Monday, November 30, 2009

San Francisco Daze: November

Hello all! Last year I published Jan-Sep of "San Francisco Daze" on the Blog. SFD was an (aspirational) daily prose and poetry reaction to life in San Francisco that I write in 2005. I guess I got busy toward the end of last year, because I never got Oct-Dec out. A week or two ago, I finally posted October. here's November, with December to follow in December....


November 1

I awake to the visceral horror of the cat scratch on my stomach. Bedroom littered with socks and papers. Empty bottles everywhere. The first morning of the new age. What has God wrought? We shall see, we shall see…

November 2-4

The first few days of freedom from work are too much for me, resulting in no useful scenes of daily life here in San Francisco. No useless ones either, for that matter.

November 5

Rain of the last few days is soaking into my socks through the cracks in my shoes. This tells me two things:
1) It’s time for new shoes.
2) The weather that marked the beginning of these daily snapshots of life in SF is back. I love winter!

November 6

At night, going to the store on Clement Street, rain falling through the sky, caught in the light of the streetlamp, looks like a shower of particles of gold.

November 7

Rainy day
Liquid gray
Monday morning
As I am coffe a’borning
At 7-11
Cute Asian gal buying cigarette heaven
Is asked for her ID
Delighting her and me

November 8

On the ocean side of the city, sun shines through silver ice of clouds, highlighting them liquid gold in the dusk.

November 9

Shafts of gold poured down today through silver clouds as I trudged home for a three hour nap, feeling like I was coming down with something. As long as this rainy weather persists, the metallurgical alchemy of the sky will delight. Achoo!

November 10-12

Of which I have nothing to say, except for parents, thank God for parents. They visited me this three day weekend, and I got untold time to spend with my father. Comforting, given my brothert’s recent passing. That is all. Hopefully you and I all shall all speak again soon.

November 13-15

Not too soon, thanks to the stomach flu. God, this is getting boring, just like a bad online journal.

November 16

The simple beauty of life today was sipping coffee and having a tuna salad in a café on Clement Street while getting back into the swing of daily writing on the NaNoWriMo. BeBopOBombOooh…

November 17

The 3rd day
Of 80 degree weather
In the 2nd half of November
Brought dismay from one man
But a steel blue sky for all

November 18

Aww, the dour looking woman in the seat in front of me on the 38 Geary has a really nice voice. Just another proof that the books, they should not be judged by the covers.

November 19

In the basement of Saint James’ early this afternoon, amid the clutter of a kitchen strewn with pre-school implements and too-short chairs at a too-tall table, two (not quite) strangers went over my finances in detail. I have never felt happier or freer.

November 20

Elephantine white
Massive marble block curved
Halls of Opera

November 21

Writing in my living room as a Monday afternoon gives way to dusk. The 5-CD changer loaded with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Guns n’ Roses, Megadeath and Metallica. Outside, over the backs of the houses that face 12th Avenue, and the trees of Park Presidio, blue has flared into colors and faded into milky white. The next step will hollow violet, and the eternal black high lit by diamond.

November 22

The buildings of downtown
Jut into afternoon sky

November 23

What always gets me about returning to Prunedale at night is the supernatural darkness, earth trees and sky all black, RV Park and gas stations and small shopping centers huddled against the blackness.

November 24

A kind of homecoming:

I took a walk
Down country roads
In darkness and the smell of manure,
With the distant sound
Of barking dogs and Mexican music
On cool evening air

November 25

More scenes from the home front:

The morning after rain, chimney of small grayish-brown house sending billows of smoke and steam up against green tree hills.
Pacific Grove theatre on a street that smells green and piney.
Ocean a green black and gray irregular swell glimpsed through gaps in the dunes on the drive home.
Dribbled white of Milky Way spilled across the length of the purple-black sky.

November 26

“This is CalTrain 119 departing San Jose, bound for the greatest city in the world, San Francisco!”— heard over PA from conductor on CalTrain 119, departing San Jose, bound for the greatest city in the world, San Francisco

November 27

Bay so clear today
Mt. Diablo looms behind

November 28

Day spent in rainfall
Pitter-pat on the window
White mist in distance

November 29-30

No record survives of the last two days of November. One can only imagine that some catastrophe of laziness and oversleep consumed them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Project Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (1966)

I've been (slowly) blogging an album-by album review of my favorite Bob Dylan albums. So far we've had Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A' Changin, Another Side of Bob Dylan>, and Bringing It All Back Home, and Highway 61 Revisited. Which brings us now to what many regard as the jewel in the crown, Blonde on Blonde.


Blonde on Blonde is where the rubber hits the road. It’s the third album of the transcendent trio that includes Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. It decidedly ups the ante on the album that came before it, as each of those two albums did. And it’s the last album before the motorcycle accident that marked a decisive break in both his music and his public person.

So, all that myth and legend aside, how well does it actually stand up? Really freaking well! The 14 tracks here have a lyrical richness and stunning musical diversity that by and large immunizes the whole from sounding dated even after 43 years.

I often think of the opener, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” as kind of a one-joke novelty that loses its appeal after the shock of “everybody must get stoned” fades, and it’s surely pretty faded by now. That being said, it has a kind of driving stomping rhythm that won me over on this latest listen. This feeling flows into the thick rumbling blues of the next track “Pledging my Time”. “Visions of Johanna” then takes you somewhere entirely beyond, with it’s poetic paean delivered with a world-weary voice and slowly rising tempo of its ringing electric background. Here we the true flowering of an artistic vision, with Dylan adding self-reflection of his own part in the mess and a lovelorn vulnerability to the kind of bitter love song he had long ago mastered.

This song gets inside you and lingers, which could just be a lucky accident, except that it happens again on the next track “One of Us Must Know”. He tries to take himself off the hook by noting that he didn’t mean to do (her?) any harm, and that he was just doing what he was supposed to do, but the underlying melancholy of the song leavens the argument. Similarly, on “I Want You” he’s proud of being put down for not thinking about love, except the line is delivered in the midst of three minutes of yearning wooing of the object of his affection.

And then for something completely different there’s the next two songs… “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” is one of several songs on the album that is called surrealist in its streaming imagery. And so it is on one level, but I think it’s plain enough on another as a portrayal of the derangement of being on the overboard train of fame in the mid-60s, a world where after mixing Texas medicine and railroad gin: It strangled up my mind/ An' now people just get uglier/An' I have no sense of time Followed by the ultimate reincarnation blues: Here I sit so patiently/ Waiting to find out what price/ You have to pay to get out of/ Going through all these things twice

“Leopard-skin Pill Box Hat” takes us on an equally bizarre romp, accompanied by ringing electric blues. We’re then back to a familiar misogynist and snide Dylan on “Just Like a Woman” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”, but you have to wonder if both aren’t symbols of a larger disillusionment, foreshadowing the break he was about to take from music. Witness: your long-time curse hurts/ But what's worse/ Is this pain in here/ I can't stay in here/ Ain't it clear that--/ I just can't fit/ Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit And: I'm gonna let you pass/ And I'll go last./ Then time will tell just who fell/ And who's been left behind/ When you go your way and I go mine

Following this, “Temporary Like Achilles” slows us down and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” speeds us up in territory more obviously surreal and less obviously personal, but both continue a theme of wanting to drop out of a game the protagonist no longer feels like playing. “4th Time Around” then veers into territory where music and vocals almost achingly melancholy and romantic back lyrics that are alternately tongue-in-cheek and vulnerable. As if to shake the mood, “Obviously 5 Believers” launches into rapid blues rock, but this proves to be kind of a ringer, because the album’s finale “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is the most disarmed and unabashed love song that Dylan had written up to this point. It’s slow saunter and profusion of cowboy and western imagery is also a prequel of the musical and lyrical space Dylan will be in a year and a half later when John Wesley Harding is released.

Whatever the truth or not of the seriousness of the motorcycle accident that sidelined him for this period, if nothing else he’d earned a break. From his eponymous debut in 1962 through Blonde on Blonde, Dylan had released 7 albums in a roughly four-year space, progressing from largely-derivative eager young folkie to massively talented pop-rock icon. To paraphrase Passover, if he had stopped there, it would have been enough. But as we’ll see next, how bountiful that he did not…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Facecation had to get away...

I've just finished a one week Facecation. I got the idea (and the term) from my friend Roz, who did her own Facecation recently. I don't know what her exact motivation was, but in my case, I thought that Facebook and I needed a little time apart to get our relationship back in balance. The form of our relationship was roughly this:

Chris- Checking it first thing in the morning, struggling to keep up with friend's postings, continually trying to think of witty things to post for my status or in response to others postings, struggling to clear out the constant stream of alerts in my inbox, continually clicking on Facebook throughout the day to refresh a brief feeling of excited contact with the rest of the world, being unable to get to bed at night because I needed to check Facebook one more time in case anything new had happened.

Facebook- Accepting all my attention while otherwise practicing complete disinterest toward me.

You can see what the problem was.

I'm no stranger to compulsive behavior and online addiction, so I could see it too. I also had the feeling that I was increasingly getting cut by the other edge of the double-edged sword that is social networking: it can make you feel connected to a lot of people, but it also prompts shallow and fleeting connections that masquerade as real intimacy. So I decided on a one week break, just to let the dust settle. From midnight Wednesday last week through midnight yesterday, I did not visit Facebook, deleted all e-mail alerts from it unread and even, when I was fast enough to zap them, tried to delete the messages without even looking at their titles.

What can I tell you about that experience? Well, for starters, like most any break from something compulsive, it was pretty much an immediate relief. The withdrawal was fairly light, too. I did have the weird lurching feeling of continually composing status updates in my head about things I saw or felt, and then realizing that if I had thoughts I wanted to express, I had to find a real live person to express them too. That seemed unreasonable! But that went away after a few days, and I had very little of the "what do I do with spare moments?" feeling that I thought I might have. Instead I almost immediately felt more alert and appreciated the free time and free head-space. I also appreciated seeing people at various points throughout my week more, since I couldn't "cyber-see" them in-between. The other thing I noticed is that, after a day or two, the daily 20+ e-mail alerts I was receiving dwindled down to one or two. When you don't constantly feed the beast, it doesn't spontaneously come looking for you too often.

There were a few things I genuinely missed. When I finish reading a book, as I did with a behemoth 515 page tome this past week, I like posting the review. I also use Facebook to pimp my writing, so when I had new things come out here and there, it was a little frustrating to not be able to make use of this practical tool to let people know. And I missed the ability to send quick messages to people following up on things we'd done together over the weekend, which is not profound but is something that online networking lends itself well too. I also found myself with an ongoing strange yearning, when I got a real e-mail from someone, to go to their profile and see their pictures. Maybe not so strange- visual contact is very important to human socializing.

And now that I'm back? I am decidedly ambivalent. It's nice to "see" everyone again and to have the often convenient tools for staying in touch that Facebook provides. But I liked the peace and quiet, the increased time and energy, and the added impetus to make real contact with people that my break provided me. What I think I'm going to do is turn off all e-mail alerts (except maybe for events and pictures, because events need timely response and pictures are fun!), so that I'll only see stuff from the site if and when I go to the site. And I'm going to put myself on an every other day regimen for visiting Facebook. Maybe this will reintroduce a little balance into the relationship, and make my contact with it a more deliberate and conscious.

And so I return...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

San Francisco Daze: October

For whatever reason, it recently struck me that I'd never gotten around to finishing blog publishing the next installment of San Francisco Daze, a series of (aspirationaly, at least) daily sketches of life in our fair city that I wrote in 2005. I posted September right at the beginning of October 2008, and then no October, November or December. Here is October, and I'll get out November in a week or two.


October 1-2

What happened to these three days? Unfortunately, I have all too clear an idea what the answer to that question is. All too clear— this particular form of mass-mayhem has been entirely work related. A week’s worth of twelve-hour days. Desperate attempts to mellow out by having a drink or two in the evening. And then asleep on the bus or rushed in a taxi to work. All to be repeated the next morning…

October 3

Madrone on a Monday, and damn but I should do this every Monday. It’s their “living room”, in which people are encouraged to come out and bring games, art projects, etc. that they can work on together. There’s great music, and the atmosphere is very chill— not unlike hanging out in a friend’s living room. Except with a bartender, and cuter girls.

October 4

Why was the door open? Why was there no light coming from inside the apartment? Did the big bushy black and white cat on the doorstep, sinister pudgy Persian face, have to have its eyes glowing yellow? What was this a harbinger of? By such things is the feeling of the uncanny strongly evoked, even on 11th Avenue in the usually bland and safe Richmond District.

October 5-11

What happened to these seven days? Unfortunately, I have all too clear an idea what the answer to that question is. All too clear— this particular form of mass-mayhem has been entirely work related. A week’s worth of twelve-hour days. Desperate attempts to mellow out by having a drink or two in the evening. And then asleep on the bus or rushed in a taxi to work. All to be repeated the next morning…

October 12

To the Snow White Pigeon I Saw On 11th Avenue While Walking Home From the Bar Tonight

Snow white pigeon
I have never seen a pigeon
As snowy
And white
As you
Were it not for your size
And the distinctive bob of your head
When you walked
I might have thought you a dove
I loved
How you jumped up on the curb
And walked quickly toward me
Was saddened
When you veered over in the direction
Of the apartment instead
But delighted
When you perched on its step
And the girl coming down to get laundry
And I
Exchanged bemused glances
I know
Our love can never be
(the inter-species gap is too wide for that)
But I do hope
That I see you

October 13-15

What happened to these three days? Unfortunately, I have all too clear an idea what the answer to that question is. All too clear— this particular form of mass-mayhem has been entirely work related. A week’s worth of twelve-hour days. Desperate attempts to mellow out by having a drink or two in the evening. And then asleep on the bus or rushed in a taxi to work. All to be repeated the next morning…

October 16

Eleven stops today in the Richmond District’s Open Galleries weekend, bright blue cloudless sky mercilessly transmitting hot sun onto skin and pavement, only respite in the shady side of the street and the disquieting magic of entering strangers’ homes and looking at their art.

October 17-19

What happened to these three days? Unfortunately, I have all too clear an idea what the answer to that question is. All too clear— this particular form of mass-mayhem has been entirely work related. A week’s worth of twelve-hour days. Desperate attempts to mellow out by having a drink or two in the evening. And then asleep on the bus or rushed in a taxi to work. All to be repeated the next morning…

October 20

Weird scenes at the third Tuesday’s at the Academy of Science. Apparently, at their temporary location at 5th and Howard, they have a monthly event in which a full bar, caterer and DJ are set up in the Academy. So, you can cruise around and meet the fish and reptiles and amphibians and see the science exhibits while sipping wine and grooving to Techno. Trippy. And the crowd is mostly well-to-do 20 and 30-somethings. It reminds me of the heyday of the dotcom boom.

October 21

First time in Gaspare’s, despite six years of living in the Richmond District. The Margherita pizza was divine, the Chianti insisted on its purple-reddishness, small wicker flaks hung from the ceiling and the darkness inside the restaurant soothed the soul.

October 22

Crunched coke can, rattling down Market Street, past the US Mint building. Each gust of passing car caught it up and set it rattling a few feet further, even though the road was level. I kept expecting it to get crushed under wheel, but it continued in its merry way. I wished that I had a video camera.

October 23

Land’s End Beach today was foam shooting up over the big offshore rocks and the clattering sound of the smooth rounded rocks as the tide retreated through them.

October 24-30

The last week of my working life is so harried that it leaves very little record. I mean, I certainly may work again. But it will be different from here, I think. Time off for writing here in my lovely city of San Francisco. I will commit to do six months, and then we shall see what’s next.

October 31

While sitting in my parents’ living room
Last night
During weekend visit
Of sound of
Tapping on the wall
Owl screeching
And train passing in the distance
Tells me
My brother is visiting

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

November Writing News

I didn’t think enough had happened since the last one for me to put out an update last month. That still may be the case. But the show must go on! Accordingly, here is my November Writing News for your reading enjoyment:

Film- “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date”, one section of the three-part short film I wrote and produced, “Triptych”, screened at the Victoria Theatre on October 4th. For the upcoming round of Scary Cow, the independent film co-op that I’m a part of, I’ll be directing a film based on a short story I wrote last year, “Ave Maria”. It’s my first time as director, which should be interesting for everyone… While we wait for that, “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date” isn’t up on the Scary Cow website yet, but you can check out the previous installment of “Triptych” that screened in June, “Geek Wars” (it’s listed as project #33):

Publication- I’ve cooked up a few things since last time, including a run-down on fall arts events and musings on freedom and responsibility in DIY culture for LEGENDmag: , . I’ve also become a regular contributor to a website named “Song O’ The Day”, you can check out my song reviews so far here:

Performance- At the beginning of the year I challenged myself to read in public once a month. I won’t quite make that pace, but I have read several times. The latest was something I’ve done before, performing tragic poetry I wrote as a teenager onstage at Mortified ( ) on October 23rd and 24th. I’m not sure yet what I’ll get up to in November, but I’ll let you know…

Novel- I’m contemplating revision suggestions I got from a manuscript evaluation I had done by a freelance editor earlier this year. They would mean some major structural overhauls, which I may or may not be up for. While I ponder, you can read the first chapter of my novel, Out in the Neon Night, on my blog:

Blog- One of the biggest traffic generators on my blog the past month has been a piece I did on the increase in right wing violence in the past year. You can see it here, along with other bloggy doings:

November out, stay tuned for December!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Project Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

I haven't done this since May! I hereby pledge to pick up the pace, and publish at least two more before the end of the year. In the mean time, thus far in my sequential overview of my favorite Bob Dylan albums we've had Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A' Changin, Another Side of Bob Dylan>, and Bringing It All Back Home. Which leads us to Highway 61 Revisited...


I’d like to start this review with a confession: my whole life I’ve heard music critics fawning about how rocking “Like a Rolling Stone” is, and I just don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great song, one of the exemplars of Dylan’s “bitter and snarky telling off of a woman” vein of song writing. And I understand the historical significance of his going electric here and what that did to rock and folk from that point forward. But to say it flat out rocks? Compared to other things from the same time period by the Who, the Kinks and the Stones? Or even Dylan himself in many places on the previous album Bringing It All Back Home or here in songs like “Tombstone Blues”?

Regardless, in terms of being a vessel for free-floating resentment, serving dual purpose as an attack on a person and a personification of mainstream society due for a richly deserved fall, and prominently featuring the cheesy rock organ, it’s a strong way to open an album, and a pretty incendiary thing to have reach number 2 on the pop charts in 1965. “Tombstone Blues” then knocks it up to a whole other level. The take on this era of Dylan is that he’s moved from the political to the personal, and is now expressing things in absurdist poetry. Listen to this song though, and see if amidst all the joking references to John the Baptist, Galileo and Cecil B. DeMille it isn’t serving as the ultimate protest, a deconstruction of the society itself that results in: Mama's in the fact'ry/ She ain't got no shoes/ Daddy's in the alley/ He's lookin' for food/ I'm in the kitchen/ With the tombstone blues

Dylan is also aces in track arrangement here, slowing us down after the initial one-two punch of the opening with the down tempo of “It Takes a Train to Cry” bringing us back up with rocking electric blues on “From a Buick 6” and then just weirding everything out with “Ballad of a Thin Man”. On the surface, he’s telling off a critic, and it’s enough of a joke that he actually cracks up at the beginning. Underneath, though, the weird whistling of the organ and slow building tempo of each lyrical turn charges you up and disorients you, the perfect compliment to a song that point-blank tells you it’s attacking your imagination. So personal, yes, but it lends itself to social critique as well, and not for nothing did the Black Panthers listen to this song repeatedly while drafting their manifesto.

Being so firmly tied to an era by these kinds of associations, “Thin Man” can sound dated. The next track, “Queen Jane Approximately” sounds perennially contemporary with its perfect pop song pitch and balance of angry snide that dismisses the subject and weary compassion that invites them back. If this song sound contemporary, then the track that follows, “Highway 61 Revisited” enters the realm of timeless. Listening to it, it’s possible to make a case that it’s poetic horsing around with archetypes of the road, an indictment of the angry tribal gods and cynical commercialism that are pushing society toward a next world war, or both at once. That is what playing in mythic space can do for you, and he goes even further into it on “Desolation Row” where Cinderella, Bettie Davis, Einstein and Robin Hood all have their identities scrambled together in a land where everybody’s making love or else expecting rain.

The other thing that I can’t help but hear in this album is Dylan the person struggling with Dylan the myth (in which wise it’s mind-blowing to realize that he was only 24 when this was recorded). “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” makes clear the weariness and disillusionment that would have him dropping out of the game, and coming back forever altered, after his next album, Blonde on Blonde:

I cannot move/ My fingers are all in a knot/ I don't have the strength, To get up and take another shot


It's either fortune or fame/ You must pick up one or the other/ Though neither of them are to be what they claim


Everybody said they'd stand behind me/ When the game got rough
But the joke was on me/ There was nobody even there to call my bluff/ I'm going back to New York City/ I do believe I've had enough

Friday, October 16, 2009

10 Books in 2010 Self-challenge (update)

I got this idea lodged in my head that I would challenge myself to read 10 pending "always meant to get to it" books in 2010. I like the symmetry of the numbers, and I figured it would give me a good literary kick in the ass without being such a big list that I couldn't possibly finish. I did a blog about this last month with my list as it stood at that time, asking for particular recommendations. Since then, I've added a few more to the list, so I'm now up to 22. Help!

-the Illiad
-Paradise Lost
-Short Stories of Dostoevsky
-something by Tom Robbins (what?)
-Catcher in the Rye
-Jesus' Son
-Letters to a Young Poet
-something by Raymond Chandler (what?)
-something by Raymond Carver (particular recommendation?)
-the Analects
-the Varieties of Religious Experience
-Aristotle's Poetics
-The Corrections
-Good in Bed
-Pass it On
-something by DeLillo (I'm leaning towards "Libra")
-Godel, Escher, Bach
-Please Kill Me
-The Epic of Gilgamesh
-Jung (either Man and His Symbols or his autobiography)
-Cannery Row
-Tales of the City

Since I've got to get this down to 10, are there any particular plugs for "must reads" from the list? Any specific recommendations for the authors I'm not sure about which book to pick (Tom Robbins, Carver, Chandler, DeLillo)? Your input is appreciated...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Man, still inventing his doom

At the beginning of the year I started keeping track of certain science stories related to genetics, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence. I wanted to see what developments were out there that might contribute to the following: trends in genetics, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence, each of them accelerating individually and converging collectively, make it very likely that a fundamental transformation of the human species is at hand. This is likely to happen more or less instantly in evolutionary time. Even on the scale of our day-to-day lives, it's likely to occur well before the end of the century, and is thus something many of us might live to see, especially in as much as these trends involve medical advances as well.

You can see my Q1 and Q2 recaps in previous postings. For Q3, even with me out of the country and not paying much attention for the month of August, several interesting stories have appeared:

Tiny New Battery is Printable

Embryonic stem cells used to create human sperm
Military Develops 'Cybug' Spies
Contact lens can dispense drugs to eyes
Gel heals injured brain and bone
Gene Therapy Cures Colorblindness in Monkeys
Brain scan reveals what you've seen
Micorsoft researcher converts his brain into E-memory

Even in this few months worth of headlines you can see potential for expanded lifespans, mobile robots powered by lightweight power sources and human brains interfaced with computers. To quote the prophet David Bowie:

Let me make it plain
You gotta make way for the homo superior

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Rising Tide of Right Wing Violence

In April, when a Department of Homeland Security report on the potential emergence of right-wing domestic terror threats was partially leaked, the Right in this country went wild with scorn and mockery. The media widely reported the dissing of the report, but did very little analysis of the relative merits or lack thereof of the idea.

The title, "Right-Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment", pretty much gives you the thesis. You would think someone in the press at the time might have taken said thesis a little seriously based on:

- Jim Adkinson going on a shooting spree in a Unitarian church in June 2008 because, as explained in a letter he left behind, he “wanted to kill liberals”.

- Campaign rallies toward the end of the Presidential election where a beaming Sarah Palin said things like “You really get it!” to whipped-up crowds yelling “Traitor!” and “Kill him!” when Obama was mentioned.

- An assassination plot by skinhead groups that was broken up shortly after the election.

- Conservative groups organizing anti-Obama “Tea Parties” across the nation including one in which Texas Governor Rick Perry said frustration with the government might run so high that Texas might have to secede.

- Richard Poplawski in Pennsylvania, who frequently fretted about "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" staging a domestic disturbance on April 4th, donning body-armor and loading an AK-47 to then shoot the officers who responded.

By April, was it really that ridiculous to think that economic hardship in the country, combined with a sudden political change and exacerbated by alarmism from Rightist media, might be creating a milieu of violent extremism?

One could certainly make the case that Adkinson and Poplawski were lone nuts, but as subsequent coverage has made clear, they weren’t lone nuts who appeared out of the ether. Officers found Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O'Reilly Factor by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly in Adkinson’s apartment after the shooting. The note he left behind specifically mentions wanting to kill the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37). Poplawski turned out to be a follower of Alex Jones, who used to be a fringe 9-11 conspiracist but by March 2009 appeared on hailed as “the one, the only, the great Alex Jones," in a segment warning about "what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away."

If mainstream media didn’t spot any emerging trend in April, you think they might have been on to one this summer, when, in the space of less than two weeks:

- Shawna Forde, a former member of the anti-illegal immigration border watch group the Minutemen, posed with another man as police officers in order to enter the home of a Hispanic family and kill them in Arizona on May 30th.

- Prominent abortion doctor Richard Tiller was gunned down in church in Wichita, Kansas on May 31st.

- White supremacist James Wenneker von Brunn went on a shooting spree in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. on June 10th.

Still not enough trend? How about Virginia Congressional candidate Catherine Crabill in July helpfully noting that, if candidates trying to stop “Marxism” fail to get elected in November, at least we still have guns to affect change? How about the town hall meetings and Tea Parties all fall where Obama has been excoriated in the most inflammatory language? Find Mark Williams of the group Tea Party Express, for example, calling Obama an "Indonesian Muslim and welfare thug".

And then there’s Chris Broughton, who proudly wore an assault rifle and a handgun to an Obama rally in Arizona in August. Far from being a disconnected lone nut, Broughton is actually a member of a church congregation whose pastor, while disavowing calling for anyone in particular to do anything illegal, publicly prays that Obama “die and go to hell.”

Is it possible that a sitting member of Congress shouting “You Lie!” during a Presidential address is the relative ruly tip of an increasingly unruly iceberg of growing radicalization that is implicitly encouraged by leaders of the Conservative movement? Possible enough that we might want to take a serious look at what’s going on?

Before dismissing this as Liberal paranoia, let’s play a thought game:

What if, during the 2000 election, a radical leftist had gone on a shooting spree in an evangelical church leaving behind a note saying he wanted to, “kill conservatives?” Not long thereafter, Gore’s VP candidate had grinned and encouraged crowds shouting that Bush was a fascist who should be killed. After the election of Bush, left wing acts of violence dotted the country in the following months as prominent Liberals organized and encouraged town halls where Bush was described as dangerous and a threat. A Democratic congressional candidate advocated violent revolution if Liberals lost elections and a prominent Democratic governor mentioned seceding if Bush's agenda continued. And then a gun-totting member of a radical Black church congregation whose pastor called for Bush’s death came to a rally that the President was at? How calm, nuanced, reasoned and balanced would Fox News and talk radio be in reporting on this?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Help with my Ten Books in 2010 self-challenge

I've decided to issue myself a self-challenge in 2010: I'm going to try to read 10 books that are on my "always wanted to, but never got around to" list.

Now is the part where you come in- I've started a list, but it has over ten entires, with more being added all the time. Any particular "yea" votes? Or suggestions about something I might want to add? The list so far (mixing sacred and profane, in no particular order):

-the Illiad
-Paradise Lost
-Short Stories of Dostoevsky
-something by Tom Robbins (what?)
-Catcher in the Rye
-Jesus' Son
-Letters to a Young Poet
-something by Raymond Chandler (what?)
-something by Raymond Carver (particular recommendation?)
-the Analects
-the Varieties of Religious Experience
-Aristotle's Poetics
-The Corrections
-Good in Bed
-Pass it On
-something by DeLillo (I'm leaning towards "Libra")
-Godel, Escher, Bach
-Please Kill Me
-The Epic of Gilgamesh

Any suggestions?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

September Writing News

Now that I’m back from safari (more on that later) I figured it was time for another monthly update on my creative doings:

Film- “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date”, one section of my three-part short film “Triptych” will screen at the Victoria Theatre on October 4th. I wrote and produced this one, for the next round in Scary Cow I’m thinking of directing a new project as well. While I ponder that, you can check out the previous installment of Triptych that screened in June, “Geek Wars”, on the Scary Cow website, project #33:

Publication- I just put together a portfolio of things that I’ve had published in the last few years. To my surprise, it reached almost 50 pages. Maybe I’m not as much of a slacker as I think! The latest additions are more musings on hipsters for LEGENDmag: , the short prose piece “relapse in 26 lines” for Slouch Magazine: , and two poems for the science section in Umbrella Journal’s school-themed issue:

Performance- I read at Magnet’s “Smackdab” reading series on Wednesday July 15th and at the Gallery Café poetry series on Monday August 3rd. The Magnet audience was mostly gay, which means they were literate and paying attention. Love it! The Gallery Café was also excellent, one of the largest and highest quality reading series I’ve been to, I definitely plan to go back some time. As for September, I’m not sure where I’m going to read yet, but I’m pledged to try, so stay tuned for details…

Novel- Still not sure what I’m going to do with the revision suggestions I got from the manuscript evaluation by the freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February regarding my novel, Out in the Neon Night. Until I figure it out, you can read the first chapter on my blog:

Blog- The biggest doing on my blog has been my updates from my three-week trip to Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia in August. I finally have my pictures up too! Check it out here:

So there you have it, with more to come…

My Africa pictures are online!

As some of you may have heard, I went to Tanzania


and Ethiopia

for three weeks last month. I now have some of my pictures from the trip in an online slideshow. Come and check it out! And you can also read my blogs from the trip if you like...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The blog Ethiopia didn't want you to see II

I will contend with Africa no more- homeward bound!

I'm writing this at 10 AM (from my perspective) at the Semien Hotel in Addis Ababa, shortly before departing for my journey homeward. The end of (roughly) three weeks in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Wow!

Yesterday, my last day here in Ethiopia, I spent the morning repaying all the folks whose kindness helped me enjoy Lalibela and Axum. Surprisingly, doing a money transfer at a domestic bank in Ethiopia was nowhere near as mind-numbing as I had feared! After that, I headed to the National Museum. After shaking off the efforts of a wannabe rasta "student" who swooped down on me as soon as the taxi stopped and tried to steer me to other sites that he would "guide" me to, I made my way inside. Man what is it with the scammy gangster wannabe rastas in Ethiopia?

Inside, a real bonafide student who worked at the museum gave me a free guided tour. Punctuated by the lights going out in the middle of a torrential raainstorm right when we reached Lucy. They came back on eventually and great aunt ^ 3.4 million years and I got to visit. It wasn't the real Lucy, which is usually in storage and only available to researchers (but is now touring the world for the first time ever!) but a cast, first of the bones laid out flat, and then reconstructed in a standing position. Australopithecus Afarensis was short, which I appreciate in a hominid, not being the tallest myself.

The museum was also full of a lot of other neat stuff, including some really stunning stone carvings from the 2600 year-old civilization at Yeha, and a fantastic contemporary art section. My guide was also knowledgable, friendly, and totally embarassed when I offered him a small tip at the end of the tour. We exchanged e-mails, as I have with a lot of people here, and hope to keep in touch. He's the kind of person I hope to remember more when I think of this country, rather than predatory pseudo-rastas. Although I guess both are parts of the same reality...

After that I hailed a taxi and tried to reach the national cathedral and a market I had read about that had fair fixed prices (I just don't have the haggle and bargain gene). The driver had never heard of any such places (even though a half dozen people in the last two days had mentioned the cathedral by name to me), but I did get a de facto city tour as he tried to find them. Finally I decided to stop contending with Africa and just return to my hotel. Boy was he consternated by that direction! It's been a long three weeks, and I'm happy to call the contest a draw. Africa-Chris tied 1-1, both retire for the evening.

In my case that meant a warm bath and watching the end of Police Academy on satellite TV. And now I'm here, about to depart. A 2 hour flight to nairobi, layover there, much longer flight to Amsterdam, layover there, and then a two hour flight to San Francisco. At least that's how I interpret it- I leave Amsterdam at 11 AM and arrive in San Francisco at 1 PM. That's two hours, right? Or maybe something is wrong in my figuring...

Regardless, I look forward to seeing you all soon!

The blog Ethiopia didn't want you to see I

I never did get to post my last two entries from Addis Ababa, as the government of Ethiopia, in their infinite wisdom on how to deal with potential dissent, blocks I was able to post them as Facebook notes (which tells you what a thankless job blocking specific websites in order to silence voices is), I figured I'd post them here for completeness' sake. First below, second to follow...

P.S. I'm back!
Last day in Africa!

I think you could make a case that tomorrow is my last day in Africa, since my flight out of Addis Ababa isn't until after noon, and then I have a connecting flight through Nairobi that doesn't leave until 10 PM. But let's not get distracted by technicalities- this is my last (full) day in Africa!

I'm currently in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. I arrived here yesterday from Axum. Many apologies for not blogging more from there, the connections in Axum were 56 kbps dial-up (I didn't think that still existed outside of my parent's house!) and Blogger and Facebook were just way too much for those poor little phone lines.

My second day in Axum I visited the remains of Ethiopia's (and sub-saharan Africa's) oldest surviving structures, a 2600 year-old temple in Yeha, about a half-day's trip from Axum. This site is thought to be the font of all later Ethiopian civilization and completed my journey backwards in time (the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela are around 12th century, the stellea and other remains of the Axumite civilzation are from about 200 BC to 900 AD). It was truly awesome to stand there amidst walls that are still standing from before the birth of Socrates, arund the time of the Old Testament prophets.

The third day in Axum I had a chance to visit the old town, a winding array of old stone houses that was the area where most people lived before moving to the more "modern" concrete and electircity newer parts of town. UNESCO, which is big on preserving the historical heritage sites in Ethiopia, is actually paying most of these people to relocate, so the remains of the Axumite civilization that are under their farmhouses can be recovered. It makes sense, but also seems a shame, since those houses themselves are lovely and historic.

All-in-all, I'm glad I got to spend a third day in Axum, since it gave me a chance to appreciate it on my own (the omnipresent wannabe rastaman guide who met me at the airport had business out of town that day). It also gave me a bit of a break from the guide's constant attempts to hustle and vercharge me for things, although there were plenty of other people around town (including one of the busboys at my hotel!) who tried to take up where he left off. Let's just say if the people in Lalibela made that town seem like heaven, the people in Axum did a good job of presenting the other end of the cosmic spectrum...

But yesterday I arrived here in Addis Ababa, where, among other things, people are too busy being in the capital city to even care to much abut little old tourist me. It's bliss! The city itself is also really lovely- even though the population is well into the millions, the terrain is hilly, trees are everywhere throughout, and the whole thing is ringed by mountains, giving it a much more calm, fresh and open feeling than you might expect. I visited St. George Church and the Ethnographic Museum, which is housed in the former palace of Emperor Haile Selaisse. I even got a chance to see his still preserved bedroom, changing room and bathroom!

Today I have my sights set on the national cathedral, and the National Museum, where I look forward to meeting my great^3.4 million years aunt Lucy. I'll hopefully report about that tomorrow morning, and then I'm homeward bound!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Axum

So here I am on my fourth night in Ethiopia, and the first in the town of Axum. Sorry I haven't written for a few days. If you want to introduce some chaos into your travel plans in Africa, I suggest the following:

1. Leave Momabasa, Kenya for a connecting flight through Nairobi to Ehtiopia on the day Kenya airways resolves a three-day old strike.

2. Amidst the total chaos in the Nairobi airport with lines out the door, be lucky to get your (much delayed) flight, and have no time to do anything else at the airport.

3. Upon 2 AM arrival in Addis Ababa, Ehtiopia, find the one open foreign exchange window refuse to change your Kenya Shillings for Ethiopian Birr.

4. Proceed directly via a 7 AM flight to Lalibela, Ethiopia, a small town where nobody exchanges any currency except US$, and no bank will take any form of debit or credit card. You have plenty of money for the next few days, becuase the guidebooks warned you to make sure you had cash as nothing else was accessible, but you can't use any of it.

That being said, the people I met in Lalibela are the nicest people I have met anywhere. The manager at my hotel, the Lal Hotel, said to just charge everything to my room and pay their head office when I got back to Addis Ababa in a few days. And then a very nice gentlemen at the Ehtiopian Airlines office, not wanting me to backtrack to Addis just to be able to change money, loaned me some money to be able to go on here to Axum after Lalibela. My saviors!

The town was just as beautiful as the people. It's the rainy season, so everything is verdant green, and the whole small town is laid out up and down hills. The centerpiece, and the reason I was there, was a series of 12th and 13th century rock-hewn churches that were meant to create a "New Jerusalem" in Ethiopia and continue to be a pilgrimmage site to this day. Simply stunning to see, and to feel the power of people chanting and praying in carved out stone that has been visited continually for over 900 years.

And today I was on to Axum, which was the site of a major civilization that traded far and wide from about 400 BC to 900 AD. They left huge craved stellae (think, big stone obelisk) which I visited today. They also converted around 300 AD to Christianity, becoming the second oldest Christian nation in the world. The big pilgrammage site here is Saint Mary of Zion, built around 1600 by medieval Ethiopian emperors on the foundations of an older church dating to around 600 AD. There's also a small chapel on the grounds that's said to house the Ark of the Covenant.

Yes, that's right, the Ark of the Covenant. Legend has it that it was brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba's son by King Solomon. The Ehtiopian Emperors, right down to Haille Selaisse, continued to claim descent from Solomon. Only the head priest can enter the holy of holies hwere it's kept, but I did my best to soak up sacred emananations from a distance without bursting in to flame.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to visit the even older ruins of a civilzation at a site near here called Yeha, and then one more day here after that before heading back to Addis Ababa for the finale of my Africa excursion. I hope to write more tomorrow!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Last night in Kenya

I'm back in Mombasa now after a sweaty, jostly but otherwise quite fine ride down the coast from Watamu. This is my last night in Kenya- tomorrow I do some sightseeing around town, and then head to the airport for the flight to Ethiopia. This is also the halfway mark of my journey overall, the first half in Tanzania and Kenya, and now the next half in Ethiopia. In honor of this, I'd like to mention a few things about the Tanzania/Kenya potyion that didn't make it in to the daily narrative:

- I love women's dresses. No, this isn't some kind of long overdue confession. Rather, just an appreciation for the incredible colors and patterns I've seen in dresses all over these two countires.

- Matatus rock! They're these litle minibuses that are the main means of transport, and they're much cheaper than any taxi or bus, and always colorfully decorated. usually with religious themes, but I've also seen Jay-Z, Eminem, Ludacris and Led Zeppelin.

- Safari moments that didn't make the main narrative, like when my driver got out to pee at one point, and a distant herd of elephants trumpeted and formed a defensive circle around their young, or when he caused a mother lion to long around puzzled when he mimicked the meow of one of her cubs.

- The sounds and smells of safari. You know the images, buy you have to include the smell of dung, pervasive mooing of wildebeest, and incredible racket of hippos.

- Also that it's not all fun and games. I saw bones scattered all over, we came across hyaneas chewing on the head of a wildebeest, and at one point we came upon a dying hyeana by the side of the road, after it had probably fought with others or (m guide guessed) been kicked by a buffalo.

- Cats! I never saw any in Tanzania, but there was a black cat at the border crossing with Kenya (good sign) and I've seen them around in cities and villages all over Kenya.

- The sound of the call to prayer at all hours of night and day. Tanzania and Kenya are both about half and half Muslim and Christian, and the coast in Kenya where I've been for the last few days is mostly Muslim, so there's always a mosque nearby.

These are a few things that come to mind now, I'm sure I'm missing many others. But soon it's on to Ethiopia, with all new adventures to share! I'm arriving very late, so probably I'll check in the day after tomorrow. See you all then!


Friday, August 14, 2009

My Life in Ruins

Hello from Watamu! Which is a coastal town in Kenya, about 50 miles north of Mombasa. I arrived here yesterday by a little 9 seater van, the ubiquitous form of inter-city transport here in East Africa. It was a pretty uneventful journey, although the old lady next to me was wincing the whole time. At first I thought it was me, but then I realized she had some kind of pain. Other than the general pain of being jammed in a mini-van with 8 sweaty people.

I came here to visit the nearby ruins at Gede, which I went to today. There was apparently a very prosperous Swahili trading town here from around 1200-1500, although no historical record mentions it. It was large though, with a palace, inner and outer walls, and numerous houses and mosques, and the people there traded with Arabia, India, the Meditarranean and China based on goods found there. All of it now is stone ruins, crumbling into the jungle. It really struck me, bing there in this place that was once busy, touching stone walls that somebody had erected 600 years ago, and then eventually totally abandoned it. There weren't many people there, most of the jungle trails I had to myself, so much so that I occassionally wondered if I'd get back to the entrance on my own. I did though, and had some quality monkey and butterfly encounters along the way.

That mission being accomplished, I'm heading back to Mombasa tomorrow, and then flying on to Ethiopia the next day. Until then, I'm going back to my guest house and it's resident herd of goats and swarm of cats. Now that's wildlife!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

So now we're in Kenya...

...Mombasa, to be exact, the second largest city in Kenya with a lovely location right on the Indian Ocean. I am so happy to smell ocean again! What can I say, I'm a coastal kind of guy... In any case, I arrived here through what has probably been the most dangerous part of my journey to date, a 9 hour bus ride from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It actually wasn't too scary, and I ended up going with a really local carrier, a girl from China, 2 Spaniards and I were the only non-Africans on the bus. The most heart-stopping moment came when we debussed for lunch. I didn't know what was going on, and by the time I got my order together and started eating, the bus was making like to leave the parking lot! Much fun scrambling ensued. Anyway, I'm here now and I quite like here.

A lot of people in Arusha pointed out to me that the Bush from Arusha to Mombasa is actually faster than from Dar es Salaam, so i didn't need to fly there first. The reservation was already pre-paid, though, so I went with the wheels that were already in motion. I kind of wish I had known about it beforehand, though, becuase Dar was chaotic and most maked by a fight with my hotel when they said I couldn't downgrade from deluxe to regular. At which point I walked out, and headed to a hotel next door. I'm still looking for the hotel police to bust me, but I guess I'm safe since I'm in another country now.

Flying there did get me a stop at the island resort of Zanzibar on the way, though. The white sand beaches and coral reefs were duly spectacular from the air. And sitting with a bunch of bus goers in a dark alley at 6 AM waiting to disembark is it's own kind of fun too. I've been up at or before 6 half the days I've been here so far! I think I need to look up the meaning of the word "vacation"...

For now, though, I'm just happy because this city is pretty groovy, and my room has a bathtub, something I've been coveting. Tomorrow I'm up at a reasonable hour and taking a bus up the coast to a small beachside town where I'm going to stay for two nights, as a base to check out the ruins of an old Swahili trading town. Internet allowing, I'll check in from there tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lions and hippos and boars, oh my!

I'm back from my three-day safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro parks in Tanzania. This will be a little brief and impressionistic, as I am a bit bleary thanks to three days in a row of 6 AM awakenings. Some of the things that stand out for me, amidst an overall experience that was amazing and outstanding:

- The red and purple-garbed Maasai herders tending animals along the roads.

- The variety of climates from arid semi-desert ot mountain rainforest to grasslands.

- Did I say grasslands? Vast grasslands in the Serengeti, stretching to the horizon with a sky bigger than you can imagine.

- Camping under the unfamiliar, and yet not, diamond blaze of the southern stars.

- Baboons swarming across the road the minute we entered Ngorongoro Park.

- The first sighting of an elephant emerging from the mist.

- Seeing a hippo chasing a lion away from a watering hole.

- Lions? Yes, many, often quite close. Sometimes with cubs.

- The roaring and tense stare-offs that occured when one pride of lions strayed too close to another.

- Not to let the rest of the feline world be outdone, cheetahs, a leopard, and a serval cat (a litle spotted wildat, which darted across the road with something in it's mouth).

- Zebras wandering through our campsite at Ngorongoro, and the elephants that came to drink from the watertank there.

- Ngorongoro itself, a crater formed by the collapse of a twenty-mile wide volcanic crater, with tropical rainforests on it's flanks, and runoff feeding in to grasslands down below and creating a lake in the center.

-Olduvai Gorge. I could write a whole entry on that place alone. Suffice it to say that being where our whole genus was born was a profund experience for me. Go Homos! (and props to Australopithecines as well).

These are just some of the things that come to mind. In a basically two-day period (minus driving two and from, two days in the parks themselves) I saw elephants, giraffes, hippos, a rhino, buffalo, wildebeest, more different kinds of antelope and gazelle than I can name, zebras, lions, cheetahs, a leopard, a serval cat, hyaneas, jackals, baboons, monkeys, ostriches and assorted strange and wonderful birds. I'm sure I'm forgetting something in this list, overall an amazing experience, well well worth it. Thanks to my tour operator, Kilidove, and especially to my driver/guide and cook, who went above and beyond the call of service for helping me work things out along the way.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, from which I'll take a bus the next day to Mombasa, Kenya. More to follow...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Greetings from Arusha

I woke up this morning and confirmed that the vast dark space beyond my room was indeed a vast space, only now not quite so dark. It was a big plain, with dry scrubby brush, rainclouds looming, and the not-too distant mountains hidden in cloud. The air was thick with humidity and the strong smell of life, and birds flittd all around the garden between the bungalows. At breakfast there was a great deal of bird interest in my plate, but they were so pretty I didn't mind. I sat afterward at a table looking out at the brush, writing in my journal and planning out the rest of my day.

The rest of that day started with the driver from Kilidove, the tour company I'm taking the safari with, coming to pick me up to drive me in to town. His name was David, and we talked about rich and poor people, Obama, and history. He was especially keen on my upcoming trip to Ethiopia. Everything got much greener as we approached Arusha, which is by a river and gets the runoff from the mountains. The town is insanely busy, but everybody I've run into is incredibly warm and friendly. There's some hawking of goods to the tourist (of which there are a lot in this town, since it's the jumping off point for most safaris), but mostly just people who genuinely want to say hi and talk.

I wish I had more time, as it was, I spent the remainder of the day dealing with banks and payments for the safari, which I'm leaving on tomorrow. It's going to be three days, to the Sernengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and (I'm especially excited about this) a stopover at Olduvai Gorge. Since we'll be out in the wild with tents and all, I probably won't be able to write again until late on the 10th or sometime the on the 11th. I will, though, bring back lots of pictures for you all! Love to all until then, especially Abbey and the furry feline monsters we share our home with. I can't wait to tell them about their huge wild cousins when I get back...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Something scurried by in the heart of darkness

This will be brief, as I'm almost incoherently travel-addled, and purloining the hotel's office computer to write this. After more than 24 hours of flights spanning three continents, I'm here! Here is the KIA Lodge, next to Kilimanjaro International airport. Tomorrow I'll head in to Arusha, the town where a lot of the safaris in northern Tanzania leave from. For now I have a bungalow on the edge of a big dark plain, with scrubby brush and dim lighting from the moon through clouds. Something scurried away when the porter turned on the light on the front porch for me. What stayed was tons of geckos, which I hope will minimize the mosquito action. Headed to bed now, with strange new smells wafting in the moonlit breeze around me...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1,000,000 words

During a recent session of my bi-weekly writing group, while commiserating about what a long, rejection-laden road getting published can be, one of our members mentioned the notion that it’s not until you’ve written a million words that you’re even starting to get good.

While that sounded rather daunting, it reminded me of something I’d read in various Kerouac biographies. When Jack Kerouac first met William S. Burroughs in 1944, he apparently told Burroughs that he’d already written a million words. That always caught my imagination, impressing me with the relentless incandescence of his output, the drive to just get it out, out, out, at all costs. It also always made me feel like a big, fat failure, and a lethargic one to boot, since he would have only been 22 at the time.

I wondered if anybody else had an opinion about this “million words” idea. I found several people citing a quote from Henry Miller’s “On Writing” to the effect that it takes writing a million words to find your voice. Crime writer Elmore Leonard, who certainly ought to know a thing or two about good strong writing attributes it to the widely-revered John D. McDonald and says:

John D. McDonald said that you had to write a million words before you really knew what you were doing. A million words is ten years. By that time you should have a definite idea of what you want your writing to sound like. That’s the main thing. I don’t think many writers today begin with that goal: to write a certain way that has a definite sound to it.

Science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle, in an essay about how to get his job, helpfully notes that being an author is a really easy job. Unfortunately, nobody pays you to be an author until you first become a writer, which turns out to take work and time. In fact the work is mostly time, according to him:

I am sure it has been done with less, but you should be prepared to write and throw away a million words of finished material.

Pushcart prize-winning poet and novelist Ward Kelley had this intriguing wrinkle to contribute:

There’s that old saw about becoming a writer–if you want to be one, you first have to write a million words. While it’s an old saw, I believe it to be true. However, you seldom hear mentioned what should be tagged to the end of it. The axiom should include the reason for the million words: all these practice words put a writer in position to use the best literary advice I ever discovered. That advice is "don’t think."

Okay. Fine.

Where, I wondered, was I against this benchmark? I started to tally up the various things I’ve written since I recommitted to my childhood dream of writing following my divorce in 2002. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, between the manuscript of my novel, a not-yet completed new novel, print and online essays and articles, my short film screenplays, poetry, as-yet unpublished short stories, blog postings, and journals, I am closing in on 800,000 words. At this pace, in another two to three years I’ll reach 1 million and actually be starting to produce something worthwhile. Hooray!

That honestly doesn’t seem so bad now that I’ve come this far. And if I’ll be almost twenty years older at that point than Kerouac was when he reached one million, maybe my remaining creative (not to mention physical) lifespan will at least match the 25 years that lay ahead of him at 22. Not too bad, not too bad…

Friday, July 10, 2009

Man has invented more doom!

You may have seen my blog from earlier in the year tracking stories that had to do with the gathering forces of genetic manipulation, cybernetics and artificial intelligence that, I would (and d0) content stand to fundamentally transform our species into something new within short order (less than 100 years, quite possibly less than 50 years). That blog was illustrated with stories I'd run across in the first quarter of the year. I thought I'd update it now with some from Q2:

Robot scientists can think for themselves

MIT droids tend plants

Mind-Reading Device Sends Twitter Messages

DNA Nanotechnology making custom shapes

Flesh-eating robot

Genetically engineered monkeys pass on glow to offspring

Human Language Gene Changes the Sound of Mouse Squeaks

Synthetic fiber may cure blindness

Robot displaying emotions unveiled

Robot surgeon finds tiny shrapnel

Australian scientists kill cancer cells with "Trojan horse"

So what do you think? Has man, as Bob Dylan puts it in License to Kill, "Invented his doom"? What does "doom" mean in this context? Unparalleled disaster, or a bold new change?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

July (and June!) Writing News

Yes, we’ve gone into extended two-month issues for the summer. You know how it is, what with family visiting and being out of town and moving in with girlfriends and all. At least that’s what I did on my summer vacation! In between, some creative activity has occurred as well. To whit:

Film- “Geek Wars”, one part of my three-part short film “Triptych” (formerly “Three Conversations About No Thing”) screened at the Victoria Theatre on June 7th. The audience seemed to enjoy it. You might too! You can see it on the Scary Cow website, project #33: . You can also catch me playing the pizza delivery guy briefly at the beginning of #22, “Just Super”, which I did set management & costuming for as well. The crew is currently working on editing the remainder of Triptych, which we’ll screen during Scary Cow’s next quarterly screening this fall. I’ll announce more as the time approaches...

Publication- I’m at 22 submissions for the first half of the year, not far off my goal of one a week, and already higher than all of 2008! The acceptance rate is currently at 9% versus 2008’s eventual 14.3%, for those of you with a statistical interest. Two of the latest fruits of this labor to appear are “Post-separation alone at night listening to Patti Smith sing “Dancing Barefoot” while thinking of mistakes I made while living in Hong Kong blues” in Lit Up Magazine (posted May 30th): and “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” in the July issue of SoMa Literary Review:

Performance- I read at the Café Brainwash open mic on May 18th, my fourth public reading so far this year. It was a really fun, boisterous venue, and I got to be all prophetic by reading a new poem on autoerotic asphyxiation before that whole David Carradine business. My next targets are to read at Magnet’s “Smackdab” reading series on Wednesday July 15th and at the Gallery Café poetry series on Monday August 3rd. See you there?

Novel- I’m currently absorbing the manuscript evaluation feedback from the freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February regarding my novel, Out in the Neon Night. What she advises would be some significant structural reworking, but it is intriguing, I just need to figure out if I agree and if I’m up for it. Until then, you can read the first chapter on my blog:

Blog- Did I just say Blog? Yes I did! You can catch up with my attempt to write 40 poems in 40 days, musings on Dylan, and other topics at: Definitely check it out in August, when I’ll be traveling in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia and doing updates from the road as frequently as time and technology allow.

I look forward to sharing more with you in all these areas now that we’re in the second half of the year!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Forty Poems in 40 days-sputtered out at 35.

Well, it was a noble experiement. And if moving and the busiest work week I've had in like, ever at this job, and an out of town trip all conspired to zap me short of the finish line, I still learned something. Namely that, despite what I have long believed, one does not have to passively wait for the Muse to arrive to do poetry. It can be practiced on demand. Maybe not always prettily, but it is possible. Good news for stuck poets everywhere who want the kick-start! Below are entries 21-35. You can find 1-10 and 11-20 in previous entries.


Two shakes of a lamb’s tail
Urban Dictionary:
Where did the phrase come from?
Answer Girl:
No one seems to know.
Her dark matter:
One who has seen, sees readily.
The Maven’s Word of the Day:
Visualize those little tails
constantly thrashing
back and forth.

Book of Love
Who, they ask
(understand, despite
my coming disparagement
of it,
that it remains
a damn fine question)
who wrote the book of love.
Who wrote it?
We ought to ask:
Has anybody ever read
the motherfucker?
The world has
by and large
seems to have
left it on the shelf.
But you and I,
You and I…

Meeting Abbey’s Mom
Curtain pulled to one side
staring out morning window
with the cat.
Hand on doorknob
deep breath before opening
warm flannel
deep bosom hug.
Amused smile
sideways glances
holding her hand.
Hearing of
embarrassing childhood
now warming
to possibilities.

Do it now!
Turn down the dog
Switch off the cat
Floss your pants
Fluff the driveway
Put on your groceries
Unzip the TV
Slip on your car
Make the garden
Water your bed
Fold the eggs
Whatever word is given
Act don’t think
Do it now

Concrete Poem
one square
with hints
of silver and white
smooth plane
marred by chunks
and lumps of age
spotted with pads
of squashed black
sticky gum
white splatter
left by
passing bird
and green-yellow scrub
growing at the margins

Ergonome’s 12 Golden Rules for safe keyboard use #11 & 12 work well for life in general too
When you travel
from Home,
don’t resist
natural movement
When you’re not traveling,
Rest at Home

Church Street Café
Back when it was Muddy Waters
this place
used to be
a train-wreck,
each pitted, scarred table
a coach carrying
a choir of whores
who gargled
waterfalls of scorn,
their filth lodged
in every crevice
of the cracked,
blackened brick wall.
When it was renamed
a gong must have struck
in some eternal realm
sparking a baptism,
the whole place born again
as a respectable haunt
of laptop computers
and advertising execs
talking independent film.

Morning commute, 28 Fort Mason
Bank of dirty brown-gray cloud behind
Stonestown pull of the magnet from the
journal clasp on the pen ivy-choked parking
lot fence work crew shoveling piles of tar
into hole in the road hedges look like an
80s rapper’s haircut San Francisco Masonic
Center glares through lack of windows
Taraval Vietnamese place orange green
red splash of color on the corner Sunset
lettered avenues a sea of pastel houses
squat peach Jiffy Lube guards Noriega’s
slope down to the sea growing crowd of
elderly Chinese at the front of the bus
broken by lone Russian newspaper reader
“wet paint” sign by the barrel-chested
green trash can on Judah chipped paint on
a forlorn tan house between Iriving and
Lincoln thick green trees on either side of
the fast route through the park clear smell
of eucalyptus through the window blue-suited
crews watering & pruning he rose garden at
Fulton the girl on at Balboa long straight
blonde hair mass exodus at Geary as always
California connection to Chinatown finishes
off the stragglers white arrows point toward
narrow lanes green walls climb the side
toward the tunnel flickering halogen light in
concrete tube on the other side tall trees in
the Presidio like matchsticks white clock and
red lights on the toll booth steel gray bay and
red thrust of bridge up into foggy
disappearance ivy ripples in the wind at the
turnaround Coast Guard ship clipping white
trail through the Bay Palace dome with white
city dully gleaming in background light is
transparent here at the stop.

The first twenty minutes
always makes me cry
With the medal cast
on the burning sands
The Golden Gate
And the shuttle
with the admiral
circling the ship
like a lover
approaching the beloved
with hushed reverence

Changing Viewpoints
We are flat, and
it moves around us.
We are round, and
it moves around us.
We move around it,
in epicycles.
We move around it,
in ellipses.
We move around it,
in ellipses, determined by
the force of gravity.
We, and it, and millions of others
are all gathered together.
Billions of others, all gathered
together in a giant pinwheel.
Our pinwheel just one of billions.
Just one of billions
all expanding outward
from a single point.
From a single point,
that’s a quantum fluctuation.
Quantum fluctuations
are influenced by observers.
It moves around us?

This seat is mine motherfucker!
Surge of adrenaline
and leap to the feet
from the crappy side-facing seat
as the bus slams to a stop.
Launch down the aisle
icy stare-down of the old man
bounding my way,
with no regard
for little old ladies
boarding in the back.
Slide in to the last forward-facing seat
for the long ride to come,
panic finally subsiding.

from pointing straight up
to shriveled
can happen in six seconds flat
when she pulls a gun

Ode to Sinatra and Sean Combs in Hell
I see k.d. lang
on TV screen
singing with Tony Bennet
and I like her less.
What’s she doing
with that thug?
Then I realize I’m confusing
Tony Bennet
with Dean Martin
and I like them both again.
And really
I only feel that way
about Dean Martin
because he palled around with
Frank Sinatra.
So maybe
he’s innocent too.
my contempt for P. Puff-diddly Comb
and his whole genocidal crew
remains undimmed.
I guess I just don’t like gangsters.

Every day in recovery is like this
The bee on my shoulder
It is his nature,
he means no particular harm.
I move to swat.
It is instinct,
I contemplate it without malice.
I use the umbrella strap
to brush him off.
A new day has dawned.

Singing the lease
walking from room to room
checking the fixtures
your ghost was on me
like a rabid Pomeranian

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Forty Poems in Forty Days- part II

Half way through my self-imposed challenge of writing 40 poems in 40 days, and I'm still in it. As proof, here are the poems from days 11-20. Fair warning: among the prompts in this ten day period were writing something repulsive and/or not politically correct, and writing an over the top erotic poem. If you read further, having been warned, I am not responsible for what happens to you...

Day 11 called for no punctuation
The thing is (comma)
it’s not hard for me to do (period)
It’s easy (exclamation point)
I often leave punctuation out
in my poems (semi-colon)
commas (comma)
semicolons (comma)
even periods
or question marks (period)
Doesn’t everyone (question mark)

It’s a
twisty white
to heaven.

It all makes sense now…
All the mother wounds
God-shaped holes
shifty obsessions
and cat love.
Even the Disappearing Mine
when I was ten
and the meaning
of the Green Flash incident.

I understand it all,
the secret.
The key lies in realizing
that your whole life
is actually—

Ah, but I don’t need
to tell you.
You can see for yourself
just do what I did:

In Microsoft Excel 2009
go to the menu, click on “tools”
choose “data analytics” from the dropdown
install the “analyze my whole damn life” toolpack
then use the help menu
to write the “understand everything” equation.

Minor Hues
Everybody knows
about ochre,
and burnt sienna.
But who respects beaver?
What praise draws timberwolf?
Wherefore not into glory goes cornflower?
Is there a palette
that will honor
these marginal shades
before Crayola
shuffles off
their mortal coil?

The Ideal Man
You can keep
and young Ganymede
buggered by Jupiter.
Give me
William Shatner,
circa 1967,
yellow-green tunic
torn at the shoulder,
wiping blood
off of his knuckle-busted
Elvis sneer
before teaching
a quarrelsome Klingon
the facts of life.

(untitled haiku)
Poop? Poop! Coprolites?
Maybe in a few million
Shit hardened years

Summer of Hate
I hear it was
really something
that first summer of 1967.
Peace and Flowers
positive vibrations
all that happy hippy bullshit.
But within a few years
the hippies switched
from LSD to speed
started killing cats for food
and the streets
filled with real shit.
Ever since then
it’s been
a Summer of Hate.

A Summer of
disease infected homeless
in crap-caked clothes.

A summer of
sneering teen gutter punks
from the burbs
playing homeless for the weekend
spitting on passersby
who don’t give them change.

A Summer of
abscess ridden junkies
leaving their fluids in the gutter
and port-a-potties overflowing
with the orange caps
of their syringes

A Summer of
Those who never made it out
of the Sixties
wandering emaciated
food and dried slobber-ridden
birds nest beards shaking
as they rant to thin air.

A Summer of
faux nostalgia head shops
yuppie ice cream parlors
and comodified counterculture
drawing in
fat, complacent onlookers.

Summer in and Summer out
for almost 40 years now
an Endless Summer
of Haight.

Autoerotic asphyxiation
Every time I think of you
I pull the plastic tubing
a little tighter
swell another half inch
and reach for the lube

How I Know I’m In Love
Sometimes it comes
In little things transformed:
Your earplugs on the dresser
Coated with dried wax
Beautiful to me

Captain! Oh Conservative captain!
(with all due apologies to Walt Whitman and Abe Lincoln)

This twentieth day of May
Two Thousand and Nine
you left us, dear Rush.
Call me no more, you said
the titular head
of the party Republican.
“I never sought it.
I give it back.”
Oh sweet selfless prince!
At the thought of politics
shorn of your presence
I weep, unashamed, like a woman,
and tear my shirt in grief.
“Mention me not,”
you told MSNBC,
“for an entire month!”
An entire month!
Scarcely can I imagine one day
without you by my side
to stem the Liberal tide.
The dark days ahead
seem to me as grim
as to you must seem
the thought of life
without oxycontin.