Cover photo credit: "ScRABBLE" BY SHANNON LAVELLE
by ANYA WAYNE
Photo Caption and Credit could be placed here.
BCC Teachers Unlock Writer's Block
BCC teachers unlock writers' block
by anya wayne
The BCC VOICE is produced by students from English 14/15 at Berkeley City College, with funding from the Associated Students. A special thank you to the ASBCC, the BCC English Department, administrators, faculty and students who make this school great!
Big Deal About tiny homes
BERKELEY Homeless speak up
by Sean Dickson
AT the oakland zoo
by Megan Davis
how to win friends and influence universities
THROUGH COMMUNITY SERVICE
experience berkeley's heart and soul by lending a helping hand
by julie villanueva
notes on freedom
Considerations from a biker
by Sebastian maldonado
Diaries of a dumpster diver
by Shannon Lavelle
Fall 2018, Issue 1
Topicnesia. Motivationzap. Blankscreenits. These made up words may be funny, but writer’s block is no joke. Writer’s block strikes nearly every writer at one point or another, irrespective of proficiency or intelligence. To help students better understand what it is, why we get it and how to move through it, the BCC Voice asked Berkeley City College writing teachers, Laura Zink, Sharon Coleman and Cleavon Smith to weigh in on the subject.
Writer’s block can be especially challenging when working under a deadline. Creative writing teacher Laura Zink shakes her head, silver earrings twinkling, as she declares that she’s “never enjoyed writing under deadline[s]. They’re awful.” Juggling life outside school with the obligation to produce under a deadline can be even more daunting. “Life can be bigger than campus,” she acknowledges. So, Zink asks about the specific anxiety students are feeling when counseling those with writer’s block, and she encourages students to reward themselves when meeting any deadline large or small, not to overlook these successes even when “racing toward the finish line.”
Zink then shares an idea from educational theorists Johnson and Johnson, “Motivation is the perceived likelihood of success.” Burnout, being overwhelmed, negatively affects a student’s sense that they can succeed. This saps motivation, which in turn affects productivity. It might cause students to say, “I can’t do this. It’s too stressful,” says Zink.
As a preventative measure, Zink advises students to work on their writing assignments five days a week. That way, if students have an off day, there’s the rest of the week to make up for the lost time. “If the assignment is due tomorrow, and you’re not brilliant at that moment, it’s a rough thing to deal with,” she says.
Sitting together in the paper-strewn nook of her third floor office, poetry instructor Sharon Coleman agrees that writer’s block affects everybody, including herself. She observes that “People think of their self-worth as connected to their ability to write. If they fail to recognize that ability, they may be blocked.” Having more confidence in their writing can help students recover from writer’s block. The question is how to gain that confidence.
Coleman offers practical advice: do the pre-writing. Pre-writing allows a writer to organize the material they’re working with before they try their hand at a draft. Sitting down and writing easily without doing the pre-writing is unlikely, says Coleman. Taking the steps to collect information and ideas beforehand makes writing, "a whole lot easier,” she says, as does breaking assignments down into manageable parts, ones that work for your schedule.
Another way to process ideas, according to Sharon Coleman is to take kinetic breaks, where the writer is moving in some way. For her, that’s walking; she mentioned that taking breaks for walking worked for Genevan philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau as well. But she also suggests “shooting hoops or washing the dishes.” This kind of break is a well-known technique mentioned by many writers. The value of kinetic breaks lies in way the mind processes information, Coleman says. Focusing fully and persistently on an idea isn’t always the best way to work through it. Coleman reiterates this concept, saying, “You can be doing the prep part of writing while doing something else. The mind processes it.”
Cleavon Smith teaches composition, literature and creative writing at BCC. Although he sometimes feels a sense of inadequacy when he sits down to write, what he doesn’t have is the experience of freezing on the page, which is characteristic of writer’s block. The reason, he says, lighting up as he relates this, is that he must write. Pen on paper is a pleasurable, tactile experience for him. “Goodness gracious, I love that feeling,” says Smith.
Herein lies an important realization; passion for words, ideas and stories can counter writer’s block. It can offset feelings of inadequacy and lack of motivation brought on by a low expectation of success. Getting excited about the subject can make it easier to do the work. On the other hand, Smith observes, the freezing kind of writer’s block often sets in when a student has a composition task they just need to complete and are not necessarily passionate about.
Smith’s stories are informed by the books he loves. When he reads, he’s moved to be part of the literary conversation and write. He mentions “Remains of the Day” and “The Invisible Man” as books which continue to inspire him. Smith credits his own teacher, Floyd Salas, for a technique he uses to overcome writer’s block, one he now teaches his own students. In this technique, the writer simply copies word for word from a book about which they are passionate until this story calls forth the story within them — at which point they begin to write their own words. Smith explains that this technique acts as a springboard of ideas for the writer doing the exercise.
Does writer’s block really exist? For Cleavon Smith, there’s a socio-political answer to this question. Society doesn’t “appreciate or honor the act of writing as a worthwhile endeavor of somebody’s time...The act of writing — the act of making art — is counter to those industrialistic-capitalist messages of productivity.” When we’ve absorbed this message and therefore don’t feel like we’re doing something of value by putting words to the page, it causes a conflict within which halts the creative process. (Do socialists get writer’s block?)
When I describe this experience as self-discouragement, Smith is quick to correct me. “That’s the thing,” he explains.“It’s not self discouragement. It’s the self, vocalizing to the self, the discouragement of others.”
Even though I chose this topic, writing on writer’s block gave me a frightening case of blankscreenitis, until I carefully listened to the collective wisdom of the teachers I’d interviewed. Laura Zink allowed me to acknowledge the uncomfortable pressure of writing under deadline. Sharon Coleman sent me back to the drawing board to do more pre-writing. Cleavon Smith let me know that the doubting voices in my head didn’t deserve my time. I followed the direction suggested by all three teachers and did a freewrite, which turned into my first draft. Writing is a solitary task. That, however, doesn’t mean that you have to struggle through it alone.
The Emotional Cost of Student Loans
by Joseph Golinveaux
Photo Credit: Shannon Lavelle
by JULIE VILLANUEVA
Big Deal About Tiny Homes
Berkeley tiny-home resident
Berkeley Homeless Speak Up
Homeless camps spill out onto the street; underpasses are loaded with stolen tents and makeshift shelters; housing prices are rising. Minimalist living is not so much a desire in a crowded place like the Bay Area, but it is becoming a necessity. The sustainable movement of tiny homes is making waves in Berkeley. Not just as a trendy way to live more with less, but also as a creative solution to the homeless epidemic that has raged in Berkeley for years. The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a vote to house 100 homeless in prefabricated tiny homes.
“We are houseless, not homeless. The term I like is shelterless. The world is my home,” said a local houseless activist, "Michelle." Berkeley currently hosts 1,000 homeless individuals, and many are living in tents on the side of the roads, or under a piece of cardboard leaned to a wall to protect them from the elements. The number of homeless in Berkeley has grown steadily in recent years, which has also increased the amount of tent theft for individuals trying to find shelter. Nonprofits do what they can, but the tiny home movement offers a more permanent solution.
“Everybody would jump on that. We would all prefer to live in a permanent home, instead of tents, if we could,” said a local Berkeley homeless man living next to artist Steve Gilman’s “HERE THERE” sculpture. This sculpture, situated next to the BART train tracks, used to be a large homeless encampment, until BART built a fence on the lot stretching to the sidewalk. Instead of deterring the local homeless, it pushed them up the street to make camp. Driving past, you can see an organized row of tents big and small sheltering people at night. Camps like these are often roused and cleared out, only to have new or previous tenants fill the open space.
With freeway underpasses being filled to the point of overcrowding, the tiny home solution offers a permanent and more sustainable means of housing. Oakland has built two permanent communities of Tuff Sheds in a pioneering step towards permanent housing. Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett has spearheaded the proposal for expediting the order of up to 100 prefabricated tiny homes. Berkeley City Council unanimously approved 100 micro units to be built and installed on city-owned land under the Step Up Housing Initiative. The proposal was passed in February of 2017, and in August of 2018, the second prefabricated modular housing building is still under construction according to ABC 7 News.
Prefabricated permanent housing structures are a welcome adjustment to the makeshift tent camps dotted around the city. One local outdoor retail store manager, who prefers to remain anonymous, with more than 20 years of retail experience, has seen tents stolen nearly every week from his store. While he does not condone the theft, he understands the necessity that forces people to find shelter for the night, no matter the risk. He also believes that permanent housing structures would be a good solution, if land to build on would be more readily available.
This local store manager was homeless himself for a short time by choice. During his tenure on the streets of Berkeley, he learned how big an impact small things can make. Permanent shelters can offer security for personal belongings, a blanket for the night, a bit of food and a small shelter to sleep under. Tiny home villages would offer this opportunity to those who have the need.
It is not entirely up to the City of Berkeley to help with the homeless issue, and few local citizens have started to voice interest in building tiny homes themselves for the homeless. Taking after Greg Kloehn, a local Oakland artist who designed, built and gave away 20 tiny home structures to the homeless, Berkeley citizens and homeless are all looking towards the tiny-home movement as a real solution to the issue facing Berkeley.
Where to build is the next step. Local homeless man and activist, Liberty, says that Corporation Yard would be a good place to start. Located near Bancroft and Addison Street, corporation yard has plenty of empty space not currently being used that would house more than 100 homeless if the Berkeley City Council voted to start work. Liberty, a veteran, says that he and the other homeless around Berkeley will need actual space to live and survive, and being chased from one lot to another by the police is not a viable solution to the housing problem.
Experience Berkeley's heart and soul by lending a helping hand
Photo courtesy of Gracepoint Berkeley
The University of California application just opened up this August for students to start applying for Fall 2019 and Spring 2020. In this extensive application process, the Personal Insight Questions, a.k.a. “The Scary Essay portion," requires an incoming student to complete four out of seven prompts in 350 words or less. How will you answer “What have you done to make your community a better place?" This question is aimed at pinpointing your passion and drive to help others, uncovering the core of your character.
Transferring requires a willingness to embark on a journey full of growth and change in two different environments: Berkeley City College and a university. Yet when moving between these two major backdrops another essential question must be addressed: “what strengths and weaknesses will remain when I walk into my new campus?” By then it’s no longer a matter of when you grow, but how you grow. The soil for the seed needs to be rich and plentiful for the flower to bloom. And ultimately, communities of people centered on a cause serve as a robust foundation, providing a clear trajectory for an individual to reach self-actualization.
In other words, it's time to let your potential shine at Berkeley City College through community service. Surprisingly, a lot of places can help you tap into small passions like music, literature, video-editing and cooking for a greater cause. For example, you can give a helping hand by performing music for the elderly at Chaparral House, just a mile away from campus on the corner of Allston and West Street. If you feel like you have no skills to offer, just the willingness to serve and be of use to someone opens up many opportunities to learn new ways and discover strengths that you never knew you had. The YWCA on Bowditch and Bancroft Way offers a program that helps international visitors with English, where you get to spend one hour each week conversing with a foreigner to help them improve their language skills—which means that you don’t have to do anything but get to know another individual. Any interest can be matched with various organizations throughout Berkeley. The places just mentioned were found using volunteermatch.com and volunteer.org, great websites that match your skills and interests to an organization that needs your help.
Not only can community service open your eyes to something outside of yourself, but it also opens a window to meet the people of this small city. Many students come to Berkeley from different regions of the state, country and world in order to get an education from not only UC Berkeley, but also here at Berkeley City College. Intermixed, but often not interacting, it can get dull living in a place without truly getting to know anyone. But in my own experience, I never truly knew the heart and soul of Berkeley until I met the people who have lived and established themselves here as residents. Through meeting people of various demographics and backgrounds from church volunteering events, homeless care, tutoring and clean-ups, I got to meet strong people guided by the energy to do good in the world around them.
Whether you find it necessary to lend a helping hand, many of these organizations lack the help essential for their organizations to run smoothly. Erica Azim, who coordinates Mbira, a non-profit that works to preserve the tradition of the Zimbabwean instrument called the mbira, says she would like to have “individuals who can video edit, make flyers and just adopt the bigger vision to support the musicians in Zimbabwe,” but Azim needs the hands to help, lamenting, “The community of mbira players in the Bay is growing, but at a slower rate than it could be.”
I volunteered for Azim a year ago and although it was for a short two months, I got to experience the beautiful music that one instrument can produce as well as the rich culture surrounding it. Being a passionate musician myself, the experience made me appreciate a type of music that I only got to encounter through Mbira. To say the least, the experience broadened my horizons by expanding my world and giving me a sense of the bigger picture. Seeing the passion that people have for their craft just like me — despite how different our different styles sound — gave new meaning to the way I play my own music. Yet, when it came to volunteers, I was the only one helping her out. I witnessed a desperate need for more people to get involved in this beautiful mission.
The City of Berkeley hosts multitudes of small organizations and small-profits that need more volunteers. Whether you’re new to the area, in need of skills, but want to avoid going through an extensive application process, or find yourself lost without direction, community service can aid you in areas of growth and trajectory. Not only do these organizations bind the people of Berkeley together, they offer the opportunity to discover new sides of yourself and your city. Meeting people, seeing people work ardently for a cause outside of themselves, and just having the knowledge that something you do can affect someone greatly, can not only build your character, but also build your community. And it looks sweet on your transfer applications.
Check out organizations that match your interests at Volunteer.org, Volunteermatch.org or Idealist.org.
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How to Win Friends and Influence Universities Through Community Service
“We would all prefer to live in a permanent home, instead of tents, if we could.”
"You eat food from dumpsters?" I asked, with a tone of horror and disbelief.
It was August, 2015. I had just met a tall, handsome traveler at a drum circle in Nimbin, Australia. He beseeched me to quit my monotonous job sorting macadamia nuts to join him on the road. I didn't have enough money, I told him. I wouldn’t need money, he said, if I stuck with him; we would hitchhike, camp in the woods and get our food from dumpsters. I promptly rejected the latter part of the proposal, thoroughly disgusted by the idea of eating trash.
Days later, he appeared with a hand basket full of beautiful, clean, delicious-looking produce. Having lived primarily off $1 cans of baked beans for several months, my eyes lit up. I asked him where he got the food, fully aware of his aversion to shopping at supermarkets. It turned out that he did get it from the grocery store — from the dumpster behind it. After the hearty feast we ate that night, I never felt the same way about eating trash again.
For months afterward, we went skip dipping — as some Aussies call it — up and down the east coast of Australia. There was so much food in the dumpsters that it was often hard to choose what to take with us. We found fresh watermelons, German chocolate cake and cases of beer. I was eating better than I had been in months. I dumpster dived my way through New Zealand, across the USA, and back to Berkeley.
I had become accustomed to finding open dumpsters filled to the brim with food. In Berkeley, however, I encountered padlocks, cameras, fences, and barbed wire. Such security measures, I thought, are typically only utilized to protect items of great value. Why, then, do local supermarkets use such extreme measures to safeguard their trash? Within these dumpsters lies a secret many grocery store chains would rather keep locked up — the quantity of food wasted in the United States.
This is no secret, however, to dumpster divers — people who salvage food and other goods from trash receptacles. I recently interviewed Lindsey McAuley of Oakland, who began dumpster diving after leaving home at a young age. The main attraction when she was young, she said, was that the food was free.
"I found out that there’s all this free food that they just throw away – like this good food that’s not expired,” said McAuley. “I didn’t think twice about it.”
Years later, she moved into a household where she met several people who volunteered for Food Not Bombs, a Massachusetts-based organization dedicated to nonviolent social change. She began to dumpster dive with her housemates, but this time with a different goal in mind — to feed those in need. The group salvaged food from supermarket dumpsters in Berkeley, often climbing over fences to access them.
“We would go and get just so much food, like the entire kitchen, the whole floor would be covered with boxes of produce — and we would even get flowers for the house.”
She and other volunteers prepared vegan meals from food they had salvaged and served it to people, typically members of the homeless community, at pop-up kitchens on the streets of Oakland. Often the line of people waiting for food would stretch down the block.
“Every day of the week we would set up in a different area,” said Mcauley, “and there would be a line of — I don’t know — maybe 50 people on average.”
After hearing tales of this dumpster bounty, I set out to do some investigative research. I started off by visiting every supermarket in Berkeley to see how their food waste was stored. I searched every back alleyway and loading dock behind the city’s major grocery stores and found no accessible food waste. The key word: accessible.
Both Safeway locations, Berkeley Bowl West and Trader Joe’s keep their trash receptacles inside, out of sight of the public. These receptacles are only moved outside for municipal trash collection. Berkeley Bowl’s Oregon Street location padlocks their dumpsters. Both Whole Foods locations have trash compactors, making discarded food inaccessible to the public.
Next, I visited Walnut Creek, a more affluent suburban community, to see if supermarkets there took the same security measures. There I discovered open bins filled with hundreds of pounds of mostly organic fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, and packaged foods behind most grocery stores that I visited. Both Safeway locations I visited had several large boxes filled with discarded food, most of which was in perfect or near perfect condition. The city’s two Whole Foods locations left a portion of their dumpsters unlocked, where I found bags of organic produce, cheese, cured meats and bread. One store here was the notable exception: Trader Joe’s, where I found every accessible dumpster locked. Additional trash receptacles were guarded by tall fences topped with barbed wire.
Why the difference in security measures between Berkeley and Walnut Creek? The answer is likely poverty: poor people are more likely to dig through dumpsters looking for food, and sometimes they leave a mess. According to the US Census Bureau’s website, the percentage of Berkeley residents living below the poverty line in 2017 was 19.9 percent, compared to 7.2 percent in Walnut Creek.
While keeping dumpster divers at bay, locked dumpsters and trash compactors amount to more waste. The food rots inside, and then makes a journey to landfills and compost sites as far away as the Central Valley, where it releases methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it decomposes. That food, which may have been perfectly edible, will never find its way to someone’s stomach.
The 2010 release of "Dive!," a documentary film produced by Jeremy Seifert, resulted in what was likely unwanted publicity for Trader Joe’s and other major grocery store chains. Cameras followed Seifert and his friends as they dived their way through LA’s dumpsters, revealing the massive amount of food discarded by the city’s supermarkets. After the film’s release, Seifert launched a letter campaign asking Trader Joe's to adopt a corporate policy to end food waste. He also started a petition on the website Change.org titled “Tell Trader Joe's To Stop Wasting Food!” According to the website, the petition gathered 82,001 signatures before it was closed.
Richard Pilara, store manager of Trader Joe’s in Berkeley, declined to comment on the company’s waste policy. I spoke on the phone with Erin Baker, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the company, who likewise declined to comment. Baker said that the company policy is summarized on their website in an announcement published January 1, 2018. It states that “It’s been our long-running policy to donate 100 percent of products not fit for sale but safe for consumption.” According to the same publication, Trader Joe’s stores donated 70 million pounds of food to local food banks and other food recovery partners in 2017.
Trader Joe’s is by no means the largest food supplier in the US. This prompts the question, then: how much food do other large supermarket chains donate or discard?
I approached management at the other three major supermarkets in Berkeley to inquire about their food waste policies. Both Safeway and Whole Foods management declined to comment and referred me to their corporate offices. The store manager at Berkeley Bowl’s Oregon Street location was unavailable for comment and did not respond to my request for an interview.
I placed a call to Safeway’s corporate office and was forwarded through a chain of representatives, none of whom knew anything about Safeway’s policy regarding food waste. Whole Foods’ Northern California media contact did not respond to my request for an interview.
Due to the lack of information available from the stores’ management and corporate offices, I sought answers from an alternative source: a current employee of Whole Foods in Oakland. The employee, who has worked there for several years, requested to remain anonymous.
The individual reported that Whole Foods Oakland donates a portion of its spoilage — that is, products deemed inappropriate for sale — to charitable organizations. They said that the top three products discarded are produce, prepared foods and bread.
It is at the discretion of the team member discarding the food, they said, whether to place items into the compost receptacle or donation totes. Frequently, though, employees throw the entirety of the spoilage into compost due to time constraints, or simply for the ease of doing so.
Produce is often rejected because it does not meet the company’s standards for appearance, even though it has no other defects.
“A decent amount of the produce either donated or composted is cosmetic because Whole Foods definitely culls through their produce more so than other grocery stores. Meaning, they’ll pull something off a display or not even put it out for cosmetic reasons — because they want everything to look perfect.”
When it comes to packaged goods, the employee said that it is more common to discard a product due to damaged packaging than its expiration date. They do, however, remove items from the shelves three days before the sell-by date. Cartons of eggs, they reported, are among the most frequently discarded items.
“If one egg is cracked or some water [condensation from the cooler] drips on the packaging, we can’t sell it.”
The employee reported that at times large quantities of food are discarded due to labeling errors. Their primary vendor, United Natural Foods, Inc (UNFI), occasionally sends the store mispicks, which are products that arrive in mislabeled boxes. Storage space is limited, and unless there is room for these items on the shelves, the entire shipment of mispicks ends up in spoilage.
Storage space is also a consideration, they said, when it comes to food donation. There are days when no organization comes to collect products set aside for donation. On these days, said the employee, all the donation totes will likely fill up and all remaining spoilage will be thrown into the compost compactor.
Still, the source says, Whole Foods’ donation program has improved significantly during the time they have worked there. The company previously had a policy of donating only shelf-stable food items and began donating perishable food items only a couple years ago. The employee commended the company for this shift in policy.
Because supermarkets do not make information about their food waste available to the public, it is impossible to know how much food passing through grocery stores reaches consumers, how much is donated to food pantries, and how much ends up in landfills. The bottom line, though, is that a lot of work remains to be done to reduce food waste in this country. One easy place to start ‒ your own fridge. A study by the USDA found that U.S. consumers waste nearly a pound of food per person per day.
According to their website, the USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted. Meanwhile, the USDA describes 12.3 percent of US households as "food-insecure." These figures mean that while millions of people in this country go hungry, billions of pounds of food end up in landfills every year.
For the best dumpster diving in the Bay Area, join me on Monday nights in Walnut Creek. To find out what you can do to help reduce food waste, check out the website for the Bay Area-based organization, Food Shift, at foodshift.net. Learn more about the East Bay chapter of Food Not Bombs at ebfnb.org.
Diaries of a Dumpster Diver
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As I approached the clubhouse, my first impression was that it looked deserted. The sidewalk was a carpet of broken glass. There were remnants of a car out front that might have been dismantled by a rabid, baseball-bat-wielding Grizzly Bear. Above two black doors was a sign announcing EAST BAY RATS MOTORCYCLE CLUB. I shrugged my shoulders in confirmation — I was in the right place. I knocked.
A large, shirtless gentleman sporting a black beanie and a pair of boxing wraps around his hands opened the door and looked me in the eye with a bewildered expression, almost as if to say “Who the f@*# are you?” I would later come to know this man as Alfred, a gentle, albeit intimidating giant. After a short exchange of words and handshakes, Alfred let me into the club, where I waited in a cold sweat for the man I came to interview, Trevor Latham.
Latham is a man of many masks, but most notably, he is the president and founder of a notorious motorcycle club in Northern California, the East Bay Rats. The club is stationed in West Oakland, a city that area reviewing sites like Areavibes.com listed with a 260 percent higher rate of violent crime than the national average in 2016; this is where Latham and his Rats made a name for themselves on the asphalt.
Latham arrived, shook my hand, and sat on the stool next to me, next to the club’s backyard boxing ring. His backyard boxing ring. I could see Alfred behind the ropes, throwing hands with a gentleman who was smaller but no less intimidating. I turned to Latham and offered him a cigar. He was a man of herculean stature. As he extended an arm to accept the gift, I noticed his fingers were each as large as the cigar I was handing him.
“Thanks. I try not to smoke these things, but sometimes I get my hands on one, and I can’t help myself,” Latham said. He stroked his beard, pulled a knife from his pocket, and clipped the end of the cigar between blade and thumb like he was chopping carrot ends into a stew. I sat listening to Latham talk, and I found myself expecting an Irish accent to fight its way out of him.
The clubhouse had a vending machine, which I decided to confront about handing over a beer. After playing hot potato with my money, the machine gave in and spat out a can that was so dented it resembled Sloth from “The Goonies.” I took a sip. The beer was flat.
Before our conversation began, a thunderous rumble of motorcycle engines bullied its way through the front door and over our words. Three gentleman entered, each dressed like the cast of Kevin Reynolds’ Water World. There was talk of guns, knives, fights, strip clubs, hunting, and confronting mountain lions, talk that almost confirmed my expectations. F*$#k yes, I thought. This is what I came for. I live for this sh!#. I pictured bikers sizing me up, flowing bottles of whiskey, and Latham crushing a Budweiser, then slapping my back and saying “Hell yeah, brother,” with a hearty laugh, before his face made itself up into a heavy expression, as he leaned in and told me the secrets to a free life.
That wasn’t the interview I received.
I looked at Latham and said, “You’ve accomplished something that I admire greatly. At least from where I stand, it looks like you live a very free life . . . I think a lot of people, if they could, would drop their sh!# and buy a bike — do what they want to do, regardless of society’s criticisms. What I want to know is, how do you think someone can live a free life?” This was why I was in the dog pit of a notorious motorcycle club in West Oakland. I had a wild horse in my chest that wanted to be unchained. I wanted someone to help me unchain it.
After a short pause and another stroke of the beard, Latham planted his hand on his knee and said “The whole time that I was floundering in my early twenties, trying to get my life together, the motorcycle thing and the motorcycle club, building it and hanging out with my friends and throwing parties and drinking beer never was a positive thing.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed after hearing that answer. Were we not in the dog pit of a notorious motorcycle club in West Oakland? Black Sabbath was playing, Ozzy Osbourne was singing like he was about to summon Satan himself, Alfred was opening a fresh can of whoop ass in the ring, and Latham was telling me motorcycles and drinking weren’t positive things?
He continued, “It is possible that, in a way, chasing your dreams can work out, but . . . I still went to my job every day.” Latham tilted his head down as he said this, like my father does to impress something on me.
I felt like I needed to regain control of the interview. There had to be a wildness in his chest too. It just needed to be provoked. I said, “It’s interesting you say that. I absolutely feel like I’m floundering in my twenties. No matter how I try to tame myself, it feels like it goes against my nature. I want to figure out how to deal with this wild feeling I have. I guess that’s why I’m looking for notes on freedom.”
Latham closed his eyes in a signal of understanding and said, “The things that helped me, I stuck with. Boxing was great. Motorcycles were great; those things that, when you’re in the moment, you can’t think about why you’re doing them. Today we have less of those moments.”
I realized that, although it sounded like a contradiction to his previous statement, Latham was talking about two different things. Starting a notorious motorcycle club, floundering in your twenties, guzzling booze, fighting, and tearing through streets with your biker buddies may not be such a positive thing. But Latham used the meditative qualities of motorcycles and boxing to help with that wild feeling he had in his chest.
When I asked for notes on freedom, I received notes on self- control. He made references to the Stoic philosophers and the Samurai whom he praised for their training on “how to control your mind and meditate so that they weren’t emotional if they were in a fight.”
Latham also stressed the importance of community in liberating the feeling I had. “People tend to isolate themselves more and more until they get weird.” He clasped his baseball-mitt-sized hands together. “Having one night a week where you’re committed to your buddies . . . is super important.” I noticed he would often pause before finishing the significance of his thoughts. It showed he had respect for the ideas he expressed. It didn’t take long before Latham proved to be an exceptionally intelligent and insightful person.
Our interview took a break. One of the fighters in the ring had taken a good cross to the jaw that roused noise from spectators and purchased our attention. With a loud ring, a bell announced the end of the round. I looked around. My perception of the clubhouse had changed after the bell. Latham and the Rats weren’t feral. They were people with the same wildness and they found an outlet in the community of the clubhouse. They were providing the tools for a free life. The clubhouse was a medium for Latham’s blueprint: discipline, outlet, community.
We regrouped. Latham looked at me, and I said the only thing I could muster, “I have to be honest, I was anticipating a lot more of ‘I loved the freedom of having a bike and this lifestyle of saying f*$k you, I drive what I want, act how I want, party when I want, and I don’t have to apologize to people.”
Latham laughed, “I did all that.”
I asked him if he was happy, if the Rats were happy.
“The Stoics said, ‘you have to be happy with right now or you’re not happy,’ and I am happy right now . . . I think we’re generally happier than everyone else. We have figured out the ways to vent and have fun, and we have each other,” he said.
I got the notes I came for. I needed to find an outlet for the wild horse in my chest. I needed a sense of community that encouraged a disciplined mind. Ironically, living free was grounded in control. Our time was up. Latham shook my hand. I thanked him. Before he walked away, he asked Alfred to get in the ring with me. Alfred walked up and handed me a mouth guard.
I stood in the corner of the ring in my tube socks. I put the mouth guard in. The bell rang, and I couldn’t stop thinking about something Latham said about the advice he gives his kids.
It encompassed his notes on freedom through community and self-discipline.
“We have to protect people. We have to keep our sh!# together.”
Notes on Freedom
Considerations From a Biker
I pictured bikers sizing me up, flowing bottles of whiskey and Latham crushing a Budweiser, then slapping my back and saying, "Hell yeah, brother!"
story + photo by
Trevor Latham, President of the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club
"Talking about debt and the associated shame is part of the solution."
The author on his first day of school.
at the Oakland Zoo
by JOSEPH GOLVINEAUX
story + photo by MEGAN DAVIS
“Student loans are like a little rain cloud that follows you around,” says Rochelle Garza, a bodyworker with $20,000 in student loan debt, “It definitely weighs heavy on the mind.”
The connection between student debt and shame is huge, and it’s invisible, says Sheila Rubin, but talking about it helps. Rubin is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Adjunct Faculty at John F. Kennedy University and co-director of the Center for Healing Shame in Berkeley.
With student loan debt topping $1.5 trillion, according to personal finance website Make Lemonade, it’s time to talk about the deeper costs of sending the next generation into the workforce with a financial and emotional handicap. According to Rubin, shame caused by student loan debt affects the body and the mind. “The amazing thing about shame is that when somebody is in shame, they might not be able to think clearly. So they might lose 30-40 intelligence points,” said Rubin. “Shame is a freeze state, the active tendency of which is to disappear.”
Pilar Pumar is an artist with a BFA in Sculpture and $50,000 in student loan debt. She says it’s hard to dream a future with the weight of debt hanging over her. Her original loan balance was $28,000, but has increased with interest over the last 13 years. Her relationship with her loans is one of anxiety, disappointment, depression and anger. At times it has been the first thing she thinks about in the morning and nags at her all day. When asked how it feels to live with debt, she scrunches up her body and says, “It hurts my stomach just hearing the word debt.” For Pumar, her student loan debt can trigger shame. “The cost of shame is that you are less likely to ever reach an authentic life.”
Pumar is not alone. Rochelle Garza has $20,000 in student loans from two community colleges and a barber school. She is currently on an income-based repayment plan with a $0 payment. “I pay as little attention to how much I owe as possible. I open the envelope, make sure I don’t owe anything and put the envelope away,” says Garza, “It’s like here’s a little reminder of what you’re not doing, and here’s a reminder of what you owe now.”
Pumar and Garza are part of the 44.2 million borrowers in the U.S that owe a combined $1.52 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Over half of students who attended college took on debt.
Because shame thrives on secrecy, nobody talks about it, says Rubin. They don’t talk about the emotional weight of the debt in the student loan offices. Pumar echoes this point, “It’s shameful to talk about debt and to express that you don’t understand how money works. Although we share a common story, the debt can cause isolation and increased shame. Talking about it can make us feel less alone.”
According to Rubin, talking about debt and the associated shame is part of the solution. “It’s only recently in the past year that people are talking about student loan debt. So, this conversation in itself is counter-shaming. This article is going to help people.” Since secrecy feeds shame, coming out of isolation and expanding the dialogue helps.
Student loan debt is a hot topic in the media right now: California recently joined three other states filing a lawsuit against the nation’s largest student loan servicer Navient Solutions. In August 2018, the man responsible for protecting borrowers, Seth Frotman, Student Loan Ombudsmen of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, resigned from his post saying that the organization has, “turned its back on young people” and is “going above and beyond to protect the interests of the biggest financial companies in America,” according to a letter obtained by NPR. The conversations about student debt are happening
Rubin urges borrowers suffering from debt to find someone they can talk to about it: a counselor, a friend or someone else who has gone through it, and to try to be kind to themselves by seeing the big picture and saying, “No wonder I feel terrible, this is real.” Garza reminds students to only borrow what they need in order to keep the debt low. “I blew my whole first loan on stupid shit I didn’t need,” she says, “I wish I had known then.”
When asked how she would feel to be debt-free, Pumar laughed and said, “I’d feel like I was standing on level ground instead of having my feet buried a foot in the earth.” Although difficult to hear, the resilience in the borrowers’ stories comes through. When asked about her financial worth, Garza straightens and says “Financially I’m not worth a whole lot, but I have a lot of self-worth, and its not defined by the amount of money I owe the government.”
As our nation’s focus turns to student loan debt, it’s important to include the narratives of the borrowers. From their stories, we begin to see the true costs of sending our children into the world indebted emotionally and financially — and according to Rubin, talking about it helps.
The Emotional Cost of Student Loans
Zoos are more than just a place where kids go to gawk at animals in cages, while eating cotton candy. Historically, some zoos were that way, but now they are moving beyond mere entertainment to focus on education and conservation.
The East Bay Zoological Society managed the Oakland Zoo until August 2017, when it was named The Conservation Society of California, to better represent its goals. The Oakland Zoo is currently partnered with around 30 different conservation organizations around the world. It is also a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is the largest conservation organization in the United States. The Oakland Zoo is doing its part to help animals in the wild that are on the brink of extinction. I’ve learned this and much more over the past three years, as a volunteer at the Oakland Zoo.
The Oakland Zoo educates the public about the decreasing animal populations in the wild and provides ways that they can help with conservation. For example, I volunteer at a table where the public can help conservation by purchasing Kibale Beads made out of recycled paper. People can make bracelets, necklaces or key chains out of the beads, or buy jewelry that is already made. The beads are made by a community of women, who live near Kibale National Park in Uganda. The Oakland Zoo purchases the beads from the women and then all of the proceeds from sales go to the Budongo Snare Removal Project, an organization which helps chimpanzees in the wild.
Conservation Specialist Adrienne Mrsny says, “My position is a lot of managing outreach, so it’s really important to us to make sure that people coming to the zoo don’t just leave with 'Oh cool I saw a bear today,' but with a message of, 'when I'm up in Tahoe, I know how to behave around animals in the area; I know what to do with my trash, so that bears don’t get into trouble for seeking out human food; I know about this whole new ecosystem I wasn't aware of before I came to this exhibit.'”
For an opposing viewpoint, I interviewed Nama Atid, who is the owner and main veterinarian at the Cheshire Cat Clinic in Oakland. “I don’t think zoos are the right way to show kids animals," she said, "It's showing an animal in an unnatural habitat. We don't necessarily have an inherent right to see animals unless they are in their natural habitats. We have a right to see deer because they are natural to this land.”
On the other hand, maybe it’s seeing animals in cages and knowing that they are endangered in the wild that causes people to go and take action.
Mrsny has not always believed that zoos can do good, but has come to learn the benefits during her time working at the Oakland Zoo. “My original thought growing up was that all zoos are horrible. I grew up seeing the elephants at the San Francisco Zoo in their tiny enclosures and my grandmother taking us to Barnum and Bailey and seeing lions in cages and tigers with chains and I just really didn't think zoos were a good place. I didn't see the amusement in it; it was really kind of sad.” But then Mrsny reached out to some zookeepers who showed her the other side of the cage. She learned that it was an opportunity to give these animals the best lives possible. “[They] didn't ask to be in captivity, they are here now; we are not bringing more in. We are doing the best that we can with this situation that we got ourselves into.”
As for the future of zoos, Mrsny hopes there won't be any. “In a perfect world, zoos are acting as a Noah's Ark, where we can maintain these species until we fix the problems in the wild." But this is not a perfect world. These animals could never survive in the wild because they have lost a lot of the natural behaviors that would have been needed to survive. So, she says that we should focus on using zoos as a place to give people a connection to animals to help inspire them to take action. "These animals didn't choose to be here, but now they can be ambassadors for their cousins in the wild."
I remember visiting the Oakland Zoo, when I was younger, and I felt a connection to one of the lions. The lion was roaring and I thought it was because he didn't want me to leave. At the zoo, I felt a connection with animals, something I probably wouldn't have realized about myself otherwise.
Not all zoos deserve a bad reputation. The Oakland Zoo cares about what impression the public walks away with. People won't leave feeling sad, but instead feeling inspired to help these beautiful endangered species thrive again. If you want to learn about more ways you can help visit: www.oaklandzoo.org/take-action-for-wildlife.
Photo Credit: Megan Davis
Check out page 11 to read Conservation Conversation at the Oakland Zoo