Places, San Francisco

City of Heartbreak

I smoked a bowl tonight, well maybe it’s more like a feeble attempt at sucking in smoke through a very tiny hole in my blue glass psychedelic pipe. I don’t usually smoke weed. And I’m probably one of few in a city where the fumes of weed permeate almost every corner, especially in my neighborhood, the Haight, where smoking weed and looking homeless (some say hipster) give people hood cred. But yeah, I don’t usually smoke pot. It does nothing much for me.

But tonight, I felt like feeling light. Like having my problems diffuse into cool mist, and then be able to dive into deep slumber.

San Francisco, beautiful and wonderfully varied as it is, is a city of heartbreak. Walking past the quaint rows of Victorian/Edwardian two-story houses, with an eye on the glistening ocean on all fronts, you slowly begin to realize the fragility of its beauty — and its ever-changing and unpredictable nature. If you listened carefully, you could hear soft whimpers of people’s hopes and dreams amid the rustling of the wind against the leaves or your hair. Of adventurers and torch bearers who stumbled upon the Western Californian coast — and found life.

It’s easy to fall in love with it, because it just arrests your heart from the moment you set your eyes on the sun setting behind the Golden Gate. It is as if for that brief moment, life transcends the petty problems we all face and becomes this effervescent lightness of being. You heave a sigh and everything seems to be all right — for that moment. Perhaps this is why people — like me — come half way across the world to seek our fortunes, hoping we can make a worthwhile life here, and hoping that we never have to go back to the inferior version of what we called life.

The thing is, there is always a catch. As easy as it is to fall in love, it is also easy to become disillusioned from the high expectations, hopes and dreams you invest into the maintenance of this euphoria. And the people who come here — all dreamers — give up everything in order to maintain that love, that high, that lust for the kind of spontaneity, the living, breathing kind of life that only the truly artistic, the truly creative, the truly sensitive can appreciate.

But naturally, not everyone who tries succeed. As Charles Darwin said, only the fittest will survive. The homeless, lost-eyed people wandering the streets of San Francisco are a daily reminder to us romantics that any one of us could end up a lost cause, depleted of our high hopes, our hearts aching of broken dreams, our minds ironically empty of inspiration. When we get to Everest, what higher mountain is there to climb? How do you sustain the same level of excitement at having found inspiration, life, hope and love?

Well, most just ignore the nagging feeling that things were not as pretty as before, that life has become a drudgery of another kind — one that requires you to play pretend, to put on a smiling face, a steely exterior that betrays the turbulence of emotions underneath. You must be gungho, always happy, always positive, always willing to pretend you lead a balanced life, a healthy existence. Everybody’s always running here — up the hill, down the hill; everybody’s always running. It’s a race to be the best, to keep your job, to keep that high, to keep your sanity, to keep your youth.

At weekends, people drink till they’re drunk and they can’t recall the events of the previous night. San Franciscans have made an art of the hangover, wherein it’s become an expected norm and an oft-told joke at a comedy club. Most use it as a way to bond where they otherwise can’t, because personal stuff is personal stuff — you’re your own problems, deal with it yourself. “We all have our problems.” But I believe it is yet another way to numb the torrents of doubt, disillusionment and disappointment they can’t comfortably express to anyone, and a temporary solution to erase the worries, stress and aches of soldiering on in the rat race.

Being the perpetual skeptic, I was aware that I had been running on adrenalin when I first got here. But in my mind, I would always ask myself this: “What’s the catch?” because there’s always a catch. If things are too good to be true, they almost always are.

With a racing heart, and high-strung emotions, I tell you I have found the answer to that question after months of being here. And that is that it takes a lot — maybe your all — to sustain a dream, because a dream is afterall a non-reality. If you attained it, it will cease to be a dream. It becomes reality. And reality is a hard thing to swallow.


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