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)