Archive for October, 2014

Last Beans

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

last beans

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2014)

Step out onto the Planet.

Draw a circle a hundred feet round.

 Inside the circle are

300 things nobody understands, and, maybe

nobody’s ever really seen.

How many can you find?

                                                                                    Lew Welch

Rained almost an inch today in Mendocino, October 23, 2014. Will we look back from drier times and say, “Remember when it rained almost a whole inch in one day?” Or are we in for years of deluge? Most weather scientists think we’re in for a multi-decade drought, but the globe has so many feedback loops, known and unknown, currently looping and feeding back in ways we barely understand that five years from now California could be getting a hundred inches of rain a year. Or no rain at all. Or a hundred inches one year and none the next.

In the meantime, some things have carried on as per usual. The redwood roots have swarmed into our vegetable beds and made of them non-beds until I dig all those roots out in the spring and give us seven months to grow things before the redwood roots conquer our garden again. Veteran vegetable growers in my watershed shake their heads at my annual root digging and suggest we get big boxes with impenetrable bottoms and sides and admit defeat. Now that I have attained the ripe old age of sixty-five, we’ll see how I do next year battling the roots, and then I’ll decide whether to surrender to boxes or keep fighting.

Our vegetable plants are giving us their last tomatoes, string beans, carrots, basil, and lettuce, while the kale and parsley soldier on, redwood roots be damned. There is something especially poignant about these last few suppers made with our garden-grown goodies, these last days before we start buying vegetables shipped from warmer sunnier climes and inland greenhouses.

The apple trees have been prolific hereabouts this year, our kitchen table covered with bowls brimming with apples crying to be made into applesauce, apple juice, apple crisp. And we grew some nice sweet pumpkins, a victory given our proximity to the coast and the cool foggy summer. Just outside my south-facing office is a patch of ground twenty-feet-long and seven-feet-wide in which I planted tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, and beans, nowhere else on our property hot enough and sunny enough to grow such vegetables so well.

And the last potatoes are yet to be harvested. I’m waiting until Thanksgiving, barring an early frost, before I dig up the gangly plants and see how many pink red orbs the earth gods give us. The mid-summer harvest was spectacular, but this end-of-the-year patch has had almost no warm days and very little sun. I love growing potatoes. The plants are fantastical when they burst from the ground and grow by leaps and bounds in their first few weeks in open air. I love not knowing what each plant might produce, the size of a potato plant no proof of how many or how large the tubers she might produce.

I once grew a spectacular potato bush in Sacramento that was five-feet-tall and five-feet in diameter and green as Ireland. Visitors to my garden stood before the mighty thing as if they were in the presence of a god, which they were. I was sure that massive green thing would produce a bushel of spuds, but the gorgeous giant only birthed two golf-ball-sized potatoes, while seven feet away a wimpy little scraggly thing produced a dozen two-pounders. Mysterious, humbling, fun.

The blessed rain falling, darkness coming earlier and earlier every day, the fire in the woodstove a necessity as much as a pleasure now, the woodshed reassuringly full, the last beans clinging to the wilting vines—winter coming, such as winter comes in California. My friends who live in New England scoff when I speak of our seasons. I think they have northern California confused with southern California, but I don’t argue with them because I know how proud they are of their long icy winters that make our winters, rainy or not, seem mild by comparison.

Buddhism warns us not to compare ourselves to others. Buddha declared such comparing a form of jealousy and a mental trap, an obstacle to clarity of mind. Maybe so, but when I see somebody growing better bean plants than mine, I can’t help but compare. And through comparison, minus jealousy, we may learn how to grow better bean plants.

These are also the last days of baseball season. As I write this the Giants have split the two opening games of the World Series with the Kansas City Royals, and by the time you read this, one of those two teams will have won the World Series. If the Giants win the series, happiness will reign in our town and at our post office and all over northern California for many days. Millions of World Series T-shirts and hats and sweatshirts and jackets will be sold throughout the Giants’ kingdom and around the world. If Kansas City wins, the people of Kansas City will feel special and good and buy many baseball-related products.

The last beans, the last baseball games, the last days of October, the setting back of the clocks, the early darkness, the cold mornings, the match igniting the paper to ignite the kindling to ignite the logs. Thank you Frank’s Firewood for your foresight and full cords. Thank you forest earth gods (trees) for giving of yourself so we may be warm. The last days of the American empire, the last pickle in the barrel, the last bit of mayonnaise at the bottom of the jar. Is there another jar in the cupboard or will mayonnaise go on the list? Is it time to give up mayonnaise? No.

The last post-it of the pad of post-its on the kitchen counter. Is there another post-it pad in the top drawer of my desk or will post-it pads go on the list? We make our shopping lists on post-its, so if there are no post-its, on what will we make our lists? I remember life before post-its. I remember life before answering machines and cell phones and computers and email and big screen televisions and e-books and digital everything. I grew beans then and I grow beans now. Beans and baseball and the dark coming earlier and earlier until the Winter Solstice dawns.

 

Ida’s Place Book Two—Revival

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

idas2-cover-sm

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2014)

“Every existence in nature, every existence in the human world, every cultural work that we create, is something which was given, or is being given to us, relatively speaking. But as everything is originally one, we are, in actuality, giving out everything. Moment after moment we are creating something, and this is the joy of our life.” Shunryu Suzuki

I am pleased to announce the publication of the coil-bound photocopy edition (the only edition there is) of Ida’s Place Book Two: Revival, the second volume of what I intend to be at least a three-volume saga set in the mythical town of Big River on the far north coast of California. I brought out Ida’s Place Book One: Return ten months ago and have sold seventy-one copies to date. This is particularly good news because I broke even on design and production costs when I sold copy number sixty-six. Copies of the Ida’s Place volumes are signed and lavishly numbered by the author and are only available from me via my web site or by bumping into me at the post office or thereabouts.

As a creative adventure, the writing of a multi-volume work of fiction has been endlessly surprising and liberating for me, and many of my rules and limitations developed over forty years of writing single volume novels, certainly those pertaining to structure and pace, have given way to a spaciousness that is thrilling, mysterious and tricky.

Spinning a complicated yarn within a vastly expanded time-and-space frame reminds me of the revolution that transpired in the recording industry with the advent of LP’s, long-playing records, in the early 1950’s. Without the extreme time limitations imposed by short-playing 78’s, musicians and composers, especially jazz players, were suddenly free to record much longer pieces, and contemporary music, both recorded and live, was changed forever. Such works as Miles Davis’s Kinda Blue and Sketches of Spain or the long organ solo on the Doors’ “Light my Fire” would never have been possible without the advent of long-playing records.

Working with so much novelistic space also reminds me of an artist I knew who lived for decades in a tiny apartment and used his kitchen table as his studio. Everything he created—sculptures, paintings, and drawings—was small. In late middle age, he married a woman with a big house who gave him her high-ceilinged two-car garage to use as his studio, and after an initial transition period, everything he made was big. He told me he felt incredibly liberated in a spatial sense, though he was largely unpracticed in making large things. As he put it, “I am a beginner again in many ways, though a highly skilled beginner.”

Shunryu Suzuki was forever reminding his students about the importance of maintaining beginner’s mind, a non-judgmental openness, lest we become stuck in dogma and thought patterns that obscure the infinite possibilities inherent in every moment. I often think of beginner’s mind as I work on the Ida’s Place saga, and how the newness and unpredictability of the multi-volume form has rejuvenated my practice. To quote Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

After selling and mailing out the first thirty copies of Ida’s Place Book One: Return, I waited impatiently to hear what people thought of the book. When two weeks went by without a peep from anyone, my old crotchety inner critic began to whisper, “Maybe your ego played a trick on you. Maybe you wrote a dud.”

Then I heard from Alex MacBride, a person and writer I greatly admire, and I was relieved to learn that his experience of reading Ida’s Place echoed my experience of writing it. Alex wrote, “I had forgotten what it’s like to enjoy a book so purely and unambiguously and happily and want nothing more than to keep reading. I love it. It gave me a kind of reading-joy I haven’t had much since I was thirteen and fourteen, a tingling sort of excited comfort—moving along eagerly but resting at the same time, happy to be in the book’s world.”

Over the next several weeks I got more responses, including one from the poet D.R. Wagner who wrote, “I devoured the book in a day. I feel it is the most perfect love story by you yet. I was left breathless.” Another note came from Clare Bokulich, the Mendocino-born musicologist and baker, who effused, “Such a good read! I loved it. But now I am very anxious for Book Two. When will it be finished?”

Thus I was emboldened to dive whole-heartedly into writing Book Two. Now that Ida’s Place Book Two: Revival is done and copies are rolling off the copy machine at Zo, Mendocino finest and only copy shop, Book Three has begun to speak to me. And I am so eager to know what happens next to this large cast of fascinating characters, I am certain I will write the third volume whether anyone likes Book Two or not. As a dear friend once said to me, “Thank goodness we are our own biggest fans or we might never create anything.”

If you would like to read the first three chapters of Ida’s Place Book One, please visit my web site UnderTheTableBooks.com. On the Home page click on the facsimile of the book cover for Ida’s Place Book One and you will be taken to the appropriate page. I have not, however, posted the first three chapters of Book Two because I don’t want to spoil the many surprises for those readers who were good enough to purchase Book One and have been asking for Book Two.

In simultaneous news, my latest CD of solo piano improvisations nature of love has just arrived from the manufacturer and I am hopeful many ears will be pleased by the new tunes.

Waiting For Disaster

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

water tank

(This article appeared in the drought October 2014)

“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” Henry Kissinger

As the drought continues and a weakening El Niño lessens the chance of a good wet winter in California, we are having a second water tank installed to give us five thousand gallons of storage capacity. So far, knock on redwood, our well continues to provide us with sufficient water for our basic needs. Sadly, more and more of our neighbors are experiencing water shortages, and if we have another dry winter or two or three, even the most draconian conservation measures won’t keep our well from running dry for at least part of the year.

Thus we want that greater storage capacity for several reasons.

First, the water delivery companies in the Mendocino-Fort Bragg area deliver with trucks carrying 3500 gallons, and if you have less than a 3500-gallon storage capacity they still charge you for the entire 3500 gallons. Should we need to buy water, we want to be able to receive the full load.

Second, five thousand gallons provides us with two months of water for our minimalist needs, and those two months might carry us through the driest months of the year to a resurgence of our well.

Third, we will be more emboldened to plant a larger vegetable garden and water the orchard more generously if we know we have sufficient water for our basic needs and plenty more for our vegetables and fruit trees. We can monitor our supply, and when the well gives signs of waning, we can curtail water to the plants. This year, not having that extra capacity, we reigned in the size of our garden and were perhaps too sparing in watering the fruit trees we inherited and the five new apple trees we’ve planted since moving onto this property two years ago.

“


Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Alan Lakein

When our new storage tank arrived (it has yet to be coupled with our old tank) several neighbors inquired about what we were doing. Lively discussions ensued, and every single neighbor I spoke to said either, “We should get another tank, too,” or “We don’t even have a storage tank and really should get one.”

When I encouraged them to do so as soon as possible, they all acted somewhat sheepish (ashamed?) because they probably aren’t going to get a storage tank or a second tank until their wells run completely dry and they are forced by dire necessity to get those tanks—their body language saying, “Why spend the money when we might have a wet winter?”

Buckminster Fuller wrote that human evolution and human history are essentially records of people reacting to crises. His hope was that the vast stores of information made available to everyone on earth via computers would usher in an era of humans taking actions to avert disasters before such disasters engulfed them. Alas, his hope has not been realized. Humans, it turns out, are hard-wired creatures of crisis and rarely take sufficient pre-emptive actions to avoid disasters.

 “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” George Washington Carver

Speaking of thinking ahead, higher education in Germany is once again absolutely free throughout that socialist country, and that goes for international students, too. “We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want a higher education system dependent on the wealth of the parents,” said Gabrielle Heinen-Kjajic, the minister for science and culture in Lower Saxony.

“Tuition fees are unjust,” said Hamburg’s senator for science Dorothee Stapelfeldt. “They discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

Wow. Imagine if ensuring free higher education and excellent lower education were core tasks of politics in America, along with ensuring excellent free healthcare for all? For a fraction of the annual military budget we could have all three. But that is not going to happen because the American people are now thoroughly entrained to believe we are not a collective of people working for the greater good, but a vast list of individuals, each with the inalienable right to have piles of stuff we never have to share with anyone else if we don’t want to. And we don’t want to share our stuff because sharing is…yucky.

However, deep in our genetic memories is the fundamental truth of our evolution, which is that we would never have survived as a species had we not developed the ability to form and maintain highly cooperative groups of individuals living and working for the good of the entire group. This is why during crises, large populations of theretofore selfish, separate, disconnected individuals often become highly cooperative in order to enhance everyone’s chances of survival.

One of our neighbors came to take a look at our new water tank and said with a twinkle in her eye, “I know where I’m coming when I run out of water.”

And it occurs to me that we ought not only be outfitting our separate homes with more water tanks, we should be looking into creating a community water storage capacity, and a community solar electric system, and a community ride sharing system, and…hold that thought, my favorite television show is about to start and we’ve got enough water and food and stuff for at least another week, so I’ll talk to you later.

What Shall We Do?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

wildgardener2

The Wild Gardener painting by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2014)

“Life is full of obstacle illusions.” Grant Frazier

Congress has just voted to cut nine billion dollars in food stamps for poor Americans while voting to spend an initial sum of twenty billion dollars to bomb people in Syria and Iraq. That’s twenty billion on top of the trillion dollars Congress gives the Pentagon every year to, you know, bomb people all over the world.

Is there anything we the people can do about this insanity? Hypothetically, yes. We can engage in massive protests and strikes, say fifty million of us, demanding more money for the American people, an emergency national conversion to renewable energy sources and drastic cuts to the Pentagon budget. And we could organize and carry out a super effective boycott of Chevron. But none of that is going to happen because the vast majority of Americans are so busy scrabbling to make ends meet or scrabbling to buy the latest iPhone and other neato stuff we don’t need or sitting on our asses watching television, that from a political perspective we the people are irrelevant. From an economic perspective, we the people are a source of trillions of dollars of income for multinational earth-plundering corporations; such plundering funded by we the people buying neato stuff and overpriced medications and inadequate health insurance.

So what shall we do, you and I, in the face of what we know to be true about what is happening to the earth and to our society, and also knowing that the ruling elite can watch half a million people march in Manhattan to protest global warming and not give even a tiny hoot?

It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot

Here are some ideas about what you and I can do.

Idea #1: Give money to poor people. I know there is a strong sentiment that giving money to poor people only encourages them to stay poor, but that is untrue, cynical, and verges on the insane. So let us give money to poor people. If you don’t feel you have much to spare, just give a little.

Idea #2: Let us not buy a neato thing we were going to buy. We just won’t buy it. We’ll make do with other neato things we already have. Remember: long before that neato thing you want existed, you were getting along okay. Not buying that neato thing will free up cash for food and giving money to poor people.

I know we shouldn’t have to give money to poor people. Our country is so incredibly wealthy there need not be any poor people, not a single one, but the ruling elite have rigged the game and conquered our brethren with neato things and television and car-centric everything so equality and sharing the wealth is not going to happen in America any time soon. So let us not think of giving money to poor people as something we should do but as something we want to do to help counter the gross social and political imbalance the stupid meanies have created and we have acquiesced to.

Idea #3: Be kind to everyone we meet. Sometimes I make a fool of myself being kind to people, but most of the time the person or people I’m kind to appreciate my kindness and respond in kind. Today, for instance, I was buying a half pound of ground beef to go on the pizza we’re making tonight, and I was kind to our usually taciturn butcher, and though he resisted at first, eventually he smiled and even laughed a little when I said perfecto because he guessed to within a fraction of an ounce the amount of beef to put on the scale to make a half a pound.

Being kind to everyone we encounter makes it impossible to maintain attitudes of disdain and fear. I think disdain and fear are not only closely related emotions, but are two of the fundamental factors causing people (and they are just people) in Congress and in the huge voracious corporations destroying the earth to do the horrible things they are doing to our society and the earth.

From a Buddhist perspective, disdainful and fearful rulers and insanely rich people and people mindlessly watching television and compulsively buying neato things are mirrors for us. Their actions and attitudes are reflections of our own actions and attitudes, and we would do well to stop denying this and explore ways to change our own actions and attitudes. Who and what are we disdainful of? What are we afraid of? Why are we disdainful? Why are we afraid? What can we do to stop being disdainful and fearful?

“In their property was a portion dedicated to the beggar and the disinherited.” The Qur’an

Some years ago in San Francisco I was with two fellow artists, a man and a woman, on our way to a Chinese restaurant known for excellent food and wonderfully low prices; and even at those wonderful prices going out to supper was a serious splurge for me. The city was teeming with poor people and I had long since given away my spare change and one-dollar bills.

We were just about to enter the Chinese restaurant when we encountered a frighteningly gaunt man who said, “Hate to bother you folks, but I am starving to death. Can you help me?”

I reached for my wallet and my male friend grabbed my wrist and said, “Don’t. He’ll just use it for drugs.”

“No, I won’t,” said the gaunt man. “I need food.”

I gently disengaged from my friend, took out my wallet, and found I only had a twenty-dollar bill therein. If I gave the gaunt man my twenty I would not have money for supper. Meanwhile, my female friend had opened her purse and given the gaunt man a dollar. This so outraged our male friend that he threw up his hands and cried, “Don’t be fools!”

Then I said to the gaunt man, “We’re going into this Chinese restaurant. If you come in with us, I will pay for you to have some food.”

The gaunt man nodded and followed us into the restaurant where he ordered rice and vegetables—costing me seven dollars—and sat apart from us at a small table, wolfing down his food and drinking many glasses of water and dozens of cups of the complimentary tea. My two friends and I had a wonderful meal and laughed until we cried about something I can’t remember.

National Pentagon Radio

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

claim

News Report pen and ink by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2014)

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” George Bernard Shaw

Say what you will about NPR, National Public Radio, when it comes to reporting on American foreign policy, i.e. using drones and missiles and fighter jets to bomb adversaries, real and imagined, who have no air force or any way to defend themselves against those bombs and missiles, NPR is the great legitimizer of the military-corporate strategy of endless war.

Most recently, NPR assembled a group of so-called journalists and politicians to respond to President Obama’s speech about launching a multi-year campaign (with no end in sight) to bomb the ten thousand fighters of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Obama, who really does sound crazy these days when he reads speeches written to instill fear in the minds of his infantile listeners, proclaimed he has the right (because he said so) to bomb Syria, Iraq and pretty much anywhere else his advisors think the Islamic State fighters need to be bombed.

Oh, wait. The CIA just announced there are not ten thousand Islamic State fighters, but thirty thousand of them. Isn’t that something? The day after Obama’s here-come-the-terrorists speech, the CIA (renowned for accuracy and truth) just happened to find twenty thousand more of those horrible guys, which means the threat is much worse than Obama told us it was. Eek!

Made up facts aside (dutifully reported as gospel by NPR) the so-called journalists agreed that Obama’s speech was clear and decisive and good. Never mind that his speech was vague and ridiculous and predicated entirely on the public being incapable of remembering anything from last week, let alone last year. For obvious reasons, no one on NPR ever brings up the sad truth that America’s invasions and bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are the primary causes of the rise of tens of thousands of lunatic fighters now threatening the oil refineries and oil pipelines in Iraq, which threat is the only reason the corporate puppeteers have commanded Obama to unleash the jets and missiles against those annoying killers who would never have arisen en masse in an intact and functional Iraqi society.

“If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.” Thomas Szasz

Why won’t NPR allow Noam Chomsky or Robert Fisk on their airwaves? Or how about Julian Assange? Can you imagine Julian Assange on NPR’s silly news show Almost Nothing Considered? That will never happen because NPR is the official mouthpiece of the Pentagon and America’s imperialist foreign policy. Chomsky and Fisk and Assange and countless others who actually know what they’re talking about would quickly put the lie to the whole shooting match, as it were, by taking us step-by-step through the events leading up to the latest chapter in the redundant saga of protecting the pipelines and refineries at usurious cost to the American public and for the profit of major funders of NPR and both political parties.

By the way, did you know that KZYX, our local public radio station, is one of the only public radio stations in America that airs both NPR’s Almost Nothing Considered and Democracy Now! I find this fascinating in light of Democracy Now! contradicting virtually everything reported on NPR and vice-versa. Democracy Now! presents in-depth news and interviews, while NPR regurgitates Pentagon propaganda. What a weird combo.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Theodore Roosevelt

In related news, the NFL, the National Football League, has been rocked recently by the arrests of three star players for assaulting their wives or partners, one superstar arrested for physically abusing his four-year-old son, and another superstar for assaulting his partner and his infant son. I conflate this news with America’s foreign policy because in my opinion, football, as it is packaged and presented on television, legitimizes and glorifies violence in much the same way that video clips of sleek jets bombing desert targets legitimize and glorify violence. Hundreds of millions of American men are violence junkies, with war footage, football, and hyper-violent movies keeping them constantly juiced and wanting more.

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Imagine President Obama holding a press conference and saying, “I just want to let the American people know we will continue to use our incredible military might to keep the oil flowing so our corporations can reap obscene profits, we can remain dependent on fossil fuels, and gas prices will stay below five dollars a gallon. We don’t really give a hoot about human life or democracy or any of that nonsense. Everything we do is about maintaining the status quo, even if that means burning the earth to a cinder. Thank you and God bless.”

Now imagine the NPR analysts commenting on Obama’s speech. “Well, Bob, I think the President laid things out pretty clearly. The reference to burning the earth to a cinder was particularly cogent and timely given the latest global warming data that suggests there might be a link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming.”

“I agree, Joan, and by saying we don’t really give a hoot about human life and democracy or any of that nonsense lends a down-to-earth honesty to the ongoing carnage that I, for one, find refreshing and inspiring.”

“Exactly, Bob. Coming up, a look at an obscure rock band in Minnesota that has a hit on their hands with their song and accompanying YouTube video Kill Everything, featuring five cute little children shooting caged ducks with assault rifles and then posting pictures of the slaughter on Facebook. Just hilarious. Stay tuned for that.”