Jason Godeke

JasonGheadshotOver the past couple of years, I’ve delighted in the murals popping up on buildings around town.

They enrich our area by giving it a sense of playfulness and showcasing the talents of amazing artists. This past summer, I saw a terrific one being painted on a building across from Bainbridge Park. I stopped to admire it and chat with the artist, Jason Godeke. His friendliness and warmth, coupled with the enjoyment he seemed to be having, prompted me to invite him for an interview.

Jason was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1967. In the early seventies, his parents abandoned their teaching careers and moved to Mendocino. His dad became a lawyer and his mom was the director of the Mendocino Art Center for many years.

As a youngster, Jason didn’t consider himself an artist, even though he did a lot of doodling. An exchange student experience in 1984 changed that perception.

“When I was a sophomore, I heard an exchange student speak at Cotton Auditorium and it sparked my desire to go to another country. It was during a time when I felt I’d become too complacent and needed to shake things up. The following school year, I went to Holland.”

JasonGHoogezand Holland 1985Jason was unprepared to be thrust into a different culture. “It was hard at first—dark and hard.” This was back in a day where communication systems were archaic compared to what they are now. International telephone calls were prohibitively expensive and it took a month to receive a letter, all adding to his feelings of isolation.

“While learning the language, I spoke like a five-year old until I got proficient. This gave me humility and permission to be silly, to take myself less seriously. One way I tried to express myself was through drawing. I learned a lot about art, which is highly celebrated in that county. In addition to all the other museums, the Dutch have two Van Gogh museums. The experience turned out to be great and changed my life.”

Back home for his senior year in high school, his mom suggested he consider going to college in the East. “Without my experience in Holland, I might not have considered going so far away from home.” In the fall of 1986, he entered Yale where he majored in art. While there, he volunteered in a high school art class. “That’s where the teaching bug got me. I knew I didn’t want to try to make a living as an artist.”

After college, Jason moved to San Francisco where he was hired by the de Young Museum to teach art in the schools. “I felt lucky to get this job right out of college.” He also became the Arts Administrator for the Marin Arts Council, a job he held for seven years. All the while he continued to make his own art.

During this time, he married Cristina Mathews. “I’d met her twice while we were in college. A friend brought her to my New Haven apartment to watch a Yale student singing group sing the National Anthem at an Oakland A’s ballgame on my four-inch black and white television set.” He laughed at the memory. They met again in 1994 in Oakland, when a mutual friend, Lisa Allen (who Jason knew from high school), asked him to give Cristina a ride to a party. Cristina was living in the East Bay, tutoring and working at a pizza restaurant.

JasonG&CristinaBy 1997, Jason and Cristina were off to Long Island, New York with their baby boy so Jason could attend Stony Brook University’s MFA program. Cristina eventually entered and completed a PhD program in comparative literature.

After graduation in 2003, they moved to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where Cristina had accepted an English professorship at the university. A year later, Jason was hired as an art professor. “We liked the small town life. Cristina became very involved in the community, especially with the Shade Tree Commission where she helped plant about 170 trees.”

A little over a decade later, they began thinking about the next chapter in their lives. “Cristina was tapped out on college teaching, and our son had moved to Mendocino County. I’d become a little too comfortable as a college teacher and was also ready for a change.”

Cristina applied to and got accepted to law school at UC Berkeley. Jason began teaching art at Fort Bragg Middle School. Cristina graduated in May of this year, and took the bar exam in July. He recently began his third year at the middle school.

Jason empathizes with the emotional struggles of this age group. It takes him back to his time as an exchange student where he felt alone and isolated. Middle school kids are forging new territory and he feels an obligation to help guide them.

“Teaching middle school students has revived teaching for me. It’s demanding of my resources and is making me a better teacher. It’s a daily challenge to make sure they’re learning and to find ways to cultivate their creativity.

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Murals created by Fort Bragg Middle School students

“I strive to get students to engage in serious play, to let their minds wander, yet have discipline. Some may be struggling with other subjects and art offers them an opportunity to expressive themselves, to experience real accomplishments. I tell them, and show them, that there are many different ways to succeed with art. Part of that success is in finding surprises. I ask them to surprise me.”

At the end of weekdays that begin with being at school by 6:30-7:00, Jason doesn’t have much time or energy to devote to his own artistic expression. He finds this time during school breaks. In 2018, he learned of the Alleyway Art Project and submitted a portfolio to Lia Wilson. Later in the year, Jason decided to create four possible mural designs that would work with another existing mural on the side of a building at 400 E. Laurel Street across from Bainbridge Park. Lia took Jason’s designs to  the building’s owners—Les Cizek and Clay Craig—who had commissioned the other mural in 2017. They agreed to a second. Lia and Flockworks—the local arts organization that sponsors the Alleway Art Project—found funding for it, and got approval from the City of Fort Bragg.

Over the three weeks of creating the mural, Jason had many onlookers. “A van load of folks would show up to eat lunch in the park and they’d sometimes watch the painting. Artists, families going to the library, and some of my students stopped by. The process let people feel involved and allowed me to be a viewer of the project. Some people showed up every day. It felt like performing art where I got to interact with an audience.” The result is a fantastical creature Jason calls “Sub Rosa”—an Aztec Teotihuacan-inspired design that incorporates the richness of the Dutch painters.

JasonGfinishedmuralJason feels lucky to have been able to return to the Mendocino Coast. He loves being near the ocean and the abundance of trees. He enjoys the opportunity to interact with kids on a daily basis. He likes living in the town where his dad has worked for decades as an attorney and to be able to drop by his office for a visit. He gave a warm, contented smile as he said, “When I was growing up in Mendocino, I rarely spent time in Fort Bragg. Now I rarely leave.”

JasonGLost Coast Culture Machine murals 2013 and 2014

Murals painted by Jason in 2013-2014 for Lost Coast Culture Machine (now the site of Overtime Brewing)

 

Mrs. Biklen

Over a decade ago, I wrote this as a tribute to my dear friend. As we celebrate the Day of the Dead (which technically should be called Days of the Dead since it runs from October 31-November2) , I’d like to share it with you.

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Mrs. Biklen on her 90th birthday

Her daughter Anita meets me in the lobby of an extended care facility that is subtly disguised as an upscale apartment building.

“This isn’t one of her best days,” Anita warns.

“It’s okay.” I’m prepared for anything.

We ride up the slow elevator to the third floor. The doors open to an elderly couple supported by aluminum walkers. They jockey for position, the woman elbowing the man to win entrance onto the elevator. Anita and I squeeze past them and hold the doors as they shuffle to get inside.

The apartment doors are actually hospital doors, the central lobby a nurses’ station. Mrs. Biklen’s door is open. She sits in a wheelchair in the center of the room, her back to the door, her shrunken body silhouetted by a large picture window.

I sit in a chair facing her and take her hand. Old age has been her bitter enemy, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. At nearly ninety-one, she’s more beautiful than ever. Gone is the apprehension that once plagued her eyes, and the excess weight she picked up after she quit smoking forty years ago. Her fine champagne hair wisps in silky curls about the delicate bones of her face.

She looks at me as if she’s just unwrapped the most cherished gift anyone has ever given her. Her smile lights up her face with a sweetness that breaks my heart.

From the windowsill, Anita pulls down a recent photo of me with my daughter. “This is the same Kate as in the picture.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Biklen says with an element of surprise, drawing out the word.

Anita leaves to search for refreshments.

Mrs. Biklen, her face serious, her voice barely above a whisper, asks, “When will I be one hundred?”

Still holding her hand, I lean close. “You’ll be ninety-one in a couple of weeks, so you have nine more years to go.”

“Oh.”  Her brow furrows. She appears to struggle to grasp the concept of nine years, a complex mathematic formula that escapes her.

A smile slowly blossoms. “I’ve known you for a long time,” she says, her eyes expressing it as a question.

“Yes, you have.”

She looks delighted with my answer.

“Forty-five years.” The realization of such a large number brings tears to my eyes. “Since I was four years old.”

I try to believe she grasps the significance of what it means to have shared a forty-five-year history with someone who has touched me so deeply, so greatly influenced the path of my life. Throughout our long friendship, she taught me the meaning of graciousness and dignity, of kindness and hospitality. As a child, she opened her home to me, a treasured place where I could practice her teachings.

From the ages of three and four, my sister and I invaded the boundaries of the Biklen’s property and insisted that Mrs. Biklen become our friend. Once we entered grade school, we began making weekly appointments with her. In a shirt-waist dress and high heels, she led us into the beauty of her home where we often sat in her kitchen, practiced good manners, and told only those stories that shed us in a good light.

L & K 06Mrs. Biklen served iced Cokes in leaded crystal glasses and store-bought cookies on china plates. She treated us with respect, listening to our stories and offering gentle advice. No one had ever paid such attention to me.

My sister and I would mark each pending visit on our mental calendars, and remind each other not to make any after school plans that day. After changing into play clothes, a careful surveillance of the neighborhood identified the positions of any kids, and influenced the strategy for leaving our house and going to Mrs. Biklen’s. Once inside the walled tree-lined Biklen compound, we safely avoided detection from our neighborhood peers—the poor saps who weren’t allowed entrance—and casually walked up the long brick driveway. To this day, I don’t know why we were allowed access when other children were not.

“Do you have the pictures?” Mrs. Biklen asks.

Years ago, I’d carelessly let my sister get away with the photo album filled with childhood memories as the surrogate grandchildren of the Biklens. “Yes, I have the pictures,” I lie.

“All of them?”

It occurs to me she’s speaking of memories. “Yes, all of them.”

I look at her feet, one of which is covered by a suede fur-lined slipper, something she would have never worn in her younger years. The other foot is bare, red and badly swollen. These are the same feet, perpetually clad in high heels, that once whisked her through her elegant home. They now rest immobile on the footrests of her wheelchair.

Anita returns with two glasses of ice water. We sit, facing my dear friend, and share the recent events in our lives. I can’t take my eyes off Mrs. Biklen, who appears to lazily drift down a river in the warm sunshine. Occasionally, she opens her eyes, her smile telling us she’s grateful we’re still here.

An hour into the visit, her granddaughter Jenny arrives with her two small boys. The room shifts from the slow, gentle rhythm of the end of life to the whirlwind of its beginnings as the boys capture the room with their high energy.

The time comes when I have to catch a ferry back to Seattle, to my vacation with my family. I reach out, take both of Mrs. Biklen’s hands, and kiss her goodbye. Unlike a few years ago when she clung to me and cried as we parted, she is gracious and sweet in her farewell. I know this is the last time I will ever see her. I struggle against a desire to cling, but cannot keep the tears at bay.

I’m grateful for the hour-long ferry ride. It allows me to be still, to think of the wonder that is Mrs. Biklen. For the first time in her long life, she appears to have finally accepted the inevitability of all things. It is easier this way. She doesn’t alternate between complaining about her circumstances and dissolving into tears. It’s also harder this way. She’s pared down to the essence of love, and I am overpowered by its presence. It swirls around me and throws me off balance before settling in my heart, leaving me in a new and better place.

A few days after my visit, Mrs. Biklen stopped eating, and after six weeks succumbed to the final inevitability of life. I find comfort in knowing that she lives on in every gesture of kindness I show, every spot of beauty I create, and every expression of gratitude I make to loved ones for being the most cherished gifts I will ever receive.

 

The Final Farewell

mortuaryonfireOn January 12, 2019, a fire broke out at Chapel by the Sea, the mortuary that’s been our next-door neighbor for 27 years. It was a terrible, surreal thing to witness. Wisps of light gray smoke from the open upstairs doorway quickly grew into roaring flames that exploded windows and engulfed the structure. Our property was never in peril, but that didn’t keep the fire from reaching across the alley to shake the core of my well-being.

Over the following weeks, I became obsessed with fire prevention. Our house is older than the mortuary. If an electrical fire happened there, it could happen here. I bought fire extinguishers for nearly every room of the house. I called Fort Bragg Electric to schedule an evaluation of our electrical system. A few months later, after all the outlets and light switches were replaced, I was able to sleep through the night without waking and sniffing like a dog for suspected signs of smoke. (We have smoke detectors, but my three o’clock in the morning irrational mind wasn’t about to trust them.)

Mortuarysemifinal1I woke each morning to the ruins of what was once a stately building. In addition to a mortuary, it housed an upstairs apartment. The Blair and then the Reynolds families resided there during our early years in Fort Bragg, and allowed us to create friendships that endure to this day. We share a common grief over the loss of this beloved place.

Spring ushered in an unusually warm summer. Open upstairs windows cooled our house, but also allowed the smell of charred wood to drift along the breeze and taunt me with the possibility that our house might be on fire. Once again, in the middle of many nights, I turned into a smoke-detecting watchdog.

MortuaryDay1AM3I looked forward to the day—September 17—when the process of tearing down the building would begin. That morning, I headed over there with my camera phone. I vaguely felt like I had when the fire broke out—too terrible to watch, yet demanded to be witnessed. I was relieved it would soon be gone, yet mourned the finality. Over the course of four days, a piece of equipment that looked like a Tyrannosaurus Rex crunched walls, chewed them into pieces, and loaded the debris into massive dumpsters to be carted off.

And just like that, over 100 years of history was erased.MortuaryAngelFinal

I’m grateful the mortuary no longer stands as a reminder of all that was lost. I do not know what will take its place, but hope it will grace our street with the same majesty as the old building.

***

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Haley Samas-Berry

HaleyheadshotHaley was born with an adventurous spirit nurtured by her parents Christine Samas and Curt Berry. They encouraged her to explore the avant garde over opting for convention. She loved to dance and became an accomplished local performer, often featured in the annual Second Story Studio Spring Dance Concert. “Growing up, my parents taught me to be happy and interested in the world,” she said. In 2006, her junior year, she dropped of school and spent four months  in India.

This choice was quite radical given that her father was a high school teacher. “My parents could see I wasn’t really into school,” Haley said. “They felt I was wasting my time and encouraged me to do something educational, but more experiential. I entered Leap Now, a structured program where I lived with families in India and learned their culture. My goal was to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” One of her most powerful experiences was in the city of Varanasi. “For Hindus, this is a sacred place. People make pilgrimages to die there because they believe it will free them from the cycle of reincarnation.”

She volunteered for Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute where she tended to the dying. “Being around dying within the Hindu context was refreshing. There was no hiding death and that erased a lot of the fear and mystery surrounding it that we see in the west.”

She returned to Fort Bragg, and six months later moved to New York City with a boyfriend. “My experience in India gave me a sense of wanderlust. I wanted to move to the biggest city in the United States.” About this same time, her dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. She returned to Fort Bragg for a few months. “My parents and I had a very interactive experience with his dying process. We dealt with the reality of the situation, which made us more present. I still have moments of grief, but no pangs of guilt or regret. He died gracefully,” she said in a tone of gratitude. “I hope to someday do the same.”

Haley initially found New York exciting. “I loved going to museums and jazz shows, and taking dance classes, but it was a struggle for a couple making minimum wage. We lived in a two-bathroom artist’s loft with 22 roommates. After a year, I found it too intense and overstimulating. I was only 18 and still grieving the loss of my dad.”

haley&NathanIn 2008, they moved to Portland, Oregon. It was there that she met Nathan Cann, her future husband. “He’s incredibly intelligent, a deep thinker, and funny. I felt he and his friends were my people.” In 2009, Nathan, who had grown up on the East Coast, moved to New York City to pursue a career in film and art. In 2010, Haley broke up with her boyfriend and followed.

Haley worked for Baby Cakes, a vegan, gluten free, kosher bakery on the Lower East Side. She frosted 12,000 cupcakes a day and served as a counterperson. While there, she became friends with Erica Schneider, a chef. They often talked about someday opening a restaurant together. “She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. She has a great sense of humor and loves to learn new things.”

Three years later, Haley and Nathan craved a new adventure and moved to New Orleans. “My friend Lauren Miller lives there and suggested we come up with an idea we could pitch on the streets. There are a lot of street performers in that city. One Halloween Nathan had dressed as a snake oil salesman so we decided to go with that. We were both interested in the history of patent medicine and barkers who sell potions that don’t cure anything.” They designed bottles, filled them with salt water, rusty nails and pine needles, dressed in 1800 period garb, and sold them on the street. “It was really a joke, we were making fun of ourselves and having a good time.

HaleySnakeOil“In researching the history of snake oil, I learned that the bitters in these concoctions have their origins in medicine. This sparked my interest in cocktails and I started bartending. Cocktails are a totally American invention.” Their stay in the Big Easy lasted a year. During this time, Erica also moved to New Orleans where she added to her knowledge of Southern cooking.

In 2014, Haley and Nathan moved to San Francisco because she wanted to live in a large city closer to home. She went to work at Interval. Their website describes them as “a bar, café, museum, and the home of The Long Now Foundation. Featuring a floor-to-ceiling library of the books you might need to rebuild civilization, mechanical prototypes for a clock meant to last for 10,000 years, art that continually evolves in real time, and a time-inspired menu of artisan drinks.” She managed the bar and started her own business—Lectures on Libations—where she offered classes on the history of cocktails.

This led her to The Battery, an exclusive club with 700 members, four bars, dining room, hotel rooms and gym. “I hosted member events that included fancy craft cocktails that were theme based, such as the History of Tiki. I did a lot of research leading up to each event. I’d give a 30-minute lecture of the history of a particular cocktail genre, offer tastings and give hands-on workshops on cocktail making.”

She also began a consulting business where she helps people set up or revise their restaurants. “This is nitty, gritty hyper detail work—all self-taught through my years of working in and going to restaurants. I make recommendations on how a place should look to provide efficient service, make people feel welcome and have an amazing experience. It’s a lot of fun and at the time allowed me the flexibility to go to San Francisco City College.”

By early 2017, the reality of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities and the desire to start a family found her and Nathan at a crossroads. “My goal had been to get a bachelor’s degree. I realized I could do that and be in a lot of debt or we could have a child and open our own restaurant. I decided I can always go to school, but can’t always start a family.”

Erica was also ready to open a restaurant. Haley and Nathan liked the idea of partnering with her. “We quickly tied up our affairs and moved to Fort Bragg.”

Haley knows that living in as opposed to visiting this coastal community doesn’t appeal to everybody. Before she agreed to open a restaurant with Erica, she asked her live here for a year. “Erica loved it and we decided to go for it.”

Haley&EricaIn the summer of 2017, they showcased their culinary talents in a series of pop-up restaurants at the Nye Ranch, Fortunate Farms, and Ellie’s Farmhouse. “We offered cocktail pairings with each course. For example, a carrot cocktail with carrot salad, huckleberry cocktail with huckleberry cobbler. Every drink had one common ingredient from the dish it was paired with.”

The pop-ups were so successful that they started looking for a permanent location. A year later, they found one in Mendocino, the site of the former Cultured Affair. The renovation and permitting process was long and the delays sometimes frustrating. In the meantime, Haley and Nathan welcomed daughter Bijou on December 31. “After awhile, the delays no longer bothered me,” she said, smiling at her baby, “because it gave me more time to spend with this little one.”

Nearly two years in the making, the Fog Eater Cafe opened in June. The menu is inspired from Haley, Nathan and Erica’s desire to bring something different to the cuisine of the Mendocino Coast. Erica developed vegetarian dishes based on hearty Southern ingredients like beans and grits. “Most of our ingredients are from local, organic farms (grits are not local, but organic) and all wine and beer are from Mendocino, Sonoma or Humboldt counties.”

HaleyFogEaterInteriorHaley loves being able to once again call Fort Bragg home. “It’s going through a renaissance and attracting new, amazingly talented people. Places like the Larry Spring Museum are being revitalized. The Noyo Center for Marine Science, CV Starr Center, the coastal trail—all of these things are great. There’s support and space for people to be creative, carve out a niche for themselves and open businesses. It’s an exciting time to live here.”

Haley&Bijou

 

Carolina Duran

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Carolina was a friend of my daughter’s throughout their Fort Bragg school years. From the time she was a child, she showed exceptional talent in the areas of drawing and painting. I would have never imagined she’d grow up to teach mathematics at the middle school and college levels. Not because she wasn’t smart and talented. She was so stoic. She seemed too shy to be able to lead a classroom of students.

Her passion for mathematics began in fifth grade. “Sally Miller—a resource teacher at Dana Gray—gave us a problem about order of operations. The other kids struggled, but I finished really fast. She asked me to go to the board and show the class how I solved it.” She smiled. “It made me feel good.”

A few years before, she’d struggled with multiplication tables. She wanted to improve and asked her mother to put her through multiplication drills every night. She eventually grew proficient and faster at solving a sheet full of problems.

CarolinaFamilyCarolina grew up fifth in a family of ten children. She has great respect for her parents and their ability to provide for and raise such a large family. Her father has worked in the logging industry for decades and at the age of 65 is a timber faller. Her mother has been a housekeeper at Stanford Inn since 1997.  Her father came to this country when he was 15 years old and worked to send money to help is widowed mother and his siblings in Mexico. He eventually made his way to Fort Bragg and in 1979 brought his young bride.

In 1990, when Carolina was a baby, her parents bought a house. As an adult, Carolina realizes how hard life must have been for them and remembers their frugality. “When we went school clothes shopping, we were each allowed two shirts, two pairs of pants, a sweater, socks and underwear. We also got one pair of shoes that had to last us the entire school year.” These shopping sessions in Ukiah lasted an entire day. “At lunchtime, my dad went to Albertson’s and bought a roasted chicken, bread, peppers, mayonnaise and made sandwiches. We rarely ate fast food or went out to restaurants.”

By 2006, the start of her senior year in high school, she hadn’t formulated a plan for what to do after graduation. Her participation in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program changed all that. “One of the requirements was to apply to colleges. My older brother lived in Sacramento, so I chose Sacramento State. I decided to major in nursing because the nurses on television programs seemed so fancy.” She laughed.

“Two years into the program, I decided it didn’t offer enough math, which was my strongest subject. I changed my major to mathematics with a teaching concentration. I found it challenging, but also inspiring.” She also minored in Art Education and Chicano Studies.

CarolinaCollegeGRadCarolina wasn’t the first of 50 first cousins to attend college, but she was the first to graduate. Since then, eight others have obtained degrees. Two of her brothers are currently working and going to college, one scheduled to graduate next spring with a degree in mechanical engineering. Her other siblings are gainfully employed; her youngest sister is a senior year in high school.

Carolina was able to finance her education through a combination of financial aid, help from her parents, and working. During her first two years, she returned to Fort Bragg in the summers to work at The Coast Cinemas and as a housekeeper for Stanford Inn. The following summer, she worked at the drive-in theater in Sacramento. “Since the movies didn’t start until after dark, I sometimes worked until four in the morning.” She was also the student assistant in the learning skills lab at the college.

She graduated in 2013 and moved to San Antonio where she attended the University of Texas to obtain a Master’s Degree and teaching credential in Mathematics Education. Her first year, she also taught four undergraduate mathematics classes each semester. Her second year was spent taking classes and meeting her credential requirements by teaching at an all-girls Catholic school.

CarolinaStudentsThis once shy girl grew into a woman who thoroughly enjoys teaching. “It can be very creative.” During her Master’s program, she became an expert in Geogebra, a technology-based program. “It allows teachers to create their own math program for students.”

By June 2017, Carolina moved back to Fort Bragg to be closer to family. “For a long time, my mind had been working from the time I got up until I went to sleep. I wanted to do something simple.

“I saw a posting for a math teacher position at Fort Bragg Middle School. The teacher was taking a one-year sabbatical. That one year turned into two.

“I was happy to be teaching math, but I prefer teaching at the college level. Math is easy. Teaching is hard. Math is a subject many kids think they’re bad at. I try to show how it helps make them logical thinkers.” She offered after-school tutoring sessions two days a week. By the spring of 2018, she also took a job as the tutor in the math lab at the Mendocino College Coast Center two afternoons a week.

This spring, overwhelmed by her schedule, she resigned from the middle school, but offered to teach part-time. Superintendent of schools Becky Walker (Carolina’s former middle school math teacher) offered her two periods at the high school next year. Carolina will also teach part-time at Mendocino College and continue with the math labs. This summer, she’s teaching a beginning algebra class at the college which serves mainly high school Upward Bound students.

Carolina is happy about her return to Fort Bragg. “I like running into people I know. Being surrounded my nature, fresh air and family helps me feel calm.” Her eventual goal is to have a fulltime teaching position at the college level with a focus on training teachers. Meanwhile, she continues to develop her artistic skills. “I like to draw faces I make up in my head.” Most of her drawing is produced on her iPad because it allows her to experiment without wasting paper. She’s done a few commissioned pieces, but generally uses art as a stress reducer.

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Album cover for musician Aaron Kremen

She encourages young people who grew up here to venture out and explore other places. “It’s scary, but if you’re afraid to take risks, you’re never going to get anywhere. Whatever happens, happens—you just have to go with it. After I left, I got onto a path that just flowed.” Our community is grateful that her path eventually led her back home.

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Getting It Together With Bob

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I sit in the Ten Mile Justice Center courtroom in Fort Bragg, legs crossed, right foot bobbing in an effort to dissipate my nerves. I’m here for the second month in a row to request a continuance on a restraining order I was reluctant to file, but that law enforcement has encouraged me to pursue.

My lower back starts to painfully throb. I concentrate on taking deep, slow breathes, which manifest as shallow asthmatic wheezes. I want to cut and run.

The cases previous to mine are mundane—the opening of probate, something about a family trust, and an illegal eviction. About a half hour after court comes to order, someone enters through the back door. I don’t know who because I’m sitting in the front row of the gallery. The person sits behind me to the right of my peripheral vision. Cigarette fumes give me a nicotine contact high. All I can see of this person is orange and gray athletic shoes.

The judge calls a case for a someone named Bob (not his real name). The guy sitting behind me stands and moves forward. He’s a trim, grizzled 50-something who wears capri-length workout pants and a tank top with three horizontal slashes across the back. I’m somewhat alarmed that he seems to have ignored the posted rules for appropriate court attire—no shorts, no tank tops. His blonde streaked hair is combed forward and he’s got a healthy tan. If he were a few decades younger, he’d look like an attractive surfer dude.

The previously bored bailiff stands and rests his hand on his pistol.

The judge informs Bob the restraining order against him has been dropped. (This order has nothing to do with my case.)

“So I can go back to Ukiah?” Bob asks, incredulous.

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“I’ve been living in Ukiah getting my life together,” Bob announces proudly. “I’m off meth.”

“Good for you,” the judge says with genuine warmth.

“I have some clothes at that house. Can I get them before I leave town?”

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“Since the restraining order’s been dropped, I can go pick up my clothes?”

“I cannot tell you what to do.”

Bob shakes his head as if to dispel water from his ears. “I just wanna tell ya,” he says, “you’re the best. The best!” As if the judge had something to do with getting the complaining party to drop the restraining order.

“Thank you. You’re free to go.”

“I won’t forget this.” Bob turns to leave. “You’re the best. The best!” He’s giddy, pumping his fist in the air like his favorite team just won the World Cup.

The bailiff sits down.

I make note of Bob’s full name in order to later check the online Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Log. I’m certain—willing to put money on it—that  he’ll be arrested before nightfall for causing a kerfuffle at a house where nobody wants him, yet where some of his clothing still resides.

After he leaves, my case is called. For Bob, my experience would have been a day at the beach. For me, it was stressful enough to send me home to lay on the floor with an ice pack under my back and feeling what Southern women used to call “having a case of the vapors.”

The party I’m seeking a restraining order against, someone who made an obsessive series of calls to my home, someone who is well known to law enforcement, has a right to be served with notice of the filing. He cannot be found. I’m granted my continuance, but scheduled to return the following month. I want nothing more than to have this process over and done with, but fear I’ll spend the bulk of 2019 going to court.

A few days later, I remember to check on Bob to see if he escaped arrest the evening following court and made it safely back to his new life in Ukiah.

Exactly one week before his appearance in the coast courtroom, he was arrested in Fort Bragg for being a public nuisance. He was held overnight.

The day after his release, he was arrested in Ukiah (about an hour and a half drive from Fort Bragg) for disorderly conduct: alcohol, and held overnight.

Two days after that release, he was once again arrested in Ukiah on the same charge and held overnight.

The following day, he appears in the Fort Bragg courtroom to make it a matter of public record that he’s getting his life together.

Bob might have issues with substance abuse and appropriate public decorum, but the underlying struggles he’s dealing with have been visited upon all of us to some degree or another.

We’ve all made the Monday morning promises—“I swear to God I’m going to (fill in the blank).”

  • Quit smoking. Until you can no longer suppress the desire to chop someone’s head off (usually by noon on Monday when you bum a smoke from a co-worker).
  • Quit drinking. Until you get home after a stressful Monday at work.
  • Go on a diet. Go to the gym. Get in shape. Until, on your way home from work, you stop by McDonald’s for a value meal to pair with your tequila shots.
  • Give up that toxic girlfriend or boyfriend. Until 10:00pm when you start drunk texting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—we’ve all made such proclamations, and we’ve all inevitably failed until for some reason—grace?—we follow through and actually turn things around.

Like a worried mother, I visit the booking log website every few days to check on Bob. I’m hopeful he’ll stay out of trouble for good—or at least for a time. Five days after I’m made aware of him, he’s arrested again in Ukiah for—you want to take a guess?—disorderly conduct: alcohol.

At least he’s not on meth, I tell myself.

Twelve days later, he’s arrested in Ukiah for indecent exposure.

I hope Bob eventually finds the grace to overcome his demons and find peace.

I hope I eventually get my own act together and stop checking on him.

Aaron Haye

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As I drove to interview Aaron Haye—production designer for Bohemian Rhapsody, one of 2018’s hottest movies of the year—I have to admit feeling a bit starstruck and nervous. This soon evaporated after we met at the Cookie Company and I sensed the commonality he shares with the many others I’ve interviewed—the easy openness of someone who grew up in a small town surrounded by a community who loved and nurtured him.

***

Aaron was born in Los Angeles in 1973. Some years before, his grandparents, a few uncles and an aunt had migrated north to Mendocino County. In 1975, Aaron’s parents loaded him and his baby sister into an old Chevy pickup and followed. Soon other friends and family joined them. “Growing up, I remember barn raisings and potlucks, families getting together. It seemed everyone had a baseball diamond or volleyball area on their property. They’d moved here from the city so they could build meaningful lives and land was cheap back then.”

Aaron speaks fondly of his childhood. “My friends and I spent hours in the woods and on the beach. We did what we called ‘schralping,’ where we’d follow a trail for a while and then veer off trail into the woods to explore. When we got older, we’d do the same thing in our cars, exploring back roads all around Northern California.”

He was interested in both art and science. “I loved being in nature and also loved to draw and take pictures.” He credits three teachers in particular for inspiring him in each—Rita Davies (fifth grade), Bill Brazil (high school art) and Robert Jamgochian (high school science) as well as the free-form learning of Bob Evans’ ROP Audio Lab at the Community School.

He graduated from Mendocino High School in 1991, and went to UC Santa Cruz. After two years of general science classes, he discovered a class in field biology where the instructor sent students to the beach to record elephant seal behavior. He loved it and decided to major in marine biology. The summer before his last year of college was spent on a remote island off Alaska where he observed, photographed, and drew Steller Sea Lions before completing his thesis on mating behavior of elephant seals at Año Nuevo Reserve in California.

So how does a kid who grew up on the Mendocino Coast and received a degree in marine biology go on to become the production designer for one of the biggest movies of 2018?

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“My dad was a carpenter here on the coast and moved to Marin when I was a junior in high school. There he worked as a model builder for the visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic (Lucasfilm). When I was 16, I was hired to sweep floors in the model shop. After I graduated from college in 1995, I was considering a PhD program when ILM hired me as an assistant in the model shop.” After a year or two assisting in various departments he was promoted to model maker, building miniature sets for visual effect shots.

Those early days working in visual effects gave Aaron an opportunity to contribute to many films, including Star Wars Episode I and II, The Matrix 2 and 3, and Men in Black.

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“At ILM I had the chance to learn from many talented people, but I knew I had to find my own path. Through opportunity and circumstance I taught myself how to design and build models on the computer. I had incredible mentors who were all huge innovators in their field and helped me every step of the way. They allowed me to push beyond my comfort zone. I try to pay that forward whenever someone comes to me for help or advice.”

In 2002, he left ILM and moved to Los Angeles. “By that time, I was designing sets on the computer, but had only worked in visual effects. I had no sense of what I was going to do next when an art director I had worked with recommended me to a production designer who was working on a Superman movie in Hollywood. There weren’t many folks working in the type of 3D design I had been doing. I was lucky enough to be hired as a set designer on that film.

The movie was never made, but Aaron was able to join the set designers union and gained insight into where he wanted to take his career. About five years later, he began work as an art director, and contributed to films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Man of Steel, and Terminator Genisys. To date he has 45 feature film credits.

“Being a production designer is a very collaborative endeavor. There are hundreds of people who bring their talents and energy to a project. In the end, it’s a team sport.” As a way to explain it in a way people can relate, he describes his job as staging a huge wedding—every single day for months at a time. “There are hundreds of decisions to make each day. For example, if the script calls for a scene in a coffee shop, I have to ask what does the shop look like? How do we want to make the actors and the audience feel? How does the setting best tell the story, inspire it? My job is to be of service to the story.

“Every detail of a set has to be designed to make it realistic—every space, wall, color, piece of furniture, prop, graphic. We try to create a world that the actors can believe in. When they enter, they need to feel like they are their character.”

Aaron has a calm, easy going demeanor and I wondered how he handles the stress. “I’ve learned to ride the waves and not be engulfed by them. I have a high threshold for stress, until I don’t,” he laughed.

He loves his job, mainly because he never has to do the same thing twice. With each project he needs to build a team of dozens from scratch. It used to be one could have a career in film and live and work in Los Angeles. These days, films are made all over the world. We don’t have the luxury of working with the same folks again and again. This has its advantages and disadvantages. To be successful, I have to be a manager and psychologist, put together large budgets and schedules, know how to collaborate with large construction departments, how paint affects the mood of a setting, and how to play politics with studios and producers.”

In 2006, while in New Orleans working on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film about a man who ages backwards, Aaron met his wife Bridget. A coworker and I were looking for a specific restaurant and got lost. We decided to walk into the nearest place that looked interesting. While we were eating, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A stranger asked, ‘Excuse me but my friend and I were trying to think the name of Mork and Mindy’s son, the one who was born an old man, because we decided she was born an old soul and is aging backwards. You look like someone who might know.’ I’d never met this woman. She didn’t know the film I was working on.

Intrigued, I followed her back to their table to meet her friend. It really was one of those magical moments you hear about—love at first sight. We chatted for a while, but I never even got her name. They did tell me she was going to be at the farmer’s market the following day. So the next morning I got on my bike and rode to find this market. I had ridden less than two blocks when I turned a corner ran into her. She walked right up and said ‘Hi, I’m Bridget’. And basically that was that.

For about ten years they split their time between New Orleans and LA. With her background in public health, Bridget worked for the Annenberg Foundation in Los Angeles, a family foundation that provides funding for an array of environmental stewardship, social justice and animal welfare efforts. In New Orleans, she started an urban land trust to help preserve the city’s remaining green spaces as part of a comprehensive water strategy designed to mitigate land lost to a changing climate.

In 2011 while on working on a film in Vancouver B.C., their son August was born. Five years later, they welcomed son Nathaniel. Aaron also has a daughter, Bela, from a previous marriage who is about to wrap up her third year in college.

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A few years ago, after more than a decade of working on films outside of Los Angeles, Aaron and Bridget decided to make the Mendocino Coast their home base. Since that time Bridget’s father has also moved here. Because Aaron’s job requires him to be on location for many months each year, they aren’t home fulltime. “I love being back and reconnecting with family and friends. We gather for potluck dinners whenever we can. My brother Mikael, sister Sarah and I are close. We get together and play music at open mic Mondays at The Golden West.”

He also loves the interconnections of people living in a small community. “Before returning home to the coast this last time, I was working in Turkey and started searching for a piano online at the Mendocino Coast Swap Shop. I found one, and made arrangements to pick it up when I returned. When I told my mom, amazingly she said the piano’s owner had been her boyfriend when they were in high school in Southern California before she met my dad. And that he was married to my step dad’s cousin! Serendipity is everywhere if you know where to look.”

When asked how the area has changed since his youth, Aaron said, “There’s no longer a mill. The noon whistle was such a big part of this town. Where we’re sitting used to be the department store Sea Fair and then Daly’s. Many of our family and friends worked in the mill and the woods. When I was very young, my grandmother worked the main gate at GP and I remember sitting on her lap and pushing the button to let trucks in.

“Of course I’m not saying we need a mill, but it’s difficult to build a robust tourist economy when you are as remote as we are. Our parents’ generation are retirement age. Many of their kids moved away and it’s hard to come back because there’s not much in the way of an economic heart. Maybe new technology will help change that. Maybe the mill land will be put to some fantastic use and help drive us forward. There are some wonderful things happening here. I’m proud of folks like my brother [Mikael] and Jessica [Morsell-Haye] who own the Golden West and are working hard to bring new energy back to town.”

Despite these changes, Aaron is happy to be home. “Coming from here gave me a solid root and a real sense of community. You develop a certain amount of flexibility and resilience when you grow up rural and without much money as many of us did here. Tolerance for others is supported when you’re not surrounded by a culture that points out differences in people.”

After generously giving me over two hours of his time, we stood to part ways. He was going across the street to drop in on his mom who owns Teamwork, a business started by his grandmother in 1978. This touched my heart. Aaron Haye is a lot of things—brilliant, talented, and busy. He’s also a kind and thoughtful homegrown boy who goes to visit his mom.

***

To learn more about Aaron, check out his website—aaronhaye.com—and follow him on Instagram at aelvishaye.

A couple shots from the Live Aid set that Aaron designed for Bohemian Rhapsody:

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