Posted by: cavemanwithmartini | September 8, 2009

What I’ve learned (so far) from San Francisco by Troy Ygnacio Soriano.

As part of writing my new book “How To Be Relentlessly Happy”, I wrote this list on my favorite city of the moment, San Francisco.
I was a pretty laid back and non-judgmental when I got to San Francisco. I’ve become even more laid-back in San Francisco, and even less judgmental. There are many people leading extremely happy lives here.
Here’s some of what I learned from them.
What I’ve learned (so far) from San Francisco.
1. The families you join are at least as important as the families you born into.
The idea of advocacy is not abstract here. From some of the best child-advocacy programs in the world, to a civic-minded people who you can only describe as electrified, people join here as if their fortunes are tied to each other, take to the streets when they are pissed off automatically, and are arm-in-arm. Food not bombs has nightly meals for the homeless or just anyone who wants to join up. There are new economy models where people meet up to trade and barter, the Free Skool in Berkeley, and an online site for trading items, and public spaces dedicated to urban farming unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Socially, politically and economically –I’m up close and personal, and I’ve never seen people take each others well-being so much to heart. You almost wonder what it means to them, and I suspect there are many answers to that .. but it’s wonderful to see, and even better to be a part of.
You could walk up to any group in any park and just sit down and talk, and I do. I’ve never seen that before.
2.The last place art should be is inside a building with a high admittance fee.
All day long I see tourists taking pictures of paintings. But they aren’t in any museum.
San Francisco has more public murals and graffiti style works than any city I’ve seen –by far. It’s practically a point of pride that gets listed in tourist brochures. The city finally stopped fighting the artists and simply decided to sponsor them. Or at least let them live and breathe.
Hence, a city where you can walk from one corner of the town the other without ever being out of the sight-line of some art. And if the paintings aren’t on the walls, they’re on the sidewalks. Something for those that can’t raise their eyes.
3. What you call impossible someone else is doing and succeeding at.
I’ll never forget the day I met someone selling hand-painted socks on the beach. How much do you make a year?” I boldly asked. I couldn’t believe she possibly sustained herself this way.. She replied breezily .. “Oh probably near .. 30 thousand .. that’s it .. ” she said laughing. A good amount to some, not enough to many others, but I noticed *the smile*. That smile said a lot. She changed my mind forever about striking out on your own.
4. Be part of the Critical Mass.
The bikes-not-cars advocacy group Critical Mass is getting bigger every day … and larger here than any other city. When the people on bikes take over, it’s much funner to be in the streets than watching on the side-lines. When the gay marriage advocates take to the street, you don’t want to be on the sidewalks. Get waist deep in the party, be a part of the moment, feel alive. Life is short feel alive.
5. Perfection is boring.
San Francisco has taught me repeatedly that costumes aren’t for holidays they are for every day. Pretty is kind of ugly and ugly is kind of pretty. The homecoming queen looks more interesting if she rolls around in the mud a little and is holding a knife. The homecoming king should be in a tutu, or at least a kilt. Archetypes exist to be messed with, not taken seriously. Here, meet a cop that smokes pot.
6.Getting older is good. Getting odder is better.
This is one town that seems to really celebrate people who don’t look like models in magazines. And that is far more interesting to be in all day than some other places I’ve been. I’ve never seen older people having so much fun as they do here, it almost makes you wish you were sixty and not 37. When you come across some guy in his bathrobe in the fog on the beach who’s drunk on wine and smoking a cigar you know someone in the world is doing what they want to do.
7. Be outside A LOT more.
I’ve never seen people take the open air as much as here. People of all classes and backgrounds actually USE their parks and green-spaces and beaches. They are swarmed all over them. And though they might live in a beautiful Victorian, you get the feeling they never want to go inside.
8. AM and PM are concepts that are fucking with you. Fuck back.
Doing your cardio in other places might mean forty-five minutes during lunch on the treadmill. Doing it here means a fun-run at midnight in a jockstrap or full drag. And people would join you. Don’t let the hours of the day bully you.
9. Your culture is not the only culture.
Exotic somewhere else might mean some spicy Szechuan take-out. Here you could eat with Ethiopians in their own home. For every interesting culture, there are millions of others. Don’t just go to the next easiest one. Seek out the unsought out.
10. The world will reward you for the interest you show in the world.
There are worlds upon worlds in a city as multi-layered as San Francisco. If your range of interest is very limited then you probably will miss out on a hell of a lot of it.
11. A European pace of life is possible in the States.
If you show up on time for things people might think you don’t have a life.
12. Don’t be shy. You’re not fooling anyone.
If you don’t do any new things how can you think any new thoughts? Experiment. Don’t have a limited sense of yourself. It’s suicide, and not as quick.
13. Right and wrong are not particularly helpful.
The world is more complex than the stories we tell children. Seeing the world as wonderfully complex is a greater responsibility than painting it up in black and white. Always some good comes from evil, and some evil comes from good. The person who sets out to destroy another just might be accidentally giving him all the tools he needs to succeed.
The ending is always, ALWAYS a surprise, to everyone, and it’s all very much out of your control.
14. There’s no schedule for perfection.
These can’t co-exist. Notice how whenever someone envisions paradise it’s in a place with no schedule?
15. Just figure it out.
The time you spend fussing and worrying you can be figuring it out and making it happen. The recipe is simple, involve other people, then invite the Divine …
16. Dream the boldest dream first.
Why brew your own Kombucha when you can brew your own chocolate-marijuana-raspberry-infused Kombucha?
The market elsewhere might be for the odd and unique thing. Here, it’s for the even odder, even more unique thing. You gotta love that. There’s gotta be at least one place in the world for that, and I wanna live there.
17. Indulge your soapbox. It DOES have an effect.
The funny thing about expressing yourself is, you can get really used to it. And someone out there might really benefit from hearing you. Your point of view is a symbol of help to someone. At the very least you might make some like-minded friends. Step up, don’t hold back and share.
18. Road trip. A lot.
The only thing better than living in an interesting place is living in an interesting place that is right next to twenty other interesting places.
19. Whatever you are doing. It would probably be better naked.
From Bay-to-Breakers to Baker Beach, you just can’t keep clothes on these people.
And once you get used to it, well .. clothes are awfully stifling. Something about the chemicals they are soaked in.
20. Every once in awhile. Just stop everything and party.
Maybe it’s the earthquakes, the intrusion of something elemental .. what one person referred to as “our surprise parties”. But about once a week you’ll notice that someone stops traffic and plays a song. You can choose to be annoyed and roll your eyes. Or you can roll with it and enjoy. Move to Montana if you can’t handle it.
21. There’s ALWAYS a celebration going on somewhere. (hear that far off music?)
Earthfest, Folsom, Eat Real, party at Stern Grove, Castro Street Fair, Lazy Bear, on and on .. whoever you are, whatever you are, Pride isn’t a weekend, or even a state of mind. It’s a festival going on this minute, don’t miss it. And if you do sit this one out, party in private.
22. Exercise all the heavy food feelings away. (You don’t need to be in the mountains to hike.)
Ever seen how vertical San Francisco can get? Go ahead have that slice of chocolate cake, we’re climbing up Duboce past Castro.
23. Don’t set limits on yourself.
Whatever it is, whether starting a small business or trying something new. Just go on the journey for the hell of it. The only true journey is one with NO destination.
If you know where you’re going then it’s a trip. Don’t trip.
24. Judgmental attitudes and morality probably have a place somewhere. Sex ain’t one of them.
Between consenting adults, why not see what is possible? Why not explore the outer limits of what is possible? When we are busy customizing everything we CAN, why settle for a sex life that is pre-packaged by others and handed to us in a plain white box? Dice it up, put it on wheels, plug it into the socket and hang it upside down.
Shake gently.
24. And gender is the biggest lie.
I see men dressed as women driving buses, working in restaurants, all over. Some are trying hard to “look like women”, some are fully-rocking a mustache with that mini-skirt. (See #5)
Women are everywhere here in a suit and tie look, or work clothes, Brill-crème Don Draper’s as cute and capable as handsome men. They want to live that way and they do. Far beyond styles of dress, many people are un-burdening themselves of stifling and outmoded gender roles here, and that is very freeing to see. It takes a lot of courage to live your dream, when the world is smoggy with fears and restrictions and limits.
These people are breaking through.
There are those who got other things from San Francisco but this is my experience of it.
I salute you, Bay-Area California, for showing me what is possible.
For teaching me, for helping me.


  1. Insightful and brilliant… if this is the tone of your book, we're all in for a treat."Dice it up, put it on wheels, plug it into the socket and hang it upside down.Shake gently."That will have me laughing all day!

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