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  • By Ryan Oliveira

San Francisco


I leave San Francisco today. And it’s tough. I can feel how irritable my bowels are becoming, preparing for patients’ medication requests to see a doctor, get their eyes examined, get their refills - everything now, now, now, with no structure to really accommodate their demands. I can feel my confused heartstrings having to navigate my relationships once again. I can feel the questions stirring: “Why hasn’t he messaged me? Why do I still feel like crap? Why can’t I move on?”

On the positive side, I can feel the gears turn inside my brain. I better understand why San Francisco is the destination for Desire in a Tinier House – historically, geographically, even socially (in spite of its longstanding problems with displacement and skyrocketing standards of living). I’ve unlocked new ideas for revisiting a play about deep loss across oceans and cultures that I’m hungry to hermit myself into completing among the other plays I’m juggling at the moment that are in various states of dress.

San Francisco has made me hungry for life again.

It’s a little known fact about me: I dreamed of living here long ago. Before many friends ventured out here. Before graduating from Cornell, where I was steeped in the city’s history as a queer Mecca, an alternative answer to the New York City that would never feel like home. It was watching Mrs. Doubtfire as a kid. On repeat. The stunning vistas from Steiner Street. The man-made magic in the Golden Gate Bridge. How bright and open the west appeared to me. How ridiculous its run-by fruitings through Robin Williams and Sally Field.

Granted, San Francisco deflated many of those expectations. The Sun barely shined throughout my time. The public transportation defied my desires for clear direction. The city’s walkable, sure – if you believe in a hell consisting of multiple leg days at the gym for hours upon hours. The Tenderloin is a social tragedy. The city costs limbs, real and phantom, to live in. And is it me, or did all the tech gays look eerily similar? Call it Attack of the Windbroken, Bearded, Bespectacled Clones.

I confessed to my friend and his boyfriend, I crush easily. Get heartbroken often Luckily, I didn’t fall in love with San Francisco’s gay men. Or with the city’s microclimates. Or the fucking BART-MUNI-WHATEVER. I fell in love with…the unexpected.

I loved the neon lights and colors traipsing down the Castro The breeze whistling through the trees midway through a coastal forest hike in Alameda Falls. The surprise of a long lost friend crackling in the kitchen after coming back exhausted from an impromptu urban hike. The Oh-My-God turned Meisner exercise after running into a colleague from Conrell, not knowing she had moved to the city only a month ago. The discussions of gender non-conformity and sexuality that percolated every day I was in town. The AIDS Memorial Grove that reduced me to tears in its spiritual splendor. The breaking Pacific Ocean that was far too cold for a dip but calm atop my throbbing feet.

And the theatre. To be reminded why I write for it.

I saw incredible productions of La Ronde at Cutting Ball, turning a ten-person sexual roundabout into a two-person tango with race and class splitting the sides of costumes and among the audience. A production of Debbie Downers at Shotgun Players – an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters – was a creative remix of the original material. New forms for new times, yet a similar through-line of needing to surpass the nostalgic, to deal with the present best we can with joy and action rather than waiting and waiting. Channeling my inner middle schooler to bear witness to a new and queer TYA piece to tour schools in the Bay Area was a fun thrill. And talking about new work, whether it was mine or someone else’s, was a short stack of pancakes in my stomach. I felt inspired. The conversations I wanted to have about queerness in this interconnected world felt valid, unformed, messy, and welcome in this place. I showed my face. I went where invited. I planted seeds for artistic collaboration. (Here’s hoping they grow.)

Indeed, San Francisco was a particular connection to Earth – not the rugged desert of the southwest, but the promise of the forest meeting the sea. To see how landslides were shaping the Oakland Hills, how waves crashed against the cliffs of America – it’s a spiritual experience I can’t say I had before, even in Portugal. This place is always in flux. It’s always perilously close to falling. Slipping away. But we hold on. We make art. We go forward.

But let’s face facts: There’s no moving to San Francisco full-time. The rent’s too high. The almost-perfect blazer weather all the time would nauseate me. And I have my own seeds to tend to back in Chicago. But I requited some of what I lost in this town. Friends I never thought I’d hear from ever again. Visions of success atop a hill. Not quite what I expected, but that’s for the best. I can return to Chicago rejuvenated. Relieved, even.

I hope to return to San Francisco again. There’s something about this city. Despite its difficulties, its energy feels…familiar to me. Easier to navigate in my soul. And beating still for future plays to come. It’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own future as a playwright. As an incurable romantic. And as an explorer of the queer condition.

Maybe the future won’t be so lonely after all.


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Ryan Oliveira

Ideas.  I'm full of them.

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