Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

It was a fairy tale – it was all a fairy tale that i believed in, that i somehow magically wished to be true, to come true; san francisco has been a fairy tale in my mind for so long, and although i was shown that this tale was not true so many times, i wanted to believe, like a little girl i had to believe – it had become so real to me that i could not recognize that it was but an illusion. It was the dream that i craved though i never took the steps to make it real, and it was a dream i could no longer find, and came back to when i blew the others away or when they were blown apart by strong gusts of wind. it is a dream i could not name, but like a little girl reading a fairy tale i believed in it; and after the story faded away, and i was conscious of it no more, it still claimed me though i was not aware.

the ideal of Eden, of heaven on earth, the ideal of a place where if you could just make it to, everything would be ok, no not ok, but grand and alive. a place where you would suddenly and magically be able to thrive. And i realize now that i have spent the better part of 10 years searching for this Eden, and the searching and not building up, has left me in a purgatory zone. On one level i knew that such a place did not exist, but on another level, buried deep inside, it was a notion that i clung on to. like the little girl, the teenager of long ago, who would suddenly be allowed to live once she got out of where she was – and san francisco became a place it focused on. it was not only here, but also new york, but that dream was revealed for what it was, an illusion, a long time ago, And even the dream of the place was not really accurate, but a myth i chose to believe, a myth that propelled me forward in my youth and that i returned to when i could vision others no more – the one that held when others, that were more deep, but would require a greater risk, and the possibility of failure, or were said to be too tough, or i just couldn’t believe – were pushed aside. perhaps i am lazy and do not want to work, but i have stripped myself empty coming back here – it is a city, a nice one i admit, but it is not the fairy tale land of my imagination, and probably never was. Perhaps that is why i have been stuck in tourist zone all my times here – for to venture further would be to admit that this magical simple land really does not exist – that it is me, and my own actions that must create magic in a place. and that is it, this, when away, was one of those visions of glory i could hold, a light when all became dark around, the lighthouse that called me forth, and pulled me across the land. But as i wrote last spring, it is an imagined place, and that i have been shown time and time again – and i did not listen, and though i saw, i was blind. For it is inside and out that i must work to create the magic around.

Now i know it is not just my personal myth that plays in here, but also that san francisco builds itself up that way – as an international tourist destination – the marketers come into play, and the stories that surround this place in words and song, and that’s what fairy tales are all about. A place to visit, to be free, with hills and towers and fog that sails under a golden gated bridge to an amazing bay, with fisherman and trips on boats and even visit an prisoners island from which no one could escape. and the hills, and cable cars, and fanciful homes, and it is romantic you know – be in italy dining al fresco along columbus street, or imagine yourself to be one of the beats or across town playing in the summer of love over 40 years ago; the town is magical and holds that allure for many, but it is a fairy tale, a place to engage all those stories of make-believe and is not daily life – can it be? but then it would not be a fairly tale no more – it would actually be your life – and how to live one full of love and joy – this – the place per se as envisioned, can bring it on temporarily,
i walked down along fisherman’s wharf last night, on my way to visit the sea lions, and very few were there, and looking out at the quiet bay was when this hit me, that i had seen myself as a princess in a fairy tale and this was the magical kingdom that was my home. And it was there by the bay, that the illusions that had clung to me and the warnings i had received hit me over the head with a full force. i was not sad or angry, more reflective than anything, as i saw what had been presented to me so many a time, and asked just why i didn’t really see before – or why i did not remember what had been revealed to me.

I had gone down to visit that area one last time, to ride the cable cars once again, before the rain came in. i had wandered that day, to the ocean, a view of the bridge, sang with seagulls, and written about the turrets reflecting castles up on the mount of alamo square where that vision of looking down at a kingdom came to me – right after dull thoughts on how my life has led me to the tenderloin, and how i am no different from those who are cast down and i just pretend.

but i pushed that thought away, and later saw the light around. that night i walked down to pier 39, and saw the myths of san francisco again – i cut through union square and then china town – now just stores with cheap goods, which is most likely what it has always been, but I remember back when it seemed so different, before the proliferation of globalization and cheap chinese goods everywhere. we still come back, the banners fly on the street, and tourists smile; i went into city lights bookstore, the place that relives the mythology of the beats and for a moment you can be a hipster writer, and down columbus street, a night with chairs out on the sidewalk under heat lamps, few were around, and i cut through a quiet residential neighbourhood feeling at peace, feeling in fantasy land. And i saw san francisco as truly a place where you can pretend, make-believe you are living grand, and for a while, to visit, it is true. and the joy of those who pass through add to this place.

But it is a place to pass through i feel – for it is a city, one that is diverse, grand, overwhelming and expensive, and i ask myself what would i really do here. does the city as it is, in all its complexity truly bring me joy? What does the city life entail? And while coming here recalls my dreams, and the city represents the ability to dream, are they really held in this physical place. Yes i like the climate, even in the fog and the rain, the nature, the hills, the architecture, the transportation and common areas, but what could i contribute here? and how would i survive? and if i stayed, this place would no longer be one to imagine when i desperately needed to recall my dreams – or any dreams or visions. For it is but a place – that is all. and it can be a very hard place as well.

And it is a place i loved to explore – but i ask myself after all the times here, am i just retracing worn passageways – is it a passion that can hold? Can i stay and still explore, or are the two contradictory? Do i become jaded and exhausted by all? Is it a problem with stopping anywhere – that i must change my activities as well – and to what and how? and that is a question that eats at me.

While the city represents dreams – a place to be me – it is much more in the imagination than in practicality. And it also symbolizes the disillusion with them – as i see what this place is also about – for symbols are contested and diverse – and it is really a place in my mind or heart that i return to, one that does not hold – and the limits of this thought – that i could start living once i found that place – have been long shown for what they are – for life is what happens anyways – and i see the down and out of the tenderloin and others who do not contribute or plant seeds, and i see myself so clearly in them. but is here a place where seeds can really take hold, and plants to grow – and the answer in my heart, or is it my head, says no – and i am still not sure which is speaking to me. have i been telling myself no – or has the place and the universe been telling me so – and to that i wish i had a clear answer – i wait to hear, but i do not.

But with the disillusionment – it first came on when i briefly visited in my 20s – one summer trip – and the city was not that of my teenage dreams (and even those were a myth) – and i know once i ended up staying in the mission or soma (before it was called that) when nonprofits still could afford to be in town – back in my radical days – and i felt sad and yearned to move on. And when i came back in 2001 – the day before 9/11 – it is meaningful that i woke up to that here – at the beginning of this journey – and saw the city as a place for the rich, the tourists, and more desperate down and out that i have ever seen, and in the past 3 years i have migrated back here many time – with mixed feelings every time – liking it best when i can staying in my enclosed castle by the bay (fishermans wharf hostel) – and then i am enclosed. but the layers of the story have been written over time, and once here all come into being – the neighbourhoods and life of stability which has become so foreign to me – and like all cities, even with the common areas and diversity – it is a place where people pass by and do not interact – and i feel lonely here – but i do not interact myself – what to hold onto – and is the living vibe really me?

but am i called to the center – those faces that haunted me back in 2001, have become more real to me – and does this place also reflect the nightmare that has hung on to me for so long, as well as the dream – and are they two sides of the same story – the fairy tale land and the deep dark forest that threatens around? to be honest, both claim me here – and can san francisco be anything else? should it be?

as i write this i realize that it has been the haunting of that nightmare, of ending up alone living on the street, that has driven me and my travels even more than the dream – and that the two are so intertwined, inseparable almost. The belief that if i followed my passions i would end up on the street – but i only partly followed them, and often backed away, and am now kinda homeless anyway. but have i truly come to believe, that one is not possible without the other. is it really fear that has driven me all this time?

I think back to waking up here on sept 11, 2001 – and walking down on market street, that day and those that followed, when all the stores and offices were closed – and what i saw were those cast aside, living on cardboard on the street – and it recalled not only one of those intense nighttime dreams that i have had – the ones that take hold of you and whose remnants remain, but also of new york and going there to my dream, not just stepping over sleeping bodies as i made my way to the subway at night or into the first place i lived (which was i all could find, without skills in apartment hunting, huge deposits, or references) but which was sneered at so), and the martha washington hotel – a women’s residential hotel that is no more where i ended up, after moving around and getting caught in an illegal sublet – with both some low paid office workers and students like me, but also the older ladies in odd dress who asked daily for the mail or messages that never came, or the odd screaming from women on other floors, and the rats in the hall at night – but now i also remember being happy there – though i ran back home at the end of the year.

was it beliefs that were engrained in my when young, that if i set out, i would fall down bad, homeless – that it was best to play it safe, and not venture forth – and then the worries followed me. and i have been homeless for many years – and all i could hope for here – is a room in a residential hotel once again – and i see all those who beg on the street – not merely those who are so far gone – but the young and middle-aged who find themselves stuck here – penniless – having once sought out their dreams.

And as i walk around i am reminded of this nightmare, one that is probably more powerful that the dream – and i ask myself which really drew me back here this time – it was the need to dream again – to throw off the heavy weight that clung to me in Salt Lake – but i also know the nightmare was there – as the winter and the cold came in – and i walked through shelter land on the way to a gallery -not a diverse area like the tenderloin with so many of all kinds about – and asked myself what if i get stuck on the street right here where there is no easy way out and there is real winter? Just truly what was it that drew me here this time. San Francisco has come to represent both the dream and the nightmare so clearly in my mind – and in my heart.

This city is so complicated, no longer a simple fairy tale. And i am no longer a little girl – but she is still there – and she wants to believe in fairy tales once again – and occasionally she can – for a short while – until.

And i ask myself – have i always believed that i am only able to visit my dreams?

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I am getting soft, no longer as tough as i once was, as i became. I have been sleeping in beds and in warmth and no longer want to go back outside. I wish to avoid the cold, the hardness of the ground, and can not imagine living as i once did. I am longer prepared, and i am getting tired and old.
I no longer have the tools i once did – the tent is gone, the sleeping pad too. My bag is getting thin and another strap on my bag broke off too. I imagined Alaska and remembered it too, and then said the time for travel is over, and i just want to write.

I have felt that way but god puts me on the move. the places are booked, and i may sleep outside. I pray that i can do it, for earlier today, i told myself, that time is over, it has passed you by. But now so much seems blocked, and i have nowhere to go.

I survived one night out in the cold, but now i sit inside on a soft cushioned chair dreading the night that lay ahead. I slept last night, and sleep i did, listening to the sound of the rushing creek and feeling the fresh mountain air. At times i woke, feeling the hardness of the platform that lay beneath, no cushioning for my bones, and turned my head from side to side, my knapsack making a lumpy pillow. I adjusted the emergency blanket of silver reflective plastic, hearing its crackle as i moved it over my sleeping bag. And i felt the plastic of the tarp i bought, that lay directly over my head. Still the morning came, and i had slept and could sleep some more under the warmth of the sun, but my bladder called once again and i rose to greet the day. My knee hurt a bit from where it pressed down into the wood, my neck a bit kinked, but i was fine. And i started to wonder, is sleeping outside really that bad. But the night was fine, it did not rain, and frost or thick dew did not appear upon the ground as i heard it did the day before.

The times before when i was here, i slept outside as well. Once on the platform just next door, when the creek rushed even more. I had my tent, my home back then, but still i shivered in the night. I was tougher then, at least i think, more used to sleeping out in the cold. My tent was dry, and a blanket i borrowed, and slept well for much a time. I came back later, but it was June, and slept outside too. I no longer have that tent, or the thin thermarest below and my bones are starting to feel old.

She said to me your face seems different and others have told me that too. Am i calmer as they say, or am i feeling drained? The answer i believe is both, I went to yoga today, and she remembered me well, and i realized i have changed over the year. My body moved more easily, many kinks removed. I felt more calm, more serene and i realized i have let go. I feel the energy processing through, no longer as stuck in muscles and joints though still stiff in many places. But i feel tired as well, as if the energy is slipping away and I no longer as tough as i once did before.

Still the road no longer calls, and it did not then either, when i arrive in this place the first time over a year ago. I have gone in a circle but it is a spiral. I remember the mess that i was then, and the effects that wandering has. I have seen it on the streets as i have travelled for the past few weeks, and do not feel the strength to head out there. I feel the time is now, to set it all down, the stories of the road trips i have had.

The fresh air upon my face, the stars in the sky and the sound of the night bring me peace. The movement and searching i no longer seek. Still the rains will come and it will be time to move, to where i do not know. I have gotten soft, or maybe i am just getting old. But can i remain in the softness of the chair?

I slept another – or tossed and turned in the night. i can feel the effects of the hardness creeping up in my shoulders and back, still i return for one more night. But i am getting soft, and do not know if i can become hard again.

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I walked along the streets, wishing to go to Golden Gate Park, and for some reason unknown to me, to the Haight. I have been there several times before on my previous visits to this city, and each time left saddened, the place feeling off. I first went years ago, in the mid/late 1980s reminiscing of the 60s, the hippie enclave that it once was, the place and time i read about in my teens wishing that i had been there. I remember it feeling empty, devoid of people and life, disappointing to my dreams. I have been back a few times since, in the last few years when i have passed through the city, and remember the edgy vibe that i felt as i neared the park. But something drew me back. But that was then. Yesterday was a beautiful sunny saturday,and after the rains of the day before, the streets were full of life.

As i walked on my way there, through emptier side streets i felt the energy stream through me,still not totally understanding what was happening. I felt joints loosen, and expanding thoughts run through my brain, of connections with the day and the world at large. I felt smiley for a moment, and content with the day.

He passed by and told me i looked beautiful today and smiled in a non-threatening way. A compliment that was just that and i smiled too. He carried an old external frame backpack, a sleeping bag attached underneath, hanging just mid-butt where his pants were torn. I walked behind him and watched as he looked at a tree on the sidewalk and picked a few leaves, and towards the ground where wildflowers grew, i passed him as he stopped for another, one of the many small flowers in blue. At the traffic light he caught up and showed me the mini-bouqet he made, beautiful with a certain flare and i told him so. He says he offered five up a day, interesting who would accept and who would refuse. he did not offer me one, but i did not feel snubbed. I went to use the bathroom by the playground where a woman in a wheelchair sat in front of the sink and i saw a tear in her eye. She was out the door by the time i left. I noticed that beneath her skirt that would flow if she stood, that she was missing a leg. He walked up and gave her the bouquet.

I continued my walk through the panhandle and into golden gate park marveling at the shape and green of the trees, and the diversity of people who passed through the park. i entered into the field in Golden Gate park where the street kids and others hang out, a place where i have felt off kilter before wanting to get away from the darkness i saw there, and did now too. It was here that i said to myself a season ago that i could not continue to live on the edge, that i needed to act and let myself shine. My acceptance of myself and others, the belief that i am not bad for what i am slips away as i see them in groups – once again becoming the them. And perhaps because they are in another state – smoking a variety of substances in a non-smoking park, gathered in groups with their dogs, a girl with a huge beer before noon, talking loudly, swearing, stuff strewn about and i felt sad, though once upon a time in my youth i would have been drawn to that. I passed a couple sitting in front of their bikes with trailers, cycling up the coast, anything helps the sign said and i did not stop to talk, to ask about the journey. Another group, older, more grey hair, was down the path with drums and a guitar, sitting silent, a man looked at his watch, yes i can wish you a good morning – its 11:45. Then, as before i rejected that life, and lumped all together.

As i walked beyond the green, past the tennis courts, and to a path i love, i thought about it some more. How were those kids really different from those on spring break, clean cut, drinking and partying up a storm in hotel rooms, beside beaches. And how are they really different than the Saturday night crowd in club zone. And how are they really different than we were when we were teens, the suburban partying scene? Or even those who were glorified in the days of the summer of love?

It was only passing through the haight that i realized the difference. Many were strung out, but they seemed to have a sense of community. As i walked along the street, with the head shops, cheap beer and food, hippy clothes, and a few book and alternative stores i realize that as a teen i would have loved the street as it stands now – even with the chain stores – ben and jerrys, american eagle and others further down and the camera clicking tourists, and kids who have come down for the day. And i also remembered that in my reading, that there were always those who were strung out that it was part of the scene, and in my teens i would have loved to hang with those in the park. With those who dared to step out to something unknown and new, or some who probably had no choice but to set out. Do i set myself apart because i am no longer young, or because i see the effects of the wasted life, drugs filling the empty spaces and leading to an energy that is on the edge, an edge that strips the freedom many once sought.

Walking out of the park, by the tunnel, another man spoke to me. He too told me i looked beautiful – perhaps the peace of the trees had done me well. he was a black man, with greying dreads and half his teeth with two friends, who i had passed by before. He asked me if i was going the same place as he. Not sure where you are going i honestly say – figure medical marijuana or perhaps methodone maintenance clinic. He was about to reply but his friend pulled him away. They walked along, out of the park, onto Haight St. A louder energy – greating many along the way, asking how are you doing, yet edgy as one lightly kicks a bicycle.

Still they greeted many and i could feel the community that was there on the street. A community i have looked on at in other similar locales before. Still, he knew i was not one of them, though many may have more stable housing than myself. Still i think of the guy who first told me i was beautiful, who adds joy to the street, and a few of the people i have met along the road. And i pretend that i am different. Why do i reject people like myself, and in what way do i reject those who are in my boat and do not connect.

And he and the other who told me i was beautiful made me feel good. I walked along with joy in my heart, not just from that but within by the day. I went down a side street where the victorians are restored, and browsed a garage or really sidewalk sale in front of one of the homes. A well dressed man with neatly cropped hair dragged out two red plastic suit cases, and said to me with a sneer, love to sell these would match the red of your coat and waltzed into the house. But somehow, he is deemed acceptable by society while the others are not. And when in my denied arrogance have i put others down.

I think of the woman from my dorm in Monterey, who would not speak to me as we waited for the same bus heading up the coast to Watsonville and beyond. She wandered the coast as best she ccould. she had MS or a similar condition, maybe recovering from a strokem looking for a new doctor after hr old had passed away. As her body slips away, so too does her mind. She walks proudly with her walker and duffle bag on top, polite to the bus drivers to the extreme but she will not look at me an i do not know why. Stuff and piles of papers strewn around her bed and she sleeps fully dressed with her stuff around her waist, and looks nervously at all. Her eyes are distant as she struggles for dignity. And she struggle to preserve her facade, and sees that i have fallen too, and does not want to come near, to be associated with what she denies in herself. I understood, and just wanted to help her onto the right bus. And i felt sad that she would not see me.

And i think about the woman in my dorm one night in Santa Cruz. An older woman with a battered suitcase, messy hair, worn face and bruise on her nose, wearing layers and layers of clothes. She spoke to me as she ate – Bought rice from the chinese takeout, and burritos from the garbage. She admitted that to me. We chatted a bit, and as she went on i found it had to follow her speech, but i sat and gave her my energy and listened, She exhibited paranoia as she talks of conspiracy, but underneath i understood what she said, caught in a system that tries to strip away your dignity, and having been betrayed by others too hard and too much. She talked of hotels to stay on the cheap. she should be enjoying retirement but wanders on and on. She knew my life was similar though i tried to hold myself apart. I got tired and went out for a smoke, chatting with students from the Netherlands and a guy from Wales, she comes out and bums a butt, and the younger girls draw back and later ask it i knew her well. Met her tonight i say, and say nothing more.
And i think of the woman who snuck into the dorm – i saw her again the day i left. She looked familiar and not just the night before- i asked if we had met, and she said no -mentioned having lived there many years ago and in Europe and rushed to get away. I passed it off as one of those many meetings where you know you have met, but maybe not in this life or body. It was only when i got to San Francisco that i knew how i knew her.

And how many of us try to avoid one another, still carry on that thought of “betterment’ or difference when we really are all the same – people who want acceptance and recognition and most of all love. Our flavours vary, and the way we live, but we are part of the same dance, I took a walk today, to the park, and met and saw many on my way. A few stood out and i ask why them, but out the all two told me i looked beautiful today and from that my energy shown.

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I have come back to San Francisco and my energy seems calmer. I felt it becoming that way on the bus up and then on the train, once we had crossed the mountains from the coast. the mountains act as barrier not only to precipitation and the cooler ocean air, but to the energetics as well – for up and down this state the valley is different from the coast – in climate, in landscape and vegetation, and in mindscape. From santa cruz, bus 17 goes into san jose, one end of the silicon valley, and then i hopped on the Caltrain up through the sprawl that leads from there to San Francisco, of what were unique towns now merged together, but with little well-maintained tree-lined downtowns near the stations, and more. so i was already out of the zone, back into one of everyday living, of the day-to-day life – in all appearances pleasantly lived.

I came to the tenderloin – to the youth hostel where i often stay. And despite the misery that surrounds with broken down people on the street, i did not feel as bad – the energy dig not cling to me. Perhaps it is a different kind of homelessness here – one that is more desperate with people who have fallen so far. A misery that in some ways allows me to feel good, or better about myself at the same time i feel sad. I am not a druggy, and as i walk along i pass drug sales on the street, and what is smoked is not just tobacco or marijuana. A disoriented man stumbles down the street ” too much crack, too much crack here” And i stand somewhat apart – they know and i know – i walk by and am not approached in any way. The race is different, more african americans and their background seems different as well – do not exhibit the signs of the fall from the middle or upper class. And so many are physically disabled, with walkers or more. It is a desperation, those who seem so far removed, muttering, appearing as empty souls or have a chaotic energy that buzzes.

It is a place of those who come here and stay here, and many who will never leave, unless it is to this zone in another locale. And while this area inhabited by many – immigrants, tourists, workers passing through – it belongs to the down and out. yes i read about conflicts looming on the books, but for the moment this is their area. It is a neighborhood where people, no matter how poor or broken down or new to the country are accepted for who they are. It seems to be a place where people can be, are allowed to be. And in that sense it is safe. Businesses and services cater to the need of those on the edge – single room occupancy hotels, social services, food banks, churches, stores on almost every corner selling alcohol and cigarettes, and many laundromats are to be found. Yes, there are cheap restos, and a few real stores. And many of the poor, especially the newcomers, are not strung out on drugs, or on the visions in their minds. Despite it all, there is a life to the streets, people interact and talk or mutter to one another and store keepers seem to know many who come in. And i do not feel at all threatened here, for the energy is not one that connects to me. I try to smile as i look on, return greetings of those who say hi, and pass on through.

In Santa Cruz i did feel a connection with many, though I not allow myself to truly connect. I felt more akin to those who were there – of so many walks – those who sought out the good alternative life, who live on the edge, seeking (or once seeking) something that was higher, truer than what is offered by the mainstream. And there i felt the energy of all – of those who are living the good alternative life i thought that i should live, the one that i (half)believed was my due, and those who sought something beyond, and got caught, and of those who choose to live on the edge.

And it makes me think of the law of attraction which is bantered about so much, to me a simplistic view of the world, what you think/feel is what you attract, but with these journeys i see how like attracts like. How i feel strongly some vibrations, others flow through or brush by, and i’m certain there are so many of which i am unaware, and still other energy forms stand as hard a steel, i see but do not penetrate. In santa cruz i felt it all, similar, compatible vibrations, i felt the life, and i felt the judgements, both those of others, and those of myself – towards myself and towards others as mirrors for who i am.

Here in the tenderloin, i step back into my familiar role as the observer, and imagine myself outside although i know that all is part of the larger dance. And i feel apart – here at the youth hostel, and in the city outside, and in the area, i have talked to and connected to no one. A few simple superficial conversations, but so little that has sunk in. And while i feel less visible, i also feel isolated and invisible, and disconnected. When i was in a place where all rushed through, knocking me asunder, there were many who i chatted with and i did not feel so alone.

While the energy here does not bowl me over, i know that it seeps in – slowly and informs me as i inform that which is around. Today i went walking around the city, and then felt a sinking as i came into this area. The triangle forming the tenderloin can be a swirling vortex sucking in, a vacuum cleaner for the city, and while the pull on me is very weak, i, like anyone, am not totally immune to its sucking powers. It is an area of darkness, and i am aware of that, but i return once again. To remember? To forget? I do not know. But i come back, and see some of the light that is here, and try harder to shine my light while i am here. But it also waves over me, i see the soulessness, some of the walking dead, and i slowly start to despair, become heavier, and draw in some of the gloom. And then i make sure to walk out and away – feeling somewhat confused and very alone. For i know, that this is a place to visit but not to stay.

And i feel cut off, a feeling that began when i rode through the suburban zones, zones where the vibration is also different from mine. For there i felt apart, an alienation of sorts, a different style of life, that i relate less and less to. I am not apart from that, but it seems as distant from me as many of the lives outside my window, and the alienation is greater. I will write about that some day, for i am sure that i will pass through that zone too.

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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 head back
and i feel the vision that has been haunting my return
it had not spoken much while i was away
but it now comes back full force
and fills me with fear
and i though i was going somewhere safe

it is the vision of homelessness
that has been with me for so long
for that is what i am
and have been
and i feel the streets calling
and i remember the darkness of those places
and i remember the empty souls that stagger along
and i do not want to go
though the image comes to my mind
has off and on for years
and i cannot let it go
it comes calling strongest
when i am to return
like the time i came back
first from Mexico
then from Europe
i want a place to rest my head
i want to go home
i feel like i have been moving for too long
and once i return i cannot stop
for without a home
you cannot stay
cannot linger
or even sit on a bench
and i do not want to be dark
i want to be light
but i am tired
and i feel the stress return
the back seize up once again
no place to stay
move along, move along,
lord i want a place to be
where my soul can be free.

I edit this now,

i said i would no longer resist
if it is my place i will accept it
embrace it

I see the poor here
frayed shoes carrying babies
selling trinkets in the square
the old man sitting on the street
hands out

And maybe it is not just my return that haunts me
but a visitation to a land with the disposseses
a richer country
other places were truly poor
but there was not the gap
those who seem to be alone
looking on to the festivities
there but not there
and here i watch my money
so low
and do not sit on the square
and i feel it so.

But i have felt my call
to work with those who do not belong
and maybe it is time to answer the call

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