Saturday, July 22, 2006

What matters in the end? 2.0

In this relentless heat, with sweat dripping from my pores, I may be somewhat delirious. It wouldn't be the first time. Since my time in India, in Bangalore, February 1971, I've relived that strange and wonderful state of altered consciousness that delirium brings on many times, and it has always brought new insights, (something both Kipling and Conrad understood.)

On the other hand, here in a more temperate world, where it is usually cool and everyone knows how to be very, very cool, I don't know how much patience anyone could have for me after all of these months, and hundreds of posts, since I seem to be staying badly stuck on a woman who is so very far gone from me as to make this longing I feel a joke. Right?

Sometimes, I fantasize about what it would be like if someone -- anyone -- adored me as much as I have adored her. What if someone who loves words or music or art as much as I do focused herself on me, my nature, my eyes, my lips, my hair, my arms and hands, my thinking, my songs and my yearnings? What if somebody thought that story was worth telling?

How sweet it must be to be someone's obsession.

Of course, no one will ever be able to compete with me for the right to write about me, at least not as long as I am alive. I am the story-teller here, and I would never tolerate competition.

Do you want to know one of my favorite ballads? "Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands," (Bob Dylan)...Do you want to know who bought me his CD with this cut last year one day when I was feeling down? Yes, I remember each and every thing she has ever done for me.

But my lovely if departed girlfriend says she wants me to "move on." To her, that means I should be dating other women.

I guess I will do so, as long as I can be sure they know they are dating a man who has not yet let another woman go in his heart. So, yes, I will go on dates. I will. Or I think I will. Maybe I will.

Right? This is truly what she wishes for me?

(Note: At first I published this as a poll. But that seems silly now it is 4:55 a.m. So I'll remove the first votes, Everyone said "yes" anyway.)


Severe Weather Warning just posted here in the Bay Area...

129 AM PDT SUN JUL 23 2006






--------- ------------------- ---------------
KENTFIELD 105 101 IN 1916
SAN RAFAEL 108 95 IN 1954
MOFFETT FIELD 101 89 IN 1954
NAPA 107 105 IN 1917
SAN JOSE (DOWNTOWN) 103 99 IN 1917
GILROY 109 106 IN 1996
MONTEREY 88 84 IN 1954
SALINAS 88 76 IN 2005
SANTA CRUZ 92 (TIE) 92 IN 1945
San Francisco(D's house) 95 94 (yesterday)

Okay, so now everybody will believe in global warming.

Heatwave: A single strand of hair

None of us remember San Francisco ever being this hot for this long; we are changing our habits in this city. Our doors and windows are open, our fans are on, the clink of ice in our glasses a constant. Girls are in tank tops and mini skirts, or less...

Boys too. After all, this is San Francisco.

My house has been a virtual dining hall the past twenty-four hours with 25-30 people coming and going. As my first-born begins planning her wedding (for next summer), my older kids, their mates and friends have been gathering here, then spreading in all directions.

But I am alone this afternoon in this heat. I sorted some seaglass for my blog "Seaglass" and inadvertantly came upon a strand of J's hair. I doubt the glass jar containing it had been opened in the two years since she she sorted it for me on another hot summer's afternoon. I loved the way she sat cross-legged on my living room floor sorting the seaglass that day, and I knew also I was falling in love with her.

Today, I knew it was her hair by its length and its color.

Then I remembered that I used to find her hairbrush filled with bunches of her hair and I would absent-mindedly clean it out for her. And I recalled that once I did that in our hotel room in Mobile, Alabama, last November, after a wonderful night of passion...On a whim, I saved the hair & stuck it in a book. I looked around just now and found it, right where I had left it, so many teardrops ago:

Maybe I am more than a "sentimental materialist." Maybe I am like a obsessed teenager. If so, why?

After all of this searching for answers, I still don't have a clue.

So I replaced the single strand of hair back in with the seaglass, where it has been settled so comfortably these past two years. After all, I don't like to disturb what nature has choosen to preserve.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A year later

This just in:

Dear Expedia Traveler,

Your $50 hotel coupon* expires on July 31, 2006!

Don't forget! There's a $50 coupon in your account, ready to be used for a hotel booking of three nights or more or a flight + hotel package of three nights or more.

This $50 coupon expires on July 31, 2006. Whether you're planning a romantic getaway...

I'd forgotten all about this. A year ago, when we traveled to Hawaii (her first trip there, my first in probably twenty years) we booked our tickets and hotel through Expedia. Part of the deal was this $50 coupon. I even remember that it was only good for a year, though at the time, I thought, "No problem. She loves to travel, almost more than anything else. We'll probably take four or five trips in the next year."

It had been three years since my marriage had ended, and in that time I hadn't taken any real vacation trips, except several driving & camping trips with the kids. I hadn't gone anywhere with a woman, let alone romantically, since the summer of 2002, when a girlfriend and I spent a few days in Gold Country. She was a lovely and funny friend, from a distant place, and much younger than I, and she said she had never before gone skinny-dipping but wanted to.

So we found a somewhat remote river where she did this, and she said it made her feel free, like birds must feel when they fly or fish when they swim. In fact, in the pool formed by the rocks lining the river we visited, I spied a half dozen rainbow trout in the clear waters. Somewhere I have a photo (I take pictures of everything.)

I remember thinking at the time how excited my father would have been at the sight of these lovely fish. I didn't have any fishing equipment with me, and in any event I was more intent on making sure my young friend enjoyed her inaugural nude swim. I admired the way she seemed to glide through the clear water, much like a fish, and not unlike a bird soaring through air.

She looked very beautiful, her long black hair trailing her as if she were a mermaid. She had a special name for herself, in her language, which she told me meant "fish lover." (I suspect a more accurate translation would be "one who loves fish."

Either way, I again thought of my Dad. Above all else, even golf, he loved to fish. He was an amazingly good fisherman, bringing our family dinner more times than anyone would think possible. I still can see him, out on the lake at sunset in our small boat with its Evinrude motor, working his lure in against the lily pads, waiting for the inevitable violence of a strike from one of the bass waiting hungrily below.

Six months after he died, we spread most of his ashes under a new Blue Spruce tree that we planted on a piece of land in Michigan that he loved above all others. After the ceremony, we took his remaining ashes in a cup out on the lake, my mother, my nephew (their oldest grandchild), and I.

I knew all of my Dad's favorite fishing holes, every single one, around that little lake. Mom had rarely gone out there when he was alive but now she very much wanted to go with Jim and me. I threw out most of the ashes, but she threw some and so did Jim.

Although I am not religious, I admit to two spiritual feelings on that day. The first was earlier, at the end of the ceremony we held for Dad, when we all sang Amazing Grace. The power of that song at a moment like that is undeniable.

The second spiritual moment was watching the ashes from what had been my father's living body, the one that helped create me, sink slowly away in the waters of this lake he loved. Maybe it is the calcium from bones that creates a milky way human ashes leave in their wake, I don't know. But the sight was beautiful beyond all belief.

I knew my father would be at peace with this act. Probably even laughing as he joined his beloved bass under the lily pads, waiting for a lure to drop from some other person's perfect cast, so he could pounce out, grab it, and the fight would begin -- an eternal battle, man and beast, out on a lake as the sun falls over the hills under a sky dotted with distant worlds we call stars.


People die, they pass on. Do you realize that everyone you know one day will die? Life begins and life ends. I'd like to believe each life emerges from true love, but of course the truth is that lust has a good deal to do with it, as well.

It's hard to make the good things last. As it turned out, I was completely wrong a year ago, when we returned from Hawaii, tanned and relaxed. My darling companion swam a lot, she snorkeled a lot, though she wore a swimsuit, no skinny-dipping for her. Eight months later, as we were breaking up, she told me she had noticed I did not have as much energy as she did on that trip, which was a clue to her that our age difference (~15 years) might be an issue.

This shocked me. At places like Hawaii's beaches, I always go into an extremely contemplative state. Although I also love to snorkel, the sights there were not particularly interesting to me, after much better venues I've visited in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific, especially Tahiti.

I felt content watching her swim from the shore, knowing she was happy, while I could imagine stories and wonder where the sea would lead us if we sailed off one night at sunset from that spot.


When we came back from Hawaii, it was only a month and change before Katrina would cut into the Mississippi coast like a buzzsaw, and flood New Orleans, unleashing America's dirtiest secret about race and class for the entire world to see.

In the aftermath, she would find her purpose and I would find myself alone, waiting night after night, the first time ten nights, the next time eighty nights, and the third time, forever -- for her to return to me.

As it turns out I have lost her, so now I have only my sweet, sad memories and a $50 coupon that expires in ten days.


Please visit two of my other story-telling sites: Sidewalk Images; and Seaglass.The latter actually has a rare photo of our sweet snorkeler mentioned above on it tonight. I often change my mind overnight, however, and edit these posts, removing material, so go there while you can!

BTW, visitors who click on the ad links at the top of blogs help support those bloggers pay for their sites. This is in no way a pitch to ask you to support me, but when you visit any blog, please notice whether that blogger is trying to recover his/her costs by posting ads on that site. You are under no obligation to buy anything and by clicking you will not somehow enter yourself in an uber-database or anything like that. You will remain anonymous, unless you actually choose to buy something. The way Google AdSense, which I use, works, is that keywords in my posts trigger ads that Google's crawler matches to advertising clients. It is hard for most bloggers to keep going if no one ever clicks on their ads. Blogging may seem like an indulgence, or a free venue for looking into someone's brain. But, from my point of view, it is work. I write to connect. I write in the hope that someone, somewhere will find this useful, even if to me, it seems like a chaotic, dangerous exploration of my own subconscious experience, circa 2006. But this appeal is not about me or this blog; click as you will or won't, here or elsewhere. In fact, I have the relative luxury to urge you to ignore my ads, because I already am a successful writer who isn't counting on this work for income, though one future day I may well have to. Rather, on behalf of my fellow bloggers, please remember that ultimately all writers will go silent if no one cares enough to support them in their work...

From Inside Lebanon

From David Nabti, expressing his views from inside a country facing imminent invasion:

Dear All,

The purpose of the information below is to educate,
and to spur action. I just wrote up a bunch of
clarifying information (FAQsheet, if you will) about
the current assault on Lebanon. The devastation is
vast and increasing rapidly. The death toll in
Lebanon has climbed well over 300. The vast majority
civilians, and according to what I heard on the BBC,
about 1/3 of all killed are children. The response by
the Western media and governments, especially the US,
is angering. We NEED your help. I will send you more
information soon about other media activities, but I
want to send this out the soonest…

To all who have written with concern about me and my
family and friends, so far we are all safe. I am in
Damascus, doing the best I can to educate about the
current situation, and helping with humanitarian
efforts here with the Red Cross/Red Crescent. My
parents are in the north of Lebanon, in the small
village where my father is from (we have a small house
there), and also trying to figure out next moves. I
have a lot of friends still in Beirut, some trapped
with nowhere to go, and others refusing to leave and
working full-time on relief efforts. Some friends have
left in the evacuations and are working to spread the
word about the atrocities from wherever they are.

After reading, please consider (1) choosing the key
points that hit you hardest, and writing up a quick
“letter to the editor”; (2) sending a note to your
local congressperson and senator; (3) sending this to
other friends.

If you have any questions, comments, additions, ideas
for what we can do, please contact me at

More soon.

Enraged, but not hateful.


David Munir Nabti


Hillary Clinton gave a speech at a pro-Israel rally a
few days ago. It was grotesque. I wrote this up but
haven’t sent it to papers yet. Please consider
looking through your own local paper and seeing how
they covered her speech, and sending in your own
letter to the editor. Feel free to copy/borrow
whatever material you want from what I have written.

*Not My American Values*

Our dear Hillary Clinton seems to have a twisted sense
of “American values”. According to what she said
at the recent pro-Israel rally in NYC, she seems to
think that massive disregard for human life, ignoring
international law, making no distinction between
civilian and military targets, collective punishment,
and gross deceit are values that we should all live
by. I am American, and those are not my values. But
that is what the US is supporting in words and deeds
in terms of Israeli actions and behavior in Lebanon
(not to mention Gaza and all Palestine). I am ashamed
by our government, angry by its gross and active
betrayal of democratic and humanitarian values, and
fearful of the long-term consequences. And please
bear in mind, this is not a political attack. I used
to be a proud Democrat, and worked as staff on two
Democratic political campaigns in California. Bush
Inc is no better, but bears the additional blame for
being in charge now and actively supporting such
injustices. I am not anti-Israel (I have many Jewish
and Israeli friends, and to the dismay of some Jewish
mothers have even dated a few wonderful Jewish girls),
and I believe that it is possible for a peaceful
Israel to live alongside a peaceful Palestine and a
peaceful Lebanon. However, I think there is little
interest for that among the Israeli and American
war-mongering regimes. Larger racist, hateful,
anti-democratic, oppressive, and violent geo-political
objectives are in the works, the media is complicit,
and the public are being suckered into towing the line
and paying the bill, with huge ethical, financial,
political, and human costs and consequences.


- Many claim that the actions against Israel were
unprovoked. I disagree. In Lebanon, a secret Israeli
cell (suspected government intelligence, but more
rightly called “terrorist cell”) was recently
broken up after planning and carrying out many
terrorist attacks in Lebanon. Investigations were
under way when the latest crisis erupted. At the same
time, Israel has violated Lebanese airspace regularly
(400 times per year) over the last several years with
flyovers by fighter jets and military drones
(frequently reported by UNIFIL, the UN monitoring
force in southern Lebanon), and holds a large number
of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners captive in
Israeli prisons, including many women and children,
and most with no charge or trial. Israel also still
occupies Lebanese territory (in the Shebaa Farms
area), and until recently there was word that Israel
was planning on ending its occupation of that area.

In Palestine, the last months have witnessed a massive
siege and oppression of the Palestinian people in the
Gaza Strip. They have been subject to continued
arrests and targeted assassinations, economic assault,
and increasing restriction of their daily lives.
Civilians – non-combatants, women, elderly,
children, even whole families in their homes or on the
beach – are killed indiscriminately, and without
remorse, investigation, or international condemnation
and action. On occasion that someone in the
international community finds the will to condemn such
atrocities, it is usually followed by words of
rationalization and promises of aid and continued
support for Israel.

If the objective of Israel is peace (which I don’t
think is true, at least not the hard-core militant
Zionists who control the public sphere), they acted in
a way that promotes violence. When a militant group
like Hamas makes a dramatic step away from violent
action and towards political participation, that
should be encouraged. Instead, the Israel and the US
made all Palestinians suffer for electing the Hamas
government. The US, after calously pushing the
Palestinians to hold elections when there was rising
anger against the ineffectiveness and corruption of
the previous government and rising support for ANY
change, made clear that they were only interested in
“democracy” if the outcome was the US puppet
regime they were looking for. Ironically, one
democracy specialist who has worked on conducting and
monitoring elections in the Middle East and around the
world, and was also a key player in organizing the
different elections in Iraq, told me recently that the
Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power, and
the political campaign of the Hamas party, were the
most clean, most democratic he has ever seen in the
region, and were far better and more democratic than
elections held in the US and many parts of the
“democratic” world.

Indeed, after Israel’s unilateral evacuation from
southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, many problems and
issues remained unresolved, and a state of war and
low-level conflict remained between Israel and those
groups. Israel may have withdrawn from those areas in
the interest of its own stability and security, but
not in the interest of justice and resolving the
complicated situations that existed. Without
addressing justice, there will be no security, and no

Let’s not forget how this current conflict began.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah carried out precision attacks
on military positions, far from civilian structures,
and which left no civilian wounded or killed, no
civilian infrastructure damaged, and (according to
reports) are treating the captives well. While
Israel, the US and other countries are pushing for the
return of those soldiers, thousands of Arabs and
Palestinians languish in Israeli jails, many without
accusation, trial, or conviction, no recourse to
lawyers, secretly abducted, refused visits by family
or international humanitarian organizations, many of
them civilians themselves, non-combatants, and many of
them for long periods of time. For one combatant -
one soldier of an oppressive, occupation army - Hamas
demanded the release of women and children,
non-combatants, from Israeli prisons.

Many Israeli military officials and political figures
have called Israeli attacks in Lebanon “precision”
strikes. One called them “surgical”. If that is
so, never go to a doctor in Israel. Israel’s
“precision” and “surgical” violence in Lebanon
has left well over 300 killed (and rising daily), the
vast majority of them civilians. Some media have
reported that more than a third of the victims are
children. Many civilians were killed in vehicles,
escaping from villages and cities that had received
notice from the Israeli military to evacuate only
hours earlier.

My greater fear is not that these are accidents, but
that the officials were right, the targets were chosen
carefully and hit precisely, and they are
intentionally targeting civilians. This follows a
pattern of Israeli aggression in Lebanon during and
after the Lebanese war ended in 1990, and during and
after the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended
in 2000, and it will continue as long as those attacks
garner them international support and little to no
international condemnation. Many humanitarian
assistance vehicles have also been bombed.

Israel is claiming that Iran and Syria are supporting
Hizbollah and Hamas, and those countries are being
pressured and threatened with military attacks.
Israel also made claims that some munitions used by
Hizbollah were supplied by (or through) Syria and
Iran, thus legitimizing potential military action
against those countries.

The US is the biggest military supplier for Israel,
and American munitions are now raining down on the
civilians of Lebanon. The Pentagon recently released
a statement about a government approved (funded?)
contract to send jet fuel to Israel “in use to keep
peace and security in the region.” By Israel and
America’s logic, disregard (and support) for Israeli
atrocities in Lebanon and Palestine and unwavering
support by the US government for whatever Israel does
makes the US and US interests abroad legitimate
targets for attack, increasing the danger to US
businesses, ex-pats, embassies, and tourists abroad,
and increasing the threat of attacks within the US.

This question in this context is not so profound, nor
the answer so difficult. Hezbollah was founded in
1982 to counter Israeli aggressions during the
Lebanese war (some call it “civil war”, but it
involved many foreign groups). The gross violence
perpetrated by Israel during that war led to a
stronger, more determined, more sectarian group in
Hizbollah. This current round of violence will not
weaken Hizbollah, but will probably lead to a stronger
Hizbollah, and the emergence of even more extreme,
more determined, more violent groups to fight Israel,
the US, and other supporters of this criminal
violence. Hizbollah and Hamas negotiate, they
participate in governments, they have long-term
interests and desires, and they have objectives that
can be understood and discussed (even if you disagree
with them). This kind of senseless violence and
injustice will likely lead to the emergence and
strengthening of groups like Al-Qaeda, which have
poorly-defined objectives other than the destruction
of the West, don’t negotiate, have weak hierarchical
structures (making them difficult to control, contain,
negotiate with, or pacify), and commit senseless acts
of violence against all people.

There is fear that Israel is trying to spark a larger
conflict – first Lebanon, then Syria and beyond - in
order to rationalize and cover for an attack on
nuclear facilities in Iran. Reliable sources (some
publicly available) say that both Israel and the US
have been working on plans for months (or longer) to
knock out Iranian nuclear facilities by various
military means. The response to that from Iran and
many groups in the Middle East and globally will be
massive, violent, long-term, and global, and will
strengthen the most violent elements in the region and
the world.

Israel must be contained. Efforts must be made to
strengthen moderates, in both Israel, Palestine, and
in the Arab countries. The US must support peace and
security, not just for Israel, but also the Lebanese
and the Palestinians. Indeed, without peace and
security for the Palestinians and the Lebanese, there
will never be peace and security for Israel.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lost love in an era with no privacy 1.1

It's July 20, 2006.

My cellphone rang tonight at 9 p.m. I couldn't get to it in time to answer the call, but when I did reach the phone, and replayed what I thought was the new message, it was her voice, saying "things are crazy" and that she would call back soon.

I felt that old flutter, the feeling of having a partner, who needed and wanted to talk to me. I immediately thought I better call her back, something must be wrong, and I felt excited at the prospect.

Then I realized this must be an old call, one I'd forgotten, that Verizon was replaying for me so I could decide either to delete it or save it. Because the actual ring I heard was from someone else, as the subsequent message revealed. Besides, she never calls me, never emails me, never contacts me at all.

So, why did her message have to come up like that, disrupting an otherwise peaceful night, as I was enjoying being alone, watching my baseball game, eating leftovers, bothering no one? Logically, this must have been an old call, as I said, perhaps one I somehow never knew I received, sometime in our past, back in a time when she still felt connected enough to me, and cared enough for me to check in.

This might not have affected me so badly but as I was cruising the Internet, as I always do, tonight, suddenly there she was in somone's random photo collection, wearing her T-shirt with the sleeves cut off (one of her stylistic moves), smiling and looking happy.

Now, she hates to have her picture taken. But it was nice to "see" her for the first time in months. She looked great. I realized she truly is where she is supposed to be, with lots of excitement and stimulation and new people to help her figure out who she is in this world.

Meanwhile, back here, I have a lively home with lots of activity and fun surrounding me, and a life I am busily reclaiming.

Yet, inside each of us lies a deeper mystery. That involves how we actually feel, regardless of how we may appear in the moment.

As I thought about these various elements, I felt a warm feeling of love for her, that she is safe within her polka-dot room, meeting new friends, every day a new chance for excitement, and who knows, maybe also love. I do truly love her so much that I wish only happiness for her. She is such a special person, and not enough people have told her that in her past. Anyone who recognizes this is not only her friend, but mine.

When it came time to decide what to do with that unexpected message tonight, I had two choices: (7) delete, or (9) save.

I chose 9.

Our lives as movies 2.0

Writing, for me, is like this.

An image forms in my mind -- in this case of a couple together in a movie theatre and the front seat of a car one spring night. As I either relive the series of events that occurred, or as I imagine them to have happened, depending on whether this is fact or fiction, it is very much like sequencing a film. The characters are established; the characters begin to act according to their essential natures, creating a moral dilemma; finally some sort of crisis or plot pivot provides the opportunity for closure.

It's an organic process, creating a story for film. Everything builds to an inevitable climax. There is also the seduction of the audience, the silent watchers, witnessing this clash of emotions between the main characters.

One of my favorite parts of screenwriting was creating the "backstories" for our characters. It is not enough to simply start a film with fully-grown adults, you understand. The writer needs to know every salient detail of these characters' pasts, even if none of that material will be explicitly present in the film.

Whenever I write anything, including the entries at this, my most public blog, I must confront the challenge of what to make explicit, what may be allowed to remain implicit, and what will not be revealed at all.

Every writer is familiar with these problems.

Here, I must pause to discuss why I love writing as much as I do, and why this blog will ultimately prove to be about my struggle to establish a new voice for myself as a writer in the last third (let's be optimistic) of my life. When I was ill as a boy, I began writing, only for myself. Unfortunately, I destroyed all or almost all of that writing, as a teenager.

Looking back, I see how writing helped me survive, emotionally, a very difficult experience.

The next time I fell seriously ill I was 24, in India. My wife and I were traveling throughout South Asia on our winter vacation as Peace Corps school teachers in Afghanistan. We had become careless in what we ate and drank; rather, we had become culturally sensitive to how insulting it is to local people in that part of the world to refuse the food and drink they offer travelers when they appear in their villages.

My wife had a stronger constitution than I, and she remained healthy. I acquired Typhoid Fever, Salmonella, or both (doctors differed about this afterward), and shed pounds faster than a baseball used to leave the bat of Barry Bonds.

Let's not linger on this scene; suffice it to say the nurses who cared for me as I recovered from a long delirium nicknamed me "Ghandi," which was appropriate, since although I am six feet tall, I weighed 97 pounds at that point, dehydrated to very near (two hours) the point of death.

I had to learn how to walk again.

The point of telling you this is I again turned to writing in my hospital bed in India, and even more so later that year once we returned to my beloved Ann Arbor, probably the town that will always be my favorite on this planet.

Two writers who might not otherwise have inspired me did so in this period, with specific works: Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and Kipling's collected short stories from India. Hemingway is not my sort of writer in content; he's way too macho, but I love that particular book, its imagery and its essential tragedy, with the ultimate triumph imbedded in an ultimate defeat.

Kipling, much-maligned as a racist, is often overlooked in literature classes, which is sad because he captured the detail and feel of a tropical night better than anyone except possibly Conrad, among all of the Western authors whose books about Asia I have read to date.

So, to be explicit, this is why writing matters so much to me. Writing is my survival skill. I used to joke that back in the caveman days, when we hunted big animals for dinner, the big, hairy guys and athletes brought down the prey. Others of us, perhaps with poorer eyesight, earned our keep by bringing back the story of the hunt, and embellishing it somewhat, around the campfire as our community squatted and tore the cooked meat from the bones of the creatures our hunters had murdered on our collective behalf.

There has always been blood on our hands.

So, despite this long digression, I have not forgotten that this post tonight is about my image of one night in a movie theatre. There are two characters: a man and a woman. They seem to love each other very much. The movie turns out to be rather boring to both of them. (They have similar tastes.) But there is one difference between them. He thinks this is just one night among many for them. She, however, has already decided to break up with him.

These two characters finally exit the movie theatre and walk to a small car, where they sit in its front seat, kissing for a long time, mindless of passing traffic. Like two people hopelessly in love, very romantic.

The tragi-comic aspect of this story, is that three days later, when she tells him she has to break up with him, he, naively, blurts out, "But what about the other night, at the movie and in the car?"

What this sorry excuse for a male lead obviously did not grasp was that life is nothing but a movie. (Life, the Movie, By Neal Gabler.) Act your part, make it seem real, collect your rewards, and then move on to the next opportunity.

A fool makes out because his heart is engaged.

The cool people, like our actress in this film, know it's only a charade. There always is another willing male lead to take the last one's place, and in fact she had done the same scene with a stand-in not long before.

This is why I have to write so much.

It's all in the backstory.

Who are we?

Findings from this study:

* An estimated 12 million Americans blog (almost half of them female) and 57 million read those blogs.

* Globally, at least 50 million people blog; the top language is Japanese (37%) with English second (31%).

* Some 37 percent blog about their "life and experiences," and 52 percent said the major reason they blog is to express themselves creatively.

* Only 11 percent of bloggers discuss politics.

* Only 34 percent consider their blog to be journalism.

* More than half write under a pseudonym.

* Only 7 percent are blogging to try and make money. (Which is good, because even if you run ads on your site, you don't make anything at all unless people click on them!)

The complete study can be found at

Blog study

Do you ever use the Internet to create a Web log, or blog, that others can read on the Web?

Number (in millions) and percentage of those surveyed who answered "yes"

June 26- July 26, '02: 3.4 (3%)
May '03: 4.5 (4%)
Feb. '04: 6.0 (5%)
Nov. '04 8.0 (7%)
Jan. '05 11.7 (10%)
Feb. '05 11.1 (9%)
May '05 10.0 (7%)
Sept. '05 13.0 (9%)
Nov.-Dec. '05* 12.0 (8%)
Feb.-April '06* 12.0 (8%)

* Slightly different question wording: Do you ever create or work on
your own online journal or weblog?

CHART (2):

Bloggers by the millions

Number of American adults who use the Internet: 147 million
Number of American adults who read blogs: 57 million
Number of American adults who keep a blog: 12 million

CHART (3):

A comparison of all American adults and bloggers

Bloggers who are knowledge-based professional workers: 38%
Bloggers who are students, either full- or part-time: 38%
Bloggers with a college degree: 37%
American adults with a college degree: 27%
American adults who are students, either full- or part-time: 16%
American adults who are knowledge-based professional workers: 13%

Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project Surveys. Education data for
all Americans is from February-April 2006; margin of error is plus or minus 2
percentage points. Employment data for all Americans is from February-March
2004; margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Blogger data is
from the Blogger Callback Survey, July 2005-February 2006; margin of error is
plus or minus 7 percentage points.

CHART (4):

More blog to share experiences than to earn money

Please tell me if this is a reason you personally blog, or not:

Major Minor Not a
reason reason reason
To express yourself creatively 52% 25% 23%
To document your personal experiences or 50 26 24
share them with others
To stay in touch with friends and family 37 22 40
To share practical knowledge 34 30 35
or skills with others
To motivate other people to action 29 32 38
To entertain people 28 33 39
To store resources or information 28 21 52
that is important to you
To influence the way other people think 27 24 49
To network or to meet new people 16 34 50
To make money 7 8 85

Pew Internet & American Life Project Blogger Callback Survey, July
2005-February 2006. N=233. Margin of error is plus or minus 7 percentage

Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On a movie set

There are actors running around my house, setting up scenes for their latest movie. We have a small family business I've not previously mentioned in this space, Weir Dudes Production, whose first movie, Light-sabers in San Francisco, was an instant hit. Judging by the props I see emerging from various closets around here, tonight's film involves rich (little) women, art thieves and (small) men in Russian hats and sunglasses.

It's anothet hot night in San Francisco, though I understand the rest of the country has been truly sweltering. Here, more fruit swells and drops to the grass; flowers unfold in pots, and everyone dresses in lighter clothes. We go through gallons of carbonated water these days, as well as watermelon and other fruits.

A couple actors just stopped by.

Rich lady.

Russian art thief.

I've been informed I have a non-speaking role as a policeman. How appropriate. So I must leave you for now, but will try to come back online later, after performing my role in tonight's performance.


Okay, I'm back. Here's a shot on location on this hot city night...

And, finally, back in the editing suite...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Second hand emotion

We live in a cynical age. A post-modern age, when discontinuity has replaced whatever expectations we might have brought into this era from our pasts. Only recently, have I begun to question the wisdom of my father's main advice to me: "I don't care what you do as long as you are happy." In many ways, he was simply being a good American, since "the pursuit of happiness" is guaranteed in our Constitution.

On the other hand there are those who suggest a better goal might be the pursuit of meaning. See The Dark Side of Happiness (Thanks, S.)

My good friend and I were recently discussing a younger person, extremely intelligent and idealistic, who had grown frustrated by organizational challenges she had encountered. My friend tried to counsel her that her intelligence was in no way a guarantee to happiness. In many ways, in fact, it is the opposite, given how this world works.

But, if we can set aside this question of happiness, which so often seems to rely on not seeing the uncomfortable realities around us, and consider the quest for meaning as a better gauge of how we are doing in this life, maybe we will come to a deeper appreciation about the potential opportunities awaiting us here on earth.

One example is the person who foregoes all of what she knows, every familiar thing, everything comfortable, in order to travel to a distant place where others badly need her help. She may or may not find happiness there, but no one can question the deep meaning imbedded in her choice.

My only problem with this formulation is this: "What about love?" Is our only choice to end up hurt when the one we love follows a search for meaning over the conventional definitions of happiness? Or I am foolish for even raising this question? After all, the music never lies, does it...

The Sentimental Materialist

People like me are fond of saying we don't like "things," since it is rarely cool to be a consumer (except when it is). When it comes to conventional consumer items, I'm definitely backward. My car, a Saturn, is nothing to brag about, I don't have a big TV or an iPod; hell, I'm not even a home-owner any longer. My furniture is thrift store quality, my dishes are chipped, and I wouldn't even own a decent bed, except that I am taking care of my ex-girlfriend's bed while she is away in Mississippi.

A bunch of the other, nicer furniture in my house is hers, also. Some of the rest is my ex-wife's stuff. I don't believe I've ever had a fight with an ex-partner for our shared material goods; in the end, it just doesn't matter that much to me who has what.

What I do care about, however, is the memories associated with various other objects littered around my house, and my ex-partner's houses. Every object has its own story; and I often recount these narratives to myself, as in:

*That big shampoo bottle.
*That Chinese liquor bottle.
*That old hat.
*Those design books.
*That baby shawl.
*This old broken piece of tile from Balkh.
*That robe, those slippers.
*"Power Cat," a painting.

Then there is the matter of my many, many collections: Seaglass, shells, stones, driftwood, bottle caps, sand dollars, feathers, stamps, kids' art, magazines, books, coins, sports cards, model cars...on and on. Most of these items have little if any monetary value, in fact many of them qualify as pure junk.

But, to me, they represent captured memories like a certain beach at sunset with someone I loved, stooping and gathering tiny shiny bits of things as they glinted in the fading light. Or, stamps torn from letters sent me from around the world after one of my books on global environmental problems.

I have an especially hard time throwing away things people have given me, like cards and gifts from my kids or lovers.

By now, you are envisioning a pretty cluttered place. Actually, most of my possessions are in boxes.

But there is the occasional surprise: open a drawer and find a matchbox with the name of a restaurant in New York, which brings back a flood of memories, or another from a spa in Calistoga, Dr. Wilkinson's; or a scrap of paper, a credit card receipt from a gas station in Gulfport or the Kona Coast.

A travel shampoo from a hotel, a pen from a conference, a hat that says Hands On USA, an old photo of happy people dancing. Wherever I look, there are stories screaming out at me. None of these objects, or at least very few of them, should be retained once I pass from the earth. To most other people, these bits and pieces of life are nothing more than archeological evidence from an era that, by the time it becomes exotic, will be buried under the bones of those who will succeed us, just as we now stand atop the bones of our ancestors.

Still, stories can be crafted out of these modest possessions; perhaps then they will acquire value that otherwise will elude them during their natural life cycle. In the aftermath of a disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina last year, people's possessions littered the landscape willy-nilly, coated with mud, no longer in any sort of order or condition that would allow their previous owners to reclaim -- or even recognize -- them. Their individual stories were lost, but collectively they spoke of shattered lives and a community lost.

It's nice to build stories out of modest particles, like these small collections of mine, or the emotional waves that lap over me, like tides, coming in, going out, leaving only a soft residue behind. There will never be enough time for me to craft all the stories these tiny items surrounding me contain. Most will lose their potential for meaning when I go silent.

In this way, I am their curator. Their stories depend entirely on me. I wish I had the time to tell them all, but I don't. From the last license plate for our trailer in Michigan, and why; to the hand-lettered instructions for our dishwasher, and why not; most of these stories are destined to go untold, along with their unteller to our common grave.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Heat Wave: Dropped Fruit

My backyard tonight yielded this bonanza. The day up here must have been so hot that these plump purple beauties simply let go, and allowed themselves to give in to gravity. Like a woman falling in love.

Out front of my house, the flowering tree next door dropped her petals like a lovely woman undresses -- effortlessly.


Today, another tsunami smashed into Indonesia, killing many people. In the past few days, a man from Gulfport, Mississippi, rendered homeless last year by Katrina, died in a fire in his FEMA trailer. Authorities were trying to find a relative before releasing his name.

People of faith, and insurance companies, call these "natural disasters." The former do so out modesty and awe at the terrible power of God. Faith allows people to accept these horrors as part of some larger plan that may not be apparent to mere mortals. The latter do so as part of a strategy to get out of paying off legitimate claims.

There is a little-noticed trial going on in Gulfport, involving how an insurance company did not cover the losses of homeowners post-Katrina, saying the damage was caused by flooding, and most residents did not carry flood insurance.

When I interviewed residents (as well the volunteers who were helping them) along the Gulf Coast three months after Katrina hit, they all described a similar experience: The Gulf of Mexico, pushed by Katrina's winds, rose up into a wall of water 30 feet high. This terrifying wave destroyed almost everything in its path as it roared ashore.

In East Biloxi, which is a peninsula, the wave rushing in from the Gulf crashed head-on into a second 30-foot wave rushing in from the opposite direction, Back Bay. The two exploded over East Biloxi, and the result, when I saw it, was beyond my powers of description. Let's say I fell silent as my girlfriend drove me through these ruined streets, and those who know me understand it takes a lot to shut me up.

Here is how it looked:

I am neither a man of faith nor of the insurance industry. Just a simple observer, a journalist trained to notice details. My analysis is the social forces that lead poor people to congregate in marginal areas, vulnerable areas, provide the context for who gets hurt most when disasters strike.

In other words, God may well make the earth shake and the waters rise; and insurance adjusters may well have the final word on whether policy-holders get help (though the courts, and especially juries of peers have a voice in this matter); but it is the class system of the modern world that more often than not, determines who lives and who dies when tsunamis and hurricanes hit.

Afterwards, as the cleanup begins, a land grab ensues, and those victimized once by the storm, are inevitably victimized twice as casinos (Mississippi), or hotels (Indonesia) seize their land. I hope I don’t sound too cynical, dear reader, which is not my intent. My intent is to honor the angels who show up to help victims survive, and organize to fight for a better tomorrow.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Life as an Activist 1.1

In a bygone era, we saw no contradiction between our social activism and our journalism. I could demonstrate and cover the demonstration. But, even then, I always felt outside the group of true believers. It was hard to accept some of the extremes that were being discussed. And I always tended to think critically about every subject, including those closest to my heart. I was passionate about civil rights, and I opposed the war in Vietnam. I published lots of stories expressing my opinions. When the time came to criticize the movement, I wrote those stories as well.

American journalists have become confused in the past 30 years; or rather their bosses have become confused. There is a false belief that a journalist should not have any personal involvement in a matter (s)he writes about. There is also the ludicrous idea that a reporter should not participate in civil demonstrations, even if (s)he does so strictly as a citizen, with no intent to write about the experience at all.

Many idealistic journalists have approached me in recent years; fearful that some potential boss might find out they had marched against the war in Iraq, or against Israel's actions in the Middle East, or against those who would remove a woman's right to choose.

This makes me sad. My generation of journalists fought for these rights. We trusted ourselves to tell the truth as we saw it, regardless of our political beliefs. In my opinion, our highest responsibility is to our readers. As long as we disclose to them where we stand, our managers and overseers should have the wisdom to step aside, and let the great democratic process of debating ideas to occur.

The impact (not to mention the irony) of journalists feeling forced to self-censor reaches well beyond the individual facts of each case. This is one way a democracy dies. One self-censoring journalist at a time...

Take a look at me now 1.1

Finally, maybe I am ready to move on. I can feel a difference. Suddenly I'm noticing women and meeting them in new ways. And I'm interested in seeing them again. I'm open now.

All of this is new. They said it would happen. It's happening.

San Francisco's weather is perfect for some new friendships to emerge, and maybe love too. It's warm and sultry; the city is cooled by the sea breezes at night. Everything that can bloom is doing so; flowering trees with purple and white blossoms, new greenery pushing up through the soil; a mother duck with a bunch of furry chicks waddling around under the trees.

In our yard, the plums are red and ripe and plump, hanging heavily; and the apples are still green but growing bigger every day.

There's a softness in the air, the lovely scent of new possibilities. I'm open and I'm ready. What I had with J. was good, but it is gone. It's over. She never writes, she never calls. As far as I can tell, she only rarely thinks of me. Therefore, she's moved well on and probably notices others much as I am now doing.

Life can't stand still. I'm restless, and I like women -- a lot. Whether as friends, lovers, partners or colleagues, I enjoy their company. So the next stage of my life will be as it is meant to be in the natural order of things.