hot button

Racist. A jacked word with so little specificity that it means nothing. A psychic spear thrown usually in one direction – by blacks to whites. Oh wait, check that. Witness the pushback to Beyonce’s Superbowl song.

The word racist has the power to force conversation to a bewildered halt, into silence spiked with anger that enforces a perimeter, offering no traction on the muddy ground of shared humanity.

Racist is an insult hurled to inflict doubt and pain. It neutralizes any effort people make to understand one another.

A Year of Foraging

2015 was a bitch mistress – demanding more than perhaps I wanted to have given. But then I tend not to do things part-way. If I’m in, I’m all in. That would be the Women’s Centers in Nairobi and Oakland.

The downside of this personal “all in” business is that I’ve spent most of the year chasing rent checks to the bank. I play mental chess every month with how to make what money I do have cover too much debt. My grandchildren will know the specter of payments for my daughter’s student loan that I signed. It will end up amassing enough in interest, over its lifetime, to put at least one child through a semester or two or university education in 2025.

Then I consider the bigger picture: those to whom we deliver our taxes have done a less-than-inspired job of keeping the national debt in check. Everyone’s in debt. It’s not a character flaw.

What I don’t have in terms of stuff, I forage for. This requires the willingness to make snap decisions because the law “You Snooze, You Lose” applies. New freebies get put on the streets of Oakland over day. On rare occasion, an amazing antique. Sometimes an item with utility or piece of furniture with good bones. Too much of the roadside detritus is trash. LOTS of plastic. Scars on the face of the earth. No respect for – no investment in – the places where we live.

ranunculus
Favorite flower

My clothes come from second-hand shops, recycling whatever clothing they’ll accept for store credit. II troll Craig’s List free stuff. Found a perfectly serviceable pair of leggings in the drawer of a small dresser rescued from the curb. Also found a good end table, a possibly elegant Queen Anne chair that begs for re-upholstery, and virtually every item of furniture for the Oakland Women’s Center.

I cam across three restaurant-size sacks of onions on the street by my office where a lot of people dump stuff at eviction time. Left two bags, got nearly 40 pounds of good cooking onions out of the third, including enough to make a couple of batches of pretty damn good French onion soup for a workshop and for Christmas Eve dinner.

At least 1000 evictions per month in my fair city. Too much suffering. Because of the Women’s Center, I’m acutely aware of how many women are homeless. I wrestle over how to bring positive outcomes to that relentless struggle, and believe I have something: C-Town. Plans in progress.

If I think all the time about the poverty-induced struggles of many of the women I see, I would be (and have gotten) depressed. On days off, I throw myself into making stuff: cookies and soups and stews from whatever ingredients I’ve got. Futzing around refinishing old furniture I’ve found with what paint I’ve scrounged.

My hands need to be working the earth. The apartment’s balcony garden provides too little work to satisfy that obsession. And now, during the cold/rainy period, I have to hold back for the hibernation of most of the plants –except a zinnia that won’t quit blooming. I’ve put in a pretty good starter roof garden at the Women’s Center. I work in my daughter’s large yard, a wondrous buffet of rare-ish tropical plants and fruit trees, and I occasionally get to work with a family through City Slickers Farms’ backyard garden mentor program.

I need my own land to create my last and most enduring garden. Already laid out on paper. A period of advanced bliss will begin when I find the land to buy and the money to afford it.

I want to begin a series of community dialogs about our ‘race problem” – as the clash of cultures has been named. The subject revs emotions in the West Oakland neighborhood into high gear. Scary – but think of all the animosity that could be channeled into useful joint efforts.