Saturday, April 28, 2007

Poetry in Motion

"Every word has its big letter and its little letter." -- Bob Dylan

The air is hot and sultry over the Mission District of San Francisco tonight. My computer claims it is 70 degrees here, but it has been known to wrong about these kinds of things before.

I take my cues from the birds singing out back, the flowers opening themselves like entryways to heaven, coaxing the bees to insert their members deep inside, bringing about the sweet ecstasy of reproduction, just as it is meant to be.

This is a weekend of visits by youths -- my own children, and some former students. The beauty of their idealism is stunning. The vulnerability they share frightens me to my core.

I won two tickets to the ballet tonight in an office raffle yesterday; they are orchestra seats, in row two. But, as it turned out, I had no one to go with, so I gave the tix to a former student and her boyfriend, who rode through the afternoon heat on their bikes here to fetch them.

I decided that I would prefer being home, cleaning the bottles from my back-yard privy, circa 1880, and watching the Giants play baseball on TV. I'm eating the kind of snack only I seem to enjoy: kumquats and wasabi peas.

Life is good, while it lasts. We all move along a timeline from our birth to our death. Some of us live a long time; some a short time. Where you are on the spectrum of expectation is not only a matter for actuaries but for poets.

Every word has a big letter and a little letter. Bob said that. Every life has its big moment and its little moment. I said that.


California Son

It got to be 80 degrees yesterday, and today feels even hotter. Our kids won their soccer game on a windless field; as snack parent, I doled out croissants, tangerines, string cheese, and water afterwards to the sweaty, red-faced boys in orange and black.

There was some ugliness instigated by the parents and coach of the other team, who alleged unfairnesses that in fact (as verified by the referee) were simply good, clean soccer playing.

For a moment it appeared several testosteroning men might come to blows and I found myself approaching those involved as a peacemaker. But the referee got there first and warned the angry, red-faced men to back down.

It's sad for kids to see this happen; they feel the burden. As much as I love my kid, and want them to do well, I try to always remember that this is his life I am witnessing, not mine. Any feelings that revolve around me should remain within me. Can't say I always was capable of such restraint, but the older model is the wiser model, at least in this regard.

The state flower poppies out all over California today. The baby plums are swelling on my back yard tree. The roses are opening, the bees are at work, the birds sing and people in the city go about weekend routines.

From winter to spring to summer here -- it all happens so fast! Then, as we all know, the heat will peak and meet the colder air rushing in from the Pacific, pulling the whitest wave of fog on earth over the coastal range, through the Golden Gate, and into the alleyways of this city poised on the tip of a peninsula jutting out northward into the ocean above a fault line that never sleeps.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Buds and Petals

It's the season of new growth, all around me, as colors, shapes, smells, and sounds emerge to fill the landscape that had been emptied by fall and winter.

Into this mix comes MyWire , with its bold red and ambitious reach to embrace the entire world of content.

One day soon, if all goes well, anyone anywhere can do what those few of us who are editors at MyWire currently do -- browse the world's great publications on a daily basis, and create collections of material on any topic we choose.

The product itself is based on the premise that, now we have entered the global information age, many people will be motivated to use the powerful new IT tools we have been developing in Silicon Valley to get involved in bettering the world.

Why do I say that? Perhaps an example will help. Scientists and a few writers were warning about global climate change and other planetary disasters 30 years ago. Those of us doing that work then often had to travel to distant points of the globe to gather the evidence to support our case.

Today, all you need to do is enter a few keyboard strokes. I don't think it is surprising that now we can communicate globally, we are starting to think globally. Thus, issues long simmering in obscurity now have burst into full view, front and center.

Sharing information and contacts and creating networks of concerned global citizens -- this is the work of the 21st century -- and the only way that humanity will save itself.

Twenty years ago I attended conferences with titles such as "The Fate of the Earth." There were those who scoffed at such notions, as if even contemplating these types of questions was folly.

Today, the scoffers have for the most part been silenced. The political results of their apathy, however, have saddled this country with a Do-Nothing administration that remains hostile to environmental issues.

The next election may seem to be between candidates, parties, money and power. But what hangs in the balance is whether Americans are willing to join the world community and get to work on the real issues while there still may be time.

That whisper you hear in the wind is the voice of nature: "Will you survive?"


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Spring Dreams

Last week, one rainy night, as I made my regular pilgrimage to the nearest supermarket, Safeway, about five blocks north of here. Here is the grocery list pinned to my cart that night.

Lest you think this was mine, please note the neat, deliberate handwriting, not to mention the food items on this list. My lists are usually in my head, partly because I can't make out my own handwriting (always a problem for a reporter). When they exist, my shopping lists are never this relaxed, almost leisurely.

Plastered, as it was, inside my cart that night, this list seemed to beg me to photograph it, so I did -- in honor of its unknown author. Even grocery lists can be seen as art in our time. As a big fan of Found magazine, I offer this scrap of paper as one of those random snapshots of our collective daily life.


Since it is baseball season, a certain portion of my energy every day and night is reserved for following my favorite team, the Giants, and my fantasy baseball team, the Mud Lake Mafia.

The MLM, after rising as high as 7th place, have tonight retreated to 12th, but they seem to be competitive, and could finish anywhere between 6th and 14th this season.

The Giants, as of tonight, have won seven in a row. Barry Bonds is hitting home runs night after night, including a first-inning three-run shot against the Dodgers tonight that helped seal the deal. He already has seven big flies, and is tied for the National League lead. That's 741 for his career, and just 14 behind Hank Aaron on the all-time list.

Meanwhile, after a terrible start, the Giants are in second place, just one game behind the Dodgers!

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Moving on

I think my kitchen window is quite pretty (don't you?) in the twilight this spring. When my time passes, and I can no longer create such scenes, somewhere on earth a soul with a similar sensibility will be born. (S)he will also love color, as I do, and smokey seaglass, and the angle of light in late afternoons, the shape of candlesticks, the interply between glass and wood, water, dye, shape and size all sharing a common platform, a simple white shelf.

As I have aged, I occasionally have wondered what kind of obituary my passing might yield. There is plenty of material in what I have done -- interesting jobs, writings, awards, etc.-- but if I could write my own story it would focus on less-known things.

The favorite moments of my life, for example, have been the times I have had the chance to actually help somebody else. I've advised many young writers to pursue their passions, introduced people to each other, written recommendations, and done whatever little things I could to move someone's career along.

None of this can be documented, nor would I wish it to be. In my view, all of us should be primarily focused on how to help one another, as opposed to competing and undermining each other. If karma exists, we will achieve our rightful rewards.


Above all else, I am proudest of my life as a father of six special people. That work is something all of us who have done it, women and men alike, know is a thankless yet the most rewarding enterprise of all.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Big Relief followed by Small Joys

Yesterday, I awoke to the unwelcome news that a strong earthquake had hit Santiago, Chile. The rest of the day I worried about my oldest child, since that is where she has been living the past couple years. But my feeling was that she was okay, and after a fitful sleep last night, this morning's email brought welcome news, in the form of her voice.

She slept through it. (The above photo captures a sense of her magnificent energy, even at age 17 months.)

Fighting my mid-day sleepiness, I walked for a while, appreciating the pink and yellow blooms on the ice plant, now that spring seems to be gaining the upper hand over the rains and fogs and bitter winds that continue to cut through this city.

Sunset is a peaceful time, and I continue to experiment with colors in small bottles, savoring how they catch the fading light.

Given that the Presidential election is still 1.5 years away, it seems rash to draw this conclusion, but increasingly, I sense that it will be Obama vs. Giuliani. What an odd couple to compete for what is reputably the most powerful job in the world.

Boris Yeltsin has died. My only visit to Moscow was less than a year after his famous gesture, standing atop a tank and refusing to let a half-hearted Communist coup undermine his decision to help his country to transform into a free-market democracy.

David Halberstam also has died, just a couple years after lending his celebrity to the Center for Investigative Reporting's annual fundraising event. That makes two such losses in the past year -- Molly Ivins being the other keynote speaker who recently passed on.

In the world that is baseball, Barry Bonds leads the National League in homeruns at age 42. But his feats, while spectacular, are overshadowed so far by "A-Rod," the controversial Yankee who has 14 homers in 16 games!

Even if Bonds, who now has a career total of 740, breaks Hank Aaron's record (755) later this season, he will have to be aware of the footsteps of A-Rod, who may well blow away all of these big numbers.

Since both of them are presumably sugar-free (i.e., without steroids) now MLB is testing for performance-enhancing drugs, and neither man would risk his place in baseball history to slip up now -- right -- this promises to be potentially an extremely memorable HR race. The younger guy in New York and the old guy in San Francisco, each pursuing legends and the closest thing to immortality that sports can provide...


Sunday, April 22, 2007

The dying rose

Our young athletes, yesterday, won their soccer game, 3-1. Other parents are surprised when I tell them that this artificial turf field (Franklin Square) where our sons play was, half a century ago now, the baseball stadium where Willie Mays and the Giants played for the first seasons after they relocated from New York's Polo Grounds.

As everyone close to me knows, I love seaglass and color and bottles. Tonight, I combined these passions at sunset in the window above my kitchen. It was a lovely evening, warm and hopeful, as I shot these bottles filled with water dyed by food coloring.

This photo captures my sadness -- it is the dying rose.

My housemate and I walked around the building and the yard today, discussing our earthquake preparedness plans. A few days ago, the 101st anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake on April 18, 1906, was duly noted here. This particular property, deep in the bedrock Mission, was not destroyed, but most of our city was.

We agreed, my neighbor and I, that we have the basics in place. Between us, we have many gallons of water, canned foods, medicines, candles, matches, flashlights, batteries, propane stoves, propane barbecue units, and so on. But she reminded me that one extremely valuable item to have on hand after a disaster is cash.

The ATM machines and the credit card authorization units would probably not be working after a disaster.

Luckily, I told her, I have been hoarding coins forever and must therefore have several hundred dollars worth of quarters, dimes, and nickels, not to mention my many thousands of pennies.

Here, we are always aware we are living on borrowed time.