It is always good to have cashmere on the California coast. One encounter wind and sun, rain and fog, and one’s wardrobe need be as versatile as the varied microclimates of this magic place. 120 degrees one day, 60 degrees the next.
Of course, it is only magic if you let it be. If you let yourself be magic.
My whole family seems to be talking about my ex-boyfriend recently, a stunning human, German football-playing artist. Somehow they didn’t seem to appreciate him when he was around, but now that he is absent they feel his presence, even years after the fact. Crosses my mind what it would have been like to have a family that was supportive of my relationship, rather than judgmental of all they do not know. I wonder if that will be how it is with me, once I remove myself from this home that never felt to be. I am sure they will feel my absence, even if they are more comfortable.
My mother jokingly says we can stay up and drink tequila, the bottle she is putting in the car before she goes to bed in the guest cottage. I smile. I have never been good at keeping the mood light when I am not shining. And I felt these last days like someone was throwing sand all over my shine, until it finally just turned off. And now, this is when she wants to drink tequila. Not any of the other nights.
Everything I do my mother considers strange. Like cooking the last two cups of those $14 cherries from Long Beach that were still in the fridge, stems and all like they do in Portugal. I tell small anecdotes, like how in Portugal they drink a tea made of cherry stems. I also roast the rest of the vegetables in the fridge so that they will not go bad. Or else maybe just because I can. Because doing things like that make me feel at home.
We will all go in separate directions tomorrow, some sooner, some later. And then the chance is over. Those ten days we could have lived together, turned into 5, and now over. We never got another chance to work on her shoulder, too bad. Half-slept the afternoon away like a sea elephant on the windy beach, just trying to stay warm. I love that no one suggested we go home until after we had been there for at least two hours. That I would not have expected.
Expectations, those sources of suffering that they are. Expected that I had a family that was not just a snapshot thing, Expected it would feel different by now. But the black sheep still sleeps alone.
I didn’t want it to be like this. Didn’t intend to call in alienation. It just feels ultimately so palpable, a difference in value systems. And from my side I dare say I flex to fit yours quite often, and in return, my motivations are questioned every time. Anything that is done in a way differently than you. Invite curiosity, well indeed, yes please do.
The angular shape of this house I will remember. All sorts of open rooms and energy circulating, and then closed doors. Let us talk of dead poets. Who are you to say that what you say is important? All of you, all that difference.
I tried to share the best of who I am, and it seems too much at all times, and never enough to begin with. Please, let me fascinate upon you for a minute. I am not sure why. Is this avoidance? It just gives me a different flavor. Something that aids the digestion of a childhood dream I never dreamt to have as a child. But now I miss that it was never there, and remains absent. This sense of a shared vision, a shared life, the same finish line.
I suppose I am just coming to terms with our distance. We have always been different, but now we are far away.
Everyone has their red balloon. The thing that was lost. The thing they wanted to share.
Once again I am in San Francisco feeling like a homeless person. It is a strange resonance. You get somewhere that you can stay a while, but you know eventually you will be asked to leave and carry your bags with you. I want to tell you about it, that time I was homeless in San Francisco, sleeping on Market Street.
Right now I am at the Broadway Motel in Oakland. The Indian owners reside in a glassed off cubicle downstairs but all things said it is better on the inside than it looks on the outside, which is certainly preferable to the opposite. I may never know why I was not invited to dinner with my family, but the bottom line is, I wasn’t. So it is now another motel window. I am lucky enough to have light shining in. This place could be worse. I could really be homeless, and not just feel that way.
When I have more energy tomorrow I want to tell you about the last time I felt homeless here, at least the time that stands out, because it also relates to my brother who is now here with his family having dinner without me. Truth is, perhaps I prefer to be here, drinking my California Chardonnay.
The catch-up will also involve the discussion of earbuds. And box stores. Highways. Traffic rushing past and wanting to scream and smash screens. Watching people so content in their own little worlds. Too content. Too uncomfortable with the outside world. That is what is happening to some of us as we speak.
There are just so much with family. Maybe more triggers than history. As usual I am triggered by the amount of waste that is produced by this single family, an average amount of waste for an average family in America that still seems astronomical when expanded into a global population. So many plastic forks, so many takeout containers. Here I am basically hitchhiking along trying to conserve usable material in a way that is laughable. And yet, there is a loaf of bread in there. Almost threw it out with all the plastic.
On the beach yesterday I encountered a puddle of tar. How it came to be there, I can only now imagine, washed up to where it was on shore by the ocean. So plasticine and shiny. Malleable. Beautiful really. I didn’t know it was as thing in the area, tar on the beach. Little fancy wipes in oceanfront hotels for your feet.
This Chardonnay is so damn good. And this motel room perfect also. I don’t really want to be at the family dinner either, so how about that, the universe is perfect sometimes and we still insist on fighting it, out of principle. I go out to get water because what comes out of the faucet here doesn’t taste potable and the street smells like urine, probably also some feces. On this corner of Oakland people are still wearing masks unless they are sitting on the street with the broken glass. I get a big bottle of water and a smaller bottle of grape-flavored electrolytes and gift the latter to an old black man sitting there under the 7/11 starlight.
That’s the thing: we can make it look pretty on the inside, but that doesn’t necessary change the outdoors.
Still I am grateful. Thank you very much Lord, for this roof, this water, these sheets.
I am walking down College Ave at around 3pm and see a man in front of me with a bicycle. Securely strapped to the back are two books and a pint bottle of Jim Beam. The same kind of bourbon my grandma always drank. The man looks like he could be homeless, a Vietnam veteran perhaps. I slide pass him like an animal on the sidewalk and he doesn’t notice until I am past him at which point he rings the bell of his bike. I turn around and smile.
Moments later I am standing in front of a Thai restaurant looking at the menu and I hear a voice saying, See, I was coming here too, and it is this man who looks a little bit like God with his disheveled white beard. We both end up sitting down outside at different tables and I order the Tom Yum with Shrimp. He does the same, as he always does apparently, with a Thai iced tea and then I mimic him and we end up having the same thing at a socially respectful distance of about 6 feet.
Turns out those books are H. G. Wells’ non-fiction book of world history and then a book put out by the Smithsonian in the 20s about Science Fiction. I later find out that at Oakland Technical High School just down the street this man had a teacher of Science Fiction in Literature and has been a fan of the genre ever since. Right now he is living in Frog Park, which he says is like a vacation compared to Market Street or Golden Gate Park. Besides the books and pint on his bike, he carries a black cloth briefcase with some assorted papers and a cell phone. He is wearing carpenter pants, a hoody, and a baseball cap. Probably 70 years old, maybe more like 75.
He says he has a bank account, which even has some money in it because he is not paying rent. Has a job also, doing what I am not sure. What happened in between high school and now is also unknown but it sounds like he didn’t go to Vietnam because he said he’s never left the country. And the thing is, he shines. Shines like a new penny that’s missing a few front teeth.
It seems as if there is a separate class of humans emerging in this time, The Ones Who See. It is like that movie, They Live, the Sci-Fi flick by John Carpenter, where the aliens are infiltrating the human race and turning everyone into zombies. But there are those who see, when they wear the special glasses. We are them, wearing the special glasses, seeing each other even as everyone else around us just look at their screens.
Mr. Judd, his name is Aaron, is also a Scorpio. Born November 5. Though he doesn’t believe in Astrology, just Astronomy, he knows the sky well! Been sleeping outside most his life and knows one constellation from another, that’s for sure. I like sleeping outside too, though it’s been quite a while since I’ve done it on a park bench, and he agrees, it’s different for women.
Picked up his address on the way out. Picked up his tab too. I could be him someday. We could all be him someday. Maybe we already have. When I go outside his bicycle is locked up with the books and bourbon still securely attached. It’s just proof to what he said; he owns no valuable possessions. Doesn’t matter what it is, it will get stolen. So then you just leave it up for grabs, and what stays stays. What goes, goes. Everything really important is kept on your person at all times, and like this our life is distilled into presence. Whether or not we want it, we have gone forth. That is what it means to be homeless.
True story, I was a nun for about 3 hours some years ago. Had a Buddhist teacher from Myanmar that I met when I was teaching yoga at a meditation retreat. The moment of my ordainment came some years after I first met him and embarked on this journey of letting go of life that we all must do some day. And truly it felt like getting on a boat without really knowing where it was going. Then suddenly you’re on the boat, and you have this final destination, at some distant point in the future. One that you chose long ago but perhaps forgot since then.
When I met my teacher I felt like I just slid into the home plate of life. Something about pure survival and endurance. Enlightenment was far from my objective. And yet these unconscious ambitions kept making their presence known. So we do what we are told, as much as we can, and watch our lives change around us. I thought I would have to renounce love, partnership, family, children. Life in the real world. Renouncing the world in favor of enlightenment. Just getting a leg up on the process, formally deciding to let go of everything that will leave us eventually anyway. But I was also in love, not just with a man but with life. So then I spent quite a few years discussing this conundrum with myself and others (see Emotional Permaculture).
In the midst of all this I went to Myanmar and shaved my head. I was planning not actually planning on shaving my head, or ordaining, but there was cattiness as there always is between women amongst our ranks, and one particularly eager nun told me that I was not allowed to wear my hair wrapped up in a scarf for mealtimes. I was doing this in part to not call attention to my hair amongst a group of women with shaved heads, but her comments annoyed me so much that I decided to shave my head in spite of things, as a layperson. Only problem is, that act seemed like a universal gesture to all that I was ordaining, and in some strange moment of falling off a cliff (rather than jumping)…or perhaps being pushed…I decided spontaneously to ordain as a Buddhist nun.
When one becomes a nun they are given robes to wear, the same as all the others, and there is a ceremony. At the ceremony, among other things, one is given a name. The only thing is, I was already given a name years ago by my teacher, informally. In my mind I assumed this ceremony would simply be a formalizing of what already was, but then he decided the name he gave me was too beautiful, and it is not good to have a beautiful name because it makes one vain. Except then he could not think of a different one, and the ceremony ended without me receiving a name.
He said to me many things, and I said them back. I said other things as well. I was also silent. But in the end the robes felt so confining I thought I would suffocate and die. This was not my life. Maybe it was my life in another version of it, but now this was not right. So I showed up crying on the doorsteps of my friend the British nun and she just laughed with incredulity that I was standing in front of her, dressed as she, a nun.
The robes started coming off then, fairly immediately. There are few, so it takes some time. But before I got home that evening I was a simple layperson again, just teaching yoga to everyone.
Back to being homeless on Market Street. This was in the period of my life that could be entitled “Having Gone Forth.” This was a few years after having first met my meditation teacher, and I had just been deported from Germany for overstaying my visa. Landed in SFO with the intention of meeting up with an old friend. Was staying with another one somewhere here in Oakland. As I recall I was waiting to hear from said friend about trimming work up in Mendocino, because clearly I had no money and was sleeping on my friend’s couch and it was becoming apparent (as it does) that she was not too interested in me staying there much longer. At that same time my older brother with his very professional teacher job was at a conference in San Francisco, and was being put up at a fancy hotel that had countless stories of glass rising up out of a central glass fountain. I know, I rode up that elevator when I ended up crashing on his hotel room couch. Actually he changed his room for me, got one that was a double for the few days that we were roommates in San Francisco. I remember him being somewhat astounded by the fact that I was more or less homeless at the time. Of course, I probably could have figured something out, and did, that was him in that moment, but in retrospect that was a precarious time. I remember walking down Market Street towards the water and finding a homeless newspaper sitting on a bench. I think I had a keycard at the moment to whichever fancy glass hotel that was, but at the same time seeing how close I was to these people writing these articles, the ones reading them, the ones using the paper for sleeping upon.
Here in gentrifying Oakland you can buy a chocolate croissant for $5. Your fancy coffee costs another $5. Over time Aaron has found that Tom Yum and Thai Tea, maybe a cup of rice, that’s enough for the day.
one of my other outings was to the local aesthetician to clean up a bit. Her name was Keisha, she was white. Grew up in the same town as the Governor, actually, went to high school with him up in Marin County. Now she lives in Alameda with her family after years by Lake Merritt. Says she always wanted to move there, but the violence has gotten so bad these last years that they finally got up and did it. Says it’s been getting worse for a couple years now, since the Pandemic, since Juneteenth. the streets were just on fire, bombings, looting, people cooped up and exploding. Here on this side of this side of the bay, it’s different, can be rough. A fancy strip mall replaces a parking lot and the locals remain the same for the time being, walking around in schizophrenic expression, demanding expression by this entity that is ignoring them.
By the way, today is 20% off all retail.
Back in the fifties, she said, no one was drinking wine! Not that many people anyway.
I am drinking a Chardonnay from Monterey that has been in business since 1933, but they are some of the oldest in the business I hear. In any case those fields outside of Fresno were way more profitable in that time for raisin growing than wine. If anything, one could raise table grapes, Thompson seedless, but those canes you needed to train and prune differently, 6 inches apart in order to allow you to cut a whole bunch easily. They used to have to do that on the cold foggy mornings. Maybe before school. She and her family from Alabama Red Deer, and he with his Armenian roots. We are back in the Valley, temporarily, crossing the Grapevine.
So this is true also: My maternal grandmother by blood was an illegitimate daughter of Scottish housemaid named Mary McFarland who was working for a man up in Alberta and was not able to care for her daughter so she contacted her friends down in California, apparently they all knew each other from running cattle, and they came up to Canada and smuggled a baby girl into America, said she was born in Washington, and raised her like their own. She didn’t even know she was adopted until she was 18 when an aunt randomly spilled the beans and didn’t know she was an illegal alien until she was 21 and trying to get married. They almost deported her. Instead she went to Tijuana and was able to re-enter and naturalize.
My grandfather was in the area because he has been sent out to live with his Aunt by his mother who was afraid her husband would kill her son through consistent abuse. There are rumors that this man, this great-grandfather of mine from Alabama, was also a Klan man. His son, my grandfather, ended up joining the Army and going to Germany in World War Two. Later, due to financial difficulties, he enlisted again, this time in the Navy, and went to Okinawa for the Korean War. My mother spent some time there as a little girl. Rode over on a boat with her mother and her brother and at one point her brother got lost on the boat, her mother was frantic, turns out he was in the mess hall being fed cake by the ship’s chef. After all that my grandfather became a postal worker, walking around Selma, California, delivering mail and adopting unwanted animals. When I last visited him he had something like 15 cats, 10 dogs, one mule named Jack. A variety of pomegranate trees and citrus and walnuts. Spent most of his retirement money on pet food most likely, before he went bankrupt.
All of us, going forth.
He said he wanted to take her up to the Sierras, to mountains that didn’t exist anymore. A time that exists in his memories, and the rocks that surround it. She thought about it, was ready to go, and then he never came to pick her up, just left her there on the side of the road in Big Sur, waiting for her hero.
In the end she hitchhiked.