Added Caution — December 18, 2016

Added Caution

Today I had a bit of a wake up call in regards to safety.  I was at the gym where I spent about two hours – working out, just hanging out, and showering.  When I got back to my van, I was sitting there in the driver’s seat checking my text messages and other correspondence, when the security guard came up an knocked on my window.

“How long have you been sitting there?  I didn’t see you there.” she said.

“Oh, I’ve been sitting here about fifteen minutes,” I replied.

“Oh, I knocked on the van earlier,” she said, “I thought maybe you were sleeping or something.”

“I’ve been in the gym for about two hours.” I replied.

“The reason I wanted to talk to you is because there have been a couple car break ins here at the gym, and since you have a van, I thought I would warn you, in case people think you have valuables in here or something.  It could be a target.”

“Oh really?!” I said.  I didn’t confirm that I had valuables, but I was grateful for the information, and I told her so.

I had thought that she was coming to be sure I wasn’t just hanging out in the parking lot.  She wasn’t.  She mentioned that there were sometimes people who just come and park and hang out.

I assured her that I had a membership there, and that I was there to work out, not hang out.  She said she knew that because she’s seen me around, going in and out of the gym. I thanked her for the information and drove off.

The gym parking lot where I go sometimes has a security guard and sometimes not.  From now on, when I go to the gym, I will seek out a parking space that is visible from inside the gym.  I will carry my valuables into the gym with me and put them in a locker, and I will put my Club on the steering wheel before going in.

This is significant because I think I’ve become a little complacent about safety.  I don’t have much in my van that can be considered a “valuable” by most.  I have my laptop – which is more valuable to me than it’s market value, since this is where I do my writing and my research.  Losing it would be devastating.  But other than that, really everything I have in the van is valuable to me, because it is necessary.  I don’t think anyone would steal my dirty laundry, but I would be hard put to replace all that if someone did.  I have a few books and some health and hygiene products.  My bed, blankets pillows… but in the end, it’s more the idea that I would feel violated if someone went through my van looking for something valuable. In addition, it would make me feel less safe sleeping.  It’s time to be vigilant about my safety again.

I expect that the risk is higher than normal right now, because it’s the holidays.  But I also fear that, as the gap between the affluent and the poor widens, car break-ins may become more common.  This makes me a little more hesitant to just leave my van on the street as I go to do things in the city.  Yeah, it bothers me!

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding my Bearings — September 4, 2016

Finding my Bearings

I’ve been working all my adult life, and now that I’m not, it feels a little strange.  I’d like to say that I’ve worked so long and saved so much money… but that isn’t the case.    I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck as the cost of living in the Bay Area is really astronomical! I’ve saved a little and will get unemployment, but now the pressure is really on to find a source of income that is meaningful to me.

I’ve been out of work for nearly a month now.  And since I live in my van, it really does take very little to live.  I feel absolutely exhilarated to not be working.  It wasn’t the working so much as it was spending crazy amounts of time doing something that is absolutely meaningless to me.  So the trick now is to find something to do that is meaningful.

Except for feeding myself, paying my gas, insurance, phone, and saving a little for van repairs, I don’t really care that much about having money, so the emphasis will be on doing something meaningful that doesn’t slowly kill me. I don’t want to say “never” but I don’t intend to take a job just for money ever again, and I hope it doesn’t come to the point where I have to.

What is really strange to me is that, although I don’t have any ties here (except my UPS box and my $10 per month gym membership) I’m still sticking around the area where I’ve always lived.  I think it’s because I feel secure sleeping in my van here, and I know I don’t have to be worried about being woken up at night.  None the less, I really need to get out and travel.

The thing I can do to make a little money, do something meaningful, and still be able to travel is write.  So I’m going to try to incorporate that into my daily practice.

Now that I’m not spending every day working, I don’t know how a person is supposed to work, get exercise, get some meditation time in, have a social life, shower, play, explore meaningful topics that enrich our lives and such on a daily basis.  Really doing any of that well takes time!  I know this because, except for the work part (commute included), I’m doing all these things to the best of my availability, and they are time consuming.  But I am happy!  I’m convinced now that having a 40 hour work week isn’t conducive to happiness – unless you’re lucky enough to have a job that allows you to pursue your dreams.

Anyway – I was feeling the need to post.

Coming Out — August 7, 2016

Coming Out

I have three days left of work, so my big plans over the next week include dying my hair denim blue and possibly spending some time in Santa Cruz.  My hope is that I can start putting forth an effort to write about social justice and van dwelling in an urban setting.  That also means coming out publicly as a van dweller – and I’m really excited about that!

My coming out process really started in May.  It was then I realized that quitting my job was a viable option.  I’d been suffering some terrible grief and depression over losing my parents during the past six months, and both of my cats (I had them for almost 20 years) just a year ago. This was compounded by my inability to find meaning in my work.

One Monday morning in May, after I’d visited my parents’ gravesite for the first time since their funerals, I just could not get up and go to work.  There wasn’t anything physically wrong with me, and I wasn’t crying or feeling any of the usual symptoms one associates with sadness, but I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t go and face the day at work and I wondered if I’d ever be able to do so.  Then I knew what I had to do – something I’d been avoiding for a long time – I called in sick and made a crisis appointment with behavioral health services at Kaiser.  My thought in doing this was that maybe I could get some temporary disability.

I showed up to the intake and was referred to three different professionals including a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, and an outpatient therapist for my intensive grief therapy that I would be doing over the next three weeks.

My first appointment was with the psychiatrist since they thought it imperative that I explore the option of medication.  She asked me the various required questions, and finally came to the living situation questions.  These are typical questions they ask everyone as they want to be sure the person is not in a domestic violence situation and that the person feels safe in her environment.  I had a choice to make – I could be honest and tell her I lived in a van, and endure the judgement that was sure to follow, or I could tell a white lie about my living situation, as I had been doing all along, in the interest of maintaining normalcy at my job and in public.  For the first time this year, I decided to tell the truth and just see what happened.

Predictably, her main concern was that I get out of that situation immediately (as if everyone living in a van has the option to get out of the situation) and she began to start a brainstorming dialogue about living with friends or maybe finding a roommate.  I attempted to assure her that living in a van was the one thing that was going right in my life.  Even after 9 months (at the time) I had not regretted my decision to live in a van.  My words passed by her unnoticed.  I went back to her twice during my outpatient program, and each time, the main inquiry was about actions I was taking to find housing.

And just to be clear for the whole world – I am taking no actions at all to find permanent housing, or even temporary housing! I don’t see myself taking action to do this in the near future!

My secret was out and in my medical record by the time I spoke with the outpatient grief therapist, so no point in telling the little white lie – as if it’s anyone’s business anyway!  Yes, I am safe.  No, I’m not with a domestic partner who is abusive (all valid questions by the way, I don’t want to criticize that they ask these) – and – I’m living in a van.  Yes I’m safe, yes I’m comfortable, yes, I take a shower and eat regularly.  To her great credit, once I’d assured her of my safety, she validated my living situation and moved past it, a reaction that started to give me confidence that, yes, I could live in a van and I could tell someone about it without the sky falling.

Finally, the psychotherapist they assigned me, after asking all the required questions, was actually interested in my situation, and not only validated me, but expressed some envy of my situation.  Because of my own education and training, I know that for both the grief therapist and the other psychotherapist, validation and normalizing a client’s situation is part of their job.  But beyond that, I do think that there is a sense of wonder and sometimes envy of those who seem to have some freedom in their lives.  What it gave me was the understanding that not everyone will judge me for my living choice.  Some will! There is no question about that, but that judgement is on them, not on me!  Other’s will have curiosity, and still others will wish that they had that as an option, or had the courage to do the same.  But regardless of anyone’s reaction, it is really all about them, and not about me at all!

That was a good start for me in what I’m about to do – openly live in my van, tell my family I live in a van, and tell anyone else who asks!  The truth is that I have really valid reasons for doing so, and I’m really happy about that decision, even a year later!

 

 

 

 

Moving Forward — July 25, 2016

Moving Forward

The end of July marks one year that I have been living in a van.  I know I haven’t posted for a while, so I wanted to write an update of what has been happening to me.

I was sick back in March, and fortunately I have a friend who I stayed with during that time.  Could have I been sick in the van and have survived?  Yes, certainly!  But having a friend to make me tea was very comforting.  The first couple days that I was sick, I did stay in the van.  One thing that helped me was going to a hot tub where the steam and hot water made me feel much better.  In the future, when I’m sick and living in my van, I will go to the hot tub again.

The other thing that has happened to me was a little more serious.  I’ve mentioned that I suffer from depression, and I also mentioned that my cats, who were my constant companions for 20 years died, and then both of my parents died.  All this happened within weeks of each other, and with my constant work schedule, I didn’t have time to grieve.  One day I found myself simply unable to get up and go to work.  I called in sick and made a same day appointment with the mental health group that my insurance covers.  I got three weeks off of work and out patient treatment that was greatly needed in order for me to finally process my grief.  This was in May.

With the three weeks off, not only was I able to process my grief, I was also able to see clearly what I needed to do next.  For a long time, I was only living to get through my work days so that I could actually do something I wanted to do, and I didn’t see a way out of that.  I was resigned to getting up and doing that on an ongoing basis. The work that I have been doing really has all about managing funds and files so that OTHER people could live their dreams.  With the intensive therapy I got during that time, I was able to see other options.  I also became unwilling to put off living my life for me.

And then something happened – within a couple weeks of returning to my job, I got laid off of 50% of it.  The timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous, as I had already spent several weeks by this time looking at other ways I could live my life.  So, I decided then, that I would quit the other 50% of my job to pursue other options.  50% unemployment should be enough to get by for a little while since I don’t have to pay rent.

So as my second year of van life begins, I will embark on a new adventure – one in which I don’t work for anyone else.  The truth is that I have several other talents – other ways I can make a living.  The 50% unemployment won’t keep me going for ever, but it will provide a bridge.  First – I can write!   My immediate plan is to write an ebook about urban van living.  I can read tarot cards, and I can write about how to read tarot cards.  I can make jewelry.  I have a ton of beads and stuff just sitting in storage (though I’m not sure where I’d sell them). But most importantly, I’m a licensed psychotherapist ffs! Working has kept me from making an attempt to get a private practice going.  I am a certified hypnotherapist, and I can offer those services, and I can write about that.

With the therapist thing – I don’t want to be just an ordinary therapist.  I want to do something that will give to the community and will be in line with my activist self and my passion for social justice… I’m not sure how this will play out, but it’s something to consider.  Maybe offer services and lower prices.  I don’t care about money, I only need enough to keep myself going and traveling and to cover any emergencies that may come up.

I welcome any ideas.

 

 

 

Judgement of Poverty — February 4, 2016

Judgement of Poverty

I read this article from Upworthy that I’d like to share and comment on.  It’s not that it has anything specifically or directly to do with living in a van, but I think it’s an article that could be relevant to many people who do live in vans or similar circumstances.  First, it has to do with personal belongings, and who deserves or doesn’t deserve to own personal belongings based on our class system.  Having belongings, or getting rid of those belongings should always be a choice, not a condition forced on us by circumstances or social judgement.

Second, it has to do with social justice – a topic is that is very dear to me, and is somehow intricately interwoven with my decision to live in a van.  Living in a van can have great meaning, as it does for me, but it should be a choice, not a forced condition.  Anyway – sweet and short – I hope you enjoy the article, and I would love to read any comments on it.

Finding Meaning — February 1, 2016

Finding Meaning

One of the main reasons I started living in a van was because my life was lacking meaning in a big way. I was buried and suffocating in meaningless stuff. I needed a paradigm shift and a way not to have to scramble from paycheck to paycheck. So I moved out of my apartment and into The Hilton.

The_Hilton.jpg
The Hilton

What I already knew on an intellectual level, but really learned on an experiential one, is that meaning and happiness, and life memories are not built on stuff, but on experiences. Quality of life is really about experiences, and granted, money can eliminate some of the misery in life, and can provide us with experiences if that’s what it is used for, but it also removes us from what is essential and visceral.

I am convinced that consumerism is a spiritual and cultural illness that leaves us separate from ourselves, from the earth, and from the very essence of what we are. And we don’t have to be affluent to buy into the consumer value system. We can experience the disconnect of consumerism by being on the “have-not” end just as much as we can on the “have” end. It’s just that if we are on the “have-not” end, we think that our profound discontent comes from not having rather than from the cultural value system itself.

When I lived in my apartment, I had the latest and greatest Keurig machine to make coffee convenient, and an espresso machine in case I wanted a latte. But every morning I would have coffee at work and on the weekends I would go out to a coffee shop. The only time I ever used the machines was when I had company – and that wasn’t often because I’m never home. The value in drinking coffee was the experience of company and environment. The machines really provided no added value to my coffee experience.

Recently I’ve been visiting an old friend of mine in Santa Rosa. When we get up in the morning, we have coffee together, strained through a paper filter placed in a plastic strainer. The simplicity of that doesn’t take away from the warm experience of drinking morning coffee with a friend. Happiness, and no Keurig necessary!

Whether we are ensconced in a luxury condo, or even elevated on a second floor in a second rate apartment (as was my case), our modern consumer based existence removes us from the experiences that have bound human beings together since we’ve been walking upright, generation after generation, and we have no chance to experience the awe and wonder that compelled our species to create cosmological myth.

My first true experience of meaning was perhaps a cold moonless night alone camping, or maybe it was my first experience of a thunderstorm while living in the Hilton. And although such profound experiences promise to be plentiful during my residency at the Hilton, it doesn’t take such a myth-making experience to provide life long depth and bring about that paradigm shift. I’ve been struggling with a leaking roof this winter, and I’ve had to change my bed situation. But this morning, I woke up and I was so comfortable, and it was dawn, and the quiet of the morning settled into my consciousness. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just lay there, warm and content, and the beauty of the moment struck me deeply and profoundly. I smiled. Life is good!

Contemplations on Water — January 19, 2016

Contemplations on Water

 

When I was in college, I remember one of my professors said that, education at a university is like looking at labels on boxes. All the boxes are neatly stacked and organized, and each one neatly labeled with its contents clearly marked.  And if you do well, you memorize what’s in all the boxes and in what order they’re stacked.  But what is frequently missed is that the boxes are never opened.  You know what’s in the boxes, but you don’t experience it first hand.  First hand experience is something very different from labels on boxes.

When I moved into my van, I expected it to broaden my horizon, both literally and metaphorically, and to get to open some boxes and have my life experiences.  I have not been disappointed so far.   But the most interesting lessons have come unexpectedly, unbidden, and in some cases unwelcome.

Take water for instance…

You know what I learned about water in school?  From chemistry – H2O!  It has unique properties in that, when it freezes it expands rather than compresses the way that other liquids do, and this is what makes ice float.  Both the gas form of water and the solid form are less dense than the liquid state.  If it didn’t do this, the bottoms of lakes and the oceans would freeze first, rather than the top, and would never melt!  Never mind that it’s the very substance that is the essence of life, and of the planet.

Being a religious studies major, I learned other things about water.  Lao Tzu liked to use water as metaphor for the Tao.  Water is soft and resilient.  It takes the form of whatever container holds it.  It always seeks the lowest levels, and always moves downward.   It’s pure and simple and flexible and humble, and never resists.  Yet, water in it’s persistence can carve canyons.  If we seek to be like water, then we have the greatest power.  We will be going with the flow – living the Tao.

And then I moved into the Hilton…

Living in my van gives me a whole new experience of water.  From “Tao and Water – The real Spiritual Lesson” by Master Steenrod:

  •  Water is relentless.  It never stops exerting it’s force.

Yup!  No matter how I try to keep the water out of the van, block the holes, whatever… it just keeps coming in!

  •  It’s force is a manifestation of its nature.  It does not try to be something it is not, applying neither morality nor immorality.

Uhuh!  It’s just water!  It’s not good or bad, regardless of how I may perceive it, and regardless of whether it’s messing up my night by seeping into my cabinets and things.  

  •  When it’s restricted, water seeks the weakest spot of any obstruction and applies constant force until it is free.

And it doesn’t matter if I put up one obstruction, block the hole, it just keeps coming until it finds a way in!

  •  When it’s pressed or attacked, it changes form and repositions itself.  It exerts counter force to search for weakness.

And if not for water, I would have no idea just how many weaknesses my van roof had!

  •  Water is opportunistic.  Given the slightest opening it will pass through.  It will do so while the opening is present.  It will widen the opening if possible.

Now I’m starting to think the author is hiding under my bed in the Hilton!

  •  Water has a wide range of energetic expressions, but continues to be water.  It can be still.  It can be sluggish.  It can be swift.  It can be pounding.  It can be vapor.

It pounds on my rooftop.  It sits in a still puddle in my window sill, and it’s vapor permeates all my belongings. 

Yes, I think I know more about water now than I ever wanted to.  And I’m not complaining really.  Because now I have completely opened the box labeled “The Tao”

 

Fixing the bed — January 16, 2016

Fixing the bed

On the happy day when I got my van, July 30, 2015, it already had a bed in it. It had this built-in base of heavy solid wood that had heavy drawers.  One drawer opened from the front, inside the van, and the other from the back when the doors are open.  The bed ran the width of the van, and was just barely too short, but I could sleep quite comfortably with my head at one side of the van and my feet at the other, if I slept diagonally.  This left the entire front part of my van for…whatever.  I added a mattress topper and slept so comfortably for months!  Until the rain started…

The rain was getting into my van from the back end – right where the bed was. You can read a couple posts I made about that.  At first, it was just in the cabinets, and I was very vexed at having to take the things from the cabinets and open them up until they dried, at which point it would rain again.  Then, in December it happened… Drip.. .drip…drip… The rain was dripping from one of the back cabinets and hitting the bed.

A wet mattress is not acceptable!  I went to the dump and dismantled the base.  I would have stored the base for later, if I’d had a storage space that could hold it (mine is way too small, and full of my boxes). I also got rid of the custom mattress that fit the base, but kept my mattress topper.  I then got a used cot.  It was a kingdom 3 REI cot.  I assembled the cot at the front of the van, lengthwise, where it always stays dry.  I slept in that cot for about 3 weeks, when I realized that my back was getting more sore.  I have back issues that can incapacitate me if I don’t watch it.  The cot has a slight rise at the feet and at the head.  Plus, it wasn’t nearly as comfortable or cozy as the other bed had been.  Combine that with the slight dampness of everything – including my bedding – due to the rain and general humidity in the air combined with the cold.

Yesterday I stuck the cot in my storage and bought a piece of plywood slightly smaller than a twin bed.  I also got some cheap storage bins that are about 18 inches high, with lids.  And I got a twin air mattress.  I put duct tape around the edges of the plywood (to avoid splinters) and put it on top of the storage bins, items I don’t need in the back and items I do need toward the accessible edge.  I put a blanket over the plywood, and put the air mattress on that, and my mattress topper on top of that.  Then I tested it. Ah, it was comfortable!  I could sprawl out a little, cuddle up with my big pillow, and move around with abandon…as long as I was parked on a level surface (a problem that didn’t come up until last night when I parked on a street).

Parked on the street, there was enough of a slope that I could easily have rolled off the bed, or the whole thing could have shifted down during the night.  Realizing I wouldn’t fall asleep until the problem was fixed, I got up and put three blocks of wood under the plywood, along the edge that was on the downward slope.  That solved the problem for last night, but I need to do something else, otherwise the plywood underneath will end up breaking due to having no support along the center.

So, here is my plan.  I’m going to leave the blocks of wood along that edge under the plywood, but put some pillows along the center, under the plywood, to give that centerline some support.  It all sounds like a very temporary makeshift solution.  I know (have read about) a lot of people who build solid bases into their vans for the bed, but I don’t have the skill, the tools, or the workshop to do that.  My temporary solution is actually quite comfortable (except for the pervasive dampness – which I can do nothing about, but wait for warmer weather).  However, I do need some adjustable permanent solution.  I so miss my cozy comfortable bed of the early days!

 

Gratitude! — January 6, 2016

Gratitude!

Even though it’s pouring rain, and my cabinets are wet, I’m still reminded that there are so many things to be grateful for.  I remember once, about a year ago, there was some event on campus, and I was at this event in the evening.  It was pouring rain, and it was dark and cold.  There is an underground parking lot where I parked my car on that day, and I walked back to the lot in the cold rain after the event to get my car.

Berkeley has a pretty big homeless population, and often they sleep in the doorways of businesses, and sometimes just right out on the sidewalk, where there are open underground vents through which warm air flows up into the streets.  But on this night it was cold and wet everywhere.  On this night as I walked down the stairs from the wet and windy atmosphere into the parking garage to retrieve my car, I could feel the immediate change from cold and wet to warm and dry.  It’s so comfortable down there… and empty. But at the stairs is a security guard who greeted me as I descended.  Now, there is no real reason to have a security guard in this parking garage, because there is nothing down there, so I can only assume that the security guard is there to prevent the homeless population from escaping the wet cold misery to be in the warm dry comfort of that garage!

And it occurred to me then, and even more so now that the wet and cold is more of a present reality for me than it was, that the whole parking garage and security guard scene is a really pathetic statement about social justice – that there is a huge warm dry space underground and empty, and there are freezing cold people who are wet and sleeping on the sidewalk right outside of it…how does that even make sense?  How in Hell do we justify that?  How can that security guard do her job of keeping those people out of that empty parking garage?  It’s the middle of the night!  NO ONE IS PARKING THERE!  For the love of GOD let people escape the wet and cold for a few hours at least…

Even though my cabinets are wet, I am grateful that my clothing and my bed is dry.  Though the air is cold, when I sleep I am warm, and I am grateful for that.  Although I have expensive mechanical problems with the Hilton, I do have, or can get the money to fix it, and I’m grateful for that.  I have enough food to eat, and I am grateful for that.  I have a job that provides insurance and income for me and I am grateful.

There are so many things I could complain about, but at the end of the day, I have a running vehicle, I am warm and dry and safe when I sleep, I have medical care, a job, and enough to eat!  It’s not that I didn’t know that I was privileged before, but now that I live in the Hilton, I feel both the privilege and the gratitude more acutely than I ever have before.

 

Still Fixin’ that hole! — January 5, 2016

Still Fixin’ that hole!

And damnit!  I’m not happy about it!  And it’s cold!

I went and had the seam around the top of the van sealed.  First they sealed it with a water based sealer that needed to completely dry before being wet again, and it happened to rain the evening that they sealed it.  Fortunately, they redid it without cost with some other sealer, not water based.  But the water is still getting in!  I’m not sure what to do… or even if it’s a big enough deal to worry about it at the moment.  The cabinets that are built into the top of the van are getting wet, but for the time being, I’m not storing anything there that will be affected by this.

When it dries again, I’m going to up there myself with a sealer and do it.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this in the first place.  I know there is a drought in California, and I know we need the rain really badly…. but is it wrong for me to wish it would go away?

In addition to the problem with the rain, I have some expensive mechanical problems that need to be taken care of.  However, as Blaize mentioned, at least with not paying rent, I have the money to take care of van repair expenses.  And I do… and these are one time expenses unlike rent, so I’ve decided to be grateful for that much.  It’s all about outlook, right?

And it’s cold!

Or it was – for like two weeks it got down to freezing.  I was OK during the time I was sleeping, but it’s hard to be excited about van living when I’m freezing my ass off!  The cold has gone away though – and although I’m not excited enough to pee my pants like I was when I first started this, I am still quite pleased with my decision.