Cera Deibel lives in a two bedroom apartment on Stanyan Street side in Golden Gate Park. From the third floor landing, the apartment’s large windows look out over the northern edge of San Francisco at rows of houses painted pastel pinks, blues, and greens.
“Without this one tall apartment building,” says Deibel’s partner Zeke and gesticulates, “we would have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
References to Deibel’s calling are scattered in the sunny living room and visible on her own body. Each finger is decorated with a silver ring. Bracelets hang on both wrists. Three delicate silver necklaces encircle her neck.
The 23-year-old Deibel lives with her hands as a full-time jeweler in the Bay Area. Although the pay is low according to San Francisco’s inflated standards, Deibel is living the dream of the young urban artist according to all information.
A popular topic of conversation for those who live in San Francisco – and those who don’t – is the cruel cost of living in the city, which has resulted in the displacement of many low-income groups, especially people of color. But the narrative that San Francisco is inhospitable to creatives is imprecise, says Deibel. She wanted to stay here – and keep practicing her craft – so she found ways to make it work.
Deibel quickly recognizes that she has certain privileges in her favor: a college degree, supportive parents, stable health, a rent-controlled apartment, and a partner who splits the bills and rent. It can be a lot harder to get a foothold in the city when such benefits are lacking.
Even then, the costs add up. For Deibel, who graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2018, however, living in a vibrant urban community between a park and the ocean is a worthwhile entrance fee. The cherry on top: She can make a living doing exactly what she loves.
What she loves is making jewelry. Deibel works as a jeweler for two Bay Area designers: Mashka Jewelry, specializing in bold, colorful goods, and Corey Egan Designs, known for his delicate silver creations. She also teaches a beginner manufacturing course at MetalWorks SF every Monday evening.
A production jeweler, explains Deibel, does not design products, but rather makes the goods that ultimately appear on the shelves for purchase.
Deibel says she has long had an interest in “process-based” practices, including ceramics and film photography: “It’s less about the last piece I make and more about the act of making.” In the future, she is interested in designing her own line of jewelry, but for now she’s content with “doing things with my hands all day”.
It’s a calling that many of her office-based friends envy. “I’m very happy that I can do this all the time. It’s very gratifying work,” she says.
In contrast to the friends in office jobs, Deibel struggles with a salary that barely covers her living costs. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development qualifies those in San Francisco with an annual income of $ 90,450 and below as “low income.” Deibel estimates her annual pre-tax take-away pay at about $ 40,000. She works six days a week, eight hours a day.
To get a feel for how someone on such a low income “gets it going” in town, Deibel kindly shared her monthly budget:
- Total rent: USD 3,000 per month, shared between Deibel, her boyfriend and her roommate (Deibel pays USD 900)
- Student Loan Payments: $ 200
- Ridesharing and public transit commute: $ 250 to $ 300
- Groceries: $ 400
As needed, she has about $ 1,500 in pre-tax money for extras like dining, shopping for clothes and art, and other luxuries. She tries to put some money into savings every month and repay a good chunk of her remaining $ 30,000 in student debt.
Although Deibel doesn’t budget consciously – “I’m only 23! I’m still working on it.” – She tries to maintain a frugal livelihood by cooking most meals at home and limiting nights in the bar, which “doesn’t really fit my lifestyle anyway”.
The other restriction: “I don’t travel.” She flies to Dallas occasionally, “but that’s about it.”
The victims so far are worth staying in the city where she has lived for five years.
“I’m not doing this to become a millionaire or to get some shares,” she says. “I do this because I appreciate and love the craft and hope that there will continue to be a place for it in this world.”
There’s certainly a place for that in the Bay Area, she points out. It’s easy (and important) to talk about the negative impact of the tech industry in the region, including increased rents, homelessness, displacement and gentrification that have immensely disrupted the character of the region. Even so, Deibel says a lot of the people who buy the jewelry she makes work in the tech industry. Your dollars support an entire ecosystem of manufacturers, including the jewelry designer, production jewelers, casters, and the small businesses that sell the products.
She also observed that “so many people in the creative industry on the bay have a partner in tech”. Deibel’s partner works in IT, which allows him to add a little more financial weight to his budget. If they didn’t live together, she’d pay $ 1,800 in rent to stay in her rent-controlled apartment – an unsustainable burden.
Like most of us, Deibel had the idea to leave the Bay Area for the next decade, but only to get closer to her and her partner’s families in the southern United States. At 23, the San Francisco lifestyle is still Deibel’s ideals. She doesn’t save up for a house, doesn’t plan to “settle down” anytime soon, and still enjoys the daily hustle and bustle of her surroundings.
“Life in a city in your twenties is very different from life in a city in your thirties,” she notes.
However, they are slightly burdened by the risk of future instability. “I’m waiting for San Francisco to really kick my ass to make me feel finished,” she says. “But after five years here, I’m just not over it.”
“Here I am and I’ll be here for a while,” she adds, “because there surely may be a time when I can’t, be it health, financial, or you know the whole world ends . “
Michelle Robertson is a freelance writer. You can reach her at [email protected] and on Twitter @mrobertsonsf.