Sunday, February 22, 2015


Moving has always been difficult for me.  It's the rootless feeling and the uncertainty of change, not to mention change of address madness.  It gets easier as I get older, but still, I'd rather not.  As I anticipate me next move, and hopefully the last one for awhile, I'm struck by how many people I now know are in this fluid state and all for such different reasons.

My family is currently searching for a place to own so that we have some control and certainty over the critical process of our aging and some say over where we would like to live.  Our town, like many, is changing so rapid that people are being out priced or out spent about these decisions.  Rentals are high and higher, and prospective home buyers are being out spent by those who have cash.  And then their are a few couples I know who seem to be separating.  Half of these twosomes will be seeking a separate home for at least a short while.  Their distance show their commitment to changing what's gone wrong in their relationships.  Kids, of course, suffer because they have m resistance to change times ten.
The eldest members of my extended family are contemplating the moment when they leave their homes for some sort of assisted living.  They too are resisting this most unavoidable but but inevitable decision.  So here we are in the same tub, wondering how this will all play out.
Unlike past experiences, I intend to live in the moment and resist my temptation to awfulize...I think...I hope.
Moving makes me put m life in perspective too.
Thinking about refugees, the dispossessed, the war-torn, and those running for their lives, I have no right to claim anxiety.  I get that.  I think, too, about the contrast between those moving away from neighbors and those moving away from people or toward their own autonomy.  Both face uncertainty, maybe exhilaration, at some point later down the road.
When I used to move years ago, I'd start with boxing up all my books and records.  If either were not shelved, I knew I meant business.  In this age of email and I-Phones, I wonder if we feel less unconnected when we move.  Something to keep in mind.
Moving, for me now starts with more downsizing and I must admit I am enjoying that because it underscores more new beginnings.  Unburdening myself from furniture, rugs, more books and recordings, and some of the material possessions I identified as "impossible to live without" for some now unknown reason.
What to keep and what to move on?  Everything.

Friday, February 13, 2015

From the Bottom

Spent the day with the Oregon Writing Project at the annual Renewal Day.  I always look forward to what kind of poetry or fiction or memoir will emerge.  All writing is creative writing, isn't it?
In an exercise about writing about place, this arrived:

My focus was a classroom,
Another home for 30 years,
Behind carved desks, a wall of faces: Flannery O'Connor, Little Richard,
                                                        Roberto Clemente, Little Rascals,
               Alice Walker, a devilish Steinbeck, Langston Hughes smiles down,
                         On Josephine Baker,
Lunch bags, Kleenex, scampering ants,
A discarded note,
                           Home to lockdowns, life choices, fishbowl discussions,
The quake of '89, the fire of '91, a place to cry for untimely death,
     I am no longer the abandoned school building,
          The grattified wall, or the secrets in the teacher's desk,
I became the river that springs from the side of a mountain,
     With hand-painted trout, families of otters, and lightning to make
A fly rod tremble,
I see stoneflys and Blue Winged Olives hatch,
     Like the child I was born in L.A. music clubs,
A hatchling crawling out of pop music and the Vietnam War,
Into the web of America's stolen treasure,
     From an Ashgrove of legends-- I saw them all,
                      -Howlin' Wolf
                     -Big mama Thornton
                     -Son House
 All, gone now, like the scene: played out,
  But sometimes, I remember Sunday afternoons, when I'd wander in that club,
                        To find Taj Mahal, with his gospel/Jazz bloodlines,
                                     Teaching the next generation.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Lucky To Be

All those cliches come to mind.  Stuff about "in a heartbeat", "a split second", and how life changes on a random whim.  Straightaway, here's the news: I lost control of my wife's car on a 12 hour drive home up the Interstate from the Bay Area to Portland.  Another list of cliches begins with "wake-up call", thought I could just push through, and "lucky to be alive."
We skidded, hit a semi truck, spun in a circle, and ended up on the shoulder of the freeway perfectly tucked away from any more danger.  That last point is the only thing I feel good about.  "Not my time " or somebody "watching over us" fits well here.
I will not drive when I haven't had enough sleep again.  How many times do you want me to write that?  I'll do it because I take full responsibility for not taking responsibility.  That's hard for me because I live my life carefully.  Usually within strict borders that keep risk-taking to a careful minimum.  I'm being hard on myself here because I need to be.  That nobody was seriously hurt is an eye-catching miracle.  I now know this.  Only my sweet wife, Katie, seems to have suffered any physical consequences: a bruised rib probably caused from the tight seat belt.  This week I'm reminded of my colossal fuck-up every time I hear her groan when she rises out of bed or off the couch or in and out of my truck.
So, I ask myself, what have we learned from this, since it's clear when you walk away from a car that's totaled you are lost in thought now and again?
I'm taking stock and will return to respond here after more deep thinking.
Here: my list of learned facts:
                             Your brain can turn itself off in an instant.
                             Seat belts work, even if air bags don't deploy properly
                             A totaled car is only the beginning of another list of consequences that cost
                             everything from money to bruised pride and self-esteem
                             If your eyes start to feel heavy, get off the road immediately because
                             your brain can turn itself off in an instant
                             There are good people everywhere waiting to help you when you need it most

Friday, January 30, 2015

Passing Pace

In horse racing, they say pace makes the race.  It usually does.  I've been in the Bay Area this week and pace is what's been nagging at me for the past few days.  When I spend time back in California I'm reminded of the value differences between my former home and my new one in Portland.  Everything moves faster here in the East Bay.  From the drivers on freeways, to the speed on local streets just going from one place to another, to the dreams people have and the material possessions that represent, or at least reflect what they find most worthwhile.  Things cost more here too.
I feel a bit like an alien in the place I called home for so many years.  That's because the configuration of streets change.  Businesses come and go. But then exceptions exist.

 In Berkeley, for example, there is one unremarkable sign that's been the same for as long as I've been around.  The Oscar's Hamburgers sign is the same one as I first saw in 1971.  It's black lettering on red is faded, of course, and it may have been replaced a time or two (or not) but it looks identical to the sign on the little burger joint I frequented when I worked for $50. a month and room/board at one of the first residential treatment centers for emotionally disturbed kids in Berkeley.
When I drive around the Bay Area, memories overflow from site to site, neighborhood to neighborhood, from the UC campus to the hills to the flat lands by Golden Gate Fields.  I monitor my own growth and evolution by some of the places I ride by.  We carry these snapshots with us longer than we'd care to admit, I suppose.
I recall classes and presentations made on the Cal campus, parties attended, late night runs from a lover's bed to my own, and countless trips to and from my classroom.  We leave a bit of our soul on territory like this even if we are the only ones noticing.
A couple of times this week I've thought of friends now gone.  The turning of the urban landscape is not unlike the soil of farmland.  New crops, the challenges and unpredictability of the climate, the passing and addition of people...constantly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Duly Noted

I was reading one of those pieces yesterday that highlights how kids today have never lived in a world without computers.  The average 10 year old (whatever that is) cannot imagine life without a hand-held device of some kind.
That got me thinking about college and college students.  Although I get into high school classrooms frequently in my work as a mentor, I realized that it's been a good while since I've been inside a college classroom.  College instructors I know complain bitterly about students with their electronics.  I have trouble imagining note-taking on a computer, but that assumes that's what college students are doing with their computers during a lecture or discussion.  I can't conceive of the distraction that social media must become.

I've heard of dramatic examples where college teachers have thrown major fits about perceived inattentiveness.  Some may even have asked that no electronics of any kind be in use at all.  But we all know the benefits of having a search engine handy when a term or an event or some puzzling vocabulary pops up now and then.  I suppose it's a trade-off.  A trade-off we really can't do much about anyway.
Had I and my contemporaries had a computer while in college, I wonder what the impact might have been.  All those papers on my little portable Remington typewriter.  All that fancy typing paper, those correction tabs and bottle of whiteout.  All those tangled typewriter ribbons, and yes all those trips to the library.
I have clear memories of the UCLA research library circa 1969 where no computers lit the shadowy room and people sat in cubicles with books and notebooks for hours.  No Instant anything to concern ourselves with.  I ought to go back and have a look one of these days just to see what gives now.
I wonder, too how the presentation of a beautifully printed, illustrated in full color paper impacts achievement these days too.  So who writes by hand any more?  Cursive handwriting isn't taught much any more in elementary schools.  What do notes in a lecture hall look like today?  I suppose the are bought and sold on line as well.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Moral High Ground

More thoughts on being on the wrong side of history...
As a 7th grader I had the good fortune to have a Social Studies teacher who valued talk in his classroom.  The most memorable things we did those many years ago were the in-class debates.  While there were and probably always will be students who are involved in only "winning" or crushing their opponent, occasionally there was a rich exchange of ideas.
This was in the big middle of the Civil Rights movement and there happened to be a recent California transplant from Mississippi in my class.  She singlehandedly took on the class in the "debate," which went rom an exchange of opposing ideas to a shouting match within the 45 minute class period.  I can still see her red and getting redder face to this day.  She had the gaul to argue in favor of segregation.  The majority of us just knew were occupied the moral high ground.  What we didn't know was how a childhood as a white Mississippian had shaped our classmate's views.  How could we?  The segregation that existed in our communities was much more institutionalized and certainly more visible.
So it went; that poor girl must have lost all her friends for her entire Middle School life. Just as we couldn't fathom how somebody could hold the views she was taught, she was mystified by how much she just knew we didn't or couldn't know.  Of course, she was on the wrong side of history as in a few short years the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills both cleared the Congress in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

After that little class debate, we watched other more prominent people take their position firmly on the wrong side of history.  Most notable were former Alabama governor George Wallace and a slew of other Southern politicos who literally stood in the path of social justice.
And then there were those vitriolic, hateful venom spewing folks who stood in the way of Elizabeth Eckford walking into a public school under a hailstorm of expletives and epithets.  No child should ever have to experience that...anywhere.
In our moral high chairs, we had no idea how complex these issues could be or that we'd soon be separating ourselves again and again when it came to invading Southeast Asia or questioning the dominant values of teh land of the free and home of the brave.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Which Side Are You On?

I've been mulling over the phrase "the right side of history."  What does it mean to be on the right side of things?  Historically, I'm coming to believe that it's a statement of morality.
or most of my 3o+ years in the classroom, the history and reality of Apartheid in South Africa was part of my curriculum.  In fact, I recall back in the 1970s I read an article that considered a probable date for the end of that peculiar institution.  If progress continued at the same rte, the author postulated, Apartheid might end around the year 2000.  My student's, at that time, figured that Apartheid would end the day that Nelson Mandella voted.  They were spot on in that regard, but it came in the mid-90s slightly ahead of any projected schedule.

Like slavery in America, Apartheid was certainly an example of supporters being on the wrong side of history.  We see these cling-ons now when we see who is still opposed to same-sex marriage or interracial relationships, or even what school reform rally should look like.
When films like the newly minted "Selma" come out and are in the public discussion, I'm reminded what history looks like for those who did not live through or experience such realities first hand.  Despite the soundtrack and the special effects, those that are experiencing a civil rights march from the comfort of a movie theater are only getting a small part of a larger whole.  Better that than nothing, right?
We have a wonderful opportunity in 2015 to examine this concept of what it means to be on the right side of history.  For those in the first half of their lives, the challenge is to identify those issues they think are most likely to impact change in this culture the most.  For the rest of us, a brief review of the change in thinking we have experienced in our lifetimes is in order before any focus on what and where social change matters now and in the decades to come.
If we consider all this thinking from a moral perspective, I think we'll get additional insights into what Steinbeck called "the perfectibility of the human mind.