this piece was written in january 2014 as a reflection on a five month journey i did not choose to take.
on august 7, 2013, i was—together with the two other members of my home—evicted from our upper haight flat in san francisco. the building had been sold, and the new owner decided they wanted to move in to our apartment, a space that had been my roommate’s home for almost 30 years, and mine for three and a half. i have spent the months since august living in other people’s homes, doing some housesitting, but mostly relying on the generosity of friends offering their extra rooms to me.
this piece is about the effects of displacement, about living in transition. it was read on January 17, 2013 at Campfire: Eviction Ghost Stories and Other Housing Horrors, an event organized by Adriana Camarena’s Unsettlers: Migrants, Homies, and Mammas in the Mission District, together with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. A video of my reading that night can be seen on the Campfire website. it was also read at the Red Poppy Art House on January 18, 2014 at the closing of Mona Caron and Dustin Fosnot’s “The Mission Condition—Outwardly Mobile” collaborative piece.
My story was also featured on KQED’s Priced Out, and I participated in a discussion, Artists, Galleries Displaced Amid Tech Boom on KQED’s Forum on March 7, 2014.
NOVEMBER 2014 addition:
I was interviewed by a Japanese reporter covering the boom and accompanying housing crisis for the Tokyo Keizai paper.
i have been living as a sort of ghost for the last five months. this taurus girl born in the year of the ox, a creature of stability who thrives on sanctuary, i was forced out of my cozy home in the haight in august, a place i would have stayed indefinitely if given the chance. uprooted, not feeling much more than the shell of myself almost half a year now, i have floated from one generous friend’s home to the next. ironically, the mission district building that has given me the most stability—the one in which four of the six units are occupied by friends, and where i have been welcomed into three of them in this period—is on the verge of being sold. there all of the residents live in a state of dread of what will happen next for them, and on some level i am an uncomfortable apparition of what is most likely to come. a lot of attention has been called to the displacement of artists, and yes, there we are artists, but most importantly i think, is our common denominator of having shown up as informed and impassioned activists at struggles from those for the rights of people with AIDS, to demanding food security, to protecting sex workers, to protesting the wars and nuclear power and economic injustice and climate change, to burning effigies at gay shame rallies, to participating in city-wide riots and mourning over the dan white verdict, to joining occupy, and on and on and on over the 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 years we have lived in the city.
two out of the other three homes i have stayed in are owned by friends, people fighting for rights of refugees, a nature-based artist, a san francisco-based writer who firmly planted the presence of the google buses in our consciousness and discourse lest they simply slide by morning and evening, day after day, without us noting our outrage. i am glad these friends own homes in this city that i, and they, love.
as i spend a month here, two months there, i keep my food in a box, my clothes in a bag, shoes in a black plastic garbage sack, some books i thought i couldn’t live without in my office, my bicycles in a neighbor’s garage. and my plants? i line the edges of the rooms i stay in with my belongings. i didn’t use closets, drawers, bathroom cabinets, kitchen shelves for four months, knowing always i am a visitor here and subconsciously trying to erase traces of my presence all the time. i am the kind of person who typically unpacks her suitcase when traveling, or unpacks within hours of returning home to really settle in. i feel the tenuousness of my existence each time i scrape the edges of a room clean in moving to the next space.
each time i change my living space, my perspective and orientation to my world changes. i feel ripped from my normal fabric of understanding of and integration into my community, my patterns and paths have to be relearned again new. i have only been to yoga two or three times since august, i have found it hard to stick to a meditation schedule, and i stopped my weekly acupuncture visits, even though i live much closer to the clinic than i did before. these are most useful to me now, and it feels difficult to explain, but holding a routine—outside of one for work—requires a certain settledness which i just don’t have.
i have felt myself withdraw from things. i am less available for friends and community. i find it hard to initiate things, following along for now. i have watched more tv episodes—foreign murder mysteries mostly—in the last five months than i have in the last five years combined, perhaps preferring even dead peoples’ stories to confronting my own. i hear myself talk about myself all the time, most often about my displacement, but also stories about things that happen to me, as if to find some way to verify that i exist here. most jarring, when i reflect on it, is how i, an activist for decades, feel impotent and have lost the fight in myself for this very issue i have been affected by.
there have been some gifts in the process, i want to say too. for two months i stayed with my former dance collaborator who i used to rehearse with weekly, giving us some good catch up time. i helped another host make some improvements in her garden. i was treated often to delicious and healthy gourmet meals at another home. dozens of friends have kept me in mind and sent housing announcements my way, so much so that i never once had to brave craigslist searches. many generous offers to stay for a weekend, or catsit, or housesit were made, for which I’m very grateful.
fundamentally, displacement is disruption of the human experience whether it be due to economic pressure or war or natural disaster or oppression in any form. the current mass disruption is hitting artists and activists the most because we have found creative ways to inhabit the cracks of this city, because low rents allow us to—are even necessary to—fashion a life beyond the status quo, on the edge of what just “getting a job” means. but i don’t want to haunt this city or be an invisible statistic. i want to continue to experience the magic of SF that brought me here originally and firmly plant my feet in to the experience of living here.