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Behind the Map: San Francisco


"The power of art can break the shackles that bind and divide human beings." - Daisuke Ikeda

Where should I start? I often say the San Francisco map was inspired by my love for travel and the people I meet, but it doesn’t tell how it was actually a departing gift right before a breakup. When I drew this map, it was simply a gift to a past boyfriend who was leaving the country with no plans to continue a relationship. I didn’t think that I would eventually start making maps of other cities and that it would lead me to exactly what I was meant to do. This map was this happy accident that seemingly jump-started my art business which funnily stemmed from a bittersweet heartbreak.


Story:

It was late Autumn 2014, I'm in my mid-twenties working and spending nights out in San Francisco with my friends. I meet this French guy in a bar on one those nights, he was intriguing and foreign, and shortly after chatting for a bit, one thing was clear...he had an expiration date. You know, those relationships when you know there is going to be an ending in the near future and it's written all over his forehead. I went for it anyway because he looked like potential fun and I'll take whatever time I can have with him, heartbreak and all.


We became close and over the course of 4 months, we spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, his birthday, New Years, Valentine’s day, and even a bit of Spring together. We also would eat Chinese food almost once a week in the Sunset/Richmond district. We went so often, the waiters would remember our faces AND our order. We would meet up in Irish bars on Haight Street near his apartment to watch the Oakland Warriors games, drink beer and smoke cigarettes. And I almost always met at his apartment on Haight Street more times that I can remember. His apartment landlord loved incense and calming music, so whenever I walk in, there's a sense of safety and calm. I don't know what it was, but there’s just something about having a routine, having something familiar and constant in a time-ticking relationship that made everything feel right and nice even thought I knew it would not last forever.


In the short time we were together, we created only a handful of memories, but the memories we did have were memorable and strongly cemented by the smell of Autumn, the sounds of rainy days, the ambiance of his incensed apartment and especially by the songs of Taylor Swift's newest album at that time, 1989. (I played her CD on repeat everyday during this time)


Expiration and ending aside, it was a refreshing relationship and it gave me hope in my love life. Compared to the toxic relationship I had in the past that had left me broken, scarred, hopeless, and in the dark, but he showed me that there can be decent people out there and that they all aren't complete douchebags. You mean I don't have to constantly feel bad, second guess myself, and go crazy in a relationship, what!?


When it was time for him to leave, we didn't really discuss where our relationship would go, the next steps, the potential overseas "holiday" meetups, or the possible phone chats, etc. We skipped it and/or ignored it. Like I said, we both knew from the beginning that it would eventually have to end, the expiration date had loomed over our heads so often until the day finally arrived.


To be frank, I think the "skipped conversations" and the expiration date loomed over MY head more than it did for him. Maybe it's a French thing, but he was sometimes brutally honest about the whole thing that it almost felt like a transaction between us. He would say things like, "I don't love you enough to be with you" or "We won't be together after this, we both know." He just wasn't that into me. A week before he left, we had our last hurrah and we went skydiving. We decided that we'd jump out of a jet plane 10,000 feet above sea level, it would be fun, they said. God. I hated it. I turned purple and was motion sick all the way through. He had a blast. Anyway, that's besides the point, we decided to do something on his bucket list and a forced "last" time together.


The Map

The last hurrah for me was I thought it would be a cool idea to make a farewell gift for him and draw a map of San Francisco because he always talked about how it is a dream of his to be in in this city, how much he loved it and how much he would miss it. I wanted to include the neighborhoods where we spent the most time as well as the rest of the neighborhoods. It took me a while to study and research the city, figure out the perimeters of all the neighborhoods, and choose the right font styles to use for each neighborhood. I made it personal to him and changed a neighborhood name: the Sunset District was labeled "Chinese Food" because that was the only reason we ever went there.


The End

It was the final day. He had to go back to Europe, I insisted on driving him to the airport when he insisted he can just take a Lyft. When he insisted he could just take a Lyft was the part where I finally acknowledged my denial: I liked him more than he liked me. If he liked me enough, he would want to see me for the last time at the airport, right? He had always shot me down with his honesty and told me he just wasn't that into me and I knew it was coming. Anyway, we stopped to get sandwiches in the Castro before we went to the airport and we sat through our last moments in the city on the steps of a typical San Franciscan house, in the sun, with nothing much to say. After one of our last cigarettes together we went back to my car and I gifted him the map I drew of San Francisco, framed and all. I felt he was happy to receive it and I think he genuinely liked it and then the drive to the airport was just drowned with bittersweet sadness.


I made him the map thinking it would help him remember the time he had in San Francisco, but honestly, I made it so that he will remember me from time to time.


This map is special and personal to me, but since the first version, I have updated the map several times, added new neighborhoods, and created new memories associated with San Francisco and learned that this map not only carries my backstory but also the stories and memories for others. There are a million people in San Francisco creating memories every day in the very neighborhoods that are drawn on the map, it's nice to have something to remind us of the moments that we had or have had with someone in that city. So here is San Francisco.


What did you think about my Behind the Story of San Francisco? Leave in the comments below what you thought of it, if you've ever got your heart broken in this city or experienced unrequited love.


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