I Kept My Heart in San Francisco.
I’ve adapted to this new city so reflexively that I’m startled by my own spartan hardness.
As if I must always be metal-edged and armored, brandishing myself daily to engage with the ferocious machinery this space has become.
I’m afraid that I’m using too much vital energy to remain in a place that I loved, that I was born in, and that, upon returning from other cities and abroad, I was reborn in.
I wonder what survival is doing to me, what my healthy boundaries are filtering out that could be sweet and easy and soft and kind. I wonder if hammering myself into the tempered metallic form that I feel safe in here ultimately serves me, or if I’m transforming into a relic of weaponry that will be outmoded in some new pitiless convulsion my hometown experiences.
I don’t always feel this way. On balmy late summer days, I feel a different frequency that reveals the eternally circling phases of life. Ouroboros-like, we can circle back over ourselves and view inchoate forms pulsating with reinvigoration and new elucidation, I think, illuminating what we were once and what we might be again.
On such a day, I remember a sultry breeze and a nectarine with such a succulent ebullience that when bitten, it rushed to overrun its pierced barrier, painting me with a nectar-spuming laugh. A Billie Holiday song played. I yearned for that instantly gentle, languid sweetness that seemed lost. I don’t know if the ache was for the lost city or the lost self that I was in it.
I wondered on that fervent late summer day if I’d become so fortified that I wouldn’t be able to be cared for the way I was back then. Trustingly revealing my vulnerabilities without guile or intent. When I thought that, I cried, rare and unadorned sounds mingled with Billie’s rasp, and it felt like the only meshing of voices and emotions for miles.
I don’t feel this way when I’m running in nature, or in other movement. When I’m assisting others move, and I can feel the space I occupy in the tapestry interweaving synchronously with the spaces of others. I think there’s an element of both ease and freedom that buoys me when the city feels like home. A grace that permits harmony.
I do feel this way often though when late summer acquiesces to fall, because I dread winter.
Winter feels like a span of arctic tribulation that pushes people here further inwards. Perhaps less in reflection or recuperation currently, but in a fiercer, harder battle of survival. Bodies clad all seasons in dark, pragmatic office colors become further muted, further encased, the vestments that enclose people into hard units of complete uniformity.
Contained and lit in the blanching light of a screen, heads bowed over them as if in prayer.
When the seasons shift, I find myself at the ocean. The same rhythms exist there as ever. In truth, the San Francisco that’s home to me exists in the wild spaces untouched by the glittering revolutions and callous transformations its undergone. The diaphanous veil of fog still breathes its corona over the hills. I find succor in the curved green land wreathed in an eternally mercurial but soothingly familiar crown of mist.
On the beach, the crows still taunt the dogs, playing mind games and toying with their frolicking, tongue-lolling obliviousness.
Did you know crows have abstract thoughts? I’ve just read on Scientific American that they understand analogies, it’s no wonder I’ve always enjoyed their company. I imagine what secrets are contained in a murmuring murder of them. I think of them as highly intelligent but confined occult practitioners.
Seagulls, in my mind, are mad, wild-eyed, sun-blind and sea-crazed mystics who trip on infinity and scream transcendental ravings, while crows mutter their secrets conspiratorially, coherently.
I spend a lot of time on the beach.
The chill doesn’t bother me out there, I could be wearing the thin sheath of running clothes and feel only exhilaration and refreshing freedom. It’s only in the city proper that I ever feel cold.
I see a physical response to the chill in the postures of the people here, brought here to work in technology, they seem bound in crystallized collapse, a caved-in posture solidified in repetition and illuminated in the polar glare of their dictating devices. Spines bending like the tall grass on a beach’s sand dunes.
The urban fauna has shifted too, I think. Demarcations of society are visible in the mundane, quotidian acts that once smoothly folded into the week.
Food shopping in smaller, older stores feels like I’m perusing in a calmly nestled grove full of various grazing animals, while the yawning expanses of corporate food emporiums jutting up on the hills seem like forests full of carnivorous predator animals swooping and angling with darting movements. Bowed bodies like an assemblage of hungry helixes whip into motion to secure satiated enclosure once more.
Each motion cannily formulated, an awareness of other bodies moving in space with precision in periphery. The ability to navigate without direct contact, predicting the desires of those around to secure their own with bloodless efficiency.
It’s not lost on me that these days the oceanside feels like a warmly interactive realm and the metropolis is viewed with the lensed convexity of Jane Goodall’s binoculars.
Seeing the city this way pains me, it’s oppositional to everything that I loved about it, everything I love about observing people and engaging with them. I adore seeing people as multilayered, forever intriguing lattices of complexity. While my eye glances in brusque appraisal and I communicate my eye’s cull of kinetics and color laconically, I don’t diminish the interior medley all people contain.
However, within this city, the communicative allotments for the collective have been greatly obscured by a corporate culture that broadly appreciates practical homogeneity. I think that’s a fair observation, and not an assessment of interior. Perhaps that’s the main shift in the city that I’ve become sensitive to, the concealment of self behind unassailable parapet, a city embalmed in emblemed mantle.
Perhaps it’s my neighborhood that’s had a more seismic shift, which impacts my view. Polk Street was once ribald and raucous, a riotous burst of Bohemia that now hosts the whispery tremors of hushed colors, movement either swift and decisive or hunched in tech-torquing.
Of course these are broad strokes, impressions fused with my own quick movements, propulsive and escapist, that blur areas that feel frigid. I blend the icy exteriors with the crushed cobalt of dusk and the warm gold of sunset until the palette is palatable. The opalescent light of the Bay reflects steel-shelled glass towers that have now erupted along streets once lined with ambling pastel promenades.
I admit to nostalgia and a revisionist eye, and I know this is just another iteration of an ever evolving city that’s always caught the attention of risk-takers seeking the lilting glint of gold or the muted glow of silicon.
I love the power this city has to inspire, and I know not every form she’ll take will resonate with me. Simply because I can only see a monochrome exterior doesn’t mean that there isn’t a brilliant interior that shines with the most dazzling innovation.
Perhaps that’s it, a city that once proudly boasted a myriad hues now conceals its creations behind somber-toned walls. Beauty that conceals itself in unyielding perimeter may not be intuited in absentia.
I have sympathetically reflected this, engaged in tonal isopraxis. White-knuckled, I grasp my place in my home city, I endure, I withstand, I try to help where I can.
I try to help people feel more fluid and at ease in their bodies, supported by the structure of their form but not bound by it.
I still need to work on the balance, sometimes I spend all my energy on others before I enclose myself in the stone walls of my garden. Maybe even mirroring the city’s martyrs and isolationists in my own cycles, reflecting the city I love in subconscious, ritualized facsimile.
I’ve decided that in this moment I will try to be my own color as vividly and truly as I can, to help where I can, and to have boundaries as adaptive and protean as the city I love. A city I will always have come from, but now I see, I may not always be headed to. Perhaps in her cold contractions, San Francisco has taught me to see myself, and not a city, as a home.
Maren Zweifler enjoys teaching Yoga with a focus on free movement and intrinsic shapes, emphasizing spinal fluidity and innate, primal posture. Deeply inspired by movement systems that embrace nature like Sridaiva and Continuum Movement. He completed a 500 hour certification in SF and has taught both there and in Austin where he honed his skills teaching private classes tailored to the individual needs of his clients. He created a wellness/yoga program at a non-profit. These experiences allowed him to explore both the unique individuation of the physical experience in one-on-one sessions, and the commonalities of the human form that can be witnessed in large groups. You could connect with Maren on Instagram.