Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tap, Tap, Tap

My youngest son played the part of a pharmacist the other night at the concluding ceremony after his three-week internship at the UCSF medical school.

Summer is a time when you try to expose your teenaged kids to as many useful experiences and people as possible. My son is one of 19 kids who were accepted into the program at UCSF, and although he occasionally grumbled about having to get up early, I could tell the substance of the course (all things medical) did interest him greatly.

He's a naturally cerebral, curious guy, who reads widely and and constantly about all sorts of topics. A career in the academy and/or science might make sense; in medicine perhaps also. His main medical-related subject of interest seems to be psychology at this point.


The kids are going off for the weekend with their Mom, so what normally would be a busy Saturday today has become a quiet day, unfilled with obligations. The only errand on my list I've already accomplished -- buying and wrapping presents for my three-year-old grandson, whose party is tomorrow.

So now I'm keeping an eye on the Olympics games on TV and writing in my journal.

What should I write about today?

How about love?

Now my audit appears to be over, and my book is out, two preoccupations for the past months can be replaced with new ones. I can already tell that writing of this sort, the personal type, is rushing back into my life, filling the void.

I must have been holding back -- I know I was holding back, during a period when I felt my life was on hold. That's what it's like to be under investigation by any authority. You don't know how bad it could get.

Even having done nothing wrong, I feared somehow getting caught up in the bureaucratic system that deals injustice every day of the year. The psychological pressure was so severe at times I had trouble sleeping, or concentrating on anything else.

But now, feeling relieved, I'm contemplating life through a new lens. How would I wish to live my life if I could?

One thing for sure is I want to see friends more often -- both old friends and new ones.

So I've started the process of reaching out and reconnecting with people, and also opening up to new people.


It's funny how when two people meet and begin sensing, even vaguely, the possibility of a romantic connection together, they tend to tell each other their stories.

Particularly, the stories of their previous relationships.

When we're young, those stories may not be very complicated or numerous, but by middle age, they tend to have become seriously complex.

Decades past that, all sorts of starts and stops and breakups and beginnings mush together in your mind to the point you may sense some patterns.

For me, the sweet pattern of sharing our past love stories is one of our good traits.

It would be difficult for me to be with someone who was extremely angry or bitter about her past loves. I've come to know that no one can stay in that kind of foul mood for long without poisoning the rest of their life and undermining any new relationships they might be capable of.

Love is, of course, the most basic story for writers. Not always in the healthiest of ways. Because we may be prone, at times, to be more transfixed by the story of our love than the love itself -- by that I mean the relationship itself.

Stories are great, but they can't beat the real thing.

Nevertheless, people of all sorts have been writing love stories and love songs forever -- all over earth -- in every culture and language.

The degree of subtlety varies. Some feel free to explicitly describe their loves; others employ metaphor and symbolism.

Now that I'm older, I feel free to share my stories with people I meet, after a decent interval, of course, even when there is no sense of any potential romantic involvement. I take this as a sign that my understanding of "love" has broadened, and now some of the intimacy I used to save for my lover can be shared with other, more casual friends.

Maybe this is part of my own evolution, this particular year, under these particular conditions.

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, with the Olympics playing in the background, on mute, the sounds of my fingertips tapping on a keyboard soothes me. I'm writing yet another story, hoping it helps someone somewhere besides me.

But it's helping me as well. That's probably why I'll never stop doing it.


Friday, July 27, 2012

In Fog, the I'm

News that the "Queen" has parachuted in to the stadium to open the London Olympics left no doubt that the British will do a great job at hosting this year's games.

It's a foggy Friday night in this town. One son is traveling a few hours north with friends; another is out with friends in the city; my daughter has a friend spending the night, after they wrapped up their latest week as junior counselors at the SPCA.

Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum and his girlfriend stopped by yesterday, looking at dogs. All the kids giggled and strained to see him. My daughter said he seemed a bit "grouchy, maybe because he lost the game yesterday [Wednesday]," in her estimation -- or maybe like most celebrities, he tires of always being mobbed by fans giggling and straining to see him.

The few celebrities of one stripe or another I've known well enough to hang out with in public all had their own form of "grouchiness" for sure.

The late Yippie activist, Jerry Rubin, and I went to a cafe in North Beach years ago when I was editing one of his books. A guy came up to our table and said, "Aren't you Jerry Rubin?"

"No, I'm not," he said sharply and the guy retreated, now doubting his own eyes.

Jerry wasn't exactly hard to recognize.

Jane Fonda was driving me to the airport in Santa Barbara one time when we had to stop at a gas station. She asked me to handle everything, so she could remain in the car. "Otherwise, it will be a pain in the ass," she told me.

The basketball star Bill Walton and I met in a cafe in Berkeley on one occasion. "How often do people recognize you," I asked the 7' redhead.

"Basically everyone recognizes me," he said. "I can't go anywhere igcognito."

Igcognito. What a word. My 17-year-old used it today: "Alice has gone igcognito. I'm not sure if that is the right word, but I just wanted to say it," he told me.

I explained that MIA might be a better option, but that igcognito has enough flexibility to serve his purpose at the time like that.

It's funny for writers how often people ask us about words, not just kids either. It's also flattering.

Of course we are usually acutely attuned to the nuances and shades of meaning that separate words one from another. Choices is what writing is all about, particularly in English.

Choices and rhythm.

The music of language.

But many people when asking my help actually are worried about making mistakes, so they are concerned about misspellings and grammatical errors.

Writers don't care much about grammar. We leave that to others -- librarians, fussbudgets, and the extremely detail-oriented folks who always show up whenever they find a "mistake" in our work.

The truth about most writers is we make grammatical mistakes on purpose. We break the rules. We take the basic structure of language and manipulate it to our own ends. How else could we ever amuse, outrage, entertain, or shocken you?


Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Very Good Day

I snapped this image today when outside, while inside, the IRS field auditor checked out my expense documentation. At the time I didn't know how it would all turn out, and somehow this little nasturtium flower peeking through the fence spoke to me.

Maybe it spoke about determination, or persistence, or beauty. Certainly it displayed no fear.

Back inside, the auditor pointed out that I didn't have very many receipts for cash expenses back in 2009, and I began to get worried.

The reasons for so few receipts, I explained, are several. One is I have been throwing everything away that I can as I try to clean out this place. I once had dozens of boxes and bags of files here; I'm down to perhaps 15 or so now.

Another is the three laundry room floods, which destroyed some files, including (I'm certain) all of my receipts from the first half of 2009. The first flood occurred then, when I was at a conference in Tuscon.

The third reason is I have been casual about keeping receipts for anything when the amount is under $25, as my accountant told me years ago that is unnecessary.

The problem in this case, the auditor told me, is I had too great a volume of cash payments for him to verify without any sort of documentation whatsoever. I did a quick search of my files and was able to produce a few receipts from the second half of 2009.

As I was doing that, my mind drifted back to that now-distant time, when life felt so different from what it is now.

I was traveling frequently all over the U.S. -- at least 14 separate trips that year. I had some paying clients and projects that excited me. I averaged more than one blog post per day every day that year for Bnet.

I had a partner. She and I didn't live together but we spent a lot of time together, including several nights a week. I was also teaching her how to drive a car. She was teaching me the language and customs of her native country and culture.

My kids were all (obviously) three years younger, and the teenagers were much, much shorter than they are now.

I was still dyeing my hair a bit, so the white was moderated with some grey and black.

Medicare was a distant thought; today it is reality.

I felt closer to writing my memoir, but unsure about ebooks. Now I have published my first ebook, and I'm wondering which topic to pursue next, as an author.

Then I assumed there would always be another paying job for me in this economy; now I doubt that assumption deeply.

Then I weighed more than I do now. I have a curious and perhaps healthy habit of eating very little when I am alone. When in a relationship, I fatten up.

My ex-girlfriend and I would do decidedly unhealthy things -- like eating KFC -- for a lark.

I loved that about her -- her willingness to eat junk food, and also her desire to seek out dives and cheap cafes. We fantasized about writing a guidebook together.

She taught me to like Ross Dress for Less, which, when she pronounced the name, mixed up all of the R's and L's charmingly.

While in Tuscon, I saw my first Roadrunner.

Back here, my partner's NHK documentary came out, which we watched together down in Fremont. (It wasn't aired here in the City.)

Yes, all of those things and so many more happened back in 2009. That was my now 17-year-old son's first year of high school, and one of the earliest indications I had of what a great soccer player he truly is.

My girlfriend and I took a road trip to LA, where we toured my oldest son's lab at Cal Tech. We also took a memorable road trip in Arizona, from Las Vegas to my oldest sister's house for Thanksgiving.

The fish still in our backyard pond were there then too; the four of them who survive have long since learned how to evade raccoons and other hazards.

I had three grandsons in 2009; now I have four and a granddaughter.

My auditor smokes, I could smell it on his breath.

Over 40 people have "liked" my new ebook on Facebook. Many of them are friends I've not seen or heard from in a while. That feels good.

In 2009, I had certain assumptions about the future that I've since lost. Recently, I have been forming some new assumptions about my future.

Lately, I've been seeing life through new eyes. Part of that is viewing the people I meet differently. I'm still trying to connect with every new person who enters my life ( which is more than 100 per year, given my profession), but now I seem to be making more of an effort to forge different kinds of friendships than in the past.

One insight is how worthless "virtual" relationships can be. Sure, I have hundreds of Facebook "friends," and thousands of Twitter "followers, but a substantial portion of them would not recognize me if we passed each other on the street.


At the conclusion of today's session, my auditor, who is a young man I have grown to like, told me he could not verify the expenses for which I had no cash receipts. He proposed a deal. That the government and I split the burden 50-50.

I thought it over. Frankly, I believe it should be the government's burden to prove I was guilty of something rather than my burden to prove my innocence.

On the other hand, I would like this invasive process to be gone from my life. Unless you have been audited by the IRS, you have no idea how much stress that generates, and how hard it can be, sometimes, to sleep at night as a result.

So I told him I probably will accept his deal. It will cost me $319.

If you think about that, given how much grief I have already gone through trying to prepare for this audit, it is a ridiculously small amount of money for the U.S. government to have gained in the process.

Probably if I appealed, it would be overturned, but I cannot afford either an attorney nor my CPA to represent me in such an appeal.

So, I'll probably call it a day, cut the check, and let this latest invasion of my privacy go.


Someday, somewhere, somehow, I hope to achieve a new life -- rather, a third act to my life. I hope I can live somewhere where crops can grow, children can play, and I can write my words peacefully.

I do not need to be rich, I never needed that.

But I do still hope there is someone out there somewhere who will share this life with me.

I hope, finally, for a life worth living in my final years. No more audits. No more invasions. No more fights and gunshots.

Just a safe life for sharing our stories and believing in one another. Just a place of love, finally. I bear no grudges and no anger. All I seek is peace.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Old Story-Teller at Home

The excitement of having (finally) published a book yesterday for the first time since the mid-1980s hasn't really worn off, but I'm also cognizant that unless I make a determined effort to market 30 Startups to Know Now, it won't have much chance of reaching a wide audience.

The book is available on the Kindle, but for it to do well on Amazon, I'll have to somehow attract reviews.

They can be short -- just a few lines, but apparently reviews drive sales at Amazon, or so I am told.

If anyone reading these words is so moved, please do review the book at Amazon. (Just say whatever you think.)

At the Hyperink site, where the book is much cheaper than at Amazon, a bunch of the chapters are available for free, I believe, so one could get a pretty good sense of the book without actually buying it.

Will I make money when books are purchased?

Yes, about 25 percent of the purchase price.


The real excitement for me is to get over the barrier to publishing books again. I had so many disappointing experiences with the traditional publishing industry over the years, part of me thought I would never have another volume published in any format.

But these past six years, blogging thousands of posts and millions of words, I've finally found my way to the new publishing model. And now I'm here, I want to stay here.

Rivers and rivers of words issue from me, almost like a runaway waterfall. Can waterfalls run?

I'm filled with words and they gush out at random moments, always seeking readers, always seeking connection.

If there is any meaning to my writing life, it is the desire to employ words in a manner than brings people together.

I'm not interested in divisive writing. In that context, this current political climate holds no interest for me. All of those who cling to absurd political theories, such as Obama is a traitor or the Tea Party is fascist need to get a life.

They are all wrong, utterly wrong, and they all live in echo-chambers of their own making.

In the name of the book with the right title, they live in The Filter Bubble.

Get it, read it, understand it, and stop listening to the talking head in your mirror.


No, I am not attracted by extremes, but by how we can help each other forge a consensus and make a better society based not on rhetoric but on connection and true empathy for one another.

So, why don't we try an experiment?

What is it like to be you?

What is it like to be me.

I cannot answer for you, but I can interview you and tell your story to the world. That is what my latest book is all about -- telling the stories of various entrepreneurs, many of whom are idealistic young Americans hoping to do well and also make a difference.

They are universally smart, so they understand that global climate change is not a theory but a reality, and that man-made factors are the cause.

Therefore, many of their companies not only seek to make money but to reduce our collective carbon footprint, so that our grandchildren might inherit a livable planet.

Is that too much for our grandchildren to ask of us?

A livable planet?

The ignorance that courses through the political debate in this country, on the right, appalls me. Science is unwelcome. Facts are unwelcome. Demonizing those with different ideas and beliefs is the only glue that holds that unfortunate faction together.

I have not read one single informative article by any conservative for the past few years that taught me anything whatsoever, with the notable exception of David Brooks.

And I seek out conservative opinions every day, because I am a journalist, not a partisan. Sometimes, it feels like nobody out there appreciates the difference...


Enough of stinky politics. It all makes me feel sick.

My audit continues, and hopefully concludes tomorrow. The four-month gouge out of this year may be about to come to an end, as it finally did also in 2010. I hope to prevail and to never again see these auditors on my doorstep.

Of course I am incapable of not being polite, or of refusing to welcome them into my home. They are just people doing a job. Mostly young people, probably with college debt and grateful to have work, even if it is of an invasive nature, unfair, and missing the point that people like me shouldn't be audited until all of our billionaires have been subjected to much closer scrutiny than they almost never are.


Words. Words. Words are nothing until crafted in stories. Stories last after the story-teller has perished. My quest is to tell stories until the day I die.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My New Book

Well, after 27 years, I've finally published my 4th book, earlier today. The link to 30 Startups to Know Now is on the right of this blog interface. This is, of course, my first ebook.

If it happens to sell, I'll get more opportunities to write ebooks. It's as simple as that.

The content is mainly reprints of my blog posts at the past 20 months, plus an introduction I wrote. So, as an oriiginal "book," it may be somewhat thin.

But I met with the young editor who chose the 30 posts to include in the book today, and told her she did a great job of stringing them together into a narrative of the tech boom sweeping the Bay Area, because she did.

If this one sells, we could easily issue a few more versions in the future.

Meanwhile, now I am an ebook author (!), I'm getting closer to writing the books that readers here, at this blog, have been urging me to write -- a memoir, a novel, and perhaps a book about being a soccer parent.

Finally, that this book came out on my grandson Leif's 3rd birthday is a very special thing to me. I hope that years from now, he finds out about that, and shares his grandfather's happiness on a day special to both of us...


Monday, July 23, 2012

Birthday Times

Today is Luca's 4th birthday; he came in for a visit last week and we held a big birthday party for him in a park in El Cerrito yesterday.

During his visit here, he played with one of his uncles.

As did his little sister.

After he got wet by falling into the fish pond and was feeling sad. His aunt climbed up the ladder to pluck plums fro our tree.

This soon improved his mood.

Yesterday, at his party, she twisted balloons into animal shapes for the kids.

All 3 teens love being around the little ones.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why the Silence

I owe the handful of long-time readers of this blog, which BTW is "private," not indexed by search engines (therefore no one new ever finds it), an explanation of why I have not posted over the past week.

An ugly incident a week ago froze my writing voice. At the end of a soccer game, my son was viciously attacked by members of the other team, angry that they had lost a close game, and specifically angry at him that despite their dirty play, they couldn't get around him all game long. Also angry he would not be intimidated by their trash-talking, their stare-downs, their non-whistled fouls, or their attempts to hurt him and his teammates.

Stripping off their shirts, which is ghetto for "I'm tough," half a dozen of them swarmed him, another half dozen formed a circle to witness his purported beating, and as I tried to reach him, I fell helplessly to the ground.

I feared he would be beaten to death before my eyes.

As it turned out, he was far too strong, well-conditioned, and athletic for them to land any serious punches or wrestle him to the ground, which was their real intention. It's a lot easier for bullies to do their dirty work with their feet, when a man is down, than with their fists, when he is bigger, stronger and smarter than they will ever be.

In the end, he emerged unscathed, and we ignored the racist taunts from these thugs as we left the scene and drove home. But I didn't stop shaking for 24 hours. I couldn't sleep or stop my chest from hurting. The nightmares were relentless those first few nights.

A week later, I'm sweating even as I key in these words. It was the worst moment of my life as a parent.

As a result of this assault, not only the assailants but their entire team has been banned for a year. Their head coach, the one truly responsible, has been banned as well.

So, I suppose, justice has been done.

My son has moved on, emotionally. I'm trying to. Violence in any guise is horrible and rarely justified. Self-defense is one of the few exceptions. So the fact that, as the closest witness described it to me, my son reacted violently when provoked, I can say that he threw the only clean punch of the entire incident. Outnumbered six-to-one, he decked a guy, who did not get up afterward.

So be it.