Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Time's running out.  2009 has a day left, so it's time to take stock a bit.  No, not to worry, this isn't one of those year in review pieces.  The media doesn't even wait till the end of the year to do that anymore.  How many times must we see Tiger's women, the White House party crashers, or hear the impassioned pleas of John and Kate?
No, time for another kind of review.  This one is simply to consider what happened in the last 12 months in a deeper way.  Looking at the big picture, I'd say it's all about the technology.  It's difficult to spot a real revolution when you are in the big middle of one.  No doubt, newspapers, books, TV shows, records, CDs's all changing.  As we become closer to everyone through Facebook, Twitter and the like, we become farther away.  It's all about the unreality of reality.  
But sometimes, we get a break.  Like yesterday.  
On a day we expected to get a little rain and perhaps an hours worth of snowflakes, we got a couple inches of snow.  The city of Portland stalled.  It started at about 2:00 pm.  By 3:30, most of the freeways and thoroughfares were gridlocked.  Without chains, you can' should never try to drive up a hill or even a slight incline.  I was lucky, I had to pick up Katie from work at 3:00.  We hightailed it back home and only skidded once.  I'm getting good at this snow driving thing.  Others weren't so lucky; even buses skidded into cars.  Some folks spent a few hours crawling home in their cars.  If you had good music, it was easier.  All this because nobody could predict the amount of snow that fell in a short time.  
That's the point.  I went out for a walk last night about 9:00.  Someone made a snowman in the infield of a circular drive at the end of my street.  The roofs glowed white.  Even the squirrels in the large elm trees on my street were excited.  I slushed and crunched around for a few minutes on this little stroll and marveled at how wonderfully satisfying it can be when all the experts are wrong.  When all the technology doesn't get it right.  Oh, I'm not trying to hold back what's coming.  That's impossible anyway.  I'm fond, however, of knowing that unpredictability still exists.  That even the weather can still be spontaneous.  There comes a time in everyone's life when you realize that newer, faster, less expensive, bigger, fancier, doesn't necessarily mean better.  When you realize with progress comes a tradeoff.  On this last day of this year, I'm weighing that tradeoff, giving it a long look, fingering the grain, learning to appreciate.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rough Ride

This morning there was a wonderful story in my hometown newspaper.  "Newspaper," you remember what that is/was?  I find that I enjoy buying one out of the little street racks because they will soon be gone. Anyway, the story, by one of the best feature writers in Portland, was about a very poor North Portland high school that is on the rise again because of the efforts of some alumni from way back in the day.  They dusted off their letterman's jackets, their yearbooks, and their memories and went to bat for the old school, encouraging clean up efforts and renewed interest in the school's needs given the current state of the economy.  
Most of the article focused on a fairly well-off suburban family who were helping the football team.  It seems that the mother had read an article one day about the team wherein the coach had mentioned that some of his charges don't eat every day.  In the middle of her daily treadmill exercise, that thought wrapped itself around her brain and she went into action.  After obtaining the coaches permission, she organized a pasta night dinner and essentially fed the team.  It became a weekly event even spilling over to a few basketball and volley ball players.  The "soccer mom" from whitopia was surprised at how polite the team members were.  She also mentioned how exciting it was when she told the guys they could always have seconds on the meal.
OK, nice story.  OK wealthy white family, African American school.  Can't be helped, it's what is here.  Now, truth be told, there are non-white folks living in this particular suburbia; there are whites and Asians, and Latinos on the aforementioned team.  A few, in both cases.  But what always comes back to me is how after basking in the glow of stories like these, seldom, if ever, do people ask the deeper, riskier questions.  Seldom, if ever, does someone express surprise or displeasure that these conditions still exist.  It's been 55 years since Brown v. Board of Education.  That's more than half a century.  Equity issues in education are still with us.  Unemployment, malnutrition, ineptitude, under-resourced.  Most high schools in Portland are still named for dead white men.  
I know the family that fed the football team meant well.  As Bishop TuTu used to say, when you are sinking in quicksand and someone offers you a hand, you take it, you don't question whose hand.  My wish here is for after dinner conversation.  Let's eat, and then talk about what brought us here.  Why it takes a newspaper feature to feed struggling students.  What we want to do about that; how much do we care that this is the way it is, or has been, or continues to be.  The school in question is Roosevelt High School.  Named for TR not FDR.  They are called the "Rough Riders."  

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Winter's Tale

In all the gift frenzy of the last couple of weeks, I was quickly reminded of the kind of gift that comes unexpectedly.  Being an urbanite most of my life, I tend to spend winter fantasizing about warmer weather adventures to come.  Living in Oregon has only fed that habit.  On very rainy days, like this one, I dream of cloudless mornings where the smell of sage and fir trees surrounds me like the water in a stream.  I imagine the underground springs that feel my favorite rivers.  I picture myself seeing the water for the first time since last fall and releasing a sigh of relief that the water levels are healthy.  I think back to those gray wet days of splashing through the city of Portland.  It's all worth it when the summer comes and there is plenty of snowmelt, the rivers are running high and clear, the mountains are green.  Living in Oregon means seeing more wildlife too; even in the city.  I once saw a bald eagle while walking over the Broadway Bridge.  But yesterday, I chanced to look up and hear a swoosh.  Directly above I saw a formation of geese heading south.  Their perfect V slithered over rooftops and then angled down, over and away.  The formation lost precision.  But only for a second or two.  What a wonderful gift.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Left To Our Own Devices

It's certain now.  The mountain has taken three more.  And in the wake of the most recent climber deaths on Mt. Hood an argument rages.  Why isn't it mandatory for all climbers to carry a simple tracking beacon?  Pitted against each other are folks who think that the small signaling device, which rents for $5.00 would not only save more lives, but would also same the cost of search and rescue/recovery missions.  They don't forget that it was not too long ago that a helicopter full of rescuers crashed on the mountain in a vain attempt to find missing climbers.  Seems like a no brainer, but the adventurous do make a few points that merit attention.  
They claim that part of their spiritual attraction to climbing the mountain is the risk involved; all the risk involved.  They claim that if everybody were "forced" to carry the beacon then people would take unnecessary risks.  
Others, who do a bit of risky climbing themselves, say that part of being well-prepared, being a professional, includes preparing for everything, even the possibility of being lost.  They advocate the use of a beacon.  Then there are those who have tried to make a workable compromise.  They argue if climbers feel that any governmental regulation infringes on their right to risky adventure, they should sign a waiver  allowing them to assume the risk they covet, but also assuming the financial responsibility for any rescue attempt, should one become necessary.  That might work...but is that really the issue here?
One of the most convincing arguments in favor of NOT carrying the device I've heard concerns the encroachment of technology on everything human.  These people feel that the true experience of being in the wild, unattached is truly threatened.  They want to go into the wilderness with no net at all times because to do otherwise means we are less human, less able to depend on human resources, human self-reliance, human qualities.  I get that.  But I also get that the mountain has claimed three more, three more who will not be around t give us their feedback in this debate.  Three more who might have  a change of heart given what they have now experienced.  
Nevertheless, the questions raised here are all good ones.  What do you think?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Koan Culture

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Sometimes, one of the best things we can do is to suspend our need to measure anything with logic.  Most folks, myself included, spend far too much energy being disappointed that our dealings with the universe often follow no logical path.  We have such a great desire to make meaning for all we encounter, that logic, or at least some sense of reason, must come along for every ride.  It ain't necessarily so.  
If we can't be 100% certain that the Weather Channel will get it right all the time, why then should we expect our intuition to pull us through even most of the time.  
It is all too easy to get lulled into a sense of security thinking that our lives and the people in them will always be ruled by constant principles.  We desperately want that.  We certainly need that, but learning to embrace the unexpected, the impossible, the contrary, the paradox, the last resort can be enriching as well as enlightening.  It's one of the things I love best about horse racing.  The experts can measure every statistic, test every surface, chart the entire pedigree, yet favorites win only 1/3 of the time.  Some things just can't be explained.   Yet.
The ancient Zen masters used the Zen koan, a parable or story that must be pondered for a lifetime until it's universal truth is revealed.  Just recognizing a koan when they confront us is half the battle.  Let's hear it for the contemplative life.  
One of the luxuries of experience is that it breeds patience and insight.  When I think back on the kinds of things that caused me great distress in my 20s and 30s, you know, interpersonal relationships, work crises, family responsibilities, and understanding personal identity, I often see an impatient, anxiety driven, all too accommodating person.  Sure that same person is still with me, but not without insight. 
 I try to find ways to use that insight these days.  One, of course, is my work with student teachers.  They often help me see things I take for granted; things that any teacher, over time will do or say intuitively.  Another gift I've received is to write with these little gems.  Since the entire art of memoir writing is being redefined, written more like fiction and less like autobiography, I've discovered a real vein of gold to mine.  Some of the riddles haven't been answered yet, but the stories are being written.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two Words

I have a terrible habit of not only listening to other people's conversations, but entering them on occasion.  I wasn't always this way.  With age, comes wisdom, right?  Sounds nice, but I know it's really the teacher in me.  I've guided too many discussions, wanting them to be like works of art, hoping the right question or response will trigger something more, something deeper, something uncomfortable, something thoughtful.  If I think I can be helpful, or offer advice on something they are struggling with, I'll speak up.  If someone has something on the tip of their tongue and just can't remember a person place or thing, and I can help, I will.  
More often than not, I'll be invited into a conversation, at least momentarily.  I've met some cool folks, some curious, knowledgeable, passionate, empathetic, and most of all friendly people that way.  So it was the other day that I found myself listening to a coffeehouse conversation among three people who just met.  One was interested in a book the other was reading, and the third just happened to sit next to them.  It took the form of one man, two women.  The guy was certainly amiable, but definitely trying to impress the two women.  He was a bit too sure of himself, a bit too "foo-foo," too new age babble, too airy fairy. 
 Me thinks the emperor has no clothes. 
So they are chatting along and suddenly one of the women turns the conversation to poverty.  She sincerely asks, "What do you think it'll take to rid the world of poverty?"  It was a rather abrupt turn of events, but my ears perked up.  The questioner had earlier mentioned that she worked for a community service agency.  Clearly she had a social conscience and wanted to know "Mr. has an opinion on everything's"  thoughts on a bigger issue.  
He proceeds to deliver a rambling response that can best be boiled down to the statement, "If I don't become poor myself, I'll be doing the world a favor.  He actually believed that it was his responsibility not to become poor.  That was the extent of his thinking on the subject.  
That's when I couldn't hold my tongue.
"Excuse me," I chimed in uninvited.  "Can I give you a two word answer to your question?"
All three, plus another woman at another table who was listening to it all as well, turned around and smiled. 
"Educate women," I said.
 Somebody said, "that's a good answer," as if we were on a daytime quiz show.  The others nodded and mumbled uh huhs.  No questions, no comments, no real response.
That was the extent of our interaction.  I went back to my keyboard, they returned to talking about other things. Later on I even thought maybe they didn't get it.  What I said could be taken a number of ways.  But they didn't even ask.  Probably thought I was just an intrusive old man.
 The trio left before I did.  They exited without as much as a nod.  
So it goes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Of Trees and Weapons

The picture in the window catches my eye.  It's old.  World War II ad of some kind.  I'm standing on the sidewalk looking in the window of a furniture store, but I don't see anything but this old advertisement.  Too small to be a poster, it must have been taken from a magazine from the time.   In the picture a GI sits in a trench with a small Christmas tree perched on a mound of dirt.  I mean small.  It's about 2 feet tall with small pieces of red yarn tied on for ornaments.  The soldier is reading a letter, I think.  I don't know because I can't take my eyes off a huge ammo clip for an automatic weapon that rests near the tree as well.  
Such a striking image.  The peaceful holiday and the weapons of war resting together on the piled mound of earth.  
A minute later I'm thinking about those WWI stories where Americans and Germans spent Christmas Eve together during a brief cease-fire and then went back to the business of killing each other the next day.  
So now the President wants to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  If that's all we send, we're condemned to repeat the past.  Deja Vu all over again, as Yogi says.  
I keep thinking how those that participate in the organized murder that war really is rationalize it all in their mind, and with their faith.  
Today I searched for the image that had me wondering all this.  I couldn't find the exact one, but what I did find was probably better.  It's a German image from WWII.  These soldiers standing with this small tree are being thankful for all those who keep them safe.  It's the same religion, isn't it?  It's the same God, too, right?  Do they think of these things?  
I'm thinking now that it is such a basic question, but an essential one.  
And what about military chaplains?  Now there's a walking contradiction.  Do the people who go to church or synagogue or mosque worry about these things?  Do their clerics have these discussions?  What do they really think?  Just asking.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

His Stamp on Me

We finally got the key to the attic door.  It opens to reveal a rough-hewn stairway that winds around to some storage space in the top of our house.  That key opening that door is what initially sent me into my closet.  All I needed to do was go through a few storage bins to make sure they could sit in the attic for the next few months.  I threw out a broken picture frame in one, and decided to leave some artifacts from the last English class I taught in another.  That's when I saw my childhood stamp collection; not the book, that's still packed somewhere, but a box from a now defunct department store that my mom gave me when I was 10.  Inside the box were a Band-Aid tin and an empty Marlboro flip-top box, (both good for storing loose stamps,  lots of small envelopes with collectable postage and even more torn off corners containing stamps mostly from Mexico and Japan, that my dad used to bring me from work.  He commuted with a man originally from Mexico and worked for Sony.  My stamp book was full for those two countries.  
That's when I found it.  Inside a plain white letter-size envelope was a small neatly folded piece of paper.  The writing in pencil was unmistakable--Grandpa.  He sent me an uncanceled stamp commemorating the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.  Probably got it at the Post Office in New York where he lived and decided tear off one of the sky blue beauties to send to his grandson in Southern California.  With the stamp, came a note.  On one side of the paper it read:                       SPECIAL
                              TO BRUCE

                  A NEW
                      STEMP TO BRUCE
Grandpa wrote in English as he spoke it.  Having immigrated from Eastern Europe in the 1880s as a young man, English was not his first language.  On the other side of the paper, in his trademark thick pencil he wrote:
                                 SUN 5/8 1960 11 pm
                              FROM GRANDPA
I only saw him in person twice.  Though he live to be 91, by the time I was old enough to travel on my own he was gone.  Comes with the territory of having older parents than most.  But at least I knew him.  He was the only grandparent I ever got to meet.  Our first visit happened when I was only about 4 years old.  A few snapshots of us together remain.  But at 14, he came for a visit and stayed about a month.  We shared my bedroom, (really a small den) and bonded.  Indelible memories.  Grandpa kept a small flask of brandy in the kitchen cabinet.  It was really a glass Good Seasons salad dressing carafe.  I loved when he cut my fingernails and toenails and used a dab of brandy as an antiseptic.  He taught me to play Gin Rummy.  Once a tailor, he always carried around the blue chalk for marking things.  He went on long walks, really long walks.  He'd walk to a shopping center we always took the bus to, and back.  In the daytime, when I was at school, Grandpa would often go to Santa Anita, by bus of course.  I'm convinced I get my love of thoroughbreds from him.  And when he left, and returned to New York, my sister and I found that we both had bank accounts.  Grandpa could pick a few winners too.
When I look at his letter to me now, I see his wonderful face.  I see him wearing a gray wolly sweater and khaki work pants, his pockets full of small pen knives, blue chalk, and a wooden stub of a carpenter's pencil; always the pencil.
Grandpa's letter told me about the importance of health and being in good shape.  he wished success for me.  Never once did he mention wealth or money.  I love that.  I'm going to answer him now.  Grandpa, I'm going to say, it's been a good life thus far.  I've made a few mistakes and regret a couple of things along the way, but I've learned that the meaningful stuff really is in the transitions.  Enough of the philosophy.  You made an impact on me that lasts to this day.  I plan to make it to my 90s too.  Oh yeah, one more thing.  If there is any way it could be arranged, I'd love to go to the track with you.  You could show me your methods and secrets, and I'd gladly show you mine.   I'd really like that.  But know this, every time I go I take you with me.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sound Track


                                                Piped In


In the Men’s Room

            at Portland Meadows,

            Frank Sinatra is always singing.

Through the white porcelain, up and around the mirror splashed

   sinks, over the din of flushing urinals,

            Frank Sinatra sings,

                        every day.

Into this private party, rat-pack, brassy big band braggadocio

            Comes a post parade of wily winners and lowly losers.

They unzip and position themselves to The …. Party’s …. O ver.

Outside, in the real world, missing people bubble up in rivers,

            seven-year-olds die in drive-bys from Maine to Mexico,

                        a board of education president commits suicide,

                                    Islamic terrorists stare back through wooly manes, rifle sight eyes, and layers of cotton clothing,

But in the Men’s Room, at Portland Meadows,

            Frank Sinatra is always singing,

            Fly me to the moon,

                      And let me play among the

                            Rogue politicos,

                                    Post Traumatic Stress Disordered,

                                                Children of a lesser dog


In the Men’s Room, at Portland Meadows,

            A Chicana  with glistening black hair, wipes sinks, clears the floor of abandoned exactas, trifectas… personal handicapping.

            In this beige-tiled cocktail lounge, patrons void, then avoid the “lady,” tucking in shirttails, jiggling flies, deciding they’d better wash their hands now.

Outside, the planet hatches more headlines,

            Sex scandals, sweet and sour Tweets, 

An ape rips a face,

An addicted horseplayer rips a ticket.  

Stick around, there is always another race, somewhere,

            A play among the stars,

And in the Men’s Room at Portland Meadows,

            Frank Sinatra is always singing.

Luck be a Lady Tonight.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Out of Synch

This is the time of year to be very careful.  Some say it coincides with the moon in Scorpio.  I'm not so sure about that, but I do know that the last couple of weeks in November are prime time for the strange and dangerous.
Looking back, I first began to trace this delicate time to the Kennedy assassination.  If ever there was an example of something knocking the universe for a loop, that was it.  World views changed.  Many people, myself included, were never quite the same.  Loss of innocence I suppose, but something more.  At least it wasn't hope.
Shakespeare talked of the music of the spheres.  When the music of the heavens in in synch, it's a lovely concord.  The dis chord is what results when things fall apart.  Think of someone learning to play an instrument...such sour sounds are only to be endured.  Hardly the stuff to sooth any savage beast.  
If you think about it, many eerie and horrendous things take place this time of year.  I remember that week back in November of 1978 when the tragedy of People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana occured.  Within days, in San Francisco the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk happened.   I think there may be other assassinations and attempts within those dates too. 
Yesterday I saw a stunning image of incongruity.  I was walking to the ATM at my local bank and chanced to see an empty wine bottle standing near the curb right next to a covered bus stop.  This vessel would hardly be out of place in this part of town.  It's a couple of blocks from The Goodwill, just down from a large supermarket chain, and on a street loaded with all manner of cheap restaurants and struggling businesses.  Looking carefully, however, I recognized the wine label.  It was a bottle that once contained Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon.  Great stuff, and I know it sells for about $50.00 a bottle.   People who drink anything Stag's Leap produces hardly leave their empties at bus stops.  The backstory possibilities here are very tasty.  For a moment, I thought of a bottle of Stag's Leap Pinot Noir I once received as a gift.  The pricey wine was given to me by a beautiful woman with whom I once had a brief but very intense affair.  To me, it was a relationship.  Oh, I knew the boundaries and limitations from the start but chose to proceed.  Just like all the rest, I was guilty of thinking she might come around and decide to spend her life with me, at least for a while longer.  When the very predictable end came, I was bombarded with gifts, including two crystal wine glasses and the Stag's Leap.  I wish I had taken the hint and made my own leap...away.  Instead, we met one more time about 3 years down the road.  That little encounter had about as much romanticism as a root canal.  Insert a verse of "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair" here.  When I finally decided to drink that bottle of Stag's Leap, a couple of years later, it had turned.  Reason enough to abandon a bottle by a bus stop.   Hope the owner of the bottle I saw has a kinder tale to tell. In any event, all's well that ends well.  How wonderfully mysterious.  It's that time of year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No More

He never knew that he was a veteran.  All he knew was that he'd traded in his life tinkering with an education, a girlfriend, and wondering about a future for an army uniform.  No Germany, no Korea, no local military base; Vietnam, just Vietnam.  It was 1968, we were down to one Kennedy, no more Dr. King, escalating death tolls, and hundreds of thousands in the street.  All he really wanted was to get away.  Tie up that relationship that would have never worked, get a chance to smoke and drink without being hassled, maybe learn a trade, and consider himself a man.  
He wrote me a number of letters.  Particularly ironic for a guy that didn't really like to write.  He'd begun to harden; became less tolerant of those around him.  Hate began to leak through his beaming smile.  At home, the music was unifying our movement.  The opportunities to express our disgust and anger grew more frequent.  Yet, we never forgot about him.  We never judged him.  He was still our classmate, our friend, our forever funny iconoclast.  We all knew our plans for anything would be put on hold.  But we never thought there would be no more dances where he'd chose the sexiest girl and dance to Louie Louie.  We never thought there would be no more trips in his '59 Ford Fairlane convertible to Santa Monica or Sorrento beach.
No more cruising Bob's Big Boy, no more double dates or top 40 countdowns.  
Somehow I lost his letters, but he lost his life.
The obituary said he died in a place called Happy Valley.  Just another 21 year old frozen in time by the war in Vietnam.  Some years later I made a pilgrimage to the wall in Washington D.C. to find his name.  William Garcia was near the highest point of the wall.  The park ranger that works at the memorial offered me a ladder to climb up and make a rubbing of his name.  While I was doing that, cameras flashed.  Bill would have loved that; I could see his wide grin.  All I wanted was a moment alone...he wouldn't allow that.  
As we all watch our dark brown or black hair turn salty, Bill is perpetually blonde in my mind.  His Spanish blue eyes  never represented his Mexican mother.  He'll always be 21 in my mind.  That's all I have to hold on to.  
When I think about him on this Veteran's Day, I think about all the others too.  The people, men and women, who really believed they were serving their country.  Really thought it was worth their lives at 21 to insure that our country and culture was protected and defended.  It's a good thing that they weren't around to see what's  become of Vietnam.  To see how all those supposed promises and threats, those claims and warnings were untrue.  Vietnam today for the next generation is a name on a clothing tag they pick up in The Gap.  It's the label in Ikea where a rug was made.  The children of Garcia's generation are investing in Vietnam.  It's just about as much a capitalist democracy as we are.  They wouldn't want to know that.  

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Panel 12 East










If I'm ever at the wall again, I'll climb to the highest point and find the name WILLIAM GARCIA, lean over and tell him.  It'll make me feel better, but it won't stop the tears.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In Zen

It's nice to have a dose of pure joy to end this week.  Bad enough it poured all day, the leaves clogging the street drains, the water in small ponds over the curb, the freeway full of hydroplaning fools.  This week the health care bill took a few more jabs, the media convulsed repeatedly on missing children, new serial killers, and then the coup d' gras, the mass murder committed by an Islamic army psychiatrist.  Hollywood has nothing on reality.  
Somehow, in the big middle of all this chaos I got excited about the Breeder's Cup.  Anybody who knows me well knows you don't mess with me during Breeder's Cup.  It's in my blood.  Thoroughbreds are one of my true passions.  Anyone with a similar bent will know exactly what I'm talking about.  For some reason I was particularly down this year.  Maybe it's because attending Breeder's Cup here at my local track in Portland has become a solitary affair.  Some of my old mates are either gone or living all over the place.  Those days are over.  But at the race track, it's easy to make new friends.  That happens, but, of course it's not the same.  
This year, however, we have Zenyatta, one of the most beautiful and athletic individuals I've ever seen.  Like all special horses, she's got quite a personality.  She works the crowd like John Henry did.  Sure, being a mare, there was all the hype about "Girl Power"  (what happened to woman power?) and all the knocks that go with any "my horse can beat your horse" bantering.  In the end, there is only the moment the gates open and every breath and  stride the next mile and a quarter requires.  
Zenyatta's triumph in this year's Breeder's Cup Classic was definitely one for the ages.  All the pundits will argue about Horse of the Year, and what quality of competition who faced, where.  None of that matters.  Her victory today was pure joy.  In a sport where the highs are the highest and the lows as low as it gets, this is a moment to savor forever.  If memories are all we have, and they are, then this is one shining possession.  
Still, I can't help thinking how many people have no knowledge of this beautiful animal and her aesthetic prowess.  Too bad those left wondering about all the tragedy and loss of the past week couldn't share in this moment of ecstasy.  Funny thing is that Zenyatta has the ability to do what Seabiscuit did for a floundering nation almost 75 years ago.  I know it's not really the same, so many technological changes make that era impossible.  But to live in a world where now and then everything stops for a horse race is to live in a world with possibility, and perfectibility.  Damn she was gorgeous winning today. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

White Noise

One big player in determining how safe any school or environment can be is the Code of Silence.  On a high school campus, this unwritten law enjoys health and wealth.  The deliberate choice to remain silent in the face of moral outrage thrives in an era of collective "don't ask don't tell." How ironic, in this era of instant messaging, that the code of silence still supports so many egregious acts.  Yet this glaring contradiction can become a savior.  It just might be the key to preventing crimes of group-think that outrage and threaten so many.  
Some new studies show that the availability of anonymous outlets for reporting crucial information are having a real impact in preventing the serious crimes that threaten school security.  Some have even suggested that the presence of anonymous "counseling" seems to have a real impact on helping those in need actually seek help.  Here's how this might work.  Within a particular school/community, students have phone numbers or social networking addresses available to them 24/7 when the need arises.  
Kids easily adapt to the technology; this has real promise.  Just imagine, if any of the onlookers at the Richmond H.S. tragedy had been tempted to break the code.  Certainly someone who saw that act of depravity must have had a shred of empathy.  Perhaps if some alternative to dialing 911 existed this atrocity could have been cut short.  Yes, I know, just the thought of someone being intimidated from calling 911 in a real emergency like this is sad; but that's what is out there.  
There is much work to be done.  I suspect a significant part of this issue involves the dearth of moral emotions in so many young people.  Could it be possible that the line between reality and fantasy has become so dulled, so faded, so invisible that we have a much deeper problem here than we think?
I'm also wondering how often a crime like the gang-rape detailed here occurs.  I suspect that it may not be as isolated or rare an occurrence as we think.  Perhaps the number of onlookers or participators involved might be smaller, but the type of crime is probably much more common than we know.  Can you see the curriculum possibilities here?  Again, the political will to educate our young people in a way that matters is what's needed as much as any security camera or beefed up police force.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dance in the Dark

I suppose it's just a matter of time until something or someone you know well shows up on tabloid TV.  Given so many cable news (?) outlets,  so many versions of "talk" shows, and so many TV personality types looking for something to talk about daily, something close to home will show up eventually.  
So it was with the upsetting news that a 15-year old girl was gang raped outside a dance on the Richmond H.S. campus.  Shocking, no.  Sadly, this event could have happened in a multitude of places. The pathological mentality and group behavior needed are on display in every socioeconomic level.   Having worked, and at one time, lived in this community, I've seen firsthand the conditions that comprise the Richmond area known as The Iron Triangle.  A tough neighborhood is way too lenient.  It's depravity at it's worst.  This is a poor, ill-served, physically deteriorating, extremely violent and therefore dangerous place.  BUT, as such, it is also home to far more hard-working and decent people.  I have known many over the years I spent teaching in a near-by community.  Many of the students I had lived in this area but merely reported a relative's address in order to attend another school in a safer community.  I once opened the school year at Richmond High School.  Back in the 70s it was new, having been rebuilt, and had many qualities of a beautiful campus.  The years have not been kind to Richmond High.
Still, Richmond High School struggled to provide for its students.  Like all poor public schools, programs were constantly cut, turnover in faculty and staff was always high, anyone who could afford to go elsewhere had either left the school or community, usually both, and every year, despite the obstacles, attempts to provide everything from athletic events and dances, drama, and college counseling continue.
CNN couldn't decide precisely what to cover first.  The sensation of the gang rape, a two hour event which drew a crowd but no callers to 911, or the lack of security provided by the school and district.  Certainly, all factors help to create such a disturbing situation.  But what helps explain the group behavior that lacks empathy to continually victimize a vulnerable young woman?  What's behind the victim's willingness to drink half a bottle of brandy with a "friend" so quickly?  What explains the fear of being a snitch, the desire to video or snap pictures of such an event with  cell phone rather than make a call for help.  Is this desensitization?  Uber peer-pressure? Lack of moral emotions?  Lack of empathy?  Why are young sociopaths so easy to produce?
How does this happen? For surely it has.
I've seen the origins of this kind of behavior first hand.  I recall a time when I once caught some kids breaking into a soda machine. (that's another equally as interesting story) Before I could make my way toward them, another swarm  of kids surrounded me like the secret service in action.  I was lucky, merely screened out, while the culprits escaped.  Of course, nobody saw anything or knew anyone.  That experience is nothing compared to an individual being repeatedly assaulted, but I'll never forget how quickly and completely anyone intending to interfere in the ongoing crime was taken out of the picture.  I'll never forget how helpless I became at the mercy of the group.  This latest outrage is the stuff of predators in a predatory environment.  
I'm still sorting it out; waiting for all the details, arrests, eyewitness accounts to come in.  Of course, it'll soon pass, and soon emerge again in another place, in another form.  But I'm not done here.  
I know something's happening, but not sure what it is...Mr. and Ms. Jones

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rocking with Rilke

"The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things"    -Rilke
Today was one of those dark rainy Portland mornings that screams stay home.  True we get a lot of rain here, and we like that, but not today.  It pounded down in sheets that flooded streets in seconds and left some neighborly custodians of the storm drains battling just to stand up.  
Part of me just wanted to roll over an die.  I've been battling a nasty cold that moved from sore throat to deep in my lungs overnight.  I would have just rocked in my favorite rocking chair and hoped for sleep too (God I sound old!) but Katie had to babysit for her niece and I needed to get up and get her there and just b on stand-by.  She likes it that way, and we try to be there for one another in bad weather.
So here I sit in a crowded little coffeehouse on the border between NE and N Portland.  Somehow in this hour or two of need I went to the web and found my old friend Rilke.  Even his profundity can be soothing to a head cold.  The quote above jumped out at me, if only for it's contradictory nature. 
Rilke is so much a bridge between Western and Eastern thought for me. His ideas can be stated so simply and contain so much.  To be defeated by greater and greater things is a nice way to look at disappointment.  It's also another way to say that the meaning of life is in the transitions, and to keep pushing forward against everything from all odds to the self-righteous, from the misguided to the misunderstood, the privileged and power-driven to the silent and frightened.
Rilke helps me breathe a little easier today.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sail On Soupy

Sad day.  I just heard about the death of Soupy Sales.  Not sad for long.  It's impossible to talk or even think about Soupy without laughing.  
Even the CBS Evening News had a piece about Soupy tonight.  For any Baby Boomer, the Soupy Sales Show was like no other.  Here's the thing: lots of slapstick, really bad jokes, two dogs for pets represented by huge white or black arms with claws.  (White Fang and Black Tooth)  Two puppets for friends (Pookie the lion and Hippie, a hippo.)  And lots of knocking on his door which usually ended in a shaving cream pie in the face.
Soupy Sales made everybody laugh.  He was the perfect sucker, the perfect dupe, the grown up who acted like a kid.  His world was ridiculous.  That's why it worked.  If you came home in 1965 with Middle School angst, one episode of Soupy Sales would be all it took to release all those wonderful brain chemicals that come with laughter.  
Case in point: Right in the middle of something his phone would ring.  "Excuse me," he'd say to the big white paw known as White Fang.  He's answer the phone.  "Yes?  You don't say.  You don't say.   Hmmm...You don't say.  You DON"T Say.  You don't say.  OK bye."White Fang would reply, "WA Raa Raa EuAA AH AH?"   
"Oh who was that?"  Soupy would say.  "He didn't say."
Bam! A pie in the face.  No matter how many times, it was funny.
Like all institutions, a good deal of folklore about Soupy existed.  It was true that once his crew sent a topless stripper (who never got on camera) to the door when he was on the air.  
One Halloween, from the 9th grade years of my life, I came to school dressed as Soupy.  For months my friends had been telling me that thee was quite a resemblance, so I decided to milk it for all I could get.  My mom helped me make a checkered bow tie on elastic so everyone could pull/snap it just like they did to Soupy.  I got a plastic replica of a crushed top hat, wore a pullover sweater, and damned if I didn't look like the man himself.  I think I even won honorable mention in some sort of competition at the dance that afternoon.  (Vampires always win these things)  For a few shining hours, I was Soupy Sales and I didn't even get hit with a pie!
Of course, the Soupy Sales Show was full of double entendre.  It existed on many levels, but all of them were funny.  Simply funny.  He didn't need to put anybody or anything down.  He was just funny.
Sail on Soupy.   

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Best Policy

This morning on my local Public Broadcasting station I listened to a portion of a call-in show on class size as a crucial issue in education today. I'm sure some figures were recently released placing Oregon among the states with the highest class sizes. I'm sure too, that some socially conscious producer put together a panel of "experts" to discuss the issue and invite listeners at home to call in and make comments.
I admit I only heard a portion of the program, but I feel compelled to comment on what I did hear. OK, I'll go straight to the point; what got my goat was a panel member who had taught for a little while and is now a "policy wonk." When this person was asked why she left the classroom, her answer skillfully moved from never giving any specific detail to a description of how policy was her real calling, to some other murky mumblings about other murky things. My point: how can someone who has never taught more than at least one decade be qualified to discuss the issue of class size? Granted, it only takes one year in the classroom to learn that the number of bodies under your charge has major consequences. Sure they can spout figures and studies, but my feeling is if they are still questioning whether or not class size matters, they' haven't a clue.
Emboldened by my surging frustration, I placed a comment on the OPB web site.
I fear I'm becoming a curmudgeon. It seems as if I have this strong drive to react to things I hear in the media, especially about education issues. Maybe it's become my role. If so, I need to think about how to continue to play this role without alienating the people I'm trying to reach. It's just rather difficult to keep my cool when the issue, like most in education today has a lot to do with political will. Why do we continually have to convince ourselves that we deserve good schools? Most educators I know have come to realize that people who study the issues and sit in think tanks all day mean well, but their efforts rarely effect change.
More and more I'm coming to believe that there is a strong parallel between education reform and health care reform. Put simply, what do we care about or profit. Who do we care more about people or insurance companies? In our public schools today, what do we care about more, test scores or educating people. Who do we care more about...teachers or policy makers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Suddenly Sexist

By the time I got to Wordstock, Portland's very own literary festival, it was Sunday. I'd carefully underlined all workshops and author presentations about memoir, because, let's face it, I'd still like to market my book in this economy. Seeing and hearing, and hopefully talking to some writers who had scored book deals would be inspirational, fun, beneficial. Most of what I thought might be useful was slated for Saturday. In the final analysis, I was not willing to give up the opportunity to watch some of the Breeder's Cup prep races, and, of course, Zenyatta win her 13th consecutive race.
So here I was on Sunday, touring the booths, the book sellers, the opportunities from self-publishing, to all manner of MFA programs. At noon, I noticed a pairing of authors that had both recently published memoirs. Giulia Melucci and Andy Raskin are both Brooklyn born writers, but that's where the comparison ends. Both have books out about their love lives. Raskin's is a clever book called The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life. Aside from learning much more than I could have ever imagined about he history of Top Ramen and its wealthy, recently departed inventor, I have no clue how the sodium laced, just add water favorite saved anything. Raskin announced that his present girlfriend was in attendance, so he wouldn't be reading any letters from his ex-girlfriends found in the book. Apparently he had a problem with fidelity in his many previous relationships (he appears to be in his late 30s) and the business philosophy of the Ramen king was better than any therapy available at the time. We'll never know. Maybe it was a clever guise to make us buy the book.
The other writer, Ms. Melucci, was all too eager to give us every detail, as described in her book, I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. She's an attractive, slightly zoftig 42 year old (I looked it up) who details, with recipes included, how she cooked for and lost all the marriage potential she ever found, fed, f'ked and frightened away. In the middle of her reading, she announced that the mother of one of her ex-boyfriends was present. She was pleased and from the reciprocal reaction of the older woman sitting in the front row, they still were great friends. "He's let me down too often," she said, "but he's read my book and OK with it."
In the selection she read to the 50 or so in attendance, there is a scene recounting her first meeting with "Mitch." Much like a blind date, they agree on a coffeehouse and meet for the first time. Giulia describes how they are in line, ordering a beverage, when he takes out some money. She counters with a $10 bill, saying "here's some money." He takes it.
During the Q and A session that followed, a young woman took the mic and offered a comment: "You should have known right then, when he took your money, what kind of person he was and that this relationship would never work." Applause. Probably right. Certainly had I been in that position, I'd have paid for the drinks. But I kept wondering about the entire area of dating etiquette in this post-feminist era. I remember a time when men were getting a strong message that women were independent, that they often preferred to pay their share on a date, especially if it's a first date. These equity issues also spilled over to opening up car doors, and other suddenly "sexist" forms of male behavior.
Many men my age get this. We understand that having someone pay for you all the time is not always preferable. I clearly recall wondering, when I opened a car door for a date, whether or not this would be judged as a good or bad thing. Feeling the cognitive dissonance of this issue, I remained after the presentation was over and managed to get my question heard by Ms. Melucci. "Giulia," I asked, when did the feminist movement decide that it was OK for men to pay all the time.?" I also added that I get what she's saying, and that my concern was not about the money, I simply wanted to know what the latest thinking was on this issue. I figured that since she worked for a number of publishers, had a book deal for her first book, and was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she'd be the perfect person to inform me.
"It's post-feminism," she said, and then shot me a look that dismissed my question as anything but serious.
I think I know why marriage is eluding this writer.
Post Wordstock
I went home and looked up the term "post-feminist dating." Apparently I am not alone. And not just men what to know what's going on. A number of women acknowledge 3rd wave feminism, but still are concerned with a generation who are all too willing to sacrifice the consciousness that was raised and overcome a few decades ago.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Whitopia at Sundown

" By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. As immigrant populations -- largely people of color -- increase in cities and suburbs, more and more whites are moving to small towns and exurban areas that are predominately, even extremely, white. Rich Benjamin calls these enclaves "Whitopias" (pronounced: "White-o-pias").
A couple of days ago I listened with ever increasing interest to a program on NPR featuring Rich Benjamin, the author of the new book Whitopia.
Benjamin a black journalist, went to live in 3 enclaves that are overwhelmingly white communities. Places like St. George, Utah or Couer d 'Alene, Idaho. His book looks at this phenomena and without any heavy handed message, simply asks some questions about how the changing demography of the U.S. will impact our lives.
By the way, Benjamin was treated very well in these all-white communities, enjoyed playing golf, talking to people, and moving about without any problems.
After the program I logged on to the NPR web site and began to read the many comments that came filtering in. Lot's of spirited dialogue. Most folks took offense at there being something wrong with communities that don't seem to care about diversity. I was a bit surprised. Any notion that we are living in a post-racial America died right there on the computer screen.
"What's wrong with people living where they want to live? You liberals and bleeding-hearts can go on and live in your "diverse" crime-infested, trashed communities all you want; just stop guilt-tripping me about this. What about a blacktopia? or a browntopia?"

(Isn't that a ghetto?) If it is, there's not too much topia about it.)

Lots of fear,
Lots of anger,
Very little knowledge and understanding of American history, in my view.
One of the people who commented on the NPR site did mention another important book. She cited Sundown Towns, by James Loewen. The were (and still are) towns which had laws that no non-white person could remain after the sun went down. Now some folks find this rather hard to believe. They need only study history to document this claim. This puts a different spin on the reason why people decide to live where they do.
Taking a peek at other sites and discussion boards about Whitopia, it's clear that the systemic segregation in this country is not an important issue for many people.
How does that bode for the future? No wonder there is a cultural war. No wonder our schools are so segregated.
This story contrasts sharply with the murder of a black honors student in the meanest streets of Chicago last week. Lots of finger pointing there. Imagine, some folks blaming the teachers in that community. When so many young people are aimless, violent, without moral emotions, without families, it's a no brainer.
When I see the departure of so many tangible things like books, newspapers, school budgets, music made by musicians on real instruments...
I wonder about life in 2042.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Met

Spent the first two days of October on the Metolius river in central Oregon. This was my first time between July and December. I've seen the Metolius on triple digit days and covered with a white winter ground cloth. October brings the changing of the seasons to this miraculous topography. If you don't know the Metolious, be advised. It is like no other region in the world. It's silent beauty put the awe in awesome. With that comes it fragility. Nonetheless, the river and it's environs are protected by those who inhabit the area and the small hamlet of Camp Sherman. They know what they have; they get it.
For fly fishers, the Metolious is uber unforgiving. That's part of it's charm. It takes more than luck or skill to catch fish there. It takes time. As in years. Even in the small tributary, Lake Creek, that I love to fish, I encountered nobody who caught anything. All were happy just to be there. If the fishing is difficult, the scenery more than makes up for the disappointment. This year was unlike any other I've seen in the last 10 years. The river was full of Kokanee salmon. Visible in holding patterns near the banks, they are the result of rigorous regulations and the political will to restore the area to it's original state. The locals were ecstatic. After the salmon spawn, their eggs will feed many of the resident redside and bull trout populations, and the decomposing flesh of the spawned out Kokanee will enrich the aquatic insect life. Win, win.
The water and the air felt like they were both in the 40s. Aside from some small stream spawned trout (first photo) who enthusiastically rose to a dry fly (why do 4 inch fish rise to a fly almost as big as their heads?) the Kokanee had other things on their mind. They fed on invisible plankton and couldn't be bothered with anything thrown their way.
It wasn't until Friday afternoon, when the sun came out from behind marbled clouds that I noticed a small hatch of cream-colored mayflies. Katie was with me, placing her folding chair on ground that would support, lifting her head up from reading Wally Lamb long enough to suggest a seam in the water or a location free of backcast interference.
"I want to try a small mayfly pattern," I said. "There is a small hatch happening and I think I have something that would drift well in the right spot." We moved a final time. The stream leveled out nicely to a broad swift section with subtle eddies and swirls. On about the fifth cast, we were rewarded with a spunky Redside bending the rod and trying to duck under overhanging vegetation right off the bank. I brought him in and asked Katie to hold the rod while I fumbled for my camera. This fish was a shock of bright red and gold with black spots. He had no plans to be photographed and let me know right away. Shaking free of the hook, he tumbled back into his pristine world leaving me as abruptly as he took my fly. Left with only his striking image I'm reminded, again, that these waters are like no other. The mystery continues. I so wanted to enjoy his coloration all winter long. Instead, I'm satisfied that we both made it home safe.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Port Land

Why I Don't Write Music

I can only suggest what the world needs now.
one thing that won't make the list is another song where tomorrow rhymes with sorrow.

Sometimes when I sit and stare out the window it looks like it's raining, even on clear cloudless days.
I look harder,
it rains stronger,
Then, lifting the blind, I'm confronted with a warm day,
in the distance,
three folks sipping wine, puttering in flower-beds, and digesting monthly statements.
No rain.
Yet in my view, rain continues to tease, continues to streak across my eye's horizon, continues to tempt me to write a lyric.
No rain, no song.

I wonder about things like holes in my Jeans. First the pockets unravel,
the small one for change is most vulnerable, Five years to wear through the knee,
even a thin wallet takes out the rear right, and then the bottom of the right front stares back.
While I consider the comfort of another pair, someone is paying twice the price for a new pair with holes worn like mine.
At 2:29 am I awake and finger the grain of my past. Crimes compacted decades ago, horrific as a poisoned river.
Train whistle,
tagged boxcars sneaking and snaking,
Train whistle sounds again, this time in questions:
What if only one language existed?
Would that make any difference in how anyone lived this life?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Matter of Time

Driving back from the Bay Area last Sunday, a funny , as in peculiar, thought hit me. It was smack in the big middle of the toughest part of the drive: the section between Vacaville and Redding. This is mostly agricultural flatland. Towns like Dunnigan, Artois, Winters, Corning, Red Bluff, Anderson, and Redding. I know I've forgotten some, but no matter, they are all very similar, hot dry, dusty, conservative, with the requisite gas stations, motels, and "restaurants." The choice is either the usual fast food suspects like KFC, McDonalds, Subway, with an Arbys or Carl's Jr. thrown in here and there. Occasionally there is a Bill and Kathy's restaurant, a Pilot truck stop, or an Indian casino, usually with feathers in the name.
As if traveling through these towns isn't torture enough, some folks there go out of their way to place grotesque billboards by the highway extolling their political beliefs. I'm used to the usual reminders that Christ died for my sins, and the blood spattered anti-abortion diatribes that rest under large Oak trees in this stretch of Northern California. But this time I was treated to something new. A real reminder of just how far we haven't come.
The sign read "Produce the Birth Certificate." We all know what this is about. "Birthers" are attempting to spread their manure in California's agricultural factories and fields. Then it hit me. What if it were the reverse. What if every time you had to drive through these rural desolation rows the messages foisted on you were quite different. "Produce the Health Care for Everyone" for a starter. Maybe we could put graphic pictures of clogged arteries next to all the fast food advertisements?
This isn't going to happen anytime soon, but every time I go to some outpost of civilization between major cities I notice that there are more people my age with my politics around every corner. It's just a matter of time.

A former colleague of mine used to have a poster in her classroom which read "Unless we read, we live but one tiny life." I think there was a picture of a young girl reading a book with a sparkling collection of images, archetypes, and colorful people swirling inside a thought bubble. I have always found this notion comforting...until...recently when I learned that a friend of mine has an 80 something mother who is an avid reader, but about as repressed, depressed, obsessed, a real mess...of a person as can be. This woman is the kind of person that sucks the energy out of the room. Her face, as bluesman Taj Mahal once sang, is "in a permanent frown." Her family is way too fucked up to mention in this brief space, and I do not want to write about hypocrites, racists, dsyfunctional, illiterate, ignorant, privileged, useless, pathetic, misanthropes. This woman apparently reads widely. What happened? Why the tiny life? I know, I know, maybe she has another life like most in her family. It doesn't seem possible in this case. Can a person read for a lifetime with no apparent positive impact? You tell me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

One Nation Divisible

I was telling a friend of mine the other day that attempts at breaking up the present configuration of our United States are not new. Like the ideas about dividing California into three distinct states, re-inventing the U S of A comes and goes all the time. It's actually very useful as an educator to turn students loose with a vivid imagination, some maps, almanacs or online equivalents, and plenty of paper, markers, and pencils, and let them have at it.
Demographically, economically, and politically we are very separate nations. The salad bowl is much more accurate than the melting pot. Levels of culture shock exist within our national walls. I remember working with three distinct groups of educators 10 years or so ago and confronting the fact that it would be very difficult for me to teach in Georgia, if at all. Even many I met from Michigan were not where I was philosophically as a Bay Area teacher at the time. "What country are you living in," almost passed my lips on a few occasions.
That's why when I hear, "We want our country back," these days, I'm ready to give some of it up. Go on ahead, I think, incorporate yourself into a nation where abortion is illegal, and the death penalty reigns. Build yourselves mono-cultural schools, find some legal citizens to put the food on your table, clean your homes and offices, and work for less than minimum wage. Invite the newly retired former governor of Alaska to be your leader; she's available. Y'all can have all the guns you want, you can drill till you can't drill any more. While you are at it, you might want to send your sons and daughters to as many Asian wars as you desire. You can make your own health care proposal without worrying about who you might have to share a waiting room with or whether or not aliens are sucking up all the resources. Knock yourself out, might as well build some more prisons, install cameras anywhere you can, and don't forget to add a few more radio and TV "news" shouters.
It's tempting just to make a red state/blue state division. It would definitely be faster. I vote Aye! The only problem is that the red states would have much larger percentages of mosquitos, the obese, creationists, and non-readers. The blue states would have 80% of the fresh water, the best vinyards, the best universities, and certainly the best beaches.
Hey...Let's do it!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Civil Service

It’s fascinating to see the variety of tattoos on display these days. But something just crossed my path which, I swear, looked more like my Aunt Dorothy’s dinnerware from 1953. A malaise of semi-tropical flowers in semi-tropical colors. One person’s floor is certainly another person’s ceiling. This on the same day as a conversation I had with a woman in a coffeehouse earlier. It was one of those “I’m talking to you and telling you everything about my life whether or not you are interested moments. At first I thought she was just autistic or perhaps had Asperger’s syndrome. Her voice was a few decibels louder than most and it was clear she had no sense of social borders, social decorum. Big deal; I’ve got time on my hands these days. So after her spiel about a drug addicted boyfriend, how she’s waiting for God to send someone to marry and how her 7 year old cat is her only friend, she left as quickly as she enveloped me. Something about having to deliver motorcycle parts to someone somewhere. I really don’t want to know any more.
Whenever I'm out walking I love the fact that most people that pass by are other humans that share this planet whom I've never seen before. They are people I do not know. I often look right at them. To many, it's unnerving, but occasionally someone smiles or nods or somehow breaks the plane of distance and image. And then there are those folks like the pair I saw this afternoon. Both walking on the same sidewalk towards each other. Both on cell phones. Neither one saw the other; it's a wonder they didn't trip over each other.
In related matters, looks like a real crisis in civility is underway. From calling the President of the United States a liar in the halls of Congress to Serena ranting over a bad call by the line judge to Kanye West being Kanye West, the media’s all over it. “Is this the death of civility?” they ask. Honey, it died a long time before last week. Still we parce the meaning of these latest events.
Maybe it's all about the need to tell people what you think and where you are every moment of the day. Pitiful. And yet there are those who declare all these tirades brilliant. The all publicity is good publicity school of thought. Here I invoke Marshall McCluhan, "the medium is the message."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Love of Country, Fear of Government

This little flap about having elementary school kids listen to a speech by President Obama isn't little; it's huge. There is much here. For starters, it mirrors the fear and paranoia (they are not the same thing) that some so-called conservatives harbor. I truly wonder what they think they are conserving? Reactionary? Yes, definitely. If nothing else, it highlights the irrational thinking that many teachers face daily when dealing with either parents, spineless administrators, or opportunistic politicos.
Another laughable dimension of this episode is the use of the words "lesson plan" to describe both Obama's intention and their worst fears. Most of these folks wouldn't know a lesson plan from a bed pan. Are they that insecure about their own political beliefs that they must censor the President of the United States? In some ways my use of the word laughable is terribly inaccurate. It's not funny; it's pathetic. It is such convoluted thinking. It reflects all the worst values that strangle any glimpse left of an American dream, an American promise. But I digress, I forgot that these folks are still clinging to the notion that the President isn't a citizen of the U.S. Somebody should tell them that we ALL came over here in a boat. Even Native Americans if you go back far enough.
If you look carefully here you can see the racism, the intolerance and the ignorance. It's like putting on polarized sun glasses and looking into a trout stream. Suddenly, shadows in the deep dark become visible forms. In this case, no spotted Rainbows or Brookies, what you get is old myths, worn out notions of "Socialism" and the unthinkable: health care for all.
I'm fascinated by a central contradiction here about the role of the government in people's lives. Back in the day there was a little story that opponents of the draft used to tell. "If a government representative came to your front door and told you (not asked) that he was taking your dog, most people would have a fit. But when they take your son, where's the outrage?" Many of these folks who rail at their government about health care, funding for education, and now the simple act of a President urging kids to stay in school, are unconscionably silent when it comes to questioning that government in the arena of foreign policy. Fear is at the bottom of it all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Public Option

My writing group, The Guttery, had it's first reading last night at the Blackbird Wine shop's First Wednesday series (http://The I had pushed for this quite a while and it's very gratifying to see that it all turned out so well. Aside from the recognition we got... items in a few of the local papers, listings on the web, and lots of friends showing up, I still can't get over the look on their faces as they accepted the applause offered. A real Sally Fields moment there. Yes, guys, they really, really like you.
Only 5 of us read last night, so that means that the other 5 have yet to experience this thrill. Hopefully that will come. As the date for the reading came closer, I could sense the anticipation and excitement from some of my colleagues. We spent a couple of group days critiquing our "performances" and even practiced with a mic once. It was well worth it. Given that I've had the most experience in front of groups and performing, I was able to pass on some of the things I learned while doing "An Evening with Woody Guthrie."
I must confess, a small part of me felt like that teacher again. Watching...hoping...loving...smiling...admiring...enjoying.
It was good to find my teacher, public reader voice again too. If you couldn't make it, not to worry, you can see a nicely edited version right here:

This morning at about 8:00 I checked my email and saw that Tola had sent everyone in the group a thank you and an idea. I saw, too, that he sent it at 2:38 am. Winding down, I guess. His idea involves a reading series that we sponsor, regularly.
On a personal note, I received some nice responses in the audience to the Preface of my memoir that I read. One guy told me, "you really had me." Felt good. Especially since I received a rejection form letter in the mail that afternoon. There are so many ways to say we're not the right agent/publisher for you. I'm coming to believe it's up to me to get my book out there. The internet is more than happy to oblige, so now it looks as if the next step is to explore those options.

I've noticed lately that as so many print magazines are dying, many more online versions are cropping up.
It's a great way to garner exposure and build up a resume. Let's see, Bruce Greene's work has appeared in Rudolf's Diner, Bay Area Writing Project Digital magazine, The Blood-Horse online, and...(Coming soon to a digital zine near you)