Arts and CultureSan Francisco

On Moving Away from San Francisco

Updated: Sep 08, 2016 19:32
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image from Len Hoang

Guest post by Marina Javor

San Francisco was different when I moved here as a college freshman in the fall of 1999. San Francisco, as I first experienced it, is bigger and brighter in my mind’s eye than when I look at it now. I remember the first time I went to North Beach with my friends from the SF State dorms. It was drizzling rain, and the neon signs were glowing against the night as we ate gnocchi at the Steps of Rome and bopped our heads to live music at Jazz at Pearl’s and Café Prague. The city seemed so wondrous, inviting, and brimming with possibilities and secrets to discover as I felt my identity shift from teenaged girl to independent young woman.

My first years here were marked by war. I made a hand-lettered sign that said “No Blood For Oil” on one side and “Peace In The Middle East” on the other, and marched through downtown San Francisco in an earnestly righteous mass of tens of thousands. Soon afterwards I watched the invasion of Baghdad on a tv screen at the 500 Club and then, months later, watched John Kerry lose to George W. Bush on election night at the same bar.

2002 anti-war protest in Union Square (image from SF Gate)

I voted for Green Party candidate Matt Gonzales for mayor, because Gavin Newsom was clearly the establishment conservative white patriarch par excellence. I had dismissed him as a womanizer with too much hair gel who couldn’t handle his liquor. His (unsuccessful) initiative to create a city-wide free wi-fi network really annoyed me. I still had a Nokia flip-phone and a desktop PC at the time, and I believed that wi-fi was a system for bank CEOs and stock brokers to email each other on their Blackberrys. When Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, I went by City Hall and gazed in wonder at the long line of excited, hugging, weeping couples spilling down the steps onto the sidewalk and wrapping around the block. This wasn’t what I had expected. This was a jolt, a surprise call to a long battle that would soon take over our state and the country. This was an illustrated lesson that people, places and things could simultaneously be wonderful and awful, and also something in between.

In San Francisco I found my people, a network of militantly quirky friend-circles who were fierce in their affirmations of each other and in their dedication to the hipster bar scene every weekend. The old saying “blood is thicker than water” didn’t make any sense to me at the time. My friends were my teachers, my minions, my confidants and lovers. We left the city and saw the world together. Sometimes we got sick of each other and bickered and fought, but we always ended up laughing, hugging and singing loudly late at night as we walked home with half-eaten burritos wrapped in foil in our purses. My memories from that time begin to blur together, the effect of a trauma which I had buried and hid from myself for years. Someone who I trusted betrayed me one night, leaving me with a shameful secret I couldn’t confront. It took 10 years before I realized that it wasn’t me who should’ve been ashamed of what happened that night, and a deep well of rage rose up inside me and I almost drowned in it.

San Francisco has a dark side that is edgy and cruel, but it also offers healing if you ask for help. I found a space to heal and a healer to work with, and together we practiced letting go of old fears so that I could find my power. One day I went on a walk in the Presidio and looked up at the pine trees, and suddenly I understood why they grew so hard and spiny and bristly with needles. I stood still and felt the trees humming with electricity and energy in the sunlight. I went back to the same place, again and again, until I could feel the energy in myself. I imagined the energy forming a shield around me, a barrier from danger. I felt different.

Trees in the Presidio (image from

If this is beginning to sound like a fairy tale ending, it’s about to get worse. Because suddenly a tall, dark and handsome stranger from another land — Los Angeles — entered my story. We began a dizzying, year-long courtship that I see now has been an important part of my journey in personal growth and transformation. But first I had to have a series of arguments with myself in the mirror.

“The place we choose to live is an important part of our identity!” I informed my reflection. “I could never move to LA. San Francisco is part of who I am!”

Also: “SF fog for LA smog? Never!”

And this: “I am a strong independent woman. Why should I change my life for a man?”

image from The Bold Italic

That last argument was the worst one. Even my closest family and friends questioned this choice. I had to work very hard to look into my own future before I saw that love is both a selfless and a selfish choice that requires courage and sacrifice. There are worse places to live than Los Angeles, California. I know this, because I’ve lived in them. I’ve lived, and seen, and struggled, and wanted more. I’m not done yet. I’m not afraid of change. And I’m not worried about losing myself or San Francisco anymore. Like a mother and her child in utero, the lifeblood of San Francisco flows out of its extraordinary skyline and into my core, inside and out.

I call my friends and remind them that LA is only down the road from San Francisco. I pack up the things I’m keeping from my apartment and toss out old trinkets and blurry photos from days past. I take strolls through my neighborhood and drive down familiar boulevards, trying to soak up the feeling of who I was here.

I am a city between a wide bay and a wild ocean. I have bridges to the north and the east, and beyond my borders, I grow oaks, redwoods and blackberries. Some days I am full of light and openness, and some nights the ships are forced to struggle through thick fog and high winds before they enter my harbors. I am always tearing shit down and rebuilding. I am always clamoring with questions and squeezing to fit in. I am always here even when I am gone, and the arcs between the highs and lows I journeyed through are sharper than my memory.

Goodbye San Francisco
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