It wasn’t a life-threatening thing, of course, but it gnawed at us. We hated giving our taxes to feed the slaughter and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention the increasing lack of liberties at home, because of, you know, terrorists.
I thought we had created the site of LeaveAmerica.org* on November 5th, after Kerry lost and George W. won. The site was meant to highlight the fact that the US was feeling like it was no longer a place to immigrate to, but leave. Looking back on this quick sketch, clearly it was before. I do vividly remember the verdict on the 5th of November and being so upset that all I could do was go for a bike ride. From Bernal Heights, through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, and up around, Lake Merced to do a regular loop.
The political climate in the US bothered me. But also what bothered me, perhaps more, were a number of things.
I traveled a lot whenever I could since art school. This always meant two week vacations. It was never enough. Moreover, I often wanted to live in a place, culturally different than what I was used to. At the time I’d lived in LA, Chicago and San Francisco. As a lot of tourists experience, I wanted to stay longer. Not just longer, but I really wanted to feel what it was like living, working and experiencing the day to day of another culture.
Moreover, I was growing tired of San Francisco. By the time I left in 2008, I had lived and worked there 16 years. I began my career in technology as a designer in 1993, working on client/server apps, before the Internet commercialized. I then worked on internet-based applications across multiple industries, also within increasing scale and complexity.
I worked through the height of the dotcom era (sans wreckless partying), remaining at my desk throughout the tech crash, and into the 00s. Never became a millionaire, but unsurprisingly, I was never in it for the money, as most designers aren’t.
In any case, I was tired of the tech industry overshadowing so much of life in SF/Bay Area. San Francisco is a really small city, most people don’t realise it. It’s like a village compared to LA or NY, etc. I couldn’t leave the house without running into colleagues, clients, and various people from my work life. That only increased over time. It bothered me. Work was inescapable, never mind the 24/7 email leash.
Another factor in my desire to leave was quality of life. In most firms, I only had 2 weeks of vacation, a standard in the US. A lot of my employers didn’t even want me to take my time off altogether, rather split it up. Given how much I worked, it just wasn’t realistic, for my well being.
Also since the tech industry (or others just trying to make it) put such an emphasis on work, apart from the work hard – play hard bullshit, I rarely saw even the closest of friends. I could live a few blocks or a 10-minute drive and we wouldn’t see each other for several months. Everyone was too busy, working. I simply wanted to experience another place where the culture priortised quality of life and relationships, over making money.
My partner, Joel, is known to have lived all around the world. (lol). Even his first book is entitled, Jerusalem Calling, a Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World. He grew up in Israel, England, Italy, and the US, and went to grad school in Canada. He’s very adept at living abroad, whatever abroad means in this instance. His family is spread out between Israel, France, Argentina, and the US. His father’s side moved to Ottoman Palestine in the mid-19th century, from Italy and Lithuania. Moving internationally, apart from logistics, is in Joel’s DNA.
During this period, 2003-2004, I was leading the design of the first ‘mainstream RSS newsreader’. This was also the first major redesign of My Yahoo!, the personalisation of news for users of Yahoo, which initially launched in early 1995.
The publishing industry in the US, and especially the Bay Area, was in steep decline. Ironically, because of technology and the work I was doing. Joel and I closely tracked the industry and the upswing of citizen journalism, just as “Web 2.0” was gaining traction. It was clear there would be no way Joel could remain gainfully employed, as a traditional journalist, in the Bay Area.
Thus, given the entire context during this time, we spoke of moving out of the country. We had no specific plans but kept it in the back of our minds. And stayed alert and open to possibilities.
In 2007, I joined a design studio in SF. I was interested in the studio itself, the work it did and the people involved. As it turns out, the studio also had plans to expand, internationally.
I joined the firm as a Director of UX and spent several months in the SF studio. We got a client in London and I became the design lead for that project. That was in February 2008. I worked onsite in London with the client for a number of months. It was a great experience and we designed a fantastic product together over the course of the year. After phase 1, I worked in SF during the summer, for phase 2, then switching back to London in the fall for the third and final phase.
I had requested to be transferred fully to the new London studio to continue the project and help get the studio off the ground. My request was accepted, and in August 2008, we packed up our house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, and shipped it to Southampton in a container.
In early, September Joel and I arrived, together, in London. We had a corporate flat rented for us near Queensway, two blocks from Hyde Park. A week or so later, Lehman Bros collapsed and the global financial crisis began.
As the protagonist continuously says in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five: “ And so it goes…”
* We still own the domain ‘leaveamerica.org’ but have yet to fill it in.