On the Two-Year Anniversary of SF’s Orange Skies, Things Aren’t Much Better

Let’s focus more on small moments of joy.

I woke up late. I was frazzled, making sense of the mental detritus churning around my head. The unwritten notes concealed in the folds of my prefrontal cortex I needed to find, organize and ring out for an on-air audience. The time was 10 a.m., and there was construction going on in the adjacent art studio that I was working and living and cooking out of.

The sound was deafening; a symphony of nail guns and hand saws being used in tandem amid floor tiles shattering into thousands of sharp pieces. Thankfully, my Mission District studio was sandwiched between three other floors of unoccupied space, so I gathered my laptop, and AirPods Pro and hurried up the dilapidated stairs onto the roof.

Ash filmed everything. The smell of vaporized synthetics perfumed the air. The sky was not quite dark, but not entirely lit — it was, instead, martian-like in its orange hues that seemed to go on for forever.

There, sitting atop six stories above 17th Street overlooking an alien San Francisco, I dialed into KQED’s Forum radio talk show to walk about the Bay Area’s mass exodus of residents amid the pandemic, still skyrocketing high rents, and an entertainment drain from sheltering-in-place.

“Yea, it’s a word day to say that I love this city and would never leave,” I said, hiding the unsteady nature of conviction behind a small laugh. “The skies are orange, and it smells like smoke. Welcome to San Francisco in 2020.”

It’s such a trope to play on: I know where I was when X-Thing happened.

The media has used this narrative for 9/11; for Hurricane Katrina; when Obama was inaugurated; when Trump won the Electoral College vote; for, most recently, when Queen Elizabeth II died. But there’s something nostalgic and wrapped in symbolism about us San Franciscans remembering our city doubling as a Bladerunner set.

In a year punctuated by general unease, 2020’s historic wildfires existed as a watershed moment. When we were all internally asking ourselves what else could go wrong — the summer, alone, saw a worsening pandemic, police brutality, and increasing fervor around the presidential election that fall —  a dizzying 4,397,809 acres burned across California.

Wildfire smoke drifted down from the Dixie and Caldor fires on this exact day two years ago, showing us 880,000-plus residents that there were, indeed, more things that could go wrong.

Twenty-four months have passed since that day in 2020. I wish I could say I feel as if nothing else could go wrong. Or rather: I feel like things couldn’t possibly get any worse. The reality of our climate crisis-defined world has swallowed my optimism whole. Like a reticulated python working its elastic jaws around a large mammal.

Monkeypox has entered our conversations around viral public health emergencies. The Mosquito Fire has produced “volcano-like plumes” — and painted orange skies in Placer County. COVID-19 has fully entered into endemic territory. Could Trump find himself back in the Oval Office? Perhaps.

It’s not that I feel it’s necessary to suspend hope. That’s neither healthy nor productive; the human brian thrives on notions of yearning. But I do, however, believe it’s even more pressing now to find joy in small moments of calm, which soak our brains in serotonin.

My parents are in good health. My friendships are nourishing. My rent is paid.

There’s a new boy(s) in the picture. There’s a sale on heirloom tomatoes. There isn’t human feces smeared outside my building.

Today, September 9th of 2022,  the air was clear and the skies were blue above San Francisco. And that’s worth pulling the corner of your mouth up because of.

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