Writing through Writer’s Block

Ok, ok. So for years I’ve said (mostly to myself) that I don’t get writer’s block. But here I am, stuck with it for months now. But if I don’t get writer’s block…? I’ve always felt that the thing to do with writer’s block is to write exactly what you are thinking. That is what I’ve been reluctant to do, and that’s why I’ve been stuck. So here are the things on my mind…

Seeing Elon Musk out himself as intellectually vapid with fascist leanings in his take over of Twitter has been something. I mean, being a native of Silicon Valley, I’ve known about his shortcomings for a long time. But to see someone completely expose himself on a worldwide scale so quickly… I did not think he would do so much obviously dumb stuff so fast.

Being a burner, I’ll never forget Elon criticizing someone by saying that they have “never been to Burning Man.” Well, now it’s clear to me that Elon managed to insulate himself so much from the experience that he didn’t learn some of the fundamental things that people learn for themselves when they go to Burning Man; namely, a commitment to community. Elon, at this moment, seems to be most interested in self aggrandizement. Just as the shine is coming off of another self aggrandizer in America (Trump), Elon shows up to take his place.

I’ve said (to myself) for a while now, American culture has a fetish for achievement. But it’s shiny “look at how perfect I am!” achievement, not the achievement that comes from hard work, failure, and mistakes. So people like Musk, like Trump, spit-shine their failures and manage to actually accomplish very little – all while claiming that they can do anything. With enough money, you can make any mistake look like a success. Musk and Trump had enough money from the beginning.

I’m sure part of my reluctance to write about my true feelings about the world is that I am now the Executive Director of an organization. I haven’t wanted my thoughts to be construed as the official statements of the organization that I have built. So I’ve said nothing…

Which is not healthy. And the truth is, is that I have always kept a bright big line between what I say and do in a professional capacity and what I don’t. Writing this blog gives me clarity. Writing this blog is about the thoughts that I am thinking. My work is not about that.

So, what else is on my mind? I’m pretty darn proud of my oldest daughter these days. Why is enough for a whole blog itself… so keep your eye out for that. You may have a hint if you follow my wife on facebook, though.

So, the fight to maintain democracy goes on in America. This is something that deserves a lot more writing from me, since it’s something that’s on my mind a lot – but I’ll collect my thoughts before I publish them.

Meanwhile, I think I’ve said what I need to say today.

Free Guide Fundraiser 11/5

Raising money for the services at the Veterans Village of Ben Lomond

Hey all, just want to let you know that my organization – The Free Guide – is having it’s first fundraiser this Saturday, November 5th. You can check out the details on Eventbrite. Below are the posters:

Press on RV Safe Parking and Homelessness

Had a brief segment on KSBW

Got a good write up in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

If you noticed that the article in the Sentinel said that our wait list was 37, while the KSBW segment said that our wait list is nearly 50 – it’s because our list grew quite a bit in just two days.

Also gave my perspective on the shutdown of the Footbridge Services Center

Paid The Cost Podcast

Had an incredible conversation with Nativo on his Paid the Cost podcast at the end of August, about homelessness and my life in general. Here is the link to the episode itself.

Also, Alejandro (here’s his Instagram) made this incredible image of me, hearkening back to when I did outreach with people who are homeless and handed out cookies as part of that outreach…

On KSQD talking about Homelessness in Santa Cruz

I made an appearance on community radio

In case you want to hear me on the panel with a couple of homeless activists, (including Reggie from Santa Cruz Cares) hosted by Ami Chen Mills, talking about the current homeless situation in Santa Cruz – here is the youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiJOP0MbSPA

RV Safe Parking for Santa Cruz

I’m really excited that my organization, The Free Guide, is in the final stages of preparation before launching an RV Safe Parking program with the city of Santa Cruz.

Here’s a local article about the program. If you or someone you know would benefit from this program, feel free to reach out.

In the Press; What’s next for our homeless population after an encampment is closed?

let’s create a plan

I’ve been relatively quiet on this blog recently. But since I’m being quoted in local press, I figure now is the time to share a little bit. In Santa Cruz County, it’s time to start shifting the conversation around homeless from complaining about it and reporting on the facts of it to talking about what it’ll take to actually end homelessness here.

In this article, that’s part of what I’m laying out in my quotes.

a photo of the Good Times article. Because I felt like putting a caption here

Yet, what it’s going to take to end homelessness here (or anywhere in this country) remains elusive. Even though I could be considered an expert on the topic, all I have to offer are educated guesses myself. What we need, at least in Santa Cruz County, is more refined data. With refined data, we can evaluate what sorts of programs are successful and make sure that we have programs to meet the needs of each person experiencing homelessness. To their credit, the county is coming up with a way to get more refined data on our homeless residents. With decent data, I think we can start to develop a plan to end homelessness here. If we have a plan, then we can evaluate each action that the community takes through the lens of that plan. Without a plan, we end up with what we already have: What seems to be (to someone who is outside of the decision making process) an unrelated series of decisions and events that may or may not lead to anything. Without a plan, we end up going from urgent issue to urgent issue, without necessarily thinking in the sort of long term way that’s needed to actually make a notable dent in this years long issue.

But data is also more than just data points. In order to have good policy, we need our people who are crafting policy to understand the problem outside of the raw data points itself. That’s why one of my organization’s goals is to provide education; about what it’s like to be homeless, what it’s like to be a service provider, and what challenges we all are facing as we grapple with this issue. We aim to provide this education to everyone, because every single one of us are in a position to influence policy.

You’re going to see some of that here on this blog, but if you want to be sure to see it more regularly you should connect with my org, The Free Guide, on social media. We are only at the stage where we have launched our socials, we have not mastered the art of social media at all. But as we get better at them, you’ll get a bunch more good content from us on this stuff:

Instagram: @thefreeguide

Twitter: @the_freeguide

Facebook: Santa Cruz Free Guide

Email: santacruzfreeguide@gmail.com or contact@thefreeguide.org

If you are a member of the media and reading this, I’m interested in any project that can help the general public understand the realities of homelessness. I think it is truly going to take community wide action to address this issue. So, fire away with any questions or assistance you may need.

D&D, Escapism and Sports Today

Is D&D any more escapist than anything else? Yet… maybe we need the escapism?

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve picked up the hobby of playing Dungeons and Dragons over the last few years. It’s quite fun, and satisfying in ways that other hobbies haven’t been… namely that anything I can imagine can happen, yet it’s still tempered by a shared reality of playing with other people and random outcomes to events.

For my entire life, well before I starting playing D&D, I have heard people describe it as “escapist” entertainment. Much more prevalently than other activities. Dictionary.com defines escapist as: “avoiding reality through entertainment or fantasy, or enabling people to do so”

Needless to say, I’ve mostly found the term “escapist” to be a tad derisive. As in, these people can’t handle life so they have to escape away from it occasionally. Though, honestly, who doesn’t need to escape from reality a little bit these days?

As someone who has played competitive sports for a good portion of my life, done my fair share of manual labor, made creative projects…. I don’t find D&D any more escapist than any other activity that forces you to focus on what’s in front of you to play it. Basketball, for instance, is engrossing enough that you can’t really think about your mortgage or your kids while you are playing it. Yet I don’t hear people describing basketball as escapist. Making art, when one is in the midst of it, is certainly all-engrossing enough to “escape” from daily concerns. Yet I don’t hear people calling that escapist. The list goes on.

The funny thing is, coming back to basketball (or professional sports in general), is that I think our culture is longing for more escape – and looking and failing to find it in professional sports. I follow Tim Kawakami for sports news – he’s by far the sharpest reporter that covers professional sports in the SF Bay Area – and he deals with this all the time in the course of reporting what is happening with bay area teams and their machinations behind the scenes. Here’s a sample of what goes on on his twitter feed:

The context here is that Kevon Looney is the starting center for the Golden State Warriors (the basketball team) and Steve Kerr is the head coach. He’s taken them to 5 championship series, winning three of them. He is probably the most respected coach in basketball right now, and is already considered one of the best to ever do it. He has always had the Warriors play this style of offense, and like any type of offense it doesn’t always work. But it works a lot, especially with the players they have. But this random guy feels the need to yell about firing Steve Kerr.

It would be one thing if this was a one-off – but it is not, by any means. Tim Kawakami’s feed is filled with people yelling about what their favorite team should do, or yelling at Tim himself for pointing out the clearly sub-optimal things that their favorite teams are doing. I just found the most recent interaction, but his feed is filled with them. Raiders fans seem to hold him in special contempt – because for years the Raiders have been a dumpster fire and he’s had the temerity to point it out repeatedly. The truth is that everyone who runs large organizations is prone to making mistakes, Tim points out the mistakes that the people running professional sports teams in the SF Bay Area make – and takes a lot of heat for it.

The thing with D&D is that it is a shared imaginary world. If something doesn’t go the way you want it, it’s either because the dice didn’t cooperate or because your idea of the world didn’t line up with the rest of the people you are playing with. It can still be upsetting, but there are people to talk to when you are upset. You can ask your “Dungeon Master” or “Game Master” why it went a certain way. You can make your argument for why you thought it should have gone a different way. They might change their mind when they hear your argument, they might not.

In professional sports, the fantasy is that your team is going to win the championship this year. Or, if that isn’t realistic, that they are on the right rebuilding trajectory to contend soon. But you can’t argue with the results of a game. You can’t argue with your team’s record at the end of the season. When folks’ fantasy about their team is punctured by reality, all they have is their raw feelings about losing. Somewhere they mixed up their fantasy and a game that produces results that exist outside of their minds.

And when someone, like Tim Kawakami, comes along and says “you know that bad team, that you love? I talk to their people, and they are going to keep being bad” that punctures the fantasy too. So what do people do? They yell on twitter, for one. That’s what I see. I’ve felt that too. I definitely have not felt great at times when my teams have lost.

But also, the further removed I am from games the more the results have seemed to matter to me. I was lucky enough to go to a lot of Santa Cruz Warriors games this year (they are the development team for the Golden State Warriors), and seeing them play in person, seeing their strengths and weaknesses, seeing them develop… gave me perspective. When they lost in the first round of the playoffs, I wasn’t upset. They had flaws as a team, and they played a team that exploited those flaws well. Watching on tv, or trying to follow a game on twitter (which is much worse), heightens for me the feelings after a win or a loss and even during a game. I guess for me it’s easier to get wrapped up in the fantasy and to lose track of the realities when I’m only getting bits and pieces.

Ir’s okay if your team sucks. It’s okay if they are mediocre. It’s okay if they are good, but not great. It’s okay if they make mistakes. It’s okay if the coach makes mistakes. It’s okay if the refs make mistakes.

And maybe, just maybe, if you need your team to win…. give D&D a try. With D&D, your fantasy is never going to be punctured by a missed three point shot.

…… unless you want it to be.

I Don’t Know What to Write Anymore

These last few months I’ve felt that I should be writing more blog posts. That I’m neglecting something by not writing occasionally. I don’t know what I’d be neglecting, it’s not like I owe anyone blog posts or anything…

Nonetheless, I’ve felt like I should be writing. Yet I’ve had nothing that I want to write about. My life seems to be consumed with projects at the moment, and I don’t like writing about projects before they are ready for public eyes. Conceivably I could write about my experiences working with people who are homeless, but I haven’t had anything that I’ve wanted to share on that front. I could write about parenting, but…. I’m not inspired to do that.

I stay off of facebook and all the other meta products these days mostly, so I’m not having conversations about current events that I could hash out via blog. Not that there isn’t a ton to talk about with current events. Writing about politics seems… silly right now. Silly? I don’t know. Wasteful, maybe. What there is to do is to defend democracy. What else is there to talk about? What is defending democracy, these days? Lots of people write lots of things about defending democracy and our political environment right now, but I don’t see democracy as any more defended than it was before.

We all know that news and current events coverage has devolved into a straightforward chase of clicks. Which makes trying to follow the news a slog of “LOOK AT THIS TERRIBLE THING!” “LOOK AT THAT TERRIBLE THING!” while very little, if anything, changes. Then when something does change, we’re so exhausted from all the crazy headlines that we’re numb to the crazy changes going on. I shouldn’t say “we”… I mean “me” here.

Did someone call this the fire house of misinformation?

But, it’s not a total numbing. It’s not a helpless feeling. Not for me, anyway. It’s a “I see what you’re doing here, and I’m tracking what will need to be undone when this country isn’t so divided.” I know a lot of people are doing the same. I know that the division in the United States, and the world, will not last. I know that this era will end. We will learn the lessons we need to learn from what is happening today, and we will apply those lessons. Humanity will not always be susceptible to the things that it is susceptible to today.

I know some people say or think that it is a myth that humanity matures. For me, it is a matter of certainty that it does. Maybe not 200 years ago, maybe not even a hundred years ago. But today, with the speed and depth with which we are able to share our culture and experiences, I think it is undeniable. In the US, we have grown dramatically away from the cultural norms of my childhood. And though people are attempting to turn us back, they will be unsuccessful. The cat is out of the bag. There is no going back.

What do I do with this knowledge? Keep moving forward, I guess.

Yet the more I move forward, the more often I feel like an imposter, you know? The more I find myself in spaces where I’m afraid that people will find out that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Even though I do know what I’m talking about. That was a thing about my earlier blogs posts, is that I felt like I had nothing to lose by blogging. Now I feel like I’m up to something. There are stakes in what I’m doing. I don’t want things to go wrong… and that fear has made me more uncertain. When the stakes were low, my certainty was high. For me, writing is often an exercise in expressing certainty. If I’m sure of something, then I let myself write it. Even if it’s just that I’m not sure. But when my life has been full of uncertainty…

In my life, there is truly nothing but what I do for other people. I’ve been working on this project to make the Santa Cruz Free Guide into a full homeless services provider for a while now. I know that I can keep contributing, and I know that what I’m embarking on is due only to people joining me on this journey. People keep joining me. And I guess that means something. I guess that means that I’m doing the right thing. Even though they all could leave at any moment – they don’t. Even though there is no guarantee that I’m doing the right thing… The people who’ve joined me on this journey are people that I love and respect immensely. If they are telling me to keep going, who else would I listen to? There is literally no one who I would take advice to heart from more than the people who are with me on this journey of starting this new agency.

Maybe that’s the point. Because building a team is not about being out in front. Building a resilient team is about building a mutually re-enforcing team. And this is a way that I need to be re-enforced. When I look out over my screen of zoom meeting attendees, I can see folks who are re-enforcing me when I’m having my doubts. When I’m afraid that this is all going to fail, they are still there looking back at me.

Maybe this is what I’ve been afraid to write all these months. I’ve been reluctant to embrace that it will be alright. That I will be okay. We will be okay. I’ve been afraid to let go of the worry. But I can let it go. I will be okay.

A Snapshot of American Well-Being

I wish there was a dashboard that we all could look at that would actually tell us where America, or any country for that matter, stood on a variety of indicators at any given moment. That way it would be real easy to actually see how things are going on a large scale in our country. For my viewing pleasure, and I hope yours as well, here is a snapshot of what I would include. I’m not tech savvy enough to figure out how to embed all of these graphs into this page so that they update automatically. If someone out there can tell me how to do that, I’d be very grateful.

Above is the Average Happiness for Twitter, courtesy of hedonometer.org. This graph starts at the very beginning of Twitter, from 2009. Below is the same graph, but for the last 18 months. You can see that the happiness being expressed on twitter has a steady climb upwards in the last 18 months. I like how helpful these folks are, that they have put notable events on the graph as well. It’s also notable that we’re currently getting back up to the happiness levels that we were at pre-Trump.

Below is the Happiness Index for the United States. This data came from the World Happiness Report, but was plotted by TheGlobalEconomy.com. Most of the rest of the graphs on this post are going to be from TheGlobalEconomy.com, so I’ll only put the source if the graph isn’t from there.

Not the sexiest looking graph in the world, but we don’t make graphs to score sexy points! I should point out, that this is the page I’m using at TheGlobalEconomy.com to make these fine graphs.

Next is GDP per capita. That little dip at the end there is the dip from 2019 to 2020.

Next is the Labor Force Participation Rate. I haven’t read a lot about why this could be happening, I’d love to see some explanations. Here is a definition of Labor Force Participation Rate, from bls.gov “The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older that is working or actively looking for work. It is an important labor market measure because it represents the relative amount of labor resources available for the production of goods and services.”

For added context, I’m going to go back to the very beginning of this statistic being tracked on TheGlobalEconomy.com – 1990. You’ll see in 1990 that we had not hit the highest known peak yet, which we reached in 2000. We’ve been on our way down ever since.

Now to the unemployment rate, which is drastically different. This chart came directly from Google. According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, “In simple terms, the unemployment rate for any area is the number of area residents without a job and looking for work divided by the total number of area residents in the labor force.” It’s very interesting to me that the Labor Force Participation rate has been on such a steady decline since 2000, while the unemployment rate has fluctuated so drastically in the last 20 years. Could that be explained by the mass retirement of the baby boomer generation?

Here’s one that I would think would validate the experience of most Americans. The Government Effectiveness Index from the World Bank. Here is there definition: The index of Government Effectiveness captures perceptions of the quality of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.

The Control of Corruption Index, again from the World Bank. Definition: The index for Control of Corruption captures perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as capture of the state by elites and private interests.

The Voice and Accountability Index is also a notable one, again from the World Bank. Definition: The index for Voice and Accountability captures perceptions of the extent to which the citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.

I was wondering why the downward trends on the last three graphs all seemed to start in 2004-2005, then I saw this graph. It’s the Political Stability Index from the World Bank. What the heck was going on in 2004? I don’t remember things being so crazy here then. Definition: The index of Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism measures perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically-motivated violence and terrorism. The index is an average of several other indexes from the Economist Intelligence Unit, the World Economic Forum, and the Political Risk Services, among others.

Below is the Maternal mortality rate, from UNICEF. I don’t know why we don’t have data after 2017. You can see that 2018 had a rate of 17.4 and 2019 had a rate 0f 20.1 if you go to the CDC. The rates for those years for Non-Hispanic Black people are eye popping. Like double.

Interestingly, the Percent Income Earned by the Top 10 Percent of Earners – published by the World Bank, does not seem crazy. Or maybe it is, and I’m just used to it?

The World Bank also has Dependent People as Percent of the Working Age Population. So all of us who are working have more dependents, apparently. Definition: Age dependency ratio is the ratio of dependents–people younger than 15 or older than 64–to the working-age population–those ages 15-64. Data are shown as the proportion of dependents per 100 working-age population.

Life Expectancy will be interesting to look at once the COVID years are included.

Here’s the birth rate, births per 1000 people.

Here’s the Suicide Mortality Rate, from the World Health Organization.

Hospital Beds have been in a steady decline, per OECD. Why we don’t have data after 2017 is curious, however.

Finally, a graph that isn’t going the wrong direction! Below is Doctors per 1000 people from OECD.

Funny enough, when it comes to crime we start to get data that looks good. First is the Robbery Rate. This is from Statista.

Apparently our imprisonment rate is going down… Though I have seen other sources that have the same overall curve but with higher numbers.

As is our theft rate. This is from Statista as well.

Our homicide rate is interesting. It looks like it started to go up in 2015 or so. This graph is from Pew. Interestingly, 2015-2016 is when our indicators for happiness at the top of this page started to go down. Pew wants us to note that the 2020 data is provisional, and that the data came from the CDC.

This is the estimated homelessness rate, I found it on Statista as well. Though it looks like it originally came from HUD. As someone who works with people who are homeless, I should tell you that these numbers are rough estimates at best.

Finally, how’s COVID going? Here is the chart Google provides.

What are my takeaways from all of this data? I’ll break it down.

What’s trending poorly?
-Happiness, but it is beginning to rebound
-Labor Force Participation Rate
-Government Effectiveness
-Control of Corruption
-Voice and Accountability
-Political Stability
-Maternal Mortality
-Our amount of dependents
-Birth Rate (or is this bad?)
-Suicide Rate
-Hospital Beds
-Homicide Rate
-COVID (we’re now in a true second wave)

What’s steady?
-Unemployment
-Percent of Income Earned by Top 10 Percent of Earners
-Homelessness

What’s trending well?
-GDP
-Life Expectancy
-Doctor Rate
-Robbery Rate
-Prisoner Rate
-Theft Rate

Overall, not good. One’s ability to be employed and avoid being the victim of property crime is trending well. But all of the indicators that are about quality of life look bad, and most of them have looked bad for a while. It’s no wonder that over the last few years some people have said that America is in decline. In some notable ways, it is. I’m tempted to link the sudden spike in our murder rate to a general feeling in our culture that there is a lack of trust and support – as illustrated by the other poorly trending indicators I have here… but that truly is just an opinion. I lean that way because there has been no corresponding spike in property crime – so the desperation that we think leads to property crime doesn’t seem to carry over to homicide.

I’m going to leave this here, all under the American Well Being category on this site. I expect I’ll only do updates once a year or so to this category, but it should continue to be easy to find when you come to my website. A big part of why I wanted to make this is so I could reference it when I need it – now it is here for you too.