Saturday, September 21, 2013

Marinwood to Vallejo, CA: From Milky White to Multi-Hued Part Two

Our farmers' markets period,  lasted 3 or so years for Patrick, and for me 2, plus a lot of breaks for winter.  At a certain point I thought "what the hell am I doing, with this messed up back of mine, those pesky degenerative discs, feeling terrible physically after the day?  But I feel so much merrier after a day spent with  our vagabond crew.  But when the rains came, these markets were truly awful affairs, and my sweetie stood out there a lot in the pouring rain, getting colds and pneumonia, which he is prone to. Over time these illnesses became more frequent, and he looked like a dead man walking. More about this later.

We moved to Vallejo, kicked to the curb by the great bank frauds of the late 2000's, after losing my home of 29 years, with two days to spare before eviction (me? me? me of the former 801 credit rating?).  I had lost all hope, and if hadn't been for Patrick they would've had to carry me out on a stretcher, and all my worldly goods (instead of merely a huge amount) would've been destroyed or stolen by the contractors hired by the new owners.

Here I now live in the house my hero husband found at the last minute, before he, the cats and I were required to live in our car or some cheap motel for a while. It is a beautiful home built in the Crafstman style; painted white with perfect blue trim  in the Heritage District of Vallejo. I am literally surrounded  by gorgeous homes of all sorts -- Victorians, Craftsman Style, Bungalows, Cottages.  I am stunned by neighbors who will greet you first, or respond eagerly to your greeting, beckoning you across the street. I am so taken by the beauty of this town, and its spirit.

Vallejo?  Sons of Anarchy-Ville?  Cognitive dissonance, dissonance indeed.  Here I am in a place I have always looked down on and been afraid of, having a merry time indeed. We are so close to the water; our climate is perfect, so much cooler than the the Marinwood area, which fried like my old home-town of Merced.  I've finally made the leap out of the frying pan and into a perfect maritime climate -- the weather alone makes this a terrific change.

But oh, it's the people.  For one thing, after my mom started working, for years we had a African American baby sitter, Neva. She played with us, she loved us, and we were brought up with the privilege of sharing love with a wonderful woman of another race, whose memory I still have in my heart. So in Vallejo I am delighted by the company of many people of African American descent, and I couldn't be happier.  It must show because everybody smiles back!

I feel like I'm home again. My town was more like this except for "the other side of the tracks" -- wonder if it's still there. I have to fight certain instincts, though.  Whenever I see a certain sort of elderly African American man I have the urge to jump in his lap.  And I now call people "brother" and "sister" and boy, do I mean it.  I feel at home.  I'm not a freak here -- the inherent joy of this culture draws me like light, and to be flying in it is wonderful.. Home.

Of course there are raw parts of town, places where you don't want to go.  I'm not sure where they are, but I would certainly like to be told in case I get lost, to which I am prone.

The Heritage District is where the brilliant homes were designed for Vallejo in its Spanish and then Naval boon-dock days.  More about those days in articles to come. 

I didn't think there would be many resources for us, suddenly among the "poorest of the poor" (ME?), but there are. Social services, food stamps, health insurance so minimally priced that I can't believe it, and a fairly good medical clinic with the basics just blocks away from us. After being the first city to declare bankruptcy some five years ago, it is pretty empty.  There are some might fine houses the banks are holding onto -- speculation for when the prices go up. The town is filling with artists, craftspeople, bohemians -- perfect.

The good women of the town, headed up by Ms. Adrienne Waterman of "Food Rescue", have instituted a system which I believe should be brought to the attention of other communities as a way of feeding the hungry and rescuing food which would otherwise rot on the ground.  It is a wonderful thing to see.  After the farmers' market, the vendors bring their perishables to about 5 designated houses in the city, and do the people come.  I've read so much about the problem of food wastage because of the lack of migrant laborers. Well, there sure are plenty of  people with a desire to serve their community, and there definitely is extra food. I am not too proud to say that we have used these resources ourselves in times of need.

This little ghost town is brimming with life, with neighborhoods and lush trees -- the kind of neighborhoods I grew up in.  Maybe that's why I feel so incredibly comfortable.  And where I come from, the small town of Merced, CA (in those days, only 20 thousand people lived there), in my neighborhood there was a similar sense of unchecked friendliness of goodwill.

Who woulda thought it?  Vallejo is my new home town. I fought loving it here like some fight a new love affair: "Yes, yes, I do like you but I won't love you. I won't." And then it grows on you, the appreciation of the beauty all around you. Since moving here the half empty town of store fronts have filled with the art of the townspeople, but there are many spaces longing to be used.  The people are so gracious!  Eventually my resistance melted as the pleasures of this place force me to understand the sterility of the locale I'd just been nuked out of.  And yes, I'm in love with this place; I just can't fight it anymore. Many of my friends just do not understand, and one dearly beloved friend spent time combing through rental property in Marin for us! It would cost us an extra $1k/month to be 20 degrees hotter in the summer, and as a friend across the street put it, "I wouldn't trade 'cute' for black people ANY day.

Come on over and check us out!  As said earlier, the arts and crafts scene is huge here, and the town is filled with bohemians, artists, Burning Man people, and Renaissance Faire and Dickens Fair types. The prices are fairly low. People here try harder; they truly do. But that's our little secret.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Marinwood to Vallejo: From Milky White to Many-Hued, Part One

I have never been so frustrated in my desire, my need, to communicate with the outside world.  This desire has been aggravated for many months. I've been working with an outdated stack of Lenovo laptops, and there's always something brutally wrong with most of them. I am not innocent of stepping on my poor router, or spilling water on my best of the bunch, or of innumerable viruses brought on by stepping on a link that looked harmless and wasn't. As I write this, I begin to think I was the main offender! Fortunately I have had the ungrudging assistance of my friend Pete, who has conquered every wretched virus I have brought to him.

How? I asked him for his secrets; he looked at me blankly. "Your ability to fix these damned computers!" said I. His response: "I just push buttons until it works." This man is the epitome of a friend. He's got a girlfriend now, and I try to take less of his time. Hence the long absence which has driven me insane -- whoa, wait a minute  -- I already was!

So this, coupled with utter poverty, has hampered my ability to communicate from my new perch in the world.  Funny that I have landed in Vallejo, CA, the one place in California that I have had (though never actually exploring it) NO desire to live in, never, ever, ever.  The very name gave me the creeps. The very thought repelled me. And now here am I, having an extraordinarily good time in this, the most diverse town in the nation. Also a town ridden with hard drugs, predators, poverty and is one of the places that most people just don't want to go near.

Although it has been a matter of nine months, only until recently have I understood that I was undergoing a long-desired mutating process.  My former home, Marinwood, CA, is a typically suburban part of pricey Marin County, though in a more humble area than Mill Valley, for example. Property values have decreased dramatically -- at a certain point, my home was valued at about $1 million. Ha!

Until the town pulled together the Marinwood Community Farmer's Market, led by the extraordinary Kelly Smith, there was no place to mingle among one's neighbors. I'd lived there for 29 years, and barely knew the people next door, more's the pity. My point is that suburbia tends to be sterile and isolating. In our neighborhood people live in their boxy little houses on virtually treeless streets. When walking around the neighborhood there is little, if any, eye contact or greeting. I stayed at home pretty much all the time except when I had things to do outside as I felt like a freak of nature. Even my mate tells me I am oddly regarded by people and am vastly eccentric. Hell, I don't know.

Fortunately, for the last few years I experienced the joy of participating, with said mate Patrick, in the Community Farmers Market, which drew a relatively few people out of their homes. It was still fun, though, as I was finally meeting people. I couldn't actually work (spinal issues) but I could talk to my neighbors for the first time ever.They were all a fine bunch of folks and I felt much less freakish after a while. Being genuinely fond of people, I enjoyed helping to cultivate a sense of neighborhood.

We all found it odd that few came down for the finest fresh food in town, and joked, because the population was becoming more elderly, that we should start doing body counts. I do not people were many, if ANY, people of color there. And you know what that means: that there was no soul in that town, ah no, baby, no soul at all. That the only bit of spice in town is a Saturday farmers' market with great live music (I'm talking to you, handsome Bill Hansell)!) is a sad sort of affairs.

And then my life changed, utterly and forever. To be continued ...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When the whip Comes down *

Time to report in again as I want to discipline myself re this writing thing, even it is just an occasional "woe is me, alas and alack!!"
I've been living in  the San Francisco Bay Area for longer than I can remember.  There are those who know me who will laugh uproariously and say: "you never remember anything!"  Ha. Ha. Get off my back, you little punks!  I've got a trained attack cat; she admittedly is too sleepy to take the job seriously.  But she's here and helps keep me cheerful, which is a really good thing for a person with a basketful of brain disorders and not enough money to go around.

God, why me?  Eternal answer: Why not?  Somebody's gotta do it.  Somebody's got to "cheerfully" pick up the mantle of the deranged and wear it for a lifetime, leaving the others in one's life in a state of confusion, annoyance, fear and  irritation. The qualities that one exhibits unconsciously can leave one's child or children, as well as one's partner, damaged for life. Or, the worst that can happen will happen: they will go, and all those voices in your gut all those years that said: "you don't love me" will have been true.  We fail to see our own responsibility in that little dance.

The problem with that, from a selfish point of view, is that after a while people get tired of you and want to be around more cheerful people.  Then the "shame cycle" sets in, the worthlessness, the feeling of being a burden, and the incredible desire to slip this mortal coil.

There's not necessarily any sympathy in the circle of one's friends for all of this.  First of all, in so many cases (such as my own) the diagnosis comes rather late in life in terms of raw suffering.  Second, when my doctor, the late, esteemed Dr. Peter Forsham of the University of California in San Francisco, gave me his first diagnosis, it horrified me so much I eventually threw it away and unfortunately don't recall what it contained.

Denial in cases of mental illness is a common thing, as VERY FEW of us would choose a lifetime struggle with the demons in one's brain -- who would?  When I saw the doctor again, he presented me with  a diagnosis "for the layman" which I didn't really understand at the time. The simple diagnosis was "familial bipolar disorder with occasional psychotic breaks."

"Aha! (loose quotation!) thought I -- "at least it's nothing serious like manic depression!"  As many of you know, manic depression is precisely what it was, and the meds they had in the late 80 's were not much good for depressed, suicidal me. As a mom, I had to be responsible for my babies at a certain point on my own, having divorced their father at an age when those tender little beings could not understand what was happening, obviously even less than I did.

At that point I had NO comprehension of what a "psychotic break" was, and I'm still not sure that I do.  I've had times of "counter-irritation" -- banging one's head against a wall to make the interior pain go away  -- actions like that are certainly not normal, and hard on the head and wall as well.  Not to be recommended.  I have since found out that I also am plagued with "Borderline Personality Disorder" -- a condition that tends to drive people away from one's circle, as the afflicted run hot and cold.                              

I don't know if my relationship with my children's father would have held up  if I had been "normal", but a lot of other things might have.  I've made so many bad choices that I have literally gone from relatively very well off into the land of Food Stamps, Medi-Cal, free psychiatric help and other benefits.  When I was well off, I NEVER could have afforded a $550/hour psychiatrist.  Zowie, the incredible benefits of landing on the wrong side of a huge, brutal National financial crisis.  Yep, you betcha. I can "afford" a remarkably kind doctor who actually seems to like me, and oh yes, it matters.

I have very little ability to concentrate, but concentrate I must as I go off to apply for food stamps online, which terrifies me for some reason.  I got thrown out of the "Hope Team" they'd called together in nearby Marin for people with severe brain disorders because I am 20 miles away from the county line, and I have, as a result, not gotten it all together.  I can not concentrate.

I tell these tales and reveal these wounds so that others of our tribe will know they are not alone.  Someday perhaps my story will be brighter.

May the sun shine upon you.  May all those wounded find peace,


* Tip o' the hat to the Rolling Stones ...