nautical november

i’m writing this to the percussive sound of raindrops on metal and glass and with images of flooded streets, subways, sites of construction (NYC) and washed out fields, foundations, and farms (haiti) in my head. it feels like we’re all gonna have to learn to sail our bicycles through the rising seawaters… a few years ago i helped organize a bike ride around the future shoreline of the City, based on other similar rides that preceded it, with the focus on action against climate change.  (graphic to the right by hugh d’andrade!) it seemed important to raise awareness of the changes we could expect if we didn’t see some worldwide collaboration on carbon emissions at the COP15 conference on climate change that year. so we traced where the waters would rise to in downtown SF. looks like new york and other eastern states had a real experience of this possibility in the last day. and no one wants this to be true.

i’m sure i’m not the only one who felt utterly hopeless as i anticipated and watched (once) hurricane, (now) tropical storm sandy trawl along the atlantic coast of the americas this week. it’s a strange space to be in as an experienced disaster relief worker. haven’t i amassed any expertise that could be of service here? from this pacific coast, staying glued to a twitter feed or news reports didn’t assuage my helplessness. and like any plumbing emergency, it really can’t be “fixed” until it’s blown through and a leak’s effects have grown to an explosive point. so, post storm, there are some places you can turn to if you would like to contribute to the relief efforts working to get life back on track. one is occupy sandy relief, an effort backed by the same folks who proved that temporary encampments in the middle of the city can function smoothly. as rebecca solnit writes, “Occupy was born to face another disaster in NYC: the fiscal crisis and fiscal corruption that begat it. But all that camping out, all that solidarity, all those medic tents and community kitchens: they are equipped for this as well, in practicalities as well as spirit.” they are working together with and to move througout the five boroughs assessing and responding to needs. that occupy can still be relevant solidifies my belief in the powerful rhizomes existing from the movement that so many would like to have disappeared. another group whose work i have appreciated over the years is architecture for humanity, and they are forming their response as i write, so check in with them for updates. they are also a group welcoming architects, designers, builders, engineers, or other related professionals living on the east coast to help with their efforts. hint hint.

please also remember haiti has been gravely impacted by the hurricane, just months after hurricane isaac swept through. i heard cholera cases treated in clinics have nearly doubled this week, and entire towns are completely cut off from relief due to road/highway washout. sometimes it’s impossible to believe anything worse could happen to this small country, and then… i’ll direct you to my note written after the earthquake in january 2010 for some ideas of where to donate, if you’re so moved to take action that way. most of the info is relevant still, and doctors without borders and partners in health have been the most vocal in the past couple days.

and in a few short days–on tuesday, 6 november–we’ll be navigating our way through the perfect storm of the presidential–and many state and local–elections. sigh. i know there are some important things on the ballot this time (30-YES it seems, 32-NO, 36-YES, 37-YES, F-NO tho it seems other dambusters i know might feel differently about hetch hetchy), but here’s a little bit of my personal philosopy:

I accept elections as one democratic tool, but I generally find people tend to put WAY too much energy and money and organizing time into the theater of it. I think that it’s a shame that many Americans (insert San Franciscans, Californians, etc. here) don’t participate in elections as this one tool to help direct the course of civic structures and policies, but I also find it a shame that much of the potential and energy is lost once the election is over, and voters (plus those in the public who aren’t) seem to think their engagement with public process and shaping their communities is over when the votes are counted. Pat on the back, sticker on the shirt, I’m a good citizen.

I am always hungering for a coalescence that never seems to materialize out of this amazing time of one-pointed focus, with no visible mass movement continuing to act even on the issues that people seem to stand behind during the campaign. In addition, I have yet to be convinced that any one person can make change from within a machine that’s mainly aimed at reproducing the established convoluted norms. This may seem cynical, but it seems pretty difficult to me to make any real inroads to radical change for even the best intentioned folks. In general, I will be using my time and any influence I have on folks to promote a longer term, slow burn of change and resistance.

i have been really enjoying reading the lapham’s quarterly issue, lines of work (spring 2011), which is a collection of writings across the centuries by and about laborers, toilers, workers of all kinds. it has a spectacular collection of artistic works, a crazy good introduction deconstructing our assumptions about work and who does it for whom, and i particularly liked the piece “time management” detailing hour by hour the work days of people like emily dickinson, gustave flaubert, charles darwin, winston churchill, pg wodehouse, and vladimir nabokov. i even considered devoting a week to each schedule to see if i could live according to their disciplined lives. maybe i’ll save it for a future residency/retreat…

but getting back to the elections, i found myself reading this passage in lines of work from plutarch – written ca. 445 BC – during the week of the (two-party) presidential candidate debates, and would like to have seen this formulated into a question receiving an honest answer. i recognize my rose-colored fantasy of a similar time in the US to what he’s describing – the time of the WPA, the CCC, and widespread respect for trades including the arts in creating as robust an economy as could be mustered then – and also quarrel a little with myself about the viability of the idea of a strong state-led solution coming from the top down. but the fact remains, in our familiar time of war, and though we are lacking a surplus, this sounds like a damn fine way to activate and create resources:

Now that [Athens] was sufficiently provided and sorted with all things necessary for the war, Pericles said they should convert the surplus of its wealth to such undertakings as would hereafter, when completed, give them eternal honor, and for the present, while in process, freely supply all the inhabitants with plenty. With their variety of workmanship and of occasions for service, which summon all arts and trades and require all hands to be employed about them, they do actually put the whole city, in a manner, into state pay–while at the same time she is both beautiful and maintained by herself. For as those who are of age and strength for war are provided for and maintained in the armaments abroad by their pay out of the public stock, so, it being his desire and design that the undisciplined mechanic multitude that stayed at home should not go without their share of public salaries–and yet should not have them given them for sitting still and doing nothing–to this end he thought fit to bring in among them, with the approbation of the people, these vast projects of buildings and designs of work that would be of some continuance before they were finished and would give employment to numerous arts, so that the part of the people that stayed at home might, no less than those that were at sea or in garrisons or on expeditions, have a fair and just occasion of receiving the benefit and having their share of the public moneys.

i’d like to imagine this is one way we could all get valued, included, and compensated for our abilities and it’s an engaging experience for us as well. and i think i won’t be holding my breath that either candidate can offer this, though the stimulus package was an indication of intent.

and now i’d like to transition into the month ahead, steering you to other events to attend and look forward to, as i do.

if you’re into historic sailing vessels, or are a history buff, or wanna support habitat restoration, or if you haven’t gotten yourself to heron’s head park and the ecocenter there, ever, drag yourself on down to the southern part of our City’s SF Bay at hunters point on thursday, 1 november. it’s the kick off for the year of the bay, a crowdsourcing history project that shaping san francisco is also participating in. a highlight for many will be the sailing of the scow schooner, the alma, back to her birthplace in the shipyards of yore. also high on the list is a natural history walk along the bayshore. heron’s head park (where cargo way and jennings meet), 10:30 AM – 6 PM (with the alma arriving at 10:30 AM and the walk at 2 PM), FREE!

on thursday, 1 november, the first annual north oakland day of the dead celebration, procession, and altar building will happen instigated by my friend k. ruby. if you live near dover or mcgregor parks, bring yourselves and your memories and share with your community. meet at dover or mcgregor park, 5 PM (until 8:30 PM), your active participation alone is needed.

here in sf, we get to continue this superbly awesome tradition of our own mission district dia de los muertos/day of the dead procession on friday, 2 november. it was one of the first things i sought out in the City when i moved here in 1995, having grown accustomed to the vibrant celebration in southern california over the previous years. many years i danced/died with a group of other improvisational performers, and some years i have more solemnly processed. in the last couple years there have also been altars including friends created at garfield park amongst the elaborate constructions. i often find myself enjoying connecting with the living as much as i am there to honor the dead. altars: garfield park (harrison and 26th sts.), 6 PM – 11 PM, bring candles in glass or mementos to leave. procession: 22nd and bryant streets, 6 PM gathering, 7 PM start, bring noisemakers, solemnity, altars to loved ones.

a couple nights of solo dancing by sara shelton mann who is somehow dancing with jorge rodolfo de hoyos, alex zendzian, and working with david szlasa can be seen on friday & saturday, 2 & 3 november. love of emptiness is the title of the work by this anchor of the san francisco contemporary dance scene and who has worked with and inspired some of my favorite dancers and performers in the world. joe goode annex, 499 alabama st. #150 (at 17th), 8 PM, $10-$25.

on saturday, 3 november, if a variety of performance is more your thing, head on down to valencia street for the vanessa verlee variety show at viracocha. a night of vaudeville is in the cards, with slapstick, juggling, and song-and-dance. 998 valencia st (at 21st), 8 PM, $10-$15 sliding scale.

you have a couple choices for your sunday, 4 november. first of all, i highly recommend my friend joel pomerantz’s thinkwalks tours. his blurb is a concise way of understanding the city: “Thinkwalks explore the overlap of urban and natural San Francisco. Life in the city, don’t forget, is life in a natural environment, albeit altered by dreams and delusions of humans.” he’ll show you a whole new look (and sound) of the wiggle on his walk the wiggle tour where you’ll learn about an ohlone village, underground water, dunes under your feet, bicycling, and the Great Flood of 1862. meet at the corner of church and duboce, 12 NOON – 2 PM, $10-$40 sliding scale.

on sunday, 4 november, you could also take my friend eleni’s self-healing of ayurveda class, learning about bringing your system into balance for yourself. integral yoga institute, 770 dolores, 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM, $20.

on monday, 5 november, joel is out there again with his mission district water walking tour. it’s worth going just to hear about the “lake that wasn’t,” better known as dolores lagoon, and to which there’s a bronze plaque, sort of officially indicating it’s one time existence. not true however (as christopher richard explained at one of our shaping san francisco talks on 28 sept, 2011), and if you go on joel’s thinkwalk, you’ll hear lots more about the underground water in the area, a topic which i find endlessly fascinating (especially if you’re considering your stand on hetch hetchy and prop F…). meet on the steps of mission dolores at 16th and dolores, 9:30 AM – 11:30 AM, $10-$40 sliding scale.

you’ll want to make sure there’s still space left in this class on tuesday, 6 november, but another friend practicing natural healing, riyana, is giving a class on herbs for cold & flu at the ohlone herbal center in the east bay. you’ll learn about preventative health care, therapies for common winter illnesses, and how to prepare your own home remedies. berkeley, sign up at, with “Herbs for Cold and Flu” in the subject line, FREE.

on wednesday, 7 november, the shaping san francisco public talks series kicks in again with an evening of art & politics featuring the Clarion Alley Mural Project crew! they’ve been going 20 years strong, just held the annual clarion alley block party, are doing other projects around the city and internationally, and they wanna tell you all about it. it should be a fabulous night, and i’m hosting! eric quezada center for culture & politics, 518 valencia st. (at 16th), 7:30 PM, FREE (donations appreciated).

on thursday, 8 november, your other local political publishing house, PM Press is launching their new book catastrophism: the apocalyptic politics of collapse and rebirth featuring pieces by sasha lilley of against the grain, and my friend eddie yuen. i’m interested in reading this in light of the recent storm, and of the tendency of pundits and media to explain away larger, more complex problems through a sort of political discourse rooted in apocalyptic notions. green arcade, 1680 market st. (at gough), 7 PM, FREE.

midday, on friday, 9 november, the cadillac hotel’s concerts at the cadillac in the tenderloin is hosting a performance by the tenderloin’s SF Recovery Theatre. we got to know these folks when we were researching for and painting mona caron’s Windows into the Tenderloin mural a few years ago. check out this troupe providing a message of support, hope, consequence and solutions through involvement with theatre arts and music. 280 eddy st. (at leavenworth), 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM, FREE.

another talented man, my friend mokai, is doing an intimate musical evening in the berkeley hills on friday, 9 november as part of the poplar playhouse series. his acoustic folk-blues fingerpicking and fingerstyle guitar playing will be a treat. RSVP for address, 7:30 PM, $10-$20 sliding scale.

debuting their new album, BUILD, on friday, 9 november, rupa and the april fishes will rock the great american music hall! so exctiting to be able to dance in this gorgeous music space to tunes described like this: “In other times and places musical traditions have met to forge a sound that is more insistence than resistance; this band, this album, belong to that long tradition of rebel music.” gamh, 859 o’farrell st (at polk), 9 PM, $17.50 (add $4 surcharge online, or swing by the box office-Mon-Fri: 10:30am-6pm).

although the current exhibition at the museum for craft and folk art was slated to finish mid-december, if you want to see fiber futures x2: japan’s textile pioneers, you will now want to make sure you do before saturday, 10 november, the date until which it will be open to the public. this work is intricate, whimsical, innovative, sculptural, a fusion of artisinal and industrial textile making with a high level of craftspersonship. 51 yerba buena lane (at mission between 3rd and 4th sts.), wed – sat 11 AM – 6 PM, $5.

we at shaping san francisco are doing a two-hour DISSENT bicycle history tour on saturday, 10 november. one of my favorite rides led by chris carlsson through the city will uncover all sorts of social movements from literary to food-based to transit-based. basic. it’s how san francisco was shaped, and it’s inspiration to continue to create our lives in a contrarian spirit! RSVP at 415.608.9035meet at 518 valencia st. (at 16th), 12 NOON – 2 PM, $10-$20 sliding scale, bring snack and water if you need it.

later that afternoon, on saturday, 10 november, there’s another bike ride, so you kinda have to choose… my friend and once co-worker andy thornley is hosting the west of the west bicycle ride. andy says it’ll be kinda like this: “it rolls down the western margin of SF, beginning at the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway in Lincoln Park and heading further west and south along the bluffs and beach, ending up just outside the southern county line at the Broderick-Terry duel site at the southern tip of Lake Merced.” i don’t really get out there much, and a ride filled with history tidbits – including a special segment on carville!! – is my kind of fun! meet at the palace of legion of honor, 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM, $5 non-SFBC members, FREE for members, bring snack and water if you need it.

we at shaping san francisco have joined together with the CIIS department of anthropology and social change and the new nothing cinema to show four films this fall a part of the incite…/insight! free film series. on thursday, 15 november, we’re showing Alcatraz is Not an Island about the native american takeover of alcatraz in 1969, and the subsequent ripple effects all the way around the country as a result of this occupation. new nothing cinema, 16 sherman alley (off folsom near 7th st.), 8 PM, FREE, bring your own snacks/drinks.

head down to the green arcade again on thursday, 15 november, for a reading from the excellent writer and friend summer brenner’s new noir fiction book, nearly nowhere. i can also recommend her noir fiction novel I-5, if you want a good, quick read about the traficking of people along major interstates… 1680 market st. (at gough), 7 PM, FREE.

a popular walking history tour we at shaping san francisco developed last year is a history of market street. on sunday, 18 november, walk through the heart of the city with us, and uncover its hidden histories. it’s part of our focus on urbanism, urban design, and urban transformation in the next year, and we aim to give you a sense of the main thoroughfare as a public space through the decades. meet at front of ferry building on the embarcadero, 1 PM – 3 PM, $5-$10 sliding scale, bring snack and water if you need it.

ongoing through 30 january, 2013 is a spectacular exhibition of laura cunningham’s paintings, before california. my friend sean says: “it totally opens up the imagination around historical ecology and painting…” her vision is great. she arrived at her imaginings through lots of research, but also LOTS of time just sitting in the landscape quietly, observing. there are other events related to the show, including one called the great animal orchestra! at the david brower center, 2150 allston way, berkeley, FREE.


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