Friday, December 30, 2011

Go Already, Year, Get Out of Here

Very soft, cold misting outside here, suitable for ushering a dying year to its grave. The sky is dull grey; the hills are obscured. The wetness makes the vehicles swish as they pass. The daylight, such as it is, escapes; the temperature falls further.

Back where I grew up, winter was a time of snow, ice, wind, fires in the fireplace. Here it is a mostly dull season, when the rains are supposed to fall, except when we have a drought.

This has been one of the driest Decembers on record.

But it also can be sunny and bright, if rarely warm in winter. Sometimes, when the sky is blue, the Bay Area serves as a beacon to those in the snow belt. Hell, even today's weather probably would appeal to them over what they often have back home.

The year just inches away, minute by minute. I don't know why, but this is always an extremely emotional time for me; I find myself taking stock personally of the year as it ends.

At some point, I just want to be rid of it, to close the books, and look back as little as possible going forward.

But for now I'm stuck with it, this measly representation of a 12-month standstill. The damn thing doesn't seem to have enough sense to speed up its departure, like a party guest that overstayed her welcome.

In the mist and the gathering darkness, the only sound left is that of my fingers tap-tap-tapping.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

From Us to You: Happy New Year

The year evaporates before our eyes. It's time to remember what has and hasn't happened during 2011 and to hope for better times ahead. It's time to say what we really want to say to one another.

Why hold back? Time is slipping away, and around 52 hours from now, the year will be gone, never to return.

A year ago, I would never have predicted that an entire set of 365 days could have come and gone without certain things happening. I would have thought that they had to happen.

And yet they didn't.

The silences, the absences, the unhappenings. They amaze me.

I wish more happenings had amazed me. There were a few, very special moments, that I will cherish.

But it is what it was. A disappointing year, at end. A year of few accomplishments, many sadnesses, including tragic losses. Of course, every year promises as much, but still, we begin anew every January expecting at least some sort of resolution of the unresolved issues from the year before, right?

The great confusions and disruptions of 2010 left me lost a year ago, seeking resolution that only others could provide. A year later, I'm still waiting.

No story is ever over until it's over. Nevertheless, one option left to you as the storyteller is to change the narrative arc, change its beginning and middle, once you realize you cannot affect its end.

You have, therefore, the power to decide that it never happened the way you used to think it happened.

That very special person you thought mattered so much was never really who you thought she was. She never fell in love with you, nor your words. In fact, she never even existed, now that you think clearly about it.

You see, she was nothing more than a figment of your over-active imagination.

Some would call this insanity.

I call it getting your history straight. Time may be running out on this calendar year, but in the realm of how our mutual history will be told, time is running out even more rapidly.

Time, in fact, is up.

Love, or what we thought of as love, dies and rots as certainly as does flesh and blood, muscle and skin. Dust to dust. When it reaches the very end, there is nothing at all left to say. Except that the story you both once thought you were creating, left unresolved, will never, therefore, be told. It will fade instead into nothingness.

Thus is all art, all magic, all life. Not all stories get told, only the special ones. Only the ones where both or all parties have the courage to be honest.

Happy New Year! May 2012 and the stories it brings contain more resolution than the nebulous, foggy ambiguity that will apparently be 2011's only enduring legacy, at least for you, and for me, and most permanently for us.

Happy New Year, once again, dear friends, listeners, and fellow travelers.


Your Memory is My Memory

A funny thing happened on the way from here to finishing the ebook I am writing on How to Write Your Memoir.

First, I should say, the book is now 28% done, which is much further along than I have ever previously gotten in one of these efforts. So maybe this one will ultimately come to fruition; at my present rate, somewhere late in Q-1, 2012.

Regardless, this is what happened. As I attempt to explain to people who presumably do not primarily -- or even at all -- consider themselves writers how to approach a memoir project, I find myself increasingly drawing on other people's stories, not necessarily mine, to illustrate the methodology that I think they should consider.

I include some of my own stories as well, of course, but as this phenomenon of using incidents from the lives of others has become apparent, I started wondering about it.

As a journalist, naturally, I've spent over four decades telling other people's stories, so there is nothing on the face of it that should be strange about any of this. But I now realize that I sometimes remember the stories others have told me about their lives more vividly than I remember my own history.

In this way, perhaps I have served as a receptor, a vessel collecting the memories of others in order to better pass them on to those who care about them, or in a universal way, to all of us who care about each other, collectively, in a manner that is both bigger and more enduring than the littleness that each of us presumes our own identity to represent in the greater scheme of things?

Maybe. I don't know. This is a new insight. There are so many stories I could tell you about other people. Stories of all kinds, including many they no doubt would prefer I not tell.

As for my own journey, after so many years listening and cataloging the world around me, I sometimes come up empty about the real me, the one who watches, witnesses, records, and describes, but in the end remains alone, invisible, unknown and just perhaps unknowable -- even by himself.

Which would be a tragedy, perhaps, unless his only true role was to tell your story, not his. In which case it would be a blessing, no?

p.s. Image above under consideration for cover of my book. Idea is that a memoir is but a slice of your life, much like seaglass. Feedback welcome.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Julie, Julia, Cal and Me

Maybe I no longer recall when or with whom I first saw the wonderful movie, Julie and Julia, but I often cook meals according to what I learned from it. Especially omelettes.

But there is also the question of pot roasts, and when it comes to cooking those, I turn to my oldest son for advice. He cooked a delicious pot roast for our extended family a few nights ago, just before Christmas, in Sacramento.

I may also used to have known how to cook a pot roast, but if so, I have forgotten, just as I have forgotten when or with whom I saw the movie I'm watching, off and on, tonight, while toggling between stations on my TV.

Why the back and forth? Because my oldest son's alma mater, Cal, is playing in a bowl game, and I want to root for his team to win.

Memory is a funny thing.

The space in your brain apparently becomes limited, so that you can only remember a finite number of things, or maybe you only want to remember certain things and forget others. So, faced with these two competing programs, and trying to balance watching both, my brain chooses to remember what my son cares about more than whoever that may have been who was with me the first time I saw Julie and Julia may have cared about.

So, back to the pot roast and back to the Cal game it is! Sorry Julie and Julia -- great movie, but maybe another time for the likes of you.


Monday, December 26, 2011

愛, not

Last night, walking back from a store with Gatorade for my daughter, a car drove past with mismatched headlights -- one whitish and one yellowish.

Walking to the grocery market last week, I passed two women helping a disabled woman walk near KQED. The woman they were helping could only make one sound over and over, which resembled a cat's meow.

The homeless man on my corner was sweeping up today, asking whether Christmas was nice this year. It's cold, very cold here.

A deep fog fell over the city last night. My daughter and I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on TV. After a good night's sleep, she started feeling better this morning and ate some cereal with milk.

It's the details, day in and out, that perplex me most. How time slows down and speeds up -- why does it act that way?

I gave myself a Christmas present -- the Japanese film Norwegian Wood, based on Murakami's novel. I watched it last night after my child was asleep, and again today. It's a tragic, haunting film, with a life-affirming ending.

It's all about the nature of love.

I've been eliminating foods from my refrigerator and cupboards lately -- lots of old items placed there by others, not me. As I discard each package, I examine it closely, wondering what the person who bought it saw in it.

Most of them are strange (to me) pastes, noodles, and sauces. They are perfectly good still, I'm sure, but since their purchaser(s) no longer visit this space, there is no reason for them to remain either.

As I recycle them, they join other ghosts to leave this place.

Since the latest water cooler disaster, I've relocated dozens of boxes of papers and files to the small bedroom, where no one sleeps. Slowly, I've opened some of the ancient yellow envelopes to examine what's inside.

Invariably, I'm amused to see what the younger me thought worthy of saving. So much paper! So much evidence of life lived! But probably no longer relevant to anyone or anything.

By far the trickiest stuff is all of my unpublished writing. I've already thrown some of it away, but I'm not sure if that was wise. There is plenty of it, some quite crummy, I'm sure; other drafts seem quite promising, even through my aged eyes.

When I was young, I wrote tons of poetry. I don't think any of it was ever published. Most of it I never showed anybody.

It is not good, I think, but it is an authentic representation of the feelings I was struggling to release as a young man. Maybe I should finally publish some of it here?

Other writings, fantasies, essays, unpromising novels -- all should perhaps be discarded. Except for a few of the essays -- it would be good to preserve my idealism from 40 years ago, I think.

There's a song playing in the background. What was thought to be the right way, turns out to be the wrong way after all.

What was that from?

Why do things become confusing at times? And then, all of a sudden, such clarity that it burns your eyes?

Where is the adjective that captures this, among all of the words available to me. Where is it? Or maybe it's a noun.

What is that word I am grasping for and why is it absent from my life?

Ah yes, now I remember: 愛


Sunday, December 25, 2011


It's been a good one, with lots of family time. Two of the kids have only been able to partially enjoy it, however -- my oldest son and youngest daughter have been very sick with stomach ailments. I've been taking care of my youngest all day and she's also spending the night here, and that makes this one of my favorite Christmases of all. She's bundled up on my couch with blankets, and we're watching movies on TV.

We did have a very scary moment yesterday, on Christmas Eve, when my youngest son fainted, and then, trying to get up, fell back again, hitting his head hard against the wall.

This scared all of us a lot. Was it a seizure of some sort or just a case of a teenager fainting?

For his part, true to form, he was just embarrassed to have caused us trouble and drawn unwanted attention to himself. He's such a brilliant young man, a reader, a thinker, a lover of history.

His intellect is truly amazing, but does not always translate into high grades at school. This is one of the reasons I am skeptical about schools, not to mention teachers. If any teacher of any subject cannot hold his interest long enough for him to earn a high grade, as a long-time teacher myself, I believe it is the teacher's fault.

I hope and believe it was just a fainting episode. Teens faint often. Sometimes it's low blood sugar or dehydration.

But whenever your child has a sudden health problem you become worried. So this has been a Christmas of worry for me as well.


Life is complicated. One perspective on Christmas allows people like me, with no religious orientation, to enjoy it. The way this works is to consider it a time to better connect with family and friends.

I've done a good job connecting with family this Christmas, but less so with friends. It can be hard, in our society, to maintain very many intimate friendships. I've tried, for years, but when it comes down to it, for most of the years since my marriage broke up I have tried to rely on one special friend, as opposed to a community of friends.

Many men make this mistake; fewer women, in my observation.

This is the second Christmas in a row, therefore, that there is no one special friend for me to share the holiday spirit with.

I suppose, when it comes around to New Year's resolutions, I should address this issue. Soon it will be time to envision what 2012 might be, and what each of us should try to do to make the most of the next year, should we be granted enough more time to experience it here on earth.

First and foremost, I always hope and wish for my children's and grandchildren's health and safety and success.

After that, I have to get to the hard part -- me. And that, of course, is the problem.