More Menebroker

July 25th, 2016

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Paths painting by Nolan Winkler

“We have never grown up from magic—just away.” Ann Menebroker

I recently wrote a piece about my friend Ann Menebroker, the fine poet who died recently at the age of eighty. In response, I received a number of communiqués from people who wanted to read more snippets from Annie’s letters, so I present them here with one of Annie’s poems.

March 2009: I loved the artwork of your friend Marco Donner. In this one, the young Madonna is separated from her child, who is way above her. She looks enraptured and the child looks like a girl…so perhaps that’s what it is…an elevated perception of adult/child, of the specialness of birth, of new beginnings, of innocence. Of the female influence, which is supposedly less wild and warlike than the male. And I could be crazy.

July 2007: I have been writing a little and think I have amassed some eleven or so new poems. Of course they must sit around and I must go back to them after the glow of genius has faded. Ha!

July 2006: If we get to come back once we finish a round on earth, I want to come back flooded with the joy of music, voice, instruments, all of it! Soaked up like gas on a rag, blazing like a Bic lighter starting up the fire. I want to learn harmony and notes and how to put those notes and that harmony together. All of it, baby!

My only two “lovers through the mail” boyfriends are a crazy drunk writer/musician/broke/ill health guy in New Mexico, and a crazy artist/poet trying to quit smoking pot friend in Australia. Their letters, the flirting, all of it, I love! Being with them would be a disaster.

February 2004: I am very bad about rewriting. I am one of the sloppier poets, one who accepts the gift too easily, rips into it, pops out the gift, throws the tissue and ribbons aside! What I edit, I edit as I’m writing in that powerful flow of creativity. I need to work on my editing skills, not to be so easily content. I have had a poem I thought “hot stuff” get cool comments from fine critics to remind me of this!

I treat poems like lovers, caught up in the passion. I know passion cools.

June 2002: I went to Nevada City and spent the night with my daughter Sue and her husband Kevin. We went to a barbecue of a young poet up there. It turned out there were a lot of males and only 3 women, Sue, myself, and another gal well into her fifties. So we got flirted with, which was most fun! A young man kissed me with barbecue sauce on his lips, and an older man hugged and kissed me. Then I left and went safely with Sue and Kevin to their home. I felt like a kid! I’ve been telling all of my women friends about being kissed. God, I’m silly.

It seems lately that I need a little male attention, which hasn’t been the case in a lot of years. So I have to watch it and stay away from them (in any romantic sense, that is.)

No sense messing up a perfectly satisfying life!

January 2004: I’m getting another book out. But don’t worry, no need to buy it. I’ll send you a copy. You’ve seen most of the poems. Many of them are in my previous collections of poetry. They are all from The Wormwood Review. The publisher, up in Grass Valley, came upon them, some 57 or so, and asked me if he could put them in a collection. I said, hmmm, ok. He sent me the book to proof. I just got it. I hadn’t seen some of those poems in years! They are full of my life, my history. They have that “tough gal” feel to some of them. It will be titled Tiny Bites, the Wormwood Poems of Ann Menebroker.

March 2006: And here I am, loving it downtown. The other night I was awakened by all of this noise, as if the two men upstairs (landlord and his partner) were either having very violent sex or were murdering each other. It went on and I got up and looked out the windows, but saw nothing. The next morning my landlord told me that some drunk had tried to kick down the wooden gate at my end, and there was a huge disturbance, police were called, so I was way off!

Stealing Lorca

A fat-paged book in sepia cover

with a young Garcia smiling from

the flat memory of who he was, is

left on the front seat of the old Mercury

Cougar that belonged to her mother

who was more porcupine than cat.

She still pulls quills from her child’s heart plant.

Who did Lorca love? His mother sent

an omelet to the prison where his

rhetoric and fame, his love of handsome

men, brought him. Did he eat this

meal his frightened mother sent?

He smoked loaned cigarettes and cried

the cry of fear and death.

Her mother died at home in her own bed.

Lorca died near a group of olive trees

in the hot season, dramatic bullets

for his final act. Sex is forgotten.

I am really going to die.

Someone stole the book when she

went into the store for a tub of margarine.

This Is Your life. Candid Camera.

I’ve Got A Secret. Survival.

A goddamned book! It wasn’t even hers.

A man’s whole life stolen twice.

Ann Menebroker December 2002

 

More of Ann Menebroker’s poems can be found on the worldwide web.

Ann Menebroker

July 18th, 2016

flora tw

Flora painting by Nolan WInkler

“the two figures, male and female, are naked and gracefully huge. their raised right feet begin a dance that never continues.” Ann Menebroker

I moved to Sacramento in 1980. I was thirty-one and experiencing a bit of success with my writing. I bought a piano and an old house in a quiet neighborhood and thus began my fifteen-year residency in that river town. I still own the piano and play her every day.

Immediately upon settling in Sacramento, I got involved in the vibrant poetry scene, though I was not a poet, and my first new friends there were poets, one of them Ann Menebroker. Known as Annie to her many pals, I met her when she was forty-four, a beautiful charming woman, shy and brave, funny and deeply serious—a humble and brilliant maker of poems. She died a week ago at the age of eighty. I got the news from our mutual friend Martha Ann, and I have been crying off and on since.

Annie was never anointed by academia, but she published over twenty books of poetry and her poems appeared in dozens of poetry magazines all over America. She was revered by hundreds of poets and is, to my mind, one of our greatest unknowns—unknown in the sense of never being ballyhooed by the grand poohbas of the American literary scene. Her poems were consistently good and often great. She was highly self-critical, but knew she had a gift and continued writing poems until the end of her life.

Annie was poor and for many years lived in a tiny house on an alley. She cleaned houses, worked in art galleries, and for a decade or so was averse to reading in public, a phobia she eventually got over, thank goodness. We began to correspond via the post office while I still lived in Sacramento, though we lived but a few miles apart—we enjoyed keeping up with each other in that old-fashioned way.

One of my favorite memories of Annie was a poetry reading she gave at Luna’s, a Sacramento eatery. Somebody on the bill with Annie brought along an electric piano, and when it was Annie’s turn to read she asked me to accompany her. I stood behind her playing ever so sparingly to not interfere with her marvelous words, and she seemed to subtly sing her lines to the quiet music, her voice deep and warm.

When I moved from Sacramento to Berkeley in 1995, our correspondence accelerated and today I possess a big box full of letters from Annie along with many of her published works. Most amazing to me was that she had this same scale of correspondence with dozens of other people, mostly poets. She made the news of her daily life, no matter how mundane, into delightful impromptu poetry.

In 1991 Annie wrote, “I have never thought anyone would truly be interested in who I was, as I figure I’m just another female bloke who has gone through life, ass-end first, often, in my struggles to grow wiser.

“I was child-like in the 50s and 60s and 70s and 80s. I may be growing up in the 90s. I drank and partied with poets by night, and tried to maintain this image of the better parent by day. I probably mixed both worlds to my disadvantage, often. The odd thing is, Todd, as wild as I considered myself, my kids have this image of the very good, caring mother. I hope that’s true. But I was pretty weak and confused.”

In 2003 she typed, “I do not like writing longhand. I used the typewriter as a teenager to write letters, and that—my dear—was so many years ago!

“My thoughts somehow run, where my body sits and lies! I feel I am someone else when I am working on a keyboard. That I exist in a more favorable disguise as a person of knowledge and wit and strength.

“Take away my keys and you take away my engine of existence! I am nothing!”

In 2004 she wrote, “A man on the street moved me, and also nearly intimidated me. I gave him $5. I had $11 in my wallet. I’d come to the grocery store and paid for my groceries with a check. He had spoken to me on my way in, and I liked something in his being, his voice. He practically demanded me to give him $5, but not in an intruding way. So I did. And he got all strange. He wanted to talk and talk and talk to this older woman who was suddenly talking to him and giving him $5. He wanted to write something to me, but couldn’t find any paper. He wanted to hug me and/or kiss me. I kept smiling and saying No, no, it’s fine. Please, may your day go well. We talked in the spirit of the street and he insisted on grabbing my cart and walking with me to my car to put my groceries in the trunk. I thought he would never leave and I wasn’t afraid, but people were staring at us and I was afraid they would insult him by asking me if I was being ‘bothered.’

“He said a few times, ‘Who are you?’ He said something else and told me never to forget, and I came home and was writing a letter to a woman poet down south, and told her [the thing I was never to forget] and she said, Annie, that’s a small poem. So I put it on top of a poem about winter I was working on but I’m not sure if the longer poem is any good, or that what I put on it makes sense. It was something silly, about the survival of a goose, what he said. I got it all mixed up. Does it matter? No.”

Several of Annie’s fine and inimitable poems can be found on the worldwide web.

Kevin & Mumia

July 11th, 2016

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Moments That We Shape painting by Nolan Winkler 

“On a hot day in the southern desert of Africa I wanted to speak to one of my favorite Bushmen. He was sitting in the middle of a thorn bush, huddled in an attitude of the most intense concentration…but his friends would not let me get near him, saying, ‘But don’t you know, he is doing work of the utmost importance. He is making clouds.’” Laurens Van Der Post

Yesterday, the basketball player Kevin Durant signed a two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors for 55 million dollars and I read Chris Hedges’ interview with Mumia Abu Jamal, who has now served thirty-five years of a life sentence for a murder he may or may not have committed.

During the interview, Mumia, who is quite ill and not receiving adequate health care, said many troubling things. “The black political elites, including Barack Obama, are powerless. They are emblems. They are not the voice of black America. They are like a ventriloquist’s dummy. They mouth the same words the white corporate masters mouth. They do not name unpleasant truths. They never lifted their voices to denounce Bill Clinton’s decision to massively expand our system of mass incarceration. And they do not lift their voices now. They go right along with the repression. And they are well paid for it.”

He went on to say: “Black people will probably vote for Clinton, but this symbolizes the emptiness of hope. They fear Trump. They should look closely at the pictures from Trump’s third wedding. Hillary Clinton is in the front pew of the church. Hillary, Bill, Trump, and Melania are shown embracing at Trump’s estate during the reception. These people are part of the same elite circle. They represent the same financial interests. They work for the same empire. They have grown rich from the system. The words they shout back and forth during political campaigns are meaningless. Trump or Clinton will deliver the same political result. They will serve, like Obama, corporate and military power.”

“Everything that happens is at once natural and inconceivable.” E.E. Cioran

Kevin Durant is twenty-seven, seven-feet-tall, and one of best and most popular basketball players in the world. He was born in Washington D.C. where he and his sister and two brothers were raised by their mother and grandmother after their father abandoned the family. Kevin played one year of college basketball and then was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics the year before the team moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He was named rookie of the year and then played eight years for the Thunder before deciding to sign with the Warriors.

Kevin made 17 million dollars a year playing for the Thunder, but that was a small fraction of his annual income. He has lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Sprint, Gatorade, Panini, General Electric, and 2K Sports. His agent is the media mogul Jay-Z. Kevin pledged a million dollars to the American Red Cross for the victims of the 2013 tornado disaster in Oklahoma. In 2014, he partnered with Kind Snacks and launched StrongAndKind.com to show “being kind is not a sign of weakness.” He is also a spokesperson for the Washington D.C. branch of P’Tones Records, a nationwide non-profit after-school music program.

With Kevin joining Steph, Klay, Draymond, and Andre on the Warriors, barring injuries, they should be the best team in the game.

I wonder what Kevin Durant thinks of Mumia Abu Jamal. Kevin describes himself as a high school kid who enjoys playing video games in his spare time. A devout Christian, Kevin goes to chapel before every game and has religious tattoos on his stomach, wrist, and back. He is, apparently, apolitical.

 “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature itself, but rather nature exposed to our methods of questioning.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mumia told Chris Hedges, “The liberals and the Democrats are in many ways more dangerous than the right wing. Repression and neoliberalism are more effectively instituted by Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They sound reasonable. But because what they do is hidden, it is more insidious and often more deadly.”

Kevin Durant met Obama on the White House basketball court and they shared a bro hug. Durant said of the meeting, “It was a good feeling to meet the president. Of course I always wanted to do that. Me being from D.C., it was pretty cool to see him. I was excited to get that opportunity. It’s something I’m always going to remember.”

Mumia has never met Obama, but in 2014 Obama nominated Debo P. Adegbile to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Debo, a former lawyer for the NAACP who worked on Abu-Jamal’s case, was rejected for the Justice Department job by the U.S. Senate because of his public support of Mumia.

Twenty years ago, when Mumia’s execution was drawing near, I joined thousands of other people on marches in San Francisco demanding Mumia be given a new trial. He never got a new trial, but his death sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Whether he is guilty of murder or not, there is no doubt he deserves a new trial. Sadly, he will probably never get one. He is the victim of our deeply racist social and justice systems, along with millions of other men and women trapped in poverty, and now that he is no longer in danger of being executed—except through the slow death of incarceration—he is rarely mentioned in the mainstream news.

I used to be an avid basketball fan. Two of my published novels feature basketball subplots involving fictional versions of The Golden State Warriors. In a sense, I owe my success as a writer to my interest in basketball, though nowadays I hardly follow professional basketball, for today’s game little resembles the beautiful sport I fell in love with as a young man.

I wonder if Mumia watches basketball on his tablet in his cell.

Brexit Musings

July 4th, 2016

you just looked up at the stars site

You Just Looked Up At the Stars painting by Nolan Winkler

“Greece should go back to a national currency to have more autonomous decision-making with regards to it own economy, which it needs if it wants to pave a more sustainable path.” Jennifer Hinton, co-author of How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050

When I heard that a majority of British voters wanted to leave the European Union, my first thought was, “Well, I would want to leave, too, after what that union did and is continuing to do to the people of Greece and Spain in order to funnel more billions into the coffers of the corporate overlords via their putrid toxic derivative hedge funds.”

A friend and I were discussing Brexit and she said she had spoken to a British couple residing in Mendocino and was told that many people in England voted to get out of the union because EU laws allow member nations to plunder the dwindling fisheries of England, and the British people were fed up with that. Didn’t read that anywhere in the mainstream news.

The results of the election showed that sixty per cent of London voters wanted to remain in the EU, while the majority of people outside that largest of corporate-controlled city-states wanted out. What does this tell us? One sector of British society is flourishing at the expense of the rest of the society. Sound familiar?

I’ve read dozens of articles about what a disaster Britain’s exit portends, but so far the only disaster to have manifested is that stock markets, otherwise known as Ponzi schemes for rich people, went down for a day or two all over the world because the rigged game was temporarily upset by this unexpected rebellion of working people tired of seeing the quality of their lives deteriorate.

Meanwhile, Hillary, the darling of the corporate overlords, is preparing to push through any and all trade agreements favoring corporations over the states composing the United States of America, and this one aspect of her criminality not only portends disaster for anyone not among the super wealthy, but is an echo of what the European Union does, which is give corporations disguised as the EU governing body the power to supersede the will of the peoples of supposedly sovereign nations.

Had not Greece given up their national currency when they joined the EU, they could have Grexited long ago, and the Greek people, save for a tiny elite class, would be a thousand times better off than they are today. The media does not report that Greece has been ransacked to serve a few obscenely wealthy hedge fund crooks, something that could never have happened if Greece had been equipped to leave the EU, which I think they will do eventually.

Our media’s coverage of Brexit reminds me of our media’s coverage of Bernie Sanders, Single Payer Healthcare, the accelerating poisoning of the biosphere resulting from the constant increase of greenhouse gases, and everything else we desperately need to be informed about but aren’t unless we have the chutzpah to go looking for the truth. Thus when I hear people parroting the media consensus that Brexit is terrible and nothing good will come of it, I think about the media consensus on Single Payer Healthcare versus what the vast majority of people want and need, and then I’m not so sure Great Britain choosing to leave the EU is a bad thing.

Certainly on paper the idea of a unified egalitarian Europe is a good idea, but the idea has never matched reality. The European Union, NAFTA, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the soon-to-be ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership were all designed by and for multinational corporations to facilitate the takeover over of more and more of the global economy, and specifically to disempower working people, labor unions, and most people on earth.

Oh, but Scotland wants to stay in the EU. How come? Scotland has never wanted to be part of Great Britain. The history of England going back a thousand years is rife with wars between Scotland and England. This is yet another opportunity for Scotland to break free of the yoke of their imagined oppressors.

The mainstream media also continues to report that many of the people who voted for Great Britain to leave the EU didn’t know what they were voting for and now would like to change their minds. I wonder how the media found that out. Or maybe they just knew those people were flummoxed and pixilated because otherwise how can we explain why so many people would vote to leave such a wonderful organization?

I heard two young British socialists, one for leaving the EU, one for remaining, debating the decision to leave, and the one who wanted to remain in the EU said, “We should have stayed and reformed the EU, worked within the system to make it better.” And the one for leaving said something to the effect of, “Poppycock.”

Imagine trying to reform American politics or the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Imagine Hillary running a campaign without money from major corporations. Without hedge fund Wall Street crookster money she would be Hillary who? Imagine Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination in a country where the trillions spent on war every year were instead spent on the health and education and economic security of the American citizenry. Imagine a media that actually reported the truth so the citizenry could make reasonable choices about who and what they voted for.

In the big global picture, the possible breakup of the European Union is part of the breakdown of human systems all over the world in the face of overpopulation, resource scarcity, climate change, and the limitations of our collective capacity to live within our means. Technology has enabled the banksters to engineer a system that would eventually lead to a few people on earth owning everything, if only the eight billion other humans would just keep quiet and allow that to happen. But darn it, they won’t keep quiet.

Change

June 27th, 2016

during

before, during a photographic collaboration of Todd, Marcia, and Max

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers

We recently saw a French film made in 2008, Summer Hours, written and directed by Olivier Assayas and recommended to us by Louis Bedrock, the writer and translator. A beautifully made film set in present-day France, I immediately loved the sights and sounds, but found I was not connecting emotionally with the characters. About twenty minutes into the film, my lack of emotional connection with anyone in the movie almost made me stop watching, but then I surrendered to the flow of imagery and the unfolding story.

By the end of the movie, I was glad I’d watched the entirety, though I couldn’t elucidate why I was glad. I never came to care much about the individual people in the movie, but I could identify with what they were going through—the swift evolution of culture from one generation to the next.

The next day, I found myself remembering many of the scenes from Summer Hours and admiring how this tapestry of key moments in the lives of three siblings captures the reality of our modern era—the cultural paradigms defining French society and French art obliterated by new global and technological realities.

Two days after seeing the movie, I was at work on my latest novel, re-reading pages writ over the last few days, and came to the following reminiscence of one of my characters.

“When I was a young man, before I met Honey, I lived in San Francisco and was by turns a house painter, janitor, dishwasher, desk clerk in a cheap hotel, window washer, and dog walker. This was before the advent of computers when San Francisco was an affordable place to live for people of all walks of life, not just people with lots of money. Thus the city was full of artists and eccentrics and musicians and poets—hundreds of poets.”

Reading that reminiscence, I was put in mind of the ending of Summer Hours when dozens of teenagers descend upon the now-empty country home outside of Paris where much of the movie is set. At the beginning of the film we are introduced to this house as the home of an elderly woman dedicated to keeping alive the work of her uncle, a lesser-known Impressionist painter—the house full of rare and expensive furniture and glassware and artworks from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

After the long opening scene, we learn of this woman’s death, and watch as her three middle-aged children decide what to do with her house and valuable works of art—opting to sell everything and split the fortune three ways. And at last, we see the woman’s grandchildren and many of their friends and acquaintances partying and smoking dope in the shell of that ark that once contained artifacts from the epoch before the coming of television and computers and digitalized globalized everything.

While watching the young people take temporary possession of the old house, I felt anxious they might burn the place down, though there was nothing to suggest they would do much damage. They were having a party. They would stay for a day or two and then go back to their lives of scrabbling to make livings while trying to make sense of the fleeting images on their phones. Ere long, another wealthy person would take charge of the estate and fill the house with things.

These musings put me in mind of when I was twenty and had no fear about dropping out of college, despite my parents’ withdrawal of support, because there was a super-abundance of places to rent for next to nothing along with many part-time jobs to be had. After a few years of roaming around, I settled in Santa Cruz, circa 1972. My monthly rent for a big room in a lovely old house was thirty dollars, my monthly grocery bill about the same.

Imagine the artistic ferment today, if people knew they could survive perfectly well on a hundred dollars a month, or today’s equivalent, and there were plenty of jobs to be had.

The most valuable artifacts in the beautiful old house in Summer Hours are paintings by the landscape painter Corot, whose work is considered an important bridge between the Neo-Classical tradition and Impressionism. I was thinking about Corot when I wandered into the Oddfellows Hall in Mendocino to view the latest show of paintings by local artists. The term Post-Everything kept coming to mind as I wandered around that airy old building hunting for something to love.

And the idea of hunting for something to love put me in mind of the very last scene in Summer Hours. The granddaughter of the woman who owned those Corots, having invited her friends to invade the old manse before the new owners take possession, leaves the party, finds her boyfriend swimming in the pond, and leads him into the wilder lands of the estate.

When they come to a wall marking the boundary of her grandmother’s property, the granddaughter says to her boyfriend, “Come on, I don’t want them to find us.” Her boyfriend gallantly scales the wall by standing on the seat of an abandoned bicycle, helps his beloved over the wall, and she leads him into the unknown.

Having had a week now to digest the movie—thanks, Louis, for the recommendation—I feel more tenderly toward the young people I encounter in Mendocino, young people clutching their phones and looking away when I say Hello. And I feel more tenderly toward old people, older even than I, who remember the days before computers, the days of neighborhood barbecues and children playing games in the dusk, those days when societal change came more slowly than it does now, or so it seemed.

Coup

June 20th, 2016

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I’ve Been Waiting For the Sun painting by Nolan Winkler

“If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.” Oscar Wilde

I think it is important to view the Bernie Sanders saga in the context of the larger takeover of our society and our government and our psyches that began in earnest in the 1970s and was vastly accelerated by the enthronement of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980.

True, our society and government were heavily influenced by the wealthy elite from the moment our nation was founded, but the Great Depression and FDR modified that influence tremendously, and thereby ushered in a social and cultural renaissance that peaked in the 1970s when the corporate oligarchy began to take the requisite steps to wrest complete control again. Every President of the United States since Reagan has obediently carried out the agenda of the corporate overlords.

I published my first novel in 1978 at the close of the era of independent publishers. From my point of view, the corporate takeover of publishing and the movie industry at that time were key steps in stifling dissent and preparing the population for submission to corporate rule. I worked very hard to break into publishing, only to watch in horrified fascination as virtually overnight, teams of politically conservative anti-creative money crunchers replaced the most creative and open-minded people in every large publishing house in America.

The first order of business for these anti-creative teams was the firing of any innovative editors, many of them middle-aged, who believed it was their purpose in life to find new and original voices to bring into the cultural matrix. In the movie industry, similar house cleaning took place, with innovation and counter-culture ideas verboten.

Whenever several corporations take over entire industries, corporate consolidation of that industry inevitably follows, and within a decade after the initial takeovers, a few massive corporations owned all previously freestanding publishers, all the movie studios, and eventually most of the mainstream media outlets: newspapers, television networks, and radio stations.

Simultaneously, our public schools were being gutted and turned into pseudo jails, citizens who could afford to would send their children to private schools, and our universities became little more than conduits for the best and the brightest to find their places in the corporate machinery that was quickly taking hold of every aspect of our lives.

Without a vibrant creative culture, the collective imagination withers, and this withering makes for dull minds, and dull minds cannot discern truth from falsity, nor can dull minds raise children capable of discerning truth from falsity. This, in my opinion, is the context in which the Bernie Sanders saga must be viewed.

“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end…but not necessarily in that order.” Jean-Luc Godard

A few weeks ago, Marcia and I were walking along Albion Street in Mendocino on a windy evening, our stomachs full of excellent food from the Mendocino Café, when I espied a crimson geranium plant lying by the side of the road, leaves and flower clusters wilting, a tangle of roots spread out on the ground like the tentacles of a dying octopus.

I picked up the beautiful plant, soon we were home, and I planted the dying geranium in a big pot already containing a recently transplanted rose bush. I gave those withered roots a big drink of water, and for the next few days babied the plant until some of her leaves began to show signs of revival. I pruned off those branches and flowers that were clearly not going to survive, and now we have a spectacular blood-red geranium as companion to an equally spectacular pink geranium gifted us by our neighbor Marion.

“Remember, the music is not in the piano.” Clement Mok

So we live in a country that purports to be a democracy, and is certainly not. We live in a country where elections are now routinely rigged. We live in a country that is the home base of a huge and aggressive military-industrial complex that perpetuates war in order to perpetuate itself. We live in a country that has a government serving the interests of a small percentage of the population at the expense of a large percentage of the population. And we live in a country that is the leading cause of the demise of the entire biosphere.

What can we do to counter these truths about the country where we live? I think Bernie Sanders’ campaign provides an answer, though his campaign is not the answer. His campaign has lasted one year. In that short time, he galvanized tens of millions of people to give him money and support his candidacy. He harnessed the enormous desire in the population to take back our government from the corporate oligarchs.

But we the people don’t just want an honest government; we want a decent society and a vibrant culture. And those are things we might create without the influence of corrupt government. Imagine a hundred million Sanders supporters boycotting movies and television shows that promote violence. Imagine a hundred million Sanders supporters working to institute Single Payer Healthcare state by state. Imagine those Sanders supporters actively and rigorously supporting local businesses instead of out-of-town corporations. Imagine a hundred million Sanders supporters striving to use public transportation instead of cars.

Part of why the corporate oligarchy never greatly feared Bernie Sanders or his followers is that they thought we were not going to do much more than support Bernie and hope he would win and do all sorts of wonderful things for us, rather than start doing wonderful things whether Bernie won or not.

Smart phones are portable computerized televisions that tether us to the corporate system. Unless we are willing, en masse, to change our lives so we are not servile users of the system, we will never have a Bernie Sanders become the leader of this nation. Bernie Sanders proved there are many people who want big changes. But he has yet to prove there are many people willing to make big changes.

Shortly after the anti-creative corporations took over the book publishers and the movie studios, the collective imagination began to wither.

Sad Scary

June 13th, 2016

Quantum Something Or Other

Quantum Something Or Other painting by Nolan Winkler

 “Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light?” Maurice Freehill

Now that the people of California have spoken at the polls and assured the nomination of the poster girl for Monsanto, fracking, endless war, tax breaks for the wealthy, the continuing ruination of the lower eighty per cent of Americans, and the destruction of the biosphere, I feel sad. Where were all the Bernie Sanders supporters? The vote wasn’t even close, not that very many people voted.

Yes, I know. The Hillary machine colluded with Associated Press to crown her the nominee the day before the New Jersey and California primaries in order to suppress voter turnout. So does that mean Bernie’s supporters believed such evil nonsense? No. I think Bernie supporters are just more visible and demonstrative and passionate than Hillary supporters, but not more plentiful.

And why would so many people support a person who has dedicated her life to serving the wealthy and screwing everybody else? Her record is there for everyone to see. Her disgraceful tenure as Secretary of State, her shameful career as a United States Senator, her votes against bills that would help people and protect the environment, and her zealous advocacy of fracking and ruinous trade agreements and free government money for the big banks are not secrets. Why would people vote for her?

The only plausible answer I can come up with is that most people do not respond to facts, but to feelings, and for some reason those who voted for Hillary feel more comfortable with the idea of her as President than the idea of a person suggesting enormous changes in how we interface with the world and each other being President. Change can be scary.

“One has to fear everything—or nothing.” Jean Giraudoux

Speaking of scary, I’ve been following the news about Lake Mead and what that news portends for tens of millions of Californians in the very near future. Lost in the maelstrom of meaningless blather about Trump and Clinton is the news that Lake Mead, heretofore the largest fresh water reservoir in America, is no longer the largest such reservoir because the massive lake has shrunk to its lowest level since engineers began filling the lake (behind Hoover Dam) in 1937.

Eighteen years of drought in the southwest combined with the not-so-slow death of the Colorado River watershed largely because of Hoover Dam, has caused this disastrous decline in the amount of water in Lake Mead, which, by the way, supplies almost all the water used by Las Vegas and roughly half the water used by…wait for it…southern California.

In fact, the level is so low and so swiftly falling, that this year Arizona and Colorado and Nevada have to take less than their usual allotments of Lake Mead Water, and if the level drops to where it is expected to drop next year, California will have to take much less Lake Mead water, too. And a few years hence there will be very little water for anyone to take from Lake Mead, at which point we hope they remove Hoover Dam so that after humans have mostly vanished from the earth, the Colorado River basin might become a living ecosystem again.

This means, of course, that most of the twenty million people in southern California will have to move. Soon. Where will they go? Scary.

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Swedish Proverb

I do, actually, conflate the exhaustion of Lake Mead with people voting for Hillary instead of Bernie Sanders. Call me silly, but that’s how my mind works. Thousands of shortsighted decisions made by people afraid of change have brought us to a time in our individual and collective lives where the earth we depend on for life is being ravaged by forces set loose through our shortsightedness.

We cannot say we didn’t have sufficient information to make better long-term decisions. We cannot say we didn’t have the means to make fruitful substantive changes. We can say that greed, which is the child of fear, is the most obvious engine of planetary and societal destruction.

We can also say that everything happening today in the larger world is a technologically advanced version of how humans have behaved for tens of thousands of years. One might even say that humans are genetically hardwired to act as we are acting today in the face of the accelerating global climatic and environmental disasters. The difference today is that we have no new places to migrate to, there are too many of us, and we have developed sufficient force, as a species, to destroy the entire biosphere and not just localized areas where we have tarried too long.

“To the sea? To the sky? To the world? Who knows? The stars descend, as usual to the river, carried by the breezes… the nightingale meditates… sorrow grows more lovely. And high above sadness a smile bursts into bloom.” Juan Ramon Jimenez

So on we go. Bernie will not be the next President of the United States, but we have his example to emulate, which is to be kind, open, curious, generous, daring, compassionate, and forgiving. We’re only human, and maybe we humans have done as well, collectively, as we could ever have hoped to do on this little gem of a planet floating in the vastness of space.

I think we could have done better, could still do better, but that’s just me thinking. And when those millions of people from southern California drive north looking for places to live where there is still, for now, water, how kind and open and compassionate and forgiving will I be?

Scary. Sad. Here they come.

Sherlock Gnomes

June 6th, 2016

Noam Gnomsky

Little Gnome photo by Marcia Sloane

 “I can never bring you to realize [Watson] the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a bootlace.” Conan Doyle

Marcia came into my office a few days ago and said, “Have you seen the little gnome in Flower Pot Village?”

I thought she might be pulling my leg, since we are not gnome collectors, but lo, clinging with both hands to the edge of a large terra cotta flower pot in the assemblage of flower pots we call Flower Pot Village was a small Caucasian gnome, five-inches-tall, a happy smiling ceramic fellow with a white beard, pointy gold hat, turquoise jacket, brown trousers and black shoes. Cute.

Having determined that neither Marcia nor I placed the little intruder in the village, we were confronted by a mystery: who did? And our suspicions immediately fell on our neighbor Marion.

I must digress slightly to say that every visitor to our house passes close by Flower Pot Village, a dozen large flower pots sitting on an elevated pad of bricks adjacent to the wooden deck one must traverse to reach our front door. Thus anyone with an interest in things growing in pots and gardens will note in passing the mint, cilantro, basil, aloe, and arugula citizenry of the village. Those not attuned to things in the garden will note nothing of interest there.

Which suggests that whoever introduced the little alien to the village is attuned to things in the garden, knew of the village, and is the sort of person who would enjoy giving us a gift without telling us so we might be confronted with a pleasant sort of mystery, assuming we don’t have a gnome phobia, which we don’t. Marcia and I are not gewgaw people, but we do like tasteful statues, large and small, if they harmonize well with the natural surround and are not too plentiful.

Marcia inquired of Marion if she knew anything about the little gnome and Marion said she knew nothing about him. This did not, however, immediately exonerate Marion. Denial is never proof, Watson, no matter how convincing. But denial in this instance did cause us to consider who else might have been responsible for the implantation of the gnome into Flower Pot Village.

“Pray compose yourself, sir,” said Holmes, “and let me have a clear account of who you are and what it is that has befallen you.” Conan Doyle

So we composed a list of visitors or possible visitors to our house over the preceding three days: Marion, Bob, Deb, Kate, Defer, Matt. We eliminated Defer, our across-the-street neighbor, because he only ever brings us piles of newspapers for fire starters and is concerned with large trees not little plants in pots. And we eliminated Matt, because he is not a gewgaw person and hasn’t been around much lately.

That left Marion, Bob, Kate, and Deb.

Marion. Avid gardener, presides over her own flower pot villages, appreciates our garden, visits frequently, has a wry sense of humor, is in the process of moving out of her large house into a smaller abode and is actively getting rid of things. Thus her denial of a connection to the gnome remains questionable.

Bob. I met Bob when he and I were nineteen, I in my second and last year of college, he in his first, and we have been fast friends ever since. Bob is one of the most reflexively generous people I know. He comes to visit us once a year from Sacramento and always brings gifts, insists on treating us to supper, and always wants me to put him to work hauling firewood or pulling weeds. What a guy. However, he is definitely not a gewgaw person, and his gifts are usually edible or drinkable. This time he brought an array of delicious microbrewery beers to share with Marcia, took us out to supper at the Mendocino Café, and bought us superb sandwiches from the Mendocino Market across the street from the post office—a gnome guy he is not.

Kate. Poet, professional caregiver, loving and generous, appreciative of the garden. She came for supper. Upon her arrival, I watched her cross the deck and take no notice of the flower pots. I accompanied her to her car after supper and she made no sudden move toward the pots. Thus we do not suspect her, though we think she would appreciate the gnome.

Deb. Serious gardener. Gifted us with a Daphne last year, which is taking root and slowly getting larger and had her first flowers this spring. Deb likes looking at our garden. Comes every two weeks for a cello lesson with Marcia. Always makes a circuit of the deck, checking things out. Makes quilts. Might be a gewgaw person. I have seen her on multiple occasions lingering in the vicinity of Flower Pot Village. If we believe Marion is not the culprit, Deb becomes the leading suspect.

Marcia emailed Deb, attached three photos of He Who Clings To The Flower Pots, and asked, “Any idea how this feisty little gnome got in our garden?”

To which Deb replied, “I’ve heard they sometimes travel in packs under the cover of darkness at night, and occasionally one will take off on an adventure searching for a friendly garden of his own. Danny [Deb’s husband] says they’ve been really bad this year (meaning lots of them) because of all the rain; we have a few here.  But they are rather cute and don’t seem to eat the plants or bother them. I’d just ask him his name and stay on his friendly side. Don’t be surprised if he moves around from plant to plant, looking for just the right place.”

So to be on the safe side, we inquired of the gnome what his name was. He blushed, smiled brightly, but remained mute until we were walking away, and then we distinctly heard him say, “Noam. My name is Noam Gnomsky.”

Your Bliss

May 30th, 2016

from the chair tw

From The Chair painting by Nolan Winkler

“I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.” P. G. Wodehouse

Joseph Campbell used the expression “follow your bliss” when speaking about Jung’s discovery that reconnecting with a favorite childhood activity in adulthood was a great help in overcoming obstacles to his well-being. Sadly, this expression was immediately misinterpreted out of context, and Campbell was accused of promoting hedonism and other self-serving isms.

But the gist of what Campbell spoke about was, I think, a profound discovery, and one I have used to good effect as a writing teacher and to help puzzle my way through various emotional labyrinths. Campbell states the question Jung asked himself thusly (and I paraphrase): What repeated activity of my childhood was so involving, I lost all track of time when under the spell of that activity?

For Jung that childhood activity was building little stone houses and villages. So as an adult, following his remembered bliss, he undertook the building of a large stone house. As the house took shape, he had many dreams; and his interpretations of those dreams allowed him to move through a difficult time in his own psychoanalysis and successfully complete the process.

When I worked with teenaged writers, I would ask them to write responses to Jung’s question, and this proved a grand catalyst for their writing. Older writers were also inspired by this question, but many of them claimed they could not remember their childhoods; so I would ask them to imagine what their bliss might have been, and writing about that proved as inspiring as their actual memories.

“Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” MGM Executive reacting to Fred Astaire’s screen test in 1928

When I was a young writer in the days before online digital computerized anything, and before I learned that most publishing companies and magazines would only consider work sent to them by a literary agent, I mailed off rafts of stories and manuscripts to magazines and publishers, and got back rafts of rejection slips. In those days, relatively few people embarked on the writer’s path, and my housemates were curious about my career choice. One of those housemates, Maureen, was particularly fascinated by my persistence in the face of continuous and overwhelming rejection.

One day Maureen brought me my mail—a few letters from friends and a flotilla of rejections—and asked, “Why do you do this? Seems like you’re punishing yourself?”

I had never thought of sending out my stories for inevitable rejection as self-punishment, but the idea took root in my mind and I stopped sending my work to magazines and publishers. Almost immediately my desire to write began to wane, and I realized that submitting my writing was an important part of my process—a reason to rework and refine my stories. Without that intention, I was not inspired to write several drafts of each story, for I no longer had even an imaginary audience I wished to please, nor did I have the inspiration of the dream of being published and paid for my work.

Nowadays, I write my stories and books to share with a handful of interested readers and to satisfy my curiosity about the intriguing characters inhabiting my imagination, though my dreams tell me that I am also still motivated by the idea of my books and stories finding a larger audience.

“Art does not come and lie in the beds we make for it. It slips away as soon as its name is uttered: it likes to preserve its incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets its very name.” Jean Dubuffet

In Oaxaca in 1970, I was wandering on the fringes of a large open-air market and heard beautiful music emanating from the maze of vendors. I followed my ears and came upon a blind woman playing a mandolin and a blind man playing the guitar, both of them singing. Their playing was superb, their voices gorgeous, their harmonies fabulous, and their intoxicating songs unlike anything I had ever heard or would ever hear again.

I sought them out every day of that week I was in Oaxaca so I could steep for hours in their fabulous playing and singing. They were in rags, received little money for their performing, and were dependent on a sighted boy to lead them around. I gave them what money I could spare, which was not much, and I still remember them and their marvelous music forty-five years after I last heard them.

I was twenty and just learning to play the guitar when I heard those remarkable musicians in Oaxaca. Three years later, I formed a group with a mandolin player and we played in taverns and cafés in the Santa Cruz, from which I made enough for rent and food—the songs I wrote infused with the music of those two musicians I listened to so avidly in Oaxaca.

“We make things for somebody. This idea of art for art’s sake is a hoax.” Pablo Picasso

I agree with Picasso, for even an imagined somebody is somebody. I once read a translation of a Lakota holy man who suggested we are never alone, never unheard, never unseen, because the nature spirits are always aware of us and ready to interact with us.

When I lived in Berkeley, my friend Katje came to visit for a few days. Katje was an opera singer possessed of a superb voice, and she would wait for me to leave on my errands before practicing the arias she was working on, practice requiring a great deal of repetition. Despite my declaration that I enjoyed listening to her practice, she was concerned about imposing on me with her loud and repetitive singing.

One afternoon, I returned from my wandering in the outer world and found four of my neighbors standing on the sidewalk in front of my house, listening reverently to Katje sing.

Voting For Bernie

May 23rd, 2016

i march in the parade of liberty tw

I March in the Parade of Liberty painting by Nolan Winkler

Today I filled out my absentee ballot and voted for Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States, and I felt great about casting my vote for him. Then I tried to remember the last time I felt this good voting for someone who might end up the leader of our country, and I realized I have never felt this way before. When I voted for George McGovern and Ralph Nader, I knew they wouldn’t win, so I felt kind of wistful about voting for them. And you might say, “But Bernie can’t win either. You’re deluding yourself to think so.”

Well, I don’t believe the oligarchy’s media, and for once in my life I voted for a possible President of the United States representing what I want for America, someone who, in my current perception of reality, has a chance to win, regardless of what the lying distorting mass media tells us; and that makes this voting experience unique in my life. That got me thinking about other unexpected Firsts in my life that came later than sooner, and for which I am grateful.

When I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley ten years ago, there was something palpably different and better about living here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Having lived in a small town in Oregon, I knew the different feeling was not related to city life versus country life, and I had also lived in coastal towns, so I knew the different feeling was not proximity to the ocean. Still, it took me three years to figure out what the difference was—something I’d been missing since childhood.

This is the first place I’ve lived since I was a boy where the vast majority of people living here, want to live here. That was certainly not true in Berkeley where everyone I knew was being priced out of the area, and where the stress of that urban scene was unbearable for all but the young and the very wealthy. When I lived in Sacramento, four out of every five people I knew were desperate to leave as soon as they could afford to.

Thinking back over the many places I’ve lived, I could not come up with another place, except my childhood neighborhood, where the majority of people I knew in that community wanted to be there. The ramifications of this are vast, especially when one considers how highly interactive human beings are. We are hardwired to mirror the actions and emotions of others—so to live with mobs of people who don’t want to be where they are is, in scientific terms, an ongoing bummer.

After ten years in Mendocino, I have yet to hear anyone say, “I must leave here or go insane.” When I lived in Berkeley and Sacramento and Seattle and Medford and Eugene and Santa Cruz, I heard people say things like that daily, sometimes hourly.

True, this might say more about my acquaintances than about what life is like for most people in those other places, but I’m not talking about why nearly everyone I knew wanted out of where they were; I’m talking about how for the first time in my adult life I live in a place where virtually everyone I know and meet and overhear, save for the occasional disgruntled teenager, wants to be here.

When I turned sixty, six years ago, I decided to experiment with eliminating gluten and dairy products from my life, not including eggs. I had long ceased to eat cow dairy, but I still ate goat cheese. I was having digestive issues, notably bloating, and after decreasing my goat dairy and starch intake with little positive effect, I thought I’d see about doing without gluten for a few months.

After six weeks without gluten, the bloating problem was solved, and so I continued to abstain from gluten. And some six weeks later, I had an incredible experience—one of the best Firsts of my life. From the age of fifteen onward, I suffered from chronic debilitating joint pain, and was therefore a chronic user of aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Western medical doctors diagnosed me with ankylosing spondylitis, for which I found daily yoga practice helpful, though yoga did not cure the pain.

Thus every evening and every morning for the last forty-five years, I have done twenty minutes to an hour of stretching, without which I would be so stiff and pain-ridden, I would barely be able to move.

So…three months into being gluten free, during an evening stretching session, I was lying on my back on my mat and got up to turn off a whistling kettle. On my way to the kitchen, I was astonished to realize I had arisen with ease (in itself miraculous) and without any twinges of pain.

In a state of near disbelief, I returned to the living room, knelt on the matt, placed my fingertips on the floor behind me, and bent backwards a good five inches further than I had been able to bend in forty-five years—without the slightest pain or discomfort.

Over these subsequent six years sans gluten, I have not experienced any joint pain (save for the occasional injury from overzealous gardening or exercise.) I’m not saying this wonderful cessation of joint pain will occur for any other sufferers should they lessen or eliminate their gluten intake, but that is what happened for me. Now in the evening before bed, I look forward to getting on my mat to do some stretching by the fire, rather than dreading a confrontation with pain.

Voting for Bernie makes me happy in the same way stretching without pain makes me happy. After a lifetime of reprehensible narcissists running for and occupying the joint known as the White House, I finally got to vote for an intelligent, compassionate, generous person with a meaningful plan to improve life for all Americans, a person I believe has a chance to become the nation’s leader as we hurtle into massive economic and environmental turmoil.

Go Bernie!