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Oakland Ghost Ship Fire

Updated December 29, 2016; originally posted December 9, 2016.

I have started writing at 11:25 pm. About this time one week ago, a fire started in a warehouse two miles from my home. Thirty six people died.

 (bryan farley)

I visited the Ghost Ship Fire memorials in the Fruitvale District a few times this week. Even though I brought my camera, I felt more like a community member trying to make sense of the tragedy. For this post, I created a photo gallery. I also categorized the post in the journalism section, although I wonder if there is a better category.

 (bryan farley)

I have photographed death and dying. This felt too close and too big.

 (bryan farley)

Local, regional and national news organizations covered this story. In Oakland, the Ghost Ship Fire will remain an important story for many years.

 (bryan farley)

I wonder how the young people will remember the fire. Will the young people become afraid to act or emboldened? Will the community leaders remember the children when creating new policies?

 (bryan farley)

How will the first responders carry their memories? Will those who saw the worst of the fire receive help?

 (bryan farley)

I am especially concerned about the families who lost someone. The families might ask unanswerable questions about their loss. Meanwhile, the larger community might turn to the families with our own questions.

 (bryan farley)

On the first day, I left a paintbrush. On the second day, I left my plastic fork from a “fork in the road” series. (Another artists gave me the yellow paint.) It feels that our community, and perhaps our country, has reached a fork.

What are our priorities? Not what we say, but where do we spend our time and resources?

Added December 29, 2016

Since publishing the original story, I visited the Ghost Fire site two more times. I visited on Tuesday, December 13th and again today. Photos have been added to the slideshow.

 (bryan farley)

The tragedy still does not feel real. When I visit the site, I am usually unable to access most emotions unless I am downwind from the building. The smell reminds me of an old house that burned near my childhood home in Fresno. I remember my mother’s fear as we drove back to our neighborhood. Whenever I smell a burned building, it triggers that childhood memory.

 (bryan farley)

Many of us carried emotional memories to the memorials; we also left with emotional memories.

 (bryan farley)

I suspect that many people left something at the memorials to ease the burden of those families who were affected more profoundly by the Ghost Fire. It was an unorganized attempt at creating community… everyone doing their part. (bryan farley)

Organizations from across the country visited Oakland this month. Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team drove from Charlotte, North Carolina. I enjoyed my conversation with the chaplains. I shared a story about my grandmother who wasn’t sure about God, but believed in Billy Graham.

 (bryan farley)

If there is silver lining to the Ghost Fire, it is a reminder that humans care about each other. Even in a divided country, people care about people they do not know and might not understand. It’s a start… a painful, difficult start.

Melrose Leadership Academy Peace March

“Imagine all the people living life in peace”

John Lennon

 (bryan farley)

Yesterday, my son’s Spanish bilingual school, Melrose Leadership Academy, organized a march through our Maxwell Park neighborhood in Oakland, California.

Here is the photo gallery of the peace and kindness march.

 (bryan farley)

The march had been planned before the recent tragedy in Oakland; however, our school community benefited from the supportive event. If you are avoiding news, Oakland has experienced the deadliest fire since 2003 in the United States. The Oakland Ghost Ship Fire was about two miles from MLA. National news outlets have asked questions about the fire that our community might not be prepared to ask. We needed a reason to gather.

 (bryan farley)

I was also aware that the peace march was held on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Some people might view these images and not find the march patriotic. I don’t. My son wanted to paint his face red, white and blue, because he sees America in his classmates and teachers. He sees America in the mirror.

 (bryan farley)

Today is the anniversary of the day that John Lennon was shot and killed. Yoko Ono was married to John when he was shot. She asks that we “imagine peace” in any languages that translates. Her website, Imagine Peace is simple, inspiring and haunting.

 (bryan farley)

My son and I discussed the concept of peace this week. He thought that we should express our ideas more thoroughly. He realizes that one person’s idea of peace might not be the same somewhere else. This election has taught my son a great deal about peace.

 (bryan farley)

Photo Gallery of Peace Walk

Pop Television and Epilepsy Heroes

“People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal.” From the Philosophy of Andy Warhol (bryan farley)

On Saturday November 19, I photographed the 2016 Candlelight Gala for the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California. (I have included the entire photo gallery from the Westin St. Francis with individual selections throughout this post.) Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars was the guest speaker.

 (bryan farley)

Since I had my first seizure when I was 16, I have been reconstructing reality. Each time I had a seizure, I felt as if I had entered a movie or television show. In 2004, something similar happened when my father shot himself. I felt like Humpty Dumpty in a surreal reality show. Coincidentally, November 19, 2016 was Survivor Day (International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.)

 (bryan farley)

My father shot himself with a gun he purchased from a Las Vegas pawn shop. He built a Harley and drove an old 1940 Ford. Does it sound unreal that my father could have known our guest speaker before Rick Harrison became famous? What sounds real?

 (bryan farley)

After my father died, I tried to make sense of the loss. I wondered if the receipt for the gun was a message. I wondered if his loss had a greater meaning. I decided that I needed to stop hiding my disability… from myself and others. Those of us with epilepsy have learned to hide, often for survival. Even now, it might be safer to hide.

 (bryan farley)

We need heroes… our own heroes. Several months after my father died, I heard a short news story by Katie Couric about a young man who was saved on a New York subway. It was touching. Cameron Hollopeter, a 19 year old film student, had been saved. Cameron had a seizure and fell onto the tracks and another person became a hero. Couric was not the only journalist to simplify the story.  (Donald Trump also gave the hero $10,000 dollars too.)

Years later, Hollopeter remains the object of a melodrama.

 (bryan farley)

Katie Couric appeared on Pawn Stars in 2013. She purchased a signed Mark Twain handwritten aphorism, “We ought never do wrong when anyone is looking.” The quote reminds me of the expression that is often attributed to John Wooden, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

 (bryan farley)

As much as I admire John Wooden and Mark Twain, I think that their aphorisms oversimplify character, or at best, set the bar too low. A true test of a person’s character could be how he or she behaves when facing peer pressure.

Does a person do right when everyone is looking?

 (bryan farley)

As a person with a disability, I wonder if people even look at me. Do people see me? When opponents of the new administration stand with groups who feel threatened, is there a reason that people with disabilities are omitted from the list? Are we intentionally omitted or are we just forgotten? When supporters of the new administration heard their candidate mock a reporter with a disability, why were the supporters quiet?

We need our own heroes, because, regardless of the definition of character, we know what it means to be ignored by our friends and enemies. It’s unreal, except it isn’t.

 (bryan farley)

The times are a slowly changing. Miles Levin, a young filmmaker, presented his video about summer camp during at the gala. It was the highlight of the evening. I thought about Cameron during Miles’ presentation and wondered what could have happened if the world have encouraged Cameron while recognizing the person who eventually saved Cameron’s life. Perhaps those of us with disabilities need to start our own magazine, on this 80th anniversary of Life Magazine, and we need to start our own code. Perhaps we could call it the Cameron Code.

(Notes to follow)

Here is a link to my notes on this blog post. I also edited this post on 11/28 to read more easily.