I’m going to start this post off by admitting that the blog format is highly inadequate to cover everything I experienced during my two and a half month sublet in Berkeley, California. In fact, my previous post How a Destination Becomes a Waypoint started as the post you’re reading now but the introduction got so big that I had to separate it into its own special animal.
Point being that if I really wanted to go into deep detail and get really intimate over what I went through this summer a long blog post won’t cut it. So after wrestling with myself over how best to handle it, I’ve decided to stick to the basics of what happened and give my opinion, which basically amounts to it being the Best of Times and the Worst of Times.
(Condensing lots of information can be quite messy, so bear with me.)
On the surface I spent the summer in a three story house whose owners decided a while ago that short of sending a cleaning service to the property twice a month they were going to do little else to earn the five figure rent they reap monthly. Not that I blame them, of course. The Bay Area is going through a housing crisis and UC Berkeley, in its infinite greed desire to educate as many minds as possible, admitted another ten THOUSAND new students this semester without a second thought as to where they’d live.
And with such a demand for housing there’s almost no incentive for property owners to splash a fresh coat of paint on the walls or make sure their buildings are up to code, unless they’re in really bad shape. But even that might not matter because at the end of the day their clientele is college students, and there’s this tacit understanding in our culture that yes, even if you had a comfortable home life with every need catered to, you will be roughing it in college to some extent if you’re not living with mom and dad.
— UC Berkeley (@UCBerkeley) August 28, 2016
(I’m not lying about the 10,000 students as UCB boasts about the figure on their twitter account.)
And there was me: lone subletter from the East Coast who stumbled onto a shared room through a combination of luck and timing. I remember my first day as a blur of 1) people running in and out of the house 2) trying to figure out what I’d be sleeping on 3) what I’d be eating 4) what I’d be doing with my stuff, and 5) how does parking works here.
But little did I suspect that those concerns would soon fade away, only to be replaced with the heaviest questions I’ve encountered so far. Where do I want to live long term? What direction is my writing career headed in? What do I really want and most importantly, what’s life all about? It’s funny looking back on it now, because I realize that of the twelve or so people living in the house that summer, I was the only one in that headspace, save for one other guy, but I think he’s just the analytical type no matter what.
(This will be the post’s only inside joke. Promise.)
For the first week I could not sleep at night. I touched on this a bit in the post Atmospheric Reentry and while the premise of the post (your brain goes through a stressful period as it adjusts to a new environment) holds true, I see now that the pain that lingered was due to me going through a transitional phase—or more accurately a spiritual journey. Or awakening. Use whatever lofty term helps you best.
Because for the month of June I tried to spend as little time in the Berkeley house as possible. I would do things like explore the neighborhood and also head into San Francisco to think. A common thing I did was head to Ocean Beach (primarily because of the free parking) and be there from the afternoon until the sun went down and contemplate where I was and where I was going. It was painful. And it was tough.
(The old man from the film Into the Wild said this? Huh. Guess his character takes on a whole new meaning now.)
Sure, I socialized with the subletters and some of the long-term house residents a bit, but I needed June to myself. I needed to use the distance California provided from my old life to get some perspective, and when July rolled around, I was ready to roll around myself, opening up a bit and making myself available.
I did a 180 degree turn and tried to say “yes” to anything that came up. Nothing crazy or illegal of course, but if people wanted to hang out or if they needed a ride somewhere, I said yes for the sake of spending time with these new people and to have new experiences. But the benefit that I really got was a break from worrying about how a literary agent I was in talks with was going to respond to the book I was pitching him. In the interest of staying on topic I won’t go into the details or the result, but rather the nasty effect it had on my mental state.
(Sure this photo is on point but…isn’t this supposed to be a humorous blog?)
I cared so much about what he thought and I had so much invested in his judgment that I felt I had no future if his response was negative. I put an unsustainable amount of pressure on myself to the point where I snapped and decided that enough was enough and changed tack: after years of stubbornly wanting to writing a series I switched to writing standalones, inspiring the post Let Her Rest. In that post I talked about what a tremendous shift in thinking it was and I’ll gladly say it again: it was a revelation, and for me, totally changed the game.
This is why my thoughts on the Berkeley sublet really can be boiled down to the phrase: “It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times” because on the one hand I had the anguish and pressure of torturing myself over this agent but on the other hand the pain resulted in tremendous growth, something I don’t believe I would have achieved if I hadn’t extracted myself from everything else going on back home.
(We all need a break from the muck and the mire, don’t we?)
I started work on the standalone on July 15, and creatively speaking, I’ve been flying high ever since. The future looked bright, but at the same time, I still have to live in the real world, and there was plenty of July left. Now while this was going on I was looking into getting a day job, and again, for the sake of brevity, I won’t detail this grind, but in short I experienced delays because of paperwork, and when I finally did get to check the job out, I realized that while it was okay, it just wasn’t something I could see myself doing for an extended period of time.
This may not have been such a big deal if I didn’t badly need to start searching for a new place, which I started at the end of July, as I had to be out mid-August. And here’s where the post comes full-circle: remember that housing crisis I touched on? Well it turns out that it’s quite easy to get a sublet for the summer but getting a longer term situation is a full contact sport, something I was about to learn the hard way when I went about my search.
(“Hey kid. Is it true you’re a white male interested in housing? Step into my office.”)
To my surprise it really didn’t matter if I had good credit and money in the bank; what really mattered was how well you were able to stand out from the dozens of other people also looking to get a room somewhere in the Bay Area. You had to be someone that the other roommates found really cool and interesting and cultured and travelled and blah blah blah. At least in theory, because I couldn’t get anyone to respond to my requests and when I googled the reason it came back with an unexpected and difficult answer.
I’m not hip enough.
Push came to shove during that time and I had to decide what I wanted to do. Should I go all out to get a new place? Was I interested in another year here? Or did I really get everything I needed in two months? My nervous system was shot after all the running around and other decisions I’d had to make, but this big one remained, and I didn’t take it lightly.
(On the bright side, a certain iPhone game didn’t interest me, so I made my decision without distraction.)
I gave it a lot of thought. I took everything that had happened, what was going on now, and what the next year of my life would have looked like depending on what choice I made. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, and I knew it wouldn’t be popular, but I decided to return to New York.
It was a tough decision to make, again, but as the last two weeks in chilly Berkeley, California drifted by I knew it was the wisest choice available. For the first time in months I had peace in my heart. I spent my last days taking stock of how far I’d come mentally and emotionally (I don’t want to use the word “spiritually” because I’m not a religious man) as well as doing any sightseeing in Berkeley, San Francisco, Sausalito, or in Half Moon Bay that I hadn’t gotten to.
(Not to mention my near-death experience trying to get this pic. UCB if you’re reading this, PLEASE make a clear path to the iconic swing on Big C! #CALproblems)
It’s funny because I honestly did not head to the Bay Area looking for anything, but I did find something: a new level of thinking, broader horizons, and the strength to deal with uncertainty and / or circumstances outside of my control. But I don’t want to get to deep into what I learned on this post, because that will be the subject of my next (and hopefully more lighthearted) post Fill Up My Cup (With Lessons) where I list some of the more important things I learned that I likely wouldn’t have been able to if I didn’t take the jump and move to the other side of the country.
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See you next week,
J. F. Seegitz
P.S. I don’t say this often enough, but I really appreciate everyone that takes the time to read my posts, and as a result I try very hard not to complain. But in the interest of full disclosure this post totally SUCKED EGGS to write, and more than once I considered scrapping it out of frustration. But I promised I was going to talk about how I felt during that period and this was my best effort at zooming out and shedding some light on what happened this summer.