Internet — information — criticism — poetry — connection — feminism — open source — open spaces — translation — digression — recursion — boats — wheelchairs — disability rights — ranting — the future — by Liz Henry
We have now mapped the tiny corner of our creek and given names to nameless places, extending human dominion to yet another junkyard and mudflat.
As I kayaked around with my friend Adina she babbled to me charmingly of how we were in the same place but in a different place. Everything about the land and the water became different because we were on the water looking at the land. I agree! Distances open up hugely and pinch themselves up into almost nothing depending on the wind and current and tide. The parking lot of an office, a boring place, turns out to be the best fishing spot on the creek, full of families hanging off their truck tailgates.
Many of my names for the creek are jokes but they reflect the way we are using the creek as kayakers and what we think is important. The places where trash collects, the strength of the current, the mudflats, the sticks and pilings and pylons that are landmarks, the place where the grebes hang out, the wind shadow of Middle Bair Island.
We remap our minds by traversing the edge of the known map. I was thinking about frontiers, wastelands, and edges. At Open Source Bridge I said some stuff about wastelands. When you hear a place described as empty, reach for your gun. Just kidding. No, when you hear a place described as empty, you can be sure someone is exploiting it. The desert, the wasteland, and the frontier, are obfuscations.
So in my naming of these places I open up different possibilities of exploitation, but since no space is unnamed and unobserved — they are named and observed and mapped by governments and corporations — I would prefer that they be named and observed in a decentralized way by anyone at all. (Which is one reason I adore Open Street Map and Open Sea Map.)
As I look back on the history of Bair Island and Redwood Creek I keep finding ghost places – like “South Shores” which was an attempt by a developer to rename the slough as a suburban extension of “Redwood Shores”. Or like Deepwater Slough, which still has a faint track on the satellite photo – the C shaped trace that loops across Middle Bair, across from the Port – the dredged mud and pickleweed it encloses still privately owned and still named “Pacific Shores” probably for some totally screwed up future condo development scheme.
The Bair Island history, its battles, and its 2006 EIR are all deep background good for anyone interested in the proposed 12,000 household development of the wetlands-turned-salt-ponds owned by Cargill. On the maps they’re the pink rectangular areas that barely even look like bay anymore.
A neighbor of mine across the harbor is gearing up for that battle on another blog, Virtual Saltworks. The ponds are still part of the bay and still supposed to be open space and wetlands. We could use a little bit of digging into maps and history – what was First Slough like before it was diked? What would it take to restore it at least to the state that Bair Island and Corkscrew Slough are in now?
Soon the abandoned docks and the piers for electric company access to overhead cables will be decorated underneath by pirate mailboxes where Milo and I will leave secret messages for the world.
I have some great ideas for Community Kayaks. They’d be like the civic projects for free bicycles anyone can use without fuss. It would be very easy and cheap to start and maintain a simple flotilla of boats free for anyone to use. More local people would use Redwood Creek, would see the edge of our town, the cultivated-wild places that exist right next to the industrial port where oceangoing cargo vessels offload their gypsum, sand, and gravel and load up clanking waterfalls of scrap metal. People barely care about the Creek because they don’t know it’s there. If they paddled around on it they might get fond of it.
I got a little obsessed with the Alviso boat ramp opening. If you live in Redwood City – do you know where the public boat launch ramps are? There are two that I know of!
What is the Bay for? Who gets to go on it? You shouldn’t have to be rich – or go on a giant ferryboat – or treat it like a sort of horrible wet golf course –
Where are my beautiful floating islands made of trash and full of ecological minded Burning Man hippies cultivating flats of pickleweed and nesting habitats for Caspian Terns? I also imagine a beautiful anarchosocialist cooperative marina with art projects and rogue marine science. It would be easy for us here in the harbor to be monitoring water quality, observing the plants and birds and fish, and so on. Decentralized maps and some kind of visionary open data project could make for some great open source science – I’m sure someone’s doing this already.
I’ve been steadily exploring Redwood Creek and the slough around Bair Island from my houseboat in Pete’s Harbor, getting to know the birds of different seasons and the plant life as well as the patterns of wind and current. The human activity on the creek is mostly from tiny boats puttering around from Docktown to Pete’s Harbor to the city marina; tiny planes overhead on their way in and out of San Carlos airport; sailboats and crew and outrigger canoes from Bair Island Aquatic Center and the Stanford boathouse; and further downstream, the huge, fascinating, industrial Port of Redwood City.
I’ll start with the birds.
Brown Pelicans are fairly common. There were many living in the harbor itself over the winter, but they began to migrate elsewhere in the spring months. There’s always one or two out over Redwood Creek next to Bair Island, gliding and diving. They perch on pilings and sit on the floating docks near my boat, wary but tolerant of human approach. You’ve probably seen the heartbreaking photos of pelicans covered in oil from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s some happy pelicans who live in Redwood City to cheer you up!
Terns, possibly more than one species of tern, showed up in mid-spring and are swooping over the harbor and river, catching tiny fish. They make a funny clicking noise almost like blue jays scolding. While I’m kayaking, terns fly right overhead and plunge into the water a foot or two from my boat. They’re incredibly graceful and a bit saucy. You can tell them from gulls a long way off from their swooping flight, black head, long beak, and curvy wings.
Great Blue Herons are a bit more rare. I see them most commonly in the early morning, evening, or far into Smith Slough away from the harbor itself. But they come into the harbor and hang out, even perching on dinghys and boat rails. When we see one, we stop paddling and glide as slowly as possible so as not to disturb it. They’re very shy.
Egrets are easy to spot all over the Bair islands, often visible from the Pete’s Harbor parking lots on Inner or Middle Bair or from the viewing trail. From the kayak, I most often see them in the tiny inlet we call “Pylon Bay”.
Western Grebes come right into the harbor, but they can almost always be found in a little flock next to Middle Bair Island right where the slough meets the creek, between Pete’s Harbor and the Marine Science Institute. They scatter when the crew boats row by in the early morning and evening. I’ve seen these grebes do the preliminary steps to their mating flights — pairing up and head pumping, copying each other, but not the full “walking on water” part. The grebes are everywhere in Redwood Creek and seem to be very successful in their fishing.
Coots are around, but less common in the creek. We have one resident coot who hangs around C and G Docks in the harbor, named Wacko by my neighbors. It hovers around the little flocks of ducks and sticks close to the shadows of the boats and docks during the day.
Ducks, seagulls, and small Canada Geese are extremely common around the harbor and Bair Island. I feed them (and Wacko the Coot) handfuls of duck chow in the evening from the back of my boat. A couple of weeks ago, I saw three pairs of Canada geese with 7 chicks, between the Bair view trail and Inner Bair Island, but the goose families with goslings haven’t come into the harbor. My neighbors have said that every year the ducks have lots of ducklings, most of which don’t make it to adulthood as they get eaten by herons and seagulls.
During a low tide, especially a minus tide, we see a lot of night herons. They’re very shy and wary, but they still perch on the docks to fish. It’s nice to see them out on the mudflats in a minus tide, along with phalaropes, plovers, peeps, black necked stilts, avocets, and what I think might be whimbrels. I love night herons because they look so fierce and grumpy.
I don’t have many photos of the avocets and stilts. I see them most often at the minus tides or way out in the slough. The closest point I expect to find stilts is in the slough in between Inner Bair and Middle Bair Island. Here’s a stilt right by Pete’s Harbor at a minus tide in the early morning, near the place we call Castle Point.
Cormorants are common and quite beautiful! They and the pelicans remind me of little dinosaurs. We recognize them a long way away from their low sleek profile sitting on the water, very different from the shape of a grebe, or from their characteristic posture perched on pilings, docks, or pylons, with wings outspread. The dock near the pylon across from the Pete’s Harbor laundry room, and the pylon itself by the Bair Island viewing trail, are pretty much guaranteed to be festooned with cormorants any time you look. I conclude that they must make a successful living from the creek and the area immediately around the harbor.
Red tailed hawks glide over Middle and Inner Bair Islands, hunting. Some small mammals must live there. A few years ago I saw rabbits boxing each other on Inner Bair, while it was still home to a hiking trail.
On Bair Island itself, there are swallows, red-winged blackbirds, finches, and other small songbirds I haven’t identified.
You can see quite a lot of these birds from the Bair Island viewing trail or from the Pete’s Harbor parking lot near the Waterfront Restaurant. To get to the viewing trail, get off Highway 101 at Whipple and go on Whipple towards the Bay, away from the city. You will pass some car dealerships and the old movie theater. The road curves around to the left, past the foot and bike bridge that goes across the creek to Main Street. Keep going past the Diving Pelican Cafe. Across from the Bair Island condos and a big empty field, just before the railing, road, and walkway that leads to the Pete’s Harbor ship on land that’s painted like the Italian flag, there is a tiny trail and a “Shore Access” sign. Park in the lot across the street from the trail.
Along the gravelled trail, there are two natural history signs that have information about the marsh. There are benches where you can sit to look out over the slough. If you walk about halfway down the trail towards Whipple, there is a tiny sand pit and playground good for toddlers to play in. Bikes can make it up this trail all the way to Whipple. Strollers are okay up until the halfway mark at the sand pit. It’s not very accessible for wheelchairs but not impossible if you can make it up the steep gravelled slope that starts the trail — I can make it only with a push from behind, but can do the trail after that despite the shallow gravel up until the sand pit. Past the sand pit, the trail is narrow and rough.
Leave a comment if you birdwatch around this area and let me know what you see!
Yesterday we drove up I-5 to Grant’s Pass. Here’s all the things I noticed and enjoyed.
Coming up 505 there were lots of flooded fields that I thought might be growing rice. I fell in love with the lady behind the counter in a Carl’s Jr. somewhere along the way because she seemed so sweet and earnest and vulnerable, like the heroine of a Patsy Cline song. Everyone else in the Carl’s Jr. knew each other and talked about their plans for the weekend, asked after family members, and so on as their kids and grandkids played on the play structure. A guy who in former decades I would think of as a hesher came up to me. “Love the wild hair, I have to show that to my son – his favorite color is purple.”
Further along, in Corning, after about 1 million billboards for a place called the Olive Pit, I got off the highway and had a similar experience in the Travel America truck stop. A woman in a TA vest liked my purple hair and yelled “Hey Mom! Come on over here!” They liked my hair and then I went to the bathroom passing a big sign for Trucker services in the Trucker Chapel. Wow, a truck stop with a *chapel*. I had this picture suddenly come into my mind of the Holy Grail appearing and disappearing at a truck stop feast table near the combination pizza hut and taco bell. There were two other obvious OLIVE *** places so I went down the road to the Olive Hut, a big round topped metal building with plastic barrels outside. Not sure what I was hoping for; I love olives, olives with weird things in them, and felt there might be a warehouse full of kitsch, and if I could get an Olive Capital of the World magnet or tea towel something in my soul would be road-trippishly satisfied. Alas, no trinkets but a mostly empty echoing warehouse with some very nice and cheap olives. I tasted and bought chipotle and garlic-jalapeño stuffed olives plus some slightly out of place salt water taffy. The kitsch was probably all at the place with the billboards. I pictured big fiberglass olive shaped structures making up a playground and photo opportunity, where you could get into the fake olive with your head sticking out and take a stupid picture. If that doesn’t exist, it should…
There was an interesting sign somewhere along the way, “Stop the Thermal Curtain! Save Lake Almanor!“. A thermal curtain (said my driving companion Oblomovka from browsing on his phone) is a thing they install at the bottom of deep lakes to stir up the cold water that sinks to the bottom and sent it out and down stream to benefit the fish, or fishermen, or both. “Waiit a minute is this something that the power companies say is for the environment but is really to offset their own thermal pollution…” Not sure and I need to look it up. The “save the lake” guy sounds slightly batty on his web page. I want to believe!
Must go to Lake Shasta Caverns on the way back, OMFGBBQ! A boat ride, bus ride up the hill, and then CAVES. I love a cave, wet or dry. Show me the flowstone, baby!
We got off the highway again at Weed to go to the Silva BBQ, which was very good but very, very salty! It’s worth a stop for the amazing view from their deck of Mt Shasta and the Black Butte volcanic plug. Thank you, Roadside Geology of Northern California, for all the great explanations of geologic features. I failed to buy some funny postcards that said “WEED” on them.
A brief stop to lie in the grass under the trees at the Rogue River state park … I get very stiff while driving and have to pee like once an hour and am very curious about the things nearby the highway, in case you’re wondering why I stopped like 6 times on what should be a 4 hour drive… I thought of how if I were younger I’d be climbing all the trees in this rest stop and running down to the riverside but it was the end of the day and nothing other than lying on a picnic blanket was going to happen. The wind picked up as we lay there and made the tops of the tallest pine trees sway beautifully like little anenome-like tentacles of branches of coral.
In Grants’ Pass we stayed at the Sweet Breezes motel, very nice, with a funny pink painted sink, funny green splotches decorating the bathtub wall — someone learned to paint porcelain. A bookshelf with readers digest condensed books. A slight carpet cleaner smell but it aired out and was tolerable. A fridge and microwave (no coffee in room – only in the lobby) and nice bath stuff. Pink and green towels and bedspread, rather sweetly matching the painted sink… someone made an effort.
Dutch Brothers coffee kiosk. More chit chat which I got to overhear. Two guys in the kiosk argue about breakfast place advice. Ray’s Supermarket breakfast burritos (tempting!) Della’s for a step up from Denny’s and some people say it is the best breakfast in town. I drove around with my coffee seeing the preparations for Boatnik.
Ended up at the Powder Horn Cafe which was a classic and gorgeous little diner with longhorn horns over the menu on the back wall, a case of homemade pies (flavors chalked up on a board nearby) and a waitress with a lot of eye makeup and one of those sarah palin hair thingies calling me honey. I adored all the waitresses. A lot of people in here look like regulars and all chat about their weekends to each other and the staff. The rye toast was not the gross kind that has been in the freezer for years but was fresh, thick, and soft, eggs nice, homemade hash browns (a LOT of them) and coffee at my elbow topped up every 5 minutes. They had a charming thing called Table Talk with knock knock jokes, funny headlines, local history and so on. I’d go there again, especially for rhubarb pie. They were really nice even though I was an out of towner and taking up a whole table with my newspaper and notebook and giant plate of cheap poached eggs. (Breakfast was… 6 dollars total with tax. !!)
Other bits of Grants Pass that I noticed while driving around: the caveman statue, cute downtown with ads painted on sides of old buildings, a piercing shop, something with a betty boop sign that could be a sort of homegrown hot topic for the alty teenagers, a theater where Henry Rollins is coming tomorrow to do spoken word (!!!!!) Cute well maintained small businesses everywhere so a) it must be cheap to live here b) the city must encourage and foster them very well. I thought the downtown was missing a hotel or two or fancy bed and breakfast – instead the motels are all near the highway, understandable, but as a tourist I prefer to be right in the cute downtown where I can walk (or wheel) to everything without getting in my car.
In my little fantasy world (where there are also giant olive sculptures and Olive Capital tea towels) I putter around the tiny shops, cafes, small town history museum, and riverside park without having to drive and park and drive and park. The local paper described Boatnik, a 50 year old boat parade and picnic, sounds like fun, beer drinking by the river and so on, lots of small town competition of who can build the coolest float and I’m always a fan of that, eat your heart out pretentious Burning Man artists. I would SO go to Boatnik! As long as no one beats me up or anything – I find small towns fascinating but a bit scary, to be honest! Clearly Grants’ Pass is trying to transition from being a logging town to being a tourist town and they’re doing a good job of it.
Onward to Portland! My goal today is to pick up some rocks from a stream bed! It would be nice to see something that isn’t serpentinite … how sick I am of the Franciscan M
elange. Some granite maybe – is that too much to ask? The problem here is that I can’t walk all that far, so it has to be a riverbed right next to a parking lot.
I forgot my camera so the photos of this trip will all be cameraphone. Everything is so lush and green and rainy here!
Here’s the kayak full of trash I picked up early this morning at low tide in Redwood Creek. It was a short, leisurely voyage in a glassy calm that made it easy to spot floating plastic bags and bottles.
The big glass bottle looks old to me, so I’m going to wash it out and keep it.
During unusually high tides there’s usually a lot of fast food containers, plastic bottlecaps, and styrofoam packing peanuts as well as a lemon or two.
Most of the time I forget to take a photo, but here’s another day’s worth of trash:
The most fertile grounds for trash are right up Redwood Creek past Highway 101. It’s only good to go there during a high tide at slack water.
On Valentine’s Day this year the Peninsula Yacht Club at Docktown led a big effort to pull trash from the creekside. In one day, they hauled out almost 2 tons of junk!
I think in the summer, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish might come do a trash collection voyage with me. Her blog is pretty cool – take a look. She lived for a year without consuming more than 5 pounds of plastic and she’s basically an activist against unnecessary plastic. After collecting trash from the creek, and during moments like watching seagulls fight over a coke bottle screw top and then one of them eating it, I can sure see where she’s coming from. The plastic bags in the marsh look like jellyfish floating.
In the Maldives there is an island made entirely of trash, Thilafushi Island. It’s built out of garbage and looks like an interesting place despite surely leaching out pollutants and hosting some industrial processing plants.
The island has grown to such proportions that it now has a café, a restaurant, two mosques, a barbershop, a clinic, a police station and rather unexpectedly, a makeshift zoo.
If we had a floating trash island in the San Francisco Bay, its growth would need to be limited, but it could be a very interesting place for eco-tourism or trash management tourism. I picture this floating trash island as a step further than Forbes Island or Spiral Island II, but smaller than Thilafushi. It could be a colony where people come stay and camp for a month and do volunteer Bay cleanup work with Trash Island as their base. There should also be a coffee cart and a nature center. It would be way more exciting to visit than Yet Another Bike Trail with Dogwalkers And Joggers In A Landfill. The price of admission would be that you take away a bag of trash. Okay, this is a half-baked idea… While I like the vision of seasteading as places for independent states, I tend to come up with slightly less ambitious ideas for cooperatively owned marinas or coastal cities with floating platforms that share some common purpose or radical politics — ecological cleanup and monitoring, public coastal access, and maybe some really cool art. In fact, I think that seasteading colonies will need to foster marinas with progressive politics in order to be viable. Seasteading needs a sort of marine-stuff-ecosystem in order to be viable. That might mean developing a close relationship with a working port city, or buying up and running its own port.
Speaking of public access! You should go to the Alviso Public Boat Ramp re-opening! Free kayak rides for kids and I’m sure a great party in a place with a long, interesting history.
I came into this room with a jillion people soldering and just finishing their Arduino pebble thingies and some madman crouched by my wheelchair to explain how to mindmeld with it. After a bunch of fiddling and more kibbitzing by a guy named Garth we got this other one working. I am incoherent! Because jetlag, and I’m in New Zealand at day something of linux.conf.au.
A friend just asked me what would be useful to send to Haiti or to any evacuee camp, refugee camp, or disaster situation besides food, water, and medical supplies. She had the opportunity to send a box immediately by small aircraft and had to send things that were in her house already. So, here’s my question for you. Other than food, water, and medical supplies, what would you list as non-obvious and useful in a disaster?
Here is my list.
Backpacks – things to hold other things Tape – all kinds but mainly duct tape, electrical tape, and masking tape Scissors Pocketknife Notebook Sharpie markers String or strong cord Safety pins, binder clips, rubber bands Ziplock and other plastic bags, all sizes Handkerchiefs or bandanas
What would you add to that list?
My list is heavy on the office supplies but that’s because I believe that information is power. With paper, a Sharpie, and some good tape, you become an instantly powerful distributor of information, because you can create useful signs that spread information efficiently. The list is strangely similar to what I’d recommend you need to organize an impromptu conference.
I still believe that along with food, water, shelter, and medical care, information is a primary need.
Given a point of internet access, priority should be on peoplefinding and information booth services. For peoplefinding, register people for email if they don’t have it – Gmail is excellent- and on some existing popular social software. I think Facebook is ideal as they have okay privacy controls, useful for limiting volatile family details. Their neighborhood and group features are useful for finding, say, everyone you can think of who you work with or who lives on your block. Full names (which is what official databases go by) aren’t useful when you’re trying to make sure that lady who works on your shift or your neighbor “Bud” are okay because you heard that their sister’s looking for them. Sign people up for email and make sure they understand how to get back into it. Sign them up on some social software, and friend them and get them to friend you back. You are now a point of contact for anyone who knows them. Do this with everyone you speak with, and you’ll be doing something very useful!
In Katrina relief efforts I found that evacuees needed backpacks and tools to carry information — notebook and pen, or a small folder or even a manila envelope, were crucial as they started to get paperwork, ID, and have to take notes on where to go for what resources, who they’ve seen, talked to, lists of people they’re trying to find, and so on. Since officials, army and police would often just move cots and trash bags full of people’s rescued (or newly received) belongings, a backpack is much better so people can carry essentials around.
A month ago I moved onto a boat, a 37 foot Chris Craft Catalina built in 1987. The engine is in scattered rusted pieces. There’s a faint bilgey, seaweedy smell and a gentle rocking motion. Pelicans, grebes, coots, ducks, geese, scaups, cormorants, and night herons hang around the harbor outside my window.
Last night for the first time, during a minus tide (a perigean spring tide) the boat grounded on the muddy bottom. Then there was a moment where the boat began to sway again – it had lifted off and we were floating. I looked out at the christmas lights in the rigging next door and realized we were at our usual height relationship again, with a view of the canvas roof over their cockpit. While we were both grounded, their deeper keel hit bottom first, and their boat towered over us so that I was looking into their lower portholes from my cabin window.
It’s all a bit like a trailer park in a very wet parking lot. Some people’s boats sail out into the bay or to far destinations. Others, like mine, stay put except for the promise and motion of the tide. People who have boats, and who live aboard their boats, seem to share a particular romanticism, dreaminess and the attachment of meaning to possibilities of a nomadic life, or a sense of needed refuge, shown in lists of the most popular boat names over the years.
Tides are complicated. On this part of the coast we get mixed tides — with high water and low water twice a day, and one set of high and low points higher than the other. The tide moves north along the U.S. west coast because of the Coriolis effect. Here in the bay, down a marshy creek channel and in the middle of a slough, the tidal range is still over 8 feet. Floating docks and finger docks are loosely connected to piers by huge metal rings. Sometimes we on the boats, and the docks that bridge the water, are up at the level of the parking lot. At low tide, the ramp from the parking lot to the docks is quite steep.
Dock steps with a handrail lead up to my boat. Between the main cabin and the other rooms, there are a few more steps. These are still hard for me to negotiate, especially stepping down. But through the stress of moving I’ve held up very well. Now that I’m settled in, the constant small variations of the steps between rooms, with resting possible in bed or in the living room and kitchen, are making my knees stronger.
The head in the aft (captain’s) cabin works well. The forward head has been in pieces for over a week, waiting for an out of stock valve to be shipped to one of a small group of my neighbors who have been in and out of the boat to study the valves and hoses below deck and the disassembled hoses attached to the toilet itself. I’ve learned a little bit about marine heads in the meantime. Everyone here gets to know the marine shop and the RV supply places, and, I think, the workings of each other’s boats.
The boat had two circuits of 30 amps each. Space heaters, the microwave, and the toaster oven use the most amps and can potentially flip some circuit breakers. There’s a 12 volt circuit too for the boat’s batteries, and the bilge pump runs on that. Though the water and electricity are hooked up to the city services, I’m suddenly more aware of them as finite resources, and am now much more moderate in my use of both. My neighbors can see the water I use to wash dishes, as it’s pumped out over the side. The toilets’ holding tank is pumped out twice a month into a boat with a giant holding tank, with all our sewage sloshing around visibly inside.
A small subset of my books fills three half-size bookshelves. I brought a lot of books about exploration and the sea, fiction and non-fiction. So far the best one has been The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk By a Whale. Three survivors from the 1820 wreck of a whaling ship tell the story of the whale’s attack, a long journey in three open boats, starvation, thirst, fear, and cannibalism. My other favorite book just now, a present from Oblomovka, is The Queen of Whale Cay, about a woman named Joe Carstairs who drove ambulances in WWI, raced motorboats, had about a zillion lovers including Marlene Dietrich, and bought her own island in the Bahamas which she ruled feudal or colonial style until the 1960s. Every paragraph of the book was full of new outrageousness. I also brought some books of poems to translate, and some of my favorite poets like Ginsberg and Alta.
By comparison to many other towns on the Peninsula, Redwood City has kept a little bit of its working class industry and feel, in part because it’s a working deep water port. Ships from China and South Korea bring construction materials, like gypsum and rock for cement. They leave filled with scrap metal. On one side, a complex of tall buildings is built around a rocky artificial stream, then some salt ponds shade towards more slough and a landfill to the south. On the north side of the port, there’s a yacht harbor surrounded by tech and genetics companies in a chain of long low buildings and their oceanic parking lots. Then, bits of slough and winding creek channels. At the point where Redwood Creek crosses 101, there’s a marina called Docktown, with some enormous “floating homes” built on pontoons, and boats ranging down to the “barely floating” category. There are lots of flowerpots and dogs and amazing, attractive clutter, and a completely non-snooty yacht club. I like it there. My boat is in Pete’s Harbor, a quiet marina just across the creek and around a point, facing Bair Island and Smith Slough. The liveaboards here all seem to know each other and it’s a good community. Two newer marinas in town, West Point and Bair Island, are stricter in their rules and are out to attract a richer set of residents. But my impression of Docktown and Pete’s Harbor is that people here are just regular — not wealthy yacht owners — and in fact it’s very affordable to live on the water here once you have the boat and a slip to rent. The politics of the existence of marinas seems as complicated as tides and less predictable. Here is an area in flux, whose ownership is a bit unclear or is municipally owned. Would it even be possible to own a tiny bit of the coastline in the bay, here? Could it be possible for a consortium or co-operative to buy up some land and own their own personal boat slips, rather than renting the slips? I wonder, too, if that would inevitably lead to people filling in the spaces between docks and new land pushing outward into the Bay, as much of San Francisco was built on docks and filled in to become land, owned and controlled rather than the liminal space that coastlines seem to be.
As I read about the complexities of tides I learned about amphidromic points, places in the ocean where because of the Coriolis effect, the topography of the sea floor or the nearby landmasses, the tidal range is zero. The tides here keep me noticing things and alert to this small bit of the world. I’m paying attention to weather and watching the marine buoys nearest to the harbor.
Anyway, the changes in my life have been overwhelming and absorbing, so much that I haven’t been blogging much or spending time online, other t
han for work. I need to jump back in, though, and in a couple of weeks am leaving for New Zealand for linux.conf.au and DrupalSouth. Wellington is on Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. On the east coast, high tide comes at the same time as low tide on the west coast. So the current through the channel is fierce and for various reasons, nearly unpredictable. A bit like my interest in geology and gardening and compost made me notice dirt and rocks and want to learn about the geological history of every place I go — seeing a landscape as a potential narrative over the scale of geologic time and simultaneously from the point of view of a gardener — living aboard a boat (which happened somewhat by chance as I looked for a cheap place to live in my town on Craigslist) has given me a new overlay or template or lens to view the rest of the world. So there’s a new set of things to learn and notice, everywhere I go, which makes me feel incredibly lucky and happy. The rock and soil based lens of my view is about deep history and rootedness, and how to settle and blend into that landscape, making a sort of habitat or ecosystem where I make a home for birds and bugs, getting back some tomatoes and oregano and flowers. Here on the water in my glorified floating trailer, I find I’ve made the same sort of cozy domesticity inside the house, but outside, there’s no feeling of rootedness or connection. I’m detatched, ephemeral, temporarily in residence, trying not to make an impact with my biodegradable soap, an observer and traveller. What would it be like, living in a spaceship? It’s like what that anthropologist whose name I can’t recall wrote about the attractions of waiting rooms and hotel lobbies. But rather than waiting in an impersonal static lobby for a particular event, I’m a temporary resident along with the ducks and herons as enormous forces keep our world in flux.
Thank you all for your contributions! All through October, they buoyed me up and gave me food for thought. I felt intense pride to be part of this very loosely knit online community of thinkers and writers.
Wheelchair Dancer contributed two posts. In Becoming Disabled On the Job she writes about how even in a supportive workplace there were many obstacles to overcome as her physical capabilities changed over several years.
Ultimately, I was successful at my job; I wrote my heart out, presented, won awards, grants, and funding; I got myself published. Technically, however, I didn’t get my work done on schedule; in fact, it took me approximately two extra years to approximate a body of work like the ones that my peers had on their resumes. I felt like that broken and imposter racehorse, uselessly gimping around behind its pure blood, beautiful, swift sisters.
Her other post, Disability at Work, focuses on her current job as a dancer, where she is not the only person with a disability! “You know that disability is an important factor in your work environment when . . . ” Ha! I love it! I’m printing out her 10 reasons why list and putting it up at my office!
Sophia from ‘sprokenword has an otherwise excellent post which does contain some hatred expressed towards people riding airport motor transport carts who are fat. If you can read around that or bracket it, read on because the post explores some other important issues. In Disability Employment Awareness Month, Sophia describes her job working for a non-profit open source software company while dealing with gait problems, chronic pain, trouble standing, and difficulty walking. Her situation requires quite a lot of travel. I enjoyed this post and have a lot of respect for the difficulties of travel and Sophia’s determination to do it. Sophia’s post and Wheelchair Dancer’s first post spoke to many of the issues that people with disabilities and chronic pain face in professional careers.
Alison Bergblom Johnson, from the blog Writing Mental Illness, posted about poetry as work. Anne Sexton: Patient or Poet. Anne Sexton was a brilliant and hard working poet. She won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. But in the psychiatric professions she is a patient and her work is considered as pathology – as evidence of her illness.
Deborah Kaplan wants to recognize the ways that her job is awesome in working while disabled: it’s really just fine. “I could do most of those infamous “activities of daily living” without help if I had too (since I don’t think that Congress defines “open-source coding and checking my feeds” as an activity of daily living). But without adaptive technology, I would not have been able to hold a job for the last 10 years, full stop.” Her co-workers and employers are supportive. She has some complicated stuff to say about the tradeoff between working through pain and difficulty vs. taking time off and trying to heal and avoid stress. In all that complexity, though, her day to day experience of work is “pretty damn good”.
Tlönista’s post Work/Ability writees about some of the negative aspects of her experiences working and being a mentally ill person. She wonders how much longer she can go on. “Don’t think about the long term, don’t think about the future, treat your life like a sub-prime loan. For now I am a “good” mentally ill person. Not a menace, not a burden. I am functional. I’m so tired.”
Sashafeather’s post, “Disability and Work: What I do” centers on Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction book about an anarchist planet, The Dispossessed, where the word for work is the same as the word for play. Sashafeather describes work/play as “what occupies a person’s time, and what one does with the people in one’s community”. She does emotional work, self care and pain management, volunteer work for the WisCon feminist science fiction convention, and disability/anti-oppression activism. She moderates several online communities and does creative work in media fandom.
Her post made me think about self-care and pain management as an important part of community work. It’s something I have to remind myself of: If I don’t deal with my physical pain levels, I will be less useful to the people around me and my community. You might think the motivation of “not being in so much pain” would be enough. Often it’s not.
And she moves into very interesting territory in writing about work, disability, and feminism:
I have personally benefitted from the feminist idea of work being a socially constructed idea, and “women’s work” such as housework, childcare, and care of the elderly and ill being often unpaid or underpaid and devalued by society. The reason women are paid less than men is because women’s work is undervalued. Women often provide emotional support for others, they build friendships, they build communities, they build homes. All of this takes time and effort.
The categories of women and disabled people intersect hugely. The work of disabled people is also devalued, and disabled people face huge barriers such as pain, exhaustion, mobility and cognitive impairments, communication differences, discrimination in the work place and the wider world, and a lack of basic access to buildings, services, and transportation.
Eva from The Deal with Disability wrote and posted a video of herself at her dogwalking job. Sometimes accessibility is more than meets the eye. She posts flyers for her business at veterinarians’ offices and was showing how though she found out she couldn’t get into the office there, the staff’s attitude was polite and helpful. Eva goes on to point out factors other than steps or ramps that affect accessibility.
The spaces in my résumé by codeman38 talks about some of the practical difficulties in getting a job by traditional means. Interviews, transport, and phone calls are not completely impossible for him as an autistic person but they are definitely obstacles. He finds jobs through friends and family.
Tera from Sweet Perdition writes about her job at a local game store: I am Lord Voldemort. She works for store credit at a job that her college professors would consider below her capacity – but she loves her work and their appreciation of her.
Sometimes you think about getting a proper job, one that pays you money or, at the very least, requires you to leave the house, but you don’t want one. You real
ize that you don’t really want a lot of things that you’ve grown up hearing independent adults must have . . . But all this guilt is just society’s poison coursing through your brain; it isn’t you. The things you want–really want, not just think you should want in order to be a real person–are not the things your culture wants for you. Popular culture doesn’t have many models for the kind of person you are.
I posted on BlogHer.com on Working Women With Disabilities. I was feeling exhausted and disheartened, and wanted to see other people’s thoughts on working and being disabled. My own thoughts on the subject are going to take me a while to put together. When I post about my personal experiences with losing jobs, struggling to get SSI, working part time, passing as able, going back to school, and access issues on the job now that I’m working again. I’ll link to it from the comments on this post.
Wheelie Catholic posted many times in October with Disability Awareness Month in mind. Her posts are great!
[ETA: warning on fat hatred on a link.] [ETA again: I phrased that badly and i think misinterpreted sophia’s words to be about scooter users. By carts she meant people who are riding the electric carts that airport employees drive around to pick people up. See comments on this post for my thoughts. – Liz 10/28/09]
Thank you all again for clueing me in to your amazing writing. And thanks for reading!
Please stay tuned to FWD/Forward for the next Disability Blog Carnival call for contributions for Carnival #60!
This weekend I went right from the Blogalicious conference in Atlanta to the end of a march and start of a rally that kicked off a week of activism by ADAPT.
Their goals are, free people from being incarcerated in nursing homes, and kept in there against their will. They back the Money Follows the Person program, which means a person’s benefits are under their control rather than under the control of doctors, social workers, and assisted living facilities (who are a powerful medical-industrial complex much like the prison-industrial complex: powerful lobbyists with a lot of money at stake.) Right now ADAPT also supports the Community Choice Act, a bill which you can see and follow directly with OpenCongress.org.
I hopped out of a taxi with two backpacks hanging off the back of my wheelchair, tired enough to cry but feeling jet setty, determined and super excited, as if going to the crip activist prom. As I rolled up an exhausting hill to the Martin Luther King historic site and rose garden. Hundreds and hundreds of disabled people and others were there. There were some songs and short speeches. There seemed to be three or four main organizer dudes, 70s looking older white guys. I gradually realized everyone was in groups based on the color of their tshirts.
I have not been involved on any level other than donating money to ADAPT and though I write about disability online a lot I don’t get to hang out with anyone really and I miss that enormously and need some solidarity. So I was so grateful just to be there for a while with everyone. I wanted to stay and support the goals of the organization to get government officials to change policies, get people out of forced institutional living, and embody our political power with direct action.
But I’m also going to frankly tell the story of my afternoon and my thoughts.
First, here is an ADAPT logo and a link to their donation page.
Here’s a short speech by Lois who says “Free our brothers and sisters, free our people.”
I enjoyed the small bits of chanting we did. How do you spell power? A-D-A-P-T! However I have been in enough rallies in life that I never want to yell “The People united will never be defeated” again. Did it anyway in the heat of the moment. But I draw the line at “Hey Hey Ho Ho.” A person has to have some boundaries. Hah!
Andrew Jones speaks about getting out of an institution with the MFP program which has now been denied funding. I missed videoing the second bit of his talk, which was fantastic (my camera ran out of batteries just then.)
Later that afternoon I went to shake Andrew’s hand and tell him I’d upload the video of part of his speech, and he raffishly explained to me that I was a rather attractive and curvaceous young lady. Thanks, Andrew, but LOL that was some quick work, how about making friends first, also, actually I am 40 and prideful of my mature charms and middle aged wisdom. You are certainly silver tongued though and should get on email. It would work for you.
Thank you ASL interpreters. Y’all worked so hard. And thanks ADAPT for structuring that constant side by side translation.
So then, there was a sort of extra staged bit which I had mixed feelings about, keep in mind I am a total outsider to ADAPT so take it all with a grain of salt. Delores Bates and Kathy and Bodie came up to the front of the rally and did not speak but the main organizer guy told Delores’ story of being in an institution for “seizures” for the last 43 years. She just got out, I guess with ADAPT’s help, this September, to live in her own place. IT was her 57th birthday on the day of the rally and they presented her with a birthday cake and a giant card with lots of signatures. We all sang her Happy Birthday. It was her first birthday on the outside in 43 years.
So, okay, I cried like a baby, but I also was like “So, fucking give her a piece of her own cake then? Also, what she have to say about it if anything?” And felt it was a bit stagey and poster-childy. I talked with Delores a bit afterwards and asked her if I could take a picture, she smiled and nodded and I showed her the photos in my camera for a bit. I wished she could talk with me. Thank you Delores for contributing your story and your birthday moment to ADAPT and all of us in the crowd. Congratulations on getting out.
I wondered what happened next and I imagined again her having email and showing her Eva’s The Deal with Disability blog entries so she could totally crack up laughing. And that she could have a Facebook page and people could donate directly to her if they wanted and if they cried while singing her Happy Birthday rather than it being sort of showcase for ADAPT, though I also felt like ADAPT probably does right by her and she might be happy to donate that publicity about her life for the good of others. Basically I had my little social media empowerment fantasies and started making real life plots to go to nursing homes in my area and implement my idea to get them online with wireless and take it from there. More about this later on Hack Ability.
Here are some scenes of the people and the crowd.
I saw my friend Bethany and was very excited! We were on a panel together at the Sex:Tech conference. Then wandering around for a while I introduced myself to some women named Naomi and Joanne. They were very persuasive trying to get me to stay. I thought about calling work and begging for time off without pay, and trying to find child care, and seeing if I could change my plane ticket instead of leaving that night. Would it be possible? I considered just “accidentally” missing my plane and finding a place to stay overnight. But I’d have to accomplish all that in something like 2 hours and I didn’t want to let my employers down or my family. If only I had planned to stay.
Then people took off up the big ramp out of the park and up another hill to Park Manor nursing home, right next to the Rose Garden. I asked a guy to hold my hand and pull me up the hill. (Thanks!) We all marched and rolled past and waved. The Older People for Community Choice stayed outside the windows with a big banner, waving, till the end of the parade.
Now here is the “Stay on the Sidewalk” bit, where I rant at length!
As I rolled down hill at the tail end of the march I made friends with a guy named Tali and soon we were deep in discussion about disability rights politics. Over the next few blocks we kept getting yelled at to get into single file. The march went on and on and Tali started to give me a lift – I hung onto the side of his power chair so he could pull me (and my giant backpack) up the hills (which no one who isn’t in a manual chair would even think of as “hills”). We were all in the middle of the right lane of the road. Basically I don’t react well to senseless orders and I’m proud of my capability to land in a strange city and get around. Also, i know how to cross the street but at every intersection another person usually one on 2 legs was screaming at me through a megaphone to keep up. This one older lady behind us in a power chair was very, very upset that Tali and I were not following the rules. I was half a lane away from the part of the street that was open to traffic and at no time was in any danger. What I think happened was a vicious cycle of this lady’s instant judgement of me as a spoiled bratty child of privilege who needed to be controlled. And this kicked in all her officiousness, which in turn pushed my buttons big time so I refused to do what she said. As disabled people (or people in general) we are not served well by doing what we’re told without using our own judgement. By the end of the march I was not only so mad I could spit, I was ready to go get hit by a car just out of spite. If not rolling up huge, horrible hills, being yelled at every inch while I was deep in talk with Tali, I would have liked to have a good heart to heart talk with that lady about authority, privilege, hierarchies, rules, race, disability, internalized oppression, and so on, and I mean that sincerely. Instead I lost my temper and just kept yelling No, leave me alone. The worst moment was when she decided I was too far back at the end of the line of the parade and she started yelling for someone to come and push me. “We’ve got a manual wheelchair here who needs a pusher” And that sent me over the edge of rage to be referred to like that. I also fight very hard to be independent in big and small ways. So it pisses me off that someone else thinks they get to decide when I need “help” which in this case would not have been help. Tali and I were cussing everyone out loudly and yelling No sorry don’t need help we’re anarchists. I also had some commentary from walking organizers in orange shirts about “how well I was doing”… thanks but shut up, that was a patronizing and unnecessary thing to say.
The thing is, i’ve been an activist and organizer for years and I know how to organize a march or parade, I know you have to get permits for it and work with the city and the police, I know how to block traffic as safely as possible, and I’ve been to many rallies where there are guys barking orders through megaphones at people who don’t need to be ordered around at that moment, because they panic a little at being responsible and in a position of authority, and so they have to go around displaying it, because they’re worried and need the feedback and reassurance that their authority is *working*. I would like to tell those guys to take a chill pill. Unless it is an actual crisis situation, you are not helping, you are just training people not to think for themselves, and causing a reaction of confusion and resentment. And in an actual crisis situation, it may very well NOT BE YOU with the megaphone and orange vest who keeps a cool head and exhibits leadership. To be overly generous, there is the opposite kind of asshole in rallies with a black bandana who is just there to fuck shit up and set a newspaper vending machine on fire and they can also kiss my ass. And I’m not that kind of asshole, i’m the *journalist kind of asshole* and also one of those rogue computer people. In any situation I look to whoever is sane and making sense and being effective. If the most sensible person there is me, then I lead. In a situation where I have information that shows that it is best for another person to lead and coordinate and there are rules that make sense, then it is best for me to go with that. That, for people fighting for “empowerment” should not be hard to understand.
Here’s how I felt about it at the time and Tali too….
Tali especially since he was put into a different “color group” as Bethany who he had specifically come there to meet as his one friend at the march and then a bunch of organizers wouldn’t “let” him sit with her since he had the wrong color tshirt on or something. Um. !!?? What possible purpose could this serve. We were told over and over again that people were trying to PROTECT US. What’s wrong with that statement should be a bit obvious.
Now if it is directly going to contribute to saving someone’s live or helping us not be harmed in some way I can shut up about my personal dislike of orders and my special snowflake self and rights, and be dutiful for common good, but this was NOT THAT MOMENT.
Near the end of the march back I ran into my blog friend PhilosopherCrip,
I adore him!
We spoke super briefly and he sized up my state of mind and I think, in a post later, actually partly answered it by explaining ADAPT’s organizational philosophy and how it goes into military organization mode during Actions.
Now, when folks refer to ADAPT as the “militant” wing of the disability rights movement, they are more accurate than they may realize. To some degree, ADAPT’s organizational structure is a representative democracy as actions are being deliberated and planned. However, when the wheelchair tire rubber meets the road, we turn into a highly authoritarian, quasi-militaristic structure, complete with chain of command and an expectation to follow orders exactly. This has all been a matter of reflection for me (particularly how trust relationships operate within a direct action activism structure), some of which will hopefully find its way into a future blog entry.
I appreciate that explanation very much and it goes a fairly long way to quench my irritation. However I have a meta irritation which is that a lot of the people at the rally might not have the luxury of being irritated or going off like I could to do their own thing. There was not good information passed out to people. A lot of people don’t have independent means as far as money. The pace of activities was brutally fast. I was increaasingly conscious of my own extreme privilege relative to others there. I could at any point just call a taxi and go wherever I damn pleased. So I could criticize the leadership all I wanted. That is not a good feeling, it’s not right or fair, and to me is a sign something is not right in a power structure. I was like, damn, I’m even more happy for my job because it means i’m not subject to being grateful to these officious do gooders to boss me around while they’re “helping me” “for my own protection”.
When I’m getting arrested or facing some pepper spray then I appreciate organization but being “protected” from the simple act of wheeling down the street next to my friend … no thanks.
As an amateur leader myself in some situations I would advise other “organizers” to cope with loose cannons like me by valuing their capabilities and not trying too hard to rule over them in the small stuff. It backfires. Just let them do their thing and then when the time is ripe, co-opt them. (LOL AGAIN) (I say this mostly to make Joe/PhilosopherCrip crack up laughing)
And as I bitched about this to my friends a lot of them said “Yeah, that’s why I don’t really hang with ADAPT, that stuff turns me off.”
That is too bad and it’s feedback that should not be dismissed.
On another level of meta I would question whether the organization has a fair amount of military veterans in it who perpetuate their drill sergeant style and somewhat out of date organizational tactics. We should be empowering each other with information and two way access to public discourse in ALL WAYS so that we can act collectively in a swarm-like fashion. What y’all need is flash mobs, not paramilitary squads and cells.
I really do respect all that ADAPT has achieved and does!!!!
But check what you’re doing and listen up. Many aspects of the rally and march reminded me of my dealings in the Houston Astrodome during Katrina with the Red Cross officials vs. the rogue anarchist computer people. And I want to tell you that what on some level what got people the hell out of that refugee camp was information and connectivity: phones and email, myspace and facebook and search engines and the web. Not Professional Organizers and charity and hierarchical leadership that hugs information and power tight to its chest. A flow of information means that people can make decisions and act together. You all need some wing of your organization that works to those ends too.
Anyway, at the hotel, I actually used my privilege to take our asses to the hotel bar and have a much needed beer and sandwich in the 20 minutes before I had to catch a taxi and plane out of town. The bar waitress was SO nice and saw I was looking for a power outlet to plug in my laptop, and she brought me my sandwich to go so I could eat some of it and take the rest. She was completely unfazed by our wheelchairs. Omni Hotel, you rock. Bethany and Sara and Tali it was the highlight of my trip to get to hang out with you.
So I flew off literally sobbing with my desire to stay there and be in the week’s actions despite my rant about power structures and being yelled at, so ready to go for it.
Would anyone out there like to match my donation? Email me, email@example.com, or comment here.
The next day I woke up at 5am and began following what was happening in Atlanta. All day throughout work I could not stop thinking of all of y’all in Atlanta, cheering you on over Twitter, I worked to post and tag all my photos and videos as fast as possible as the only contribution I could make remotely.
What you all achieved and are doing today is so beautiful. Congratulations on getting into the Governor’s office, HUD and HHS and making top officials agree to meet right then and there and begin negotiations. So smart and so effective. You got a response and got the politicians to listen and take our power seriously. YEAH. (And direct action and the threat of an endless sit in or hundreds of us dragged out in handcuffs, ie, PR disaster, IS WHAT IT TAKES. RIGHT ON.) Good job with the talk of timelines and scheduling a series of committee meetings. Please, report on this in as much detail as you can on the net. And to report on it ASAP so we know what’s going down. A lot of us are watching and putting our trust in you right now to represent our interests.
Thanks for listening. Also, thanks to Nick Dupree for letting me know ab
out the rally and actions in the first place (last week on his blog). Now, anyone who read this who can afford it go and donate. Consider trying to get your employers or family or friends to donate as well. And, go read up on the other posts in Nick Dupree’s ADAPT Blogswarm !
Flying while disabled often tries my patience. Today’s experience on Delta was actually decent. I’m so surprised. Though I missed my flight the ticket agents got me on another one a few hours later. The guy in the pink tie was especially nice. At the gate, no one hassled me, but one of the agents came out, crouched down next to my wheelchair at my level, and discreetly talked to me in a way that was just like two human beings talking. That’s rare. She asked about an aisle chair, if I needed anything, if I wanted to board first, and gave me a gate tag, without lecturing me what was going to happen and what I did wrong or acting freaked out or being condescending or hostile. Nobody talked about me in front of me like I wasn’t there. No one grabbed or pushed me. Yay!
I noticed the people working for the airline were mostly dressed in jeans and tshirts and sweaters, which I also kind of appreciated and which maybe contributed to their acting decent.
I got on the plane, one of the agents carried my bag on, and no one fussed or acted like I had two heads. (If you actually do have two heads, I apologize for my mono-headular-centric language…)
They also put me 2 rows from the plane entrance and bathroom. There is wifi on the plane (though it’s only free the first flight.)
Thanks for not sucking. Meanwhile, I got some work done with the free wi-fi, and I’m excited about being in Atlanta for Blogalicious Weekend, for women bloggers celebrating their diversity and so on (representing BlogHer, where I work as a web producer and developer). I’m also really excited that I’m going to get to participate in some of ADAPT’s actions on Sunday and for that I’ll be participating in Nick Dupree’s ADAPT Blogswarm and will, I hope, interview some folks about the Community Choice Act to end institutionalization for people with disabilities.