Monday, February 28, 2011

planting the F-word and the american dream

boy, am i slow on the uptake! watching the academy awards at our wonderful local art-house, the pageant theater (they put on a spectacular feed), i kept wondering "how did they manage to blot out the f-word the actress so dramatically threw out?' this morning the light bulb: 'they planted it of course.' anything to add a bit of spice.

now, i don't want to downgrade the evening. glamorous, not an eyesore by any means, a good show. however, when it goes too smoothly, it's dull. at least the director of the expose' inside job said, 'after three years of the financial meltdown not one financier has been prosecuted, and that's wrong.' the highest moments of the past events marked by political statements a bit embarrassing. after all, hollywood a money-machine.

more than that, though, it's a pretty true view of america. we're afraid of honest emotion portrayed on the screen. it has to be acting. look how different the bits from the foreign films nominated. there truth to life, to suffering and joy, too much for most of the populace. that's why a theater like the pageant barely hangs on by the skin of its teeth, even in a college town. we can't bear to be so vulnerable (what great performances really about). we're a survival-of-the- fittest society. we can't lose control, for fear of going under, and not without reason.

we struggle to have an identity in a mass society, piercing and tattooing ourselves, while at the same time doing all we can to appear normal and hold a job. frankly, i've spent my whole life afraid i'd be penniless, and that's the underpinning of the american dream. it's a gamble in the midst of multiple illusions.

and talking about sex in films, i have to hide my eyes most of the time cause it's so unbelievable, just bump and grind wrestling without falling into gentleness. it occurs to me sex could have easily been a disaster on my own life. for example, a french girl picked me up in an english youth hostel and dragged me to a bed and breakfast. (no, i didn't take much dragging. that's a lie to protect the guilty.) after a very energetic imitation of movie loving, she told me she might have syphilis. her hatred of men flashed from her eyes. i took a train to frankfurt and got a shot of penicillin from my nurse sister. for twenty years after i had myself tested.

yes, sex is dangerous. your whole existence can be turned upside down by it. this is no surprise to those who passed through the age of aids. i myself after twenty years of indiscretion became notoriously celibate. so much for the pursuit of happiness! i've always loved the movies more than real life.

look up the pageant at www.

you can see my one venture into the medium, mother thunder, which i wrote and acted on

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

catching the wave (beatnik #2)

I coulddaa been a contender... how those words of marlon brando echo down the years. It sure takes a lot of luck as well as balls and tenacity.

Yesterday, I perused malcolm gladwell’s outliers. He shows how your circumstances to a large extent determine your success. For example, the creators of the personal computer, jobs and gates born within a year or two of each other. How the stars lined up for them and their fellow geeks. Gates had computer opportunities almost no one else of high school age had. Jobs, I forget how it all worked for him, though the right partnerships certainly played a part. Had either been born three years later or earlier, they would have missed the wave.

Eureka! I almost shouted in the barnes & noble café, ‘I HAVE AN OUT.’ See, I wandered north beach, mike’s place and city lights books in san francisco in 1957 at seventeen. Attended a big beat reading. Alas, I lacked three to five years of making the scene. Yes, a young ginzberg came to my college lit class and read new parts of kaddish. But I failed to touch the hem of his levis. Others demonstrated at city hall against the suppression of howl. I didn’t let out a peep, let alone a scream.

Damn, that wasn’t only tsunami slightly ahead or behind me. In paris during 1956 with my family at 16 I lacked the maturity to hang out with existentialists, drink booze and get laid. Later in the sixties I did meet an absurdist, the playwright author adamov in a café. With the smoke oozing out between his decayed teeth, he seemed ancient. Once again, 1940 did not do well by me. Of course, I didn’t get killed in ww2, korea, or vietnam, so I guess I should be thankful.

And what about the theater scene in new york, aka the late sixties? Too old, too old, too old. Later my play grandma did get performed in the balcony of a west-side church. 1979, a grandmother, a church, that tells the whole tale. Another monsoon gone by a few years before me.

At san francisco state I studied shakespeare’s contemporaries. What a star-studded group! Right-aged willie stood on his surfboard and soared to the top of the mountain. And the blues singer, robert johnson. Sure he came late in the Mississippi delta but not too late, died unknown, his recordings a synthesis or everything around him. Later, the rolling stones eulogized him. He rose to be the god of rock and roll.

There we have it. Timing is all, said shakespeare and my mother. Now I can really say, I coulddaa been….

here's grandma:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

maybe impatience saved me, after all

yes, i've always considered it a curse. and if i'm asked, 'what would you change in your life?', i'd say, 'i wish i had savored each moment more.' then one morning this week, i reconsidered. would i have done so much, been through so much, if i had been satisfied, suffering myself and fools lightly?

henry moore the sculptor wrote: The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.

hmm, the description fits, now what have i been doing? like the photographer william eggleston i like to make things. true, as soon as i've created an item, after the flush of satisfaction is over - and i almost always finish what i start - i suddenly can't stand it, am ashamed of it. is this because i've revealed myself? or is it that i haven't immediately achieved fame and fortune, the love of the masses i've always desired?

so i put whatever it is away: a play, a poem, a photograph, a song. often i never show it to anyone else or i post it on the web and let it disappear into internet heaven, not allowing any comments to shake me out of my solitude. (don't get into arguments in cyberspace. the anonymous become vicious.) and i may not see this particular piece for years.

recently i read the photographer george tice's remark: i like to go down into the basement and look at my photographs. i take great pleasure in them. that's a far cry from virginia woolf who shuddered everytime she passed a shelf of her books! and i thought, tice has it. i'm often astounded by the romances and travels i've had, the poems i've written, the movie i made. where did that come from? how did i do it?

and the only answer i have is: i've been divinely discontented. hopefully i can continue to enjoy the product and not walk into the river like virginia. it's a fine line between being unsettled and being undone.

here are a few humble truths:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"If you have compassion, you don't need religion."

that's my favorite quote from the dali lama. ah, easily said, but how the hell do you develop it if you don't have it from birth? for example, my caring quotient about zero. i really get irritated when street-people ask me for money. i feel like they're preying on my conscience. and if they're young with dogs, i can barely resist saying, 'get a job.' on the other hand, if they're playing music, even badly, they're at least making an attempt and i'll drop a quarter in the guitar case.

actually, i envy and admire those who naturally have a feeling for others. my friend and supervisor who died last summer, randy beck, had it. that's why as he lay in a coma friends threw a fund-raising feast and $23,000 dollars accumulated in the cup. six hundred people showed up at his graveside, and this in a very small town.

mostly i've been very lucky that way. the forest service attracts a lot of fine people. oh, i have had a couple of micro-managing, self-centered bosses. survival under them proved very difficult, and talk about having no compassion... luckily, with help from others, i managed to stay on the job i love. and i do remember randy's father told him, 'there are two kinds of people, those who give and those who take."

i'm not sure bitter experiences help. maybe they make us resentful. oh, i did have a flash of compassion after my prostate operation. i felt for everyone i passed who seemed aging, fragile, and unhealthy. that may have lasted for a day or two. now it seems like a mirage. i guess if you've never have a really loving, generous person in your life, genes alone won't give it to you.

ironically, both my parents - one a minister and one a social-worker - made a lot of sacrifices to 'do good.' alas, my mother controlled us thru sarcasm and my father did mostly his work. we did have lots of travelling adventures, and they kept us clothed while they borrowed money to do so. despite moving thirty times before getting out of high-school, i and two of my siblings had a secure if troubled childhood. my poor adopted sister, cricket, unfortunately had to witness their cheating on each other, her beloved adopted father dying during the divorce at fifty-three. no wonder she screamed when she heard the news.

dear dali lama, i agree with you. alas, most of us need church to shame us into giving.