“I, myself…did not become alive until I discovered my invisibility.” -Ralph Ellison
On a clear day in San Francisco, take the streetcar out to Ocean Beach to discover a dramatic confrontation between city and ocean, where nothing at first feels ambiguous.
As the neighborhood unfolds itself across the sand dunes, my project was to unfold a story across this same inherently liminal and very familiar place. Those who have lived in this boundary-land, the true Fog City in my estimation, know too well that the divisions between ocean and land are far more abstract than any line on a map would lead one to believe.
Here, at the terminus of America’s westward expansion, the straightedge of a peopled continent dives deep into the frigid, inscrutable and incongruously-named Pacific. When inland summers grow warm, the differential in temperature draws a blanketing vapor across my birth-city. The ocean’s surface becomes the fog, and the fog changes everything.
Look closely where the lines of mapmakers’ are said to exist, and instead discover a rising tide as it churns and blends with sand and rubble. Observe sunset, as the earth tilts back against its star, and recall that the curved horizon is in fact the surface of a roiling sea. Walk alone down this beach in a general, no-visibility fog, to feel your body as borderless, contiguous with the luminous, enveloping oblivion and the droning, invisible surf.
Against all phenomena of nature, our lines and labels are feeble indeed, and it’s here in this foggy, blending space where I choose to place our war veteran. His experience in war equips him not only to embody the ambiguities which so many of us prefer to paper over, but somehow he appears to take comfort here, where the mere notions of purpose and meaning remain suspended and immaterial. In this space, the mightily reductive and unambiguous label of “war veteran” has no power over him.
This is black; this is white. This is old; this is young. This is victory; this is defeat. This is the past, and this is the future. Life in Fog City reminds us that the boundary between these categories is not so much a clean line, but rather a habitable zone. This is love; this is hate. This is good; this is bad. This is truth; this is fiction. This is life, and this is death.
This war veteran desires neither our worship nor our pity, nor will he capitulate any longer to our attempt to somehow resolve the eternal ambiguities with his body, much less plot a rash of categories onto him. Here, he is a “ballplayer” before he is a “veteran,” which somehow is a complicated proposition for the rest of us. We would prefer him to be a veteran foremost, subordinating the other elements of his identity for our convenience. But this shabby understanding is no longer acceptable.
This war veteran wraps himself in the uniform of the Fog. He blends with us, regardless of whether we choose to recognize his presence in us or not. And this crucial fact, I dare say, is unambiguous.
The film FOG CITY is available to watch here.