Moving West and Moving On: Berkeley-bound


So I’m moving to Berkeley. Not immediately, of course, but after graduation, most likely the first week of June. The details haven’t been hashed out—will I be there for the summer or permanently, where will I live, who will I live with—but it’s definitely happening. I was offered an incredible internship and what was always my hazy, unrealistic daydream of relocating to the Bay Area becomes more real every time I open the overwhelming mess that is Craigslist.

I fell in love with the Bay Area the moment I landed in SFO three years ago to work a trade show for my dad, and the handful of days I spent there every January since were the highlight of my year. It felt like the first city I could be who I was: liberal, loud, over-sexed and feminist. San Francisco is the city of sex-positivity, home of the Center for Sex and Culture and some of the coolest publishing houses in the country. Not to mention the retro hair salons, dozens of vintage thrift stores, and the wonderfully hectic In-N-Out on Fisherman’s Wharf. I became SF-obsessed immediately, bringing home a 3D puzzle of the Golden Gate Bridge and a snow globe with little cable cars.

By fall of my senior year I had added a massive black and white photo duvet of the same bridge and a calendar of Bay Area landscapes to my collection. My partner at the time sat on my bed and peered around my already cluttered new room. “What is with you and San Francisco?”

I explained my home away from home feeling every time I followed my dad there for business. Moving there permanently seemed an impossible pipe dream, too expensive, too far away from the East Coast where I have lived most of my life. But if I could choose anywhere, ignoring all reality checks and career concerns…

“You should go,” he said, and there was something matter-of-fact about it, like it was really that simple and I was being silly.

“But dude, money is a thing. Namely that I have none.”

“No one ever does,” he dismissed, picking up the snow globe and giving it a bemused shake. “Just go.”

I still thought he was full of it—his family had far more capital at their disposal and he must not understand what it was like for the rest of us plebeians. I couldn’t just go to San Francisco. After graduation I would do what every good little girl from Greenwich did: move home and live with my parents, commute to Manhattan, and save up for my own little corner of Brooklyn. I could still work in publishing, could volunteer for local feminist organizations. It’s not like making a career out of sex-positive erotica is a viable option anyway. Right?

While on the surface the fiscal feasibility seemed the largest stumbling block, my disbelief was a healthy mix of pragmatism and cowardice. I couldn’t just go. I wasn’t the type of person who could just go.

Senior year has been insane in the way that my life always is: stakes get higher, soap opera plotlines develop, wacky sitcom antics turn into friendships and new relationships. As the semester progressed, staying on the East Coast and moving home became harder and harder to imagine—personal life drama made going into Manhattan feel like trespassing, and every cool job prospect I discovered seemed to be located in the same place: Berkeley, CA. My parents, perennially supportive, said the same thing they always have, “We’ll figure it out.” Money I put aside for grad school plans that I wound up deciding against could be repurposed for getting on my feet, and there is a huge contingent of Wesleyan alumni settled in the Bay Area to partake in the tech bubble. But most importantly: I began to feel ready. Terrified, sure, but ready. Ready to pull up roots and start fresh somewhere new, ready to say goodbye to WASP culture and the comfortable familiarity of hometown snobbery. Ready and eager to go somewhere with a history and appreciation of sex education, of STI awareness, of indie publishing. Ready to be the person I have been becoming for the past decade.

If anyone else is relocating to Berkeley or is already there, drop me a line. I’ll be there soon.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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