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My Story, Part Two - San Francisco

In January of 1994, after finishing my graduate thesis for my two masters' degrees, my then boyfriend now husband, Ron Gross and I moved across country to San Francisco, California. We were young and stupid, and believed we were leaving behind all our woes to start a shinny new life on the West Coast. Our joke was - California was as far as we could go without crossing an ocean. What we didn't understand is that when you run away from your problems, they follow along.

1994 was not a good year for the economy, and California is where it hit the hardest. The housing/building market had tanked, the country was in a recession, and there was a bond market crisis happening called, the Great Bond Massacre. Gasp!! But like I said, we were young and stupid and thought we were immune to the country's woes.

The cross-country trip itself though was a grand adventure, even the blinding snow storm at its beginning! Neither one of us had ever been off the east coast and everything about that cross country drive was new and exciting. The highlight of the trip was visiting the Grand Canyon. It was simply spectacular. We only spent a few hours there but that was enough to be in awe and to bolster our excitement for completing our cross country drive. It took us a week to drive across the country from New York to California. Every stop was something we had never seen before - the St. Louis Arch, Two Guns Arizona, the giant pink rest stop with the waitress who called us hun, windmill fields as far as the eye could see, and the spectacular Painted Desert. Every day brought something fresh and exciting.

When we entered California we were giddy! We had already driven quite a bit that day but our excitement pushed us on. It was a total thrill to drive across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. We were finally there. We had made it! Our exciting new life was about to begin. We pulled up to our new apartment on 12th Street in the Sunset district - a street that was at a forty five degree incline. We definitely learned about the emergency brake living in that apartment! The giant hill aside, it was thrilling. We spent the rest of the day moving all of our stuff into the apartment. And it was all just stuff - a truckload of stuff! The only piece of furniture we had was an old futon bed. We had a deep sleep that night on our futon bed in our new apartment, surrounded by mountains of boxes, dreaming of the wonderful new life we were about to embark on.

San Francisco did not roll out the red carpet for us, quite the opposite. We woke up the next morning to discover that our car had been broken into. Welcome to San Francisco! We hadn't moved anything from the trunk of the car into the apartment the day before and everything we had left in the car was gone! Most of what was lost was of small consequence except for one thing - a giant tube holding 7 years worth of architectural drawings. My entire portfolio was gone! I was so upset about that that I didn't even notice the smashed windows. I was as shattered as the glass that lay all over the car floor. The high of the cross country was gone in an instant and the reality that we were in a strange place where we didn't know anyone, seeped in like thick black goo.

Thankfully, I had some reproductions and was able to cobbled together a portfolio. The car got repaired but the sting of loosing all of my college work lingered. After a week of unpacking boxes and getting settled, I started to make the daily trek to the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) office, to check their job board for work. I truly though I would walk in, find the perfect job and begin my career. Easy breezy. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

The building/housing market being as it was, I was not the only one looking for a job. Every day that I went to check the AIA job board, I was in a crowd of all men, sometimes three people deep. Most of these men had years of experience that I didn't have and all of us were vying for the few jobs that were posted. I didn't stand a chance. For weeks I took the train downtown to check that job board and every time, I left a little more defeated. I questioned wether we make the right choice moving to San Francisco. I worried that I wasted seven years of my life to get my architectural degrees. I was starting to think I was never going to find a professional job. It all felt like a big waste and a huge mistake. To add to the giant hole I was digging for myself, Ron was going to school during the day and then going to a bartending job at night. I was totally alone - I knew no one in San Francisco. This went on for months and I fell into a very deep, very sever depression. Phone calls back home didn't help. My friends were encouraging and loving but 3000 miles away. Which made missing them all the more painful. Calls to my parents were filled with, I told you so's, and "you make your bed", which also didn't help my mental state in any way, shape, or form. To add insult to injury, the only job I could find was in an office mail room. I had two masters' degrees and I was reduced to licking stamps. Everything just sucked!

Several months into the hell I was in, on a rare weekend that Ron wasn't working, he suggested we do some touristy stuff and get to know San Francisco. He was probably hoping it would pull me out of my funk. We visited the Palace of Fine Arts which has a beautiful garden. It was a soothing balm but it didn't cure my depression which rushed right back in when we got home. That night Ron suggested I start painting again. He literally said, "Lin, you just gotta paint!". I was very resistant at first but that idea of a seed started growing inside me. It took another couple of weeks until it finally took root and I had an idea.

In our apartment, our kitchen sink was against a solid wall. If that wall had a window, we would have had the most spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I decided that I was going to paint us a window. It started with another touristy trip, this time to Fisherman's Wharf. Which is a VERY touristy part of San Francisco filled with lots of shops geared toward tourists. We must have stopped at every one so I could buy fists full of postcards. I think I bought every postcard of San Francisco every made. These became my references for my San Francisco painting. After my post card shopping we enjoyed our first bread bowl of clam chowder next to the water. On our way home, we stopped at the art supply store for supplies. A small crack had been created that day and some light started to seep in.

Not long after that shopping trip, I found a "real" job. Nothing thrilling though it was with an architect so I was at least using my education. My days were filled with the most boring task of hand drawing reflective ceiling plans for office buildings. This kind of work is now easily done on the computer but back in the dark ages, these drawing were still done by hand. I was grateful for the job and my boss was nice enough but the job was soul sucking. I could not wait for five o'clock to roll around so I could go home and play with my postcards and work on my painting. Ron was right about just needing to paint. Every night as I worked on my San Francisco painting, I slowly started to come out of my funk. The small crack that occurred that Saturday morning at Fisherman's Wharf, it had started to grow. More and more light was shining in and the hope I had for our awesome life in California was rekindled. The energy had definitely shifted. Almost a decade before, I had stuffed any hope of ever being an artist deep, deep, deep inside of me and locked it up tight. My San Francisco painting opened that Pandora's box and my artist spirit came rushing out. I was happy and hopeful, and almost immediately things started to turn around. I vowed that I would never again deny myself my art.

That first year in California was the total pits. My ego was reduced to rubble and I had to take the steps to rebuild what I thought my career would be. With all of the alone time I had, I grappled with the question of who I was without the safety net of friends and the familiarity of everything I had know up to that point. I battled tough demons that left me bloodied and crying through dark nights of the soul. It was, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. Though once I allowed the light in, allowed myself to start painting again, and did the deep work to heal, the remaining four years we spent in San Francisco were amazing!

I did eventually have a fulfilling career in urban design doing work that I truly enjoyed. I worked on several large projects with incredibly talented and dedicated people. Ron and I regularly explored the California coast with the attitude - you can't get lost if you've no place to go. Which allowed us to discover so many beautiful places that were off the main path. We also made the most incredible friends. Most of whom were creatives like us. Parties and adventures abounded with these friends. Many of whom we are still close with today. Ron and I made it a point to visit every museum, every national park, and every inch of San Francisco. We went to festivals and concerts and even camped in the Redwood Forrest once. I found yoga and Zen meditation in San Francisco, practices I love that are still a huge part of my life. Ron and I became "Ron and Lin", the power artsy couple, and grew even more in love. My art practice was thriving. I was painting all the time. Life had become really sweet, totally funky, and frickin' cool.

And I found myself.

Though as the saying goes, live in California once but leave before it makes you soft. I'm not sure about that but the years of sweetness we lived in California were a beautiful experience. Ron and I grew up there together. We discovered who we were as individuals and as a couple. It profoundly shaped us. If it did make us soft, that was a good thing. Though after five years we knew it was time to move on. Ron had graduated from the Academy of Art University and we also decided it was time for us to get married. Our grand adventure was about to start a new chapter.

In the Autumn of 1998, sitting together in front of a fire, we looked at each other and asked, where do you want to go? For me, there were no doubts - I needed to go to Georgia O'Keeffe's land of enchantment. The decision was made, Ron agreed, and we started planning our next big move.

Up next: My Story, Part Three - New Mexico

Part One of My Story and other blog post that tell more of the San Francisco story are listed below.



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Lin, wow - such beautiful, emotional writing. I honestly am gripped by every word and I've known you for 50 years! I remember, It was 30'ish years ago when my mom and I helped you write your application essay (for lack of better word) to get into the UB architecture program. We were sitting at mom's dining room table on Barker St. working every word.... and to now see how you've evolved and grown into your own person, not only as an artist (that began at birth), but also as a writer is extraordinary. Write on, my dearest friend. The world not only needs to see you... the world needs to hear you! xoxo, Rae

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Also... Muffin!!! Will always love that sweet girl.

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