Now well-settled in Boston, I’m happy to report that I don’t have a single regret about quitting the PhD. It would be premature to say I’ve put it all behind me, because – let’s be real – you don’t shrug off nearly three years of dashed expectations and disappointments that drove you into a depression in less than three months. But all in all? Life is smooth enough for my liking and that’s really all I can ask for right now. The students are all coming back to town now and I am just so, so relieved to not be one of them.
I had a bit of a rocky start. I was sitting around minding my own business one night about a week into my tenancy when I saw something scurry along the side of the room. Then another thing. And another thing. Furry little brown things. Mice. Instead of being a tiny annoyance that I should have shrugged off with one call to the exterminator, this knocked me sideways. Boston was supposed to be a new start, everything was nice and clean, and in my mind an infestation contaminated the fresh new life I was putting together for myself. To me, I might as well have been back in the Tenderloin. Everything seemed ruined for a while. Let’s just say that disposing of live mice stuck to glueboards was not what I envisioned myself doing in June, and I was just so stressed out from the move. Fortunately, they’re gone, and with a little luck they won’t come back. The new apartment is feeling like a home. Got a big tank of fish and some plants on the fire escape and whatnot. Nothing wrong with creature comforts, so long as nothing related to the creatures is furry with a long, bare tail.
In a country as big as the United States you have to realize that there are simply some places that suit you better than others. The past several weeks have reinforced my belief that it has to be the East Coast for me. The attitudes here just fit. I love the bluntness, the implied acknowledgement that we’re all busy and need to move quickly and life is too short to care about meaningless crap. It’s so…refreshing to not have put my guard up every time I set foot out my front door. In particular, I don’t have to run a gauntlet of crackheads just to get to the subway or deal with creeps who think I want their attention. It’s amazing. I got “hey-baby-how-ya-doin'”-ed in line at the supermarket today for the first time in yonks and it reminded me that it’s not something I have to put up with several times daily anymore. And let’s face it, getting “hey-baby-how-ya-doin'”-ed is harmless. In San Francisco it was a constant OH YEAH BABY LEMME GET SOME OF THAT ASS that never, ever relented. You can only tell yourself to ignore things so much. I didn’t suddenly become a different person when I moved to Boston, and while I know I’m always the first one to remind people that correlation does not imply causation and you need to rule out as many extraneous variables as possible (hi, I’m a researcher), I think the reason I don’t constantly get catcalled and harassed now is because I’m not living in a total hole of a place where people having nothing better to do. Simple as.
It is the little things in life that can really stress you out and bring you down, for the simple fact that lots of little things add up into one big massive thing rolling down the hill with you in its path. And San Francisco, as we all know, has got loads of hills. I spent way too much time dealing with one thing after another, one broken promise and disappointment and shortcoming after another, to the point where I just stopped expecting anything to get better out there. That’s not good for anybody and I’m not going to romanticize it. Life in Boston is, quite frankly, normal. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If your circumstances are normal you have plenty of energy for going wild in your imaginative life, which is good news for me as I have quite a bit of overdue writing on my plate.
Fortunately, the law of little things is commutative; it works in the opposite direction, too. Boston is SO CLEAN. I don’t have to dodge piles of poo (dog or human) when I walk down my street. I don’t have to ride buses that smell of urine and on which I’m probably going to see people beating each other up over nothing. People don’t walk up to me on the train and tell me their miserable life stories. Nobody is smoking crack or meth outside my building or shooting up in broad daylight. Nobody is waking me up with their screaming in the middle of the night. Nobody is whining about their sacred human rights being infringed just because somebody looked at them the wrong way or served them the non-organic vodka. I live right near the center of Boston, yet I look outside and see more trees than heaps of trash. All these little things mean I can enjoy life just that bit more, and it makes more of a difference than I expected.
In a perfect world we all know I would have ended up back in either London or New York, but for now Boston is fine by me. The litmus test for me is whether I can find someplace in a city where I can kill time and not feel preoccupied by anything at all. The Public Garden, full of ducks and people all minding their own business together, is that place for me in Boston. I get on a bike and wind through streets here just to mentally map it all out, which I never felt the need to do in San Francisco because I simply didn’t care enough about the place and it didn’t feel like mine. Again, there’s nothing like riding your bike up the canal in London until you’re in a field in Northolt, or wandering out to the middle of the Walthamstow Marshes, or riding the NYC subway to the end of the line and walking along the shore with everybody speaking Russian in Brighton Beach, but right now it’ll do. I really wouldn’t mind staying here a few years – I’ve had enough several-thousand-mile moves to places where I know absolutely nobody. My closest friend from San Francisco, who went to college out here, is moving back tomorrow and it’s going to be fantastic.
(I have lost track of how many people ask us if we’re related.)
My life in California was not normal. I had come to expect all those dysfunctional things as part of my normal routine, and that’s just messed up. No wonder I was bloody miserable. Everybody in San Francisco is all about the freedom to do whatever you want, be whatever you want, but there’s something to be said for having freedom FROM constant hassle and lack of social boundaries, too. I simply don’t have to live like that anymore and it makes all the difference. That’s not to say everything is sunshine and roses now – let’s face it, I’m one of those people for whom there will always be something lingering around, I’ll never be able to just let things go – but I’m a hell of a lot happier with my life than I was a few months ago. This feels more like what I wanted for age 28.
In other news, I went to Chicago for a couple days last month when my friend Zach, who I’ve known since we were the two five-year-olds getting plucked out of class because we’d already taught ourselves to read, got married. I’m so happy for him and Regen, and it was great to catch up with people I hadn’t seen for the better part of a decade.
Chicago is strange. Cabrini-Green has completely vanished. The South Loop is full of new-build apartments and townhouses. Downtown, Donald Trump has built himself a massive monument to his feelings of masculine inadequacy. The whole place is simultaneously familiar and foreign. Nice to visit, but I can’t see myself living there again.
A few weeks ago I went out to LA for a few days to do something fun and new which I can’t say anything else about at the moment, but you’ll hear about it sooner or later.
I’m considering getting a Quaker parrot. I’ve loved these birds for ages, ever since I was a teenager with a weekend job in a pet shop, but they’re considerably larger and longer-lived than the ones I’ve had before, and they were out of the question in California because the state banned them. But now that I might be here for a while…I dunno. They’re known for being remarkably good mimics:
The last one I met seemed to like me well enough.
So that’s that. I’m willing to accept things changing little by little.
(EDIT: two minutes after I post this, I find a mouse trying to eat his way through a bag of chips in my kitchen. The above may be temporarily null and void, because I say so.)