Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rock 'n Roll Fantasies

As you probably know, I once was a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. My stories appeared from 1974 to 1977; later on I had another assignment, but I didn't deliver on it. I can no longer remember what the story was, exactly, but it was an investigative piece that some colleagues and I were pursuing from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the non-profit organization I co-founded after I parted ways with Rolling Stone in 1977.

Saturday nights are always weird for me. One of the strangest in my memory was back when I was on staff at the magazine, and my partner Howard Kohn and I had published the first of our stories about the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst; called "The Inside Story."

My boss, the irrepressible Jann Wenner, lived in a Victorian mansion on California Street in those years. He had a bunch of us over for the evening -- a night that was laced with drugs and alcohol. Jann had an early version of a large-screen TV, and we all watched a new show called Saturday Night Live. It featured something never before aired by network TV -- fake ads, and I remember that Jerry Rubin was in one of them.

I'd known Jerry for several years, since my SunDance days, and in fact I'd edited a book of his, "Growing Up at 37," I think it was called. Through a drug and alcohol induced haze, we watched the show and to our delight, Howard and I were mentioned as some sort of off-screen characters -- those two guys from Rolling Stone.

Annie Liebowitz was there, and late in the night she broke into tears as she discovered her cameras had been stolen out of her car parked in Jann's driveway.

A few years earlier, all of the antiques Alison and I had brought back from Afghanistan had been stolen out of our van parked in an alley right near where Jann lived. I'd wandered through the pawnshops of the Fillmore for weeks but I never found our lost items.

Annie never got her cameras back, either, but Jann just bought her new ones.


Jerry Rubin, meanwhile, transformed himself from Yippie to investment banker -- one of the more remarkable transformations people I knew made as the collective '60s died away and the greedy '80s emerged. Later still, Jerry was killed trying to race across a street in LA one night. Two other friends of mine were with him when it happened. They didn't dart out, he did. He died instantly.


One of my other blogs (I've got about six) is Sidewalk Images. I just had to post the photo at the top of this blog tonight because my ten-year-old Dylan shot it earlier today. You can see his camo shoes and camo pants. You can't see his wool Russian Red Army Cossack hat that he wears even on a hot day like today -- with temperatures in excess of 80 degrees, even after the sun set.

Yes, it's hot here, the kind of October weather old-timers call earthquake weather. Of course, Loma Prieta happened this month in 1989. And the terrible East Bay fire happened in this month as well, a few years later. My friend Dierdre English lost everything in that fire, as did many other writers, including Margaret Hong-Kingston. I was at a party where people gave Hong-Kingston copies of her books that they had, since she no longer had any of her own.


A Pink Floyd concert is playing tonight on a local public television station. It's another Saturday night, and as usual I am alone. Except for the four kids sleeping in the other room. I remember how nice it was to watch concerts like this one with somebody by my side.

It's so hot tonight in this city. It's unreal. Maybe the grass in my yard knows something I don't know.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Being 2, 13, or 40-something 1.1

A child growing up today is subjected to two-and-a-half as many media messages as a kid who grew up in the '60s, according to one of my former colleagues in the Department of Communication at Stanford. What the result of this unprecedented barrage will prove to be is anyone's guess. I know my young children are already cynical about advertisements, partly at their parents' urging, but also that they appreciate ads that are funny and especially creative.

One of the first things I noticed about the web generation of 20-somethings at HotWired when I went there in 1995, was how ad-focused they were. It was as if ads had influenced them much more than the news in traditional news media. I came to realize that new media on the web were as much a reaction to old media as our countercultural magazines had been in the '60s and '70s.


Now that I have another child on the verge of becoming a teenager, I'm again acutely aware of how difficult it is when somebody you love completely starts to withdraw from you, however subtlety.

But to change subjects slightly for a moment, I felt utterly shocked last spring when my girlfriend told me we had to break up. "Haven't you noticed that I am not as drawn to have sex with you?" Actually, no, I had not noticed, which is one reason this hit me so hard. But maybe that is about how chemical our connection was -- an order of magnitude up or down really wouldn't have changed my perception that this was pretty close to as good as it gets between two people who are attracted to each other.


Back to being a parent. When your child starts becoming a teenager, all of a sudden you may feel transported back to when (s)he was a "terrible two." The little being who just recently seemed so cuddly starts to rebel, and to differentiate himself/herself from dependence on you, the parent. If you are not careful, it can hurt, because it feels personal. But in reality it is a straight-out evolutionary necessity. Plus, you don't really lose your connection with your kid at this stage. They'll be back. But you have to endure a long, painful period of separation.

Maybe it's like that sometimes with adult love, too? After all, most 40-somethings seem to go through a midlife crisis of one sort of another. Maybe when it ends, they'll come back?

Or maybe not.


A Flower in the City

Pushing up to meet me, pink, moist, soft, and open; a most pleasant way to way up this morning.

A Buddhist monk was hiking in the mountains, when he met a hungry tiger. The tiger started chasing him, intent on eating him. The monk ran to the edge of a cliff and looked over. Jumping meant certain death. Not jumping meant certain death -- getting eaten by the tiger. After a moment's hesitation, he jumped. As he was falling he managed to reach out and grab some roots sticking out of the cliff. This broke his fall, but only for a moment, as he could feel the roots pulling free of the dirt, and there was nothing else to grab hold of. During this brief respite, the monk noticed a flower growing out of a rock nearby.

"What a lovely flower," he thought.

Living in the moment can be so hard to do.

The softest breeze sweeps across the water outside my office window. The sailboat's reflection is perfectly still in the mirror-like water beneath it. Several birds sit motionless in the lagoon. In the distance, cars criss-cross the bridge over calm waters. Large jets vector into their final approach to SFO.

So much of life is routine. Get up, shower, shave, maybe eat a small breakfast. Jump into the car for the commute, listen to NPR, and consider yourself lucky if there are only a few slowdowns this day. Hit the office walking, then up your pace with one, two, three cups of caffeine.

Go to meetings, make decisions, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Read the news. Consider the news climate. Reflect on how to contextualize this content, what to emphasize, how to frame it all.

Ride the iterative software development process, where tasks are broken down into micro-steps in order to pursue macro-goals. Read a feed from a prominent site arguing that newspapers are dead; it's only a matter of time before they go the way of all dinosaurs.

Consider your past training. Your B.A. in journalism, awarded 37 years ago. How much has the world changed in 37 years? In every way but one. Your personal judgment is still your greatest asset. Your voice has always been that of a synthesizer. Sort many inputs into a new synthesis that makes sense, that can "advance" the story.

Such is the life of a journalist early in the 21st century. The institutions we were trained to write for are staggering under competitive forces coming from many directions. Most fundamentally, the news cycle has sped up by orders of magnitude, to the point where it is twenty-four/seven. The news never rests.

No wonder you can't!

Living in the moment is not our problem. It's the relentlessness of the next moment, bearing down on us. We are like the monk, hoping only to break our fall long enough to appreciate the beauty presented, moist, soft and last time.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

X-ray vision

There's a castle in there, I know there is. The light catches it just so, and my shadow is apparent as I shoot this vision. It reveals me, even as the castle, pink and soft, hardens into visibility under the sweet attention of a setting sun.

Meanwhile, I can fly. Didn't I tell you about this before? Well, I have a cape that I usually keep out of view, because it wouldn't be wise for my type to be exposed in most circles. But, over and over, I have swept out into a hostile sky to do battles with an enemy. I've brought home the bacon, comprende? Which, of course, is nothing more than meat for the dinner table.

The city looks peaceful from up here, as I soar slowly, looking down upon my charges.

They go about their tasks, rarely aware that angels and superheroes are watching over them, not even wanting to believe in us until circumstances compel them to do so.

Have you ever been to a funeral? If so, have you noticed how some people squirm in the pews, desperately waiting for the ceremony to end?

These are the ones who don't want to confront the contradictions in their own lives just yet, and it is excruciatingly discomforting to sit still and contemplate the ending of another’s life, one so much like their own.

But the time comes when we all have to go. Soaring above you all, way up here, I have already departed your world. But of course, gravity is unforgiving, and eventually I will be brought back down to earth.

There, I'll have to continue to trudge, step by step, through our common world -- a world of loneliness, alienation, and the terrible sadness of having lost love, over and over.

Even superheroes have hearts. And we all cry sometimes, mainly when no one is there to see. All tears taste the same -- salty. The taste of the oceans from which we emerged long ago, converting our gulls into lungs, and dragging our vestigial tails behind us.

Why, I wonder, given how brief our lives are, can't we just say to one another what we all need so much to hear?

That will be my lament, as I drift slowly towards earth, my super powers drained, and giving into gravity's pull. Dust to dust. Me, you, all of us. Even love can't slow the pre-determined order of things.


A city confused

San Francisco obviously doesn't know what season this is. It's over 70 degrees here tonight under clear skies. After the softest of rains recently, really just heavy fogs, look what is sprouting in my backyard. Grass!

Nevertheless, it is not spring; it's fall. The light is different, slashing in at a wicked angle that makes driving much more difficult than is normal. Everything seems backlit, standing out with clarity.

We can see every blade of grass, as it stands proudly erect, trembling slightly, fresh and new and apparently quite excited just to be here.

Meanwhile the last few apples have fallen and are rotting amidst the new growth. They, at least, know it is autumn. The fact that the World Series will start on Saturday confirms that it is getting to be late October. Pumpkins are in the fields and the stores. Candy's on "sale," which means it's specially packaged at a higher price than normal.

My 12-year-old son wants to be a bunny, not the cuddly kind but an evil one; my ten-year-old wants to wear only one part of a costume -- his Darth Vader mask; while my seven-year-old, who turns eight 4 days before Halloween, wants to be a "really bad witch."

So, there's a pattern here. Everyone wants to be a bad guy of one sort of another. I wonder why that is?

Maybe one reason is people are always telling them how sweet they all are. While this is true, they also all have their unsweet moments, as only a parent can know. But, in general, they are well-behaved, sensible children who care about others and try to be polite most of the time.

I guess their fantasies, by contrast, are to be powerful evil characters.

There is an assumption among many in our society that power equates with evil. I don't think so. Too much power certainly breeds trouble of many kinds. But I've watched just as many people wield power kindly and compassionately as abusively.
Since I've worked directly with so many CEOs, I've had a glimpse into power dynamics for many years now.

And, of course, I've exercised plenty of power myself.


Tonight, I've started accepting the likelihood that I will spend the rest of my life alone, not as half of a couple. This is a thought that not so long ago would have struck terror in my heart. But, tonight, I am feeling a bit differently about this prospect. As much as I love women, and enjoy being in intimate relationship with them, I'm also mindful of how much pain these relationships eventually can produce for everyone involved.

I really don't want to go through that much pain ever again. Plus, although most people who know me well would say I am flexible and accommodating to the women in my life, I've come to realize that is not necessarily a healthy way for me to live. It may be a positive attribute, but I also feel like being much more selfish these days.

That means I want to do things the way I want to do them. I'll bend and I'll adapt, but I also need to preserve my own way of doing things -- much like the way I write. I don't really care when people criticize me; it's amusing more than anything else. After all, nobody has to read this blog. As far as I know, it has not been assigned as compulsory reading by any professors anywhere.

So, tonight, watching baseball on TV, caressing a large stack of good books, preparing to cook up some fresh veggies and sausage for my dinner, I'm not missing anybody. Great women all; and I'll always love all of them. But there are many fish in the sea. (Thanks, Dad.) And I am not at all sure I am ready to let someone new in.

Does that make sense? I've led a life of twists and turns. My days of going after someone aggressively are over. If she wants to be with me, she will adapt to me as much as I will to her.

Otherwise, I can take her or leave her. It really makes no difference to me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Midtown Manhattan

If there were a Monsieur Manners for how to treat writers, designers, photographers, he might advise people as follows:

1. When you meet a writer at a cocktail party, try not to say, "I've always been meaning to write a book myself, but I've been too busy."

2. If you hire a graphic designer to create invitations to a party, don't tell her that she will be invited to the party and then change your mind. This is not cool.

3. Editors are professionals, too. If you'd like them to edit something you've written, please remember to ask them their rate and offer to pay them for their work.

4. Although many photographers may give their work away free from time to time, always credit them if you republish their work. And, of course, offer to pay them if you want photographs of your family for your holiday cards.

5. When working with a graphic designer, don't try to tell them how to design the item you've hired them to produce. Tell them your objectives and goals; avoid getting into micro-managing them.

6. Try to pay writers and all creative workers a fair wage. Market forces are suppressing what skilled people can earn. You can't underpay a doctor, lawyer, plumber, or electrician. Why should you be able to underpay creative workers?

7. If you like to visit a website or a blog created by a writer or artist, try to notice whether they have little advertisements on their page. Usually these are shown as links. Clicking on them is the only way that writer or artist earns any money for their effort. It's kind of like public broadcasting. It's free, sure. But without your support, eventually it will go dark.


I miss country. My favorite music has pretty much always been country music, except for the crass, over-produced, sexist and jingoistic strains. What does that leave, you ask?

White blues.

The origins of the English spoken in Appalachia reach back to 17th century England and Scotland. Language is like any other evolutionary being -- cut it off from outside influences and it turns inward, atrophying, devoid of the inputs needed to grow and thrive.

A wonderful book about human evolution, which includes some references to how our languages reflect our history, is Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. I just located my copy of this book tonight, and a sheet of paper fell out. It contained a score from a game played with my Scrabble partner from last year. (We played in San Francisco, Calistoga, Hawaii, Mexico, and other venues.) This particular game was played in Calistoga and the final score was 302-230. Most of our games were much closer than that.


One of my college buddies, Fred LaBour, grew up in one of our medium-sized Michigan towns, Grand Rapids, I think. Fred used to say "What could be more country than Grand Rapids?

Freddie and I were roommates at a time that we both had girlfriends staying over, leading to some funny moments. He liked my poetry, and wanted to put it to music. That never happened but Fred's career as a songwriter and performer sure did. As a member of the band Riders in the Sky, Fred has had many great moments, performing as "Too Slim."

But long before his success, I remember him as a sports writer at The Michigan Daily. He wrote a story identifying many of the clues in the "Paul is Dead" rumor that swept the world of Beatlemania.

As a writer, songwriter, and performer, Fred approaches everything from his skewed sense of humor. A small smile always plays on his lips. I miss this guy.


I mention Baby Boomers a lot, and not just because I am one of them. This
rat in the python" has always been a difficult group for American society to swallow. We gave our parents collective indigestion, to put it mildly. Even today, it is hard for many of us to turn off our automatic "rebel" button.

"Question authority?" Yep, that's us. But, what are we to do when we suddenly realize we are the authority?

Question ourselves? Yep, that's us too.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Married or un-

So, I admit it. Curiosity provoked me to look around, online, at how people find each other. I trolled the various sites, read the ads, and viewed some profiles.

Do I want to meet somebody?

Not really.

But if someone wonderful suddenly showed up in my life, in the here and now, I'm quite sure everyone who knows and cares and loves me would understand. I have those assurances.

But, one of my conclusions from exploring the online dating world is many, maybe most, people seem to be looking for sex, not love. This leads me to wonder whether most posters aren't married, or at least attached, whether they reveal that in their ads or not.

I suppose I understand that. I've been married a couple of times, and I understand that you could well find yourself in a situation where you don't want to lose the security of your marriage, particularly if you have kids (good), or your partner is rich (bad), or if you just need to feel safe while pursuing something that may feel exciting.

Call me weird. I've been married* and unmarried* and met many women in both conditions. I vastly prefer being unmarried, without obligations to another.

Why? Because I can honestly present myself as available. And, since my main goal is not only sex or friendship, but both (plus more), i.e., relationship, and since I understand that to involve emotionally truthfulness, the way people present themselves online interests me greatly.

Now, I understand why women, especially, may feel driven to conceal details of their identity when seeking to meet people online. But that creates the essential paradox. When ever you should meet, you just have to be you.

Tonight, taking my nightly walk, despite my medical advice to stay off my feet, I did what comes naturally on a warm night. As a child of the cold northern steppe, all I need is a T-shirt on a night like this. I encountered a woman I know, and she was wrapping her arms around herself, even while wearing a jacket.

Now, this is classic male-female stuff. She admitted she always feels cold. I said I always feel warm.

My advice to her: "You need a hug."

And, I'm quite sure she did. I do too.

But I don't know her quite that well, so my advice hung in the windless air above this neighborhood. But she did do one thing, and I don't know why. She jumped in the air and spread her arms and legs. Then she did it again.

Women are so strange! But also, of course, so very wonderful...


*I do not use these terms in their literal, or legal, sense, since there are many practical reasons to prolong marriages after they are essentially finished, including health insurance, tax breaks, and other important considerations.

We live in an empirical age... well as a material one, of course.

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” -- Albert Einstein

After the haze and fog of recent days subsided, a crystal clear day greeted us in the Bay Area today. That didn't help traffic, which still sucked. But it did contribute to the kind of mood where you feel hypersensitive to details. Here, much like in Perth, Seattle, and other coastal cities, the light is special, so when the weather is right, almost every detail reveals itself.

“The only real valuable thing is intuition.”
-- Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein had a way of expressing things succinctly, and in a way that encourages a person like me. One of my favorite quotations from him is:

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

Thus, with all the numbers swirling around us these days (and despite my love of numerical patterns), tonight my goal is to honor the normative, non-numerical, instinctive, intuitive sides of life.

So, here is what came drifting down my street tonight. As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite new magazines is Found and this item is very much in that spirit.

(If you click on this or any of my photos, you will see a larger version.)

The problem with this one is, intuitively, that it does feel real to me, but contrived. I'd have to say this is most likely a writing exercise, a joke, or some lines from a play.

Just a guess, with no criticism intended to its author in case it is actually a real story.

Truth is, naturally, stranger than fiction, and there's a cliché I can live with.


Lately, I've had to endure some medical tests and a period of uncertainty over some strange symptoms. Though the results of most of the tests won't be known for a while, the most likely explanations now seem to be of the less frightening type, which is potentially some good news. Nevertheless, the pain persists. So, my night's plans had to be cancelled, and I am in bed, appropriately medicated, as darkness covers this area, and whatever clarity of detail was available earlier, now is only the stuff of imagination.

Tonight, I am imagining a world where we really took care of one another. Sort of like John Lennon's signature song. All of the attempts to "win," acquire things, "get ahead," compete, be "number one," or become rich, would have to fade away to where they belong, into the dustbin of meaninglessness, in my imaginary world.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.”-- Albert Einstein

Tonight, I once again honor the people who devote their lives to those who need their help, especially the volunteers all along the forgotten Gulf Coast. Our society may overlook you, but I never will. You all deserve Care packages.


People + People = More People

So, somewhere around 7:46 EST this morning, the U.S. passed the 300 million mark in population. At the onset of the Baby Boom Generation, in 1946, the U.S. only had around 140 million people. So, if it feels twice as crowded today as in your youth, it probably is, depending how old you are now. Every 11 seconds, we add a net one person to our total.

Half of all babies born in this country are not of the Caucasian persuasion.

Meanwhile, in China, the world's most populous country, it is estimated that there are now 60 million more males than females. That sounds like there are going to be a lot of frustrated guys over there pretty soon...

If it is true, as many female friends used to tell me, that it can be hard to find a good man, maybe in the not-too-distant future American women will be connecting via some sort of service with lonely Chinese men.

According to the New York Times, Link to story, thousands of young Japanese women are coming to the states, especially New York City, seeking a freer lifestyle than is possible for them back home.

What's clearly true is that there is a great drift of people, shuffling here and there around the globe. Shantytowns surround many Third World cities; refugee camps dot the landscape wherever major conflicts are taking place. The great waves of living and dying all add up to an ever-increasing global population. Only the demographics will shift.

The world of the rich is getting smaller, older, and whiter. The world of the poor is growing larger, younger, and multi-racial. The best promise of the US is that it could be one of the few truly multi-ethnic, multi-racial societies in the future, where it no longer much matters what you look like or where your ancestors came from.

The monopoly on power, as epitomized by our gallery of Presidents, all males, and all white, will have to eventually be broken. The time is overdue.


I started out by mentioning the Baby Boom. Those of us born between 1946-1964 doubled the total US population all by ourselves. Now the oldest Boomers are reaching the age of 60, and the youngest their mid-forties, this distinct group is putting its stamp on the political economy of the country.

The headlines are continuous. Have we saved enough? Will we 'break' social security? Will young people generate enough wealth to support the social compact with us as we age?

None of these heady questions concern me today. No, I am thinking about the question of dating.

Date within the Boom, I say. People aged 42-60 form a natural cohort: the post-war generation that established, for better or worse, the hegemony of the middle-class consumer culture in the developed countries. It is our styles, our music, our movies, our books, and our high divorce rates that largely define the social sector of the rich world now.

We dominate the top positions in the public sector, the private sector and the non-profit sector. Older people still abound -- our older siblings and some of our parents, though increasingly they are retired and withdrawing from active life.

Younger people, as is age appropriate, make a lot of noise and get a lot of notice.

But when it comes to finding love, my advice, FWIW, is date within the Boom. Don't date older people and don't date younger people. (Please, no outraged messages.)

After all, it's only my perspective. I'm agnostic, no positive, on same sex dating, inter racial dating, cross-cultural dating. The point is -- as it almost always is with me -- follow the numbers.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Write for your life

"If someone wants you, they should just tell you so." (A country song)

This day, like many, came and went in a physical sense, but it also had a story-like quality to it. Dropping the kids at school, with their backpacks and lunches, began the first of the day's many transitions. I had gotten a slew of text messages on my cell phone, one of them (as it turned out) from a colleague who had missed her bus to the train, meaning she would get to work late. The other messages seemed to be marketing pitches or words meant for another person. I was too confused while cooking breakfasts, finishing the hot part of the lunches (pasta, butter, grated cheese), showering, shaving and dressing, and bundling up both computers ( a Mac laptop and a PC laptop), to consider that my colleague’s message might actually be a plea for help. How easy it would have been to pick her up and get her to the office 45 minutes earlier than was otherwise possible for her.

It's small comfort, but a friend I used to send (flirtatious) messages to via text messaging never even bothered to answer; all she said was "you really suck at text messaging." So much so, apparently, she wouldn't even engage in harmless flirting with me, as I laboriously learned how to control those frisky buttons, even as she did so with others.

Not to worry. I had lunch with one of the loveliest, most idealistic young journalists I know: the kind of person we all once were, those of us who came out of the Sixties. She is almost 28 now, and her beauty and intelligence only grow with the passage of time. She is toiling for a newspaper, and suffering the all-too-common fate, these days, of an ever shrinking "news hole."

One story she told me broke my (journalistic) heart. She worked hard, gathering documents and sources for a story that, when properly constructed, ran to about 1500 words. Mind you, this is hardly long-form journalism. In my years at Rolling Stone, we frequently wrote 20,000 word pieces.

But those days are gone. My friend's story was too long, her editor told her, as she slashed it in half; perhaps 750 words were published.

After our lunch, I walked my young friend to her car, hugged her, picked her up (she is small and light), kissed her, and told her I love her. Because I do. I love her. Once, idealistic young journalists could look forward to a future where they might be able to make a difference; make things better. The "business" of news didn't force them to dumb down their work, cut it in half, leave out practically all of the documentation that would allow readers to draw their own conclusions and evaluate the reporter's work.

I hope my friend will continue to report and write far into the future, overcome the obstacles placed in her path, and follow her passions. She cares so deeply about the poor, and about kids, education, cities, the environment, justice, racial equality, families, and love. It made me happy to hear that her boyfriend is also a journalist and that he is good to her.

The future of journalism, wherever it lies in terms of technologies and channels, rests in the custody of people like her. Yes, I love her. We all should. Without journalists who care, we can expect all of our democratic institutions, albeit imperfect, to deteriorate further.


Tonight, I visited with my Baby Boomer memoir students and listened to their stories. This is perhaps the last American generation raised in a time when reading (and writing) was still the paramount communication method. The hegemony of film and TV were established during their childhoods, but most people spent much more time reading than watching TV, which in any event, was hardly the excessive supermarket of choice it is today.

In our childhoods, many of us experienced as much "snow" as we did content. Not only were there sometimes hours between shows; there were frequent technical breakdowns, rather like on today's Internet, but worse. Of course, as previously mentioned, the sound of that "snow" is actually the echo of the Big Bang -- such is the marvel of physics that we now know this to be true, though none of us did then. It just seemed like random sound, if somehow strangely compelling.

Now we know it is the echo of the sound of the birth of our universe. So, a wise acre could claim that while listening to a non-channel's buzz, he was actually studying physics and ancient, ancient history.

No one could refute his claim.

Anyway, I am a student among my memoir students. Their stories inspire me. Due to confidentiality, I cannot mention any of the particulars here. But I walk away from that class on Monday nights a richer man -- much richer in perspective than if I had only my own peculiar life to reflect upon.

After all, I live in an obsessive world of numbers, still, which is never a good sign, according to my therapists. Lately, for instance, I've been adding up my daughter's birthday days (of the month) (67 or 22.3 each) and comparing that figure with my sons (22 or 7.3 each.) It's like playing a mental football game. The girls win. Go Girls!

Then, I do the same exercise by age -- the girls total 64 (or 21.3 each); the boys 47 (15.7), so again the girls have it, but by a closer margin. Hmmm, I'm starting to feel bad for my sons.

Then, I cut it by birth month, and this gets more competitive. Girls 18 (ave. 6). Boys 20 (ave. 6.7). Go Boys!

I won't bore you with the geometry of their credit card sequences or any of the other formulae that convulse through my brain, seemingly at will.

Math games. That's one way I cope with stress. How about you?


Stories, like lives, begin. They have drama to them. They end.

This is the end of this one.


Algorithmic Rythms of Life

(Photos courtesy of Brian Castagne)

If to everything there is a season, there's nothing like being a middle-aged parent of growing children to sense when autumn is in the air. And, when your own parents have passed away in recent years, you feel yourself growing into their role -- as an elder -- in the family structure. Add to that the prospect of being a grandfather soon, and the picture becomes almost complete. You want to go out and buy some hair dye, some better-fitting clothes, and adjust your diet. You hope that to some people's eyes, at least, you still will be desirable.

In this context, it becomes clear you simply can't do everything you used to do. Feel one of those unnatural upwellings of strange pains inside your body, as I did this weekend, and all of a sudden, you're acutely aware of how vulnerable we all are; how our lives hang by a thread.

There simply isn't enough time left for all the living I would like to do. Nor for all the writing. If we are, as I claim, what we write, I'd like to quadruple this blog's content, for starters, so that over 1,000 entries could be posted here, cumulatively topping 500,000 words and probably 1500 images. Since I consider this now a "life journal," this has become the main place I'll document my time, my experiences, my feelings and my remaining dreams.

It will continue to be a delicate dance, balancing my own privacy and the privacy of others, with the quest to be unequivocally emotionally and factually honest. But, after all, that is a journalistic and a writerly challenge that is not unfamiliar to me, after forty years of publishing. So, I should be up to the task.

Meanwhile, those in the early spring of their lives conduct such a different dance -- soccer games, math homework, a phone call from a close friend who is a girl telling him her friends want to know whether he is "tall or short." His answer" Why do they want to know?"

It's all relative. One moment, he looks short, skinny, and young. The next he looks tall and wiry, with muscles sprouting on his upper arms. One moment he kisses me as he exits my car for school; the next, he is answering another phone call from a girl.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Courageous Actions

Thirty-two years after her mother's body was found floating in the Bay, my friend confronted the man who is the chief suspect in her murder today. I'll be more explicit about this case at some future point.

The man has written a book, apparently a pretty good book. Since his bad old days, when he ended up doing time for another (attempted) murder, he has educated himself, found a career, and in recent years established himself as a writer, as well. He's well spoken, intelligent, and appears today to be a respectable member of his community.

But he did not respond well when my friend asked him to comment about her mother's murder. He didn't answer her question, saying instead that he didn't know the woman. His comrades quickly asked friendlier questions right after he had dismissed my friend's query, and he gratefully went off in long-winded answers to those, never returning to mysterious murder case that happened on his watch, when by his own admission he was taking "military actions" on behalf of the organization he was loyal to.

Afterwards, a reporter went up to question him privately about my friend's mother's case. We'll see whether a story results. What I noticed as I observed this man from the audience today is that his eyes have a deadness to them -- I look I've seen before. It is a characteristic of killers of all types -- assassins, serial killers, and soldiers.

The good that was done today is this man now knows he did not really get away with murder. The case is still out there, ticking like a time bomb in case he, or someone close to him, makes a false step. The statute never runs out on murder...


My body is still hurting this evening with a strange pain in my back and side abdomen. I'll try to get that checked tomorrow. I cooked a less-than-successful meal of lamb shanks tonight for the kids -- they tried it but didn't really like it. Now, I'm sipping Sleepy Time Tea, hoping to do something I couldn't do last night, as is implicit in this product's name...


Sleepless in San Francisco

Coutesy of photographer Brian Castagne, these action shots of my red-headed soccer player add some brightness and color to a gray, cool, foggy Sunday morning. I'm still in bed in mid-morning, not out of laziness but some sort of sickness, or pain. It was a long night, little of it spent asleep. The darkness has given way to daylight, but not yet to blue skies, sunshine, or warmth.

I approach this day with trepidation. I wish I were well, but today I am not.

Technology has been breaking down around me lately, bringing with it that familiar sense of isolation and frustration. I love Skype but hate it when it suddenly falters. Usually the problem isn't Skype's fault at all, but our computers'.

If this pain subsides, I need to get out to Treasure Island and coach baseball; then to the East Bay for a bookstore reading by the man we believe killed my friends's mother.

Until then, the main reason I wrote this post was to feel a sense of connecting with the world, as I lie here alone.