Sunday, December 14, 2008

fiction is the only reality

where does our hunger for stories come from? isn't it odd how a movie can shake us awake, a poem can suddenly bring us back to where we are, a fairy tale sum up our life?

when i tumbled off my bike for the umpteenth time and injured my knee (they say you finally feel old when you have a wound that can't be healed), i resorted to numerous sessions of acupunture. this particular practitioner would weave me into the tales she told like an expert hypnotist. perhaps she got the idea from the teaching pieces of milton ericsson.

i wrote a few of my own:

both believed a story could circumnavigate our defenses, getting us to really listen. after all, part of our training is not listening to parents, teachers, the state, and an infinite number of wise-guys. being told what to do becomes an anathema, so we eventually don't even listen to ourselves.

consider religion. christ was a poet, that's one reason he had such an effect. and the adventures of our divine heroes captivates us and leads us to attempt similar lives. this goes for sports gods and movie stars. if buddha hadn't lived such a good story, or muhammad, would we listen to what they have to say? I much doubt it. arduous episodes, miraculous escapes, unbearable suffering, these get our attention.

the writer thomas berry once said we need a new story. alas, they aren't that easy to come by, not without the gesture of a human being caught in a divine act and situation. we must be able to identify. then we become larger, stronger, and better than we are. yet, without vulnerablity, a superman doesn't interest us.

along with this notion of identification comes my theory breaking the circle of our thoughts. we become trapped in the way we personally see things. every premise leads to the same conclusion. we can't escape believing we know what is real. a good story (movie, play, dance) takes us into another chain of events with unexpected outcomes. people come up with solutions we didn't think possible. and when we walk out of the theater, the world feels refreshed. the myth has brought us to the point of physically feeling the sunlight, smelling the freshness of the rain, and setting our feet more firmly on the ground.

speaking of dance, i've been taking pictures for several weeks. and i realized during the dress rehearsals, the only dance i couldn't get my head around was the first one. as lively and colorful as it was, it told no story (all the rest did) and so i couldn't find images to sum it up. lacking a storyline, it didn't awaken my sleeping imagistic reserves, the power of my imagination. i took fewer of it than any of the other dances.

the most powerful influence on me: those childhood picture books. i can still see certain pages in my mind. i've never wanted to do more than create those of my own, that magic.

you can scan the dance pages at

and i've just added a story of the campus rose garden, following the dictum photograph what you love.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

the way it is (for most of us)

i've been wanting to pass this on for the longest time. but i didn't want to scare the young or depress the old. alas, this is the best description of our lives that i've ever read. it's by bill jay, a photographer who writes for lenswork magazine. read at your own risk!

In recent weeks an unsual number of casual conversations with wannabe artist have harped on the same theme: "I'm still searching for what it is I want to do"; "I want to be poet/painter/writer/photographer or...but, no, I haven't I haven't actually written or created anything yet"; "I feel creative but i cannot decide what to create."

Give me a break. These are energy-vampires. I'm so tired of trying to appear interested in such self-indulgent whining (whingeing for those of you in Europe). So, one last time here's my answer to them, and to you, young photographer, ever-hopeful that the world is waiting for your art while you are waiting for your inspiration.

Certitudes do not exist. There is not one field, one specialization, that is destined for you. Chances are that you are not great at anything; most of us are just average, ordinary. Life's early peregrinations willy-nilly land us onto an unexpected habitable patch in the mud of everydayness. That's where you get to work; you sow, build, and procreate right there. You might occasionally notice that life seems easier, more glamorous, more rewarding somewhere else, but you ignore the fantasy. You dig deeper, plant more, right where you are. That's it.

You don't think that I have my own fantasies of what might have been? Perhaps with earlier luck, money, contacts I could have changed the world, done something important? Of course I believe I was destined for greatness in some other field, where I could enrich the lives of millions. You think I would have chosen, in the best of all possible worlds, that I would have spent so much of life's time and energy in thinking, writing, talking and practicing photography? You crazy? Who gives a shit? I could have given up every aspect of my photographic life at any point in the past and no one would have noticed.

Yet, yet...I have no regrets. This is where I landed and every day I am content to turn my attention to the small, even trivial, tasks at hand. I am content, and I pity those who are still wondering and wandering. I just don't want to hear about it.

at the moment i'm taking pics of the preparation for chico dance theatre's performance this next week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

the strange case of the vanishing lookout

how often are we willing to throw our identity up in the air, to scatter the cards, let them fall where they may? it's not really easy to do. one has to be mad, or careless, desperate, or in high spirits. if i can't play with who i am, i am not doing very well.

in a place and time long, long ago, i realized people give up being artists for basically two reasons: 1. they don't want to spend so much time alone. 2. they don't want to reveal themselves.

since we're primates, we tend to hang out with others. freud, in his later years, decided the strongest human urge was to be part of a small group. and way, way back, as soon as a tribe got too large, they split in two. we see this happen yet today, everyday.

yet, can a creative thought emerge without lots of dreamy time in isolation? if we're trying too hard to solve our problems, we wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. without letting go into the land of illogic we can't even rest. many have said we die alone. perhaps eternal peace requires it.

as for revealing ourselves, it's part of the same plight. to be too odd is to be cast out into exile. luckily, these days, we can fit in somewhere. anything seems registered on the web. for example, you have a fetish for steam-pipe fittings. google it and you're no longer alone. around the world, out of six-billion plus people at least a dozen have a passion for crawling through passages underground, despite the claustrophobia and the heat.

in fact, it's almost impossible to be completely alone these days. even the mad have their many friends. and hermits tune into the internet without even knowing it. once you've been acclimatized, it's damned difficult to drop out of the human weather.

still, from time to time we try. two nights ago i ran around attempting to take pictures of my own ghost, dividing into multiple characters. they look like me, but... was i simply bored with thinking i'm always the same, that i know myself better than i should?

buddha said we live in a world of illusion. well, our world couldn't be more buddhist, more 'virtual.' trying to escape ourselves, we find ourselves. seeking ourselves, we run out of gas in a dali desert.

these pictures are a typical case: during a few moments last summer, after reading six books on francis bacon, i decided to find out what the bacon persona existed of. is that me i see? good gravy, it's a shame, but i can really allow myself only to distort myself. i'm too conscious of hurting other people (most of the time) to do the same to them. even bacon painted from photographs of friends, knowing how disturbing they'd find his images of them to be.

a final note: c.g. jung felt much of our energy a prisoner of our 'shadow' side. that darkness might hide goodness or evil, whatever we personally dare not express. perhaps you get energy from being swept along with the crowd. on the other hand, maybe there's merely a limpness and distance in you which allows this to happen.

certainly, if you show the sides nobody knows, you risk ending up alone, cast out of the tribe. these days you may not die, but it still doesn't necessarily feel great. even the unibomber sent out destructive messages in order to connect with the weird world he envisioned.

you can find more new summer photos at

the forecast is for snow on friday, six days away. i'm pretty much packed up, though today is warm and cloudless. see some winter lookouts from the air at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

life's a gamble

that's the way i felt wandering around reno last week. here are a few pictures

the center of town around the casinos has always been seedy. the new indian casinos in california have drawn away the crowds. gradually these old casinos have begun to close.

i've always liked reno. when i worked the lookouts at lake tahoe, i'd drive down for the day, wander the university campus, lose a few coins. compared to the gambling at the lake, it felt more real.

my first season over the water i worked at zephyr cove. very fancy homes were being built across the street. not what you'd expect at a lookout. as i circumnavigated the lake last week, i passed under zephyr and could barely see it for the houses!

stateline lookout no longer exists. my brother and sister-in-law visited the site and say it's a very nice park. fair enough. it's a great place for weddings, and i had a lot of them, one with a string quartet. being right above casinos, i could practically hear the slot-machines. i'd go inside and look in amazement at the people pulling the uprights of the one-armed bandits. for better or worse, i limited my personal participation.

but i did think a lot about the nature of luck. and since my whole life's been a gamble, i guess dropping coins in the slot not necessary. here's one meditation on the subject, written at the northshore:

and thoughts of turning lead into gold seemed to go with the place:

even this last week, i had fantasies of walking into a joint, plopping down a nickel, and walking out with five thousand dollars. that's the way they make suckers of people like me.

let's see, what would make a good aphorism? gamble with your life, but not with your money? oscar wilde would like that.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

learning to live in spaceships

i've been accused of having way too many theories! theories about men and women, theater and politics, even about the nature of reality (does it really exist?). these accusations made me finally give up writing. what's the point if nobody's listening? i call this 'the cassandra complex'.

however, despite my desire to take pictures and not talk, i can't help myself. partly this is due to mortality. now, i'm sure nobody wants to hear what the sum of their efforts, anxieties, and pleasures will be! this isn't the middle ages, after all, though one writer on photography feels we're heading for a pre-renaissance period where we begin to think and act in terms of symbols and magic.

perhaps this is part of the 'seals on the beach' syndrome, everybody constantly talking on cell-phones and rubbing up against each other in subways, a primitive way of tribalism where individuality doesn't exist. suddenly we've lost our hard-won external self. and as always, the survival of the species is at the heart of it.

so, spaceships? yes, learning to live in little cubicles on artificial food, with electric light and recycled water. in this way those who leave an unlivable and desecrated planet will be able to adjust to encapsulated conditions until they, hopefully, reach another sphere in which they , hopefully, will do a better job.

since nothing can be proven or dis-proven about the existence or non-existence after our personal death, i feel we can believe whatever we want, as long as we don't force that belief on others. for myself, repeated lifetimes makes a nice paradigm. thus, next time, i'll be a doctor on a spaceship, for which i am presently preparing myself. medicine is evolving rapidly and it will be much more of a pleasure to practice it a hundred years from now.

i'm continuing my with a new series:

yes, the body, how we fail, how we heal.

this is not all for the future life. i'd like to figure out the aging process for myself, now, what can i do to preserve myself in a healthy state for awhile longer. each time i went to my storage space last week, i thought of my friend roger dying in the keeper's house, surrounded by his family. and of course, he'd ask for the oxygen to be turned off so he could have a cigarette. and two weeks ago, my friend dave, who took care of this lookout, retired and the next day found out his cancer had re-occured after eighteen years. all people are mortal. wayne is a person. therefore...

these two courses have been extremely helpful (not finished with them yet):

maybe it's time to pay a little more attention to science!

but back to poetry. here are two pieces, one long and one short, where i broach the subject of life after life on earth.

and i've posted new summer photos at:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

building the pyramids

this is the other side of the lookout's life. for four days i labored, emptying the place i'd rented for the past two years and the house i'd been care-taking for the past four months.

the big question was: could i get everything in this tiny space? obviously not. a crate of clothes, a large computer desk ensemble, a backpack, and a bookcase reside at the cancer society shop. marilyn of vagabond rose took the small fridge, lamp, boombox, and picture-frames, most of it going to her country cabin. susan recovered her floor-lamp and marilyn of the american and language and culture institute received her birthday present: a banjo-ukelele bought on the internet. (she said she played all night. it really sounds like a banjo. amazing.)

the rest? yes, by gum. and there's still a bit of room for the stuff here at the lookout. i've a new room nov. 1st. until then, i'm a free man.

certainly, that's the way it feels. perhaps cause our family moved thirty times by my graduation from high-school. add 90 more times for 45 fire seasons. and then there's been new york, berlin, oxford, the island of rhodes, berkeley, santa cruz, and chico. (my head's beginning to swim.) with everything put away i begin to have travel fantasies. and i keep thinking of the woody allen movie from this week: cristina barcelona where all the characters go through intense experiences, then return to their normal patterns of behaviour.

i've just gotten another great course

which promises to be exactly what i've believed: we remain the same personality until there's brain damage.

when we left hamilton, montana i was nine years old, a preacher's kid. i remember as we left town how the streets and trees lost their mana. they became distant and foreign, as if the life had gone out of them. and i seem incapable of going back to a place once i've really left. perhaps this keeps me an eternal child, always living in the present moment. i asked for change and adventure and that's what i've gotten.

beware of what you ask for!

i've reorganized my photos into large groups: chico, dance, theater, lookout, etc. hopefully you'll discover something new and exciting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

the political parade

evidently human survival depends upon the interplay between belief and observation. neither alone seems able to sustain us. alas, the balance can (and often does) go awry.

i'm auditing wonderful medieval art history lectures given by a new teacher on campus, asa mittman. last time he drew a clear distinction between a world based on observation (science) and contemplation (belief). he stated categorically the two mutually exclusive.

i'm not so sure. for example, i've never understand the competition between science and religion. why couldn't a divine being simply instill consciousness in an animal (ape) that already existed? the lightning flash of the quantum leap. we experience that kind of revelation every day.

on the other hand, politics interferes with the equation. the desire for comfort, property, power. as a friend said when studying law, 'this is measurement, not art.' in a sense politics and science line up: whatever works works. unfortunately, what often works in politics is twisting people's need to believe, particularly their need to feel safe.

so the science of politics is often the big lie. i'm watching a class from on the affect of biology on personality. very interesting to see how neurons learn. repetition plays a huge part and the constant repeat of a theory, belief, or lie can ultimately get many neurons (and thus individuals) to accept it as gospel.

perhaps i sound like i'm on the side of science. alas, science is in constant evolution as discoveries are made and discarded. this may not help a person under stress. yes, as my lawyer friend once stated, 'it is a matter of our technology staying ahead of our stupidity.' all kinds of inventions have allowed each of us in the developed world to live better than any king did before 1900. yet to get through the traumas of every day, a certain belief in ourselves must persist.

how do we separate out politics, art, science, and religion? i've found individuals tend to be dominated by one of these at the expense of the others. perhaps we have to depend (have faith in) a natural selection of loves. that enough people will flow into the different professions and points of view to keep humanity in balance. tough to do when times are tough.

luckily, ninety percent of americans believe in heaven and only ten percent in hell!

as the stock market rises and falls, as medieval beliefs combat scientific observation in the presidential election, the survival of the species depends upon a mystery. any paradigm can be proven true, thus we will never know the whole truth. treating each other decently is the best we can do.

some new theater pics:

and more new lookout photos at:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

a nation on speed

okay, gas has dropped below four dollars a gallon (in britain it costs twenty-seven dollars a gallon) and we may feel relieved. not me. i know it will go back up. already, sixty dollars to fill the tank of my ranger xt.

this led to a lot of research on the internet. people have invented and marketed all kinds of gadgets supposed to save gas: voltage regulators, tornados in the air line, instruments that allow you to run on half gas, half water. what should i buy, i thought? maybe those platinum bosch sparkplugs. they sound pretty cool.

of course, all the evidence indicates most of these gas-savers bogus. if the object is to save money, sixty dollars for new sparkplugs doesn't sound so good.

then there are the advocates of driving habits. coast to stop signs, catch all the green lights, don't sit and idle, start slowly, let yourself slow down going up hill (it's natural). the advice i liked the most: "drive in your socks and be gentle." then i read, it takes 30% more gas to go seventy-five than it does fifty-five. this made all the gadgets in the world moot.

so around town and on the way back to the lookout it tried this out. and i must say i enjoy driving at fifty-five. even forty-five in the canyon seemed relaxing. somehow not pushing it brought a kind of sanity.

my mother told me when i was about three my new tricycle got stuck off the sidewalk. i wailed and gnashed my teeth cause it wouldn't come loose. that tends to be the story of my life. i've hurried through everything, afraid to miss anything. for example, installing more ram in my computer i couldn't get the stick to fit. i sweated. i cursed. i got more impatient. finally...

and speaking of the computer, i've always felt mine too slow. so i installed a 64 bit vista on a new drive, upped my ram to four gigs, and have begun using safari to browse. what a difference. it's a pleasure to play around with art again (i did it all day yesterday.) speed does have a place, but not on the road or in the arm. and i've heard that farmers survive by keeping a steady, slow pace they can keep up all day long.

slowly, adding to the summer's pictures:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

no substitute

albert camus, the french existentialist, wrote, "there's no substitute for a long life." alas, the youngest winner of the nobel prize, he died in a car accident at 51.

and somewhere else i read, concerning dieting, "if you want chocolate cake, eat it. otherwise you'll drink a gallon of carrot juice and then eat the chocolate cake. substitutes don't work."

how are these related? i don't know. concerning the statement by camus, i always thought it meant, "live long enough and you'll understand what it's all about." unfortunately, older and no wiser, i'm much less certain of my beliefs though not of my observations.

what i have discovered about living awhile is that you have the chance to have lots of experiences, of all kinds. you have time for your priorities to change and to explore different paths. a friend once said, "happiness is realizing your potential." well, we certainly have a lot of different potentials. d.h. lawrence wrote, "find myself? which self are you talking about? i've many selves."

true, i have discovered people's personalities do not change unless they have brain damage. hopefully, they learn to expand and expound on their possibilities and adventures. that said, the child of five is the child of eighty-five.

as i said, i thought i was pursuing understanding. now i know what really interested me was experience, a great variety. theater, romance, travel, writing, it all has led me by the nose. and luckily i've been able to switch from one to the other as my inclinations and desires decided. for example, twenty years of the sexual dillemas which took me many places and moods ended (pretty much) just about the time aids appeared on the scene. i'd never been particularly careful; all my encounters turned out to be hetero but that would not have protected me in the long run.

or theater. at least i pursued that rainbow until i could write and direct plays well, having a few minor successes. i enjoyed the process, as i never did with movie-making. i lived long enough to have a few delightful satisfactions, especially the one of feeling i could finally do it.

jack of all trades, master of none? yes, you can look at it that way. however, the real luxury in life is in being able to realize many potentials, many selves. the first psychic i ever went to see, gloria, said, "evolution is speeded up. we're living six lifetimes in one." perhaps that will console you for feeling you've never been able to make your mark because you get too bored with any particular endeavor.

many people i've known have died young. i think of everything my friend renate, a doctor in berlin, has missed by commiting suicide at thirty-one in 1971. and those hit by cars, bullets, and cancer at twelve and twenty-three. hopefully, they're back with a different name and another chance.

so, don't accept substitutes and wish for the most important thing: good luck.

ps. speaking of the return to childhood, i did it again last week, playing with the automatic pictures in paint shop pro, doing what i did in the first grade:

and i've doubled the number of pictures in this summer's lookout gallery:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

artificial tears (smoke 2)

when was the first time you snitched some cigarettes and smoked them (or tried)?

i was five or six, i think. a friend stole a pack of lucky strike from his mother and we lit up in the furnace room of the church basement. somehow i kept getting a dribble of saliva down the length of the cigarette and the fire kept going out.

first year in college i started smoking a pipe. i loved the smell and thought it was so cool. eventually, in my second year, i repeated the mantra, 'you're killing yourself. you're killing yourself.' that got me to stop.

yesterday i looked through a book on the human body with graphic illustrations of health and illness. the number of diseases attributed to smoking is as long as your arm. (so i was right.) alcohol comes second. (good thing i quite drinking when kahlua took over my life sixteen years ago.)

now, they didn't talk about smoke from forest fires. yes, sitting in it still. some days better than others but today i can only see three miles. and my eyes have been suffering (hmm, how are you doing, lungs?) as a last resort i asked the patrolman to pick me up some artificial tears at rite aid. he said a vast shelf of them almost empy. many of us must be in need of them.

never occured to me to resort to artificial tears. basically, i haven't cried freely since i was twelve when i watched my tears drop into the milk, frustrated with my mother's support of my brother over my protests. (a couple of years earlier i had merely looked at her when she whipped me with a belt. she never did it again.)

smoke, tears, alcohol, wildfire. my life passes before my eyes (since i can't see anything else.) strange how i'm now consoled by having so many memories. that's what i think i was looking for all along.

summer photos posted at

the best way to view them is to click the slideshow button up in the right corner. for some reason they load much faster than clicking on one at a time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

all day i walked on the water

this line popped into my head as i was reading a poem POSTCARD by the swedish poet helena sinervo. and these were the lines that struck me:

A singer should always be smiling

and your smile won't sell unless you get your teeth fixed soon.

Furthermore you should sit on a stone and listen to how

your inner teeth are grinding.

There's nothing to beat it! should walk these paths, across water

everything appears in a different light, absolutely everything...

and then for no reason at all the words of bill gates to a highschool class bounced out of the blue. i'd found them on a college wall.

why is it some people have the magic touch? in how to get control of your time and your life, the author allen lakein says it's all a matter of setting priorities and doing only the most important, but working on them every day. he says 80% of the result comes from the first 20% of the effort, so do that and skip the rest.

somewhere i read years ago that the great scientists have gotten their basic insight around 20 and spend the rest of their lives working it out. not very helpful if you're three times that plus some. of course, colonel sanders formed his chicken empire starting at 66. maybe business is a bit easier.

anyway, here's what bill gates (supposedly, it's contested) had to say:

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school.
Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 6 : If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

whether bill actually said it or not it makes a nice contrast with the words of the poet!

fires and smoke continue. i've posted more pics at

Sunday, July 6, 2008

we're all renters here

when i had that realization, it was very liberating.

it came about when a friend who had bought a fixer-upper with the help of her family said about her neighbors, 'oh, they're only renters!' i didn't take umbrage with her, but i felt it. after all, i've been a renter my whole life.

then came the epiphany: we don't really own anything. everything is contingent. we don't own our children. they leave. we don't own our parents. they die. we don't own our houses: my sister's house burned down and the vast family history my mother had gathered ashes. recently, a friend had most of her house flattened by a tree falling in a storm. an acquaintance lost his house to one of our wildland fires a couple weeks ago.

even our bodies we don't possess, not in the way we'd like to believe. two days ago i visited my friend ed in the hospital. an avid bike leader in the community, six months ago he hit a stanchion and tumbled, injuring his spine. he looked very tired, paralyzed from the neck down. he's feisty and hopefully will recover the use of his limbs. however, for the moment, it's been taken away.

most of our suffering comes from a sense of loss. perhaps it helps to think that loss is the name of the game. at the moment california burning up. according to botany, it's supposed to burn. the oils build up in the brush. a fire releases a lot of seed, puts healthy ash in the soil. of course, people build in the woods. it's merely a matter of time, especially since global warming is charging the atmosphere with higher energy that must find an outlet.

if we are only renters, we might consider stressing less about buying a home, a new car, and so on and on. they say, 'you only get to keep what you give away.' it's not a bad philosophy to live by, despite our need for the illusion of owning.

here are some pics from the lookout in the smoke:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

when the smoke gets in your eyes

during the night, someone discovered a hundred acre four miles north of me, where i would normally have spotted it right away. (visibility at the moment half a mile.) the most fire-ridden june i've seen in 45 years as a lookout. four days of lightning (perhaps dry) now predicted.

maybe that's why this morning before getting up, i began thinking where i'd like to die. this is, of course, the return of a morbid subject, but i have my reasons.

two weeks ago, i paid my next six months on my secret storage space. roger, the manager, has become a friend over the years. i've heard lots about his troubles. for example, this time he pulls me aside from the house and tells me his wife's daughter, husband, and two kids showed up may 1st with no money. one baby sleeps in the stroller outside the door. i ask, 'other than that, is everything okay?' 'no, afraid not,' pointing to a bump on his jaw. 'cancer. lungs. blood in my stool.' he's about to leave for treatment at the veteran's hospital.' i do my best to reassure him and give him a bottle of french wine. his little blond granddaughter asheley comes out, smiling. 'i've got thirteen of them,' he says, still puffing on a cigarette.

last night, i watched 'wit', the story of a youngish woman professor of metaphysical poetry diagnosed with cancer. she's lively and witty and if you want to see chemo in action, this is the movie for you. unfortunately, the treatment fails.

can i be forgiven for considering the subject while i'm in this twilight zone? (i'm trying to be as realistic as i can be.)

thus, this morning i thought, 'okay, i'd like to die right here, on this bed, surrounded by nature and the sky. where else? in the house i'm house-sitting, artwork and books taking me into themselves. and lastly? on a train, going through fields in europe.' this my secret way of finding what means most to me.

here are pictures of my friend berta on our travels. as she grew weaker, her sister sat her down and they put pins in a world map of all the places she'd been, a very lovely if sad way of showing her she had lived and had a full life. i was very happy to have these photos as a momento.

Friday, June 13, 2008

friday the 13th part four

ah, it's almost past. the sky full of smoke from near my hometown (chico), the sun setting red.

twice i've received life-alerting missives on this particular day, which adds to both my excitement and anxiety. alas, i can't remember the second, but the first happened in oxford, england. i'd just gotten permission to stay for a year and had the money, when the coast guard wrote i'd have to come back and go to reserve meetings. this was quite a shock. i'd done a month active duty in london the year before to satisfy the requirement.

a greek island, berlin, and two years later i had to return to the land of the war in vietnam. they never called up the reserves, which definitely saved my sanity and probably my life.

what would my life had been like had i stayed in britain? perhaps quite different. maybe a permanent expat with a bouncy, buxom irish wife. no, it was not meant to be.

reading 'the flaneur' by edmund white. "Americans are particularly ill-suited to be flaneurs...they are always driven by the urge toward self-improvement." the flaneur wanders the street, joins the crowds, idly looking, for no purpose other than the experience.

all this while i thought to educate myself, grow-up, become an expert. yet i suspect i know little more than i did fifty years ago! what an astonishing thought. i do know i revel in my memories. back here at the lookout i'm constantly traveling the world.

the main awareness: you are making your world as you live in it. no wonder buddha said this the first step. you really can turn off your desires for sweets, your worries about love, you simply have to realize you're creating the craving. of course, it's easier some times than others. personally, i like to wallow in certain moods. then i can't get out of them because i'm enjoying myself!

looking back through old picture files, i think, 'how many good ones i've got already. why persist?" guess it's a further motivation for rambling, looking, it changes even a well-known place into something mysterious. here are a few more parade files from last year:

only three more hours and this fateful date will be history. the thing is, have i received an important notice without realizing it? the smoke on the horizon? the troubled dreams i had just before waking? what if i'm not getting the message, tho it's already been sent?

Friday, May 30, 2008

graduation, the moment of truth

somehow i was never there, not for grade school, high school, or college. and i have to admit, part of it was pride. i didn't want to be one of the herd. however, like about everything else in my life i'm now suspicious of my motives. fears played a large part. i used to have a knot in my stomach at parties, felt inadequate at social gatherings, hankered for a good book when i felt i had to make small talk.

"we spend too much time worrying about what other people think." all too true. must be part of our survival instinct, the need of the pack, the fear of banishment, starving in the desert. and only the other day it occured to me i could simply turn it off. nobody's really thinking about me anyway, much as i might like to wish they were.

so, back to graduation. i've more than made up for it in the last few years: grade school, high school, and many times college. true, i still feel ambivalent about education. is it really a training in timidity, rats adapting to the maze? can you really be an artist (certainly you can a dentist, social worker, engineer) as a result of courses in composition, color, timing?

robert henri in 'the art spirit' insists all education is self-taught, the school merely an opportunity and obstacle. hmm, certainly the case in my town. the one thing in life that will get you by is the work ethic, whether you apply it to flight-school or the dice. and that's what i mean (mostly) about the moment of truth. it's when you suddenly have to pay your own bills, can't call your folks for a check or a loan. cold water, o boy, cold water it is.

by not having children or buying a house, driving old cars, i've managed to avoid mortgages and debts. it's still pure luck and good luck is all i've ever asked for. my own moods, inclinations, desires have taken up so much of my energy i wonder how other people take upon themselves the cares of others. reading '511 things only women understand' i'm not surprised at my impatience. do we all start out as wild animals having to be domesticated?

last sunday i took more graduation pictures. bored by the repetition of old themes, i transformed them into something else. have a look:

and then take a peek at pics from the county fair, another favorite event, taken two days before. someday i hope to figure out what i really have to say. then maybe i'll graduate to the next level!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dancing while i can

the crisis is past, at least some kind of crisis. the echocardiogram showed a normal heart with a blip in one of the valves (wonder to see it beating, the four chambers). on the stress-test runway i lasted nine minutes as it ran faster and steeper. my pulse remained low, as did the pressure of blood. thus, my body's stable, even at this age, my many prior terrors all for naught.

true, i did visit the hospital three times where my friend karma lay with an opened chest and five bypasses created with veins from his leg (his birthday within three weeks of mine). up and down the halls were blatant signs of mortality and for awhile in the world everyone look like a corpse waiting to happen!

gradually that passed. karma's home, stronger every day. in three months they say he will be able to do everything he once could, including trekking in the himalayas. still, i can't forget what la rochfoucauld wrote,"few people know how to be old." and to pull myself up i photographed dancers. amazing how young they've become, even in the three years since i took the class myself.

i tried out a couple of older digital cameras to test their merits. of course, they're slower than the latest product, however they seem to have a better image quality, the pictures full of intimacy and emotion. why have today's models lost the capacity to capture these?

even before driving up the mountain yesterday and fighting the wind to carry boxes of books into the tower, my spirits had risen. the night before i'd attended the final lecture of a favorite teacher, jim mcmanus, an expert in the life and works of marcel duchamp. at the end the students gave him a standing ovation. in the final tally that's what matters, what others have learned from us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

no more memories needed?

i put this as a question. to myself, of course. since i have to move again this fall, the options open up. and that's what i love, and fear. (we moved thirty times by my graduation from high school.)

this, perhaps, is why i never really wanted children of my own. ie. i mean to raise, since we never own them and they ultimately abandon us, as we've taught them to do. a life-partner, even, ruled out of the equation, though i tried. how could i have acted on impulse? lived without much money? (our family in debt the whole time i was growing up. the result of idealism, serving others.) to me a family meant doing lots of things you didn't want to do, life slipping away.

now, i have the memories i desired. bits and shreds from forty countries, and that doesn't include dreams. for example, china a big hole in my travels, along with south america and africa. (tangiers and costa rica, close but no banana. japan twice, yet not quite the continent.) that said, a moment ago i looked at a picture book on the great wall. one village perched high above a river appeared to be the one i visited in a dream forty years ago. hmm, maybe that trip more real than many so achingly experienced.

yes, it's anxiety that makes us remember things. and someone said, 'memory is incomplete experience.' in a book called 'is there life after high school?' the author posited we remember high school so vividly cause it was more painful than anything else in our lives! that's true, except, perhaps for travel, if you go the way i've gone, buses and backpacks and cheap lodgings. is our life most our own when we're lonely? that seems completely possible. the guru osho says we belong to ourselves only when we're between thoughts, and that's meditation, nirvana. certainly, time collapses and telescopes when we're on the road, a week in a dusty asian city equals five years of comfort in a suburb.

of course, this was all part of a plan. to use my time up, to have so many memories i'd be comfortable departing for the final journey. unfortunately, as e.m. cioran says, 'thoughts of dying comfort us on the way to grave, but they don't help us when death is on the doorstep.' we'd like to be free of the burden of tension, however it's that very pull of gravity which makes us feel alive.

mostly i think i will miss my memories, or at least, i think it's a shame they will disappear when i do. if i add to the pile, am i merely creating more loss for myself? and do i need to go anywhere? the appearances around us are more mysterious than we think. gary winograd said, 'i take pictures to see what things look like photographed.' somehow i like to discover the true nature of an event afterwards, rather like a japanese tourist, looking at the parthenon when i get home. no, it's not quite like that, cause i tend to dissolve the present in a bath of memory and agony to arrive at a spectral interpretation. some might call it a vision. look at to see what i mean.

Monday, March 31, 2008

"all you need

is a new idea" said the dancer/choreographer twyla tharp.

ah, if only it were that easy. we can be enlightened by a cup of coffee and it won't survive the day. waking from a fantastic dream, we feel we've the world by the tail. by the time we get out of bed, the sky look gray and bare.

a new idea! yes, of course. yet it must grab us, motivate us, obsess our thoughts and drive our feet. unfortunately, our heads are already full of categories, circles, childhood, money, houses, cars, cares, children, work, history, the news. there is simply no room for anything else.

we tend to live in the closed system of ourselves. stumbling and groping, we grasp at whatever works and hold onto it for dear life. how can we escape the safe but inhibiting patterns we've built up to support the edifice we've created?

i've mentioned a cup of coffee. of course, there are other drugs: pot, prozac, or more desperately, heroin and sleeping pills. whatever breaks the circle of our judgements, for in not accepting others we do not accept ourselves.

how often do we come out of a movie, a play, or rise from reading a novel, to feel we've broken free, entered another's way of being, of looking, of acting and reacting? for an hour, even two, we see the world with love's eyes, everything possible, everything new. (the charm of youth.) and gradually the bright sun sets.

as many of the wise have said, we have to get out of our own way. and this may be as simple as saying yes where we've said no, walking down a new street, confronting a bully. the desire to do things differently has to grow huge, or be thrust upon us.

in solitary confinement, the black panther george jackson invented and practiced his own form of yoga. then there was the fellow imprisoned in a box during the american civil war. to pass the time he invented the repeating rifle. war and famine, earthquakes and fire, marriage and divorce, children and death, how do we submit to a boot-camp by choice?

in a recent book on work the therapist thomas moore uses the example of following your own daimon, the little voice inside which gives us a sense of direction. in 'how to get control of your time and your life' by alan lakein the author submits that fifteen minutes of planning early in the day may be worth more than all the good intentions in the world. (he also says, '80% of the results come from the first 20% of effort.' and other good things.)

every answer is personal. usually i avoid going back to places where i've had a pleasant experience. living in the same town for years on end, this isn't always possible. a week ago i returned to table mountain, a local pilgrimage site for spring flowers. i'd last gone five years ago. here is the first record: the first view seems easy and fresh. especially in conversation with a friend. the second time i was alone and it was easter. something darker and more brooding entered into the pictures.

same place. new idea. for a moment there was room for it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

how to have confidence

always believe you are right. that's right. as a friend said, 'people who always believe they are right have a lot of energy.' and they can steamroller over people like myself who've been disillusioned by their own powers of observation.

yes, i've been wrong too many times. for example, whenever i've thought an item stolen from me, i've found it in a pants pocket, or hiding behind a door. i've learned not to accuse anyone till it's somehow proven true (or false).

that doesn't mean i don't have certain convictions. i believe with freud life is a struggle between eros and thanatos, between the creative force and the destructive forces in the world. the seed grows, blossoms, dies, while scattering new seeds. in many ways, events seem more cyclical than linear. the economy gets good. than the need for technical reconstruction drives it into the ground for awhile. (the moment we're living out now.) after these shifts take place, our financial lives revive. put your money in precious metals or bonds and you survive a depression.

knowing when to bet and when to fold, that's perhaps part of the confidence equation. every monarchy that has gradually given up power has survived (sweden, england, holland) and stayed wealthy. those who resist change too long topple from rigidity (russia, iran). being always right does mean being rather cynical, ie. the painter francis bacon said he tended to vote for the right so he 'wouldn't be burdened by idealism.' i'd never thought of it that way, but i know what he means. for those who believe they can't be wrong, idealism is just another name for the obviously real!

the other day i took pictures at a rally protesting the gulf war. to me it had a dark side, but for those truly participating it was a religious experience. where does belief end and fanaticism begin? asking questions like that, i'm probably my own worst enemy.

pics last weekend:

pics a year ago in the same place:

Friday, March 14, 2008

searching for signs

how the devil do other people make major decisions? everytime i come up against one, i thrash about in hot water like the proverbial frog boiling to death without knowing it.

of course, first i have to decide: is this a turning point? does it demand a mere tweaking, or do i have to throw out the whole aparatus and start anew?

alas, exercising the 'change your life' tactic rarely gets me anywhere. for example, in 1995 i decided i had to make a change. i drove to seattle twice, to san luis obispo. i took a plane to new york. trouble is, i couldn't find anyplace better to live. so, how do you renew your capacity for adventure without leaving town? this time, i got involved in live theater again. and that impulse propelled me for twelve years. in the midst of it, i turned from writing to photography. my desire to live jumped up again. if only i could get that one photo.....

then the theater where i'd found so much satisfaction fell apart. thus the search began. to begin the year i decided to take care of health issues, ie. at least find out if i had any. well, i do. for better or worse, yesterday i suffered a colonoscopy. the doctor found a solitary polyp. for twenty four hours i was thinking, 'how will i spend my last six months?' i definitely decided on one last trip to europe. i also decided i'd pay for ten years storage on my papers and photos, in case they were ever 'discovered'.

what else? ah, i'd like to drive around california one last time and take landscape pictures, despite the climbing price of gas. i'd put everything on a no-interest credit card and run up the bill, laughing on my way to the grave.

unfortunately, the best-laid plans... a call this afternoon and the polyp discovered to be 'totally benign.' now i'd have to find a way to go on living. my father died of a heart-attack at 53 (same age as shakespeare) and my mother's father three months shy of a hundred. i realized if i lived as long as the latter, i've half a lifetime more to go. (yes, i am one of those who constantly reads the dates on tombtones and in biographies. camus said, 'there is no substitute for a long life,' his own cut tragically short.)

trouble is, most of a person's best work has been done before forty. after that? live on the glory? but the modern age admires productivity. one masterpiece is not enough. you have to go on producing them.

well, i've no answer for the present dilemma, not yet. i did experience a salutary lesson last saturday and i've recorded it as 'the mandala returns to the sea.' if only i felt like jumping the the ocean, for a long swim! hope you enjoy these pictures. and i am looking for more signs. something that appears again and again on the street, in the news, pasted in books, or attached to e-mails, a consistent re-inforcement of something which grows out of my current obsessions, a clue to the way through the dark wood.

oh, i forgot the most important thing: in the fall i have to find a new place to live. that always throws me into a tizzy.

Friday, March 7, 2008

getting older can be better?

i mean, isn't it possible to come into sympathy with people you used to see as below you?

like the person down in the pit, changing your oil.

or the barista serving a hot chai with non-fat milk?

today, as i sat in barnes & noble with that very drink, i watched the district manager talking with the three store managers. true, i thought he might be a hatchet-man. at the same time, i thought about all it takes to keep a store like this going, and i felt a moment of terror. what if they shut it down? where would i go for my out-of-the-country experiences? where else could i watch the displanted people from all over the world, sipping their expressos as if they were too good for me?

a friend told me about an aunt who'd been hell on wheels all of her life. then she got altzheimer's and became the sweetest person in the world. maybe there's hope for me yet.

i've lost my first tooth, my heart has some kind of electrical short-circuit (minor, they tell me. huh!), and i'm starting to develop cataracts. great. this is actually making me more humane?

for example, for the past two weeks i've been going to lectures by teachers applying for posts in the university art history program. and i've enjoyed all the great information. at the same time i have been critical of teaching styles, etc. unfortunately, i've also been able to see how nerve-wracking applying for the jobs is. especially if you're a big-city person trying to get out of a small town in the middle of nowhere.

no, it's not easy to choose, even if you feel you know who's best.

am i going soft in my old age? where's the super-competitive spirit that's kept me going (secretly) my whole life? am i becoming unbearably maudlin and soft?

perhaps i'm going too far in the opposite direction. what about holding people up to a high standard? if i don't expect much, will i get much, and will they be motivated to deliver? caught between a rock and a hard place, wouldn't you say?

so, i've posted a few more pictures from recent rambles, a number from the park easing into spring: the past, desperate cynicism has to be evident somewhere. after all, the dali lama said, "if you have compassion, you don't need religion." i suspect i'm as needy as they get.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

a clown looking for ms. valentine

hmm, never wanted to be a hero? or let's say, i've always seen myself as a clown tumbling through the universe, responding to forces flipping me this way and that, always hoping to land on my feet (so far so good).

the hero seems to me stiff and rigid, resisting the dictates of fate. he/she doesn't bend, therefore risks being broken (tragedy). in the film 'el topo' the central character gets shot through the feet and hands (it's a western) in imitation of christ. even at 20 i knew i didn't want to be a martyr.

now the clown position does have it's disadvantages. for one thing, you might make people laugh but they don't really respect you. that can be tough to take. and you don't have control over the universe. you bounce like a ball thrown by the gods to genuflect whichever way they will. for example, being at the whim of chance, i either find interesting things to photograph, walking around, or i find nothing. arranging things seems like a big bore.

true, i like directing plays. and there i do have to take charge. but it's a fine line. mostly i try to elicit the genius in other people. and as anyone knows who's done theater, the chips fall where they may. so, i like working with givens, doing without doing, as a zen master might have it.

therefore, i've no career. o i suppose i could have joined the circus. i've always loved them and performers. alas, every circus story seems to end in tragedy. the clown ends up being cuckholded and shooting his favorite bear. (ingmar bergmann). or the beauty loved falls to her death from the high wire. (some film seen as a child.) more often than not, it's the audience who experiences tragedy turned into comedy while the roustabouts are left holding the bag.

yes, there's a lot of passivity in this position. the best i can say is it's often the drunk who survives a crash cause he/she is so relaxed. maybe he'll sober up behind bars, yet that is the most helpless position of all. (unless you're the birdman of alcatraz.)

and you can enjoy never knowing what's coming!

here are a few circus pictures seen through the lens of memory:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

sounds kind of awful

the one thing that's been bugging me as i grow older is the desire for completion, a feeling of having succeeded. so far every taste of it has proved momentary.

for example, i felt exhilerated going up to accept a prize for a winning play, applauded by fellow theater folk. definitely could use more of that!

or making it to india. now, i thought, i've tested my travel mettle. of course, i'm dissatisfied cause i feel i could have seen and done so much more. (but the taj mahal was very grand!)

or even surgery this past week. i feel like i've done something adult, submitted to fate, accepted help (lots of it). instead of taking more pills i've headed off disaster and can pee like a two-year-old. oops, maybe that's an example of regression.

still, the nagging continues. i just read this in robert henri's book 'the art spirit':

"Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being a victim of what I know? Life is not repetition."

gadzooks, now that's a challenge. and a particularly american one: you can never rest on your laurels. production is a must. and you have to top what you've done before or be considered a failure. yet i've experienced people's personalities as unchanging, unless there's brain damage. we're unique, despite our desire to conform and be ordinary.

so, there is another way (and it may merely be a redefinition of henri's terms). at the very beginning of 'the tao of photography' by tom ang, the author quotes 'the tao te ching': "To follow the Way removes the need for fulfillment."


now, i've listened to the whole text of the tao at least a dozen times while on the road (stephen mitchell trans.) and yet never heard this line. even in the sixties, visiting the united nations, i wrote down taoism as my religion. how did i miss this quote? perhaps i had to be old enough to hear it.

what does it mean? that's another matter. the way i take it the great sage means that prizes, india, and surgery are simply part of the Way, that the journey is the goal. of course, if i were enlightened, every day would be different!!! i'd experience and recognize the fact no two leaves and no two snowflakes are exactly alike.

alas, i'm not enlightened and don't hope to be. the wheel keeps turning. yet, maybe, just maybe, i'll escape the nagging suspicion i've done nothing of what i wanted to do, though that's what i thought i was doing all along. for pictures of the journey. (i did invent string theory in my 20's, thinking 'everything is actually happening at once. only our consciousness is linear. but never published this, unfortunately, another escape from fame.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

surgery and haiku

ah, under the knife for the first time. quite an adventure. i feel more traumatized two days later than i did at the time.

it was sort of like reporting for duty at the coast guard, only these people were really kind. but again, to lay aside your clothes and wallet, to have a needle stuck in your vein, waiting to be moved into the operating room and reading haiku did make me feel i'd suddenly intruded on another civilization.

one thing learned, things can suddenly get very hectic. patients wheeled to and fro in different cubicles. a new voice suddenly coughing. a doctor talking with a nurse about the novels of john dos passos and the movie 'the african queen.' (this became time travel. those were part of my youth and college. alas, for most people no more.)

finally, it was my turn. three nurses and the anesthesiologist. the doctor. they all briefed me. zoom, i was in the operating room sliding onto another table. the knock-out drops entered my veins. i briefly woke with an asthma attack when they pushed a tube down my throat. but it seemed like it was all happening at a far distance. am i on tv?

things went well i'm told. my prostate now shrunken, a catheter hanging down my leg (another first. unfortunately, the next day when i pulled it out i'd forgotten some instructions. so a new one had to be put in and i'm sitting rather uncomfortably with it now. sorry, i know you don't want to know all the gory details.)

my body seems to be fighting off bronchitis, which i've all-too-often gotten this time of year. strong antibiotics seem to be holding it at bay.

a couple things: get everything you need to do pre- and post- written down. skip a step and you're in trouble. also, get up, if you can, and walk around. a visit downtown this afternoon made me feel more normal. though, i must say, as i looked at 'things' beautiful and otherwise in shopwindows, i thought, 'those are for people who have a future.'

no photographs from this experience, unfortunately. it looked too much like the movies. that said, go to for pictures of my former life. (hopefully, this is not a sex change.)
and many thanks to the doctor and all the others who helped!
surgery and haiku,
the poem that cuts
to the heart of things.