This piece originally appeared on the blog Cleveland Homecoming Queen and is written by Dana Marie Textoris. It touches on the hard realities of living and wanting and trying to find that is embedded in the concept of Rust Belt Chic.
Today is exactly three months since I left San Francisco for Cleveland. And actually…this is really hard. I returned zealously, with romantic, passionate notions of what Cleveland would be, what I would be. For the first few weeks I rode an initial wave of excitement at the comfort of being home: overdosing on family, marveling at the beauty of fall and the grandeur of Cleveland’s “rust belt chic,” driving my new car everywhere (and always finding parking), slashing my rent in half for a whole apartment of my own.
Naturally, the initial rush was temporary. I had some concrete challenges that helped put the brakes on the joy ride — put moving across the country and starting a new job, only to immediately hate and quit the job and start a new one, on your bucket list of “things that would be really dramatic and awful and hard.” But the real jolt has been the negotiation of my fantasy with the reality. And I believe a negotiation is exactly what this is. Because neither my earlier fantasy nor the reality I am experiencing right now is accurate. I know that. Somewhere in the middle is the real Cleveland and the life and experience and self I’ll find here.
In the meantime, this is hard. I’ve spent whole afternoons crying. Left a few too many pathetic mopey voice mail messages for West Coast friends who can do nothing to make the distance shorter. Facebook has turned on me like an evil villain who taunts me with sorely missed people and places. Also, it’s getting pretty damn cold.
My best friend, who herself left Cleveland for Atlanta for a few years and came back, described this part as “the crash”: the part when the adrenaline slows, the rushing and planning and packing and moving of many months stops, and you look around for the first time and say, “Hey.” Wait. This place isn’t what I expected, or at least it’s not what I’ve gotten used to.
I’m not saying that I think I made the wrong decision. That’s largely, I’d say, because I don’t believe in “wrong decisions.” I think every choice is a curve on the road. We can explore and keep moving forward no matter the direction we choose. I don’t believe in a “right path” that we can veer radically off of, and perhaps not find our way back. A powerful, real combination of life changes and circumstances, intuition, curiosity, and determination led me here. This was the right decision for me at the time I made it and, as just another part of my journey, for me overall.
It’s also not that everything’s disappointing and nothing’s been amazing. I took my family to see a show at Cleveland Public Theatre that was wildly fun and inventive. Cleveland bartenders have served up some of the most delicious and seasonally inspired cocktails (not to mention beers, including, of course, the nectar that is Great Lakes Christmas Ale) I’ve ever had. Cleveland is absolutely stunning: there are moments when I’m driving through downtown, looking out over layers of bridge and water and brick and curling smoke, or when I’m passing the rich decadence of the old houses and trees on my own street, that I believe Cleveland could rival San Francisco for beautiful scenes. I got a pretty cool new job. And I love seeing my mom as often as I want — we can finally meet up on a whim just to go shopping, something that pained us we’d never do again when we thought I’d be in San Francisco forever.
What’s happening right now is the settling of experience and emotion. What’s real is the realization of just how much I gave up. Whether or not this was the best choice I could have made (and who would know?), I had a layered, full life — solid footing in an upward bound career, a dense and dynamic community of people, endless things to do and explore and be part of — that I just…don’t have anymore. I let it go. And that’s where I get stopped. I had that? I moved to San Francisco, one of the most beloved cities in the world, just some girl from the southwest suburbs of Cleveland, and I made that life happen? And then I gave that up?
Funny how your location-based identity, your physical and mental place in the world, can flip like a switch: Before I was a Clevelander managing to make it in San Francisco….right now I feel a lot like a San Franciscan stuck in Cleveland. In either place, I felt just a little bit Other. A bit of a novelty. Just a tad on the outside looking in. Where does that leave me? Where is home? As I type this, I realize, with sort of an internal groan, that the place I’m left in, the guide to what I’m searching for, is probably just right here, inside me, where my two lives — West Coast and Midwest — are now combined. I’m not really a true Clevelander anymore…I’ve picked up way too much San Francisco for that. The balance I’ve become, a little of this and that, is just what I’m hoping I’ll find, one day.
I believe that the best I can do now is cultivate patience. I need to follow the advice of my best friend and “step outside my comfort zone,” which for me means slowing down, not pushing it so hard, taking a breath and allowing some things to unfold through time, fate, and the will of the universe instead of my own.
I need to keep believing that the game changers and boomerangers, the passionate progressive civic leaders and the creative entrepreneurs that I came here to join, to be part of their reshaping and rejuvenation of Cleveland, are here. I need to believe that there are cool people I’ll find and connect with (and, in fact, I’ve found a few already), who resemble the masses of interesting, dynamic, creative, intellectually thirsty friends/colleagues/acquaintances/random strangers I left behind in San Francisco, but I may need to accept that they are fewer and harder to find.
I already know, but really need to swallow and then embrace, that Cleveland isn’t just — magically, and oh! you mean you didn’t know! — a colder version of San Francisco. I need to believe that I can make a satisfying life — and who knows, eventually maybe a more satisfying life — but it will be a different one.
Three months isn’t a very long time. It took me three years to feel I’d found myself in San Francisco. I’ll get there. Somewhere. For now, I’ll wait.