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curating scraps of life

green river dec 2015

photo by sfurbanwanderer

in moments of deep connection with the world—and in those that are potentially the most banal, too—i compose haiku. this form pops up when my mind has found a spaciousness only possible after sitting or while walking for a long period. i usually memorize these snapshot poems, as often i’m not able to write them down in that moment, or i don’t want to turn to my handheld device to record them right then.

here is a collection of 27 haiku written over the past several years chronicling my explorations in both the urban environment and out in the natural world, and some that speak to the intersections of the two.

gradually heating

until i’m a waterfall:

a sauna healing.


castle on a hill?

mountaintop reveals itself

around the next bend.


snowy plover runs—

a millipede’s leg movement

from nest to shore.


hot afternoon rocks

gray pines on the horizon

woodpeckers in flight


scattering lizards

acting as little sentries

on the river path.


the tower obscured

fog thick on a summer day.

heat pulls from valley.


a sidewalk dancer—

leaf like a brown butterfly—

summer city wind


nothing like the sound

of an eagle’s morning call.

i am en-raptor’d.


a flutter of wings

heading in amongst the trees:

geese on the river.


scotch broom in full bloom

lining Washington highways

yellow pollen bursts.


fly like an eagle

hawk swoops down to interrupt

bird sounds warning call.


in the daylight hours

can’t see the hills for the trees

nighttime hike shows lights.


percussive bird sounds

many species greet the day.

Saratoga morn.


bright bougainvillea

September bursts of color.

fall is in full bloom.


hummingbird wings growl

new chirp at bottom of dive

sun dries my wet tent.


white flames through the door

iguanas out for a stroll

surreal Sunday morn


sunny window spot

afternoon food and head break

my body lengthens…


a lizard pushup

a chipmunk scales scaffolding

Sonoran desert.


heading eight blocks south

December sun on my face

joy in a bike ride.


sun on San Bruno

mount diablo peeking up

crisp clear winter’s day


a pigeon’s widow walk

atop a Victorian,

club foot kin below.


the spring el polin,

a summer dedication

ohlone return…


descent to deer creek

feet roll across pine needles

quick mid-day leg stretch…


sierra foothills

full package deal adventure.

this week smiles linger.


the rough peaks glisten,

a knife’s edge to the clear sky:

view from hood canal.


sea under bridges

may sun warms Stockholm’s stone face

city in spring bloom.


climbing the flatlands,

heels click on cobblestone streets.

ochres line the sea.




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what price do you put on hope?

i wrote this in 2007, and just came across it on my backup hard drive when looking for something else entirely. ah, for those days when writing came so much faster and more furiously…

my sister is now celebrating her 6th anniversary with the “boyfriend” in the piece, and i’m on my third computer since the one i mention. i’m posting the piece for archiving purposes here, and to remind myself of this craft that i really should pick up and do more often (i don’t mean the gambling… writing of course!).

17 july 2007

i’m losing rhinestones from my new strappy heeled shoes almost as fast as i’m losing money in the slot machines.  after a quick whirl through las vegas, and about 125 dollars less than i came with, repetitive computerized sounds of reels—sometimes punctuated by a “winning” noise and the clicking of betting one (or max) credit—are still ringing in my ears.  no, wait, i’m in the airport and those are actual machines next to the gates ringing and clacking.  my sister’s boyfriend said he read somewhere that the slot machines at this first and last stop to vegas aren’t regulated by the same rules as the casinos in terms of payout, so it’s harder to win here.  i was going to take my 50 cent win on 5 dollars and prove them all wrong.  but then i kept playing, as you do, and lost it all.

my gaming (the accepted term before gambling) was limited to the computer screens with special bonus additions, preferably in the 1 to 5 cent range.  i must say though, that the most satisfying—mentally—and most successful efforts were at the 25 cent draw bonus poker screens.  i appreciated the semblance of interaction, am certain i was missing some card counting opportunities, and somehow felt a strong sense of kinship to the professional poker players just a few miles down the strip who were battling it out for the top spot in the world series of poker.  a couple of times i played for at least an hour and was able to cash my ticket in for the same amount i arrived at the flashing machine with.  i began to suspect that the machines could read my mind, or in particularly misguided moments, that i could predict their next move, and am a little snowed on how random the computer generated spinning could actually be.  i understand that my affection for ordering fictitious chinese take out, present-heavy parties, larry the lobster, and board games-turned-digital put together with investing small amounts of money at irregular intervals don’t make me a very good candidate for winning “the big bucks”.  it is still disappointing to come home with an empty wallet.

i came to this overstimulating environment to meet up with my sister.  she in turn was accompanying her boyfriend and his friend on their yearly poker playing escape.  both men came with a fund of several hundred dollars which they have been paying into over the course of the year, with the express intention of sitting at a table several hours every day playing the game they love.  if i had any amount of money i thought i could spare, i would have sat down at one of the intimidating, high minimum amount tables as well to try my luck.  i didn’t hold cards in my hand once this trip.  my fingers are actually itching to do so, but not for a 250 dollar buy in. and both of them ended up several hundred dollars down as well.  which sounds more painful to me than my little over one hundred dollar loss.

not having traveled by airplane in the states for almost a year, the whole experience has been much like a cold bucket of water thrown in my face.  once again, i feel more scrutinized and less safe traveling here than i have in any of my travels around the world in the past year and a half.  this statement seems worth a moment of silence, at least a pause to consider its impact.  while sitting at the salt lake city airport and battling with the theatrics of fox news blaring from every seat cluster, i was informed we are on orange level terror alert.  i was stopped at two out of three security checks for bottles of water, tubes of sunscreen, and a yogurt drink.  juggling a pair of strappy shoes, a laptop, and a studded belt, along with my backpack and purse, i thought i had covered all my bases by displaying and/or removing it all.  i could have chosen to have my 7 dollar 4 oz bottle of organic, unused sunscreen shipped back to me for a price of 15 dollars, or have it confiscated and thrown into a bin that not even the security worker knew the fate of.  there is a strange element to it all when we are carrying more electronic devices than ever before, but a tube of liquid/paste/lotion causes anticipation of danger and an accepted state of hysteria.  i think the terror alert factor should be changed to “how hysterical are we feeling today?” or, “how much longer do we feel like forcing a militarized state/state of war on ourselves?”.  yes, i think i’m feeling quite ________ today (fill in the blanks with any of the following: provoked, unsafe, under imminent threat of attack from a foreign national… or choose your own “freedom conserving” word).  london was extreme too, and as either a former or current colonial power there must be some underlying sense of unstated awareness that the “natives” are STILL not happy.  neither their generations upon generations who live in a world crafted by arbitrary colonial behaviour.

oh i’m so tense, and never tenser, could all go a bit frank spencer.  and i’m talking gibberish…* 

* arctic monkeys song about being unable to talk to a woman in a pub, but it somehow has been echoing in my head since i was first in sfo two days ago.

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one year of a farm in bloom

00 alemany farm sign pre install

over the last five years i have spent from one to four weekends a month volunteering at alemany farm, on the south slope of bernal heights, in san francisco. it’s an abundant place, teeming with vegetables, fruit, and wildlife all year round. the lepidopterist liam o’brien loves it because so many species of butterflies—and other insects—can be seen there, indeed are thriving there. in 2014, i documented the blooms throughout the months, and though toward the end of the year i didn’t have much time to spend there (photos end in september, with a couple images from my home thrown in), i love the picture this paints of the farm is it changes with time.

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uprooting: a loss of home

oak fell on scot

oak fell on scott. 
painted by san & escif, june 2011
they make reference on their blog to two incidents in may and june 2011 of trees falling in the neighborhood, and their road trip prior to arriving in sf shows more trees uprooted. i am of course using the image as a metaphor…

this piece was written in january 2014 as a reflection on a five month journey i did not choose to take.

on august 7, 2013, i was—together with the two other members of my home—evicted from our upper haight flat in san francisco. the building had been sold, and the new owner decided they wanted to move in to our apartment, a space that had been my roommate’s home for almost 30 years, and mine for three and a half. i have spent the months since august living in other people’s homes, doing some housesitting, but mostly relying on the generosity of friends offering their extra rooms to me.

this piece is about the effects of displacement, about living in transition. it was read on January 17, 2013 at Campfire: Eviction Ghost Stories and Other Housing Horrors, an event organized by Adriana Camarena’s Unsettlers: Migrants, Homies, and Mammas in the Mission District, together with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. A video of my reading that night can be seen on the Campfire website. it was also read at the Red Poppy Art House on January 18, 2014 at the closing of Mona Caron and Dustin Fosnot’s “The Mission Condition—Outwardly Mobile” collaborative piece.

My story was also featured on KQED’s Priced Out, and I participated in a discussion, Artists, Galleries Displaced Amid Tech Boom on KQED’s Forum on March 7, 2014.

NOVEMBER 2014 addition:

I was interviewed by a Japanese reporter covering the boom and accompanying housing crisis for the Tokyo Keizai paper.

LR in weekly toyo keizai

The caption on the photo of me says, “Lisa Elliott, the historian, was chased out of her home and forced to live in temporary housing.”



i have been living as a sort of ghost for the last five months. this taurus girl born in the year of the ox, a creature of stability who thrives on sanctuary, i was forced out of my cozy home in the haight in august, a place i would have stayed indefinitely if given the chance. uprooted, not feeling much more than the shell of myself almost half a year now, i have floated from one generous friend’s home to the next. ironically, the mission district building that has given me the most stability—the one in which four of the six units are occupied by friends, and where i have been welcomed into three of them in this period—is on the verge of being sold. there all of the residents live in a state of dread of what will happen next for them, and on some level i am an uncomfortable apparition of what is most likely to come. a lot of attention has been called to the displacement of artists, and yes, there we are artists, but most importantly i think, is our common denominator of having shown up as informed and impassioned activists at struggles from those for the rights of people with AIDS, to demanding food security, to protecting sex workers, to protesting the wars and nuclear power and economic injustice and climate change, to burning effigies at gay shame rallies, to participating in city-wide riots and mourning over the dan white verdict, to joining occupy, and on and on and on over the 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 years we have lived in the city.

two out of the other three homes i have stayed in are owned by friends, people fighting for rights of refugees, a nature-based artist, a san francisco-based writer who firmly planted the presence of the google buses in our consciousness and discourse lest they simply slide by morning and evening, day after day, without us noting our outrage. i am glad these friends own homes in this city that i, and they, love.

as i spend a month here, two months there, i keep my food in a box, my clothes in a bag, shoes in a black plastic garbage sack, some books i thought i couldn’t live without in my office, my bicycles in a neighbor’s garage. and my plants? i line the edges of the rooms i stay in with my belongings. i didn’t use closets, drawers, bathroom cabinets, kitchen shelves for four months, knowing always i am a visitor here and subconsciously trying to erase traces of my presence all the time. i am the kind of person who typically unpacks her suitcase when traveling, or unpacks within hours of returning home to really settle in. i feel the tenuousness of my existence each time i scrape the edges of a room clean in moving to the next space.

each time i change my living space, my perspective and orientation to my world changes. i feel ripped from my normal fabric of understanding of and integration into my community, my patterns and paths have to be relearned again new. i have only been to yoga two or three times since august, i have found it hard to stick to a meditation schedule, and i stopped my weekly acupuncture visits, even though i live much closer to the clinic than i did before. these are most useful to me now, and it feels difficult to explain, but holding a routine—outside of one for work—requires a certain settledness which i just don’t have.

i have felt myself withdraw from things.  i am less available for friends and community. i find it hard to initiate things, following along for now. i have watched more tv episodes—foreign murder mysteries mostly—in the last five months than i have in the last five years combined, perhaps preferring even dead peoples’ stories to confronting my own. i hear myself talk about myself all the time, most often about my displacement, but also stories about things that happen to me, as if to find some way to verify that i exist here. most jarring, when i reflect on it, is how i, an activist for decades, feel impotent and have lost the fight in myself for this very issue i have been affected by.

there have been some gifts in the process, i want to say too. for two months i stayed with my former dance collaborator who i used to rehearse with weekly, giving us some good catch up time. i helped another host make some improvements in her garden. i was treated often to delicious and healthy gourmet meals at another home. dozens of friends have kept me in mind and sent housing announcements my way, so much so that i never once had to brave craigslist searches. many generous offers to stay for a weekend, or catsit, or housesit were made, for which I’m very grateful.

fundamentally, displacement is disruption of the human experience whether it be due to economic pressure or war or natural disaster or oppression in any form. the current mass disruption is hitting artists and activists the most because we have found creative ways to inhabit the cracks of this city, because low rents allow us to—are even necessary to—fashion a life beyond the status quo, on the edge of what just “getting a job” means. but i don’t want to haunt this city or be an invisible statistic. i want to continue to experience the magic of SF that brought me here originally and firmly plant my feet in to the experience of living here.

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Mona Caron’s “Manifestation Station” — its fate is manifested

Mona Caron's "Manifestation Station" in its original location, on Duboce at Church. Photo by Mona Caron

Mona Caron’s “Manifestation Station” in its original location, on Duboce at Church.
Photo by Mona Caron

After the story hit the local blogosphere and social media outlets* of Mona Caron’s muralized utility box at Duboce and Church, “Manifestation Station”, being removed mid-September of this year, the first step was to track it down. The intrepid (and outraged, thus driven) artist Hugh D’Andrade launched a series of emails and phone calls, and with Mona’s help and that of the media and countless horrified people on social media, found it on a SFMTA lot.

hugh found the box

Hugh found the box!
Photo by Hugh D’Andrade

The workers he met there weren’t convinced it wasn’t trash, and was possibly even removed because of the artwork painted on it. But with pressure from the media and neighborhood groups who commissioned the painting of the box and calls from concerned citizens, the agency agreed to release it to the artist if it would be hauled away.

The question then arose: What to do with it now that we’d found it? The removal of the box hit a chord because it was painted to correspond exactly with the environment it was in, to disappear if you will, even, into a beautiful future possibility of the block. Mona has an exquisite sense of perspective and this box demonstrated her skills amazingly.

Many people wanted to keep it in the neighborhood, for fear that its significance and mastery would be lost if placed elsewhere. Suggestions to auction it off to benefit a local organization, or romantically let it float away or live as a seagull perch in some body of water were brainstormed, even to offer it as a tool shed to a local community garden.

Mona painting “Manifestation Station” during the Critical Mass 20th Anniversary celebration week September 2012. Photo by LisaRuth Elliott

Mona painting “Manifestation Station” during the Critical Mass 20th Anniversary celebration week September 2012.
Photo by LisaRuth Elliott

But then Mona got this email from a worker at the SFMTA:


We have been making efforts to reduce the weight, probably already down several hundred pounds materials.
The box now still weighs approx. 600 to 700 pounds.
What happened is that the Artwork Mural box on the outside physical attached to another steel box inside.
So please let know when you have arrangements.
We have well protection to the box now, and many people observing the box take photos at the shop.
Everyone wants to preserves the artwork.

Wait, the thing weighs 700 POUNDS!?!? This was discouraging, but good to know the SFMTA folks wanted to see it live on!

There had been offers by some organizations to house it for a little while, but with the news of its weight, the trick was to find a place that we could move it to where it would be permanently placed and appreciated. We lamented the recent loss of Hayes Valley Farm, since it was close and had just the right combo of urban-scape and utopian present/future that the box invokes. Enter me, LisaRuth Elliott, former mural assistant to Mona and a volunteer at Alemany Farm. I suggested there is lots of space at this other urban-utopian experiment. It just so happened that there also was a project underway at the farm by CCA students and alumni to create an outdoor kitchen. The Alemany Outdoor Kitchen (AOK) team happily agreed to incorporate it into the kitchen area being built…but there was paving to be done first.

Fast forward three months, when conditions finally converged to have 1) a truck to transport the box, 2) people available to do it, and 3) a prepared spot where it will live at the AOK.

On Wednesday, December 11, David Solnit and I showed up at 2502 Alameda Street, the SFMTA facility where the box was in a corner of the rail yard visible from Alameda St., with a truck and a furniture dolly.  When we approached the box, about ten SFMTA workers spilled out of the facility anticipating watching us struggle with the 700 pound beast, telling battle stories of getting it to the yard with a crane and forklift. One guy escaped back into the building afraid that just watching the move would hurt his back. But with the help of a few of the men (and David’s friend Lisa who is a former UPS worker and thus used to moving all sizes of things), we quickly were able to push and slide it—dolly and all—onto the bed of the truck.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at Alemany Farm, where the emerging AOK was being given granite countertops by AOK Team member and CCA alumnus Alex DeCiccio and local Alemany Dwellings resident and welder Tony. The two of them helped us slide the box and dolly out of the truck and roll it the several hundred (very long and heavy) yards to its final spot at the corner of the demonstration kitchen near the Alemany Farm lower food growing boxes.


Alex DeCicco of the AOK Team rests a bit after helping move the box to the kitchen site at Alemany Farm. Photo by David Solnit


Here’s the outside of the inner steel door with breakers. David says it is fun to know what is in those boxes that litter our cities.
Photo by David Solnit

There Alex, David, and I saw inside the box for the first time, which contains a second steel door with switches and breaker and the interior which does have quite a bit of hardware still, but plenty of space for storing kitchen equipment.

Update: By Sunday the AOK Team had removed the inner door and much of the remaining internal hardware. Turns out they can use the door hinge for their cabinets!


Alex and LisaRuth show the inside of the box at the Alemany Farm AOK site. Photo by David Solnit

So, for all the concerned box fans, bloggers, and blog commenters who were afraid that it would get scrapped, there is a happy ending to this crazy saga! We are planning to make a plaque to post near the box with a photo of it in its original context and a short explanation of how it came to be at Alemany Farm. Stay tuned!


Alex shows off the countertop construction at the Alemany Farm AOK. Photo by David Solnit

Many thanks to Mona Caron; David Solnit; Hugh D’Andrade; Victor Chen and Hubert Wang at SFMTA; Hugh Vanho and the rest of the AOK team; Max Chen; and John Stokes, Erik Rotman, Brett Stephens and the rest of the Friends of Alemany Farm, for their help in coordinating the final move!


Later that afternoon, Mona was seen standing near the nondescript replacement box on Duboce at Church.
Photo by David Solnit

* The case of the missing box was first covered by Mission Mission, then by SFBG, Uptown Almanac, Haighteration, and on various Facebook threads.

PS The mosaic sidewalk is personally a favorite detail of this box’s artwork for me, since it connects to a mosaic project I was coordinating near the Yuba River in August 2012. Mona wasn’t able to make it up to the mountains to help us that weekend (because she was painting the box), so she incorporated a mosaic in the design of the future Duboce Street on the box.

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another world is possible, in fact, it exists…

…and it is being created by a network of bicycle activists working in bicycle workshops across europe. the Cyclocamp set up for the duration of Rome’s 10th Interplanetary Critical Mass (Ciemmona) 2013 was a beautiful expression of mutual aid, idea sharing, and solidarity. Cyclocamp is a yearly forum of bike recycling and community workshops from across Europe.


30 may 2013, arrival in rome for the 10th Critical Mass Interplanetaria/Ciemmona

(you’ve gotta check out this video inviting people to come back to rome for the ciemmona 2013!)

after navigating my entry into rome from the airport in the early morning of 30 may, i made my way from roma termini to the tram that would take me to via prenestina where the Cyclocamp had been set up since the beginning of the week. my friend malaerba told me it would be obvious where it was, and indeed, draped in Critical Mass interplanetaria posters, a huge Critical Mass sign, and various other political graffiti messages, it was clear i had arrived at the right place, an old viscose factory in the pigneto quarter. the company had been called snia, so the social center squatted 18 years ago is known as “ex snia” or just “snia.”

snia art cyclocamp rome

snia hosts cyclocamp

former viscose factory building shell

former viscose factory building shell

here is they what and why from the organizers:

Rome is a city where mobility is exclusively designed for cars. There are few bicycles, poor public transport, and lack of perception of the streets of the common good. Public spaces in Rome are seen as and often used as car parking spaces, while everything that doesn’t move in a car represents an obstacle. This perception means the daily use of a bicycle in Rome brings along an intrinsic subversive status. Cycling fast between tons of slow and smelly scrap metal naturally leads us to imagine a more equal, just and car-free future. Seen from a bike saddle, cars in our city seem like dinosaurs. In 2002, Critical Mass was born in Rome followed by people’s Bike Kitchens. As soon as these two paths crossed, without any help from the state or municipality, the numbers cycling had exponentially multiplied and the urban biker appeared in the Roman metropolitan landscape.
After ten years of wrenches and ideas, we would like to reflect about the meaning and the evolution of today’s Bike workshops and Bike Culture, the sense of the re-appropriation of the common spaces and encourage knowledge exchange. We feel the need to think about our bike riding direction and about the meaning of our mechanical skills. Starting from these questions we decided to share these thoughts with other Bike workshops who have similar experiences and objectives.
The Ciclofficina (bikeworkshops) of Rome have decided to host a Cyclocamp and a bike kitchen forum, not only for greasing ourselves from head to feet but also for sharing thoughts, ideas, practices and knowledge. We are convinced that the coming together of Bike workshops, we will be able to bring a renewed conscience in our global thinking and local acting.

i dragged my brompton suitcase and rolling bag full of heavy books from the street into the vast space. immediately, my german friend julia, who had come over the pond to the SF CM20 celebration last september, peeked her head around the gate. she directed me around the first seemingly abandoned large building to a scene intense with activity. for others coming from the united states, i think it would be hard to contextualize, but it felt immediately similar to disaster relief base camps i had lived and participated in in haiti and peru, and also in thailand. tents dotting the vast yard, a communal kitchen, bottles of beer everywhere.  the difference here was that bicycles were a major point of focus, and were lying or being worked on just everywhere. critical mass prep was going down hard with countless custom made cycles, and small to major fixes happening all over the place. a red and yellow bike with silicone squirts emerging from the frame and handlebars scooted by, a diminutive but substantial four seater was being tested by as many grunting males as they navigated the grass, the raised beds and cactus plants, and the hundred people watching their progress. but to imply that everyone had one focus point in any given moment here would be incorrect.

ridden all the way from florence to rome for CM interplanetaria - sound system bike

ridden all the way from florence to rome for CM interplanetaria – sound system bike

sky blue sweetie cyclocamp

sky blue sweetie

tall bike represent

custom tall bikes represent!



arriving around midday, i found fiorella, who had also been in SF for CM20 and who, along with her partner malaerba, would be my host/concierge/translator/culture explainer/porter/ally for the rest of my trip in rome. she was helping prepare the communal lunch, washing dishes, and feeling right at home at this social center although she works in a ciclofficina in another squat across town once a week. i sit down with a generously mounded plate of aubergines, pasta, tomatoes, bread, and fennel salad. i lit up as i saw the ciclocuoco i knew from paris, giuso, behind the serving table. andrea, who stayed with me for CM20 after riding to SF from Mexico City, was hanging out around the ciclofficina, and marie was with her french crew. even victor veysey took a trip to see what italian DIY bike kitchens and critical mass have going on. rome is a “new” place for me, not having been here for 22 years, but already i was picking out familiar faces and smiling in awe of this community i would be with for the next few days, hearing german, french, english, italian around me…

giuso at home feeding the hundreds...

giuso at home feeding the hundreds…

abundance and...PERONI!!

abundance and…PERONI!!

julia and bernd, a german speaking constellation at cyclocamp

julia and bernd, a german speaking constellation at cyclocamp

victor veysey from SF does CM tourism

victor veysey from SF does CM tourism

the cyclocamp had been making excursions to various roman ciclofficini and this afternoon we were riding to the ex-lavanderia, an hour across town. after rolling my bags to my host’s home near fiorella’s apartment, i unpacked my bicycle, and knowing i had just arrived that morning from an overnight flight from the states, fiorella asked me if i wanted to come with them or stay and rest. i couldn’t imagine not rising to the occasion! so julia, fiorella, and i tried to catch up with the 80 folks already en route.

vatican 80 strong

vatican pillars/lines

vatican skull crossbones

approaching the vatican prepared with skull and crossbones

exlavanderia bound

80 strong past the vatican

quickly it was apparent i would be seeing all the roman sites on this one ride, not even having changed out of my airplane clothes! at one point i realized that we were riding by the vatican, emphasized by the song chosen for the bike sound system, “it’s a sin.” not the first time on the ride, i grinned incessantly.

another social center with a bike workshop (ciclofficina) in rome

ex lavanderia, another social center with a bike workshop (ciclofficina) in rome

relaxing with exlavanderia resident cat
relaxing with exlavanderia resident cat

the ex-lavanderia is a building inside an official looking compound, through the gate of which the police directed us. quickly, on this nice night, we populate the grassy hill in front of ex-lavanderia, drinking beer, chatting in our various language groups. i meet joey from adelaide, greet victor veysey from SF who buys me a beer, and fabio and giacomo and others try to start the forum at least ten times before it takes. julia and i wander in to the bar and collapse on two red covered comfy chairs, and the resident cat comes and sets up camp on my lap. i am quickly covered with white cat hair, but she is such a love that i could really care less.

the jet lag is starting to take its toll on me, and when we enter the forum room with projector and presentations from the various bike kitchens and collectives (i couldn’t get it together to speak, and fabio told me i could speak the following night) i have to take notes in order to keep awake. it doesn’t actually work, and though i perk up when a slide showing lars’s photo of me with my “one less car” sweatshirt in the noe valley parking lot appears on screen, i soon have to go outside in order to stay awake. simultaneously there is a women/trans/intersex issues discussion outside on the grass, effectively dividing those at the forum from those separately discussing the issues they have with separation… this happens so often!

i wander over to the silkscreening area, just outside the ciclofficina where there is a band playing, where the various groups have brought screens with them: cyclocamp, marseille velorution 2013, “bratapirata”, and various others. i try to figure out what i’ll screen, since i am not identified with the various “logos” quite yet. i don’t want to do marseille 2013 here, maybe it’ll jinx my trip to be presumptive. so i opt for the italian message of “ciao uomini in scatola” which is a snub at car drivers i think works best for me, and on the back of my CM20 shirt it creates a sort of continuation of the theme. luckily i don’t have to wait a super long time before there is a gathering of people heading home, and we follow giuso back to snia.

31 may 2013

this means "hello you humans in boxes (cars)" boxes can also mean tin cans

this means “hello you humans in boxes (cars)” boxes can also mean tin cans

slicing bread for the communal lunch before critical mass

slicing bread for the communal lunch before critical mass

the next day i donned my CM20 shirt – hugh d’andrade’s design looks so professional compared to the silkscreens we did the night before and which everyone is wearing. i ended up wearing it over my wool sweater so my italian message to car drivers showed as i corked and rode on the roman streets. arriving to the cyclocamp from my nearby housing i was in time to help slice some bread… i remarked to marie from paris that i have neglected to bring a costume for this ride, since so many others are in sparkly, shiny, reflective outfits. she said with a smirk, maybe it means i don’t have an ego problem… but it makes things so much more festive with the crazy outfits to match the crazy bikes and spirit floating around!

CM interplanetaria rome

this logo has graced posters for almost two decades

Critical Mass interplanetaria starts out Friday night

Critical Mass interplanetaria Rome starts out Friday night

filling the streets of rome at CM interplanetaria
filling the streets of rome at CM interplanetaria
my brompton against the CM backdrop in rome

my brompton against the CM backdrop in rome

"no oil" roma

“no oil” roma

passing the coliseum CM rome

passing the coliseum CM rome

some impressions of critical mass written down in an incredibly exhausted and jet lagged state:
– an anticipatory start by eager cyclists, a far cry from the scolding one we experience from the aggressive growling and screaming in SF that always puts me off.
– from the cyclocamp we tour through the nearby via del pigneto. it’s a diverse population on quaint streets where gentrifying artisan and hipster shops are alongside bars and shops run by africans. we get lots of encouragement from the sidewalks and i’m happy to be guided through the labyrinthian side streets, having kept mostly only to the main roads through the area.

these guys were in SF for CM20 and i ran into them as we gathered for rome's 10th anniversary CM!

these guys were in SF for CM20 and i ran into them as we gathered for rome’s 10th anniversary CM!

– we meet up with the gathering crowd at piazza vittorio emanuele. it’s a slow steady stream, and i stand outside the iron fence of the square running into yet more italians who were in SF for CM20, or putting two and two together as to the identity of folks at the cyclocamp.
– we spill out of the square with the help of a sound system bike (!) and on the ride there are lots of stops. it is sometimes unclear as to why, since i am often near the front and cannot see how widely spread out the rest of the ride has become making such regrouping stops necessary. at one stop an italian named marco in a german tricolor wool jersey talks to me about my brompton which is almost identical to his, but today his wife is riding it. he asks my name and it turns out he heard me speaking via Skype at a rome social center a few months ago. amazing, the random stranger next to me on this CM a world away has already heard my voice and remembers my name.
– as it grows dark there are more and more irritated drivers, more arguing at intersections, bicyclists’ tempers also flaring more easily. but for all the roman feistiness and passionate expression, i don’t see the kind of escalation often witnessed in SF. sure one driver gets out of his car and rushes a bike, threatens to hit another, but the bicyclists don’t react physically against him, rather they simply watch him freak out and get back in his car and almost hit several other cars as he backs up and speeds away. but mostly others throw words, lots of them press their hands together and wave them up and down, praying, pleading with the corker in front of them, to do something, anything, against/on behalf of what? the steady stream of cyclists celebrating and meandering past, with no end in sight? it is always funny to imagine the driver could think that one corker would have the power to do anything in that situation, but it is repeated again and again, each day.
– the ride ends four hours later for me and the two australians i’ve stopped with for mini pizzas and ridden with for the last hour or so. we are stopped by a samba band (the anarchists are dancing to it, which amuses me!) and firespinning. i look wistfully at the fire popping out above the crowd, but am in a deep conversation about small scale agriculture and the peasant solidarity and food sovereignty movement.

fusolab pedal power

fusolab pedal power

– the party is at fusolab, a geek/hack space which is quite sterile looking with its white institutional walls and is selling very expensive beer. it’s a contribution to the space, i know. a ukelele player goes through all the standard uke tunes downstairs, and i take advantage of the wifi to update my Facebook page with a photo of the day.

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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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