Saturday, March 2, 2024

Journey of Old Journals: 1986

Early in the year and after the crazy client stalking incident, I was ready to leave the job. I started getting therapy; the therapist thought writing was a great idea. I focused on character studies, bubble maps of thoughts that led to short essays, and writing more of what I saw on the streets. I was withdrawing from friends because I felt "I needed silence to hear the important things."  In hindsight, I laugh as I read that I was "breathing in rainbows", a habit I still use today when I am particularly distressed. I wrote of the emergence of AIDS on the streets, the whole scene at Jacques, and the teens in Harvard Square. 

My life alternated between the continued violence on the streets and the respite of the backcountry. I started volunteering with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which at the time operated a couple of canoe campgrounds on the Saco River, one at Swans Falls (a busy put-in and dam portage site) and Walkers' Falls. Walkers was where I went alone to spend time. It's simple cabin, where I slept in exchange for answering a few questions and selling firewood, was down a long dirt road. I invoked Marian UnderhillGrandma Gatewood, and Helen Bromwell (whose name I wrote then, but I couldn't find on the internet.) It was there that I explored the neighborhood. I encountered moose tracks, purple mushrooms, herons, immense dragonflies, and Pleasant Pond.   

I paddled upstream to access the marshy pond. It was easy to get to the leeward side of the lake, but when I turned the big canoe, with only me in the middle, to head to the other side, I floundered. Trying and trying again, I thought more about survival. So I pinned the key to the cabin on the strap of my bathing suit, tried one more time, and found the right angle to the wind to start moving.   I wrote odes to the Goddess, asking to listen to the voices of her children through me. I wanted to attune to the woods, the rocks, the tracks of deer and the rushing of water babies. I wanted to bear witness to her complexity, picking up a rotting birch log and inhaling the clean, unique scent of decay. I circled treasures of pine boughs to the north, acorn at the east, bark at the west, and moss at the south, bringing myself to the stars. I wrote of infinity and protection, and of the richness of uninterrupted time. "I am frenzied with the purpose of being."

As the weather turned to the early winter, I found a girlfriend. I had an easier time processing the pain and violence on the streets. I wrote their stories down so I wouldn't have to carry them. 

Nov 12

Met Patty on the streets tonight. I hadn't seen her for about six months at least- mentioned that she was burnt out of a hotel room at (illegible.) Eye makeup smeared all around like a misguided raccoon. Jeff G tells me that his parents and all his family were killed in a car accident and he is the only one left. How callous of me not to believe it, in my own unrealistic mind frame.  Steve talks about how his army jacket was ripped off, Anita tells me about court (and the fact that Jizz went on a binge and no one hears from him. Diane discusses how 'no one hangs out anymore.' I talk with Lee for a long time about life.  

These stories sit like a knot in my stomach. Turning in on itself until I purge here, in the journal, berating myself for not catching the moment: the passion of being. Sometimes, I don't feel sorry for them, caught up int heir swirling denial that may lead to their death. I wonder- what dealt me this hand of cards, to be here and alive."  

Dec 12

"High.  (This was a common coping mechanism for the second shift work, sometimes combined with alcohol.) My head spinning with all sorts of thoughts, my eyes glued barely open. The image of Jimmy by the state house. His eye so bruised that it was bulging out of his head like frogs' but red, blue, and purple swollen skin. Face flecked with small, deep cuts, the eyelashes barely visible, oozing blood. I am firm, trying to control my sense of fear and horror of pain with a professional demeanor. His chest is bare with bandages. A person should not be walking around homeless on the streets in that condition. It tears my heart out to remember. Wish I could wash it all out with the good things I feel when I'm with the younger kids. I told Jimmy he had to go to the hospital, but he staggered off downtown instead. I wonder if he will live through this year, or tonight, or how he will feel when he does. Somehow, this thought doesn't become real until I imagine myself articulating it. "

I didn't write about why, but instead of quitting I decided to go for a management position, replacing my mentor and friend.  On January 1, 1987 I wrote of the syzgy, the rare alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Journey of Old Journals: 1985


Thus began my life as a streetworker in Boston, working for a longstanding social service agency. The job was second shift, walking through the neighborhoods that came alive at night. The Combat Zone, adjacent to the theatre district and Chinatown, Park Square near the T Station on the edge of the Boston Common, and the "Block" from Arlington to Boylston, adjacent to the grayhound station when it was there. My primary beat was Harvard Square, the locus of disaffected suburban punk rockers. 

Themes in the journal, where I wrote on the long train ride home on the Orange Line back to Jamaica Plain most nights, were centered around what I saw and what I tried to process before arriving home. Infected wounds, psychosis, my own stress, the never ending violence, and the rabbit fur coats of the prostitutes. The neighborhood where I lived was puncuated by cockroaches, sounds of alteractions from the cats, the neighbors, and random people in the street.

We'd decided, after that year together, to split up the apartment.Two friends were moving in with each other, my former lover was planning a move to an internship in the midwest, and I reviewed classifed ads and flyers seeking seeking a place to live. After four interviews with the women living there, I was happy to move into a two story house in Cambridge, just a short walk from Fresh Pond and a bike ride to Harvard Square.  There, I was able to breathe amid a backyard, and an attic bedroom wiht views of the treetops. 

That helped, as I downloaded each night at work. On March 8, I wrote a list. "Prosititues, drug addicts, bums lying int eh streets, theives discussing napalm, small tiem pretzel vendors, condused kids, violent roommates who throw TVs, isloation within an all night pizza store, young boys with skin problems who couldn't hold down a job, gay hustlers, the life that, at times, I cannot fathom." 

Part of the job was driving around a rebuilt Winnebago that was intended to deliver medical services through a couple of exam rooms. Getting into the garage at night from North Station was an adventure, something I still have nightmares about. 

In the middle of this journal was a weeklong Outward Bound canoe trip in the Adirondacks. I felt a glimpse of power there, amid the rain and the ponds and the woods. It was a beginning to recognizing my connections with the natural world. And then I returned to the streets, feeling changed and the same. 

"Today I met a 15-year old drag queen, the potential in the large hulking body with dancing steps. Another pudgy teen, both from Peabody. The queen dragging the boy to BAGLY.  Karina got cut again above her left breast. The stitches opened up again, she says she's leaving Joey on Monday for California. Last night, Mark I picked me up in a big hug and swirled me around and around. I think you are the greatest, I love you I love you I love you. This beats getting spit in the face. Mark's friend had just gotten kicked out of the house- he was a small young man with half a t-shirt; taking hormones.  

Ronnie had gotten stabbed a few weeks ago. Keeps getting drunk in the park everyday, as he lifts up his same old t-shirt and says, 'Look I fot the stitches out.' I  see a huge scar across his stomach, terrible and dramatic. 

Mucci had a seizure from booting coke. A terrible addiction- to money, drugs, security, that keep these youth imprisoned in destruction. How do you convey that prostitition can destroy everything you have, because it feeds on your self esteem. The women pretend, but they still say, 'I feel guilty when I see you.' I feel so much of the endless cycle of abuse. Janet "Ma" holding her daughter's child, when only a baby herself. Homeless at 13. You feel as thoough your prescence, your commitment, your way of walking down the street makes one kid thing- then the pain that you see and the you know you can't cure, will somehow be lessened through the levels of streetwork.  How to get more in-depth about issues is not making a concious effort to change the way you are, but letting things happen.

Timmy Flynn, very short, always drunk. Knows he can get away with so much, because of his stature. He says to a passerby, 'Mistah, can you help me out, out the door, out the window,  whatever! I'm going to drop my pants, see? I'm doing it, I know you want to see. Ha ha I'm wearing shorts. Giggling. My parents, they planned me. I wasn't no mistake, no sah. If they really wanted me, they wouldn't let me live like this.' "

Through the year, I find myself being tired of listening all the time. In hindsight, re-reading, I realize how hard this job must have been for me as an introvert. I was writing of my own addiction to sugar, trying to keep myself balanced. By the end of the year, I was making a commitment to therapy. There were conflicts around this, articulating my goals:

"Feeling more like a centered, confident woman. Many things will arise from this: self esteem, ability to make friends more easily, and become intimate. Open myself up- honestly- to others. I do this already,, but feel a sense of secrecy about my true emotions. 

Reduce the emotional obstacles that prevent me from meeting new people, achiveing sucess, and becoming a more creative person.  

Feel a sense of peace aobut my role in the world. My work the potential for social change, the balance with nature, and my sexuality. 

DISCIPLINE- eating, writing, finding freedom. 

In three words:  Search (dig), confront (hit a rock), resolve (strain until the rock is released and I can clear the land for farming.)"

After I published this post, I found another journal that detailed a scary incident with a client. "Ann" had developed a serious obsession with me, following me around, continually approaching me, and leaving love notes at the office. One night, she followed me in a car while I was working the ewbuilt RV medical van. She wouldn't leave me alone. She was drunk, unpredictable and unstable. My streetworker teammate tried also, but she was relentless. 

Since I was driving, I made a decision to send the volunteers home and took the van back to the North End garage, which entailed backing into a parking space. She pulled her car in so I couldn't park it. Fortunately, a colleague showed up and tried to talk her down. Got her to leave (not before she crashed into a piling) and I left for home, wracked. The conclusion from the leadership- it was my fault for losing control of the situation and I shouldn't have brought the van in early. 

I'd forgotten about this, completely. Part of me wondered if I wanted to relive it again. But I had little emotional memory about that particular incident. It was just one int he stream of trauma, abuse, pain, and violence that I saw daily. It was one chink of the armor of why I was doing this job, and why I began to think I should leave. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Journey of Old Journals: 1984- 1985


I started this journal by mentioning the "countdown to Seneca", the Women's Encampment for Peace and Justice, a righteous collection of women forging a new path to peace at the Seneca Army Depot. "It was a good feeling to come alone, to set up my tent. I feel like I've entered something important a year after it was first founded."  I wrote of the feminist process, discussions that I felt went nowhere but reached a far more satisfactory goal.  I noted that the women weren't interested in engaging (visitor fatigue in hindsight) and knew I should have stayed longer than a couple of days. But I commented to myself that I was brave to go alone. 

And alone, I ventured to Boston, getting there in advance while G and J drove the van down. I wrote, being perturbed that they "broke down" on the way, a happenstance in the location where G's new lover lived.  I got the keys to the new apartment and tried to make the best of it. My high school friend helped me rent a carpet cleaner from the local supermarket.  But when G and J arrived, my housemates collectively freaked out.  It was a blur, but I'd seen another ad in the local newspaper for a place in Jamaica Plain. Old, clean, hardwood floors, and cheap. So we were able to move there. 

Tension living with G, she wanted to return to our past amid all this change. I was looking forward: to new friends, a job. Copying and delivering the resumes around town. Community organizing jobs, something meaningful. I had two interviews with Bridge Over Troubled Waters, which I was fairly sure I'd get the job, and then "failed at my own great expectations" when I didn't.  I took the offer as an intake worker for ABCD. That job, at the desk, involved a new slew of characters in my world. The stories were mindblowing for my suburban mind. A deaf Chinese woman who did not speak English and sought services. An elderly man spitting on me as he was seeking a flu shot, with hairs growing from his nose and ears that reminded me of a sea urchin.  It was an urban adventure, back in the day when Jamaica Plain was gritty and real. 

Through this, I still took notes on the books I read, May Sarton, Kinds of Love. "Was growing old a matter of learning to close doors on the unbearable?" 

Sketched out more embroidery pieces (now long gone), dreamed of dresses for my new sewing machine. Dealt with the realities of sharing a space with former intimates, cockroaches on the toothbrush in the middle of the night, and sounds of violence in the city.  Found a new lover, who was too clingy and gushy for my taste and eventually left for a trip to India. Bridge offered me the job  and I started working second shifts. I began my search for a new place to live.  

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Journey of Old Journals: 1984


As we open, I’m back in Fredonia, sorting things out with G. The journal proceeds with thruminations and doubts about why I couldn’t pick up and

start my own life without her.

Questioning myself, the unknowing why of who I was, and the bond that transcended

fights, passion, and disagreement. There were nights she was late, arriving with excuses. I wrote, “Continually, I am disgruntled that my diabetes prevents me from achieving

everything I’d like to do, like the Peace Corps or going to an impoverished country and

helping the poor.” And a resolution to start “dating my journal,” which only meant

I added the dates to mark the passage of time.

I remember being very disappointed that G made no effort to meet my parents, noting how

unattractive and sullen she appeared at my graduation ceremony.

We made plans with a group to move to Boston after my application for an internship

in Japan was denied. I worked on my submission for the Peace Ribbon project.

I worked as a crew chief for the Chautauqua Private Industry Council that summer,

which I only remembered when I found the business card.

Throughout the summer, I read: Patience and Sarah. Alma Routsong Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. May Sarton The Writer on Her Work, ed. Janet Stanberg Women Hating, Andrea Dworkin Silences, Tille Olson Doris Lessing Despairwork, Joanna Macy The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula LeGuin Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee Blue Highways, William Leastheat Moon Medicine Woman. Lynn Andrews The Color Purple, Alice Walker Seven Arrows, Hyemeyohsts Storm The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, Charlene Spretnak Adrienne Rich Witchcraft as Goddess Religion, Starhawk Les Guerilleres. Monique Wittig Ariadne's Thread: A Collection of Contemporary Women's Journals, Ed. Lynn Lifshin The Spiral Dance, Starhawk. Ultimately, I told G that I was infatuated with a graphic designer who helped me design a canvas for an embroidered pentacle project, which ended it. She had no interest in continuing intimacy, and while nothing ever came of the crush with the recipient, it was the feeling I needed to change the dynamic. I found solace in a local reservoir where the water rippled in the shade of pines. I got a tattoo, a yin/yang symbol that I copied from the Tassajara Bread Book. Through all the travails, I began to get very excited about moving to Boston, having a support system in place but free to pursue my path.

Journey of Old Journals- 1983

This journal begins on the last day of my summer internship at the New York State Archives, where my main project was to rebox files from SingSing prison from the old to the new acid-free archival boxes. As I would review the contents, I would heft the larger files from the box to see how they began. Inevitably, juvenile petty shenanigans (at 8-13 years) escalated into larger and more serious crimes.  I looked at Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's telegrams received before they were executed and marveled over a handmade weapon resembling a circular saw.  In the end, I let without anyone saying goodbye; I was not supervised well. 

However,  I did a great job on a paper I had to write for the college credit, which explored the nuances of how the dehumanizing elements of the prison system perpetuated the trauma instead of being rehabilitative. I explored the Friends Alternatives to Violence Project and read prison notes from people who were published. I remember leaving my notes in a folder on the grass, losing the details yet being able to reconstruct enough to create an acceptable final product. 

I spent time at the women’s peace encampment in Romulus, New York, and was fascinated by the culture, bravery, and long, drawn-out discussions about nonviolent action. I also learned you could put a wooden platform beneath a tent and have a bed and dresser inside. I think I went back to Joslin clinic for more education. I remember traveling from Boston to Buffalo on a plane, writing about low blood sugar tears from a missed flight and the saffron-robed Hare Krishnas.

In the end, as I returned to school, my love interest at the time had found a new apartment and a new lover. My writing is fueled by betrayal, anger, hanging on, and the complicated approach of staying within a relationship because “monogamy is misogyny.” 

I ended with an observation, “I feel like I’m losing my leaves becoming bare, shedding a part of my life which has changed colors, dried out, and shall pass into a different stage.”