I Used to Write Poetry

I just emptied out my old storage shed, and amongst many things, I found my poetry from when I was in high school. Since the actual paper copies weren’t in a condition to keep, I scanned what I could. Assuming everything in our lives going forward is going to be digital, these seems as good a place as any to save them. Also, since this year marks 20 years since I graduated high school, the timing just feels right to visit these again.

Freshman year. I should note, I’m only posting the poems that were published in the yearly creative writing publication of my high school, called The Myriad.

Well, that’s a freshman poem. I don’t know what else to say about that. Let’s move on…

My freshman English class put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and I wrote this introduction to it. I mean, I can’t disagree with my point here – that Romeo and Juliet is actually a story about how hate poisons everything. The love that Shakespeare describes is just the catalyst that draws the hate out. Nicely done, me.

I think that’s all that was published from my freshman year. Let’s go on to sophomore year…

This is one of my favorite things I have ever written. It so well captures my feelings of walking the halls in my high school as a sixteen year old – with girls. GIRLS! Oh, the girls. You may see, that becomes a theme here.

Apparently all my life I’ve been re-writing songs with my own lyrics. Threw in a dig at the cold soullessness of corporate America at the end. Not that I had ever been to a Wal-Mart at this point in my life(!) but I guess one doesn’t always need to write what they know.

Geez, this is so frickin’ corny. It was when I discovered this poem that I re-considered my idea to make this blog post altogether, just because this poem is so corny. But you know what? I have a point here about “exuding compassion” actually being a thing. Being able to exude compassion is an invaluable ability. So, okay, not terrible… me.

On to junior year!

Part of me wants to say a lot about this poem. Part of me wants to say nothing at all. When Fiona Apple released Every Single Night in 2012, I thought “she knows this feeling.” I guess you either know this feeling or you don’t. I felt this a lot in my high school years.

Can our love survive the inevitable turbulence that life will bring? That’s a good question. First seeing this again made me think of In Each Other’s Arms by Amy Obenski, but maybe a more fitting song is Love Me Again by John Newman. Maybe this was a sentiment that simply fit the time for me; that we all knew that mistakes, misspoken words and mess ups were inevitable in this world of love that we were exploring. Would we make it?

No, we would not. But we learned on the way. To senior year…

Ugh. This brings back things I’d rather not remember. Remember when I said we learned along the way? Well, here I am… learning. It honestly took me years to learn to navigate the feelings behind the words in this poem.

I had completely forgotten that I had written this. This is as true for me today as it was when I wrote it. I am, honestly, gobsmacked at this poem. Holy moly. If I ever doubt that I can write, I need only look at this poem.

This seems to be inevitable after writing With You? a couple poems up. Yep.

What’s funny is that I’m posting these in the order that The Myriad published them. I don’t know that they are actually chronological. But it feels like it now. I mean, of course I would write this after writing Losing. Reading these poems again, it makes sense that I left high school feeling less confident than I was during high school.

I should point out in this next one that there are a couple of typos. “Ali” was supposed to be “Ah” and the “No” at the beginning of the next line was supposed to be “Not.” I don’t know if I turned this into them handwritten, or if they just made typos.

I can never claim that there was a time in my life that I was not bold. I was pretty fed up with school at the end.

That was another thing to learn, that when it’s over there is no going back. This reminds me of Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri, except from the other person’s point of view.

That’s the last of them. I seriously have no desire to write poetry ever again. I think it’s because I associate that sort of writing with the emotional turmoil of high school. I had never written poetry before my freshman english teacher assigned it to me, and after I got out of high school there wasn’t a structure to continue writing like that. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, dear reader, as I’ve enjoyed looking back on a previous version of myself.

I’ve Been Making a Movie, To Death

The process of making this film outlasted my passion for it

I’ve been making one movie since I was 23. I’m 38. I’m done with it. More precisely, I’ve been sick of working on it for years – but I finally have an edit of it that feels finished.

I’ve learned a lot making this movie. It’s a documentary, and the big lesson I learned was how not to film a documentary. Even though the raw footage was only about 20 hours; because I did not have an idea of how the final product would look, I spent countless hours watching the footage to find the story, refining the story, organizing it, putting it into a digestible format….

All while life continued. I had a day job, or multiple day jobs. I met the love of my life, and we got married. We got dogs. We had kids. We bought a house. We got a cat. So a project that I wanted to take three years on, became this. I never wanted this to be a fifteen year project. I never wanted to spend the amount of money or energy on it that I did. But it’s my first feature film, and it never felt right to give up. Even when emotionally, I was long done.

What’s the documentary about? It’s a focus on the gaps in the mental health system that lead to people who are depressed, bipolar or suicidal to average 5-7 years after onset of symptoms before seeking help. It illustrates the structural reasons that exist that lead a to huge number of Americans to live lives without the mental health assistance that they know they need.

What’s sad is, those conditions haven’t changed notably in the fifteen years that I’ve been working on this project. I’m sure that the content of the film is just as real and relevant as when I kicked off this project a decade and a half ago.

From a filmmaking and communication perspective, the structure of the film is wrong. But it would take at least one more re-shoot to do it right… and I don’t want to spend a few grand more of my money on another shoot. I don’t know if this film is going to go anywhere, anyway.

I want to be proud of this film, like I am of my first music video. But I’m not. I’m sick and tired of it. I’m embarrassed that it took this long. I’ve been embarrassed for a while. I think my feelings toward this film kept me from finding a structure for it I like – I have certainly lost the capacity to think creatively about it anymore. I’m writing this blog in the hopes that by writing and posting this I can unload some of the burden that this film has become.

I wasn’t originally going to post the film here, but here is the link. After I’ve done such a great job of selling this movie, I’m sure you can’t wait to watch it 😉

It’s a little less than an hour long. If you’d be so kind to take a look, I need to know what it this film is, and if it’s worth pushing forward with it. I lost perspective on it too many years ago to know. That link is a private listing, if it gets a bunch of views I’ll take it down.

Thanks for listening, friends.

Too Much at Once

A quarter of my town burned down. One of my participants at work passed away. I worry about people at work, and work in general has been really hard for me recently. Coronavirus is still going on and drastically affecting my family’s quality of life. Politics in this country are as alarming as ever…

There has been too much going on for me recently, too much to write about. I’ve sat down quite a few times to write, and it never felt right.

Right now, I don’t know how to write about my experiences at work without violating my participant’s privacy. Nor how to do it while capturing the wide vacillations of views I take on any given circumstance. Working with people who are homeless is great for forcing you into moral quandaries that you aren’t ready for. I don’t think there is anything I would have done differently, but I nonetheless feel wounded from the experience.

Burning Man didn’t happen, either.

Damn.

Anyway, for those of you who regularly read this blog, I wanted to let you all know where I’m at. I’m good, but there’s been a lot. Too much. Love to you all

Coronavirus: Day 54

the hatches are battened

So much has gone on in the last ~40 days. I’ll make a list:

-My brother in law passed away unexpectedly. He was 36 years old, married, with a four year old son. It’s still not clear why he died. He did test negative for COVID-19. Nonetheless, his death has been shocking, tragic, and painful for all of us. You can read what his widow wrote here (on Linkedin) and my wife wrote here (on facebook). The gofundme for his family is here.

-The homeless shelter I manage has been able to increase capacity while maintaining social distancing. We have increased staff. It’s now also looking like we will be able to increase the rate at which we are helping people to get housed. One of the reasons that we’ve been able to increase capacity is because of these. The organization I work for is Housing Matters, and I manage the program that those pallet shelters are in. I’m really proud of how we have responded to this crisis.

-Santa Cruz County has, as far as I can tell, done really well in it’s response to this pandemic. We’ve shut down beach access to folks from out of town. The county has opened more shelter and managed camping, including just across the street from our shelter. Our peak of cases was relatively low, and we already seem to be on the tail end. As long as we don’t open up again too soon…

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Here’s the source for that image.

-Speaking of opening up again too soon, it’s really frustrating seeing people in the right-wing media bubble saying that we need to open everything up again to keep the economy from getting bad. There is no way that I’ve seen to open up again without infecting thousands of people with this disease, and thousands of people dying. An effective president wouldn’t have closed down the CDC office specifically responsible for containing outbreaks in their country of origin. An effective president would have moved quickly and decisively when this virus appeared in our country. An effective part of the shutdown would have included a total pause on all rent, loans and mortgages. It would have made sure people had access to food and medical care, as needed. All of these steps would have mitigated the impacts on our greater economy significantly. It seems to me that Trump supporters don’t know how an effective president would behave, and so they champion his unending string of failures, claiming they are successes. Of course, if you are reading this, I know you are going to have one of two reactions. Either you are outside of the right-wing media bubble and you’ll essentially say “no, duh.” Or you’re inside the right-wing media bubble and you’ll essentially say “I’m so sad to hear that you’ve been manipulated by the mainstream media.” Such is the state of our world today.

-Shopping for supplies is completely different now. The aisles in the grocery stores are one-way only, and everyone is supposed to stay at least two shopping cart lengths apart. A staff person is wiping down every shopping cart after they are used. Early on, a lot of store shelves were nearly bare. Now most stuff is at the store. But toilet paper is sold by the roll (it used to be sold 8-12 to a pack), and for a while at least there was a limit on how many rolls you could buy at once. Clorox wipes, which used to be a staple of our house, are now essentially impossible to find. I’m now doing all of the shopping for the family, because there is a limit to how many people in a party can go in a store at once. Below are my shopping lists, you can see as time goes on more things were available in stores.

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-Geez, I nearly forgot! We had a wedding in our front yard during the stay-at-home. Short story shorter, this couple had to be married by a certain date but their courthouse wedding was cancelled due to coronavirus. So, they got married in our front yard. It was them, our family, and the photographer. We all maintained social distancing, and all of their family and friends watched online with zoom. I officiated. I’ve anonymized what I wrote for the occasion, but I’d like to share the text of the wedding with you all here:

Life has a way of taking us down unexpected twists and turns. And often, it’s those unexpected paths that take us exactly where we need to be.

Today, on an unexpected day, in an unexpected front yard, with an unexpected ceremony, We are here today to celebrate two people, who met by chance, not by design. Who found each other while swimming upon the wild seas of fate, and took a leap together. And, I presume, have kept taking leaps of faith together – and found themselves, after each leap, where they’ve always wanted to be.

Times, I understand, are always uncertain, however these times feel more uncertain than most. But uncertain times have a way of crystallizing our priorities. Today’s priorities are clear; love, commitment, family, each other.

I am honored, we all our honored, to be able to be here with you to celebrate your love and commitment to each other.

-My wife is still working from home, while overseeing our kindergartner’s schooling, while wrangling a two year old, while managing two dogs and a cat. Often when I get home she is exhausted from having to juggle too much in a day. Often when I get home, I’m exhausted from the highs and lows of managing a shelter and getting people who are homeless into housing. Though we have hit our stride, and made this our new normal, it is a fragile normal. It’s a high-stress normal.

-Nothing illustrated the fragility of our new normal than when the internet went out at our house. My wife, our kindergartner, and our friend who rents our back house all rely on being able to use the internet everyday during the stay-at-home to get work done. My wife and our renter do provide essential services, that thankfully are able to be done remotely. To suddenly be without internet doesn’t just impact them, but it imperils the commitments that they have made to the people in the vulnerable populations that they work with. I had to take the day off of work and spend 8 hours attempting to communicate with Comcast to get the internet working again. It turned out that Comcast wasn’t at fault for our internet going down, but it also wasn’t able to help us figure out what wasn’t working. Because the three of us weren’t able to work that day, three essential workers weren’t able to provide their services because of one bad internet connection. This pandemic amplifies everything else that isn’t working in our lives.

-Every day I work with folks who are carrying a lot of scars from life. Something that has struck me, in hearing stories from friends and family since this pandemic has started, is that the scars that people are getting these days are going to last a lifetime. I have a rule, not to tell anyone’s story on this blog but my own, but what people have gone through so far is going to stick with them forever. And…

-All of this may just be getting started. I’m wrapping this blog post up on May 9th, 2020. I fully expect that there will be another wave of coronavirus cases as many states in the US open up in the next few weeks. I expect the federal response to continue to be wholly inadequate – which means that not only will we be too slow to shut down again, but the second shutdown will also be mismanaged. Which will lead to a recession or a depression. We’re already hearing about meat becoming much more expensive soon, because so many meat processing plants have had to shut down because their workers are getting sick. The headline on the paper as I walked into the store today was that unemployment was at 14.7%. What else will we all lose before the federal government does the right thing?

-I miss hugging. I miss shaking people’s hands. I miss being able to relax. I miss being with my friends. I miss having lunch with people, in restaurants. I miss going to dinner. I miss walking through downtown. I miss seeing family. On a national level, I miss what life was like before 2016. I miss being able to focus enough to feel like I’m writing well.

I tell you what, though. There’s going to be a lot of fun to uncork when all this is over.

 

I’m Thankful For All Of You

Growing up, I had a lot of ideas about what my life would look like as an adult. Thankfully, few of them came true. One thing that I did not imagine, that I was really incapable of imagining, was the depth and richness I would feel every day from my friends and my community.

I did not imagine that I would have friends who shared their victories and their losses, their strengths and their foibles, their tragedies and their triumphs. I did not imagine that I would have friends that I could share all of those things with. I didn’t imagine that I would experience tragedies at all… but tragedy is a part of life, isn’t it?

I did not understand being there for the people I cared about, and allowing them to be there for me. Nor did I understand, as I do now, that I would find those two things to be the best parts of life. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, to be upset, to fail… and then to reach out for help. And to be there for the people I care about to reach out to me. To be there for friends as they figure out and get through the hardest parts of life, and to let people in as I figure out and get through the hardest parts of my life… this I truly treasure.

I treasure doing this with you. I treasure seeing you grow and change, and adapt to the challenges the confront you. I treasure your wins. I treasure sharing in your struggles, and seeing you overcome them. I treasure sharing our lives together – even if most of that sharing, in our modern world, is done online or over the phone.

For all I have faced in life, it has been sharing my struggle that has gotten me through it. It has been doing this thing called life, with all of you, that has made me experience a richness far beyond I have ever imagined. A richness that money can’t buy.

So thank you. I love you. I love you all. I look forward to tomorrow, tomorrow’s tomorrow, and beyond… knowing that we are doing this thing called life together. I’m eager to ride this ride with you.

Coronavirus: Day 16

Even if we don’t have it, it’s taking it’s toll

My county, Santa Cruz, issued it’s stay at home order on March 16th (if I’m counting correctly). So I’m counting sixteen days from that day to today. Santa  Cruz county also got over the 50 confirmed cases threshold today. I’m just gonna share the stuff that is on my mind:

-My wife has been working from home, essentially home-schooling our six year old daughter, AND wrangling our near two year old daughter, a puppy, a dog & a cat. Schools & daycares are shut down. My wife works in the schools system in Santa Clara county, their schools are shut down.

-I have continued to manage the homeless shelter that I manage. Which means I’m still going into work 40 hours a week, and interacting with shelter staff and participants.

-There is nowhere near enough time or energy for us to tackle everything we have to do every day.

-A friend brought us groceries and dinner one night a few days ago, and it was honestly manna from the heavens. Every time I’ve seen toilet paper for sale, when the shelves haven’t been empty, it’s been one roll of toilet paper at a time. We’re nearly down to our last roll, if I can’t find a package soon I guess I’ll be buying some rolls…

-It’s been really hard to see and hear about folks who are working from home, or simply at home not working, with no kids and nothing to do. Our world went from 3 full-time jobs (our jobs, and raising the kids while we aren’t at our jobs) to five full-time jobs (add in teaching our kindergartener and “daycare” for a toddler). My wife is taking the brunt of the change, and I’m doing what I can – but it is honestly just too much.

-I spent the last two weeks at the shelter being pulled in multiple directions at once, filling 2-4 roles. I think we have staffing levels at the right spot going forward, but I haven’t recovered yet.

-Before coronavirus, we had bunkbeds in the shelter. In order to create enough “social distancing” (which really should be called “physical distancing”) we’ve moved a portion of folks in the shelter to tents that we have set up in the parking lot. We have gotten much more thorough in our cleaning. Accomplishing this while dealing with the chaos and being short staffed has been rocky, to say the least.

-I’ve been watching the news very closely for mention of people who are homeless getting coronavirus. The only one I’ve heard of was a gentleman in San Jose, CA – who passed away from it. People are very concerned about coronavirus getting into the homeless community. Everyone has been told to practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of this disease. But our culture has been socially distancing from people who are homeless for decades. Social distance is not new for people who are living outdoors. It’s sad to say, but people who are homeless might have a higher risk of getting coronavirus from service providers and landlords than from anyone else. That being said, as soon as there is an encampment somewhere that produces about three coronavirus cases, it’s a totally different picture.

-I saw that there was a record number of unemployment applications sent in recently. Which is not surprising, given that so much is being shut down. But our food supply hasn’t been reduced. Our (already inadequate) housing supply hasn’t been reduced. What if it isn’t actually necessary for our society for those millions of folks to be working? What if we don’t need so many of us working to actually get everyone’s needs met? People who talk about Medicare for All (or single payer healthcare in general) talk about decoupling healthcare from employment. What if we decoupled housing from employment (or income) as well? This is a thought that came to me this week.

-Our whole family is processing through a cold. A definite feature of the coronavirus is the enhanced scrutiny that every sickness receives. We don’t have any reason to think we have it. Even so, I read the reports from Iceland – where it appears they are testing everyone – and it appears half of the people who get positive results have no symptoms whatsoever. It’s terrifying to think that our near two year old could get this, she had a series of medical issues recently and needs to be healthy for another couple of months before she’s out of the woods. Nonetheless, there is no way we would get tested in this country. There are  nowhere near enough tests for non-rich people who don’t have any of the primary symptoms.

-Our little mountain town has a nightly howl at 8pm, in honor of the healthcare workers on the front lines of this epidemic. It’s truly heartening to hear and participate it.

-Even though Santa Cruz county just got over 50 confirmed cases, we are currently weathering the storm relatively well. Santa Clara county, directly to the north of us (also know as Silicon Valley, for you international readers – and where I grew up), is up over 950 confirmed cases. The other county to the north of us, San Mateo, is up over 380 cases. I hope our county can keep it’s cases from exponentially increasing, but I’m not sure I would take that bet.

-At the Free Guide, we’ve had to switch to a “live” google doc that can reflect changes we’ve made to available resources for the homeless in Santa Cruz county the second we make them. We’ve had to do this because the list of resources is changing so fast.

-Merlin, the puppy, has been a boon to all of us at home and at work.

-Our oldest daughter cried today when she found out that her school will be closed for the rest of the school year. She misses her friends, and her teacher, so much.

Even though this has been hard, it’s not too hard. We’ll get through this. But all of this is tiring.

Goodbye, Cowboy

I lost another one today…

I lost another one today. This man was in his 60’s, a veteran from the Vietnam era. He was from the south. He went by Cowboy. And oh man, was he a cowboy. He also pushed a wheelchair to get around because he couldn’t walk steadily on his own. When I first met him, he had two black eyes because he had fallen on his face and busted himself up. His beard was a mess. He often stunk. But he always had something witty to say.

He also was a sex offender. I don’t remember what he did to become a sex offender, but I remember looking it up once and it was, well… he deserved to be a sex offender.

But he also did his time. He was never a repeat offender. That didn’t matter, though. Regardless of his clear disabilities and advanced age, he did not qualify for any of the long term programs in this county because of his sex offender status. There was no way for him to earn money, yet he wasn’t allowed entrance into the programs that are there to support people who can’t earn money.

When he was in a good spot, Cowboy was a pure southern charmer. His wit and sense of humor, while sitting on a cardboard box on the sidewalk, always made me laugh. I once got him into a shelter in San Jose for four days. Being under a roof was great for him. When I picked him up after he had to leave (through no fault of his own, but a bureaucratic reason), not only did he look incredible – he had managed to get himself a girlfriend. It was surreal, yet joyous, seeing this man who I literally picked up off the street look 10 years younger and have a tearful goodbye with a lady he would almost assuredly never see again.

Cowboy’s spirit, in the face of bleak circumstances, was formidable. He could find something to joke about in his darkest moments. Yet, honestly, I had come to avoid him on my trips downtown. Not because I didn’t want to see him, but because I wanted so badly to help him and was powerless to do anything. I couldn’t confront the obvious, aching need on his face and my powerlessness to do anything about it.

Cowboy probably died alone. Thankfully he died while the sun was out, so he probably wasn’t cold. I hope, and this is all I can hope, that with his dark sense of humor he was able to find something funny about his last moments.

I bet he did.

Goodbye, Cowboy. You truly brightened my days, and whenever I think of you I will smile.

My Amazing Wife is getting press about taking our kids to Burning Man

Yes, we bring our kids to Burning Man

First, she was interviewed for Road Trippers Magazine.

Next, she made an appearance on our local radio station Wild 94.9‘s morning show. Her spot starts at the 62:24 mark.

Some great photos of us at Burning Man are on her Instagram as well.

❤️

Our Little Nacho has left us

Today we put Nacho to rest for good. His decline was sudden. Just last week we thought we would have him for months longer. He saw the vet today, and today turned out to be the day. He was 14. He was a sweet little dog, and he helped bring Brenna and I together.

IMG_4178Here he is, with Jewel and Dulce. He loved sunning. This was our pack, for a few months.

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Minutes after he died and was taken away, Ash found his collar and began looking for him. Here she is, looking out the window for our cute little Nacho. She loved to pet him, and to poke him. He is part of the reason she loves dogs so much.

Goodbye Nacho. You had a good life, and we loved you with all we had. We’ll miss you.