The California Experiment

Let me start at the end. I’m not in California anymore. I moved back home to Massachusetts at the beginning of August after a very long, confusing, and painful month of July. I’m finally able (I think) to write about the whole experience and why I left, so here goes.

My decision to go to California was based on a lot of different things. For one, I’ve been hearing for quite some time from many different people how much I would like the West Coast. My dad is from NorCal, but most of my time spent there was before the age of 12 (it gets expensive to fly a family of 4 across the country more than every couple of years!) and my memories of it were scattered and few, making it a new place to explore. After living Italy – and moving back here – I found I was craving that sense of adventure, of exploring another culture, and that prospect was very exciting to me.  It’s also the birthplace of the sustainable food movement in America, so it seemed like a good place for me to continue my whole good-food-career journey. When I got the internship with MESA, it seemed like the right choice, or at least one of many right choices I could make: it would give me greater depth of knowledge about the agriculture side of sustainable food, I could build an organization’s social media strategy from the ground up, and it was in Berkeley. Visions of Chez Panisse danced in my head.

I didn’t go there with it in mind to “recreate” my experience in Florence, but I think to an extent I expected some similarities between the 2 here and there, not the least of which being the enjoyment of a little independence. Ok, ok, and really good food. (And by good, I mean local & sustainably-raised. Delicious is redundant.)

I went to Florence to heal, to get away, and ended up finding myself. I came to California hoping to find more of myself, and ended up getting more lost than ever.

I spent the month leading up to my move mentally preparing myself for the transition, something I’ve trained my introverted & highly-sensitive brain to do in such circumstances. I prepared to learn a new public transportation system, to find some kind of job, to learn as much as possible about the non-profit I was interning with, and to search for a little more clarity regarding my career path.

What I didn’t prepare for – the horridly uncomfortable living situation, the stress of managing 2 internships in one of the most expensive areas of the country, the fact that I had to do everything completely and fully alone – caught me off my guard.

But I have learned a great deal, and it has made the experience worth it.

  • I process things at a ridiculously slow rate. It’s annoying, but it’s also not changing, so I better learn to accept it and deal.

I’m pretty sure this is something everyone does, but I only just became cognizant of how incredibly slow I am with sorting out my feelings and thoughts about, er, most things. We’re talking months. And it’s a real bitch. It often means not taking chances and thinking a LOT before doing, and possibly missing some great opportunities in the process. But now that I’m aware of it, I can give myself the necessary time to deal with things. I’m sure there are people who disapprove, but this is important for my sanity, so I really don’t care.

  • Your gut is right. If you don’t love it or it’s not right, move on. Doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is.

I experienced some pretty intense culture shock, which is not something I’ve really ever come up against. And this was perplexing for many reasons, including 1) I’ve traveled to 9 different countries (and all over this one) and have never really felt culture shock before and 2) I did NOT think it would happen when I’m still in my own country, but it does and it did. And when the culture shock receded and I started learning more about the culture itself, I experienced something else completely new: I did not fit. I felt like a puzzle piece that was being shoved into the wrong part of the puzzle, and this was a very interesting feeling. There is plenty about Italy (and Florence) I could have done without, but it felt like home from day 1. Same happened with my college in South Carolina. They weren’t perfect, but I always felt more or less at home. But the entire 4 months I was in California it just felt…wrong. I don’t really know why. It’s a lovely place to live. The people are very nice. It just wasn’t the right place. And when you’re getting paid next to nothing and living in other people’s subletted living room, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to stay there.

  • I FINALLY understand why people don’t leave their hometowns.

This might make me sound like an asshole, but I swear I don’t intend this to sound condescending: I never really understood why so many people never leave the area where they grew up. And part of this is the fact that both of my parents did leave – my dad is from California and my mom is from Georgia – so I kind of grew up thinking they were the norm, and then I found out they were NOT, and I was kind of…confused. (Until second grade I also thought it was the norm for everyone’s mom to have 2 sisters and everyone’s dad to have 2 brothers like my parents, so I probably should have put 2 and 2 together a little sooner. Like I said…slow to process.) But when I went off to college, I was very specific about wanting to try living in a different part of the country. And I thought of studying abroad as a kind of requirement. I’m very pro-try new things/live in new places. And then I moved to a place where I really didn’t feel like I could identify with the culture, where I felt completely out of place, and I got it. Feeling like that, like a permanent foreigner, is HARD. Building a new network, a new friend group, a new life in a place that you don’t completely get, especially if you have to do it alone? It’s a unique kind of hell, and I do not blame anyone for avoiding it. It sucks. Really, I think I understand how important “place” is; even if I don’t stay in Boston, I do know that where I end up will have to be somewhere I can comfortably and confidently call “home.” It seems I just wasn’t Berkeley enough.

What it’s really come down to is that I simply can’t handle living my life on a temporary, month-by-month basis anymore. And maybe I should be able to. Maybe some think I should suck it up and accept this stage of my life, but I disagree and in this particular case, my opinion is the only one that matters. For the last five damn years I haven’t stayed in the same place for longer than 6 months. A very significant chapter of my life closed when I graduated college, and I was completely unprepared for the emotional side effects of that transition. Seriously, NO ONE told me that it was like dealing with a death. It is. It has taken me a full year to come to terms with that.

I am finishing my internship with WiserEarth virtually. At the moment I’m looking at all my options, including AmeriCorps, Teach For America, teaching English abroad, and of course, grad school. I am trying (but mostly failing) to be optimistic, but the ugly truth is I don’t know what I want to do. I may love food, but the movement behind it doesn’t seem to love me back, and I feel like it’s time to go back to the drawing board. I really, really hate being 22.

Instead of leaving it on that note, I’ll leave it on a better one. Frank is so much nicer to listen to.


Hippie Digs

Moving is a bitch. It really, really is. I hate it. I basically stop sleeping the entire week before, I can’t concentrate on anything other than making packing lists on Excel, and my room looks like a closet threw up everywhere – violently. Unfortunately for me, choosing the internship path requires a rather nomadic lifestyle. Despite my best efforts to find one place to live for the duration of my internships here, well, you know…life happens. Landladies turn out to be crazy. Internships meet early ends. Life.

I moved on Friday to a new sublet, where I’ll be for the next two months. Apparently, my life “happens” in two-month increments. It’s swell.

The new place is completely and totally different from the last place, mostly in good ways. I was renting a spare room in a house, living with the house’s owner; now, I’m subletting the bottom floor of a small apartment and living with a fellow subletter (he’s in the actual bedroom, upstairs). I thought a tour of my new hippie digs might be in order:

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My “room” (the living room) is behind the curtain – but first, my bathroom, which is directly to your right when you enter the house:

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I didn’t wake up long before this was taken…don’t judge. And yes, I need a haircut. And probably less tea.

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Next, we have the kitchen [YAY!]. Small but totally workable for two people with very different schedules.

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The kitchen has 2 doorways (you could hopefully kind of tell) – one from the entrance, and one that goes into the living room. I took over the table for my groceries, as it is a shared kitchen, and you’re more or less in “my room” when you step outside the kitchen:

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[Sorry about the lighting! But you get the gist.]


Groceries! At least, the non-refrigerated stuff.

As for the actual room:

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The renters were nice enough to set up a bed for me, which is very comfortable. (In the last place, I slept on an air mattress on the floor courtesy of my family here.) The closet is collapsible/portable and takes a grand total of 5 minutes, if that, to set up. My family here also dug that up for me, and it’s been awesome to have as both a space-saver and an easy way to store my clothes outside of a suitcase/boxes. It’s obviously a little difficult to have a neat and clean looking room with the renters’ living room furniture there as well, but I have an uncanny ability to turn off my OCD-everything-must-be-in-its-place sensor when I really need to. (I learned how to do it in college – don’t tell me higher education isn’t useful.) Figuring out the computer desk situation has been the biggest obstacle, as I work from home two days a week, but I’ve got that figured out with the help of chair cushion pads.

I’m probably most proud of this, though:

hippie digs (10)

The living room is wide open to the entrance/stairs to the 2nd floor, so I knew I needed to create some kind of room divider that would give me a little more privacy – but I was not about to spend 80-100 bucks on an actual “room divider”. So, I went to Target and bought some steel wire, curtain hooks and a cheap sheet set (sheets, fyi, are cheaper than curtains) and made a DYI room divider using those hooks you can stick to the wall and remove without leaving marks. Concerning most things, I am my mother’s child – but this idea was 100% dad-esque. For $25 bucks, I have all the privacy I need. BOOM.

It’s nothing permanent [duh], but it fits the bill for another 2-month stay, it’s vastly more comfortable than my last situation, AND I’m saving quite a bit of money on rent. I’m pretty much just chalking up all this constant moving to building character. (For the record – this sublease ends July 31st, at which point I will know if I should actually find a permanent living place in San Francisco/North Bay, or if I need to find another sublet until October, when my internship with WiserEarth is set to end.)

Now that I feel a bit more comfortable in my living space, I intend to return to the kitchen. I haven’t baked – at all – in two months. This from the girl who baked at least once or twice a week while living at home. You can imagine how ready I am to jump into a bag of flour head-first. I cannot WAIT to go through the few cookbooks I have with me and start flagging down recipes to try.

I have a couple posts planned for later this week (she’s BACK, baby), with slightly less rambling than this – right now I’m thinking of publishing new posts every Monday, Wednesday & Saturday. A little random, perhaps, but that’s what seems like will work best for the time being. Anyway, I thought you might like to see my new digs and my hippie Bizerkeley lifestyle.

As I spent all of Friday moving, today is not a vacation day for me and I’d best get back to my to-do list – hope you enjoyed the tour! Smile

And of course…



P.S. – did you notice the new site address? That’s right – I finally bit the bullet and bought my own domain: ! No www – I figured that would make it a little easier/quicker to get to. Woohoo!

An Update From Somewhere

Hello. While I am working on my blog post series on introversion, I thought you might like to know that I’m still alive. Or something.

In case you’re just joining me, let me catch you (and maybe me, too) up.

About a month ago I took an internship with the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) as the Member Resources & Social Media Intern. Yes, this will be my sixth unpaid internship. BUT, I really do think at some point they will get me a real job. Or at least, I hope so. I love the work, I truly do – but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t getting a little old. Ahem.

MESA is located in Berkeley – yep, that’s Bizerkeley, California – and so there I will be for the next 9 months. And that’s where most of the excitement and, well, trouble begins.

After about three weeks of Craiglisting ‘til all hours of the day and night and trying to set up viewing appointments from across the country, it was time to hop on a plane and find a place to live. So last Thursday morning, I did just that. And luckily, I accomplished my mission – I have found a lovely room on a quiet street in a pretty blue house with an incredible view of the Bay. I’ve even smoothed out the mild snag in the rent process. By most accounts, I should be feeling pretty good.

But after being vertical for 30+ hours with about 2 hours of a plane nap to go on, my last day at the best internship ever, a 4 am drive to the airport and a to-do list that doesn’t quit, let me just say…I’m not.

I have one week – one week – to somehow arrange my life in such a way that I can transport it across 2 time zones and land on my feet. I have several blog posts to write, jobs to apply for, suitcases to pack, emails to send, and a dog who scratches on the porch door twenty-two times a day (and only actually goes out about 10 of those times). My parents are on vacation. My brother is in Canada. And I am sitting in my house, somewhere between hysteria and depression, trying to figure out what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.

I have been sleeping. A LOT. And eating some serious chocolate. On top of all of this (and probably because of it), I’m having a serious career identity crisis. More on that later.

I do hope to use this week to get myself back on track and specifically, to write those damn blog posts that never cease to write themselves in my head at 2 in the morning. I have a lot to say.

But right now I’m going to go exercise. If nothing else, it forces me to breathe. I need to do more of that.

I will say this: when I get to the other side of all this, you better bet I’m putting it on my resume. Because if coordinating a successful cross-country move from 3,000 miles away while keeping family, bosses and landlords all happy as possible isn’t a highly marketable skill…then I quit right now.