Stripped

Tales of robberies in Oakland are ubiquitous. So much so, legend has it, you should consider yourself lucky if the police even show up when a robbery is reported.

I guess it was my lucky day.

I parked my car across the street, my driveway blocked by a cruiser with no flashing lights. An officer was standing on the steps of my house, with my wide-open front door directly behind him. I steeled myself for the shock, digging my fingernails into my palms to distract me from crying.

He walked me through the house, asking me to detail what was missing, showing me where they broke in, and trying his best to be sympathetic, assuring me my missing cat would show up eventually, as I stared hopelessly at my still open front door.

After the officer left, I struggled to find a place of comfort to allow myself a moment to grieve. Everything had been tarnished—touched, grabbed and manhandled—by these criminals. I had nowhere to go, in my own house, to just sit and cry. Instead, I ventured out into the street to find my cat, certain he’d had his furry, pampered ass handed to him by the scrappy street cats in my neighborhood. I must’ve been a sight. Clothes wrinkled and a face streaked with mascara, my voice warbling as I again, tried to avoid crying in public.

Feeling hopeless and exhausted, I returned to a place I no longer recognized, and laughed as I unlocked the four locks on my front door, realizing how little they served their purpose. I crumpled to the living room floor, cringing as I imagined large, sneakered feet, trampling through the room, ignoring my preference for guests to remove their shoes in my house.

Finally, when I was sure my cat had been sentenced to death by this crime, his terrified face peeked out of a bag in the closet. I was overcome with a joy and relief I can only imagine a parent feels when finding a lost child. He must’ve felt it too, as he allowed me to pick him up and hold him for just a moment before squirming away in a cloud of white fur.

If I’d known what was coming, I would’ve cherished that moment a little longer.

With my four-legged friend safe, and happily gorging himself from one of the many cat food bribes I’d set for him around the house, I was forced to confront what had just happened. I’d heard stories about what it was like to be robbed—that I’d feel violated, and angry. I did feel that way, but most of that was felt between the time the police called me at work, and and my arrival on the scene. But at that moment, I felt nothing.

I walked through the house again, viewing it through new eyes. Everything they touched, everything they took, had suddenly been stripped of its aura. The wooden bowl I brought back from Tanzania, now carelessly thrown on the floor, had lost its magical power. As I picked it up and returned it to its place on the mantle, I felt no connection.

This continued as I walked through the house, stumbling over things I would’ve recognized as my own only hours ago, now seeing them as anonymous clutter. For the days that followed—actually, weeks—I was barely able to express any sort of emotion about the event, other than what I knew was appropriate. A few times I did break down—telling my parents all the jewelry my grandmothers had given me was gone, was especially difficult—but otherwise, I just felt numb and naked, unable to protect or hide myself from the outside world.

When the cowards returned the next night to steal my car, I was hardly surprised. They’d acquired my spare key in the heist, but I was ready, and The Club saved yet another car from disappearing forever. Naturally, I was upset, but still lacked the depth and agony one would expect from a victim of robbery, twice in as many days.

I keep trying to convince myself that somehow, this will end up being a good thing. That being robbed of the things that connected me with my family and my past would somehow give me a new appreciation for creating new memories. That I didn’t really need to replace that T.V. That I could just go back to Tanzania and re-take all the pictures saved to my backup hard drive. My friends and family kept telling me they were just glad I was safe, that I wasn’t there when it happened.

But I don’t feel fortunate. I don’t feel scared, I don’t feel violated.

I simply feel stripped.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Joey Lax-Salinas.

 

 

 

(Im)possible

It’s barely 9am and I’m already having a hard time concentrating on my work. Granted, it’s a Saturday, and I’m not feeling especially motivated, and the cozy, quiet café I found so inspiring a few weeks ago, is now a noisy, cold and drafty hangover cure for a bunch of wannabe hipsters. Inspiration feels far, far away. I suppose it’s no accident then, that I see a mess of flyers on the wall, with such inspiration sayings like “every artist was first an amateur” or “it always seems impossible until it’s done”. Yeah, yeah, universe, I hear you. Get to work. Put your fingers on the keys and just fucking write.

I stopped counting how many times I’ve been told writing isn’t really a job, or how great it was that I’d found a “hobby”. Mostly because I have amazing friends and family, who for the most part, have drowned out most of the dissenting voices with their support and genuine belief in my abilities. The one voice I can’t seem to ignore, however, is of course my own.

Everything I write is crap—until someone else convinces me it’s not. Every day, I question the path I now find myself on, and wonder if I can really handle living off my savings, sticking to a budget or paying out of pocket for health insurance.

Then I remind myself how I feel every day I’m not writing. I mean, really not writing. As in, waking up at 4am and dragging myself through irrationally congested freeways to a job that, while I know I’m good at, leaves me feeling empty and unfulfilled. It takes about an hour each day, after I’ve waded through the minutia of morning emails, voicemails and the shit I didn’t get to the day before, that I realize I’m not where I’m supposed to be. That I’d give anything to be holed up in a grimy café, with uncomfortable chairs and tables that are somehow, never the optimal height for a laptop.

In those moments, I’m filled with a certainty that both comforts and emboldens me. In those moments, I know I’m making the right decision. Success or failure is something I can’t really define, because how do you measure the success of the written word? While nearly all the naysayers try to define it financially, I don’t. Yes, I would love to define my writing career, in part, with a paycheck. But that isn’t what I’m trying to get out of it—it’s just a bonus.

Yet, today, when I have literally the two entire days to do whatever the fuck I want, I can barely get a word down. These are the times when I start to get a little worried. What if the only thing that motivates me as a writer, is misery? What if, that job that I struggle through every day, is the one thing that lights that fire that inspires me to write? Where will that passion come from when that’s gone? Will I feel that same need to write if I can do it freely, whenever I want, at my own pace? The way things are going today, it’s not looking good.

At least, that’s how I feel. The reality is, in the time it took me to mull over these thoughts, I somehow managed to spit out a little over 500 words. That’s 500 more than I thought I could do about 10 minutes ago.

Maybe those annoying posters have a point. Maybe this isn’t impossible. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

 

Photo courtesy of Corey Holms

FearLess Reader–Sara

I went to a small high school–less than 200 students total, and only a little over 40 in my class. One wouldn’t think such a small student body could support the arts, but someone had the foresight to dedicate one large corner of the 100+ year old building for exactly that purpose. It was in this room, that I first discovered the power of art.

One week, we were covering photography–which I already knew I was attracted to–and found myself eager to get to class, and a little dissappointed when it ended.

It was also the first time art moved me to tears. I don’t even remember the picture. It wasn’t famous. The rest of the class didn’t like it.

But for me? I felt a soft electricity blanket my skin, and my eyes welled up with tears. I was physically moved by this one little photo, in a book that by that time, was probably out of print, the photographer long forgotten.

If only they knew.

I remember wishing I had paid attention to the name of the photographer, so I could look him or her up one day, and share how much their vision had inspired and touched me.

A Second Chance

 

Of course, these days it’s much easier to track down the creative eye behind the lens, so when I heard from Sara, I couldn’t wait to take advantage of this second chance to tell an artist how her work has moved me, and she has a beautiful gift. I’ll let her visions say the rest.

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to see more of Sara’s work, check her out here.

 

Thank you Sara for sharing your talent, and conquering your fear of sharing your work with others!

All photos courtesy of Sara.

 

 

 

Dispactch from Africa: In This Place

Jambo friends! I know it’s been a while, but I have a great excuse—I finally got my ass out of the office and on vacation. In Africa, no less. I spent week one (of three) enjoying my first safaris in the Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park (I promise, much  more on all that soon), and am now settling in at the beach in the northernmost tip of Zanzibar, just off the coast of mainland Tanzania.

Traveling alone definitely has its benefits, but there are obvious drawbacks as well. The biggest is, of course, getting lonely. When I was on safari, it was hard to notice my solitary status as I was surrounded by such wonderful people, in small groups, and constantly kept on my toes by the menagerie of unbelievable animals seemingly posing just for my benefit. But now that I’ve arrived at the beach, I’m surrounded by many more people, none of whom I suspect I’ll ever meet, and suddenly I’m overcome with the loneliness a solo traveler must inevitably face.

When embraced by such beauty, it’s natural to wish you were with someone special to share the view, and on this morning, I was reminded of an old flame. These are my thoughts for him:

 

My love, I know you do not luxuriate in the feel of sand between your toes, like me, but I still imagine you here, smiling by my side.

I know the sounds of a city call to you, as the sounds of the sea beckon me. I know, this is not the place of your dreams—but mine. Yet still, I cannot help but be here and imagine you with me.

I know you want different things in life—I know we are too different. I know you cannot love me. Not in that place.

But here, in this place, our differences would not matter. In this place, nothing else matters. Your heart, broken by a careless woman so many years ago, has mended and forgiven. In this place, my heart, ignored by a foolish man in my youth, is but a happy memory of a life lesson, and nothing more.

Here, in this place, our pasts cannot find us, and our differences are reduced to tea or coffee at sunrises, and cocktails or wine for sundowners.

Here, we are only lovers, and best friends.

Despite my wishing it so, you have not yet appeared by my side, so instead I continue to imagine you here, in this place, where the salt in the air and the break of the waves, sings us to sleep, to walk in a dream where we are together.