Sunday, April 7, 2024

Journey of Old Journals: 1988

A lot of transitions in this year as I never really settle into my role as a supervisor. I took a vacation to see my aunt and uncle in Bermuda, did a lot of artwork. The last journal involves the change into the New Year and a decision to finally give my notice. It occurred to me while reading that I really miss life and my brain before social media. It felt so much more authentic, solid, and focused.  This long blog post is in three chapters. 

The Job 

I wrote less about the time on the streets this year. I brought on a couple of new streetworkers, some of which I had nightmares about. There was tension with the Executive Director. I wrote, " I am becoming increasingly disenchanted. I think whatever suggestions I give will be disregarded. She presents continued contradictions. Don't trust people and empower them. Don't let them take risks but make them grow. Birth control and AIDs policies. Don't feed into it. Obey everything I say but challenge me." My stressors were less about processing the gritty human reactions of the clients and more pressure about the numbers: keeping up the new engagements, bringing clients in for services, and dealing with the media who wanted to highlight the trauma for others to see. Keep trying to get right on the process of gaining trust, but slipping notches. I saw a lot of the FTW (fuck the world) tatoos as the summer evolved. 

I worked on a piece for the Names Project. Over and over again the constant themes of live and death, poor choices, no choices. "Andy in Kenmore- old battered street hustler with dried blood on his hand. I get him a moist paper towel to clean it and as I hold his shaking hand, I think, I should have rubber gloves. Don't let his blood on you. It could kill me."  AIDs crept into every day, every encounter, the connections among the community, a theme throughout this year. A group of us traveled from Boston to DC to participate in the ceremony of the unfurling. "Thousands of candles surround the reflecting pool, punctuated the small ting ting of mythical bells as sign of the magic. Several speeches and it's over. Then, road worn, tired and hungry, I went to the Quilt the next day. I step on the canvas surrounding the panels. I'm so sensitive to each bit of grief and love put into each panel. I sighed for the youth in the cities in my home near the ocean and the river. 

A story I remember to this day, while waiting for a train in Harvard Square. I listen to a man singing badly and playing an out of tune guitar. "Do you know the way to San Jose...  Does anyone have any requests? Thousands of songs, people.  I realize he only knows a couple of verses to each song, strumming along with his fingers emerging from dirty red gloves.  

"Have you ever kissed the pavement?" Timmy Flynn asks me, with a large cut on his forehead, seeping blood everywhere. I see death in each drop spilled. 

I wrote about watching two people vomit in one night, the imagery of the insane and the drunks. Later, I mentioned two times in two days watching people take a shit in public. Dirty, crippled, insane people with grimy wrinkles infused with street culture. I wondered what would it take to get clean. 

The team I supervised had it's own issues, too. One of my reports was drunk at the Bell in Hand tavern and offered to buy a client a drink. This was after we were seen drinking there as a group, earlier in the year. I felt betrayed and angry, like someone had invalidated the honor of the legacy. 

I was so unhappy. I wanted to leave so desperately and "escape with any number of excuses: going inpatient at DTU, going to a sanitorium, Tell them that I have to leave, that I can't do everything and I cannot belittle the little things I can do." Consumed with anger, regret, and grief. Crying silently behind my sunglasses, sad, tired, and alone.  I was counting down the months to my departure 10 months in advance. I was so committed to leaving, yet completely scared to do it. 

A trip: Bermuda 

I went to experience the place again after quite a few summers when I was a child. My aunt, uncle, and cousins live there, on the family house on the hill. My grandparents moved there around the time my mother was an early teen, after living in the U.S. for a few years as British expatriates.  As an English colony, Bermuda was a logical opportunity.  My grandfather was an inventor who developed a pea sorting machine in England and did contract work in the U.S. When they moved to Bermuda, Rex Horsfield developed a special saw to cut coral, which saved the hand labor typically done by lower-wage black workers. 

For some reason, I decided to take a trip to the island in February. It was cold then, something I hadn't realized in my planning. I joined my aunt and uncle in their house, where their sons lived close by. Before my grandparents died, my mother would bring us to the island while her mother went back to England in the summer. My grandfather, wheelchair bound and unable to speak from a stroke, had a full time caregiver. Roni was a cook, laundress, and assisted with all the chores of my grandfathers' daily life. care giver. She was black, and at the time in my childhood this was a foreign role.  

I have idyllic memories of my grandparent's home. The story of the house is that my grandparents wanted to leave England around the time of the war. On our summer visits, we spent a lot of time at the beach, always using Lestoil to remove the small oil bits from our feet, a remnant of off-shore spills. We walked down the hill to see a small pony in a stone corral on one side and a small sailboat dock on the other. We swam off the dock a lot, diving down to find sea cucumbers on the bottom and using them as water guns against each other. We read incessantly, a weekly trip to the library. There was a huge rubber tree in the back yard, in which I climbed and read of ponies and gymkhana. My grandfather was often positioned below, looking up and smiling a crooked smile.  There were lizards and huge frogs, the evening sound of tree peepers, and birds galore. 

We returned for a wedding when I was an adolescent, where alcohol fueled a rowdy crowd. The guests dumped the bride and groom off the dock, and a very intoxicated cousin took us back across the island in a car and crashed on the way back to the wedding. 

Despite the splurging on a helicopter ride from the top floor of a hotel in Cambridge to Logan, I found myself feeling out of sorts in the family dynamics. To gain some independence, I rented a bicycle to get around. In gray skies, I watched a group of locals throw their wellies in a game, and explored by walking and riding in all sorts of weather, covered with sea mist along an ocean causeway. In the end, I was glad to be home. 

The Art 

I traveled a lot to Maine that summer. Acknowledging the solstice of 1988 with a strengths: navigation and my ability to find direction and a path. Remembering my sense of the journey as going somewhere but, not sure where, but trusting the inner truth to finding the right place. 

We had a new housemate who had a dog and a very ephemeral spirit. We called the place the "House of Soup." My best friend and I who shared the adjacent bedrooms on the second floor. continued our daily chats and sharing of lives.  I went to one my housemate's cabin in Vermont for a visit, and was astounded that her crapper was a big hole with a rope hanging from a tree. One hung on to the rope with your naked butt over the side and let loose. 

I wrote a lot about dreams this year, and articulated a common theme about living another life in the subconscious, dreaming of travel in other worlds. Sometimes I come back, or dream so heavily I wonder which life I am living in. In 1987, I wrote of a dream that sticks with me still. "Last night I dreamed of a kind and gentle spirit, a man who could teach me so much with the trust in his eyes. I felt myself dripping in, where I can open my heart and be vulnerable. He was broad shouldered, dark hard, dark skinned. He opened his arms when he looked at me. I felt a strong sense of hope. When I awoke I named him Steven. My therapist named him as a spirit guide. I saw him as a manifest of an elusive faith, a reassurance of the fact that I can exist in different ways."

I articulated the comfort in being alone. That I always appreciated the chance to think, write and read. To "wrap myself in the true love I have with the sun, water, and wind, trees, earth and rocks. I need this to envelop me like a swarm of fog surrounding myself in self love and reassurance."

I wrote of strength. "Not the strength of of a major crisis or sudden death. This is the strength of day to day, of facing each morning, pushing myself to do new things." 

The journal that started in June carried through the year. I wrote on January 1st about dancing the night before. I wrote, "I am tired of living this truth. I want to be imagined, seduced by love of a planet in its natural form. My life is too short to be filled with hatred and depression. I am fille with love, laughter and good ideas. Quitting the job is a loss of identity and I need time to bumble about and find out out what its all about, to find out what I am all about. Good things take time. Remember the process." 

Leaving the Job 

I quit the next day.  Then I started the painting project. a textural piece of only red and blue painted swirls, eyes cut out from portraits of the youth, and some 3D elements. Then, the date approached. "the last historic moment of the last historic Monday. Every moment feels sacred and a big relief. The details feel incredibly overwhelming, all the things to put together, pack away, tie up, organize. Yet also I feel a sense that the world is coming apart, creating loose ends. Dreaming of the ritual- burning my datebook to make an offering to the gods above and below. I am going on a journey and I need their help., guidance, the need to find the center within. The feeling strong, confident. I will go. Nothing will stop me from the compulsion of both writing and interacting. Amazing how much energy I feel at times. This sense of shutting a book on on a chapter of my life. How wonderful this freedom will be, how terrifying. Oxymorons of sadness and relief, self belief and self torture. I think I could have lasted longer in Boston if I had not had an intimate view of the landscape of dirt and scabs. 

On the last day, I connected with a client who I hadn't seen for three years. I heard a rumor that the boss was going to hang the painting in her office. And, i wrote, "I am going TO BE ALIVE. No more nasty urban air, cigarettes, smoke. No more pop tarts, whole grain forever.  I can use my body- run, jump, play, smile, explore, wander, and create a metamorphosis into a healthy being with a healthy brain. I am singing inside, glowing with this swollen heart. I am heading into my prime and I hope to walk with grace and the angels. I feel liquid, emotional, vulnerable. Looking forward to resting in bed after work hangover. It will all be over tomorrow. Walking out of work for the last time. Free. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Journey of Old Journals: 1987


This year of journals begins with affirmations. "I am a wonderful person whose depth, warmth, and spirit cannot be truly perceived by all. I have radiant eyes that take in everything equally and without judgement. I seek out injustice and find new ways of coping with stress and pain. ...  The statements went on for pages. In hindsight, I recognize my voice from those days, when I was enthralled with free writing. I'd discovered Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (first published in 1986) and filled journal after journal with keeping the pen moving. 

I'd moved to Cambridge with a house share, living with a group of women and caretaking my former girlfriend's cat while she was in law school.  The cat was mysteriously  injured and required surgery, but I took care of it despite making $7.50 an hour in a middle management job. The promotion wasn't a good fit. The work continued to stretch me, "eyes falling out of my head with the stress and strain of being alive." I also noted that one of my supervisor colleagues commented that my appearance had changed. There might have been days when I forgot to comb my hair, or wore the same set of pants all week. During the early part of the year I had a a difficult report, "Andy" who caused a lot of consternation around leadership. He refused to sign probationary paperwork and was eventually let go by the Executive Director, a hard-ass nun.  I hosted Geraldo Rivera on the medical van, and I noticed that his shoes easily cost more than I made in a month. I got feedback from management that I worried too much, that I took too much responsibility, that I had to work on letting go. 

The streets continued in their low-level, survival drama. Sometime, the clients died. Young Darren from the Q, who drowned. I arrived a bit late to the funeral. He'd been on PCP on the boat and couldn't remember how to swim. The family could barely look at the team of punk rockers that represented his flirty street  nights. I found the crew congregated across the street from the church, collectively sobbing. I was so sad, too.  I wrote a note to his parents and reflected on my grief. He was a good kid that got on the wrong track.  

Evette, who thought she might have AIDS, who told me that if a john refused to use a condom, that he got what he deserved.  I wrote of the clients with Kaposi Sarcoma scars, of the news they got from the lab, and of their emaciated bodies still on the street. I thought a lot about clients dying and of the death of everyday. A near overdose on the medical van, observing the "drip drip" of destructive behaviors and the pure futility of these lives that were barely clinging on, yet so determined to do so.  I wrote, "one reason I care about the youth with AIDS is that I can say, 'I will miss you when you die'. Perhaps no one else will miss them." Then, one of their customers would appear, and it was time to go. Go on, live. 

The harassment continued, constant from clients who were quite clear in their messages. From the garbage men, one person grabbing my ass from the rear, from people patting me on the head, stroking my face, sometimes kissing me on the cheek in their gesture of good will. Someone called me love chunk.

Despite the drama, I still managed to have some relationships. I continued to surround myself with the core group of college friends. I met a couple of new girlfriends and experimented with building trust. I committed to writing in a combination of self-processing and respite from the pain of the streets.  There were some house conflicts emerging, a friend of one of our roommates had moved in and the couple that was the mainstay of the house were fighting. 

I went to the Harmonic Convergence celebration in Woodstock in August with my college friends. The leader chanted, we welcomed in a new age. There was a power point, and I felt uncomfortable with my old lover and her friends. So I left and leaded into town for a coffee, later feeling revved up about my the new used car, a Toyota wagon. 

The year ends with more of the same, internal musings and processing of everything around me. I started using a new journal with quotes from women. In it, a favorite from Willa Cather, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."

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.