Mesocosm

"A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us." – Franz Kafka

Goodbye San Francisco, Hello Berlin

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A great heat wave descended; it was a beautiful day, the sun turned red at three. I started up the mountain and got to the top at four. All those lovely California cottonwoods and eucalypti brooded on all sides. Near the peak there were no more trees, just rocks and grass. Cattle were grazing on the top of the coast. There was the Pacific, a few more foothills away, blue and vast and with a great wall of white advancing from the legendary potato patch where Frisco fogs are born. Another hour and it would come streaming through the Golden Gate to shroud the romantic city in white, and a young man would hold his girl by the hand and climb slowly up a long white sidewalk with a bottle of Tokay in his pocket. That was Frisco; and beautiful women standing in white doorways, waiting for their men; and Coit Tower, and the Embarcadero, and Market Street, and the eleven teeming hills. – Jack Kerouac

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Ah San Francisco, Queen of California, long have you inspired the romantic with your fogs and shadows and your golden light. Next month I’ll be leaving you after calling the Bay Area home for eighteen years.

In that time I’ve watched my adopted home fade like a richly-colored photograph left in the sun, gradually desaturating to a monochromatic sepia. One by one your artists fled and your bookstores and studios closed, while pour-over coffee shops and startup incubators crowd out … well, everything else. So many of the renegade physics PhDs and T.A.Z. anarchists, the immigrant avant-garde dancers and sclerotic acolytes of cacophony, the noise musicians and the street punks left, while the techno-utopian left-libertarian programmers have crowded in.

I moved to San Francisco in the April of 2000, a refugee from a year-long foray at the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies program in Charlottesville, where Jeffrey Hopkins was in the process of winding down his career. It didn’t take me long to learn that I didn’t see eye-to-eye with the new head of the department. Nor did I love life in Virginia – despite its natural beauty, it was hard to feel at home in a state that celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day.

So I jumped at the chance to take a room in the last affordable house in Potrero Hill. I packed my books and sent them cheaprate post and moved with a few bags of clothes by train on a five-day journey that traversed the gigantic continent; a fitting externalization of the equally-momentous internal journey I was taking into a new world. A few days after I arrived I spotted a bumper sticker near the Panhandle that read “Honk if You Love Borges”. A few days after that I made a joke about Werner Heisenberg at a party and everybody laughed. I knew I was home.

Two years later I was practicing daily, and then living in, the San Francisco Zen Center, studying in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind fame. A few years after that I was working as a staff writer/researcher for the drug information website Erowid. Then came life working for Facebook, then I joined Oculus.

I saw the midnight sky above Big Sur when to be young was very heaven. I once (momentarily) stymied Jeffrey Hopkins with a question about Madhyamaka at a conference in Boulder Creek (“If emptiness exists only conventionally, what conventional consciousness certifies its existence?”). I was in a book group with Mark Zuckerberg and recommended he read William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience (he did). I debated the ethics of gray-market psychedelics with Sasha Shulgin in Costa Rica. I ran into Blixa Bargeld on the street not once but twice.

In February, Mrs. O’Cosm and I will pull up the roots of my eighteen years and crash land in Prenzlauer Berg, and then begin the reportedly arduous process of finding a permanent apartment. I foresee a year of logistics and bureaucracy, of intensive language study and disorientation, and professional sabbatical. I look forward to sharing some of the highlights with you.

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Written by Mesocosm

January 11, 2018 at 11:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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