Lessons From The Boondocks
Never ever ever ever thought I'd leave San Francisco. I was married to it, dude. It was home. It was my place. We were destined, meant to be.
My people were there. They thought the same way I did, they voted for gay marriage, they ate local arugula and wore stripes and walked everywhere when they weren't moaning and groaning about how shitty the Muni system was.
Alcatraz was right over there. I could run to Crissy Field in a heartbeat. The opera house was 8 blocks down the hill, fer crissakes. And my yoga studio just a few blocks further. Easy, obvious, perfect, duh.
But then I met someone. As one does. And he lived up Highway 1 in a wee little hamlet numbering about 350 in all. And he'd been there, done that, in terms of years in the City. And he loved simplicity and valued nature and spaciousness and ease and stillness a great deal, which was, of course, one of the many reasons I loved and valued him.
So after nearly a decade of wedded-to-San-Francisco bliss, I let go of my Lower Nob Hill garden flat and packed my bags and got rid of lots of shit and settled in up here (officially, full-time) on November 1st. Right at the onset of wet, dark, rainy season in Northern California. Just as the days got short and the skies got heavy.
Great timing, Rach.
Six months later, here we are. Savvier at dodging skunks on winding roadways, with a sharper eye for wayward deer, more tan, for sure, and better at sautéing vegetables, too. Maybe a little wiser. And lighter in more ways than one.
So, here, in no particular order, I give you my Lessons From The Boondocks:
1. Just sit in the sun and be still. Feel it on your face. Congratulations, you're alive. It will all be ok.
2. Wear sunscreen. This isn't the same sun you knew in the City. You're gonna be leathery by June if you keep this up. Put on some SPF 30 already.
3. The stereotypes about people from Marin are (mostly) true. Love them anyway.
4. Life can be full and eclectic and vibrant wherever you are. At first I mourned the thought of leaving behind all of the cultural highlights of life in the City: walking up and over Nob Hill past the Mark Hopkins to have a cocktail at a speakeasy in the Financial District, hopping on the bus to the DeYoung, rolling down Larkin to the Asian Art Museum. But I've realized: you don't have to have the opera house down the street, or Grace Cathedral just up the hill, to find grace and art and inspiration. Those things are all still right there if I want them. Sometimes the richness just shifts, and it looks more like time to read an actual book again, or a killer hike to the beach just a few minutes' drive away, or the horses that serenade you every morning with an unexpected whinny, or the artist who lives down the street and teaches ceramics classes, or the old dude sitting next to you at the dive bar downtown whose family bought this land back in the 1920s.
5. You really don't need to answer that email right away. Unless you're Barack Obama, it can wait.
6. Scent matters. Living on the edge of the Tenderloin for all those years, I got, uh, real good at not noticing the inevitable smells of the City: human waste on the sidewalks, frat-boy vomit along Polk Street, rotting garbage in back alleys. It's cool; you figure it's just one trade-off for the benefits of living in urbanity. But, I tell ya what: there is nothing like the scent of stepping out of my car on a cool Monday evening after driving home from Oakland and taking in the heady whiff of so much lushness. Everywhere I turn, there are lilacs and jasmine and wild roses and eucalyptus. My scent experience has flipped 180 degrees. Where there was displeasure there is now sweetness. Cannot begin to express the grounding power of this alone. And a little manure along the way now and then, too.
7. Quinoa is a wonder food. Especially when you no longer have a Thai place up the street that's open til 2am. And there are only three restaurants within 20 minutes' drive, and they all shutter at 8.
8. Gluten-free quinoa pasta is a double-wonder food. Especially when you throw some local mushrooms, a little garlic marinara, and some melty Cowgirl Creamery action on top of it.
9. Your environment can affect your energy. I wish I had a dollar for every person who's told me, "Your energy is different. You're calmer, you're more grounded, you're more present." And it's true. My fiery Type-A pitta self has chilled out. My freneticism level has been dialed down 10 degrees. I sleep better. I move more slowly, more deliberately. And I listen more. The fast pace and callous anonymity of urbanity can seep into your bones. The stress of fighting for parking leaves you irritable and bitter. Even the experience of pounding the cement pavement versus walking on twisted, tangled dirt paths shifts you, let alone the sound of the crickets at night or an owl hooting in the distance. Much preferable to the sound of my neighbor clipping his toenails — or worse — in the bathroom on the other side of my thin apartment wall. Ahem.
10. You can take the girl out of the prairie, but you can't take the prairie outta the girl. After 17+ years living on the East Coast, in Europe, and then in San Francisco, I've come full circle. No wonder this place feels so right. It's all big sky and spaciousness and silence. Prairie, anyone? Right at home, even down to the cows. But where's the corn?
11. Never speed by the Nicasio reservoir. There will be cops sitting right there waiting for you. Trust. They have nothing else to do. This, upon reflection, is a good thing.
12. Practice. Alone. As a yoga teacher, I've always had a decent home practice, though I have long been attached to my sweat and my sangha. Perhaps the biggest shift for me in leaving the City was leaving my regular (daily) practice at the studios(s) I called home. At first, dude — I cracked. I missed my people, I missed my regular hit of 95 degree sweat, I missed the fact that I could walk in and check my mind at the door. Now practicing with my peeps means an hour's drive on both ends, and either getting up waaaay early or driving home waaaay late. So I listened. I shifted. I started practicing at home, really practicing at home. Made a fire in the stove, got my Primary Series on, moved from an externally-driven practice to an internally-driven one. I learned to kick my own butt. I wore ratty old black leggings with holes in them and tank tops that hadn't seen light in 10 years. My arms got a lot stronger, my mind a lot quieter, and I got a lot better at listening, and sequencing, and getting lost in the practice. The result being that I felt a whole lot more self-sufficient, more present, less distracted, and much more empowered. And I am now in the throes of a full-on Mysore-style Ashtanga crush. Which reminds me how easy it is to get comfortable in our routines, settled into the familiar, and how sweet it is to be pushed (forced) into learning a new way of being. And what a gift it can be to be thrown out of the nest.
13. Petaluma is adorable. 'Nuff said.
14. Your most dreaded experiences can offer the sweetest gifts. I'd spent 9 proud years sans car. I walked everywhere, I felt like a self-sufficient badass every time I willingly ignored gas prices and hustled down the street instead. I was so afraid of the new commute; dreaded spending unaccustomed hours in my car, joining the thousands of other minions driving up and down 101 every morning and evening. And, as I mentioned a few months ago, that commute ended up offering me such a beautiful gift. It has created (and continues to offer) an ongoing opportunity for study in a way that I never expected. I've learned to love the silence, the solitude, the buffer of alone-time between teaching and home. And I'm in full-on podcast nerd mode. Learning endless bits of information in the 20 or 30 or 50 minute interviews with writers and teachers and scholars and farmers. Introduced to the wisdom of folks like Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott and Noah Levine and Michael Stone and Richard Freeman and Lodro Rinzler and Elizabeth Gilbert and I could go on and on and on. Let's just say: never doubt the possibility that the most-dreaded change in your life could actually offer up the sweetest benefits, the most intelligent, informative windows into a new way of being. There is grace all around, if we have the eyes to see it.
15. Fashion is overrated. Fuck style. Wear the same stretchy pants you've been wearing for the last two weeks. Put on a stretchy skirt instead when you go out to dinner. Be comfortable. You can't buy personality, anyway, and style is what you make of it. And it's easier to carry the firewood in when your bangles don't get in the way.
16. Let your body mirror the rhythms of nature. In the city, I'd drag myself out of bed in the dark of 5am, stumble down the street to a 6am class, wring myself out, spend the day teaching and then shake martinis til the wee hours, not stopping until I flung my tired bones into bed at 1am. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was a state of perpetual highly-caffeinated exhaustion. Moving north meant a lot of things, but most of all, it meant sleep. I quit my lucrative-but-energy-sucking bartending gig because I no longer needed the money to pay for an overpriced teeny-weeny flat in the City. I started going to bed at normal-people hours, and sleeping til the sun came up in the bedroom window. Now, when I feel tired, rather than pushing through and chugging another iced coffee, I sit down and take a nap with birdsong as accompaniment. I wake up 'cause I want to, not because I have 16 commitments before noon and need to build in an extra 45 minutes for riding the bus on the way. I've lost weight, inadvertently, really, just from eating well and sleeping well and living more in a grounded, listening kind of way, and not pushing my body to function 18 hours a day.
17. Put your damn phone away. You don't need to be plugged in all the time. Thanks to Sprint for the spotty cell service that's made that abundantly clear.
18. Sun and sky can go a long way in helping you forget the City. Especially when it's 80 and sunny here, and 63 and foggy there.
19. Good Earth in Fairfax is the Marin version of heaven. Go early, go often. And don't miss the deli. But do miss the dudes trying to get your signature on umpteen petitions outside.
20. Just because it's quiet (remote, private) doesn't mean you're going to get any more creative work done. The silence helps the muses, for sure. But wherever you go, there you are — along with all your psychological "stuff." Don't rely on the stillness to do your work for you. The practice continues, daily. So get off your duff and into your art. That trumpet isn't gonna play itself.
It's easy to romanticize this whole shift, I know. And I don't mean to paint everything with rose-colored glasses. There are things I miss deeply and regularly, for sure: having a mom 'n pop sushi place around the corner, hopping on the cable car for a Saturday morning farmer's market at the Ferry Building, meeting my girlfriends for a quick cocktail up the street, zipping down to the studio for a quick class with my peeps, popping into the Chinese florist down the block for a handful of tulips.
But now, instead, we make dinner at home (something I never ever ever did before moving up here), I walk down to the creek with the Mister for a sunset stroll around the barn, we go to Toby's for fresh vegetables and lettuce that grew up around the corner, I unroll the mat in front of the fire and get my homemade hot yoga on, without ever brushing my teeth or wearing a bra, and we collect handfuls of lilac and jasmine as we walk through the garden after dinner.
And the wild roses bloom in the yard, and the calla lilies pop up along the highway, and you can drive to the beach and get lost in the sun and the fog and the wind.
And it's all, always, everywhere, all good.