This plant lives on Angel Island.  It’s everywhere on Angel Island.  And other places in Northern California, I’m sure.

Ryan and I fell for it pretty hard when we ferried over to the island for a day hike and picnic on Saturday.  We’re no botanists, but tried to identify different stages of its very colorful life cycle.  (First three photos by him; last one by me.)

Phase 1: Child
Phase 2: Teenager
Phase 3: Adult
Phase 4: Elder

Because I met this plant on Angel Island, its associations in my mind will be bittersweet: lovely but linked to the sadness of life and death that happened there.  Not only Native people exterminated, but also hundreds of thousands of immigrants — mostly Chinese, but also from Eastern Europe, Japan, and Central and South America — criminalized under a racist immigration system (sound familiar?); locked up and detained for weeks, months, or years; looking out the windows and watching the seasons change.

The passage of time reflected in this gorgeous, morphing, splendidly named “Great Quaking Grass” (Briza maxima) takes on new meaning in light of the poems carved in Chinese calligraphy into the detention barracks’ redwood walls.

Clouds and hills all around, a single fresh color
Time slips away and cannot be recaptured
Although the feeling of spring is everywhere
How can we fulfill our heartfelt wish?

More Angel Island poems here.

Mission Pie with Ryan

Yes, uh huh, yep.

Mission Pie is the best kind of pie shop.  A bright, airy café at 25th and Mission, filled with sweets and savories, operating on all kinds of good-for-the-community-and-environment bases.  Ryan and I met there yesterday to do some work: I was editing a video blog, and 18 hours later it’s still not finished but we got a sweet little photo story out of the deal.  I didn’t notice until uploading the pictures that they’re all in primary colors.  A fine, bright afternoon.  And who can resist that smile, huh?

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Faithful Fools Street Retreat, Gender Identity Disorder, and Disability As Class

I heard this radio piece on Tuesday morning because Sharon* wanted to listen to the voice of her late husband.  She was a bit of a nervous wreck (understandably) because later that day she and Carmen would be appearing before a judge who would decide whether or not Sharon qualifies for disability benefits.  With all the tumult of the past year — losing her husband, quitting a rehab program prematurely, entering a better program only to have her housing number come up in the lottery, which meant choosing between completing rehabilitation and having a place to stay when she got out (I know, right?) — this decision felt particularly momentous.  She’d been trying for over a year to secure this income in addition to government assistance, since she can’t hold a job because of her psychological disabilities.

Witnessing our welfare system firsthand through accompanying folks in the Tenderloin is a tremendous eye-opener for me, for sure.  I knew the system was fucked in a thousand ways, including bureaucracy and stigma, but it’s another thing entirely to stand beside someone as they endure the process.  In justifying her need for support by proving her incapacity to work, Sharon had to prove that she was off drugs (because people with disabilities and addictions don’t deserve support?) and recount all the traumas she has suffered in her life, from being born to a mother addicted to heroin, to being molested by her foster family, to being raped while working as a prostitute.  Rather than a celebration of her incredible resilience and survival, the testimony had to be crafted to emphasize inability, incapacity, pathology.

“Break a leg” I said as I dropped her and Carmen off at a downtown Starbucks, where they would meet with her lawyer to review before the hearing.  “Yeah,” she cracked, “maybe that would help my case.”

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Liberation, Social and Spiritual — East Bay Meditation Center

Hey friends!  Sorry I dropped off the face of the earth so suddenly!  I went into another Vipassana meditation retreat (my third so far under S. N. Goenka), and by the time I realized I’d forgotten to update the blog about it, it was too late: no phone, internet, reading, writing, or speaking for ten long days.  Thanks to everyone who’s visited and written to me in the meantime — a number of delightful messages and comments when I arrived home to San Francisco.  Mmmm.

For the first day or two since returning from the retreat, I’d been experiencing something of a blockage.  A mild panic or depression that left me feeling that all the activities and avenues I had been struggling to juggle up until the meditation course — work at the Faithful Fools; grad school and blogging; political study; and day-to-day dharma practice — were far too hazy, murky, massive, or complicated for me to ever significantly impact or contribute to any of them.  It’s been a long time since I felt such strong pessimism and self-doubt, and the timing — directly after a Vipassana retreat, which usually leaves me feeling giddy and abundant — added to the confusion.

Fortunately, I had just spent almost two weeks focusing at a deep level on the reality of change.  So I did the best that I could do: watched and waited.  Tried not to spin out or magnify things unnecessarily.  Felt and explored the negativity, stayed curious about it, rather than trying to push it away.

And wouldn’t you know — it worked!  Today my feet started coming back under me, thanks to some conversations with Ryan as well as three key pieces of media: one video, one book, and one radio segment.

I’ll share the book and the radio spot in the next few days.  The video, below, is an independent documentary made for this year’s East Bay Meditation Center annual fundraiser.  Seeing it today for the first time since early February, when it debuted at the event with Alice Walker and Jack Kornfield, reminded me just how much this organization inspires me, and how fortunate I am to be able to take part in it.  (Even participating in the documentary making was great!  Met some wonderful fellow members, and the filmmaker was tremendous, too.)

No more introduction necessary, really.  Enjoy!  And if you feel so moved, join in.




Free Farm Down The Street

The Free Farm lives on Gough and Eddy, five blocks down from our home at Faithful Fools. It’s being built on a vacant lot where a big church burned down fifteen years ago. The first plantings happened only a few months after I arrived at the Fools, if I remember right. Welcome ministry, an anti-poverty group up on Sacramento Street, has spearheaded the community project, and borrowed our Fools van on a few occasions to haul manure and mural installations. In short, I feel a heart connection to this effort and its facilitators, who are close friends of the Fools and deeply Foolish themselves, in many respects. Reverend Megan Roher, head of Welcome, has made a number of FF street retreats. She is legendary for her ability to rake in the busking dough, singing and performing in the subway stations.

Last Wednesday, a brief visit to the Free Farm — with its beautiful volunteer growers, homed and homeless, some inebriated, all open-hearted — proved just what I needed to kick-start a wondrous afternoon.

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John’s Dragon

A lovely new stat dragon (first two here and here) by the fantastic John Kovaleski, another of my cohorts at Goddard. John is the kind of person you want on your life team: hilarious, kind, talented, hardworking, humble, and just the right amount of weird. Creator of the adorable “Bo Nanas” cartoon, he’s also working on a wonderful illustration installation project, “Used Books Unbound,” that involves drawing cleverly on the pages of books.  It’s an honor to share this little green beast from John’s formidable brain!

And speaking of stat dragons, my original post (with the fabulous Bruce) is featured in this month’s issue of the Zen Peacemaker’s (ZP) online newsletter, Bearing Witness! (Sidebar, under “Resources For Mindful Technology Use.”) The May edition focuses on socially engaged Buddhism online, with some familiar topics (the digital divide; Twitter in Iran; Wisdom 2.0 — the book and the conference, where I tried to raise some economic issues) and some I’d never heard of (Second-Life demonstrations for Tibet; Burmese protest marches organized via Facebook). Ari Pliskin, ZP tech master and architect of these monthly newsletters, was a lovely houseguest here at the Fools last weekend when we both attended the Wisdom 2.0 Summit.  An opportunity to get to know the good-hearted man behind the media. :)

Have a good weekend, everybody!  More excitement in store for Monday.

Anchoring Chromatically

When I was about ten, my very favorite outdoor colorscape was a kind of calm, rich, horizontal trio of soft gray, dark brown, and brilliant green. You know how we associate scent with memories? Color works the same way for me (and probably for many of you, too). One or two shades can evoke a whole time and place and mode of being. Clay red and robin’s-egg blue bring me back to a wet walk through a southern Indian suburb. Rusty orange is the color of Barcelona. And yellow is the color of my bedroom: for nearly a decade, whenever and wherever I’ve been able to paint my walls, they’ve always turned out some kind of buttercup or saffron.

Yesterday I reconnected with color thanks to some more helpful tips from Soren Gordhamer’s book Wisdom 2.0. He says that in order to take a real break from computer work, we should try to (a) reduce information intake, (b) breathe deeply, (c) go outside (important one for me to remember!), (d) move around, and (e) keep communication to a minimum (147-148). So we should not, for example, read an article or catch up on a webcomic or play a computer game or text a lover or watch a TV show, even for fun. The most effective resting happens when we relax our discursive mind altogether, and anchor ourselves in experiences beyond screens and words.

With that in mind, I decided that instead of rushing to take the bus home and return to my reading, I would take my camera and meander around the Western Addition on my way back to the Tenderloin.

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