Response to my last essay on The Bold Italic

Title: What Is The San Francisco Dream? Wonderful art by Helen Tseng.

I wrote about my experience of moving to San Francisco after college to pursue a writing career and then winding up at a tech company because I ran out of money. It’s getting trolled pretty hard, and normally I would just roll my eyes. But it seems a lot of people think that my definition of “hustling” means I’m pro-gentrification, as well as some cutthroat bitch who thinks all art should be made for commercial purposes only, which is so far from the truth that I feel compelled to pull back the curtain a bit and address some of the negative comments.

First, I should clarify that I absolutely do not think I have more of a right to live in San Francisco than anyone else. It’s tragic that people who have lived here long before me and have worked a lot harder than me can’t afford to stay here any longer. The fact that you can’t be something like a social worker and also live comfortably in this city is disgusting.

The social injustices and the economic disparities of San Francisco are so vast and complicated. There was no way I could have adequately or appropriately discussed any of these issues in a 1,500-word essay that’s illustrated with super cute designs. So I didn’t.

Instead, I wrote a personal narrative speaking specifically about the people in my “tribe”: the under-30 creative kids who moved to the city after college, like I did, with the puerile expectation that the “starving artist” life will be romantic and also somehow affordable, like I did.

Okay, so here comes the part where some people are going to penalize me for sounding probably very smug: I think those people, who came to San Francisco to make art and didn’t figure out that they can’t live this idle existence, floating around and leisurely making things with no real focus, and then have the audacity to be mad about rent prices, should leave. I’m sorry, but I think the space those people take up should be filled with someone who is willing to work just a little bit harder (and be a little less of an asshole).

When I ran out of money, I didn’t get mad. This city is really expensive! And when I realized I couldn’t live here and just dick around, writing in my journal and for free on other people’s blogs, it was truthfully a rude awakening. I had to decide if I needed to move somewhere else, or if I wanted to see if I could make it work in SF. I really wanted to stay in the city, so thus began my hustling.

I managed to get hired as an editor/copywriter at one of the better SF startups. Not my dream job, but I turned it into something that’s as close to my dream job as I can make it. Turns out it’s fun, and it’s also helped me improve my writing skills as well as figure out what kind of career I really want and what kind of person I want to be. Some people call this being a sellout, but I don’t agree. Yelp has a lot of integrity and fully supports me in my freelance endeavors. I’m proud of the work I do for them. I’m also happy because now I’m able to write things that don’t make me any money without having to worry about my rent.

I don’t think my job/situation makes me “better” than any of my peers. But because I realized how relatively easy it is to find work that’s fulfilling (be it at a startup or somewhere else), I also have zero patience for wannabe creatives who endlessly complain that they are so unhappy they can’t figure it out.

I’m not sure if this attitude is a “my generation” thing, a San Francisco tech culture thing, or both. Regardless, I’m not the only one who openly finds entitled, self-deprecating people to be totally exasperating, so I’m a little confused as to why I’m being dismissed as a brat on TBI.

Maybe I’m a little insensitive towards my peers’ struggles, but it’s because I’ve never been handed anything – even though I’m white and thus inherently privileged, as so many commenters pointed out. On the contrary, my upbringing really set me up to fail at life, so I’m really proud I’ve been able to pull myself up from the depths of shit that rained on me for so many years. And I have no qualms letting everyone know I’m really proud of myself, which some may call smugness, but quite frankly, I don’t care. I feel empowered by my sense of self-satisfaction.

All that said, I acknowledge that luck has also been on my side these last few years. There are countless people who do everything right and are still priced out of the city. That fucking sucks. In fact, I’m one of them now: my boyfriend and I are moving to Oakland in hopefully the next week because we can no longer afford our SF apartment. (“Good riddance!” said everyone unoriginally in the comments.)

So. Anyway. It’s typically unwise to respond to haters publicly, but I was so bothered by the implications that I’m classist and racist, like I high-five a Mitt Romney poster on my bedroom door every morning or something. I guess first and foremost, I’m just anti-laziness. Is there an -ist word we can assign to that?

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8 Comments to “Response to my last essay on The Bold Italic”

  1. Really well done! Your explanation makes total sense and surviving should always be celebrated. This was a very thoughtful and classy way to explain and stand up for yourself.

  2. Nope,…you still sound entitled.
    “But because I realized how relatively easy it is to find work that’s fulfilling (be it at a startup or somewhere else),…” that’s tripe if ever I’ve read it. There’s a lot of people who ind it EXCEEDINGLY difficult to find the work they believe is fulfilling in this city, and it’s because of the industry you’re in and its devastating affects on SF. You are part of the problem, and when the bubble bursts (again), maybe things will start to improve.

    • I don’t know, I feel like you sound a little more entitled than I do here, with the assertion that everyone should feel fulfilled every minute of the day. I guess I consider “finding work that’s fulfilling” to be synonymous with “making the best of your situation,” which I realize isn’t always easy but it’s certainly not impossible.

  3. I’m sorry, but you’ve touched on a very difficult subject for San Franciscans: Growing Up.

  4. As you say above, you were writing about “your tribe” (of creative 20-30 somethings moving to SF); and essentially your own growing up – getting over the delusion that moving to SF would be easy, and realizing that if you can’t make a living at what you thought you wanted/could do, than you can actually make a living doing something else that you find fulfilling. I think a lot of people do move to SF with the delusion that it IS possible to “float around” (natives and long timers know better) and maybe the crushing reality that life in SF is just as hard as any other city is what fuels some of the complaining you describe among your fellow recent arrivals.

    This could have made an insightful and engaging story, but unfortunately, that’s not what came across. Mainly due, I think, to the statement that rising costs are good, because it makes everyone have to hustle, part but also because the whole thing just wasn’t very clearly written. Understand from your response that you meant to say you had no time for laziness, but the article read and felt like a smug diatribe against the many people who, while doing the best they can to make it in this beautiful, wonderful and expensively challenging city, haven’t managed to do what you did.

    Kudos to you for figuring out that laziness isn’t cool, and that hard work and making the best of things does indeed often lead to finding fulfillment in unexpected places. But as someone who managed to build a damned good (and even occasionally fulfilling) career from my first soul crushing, corporate, menial and only-to-pay-the-rent job, I know that while hard work and “hustling” is important, it’s not any kind of a guarantee. It’s also a lot about luck, being in the right place at the right time, having people that believe in you, factors outside the individual’s control etc., etc., so I am glad to see you acknowledge this in your response also.

  5. I know many artists in San Francisco who are WORKING artists, hustling their asses day in and out to make work and make a living. They have been here far longer than you, starting out their careers when the city was a somewhat affordable place to live, and they are struggling to stay there. “Hustling” is in the mind of the hustler. You are an arrogant girl and your post about your BI post does nothing to advance your opinion in my mind.

  6. there’s a weird sort of symmetry to you working at yelp….you just got YELPED! but seriously, what about the people that work really hard at their art/film/music and have some lame job to pay the rent: the people (ok, a small percentage) that become famous and wind up doing worthwhile stuff. thank god they did those crap jobs thenk went back to their hovels and HUSTLED to create something important and great. this is the classic definition of bohemia as petri dish for mainstream culture. SF is now a bourgie monoculture of boutiques and expensive restaurants subsidized by tech workers who work too much to create culture and can only consume it. that’s fine, SF is probably some sort of paradise for them. but when a city’s culture becomes one (bourgie) note it by definition becomes boring and to some alienating. your article and your revisionist response don’t really hint that you understand this situation or see any problem with a once great city like SF becoming an engineer’s lapdog.

  7. “I think those people, who came to San Francisco to make art and didn’t figure out that they can’t live this idle existence, floating around and leisurely making things with no real focus, and then have the audacity to be mad about rent prices, should leave. I’m sorry, but I think the space those people take up should be filled with someone who is willing to work just a little bit harder (and be a little less of an asshole).”

    this really sounds like personal experience talking. not everyone who is directionless is without purpose. having focus isn’t the be-all and end-all of success. being upset about rent prices may be an exercise in futility, but so is talking about the weather, or gossiping around the water cooler. people need something to connect with, a common ground that allows them to talk about something that isn’t mundane or offensive. it sounds like your disagreement with this sentiment is what winds up making these people seem like assholes; it’s likely that they do come off that way because most people don’t think about their casual conversation topic, and are offended if you attack it. so don’t. just because there’s a specific point that you disagree with, doesn’t mean you disagree as a whole. as you said:

    “It’s tragic that people who have lived here long before me and have worked a lot harder than me can’t afford to stay here any longer. The fact that you can’t be something like a social worker and also live comfortably in this city is disgusting.”

    so find a place of agreement. and then go from there. i’m sure you’ll hear that everyone in the city isn’t fond of the homeless man who smells like pee on your 45 minute muni commute. no one is fond of people who don’t try. but most of us are trying and hoping for that one in a million chance to be able to stay in the city. it’s just that not all of us have college experience, youth, a nice portfolio, and a sector that is willing to hire.

    “I also have zero patience for wannabe creatives who endlessly complain that they are so unhappy they can’t figure it out.”

    i agree; i used to endlessly complain to my supervisor about coworkers who fit this stereotype but aren’t getting fired. we’re a tech start-up. we don’t pay that much money for the positions. people are lazy. many people don’t know what they want to do. if i knew what i wanted to do, i wouldn’t be at a tech start-up. some people are here just to make enough money to be able to go home and do art. those are the people who are motivated both in and out of work. they still complain about how much it sucks to not get paid enough and not be able to afford things.

    i disagree about this sentiment in that it appears that you were this type of person (“I was depressed, but I wasn’t yet ready to do anything about it”). if you can’t have empathy for who you were in the past, it sounds like you haven’t actually learned from this experience. it is easy to say that you’re happy now with your regular job and the culture that job embraces, but you yourself admit that you’re not pursuing your dream (“I turned it into something that’s as close to my dream job as I can make it”). this shift in perspective is a great accomplishment; it’s an amazing turning point. it’s hard, sometimes impossible, for people to do. what you seem to take for granted is that it is uncommon to be in an environment that allows you to reflect and come to this understanding. you lucked into it (“I acknowledge that luck has also been on my side”).

    the other thing you are forgetting to let us know is how you’re continuing to pursue your dream outside of work. how having a stable job and a positive work environment is part of supporting creativity; how being creative and artistic in the city isn’t a walk in the park (literally) and that being a creative, appreciated writer or artist is just as hard now as it was in ages past. you’re not elaborating upon how “it’s also helped me improve my writing skills as well as figure out what kind of career I really want and what kind of person I want to be”. if your intention is to show growth, then this is what needs to be talked about. how has the city shaped you? how has “figuring it out” here been different from anywhere else?

    you were the person that you look down upon so harshly now, and you wouldn’t be where you are now if you hadn’t “realized my coworkers were the most talented and hardest working people I had met since I moved to San Francisco”. You “planned to abandon it as soon as I felt emotionally ready to delve into writing full time”, going back to the very existence your account seems to disdain. If you had a direction or purpose for your writing, you did not reveal it.

    In the end, how much time and how many jobs is a person allowed to have before they “should leave”? how is that even able to be quantified? how can we ensure that everyone gets opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow?

    i’m glad and inspired that you have managed to “figure it out”. i just wish that instead of looking down upon other people, you could offer some advice and possibly even some help. i’m sure that you didn’t get where you are without any help: be it friends, coworkers, family, teachers, school itself, or unique life experiences. lots of us have “never been handed anything” and still have no chance of achieving our dreams. you’re lucky or tenacious or proud or a combination of these things or none of them and something else completely; in the end, you have a chance to learn, grow, and follow your dreams. take that chance. if not for yourself, then for all of us who will never have the opportunity. after all, you wouldn’t want to lose your artistic focus just because you have a job, right?

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