I got into a conversation today on Twitter about the high costs of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I was looking at houses for sale in the Seattle area, and they are just gorgeous. They have tall pine trees outside, they have views of lakes or Puget Sound or downtown Seattle, they have huge sheets of glass. A lot of them have three or more bedrooms, and some of them even have basements that you can convert into game rooms (air hockey! ping pong!) and/or home theaters. And they aren’t all that expensive.
Someone suggested I look into Omaha, Nebraska, and I found huge houses on huge lots with price tags that seem cheap by Seattle standards…which seem cheap by Bay Area standards. The consensus, whether you’re John Scalzi or Patrick Rothfuss, is that if you’re a writer, it’s best to live somewhere on the cheaper side. Read: not New York City, and not the San Francisco Bay Area. (The happy news is that you live one of those places, everywhere else looks wonderfully cheap.)
It’s a dilemma. For a long time, Silicon Valley kind of irritated me: too much engineer speak, too much social awkwardness, too much busyness competition, and not enough appreciation of the arts. But just when I was beginning to consider a move, it started to grow on me.
I didn’t choose Silicon Valley as my home; I just ended up here. And once I’d started my business, I was stuck here; while the cost of living is absurdly high, that also meant I could charge more. I looked into moving to Portland at one point and discovered that what I’d save in cost of living expenses wouldn’t equal the amount of income I’d be losing, not by a long shot. I couldn’t afford to move.
Now I can afford to move, but I’ve made dear friends in the meantime, and I’m also more aware of the things I’ve been taking for granted. I like the energy of Silicon Valley. I might not like the culture of the busy, but I do like that people are engaged with projects and ideas that they feel passionately about. I like that people here are nerdy and geeky and care about science fiction movies and maker culture and playing laser tag. (Not to say there aren’t people in many other places who care about the same stuff, but I don’t know as many of them.) I like that a lot of people I know are living full-on lives of the mind. I like that people are liberal here, and by liberal, I mean they are supportive of free spirits and different lifestyle choices and basic women’s rights. Not that it’s perfect (because it isn’t), but it’s a step in the right direction.
Then there’s the weather (it doesn’t get much better than this) and the FOOD. I have the choice of at least twenty different types of cuisine within a fifteen minute drive of my condo. Maybe more. And if I’m willing to drive a little further, I have all of San Francisco to pick from. The beach is in driving distance, the mountains are less than a day away. I can take a day trip to a world-class aquarium or go to one of many excellent science museums (the Tech, the Exploratorium, the Academy of Sciences).
So therein lies my conundrum. I live in a beautiful and vibrant place. It also happens to be really expensive. There’s a push and pull that goes on whenever I consider my options.
Where we live matters. And there are always tradeoffs involved.