At Home: Portland Pride


I took this photo in June 2015, while attending our first Portland Pride event.  This is an iPhone photo, with no filter.  My company had a float in the parade, so I went to meet some of my co-workers while everyone was getting set up.  This beauty was stretched out in front of the old US Customs House on Park Avenue in Old Chinatown, waiting to lead the procession through the neighborhood, along Burnside Avenue to the riverfront where we would all join the festival, culminating a weekend of celebrations.  Without such a large LGBTQ community, Portland has little diversity to speak of.  It is literally the “whitest” city in the US.

We had moved to the city a few months earlier, for a new opportunity which also afforded us the chance to escape the steaming injustice of the South, where I had also spent the 3-years prior advocating for the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville (it finally passed in 2017, without the mayor’s signature…ain’t that some shit?!).  Although no LGBTQ person is truly ever safe in America, it was refreshing to see friends, families, companies and churches come together to revel in the distinctiveness of each of us, after bearing witness to the painful, bitter battle to get Jacksonville’s HRO through City Council.

For all its rainbow flags, however, Portland lacks a rainbow of skin color.  As the city tries to overcome a history tainted with racism, the current wave of gentrification has pushed black and brown people even farther out of a city that claims to be open and welcome to all.  Welcome as long as you have enough money to pay the escalating rents and mortgages in a booming real estate market.  While the city has written provisions for income controlled housing into law, those units can’t be built fast enough.

For as much as we loved Portland, it became unaffordable for us as well.  With a bitter taste in our mouth, we moved back to Jacksonville.  It is nice to be in a city that is truly diverse in color and orientation, but the bigotry here is so much more pronounced, and the challenges to create equity living in a red state are harder to overcome.

Is there anywhere we can meet in the middle?

 

Kicked into Mindfulness

Most of the long-term homeless struggle to maintain sanity, while some of them never really had it to begin with, and many of them fall somewhere in the spectrum of genius. My ex-husband’s father was homeless. I met him once in the desert, just outside of Las Vegas. It had been 15 years since anyone had heard from him, and most of his family had all but given up hope that he may still be alive. He was bi-polar and schizophrenic, so he often traveled between worlds of consciousness. In one of his more lucid moments, he reached out to his son to congratulate him on his upcoming marriage.  We were engage at the time, how he knew this without having spoken to any of his children in over a decade, still amazes me.  Nervous and eager to reconnect with his father, we made the trip out to the middle of the desert, to visit him in his shanty.

It was full of wonderful, crude inventions that he had fashioned out of garbage, or leftover parts, in order to survive the brutal summers, and frigid winter nights.  We saw him several more times over the next few days, to feed him, buy him clothes and supplies.  We mostly just wanted to spend time with him, since we didn’t know when he would slip back into a different reality, then my ex would lose his father all over again.  As we were getting ready to head back to Denver, he hugged us both, as though we were his only anchor into this world, then looked at me intensely and said,  “You’re either crazy because you’re homeless, or you’re homeless because you’re crazy.”  I thanked him for sharing his time with us, for reaching out, and for letting me be a part of his experience.  I assume he has since passed away, and we are long since divorced, but I still think of him often.

Fast forward nearly twenty years to last Sunday.  I was heading out to a meeting and, as usual, I was running late. Scott was downstairs, cleaning my car (because he’s awesome, what can I say?) and was talking to a man holding onto the handlebars of his bike. I was irked because I knew that I was going to get pulled into a conversation, which would make me later than I already was. This man was asking for some sort of favor and I didn’t have time to get pulled into the issue, but he turned to me and smiled so wide, the corners of his eyes turned up.  He stuck his hand out and said, “My is name is Kaleem. How are you?”  I shook his hand and smiled, still anxious that I was late for my meeting.

BKS Iyengar believed, “the body needs tough love to be kicked into mindfulness.” Although, I think that everyday life will usually do it for us. Living downtown, we meet a lot of homeless people. We know their daily migration habits, which bus bench they will be sleeping on in the morning, and where they like to spend their afternoons.  We know which ones need new shoes and who just acquired a new rain coat. Occasionally, they ask for money, to which I always reply no, but I am happy to buy them lunch, their bus fare, water, etc. I will not, however, enable them to use money to buy drugs or alcohol to further aid in any more suffering they may want to inflict on themselves, but I am happy to help them with a hand up. Most of the time, they are not an annoyance, unless they are threatening me with harm. They are human beings who are a part of our community.

After shaking hands, Scott said, “he’s got a hell of a story.  Kaleem, will you share what you told me?”  He was proud to say that he had just started a new job a couple of days ago, hence why he was wearing his uniform.  He had gone to college after high school, but there were no jobs in his field, so he’d been living on the street.  Today, he needed $12, so that he could stay at the hostel, wash his uniform and take a shower.  It’d been a few days, and he was afraid that he was starting to smell so bad that they might fire him, but he wouldn’t get his first paycheck until the end of the week and couldn’t afford to lose the first job he’d had in nearly two years.  His eyes gazed down, ashamed that he couldn’t make ends meet, ashamed that I may be offended by his smell.

In my hurry of misappropriated priorities, Kaleem reminded me that being present for those who are suffering is one of the most sacred responsibilities we have as one another’s keepers.  I remembered that same look when I said goodbye to my father-in-law, so I broke my own stupid rule, reached into my wallet and handed him a $20 bill.  I probably would have given him more, but it was the only cash I had on me at the time.  So what if the story was true, or it wasn’t true, it was his truth and that was all that really mattered.  I hope the $20 gets him through to payday.  More than anything, I hope that he felt better knowing that someone listened, saw him as a fellow human being, and treated him with compassion.

Thank you, Kaleem.  I needed that kick back into mindfulness.

Travel Log: 9/11 Every Day

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I took this photo on my last visit to NYC, in February 2015. It was the first time I had been to visit the site of where once stood the Twin Towers. I remember exactly where I was on 9/11 when the news came in that the first plane had hit the building – in my car, driving to work, listening to the R&B/Hip-Hop station. I quickly switched to the News/Talk station and they were not discussing it, so I flipped back to the other station. I was thinking, “you gotta be a dumb MF to hit the biggest building in NYC. How do you not steer clear of it?” And that’s when the station’s announcer brought news of the second plane hitting the buildings and I knew, I knew that it was intentional. My heart hit my stomach as I raced as fast as I could to the office to get in front of a TV. My co-workers were glued to the only TV we had in the office, which I think was all of 10″ big. We stayed there for the next couple of hours and screamed, reaching for the TV, trying to stop the towers from falling. 

We watched the news for the next couple of hours, learning about the plane hitting the Pentagon, and the heroes on Flight 93 who sacrificed their lives to down their plane in a rural part of PA, crying and holding onto one another – just hoping that this was a movie, and thousands of innocent people didn’t really just lose their lives. It was my boss’ birthday, so we went to lunch to celebrate. We just sat there, the only ones in the place, eating in silence. The next several hours we helplessly watched the TV as people searched frantically for anyone left alive. We went home that evening and held our loved ones tightly.

I’m not sure how much we’ve really recovered as a nation, from such a great loss. While our economic system seems to be thriving, we have greater income inequality than ever. We wanted to feel safe, so we willingly allowed our government to invade people’s most private moments of their lives. We have become so fearful as a nation that we can no longer allow people to have views different from our own, as we see it as an affront to anything that we hold dear. And we hold too tightly. We have become a divisive nation, in our government, in our schools, in our homes. We have become a bitter nation, void of compassion for our fellow humans, for our land, our seas, or our Mother Earth.

“You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.” – Josh Shipp

I hope we one day decide to get better. To choose love, and grace, and freedom of suffering, and the causes of suffering, for all living beings. This is the America I believe in. This is how I will honor those who have fallen, each and every day.

Yin and Yang

Last weekend I woke up groggy from two days straight of all grey clouds with no rain to speak of. What the hell is the point of clouds without rain anyway, I ask?!  Who knows, but it left me dragging ass all damn day. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we had to go to the grocery store. Once again, I was forced to put on pants and comb my hair. (If I could stay in my jammies with my hair flying wild all day, I’d be so much nicer…also possibly slightly crazier, but that remains to be seen) He reminded me that I was focusing on the negative and he was trying to see the positive in our mundane weekly task of grocery shopping.

As we were walking into the store, another couple was walking out. I did not take note of them, however, as I was too busy brooding over having to wear pants.  Scott noticed them and turned to me to ask, “were they speaking French?”  Now, there are several likely answers to this question, all of which you might be able to guess. Considering that there is a large French-speaking population here in Portland, the most obvious answer would, “Yes!”

Other likely answers you may have come up with are:

  • “No!”
  • “Who knows?!”
  • “They were speaking Spanish”
  • “Je ne parle pas Englais”

Yet, none of those are the answer I replied with. No! How did I reply, you wonder? “We need to get toilet paper.”  Of course, you say, why didn’t I think of that?! (Because you don’t live inside my head, that’s why…pffffttttt)

And there you have it, people – Scott making a positive observation, while I only cared about shit. Some days you’re the Yin, some days you’re the Yang, I’m just glad that our balance brings a good amount of humor along with it!

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Feelin’ Good

Video from one of the last ArtWalks I went to before we moved from JAX. And, of course, I can’t remember the band’s name, but they were fabulous!