Thursday, July 30, 2009

i'd love to be a trust-fund baby now

no, of course, it would not have been good for me when i was young. you don't have to tell me. i've watched people who get it and flaunt it, until it's gone and they have to wake up, or they hoard it, living like pensioners at twenty-four. (i've just viewed the movie about a boy again. everything having been given, the main character is not about to take any risks, with his money or his emotions. boy, is he in for a surprise.)

the trouble is, if things go too easily, we don't need to take chances. yet it's the anxiety that gives us a personal history and a sense of satisfaction, if we're lucky. (i never, ever discount luck and good luck is all i ever ask for.)

you see, if you miss the adventures of youth, you can't have them later. sorry. take all your chances now, while it feels like your time will last forever. that's considered a fault of the young. don't be fooled. it's that carefreeness you can't have later. if you rush around at fifty, trying to have the experiences proper to twenty-five, you will have a sense of desperation, time is running out. this too makes you frantic or careful.

i've been foolish. i'm the first to admit it. forty-two years without health insurance! what person in their right mind would have done that? or riding in luggage racks across turkey, living in a berlin basement to revive dostoyevsky (a hero of my youth), lying on greek beaches never considering skin cancer. had i been smart i would have invested my money, bought a house. those crazy choices in jamaica and on bali, why bother?

alas, most of my memories will disappear with me. i guess it's only just. i threw away my youth on romance and now it's difficult to pay for dental work. (medicare doesn't cover it.) i've become lazy, wishing to really dig in where i am. for example, here are more photos from the forest. i guess i'll never have a better subject.

i will never be able to pass on better words than my grandmother's at her eightieth birthday (the last time i saw her): DO IT WHILE YOU CAN.

won't someone make me a trust-fund baby now?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the performance artist

do we all yearn for the aha moment? the experience of certainty, knowing what you want to do or be, no reservations at all?

i've had a couple. once, in Chico Children's Park, eating a bag lunch, watching a family play music, i realized with clarity i want to direct plays.

actually, i didn't follow up immediately, though this park across the street from the blue room theatre where i eventually perfected my directing.

no, it took a similar experience two years later, sitting by a lake in nepal, the himalayas towering over me: i want to direct plays.

so, i came back to more theater classes, finding the book which dropped everything into place, 'a sense of direction' by william ball.

alas, alas, alas, once i'd directed the plays i needed to do, i pretty much lost interest. in other words, the goal once reached left me empty. and for the past few years i've been dying for another aha moment. and yesterday morning, at three a.m. it happened. once again i revised my life!

i'd been looking at a book on the performance artist james lee byars, admiring his life and his work. yes, this way of bringing focus and joy to other people seemed to me the ultimate. and suddenly, it hit me, my whole pathway could be seen filled with the staggered footprints of a person who always did solo performances, mostly for himself, dancing in boathouses, skating on lakes, banging on decayed trucks in death valley.

yes, i'd seen and loved many performance art pieces. mainly they'd been less than an hour, involved voices without words, symbolic transformations, plenty of humor. yet it never occured to me i might be a practitioner.

aha! certainty! how delightful! three a.m. and i couldn't go back to sleep for the longest time.

this morning i browsed my photos and picked a bunch where i'd performed for the camera (not another soul in sight) and posted them here:

if you can't change your life, you can certainly change the way you see it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

enlightened irreverence (pratfalls)

pardon the picture. it's the entree into my theme.

yes, that's me, after i lept, while taking pictures, thinking i'd heard a rattlesnake. the rocks and brush, completely unforgiving, rushed up to hammer me. so much for reptiles.

of course, i'm grateful i broke no bones, avoided blindness, my glasses and camera intact. and perhaps if this hadn't happened, i'd have sat on a black widow in the outhouse five minutes later, though i always lift the seat. thus, disaster saved me from death.

perhaps it's no accident i've been watching marx brothers movies every evening, absorbing groucho's iconoclastic style and and his brothers pratfalls. i've never forgotten my childhood love of 'night at the opera'. i didn't laugh so hard this time, yet i knew here cavorted several of my masters.

you see, i wanted to be a charlie chaplin, dancing around machinery and thumbing my nose at the high and mighty. a clown, that's it, who never managed to join the circus, yet kept jumping in his heart.

i can't tell you how many times i fell on my head as a child, twice breaking my nose. and i danced around my father's churches when they were empty, something no one else ever knew.

even then, i realized, you have to give the devil his/her due. whatever we believe to be true is also false. that's the nature of being a human being.

for example, i say to myself 'all the troubles of love come from asking the wrong questions'. and still, i'm very aware asking any questions at all causes pain and prevarication. ignorance is bliss.

or, let's see, another aphorism. 'don't judge others cause it means you yourself have to be perfect.' however, if we stopped judging others, how bored we'd be on the job. only complaining makes the work we do bearable.

the writer joyce cary put it succinctly. he said, 'the great artist expresses the opposite of what he/she believes as strongly as what he/she professes.' obviously, this means external warfare and inner struggle. without an enlightened irreverence, even for your own convictions, you might as well be a preacher as an actor.

next time you take a tumble, turn it into a pratfall, if only for your own amusement. that's what i've done in the following photos. everyday i try to say to myself, 'everyone else know everything, and i know nothing.' yes, growing older means learning how much you don't know. wisdom at sixteen comes easy. at five we were doing what we were meant to do. at sixty-five we're probably saying, 'i should have embraced failure and forgotten success.'

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

as for living, our servants will do it for us

oscar wilde showed great foresight when he wrote those lines in 'the importance of being earnest', for it has come to pass.

it's with sadness i watched videos of michael jackson after the marx brothers in 'a night at the opera', one of my favorite memories from childhood.

not being of jackson's generation, i didn't understand him as a phenomenon. not only did he show energy and talent, he made strong statements against racism of any kind. that certainly helped prepare the way for things as they are today.

alas, as an icon, he couldn't be allowed to grow old. andy warhol and marilyn monroe had to vanish before the wrinkles and trembling set in. what a rush, to be celebrated. yet a cause for fear as well.

what i mean to say is, we need stories. rather than wearing a uniform and being blown up, we need to watch 'a night in bagdad' and live that life as well as our own.

there's perhaps a certain melancholy we all feel from not being able to experience a dozen lives at once. luckily, we've the movies, novels, heroes, performers, to do that for us. it's much more fun to watch 'devil in tahiti' than to be bitten by sandflies.

yet we need our own life too, a sense of its trajectory. albert camus stated every life has a shape, no matter when it ends. he also said, 'there's no substitute for a long life.' he should know, surprised by death at fifty-one, sitting startled in the back of the car that had hit a tree.

in the don juan books carlos casteneda declares, 'erase your personal history.' supposedly, that will make you free. i've found the opposite to be true. when i listen to the three and a half hours of audio my mother made about my early life, i feel reborn, in a strange way.

it seems important to revisit your personal history every once in awhile. each important event in the present affects everything that has gone before. when it became apparent my friend berta would soon die (you can see her pictures here: ), her sister sat her down with a map of the world. they stuck pins in every place berta had travelled, and the earth covered with them. a lesson in recovery of memory.

a few days ago i strung a series of personal snapshots together, myself as the subject. and afterwards i again felt refreshed, as though i had confirmed something, grounded myself, and let something go. as vague as that sounds, it felt good.

revisiting your life

usually, i'd say it doesn't pay. why glean the old fields with the straw all gone? i try not to repeat a wonderful experience. for example, in kandy, sri lanka, i stumbled into a tree ceremony, lots of beautiful hangings, incense, elaborately dressed women chanting buddist sutras. like all travelers who go to asia, i felt i'd been transported to shangri la. alas, i was dumb enough to go back a day later. the whole scene appeared burnt out, dead, like the day after an lsd vision and transportation. suddenly, the heavenly world turned to ashes.

i did have similar experiences in kandy, the windows of the english church blown out by a terrorist bomb (they were actually after the buddha's toenail in the temple next door), the pathetic elephant being examined for weapons by the police, and so on. yet, i do remember the place with affection, thinking, 'a civil war creates stable power structures, especially when it last longer than 20 years.'

yes, i'm rambling, but it has a purpose: to re-arrange my memories. this is actually a happy practice. for example, a couple days ago i put all the snapshots i could recover of myself online. and i thought, 'yes, i have had a life."

before my friend berta died, her sister sat her down with a world map. they put pins in every place berta had been: china, rwanda to visit the mountain gorillas, borneo. her sister demonstrated berta had had a full life. true, only afterward did i find from the sister a mysterious black hole in berta's history when she'd left home at 16 to escape an acoholic father. that piece of her life remained her's alone.

you can see pictures of my travels with berta here: www.pbase/wwp/berta strange, we never know which person in our life we will miss most. it will certainly be those who keep our stories.

the most amazing thing can happen when a neighbor, now grown old, suddenly reappears and says, your father, that horrible man! and your memories confirmed. a little bit of self-knowledge goes a long way.

my mother once transcribed three hours of my childhood. she's long gone, but the voice and anecdotes remain. each time i listen to them i feel refreshed. in 'the tales of don juan' carlos castenada mandates, 'erase your personal past.' however, my experience refutes him. if you remember enough of your life, you realize how full it's been.

my snapshots at

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

celebration or elegy?

the art of photgraphy explained.

lately, i've been looking at a lot of snapshot collections. and the people seem happy, unaware of mortality, living in the moment.

the composition of the photographs reflects this quick and unaffected apprehension of reality. arms and legs are cut off, things out of focus, the horizon tilted, as if the subjects intent on escaping the frozen moment, eager to depart for further adventures.

and that seems to me the way we live. we do not want our souls stifled by 'the decisive moment.' to be captured completely means having nowhere to go! that's it, we're finished.

and that's exactly what the great photography of its best artists does. they structure the photograph so perfectly, it's the end. the horizon is flat, the triangles hold the subjects in place, the rule of thirds means this person can't step out of his clothes and go to a less auspicious place.

true, the best snapshots echo the 'rules'. they imitate the masters, but they toss a variable into the mix. the edge of the frame remains pliable and broken, not definitive.

and this is the way i've been feeling these days. for example, our bodies are so complicated, how the hell do they keep walking around? and consciousness, what is it? after our exit the memories of most us will remain unexpressed. old george standing on the doorstep, what a tale he could tell! only he's gone to his next reincarnation.

if you step back and assume nothing, since every paradigm can be proved true, you're left with a mystery. why does one life slide along on greased rails while another cut short by war or given a bumpy ride by cancer and the ultimate questions (which can't be answered)?

i love looking at snapshots. they give me hope. while the work of the masters puts me in a museum and my mobility stunted, the butterfly with a pin through its heart, a speciman caught in a net.

ah, and the same place can be experienced so differently, depending on your perspective and state of mind. i invite you to see this for yourself: