

The reason I have so little to do was discussed at length in my previous post, so no need to repeat myself. I will take on more freelance, right up until when I leave (mid-June, maybe), but for now, all I have to do is watch the calendar fill up. Many people want to have lunch or dinner -- or even hold a party in my honor.

How cool is that? One party planner has asked guests to wear some flowers in their hair. Surely you remember the song! My hair is too soft to hold bobby pins holding flowers, but perhaps I could staple a gardenia to my head…

A friend who lives on the east coast, understandably, has not offered to take me to lunch or dinner, but he did send sage advice about going late to the Haight:

“First of all, you do know, of course, that there's a big earthquake coming. I mean the granddaddy of them all. No reason not to live there. But you ought to take it into consideration when you look for a place to live. When the next earthquake hits, a lot of buildings are going to fall down. A lot did the last time. It's easy enough to go online and study geological maps of San Francisco to figure out where the most damage is going to be done (to buildings built on fill dirt). So stay away from them. Then too, don't move into a building that hasn't been retrofitted to survive the earthquake. Some have; most haven't.

“Get yourself an "I can survive the earthquake" kit. You can probably figure out the obvious things to put in it: fresh drinking water (which you need to replace regularly), spending money (small bills), food for two weeks (canned goods . . . Spam works well), backpack, etc. A few tools are handy too, such as a small crowbar that can be used to hit people over the head that are stuck under buildings screaming bloody murder and there's no way to get them out before the flames reach them.

“Remember, San Francisco is a city of weather zones. There are parts of the city that are always in the fog. It can be 20 degrees colder there than the rest of the city nearly all day long. The good news is, these places are cheaper. But then, they are cold and damp too. Places in the sun are much more expensive. Places over on the ocean side are cheaper and as long as they are on a Muni route, probably a better buy/rent. Funky areas abound around San Francisco State.

“Hang out in neighborhoods before you buy/rent. Spend time in them in the morning, afternoons, evenings, and then late at night. See if you like the neighborhood at all these different times of day. The city is weird that way . . . it changes by the time of day.”

All this makes me smile – even the part about the crowbar. It’s happening – I am moving to San Francisco! Here is what I said when I started this blog: “Some 42 years after the Summer of Love, I am moving to San Francisco, shredding the fabric of a comfortable life in St. Louis and stitching together something new. Will it fit?”

Stay tuned.