Making Time for Yourself, The Oft Confusing Road to Healing


Sometimes it’s as simple as turning off the radio and letting your thoughts come forward while you’re rolling along at 10mph in four lanes of rush hour traffic. Even if you find yourself with this luxury, it can be hard to fully take in if you’re distracted by now being late to work, anxious to get home, or one of the million other things we worry about.

Unfortunately, I have to admit I find myself worrying a lot lately and it actually takes a great deal of effort to schedule time to spend on myself. I’m not talking about giving myself a spa day; it’s far more laborious than that. I’m talking about setting aside time to hear myself, to throw my list of countless distractions aside and let my real self settle in again. Though extremely liberating by the end, it’s painful and gets more painful the longer you avoid giving yourself that time.

Bulb resident letter

A letter to the public from a loving Bulb resident evicted this year.

Today, I woke up feeling bogged down by all the major life changes I’d like to make and when afternoon came around, the sun began beating hot and stagnant air into my room and I realized I needed to get out. If I was going to sweat I might as well make some actual physical laps instead of thinking myself in delirious circles on the couch.

I decided to spend the afternoon at the Albany Bulb, more plainly known as the Albany Waterfront Trail, north of the Berkeley Marina. Originally used as a construction landfill in the 60s, the Albany Bulb was left to retreat back into nature in 1983 when the dumping was ordered to cease. Since then, the area has been hotly contested as it became an overgrown jungle of concrete and rebar, a prime playground for street artists to develop their work as well as a perfect place for new civilization to emerge in the form of a well-organized vagrant encampment.

Overall clutterThis year, the city of Albany with hopes of turning the land into profit, successfully evicted the community of Bulb residents. All that stands in the place of their homes is a giant dumpster and the looming sticky-sweet smell of gentrification.

Well manicured, sterile parks are not hard to come by but a land left to the wild and covered in blank canvas is priceless. When I first moved to the Bay Area, this small peninsula jutting into the Bay, quickly became one of my favorite places for inspiration. When you first arrive, it is quite clear that it has been just that for numerous people. Along the entrance, giant concrete slabs are covered in paint and words, strewn like pages loosened from a book of would-be fortune cookies, written by the seeking and disenfranchised:Slabs

“Happiness is resistance”

“Humility + Courage = Serenity”

“Condemning my imperfections has never enhanced my appreciation of life or helped me to love myself more – from Courage to Change, Al Anon”

“Today I chose happiness and accept insanity”

“Then > Your fist is only as big as…?”

“If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”

“It’s more than okay to be a wingnut”

“The Oft Confusing Road to Healing”

“One day at a time, One minute at a time”

“Dear Sondai: This is the Year!”

Abstract Sculpture Lego like

I’m forced to move slowly along the path. The pile of rubble sinking into the dry brush at the edge of the water creates so many surfaces that if you look only in front of you, you miss another set of viewpoints, another collection of affirmations.

In the sun, longing and hope steam off these rocks. I put a star in my notebook next to:“Today I’ll pretend to know what I’m doing.”

Across the water is the silhouette of the old Bay Bridge, with a solid blue hole of sky piercing through where it’s been dismantled. The sleek new Bay Bridge is nearly invisible in front of it. A gulp of cormorants floats along, occasionally taking turns diving for fish.

As I walk, I soak in whatever scraps of art peer out over the water, knowing with each step I get closer to where the small stone castle usually sits, a sentinel sealed with decades of paint on the edge overlooking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m apprehensive and half expecting that it’s been demolished as all this debris will be cleared out someday to make way for shops and restaurants and expensive waterfront condos.

Luckily it doesn’t appear any of the art has been disturbed yet and as I rounded the corner, there the castle was as usual.


Before heading back, I walked to the other side of the peninsula to see if it was really true, if in fact, the camps were gone. I came upon the site of the first camp I remember, a collection of tarps woven between trees with a nice set up of water and a camp stove. He even had sort of a side yard with a fence made out of shopping carts, bike parts, cans and all other things made of metal.

SomeLabyrinthone had put a labyrinth in on the yard some time ago, but since I last visited. Now there are at least two there that I know of, another sits just over the hill slightly to the west closer to the main camps.

It seems suitable that they are here. The Bulb is a perfect place to meditate, to think, to create. Now that it is vacant of its residences though, it’s less alive and it feels almost as though contemplation comes as a quiet whisper, like it would when you stroll through a cemetery. The dry brush snaps and cracks presumably from the movement of insects, and possibly the lack of rain. But otherwise there are few sounds besides the distant traffic.

At some point in our lives of constant seeking and longing, I presume we find a balance. There is always a level of uncertainty; certain aspects of our lives will always be uncontrollable. These small moments to clear our minds of the billions of distractions from man-made life bring us closer to that balance, to gaining enough contentment to let the natural uncertainties stand as they are without effecting our happiness.Suffering Speak


Grandma’s 85th Birthday Celebration

While I was in NY viGrandmacuttingcake2siting family, I was very lucky to attend Grandma’s 85th birthday party. Dad, Lydia and I went to Grandma’s around 10 and Dad’s two sisters had everything pretty well set up.   We stopped on the way to pick up the buns and meat platters and I set to cutting the buns when I got to Grandma’s while Lydia helped them finish setting up. The day was cold, rainy and terrible. We were all afraid that Grandma’s friends might be hindered. Regardless, the Aunts got the picnic tables placed under the awning where Grandma usually parks the car, the food fit inside on the buffet and the drinks on the porch. It worked out rather flawlessly.

The slow drizzle of rain lacked the terror of wind so it wasn’t unpleasant and around noon Grandma’s friends started flowing in. Most of them, of course, were white haired folk of varying degrees of wisdom and frailty. In the middle of them all and as timeless as ever, Grandma stood dressed in a pair of sleek white pants and a striped blue and white top, turquoise drop earrings and a matching pendant, black thick glasses framing her eyes and her hair white and fluffy around her uncompromisingly beaming smile. I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone with the grace and energy that she exudes. Years ago, I went to visit her several days after she had a pacemaker put in and even though she had a giant wad of gauze protruding from under her sweater, she was still running around completely unencumbered, putting together an impromptu dinner. She truly doesn’t miss a step.

So, of course, at her own 85th birthday party, you would find her cutting the cake and serving out slices.   She was good enough to let her daughters do most of the party preparations though, knowing how important it was to them to let them take care of everything. She still whipped up a giant helping of her classic potato salad and baked bean casserole, made with no lack of irony with “Grandma Brown’s” baked beans from a can.

I sat down to eat my endless plate of various beige albeit tasty casseroles with Grandma and was pleasantly surprised to find myself with some of the ladies from the Outlook Club. These ladies are an inspiring bunch, really. I’ll admit I would otherwise fall prey to the perception that all older people in this backcountry area of the world are content to be stuck in their ways, unyielding to a natural curiosity of the outside world. I remember them getting together when I was young, building their knowledge with short meetings on any topic that came across their path and feeding themselves with long lunches and open minds. It appears that even a decade and a half later, from the perspective of my short lifespan at least, they are still inquiring just as strongly as ever.

Towards the end of the party, the rain dried up a bit and the sky stayed a clear gray. I sat on the back porch with a couple whose names I never caught. I spoke mostly with the wife as her husband, a tall man bent with a cane, sunk into a quick nap in his cozy secluded chair. We started with the usual small talk about the weather and how it was nice that it was beginning to clear up, how the gray wet day actually made Grandma’s flowers look so much brighter. Then she told me a story about the Copper Beech tree on her property in Virginia and later about her son who lives in Hong Kong with his Filipino wife and children. She knew quite a bit about China actually and as we talked more it was clear that she was quite sharp though she and her husband have been inadvertently quieted by time.

GrandmaspartywebWhen she left, I had a minute to ponder the situation of the aging, which is admittedly hard to grasp at my point in life. It’s difficult to see a group of people nearing the end of their days, many struggling with the loss of basic hearing or sight and of course, some with even more serious issues. Their existences have been reduced to survival and memories and often the conversation comes to things that are lighter to grasp like the weather or the goings-on of their families. I look out into the sea of white and gray hair and I try just for a minute to visualize what they all would’ve been like forty or fifty years before at the peak of their liveliness, when they weren’t heavy with the natural weight of age.

I wouldn’t even have recognized my own grandmother probably. The woman I know as a grandmother is, presumably, a rather different person than she was as a mother, a wife, a sister, and a child. We as individuals are a culmination of our entire lifespan of experiences, but it seems very rare that any one other person will get to experience all those incarnations. Even though that is the natural state of our relationships with people and is likely unchangeable, part of me finds that deeply tragic. That as much as I love my grandmother and wish to know her, I will never truly know the full person she is.

That’s one of the many reasons why we have stories. The woman I talked to on the back porch began to brighten when she told me the story of the Copper Beech tree that her kids and all the neighbors’ kids used to climb, even as it was clear the trees eminent removal weighed heavily on her. She beamed when she told me that once in awhile, a child or two still come to climb the tree. It’s these small moments of glow, so much more likely in conversations with the older generation than the younger, that can carry a person into legacy even for a complete stranger.

Grandma has told me plenty of stories. They come just like the story of the beech tree as quick antidotes over dinner, little slivers of stories that come out when she thinks of them that I piece together over time to try and get a fuller glimpse of her story.

At Work and the dilemmas of personal time

MedicineLake What was so important this past year that I couldn’t manage to write a single blog post?  Well, last year around the time I posted I was unemployed and desperately getting low on funds.  I was unemployed for only about 2 or 3 months and I realize in the grand scheme of things I’m very lucky that it was such a short run.  In that short time, I started to feel really emotionally unstable.  I’d sleep in late, take a couple naps in the afternoon and in between sit in front of the computer hitting the refresh button on craigslist and applying to anything that wasn’t customer service related.  I’ve done enough of that and I would rather be unemployed and destitute than go back to it.

I wasn’t getting very far and a couple of my friends were using Taskrabbit to pick up odd jobs.  Taskrabbit is a website that allows anyone to post a project they need help with and anyone who has gone through the vetting process can bid on the task they want.  This is how it worked back then at least.   The task could be anything, from one day painting an office and walking a dog to part time help packing boxes for a small startup.

I hesitated at first because after you created a profile of your general skills and interests, you had to submit an automated video interview during which you have a certain amount of time to answer a couple generic questions.  Basically, Taskrabbit wants to make sure you’re not crazy.

But eventually, I got desperate enough to go through the video interview and complete my profile.  The first week I bid on tasks, I refused to go lower than $15/hr.  Many of the tasks were located in San Francisco and I knew I needed the commute to be worth it.  I was denied and I was afraid I was going to have to undersell myself.  Then I got lucky. A small startup in San Francisco needed someone a few days a week in the afternoons to come in and help pack and ship their products.  Seemed easy enough and it was more than a regular task, it had potential to be a part time job.When I got there, it was immediately a full time job.  They needed a lot of help.  They were growing and within two weeks or so, I was hired on as a full time employee with the company, a cushy salary and benefits were immediate.

Just as I had started the Taskrabbit task, I also happened to have an interview at Leslie Ceramics Supply in Berkeley as a Saturday customer service associate.  It clearly wasn’t going to pay very much and was only one day a week but the benefits of being immersed in such a reputable company would be invaluable to my own ceramic practice which had been completely on hold since leaving Vermont.  The business is locally loved and run by a small crew and they are on the cutting edge.  I would’ve known everything there was to know about ceramics by being there.

I passed it up.  I needed a steady job with steady income.  Sometimes I would be needed at the startup on the weekends but besides that, working 6 days a week is not a long term solution for my mental stability.  I knew I would burn out if I tried.

Over a year later,  the startup has blown up and we’ve already moved the warehouse twice.  I’m not just packing boxes all day and going home.  Now I’m charged with managing the crew that packs all day and it’s a lot more brain power than I’d like to put into a job.  I can’t just go home and turn it off.  I’m good at managing but I hate it.  I haven’t found time to develop myself, my ceramic practice, and obviously my writing.  And it’s catching up with me.

I love being financially stable.  I make enough where I could potentially pay off the rest of my college loans and my car payment in the next 6 months.  I’ve been able to start slowly building a ceramic practice, starting with a generous gift from my manager and coworkers when I first started as a Taskrabbit that allowed me to buy a pottery wheel.  They have been good to me.

But I struggle now with the added responsibilities that have come to me over the past year.  We are supposed to want to climb the company ladder, to make more money, to build a 401k, to have more input and responsibility and if nothing else, to build a resume.  Working over 50 hours a week doesn’t give me much time to focus on the things I really want.  And when I’m finally out of work, my mind is still reeling from the day’s meetings or the next day’s meetings to come.  Sure I live a full life; I go to the gym 2 to 3 times a week, go fishing every weekend and have even managed a couple weekends of camping.  But overall, I don’t want to do this with my life.  I do want to work for something important.  And as good as this company has been to me financially, they lack a mission statement that I truly can get behind.

I’ve been in Oakland for almost three years and I’m getting the wanderlust again.  Curiosity is the heart of my being fortunately and unfortunately.  I want to experience a lot more than I am.

Maybe the answer seems simple.  Stay at this job another 6 months or even a year, whenever I’m able to pay off my loans and save enough money to feel comfortable for awhile.  Then float off into the world, maybe travel, or take some classes etc.  And then find another job eventually that suits me better.

The catch is I will never make this much money again.  I’ve learned a lot about startups and the most distinguishing trait seems to be when you are venture backed you can pay your employees a seriously livable wage, at least the earliest employees.  When I decide to find a new job,  I will be lucky if I get paid half as much and enjoy half the flexibility.  It is a wonderful feeling to not have to clock in or feel like you’re under someone’s thumb all day.

Gone Fishing web The other catch?  A year is a long time to be consumed completely by something you dislike.  Some weekends are better than others but much of the time I spend two full days just trying to get work out of my head and my projects, now labeled as “hobbies,”  that are important to me feel overwhelming and I get very little accomplished on them.  Something has to change.  I keep picking at my projects but I have to acknowledge that life is very unbalanced right now.  And I’m “supposed” to be happy about that.  I have a great job that pays me a lot.  What more could I ask for?  Asking for more makes me selfish and unappreciative.

That’s obviously not true.  We are more than our jobs.  Unless we have a job that we want to be consumed by, we need to be able to nurture the other parts of ourselves.  In my case, those other parts often become more important than a job.  I don’t want my “hobbies” to be the parts of me that mean something and the majority of my time goes to something that doesn’t.  I don’t care what we as a society consider normal; this structuring of our lives isn’t healthy.

The List Challenge: meditating on Mom

One of my favorite poetry writing exercises is making a list of the items in the room you’re sitting in.  It sounds mundane and potentially uninspiring but I’ve found that as your list grows and your mind’s eye cracks open further, short naked matter-of-fact nouns evolve into more elaborate emotive descriptions.  By the end, you have captured the very essence of your own perception in this particular moment.  You learn a lot about how you see yourself and your life and what you’re trying to create for yourself.  Acting as a part of a larger complex story, each item that you’ve chosen to nest with carries some significance, a memory, a telling contradiction.

So why has this self-illuminating strategy come back into my thoughts?  In my last post, I mentioned a couple of the lessons I’ve learned from my parents.  The teachings from my dad come in very vivid pockets of memory, very specific encapsulated events, each one easily it’s own beginning-to-end poem.  My mother’s teachings are however, far more complex; rather than quick instances, they run like a spider web on the inside of my skull attaching to every area of my brain, remaining more abstract, sometimes incomprehensible.  I felt that perhaps meditating on a list of her lessons would create the complex story that is our mother-daughter relationship, would provide the most accurate recollection and in turn, as it does with the items in one’s room, become more vivid and concrete and of course, likely painfully illuminating.  Upon reading my last post, my mother was a bit upset that I didn’t seem to have other lessons of hers to share.  That wasn’t exactly the point of that post, but I’m up for that challenge.  Unfortunately, when my mother inadvertently asks me to fulfill her needs in some way, I think it’s much like asking a genie for a wish; the outcome is not exactly what she might have been hoping for but it’s real all the same and in the end, she was the one that taught me to be this brave.

Like many children, I went through the phase of being angry with my mother for some of the things she inadvertently taught me that ultimately proved false.  But I have grown up enough to realize that she is not to blame for any of these; we are all products of circumstance and there is no blame to attribute when we are all bound to situation.  My mother was a single mom, working long hours and holidays in the predominantly male workforce delivering for Federal Express.  The way she coped with working in a less than nurturing environment was admittedly not particularly graceful.  She came home late, exhausted and infuriated.  All she ever wanted was to have kids and have a family and here she was, with only one child she would bear, a job that would consume her physically and mentally, and little energy left to be the present parent she wanted to be.  I hardly blame her for the lessons I learned in between the ones she really meant to impart and after going through this process, I have truly learned to embrace all of my childhood with her.  When other circumstances changed, it was always the two of us, which is to say we had the typical mother-daughter relationship that sometimes looked like bickering and sometimes like dancing.  It still does but I like to think acknowledging it for what it is gives it the power of real legacy.

Hang in there this is a long one but the effort I like to think is worth it.  Also, having gone through this meditation, which has been a lifetime in the making has given me a lot.  After reading this, I would love to hear from anyone interested in accepting this challenge, again it’s a long one and quite intimate.  Make a list, the lessons that your parental figure(s) taught you, whichever one that you feel most influenced by or are inspired to contemplate for the moment.  The next blizzard you get East Coasters, do it; I know you’ll have time.

In this list, you’ll learn about my mom but more than likely, mostly about me.  This is the point during our date that you are forced to flip through the old album of my baby pictures, uninhibited and naked splashing in the tub.  Here is my list-poem for my mother:

Because I Said So

 1 – How to Nest:

how to wash dishes;
how to finish all the food on my plate no matter how long it takes;
how to vacuum after you dust, always starting at the top, working thoroughly down to the lower rungs of       every dining room chair;
how to mow the lawn in a smooth well planned pattern from the edges inward, weaving close between trees without hitting stones and roots, be wary of the shed and the propane tank;
how to dote on houseplants;
how to love animals and know when to let them go;
how to start sewing projects and put them all unfinished in a bag in the closet;
how to cut hair;
how to shop without buying anything;
how to shovel snow;
how to enjoy a good nap;
how to watch too much tv, feel guilty about it and keep doing it.

2- How to Carry Yourself:

how to act a genius and judge others as useless if they don’t take their studies seriously;
how to be determined, practice until perfection, to prime yourself to someday “save the world for women;”
how to pretend to be a rebel;
how to hate your job and pretend you don’t;
how to project a strong, independent tough woman persona with leather chaps and a motorcycle candy-coating the vulnerable jelly-filled sensitive inside;
how to not cry no matter how sad you are;
how to hold onto your anger inside until it purges itself inappropriately towards the person closest to you
how to be a victim in order to gain sympathy and/or feel justified in holding a grudge;
how to mistrust men;
how to hold other people accountable for your feelings;
how to work hard despite all obstacles;
how to make the best out of being punished;
how to entertain oneself;
how to overreact;
how to worry;
how to bite your nails when you’re nervous;
how to intimidate people with a harsh stare;
how to laugh with all my teeth and squeak when you’re trying to suck in more air to keep laughing;
how to internalize criticism and bitterness and remain outwardly agreeable;
how to not care too much about your appearance;
how to care too much about your appearance;
how to shower and change your underwear everyday;
how to argue and win with the tone of actual knowledge in the absence of actual fact;
how it’s never too late to do something you’ve always wanted to;
how lying is bad unless it’s small and you’re good enough that you can get away with it;
how to cooperate, lean into the turn with the driver when you’re on the back of the bike and stay completely still when riding on gravel;
how to drive under pressure.

3- How to Love:

how to appreciate simple rituals together, i.e. having lunch at Denny’s and going shopping;
how to bake cookies and cakes, carve pumpkins, trim Christmas trees and blow out birthday candles;
how to hold your children responsible for your success;
how to hold your significant other responsible for your feelings without telling them what they are;
how to be devoted beyond measure, i.e. she chased me around the bathroom for hours with a razor blade to cut off a wart on my foot as I shrieked with terror until I convinced her to let me do it myself and of course, it didn’t hurt at all;
how to show love by buying people presents;
how to show love with simple tasks and the element of surprise, i.e. when I realized she was Santa, I snuck downstairs one year and slept behind the couch to decorate the living room in the middle of the night;
how to be silly, i.e. blaring Celtic music and manically step dancing in the living room until our faces were red and snorting with laughter;
how to cherish the stories of your ancestors;
how to dream about who you are.

Most important lesson I ever learned from my mother: how to be hurt, survive, be flawed and still be able to love.

Mom and I 2000 bikers

All rights reserved, yo.

So define Punishment: an act of perception

Terra Cotta pots in water

I began whittling away at my 49 hours of community service today to atone for the atrocious crime of turning right at a red light slightly too quickly.  To review, that is, in the smirking, sunny state of California, an undeniably reckless offense resulting in a $490 fine and a point on the culprit’s license.

I felt very fortunate to have my penalty reduced to community service as not only am I morally against the particular legislation that makes this grossly overindulgent fine legal but also more than willing to spend my time in a beautiful place connecting with my surroundings rather than spinning in a stuffy gray office chair making money as my soul is slowly sucked out by the overhead fluorescent lights.  After a few weeks of calling obsolete or flaky organizations through Project 22, the court division for community service projects, I managed to set up my first few hours scrubbing pots at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.  I was ecstatic.  The job itself is menial and laborious but I saw an opportunity.

The morning was rainy and dreary as I climbed the hill; the volunteer coordinator, Grace, called me early to see if I’d like to reschedule considering how miserably cold it would be.  But by the time I got my purple rubber gloves on the sun already started glistening across benches of tiny potted succulents.  I was set up in a corner overlooking the garden’s private nursery enclosed by fresh smelling trees and crisp damp air and taking in big breaths of cleansing punishment.

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

It drizzled lightly on and off throughout the morning as I diligently turned each terra cotta pot in my hand, scouring with the other.  I took the chance to listen to last fall’s episodes of  Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.  The first few episodes I barely heard.  I couldn’t focus on the words but after about ten of them, my attention pulled inward and started to catch a phrase here and there. I saw the terra cotta pots staring up at me with their sharp cyclops eyes, poking out of the dirty puddle in front of me just as I caught Keillor in mid-poem, “luminous angels.”  The smell of algae and dirt filled me with warmth and I knew the spell was cast; my mind managed to focus long enough to attain that highly tuned, conscious and often ungraspable place of creativity that it so loves to avoid and fall into at the same time.

So I dwelled in this place for a few hours, listening to Keillor’s recitations and quick intellectual blurbs mixed with my mind’s own inadvertent random recollections.  A woman on her way by to her cozy office, smiled, and “looks like you’re being punished out in the rain with your hands in cold water.”  I relished in the irony of her comment and I’m not sure why but my mind took me back to when I was a child; my dad tried to teach me how to read a compass and though he started the lesson over more than once, each time with slower phrasing, I still wasn’t able to understand.

My first thought was: I’m glad I’ve got that figured out now.  My ability to comprehend my own direction has grown enormously.  Secondly, I realized that I have so many vivid memories of these little lessons I had from dad, maybe because I didn’t see him as often so they seem like more isolated events.  So to balance out my mind in this moment, I tried to figure out what I had learned from my mom.  I’ve done this exercise a couple of times before to less vivid avail but this time I held it in my hands, enclosed in wet oversized rubber gloves.  My mom taught me how to scrub, to do it over and over until there isn’t a speck left of imperfection.

I felt good about what happened today.  I felt like I had won; that this experience is a very good glimpse of what I love about life.

Therapy in the Redwoods

RedwoodsI took a long therapeutic hike through Joaquin Miller Park today.  It’s been a few months since I’d been there so it felt deeply provoking to soak in the cold damp air, the rustle of leaves and the high pitched groan of the swaying redwoods calling to each other across the forest like whales in the ocean. My mind managed to run everywhere, revisiting the steps of the last few months, the people I’ve lost and the moments I celebrate.

I came equipped for a long afternoon wandering the trails with snacks, water, camera and a cup of coffee.  It’s Sunday and sunny and warm so the park was littered with dogs and people running, biking, power walking and gossiping.  We were all out in the world practicing something for ourselves.  I really had little intention but to cleanse myself of the negativity I’ve been carrying lately but today took it’s own control and became a day of remembrance, gentleness, and celebration.  There was no room for self-judgment so I as people ran by, biked up hills, walked their dog, I practiced walking silently like my friend, Susan, taught me, the way the Lakota do.

I thought about her and Sally a lot as I walked the trails rolling from the sides of my feet and how much the three of us have struggled to find a place for ourselves in the world.  I yearned for their company today, out in the innocent world, soaking in the whispers of the air through the trees, the birds and the singing streams.  My mind finally quieted down and I could just exist here, one foot in front of the other with myself and my invisible friends.  I inadvertently heard a soothing chant repeating in my mind when it ran out of things to think: “Om mani padme hum…Om mani padme hum.”  In the last few days, it has come to me quite often, strongly and without actual attempt.  My brain seemed to know what it needed to say to itself in order to cleanse it.  It still runs behind my thoughts.  And when I collapsed on the couch when I got home, I fell asleep to another repeated chant, involuntary weaving a spell on myself, “Love for self; love for others. Love for self; love for others.”

I very much needed to release whatever I was able to release today.  Bits of the stress of court last week, of not having a stable job, of potential poverty, of isolation have become inconsequential and I’m hoping to keep this positive mindful flow going.  My body and mind seem to do it for me if I give them the space.

The Hanging Judge

It was finally my day in court.  This ridiculous situation would finally be resolved.  Knowing I was at the mercy of the judge’s whims, I waited among fifteen other defendants at 8:30 am with my packet of legal documentation and praying to the universe for justice.

Of the 15 pleading their cases, at least 5 or 6 maybe more were there to contest the Redflex camera catching them turning right on red without a long enough stop.  My hopes quickly diminished after each one presented their arguments only to be swiftly found guilty.  A woman with a leopard print shawl and heavy mascara cried on the waiting bench after sentencing while the man after her received the same decision.  She would pay $589, $530 for the initial ticket and $59 for traffic school to remove the point from her license.  She had been in the middle of a three car caravan shuttling kids on a field trip.  The first car had made it through the yellow light but she got stuck with the red and probably didn’t want to lose her party.

The man after her pleaded his case in hopes of a reduction.  He hadn’t had a moving violation in over 30 years and he had been driving his injured wife to visit her mother in a senior facility.  The judge refused to consider any reduction and he would pay $490, refusing to go to traffic school based on the shear absurdity of the charge.

Judge Dawn Girard was a very no nonsense sort of woman, short and stocky under her heavy robes with dark rimmed glasses and pulled back thinning blonde frizzy hair.  I can only stipulate she has been hardened by years of listening to angry and unreasonable excuses that she can no longer detect the truth. If it were otherwise, it was never really about justice.

I listened intently to Paul Cirolia, the Oakland Police Officer that reviewed the Redflex violations, as he read each person’s nearly identical citation.  Oddly enough, I would be the only defendant that did not own a Mercedes, BMW, or Hummer.  The large crack in the back bummer of my Ford Escort was visible in the photo of my license plate and if only there was sound recorded on the video, the court would hear a chainsaw in the shape of a car going down the road.

Considering how many guilty verdicts were rolling off the bench,  I didn’t have much hope.  I crawled up to the defendant’s chair and grew numb as I half listened to the evidence against me.  There was a short pause when he finished and the judge asked me what I would like to say.  I had almost completely shut down.  But I started right in as though this whole situation didn’t infuriate me too much to speak my mind.

I said, “As I’ve watched the other cases this morning, it seems clear that it doesn’t matter what excuse I give you.  I’m not here to contest the violation.  I’m here because $490 is beyond exorbitant for this violation.  I’m new to California and this experience has given me the opportunity to learn about these cameras.  The legality of them is highly controversial and the legislation itself expressly says that the city can not use these systems with the motivation of revenue generation, yet I have a document showing that this is exactly what is happening.  $490 is more than a month’s rent, more than my student loan, more than my car is likely worth…”

She cut me off, “You can stop right there.  How’s 49 hours of community service.”  I replied with a big smile, “Sold! I’ll take it,” and took my seat on the waiting bench.

I like to think the hours of reading over legal documents gave me the 30 second response I needed to get what I needed. It was a small victory but it was better than no victory at all.  This judge didn’t let anybody go with any leniency.  I would be keeping the small amount of money I do have and community service was actually something I looked forward to.  There are thousands of organizations that need volunteers and I would have my pick.  I’m still working out which I’ll be participating with but I imagine I’ll be spending my Saturdays digging holes and planting trees or weeding and watering plants at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

By principle, I’m still offended that these guilty verdicts are still occurring.  In the afternoon, another series of individuals with the same offense were found guilty and asked to pay the fine.  I would love to see how much money the city made just in that one day in that one room on these offenses alone.  As I understand, the afternoon group is getting together their resources and planning to appeal.  The Court of Appeals will give them more of a chance to get past these charges as there are several precedents that are starting to unmask the layers of corruption coming off these Redflex cameras.