Saturday, May 21, 2011

These Days

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Today (Family)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Silence Descends

My neighbor friend fixed the new doorknobs that replaced those that refused to work any longer -- a small thing, perhaps, but earning my deep gratitude (plus some small presents I will accumulate for him) in return. My daughter and I got cookies after school from a nearby shop. Tender little onion shoots are visible now in the front and back of the house and way back in the garden.

Just small moments from a day. It's never easy being ill, and you can't blog much during a period of illness. Off of pain medications, however = a good thing. The world is very quiet; sometimes it seems everyone has forgotten you, but most likely they are just caught up in their own noise.

I've got writer's block this week -- professionally and personally. Nothing important to say to anybody. Just trying to absorb yesterday's tragic news that the brother of a friend has brain cancer that is inoperable.

A good man, a good husband, father, brother and member of the community, someone I have deeply respected for decades. One more reminder that there is no fairness or justice in life.

Another story with no meaning for children; no lesson to be learned, no silver lining, no nappy ending.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dreams of our Fathers; Dreams of our Mothers

As I continue to clean this place out, discarding whatever can be discarded in preparation -- for what? -- I don't know. Let's just say it is a time to get rid of whatever doesn't really matter.

Today, I came across this, an ancient photo album of my parents, with photos from the 40s and 50s. Pandora's Box.

That's me and my sister Kathy in a tiny backyard blow-up pool. Must have been in our backyard in Royal Oak.

That's me with my first girlfriend, Susie. As far as I know, neither of us ever told the other a lie, which means our relationship was unique, and superior to my adult relationships with women.

Here's my parents in the center of a gathering of the executives and their wives at the company where my father worked in Bay City in the 60s.


Every now and again, not too often. I wonder what my parents would think of the man I've become. The basic outlines of my trajectory were well-established by the time they passed, of course, including the primary fact that I have six children, but they knew nothing of the chaos of my last eight years.

As far as they understood it, my later years were settled -- married to a lovely woman, happy to be raising a second family, proud of how well my first three have turned out, professionally and financially secure, a homeowner with a solid career and plenty of options going forward.

By living 2.5 years longer, my Mom got to glimpse a bit more of what was to come than my Dad. He never knew about 9/11, or the collapse, or my appointment to the faculty at Stanford. He never got to meet my youngest child.

But as far as my Mom knew, all was more or less fine in my realm, and that's as it should be. After all of their hard work raising a son like me, I hope the last thing either of my parents had to be concerned about on their way out of this place was my sorry state of affairs.

Another way to look at it is that they missed the best, which always was to come. The past eight years, though filled with chaos, have finally allowed me to emerge as the writer I have always been (even though very few people seem to yet know about that!)

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, documents that to be an expert at anything, you have to have devoted at least 10,000 hours (or 30 years at the rate of one hour a day; 15 years at the rate of two hours a day, etc.), but that once you do so, it is inevitable that you will become an expert.

Thus, I hereby declare myself an expert! I figure I have devoted somewhere around 30,000 hours to honing my craft, so this is about as good as I am likely to get.

Still, neither of my parents ever contemplated that they had birthed a writer. Even as I went away to college, that role had never crossed their minds or their lips in discussions with me about what I might become.

I think of this now and again, not regarding myself at all, but about my own precious children. All that my parents ever hoped for me, I believe, was to be myself, however tortured and complicated that might turn out to be. I actually think they loved me for who I was (and still am) and that they thought I was special somehow.

That's how I have tried to love my kids, all six. Oh, I've had dreams and visions of who they might become, but the older three have already long exceeded any of what I might have imagined for them; and the younger three are well on their way of doing the same.

Mainly, if you asked me my parenting philosophy, I do not want to get in their way. It's a different era than when I was young, and my parents did get in my way, now and then, though I suspect not as much as they got in my sisters' way to being who they needed to be. Such was the nature of the gender double-standard when we were young.

With what time I may have left, short or long, all I wish to be is an enabler of my children's dreams. Not my dreams. Their dreams. And I hope they will always know how proud I am of them as they evolve into exactly the people they decide to become.


Life's a Beach

The handsome, smiling young man striding across the soccer pitch greets me, "Professor?" One of my former students from Stanford, an all-American tennis player who went on to compete at the highest levels in the world until a devastating shoulder injury ended his career.

Now 28, he is rebuilding his new life in finance in the Valley. I'll see him again soon.

The young Indian woman calling on Skype from Denmark is researching the horrible industrial disaster that obliterated a community of poor people in Bhopal, India 26 years ago. Trying to be helpful, I referred to the work my team and I did to produce The Bhopal Syndrome a few years after the tragedy.

Reclaiming my city block by clock by clock. It is my Japantown, has been since 1971. Prowling the bookstore, the grocery store, the mall, the theater. These places all belong to me and I visit them often, because one of our regular soccer fields sits nearby and I have the time to kill.

Happened on a cute little farmer's market yesterday, but I'd already bought lunch -- spicy tuna roll at the grocery store.

It's my Fillmore Street, site of my first office and second apartment.

It's my Haight. People want me to meet them there all the time, so I'm constantly in the cafes and shops and up and down the streets of that neighborhood, where I lived starting in 1973. Neighborhood belongs to me. They've gone upscale,. especially around Cole Valley, where I nearly bought a house. Whole Foods where the old Cala used to be.

It's my park, every corner of it.

It's my downtown strip -- Market Street. There all the time, into the discount clothes shops and close to where my classroom is located for teaching memoor to seniors, when I am doing that.

It's my ballpark, my waterfront, my Presidio, my Dogpatch, and of course my Mission District. This is my home turf but all the other places I frequent are an extension of this central location.

"That's me in the corner...That's me in the spot-light..."

I'm out so often, day and night, because my tech blog is growing and gaining momentum and there are more people to meet and talk to than one person can do seven days a week. A huge boom is occurring here not only in tech but in other areas I love, like the underground food movement. That is also my area, as are live entertainment venues, lectures, conferences, bookstores, all sports fields, all schools, but absolutely no churches.

I leave the churches for others.

But nothing I have ever given anybody, none of my time, no entree, can devalue the primary claims to space, subject and matter.

Ownership was established a long time ago. And an owner has the right to share but ultimately to take away as well.

Of course, this is folly, fantasy -- no one can own something as large and vibrant and dynamic as a large city. So what is meant is it sometimes becomes necessary to reclaim your turf, block by block, from the shadows that have too long haunted the places you used to go. The best way to do that is to just go there, reclaim it all, and establish a presence where the shadows slink away to where they belong -- on the cold, dark, lonely side of the street.

Besides, there are new, better people to share all of this with, people hungry for your knowledge and history. That history, too, is yours and yours alone to tell. You can write whomever you wish out of your own personal history.

Only those who deserve their place in history get one. The others can dwell endlessly in the shadows, from where they emerged, and to where they've most decidedly returned.

Happy Weekend!