since moving to San Francisco i've had the same conversation with every new friend: how do you like the west coast? the implication, of course, is, how does California live up to the idea in your head? it's small talk, but i love the conversation in earnest—everyone is a transplant here so everyone has an answer. i ask the same questions every time, trying to figure out not what they love about San Francisco but the how of it: i want to know how they've chosen to exist in it; how they found their place; whether they love it in entirety; want to stay forever or think about moving back all the time. almost everything i love is still on the east coast, but these days i've been trying to figure out how to love California the way which i thought i always would, because it hasn't come easy.
San Francisco is cold. this always sounds silly coming from the Canadian girl, but in Toronto, i know to expect the seasons as they're meant to be experienced: two months spent crying on my couch in the pitch dark of January and February, then freezing in bike shorts and a wool jacket on the first sunny day in March—false spring comes every year and every year i am happily tricked by its arrival before settling back into my down jacket for two more weeks of winter—and then picnics and bicycle rides and beach trips all taking place in one single summer fever dream which stretches on for two, three months straight if we're lucky. patio season is revered on the east coast in a way that it isn't in California: every year on the first day of false spring i scroll through endless Instagram posts featuring girls in wool Aritzia jackets (you know the one with the curved hem and tortoiseshell buttons) captioned patio szn with spring-themed emojis, pure glee, and zero irony. on the first day of false spring i don't roll my eyes, but instead call my friends and try to convince them to come sit with me on a patio on a day where it is clearly too cold to do so but who cares because it's spring or at least we're going to damn well pretend, because it‘s been a long winter, hasn’t it? i know a like-minded soul when i see them in the wild; they're the ones wearing shorts on the first day in March it is above zero degrees.
two months into living in California i texted another east coast transplant from my hometown who now lives in Los Angeles who has known me forever. at some point she'd said, our high school selves never would have believed that we would both be living in California now. she was right. but i still told her, i want to move back to New York so badly. it was August in Toronto and all my friends were laying around on blankets in Trinity Bellwoods and basking in late summer sunshine while i was cold all the time and wearing merino wool and puffy jackets in the middle of California summer, feeling very duped.
i don't know if i'm doing this whole bicoastal thing right—it sounds fun in theory, but splitting time and attention between both coasts has meant that nothing feels permanent—i live on Eastern Standard Time while i'm on the west coast and it's exhausting, i can't commit to any long-term or recurring plans since i don't know where i'll be in six months, i'm always fucking up scheduled times for recurring virtual hangouts, and i refuse to accept this whole Easy Bake oven situation in my San Francisco studio as a permanent fixture in my life. i'm hyperaware that this is not a test run; this is real life—i'm no longer staying up waiting for life to finally start, this is it; this is all there is. but still, i've portioned out my personality for each coast; am never entirely whole and present in any one place. in California i wear cropped hoodies and brightly coloured leggings to hike on weekends—California, it turns out, is the only place where cropped hoodies make sense—and generally perform my god-given role in the world as a blonde Asian software engineer living in San Francisco in the neighbourhood where all the other new-to-the-city AI researchers live. sometimes i like to contemplate my fulfillment of this role with a deep sense of irony over a $6 latte at the Bluestone Café across the street. my Los Angeles friend and i constantly send each other Instagram posts of girls in outfits which would be classified as simply deranged on the east coast, with messages like, now i understand how this outfit makes sense—only in California winter can you wear a miniskirt and a wool turtleneck and unbuttoned wool coat and not be cold all the time.
the east coast version of me reads and writes better; somehow manages to find clarity which i never have in California. i read more books when i'm in Toronto, mostly from the aesthetically-pleasing-but-not-entirely-functional couch-without-arms in my tiny living room. i also read and write a lot on airplanes, as if the act of doing so could ground me while i'm literally in airspace. when i'm on the west coast i'm always too stressed out to find time to sit in silence for three hours and put words down on paper the same way i do when i'm in Toronto. writing takes a specific set of unhurried conditions and i suspect that being unable to commit fully to this California existence means i spend every spare moment trying to exist outside of my apartment in San Francisco instead of sitting quietly, and reading and writing requires you to not feel like you're missing something by not interacting with the world around you. i haven't figure out how to do that in California yet.
when i do read in California, it's mostly the genre of overly-detailed hyperpersonal confessional essays which i am addicted to. sometimes i read Refinery29's Money Diaries and New York Magazine's Grub Street Diet and pore over all of the New York City references and plot them out on Google Maps and miss the east coast all over again. reading someone's money diary or food diary is just another form of meeting a stranger and asking them all the things they love about the place they live. voyeuristically reading about random people waking up after a night out and walking down the street in Brooklyn to get spicy noodles makes me miss existence of running into excellent coffee on every other street, subsisting on cheap tacos, and the obnoxious pink neon glow of the Milk Bar sign. we recently visited foodie friends in Los Angeles and went to a bunch of fun places but the thing i remember the most is driving to Milk Bar and ordering cereal milk ice cream with cornflakes which melted very quickly but was perfect while it lasted. upon returning to San Francisco i paid $8 at Whole Foods for a pint of Milk Bar cereal milk ice cream, but it wasn't the same. this is not a negative point about being bicoastal, but rather a negative point about being bicoastal in a city which does not have a Milk Bar.
i envy people who belong somewhere; who have chosen their places and committed to them in entirety. i envy people who have standing orders at coffee shops down the street and go to the same bar on Friday evening with their same friends and know all the best secret places to go for weekend trips. i'm always amazed when i meet people who have come to San Francisco from halfway across the world and just decided to stay forever. i think that i aspire to be someone who stays, even if i don't know where it is that i'd like to be.