FUNNY WOMEN #15: How to Move to San Francisco

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First, abandon everyone you know and love. Say goodbye to friends, lovers, would-be lovers, American cheese, and sanity. You don’t need these things in San Francisco. You need isolation. You need Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. You need Saturday nights writing in your blog. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.

You come to San Francisco to be a writer, just like everyone else. You are a writer. Say this while looking in the mirror. Say this when you aren’t invited out. Say this when trying to get a job but failing miserably.

You are young. You are young and female and brand new. Not new like a baby, but new like an untested product.

On your first morning in the city that is not New York, you devise some mental to-do lists for your new life and visualize your imminent happiness because you are doing it all on your own for the first time in your life. When you go to a coffee shop, you overhear people say things like, “I wrote a short story about it.” Mock them silently while writing a short story about your last relationship that you tentatively title “Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Was The Show?” Join a writers’ group and show it to them. The first piece of feedback is: “Some of your images are quite nice, but I hate the female protagonist.” Say nothing to them of your piece’s autobiographical nature. You get back to your subletted room, which is separated from your roommate’s by a glass door that allows her to hear you cry; in the privacy of your room, she talks to you through the wall as if there were no wall at all. She suggests you get a real job.

Instead of being a writer, you decide to work for writers. You are excited to begin. Exhilarated. This is your first opportunity to prove yourself as someone outside of an academic setting. You fantasize about the cool people who will share your interests and passions and work ethic. Perhaps your dream of becoming a writer will be realized at a non-profit organization. Congratulate yourself on your good decision-making skills. You knew you’d get here someday.

By 10:30 PM of your first day, you are on a bus home. You reconsider the word “job.” What you have is a non-paying internship at a non-profit. Two of your primary responsibilities are to take out the trash and improve youth literacy. Never forget that. No one will let you forget that.

You learn “intern” really means “degenerate social leper moron.” Your colleagues do not want to be your friend. It takes time and unanswered emotional e-mails to come to terms with this.

One particular night, you follow them to a bar and attempt to socialize. You hang out with a girl who sucks. While she talks, you look at a muted television. You think about transforming this demoralizing experience into a story. Then you can tell other people you are “working on something.” The girl asks if you are a writer. You say, “Sort of. I’m working on something.”

Sometimes you think about removing social distractions for a while. In the end, it’s not a choice.

You write fictional stories about drowning and lesbianism. You put them in a drawer and worry your genius has withered on the vine. You buy form letters that have multiple-choice sentiments so you don’t have to write your own. They have them for all occasions, including breaking up with a boyfriend or therapist or committing suicide.

Your dad suggests that you become a lawyer because your mother tells him you’re such a good writer. Tell him you’d just prefer to be a writer. Convince yourself he’s laughing with you.

You’ve been in San Francisco for a week. Some general observations you could make:

Everyone is gay.
Everyone is green.
Everything is too expensive.
Everyone is cooler than you are.
Everyone’s favorite color is rainbow.
Everyone is either a hipster or a hippie. You are neither.
Public transportation in San Francisco is the worst. Everyone hates it and hates you in it. All the waiting tests a sense of patience you wish you could cultivate. Since this is a time of growth, which is something you keep telling yourself, you think of idle transportation time as ideal for reading local literary magazines or Atlas Shrugged.
The city smells. When you come home, you smell of the city.

You are a bit lost in a different way during each moment of every day.

You try harder at the internship. Devote yourself to it. It is not hard to be the best intern. While consolidating the recycling, you mutter something to yourself about feminism. Your boss notices and appreciates your off-beat sense of humor. He asks if you know how to proofread. You say yes. He asks if you know how design books. You say yes. He asks if you’d like a real job. You say yes. You hope he’ll never know you lied about the first two things.

By week three, you decide you like working in book publishing. You get some money to act like an asshole. You are even getting used to San Francisco culture. Go to the Pride Parade. Try not to notice the people fornicating and defecating (and is that person doing both?) on the hill next to you. Later, at a house party, you find out what feltching is from a man in a pink dress. Observe everything and say nothing; do this because you are high from a brownie you bought on the street from a stranger carrying a big stick who twitches and clacks. Stare at the men in their tight underwear, proffering their junk out a second-story window that looks down at an orgy on Castro Street.

You go home stoned and sleep it off. Cherish the numbness. Thinking about your would-be lover no longer makes you want to stab yourself. Interacting with people who don’t interest you is nothing of consequence. Everything is perfect, if only for a little while.

Wake up the next day and briefly wonder if you’ll be alone for the rest of your life.  On second thought, chalk it all up to men wanting other men. This has nothing to do with your vagina. Leave your vagina out of it.

You haven’t had sex in two years, and before that you hadn’t had sex in 22 years. To have sex again you need intrigue. Here is your intrigue: no one knows who you are. You’re not a feminist or the girl who dated that guy or the person whose conversation opener has become, “You know, I was pretty cool in college.” This is good and bad. It forces you to think about who you are.

People tell you yoga is important on the road to self-actualization and acceptance; also, it will make you bendy in preparation for a time when you could be having sex with someone when and if you meet anyone at all, ever.

After two months, you have discovered how to spot a hipster. If you cannot tell whether the human being is a man or a woman, you’ve spotted a hipster. Refute, yell at, denounce any friend who says you yourself are a hipster. After subtly observing people around you, embrace that looking like an idiot is the only way to dress here. This is due in part that winter and summer happen concurrently. If you think you look haphazard with a possible learning and perception disability, everyone in the city will envy your style. Too bad you can’t have ironic facial hair.

Resume communication with your ex-boyfriend, the one who showered with your best friend. Forgive him for now, even though he hasn’t apologized.

Get more and more distracted with long phone fights and still more unanswered emotional e-mails.

Your job suffers. Your boss wants to know what’s wrong with you. He asks if you are having boyfriend or girlfriend problems. Since when did he conclude you’re gay, or at the very least bisexual? Is it your hair? You tell him, “My mother has cancer.” You cannot tell him the truth. Or can you? “Can I tell you the truth?” you might begin. And he might say, “Sure.” And you would explain. . . .

You spend too much of your time slouched and preoccupied. Your boss brings you in for a meeting. He hands you a two-page document that begins, “You have failed to live up to expectation.” He says it is protocol to read the form aloud to you. “You have failed to show up on time.” “You have failed to meet FedEx deadlines.” “You are a poor communicator.” He makes two copies of the form, one for your personal records and one for your file. “File” is an anagram of “life.”

This meeting is like a breakup. It is as if your ex-boyfriend brought you into a conference room with a 2-page list of why he doesn’t love you. “You have failed to make me happy.” “You make it impossible to achieve male orgasm.” “You are a poor communicator.”

You quit. Or rather, you tell people you’ve quit. You tell people there’s a thin line between quitting and being fired. Remain ambiguous about future plans. Say you have various projects lined up. 

Suddenly, you have time to write. You have a lot of material. You now go out with a non-Jewish person and replace the dead batteries in your cordless mouse with the ones in your vibrator. You consider this improvement. At cafes where you write, you order smoothies called “You Are Beautiful,” “You Are Elated,” and “You Are Energized.” You delve deep. You have a rich interior life.

Unlike anything else, you stick with writing. Experiment with the second person. It’s not filled with “I, I, I,” but rather, “You, You, You”–your boss’s form letter turned on its head—misery loving company, the lonely extending a hand to those who are alone.

Perhaps you’ll apply to MFA programs to hone your craft. You apply only to schools in San Francisco because you can’t handle the thought of moving to New York. That place sucks.

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Original art by Ilyse Magy.

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Elissa Bassist edits the Funny Women column. She teaches humor writing at The New School and Catapult. Follow her on Twitter, and visit elissabassist.com for more literary, feminist, and personal criticism. More from this author →