Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seasonal Changing

Above photos courtesy of the brilliant Brian Castagne

The skies opened and started dumping rain over the Bay Area this morning, and it continues tonight. That made it a challenge for our young athletes playing in the final games of this soccer season, in the case of the orange-clad CRZ Fusion, for the championship of their division.

It wasn't to be. In the rain and mud, they played well but lost, 3-1. It was also a close, gutsy game for our red-clad SF United, who lost at the last moment, 2-1.

The great thing about kids who play sports is that even when they lose a big game and feel down (above), with a little encouragement from the photographers, they still can show plenty of spirit (below.)

Lots of writers like to say that they write because they can't do anything else. It's kind of a form of false modesty. Another school of thought (which I've been known to express) is that writers write because we have to.

So, what does it mean to be wired in such a way that you have to write?

Could it be that the stories inside your head have to be expelled by some sort of synaptic urgency? Quite seriously, what is this need to tell all about?

If it's a need to be seen, heard, or recognized, that wouldn't be so hard to psychoanalyze, I'm sure.

I'll offer an alternative scenario. Some of the urgency to write might be about the need to connect. It may not be very much about ego. It might be about how isolated and alienated we all can feel, from time to time, as if we are alone in our lives.


My father used to like to sing a certain song called "You'll Never Walk Alone." It was a song from the great 1945 musical Carousel, created by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

These are excerpts from that song, leaving out the religious references:

Along life's road
There will be sunshine and rain
Roses and thorns, laughter and pain
And 'cross the miles
You will face mountains so steep
Deserts so long and valleys so deep...

The path will wind
And you will find wonders and fears
Labors of love and a few falling tears
Across the years
There will be some twists and turns
Mistakes to make and lessons to learn
Sometimes the journey's gentle
Sometimes the cold winds blow
But I want you to remember wherever you may go

You'll never walk alone...

(The editing is mine.)


Friday, November 09, 2007


This is not San Francisco, it is a reproduction of a photo of San Francisco painted on the side of a truck parked at The Embarcadero.

There can be no replication of what we see around us. Photos are not real, though we easily forget that.

This is not Stockholm. It is a photo of Stockholm reproduced on a wall in the East Palo Alto Ikea store.

Are dreams real?

Are feelings real?

Did entire sequences of apparently verifiable experiences actually exist, or did we imagine them?

Are there ghosts? Angels? Why do people just show up sometimes? Why do others disappear?

How can everything about our lives be transformed in an instant, utterly beyond our control?

Who are we, anyway?

Most of us can say our name, list a profession, introduce those around us, identify our relatives. When we look in a mirror, we can recognize "ourselves." But in my experience and observation, those among us most certain of themselves ultimately are the least certain.

So much is unknowable. Hell, I consider myself a storyteller, but I cannot even say where my stories come from. They are true, I think, at least in an emotional sense.

Then again, like, a photograph, a story has to have structure. It needs a beginning, a pace, and it most desperately needs an ending.

So a story is like life. When it's alive, it has a beating heart, but when it's over, there is nothing left to say.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Return to the Farm

It's been over two years since my three-year position as a Visiting Professor at Stanford ended, and I've only been on campus two times since -- until today. Our weather has turned gloomy, so the campus seemed even more subdued than usual, with the heavy sky muting its vibrant colors and stately architecture.

Going back somewhere or another is something I always seem to be doing. Back to somewhere I lived or somewhere I worked. Usually the specific environments have remained much as I remembered them, but I, somehow, seem quite different now.

Accordingly, even though it was familiar, I saw Stanford with new eyes. The lines and angles, the vegetation, the uncrowded, leisurely pace. Compared to the bustle at a public university like U-C, Stanford has vast empty expanses. Comparatively few students occupy what is an extremely large space.

Few realize that Stanford was not supposed to be a private university. The school is named for the only son of the wealthy Stanfords -- Leland, Jr. After her husband dies, Mrs. Stanford was pushing for the school to be public and accessible to a broad slice of the public.

She met resistance from the administrators who had determined they would make better money if the college remained private. However, Mrs. Stanford had the power to get her way, and might well have, except for a shocking development.

On vacation in Hawaii, she died, quite suddenly. The examining coroner declared that she had been poisoned.

Then, something even stranger happened. The head administrator went to Hawaii, collected her body, returned it to California, where a new medical examiner said she'd died of natural causes.

The university's fate was sealed, and of course, it remains an elite, expensive, exclusive university to this day.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Rarely, if ever, do I write movie reviews. Book reviews, yes, but not films.

But this afternoon I saw a movie that was so stirring, I have to recommend it to anyone who visits this blog. The film is "Lars and the Real Girl." See it, if you can, please, and then write me what you think.

Though I very rarely, if ever, bother reading movie reviews, I just perused the Rotten Tomatoes site, which collates prominent reviewers' comments about films.

Although a few of these "film experts" reflected my views, most of them failed to comprehend, or at least express, the deep emotionality of this film.

Without even meeting these writers, I can sense that a story like this one scares them. My honest advice, should I meet them, is to get out of the film review business. They simply are not suited to it.

Don't read me wrong. I am not about to claim this movie is without its imperfections. There are plenty of aspects to criticize.

But to do so is to miss the main point, never a good idea for any writer.


Meanwhile, a young girl in Illinois has been punished for innocently hugging a friend.

And, yes, this "review" and that news story are directly related.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

For Whom The Polls Toll

In my neighborhood, polling stations are in garages. My Japanese buddy found this hard to believe. So I took her to my precinct's polling location so she could see for herself.

It was not exactly an exciting election. The two city leaders running for re-election, the Mayor and the District Attorney, were running unopposed.

Well, Mayor Gavin Newsom wasn't exactly unopposed. Also listed as options for the office he's held the past four years were a motley crew of political wannabes including a guy called Grasshopper and a "Nudist Activist" who's mad because the police keep arresting him for being nude in public.


The one county official running is the sheriff, who's held the office for so long it seems like he was probably here back in Gold Rush days. Someone is running against him this time, but it will be to no avail.

Then, there were the usual assortment of a dozen or so initiatives, none of which was exactly riveting or even particularly significant this time around. We were allowed to say whether we would like to have city-wide WiFi -- but the proposition has no practical impact.

Some of these measures were simply political digs under guise of policy changes. Others were Orwellian proposals that promised to accomplish one thing when they actually would result in the precise opposite outcome. This latter category of propositions are invariably funded by secretive big money interests.

Such is life in this political era in San Francisco. Nothing much happening.

Wait 'til next year!


photos by Junko Sasaki

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Story of One

Every day around this time (sunset), when I've finished with most of my daily chores and obligations, I sit down and think about what I want to write in this space.

Sometimes, it's easy and obvious. Other times (hint: like tonight) it's tricky. Rather than tumbling out of me like lava from a volcano, the words drip as if from a leaky faucet.

No, it is not always easy; in fact, much of the time it is very, very hard. But I write, almost every day, because I am a student of writing, and I know the only way for me to improve is to keep practicing.

Today's post began from a single image. In my backyard, I stared up at the plum tree with its rotting fruit and falling leaves and suddenly noticed a startling development -- one fresh new red ripening plum! (above)

I heard my lips whisper to my ears: How can this be?

It's supposedly winter here, or at least late fall. Once again, global warming comes to mind, always a scary thought. I hope that is not the explanation.

Here's what I hope. This little plum, arriving so much later than expected, is a special messenger, a visitor from Mother Nature, with a story to tell.

Maybe when (s)he first tried to develop, last spring and summer, there was no room for another plum in this world. The quota was used up, and (s)he was left waiting at the entry gate.

Then, courtesy of our unusually warm weather this autumn, our little friend spotted a chance to swell and sweeten and emerge alone on a nearly naked tree.

If so, this shall be the most special of fruits. I do not think I could eat it. But maybe, when it falls, I will dry and preserve it. In the interests of scientific inquiry.

Those who emerge against the odds, fighting for recognition long after their kind has fallen out of fashion, deserve a special consideration.

Don't you agree?


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bay City Sun Day

Every now and again, I rediscover the beauty of my chosen city. A lovely day dawns and I have new eyes. As Indian Summer continues here, the flowers, somewhat confused, are opening back up.

Us residents put our fall jackets and rain gear, so recently unpacked, back in the closet, and go out in shorts and T-shirts again. The most dramatic moments of heat occur at sunset and after, when the air is still, and the pollens and other natural (and unnatural emissions of the day) begin falling back to earth.

The heat of the earth, after hours of direct sunlight, even as the sun cuts an arc far closer to the horizon than in earlier seasons, rises up to meet, ever so gently, the moist cool air drawn inward from the Pacific Ocean.

In the coastal regions, in evening time, the fog forms, and as it does so, the breezes pick up until great billowing clouds of the stuff start streaming over the hills and through the Golden Gate, sucked in by a dry land like water by a parched man, lost in the desert.

An odd peacefulness settles over the City. In the night fog, your imagination can start playing games. Thus are born many a mystery story, and many a great mystery movie, set in the Barbary Coast.

This remains a city of sailors, adventurers, drinkers, artists, protesters, dreamers, fools, dopers, poets, singers, and a large class of those who dominate most cities, i.e., the Suits. You know, the bankers, the accountants, the insurance agents. The people, mostly young men, who appear to know exactly where they are going and why.

On the other hand, in the modern era, our city has filled up with geeks and nerds, the artists of their generation. Software programmers and database engineers. English majors who write code.

It's the dot.something era. A time when text messaging is emerging as our new international language.

There are reasons that this place, which is built into an environment almost too lovely for words, has emerged as the home of the technological revolution sweeping earth.

It's because here, poets meet mathematicians. Together, we create a vision that has a better chance than any other combination to save this planet.

Patterns, numbers, colors, and sex. Think about it.