holding on and making it through

[content note: this is a personal post related to my experience of the wildfires in the north bay area. the obvious fire-related trigger warnings apply. while i have privilege around this whole experience in that my loved ones are safe and my house did not burn down, this is a space for me to process my experience and feelings around it. there are lots of political and environmental layers to all this that i do not address here. if you have been impacted by fire in more severe ways you might opt to skip this post.]

i’ll start from the present. this morning as i write, the sky in my town is relatively clear, and it seems close to certain our home will not burn down. the fires are relatively contained, and the remaining active “hot spots” are all on the eastern side of the fire perimeters, which are all west of us. i am beginning to consciously unclench my body, which is no small feat after a week straight of being on high alert.

eight days ago, i woke up and went about my pre-work morning routine of drinking coffee and working on my interview project before going outside to water the garden. the sky was dark with orange and grays, incredibly beautiful and ominous. i called inside to my housemate, “you’ve got to see this stormy sky!” she came to the door saying, “freddie, it’s not a storm. there are huge fires.” i quickly learned the person i was headed to caregive for in santa rosa had been evacuated early that morning. nothing has felt normal since.

leaving behind a makeshift altar on my dresser, with prayers we would not lose our home.

we circled up as a house, assessed our options, and chose to evacuate together. it was a wild feeling to fill a duffel bag, look around my room, and tacitly accept that anything that didn’t make it into the bag could burn. we caravanned through eerie, smoky coastal hills and saw cows grazing, townsfolk congregating, and traffic accumulating in southward motion. we headed to eli’s folks’ house in marin, where we obsessively tracked the fires’ paths while simultaneously delving into escapism via reality television.

three housemates returned home the next day, and eli and i returned the day after, after the smoke from the 100,000+ acres burning permeated the bay area air, making it impossible for us to be outside for even a few minutes without feeling sick. for the next few days, we kept our bags packed ready to evacuate, took turns waking up at hourly intervals in the night to check on any significant shifts in the wind that would carry the destruction our way, and did our best to carry on and care for ourselves and folks in our communities by making and sharing music, food, and herbal medicine.

giant plumes of smoke from active fires in southeastern santa rosa on day five.

gratefully, i am okay, my home is okay, and the same is true for my friends and immediate community members, including the person i caregive for who was evacuated and whose apartment is less than a mile away from areas that were completely ravaged by flames. i recognize and deeply appreciate this. still, it was a scary, sad, and traumatic week. in a moment of ritual and reflection, my housemate described her world as getting a lot smaller. all of a sudden, what really matters is where we are, who is around us, and what we can do to keep ourselves safe and stable in the moment. at the same time, there is a bigger picture — this kind of disaster is a direct effect of climate change, capitalism, and white supremacy. i’m filled with anger, grief, and fear in thinking about the many ways these things continue to destroy the planet and make it a less and less habitable place for people, animals, and plant life in favor of wealth and power.

the fires are still not out. and there will be more fires and destruction. there are weeks, months, years to come to rebuild, detoxify, heal in the ways that are possible. i am finding it hard to feel hopeful and i am trying to be okay with that. i am grateful for my health, for my home, and for the people who make it feel safe, strong, and warm, even amidst imminent fear, loss, and destruction. i am taking things moment by moment.

xo freddie


“Community and home are synonymous.”

the following is part of my home project. i met natalie on my roadtrip with eli; they grew up going to camp together. we stayed with natalie at her relatively newfound home base in austin, texas. natalie is currently finishing her prerequisites to go to nursing school. she is a full-spectrum doula, hospice volunteer, and jewytch. she likes to sing, dance, and play with her kitties.

IMG_5414.JPGWho are you and where are we today?

My name’s Natalie and we are in Austin, Texas.

Do you have a place you consider your home of origin?

Sonoma County, California.

When you hear the word ‘home’ are there immediate sights, sounds, or smells that come to mind?

The first thing I think of is the red couch at my friend Jacob’s family’s house. Jacob’s mom, Miriam, is the most loving, warm mother figure to me and to many others. Growing up, I found any excuse I could to go over to their house. We would all just have tea or coffee or sweets and all snuggle on the red couch together. That’s still one of my favorite places. It was really important to me to have the red couch and Miriam as a refuge and sanctuary. My house was very chaotic. My parents fought all the time. Once I could drive I left as much as I could. My three best friends growing up — Rio, Zoe, and Jacob — those people, their families, and their homes are what I think of when I think of home.

natalie with chosen family on the red couch.

When you talk about trying to get away from the chaos, what are the feelings you were trying to move toward? How did you feel on the red couch?

Calmness, peacefulness, love, connection, and community. Situations that create opportunities for heart-to-heart connection.

Having moved on from that time in your life, in what ways do you see the common threads of connection and love since then?

My response to living and growing up in chaos has been creating peaceful spaces. I lived in punk houses that were chaotic all the time, and I do love that, because I am an extrovert and I love being around people. I’m good at adapting to different environments. I go through phases where messiness or clutter bother me or they don’t. Right before moving [to Austin] I had finally arrived at a house that was totally clean and peaceful and that did make me feel more at ease. I do feel at home here because there are people around who have my back and who I can hang out with and connect with. But what makes me feel most at home is my room space, [my partner] Charlie, and Jellybean [the cat]. I talk about our microcommunity and our family — the three of us — it makes me feel at home to go to sleep and wake up with them every night and know that no matter what’s going on, they’re my home base. 

natalie’s micro-community with jellybean and charlie

What does Jellybean have to say about that micro community?

You know, I actually can’t speak for Jellybean and I don’t know what he’s thinking. I think he likes spending time with us and he likes to cuddle. It’s so hard because you can’t speak for animals and they can’t really give consent really. But Jellybean seems to also love calling our room home base. He’ll go out into the world and do his thing and then he runs through the cat door and jumps into my arms. It’s so sweet.

It seems like you’re in the process of trying to balance your coexisting needs between craving a lot of community and people, while also needing a peaceful and clean space.

Yeah. Alone time is crucial for me, but having that in a social setting is difficult. The ultimate dream is the queer land project. I really want to have kids in community. I don’t want to raise kids by myself or in a nuclear family situation. I want to have my own cabin or four walls on a piece of land.  I see myself in California and I don’t know how feasible that is, with land being so expensive, and with the drought. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like but I know that living in a community with shared values and visions that I feel safe with is really important to me.

Tell me more about your vision for your dream home.

I have a lot more research to do. I don’t know where it’s going to be. I think about Northern California but it might just be too expensive. I don’t want to close that door. I want to put it out there and believe it can happen. I see it being community that’s rural but not too far out, maybe an hour away from a city. I’m interested in living in community where we share resources, where we collaborate together on projects and on life. I see there being a farm, I see there being children, I would love it to be a summer camp.

I would love it to be a full spectrum clinic. I would love it to be a place where people could come to die. Humans and animals. That’s my dream. I’m a hospice volunteer and I’ve been working with people who are dying. The medicalization of death makes me really sad. I would love to have a place that  could be set up for old folks and other people who are dying to come and not have to give away their autonomy. I would love it to be a place where my parents and my friends’ parents could come during their last days. I’ve talked about this dream a lot with another friend who works with old and disabled dogs. It would be so cool to have everyone — the rejects of society — come and be safe there.

That’s really cool because I feel like so many people talk about the queer land project dream, and so much of what automatically pops into my head is young, able-bodied folks. The vision of a more intergenerational and inclusive place to be is a beautiful one.  

Yeah. And I would want it to be a collaborative project, a place where everyone can have their visions happen. 

Are there ways that you feel like your queerness has played into your idea of home and the ways that you seek and make home?

For sure. In general I prefer to be around queers. I feel safer and more seen. I have mostly lived with queers in the past and I’m not right now. I’m living with one queer person. So many insecurities have come up around my queer identity, being in what looks like a hetero relationship. Something that I’m really trying to believe is — being with him doesn’t make me straight, it makes him queer. (laughs) I just feel more seen around queer people and being seen is something that’s coming up for me a lot in this chapter in my life, moving out here and being in the world with Charlie. I’m so terrified of being perceived as straight. There’s this certain sense of ease when I am around queers. Even if that’s kind of imagined, because of course queer isn’t just one thing.

The one question that I’m asking everybody — is in what ways do you seek home, and in what ways have you found home?

Community is the number one most important thing to me. In looking for community and in making community I’m looking for and making home. Those two things are synonymous. ‘Home’ is about family and when I think about family I mostly think about my chosen family.

natalie and mom home
natalie and her mom

I love my family of origin, but it was really chaotic. I’m an only child, and my parents were fighting constantly. I’m also adopted. I think about how that influences every single part of who I am. I often feel like an alien, or an outsider, even with my family, with my parents. Even though ending up with my mom is what makes me believe in something greater. We’re so connected, we’re best friends, we even look alike. But I still have that complex of feeling someone didn’t want me, and gave me away. Having that at my core. If I’m in an insecure place or in a hard place, I’ll go about the world feeling like I’m unwanted or not at home anywhere.

The way I can make myself feel at home is by creating community and connecting with people. I love to create experiences for people and facilitate experiences where everyone can come together. I see myself as a mother or a matriarch. The best feeling in the world is when everyone I love is together — eating a meal, or singing songs. Nothing else matters to me when that’s happening. That’s how I seek and create home. Now I’m in this spot where I’ve just moved here, and I have some friends and a partner. But it’s really hard for me because I’ve gotten used to having lots of very close friends not too far away, people who have known me my entire life. I don’t have that now. It’s a good project for me to try to create home feeling in community when I’m far away from that. Something I really want to do is, I want to have a Seder here during Passover. I think that’ll be a good way for me to create home community feeling.

IMG_1943. (1).jpg
Post-interview, Natalie shared this photo of Seder in Austin.