Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Homeless Women in Santa Cruz
a poem tribute

Click this picture bigger to see a very interesting cloud formation.
Pacific Sunset, Feb. 2007
photo by Linda Lemaster
©The Home Office

FOR PATCHES Who Died Too Young

I drift through this town around twilight
on my broomstick
made from pain

Folks whisper to their kids, "We remember her,"
then tell me they've forgot my name

Clean water, second-hand bagels
and smelly, putrid plumbing
-- on a good day --
leaves me feeling blessed

On cold days my fingers
and my knees
light up like Rudolph's nose
Other times I'm transparent 'cept my smile
If I have one left

Will it help me pass this gauntlet one more time on my
walk from bus to blanket stash?
Will my bedroll still be there?

Dignified eyes staring down then away
right through me

Curious children hail me with their
innocence and warmth
'til Mommy's Auntie's Granny's haughty frozen glares
arrest their smiles their fingers and
the children's hearts, too, freeze.

The buckaroo boys, all jazz and hip
and shadowboxing on the street

they see me yes then say, "Hey Lady,
got a light?" or "Got a toke?"
But hurry off
like natural dudes when I reply,
"Got four bits
'cause I wanna phone my kids?"

just me and the pavement
Was that really
just now?
Or was it just a joke I played on me?

Whatever . . . it was something just last year
I said I'd never ever want to do.

Guess I'm just a-chillin' now, and dreaming by myself
Trying to remember dreams

Got time for dreaming NOW

No more wishing babies would sleep in
on just ONE Saturday sunrise for a change
No more wishing for "white noise" when alarm clocks
ring at seven
No more staying up late just to fold the laundry or
finish work or bills while wishing rather for
t i m e
for sleep and dreaming
No more daydreams on the bus to class inspired by
my night before's school homework

No more hot flashes in my own clean sheets
No more counting coupons on those rare night
I can't sleep
No more waking up because the neighbor's cat's in heat
or the raccoon's dumping trashcans all along the street
No more peeking at my miracle children growing
ever taller as I watch them lay asleep

No more satisfying tangles on
"my" floor
with blankets, pillows, secrets, poems, empty
wine glasses, and You
No more quiet glowing happily alone
Looking at the stars and thinking, "Where's we
buy that wine?"
and "What's it mean?"
and feeling how
You always made it feel like we were both

Once I was made of those fresh cotton sheets and
smells of you
Was that the real me -- always wishing
to recover just a little
shred of dreamtime
the JOY of life, just sleeping IN someday?

I've gained and lost vast heavens and hells
both mine and some I'd borrowed
yet finding now my dreams come back like
homing pigeons and uncompleted Yesterdays
still seeking their Tomorrows

California Dreamin'
and hoofing all the way
to the Mission's Styrofoam Soup

Got time to dream in the daytime now
and time to dream all night
Yet now no place to lay my head
no respite from hard streets and their
cruel, unblinking lights

© Linda Ellen Lemaster

This poem was first published in Street Spirit,
Publication of American Friends Service Committee
January 2007

some back-story and my opinion

The poem above, best read aloud, came to me when I learned a new friend had died of pneumonia after having to live on the streets. And then being pushed and busted around for trying to earn her way by washing car windshields, a fast-moving, often quite cold job. Her pulverized looking hands. She was always friendly while trying to earn a little cash -- never pushy and entirely polite.

I never even learned her "real" name; Patches is her street moniker, a safety nickname. I was immediately struck by how much we once had in common: an ordinary American mom's life. Yet me -- with an old Volvo for wheels and even a rented home -- it felt like we were worlds apart as we met; and me having to say "no" to her squeegie despite a dirty windshield. I was "too broke" yet we became friends that day anyhow!

I have numerous long-term homeless and once-homeless friends, in part because I treat them like human beings and they appreciate that. I learned this from Mitch Snyder long ago. Our first meeting -- Patches and mine -- was at Front Street and Soquel Avenue, downtown. It seemed then a minor instance for us.

Simultaneously, in my city, housed people were making it illegal for homeless people to wash car windows for shoppers, in one parking lot and then the next. I saw this shifting 'social engineering' take place over a matter of months, as both civic garages and "private property" lots outside pharmacies, bookstores and the supermarket pushed her out of her meager yet honorable existence.

I can imagine, but not prove, the pneumonia that killed Patches by age 50 was abetted by the raining and cold "bad days" during which she nonetheless continued working -- to earn her own way instead of begging or dumpster diving or getting institutionalized due to hard luck.

Patches was literally pushed out of surviving because somebodies didn't want to have to say "no" when she offered her service, or else because someone gets jealous as she made friends, and earned maybe an average of $3.50 an hour on a "good day." I feel those petty sorts of "reasons" moved that city to yet another layer of privatization and discrimination against indigent and homeless folks.

It's no longer 'legal' to offer to wash automobile windshield for parked shoppers who wish it. So then life goes on round about, as if nobody's the worse for it. Nobody has to see that they're literally causing suffering because "it's the law". When we sleep peacefully at night, it's at the expense of those who can't.

Maybe there were other extenuating factors adding to Patches early death? I don't know. I know only what I saw happening.

I believe Patches' struggling so valiantly to survive, and her dying while street-homeless, reflects on some deficiency amongst all of us who are housed. Some critical degree of humanity is lacking for us? Or else maybe it's simply class-based bigotry? Whatever the reason, we're making it even harder -- intentionally -- for people to stay alive when they're down. Our shared 'bad attitude' leads to pain, great harm and needless loss of life. In some hard-to-define way, I believe, these mean and obsolete social values lessen any meaning in our own lives, too.

Let's give up a mite of our collective "comfort zone" in order to soften the hell of people daily at risk. Is this unreasonable? Can we not restore the MARGINS of society, as educator and anti-homelessness advocate Peter Marin writes about, so those who can't deal with the whole tapestry of tasks and responsibilities needed to mainstream all at once do not have to get destroyed, including killed, by these social mores and cultural memes and our community-wide lack of compassion?

I hope to write more in the future about these social patterns and policies and about what else we can do to change our mean behaviors.

Linda's Hearth postscript
*for metaphor-unfamiliar readers, This poem was inspired (maybe even largely 'channeled' - poetry can be like that) by Patches' death, which shocked me, about four months after I'd met her. However it is not "about" her in particular. It is about women who are abandoned by society, perhaps? It is about being homeless in the town where I raised my children, for sure. I hope it is about the correlation between "not seeing" and social violence?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peter Camejo's Legacy

Peter Camejo, pictured here with Donna Warren, who also furthered California's Green Party by campaigning for a state office. I met these two remarkable people in Santa Cruz CA, at Louden Nelson Center.

by Linda Lemaster
September 15, 2009

Last Chance Road, CA -- I'm surprised to realize it's been a year already since Peter Camejo passed on. I was fortunate to attend his Memorial in Berkeley, after getting to know him through collaborations within California's Green Party. He was -- and is -- a tremendous inspiration and influence, not just on my 'political' persona and social self: his example and his counsel informs my whole being.

Peter was born in Venezuela. He was a renown leader and excellent organizer for Socialists in his 20's, including the Berkeley free speech student struggles, and came to the Green Party where his integrity and influence helped grow that Party. I understand Camajo was a founding member of California's Greens?

I am one of the many California Greens who got to know the man through our shared work and visions of a vital, real, democratic people. By this I mean, effectively, "One {wo}man, one vote." And taking responsibility for one's own adequate education. Later, he ran for Vice President with Ralph Nader. I saw such a noble potential in that ticket.

Despite the jaded indifference of commercial (aka "mass") media, which seemed to me to exclude all political partisans except registered Democrats and registered Republicans from getting any glimpse of honest press, Nader-Camejo garnered many first-time voters and provoked discourse about electoral anomalies across the nation.

Camejo helped me better understand the political wrangling I found all around me when I was lost. He was humble, genuine, enthusiastic, and an excellent communicator, with such a significant impact as leader and as political servant. He is the first (and so far only) political candidate who assured me he never ran an electoral campaign "in the red," and his book on progressive financing, The SRI Advantage: Why Socially Responsible Investing Has Outperformed Financially gives us all a blueprint about executing such an 'impossible' campaign ourselves.

Peter Camejo shared his experience widely and inspired us. I can never forget what he has given us, including his modeling for greater equity and inclusion, an agenda for demanding corporate accountability, an adamant plea for diversity as the way to greater social and community building, and his insistence that democracy is a real and achievable goal for people everywhere.

Peter Camejo, I miss you. I offer my deepest compassion and sympathy to Peter's family and friends.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thank You, Volunteers

Video embedded from:
Interview by Jessica Lussenhop


I survived the fire, mandatory evacuation, and all the adventures to follow; when I finally felt safe to go home, eight days' later, the newspapers said Lockheed Ridge fire was 84% contained. A few more days, '100% contained' was announced. Nonetheless, spot fires continue and every time in the past week I've left this ridge over the Pacific, I see red and white helicopters scooping up buckets of water from Scotts Creek and turning toward a spire of smoke. Today (Sept 2) returning home, I saw three airplanes and/or choppers and a fire tank engine, alongside Highway One, coastside, and more fast-moving flames getting doused, more smoke spreading So'Westerly down the surf.

I'm overwhelmed with so much gratitude to all the Firemen and all those helping experts who support them. Grateful to our community for opening it's arms in times of crisis and shock. And I'm especially gratefully thankful to Red Cross and to those, starting with Vintage Church, who contribute and share with us through the Red Cross when we're otherwise so vulnerable and at-risk. And finally, very deep thanks to my two caregivers whose jobs were turned inside out for a while so I could stay safe and protect my health.

'Pologies to the two orphaned kitties I'd promised to tend thru' August.

It worked! This overwhelming danger to our families and homes and native habitat is effectively over despite those flare-ups, and our prayers turn to our Southern California fellows and their families

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sonya Ann Magill -- Artist, Mentor, Businesswoman, Friend

A great artist and personal friend, Sonya Magill, died in her home due to lung cancer on July 23, 2009. She had a very short while of knowing about the cancer.

She was still working in her ceramics studio, and getting settled into her country place on Last Chance Road, Santa Cruz County, California, when she learned the cause of her constant coughing and throat irritation would soon be lethal.

Her ceramics studio had begun, she told me, right here on Last Chance Road over thirty years earlier. She said of her new place, “It feels like coming home.” She had lived many creative, artistic lives between her birth in Texas over five and a half decade ago, and The Studio where so many different ceramic delights were conceived and created and marketed.

I met Sonya over thirty years ago, when suddenly her early line: a honey-bear honey jar and her famous piggie with personality blossomed into a whole Studio Menagerie line of critters. In practically no time and much work, these ceramic sculptures were being sold in both cutie retail shops and marketing giants like Macy’s and Bloomingdale's. It seemed like everyone loved her work. For me, they were charming and elegant and yet accessible.

She engaged me to help her establish accounting systems to handle the growing workload, and then to file her first Federal Income Taxes as a sole proprietor business – this, after years of smaller scale distribution as individual. (Yes folks, long ago I “did numbers”.)

I got to peek into Sonya the Creative Dynamo and to watch Studio Menagerie’s growth. Other friends worked with her in production. It was inspiring as a business alone, yet was much more than a business. I will skip those adventures for now, except to share that Sonya was a “Warrior in service to the Queen.” Another time, so many stories! She's my favorite personally known feminist.

One time many years between then and now, Sonya called me in to help draft a short biography for sales work, about her artistic background. It was fun to learn her stories: of Vashon Island and silk screening; of much Beat Era San Francisco glory and mornings-after; of rooming with Janis; of working with developmentally disabled youth; of her glamorous modeling days; of her many roles in Hip consciousness, including the Diggers; and so much more.

Sonya’s ability to stagecraft and to create fashion trends in the ‘60s -'70s is legend. From a look at her scarf and hat collection, I have to believe she never quit those forms of artistic creativity, carrying this gift from stage and street theater troupes and through her personal style.

Sonya was very serious about her work -- both as artist and as a woman who became a success. She spoke of the losses in knowledge as crafts and artisan skills from her generation will be lost in death.

Sonya also left a body of commissioned works, mostly intricate sculpture, and many more popular ceramic pieces than I’ve described above. I heard her describing her three foot tall garden angels to her grand-niece with pride, just a week before she passed on. A friend has one of her “Three Faces of Woman” hanging garden figures. My daughter and I each have one of her round-belly pitchers from the early ‘80’s she made – I love it.

She inspires others more than she

probably could know while alive. But this is merely one old gal’s point of view. I can hardly wait to see who shares the stories about Sonya’s “political” art, as if anything in her universe wasn’t.

Sonya’s nephew, Alec Tsongas, is collecting stories about her, talking memoir. I’m launching this blog “early”, in hopes of helping him find those stories, because we who care about aesthetics may want to keep Sonya’s memories alive. For the brightening of our own lives.

If you know Sonya, or treasure any of her works, I hope you'll want to add to this page about Sonya Ann Magill. I will promptly share with Alec. If you leave contact info I will send it his way, too.

A memorial celebration for Sonya will be held at a future time: friends and family anticipate gathering somewhere near her incredible Studio and the Pacific Ocean she loved. I can post details as they emerge.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome to my virtual Hearth

Grab a virtual cup of tea, or help me to snap this virtual bucket of string beans, or cull through great recipes while we explore and resolve conundrum of this mass culture and hopefully restore an ethos of deep simplicity.

I have long wished to do all I can to cultivate a different facet of feminism - the Feminism of Hearth and Home. A feminism of non-competitive, cooperative cultivation of community which begins at home and flows, almost spiral-like, to include our whole homeland, Gaia. May we enjoy becoming whole Earthlings together?

My special friend, Sonya Magill, a great artist, reminded us regularly she was "A warrior in service to the Queen." I support her lovely war cry and strive to serve our Queen in other ways. I support using the soup ladel, the spare blanket and clean pillow, the shared water well, the willingness to hold another's crying infant in a pinch, the Christ-plate at table, as our tools for life-generating change our planet so dearly needs.

What I have learned as a mother, as a community activist, as a creative artist and occasional poet, may be helpful for others. A new way of sharing, this blog can help me incubate some thoughts, opinions and "theories". Plus, it's my "plunge" into this worldly technology, let it not be a contradiction as I learn.

Perhaps those who stop by my virtual hearth might share their ideas of home, of hearth with me? At any rate, it will be fun to be learning new things!
-- Linda Ellen Lemaster, August 23, 2009