Wednesday, September 28, 2011

do it while you're young (later you will be too timid)

of course, i don't mean to spread despair amongst us older folks. that said, i'm now asking myself why i did all those things, like live in a berlin basement, wander the streets of new delhi, make love in the sand (really stupid) or swimming in salty water (i don't think astronauts have much fun from weightlessness).

ah, the answer snuck in there: sex, libido, pleasure in the physical world, buildups of random energy needing to be expended. had i been more sensible, would i have risked pregnancy (not mine, but yet my own), nights in new york on hooker's alley (going to a loaned apartment alone)?

true, i haven't given up entirely. alas, my last attempt at an affair a disaster. i couldn't swim blindly in a stormy sea, having faith i'd stay upright til i returned to land. no, no, no, as king lear shouted, no, no. these days all i want to do is daydream and be creativc. that's how my energy frittering itself away, not at full steam, lover on water-skiis.

you see, the less you know, the more fun you have, especially true in the physical world. you've all these ridiculous impulses you take seriously. my god, how i've moaned over an imaginary woman, dreamed of flying, gone a hundred miles an hour in a convertible with a drunk driver on a very dark night in indiana, throwing  up all over the car-door without even knowing it. that was high-school.

see, as you advance in age, you naturally become careful. so and so, a good friend, ended up behind glass in a black coffin. jesus, she got killed by a baseball bat at a party, and i haven't even mentioned the great C word. lately, i've looked at the obits in the ny times. almost everybody toppling over younger than me.

and now i think, o boy, i don't have to stand in that rickety bus bounding along the worst dirt road in costa rica, for hours and hours. if i traveled now, i'd be a victim of tours, reclining in beds at the ritz, not even daring to pay for a call-girl, much less roaming  the streets in search of miss Bad. even in my youth i didn't do that.

let me tell it like it is. learn a skill - and i mean damn well. play the ukulele, read tarot cards, learn to cut hair. go on the road and pay your own way. college becoming a sink-hole for the debts that bind. i love hanging out around all that intellectual stuff, but it didn't stop me from taking very stupid chances. i wish the same for you.

let's see, at 52 i wrote these notes:

Monday, September 26, 2011

i'm bewildered by my brain

today i found out my forty-year writer friend steve suffered a massive stroke last may, right in the language part of his brain. with the help of his wife janice he's fighting to make it back (they expected him to die). he's walking and swallowing and learning to form simple words.

so i lay down on my bed and felt something intangible. then i realized, this is terror. lately, i've picked up a lot of stray facts: the brain 80% water, white and gray matter, about two and a half pounds. and it's doing all these things over which i have no control!

of course, if i were a supreme yogi, i could go into a trance and feel better. we're in trances all the time. take driving to san francisco. i can cover the whole distance without remembering anything but the conversation with myself, flashes of lightning in that underground lake. and there's always the caterpillar who couldn't walk when thinking about which leg to move first.

it's good we forget (the chinese believe we're blessed if we do). otherwise every moment would be added to another and recalling them all we'd soon be so burdened with the past, we'd crumble like a turtle swimming in jello. having met people with brain-damage i know it's the one way we can completely change our personality. why so frightening if we don't even know the person we used to be?

always, we've got things undone, i suppose that's it. when death is there, we're not, but we don't like treading the trail to meet him: pain, loss, the absence of independence. maybe it really is all about control. that being said, i offer this very interesting video from the TED site:

i've also been reading about steve jobs and trying out another apple product. here are drawings of my own brain done on his lozenge, not very flattering:
and related to the squishy situation in my noggin, three thousand lighting strikes bounced around the tower last week. did a short-circuit occur? am i no longer myself? all our thoughts electricity and water, what a concept!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

if you could regret one thing, what would it be?

true, i've felt regrets to be useless. and actually, i've been hard-put to dig one up. i could, of course, ask to be a nicer person, or a more ambitious one, maybe even famous as a writer, and so on. in other words, a complete sheep or a ravenous wolf. somehow, it seems pointless. i mean, i wouldn't have changed anything i've done, really, except one thing.

damn, i wish i'd savored each moment more! less nervous, less restless. of course, i enjoy remembering driving thru the desert in my vw bus, camping among shrouded louisianna trees, stopping for a rain-shower in new orlean's storyville, water dripping from the old wrought iron railings. yes, continuing along the mississippi coast right after hurricane camille, houses turned over, sand thrown over the road. i enjoyed touring williamsburg, hearing the museum docent proudly declaim on southern art.

alas, the end not so happy. i stored my vehicle in a brooklyn garage and endured the worst month in europe ever, not to travel again for fifteen years. yes, it was that bad, that lonely, the last time i visited my berlin friend renate before she drank poison and lept into oblivion. luckily, i landed two sisters for the drive back, susan horn and her sister. i did have to meet their russian mother, who said she'd kill me if anything happened to them. 

what i mean is, i've learned we only live one day at a time and our imperative to take pleasure in at least one piece of it, even if we're meditating in a salt-mine, doing yoga in prison, reading poetry in the war zone. all this planning, all this ambition, all this remembering, what a waste. not that it isn't fun and often a balm, but the eternal truth? we put one foot in front of the other.

had i savored those moments, making love, drinking sherry, laughing at charlie chaplin, i could feel fulfilled. not only that, i would have understood early on the best we can do is help someone else enjoy a bit of their day, cause that's all they have too. dear, dear, it's not to be. i'm still dancing like a flea on the back of a flying pig. the moment i settle down, i feel i'm missing something.

and i've regressed, taking up the finger-painting i loved to do in the second grade....

Friday, September 16, 2011

what if you woke up one morning and were a cockroach?

today i went bananas with my samsung tab. i got the urge to look at the glass bead game by hermann hesse. why this book, i don't know. lately i've been nostalgic for the fifty-some years i read books like a monk. was it the search for the meaning of life? or merely a retreat into wonderful worlds i couldn't find around me? thinking i'd absorb some lessons from the classics, i read a lot of them.

and i began my quest for the illusive hesse, calling up a bunch of e-readers: nook, kindle, laputa, adilko, and so on. never did find the bead game, though i began downloading free classics by the dozens. the brothers karamazov, crime and punishment, pride and prejudice. each time reading a bit of the opening. none sparked my interest, not siddhartha, nor the complete wizard of 0z (though i read them all  as a kid). amazing what's out there now, merely for the asking.

okay, i thought, maybe a bit of kafka. and that worked. i read the opening of the trial in english and then german. i'm one of those people who finds the work of franz very funny. he uses the conditional-conditional tense, as if to say, 'this may be true or it may not', his heroes confused as can be. last summer i listened to a new translation of the castle as i drove back and forth to the lookout. the images and situations still stick in my mind.

once i did a stage  adaptation of the metamorphosis and played the bug myself. you can find the script here: and when i visited prague, i bought a booklet showing the places kafka had lived and worked. the prague pics here: the town just coming out of the communist soggy grey, the place certainly lived up to my expectations. once a fanatic follower of K., i've never quite lost my taste.

what's his main insight? if you give up your own authority, you lose yourself in a search for approval and validation. his insight into the corporation/bureaucratic mentality exactly this. in the major works the hero called to stand up to the forces that be, and he always fails (except for, perhaps, the unfinished amerika, his fantasy of escaping to the far west). and once the protagonist kowtows, he's done for, lost in a melancholy and ultimately fatal dream.

'assume your own authority', what else is there to be said? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

in total darkness you can see a candle thirty miles away

i wonder what else we're capable of? lately, going through all the wonderful, useless random facts on my droid x, i keep discovering things about our bodies that astound me.

for example, in a lifetime our hearts pump a hundred million gallons of blood. my god, this one pound mass of tissue, how does it do it? (seeing my heart beating on a screen took my breath away.) and we've 100,000 miles of capillaries and veins. strung end to end that part of us would encircle the earth four times! and the human heart beats roughly 35 million times a year, 3.5 billion in a lifetime.

add further complexity: half your body's red blood cells are replaced every seven days. each day 400 gallons of recycled blood are pumped through the kidneys. two million red blood cells die every second. the numbers become more and more boggling. 100 billion neurons in the brain? and the brain 80% water?

as i see it in advancing age, i keep wondering how the hell i survived so long, all this going on without me even knowing it! all of our "thinking" is done by electricity and chemicals . every three days a human stomach gets a new lining. no wonder the processes can be upset by alcohol, heavy metals, amphetamines. i never understood where cancer came from. we're in a constant state of renewal.

when all's said and done, your body the most complicated thing in the universe. what more can it do that we haven't even imagined?

well, i've been thinking about the wonders of inebriation. new pictures:

There are 10 million bacteria at the place where you rest your hands at a desk. wow, we must be a lot tougher than we think.

Monday, September 12, 2011

have you ever been drunk beyond memory?

one of my most embarrassing: friends set up a date for me with a junior at the university of wisconsin, me a freshman in indiana. they lied about my age. i think i held up the image pretty damn well, until i drank one too many beers and dropped over the edge into limbo. next day, i learned what a fool i'd been.

and what do you do the day after? blush and leave town if you can, which i did, relieved to take the option. and what do you do if you can't leave for a new country? in other situations i've blustered, hidden my tracks, pretended it never happened, got drunk again. and that's the way i feel after the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

how do you make the obvious visible? it's the toughest thing in the world. what we see everyday certainly looks like a chair, but is it? isn't it, as plato maintained, merely an idea? and once we've come to picture an historical event as we've been trained to see it, can we really unravel it into it's component pieces and perhaps recover a bit of memory?
no, one person's memory of an event can't clear away the dust thrown in our eyes. 

collectively, we do not learn from history and repeat it every day. pardon me for my brashness, yet it was henry ford who said, 'history is bunk.' and i'm afraid he's right, much as i've always loved the study of history, it's full of good fairy tales. no, we copy the way our parents walk and talk. i catch myself making a statement like my dad or using a lovely sarcasm of my mother: if you don't like this hotel, you can go to another! yes, shame is a great way to keep your children under control, and a country.

what am i getting at? with the collapse of the communist threat, the people who had used it to maintain political control in the united states were at a loss. they'd a president who'd stolen the position, the laughing-stock of the population who avoided responsibility by going fishing. UNTIL...the momentous visual event of planes crashing into two tall buildings, the towers crashing and burning, provided a new enemy THE ARAB WORLD to replace the old. 

i  in my tower on that day didn't watch the news, rather listened on the radio. i knew if i watched the tv footage over and over it would plant a searing image into my brain. the voices in the street much more real and individual. i called my friend randy, who lived in greenwich village. he'd walked toward the smoke with thousands of others until the first tower collapsed. everyone turned tail, and looked back to see the second go down.

in such circumstances it's hard to know what you saw. evidently we don't contain memories, we reconstruct them every time and they degrade. in terms of political events they get re-written. like have a huge hang-over, we can't think straight the day after, not to mention ten years later after having taken our personal tragedy and making it a world one. 

i did run across one short talk that clarifies the present situation:

however after so much patriotism, jingoism, and loss, a man of common sense can't make much headway until the fires die down. and they can't, being constantly stoked to scare the population into submission. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

what happens when you abandon your watchtowers? destruction

it's quite amazing to me: nobody said a peep when the california division of forestry closed 80 firelookout towers about ten years ago. i still can't believe it. and the united states forest service closing more all the time (three on this forest this summer). where are these officials' heads? (i decline to express the obvious.) 

in the past week a thousand homes burned near austin texas, a state that quit watching over itself years ago. you know what i hear? satellites, areal observation, both lies, foisted on the public. the first very expensive and as far as i know, a pie in the sky can't tell the difference between a campfire and a car engine. this is not a lighthouse situation. here the light flashes at me, and all too quickly. 

another example. i worked on angora lookout at lake tahoe, closed in 2002. five years ago a fire one mile from the lookout burned 90 million dollar homes. had the tower been staffed, they'd have known right away that it wasn't a control burn, that it took off like a bat out of hell. friends who live on the ridge above watched the ashes settle on their roof as they packed up their cars, just in case. a fire changes everything. 

of course, it's a numbers game. you gamble a large fire won't happen, in order to save pennies, and i mean minuscule amounts of money. almost fifty years up here and i have: no benefits, no retirement, no step raises, and earn 14 dollars an hour. you can't get much cheaper than that. one bulldozer equals 5 observation booths. which is more likely to save your home? 

yes, yes, we love our machines. for a few years after california closed its lookouts they paid 6 million dollars a day (so i heard) for a gigantic dc10 airtanker that couldn't hit a bird in a barn. and everybody assumes we've been closed down for years, the last watchers those who announced the fall of troy and the irish towers shouting the arrival of viking ships. 

check out the forest fire lookout association:   fine folks dedicated to preserving and re-constructing towers.

and i've many pictures of lookoutlife: 

the angora fire images

news from texas

Friday, September 9, 2011

finding your mate - what's the big secret?

my lovely friend Q. beautiful, smart, hard-working, creative. she's been in two very long relationships. unfortunately, now on her own for several years, she hasn't come up with a new one. match dot com unearthed a lot of wannabes. alas, none struck a match for her. she works at home sixteen hours a day. could that be the problem? of course it is!

one very important circumstance leads to mating: PROPINQUITY. let's face it, most people marry the guy/girl next door. they've learned enough about each other to feel safe, to trust, to fight. (marriage a wrestling match. read pairing by richard bach. he maintains an honest, if angry first encounter essential, illusions about the other quickly shattered before they become a veil of tears.) others discover partners  thru dancehalls, classrooms, work spaces.

you have to be around a lot of the kind of people you like. for example, i've never mated, yet romantic contacts have taken place, most through travel and theater. for example an artist and i made out under the stars next to the youth hostel once the home of mussolini's mistress. that led to a series of encounters with her in hamburg, berlin, and on a greek island . one that didn't go so far, a meeting in a london hostel, a brief love-making around midnight in a half-constructed building, and waiting all night in a burger hut for the hostel to open in the morning. 

theater a tricky business, everybody in a heightened state. no wonder movie stars so caught up. they have to sit around half the day in empty trailers. the stage busier, so people even blinder. i recommend theater classes, less intense, more informal over time. never ever, however, fall in love with the character about which you salivate while they're onstage! what you see, the god or goddess, the highly simplified and eroticized version of the human being they really are. 

again, let me repeat: PROPINQUITY, PROPINQUITY, PROPINQUITY, it's so easy.   go to a lot of weddings and funerals: my mother got her last mate of twenty years waiting for his wife to die of cancer and pouncing. who said love was ethical? as kurt vonnegut remarked, 'could we have a little less love - and more common decency?'

read more:

Friday, September 2, 2011

work is more fun than fun

okay, so i'm crazy. please give me a little credit for knowing it. as i watch certain friends retire, fall apart and die or get bitter, projecting their own decay onto the world, i'm glad i'm still able to labor, though i need to define what i mean, or you'll  onto have me thrown in the nuthouse.

look at it this way, a hundred years ago retirement didn't exist, nor health insurance, people survived i don't know how. (no penicillin, yet they did put cocaine in coke!) we've risen to the top like scum on a fermenting wine-barrel. true, benefits being slashed and if you truly want security, work for the government, they print the money. 

this brings up the main reason people hate work: supervision and bureaucracy. what do teachers bitch about? not their time in the class room. or friends in the forest service? have you ever had to sit in useless meetings all day? if you're a professor, you can clap your hands and say 'i have, almost every day of my working life.' 

and actually, i just finished reading a book every one should: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People you will learn an amazing amount of stuff about human nature. and low and behold, group decision-making most often faulty! i'll let you find the chapter. and did you know research proves our minds wander 30% of the time. what fun. i'm not the only bozo day-dreamer.

i have to admit something damning: i'm a workaholic. oh, my friends don't think so. lazy bum, works seasonally, looks out the window and makes money. unfortunately perhaps for me, i've never been able to stop doing. traveling, for example, you know it's reward only comes after you forget the beggars and sand-fleas. everything looks beautiful in colored photographs. writing, damn, hundreds of manuscripts. photography, a million pictures a year for eight years. now the drawings pile up. i think this section almost to five hundred:

yesterday i did do eight hours of honest labor - and at the end i couldn't see straight. fifty years ago i stole a bag of family photographs from my grandparents. why, i don't know. i'm not a family history bug. i don't think we can take credit for what other people have done.  these photos buried themselves in my belongings, and honest to god, i never looked at them, not til yesterday. 

my niece dawn fascinated  by our family through time. i decided, okay, i'll help her out and i scanned over two hundred pictures. not that it wasn't fascinating, especially since my sister's house burned down years ago, charring every evidence of familial memory. this is it, none of it can replaced. i drove myself, and later in the night the electricity died and i stiffened in my bed from the cold. so much for history keeping us warm.

you can scan the pics yourself: