samishii and nostalgia (mini-📝 4/100)

Biking around the streets of SF at night is always interesting (once I numbed to the fact that there are a bunch of crazy drivers here that have and will take out bikers). Something about traveling through the lifeblood of a city at night seems to enhance the nostalgia of everything around. Especially with the city coming back to live from the pandemic, the newly formed image of the city alive once again, but different, with the outdoor parklets and permanently shuttered favorites, sharply contrasts to the ghost town of a couple months ago. Because of the sudden change, it feels as if the apparitions of the past haunt the places where I've been—my memories tangled with the emptiness and the new, yet changed, energy. It feels like a different life time from the time before when I went. The tinges of the past color these physical places even as they change and shift beyond recognition. I pass the old dance studio, a converted warehouse with a single makeshift doorway set into the white painted wall. If I focus closely enough, I can see through the darkened street, into the open class space, the heat and perspiration of human dynamism fogging up the mirror glass. I pass the intersection of my former home, where the ever-shifting homeless camp set up tent for some respite before another forced migration, bright-eyed volunteers in bright red and white and blue t-shirts set out plastic tables and foldable chairs to get the vote out for the local elections, and I hurried past on early mornings (hopefully not in boots) to my bus stop to catch the 49, all the while frantically checking to make sure I had my badge, occasionally doing a light jog timed to the real-time schedule updates on my 3rd party bus app.

I can forget everything descriptive about a place: the name, the vibe, even the experience, except for when I come across it in physical world and something just feels familiar and nostalgic. It's as if a piece of it has stayed with me from the time, no matter how little, I've spent there, and the longer I spend the larger that piece grows. As I put myself into the world and leave breadcrumbs of myself, these places also take a piece of me, imbued into its aura, and in this way, we form a bond to each other, person to place. I've written about the concept of dilution before, the phenomenon of becoming more and more like the world around us as we expose ourselves to it and interact with it and simultaneously the world adopting more and more of us. Our bodies see and touch and taste, while our minds transmit and translate and process, while our souls experience and impress and connect. Each piece plays a part in bringing together a supernatural yet so so real moment. A present unlike any other, so abundant in detail, so deep in texture, so rich in flavor. We reach out with our consciousness to touch the Universe, and it touches us back in unexpected ways.

Samishii (さみしい) is a Japanese word for loneliness and emptiness. Specifically, I got interested in this term from this video where people use that term to describe the sort of loneliness that feels like a layer of emptiness has settled over an area. It’s as if the place has been trapped inside a heavy blanket, the liveliness dampened by default. The quiet streets of SF at night put me in a state, halfway between reality and the imaginary, where it feels as if I can recognize this layer sitting underneath the surface. The nostalgia bubbles riding to the surface to pop windows into the past. The dark water absorbing sound and life and inertia, designed to maintain the calm, the status quo. Sometimes this quiet, nostalgic state of mind is nice: long meandering walks along a paved park path traveling from beacon to beacon, sitting on a cool bed of sand listening to the waves sway and rise and retreat, the inhale and the exhale of the ocean and the moon, lying on a fluffy blanket nestled into a rockface with the limitless hubs of life and light and color dancing through the vast night sky. In the city, under the context of the recent devestation of COVID, it feels different. It feels like a reminder of how low we were brought—a constant fight to keep us anchored to the fear and uncertainty and shame that clouded our early quarantine days. I don’t want to be controlled by that fear or uncertainty or shame any longer, and it feels wrong to constantly bring things back to that frame of reference even as our courage is growing and our certainty is strengthening and our awareness is solidifying. We’re hardy, and we’ve adapted despite the tragic losses along the way. Although there’s lots of petty things we struggle with, that’s one thing we humans are good at. I’m ready to adapt to escape the samishii, to reclaim the present and the joy and the energy that is ours.


This is the 4th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here.