I’ve been thinking lately how crazy it is that my life and environment could change so much within the last year. Nine months ago, I was living with two roommates on a busy street in the San Francisco Mission District. Two months ago, I was living with my folks at my childhood home in Sonoma while I went back to school. Now, I’m living with Darren in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, indefinitely.
Careerwise, I worked much more than full-time for years at Spark running youth programs, then became a student again in the fall during my intense three-month period of reschooling. This spring, I’m trying out freelance writing and seeing if I’m able to work completely on my own time. For now, I’m grateful that my phone stays mostly quiet, and my calendar isn’t booked up with meetings and coffee dates. My fast food and red meat consumption has gone up probably 500% (given that I used to eat hardly any), but so has my amount of exercise and sleep.
The other night, I felt like a real Jackson resident for perhaps the first time. Someone mentioned that the writer Ellen Gilchrist is from Mississippi, and without thinking about it, I felt proud to be a fellow southerner.
1) There may be no better way to make a fresh start than moving to a completely different city.
2) Even if you think you could never live away from the place you grew up, you probably could. And you might even like it.
3) Life can change quickly, for better or for worse.
Because my new life here is so different, I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things I miss about the Bay Area and those I love about Jackson.
Things I miss about the Bay Area:
My friends. It’s not that I feel socially disconnected here, because I have Darren and his — and now my — group of friends, who are smart and talented and hilarious. We see them fairly regularly but are happy hanging out by ourselves most of the time. Of course I still miss my Bay Area friends, because I’ve just added new friends to my circle here, rather than replacing the one-of-a-kind old ones. I miss the people I’ve known for years and can talk to about anything. One of the common gripes of my generation is that our friends are scattered all over the country, and often the world. Usually the only time they’re in one place is at weddings.
Healthy, organic food. The local co-op, called Rainbow like the one in San Francisco, is wonderful but small. I miss the Costco/Sam’s Club-sized Rainbow in my old ‘hood.
Authentic taquerias. El Sombrero, the tasty Schwindaman family favorite, is tiding me over until I can gorge myself in the SF Mission District, where I lived for two years. I do have to say that the individual salsa bowls that Mexican restaurants provide their diners is quite possibly a southern innovation, and I think it’s brilliant.
World-class restaurants. As Darren says, “There’s maybe one good restaurant in Jackson for every type of food,” which is pretty accurate. Perhaps pizza and southern food are exceptions. Jackson also has a few classy restaurants, which we’ve tried on special occasions. But of course San Francisco is one of the best places in the world for foodies and hard to beat.
Hills. Especially the green Sonoma hills in the spring. Jackson is flatter than Carson Daly‘s personality. Luckily, in my neighborhood thick trees cover the horizon.
Speaking Spanish every day. When running youth programs, I used to speak to Latino parents or school staff every day. Now, in a city with a much smaller and more sequestered Latino population, I don’t get a chance to practice much. I get a little too excited every time someone speaks Spanglish on the TV show Dexter, which is set in Miami. I’m thinking about volunteering with translation, to get my fix.
Acupuncture. Not that I have the money for it now, but the option would be nice. Mississippi is only one of seven states that doesn’t license acupuncturists. To practice acupuncture here, you need to have an M.D. or a D.D.S. (dental degree), so it’s a service rarely offered. The MS State Medical Association actually called acupuncture “quackery.” I think my people (as I call the Chinese) and other cultures that have been curing ills for over 5000 years might just know a thing or two. Update: By the end of the month in which I wrote this post (March 2009), the Governor signed into law the Acupuncture Practice Act, which made Mississippi the 44th state to license and regulate acupuncturists. Hooray!
A structured work life. While I don’t miss the full-time nonprofit grind, I’m still finding it a challenge to structure my own time, working mostly from home, in a disciplined way. I’m going to start setting my own deadlines and trying to go to sleep and wake up on a regular schedule.
Lots of dance clubs. I hear that there are a few fun places here, but I miss the Top 40 mix at Blondie’s. $3 in exchange for 50 Cent: now that’s a deal.
Smoke-free public places. I was thrilled to find out that my move to Jackson coincided with a smoking ban in restaurant-bars within the city limits. However, due to confusing new legislation and business owners who simply ignore it, some places are still chokingly full of smoke. It bothers me so much to be in a smoky bar that I think I’ll stop going to Tuesday pub quiz at Sportsman’s Lodge. It’s a bad sign, after all, when the owner himself is smoking. On Tuesdays I have to remember not to wash my hair, because I’ll end up washing it again after going to the bar.
Things I love about Jackson:
Slowing down. I’ve always said that if I lived in New York, the city would spin my Type A tendencies out of control. Now that I live in the south, I’m realizing that San Francisco was beginning to do the same thing. It’s not quite as loud or frenetic a city as New York, but there are too many shiny new things for me to keep up with: trendy restaurants, shows, museums….and going out in general. I used to go to parties or clubs several times per week, and it was starting to empty both my energy and my bank account. I love that Mississippi natives speak and move at a more leisurely pace than Californians, with a drawl that rolls over the tongue like molasses. And I’m finding “y’all” to be a more efficient and gender inclusive term than “you guys.”
Southern hospitality. People tend to be genuinely friendly upon meeting you and want to get to know you. They look you in the eye as they speak and find common ground with you right away. For example, last year at Mardi Gras, my sister and I stopped in at an acquaintance’s house, and her mom insisted upon feeding us homemade jambalaya and gumbo. She’d never even met us but still called us “baby.”
Afternoon cookouts and big front porches. It’s common in the south to invite friends over for a cookout on a weekend afternoon. I’ve been to two now and feel so content sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, sipping a bottle of Abita beer and sampling whatever deliciousness comes off the grill. Friends play bluegrass on the banjo and fiddle, and the rest of us “visit.” I think the culture of the Bay Area would slow down if it had more porches, rocking chairs, and visiting.
A community of creative young people. Most of the young people I know here are creative in some way: writers, visual artists, musicians, or actors. Most know each other and form a loose crew, so that if you show up at Hal & Mal’s for a show, many will be there. I hope they’ll also come out to the Writer’s Spotlight I’ll be a part of this Saturday.
The Jackson Free Press. The alt-weekly has helped me start building a portfolio of published pieces, as well as a way to plug into my new community. Plus, the writing class I took is helping me develop the craft of writing, instead of just doing it on instinct.
Reasonable prices. Darren and I pay less for a modern two-bedroom apartment than I paid for one room in a three-bedroom flat in San Francisco. Some restaurants have $5-$6 dinner plates (e.g. El Sombrero), which stuns me. Gas is 20-30 cents cheaper than in the Bay Area.
Darren. Freelancing from home together, working in separate rooms so we can concentrate, has been wonderful. We eat most of our meals together and can run errands midday if we need to. Given that freelancing doesn’t pay much or provide insurance, we take these perks where we can. I’m glad that we can share a small space literally 24-7 much of the time and still want to hang out. Occasionally we’ll call each other on Skype video chat from the next room just to appreciate that we’re not 2,200 miles away from each other anymore, and more like 220 feet.
Though I could never have imagined that I would end up living in Jackson, Mississippi, I’m happy here. The environment is totally different than what I grew up with, but it’s exactly where I want to be right now, and it’s starting to feel like home.