Saturday, August 26, 2006


As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches (next Tuesday), scientists are watching a tropical storm that may enter the Gulf of Mexico right around then. His name is Ernesto.

For those living in hurricane country, this is a familiar situation -- there's something out there, far beyond what you yet can see or feel, that is beginning to agitate the massive body of water that calmly laps at your doorstep, this sweet, salty friend capable of being transformed into a killing monster.

Think of Waveland last August 29th -- or Bay St. Louis or Biloxi or Gulfport or Pass Christian. Think of New Orleans. Katrina approached through the Gulf, gathering force as she twisted and turned with the awful passion only a killer knows. Her jagged edge ripped into the Mississippi coastline with such force that the massive barges anchored offshore called casinos were tossed inward like bathtub toys, much as King Kong would have done it, had he visited Mississippi instead of New York.

To understand what we all lost last year, we have to consider Faulkner, our greatest Southern writer. Go Down Moses or The Sound and the Fury. Which reminds me of the time a U.S. senator from Georgia was my roommate.

This is an odd story, but true. This man had a bad back and came out to the Bay Area to get treated by a prominant sports doctor. He stayed in a house where I was also staying in rooms rented by a mystery writer who had recently fallen in love with a Norwegian seaman. She had a cat that liked to lick the drops of water that slowly formed at the head of her bathtub fixture, much as if it (the fixture) were an overexcited male...

Anyway, this U.S. Senator and I bonded around several common interests, none more vital than Faulkner. Faulkner was one of those rare writers who could construct an entire world out of an image such as a glimpse of a girl's underpants as she swung on a tree, and make you see why that is the perfect way to tell a story. I was reminded of this recently when I considered the opening scene of Lost in Translation, where the camera focuses on a woman's bottom covered by panties, and lets matters develop as they may from there.

Meanwhile, Ernesto gathers strength far out in the salty ocean, and nobody knows where he will make landfall. Everybody all along the Gulf Coast can only wait and see, much as a woman waiting for her man to make his move... Last year it was a female storm that tore this coast apart. This year, it could well be a man that finishes the deal.

The Gulf Coast sits, battered and broken, unable to defend itself should God decide to send Ernesto or another storm hurtling into its midst this particular season. The victims of last year's devastating wreakage sit huddled in flimsy FEMA trailers, awaiting whatever fate God has in mind for them.

The sweet volunteers, including my own lost Angel, race around these communities, trying to help people focus on how they might rebuild their lives, even as the voraciously capitalist invaders erect casinos and other sweet enticements that will surely end their former way of life in ways that evil Katrina herself could never have imagined.

In light of all this, there is a grassroots group I'd like you to consider supporting, one of several I will be writing about in this space in the coming days, as we contemplate the anniversary of this monster storm and what she did to all of us. Here is the press release issued today in Biloxi by Coastal Women for Change.

Coastal Women for Change is a multi-cultural, grassroots community group that started in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. By January 2006, four months after the storm hit, many of us were still in shock by the scope of the disaster that we had been through. We began to come together to talk about that, but also about our hopes and fears for the future. The recovery process was already under way: A massive effort by local, state, and federal agencies that is expected to take 12 years before our coastal communities will be rebuilt.

We realize that unless we take the initiative to get involved, the needs of our families will likely be neglected in the official rebuilding process. This is simply because we are the people who rarely benefit from “business as usual” in Mississippi, but we aim to change that.

This is no time for “business as usual.” This is a time for us to organize ourselves into a strong coalition of women who can speak with one voice about our hopes to attain a vibrant, healthy and safe community for our families. The issues each of us face in our individual lives seemed insurmountable until we came together. Now we have hope.

But we also are aware how intimidating the challenges we face truly are. Although we originated in East Biloxi, we welcome the participation of women from all of the communities along the coast. Eventually, as we grow, there will be strength in those numbers. We also hope to forge alliances with other community groups, volunteers, religious groups, sympathetic politicians and business leaders to help stimulate long-term, sustainable change in our communities.

We will be attending the public meetings about the rebuilding plans that are held by various agencies and volunteer groups in order to insure that our voice is heard. Our main priorities are the housing, childcare, and employment issues we face as women trying to support our families. Though traditionally we have rarely participated in the official political process, the magnitude of the challenges facing us demands that we get involved now.

Coastal Women for Change (CWC) is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that is entirely supported by donations. We are currently operating under a small grant from the 21st Century Foundation. We welcome your tax-deductible donation of any amount, as well as the participation of all women in the region, regardless of race, color, religious orientation, or any of the other differences that have often separated us in the past.

When it comes to our future, we are all in this together.

Mrs. Sharon Hanshaw, Executive Director
Coastal Women for Change (CWC)
336 Rodenberg Ave.
Biloxi, MS 39531
(Tel) 228-297-4849


Please get involved in helping local groups such as this one rebuild our precious Gulf Coast. You will never regret it.

Long Shot

Let's face it. Any day that begins with me taking a long jump shot from deep in the backyard that goes swish is off to a good start. Yes, it's foggy, but it is also a weekend. The pace at work has been frenetic lately, which is a good thing. What I've loved about start-ups this past decade is the excitement of the chase. Once you've set goals, the race is on. There's always more to do than the team is capable of -- the perfect environment for multitaskers. As my silly post last night reveals, I can rarely settle my brain down for long because it has an order of its own, a disorder perhaps, that demands that 5, 10 or 20 projects or ideas be explored simultaneously.

Of course, when one project reaches a critical stage, it takes over central stage in the frontal lobe, demanding resolution.

Almost as soon as I swished, the number 30 popped into my head. Do you remember when I posted about 30? As it turns out, going to baseball games solved that numerical puzzle. The daunting and unattainable 30 devolved into 3, or something like that. Since we're growth-focused in the Valley, we're always throwing around the phrase 10x, as in "10xing your traffic."

I wonder what the opposite is? 10y?

I guess so; anyway there is new mathematical puzzle on the table, a 30-day waiting period, as it were. This time, I doubt baseball will be a factor. More likely, matters of the heart, a far trickier proposition.

I once met someone who claims it takes about 30 days for her to know her feelings in some personal matters. This interests me, and I wonder if we all might be that way? Our feelings can be fleeting and unreliable. We change our minds; our hearts change their attachments. Time blurs images, they become soft and fuzzy. Maybe we stop remembering how we felt, leaving confusion or nothingness in its stead.

You may say this is babaloney. But I'm still trying to make sense of so many projects in my head. The main one, this morning, regards Coastal Women for Change, a Mississippi group about whom I'll have more to say.

We are three days from the anniversary of Katrina, the storm that blew a hole in the underside of our country. Katrina did much more than flatten the Gulf Coast, it obliterated any illusion that this is a country of fair opportunity, or equality between the classes and races. Looking closer, it also ripped away the facade of progress for women in the lower classes.

The group that has emerged to challenge this reality and present an alternative vision for our common future is interesting indeed. I'll write more about them soon...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Beauty All Around Us, in Colors

I've got what looks like our first pumpkin growing out back on that aggressive vine of ours. That's exciting! I'm home alone on this Friday night, with plenty on my mind:

(1) watching the Giants on TV (great game!),
(2) thinking about my son at his planning meeting with friends going to Burning Man,
(3) thinking about a friend who loves baseball and is watching her hero, Ichiru, tonight in the Seattle ballpark for the very first time (Go Mariners!),
(4) trying to craft a press kit for Coastal Women for Change in East Biloxi,
(5) thinking about my little ones in Old Lyme after a day of canoeing,
(6) wondering how my journalist daughter is doing in Chile,
(7) wondering how my little grandson is doing inside my daughter in Portland,
(8) scanning several books about software development for work,
(9) monitoring my fantasy baseball team, the Mud Lake Mafia (don't ask),
(10) questioning which of two books given to me recently would be best to read first -- "I Thought My Father Was God" by Paul Auster, and "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami,
(11) feeling grateful to the writer Aimee Bender, whom I don't believe I have ever met, for her astonishing voice and sense of pace, which inspired the best thing I've written here in ages -- "Babble On" the other day,
(12) enjoying leftovers from a meal a friend cooked me the other night (it is so nice when a woman stops by and 'takes care of' me in this way,
(13) feeling sad for my friend Susan Hoffman, who's mother has died,
(14) worrying about my neice Caitlin, who is recovering from knee surgery so she can resume her collegiate soccer career,
(15) hoping J down in Mississippi will take her much-needed break soon because she needs one,
(16) thinking about how much fun this fall will be, coaching little league again, this time for the "Rockies,"
(17) looking at a stack of five new storage boxes in my apartment, and feeling how good it makes me feel to house things belonging to my family and friends,
(18) wanting any person who has left her stuff with me to understand that means she is part of my family -- permanently.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Transitional moments 1.1

It's that time of year when everybody can sense that summer is slipping away. People are liable to suddenly disappear for little vacations; soon, many will go to Burning Man. It's an easy time to feel left behind. Every summer, I wave to my children as they leave on long trips back east, where the air is humid and the ice cream cool and fresh. I'm quite familiar with the feeling of driving home from SFO alone in my empty car.

The real trouble starts when the fog sets in here. All of a sudden, I feel terribly sad and cold. No amount of clothing can warm me up, only another warm body at night. Then, the fog cannot reach us. But, when alone, I shiver, even under heavy covers, until I slip into another fitful sleep, visiting by dragons and demons night after night.

So, I'm terrible at transitions. The moment you tell me you are leaving is as bad as it must have been when I was a little kid. Why?

I have no idea why I am this way.


We are approaching a heavy anniversary date in a few days -- the date Katrina blew a huge whole in the American Gulf Coast. In Mississippi and Louisiana, residents are organizing events to mark this tragic aniversary. Rebuilding proceeds, but at a painfully slow pace. Volunteers are often discouraged, as they encounter personal and political limitations to getting the right things done right.

I had a long talk with a resident the other day, who said she was worried about the volunteeers trying to help her and her group almost as much as she worried about the people who had lost their homes. "They need to take care of themselves, too," is how she put it.

Self-sacrificing is honorable. Ultimately reaching the point where you might have a breakdown is not. I hope all the special volunteers are watching out for one another, and encourage each other to takes breaks from the work, get sopme R&R.

The work will still be there when you return...


Foggy Morning

There are times we love our fog in San Francisco, but not when it lingers day after day, blocking out all warmth and changing the light into a hazy gray. At those times, when everybody else is celebrating summer, we are lost in our own fog.

Some of us become deeply depressed and fantasize about other places -- Hawaii, Florida, Mississippi -- where the temperatures are high and fog is an oddity that burns off the grass early each morning.

Today, I awoke in a fog; it is burning away slowly. It is not good to be alone in a foggy season; it is essential to connect with others. To reach out and share your aloneness.

As I continue to write about our isolated society, I feel encouraged when we are able to somehow find one another in our times of need, but worried that we also often don't really know how to ask.

It is hard to articulate what I am searching for any longer. Life has become so foggy. I think I know and then it becomes elusive. Maybe I know but I'm just not sure.

I'll have to wait for the sun.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Babble On

The trouble started when it turned out to be contagious. It was one thing (a novelty, really) when one man died from a mysterious babbling disorder, but another thing altogether when this started happening to people, willy-nilly, all over the planet. The CDC's authoritative Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR, named this The Babbling Syndrome, or TBS.

That (1) the disease seemed to be invariably fatal, and (2) no one could figure out how it was transmitted, soon triggered (3) mass public panic. People speculated wildly that it might be a terrorist plot, for example; that an evil group has planted something in the water or a nerve agent in the clouds above.

This spawned new industries. Everyone wore gas masks, and only the Estonians continued to drink unbottled water. The Calistoga Company quickly rose to the top of the Fortune 500, followed by the European-based Perrier/San Pellegrino conglomerate. Interestingly, the third largest global corporation, as measured both in sales and market cap, was a startup venture from Bangalore called Stop Babbling.

Industry analysts determined that the company's overnight success was due to its choice of a no-nonsense brand that spoke directly to consumer fears. Of course, the stock markets proved fickle, as they often do. So, when the MMWR came out with a provocative new study that Estonians seemed to be experiencing the lowest rate of growth in new cases of TBS, the botttled water craze ended as suddenly as it had appeared.

The gas mask fad didn't last either, mainly because people couldn't easily enjoy their morning coffee with the damned thing on. You would often overhear a stranger mumble, "I'd rather die that skip my daily latte!" Of course, this could well be an indicator of Stage Three Babbling Syndrome -- just before they'd be falling silent -- so it did give you pause before you, too, said to yourself (or maybe out loud) -- "What the hell, we're not going to getting out of this alive anyway..."

Sex between strangers became commonplace. People took to early retirement, usually by age 12 or so, and spent their life savings on month-long video game flings, or exotic travel vacations. (Estonia emerged as a top tourist destination.)

Stimulated by so much consumer spending, the global economy blazed skyward. Despite their sense of impending doom, people generally were quite happy, because everyone was doing pretty much what she wanted to do, living in each moment as if it might well be her last.

Violent crime disappeared. Why bother killing someone when you would both be dead in weeks or months anyway? New relationships formed instantly almost anywhere. Starbucks offered marriage services while you were standing in line for cappuccinos. (As a side note, Las Vegas's economy immediately took a direct hit.)

Most companies had a hard time locating their own employees, as no one kept to any kind of schedule any longer. One HR guy coined the phrase "Dayworker Economy," on Monday; a book with the same title became a bestseller on Tuesday; by Wednesday it was reported that the HR guy had fallen in love with Mexican day laborer he had picked up for $10/hour, and that they were probably headed to Estonia.

The turning point in the whole thing was when a group of French doctors announced they had discovered evidence of the cause of The Babbling Syndrome (though this was instantly disputed by a group of Canadian scientists, who claimed they had already made the same discovery, but had been remaining quiet until they could finish a more scrupulous checking process than the French would ever think of employing.)

Meanwhile, the Koreans announced the most exciting breakthrough -- a genetically engineered herb that delayed the onset of symptoms considerably, and the MMWR officially reclassified TBS as a treatable condition instead of a terminal disease.

Sadly, by the time the French and the Canadians had sorted out their dispute over which team had identified the way TBS was transmitted, it was way too late to do anything about it. The cause, they finally agreed, was too much silence brought about by too much isolation from one another, or, as the French termed it le bruit du silence.

Roughly translated into non-layman's terms, this suggested that by falling into an alienated state of disconnectedness from one another, modern human beings had lowered our collective immunity against hyper-talkativeness -- the medical term for Stage One Babbling Syndrome.

All's well that ends well, as they used to say, but in this case, the maintenance medication could only delay but not prevent full-blown TBS, though you no longer would die from it.

And that, of course, is how we became a world of babblers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Carried Away

Floating down the American River, you could be forgiven for concluding that there is a relentlessness to all of our lives, and that it is as simple as gravity. All rivers lead to the sea.

Here is a day where I drove many miles throughout Gold Country in California. It was a day to remember, not so much because anything special happened in the sunlight, but because later on, when I finally found my way onto the correct route back to San Francisco, the sun decided to set in the west in such a way that the random clouds hovering over the coast took on the unmistakable glint of gold, or perhaps, more relevantly, Fool's Gold.

Regardless, it is the rare day that any of us would be climbing the grade west of Livermore and encounter a sky such as this. I had trouble keeping my eyes on the road ahead as the show overhead intensified and dominated all of us, streaming down the highway in our metal boxes much as the girls in bikinis migrated down the American today on rubber rafts.

Okay, you must be asking yourself what the hell I am doing here. If only we all knew, we'd all have an easier time of it. But here is the main point, FWIW, from my POV. God, whoever that is, painted tonight's sky. Those of us who saw it had trouble driving.

I was thinking, if I have an accident now, it is God's fault. God, of course, had no interest in answering me, except obliquely. (S)he just painted the sky. That was a major distraction.

Distractions are one thing. The color of love is quite another. Who wouldn't fall in love with a sky like this? What about the stars, when they come out? Why do they affect us as they do?

Here's my advice: Go outside your city, some dark night, and look at the Milky Way.Think about the old myth of a prince and a princess separated by many miles and much time. Then, imagine them coming back together.

I think this is what scientists call a "cosmic event."

That's what I am seeking here.



The Babbler

There once was a man who was losing his voice. No one could realize this, except one very wise woman. The way she knew was because suddenly he had started talking a lot – to almost anyone who would listen to him. Formerly he had been quite quiet, shy really, and kept to himself primarily.

It turns out there is a strange disease that can strike such a man that will steal his voice away in stages, leaving ultimately only senseless babbling in its place. In the first stage, before he is even aware that this is happening to him, his silence is transformed into radical talkativeness.

He seeks friends out for long conversations, after which they sometimes feel exhausted, but he has only really just gotten started. He may wander to his house, where he begins continuing the conversation, only with himself now.

The wise woman observed that this man’s brain was growing so restless he literally could not shut up. She hovered outside his door one night and she could hear the sounds of him talking energetically. At first she thought he might be on the phone, or Skype, or something like that; but no, through a part in his curtains she could peek and see he was totally alone, in his boxer shorts only, walking around, gesturing forcefully exploring the same ideas that hours earlier he had been sharing with a friend across a table in the coffee house nearby.


The woman moved in with this man to take care of him, and this made him so happy. Finally, he had a companion who would let him talk to her all day and all night long, spilling every story his brain could locate and release. She knew instinctively he was vacating.

She mastered the art of napping while sitting up, so she appeared to be attentive as he rambled on. After several weeks of this, he started calming down, reassured there was still enough time. They began to lie in bed together in the night, and she relaxed as he slowly moved his hands over her body, every inch of her. He lingered in strange places, for a man, at her left elbow and her right ankle. He traced the line from the middle of the part in her long, dark hair down over her forehead, and then, ever so gently, down between her eyes along her nose, and over that onto her lips.

His hand softly caressed her long arms from shoulder to the last little tip of each finger. He followed her spine up and down her back, and he stroked her long, smooth legs much as he addressed her arms. He liked her limbs. This was their time of greatest calm.


One morning, she woke up at the usual time, around dawn. Since autumn was coming, it was a little later every day now, but only by a few minutes – a gradual loss of sunlight, barely perceptible, but perceptible nonetheless. The man did not wake up that morning at all, and at first she thought nothing of it.

When he finally awoke, around noon, he was very groggy, so his speech was slurred and difficult to discern his meaning. It wasn’t until that evening that she began to see that his deterioration had certainly begun. He didn’t seem to notice it yet, which was a blessing, but he had passed over the hill where he could verbalize his thoughts – often brilliantly – to a place where all he had to offer now was an indistinct mumble.

As his speech evaporated completely over the coming months, a strange thing happened. His caresses of the woman’s body became more and more sensuous, extended and pleasureful. She found herself anticipating the arrival of night, less that his incoherent babbling would cease than his evermore delicate and expert touch would begin.

One day he did not get out of bed at all. She did get up and went about their daily chores, but when she saw he would not be rising at all, she crawled back into bed next to him early that afternoon, and she did not rise again until the following morning.

They didn’t eat much food anymore. Over time, his babbling ceased entirely; now you could say he had truly lost his voice. Once that had happened, he closed his eyes and rarely opened them again. He never got out of their bed again. She stayed with him night and day, until, inevitably, he shuddered and released one last, painful breath and fell to his permanent sleep.

Up until the last night, he patted and stroked her for hours at a time, night after night, and day after day. He touched every part of her, slowly and softly. She had never felt so loved and cared-for. His last night of life, he awoke and regained his voice. He told her of a vision: That an angel would arrive shortly, and wrap her in a dress made of the softest material imaginable. When this happened, she was to arise and leave this place, because her work here was done. He spoke in the same, clear articulate voice she remembered from before he got this condition, this losing of voice.

It seemed like a miracle.

In the night, he shut up about his vision finally, fell silent for the last time and began his touching. This night, the final time, it was different. His arms kept circling her body, enveloping her in like a wrapping. By the middle of the night his work was finished, and she felt herself dressed in the softest of all materials.

He was in a coma. She arose and prepared to leave. Once he was dead, she closed his door behind her, and emerged out in the world; naked as the day she was born.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Slouching Towards Paradise

Okay, so I have an over-active imagination. We know this. The trouble starts when I move into another person’s brain so easily, and become confused. Maybe I think I am her, for a while. It is fine to imagine things in your own brain, but maybe not so nice when you are stuck inside another’s. After all, you can think but you cannot act. Because, of course, her brain controls her own body, and unless she allows your brain to sit in her cockpit for a while, you have no hope in this matter.

That much is elementary; so simplistic, you may say, why do I even bring this up? To share my conundrum. I’m so sorry, gentle reader, that yesterday was the first day in a long time that I did not post to this blog. I wanted to, but could not find any Internet access up in these mountains.

After an extensive search, that included several near misses and other frustrations, plus the serendipitous oddity of running into a friend from the Bay Area and her two daughters, I’m briefly online tonight. My computer is warm in my lap, wondering, no doubt, where I have been.

It’s hot here in the day and cool at night. A fresh breeze swept through the river valley this afternoon. Several rainbow trout swam into a near by pool; three dogs, including a beauty named Felicity swam back and forth, following their owners, who were snorkeling, looking down at the bigger fish in the center of the river. Two willowy nude women swimmers appeared from upstream and slowly floated down-river, out of sight. A squirrel peaked out from the trees and ran across the rocks. The sky was impossibly blue; the river swiveled between turquoise and bright green as the sun moved down the valley. Trees marched up both sides of the river, scaling ravine cliffs too steep for a mere mortal but fine for a goat.

I didn’t see any goat.

But I did hear a gentle voice reading out loud a strange short story. The reader laughed sometimes and also remarked darkly, “I don’t like where this story is going. It is scary”

I didn’t feel scared by anything today, except what I mentioned up top. Why can’t I shut off my brain? Why does it try to enter another’s head, to see what she sees, to feel what she feels? Why won’t it stay home with me?

If I came here, to this clear mountain air, seeking some answers, I haven’t found any yet. Maybe tomorrow, sitting in the sun at a cafĂ©, or on a rock in a river canyon, the swift breeze again cooling over-heated flesh, I’ll hear that mysterious feminine voice reading to me again, telling me strange stories.

But I wonder: is it only my own husky male voice, delicately masquerading as sweeter female tones that I fine so soothing and so seductive? Did I imagine my own gentle reader and her secret reading to me? Will I ever return to this state again; and if so, will she be with me?

Or was it, finally, only the bright sun, instigating an illusion?

Maybe there were no dogs, not even Felicity, and no trout, no snorkelers, no willowy mermaids, no squirrel, no trees marching up ravines too steep for me to navigate there. (I’m quite certain, at least, that there was no goat.)

If it was my imagination that gave me the gift of this d, it still was a very nice dream.