Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Watermelon Syrup - Tent City 3: Days 1, 2 and 3

in bed

the waters are creeping in they are 1/4 way cross the floor the sky is crackling a distant jack hammer is coughing i am on the floor i can see my breath i am more weathered than yesterday but the water is closing in there is nowhere to retreat there is only a growing dampness his cough is a plank falling his cough is a shipping container shifting the pattering sky is working my gorgeous desert ger we are in tarps after two days we are wrapped up in blue it is after midnight a man has come in tonight with one less tooth a woman has come in on crutches a woman has disappeared into a hospital what can happen to 100 people in 3 days in 30 days in 3 months what can happen to me my nose is cold i put on a second hat i hear no shuffling feet tonight only coughing somebody said hey i like antibiotics the nutella's too cold to spread she gave up the day old sandwiches smell wrong a slice of orange cheese and processed ham aren't worth it but there is fruit and there are mountains of carbs and coffee and cocoa the ship runs on the tall silver pot leaks coffee into an aluminum drip pan so many things have become impossible improbable making journals writing standing around you need heat and light and shelter and electricity and dry flat surfaces to work i must concentrate on staying dry and forget the library my headlamp flickers in a steady strobe the rain is damaging the village is sliding we are tethered to the church a mountain of mud is piling up and will encase us we gain no credit for attending this church and kris fed me and i picked up simon and jake and they were pliable and warm i washed my underwear in the sink but if i lie down now i will be just as cold and prone it is 1am there is no reason to want this there are no freedoms here there is no joy

In Watermelon Sugar
I have taken to carrying an old paperback edition (1968) of Richard Brautigan's novella In Watermelon Sugar in my right cowboy boot. I was planning to use the extra space for a second pair of socks and a book and spare change. And so I am. I got them used at the The Goodwill last week. They are my Tent City boots. They cost $7.99. I exchanged the pair I had on and walked out in them. They make me feel like a movie star and a hobo. The book is an added barrier to the cold and offers solace when I recall it and pull it out to read. If Brautigan were here, he'd see it was all syrup. "All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds." (Brautigan) And the clouds are full and relieving themselves on us now. It has been raining for two days.

My raft is on sloped ground. The rain hits the square edges of my pallet raft and slides into my ger (yurt). It seeps up into the cotton liner. My first night out (Sunday 28 November 2010), the bottom edges of my ger covering were frozen around. It was a clear, cold night with a frost. "My life lived in watermelon sugar. (There must be worse lives)." (Brautigan) There are worse lives.. indeed.. in watermelon syrup.

Forget About Dry
I got a piece of advice this morning, "Forget about dry. Once you accept rain, the sun will come out." Good advice, but I'm in denial. And I'm cold. And I slept with two hats on. It's not that I'm colder than I've been or that I've never slept outside. I've been a commercial fisherman and been out on 7-day openers. I've sailed across the Pacific and been 11 days without a shower. I've lived at 10,000 feet and been stuck in a rock hut. But this is different. I've got a month of this looking me in the eye and there's no drying it out. This one is persistent.

Everyone wheezes and coughs. It must be the constant smoking and the sickness. Three people have gone to the hospital since I arrived and one hasn't come back. There are no community tents just yet. The movie tent is being used as overflow and the community tent somehow became a donations tent. So people stand out in the rain and gather near the front desk and the kitchen. Just stand there getting wet, smoking. They are wearing cotton. When I ask how they stay warm, they all say the same thing. Layers. You're right, whoever you are. I'm going back. I'm going in, to get warm, come January. Whatever it takes. Whatever I have to do. I'm going in. I couldn't stay out here for 3 months. I wouldn't survive it. It's miserable and cold.

Earning Credits
I checked in on Sunday night. I showed my ID and was read the Code of Conduct. I signed in agreement. Then the complex system of credits was explained to me. Each week I need to earn security and community credits. Here is how. To earn a security credit, I must serve a 3-hour shift as security officer in camp. I need 3-5 of those a week. It changes with the population. Sign up for security shifts happens the day before. To earn a community credit, I must go to a church service and prove it by bringing back a paper program, but you can't just go to any church. You have to go to a church on the list, a past sponsor. And you can't just go to a church on the list. You have to sign up for one of the few slots on the list of churches. The line for this forms at 3pm on Saturday. Sign-up starts at 4. If there are no slots when you get to the desk, tough luck. You should have gotten your community credits sooner. Another way to earn community credits is to attend a meeting at the SHARE offices downtown. Those too have limited slots though. At first it seemed like a hindrance to getting real work, but then the bookkeeper told me if you work more than 20 hours, fewer shifts are required of you.

Security Shift
I served my first security shift from 9-midnight. I did a camp walk-through. I removed a spider from a tent. I helped someone cover a tent doorway into which rain was falling. I helped someone else get a ration of blankets. I received a bowl of cold pasta salad from The Little Lamp of Jesus. I witnessed a bar, someone being barred from camp. I saw a relationship end. I made cocoa for Del and Rickey. I met two visual artists. I listened to Lantz, the camp sage, for a long while talk about life. As soon as I was able, I took off my yellow vest and went to bed. It is dark and cold. The camp is asleep and snoring.

There is a video camera on a very tall wooden pole just the other side of the fence. It is pointed at Tent City. Lantz said there are three cameras pointed at us. So who's behind them? It's the Meadowbrook Neighbors (more suitably subtitled: Neighbors Opposed to Tent City) watching and waiting, signing petitions, raising funds for unforeseen legal matters and, in a sense, creating their own prison, for when Tent City goes, on 27 February 2011, one wonders, in which direction will the cameras then turn? Who's next? Fears this big don't just disappear. Places like Tent City only expose them.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tent City 3 - Move Day, Saturday 27 Nov 2010

By the time I arrived at 8:30am to help with the move, all the personal tents were down and the community tents (office, check-in, kitchen and movie tents) were being disassembled. The pallets and plywood rafts, upon which the city was raised to keep it from sitting in water, were being torn apart, nails were being pried and hammered out, and everything was simultaneously being hauled into piles for transport. Jetsom. Whoosh!

It was a nice, cool, dry, overcast morning, not gloomy, but Seattle wintry, full of potential. Good weather for outdoor work. After a few tries, I found someone willing to give me a task and I started folding tarps and organizing tent poles. Once I'd cleared a corner, I moved to pallets and boards and began carrying loads from the "barge" to the staging area. When the trucks arrived, I helped load pallets and boards. Heavy, hard labor. Hats off, jackets off, warm body making work. I'm happy in the weather, face ruddied by the wind and sun. My heart responds to the open air and my muscles thirst for work. Yes, I have a penchant for over-doing it and for later needing Tylenol and rest, but I felt appreciated and helpful. When the opportunity to arose to go off and have lunch with a friend, I chose instead to stay with the others in camp and have a sack lunch.

Team Work
I impressed some with my strength and willingness to work. They chuckled and said I was putting them to shame, but there were many able bodies at work and the team moved well together. It's been a long time since I labored alongside others to make something momentous happen. The solo and small group labors of a climbing or sailing endeavor is different than 50 able bodies coming together to do one thing. It felt as if we had a social purpose and that our efforts were necessary. And they were. We were raising a city! Being a part of that made me feel strong.

After the snowstorm and freeze of last week, followed by a quick warm-up, the ground and tents and tarps were wet and muddy. The heaviest tarp took six men to lift onto the truck. It was all but loaded in the truck when a stream of muddy water leaked out and down our arms. Eieeee! My green pants were streaked with mud water and my white down jacket was turning brown. When I looked around, I saw everyone had muddied legs and arms. Where this group was going there would be no hot showers, no sinks with soap, no laundromat. What do you do to stay warm and clean and dry? What would you do for a home?

I had some casual conversations with the men as we worked. They knew me as the poet and asked me about my work and plans. Somebody asked me who my favorite poet was. I said I liked Russell Edson. He said he liked Catullus, the greatest lyric poet of Rome.

To whom am I to present my pretty new book,
freshly smoothed off with dry pumice-stone?
To you, Cornelius: for you used to think
that my trifles were worth something,
long ago, when you took courage, you alone of Italians,
to set forth the whole history of the world in three volumes,
learned volumes, by Jupiter, and laboriously wrought.
So take and keep for your own this little book, such as it is,
and whatever it is worth; and may it, O Virgin my patroness,
live and last for more than one century.


The women were at task sweeping and clearing trash. The entire back end of St. Mark's parking lot was to be swept clean by this afternoon. I'm happy not to have been on the women's crew. I would have been frustrated to be resigned to lighter labor when there were people ripping out nails and stacking pallets all around. I've worked with all male crews before--as a mountain climber, an industrial landscaper and a commercial fisherman--each time it's been an endeavor in proving your worth. Once proven, you're on the team and treated like the others.

Like anywhere, the people at Tent City are a mix of types and personalities, some cheerful, some not, some hard-working, some complaining, some agreeable, some disagreeable. I'd wanted, in my mind, to lionize this group, to make them into a choir of faultless, suffering angels, but like anyone anywhere, they're just people, some of whom I'll get along with and some of whom I won't. It was nice to be reminded so soon of this. It will help me, I think, see more clearly.

River Barge
The broken skeleton of Tent City, now visible, showed, in the rich NE quadrant, a field of black bags stuffed with blankets and sleeping bags and other sleeping material. In the SW, there stood a monolith of milk crates, stacked 8 high, 20 wide and 20 deep. These are the crates that, when tied together, make all bunks for the residents of Tent City. The houses float. The residents too. The whole camp floats!

At times, the place looked impossible--nails and cups and bits of trash and dissimilar items strewn about. Ten, at times, it looked like it might be improving. Every time I turned around I thought, ok, two more loads. Then the trucks came and went and I turned around again. Two more loads. Two more loads. It went like that until noon. Then 2pm. Then 4pm. Finally, when I left to get my own gear and shelter together, I do really think there were only two loads left. They'd begun sending people to the other side to assist with the 30 residents already there receiving and setting it all back up on the other side. Then I finally got to the other side with my poetry ger (yurt), I was amazed at how clean and orderly it all was. O what a task!

I picked up my own pallets the week before from a free pile in Ballard and now, learning that I'd need to get my own plywood sheets together, I raced to the hardware to buy them and was lucky to have a helpful staff two minutes before they closed. Then I drove back to Meadowbrook and began installing. The guy in charge of the new city layout placed me on my own in an open space between two rows of tents, like a buoy in the current. I'm on a separate raft now, in the middle of a dog-leg, floating between two barges. A street lamp, like Sirius, overhead.

Everyone was interested in the ger as it was going up. Looks cozy! How can I get one of those? What is that? And then, when I was bringing my bags and belongings in, I didn't get far past the entrance before someone took a bag out of my hands and said, "That's not how it's done here." People help one another and ask for help. I suspect that'll be the hardest part for me. A resident came forward later to help bend a board into place and then located duct tape when I broke my fiberglass pole and needed to make a repair.

People went past, steaming plates in hand, announcing dinner. Dinner's here. Did you get dinner? I had a bite to eat before I left for the evening, beef stew and potatoes with gravy. The meal was provided by a famous couple who have been feeding Tent City for 10 years now, every other Saturday. What a difference it made, a hot meal. How grateful I was. At 9pm, I left for Fremont. I still have a few loads to transport, so I won't sleep at Tent City tonight. I figured it would give the residents a chance to check out the yurt and poke their heads inside. Everyone was interested in seeing it and it being so late and dark, perhaps tomorrow morning they'd get a better look.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Going Home to Meadowbrook

Where are you when you're homeless? Certainly you're somewhere. Are you trespassing? Are you just in limbo? How long do you go without a home before you're homeless? And then what part of society and what rights do you lose? Does having a home affect your humanity or intelligence or usefulness? If a home is an answer, is homeless a question? Or a mistake? Can a home safeguard you against depression or death or isolation? Certainly homes burn down and blow away and leak. Is a home a physical or an emotional need? Though I've been without a home, I've never been homeless. Why is that?

When I told my peers I was going to live at Tent City, I was surprised by how many asked if I was doing it out of necessity or as a project. Hmmm, I thought, people must see me as unstable. But perhaps unconventional is more true. I've been told to keep in mind that when I'm done I'll be going home, while those I'm serving won't be. What does this assume? That I have a home. I have no home. What does it mean to say I have no home. I don't know if I can even explain, but I know that while I am not homeless in the way that some people are, I also have no home. I have a 24' sailboat and rent a small office in Fremont. I am a successful artist who lives from job to job. I have no health insurance. My student loans are in deferment. What else does it assume? It assumes that some of us aren't going home. If those people are not going home, where are they going?

Tent City is not an endpoint. It is a waypoint. But what if there's nowhere else to go? That's when people get stuck. The waypoint becomes a default endpoint. If you can't get a job, you'll eventually be homeless. If you're homeless, it's unlikely anyone will hire you. If you don't have a job, you can't get housing. If you can't get housing, you're no one. Nowhere. The responses of my peers got me thinking about who I am and where I belong and where any of us belong. Housing in the U.S. is not a right. It is a privilege. Is this the problem? I worry about the scrambling I see around me--to fit in, to be seen, to be heard, to be safe, to be free of blame. I see it in everyone, in the poor and in the rich, in the artist and in the entrepreneur. We're all scrambling. Why? Is it fear? Fear of what? Being homeless? Being nobody? If we look at it from another angle, perhaps we can see how it is really about being loved and about belonging. And if it is about being loved about belonging, we can surely, in a country so rich with land and resources, create a place for everyone, with houses and roofs and jobs for all. Then, when there is less scrambling, there will be energy for organizing.

I was looking into DIY and low-cost shelters when I came across the Irregular Shelter site with 67 options for irregularly shaped, alternative living units, including Homeless Chateau and the Edar (Everyone Deserves a Roof). Irregular Shelter led me to N55 and the manual for Micro Dwellings, a system for constructing low cost dwellings. N55 is offering alternatives like the walking, watertight dwelling pictured above. Unlike many sites and sources on homelessness, they discuss not only the problem, but the causes--the non-availability of affordable housing. "Current building techniques in the western world have failed to incorporate knowledge of geometry that enables lightweight and durable constructions which can be produced at a fraction of the cost of conventional houses. The lack of innovation in this field can be ascribed to the enormous economic interests that are tied to real estate. Challenging habitual conceptions in this area is seen as a risk not worth undertaking. However, the present situation creates considerable inequalities, where people with even average incomes can't afford to buy or rent in major cities or suburbia. As a result, monoculture prevails and people with lower incomes are forced into the margins or into finding alternative solutions. Making dwellings available for less money would reduce the need for high incomes. This in turn could free time for activities other than money-generating work, something that could have a positive social impact" (N55).

Not only must we find a long-term solution to homelessness, we must identify and promote better temporary solutions. Currently, hundreds of people are living in flimsy tents in the freezing, rainy season as well as the beautiful dry season in Seattle. Standard camping tents last little more than a year when subjected daily to the elements and then must be covered with tarps and repaired with duct tape. I'm not a historian or a politician. I'm a poet going to do a poetry project at Tent City. Like you, I care about issues and worry about affordable housing and healthcare and education. As we work towards these goals, I wonder, whose voice can we afford to lose--the weak, the poor, the aged, the sickly, the artist? When one day we lose our voice--for all of us will age and get sick and grow weak--who will speak for us then? Who should speak, and when?

I drove across town, through Lake City, south on 35th past Nathan Hale High School and up Ravenna to Maple Leaf Lutheran Church, a bulky, brown A-frame on the corner of NE 100th & 32nd NE. As I approached, I realized--Hey, I know this neighborhood. My good friend Frank lives here. The Fiddler's Inn is around the corner. My life in Seattle started here. When I arrived, in '99, I stayed with a friend just off Lake City Way. I stayed on his couch (which means I was homeless) while looking for an apartment. I'd come for the love of the mountains. I'd climbed Rainier and was smitten. I quit my publishing job and left Boston for the wilds of Washington. In the first seven days, I took a job as a baker in Wedgewood. Every morning, I rode my bike across Lake City Way and up 35th in the dark, cold, wet, October predawn, leaves painting the roadways. Two months later, I had a shared apartment in West Seattle and took another job. Then I landed a steady job at a publishing house and moved again. Then I became a project manager at the UW. It wasn't until 2001 that I moved into the little studio apartment I called home. I stayed there for two years and then was sailing and able to buy a little sailboat and another dream spread itself before me--to sail around the world--which I did go and crew on a boat out of CA across the Pacific to Polynesia where I lived in a lagoon for three months. Home. Where is home? Here it is, in a parking lot in Meadowbrook. With a red brick neighbor with a cross to bear and others who don't want me here: "No Tent City."

Neighborhood Notification Meeting
There was a "Neighborhood Notification Meeting Regarding Temporary Encampment" at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church on Sunday 14 November. This meeting was intended to "provide an opportunity for the public to learn more about SHARE/WHEEL's Tent City3." I found out about it by chance, just the day before, when paging through the church's website (the host site typically has a tab dedicated to info about Tent City). I went to the meeting to show my support and get a sense of the camp-to-public interface. I also wanted to meet the outreach coordinator for the church whom I'd spoken to on the phone. I still have so many questions. I don't know what the relationship is between the church and the camp or how SHARE/WHEEL communicates with them. I don't know if any indoor places have been identified for holding classes or meetings or perhaps that's just not done. What is an acceptable noise level? Can residents play music in camp? What is discussed at the weekly meetings? Is there an inter-camp mail system? I wonder Are there any existing programs that meet daily or weekly? Do people stay in the camp during the day or does camp empty out in the morning? How are meals organized? How strict is the footprint of Tent City? Where will my desk go? How about my tent? Most of these questions will, no doubt, be quickly answered when I begin to live there.

There was a sign on the main door directing neighbors to the basement of the church. The basement was configured with ten rows of folding chairs, a speaker's podium, a row of banquet tables with a microphone and several staffed information tables around the room. I saw Roger straight away. Hello hello! Roger has been my main contact for TC3. He's a woodsman-like character with wire-frame glasses, a sock hat and plaid jacket. He reminds me of Pierre (Count Pyotr Kirillovich), the protagonist in War & Peace, capable of great joy, but reserved, holding on to something, sparkling beneath the surface.

I wandered about the room meeting residents, neighbors, church representatives and SHARE/WHEEL advocates. I learned there would be no contact between the 30 homeless staying overnight in the church (who are sent by bus and must arrive together and are offered mats on the floor from 9pm to 7am) and the 100 homeless men and women living in Tent City3 (who must sign in once a day to maintain their residency and who live in tents and leave their belongings and attend meetings and fulfill camp duties), even though they are sponsored by the same organization, SHARE/WHEEL. I learned about a plan that is underway to provide a warm, dry place for four hours to the residents of Tent City on Christmas Day and about a plan for making Valentines in February.

The meeting was called to session at 7pm. There were roughly forty, middle-aged, Caucasian adult men and women in attendance. Pastor Julie Blum of Maple Leaf Lutheran Church welcomed everyone. Pastor Steve Grumm of Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church in Loyal Heights, a past host of TC3, managed the meeting from there on out. One of his first statements was, "We will all be civil." A flag went up for me. After a short presentation by the residents of Tent City3, the floor was opened to questions. Those who wished to pose a question or make a statement had to sign up. Each person was given two minutes.

Some came forward with an interest in helping. Some offered praise or recommendations for Tent City. Some talked about the wealth of opportunities Tent City offered them. One said her son learned to play chess at Tent City. Another related a comment by the Seattle Police Department, who called Tent City's visit to their neighborhood a "non-incident." One related an incident, the only one in two years, for which the police were called. Two neighborhood teens were found to be the cause of the disturbance. The most thoughtful question came from a man, a new neighbor, who said he had children and wanted to know what happened to the homeless person who came to Tent City and was rejected because they didn't meet the criteria or wouldn't follow the rules. Do they end up in the bushes nearby? A spokesperson for Tent City explained that those people were escorted to the bus. The escort waited until that person got on the bus. After-hours, they would be put in a cab and the driver given a script. But to which neighborhood they went or from which neighborhood they had come, no one knew. Some were fearful. There was a cluster of fear in a row behind me. Each took a turn at the microphone. None had signed up to speak, but spoke when the floor was opened. Each voiced a concern, not for themselves, but for their children. One asked why the church had "ambushed" them. Another reprimanded a homeless man on the panel for slouching. What these three had in common was the ability to speak, but not listen. Each had to be asked to stop and wait for the response they'd requested. One man was so agitated he left the room. There were audible grumbles from the crowd as he left. By the time the meeting was over, the invisible fence around an invisible Tent City was electric. I felt sick and anxious and emotional. I was impressed by the calm of the residents, by their grace and patience. I congratulated them all afterwards. And they said, "It gets worse." There are roots of fear and faith, I suppose, in the unknown, in the system, in the other, in the wall. And so where do I stand? I have a lot to learn. I want to be strong and brave and graceful like the men and women of Tent City. I want to be able to stand up for what is right, to combat ignorance and fear with love and understanding.

Code of Conduct
Unlike the rest of us, when Tent City moves into a new neighborhood, they must sit before their neighbors and prove they are good people--responsible, quiet, clean, courteous, trustworthy, nonviolent, noncriminal and sober. Despite the fact that Seattle's Tent City is noted as a success story by the National Law Service on Homelessness and Poverty, they must constantly work to prove and improve their reputation. Those wishing to reside in Tent City must go through a screening process. Residents must show an ID, be drug and alcohol free and commit to participating in camp maintenance. They must sign and follow a strict Code of Conduct. Tent City does not tolerate drugs, alcohol or weapons. Neither does it tolerate verbal or physical abuse. Sex offenders are not allowed in Tent City. Those in violation of the code of conduct must leave the community. Two security workers from the community are on duty at all times and check in with all visitors. Quiet hours are observed from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

As I write this, the rain is lashing against the window pane. It is suddenly cold. Winter has found us. The rain is coming down in sheets. It makes me fearful. It makes me worried. It makes me think of the people I don't yet know in tents tonight. Soon it will be me. It makes me think of the people who aren't in tents, those waiting out the storm. For now, I'm relishing the heat in my office.

Related News
City Inside/Out
with C.R. Douglas
A Permanent Home for Nickelsville?
Premiered Friday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.
After months of negotiation, Mayor Mike McGinn has proposed a more permanent site for the roving homeless tent city of Nickelsville. The mayor wants to set up Nickelsville on a vacant lot in SODO--the industrial area south of downtown. The new site would include tent housing, showers and social services. This is a big change in city policy that up until now has frowned on hosting encampments on public land. Is the new mayor being compassionate or misguided? To hash out the issue, we bring into our studio Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, Real Change's Tim Harris and The Seattle Times' Bruce Ramsey.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tent City 3, Tent City 4 & Nickelsville

Tent City 3, Tent City 4 and Nickelsville are all homeless encampments located in and around Seattle, WA. They are three distinct entities with some easily understood differences.

Tent City 3
Tent City 3 was created in 2000. It is sanctioned by a consent decree with The City of Seattle and is run by 501(c)(3) organizations Seattle Housing and Resources Effort (SHARE) and Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL). SHARE/WHEEL operates 15 fixed site shelters and two Tent City locations. From December 2010 to February 2011, TC3 will be pitched in the parking lot at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church in the Meadowbrook neighborhood of Seattle.

Tent City 4
Tent City 4 was created in May 2004. It is also sponsored and managed by SHARE/WHEEL. It exists in eastern King County outside of Seattle and is currently pitched at Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland, WA.

Nickelsville is an unsanctioned homeless encampment created on public land in West Seattle in 2008. It is run by Bellevue’s Veterans For Peace, Chapter 92. Nickelsville just moved from the University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle's University District to Old City Fire Station 39 in Lake City. The site is managed by the city's Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which owns and manages the city's fire stations. Seattle Mayor McGinn announced last week that he wants to clear the burned-out Sunny Jim peanut-butter factory in Sodo, find an organization to manage the encampment and, by March 2011, open a long-term pilot site for 100 to 150 homeless people.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Song of Tent City

In late October 2010, I approached Tent City 3 (Seattle's homeless encampment run by SHARE/WHEEL) with the request to join their community as poet-in-residence. They asked me to write up my request and, after doing so and delivering it in person, took my request to a camp-wide meeting and voted on the idea. They came back to me 2 weeks later with an answer. Yes. They said yes. Yes!!! How thrilled I was. To be trusted and welcomed in. I'm certain this opportunity will feed me and teach my poet in tremendous ways. I look forward to working and walking with this community in this way.

Starting December 2010, I will live, work, listen, dialog, write and collaborate with the residents of Tent City 3. I'll install my handmade mini-yurt as a reading room, set up a small camping tent to live in and establish a recognizable interface (a poetry desk) for dialog, all the while assisting where I can with the general operations of the camp. I hope, while I'm there, to listen, respond and give voice to the people in camp. I suspect I will learn so much more than I could ever teach and gain more than I can give, but I go in with an desire wish to serve.

To truly experience the world, one must be fully in it and of it. This is the message we hear from every poet, in every poem. Go live. Live fully. Join life and live. You can see it in the few lines here:
To be alive: not just the carcass/But the spark--Greogry Orr
The birds and their chatter overwhelm me/with feeling--Han Shan
Do not go gentle into that good night--Dylan Thomas
You must take living so seriously/that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees--Nazim Hikmet

I've fulfilled several public and private artist residencies now, both self-created and established. My work goes beyond what most people think of as poetry. In fulfilling a poetry residency, it's rare for me to sit at a desk and write all day. I do write and research and read a lot, but I also spend a great deal of time meeting people, sketching, dreaming up public art projects and installing them. I like taking poetry to places it's never been or has long since forgotten. I like using poetry as a vehicle for dialog and community. Place is as important as time to me. I inhabit spaces, find ways to breathe life into them. I listen to them, draw them, write on them, live in them, work in them. The community that builds up around and envelopes me in these places becomes my teacher and my meaning. It helps me live more fully. To it then I owe my own sense of community.

Walt Whitman, in "Song of Myself", raised up the ordinary citizen of the US. He said that each and every one of us, each self, was a part of a larger Self, an ongoing and all-inclusive entity. He showed us how all things and beings commune and connect. While I haven't seen it clearly and don't yet know it fully, I must believe then that Seattle is indelibly connected to and part of Tent City. Where are those verses? Are they written? I go in search of the strains ringing through Tent City. Song of Tent City

A community is a unified body of individuals. If we fence part of ourselves off, we suffer from a split. We suffer on both sides of the fence. Walling off pieces of ourselves keeps us from integrity, keeps us from happiness. We must go back now and pick up the pieces, we must weave them back in. Here in Seattle, hundreds of bits have fallen away, have been walled off. If we work together, we can pick the pieces up, person by person, pair by pair, neighborhood by neighborhood. I offer myself as a camp-to-community interface and invite you to do the same. The more connections we make, the fewer voids there will be. We each have something to offer and receive. Let's realize Whitman's vision and make each member an equal participant.

I started the year as A Corporate Poet. I served for one month as poet-in-residence at NBBJ Architecture and Design Firm. Before that, I was The Poetess of Green Lake. I offer myself now to Tent City. Certainly they, as well as any community, need the poet. "This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,It is for the wicked just same as the righteous, I make appointments with all, I will not have a single person slighted or left away…" (Whitman, Song of Myself).

Tent City 3, Seattle's homeless encampment, shifts and moves every three months, from church parking lot to church parking lot. On Thanksgiving weekend, they move again from Saint Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill to Maple Leaf Lutheran Church in Meadowbrook.

This blog will provide a place for project updates and information. My experiences at Tent City will take the form of writing, images and performances. It's too early to know what will be produced or what accomplished. The most important thing will be to remain open and to experience and share.

I applied to Sprout, a quarterly fundraiser at The Fremont Abbey in Seattle, and was invited to present my project to a full house (125 people) on 5 November 2010. After a home-cooked meal and a chance to hear six artists present their work, each diner filled out their ballot and voted for one project to receive support. The money collected, $20 per person collected at the door, went to the artist with the most votes. I'm thrilled to report my project was selected to receive the $1000 award. Sprout II was so well attended they were able to give out a second award of $200 to Topstache. Besides being a terrific event with great food and lively conversation, the event brought together a loving group of arts supporters. I can't think of anything better for the local arts scene! The award I received will make a huge impact on my project. It means there are funds to cover materials and living, so I can devote myself to Song of Tent City full-time. Thank you to everyone who came out and supported the artists at Sprout!

Open Brainstorming Sessions
I'm reaching out now to anyone who wants to talk about my project or offer advice or point me in the right direction or lend a hand or offer a skill. I'm holding several, open, drop-in/drop-out, brainstorming sessions: (1) Wednesday 11/17 from 7-10PM at Studio-Current on Capitol Hill, (2) Thursday 11/18 from 6-8PM The Fremont Abbey and (3) Friday 11/19 (9-5PM) in my studio #210 at the Space Building in Fremont. Would love to talk to you for any amount of time. Thanks in advance for your interest and input.