Do you ever look at someone else’s life with envy? Do you admire someone, driven by passion, who has taken what they love, followed the calling, and turned it into their profession? As someone who has never had a well-defined career, a title to easily slide after my name, I envy those who not only have that title, but wear it as a badge of honor because they are doing what they truly love. If I was ever to put the title “Farmer” after my name, many in my family would die of laughter. I do not have a green thumb; you could call it black. Things don’t stay alive in the dirt when I touch them. Not only that, I don’t like to garden, plant, pull weeds and so on. Yet when I am on a farm, I SO desperately wish I could be one of those people who loves it. To be a farmer would incorporate so many things that I DO love; early mornings, the outdoors, healthy food fresh from the dirt. If I could only get over the “don’t like to dig in the dirt for hours on end” thing I would be all set. I would be sold. To visit a lovely young couple from Oakland that has done it, turned their passion for fresh produce into a way of life that sustains them with their very own Happy Acre Farm, brought my envy bubbling to the surface.
If you were to ask me what I miss these days, my answer would be traveling abroad. Tight budgets and two little ones have kept my feet local in recent years; I have mixed feelings about it. While I have re-discovered my own town and all its nooks and crannies, I ache for the adventures of international travel. Discovering the nuances of other cultures by wandering the streets of a foreign city is not only an unforgettable memory, but an invaluable learning experience. Not knowing what to expect, to be pleasantly surprised by stepping a bit outside of your comfort zone is a growing experience. I once had a day like this in the bustling city of Shanghai. Abroad for business, I had one day to myself. I studied my map, stepped outside my hotel feeling a bit nervous and hesitant, and I walked. It became one of those days I have never forgotten. At the end of the day while I had logged miles, viewed temples, drunk tea in a historic tea house, taken in the architecture of the French Concession district, what has stayed at the forefront of my memory is the unexpected. A hapless wander through a city park where I photographed people sitting on the park benches; couples, families, friends in the midday bustle.
I drive the stretch of MacArthur Boulevard between the Laurel and Dimond Districts of Oakland quite a bit. When I take the curve by Coolidge Avenue I often glance at the small shopping center that is home to a local favorite, Loard’s Ice Cream. A sign has always caught my eye towards the back of the parking lot that says “Free Oakland UP.” I have often wondered what it represented. When I learned that an interesting concept was at play behind the doors of this unique thrift shop I added it to my list of places to pop in.
It’s Monday and there is a question at the forefront of my mind. What do I do now? To stand among 60,000+ people and then scroll through my screen later that day to see that we were just one mass among so many others in cities throughout the world is empowering. I think I likely have company in the question I just posed. I am one person; one woman. How do I use my energy and sense of empowerment to do good; to incite change? I know that so many of us feel ignited to make a difference after the high that comes with being part of such a powerful day, yet how we take the next step forward is individual. It might be cautious for some, and a strong leap for others.
I have a deep level of admiration for those who entertain children for a living. Play isn’t something that comes naturally to me. When I watch jugglers, magicians, balloon artists and other performers at birthday parties and events, I am in awe. To take oneself to the level of a child may be “down” in the physical sense, but it actually requires one to move “up” in the sense of energy, creativity, and imagination. Puppeteers have always fascinated me in the ways they combine a piece of art, their hands, and their voices to create a character that will cause little eyes to open wide. While digital animation has taken over much of children’s entertainment in the 21st Century, iconic puppets still dance across our screens in long running shows such as Sesame Street. Yet there are few places where you can still watch a curtain move aside and see lively characters dance in front of your eyes. Oakland’s own Children’s Fairyland is one of those special spots. Along the shore of Lake Merritt, Fairyland has been home to our country’s longest running live puppet theater. Now celebrating sixty years, the Storybook Theater at Fairyland, and its dedicated director, invited me behind the scenes to see just how it has been pulling strings for so long.
When Gertrude Stein coined the phrase, “there is no there there” in relation to her childhood home, little did she know that it would have a renaissance in the Oakland of the 21st Century. While some feel the statement was a negative comment about our city, what she really was speaking to was change. The Oakland of her youth was gone, her version of “there” was gone; a new place was now there and it was unfamiliar. Cities change. They shrink and grow. They struggle and flourish. They crumble and build. Often, these things happen at the same time; a confusing dichotomy of positive and negative that is hard to understand. As I sat down to write this I remembered that I had touched on Oakland’s current climate in my very first post so I decided to go back and re-read exactly what I had written:
“I don’t intend to use this as a platform to jump in on that debate; but I do hope that I can use this site as a vehicle to not only share some of the amazing spaces and places that are planting new roots in Oakland, but to also occasionally highlight our city’s history, communities, and people. Will see how I do.”
When I look at that statement almost a year later, I feel a couple things. While I still feel I am not qualified to be on a platform, I do feel that I have a responsibility. I feel that since I have become a more visible member of the community it is my duty to share, to help educate, to give people something to think about. The Oakland Museum of California is doing the same thing. Their new exhibit, “Oakland, I want you to know…” is thought provoking, inspiring, upsetting, and hopeful. It is an invitation to our community, a challenge, to fight to keep our “there there.” As a member of the community I experienced all of those emotions when I spent time viewing it a couple of weeks ago.
“High on the summit of Oakland’s eastern skyline a Woodland Open-Air Theater and Temple of Honor, reached by a gigantic stairway and surrounded by a grove of huge Sequoia trees, are being constructed to commemorate great California authors of the past and of the future, who among their writings heralded to the world the scenic beauties and the historic life of our superb State.”
Gertrude Mott, 1936
I have become sentimental about Woodminster. Odd, given that until five days ago I had never set foot inside its gates. Something about how this place came to be, and how it has become a second home to a family that has been producing musicals inside its open-air bowl for fifty years, has captivated me. It’s a place that was built amidst depression; a “cathedral in the woods” to honor California writers. Its early advocates had high hopes for its use; festivals in honor of California literature, educational programs for East Bay schools and civic organizations, and of course large theatrical and musical performances. World War II caused the lights to be turned off for the first few years of its existence and the rise of the television caused interest to wane in the middle of the century. However, for the past fifty years the summer musical program has endured thanks to a husband and wife team that brought innovation, passion, and family-filled exuberance to this special spot in Oakland’s woods.
Hello Summer! Warm Days. Long Nights. The smell of the BBQ. Eating outside. Fingers sticky with watermelon; or an ice cream cone. There are so many things about the hottest of seasons that make memories so fond. Just last night my daughter and I enjoyed the longest day of the year taking a walk in flip-flops, picking blackberries, returning home to enjoy ice cream and slices of stone fruit pie on the back porch. As you look forward to these next couple of months, before Labor Day unofficially draws this time of year to a close, consider any one of the below as a great way to enjoy summertime right here in The Town. I know I will be crossing many of them off my own list, and hope to create lots more memories for the bank.