WONDERFUL NEW PEOPLE RESOURCE IN SONOMA COUNTY!

All this, for $40! (No, not the printer, it’s just holding the icing machine.)

 

I’m having major surgery in a few weeks, and while trying to snag a few post-op resources, I came across an incredible community resource.

This ain’t my first rodeo with surgeries (it will be my sixth knee surgery.) (No, not all on the same knee!) I was hoping to save some money by finding crutches, a walker, and a knee-icing machine ahead of time. (I knew we kept some of this stuff from my last surgery, but we can’t find it. So it’s not just me, my husband can’t remember, either!)

I tried NextDoor to ask if anyone had crutches I could borrow or buy, and got a couple offers. I took one up, but complications occurred. Meanwhile, someone recommended a resource here in Santa Rosa called Medical Equipment Recycling Program. And it is jaw-droppingly good!

It’s a pop-up operation at 3000 Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa. (It’s confusing to get there, and Google Maps doesn’t have it figured out yet. It’s the driveway further north of the Amy’s Kitchen complex (the food people). In fact, you’ll have better luck using “American Storage” as your destination. It’s in their parking lot!

Most thrift shops will not accept medical equipment. They take up too much space. So most equipment eventually goes to the landfill.

This agency accepts donations, sanitizes the equipment, then they GIVE IT AWAY to anyone who needs it. For free. (Donations accepted, of course. I gave them a total of $40 for a walker, crutches, and an ice-cooling machine, and they were thrilled!) Your equipment donations give them inventory, and your $$$ donations allow them to rent the storage containers they use at American Storage.

They are only open 11am to 2pm on Wednesdays. But the transaction is quick, the volunteers are friendly and helpful, and I’ll be donating my equipment back to them as soon as I can.

If you live in Sonoma County, please help spread the word! And if you don’t have such a resource in your own community, Google “medical equipment recycling program” to find other organizations and rescources, and information on how to get a program started in your community!

Save money, reduce trash, save the environment. And be a force for good in the world!

Hearing the Call…

Homelessness is a problem not unique to California, but it can be more obvious because, obviously, the gentler weather works in their favor. There were plenty of homeless people in every placed we’ve lived over the past five decades.

My first art studio in Santa Rosa was near a park that had been a hot mess the years before I moved there. Rampant drug use and sales were an issue. But over time, this was mostly resolved, and now it’s a place where anyone can enjoy a little bit of nature.

I met quite a few homeless people, which was disquieting after the coffee shop next door closed for the day at 3 p.m., and again when it closed for good. Fortunately, I had a Dutch door, which allowed me to chat with them when they knocked on my door. I could assess them slightly, and simply close the top of the door when things got iffy. I had quite a few rich conversations with some.

My most frightening encounter was during an open studio event one evening late in the year, when night comes early. My tiny studio was filled with visitors, all happily exploring my space.

Until one older woman in a cheetah coat erupted.

She overheard me talking to someone about how I imagined myself an artist of the distant past with my artwork. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I said “pretended” instead of “imagined.”

She exploded. “Pretend” seemed like a fake façade to her, and she ranted on for several minutes about lack of integrity.

I was stunned, and tried to clarify my intentions. But she wasn’t having it. The push-back made her angrier. And everyone else fled my studio in a heartbeat.

Except for two women who stood silently by.

I am not good in these situations. When I’m scared, I run. I am not good in conflicts, and aggressive people scare the bejeezus out of me.

But something in me was paying attention. Something in me realized I was “doing it wrong”.

So instead of being defensive, I focused on connection.

I can’t remember what I said at the time. It was wasn’t about me, it was about the cave. How climate change caused those people to see their whole way of life disappearing in a handful of years. How those paintings were a prayer, calling the horses back. How the horses represent hope, and courage, for me as an artist, and for the world.

She calmed down, and listened.

And then I gave her a little horse. I put it in her hand, put mine around hers. I told her I wanted her to have it as a reminder of that. That we all matter.

Then I gently led her to the door and said goodbye.

Now, to be fair, in my mind, I figured giving her something was a good way to get her to leave. But that’s not how my two remaining visitors saw it.

Turns out both of them had experience with this. One was a psychiatric nurse, one had a similar background. Both of them said, “We knew she was going to be trouble. We knew it could go south in a heartbeat. And we weren’t going to leave until we knew you would be okay.”

Wow! Talk about angels in odd places….!!

They both said I had handled it beautifully. Met her where she was. Saw her as a fellow human. Being kind and patient.

I was flabberghasted. I felt I didn’t deserve the praise. I told them my own selfish intentions. They wouldn’t have it. (One of them still shows up to my events from time to time.)

Now, as an insight, that was pretty powerful. But it gets better.

A couple years later, I saw her picture in our local newspaper, The Press Democrat.

It was an article about people who lived on the streets who had finally been rehomed. She was on of them. An apartment had been found for her. In fact, she’d been in it for a couple months by the time she came to my studio.

What blew my mind?

She said that living on the streets was so traumatizing, it had taken her a looooong time to heal and recover. She said she was still ‘crazy’ for almost a year after, and she was just beginning to envision a normal life for herself.

It made me realize that even a home for a homeless person is not enough. They need support services, some for awhile, some for the long haul. They need to finally feel safe. And they need people who care.

That made me a teensy bit bolder in my interactions with this population. I remember a beautiful conversation I had with one person who was transitioning to female. At the end of our conversation, I asked her what she needed, expecting to hear “money”, and I would have given her some. But said, “I’m just so hungry right now.” Fortunately, I had a giant bag of granola I’d brought in for my snack stash. I asked if that would work, and she lit up with joy. I gave her the whole bag. (A year later, she appeared in a similar article. She now lives in a tiny house settlement outside Santa Rosa. Another artist in my community at the time had donated original hand-painted house signs for each unit.)

My assumptions about how to help others has gone through many transitions over the years. First it was, “Don’t give them money, they’ll just spend it on booze and cigarettes!” So I didn’t give out money. Until our same local newspaper shared that, if people on sleeping on a sidewalk, and cigarettes and booze help them cope, why should we judge that?

From then on, I would give pan-handlers $10 or even $20, after reading it could make a difference. One elderly gentleman danced for joy when I gave him a $20. “I’m gonna go over to that (fast food place) and buy breakfast!”

But later I learned that money is better spent supporting the non-profits that serve the homeless. Money gained through begging simply encourages them to “stay put”. In fact, my new studio is close to a residential facility that is the first step towards rehoming this population. It’s temporary shelter that works with people who have taken that first step.

I drive by there at least twice a day. It can be daunting at times. There’s often someone who will walk in front of my car as I drive by, on their way to the bus stop up the road, sometimes obviously intentional. During the hours they need to vacate the premises, they gather along the street. They leave trash behind. It can be annoying.

But then I think, if this is their only feeling of control in their lives right now, I can handle that.

And if you’d like to read a story about the best public art project I’ve ever witnessed personally, check out this excerpt in article about Bud Snow’s project in my Learning to See series:

Bud Snow was someone I met during my studio years at South A Street in Santa Rosa. They do large-scale public art, colorful, vibrant murals, usually up high. The featured work on that page I linked was a mandala painted on a cemented area on the ground, in a park near my studio. It took them much longer to paint than usual, because passers-by could stand and watch them as they worked, asking questions and in total awe of the work.

Soon Bud Snow offered every visitor a chance to help paint the mandala! I did, and over a period of four days, I saw them interact in a beautiful, powerful way with every single visitor: Parents picking up their kids from the elementary school across the street. Local workers and business owners. Homeless people. Every single one of them was thrilled to take part. It was one of the finest, truest examples of ‘public art’ I’ve ever seen, involving members of the very community the art was meant to serve.

Yes, Bud Snow was paid for the mural. (Though the extra time spent with the public tripled the time it took, so they took a hit.) Yes, Bud Snow’s work is now a sort of very-public advertisement for their work. Each one enhances their reputation and their asking price.

And yet cities pay for public art because it’s considered a powerful force for good for their citizens. The premise is, art really is a gift that everyone deserves, not just wealthy collectors who will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting (of a long-dead artist)….”

I still remember the homeless guy who showed up as night fell, on Julia’s last day of painting the mural. He had a flashlight and held it for us as we helped Julia pack up her stuff in the dark.

It was obvious that he was happy to be part of a group, happy to help her, happy to be ‘of use’. He smiled the entire time. I can still see his face, gently revealed by the light he held in his hand.

I’m still learning, of course. But maybe some of my experiences can be a source of hope for others.

NextDoor, an online resource for individual neighborhoods, is often a place where people can complain at length about this issue. And sometimes, the lack of compassion, anger, resentment, and general angst about this population can get out of hand.

The latest outrage about homeless people is directed at a woman who helps herself to flowers in a neighbor’s yard. When told not to pick them anymore, she got angry. She now picks them and throws them in the street.

The discussion is almost evenly divided between “please be kind” and “get rid of these creeps!” Some of the responses were downright scary, scarier than most homeless people I’ve dealt with.

Here’s what I wrote today:

“FWIW, my partner of over 42 years brought me flowers on our first meet-up. They looked freshly picked, and he told me he’d picked them from a tree lawn on the way over. (He didn’t have a car at the time.) I told him most people do not want their flowers picked, and he said, I thought that’s why they put them near the sidewalk, so people could pick them. So there are plenty of people who think “public” flowers are for the public to pick. 😀

I want to say thanks and love to all the folks here who show some compassion for the homeless population. They are not all one population, not all live with addictions, not all have mental health issues, a lot of them age out of foster care, or have young children, or injuries that affect them deeply, and MOST of them do not want to be homeless.

But all of them want the power of their choices, as do we all. Even when they step up and transition towards a home, it can take months, if not years, to heal from the trauma of living on the streets. They can be annoying, they can be problematic, they can be downright scary, and some we SHOULD be scared of.

But they are all also unique human beings who cannot afford services on their own. If we really want to consider ourselves true human beings, we have to start by seeing them as human, too, as humans who have not had our own advantages of support, income, homes, health care, good choices (that worked out for US), and people who care.”

We have to understand that part of why we see them as “other” is a way to distance ourselves from their situation. We want to believe that this could NEVER happen to us.

And yet we all know we may be one accident, one paycheck, one disaster away from being in that same situation. It could happen to a loved one. It could happen to us.

We can choose to look away.

Or we can choose to find even the tiniest way of helping. With our donations, with our taxes, with our volunteer time, with our work, with our compassion.

Part of me desperately wants to volunteer again with schools, with animals, with hospice.

But something is telling me my next service might be right in front of me. It’s scary. I’m still afraid.

But it won’t hurt to find out.

 

A LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC

(Originally published on the SOFA Santa Rosa website)

Today I only had a little time to spend at my studio in the SOFA Santa Rosa Arts District. (I’m at 300 S. A Street, #3, just down Atlas Coffee Alley.) This, after an entire morning of last-minute tasks, re-do’s, oh-I-forgot-I-have-to’s….  Every time I thought I was ready to leave, I’d remember one more thing….  Argh!!

When I finally got there, I unlocked my door and entered.

Then I realized I didn’t have what I needed to work on my next project. Drat.

Here’s where the magic happens:

A woman appeared. “I’m admiring your window!” she said. “Are dogs allowed?”

What dog?? Oh. There, hidden by the bottom half of my Dutch door, was a sweet, very friendly dog.

20150731_162516
I love my Dutch door! Especially when the jasmine is blooming across the walk. Do you Californians know how amazing that is???

I let them in.

“We’re visiting that photography show  at Christie Marks’ gallery,” she explained. “I have the dog while my husband takes a look. Then he’ll take the dog so I can see it!”

We talked a little about the show (which is AMAZING!) Then I left her alone to browse my studio. (I got to pet the pup.)

She saw my new Sonoma County Art Trails postcard. Coincidentally (or is it??), Christie is also on the card, along with Cat Kaufman and Mary Linnea Vaughn.)  “Oh! May I take one of your cards? We’ll come back for your open studio!”

Sweet!

Here’s where the magic gets even bigger:

She asked me if I’d consider submitting a piece for the upcoming “Landscape” show at Sebastopol Center for the Arts. (Oct. 21 – Nov. 27, 2016)

“I would,” I said, “But I don’t do landscapes.”

“I think that looks like a landscape!” she said, pointing to a small wall hanging behind my desk. “And you’d probably be the only artist in your medium!”

Sure enough, it could ‘read’ as a landscape.

I said I would certainly do that. She gave me all kinds of information–filling out an online entry form, the hours for delivering work, etc.

“Are you an artist yourself?” I asked her. “Do you volunteer at SCA?”

“Not really an artist, but I wish I were,” she said. “I just love supporting the arts, and SCA is a great organization.”

I thanked her from the bottom of my heart. Artists thrive when they are supported by their community. People who give their time to do that are golden.

We talked more. I promised to bring in my newly-recognized landscape. She joined my mailing list. Then she and pupster left to join her husband.

What are the chances she would show up at exactly the moment I unlocked my door?

I could have missed her by five minutes. By ten minutes Or I might have left before she even got there?

What are the chances she was not only familiar with Art Trails, and SCA, but also a dedicated volunteer, familiar with their shows?

What are the chances she spotted the one piece that could conceivably qualify as a landscape?

Yep. This happens all the time here in the Arts District.

Because when you are making the work of your heart, wonderful things cross your path every single day…if you look for them.

I don't know how she even spotted it in all the...er....visual excess. But she did.
I don’t even know how she spotted it in all the…er…visual clutter. But she did! (It’s the brassy-gold horizontal one at the top.)
Our Art Trails postcard!
Our Art Trails postcard! Come see us!

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

One of the reasons we picked Santa Rosa, CA to settle in, is its diversity. There are all makes and models of people who live here, a variety of race, color, creed, sex, and socio-economic class. All very new and different to us after living 27 years in a college town in lily-white New Hampshire.

My husband lives in second-hand t-shirts–or even third-hand, who can tell? He wears them until the edges fray and the stitching unravels. (Remind me someday to tell you about our very first date.) Some mornings he takes a mini-sabbatical and heads off to a local coffee shop to research and write. He typically walks, and schleps around a worn-out backpack filled with his phone, laptop, and other necessities. And sometimes he puts off getting a haircut for a few weeks.

Nothing notable about that in Keene, NH. But one day, he caught a glimpse of himself in a store window, and realized that in Santa Rosa, he looks like a homeless person.

That population is as diverse and unique as any other group of people. There are many ways people become homeless, especially in a city that’s seeing another spike in housing prices, and rents that are unimaginably high. Some folks have cars, and sleep in them. Some have dogs, and struggle to keep them fed, as well as themselves. Some push old grocery carts filled with their possessions, or stuff they can recycle. Some carry all their possessions in an assortment of garbage bags. Some stay in small groups, others range far and wide. Some are reserved and cautious, others can be in-your-face with their issues, although the latter is actually rare. Many more are invisible to us. Most stay close to available social services. Range too far, and they won’t get back in time to get a bed for the night.

The other thing we love about Santa Rosa is how the city government, and the communities it services, strive to work WITH this population, with compassion and respect.

Last week I spent hours in my studio, getting my new space set up and my work on display. I inherited an airconditioner and a microwave. Which means I can stop by my favorite neighborhood mini-mart store in the morning, pick up a delicious entree of pesto tortellini, or a tri-tip sandwich, or an enchilada, and heat it up and eat later in the day.

I made a such food stop there last week. While waiting in line, I saw a man carrying several trash bags, wandering around the store. He left before I got in line, or I would have offered to buy him lunch, too. I felt bad that I’d essentially done that ‘I-can’t-see-you-so-you’re-not-my-problem’ gaze we get when confronted by social issues we don’t think we can do anything about.

But I got a second chance to do the right thing. I saw him again on my way out of the parking lot. I had no cash, but I realized I had quite a stash of parking meter coins. I grabbed a small handful of quarters and rolled the window down.

I pulled up alongside him. “Hey, good morning! I don’t have much cash, but I have my parking money, if that will help…?” I held my handful of coins out to him.

He stopped and looked at me, and said, “What?”

I thought, oh no, I’ve embarrassed him. But I repeated my offer.

He was still confused, so I said, “I thought maybe you’d like to get something to eat? I saw you in the store a minute ago. All I have on my are these quarters.”

He started laughing.

“I WORK there!” he said. “I’m just taking the recycling out!”

Boy, was my face red. I apologized.

“No, that was really kind of you,” he said. “REALLY kind. You have a good day now.”

Sometimes even the appearance of a good deed can bring laughter to a dark and dreary world.