sfo: a playlist

poster scan from Wolfman Books
410 13th St, Oakland, CA 94612, USA

If there’s one thing I wish I’d indulged in more this last year, it’d be writing. Since coming home yesterday, I’ve uncovered a trove of creative projects, abandoned in a one-sided effort to be a better student, a better networker, a better employee: my third complete novel, musical motifs, outlined sketches. They’re a friendly sight, after a sleepless six-hour plane ride spent simultaneously celebrating and fearing a certain uncertainty. As I’ve mentioned to friends and strangers before, I struggle with linear motion—it’s easier to move and see things in imperfect concentric circles, each circle being a wider, undefined unit of time. Like trees, we grow not only upward but also outward, as a representation of experiences gained, interactions made, wisdom found, scars collected.

And yet each circle encloses the ones before it, travelling a similar curve at times closer and further from those nearby. I don’t think I could move back, to either city I lived in while there (though this doesn’t rule out other municipalities in the Bay). That’s why I was reluctant to move away in the first place after finding home in an unexpected locale and why I continue to view my current stay in Toronto as temporary. It feels, for the moment, like I’ve exited to some weird intermediary circle, smaller than the previous few, but one that’s stretching to contain them. A little melodramatic, perhaps? I am grateful, however, to have such vibrant and welcoming past abodes to take my next leap of faith from.

And since I don’t believe I’ll be reclaiming SFO as my home airport in the near future, I figured it was safe to finalize and share the following 20 tracks that framed every arrival.

Flight Facilities feat. Christine Hoberg – “Clair de lune”
I almost cut this track from the list after it started feeling more appropriate to play when leaving San Francisco indefinitely than when leaving anywhere else for San Francisco, where it originally fit. But the recurring “tell me it’ll stay the same / where we go, where we” lyric rang true in the summer of 2014 when I first committed (upon finishing my first year of college) to calling California “home.” Although the Bay Area and the GTA share many traits, unlike the more static suburbs of Toronto, much of the Bay upsets this with constant change.

Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds – “Go”
In a near-180 from the previous track, “Go” says “time won’t stay” and asks to tag along with the departed. Lately, events just beyond my control have been the best little shoves forward.

DOM – “Living in America”
Sorry, it was this kitschy track or “Party in the U.S.A.” and sorry, Miley, this one’s sexier. That being said, I first moved with low expectations which were easily blown away and exceeded by my time in California. I’m still not taken by the rest of the nation (perhaps less taken than before) and truly felt like I was living someone else’s American Dream.

ZHU – “Paradise Awaits (FKJ Remix)”
Three songs later, we finally made it to the Golden State with a Californian artist. #tyca

ODESZA – “How Did I Get Here?”
There’s a running joke among friends from California and B.C. (Before California) that I just woke up there one day. It’s a slightly long (and boring) story, but not entirely untrue. And because I avoid duplicating artists on the same playlist, I’ll reveal that this track did displace “Say My Name,” because although San Francisco’s “confidence looks good on me,” it’s a bit much honestly. I’ll probably keep falling for and dancing with it, though.

Phantogram – “Bill Murray”
“Are you lonely? / It feels like, when the day breaks, am I wanted inside? / Say goodbye / Do you feel liked?” I issue this disclaimer to most people I get close to: I’m terrible at keeping in touch. Like, you really have to initiate a conversation if we’re not within 25km of each other. I will actively miss you only when you’re nearby, otherwise I’m connecting locally—and it’s not personal, it’s just a side effect of remaining as present as possible. I find myself occasionally wondering “who do you really know here? who really knows you?” Although I guess that’s just a mutual understanding in someone else’s shoes.

The Cinematic Orchestra – “To Build a Home”
I picked up this track from a video of a time lapse of seasons changing on Upper Sproul, that’s all. (As uncomfortable as it was at times, I did ultimately feel loved and at home.)

Khotin – “Flight Theme”
… and when feelings happen, I inevitably choose the flight tactic to avoid confrontation.

Windsor for the Derby – “Queen of the Sun”

Vallis Alps – “Young”
This past year, similar-aged friends and acquaintances around me began dying. I mean, we’re all dying. All the time. But you’re not supposed to be dead already. Not this young. (I suppose this track isn’t as location-specific as the others, but a lot of the grief came from feeling helpless and/or geographically-removed.)

OneRepublic – “Counting Stars (Moseqar Remix)”
When we were bear cubs, the possibilities were endless and this track held a far simpler meaning. I just wish you’d the time to make more decisions, your hopes and dreams.

SAYCET – “Smiles from Thessaloniki”
Just a song that moves mountains and a tribute to Greek presence and resilience.

Dario Marianelli – “Attraversiamo”
I trust you’ll accept this as the cheesiest song on this list; Italian for “let’s cross over.”

Owen Pallett – “I Am Not Afraid”
Although Owen Pallett’s from my own backyard in Canada, I first saw him in concert at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco shortly; I also don’t know that I would’ve noticed the instrumental shift at 2:10 as acutely otherwise. I found more truth in his unconventional performance and lyrics… and arguably in that venue than its contemporaries.

COASTS – “Oceans”
Growing up, I always thought good and evil were two discernable things. But since then, I’ve only known them as inseparable counterparts. We live in a fractured world, fosho.

enoyak – “sea line”
The forward propulsion and stereo detail on this mysterious Japanese producer’s track became a recurring theme for every flight descent I took into the sea of Karl in the Bay.

Cherushii feat. Maria Minerva – “Thin Line (David Last Remix)”
One of my favourite undergrad classes at Cal was a Native American literature class I took as part of my minor. Cyclical time had always made more sense; I would spend too much time focussing on similarities and how familiar themes appeared in new places. It was a running joke that my primary trade was remixes. And that’s all we are. Remixes.

Sun Glitters – “Too Much to Lose (Niva Remix)”
As much as it made sense to move on, yesterday’s was the most difficult move (among many) I’d made in the past 20 years. The only other most difficult move was leaving my grandparents at age two. I joke about it often, but my abandonment issues do run deep.

Best Coast – “When the Sun Don’t Shine (Voyager Remix)”
Like everything, this quintessential first-year theme keeps remodelling itself and that’s fine.

Drake feat. Majid Jordan – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
I know what you’re thinking. But remember that “duplicate artists on the same playlist” rule? I put “Hotline Bling” on my YYZ list. And ultimately, the most recent version of myself is much like another theme on this SFO list: artificially confident, bittersweet. I also don't think I could ever stop feeling a need to reinvent myself, but the Bay will always be home for that one me.