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Archive for March, 2010

Yesterday i wrote about the mean spirit in santa cruz, and today i saw its opposite at the homeless “fair” – one stop “shopping” for a load of goods and services – or at times appointments and waiting lists. Still the place was full – full of the homeless and near homeless – the young and old, some you would see as street people, worn clothes and unkept and others who you would not imagine as homeless if they were not there, (for we are not all fitting a single description and often just look like your (poorer) neighbours), getting forms and fees waived for replacement ids, haircuts, information on transitional shelters and their waiting lists (though you had to ask around for information for the one winter seasonal emergency shelter) and dental care, and eyeglass appointments (if you had “lived” in Santa Cruz country for at least a year), and the sign for employment had info about a resource centre, and there was bicycle repair and lunch and sign up for voice mail or a mail box, and info for alcoholics anonymous and substance abuse services, and how to get a savings only account at a bank and i felt overwhelmed, and ended up with pieces of paper for i do not have a place to stay, even to wait out a waiting list for a place. And then…what.

There are many workers, many who want to help and i can see their frustration, and some of the good programs set up, for Santa Cruz has many – they estimate about 4000 homeless and the services to go with it. In some ways, Santa Cruz could be a place to stay in order to use the resources and i was tempted. But to get tangled into the complicated net, the self-perpetuating web, which really has no way out – to be helped by the system but then to get caught, one temporary “solution” to the next, and back outside, and another line and another form to fill (are you in the target group, and will they get their funding) and another waiting list and another series of appointments and then maybe, just maybe, something if you can fit yourself into the box. And while there is kindness, there is no solution – high unemployment, low wage jobs, a crazy cost of housing so that even many of the well paid workers find it tough to live.

And there were the volunteers, members of helping organizations and many churches, the salvation army and more, and those who served the food and the one who took time to talk and you could see the caring aspect of this community. Those who truly seek to serve, whose eyes do care, who give of themselves and not just to feel better about themselves. But it was a “trade show” or “consumer show” where people were processed through, yes with kindness, but still moved through the line. And there was so much and so little at the same time.

The fair took place in the civic center – a large room with tables set up and confusion – and not knowing the system i felt overwhelmed. I heard about the fair the day before, when i arrived in town and wondered if that was i was led here, why i came – time to face the facts and reach out. It was overwhelming and difficult to go to. I Began to shake and cry, and despite all the services, there was no one to talk to – line-up everywhere, moving efficiently and doling out services. One older woman wearing a cross saw my distress and talked to me, listened, and i could see sympathy in many eyes – but here there are so many on the streets or part of the hidden homeless. The older men serving lunch of spaghetti, rolls and iceberg lettuce salad, offering second helpings wanting to ensure all had enough to eat, smiling and serving.

Still i broke down and left feeling worse than i did when i came, hopeless and feel bad about myself. Feeling broken – i took a walk around the block, crying, wondering what have i come to. i went back, asked about mental health, and there was little, in the area, services for addictions, a waiting list if you had medicaid, etc, and someone to hand out a pamphlet. And i felt like i was breaking down or breaking through, i did not know what. When all around, most seemed calm.

And while there is the caring, a plethora of services, there are loops to jump through. And many of the services inadvertently serve themself. Yes, the sweet woman who invited me to the soup kitchen, and the other man who talked about it, run by church groups so it seems, but so many are dependent on people being down so that they may serve, and it seems that way with the established organizations. Yes, many truly helping, but others just as caught in the web – for all it on and all is connected and interdependent, and the helped and the helpers foster dependency on one another. I felt sad, i felt unworthy, i felt sick, i felt shaky. I cried alot, inside and out.

And today the fair is over and life goes on. Yes, many on the streets here, many helping, and many not liking that all this exists. Some were helped, food and toiletries given, ids to be received, a few things set up and for some it will change how they live but for most it will not, and the agencies will be busy and those seeking help are counted and documented, and some feel better and some feel worse. And it was a day. And i felt overwhelmed, and something inside shifted, but i do not know what.

I felt confused, not only in the place that overwhelmed, but inside myself, and with where i am going and what i have become.

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Santa Cruz, California – the town of the “no” and of control in order to maintain a blissful existence. It is a town where you fear a ticket or more for a minor infraction of the law. You do not dare jaywalk or smoke on the wrong street. It is a beautiful downtown area with wide sidewalks, trees in bloom, tables and chairs in front of restos, and painted, restored buildings with tasteful facades, and full of progressive stores – organic market, on the way in a yoga studio and more. But it is regulated and the liberal oasis comes at a cost of constraint, and it makes you wonder what is meant be liberal anymore.

On the sidewalks, several times on ever block, are fresh signs informing all of the municipal code – no smoking, no alcohol, no dogs, no skate devices and no bicycles on sidewalks. The no smoking is new but the rest has been around for some time. The first time i came here was Halloween a few years ago, when there were even larger signs advising that fines were doubled or tripled on that day (as there were to be festivities in town). So the niceness seems forced, somewhat unreal.

 And while it flies in your face here, i have seen it elsewhere, in Nelson BC, beginning in Victoria and to a lesser extent in other California coastal towns (and i have not been to Boulder in 24 years where i hear it is much worse). But it seems to be endemic to “progressive” granola towns – that wish to regulate all – to maintain an oasis of good, of peace, or something.

On the one hand Santa Cruz has much alternative spirituality and lifestyles, but on the other hand i can’t help but think of it as a cruel place, a mean place, a place without spirit. At least by the signs on the street. But you also meet many who are open, and you wonder about what kind of conflict brews beneath the surface. And it is true, you see a fair amount of people with backpacks and suitcases and more hanging or living on the street – the homeless the street kids and more. But why the war on them (us?), and why are people still here and coming when the cruel policies of the town have been going on for so long.

And i have wondered about this in other places, years ago in Victoria – the street kids mecca in canada – where as the liberal town cut back, and had more limits, more no trespassing signs on alternative stores selling hemp and natural products, a town that removed many public benches etc, and as the services for the homeless were large, other policies were mean – as was here first. And you feel it. But what is the draw of these places – are they ones that claim the light – that there is enough light to shine, and those who come are drawn to it, like a plant or flower bends towards the sun or the way moths gather around a light. Believing that there is enough to go round and wanting to share in it.

Or are those on the street to show and be the shadows help the people reach enlightenment. It is in places like this that i imagine this scenario though i have never actually seen it as such – a well dressed eco women in stylish hemp wearing natural makeup and fairtrade accessories steps out of an SUV on her way to the natural foods store gets angry at a young dirty cigarette smoking youth in second hand nikes eating a donated big mac sitting on the sidewalk with his beat up knapsack for polluting her energy and messing up her bliss.

And i say to her – perhaps this person is here to help you reach enlightenment, to reach nirvana. Yes, inner peace is easy when you are in a comfortable place, warm and dry, with a sufficiently full belly of wholesome food, surrounded by loved ones. Yes, it is so much simpler then. But even Siddhartha left the palace, and went out into the world where there was suffering, no longer wishing to be imprisoned in the golden castle, hidden away, and then only achieved true enlightenment, where one is at peace with all, with everything. And compassion, loving kindness, loving one another, remembering that all are one is part of it. And perhaps they are here for you to practice on.

But the streets are also full or the dark shadows – not the run down poverty and decay of too many towns, or the gangs and graffiti that plaque too many streets. But a reminder of our society, of what could happen to all, or the downside where people are dirty and unkept and run down and at times plain noxious. Any could it be otherwise.
But there is also something with wanting to control the behaviour of others, or forcing people to conform to “our” standards and the more i have travelled, and been in hostels and other places, the more that i realize that people will not always act according to your expectations and that you cannot live your life trying to get people to “behave” – that just as you cannot control life you cannot control others.

I wrote this last night and then i was tested, and once again i understand how the closededness happens – for i am not any different from those i criticize, and maybe that is why i criticize so much. For i do not have the generosity of spirit if i am disturbed or bothered, i myself do not reach out and help all in need.

Last night i was asleep in the dorm, grateful that the woman who i thought might snore did not (again thinking about myself) when after 1 am there was a loud pounding at the door. Again and again and again. At this hostel there is an 11pm curfew after what time the door code shuts off and you cannot get in. Instead of being sympathetic and concerned about a person who was locked out, i became annoyed at the noise, the incessant pounding and her loud voice when one of the guys in the other dorm let her in.

She was not registered, did not know the code, and was coming in, long after the office and the dorm buildings closed. She said she had paid that day on-line which i knew was impossible because you must do it three days in advance. I became worried about my safety and the safety of my possessions. I did not want to complain (but inside i did), the office was shut and it was raining. I became annoyed, and was not generous or nice – and then i questioned myself. Why do i not do as i preach, a generosity of hospitality, welcoming the stranger in the night, opening your heart and home. but even i, who lives on the edge was closed of heart, and self concerned and stingy more worried about myself than about another. Getting uptight for infractions of the rules.

And i lay there, not liking my feelings and emotions for it spat in the face of what i just had written. For i am not pure, i am closed and therefore maybe i can feel compassion for those who are closed as well, who do not give. I see myself as different, but i am the same as both, as the person who sneaks in in the night, and the person who turns them away – and if i can hold the contrary sentiments within myself, then what change and justice can i expect in others.

Did i become this way because i had earlier sensed that energy – or rather the blocked and hoarded energy that does not flow? Or did i pick up on that energy (when there is actually much positive and giving around) because i possess it within? Or both, for i remembered a time, some years ago, in another hostel, a large anonymous hostel, where another had brought a guest into the dorm room, yes breaking the rules, but again i was not open of heart, tolerant of another, pissed off instead of welcoming – and again it was on the same night that i had pondered my fate and imagined myself camping out on someones land, and wondering why they would be upset if they were not using it, if i was only sleeping. And god tells us to be kind, for it we all truly were, then we could live in peace and harmony. And how many open their doors in the night, and how many have given me a break and how grateful am i. So how to open up my heart.

Yes, maybe she had been out partying, maybe she was high, but she needed a place to sleep and i did not welcome her – even though i know too well it could be me. I tried to justify to myself, telling myself, if only she had snuck in earlier, or quieter i would not mind – but would i have. I exposed myself to be just as self protective as those with the large empty houses. And why – what is it that i really have to lose – what skin is it off my back? She sleeps, in a warm bed, clean after a long shower, and i should have been nice and helpful to her. But it is that energy that keeps me in my place as well – that closes me – for if i do not reach out how can i expect others to reach out to me. And the closedness and fear breeds itself and no amount of meditation, yoga, organic foods and fair trade can make a truly “great society” if we do not get beyond it. And that is the lesson i have had to learn here.

After i wrote this i still spoke up, tattled on her to the manager and feel bad inside – for i should have helped. I let her sleep and worry about my stuff, my ragged clothes, the broken down knapsack, the thinning possibly bug infested sleeping bag, and i think how narrow and sinful am i. After all, that is just stuff, things, material possession, oh so few, hoarded here upon the earth, and that is a person, yes, banging at night, but someone with who i could share my heart, but i showed myself as stingy.
And how to change it – what i have done, and this is not the first time, but the first time i admit it in writing – that yes, i have been selfish while expecting others not to be. May i learn here, own these feelings, not press them down and deny them, but transform them, and truly live by what i say.

I finish this in a coffee shop, one that welcomes the unwashed who come to buy a coffee, sit and chat, where they smile and serve though you might carry a backpack. And there is much of that here too, kindness, services, help to others, and a desire for light. May i open my eyes to see that – the hostel that exists, appreciate the stale donated food, the information, those that serve. For in this place, in santa cruz, the contradictions come into play – the dance of lightness and dark, and to shine the light, and believe in it though the sky has turned to grey.

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I walk along and around, something i have been doing more and more of the past two weeks now that i am back in a zone where i can, where people do and where it seems safe. At first it is liberating but then the walking takes over, my legs move back and forth and i go. I walk. Initially it calms the mind and releases held tensions but then it takes on a life of its own. I am no longer connected to what is around, but am in walking zone, a zone of movement without pause, a zone that is not still. Perhaps it is walking on the return, or zoning out into my mind. But it becomes an action onto itself, self-perpetuating, and i keep on moving even when i feel i should stop – do not take the time to look or listen or feel or touch. Finally, when i am tired, or beyond the comfort zone, i rest for a while, but it is not the same as when i focused on the world around or the true spirit within. It is a restless sitting, one that is not still or focused but rather remains alert and on guard.
Still, i like to walk. I feel caged when i am unable to do so, when there seem to be few places to go, or that are safe to be out alone in the world. And i crave the walk, the ability to get up and go, stretch my legs and move. I was frustrated in Central America by the lack of walking, though most people used their legs to get around. Still, it wasn’t safe in many areas to walk alone, or so i was told, and i limited myself both within the towns and cities, and out into the countryside. And how free i felt those times i was in parks or areas where i could walk alone, especially in nature, and how free i felt my first days back here. I had felt caged and constrained, but was it really the danger outside or the lack of walking. And i think of other times in the countryside, working on small organic farms, in areas with few trails, in places where people do not walk, and i also felt contained, or in areas dominated by cars where it is unpleasant or dangerous to walk as the road is not for you. And yes walking represents my freedom.
And i have felt the walking taking over, becoming a life onto itself before – and i think it is not the walking per se, but the wandering, wandering like i am doing now. On other travels, especially in cities, when i walk blocks and blocks and blocks looking for something to eat or something, buzzing in my brain, or even years ago in montreal when i would wander, wander down the streets, not really knowing where i was going but often finding myself back in the same place and space. At times it has become frenetic, when i have felt constrained, and then been given permission to walk and have felt that i must, that i must move my legs – left, right, left, right – and walk for pleasure, although the pleasure was not there.
At other times i have loved the walk, be it on a special trail or along a beach, or to and from work or school, even in the wind and the rain – stretching my legs, greeting the day, unwinding after a long day inside. And it is a movement i love, and i am grateful to be able to do and that i miss dearly when it is not available. Maybe the difference is the times when i am walking with direction or interest or clarity versus those times where i am merely wandering or pacing (though it may be over large distances) Not ambling, because then discoveries are made when you step out or stumble into a new area or street and mind is clear and you are open and aware.
I think i have gone back to wandering, yes that which is in my name And i wish to walk, but forward and around, not pace back and forth in circles. For walking has its own energies that it carries with itself – and the intent is felt and it can intensify the energies within. I sit now, will ride a bus, and then walk.

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At times i think that place is just an illusion of the mind – what we see and what we imagine. Yes, places distant, be they around the corner or around the world, are what we see in our minds – and when we arrive they are not always what we thought, or if we have been there before, have elements that we know that we had seen before, but had forgotten about in our minds. But places are not merely memories of the actual, of the emotions or experiences we had, but are also creations of the imagination, symbolic creations – built upon by a collective memory or dream.
I have returned to California, the bay area and now the monterey bay, and it is a place that has loomed large for me, and for many. The old cry of “go west young (wo)man” – it represents a newness, a chance, a different way of life, an opportunity. It is the land of warmth (yes, even here for those of us from colder climes), the left coast, the place of alternative spirituality and ways of living, the place to go. But is it? Was it? I am in Monterey, where Steinbeck’s writings fuel the tourist trade, writings about a harsher, wilder land – a land that once was.
As California grows, many also leave, disillusioned with the life here or battered down, or it becomes the other, the land of excess and poverty in its midst. Of living large, of actors living on a stage, illusions declining into bankruptcy, a land of decadence but also holding on to what you have, of guarded safety and gang wars. It is a huge and diverse place, in the landscape and the population, and it called me and now leaves me blank.
It represents the place i was going to go to in my youth, a love affair i once had, and one that i have been shown many a time was a delusion, or maybe it wasnt – just a moment in time. I have been back and left several times in the past few years and i wonder why i return – a lack of imagination on my part, of other places calling to me? A clinging on to a dead dream, one that does not call or excite? I have strolled that city, it too plays on its history of people searching, searching the riches of gold or life, a different way from the gold rush to the beats, to the hippies that are the base for walking tours. Or outside the city, the new age, something more. But also, since the time i arrived in 2001, Sept 10 to be precise and woke the next day to a plane crashing into a building on the large screen, i have seen the harsh side, the poverty, the dead souls and some spirited people who walk and sit on the streets.
But what was the call – it was not the place per se – it was something more in my mind. Was it to come north – the el norte that existed in the minds of so many further south, still a land of dreams and transformation, a way out, not seeing the scraping by that it would entail. A freedom or a return to the familiar? But now it seems so created and constrained. I once felt that i did not belong, was not allowed to belong by others, but now i see that i was only partially right. I do not belong here, but it is not the others who determine it.
But i look around, and do not trust my imagination – it goes in circles, and calls me to circles of where i have been before, holding onto something that may or may not have once been there. I think Alaska – but the north as the new frontier has called before, the new land of chance, Oregon which once represented a glorious coast and opening of the mind and grey, the east represents a conventional life though i intellectually know it need not be that way, for all exists in the mind, and to be in the now is the key. And what does my imagination call, what does it see, and what does it create.

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Pacific Grove feels old. It is not merely the age of the people but the feel of the place. Few children are to be seen, and grey hair predominates but it is not that. It is an energy to the place, one that feels stale and stagnant, not rushing and moving like the ocean nearby. The main street is cute, independent restos and bakeries and little practical and it reminds me in some ways of a new england town. Yes, with warm sunny air at this time of the year. Trees line the boulevard and small upkept cottages with gardens and tended lawns line the side streets down to the water. But there is a conservative air to the place, one that makes you feel that you should see tweed despite the warmth of the day. It is nice, and nice is the best word to describe it.
Maybe it is the heritage of the place, its beginnings as a methodist camp, a town that remained dry for many years despite it proximity to cannery row and the drinking there in days of old. A liquor store now sits on a corner on main street, but the staid feel remains. Maybe it is the conservative dress, loose jeans on older women and loose tshirts and fleece. And there is a flaccid appearance among many who walk or even jog by on the water – not necessarily fat or old but loose skin, not taught as energy has slipped away. Yes, many women are post-menopausal, and i sensed that energy, but it is not always part of aging, for among them you see vibrant souls though the bodies appear worn with time, and you also sense the old slipping away energy in some that are chronologically young or middle aged.
It seems to be a safe community, one where you can sit or walk your dog in the middle of the night, though you may be questioned on what you are doing, that you are not posing a danger. But it is safe, but a safety that feels constrained, like life is not bursting out, not dancing with joy – no a middling contentment, and one that lets energy slip out.
There is life nearby though, and flowers and trees in town. By the water the dunes are a riot of colour with yellows and oranges and a variety of purples as wildflowers bloom. Seagulls fly, harbour seals swim and watch the people and sit on rocks by the beach where water is calmer, and further out the water speaks with waves washing up on the rocks.
In the afternoon, at the point, lovers point, life dances or more truthfully picnics, with families with kids playing, and barbeques going, and people talking and laughing, many latinos or other immigrants or tourists, the languages vary, but there is joy on a sunny saturday afternoon. Four blocks down and a different world, and different than it appeared in the morning.
The energy in the downtown, a cute downtown made me sad in a ways for it is an energy i have felt elsewhere on the coast, in my time on the oregon coast, and when i was back east closer to the great lakes and in the rust belt. And it makes me feel the slipping of america, the energetic force fading in the search for comfort and security and safety and predictability. I do not sense a zest for life, a can do, we will make it work somehow, in some way mentality that i sensed more in central america and maybe among those who have come and now work the low wage jobs here in California. Is the flaccidness the physical manifestation of complacency. But it is not just that for there is good – clean streets are maintained, walking paths, parks, space and safety and a sense of beauty and aesthetic appeal. It is smooth, not at all rough around the edges, smoothed out and bland and calm. It is proclaimed as an ideal community, and maybe it is, but to me it seems frozen in time.
What is ironic is that it represents the peace and quietude i craved for so long on my journey through bustling places of noise, chaos, smells and movement, of life lived loudly and to the extreme. Is is possible to have both life and serenity?

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I write this entry sitting in a coffee shop in a grand hotel at the end of cannery row in Monterey. And i cannot help but think that Steinbeck would have never written the works he did or receive his inspiration in the cannery row of today – for it is a cannery row in name only. In reality it is another tourist zone in a location by where people once did hard work and lived on the edge, inspired by a reality that was rough and yes, smelly. And yes, here, it is inspired by the famous works of the famous author whose books are sold all over, and whose quotes might be found on colourful banners or flags. The place is colourful, not so much in terms of the characters on a sunny Saturday afternoon, for it is mainly families visiting, shopping in the tourist stores, eating the chain and vacation food – ice cream and here seafood, some of which is to be found mainly in tourist zones. Yes it is alive with people smiling and enjoying, but a different type of liveliness than im sure once existed. But this is what it is today, a play place and a marketed destination. Behind the row, away from the water, is a clean bike and walking path where people pass through, clean with no garbage or smells from the back doors. The seagulls still hang around, and a seal or two, the few sea lions seem to be by the main dock down the way where clam chowder is sampled from the restos that line the pier. It is now a place where people visit and play not live and work, though some do, still in low wage jobs. and it has been transformed into something new.

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i am in monterey – a place i was two years ago and being here brings back thought forms and emotions of the time. in some ways all that has occurred in the time lapsed seems to be erased – all that i have experienced, the places i have been, emotions processed, people met, seems but a blur. The time spent here two years ago in some ways seems closer than the time spent say in Oaxaca which was but two weeks ago, or even in San Francisco, two days ago. How time and place (or space) are so intertwined, and at times almost inseparable like a single zone in one. And i feel like i have returned to a zone, and in some ways had never left, like it was a separate me who had lived the other life.
But in some ways what i entered into was a zone not linked to place a all – it was an energetic zone that cuts one off from place, space, and all that surround, it was the stress zone – the one that is so intense, that the body begins to hurt and back clenches and what i call stress bubbles or knots return. It is a zone where one is encapsulated by something other, something pressing that will not let go and takes over the self so that all else seems so distant and unreal. Where that energy is more real that all else that is around.
Today (or yesterday by the time this is posted) i shopped for this machine – riding city buses through what is now surreal landscape to me – housing tracks – spread out for the military and for a school, down highways and into enclaves of big box stores surrounding large parking lots. In one area i walked down streets devoid of people, cars and houses was all you saw. And on the bus it is the poor, those going to the VA hospital, the handicapped, and the latinos who work the low wage jobs visible in their black or khaki cotton or poly pants and non-slip black close-toed shoes. I felt alien of sorts. And the zone possessed me in the library where the guy at the desk was helpful though i could not tell you what he looked like except tall and with dark hair. For the stress zone makes you somewhat oblivious to all.
I went to Carmel to try to relax but could not see – only the shiny cars and the high ratio of 50+ year old blonds, with money but not looking too content – more of an east coast vibe,with the matrons out. And the dogs – for it is a dog friendly place. It was a beautiful day – high 60s, not a cloud in the sky, flowers abound, smell of trees, and a strong breeze on the white sand beach. I lay there, heard the loudness of the waves, the roar of the ocean which did not comfort and felt the sun upon my face and the sand blowing, but i lay caught in worry, in grief, in indecision, in regret, not being able to truly be there. And i know i have been in that zone plenty of time. I walked back up and caught a bus, not looking in any of the galleries or expensive stores on my way. I did not know which bus would come first, but it was the one that took me out along the strip mall, motel, fast food and chain store boulevard to the big box stores so i knew it was time to break down and buy.
I walked the huge parking lot, into Costco where i cannot shop (not a member) to check their prices and they were about the same – the huge overwhelming warehouse with the oversized grocery carts. and then i went again to office depot, a sterile, quiet environment and this time there was someone who asked if i wanted assistance – i had already decided on this machine – and it was the same price everywhere – and i stood in the computer zone under bright florescent lights looking for the longest time. and then back on the buses.

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