Ghost Ship and the Art of Oakland Burning
Thursday, December 08, 2016
I have been especially moved by the Ghost Ship warehouse fire tragedy in Oakland. I can't count the number of times I've stared vacantly out the BART train leaving the Fruitvale Station as it flew past the unremarkable street full of shabby structures that was home to the Ghost Ship. I never gave it a second thought
Maybe it's my personal relationship with deadly fires. In October 1991, three weeks before our wedding, my husband lost everything he owned in the Oakland Hills Firestorm. He had called me on the phone that morning and, in breathless tones, said that there was a fire across the freeway. He and his roommates were going up onto the roof to see what was happening. Minutes after they got to the roof, the fire jumped that highway and burned in their direction. I got into my car, thinking that I could help him retrieve items from his apartment. I got to the corner of Broadway and Broadway Terrace. I parked, got out, and stood amazed at the wall of smoke and flame rising over the hillside. Pieces of fine ash and charred paper floated in the air. I got back into the car, determined to find my fiancee. Familiar with the side streets, I avoided the police and got as far as Ocean View Drive and Margarido Drive in the Upper Rockridge neighborhood. Suddenly, the black ash falling became pieces of flaming debris. I recognized it was time to retreat.
My husband made it out--with his computer, briefcase, guitar and a few clothes. He had seen everything else he owned go up in flames before he drove away. Three weeks later, the wedding went off as planned. But, people had died and hundreds of others suffered terrible loss.
So here I sat, twenty-five years later, sipping coffee on a sunny morning. I sat on my suburban patio watching video of another tragic Oakland fire. So much destruction. So many lives lost. Many of those who lived in the Ghost Ship or attended the Golden Donna 100% Silk party would consider a conservative like me to be a despicable fascist, capitalist tool, and deplorable white dinosaur. Still, their lives all had value--value to me and value to God.
Saturday morning was spent looking at the Facebook pages of those listed as missing and listening to the electronic music of the acts performing at the Ghost Ship event. I even bought the recently released album by two synth artists--now listed as missing. Two talented young people have had their lives and careers cut short (introflirtmusic.com). I've always wanted to pursue my artistic talents, but have never had the courage. My university job is comfortable, my regular paycheck reassuring, and my life is predictable and safe. Past tragic events have become the fodder of my nightmares. Fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks all produced predictable bad dreams. Saturday night, however, I saw myself in a dream. I saw myself in my early twenties. My was hair dyed blue and I had a stud above my upper lip. I was making an art video. I rolled a small paintbrush slowly between my lips. U2's "An Cat Dubh" (The Black Cat) played in the background. This was cutting edge music when I was the age of many of the Ghost Ship's victims. In my dream video, I painted a white cat black with a paintbrush and sumi ink. Dreams of art won out over dreams of destruction. Here's hoping that heaven is not temporary but a place of permanent peace.