Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Accepting the Darkness Before Resonating in the Light

If you end a year and begin a new one in a depressing voice, those around you may scatter.  My intentions are not to depress the masses; but I propose to you that unless we acknowledge, understand and accept darkness, we cannot truly resonate in light.
So, I ask you to endure this New Year’s blog; 
See it through to the end.  
While many of us will bring in 2012 dancing, playing board games drinking libations and eating large amounts of fattening crap, others will bring in 2012 trying to stay warm and find food for themselves and their families.  These “others” live on our streets.
Homelessness is on the rise in the United States in most every city in most every state; an epidemic of colossal proportion, and from what I’ve been reading, added to the term “chronically homeless” is the term “the newbies”; folks homeless for the first time in their lives due to the economic state or condition of our country.  Large populations of these “newbies” are families.
According to Julie Bosman, in an article in the New York Times in 2010:
“…The Bloomberg administration said Friday that the number of people living on New York’s streets and subways soared 34 percent in a year; signaling a setback in one of the city’s most intractable problems.  Appearing both startled and dismayed by the sharp increase, a year after a significant drop, administration officials attributed it to the recession, noting that city shelters for families and single adults had been inundated.”
Robert V. Hess, the commissioner of homeless services, said in a subdued news conference, “…The city began feeling the increase in its vast shelter system more than two years ago.  And now we’re seeing the devastating effect of this unprecedented poor economy on our streets as well.  The city’s annual tally indicated an additional 783 homeless people on the streets and in the subway system, for a total of 3,111, up from 2,328 last year. That is in addition to almost 38,000 people living in shelters, which is near the city’s high.”

In an article for Times US by Steven Gray in March of 2009, 1 in 50 American kids were homeless in 2006; totaling 1.5 million children. 
At that time, The National Center on Family Homelessness and other organizations predicted, We know the numbers are going to skyrocket” and credit the recession for that accurate prediction 
made in 2006.

Although the numbers and percentages vary depending on what site you read, here’s some facts; hard and cold, and in my opinion, should not exist in the United States of America.

And while I just read that over half of our (elected) Congress are multi-millionaires (and a large child’s handful are billionaires), here are more facts:
Two factors help account for increasing poverty: eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce and the declining value and availability of public assistance.

The states with the highest number of homeless children in the period studied were Texas (337,105), California (292,624), Louisiana (204,053), Georgia (58,397) and Florida (49,886).

Whew!  Are you still with me, good people of this good land?  

Well, unlike those “find the hidden pictures within the big picture” puzzles we used to do as kids, you won’t find a “hidden answer” to this American epidemic called homelessness concealed in this blog.  You won’t even find it hidden between the lines.  I offer no solutions… Not even any humor, goddamn it!  But here’s the light I was talking about earlier.  I experienced that lightness last year, while walking the streets of a wealthy burb that lies just a jog over the Golden Gate Bridge. 
That light has a name, and his name is Van Bo.

Living on Bo Time

When I visited Sausalito, I felt a slight discomfort; like I didn’t really belong.  
You know, a trailer park girl pretending she owns that house on the hill…pretending her earrings aren’t gold-plated.  Yet, I must admit,
I was slightly charmed. 
The rows and rows of boutiques, wine bars, and “shi shi” gift shops where dog biscuits are made with free-range chicken and are 100 % organic… The spotless sidewalks… The manicured parks… The women, all a size 4… 
Facial make-up seems mandatory and every store has an official greeter who recites the same cheery, scripted welcome that you heard at the store two doors down.
I will never live in Sausalito.  Now that’s a hard, cold fact. 

The medium price of a home is $825,000 and that’s down about 11 % according to Trulia.  It’s sheik, classy, overpriced and contemporary.
Sausalites eat lobster and caviar like I eat chicken potpies.   
But tucked away; back in a tiny parking lot sits a funky, spray-painted van with expired plates.  Inside that van lives an “outsider” to this fairy tale city.
That outsider’s name is Van Bo; a man who’s lived on the streets of Sausalito since the late ‘60’s  and he affords it just fine. 
Van Bo makes his way painting on discarded pieces of wood and other trash.  He’s an artist.  He’s a character.  He’s a wise sage who doesn’t want a handout.  You won’t see him holding a sign declaring he’s homeless.  He won’t ask you for coin.  He lives on the streets, and paints for a living.

Van Bo is a male Cinderella in the midst of royalty; surrounded by castles and palaces; yet, never attending the ball.
Everybody knows him by name.  He’s a “fixture.”
His life began in the churches of Utah and extended to the dance halls of New York. Then to the North Beach and Haight Ashbury districts of San Francisco, and finally, Sausalito.
From to studying to be a preacher, then a dancer…
To porn actor… to eventually following a California woman, with ribbons in her hair, and becoming “her negro”… to ultimately, a painter. 
He used drugs, alcohol, and sex like everybody else in the ‘60’s.  He loved anything and everything liked everybody else in the ‘60’s.  But painting never even entered his mind until he realized he might actually have enough talent to at least buy his meals…

“Monet and those guys were paintin all those things that were real, but they needed some color.  (He laughs) I mean they were good and all but their day is done and mine has begun.             I’m all about color.”

“I got here in 1969 but it took me a long time because these people here, well, they are UP TIGHT.”  (He laughs)

                                   “I keep my head above water and my socks dry.”

I had the pleasure of interacting with Van Bo and buying one of his paintings. (He's touching it up in this pic.)

I asked him about keeping his head above water and his socks dry and he smiled, continuing to paint…
“You don’t wanna drown, now do ya?  Easy to drown in this world.”

I can drown just reading the newspaper or watching an interaction that feels desperate or harsh.  I can drown in loss… Drown in self-pity…
Drown in the realization that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. 
My socks could get soaked every goddamn day if I let them.

Bo keeps his dry.  He lives on the streets, where he’s happy. 
He makes his living with his talent. He keeps his head above water. 
He’s not in any Sausalito Art Galleries.  I checked.

And even though he should be, that doesn’t even matter to him. 
He isn’t drowning over it.
And my friends, this is the light.

Now, I’m not so na├»ve to think that every homeless man, woman and child
can make a decent living playing an instrument, waving a paint brush or selling their wares on the street. Hell No!  What are you thinking? That I come from a longline of trailer park rednecks or something?

Hell, I “get” Van Bo is an exception to the rule and that the epidemic of homelessness rages on…
But isn’t this wonderful?  Isn’t he wonderful?

The video I’m sharing with you is lengthy; an hour or so, but you only need to watch the first 3 or 4 minutes to get an understanding and respect for Van Bo’s work.
If you have the time to watch the video in its entirety;
you’ll get a sense of the man.

Happy New Year!  I wish each of you the ease of your heads above water.  
I hope your socks always remain dry.


  1. Junie wrote this comment and had technical difficulties posting. I thought i'd copy and paste and perhaps start a conversation! Thanks Junie! ~tpg

    "Thanks for writing that piece and including the 2 sites with facts/figures. Having run the high risk domestic violence shelter for years, I am constantly amazed at how uniformed our society is regarding America's citizens in pain from hunger and homelessness. It is such a rage to go to other places, such as Africa, and not take care of our own backyard---because we don't have a problem! Right."

  2. Goodness knows I need some serious light about now. Your blog always cheers me up, Val. You bring meaning to what often feels like a meaningless existence. I crave meaning. I crave depth. I also crave a good ol' meaningless time on occasion (ok, lots of occasions!), but without a deeper reason for living I am utterly depressed. The holidays are difficult for so many, including myself, and taking it moment by moment is sometimes all we can do. Your blog just helped pass some difficult moments and for that I am grateful. I promise that after the new year I won't be so somber. :) xoxo

  3. This reads like an OpEd piece that ought to be on every back page of every newspaper or magazine that lives on profits from wasteful beauty and home products ... congratulations and thank you for this missive TOday Decembert 31, 2011 a sadly depressing year. It gives me hope, and inspiration. I'm sending it on to Pam Motioke at CSU Monterey who teached a Service Learning course on Homelessness at CSUMB ... if budget cuts haven't eliminated it and other real sources of learning in recent years. Perhaps she'll invite you to her class.