The Song of San Francisco is Dead

I moved to San Francisco seven years ago. I could have moved to any city in the United States, but I chose San Francisco because it’s spirit resonated with my spirit. I chose it for the artistic, creative communities. I chose it for the silly festivals and parades, those days where I could stroll town amidst naked dudes and superheroes, because there used to be so many Halloweens outside of October. Every other day seemed a day to celebrate, and the spirit of the Bay brought celebration to life with vivid characters and costumes. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you had come from. We were a city of misfits and transplants, gypsy-orphans pursuing our Neverland dreams. The Bay was branded a mecca for start-ups, not because it’s a goldmine for acquiring capital, but because the Bay was fertile ground for ideas and possibility to take root and thrive. People here used to truly, genuinely, believe—and those beliefs were directed towards good, positive things: art, social change, activism, environmentalism, gay rights, culture, diversity, community… San Francisco was a true celebration of life, embodying an understanding of what makes us all different, but ultimately—and most importantly—showing acceptance and compassion, because we were all part of the community. We were all weird, a little fucked-up, a little delusional and ungrounded, but our reality was just that—ours.

We were in it together, and a mutual understanding and respect manifested from these conditions. Like any healthy ecosystem, once upon a time, all components—the leather-strapped Bears, the performance artists, the suits of Fidi, the drag queens, Chinatown, The Mission, the tourists, Union Square, the sock-shop on Haight, the Bay to Breakers, nudists, those old identical twins that used to traverse around town, steep hills, in-debt art students, slam-poets, and all the other lost but hopeful souls—fit together in a beautiful but strange orchestra, giving rise to the unique sounds and melodies that composed the Song of San Francisco. For years, this song bellowed from our peninsula strongly, resonating across far and foreign lands like a chant, a calling, beckoning those who heard it, and were drawn to it, to come quickly, and join this miraculous mish-mashed band of misfits. To come and contribute your own sound to the greater song. All were welcome. The sound was once glorious.

Within the past few years, moles have infiltrated our once beautiful orchestra, and their notes are disharmonic. Their music is out-of-tune. Over time, they’ve affected the entire harmony of our orchestra, and the song is no longer the same. They’ve weaseled their ways in under the guise of promising benefits for our collective: money, technology, a better economy, jobs, efficiency. These are all good things, yes? But what the majority failed to ask was, at what price? The Devil may offer your wildest hopes and dreams, but in dealing with the Devil, one ultimately loses his soul. What, San Francisco, have you bartered away in exchange for your money, your fancy new condos and wealthy tech hubs? What have you traded for all the boutique wine and beer parlors, for the hosting of various conventions that often commandeer whole streets and parks (a week at a time, while excluding locals), for their own agendas? What karma was reaped while evicting 25 year tenants, or families, or artists, or non-profits?

You sold out, San Francisco. You sold your soul.

Those of us who still reside have been fighting. We’ve been striving diligently to re-direct the orchestra with the hopes that, in the near future, the Song of San Francisco will radiate brilliantly, as it did once before. While some of you may disagree, I’m here to break some unfortunate news: The melody has become too disharmonic. This city sings to a new tune these days, and as much as we strive to bring back the past, it’s just that—the past.

Time and change can often destroy entire ecosystems, like the raging wildfires of Northern California. The flames will literally swallow up everything—all life, all components of the system—and in the dusty aftermath, something new will be born. This is the natural order of things.

If you haven’t realized by now, San Francisco is experiencing it’s own fire. These flames continue to erase the old, making room for the new. Have you found yourself wondering, during this past year—or perhaps, even, years beyond—why it’s hard to breath? Why you feel anxious, or stressed, or can’t sleep. Why it is that you know what you want to do but, somehow, on a daily and regular basis, you find yourself not doing these things. In fact, sometimes it’s the complete opposite of what you want to be doing! We make excuses, and tell ourselves that we are preparing for our futures, we are being responsible, we are finally growing up, maturing, balancing life. If we just keep our heads down in the grit and dirt a little longer, we’ll get a break, soon. Not now, but soon. We take the punches month by month, year by year, as rent increases, evictions ensue. Our homes get sold and sometimes, literally, we find ourselves out on the street, trying oh-so-politely to reach out to our ever-dwindling community without sounding too desperate, even though these are desperate times. I mean, how do you say to people, to friends, even, “Shit. Is. Fucked. And I need help.” Your home, your job, your current mental and emotional state… how do we even begin to ask for help when the Titanic is going down and we all have the misfortune of being guests.

Not only that, but (to continue with my ship analogy), as the once-illustrious Titanic descends to it’s morbid fate, a new and shiny, state-of-the-art yacht is cruising by, as the passengers of this vessel peer over with a nonchalant indifference, saying, “Oh, the Titanic… they should have boarded our vessel, instead…”

Because to some, the solutions are very simple. Why not just move? Find another home, another part of town? A new job, or direction, or career? Just, you know, get out of debt, budget, get ahead. If we could do it, so can you!

And these people will never understand the original Song of San Francisco. They will never understand diversity, difference, suffering—both the beauty and tragedy of it all. They’ll never understand the power of truth, that real knowledge has nothing to do with computers, apps, money, or luxury…

I think about the following scenario on a regular basis. Imagine this: the Internet is down. It’s just, off. It’s not coming back, for a while, if ever. What are you going to do with your day? Firstly, can you manage? Are you able to communicate, navigate, and meet your basic needs, with out? If ATMs and credit machines are on the fritz, do you have any cash? If you’re not entirely stressing out over the sudden crash of former “life support” systems, what will your day entail? What will your week entail? Or time beyond that? Do you have other viable skills and knowledge that are of value, independent of anything web or, dare I say, computer related? Remember—no looking up things on Google! You’re on your own here, son!

Beyond the basics… what about your identity? If the careers related to programming, the web, computers—or even anything reliant upon computer systems, like the stock market—suddenly disintegrated, who would you be? Would you still maintain a sense of identity, of personal self-worth and value, if you could no longer be what you have been for so long?

And what about your social circles? If you couldn’t text, or Facebook, or email, would you see, or even be able to see, your friends in real life? I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t hold any hard-copy records of telephone numbers or addresses… I don’t even know where most of my friends live! And if a circle of friends does manage to rally together… what would social time be like, without “check-ins,” or selfies, or texting or Snapchats, without Google maps or Siri… would the group even be able to find one another?

I think about the Internet apocalypse a lot because I question our blatant trust and dependence on such things, especially when such an unstable structure becomes a part of the daily fabric of our lives. A house of cards, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming any particular group of people or sector, though you can obviously decipher where my opinions lie. I’m blaming the strangers with candy who we’ve allowed to infiltrate our once-whimsical city; they held out their dishes of multi-colored treats for the kids to follow, saying, “Come, come to SF and you may have as much candy as you like!” And now we’re left with a growing population of culture-less and privileged adult-children who know nothing of sympathy or suffering and who have no interest in learning. Why would they? Why take public transportation or a cab when you can just order an Uber to your door? Why go to the store when there’s Instacart, and Amazon? Why walk your dog, or cook, or do laundry, when you can hire people for those services? Why would we ever spend time doing those boring things, when it’s so easy to just have them done for us?

Because. This is why: through suffering, comes understanding. Through darkness, comes light, and through muddle, comes clarity. If we never struggle, or suffer, or get our hands dirty, or trudge through the mud, we will never experience the joy it is to overcome those hardships, and we will never have sympathy for those who have gone through, or continue to go through, the same. Life is a journey, a grand learning experience for us to grow both individually and collectively. There is no ultimate destination, circumstances will never be ideal, and things will never be good enough. We’re just supposed to live each day with dignity and grace while being authentic to our true selves and to others. We’re supposed to do what makes us happy and explore our potentials. We’re supposed to be kind to our neighbors or, at least, not be assholes. If anything, we are not ever supposed to be assholes!

The absolute worst thing you can do is be an asshole, because that involves the unleashing of your negativity on other people, which just perpetuates the wildfire. Darkness breeding darkness, as the flames continue to spread.

And this is why so many of us, still here, still holding on, struggle on a regular basis to merely not get burnt. Our very existence has begun to revolve around the necessity of not getting completely annihilated or scorched by the wildfire surrounding us. I need not point out that this is no way to truly live; how can a bud be expected to flower and flourish when it’s constantly facing the threat of being reduced to pure ash?

I’ve thus far refrained from making this about me, or any of my trivial trails or struggles, because in the end, it’s all the same. But I must share one brilliant example of contrast, which more or less sums up the entire state of San Francisco right now.

In May, after home-hopping like a gypsy to obtain a clean, allergy-free residence, I moved into a room with a girl, my age. Since 2013 I’ve struggled with poor health involving various ailments and I thought, at the time, that a clean home (without the threats of carpet, mold, etc.) would aid my quest for wellness. The place was way out of my budget (WAY), but I decided to bite the bullet, because if I got well enough, I could work more, and if I worked more, I could pay for the place.

My roommate, a psych-therapy student, and I bonded over spirituality, the mysteries of consciousness, karma, tarot cards, organic foods and herbalism. We had many similar interests, but came from very different backgrounds. While I have been completely independent and on my own since relocating to San Francisco seven years ago, she had just moved here for school a few months prior and was supported by her (wealthy) family. While I have worked and sacrificed to build a life for myself, hers was given to her. I’m not bitter—I’m just laying the framework of contrast.

Upon moving in, I told her the story of my chair—a street find that I kept around with the intent of re-finishing the paint, perhaps re-upholstering the fabric. Breathing it a new life. She mentioned digging out her chair from storage. It was from Paris.

I never needed to buy anything for the apartment. It was completely decked-out and suited with the finest cast-iron cookware, sofas, rugs and décor. The place was like a hotel.

Over the months of summer, she only had one class on Wednesdays. The rest of the week was spent galavanting around, spending time with her boyfriend, tending her beehive, traveling on weekends. The dog-walker would usually stop in twice a day to walk her dog. On multiple occasions, while she was out of town, her dog shit all over the living room in passive aggressive rebellion. I don’t really care (it wasn’t my stuff), but, once again, I’m just laying the framework.

To skip ahead, my health didn’t improve, despite my hopes. In fact, as summer progressed, my symptoms worsened. I was spending most days sleeping and my WBC (white blood cell count) report was concernedly low. Out of fear and desperation, I chose to crash with a friend in a rural part of East Bay, where I felt slightly better than the city proper. I gave my roommate 30 days notice after discussing my situation with her, and we agreed that, as long as a new replacement was found, my breaking the sublease shouldn’t be an issue.

I paid through the 30 days, even though I barely spent any time there during those remaining weeks. Aside from a few nail holes and a broken toilet handle, I left the place pristine and properly prepared. My old roommate followed up in emails, specifically requesting my new address so that she could send me my deposit.

I’ve waited over a month. I waited past the new subleasee’s settlement, and I’ve waited past my old roomie’s expedition to Burning Man. I bought a plane ticket outta San Francisco last week, in an effort to seek some peace and harmony, and I’ve been waiting for that deposit to assist me with the basics of living: food, shelter, medicine. I finally reached out. I inquired about the $2000 deposit.

I’m not getting it. Primarily because I broke the contract and left early, but, in reality, because of the larger picture: San Francisco is just full of assholes now. I completely understand that I should have gotten a written, contractual agreement regarding my situation. I made the mistake of trusting another human being. I made the mistake of assuming that other people have sympathy, and that other people won’t kick you when you’re down.

It’s not about the money for me. $2000 could really come in handy but thankfully my savings will keep my head above water a while longer. I’m just shocked that someone I believed to be a kindred spirit was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Despite psych talks of “letting go of the ego” and discovering the “interconnectedness of everything in the universe,” mutual realizations of the fact that we’re all just people—human beings on this rock—and that we’re all in it together… she still fucked me.

It’s like going to Burning Man and hiring servants. Or gardening in designer overalls. Swearing when cars cut you off, but cutting off others. Attending a concert, but watching it through your smart phone screen. Going to church on Sundays but acting like a jerk the six other days. Being an organic, healthy vegan but still eating vegan donuts. Hey, they’re gluten-free, right?

YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! I could say you’re being hypocritical. I could say that you’re claiming to live and be a certain way, but then your actions and choices contradict your claimed morals. I could say you’re being two-faced, that you only abide by your own said rules when it’s convenient, when they serve you. Instead of sounding the alarm of hypocrisy, I choose to say that, in essence, you’re just doing it all wrong.

All of it. Your life, your existence, your being. It’s wrong. The sound is wrong. The notes are disharmonic and the melody is out of tune. You are devastating what remains of the orchestra and you are literally destroying the music. I wish I could advise you to stop. I wish I could plead you to, “Get your shit together, or get out!” But the reality of it, the truth of the matter, is this: I can’t hear the song myself anymore. The original, whimsical Song of San Francisco is dead.

So before more time passes and I forget how to play my own instrument, I’m leaving. I hope to find a new song that I resonate with, so that I might carve a little niche for myself in the new band. Am I saddened and scared to leave my home—the city that I fell in love with years ago? To move away from my network of friends and compadres? Of course. But I’m more scared of not leaving. I’m scared of what I might become, and what I might never become. For years, everything has been going down in flames. The legend of the phoenix is a nice story but, in truth, some things will never rise again from the ash.

-K. Nova. September 18, 2015