Thursday, December 26, 2013

A love letter to the Bay Area

With every loss there is a gain. With every gain there is a loss. Perhaps it is simply the Holiday season, yet I've been really missing the Bay Area and my friends/community there. Thus, I wanted to write a love letter blog post to the Bay Area.

When I was a child my family and I would visit Berkeley a few times a year if not more. My Uncle Joel lived there as did good friends of the family that were like family. The Grossmans; Laura, Knut, Anya, and Jessica. We would visit with them in Berkeley. We sat outside of the French Hotel, Saul's, and other cafes on Shattuck Ave. I remember all of the cafe aromas and delicious pastries. My Mom, Uncle Joel, and Aunt Heidi grew up in Berkeley, CA. My maternal Grandparents moved their family from Miami, Florida to Berkeley, CA in the 60's when my Mom was 13. They lived in Berkeley for 6 or 7 years before they relocated to Paris, France. My Grandparents chose to move to the Bay Area for their political activism and for the overall progressive hub that was the Bay Area in the 1960's. Shirley and Bernie Hutner were civil rights activists, peace activists, and anti-nuke activists. Thalia Broudy, one of their close friends who was and still is an activist is in her 80's and currently lives in Berkeley, CA. She is the Mother of Laura Grossman and Karen Stern. Bay Area family friends that are like family.

Contemplating my family history, the 60's were an exciting time for my Grandparents, Mom, Aunt, and Uncle to be in the Bay Area! The past two years, when I often walked to downtown Berkeley from my home on McGee Ave. I sometimes thought of my Grandparents and Mother walking on these same sidewalks. Here we all were in the same area, yet at a different time. I thought about what it would be like to travel back in time to the 1960's. What would I tell my Mom if I saw her in Berkeley? Would I stop her to say something? Like, I'm your cousin you haven't met. That's why we have a strong resemblance. I wondered if there was anything that I could say or do that would impact my Mom's life in a more positive way. I don't think there is anything that I could've said or done that would be helpful for my Mom to hear or that could improve her life in anyway. Thus, if I could travel back in time I would simply look at her and smile. Her life and how she lived unfolded from her actions, decisions, and free will. A word from a time traveler cannot take or add lessons that one acquires and gleans from lived experience. The only way is through. To continue onward on one's life journey.

I always felt a strong affinity and connection to the Bay Area. I loved visiting when I was a child and teenager. I often wondered why we didn't live there. I loved the food, the culture, artistic opportunities, the gardens, and our family and friends there. Berkeley in particular felt like home to me.

The Bay Area was like a beacon of light to me. It was the city of my dreams. The place where I always wanted to live since I was a child. It was a dream come true when I had a purpose and it was my time to move there. It was 27 years until it was my time to live in the Bay Area. I was immensely excited for my chance to move to the Bay. My Mom said that it was a battle to get to the Bay Area and a battle to stay. I have found truth in that. For all of my excitement and enthusiasm, the reality of living in San Francisco was tough to say the least. It was the most urban and biggest City where I have ever lived. I went to college at UC Santa Cruz. I grew up in Clovis/Fresno. I lived in Portland, Oregon for almost 3 years before I moved to the Bay Area when I was 27 for graduate school at San Francisco State University.

Challenge after challenge after challenge came my way. I saw the worst in people in San Francisco. It was like witnessing the shadow side of humanity in a way that I had never seen before. The city was harsh and the people were harsher. Housing challenges, housemate imcompatibilities, and the hectic hustle bustle of every day life. Never really feeling settled and then having to look for new housing again and then again. Only to find a new place to live and have clarity a month later that my housemate was toxic and needing to move yet again.

I learned that housing isn't a right in San Francisco it is a privilege. I was almost in tears during the end of my first year of graduate school at SF State when I told the trans guys in a trans group that I went to that my housemate at the time was toxic and I needed to find a new place to live. I felt displaced and felt like I was on a continual search for resonant housing. One of the guys in my trans group mentioned that all of the Native Ohlone people have been displaced from this land. He expressed something to the effect that there was and is continual displacement from every group of people that have settled here since. As much as I loved the City; it's culture, art, beauty, radical politics, food, parks, urban planning, architecture, vibrant queer/trans community, it was an uphill battle getting through my first year living in San Francisco.

I'm not sure when during the past four years that I lived in the Bay Area that I finally developed a thick skin. I became hardened in a sense. I feel that I developed this as a queer/trans man and also being in the highly competitive field of film/media. I am tough and I can withstand living in the harsh environment of the city. Hardened so that I could withstand the critiques and feedback from professors and colleagues in my MFA Cinema graduate program. I have hardened so that I could survive and thrive in the dense and competitive environment that is the City. Also, my experiences of homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia while living in the City have had an impact on me. Going through the ringer, again and again of feedback, critiques, and graduate school challenges as an artist was an initiation, indeed. To say the least.

I find that one must be tough and hardened in a sense to be a creative professional. Life is more challenging for me as a queer/trans man. I knew it was difficult at times, yet I've had long conversations with dear friends who are cisgender and straight in the last 6 months. Their lives are easier in a sense. Their lives are validated. For me as a trans man who is an artist, I aim to be kind yet I'm hardened. Hardened to be empowered and express that I do deserve to be here. Even if I'm the only one validating myself and my existence. I, as a beautiful queer/trans man who is an artist/filmmaker, can live my life and carve out a unique path that is my own to walk upon. Away from the mainstream. Just because I'm not on this mainstream path doesn't mean that I'm invaluable or do not deserve to be here. I exist and I'm making my time and energies here count. Even if I'm the only one validating myself. Thus, I have become hardened.

Once, before I found a parking spot, I saw a man carrying a bottle of wine in one hand and I watched as it slipped through his fingers and smashed in the middle of an intersection as he was walking halfway across the street. He just walked away, not bothering to pick up the pieces out of shame and embarrassment. While people nearby quickly picked up several large pieces of glass so that cars wouldn't run over them. I watched car accidents happen right before my eyes. I saw a man with blood and alcohol on himself passed out on the street in the Mission. I was yelled at by an upper class white woman in a grocery store parking lot for driving the wrong direction into the parking lot. I apologized, yet she rolled down her window and swore at me.
I came up with a phrase that I would often say when I worked at an upscale grocery store in Noe Valley. "People in the City." It's a good line that can be used for a lot of instances and experiences depending on one's tone.

I aimed to write about the light aspects and what I loved about the City, yet this blog has turned into more of an examination of my initiatory challenges and experiences in the City. In particularly during my first year living in San Francisco, expressing dark aspects, the shadow side of humanity. Through it all, I was meant to be there. I didn't know how for how long. Yet, I did my best to enjoy the moments of joy. Or simply all of the moments. I was as present as I could have been. For that I am proud. For all of my lessons, I am a richer man. For all of my experiences I can definitely say or exclaim, I have truly lived! Oh, the City. The Bay Area! My time there, all of my experiences, and the land itself. It's a part of me.

I do miss dancing amidst a sea of queer/trans folks at dance parties! I miss the energy, the excitement! Even if it is exhausting to live in since it's non-stop. The beautiful fog, the beautiful bay, the beautiful bridges! The chocolate crossiants from Tartine that I only indulged in on special occasions. Yummy pizza from the Cheese Board or Arizmendi. The feeling that anything is possible and that anything can happen in the City. The fashion, the art, the film, how many concerts or shows are always happening. There are queer/trans things to do everyday. The gayborhood. East Bay queers, faggy trans guys, feminine trans boys, radical politics, the Berkeley rose garden. The farmer's markets, bike rides, the OCEAN. The SEA. The BAY AREA. The Berkeley marina. Highway one. Tide pools. Living in a queer centric area. These are some qualities and experiences that I miss and that aren't in Albuquerque.

Dear, Bay Area. I will visit you at a resonant time! I'm not sure when. I blow you a kiss all the way from the High Desert of New Mexico! I am meant to be here now in Albuquerque. I look forward to embracing you when I visit next. You are in my heart and soul. We will meet in the present. I love you and I always will. You are the City of my dreams. A soul mate City in a sense. Although our relationship has come to an end, I think of you everyday. The relationship ends, yet my love for you still goes on. All of the things that I miss that I wrote above, I will experience when I visit you next. At some unknown time. Good night my love. Good night, Bay Area. I love you,


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The beginning of my adventures in New Mexico

The most difficult part about writing for me is simply beginning. Well, it doesn't have to be difficult it is just carving out some space and time to write and then actually doing it. I've been thinking about writing a blog about the cultural and climate comparisons and differences between the SF Bay Area and Albuquerque. I've written several lists in my journals already for myself. I've had more than a few conversations with established friends in the Bay Area and elsewhere about some of the culture shock that I've been experiencing in the Southwest. It is a gradual acclimation. That is for sure. I am acclimating. Slowly. I am grateful and glad to be here. I am exactly where I need to be. It's exciting and exhausting to begin a new chapter, a new epoch, and for me to experience new-ness in every realm of my life. A new state, new city, new home, new job, new freelance business that I've recently launched, new to me furniture, new website that I created, new friends, new queer/trans community, etc. Newness in all of its many facets, forms, and experiences. Wow! It's exciting and also tiring at moments too.

My intention with this specific blog post is to share my musings and thoughts about my subjective experiences in the Southwest and the contrasts as well as comparisons with the Bay Area. Also, so I can simply refer friends and family to the kinds of experiences that comprise the feeling of "culture shock." I personally feel that the Southwest is a different world. Or a different dimension than the Bay Area or California. It's fascinating. The Southwest is part of the United States, yet it feels like a different country! It was a different country before 1848! In fact, this land was Mexico! In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed which meant that California, Nevada, and the entire Southwest came under the ownership of the United States! Just a little over a hundred years ago, New Mexico became a state in 1912!

New Mexico is the amalgamation of the Spanish colonists, anglo settlers, Mexicans, and Native Americans. I work part time at a new cafe in Old Town, Albuquerque. Whenever I go to work, I walk by signs, museums, and a park with many different historical markings and remembrances of the past. There is a historical sign with names of the Spanish colonists that founded Albuquerque over 300 years ago! Old Town, Albuquerque is the oldest neighborhood in Albuquerque. The oldest church in Albuquerque is in Old Town. It's a fascinating area and it feels a bit like I've stepped back in time depending on the area where I am in Old Town. I really like the architecture of Old Town and the feel of the area.

The landscape in New Mexico is vast. It is incredibly beautiful and powerful. Every sunset or sunrise I see, the word incredible escapes my lips. I speak it out loud. This is big sky country. All of the people that I've met thus far are as open as the vast landscape. This is in comparison to most people I met in the Bay Area. A lot of the people that I've met in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are genuine, open, warm, inclusive, and super friendly. There is a nice small town atmosphere in Albuquerque. When I was in the Bay Area, I felt that a lot of people had fronts and were closed off. It took quite a while to get to know people and to cultivate a close, emotionally intimate friendship was rare. A heart-felt and genuine soul connection was also rare to find in the Bay Area. I know a lot of people in the Bay Area. I love my Bay Area friends and community. I appreciate and love the Bay Area. Yet, I feel that the Bay Area and a lot of the people that I met there were harsh. There was an expression that I would think to myself when I experienced a challenge living in the City. "As harsh as the city." It's also a super competitive area, materialism is rampant, it's a stressful place to live (you know 1 hour commutes), densely populated, expensive, hustle-bustle, and an overall challenging place for me to live as an artist and emerging creative professional with an avid Earth based spiritual practice.

In Albuquerque, I can work part time at a cafe and utilize the rest of my time and energies to launch my still photography and video production business. If I was still living in the Bay Area, I would need to work full-time at least just to cover my rent and basic expenses. It would be very difficult for me to start a business and to get it rolling in the Bay rather than in Albuquerque. Plus, I can name five or more professional still photographers in the Bay Area that I know of. It's highly saturated with all of these bright shining stars. As my Father told me, "It's hard to be seen when you are in the midst of all of these bright shining stars." So, yes. The Bay Area is full of amazing, incredible, talented, and creative bright shining stars. It is hard to be seen in the midst of all that light!

I did have a calling to come to the Southwest. I love the desert landscape. I am enjoying living in a calmer and quieter area. I'm still adjusting to how quiet it is in my neighborhood and apartment. I can afford to live in my own spacious one bedroom apartment.
From what I have observed and gathered, most of my new friends in the queer/trans community either live on their own or with partners. It's interesting. I thought that there would be a housemate culture here like there is in the Bay Area. Most of my friends in the Bay live with housemates.

The weather. OMG. The weather. My goodness! I was braced for warm summers and heat in the high desert. What I was not aware of or expecting was snow! Thirty degree weather and below. An ice bottle freezing in my car. Having to scrap snow and ice off of my car before going to work. Driving in the snow on frozen streets when I was coming home from working long hours on a film shoot. Wow! My experience with the snow before moving to Albuquerque consisted of intentionally driving to the snow. To recreate, to frolic, to play in the snow. Then to leave when my visit with a snow covered natural location came to a conclusion. How magical it was to watch the snowflakes fall and blanket my front and back yard with a gentle layer of snow. So beautiful!

I am grateful to live in an apartment with heating that works!

Here are more short observations thus far. I will go into more detail when I write more blog posts.

*Most people that I've seen who ride vespas, scooters, motorcycles, and bikes DO NOT wear helmets!!! Is it illegal to not wear a helmet on a scooter or motorcycle in New Mexico? Probably not from what I've seen. Yet, I still need to google it.

*Red or green? This question one will be asked ALL the time at a taqueria or when enjoying New Mexican cuisine. This is in reference to chili. Green chili for days. There is even Red chili wine! Some of which I had during this past Thanksgiving.

*Crazy drivers. DUI's are an issue in New Mexico. Maybe it's due to the vastness of the landscape. I don't know. Many drivers do not use their turn signals as well. I've seen a handful of car accidents and more cars and trucks that had recently been in accidents than I have anywhere else that I've lived. Drive with awareness.

*The Land of Manana. Yes, the pace of life here is slower. This is in reference to people taking a very long time to get anything done. My philosophy is, "carpe diem in the land of manana!" I'm here to get stuff done yet at a sustainable pace.

*Fashion. Oh my! I was with my friend Jason at a restaurant several weeks ago. I commented to him about the fashion in Albuquerque. Regarding that I had seen a lot of people wearing 80's and 90's outfits. My new friends in Albuquerque have great fashion sense. Yet, comparing most outfits and fashion that I see everyday in Albuquerque to what I observed in the Bay Area. There is no comparison.

*Produce (or lack thereof). The produce is more expensive in Albuquerque. Most of the leafy greens that I love and purchase from the Coop in ABQ are from California! There are some yummy vegetables grown in Colorado as well. Thank the G-ddess that Lily's hummus from Portland is available here.

*The power of the landscape. The landscape is incredible! Through showing humility, vulnerability, and reverence to the landscape and elements here, I feel the land has accepted me. I've heard stories from locals here that if one is not meant to be in New Mexico, then New Mexico will spit you out. For example, your car tire will blow out. Or a series of events will happen that will definitely show you that you are not meant to be in New Mexico.

*The land of entrapment. Apparently, if New Mexico accepts you, it is hard to leave. A new friend told me a story in reference to this. An example would be a person who is passing through Albuquerque who decides to stay here for a little while. 6 years later, the person is still in Albuquerque and wonders how they got here and is amazed at how long they've lived here.

*People have more time for interpersonal connections. Living in an area that is affordable and less stressful allows people to have more time to connect with friends and loved ones.

*Craigslist. My city and urban tools do not work in New Mexico. It's great that I have these tools, yet I'm acquiring different one's in the Land of Enchantment. For example, Craigslist isn't used like it is in the Bay Area. Most things happen here through word of mouth. i.e. housing, procuring furniture, meeting people, etc. Since there is a small town element here, word of mouth is the way to hear about jobs and other opportunities. It is who you know. Craigslist is of little use for all of the above. Which I found very surprising.

*Country paced phone conversations. At least a handful of times, people who I've called up via craigslist or word of mouth who I intended to have a short, concise, several questions phone call with have turned into a 10 minute to 20 minute drawn out conversation. People who I haven't met have started talking to me like I'm their friend or neighbor. This is in stark contrast to the Bay Area where most phone calls regarding housing, jobs, furniture, etc. would be short and succinct.

*Commuting. What commute? There is hardly any traffic. There are no bridge tolls. I have an extra two hours in my day to be creative and live!

*Friends help friends. I was super surprised and in awe when two new friends in the queer community, who I helped move, had 8-10 friends show up to help them load and unload all of their belongings to their new home in Albuquerque! This happened on a week day! Wow! I have never seen so many friends show up for friends in this way. I am very impressed with the strength of the queer community here.

*Neon lights. There are a lot of neon lights and Route 66 signs in the Nob Hill neighborhood in Albuquerque. Neon lights are in style here!

*More chili! Earlier this week, I enjoyed delicious chicken enchiladas with green chili sauce. Yum! I was super hungry and it was super delicious. I didn't realize how spicy the green chili was until I was halfway through with my plate of yummy food. The waitress came by to ask how the food was. I said, "It was great!" Yet, there were tears in my eyes from the green chili. She said that, "the chili will help keep me warm." I nodded as the tears streamed down my eyes.

That's all for now! Thanks for reading about the beginning of my adventures and explorations in New Mexico! More cross cultural comparisons will be examined and expressed in upcoming blog posts!

If you feel inspired to comment, then do so.

In light,