Archive for June, 2016

Change

Monday, 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

Monday, June 20th, 2016

i've been waiting for the sun tw

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

Monday, 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

Monday, 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.”