Saturday, June 13, 2009

Perdure Artists, Young & Old

I've been remiss, here at Hotweir World Headquarters, to announce that we now are proud that we have a Family Crest, courtesy of my youngest child. She made it in art class, naturally, and it seems particularly appropriate, given that most such crests celebrate arms, strength, valor and the like, that she chose for our family's values "art, art, art."

There is a book and a palette of paints, plus writing and painting implements.

Then there are two additional pieces of original art, intimate themes that have captured her own imagination since she was very young: a lone island in the ocean, and a verdant landscape.

In both, the sun shines brightly. (To view detail of this crest, click on the small image above.)

Her sunny optimism, as a person, stands in sharp contrast to her aged father's deep sense of gloom about the actual state of our shared world and circumstance, not to mention a lifetime's worth of depressions that sweep over me like the waves in her picture that caress that tiny island.

Out of this oppressive darkness, however -- sometimes slowly and painfully, other times rushing like the wind -- come these words. Hundreds of thousands of words in thousands of journal entries, known as aka blog posts.

If any visitor wonders what this particular blog is "about," the only answer is that if I knew I would tell you, for sure. At best, all I know is that it is in the process of becoming...something.

A story. Maybe alive, maybe dead. Maybe a story without any ending. Possibly a story lacking a beginning.

But it did begin, over three years ago. It was born of the utter darkness and desperation of a depression that could not be endured "alone." Thus, I wrote.

Thus, I continue to write. Now, I have a cheerful Family Crest to remind me of the powerful reasons to perdure.

Love. Family. Art.


Life With Books

(Six books for $9)

Of course the old print publishing industry is beginning to show signs of collapse, just as is happening with newspapers and magazines. And electronic readers are improving so rapidly that it will not be long until many of us begin to relinquish our romance with our bookshelves.

But, for now, those of us who relish the ideas and thinking that great books contain still respond to an opportunity to sift through thousands of titles of a curated collection. That's what I did today, courtesy of the Friends of the SF Public Library's "Mission Book Sale."

If you're in the Bay Area, you could add it to your list of outings tomorrow, between 10-4. Here's the address:

John O’Connell High School
2355 Folsom Street
At 20th between Harrison and Folsom

Odds are, I'll be there again myself...


Friday, June 12, 2009


It was Until There's a Cure Night in San Francisco, and the SF gay men's chorus performed beautifully in pre-game ceremonies.

It was a beautiful night & the kids were excited to go to our first game of the season.

Everyone was anticipating the Cy Young Award winning Tim Lincecum pitching for the Giants.

From the beginning, he was sensational.

Strike after strike. Zero after zero on the scoreboard.

The Giants played good defense. Lincecum drove in their first run.

The crowd got louder as the game went deeper.

Baseball fans on Friday nights are usually the most knowledgeable of all week. Friday nght is a serious baseball night for fans.

The clouds at sunset looked like cotton candy, said my daughter.

When Lincecum struck out the final batter in the 9th inning, the place went crazy. The Giants won, 3-0, Lincecum threw his third career complete game and his second shutout -- all at home, on a Friday night, against the cross Bay rivals in an inter-league game with a big crowd.

I saved our tickets for their memory boxes.


Week Up, Week Down

Their first week out of school, the kids have spent with me. Luckily, I only had one business meeting scheduled, so we've had a sustained opportunity to both hang around the house and explore the city.

It's just fine being a tourist in your own city. There's a good reason all those people from the Midwest and Europe and China like to visit this area.

Besides, on cold summer days, nothing tastes better than hot chili in a sourdough bowl.

And on cold summer nights, nothing is better than sitting inside the Club Level glass windows at the Giants' Park on McCovey Cove.

But now begins one of those weeks that, even many years after the breakup of a marriage, weighs on me.

They'll be off at a camp we used to visit as a family.

I'll miss them, and I'll miss being there with them. This is the kind of loss that cannot and will not be replaced. Time. Time is also growing them up, of course. Even if I was there, they would mainly hang out with their friends, which is a good thing.

But time, for me, is no longer a good thing.

I'm stuck in a time warp, remembering a time that will not return. And completely alone in a foggy city. It will be a week with radically different feelings than this one has.

And a week to endure the silence that engulfs this place whenever they leave.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Our World Courtesy of Public Art

These murals inside Coit Tower in San Francisco were painted by artists under the auspices of public works projects funded by government under the New Deal.

It's time we had a new initiative of this sort.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great Non-Profits.Org

Long-time readers of this blog know that part of its genesis was my desire (read: compulsive need) to write about a number of topics, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as I witnessed with my own eyes late in 2005 and early in 2006.

Just so none of us ever forget that what we do matters, and that all of our actions, large or small, have consequences, tonight I republish this lovely "backstory" about the origin of a wonderful non-profit organization, Great Non-Profits, where I am a board member.

Its founder, the charismatic Perla Ni, wrote this piece:

Why the Voices of People Directly Served by Nonprofits Matter

When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was the publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review , and we wanted to write a story about how nonprofits were helping the victims. Even though we had access to far more information than the ordinary donor or volunteer, we found it difficult to find out exactly which nonprofits were doing a good job of helping those in need.

We only started to get a clearer understanding of which nonprofits were actually rising to the challenge when our former managing editor, David Weir, flew out to Biloxi, Miss., and walked up and down the streets, asking people which nonprofits had been out there helping them. The locals told him about several excellent small local nonprofits that provided supplies and help. One guy told him how he had broken his leg and had been living in his car until volunteers from a local nonprofit came and found him and took him to the doctor. The local nonprofit in that case was unknown to the larger world and received little public attention or funding. (David's article ended up being published in Salon.)

In general, there isn't a lot of media coverage for local nonprofits, and when there is, it's usually to uncover a scandal rather than to highlight nonprofits that are doing excellent work.

I've gotten to know a lot of nonprofits and most of them are honest and hardworking. And some of them do darned great work. I've known nonprofits personally as a client of their services. My family had $100 when we immigrated and countless nonprofits helped us. If you look at photos of me when I was a kid, practically everything I wore came second hand from nonprofits. My cavities got filled for free at a nonprofit community dental clinic.

So I know how much the help of a nonprofit can mean.

It struck me, as I struggled professionally to find great nonprofits for our magazine to write about, that there needed to be an online "Zagat," if you will, for nonprofits that would collect stories and reviews of people -- people like me, the victims of Katrina, and hundreds of thousands of others -- who have seen the impact of nonprofits up close, and can speak personally and firsthand about it. (An article by Bill Meehan had proposed such an idea a year ago.)

So many donors and volunteers want to know if their giving is going to make a difference. Come help others discover what a difference their involvement in a nonprofit can make.




Tuesday, June 09, 2009


On the first Monday of summer vacation out came the blocks for their first use in a long, long time. An hour later, Boxville had sprung to life, with a train circulating around the village.

Out in our global village, as I returned home from shopping today, I had to park a block over (due to street cleaning restrictions) where a passing woman asked me for a dollar. "I just job," she explained. I didn't have a dollar bill but I gave her my change, which came to 62 cents.

She examined the coins closely and thanked me.

"I lost my job five months ago," I told her.

"How long does unemployment last?" she asked.

"A long time, that's one of the good things Obama has done," I answered. "And you should qualify if you were laid off."

"Oh, Obama," she pronounced his name slowly, as if she hadn't heard about him in a while.

"There are a lot of people out of work," I continued. "The official figures say 10 percent but that's only the people who report in. I wouldn't be surprised if it is really closer to 20 percent."

"When will it get better?"

By now I was turning the corner, and she was heading straight. "A long time," I called over my shoulder. "Good luck to you."

Monday, June 08, 2009

President Barack Obama, despite his massive favorable ratings in all popular opinion polls, has to date failed to live up to his campaign promise to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a discriminatory military policy that not only discriminates against our many gay and lesbian soldiers who are faithfully serving our country in the most dangerous places overseas, but continues to be used as a hypocritical basis to drum them out of their jobs -- all out of sexual discrimination.

Obama needs to act quickly if he is to retain the credibility he needs, and deserves, to continue to implement many other policy changes that we all would agree are necessary.

Of course, Obama faces many competing pressures. This one, however, is not one to be dismissed by his political advisers. This one requires an act of principle.


Crazy Duck

My neighbor rescued a baby pigeon that fell out of its nest a month or so ago, and raised it in her flat. The birds mature extremely rapidly, and once he was big enough to fly, she started bringing him outside, into our backyard.

She calls him Crazy Duck. He's got the freedom to go wherever he wishes, and every day he disappears for hours at a time. But he always returns to one of his spots -- on a light fixture or in an earthen pot filled with dirt on her back porch -- and waits for her to appear to feed him.

He is the only pigeon we've ever seen out back. Around here, the pigeons seem to hang out on the sidewalks and telephone wires; doves live in the backyards. We've noticed Crazy Duck palling around with the doves, one small female seems to have possibly taken a fancy to him. (If so, it's mutual.)

That's all there is to this story, for now.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Transition: Summer

The Summer Solstice may be a ways off, still, but the real start of summer has arrived, because school's out. Everything's in bloom; there's lettuce in the garden. It's a good time to grill burgers, to listen to the baseball game on the radio.

I tell my friend the Giants are in Florida, playing at Land Shark Stadium. A non-native English speaker, she hears it differently. "Lamb Shank Stadium?" I hesitate a beat. Hmmm, that seems like a better name for the joint, actually.

Then my conscience takes over and I correct her. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

I think about my career, and what has been constant, as opposed to those pieces (called jobs) that are always changing. It seems that forever I've been a writer, a teacher, a listener.

Those are the ever-present aspects.

Since January, I have had no employer. Five months. Last time it took 9 months between jobs, but now it seems almost pointless to look. My profession is in disarray, its fabled institutions teetering on the edge of failure.

The print publishing industry is going the way of the automobile industry.

There are other issues. I'm not sure I want to work for another person again. That feels like something more possible at an earlier stage of life. Now, by contrast, I am firm in my ideas, my analysis, aware of the fallacies that fuel employment.

I like small organizations, where each person's actions really matter, and where nobody just "floats." Small business represents the best of America, as do small NGOs. Nothing big in this country is really good, or reliable.

Bigness breeds contempt for others. It creates a greenhouse for arrogance, a rationale for inactivity, and presents huge barriers to creative thinking. I work with small or mid-sized organizations when I can; they're much more compatible with my style.

I'm turning into an elder. By previous generations, I would already be an elder, except when it come to Baby Boomers of a certain stripe, none of the old rules have ever applied to us.

My father retired around my age. Retirement? Now there's a sick joke.

But I don't care, because my primary work -- writing, teaching, listening will continue as long as I am sentient. After that, presumably I will still be listening.