I'm sitting on the trans-bay bus as it careens down University Ave. It's drizzling outside, just a little, so the number of riders has gone up exponentially. I was lucky to get a seat. It's about time we got some rain, although I don't know if this really qualifies: when I lived in Edinburgh, for example, I became used to the torrential, horizontal rain that would stab through my clothes like daggers. In Oxford, where I grew up, it would come down in fat, satisfying drops. Here it's a tease, almost as if someone had turned the fog up to eleven.
This week a piece of the fog has also been living in my head. While I've been worried that something deeper is wrong, because I always do, I think it's more likely that I picked up a cold while I was exhausted from traveling last week. I've been tired, with cold or flu symptoms, and occasionally a stabbing headache that goes as quickly as it comes. I'm sure I'll feel better next week, but I'm taking it easy for now.
I want to do better at having people in my life. I moved to California because my mother was sick; thankfully, after a double lung transplant, she isn't sick any longer. Then I moved into running a startup (from a position as remote CTO at another startup) as part of an accelerator. None of these things have led to as much social activity as I would like. I've always had a lot of friends, and while there are certainly people I value and count as friends here, I've been more reclusive than I've ever been in my life. I'm sure that part of that is just part of the startup lifestyle - so much of my life is necessarily spent working - but I've come to what I think is a relatively common conclusion, that is important to acknowledge: I'm lonely.
There are plenty of technical events that I can and do go to. But, despite living the Internet, I'm keen for the conversations I have to go far beyond it. Moving to a new city is hard, particularly when you're leaving behind friendships that you've forged across decades and through multiple phases of your life. If you're starting from scratch and mostly making friends from your industry, your conversations tend to naturally be about that industry. That's great, and I highly value the friendships connections I've made, but I need more interactions that don't involve computers. I don't make friendships because I want to be around people I professionally respect; I make friendships because I find people and conversations emotionally nourishing.
There are certainly people who live their lives in that deliberate fashion, making connections solely to better themselves, but, and forgive me for saying this, I think it's borderline sociopathic. And self-defeating. If you go through life connecting with people just because you want something out of them, (1) you miss out on the serendipitous connections that are really the heart of being a social human being, and (2) they're sure to find out at some point. Nobody wants to feel like they're being leveraged.
Which isn't to say that your friendships don't make you a better person. Of course they do, but the things that you learn aren't necessarily things you might set out to learn. The more people you have in your life, the wider your social genepool, and the more ideas, personalities and other people you'll be exposed to. The more hugs, too, and that doesn't count for nothing.
I'm still having trouble figuring out where the social center of American life is. Back home, it would be simple: the pub. Unlike bars, the purpose of a pub is to be your outboard living room. It's a mutually safe, but welcoming, space to meet people in. Over here, a pub either seems to be a bar (get those drinks in) or a place to eat. So far I've found one real pub, on Solano Ave in Albany, but it's about as big as the bus I'm writing this in.
I've also heard that San Francisco is inherently difficult, as a place, to meet people in, perhaps for all the same reasons I've individually found it hard. At the same time, I've been lucky because I've plugged into a built-in community at Matter, and maybe that's the secret. I'm secretly a little jealous of people who have churches or other communities of faith, because they automatically have a disparate set of people to plug into. I've always been attracted to humanism, but uniting around another, non-technical interest may be a more direct way to meet more people. Volunteering at a non-profit, for example a soup kitchen or a local ACLU chapter, could be a better way.
At any rate, I think it's a healthy thing to acknowledge that I need more people in my life, and that the Internet is not in any way the same as having real, face to face contact with real people on a human level.
In the meantime, I'll focus on shifting this cold.