Some days just feel cosmic. Maybe it's just my inclination to observe phenomena through this lens, but sometimes it feels so much larger than just my perspective.
A couple mornings ago I biked to a metal fabrication studio in North Oakland to meet a guy about a job. When I arrived he was welding some incomprehensible metal form. The warehouse was full of machinery and materials, every surface was dusted with a light layer of sawdust. Luigi was animated when he shook my hand. I brainstormed with the woman I'd be taking over from about project management strategies while he gestured towards the piles around the warehouse.
"Clearly we need a lot of organization," he said, feigning embarrassment I could tell wasn't real, needn't be there, anyway, I was hooked and comfortable, aching to come to work in a place where people were getting dirty.
I'd explored his website after the recruiter reached out to me and discovered that he'd left a job at Tesla to revive his father's metalworking studio after he died. I tried my hardest not to mention my own freshly dead dad and managed not to until we were parting and it already seemed like he wanted to hire me.
Is it manipulative/stupid or truthful/smart to connect to a potential new employer via a very present sense of grief?
He invited me to the going away gathering for the person I'd potentially be replacing.
That probably means I got the job, right?
I biked to Caleb's workplace, only 3 minutes away, and stood outside texting my inner circle, straddling my bike on the corner of Shattuck and 58th. Caleb came out and we celebrated my almost victory. Caleb pointed out that the vacant building across the street was photographed for Sam Lefebvre's recent Open Space essay about the neighborhood and the deeply problematic "gang injunction" imposed upon it. After 4 years of work-life struggle, most of them (when not unemployed) spent commuting to San Francisco, the notion of working a 15 minute bike ride from my house, 3 minutes from Caleb's job, and literally across the street from the print studio I can never seem to get to enough lit up my spine, catapulted my bike back down Telegraph to meet up with David. Beaming in the "oh my yes it's finally Spring" sunshine.
As I type this I realize my dog has been dropping her ball off the edge of my bed behind me over and over in an attempt to get me to scold her for having the ball on the bed. She knows better. At least she's dropping it. I. Will. Not. Turn. Around.
Anyway, I was early arriving at the intersection I called home for 5 years, the intersection wherein my boyfriend-at-the-time and I got mugged by children moving in choreography. He couldn't leave my house after dark for months afterward, still chooses not to walk through that certain patch of sidewalk. I decided to kill time by investigating the hip 3rd wave coffee shop that opened up across the street from the beauty supply store on 20th/Thomas L. Berkeley Way and Telegraph. My roommates/Manifest collaborators and I had studied mainly at Farley's on Grand and Broadway during grad school. I texted them a video of the interior of this new shop, marble countertop, chandelier, mid-century modern couch, nouveau Bay Area in every way, a fraction of the already short distance from our former doorstep to Farley's, which has, coincidentally, undergone a makeover to take on this aesthetic in the years since we lived on 22nd St.
"Remember how many hours we spent at Farley's??? Miss y'all"
I drank a nitro cold brew while waiting for my lunch date with David. How is this a thing that exists? I love and curse my former life as a barista. With two of us in one household we rationalize our weekly bag of specialty coffee by generally not buying coffee out of the house. The logic being that we can only afford to be snobs if we also make it ourselves.
When I arrive to meet David I'm buzzing with springtime and biking and a probable-new-job-after-almost-three-years-of-turmoil and the cold brew I just had. He is so easy to talk to and we just spill into conversation about dads and parent death and jobs and publishing in the Bay and the transformations of the scene and the way our movements ripple out and spirituality and trauma and healing and atonement and forgiveness and patience.
We talk about his new chapbook publishing endeavor and I recall the first time he handed me a Try (the poetry zine he used to make with his now-wife Sara Larsen):
I was standing in the auditorium at CCA, Timken Hall, winter 2010, rehearsing, or arriving at or leaving rehearsal, for my first involvement with Poet's Theater: Lara Durback's production of Rachel Blau DuPlessis's play...the title escapes me now, but it was also how I first met Alex Cruz, being in Lara's interpretation of Rachel's play. David was perched cross legged atop some perch (as he was known for doing at the time) gripping a stack of stapled half-legal sized booklets (an underrated size for a zine, imho); he jumped down and thrust one into my hands saying, essentially, "You're here, you probably want this."
We hadn't been properly introduced at this time, but I knew who he was. Months prior, during my first week in Oakland, my Evergreen Mentor, D Wolach, had come down to do a reading with Rob Halpern, my favorite poet at that particular moment. D asked me if I would be a second voice in D's reading, and I agreed. When I arrived at what turned out to be David and Sara's apartment I was blown away by the packed room. I was never more comfortable than in a packed room in someone's living space, but generally these sorts of gatherings were centered around an underground band. I had tried and only slightly succeeded in generating something similar for writing in Olympia, and it died as soon as our collective did.
A punk show audience for a poetry reading? A self-made publication that reflected the immediate milieu?
I was home.
David and I walked to the lake reflecting on the changes to Oakland over the last 8 years. He mentioned having been asked to write something about "his Oakland"...we laughed and he said the working title was "My Oakland (is Not My Oakland)". We talked about his fellowship project, Agape, a radical Christian congregation that met in his living room for 3 years until recently moving to a nearby community center. A new chapter has formed in Portland, and he's ruminating on the space in his life this anticapitalist faith endeavor requires.
You never know what will take on what shape.
I tell him I feel like the the fallout of the sexual abuse callouts of 2013 in the East Bay poetry scene rippled out to create #MeToo and he says "Absolutely" with no hesitation, evokes Pound's characterization of artists as "the antennae of the race." We sit on the grass by the Fairyland sign talking about sexual assault, activism, restorative justice and the reciprocal relationship between atonement and forgiveness. I mention the patience those things can require. How hard it is to be patient when everything is so painful and unjust.
I recall and sing to him this song from Vacation Bible School. My family wasn't exactly religious when I was small, but we did go to a Christian church, I think mostly for the fellowship aspect, something that is easy for me to understand from this vantage point. Being part of this community of writers, even those I don't consider friends, has been crucial to my survival in Oakland.
"Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry
When you get impatient you always start to worry
Remember, remember, that God is patient, too
And think of all the times when others have to wait for you!"
I bike home and as I turn onto Market St. I notice a moving crew unloading from a truck in front of a house just around the corner from my house. One guy is carrying the smooth cherry wood frame of a mid-century modern arm chair, cushions removed. I wonder who the people are moving in, and how much that chair cost. More and more people look like me in West Oakland. My house is full of beat up mid-century furniture I found on the street or at Urban Ore or on Craigslist. I have never hired a mover, or owned a new couch, but my dead dad's house in Houston holds my grandparents' beautiful and pristine cherry wood mid-century cabinet, shelves, and table set I ache to bring into my home around the corner, unload from some sort of truck.
Does it make any difference if I unload it myself? No, I know it doesn't. Or that's not what makes the difference.
Existence for me on this edge of the country is wild and fraught, and as much as I've felt planted here over the last 8 years my roots feel tenuous, but maybe they should? The fact that I am, have been, able to make it work here throughout this time as the tent cities grow under every overpass of 580 and in medians around West Oakland, while people who have lived here their whole lives are being pushed onto the street, is not in any way meaningless. I can commit to this city without it needing to commit to me, and if I want to live here, let alone put down roots here, I owe Oakland that much.
Writing poems and making books, hosting readings in my house, is not enough...