Time after time-Another Year Passes

Some say time is a construct, an arbitrary measure of days passing, marked by a calendar that was created to restore order to holidays surrounding the birth and resurrection of Jesus. We began counting Earth’s rotation on January 1 since the year 1582. While arbitrary in the sense that time is meaningless and we’re all gonna die anyway, the Gregorian calendar has been in place for 435 years. Although many celebrate holidays according to Jewish or Chinese calendars, it’s still a feat of global unity that we all function using one standard measurement of time. And so we arrive at the end of another 365 days, another year passes, another day upon us to wipe slates clean, as we prognosticate new plans and goals. Last year’s regressions are deleted from the calculation, our chance to hit the reset button is here, on the first day of January we can start fresh. I always love this day, all stark white and wintery-hued, decor returned to minimalism, the hustle and bustle reduced to quiet, and the oncoming normalcy is a comfort. It always takes me by surprise to notice my own lightness, as my mix of PMS and anxiety—exacerbated by the unpredictability of family dynamics—dimishes and is replaced with relief that it’s passed.

In my mind, there is a point to counting time, it’s a line in the sand to remind us that an elliptical orbit around the Sun has ended where it began. And it’s hard not to notice the sliding of time as daylight fades into darkness and eventually transcends into hazy summer twilight. The passage of time is not arbitrary or made up, we see our kids change from chubby little babies to independent proto-adults. Time does move, it’s how we count it that may be random and perhaps our insistence that each year has its own personality as if a new one will arrive to save the day. I read that the first of January is often the coldest day of the year across the globe, so there is a sense that something connects us and traditions to mark this passing are cathartic and imbued with our own useful meaning. I also read that this first month of our Gregorian calendar is named after Janus, the god of beginning and transitions, although there is some dispute over this naming convention, I can see why those before chose this deity. I think we can agree, that collectively us humans have created a social norm that the changing of the year is a transition, like it or not.

I think of this day as the brink of past and future, a splintering faultline that we straddle while we pray for the past and hope for goodness in the days to come. Perhaps this is why the ominous tone of the coming year feels so disquieting, something we can’t ignore because it feels out of our control. I have heard more than one person refer to 2016 as a terrible year and that 2017 will be even worse. In years past, friends wouldn’t have dared to place such a negative prediction for the future, we’ve been so trained to think positive, hope for the best, always look for the bright side. And I think we’re all trying to do that but for once we may have rescinded the idea that just praying and hoping won’t make goodness magically appear. For the first time, I am so clear that if I want to do anything, in my home, my neighborhood, city, state, nation, and for the future of this beautiful blue planet, then I’m going to have to take it on myself. But I don’t feel alone, along with the dismal predictions, cynicism, fear and the unsettled feeling in the air, I also feel a large burst of energy, cohesion, unity, and action. So many friends that have usually remained on the sidelines are activating, right now we’re meeting, discussing, sharing ideas, concerns, and agendas. Documents are being gathered, resources, plans, structures put in place, the organizing is palpable and just where we need to be at this moment in time. I feel a little pulled in every direction, that’s for sure, but I’m also trying to bend like a willow tree, swaying back and forth between ideas and groups, learning where I will need to plant myself. This flowing around is absolutely okay and necessary. We’ve been complacent, intractable with our values, our current forms of institutions have failed us, we have no strong direction or leader and yet I see opportunity ahead. Because we need to let whatever force for change that is going to happen next year, and perhaps the years after, to build organically, by the will of the people, by our thoughts and ideas. Yes, right now they’re all over the place in a way, but I can see where the laser beam of light is headed, its refracted glow is sharpening inward and we will see the path lit up soon. I have no doubt about it and that’s my hope a laser beam to fight off the dark forces that are in power. This is not done by movie magic or wishful thinking but with hard, uncomfortable work that will be in addition to our daily lives. I will have to maintain energy and focus, something I’m not always very good at but I’m willing to practice because I just may have to out of necessity.

For me, 2016 was a year of transition, I moved away from feeling insignificant, or unsure of myself and for the first time in many years I am absolutely clear on what I stand for and why I am here. My anxiety no longer stems from confusion or lack of direction but from the fact that I don’t think I have enough time to do everything I want and understandably I get bogged down by regrets. I know that first and foremost, I am a mother. It’s a role I take seriously, and this identity is the fuel that keeps me moving forward, because if all goes to plan a part of me that will be on this planet long after I am gone. I am also a wife and feel grateful that my husband is stoically on my side, never getting in my way and honoring my decisions to fight the power! I told him that he and my girl are the only two people I need to do right by, I don’t need validation from anybody else. If my actions harm or get in the way of these two people I will make adjustments accordingly. This clarity is what I need to move forward, and both of them understand this without any doubt. In the past few months, especially since November 9th, this is what I’ve been doing, clearing my path, talking with more people, testing ideas, researching and preparing. It feels so right to be doing this and it doesn’t feel strange or unnatural.

I will also add, that writing this blog is a huge part of my efforts, I still plan to continue to journal my thoughts, again as a voice in this human experiment, as a regular person during this time in history, someone not affiliated with a certain group, but with a cause and hunger for knowledge and justice. And as it always happens, I get clues to keep on my path, even if I feel so alone at times, or even invalidated or delusional. Right when I start to spiral, I usually get a sign. Recently, one was to join a group of writers, many of them are women of color but so far the group is growing and expanding to include many voices. The call is to write 52 essays in 52 weeks starting on Jan.1. So I took heed because I need the support even if I am so passionate, outspoken, opinionated, arrogant, single-minded, whatever you want to call it, I still freak out all the time! I can go weeks feeling really strong and then some small event, comment or experience will crumble me to the ground. I recently sat curled up on my kitchen floor, crying about the future, with snot dribbling down my chin, while my husband held me and eventually walking me upstairs to bed. It’s not a pretty vision, but it’s the damn truth, I take a lot in and I expel just as much, sometimes with direct positive action, sometimes with tears. I hope to make those teary moments happen less, at least for the comfort of my family, but I can’t guarantee success on this point. However, I will do my best and I know what to do, walks, talks, good food, art, and most importantly writing in my own voice, in my own forum with free expression—these are all healing activities. I do feel like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, that I am writing like I’m running out of time, I bet a lot of you can relate! So let’s do it, and write our hearts out for posterity, for health, and most important for the protection of TRUTH.

A Holiday Wish-Rising Above the Blues

Usually this time of year I’m a little ba-humbug about the holidays probably because I don’t have a shiny, happy, white, very Brady, Walton’s, Little House Christmas. But this year I’m more grateful than usual to spend time with my silly, sensitive, strong, kick-butt, hard working, unorganized, overly consumptive, mixed-up Punjabi-Icelandic-Mexican-Italian-White family. We will make a Christmas meal with canned ham glazed with Hawaiian punch, Swiss vegetable medley, pasta salad, topped off with Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider and I won’t be an unbearable food snob about any of our hodge-podge family traditions that we all love. Of course, I will make something from scratch because it wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t over-complicate at least one thing this year.

And yes, my brown ass family, with turbans and chunnis we celebrate CHRISTMAS, we know it’s the day Christ was born, in a manger, where he received presents from three wise kings, but we’ve adopted this tradition like many immigrant families. I know every word to “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night” because I sang them in the school choir and still enjoy listening to a beautifully sung rendition. And we don’t stop anyone from saying Merry Christmas, nor do we go to war over the word, it’s not offensive or strange, afterall we’ve lived in America for nearly 50 years. Over time, we’ve added other cultural traditions to balance out the season. My parents started attending a large Gurpurab, where all the Sikh Gurdwaras in Southern California gather to pray and for many years my sister played kirtan with little kids dressed in white. Most people don’t know what these words mean but it’s how we honor the birth of Guru Nanak. Like almost every faith and culture in the world, this time of year is usually marked by prayer and contemplation as we go into the dark days of winter when the nights are long and stars shine brightly.

But this year, the mood in the air feels different and like many, I’m filled with sadness and concern for our future as a society. It’s hard to ignore the signs that portend a dark turn in our history. But it’s due to this anxiety that I realize the only thing I have is my family, we’re bound by our traditions, our wounds and I love them unconditionally. Mostly, I want to hug my parents, sisters, and nieces closer than ever as we descend into a new world order. So my usual complaints and aggravations about shopping, family dynamics, and rushing around seem trivial, instead, the irritations are comforting as they’re normal and predictable. Because what is uncomfortable and downright scary are the dark clouds I see gathering, all I want to do is circle close with trusted family and friends. For once, I’m not wrapped in guilt about a glittery tree, piles of presents, a bountiful table of foods, binge-watching classic movies, and too many pieces of See’s candies. But I will think of others, make donations, help the unhoused living on my street and have a moment of contemplation for lives in danger all over the world. It seems to me the best way to honor all the pain we’ve felt this year and so I’m filled with a renewed gratitude for everything good I have in this moment. Because things may change, we may not have the same people in our lives, the same jobs, the same things, the same friends, the same country or even the same world this time next year. Now more than ever, we need to soak in the love and connections. I hope you all recharge with your loved ones, build stronger connections and find solace in your faith and traditions. We must live with love, respect, kindness,  and hunker down for the long winter ahead. Much love and peace to everyone, I wish you all the best this season. Whatever way you celebrate and honor this time, may it be with lots of love and joy. 

Open Letter to Oakland City Council: Response to Ghostship Tragedy

Dear Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland City Council,

I write to you today as a mother, homeowner, and resident of Oakland (District 3). I ask that you and the city council show more understanding and alliance with those who live and work in warehouses throughout our city. I love West Oakland and feel grateful to reside in this area. My husband and I consider the murals, street art, studio spaces, underground music venues, and sculpture gardens pluses and not minuses. We didn’t want a sterile, cookie-cutter neighborhood, we chose to live where we know our neighbors are creating art, music, and dance. Today, I write to ask you to protect my community both for profit and underground.

I am a 45-year-old mother that may not fit your perception of a warehouse dweller or underground supporter. But I’ve personally survived and thrived due to the vibrancy of underground world and was re-born by art and music. I’ve lived in and attended events in warehouses since I was 17-years-old in and played punk rock in these creative spaces into my mid-thirties. And to be honest, I need this underground world now more than ever. The days after our recent election, my first inclination was to find my musician friends who welcomed me with hugs and loud punk rock. This week I will again find solace in this same community. I am what Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the President of City Council may call “lawless” or even “anarchist” (her words not mine). Because I admit I want to protect these DIY and free-form spaces where underage music lovers, yes eventually even my own daughter, can listen to music and dance till the break of dawn, without oppressive laws and punishment. I want real community, openness, and freedom, these are better terms than anarchy and lawlessness. To enjoy music till late night has sadly become a luxury, we have less space for this type of energy and life. Also consider this, many of the mainstream acts who now sell out The Fox Theater and Oracle arena started off in this world of free expression and experimentation. Dry up this world now and you won’t have music in the future and you’re revenue streams will diminish too. I’ve danced in legal nightclubs and underground warehouses till sunrise in amazing cities like New Orleans and New York, this is not a lawlessness, or strangeness, or even fringe! It’s fun, invigorating, life and happiness, and I contend Oakland needs this more than ever.

I also support these ideas shared by Jesse Townley in Berkeley, (I added the last bullet):

  • We need to pass an emergency law allowing right of return for warehouses/live-work spaces that are non-compliant with fire codes in Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro, Emeryville, San Francisco.
  • We also need some sort of amnesty for unpermitted living units similar to the ADU (Accessory Dwelling Units) amnesty last year.
  • We ask that building codes are re-zoned using examples from the NY Loft laws, this could also help alleviate barriers to find housing for unhoused residents as well.
  • We ask that the Oakland City council shows unity with warehouse dwellers and provides safety training, subsidizes materials such as exit lights, fire extinguishers, and other safety needs.

I ask you to please consider what happened at Ghostship as a freak accident and not a systemic issue, I would like to hear you use more specific language pertaining to this event. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a confluence of bad decisions, lack of oversight on all counts, including the City of Oakland, the landlord and the leader of the collective lead to this tragedy. There have been well run and safe underground warehouses in Oakland for decades. Oakland and other cities have never had to respond to a mass casualty event because they haven’t happened. Don’t vilify a whole community to show you’re doing something about safety. I know that my community of friends have already begun to self-regulate and are diligently working to improve safety, please support these efforts. This community all have their own codes, laws, and rules, it’s not lawlessness, on the contrary, these rules are there to protect the community! Ask them first hand how they run co-ops and build cities in the desert. You will be surprised at the number of rules they’ve created that apply to their specific needs.

And finally, please, please don’t let the deaths of 36 people, who lived and loved music and underground spirit, die in vain! Please don’t let their deaths give you and the city permission to tear apart a community that is grieving. The beautiful souls we lost on Friday would want their fellow artists to be protected, not trampled upon by knee-jerk enforcement. So, I demand that you stop evictions, protect residents and artists and listen to their needs! Please show good faith that you will continue to protect underground arts, not just city-funded projects, or nightlife in legal venues, or live work lofts for wealthy individuals. The diversity and vibrancy of a city come in many forms.

Sincerely,

Anita Singha
Resident of West Oakland
PS: I personally ask and implore that Lynette Gibson McElhaney stop thinking that warehouse residents embrace lawlessness and that some are anarchists. I know you’ve apologized but as of today you still choose to use this language and it’s concerning. You may have heard these words from a small minority but this doesn’t give you permission to paint a broad brush on a large majority of the community. If you want to show good faith and work with the community I know those words are not useful for coalition building.

I also ask as my councilwoman in West Oakland that you work to create a measured and helpful response to protect arts AND tenancy rights. I send this to you as a plea to understand that free expression is not the same as lawlessness. Again, reach out, attend an event, ask about how they run warehouses. For example, here is a well thought out response from Burning Man leadership, many of this community are very deeply entrenched in West Oakland and could provide answers.