by Anne Mason
It’s been 20 months since we left California, and I’m still peeling off layers.
My heart was in San Francisco
I had lived in the SF Bay area since 2004, when I first moved to San Francisco. Wow, did I love that once beautiful city by the bay, with its European feel, hip culture, Mediterranean climate, and more. The city was a “happening” scene, and I was a short walk or drive to the ocean beaches, the redwood forests, the snowy mountains or the tranquil rivers. Every corner you turned was a new, magnificent vista. I loved my work and colleagues, made great friends, and was always meeting new and interesting people from all over.
It was a short hop down to SoCal, and I frequently made a weekend of it to spend on the world class beaches and warm water in the San Diego area where my sister was raising her family. Work brought me into the Hollywood studios, and I got to visit with and hang out with friends from all over the world who had eventually made their way to Los Angeles. My husband and I met on a flight from San Diego to San Francisco, where he also lived. We had a blast together making the most of all the city had to offer, then moved across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County once we started our family.
Fairyland across the bay
Marin was another type of paradise. It had been developed very consciously, so that its natural beauty was preserved. The land hadn’t been razed and cleared for development. Instead, the neighborhoods were built around and within the trees, mountain and foothills, and saturation was deliberately prevented. Most residents had a very short walk to acres of forested trails, lakes and streams, and the trail just outside our backyard led to breathtaking vistas, edible and medicinal plant gathering and natural wildlife all around. Our little town alone boasted 4 waterfalls.
Our son had been born in our apartment in San Francisco, and our daughter was born in our house in Marin. Our community seemed so like-minded, into natural health and living, focused on consciousness raising and metaphysical awareness. My husband walked to work, where he operated his business out of offices in our little downtown. Bumper stickers were sold that referred to our town as “Mayberry on Acid,” if that gives more of a picture.
It was idyllic. For a time.
And then it wasn’t. We had to leave.
So many of us––those who have left, those who are leaving, and those still there––are still trying to put the pieces together, trying to unravel the “unraveling,” trying to understand it, trying to explain it. Yes, the political environment is responsible for much. The socioeconomic policies and environmental regulations that were gradually being implemented over the last few decades there––which exponentially accelerated the last few years––have dramatically transformed the California that once was. And the Covid lockdowns and policies over the last two years took it beyond what any of us really could imagine. But there was something there, already underlying the culture, which facilitated all of that, permitted all of it.
And it isn’t until one has been living out of it for awhile, experiencing the cultures of other states, that more of the subtle differences become apparent.
Where to go?
When we decided to leave, we were planning on moving out of the country. We couldn’t imagine that it could be that different anywhere in the States, and we were planning to move to Belize when we put our house on the market two days before CA Governor Newsom implemented the first “shelter-in-place” in the country in six SF Bay area counties, ours being one. Everything changed for us, our business went dead, the Marin real estate market went dead, Belize borders closed. We changed course and expectations, sold the house for less than planned and spent a year in Idaho near the Montana border. A few months ago, we found our permanent home in beautiful Texas Hill Country.
I’ve commiserated with friends who have left. Many have settled in Idaho, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arizona, Montana, Arkansas, Alabama––and here in Texas. Everyone I talk to has gone through a similar process of awakening. Waking up to how much more messed up it was back there than we had even realized.
Living in California had changed me
I hadn’t realized, until I had lived elsewhere for some time, that I had learned to operate under the assumption that I couldn’t trust folks to follow through on their commitments. That there was always an underlying assumption that folks usually had an ulterior motive when being helpful. I hadn’t realized until I lived in a place in which folks truly value character, kindness and friendship, that I had been living in a place which prioritized material status and image. I hadn’t realized until I lived in a place with a healthy distrust of authority, that I had been living in a place with an almost religious reverence for government.
I hadn’t realized how much focus was on passing the buck and playing the blame game in California until I lived in a place in which people owned up to their mistakes. I hadn’t realized how indirect and passive the day-to-day communication was in California until I lived in a place where people were so straightforward and tell it like it is. And I hadn’t realized how narcissistic and selfish the culture was there until I lived in a place where people truly want to be of service.
Goodness for goodness’ sake
I am so grateful for the standard of humanity I have found here. I get the sense that folks here are honest, helpful, kind and generous, not because of how it will look to other people, but because it is the right thing to be, because they honor themselves and others too much to behave or conduct themselves otherwise. Whereas a culture pervaded the area I lived and worked in California in which folks would often behave in any manner they could get away with––while virtue signaling their supposed regard for others with “We Believe…” signs in their front yard.
We have made so many friends, met so many cool people––folks who think for themselves, folks who think outside the box, folks who don’t care what skin color or gender you are. I have never been made so aware of race, gender, sexual orientation than when I lived in the “anti-racist” SF Bay Area.
You do yours and I’ll do mine
We don’t wear masks anywhere. The folks that do wear masks don’t seem to project any hostility or concern about those who don’t. Morality isn’t wrapped up in people’s choices surrounding Covid. Ever since I left California, folks have always shaken hands, hugged in greetings, exhibit no fear of one another. And there just seems to be a high regard and respect for individual choice, in general. There is a tolerance, an acceptance, a generally charitable attitude toward others I find here in Texas––and in Idaho––which is very different than the judgmental, condemning attitudes I was accustomed to back in California.
The SF Bay Area culture prides itself on an identity of tolerance, diversity and large mindedness. It is quite the opposite in practice. But I didn’t feel its full impact until I moved to an area which is truly diverse in ideas and people. And the fierce individualism at the heart of this culture naturally sustains a tolerant regard for others’ individual expression, practice, choices. Where conformity isn’t the virtue, other traits like honesty, generosity, kindness, sincerity and responsibility weave the social fabric.
There is a world outside California…and it’s better!
California is beautiful on the outside, but seems to have rotted from within. We have not been back to visit since we left, and we have no desire to return, even for a short stay. Most of our friends still living there have come to visit, and more still plan to––as they all need a respite and healthy dose of sanity from time to time. Others will stop by on their frequent recon trips to different parts of the country as they search for a new homeland.
We live in an astonishingly beautiful country. There is a kind of prideful lament among Californians that they can’t leave, because nowhere has as beautiful a landscape and weather––and the outdoor lifestyle that facilitates. Beauty abounds in every state––from purple mountain majesties and sea to shining sea. And at half the price!
If you are still living in California and are struggling with the decision to leave, realize that not only is there a better world outside California, it is better than you can even imagine. Freedom awaits you all over––freedom to experience a different standard of humanity, and freedom to exercise your own.