Posts Tagged ‘change’

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.

Staunch Democrats

Monday, April 25th, 2016

sometimes, it's a circus, isn't it?72

Sometimes, It’s A Circus, Isn’t It? painting by Nolan Winkler

Most humans, alas, are easily swayed by clever liars who pray on our fears, and such swaying will almost surely cause the human experiment to devolve into global chaos—possibly quite soon.

I’ve been pondering the end of quasi-viable human society in the wake of Hillary Clinton winning the New York Democratic Primary over Bernie Sanders and because a reader recently wrote:  “I, too, am a Bernie supporter but my entire family—four siblings, and a mother—are all voting for Hillary. They are all wonderful people, yet staunch Democrats. I would love to read something by you about staunch Democrats. They are mostly a fine bunch of people who believe in social justice, equality and all the good stuff. They are far better than their party, and they continue to believe their party can provide the changes that would make the world a more just place.”

In my opinion, the big block of staunch Democrats voting for Hillary represents the single greatest obstacle to positive change in our society, and I think it would be more accurate to call such people Fundamentalist Democrats because of their unswerving devotion to people and doctrine serving the ruling elite and screwing everybody else.

I have friends who are staunch Democrats, and when I present them with clear proof of Hillary’s many crimes, their response never varies. They reflexively shake their heads and say things like, “That can’t be true.” Or “Hillary will unite the party.” Or “Hillary has a better chance of winning.” Or “You’re just saying that because you like that socialist guy.” Or “You have to admit she’s better than Trump.”

As The Bible is infallible to Fundamentalist Christians so The Party and Hillary are infallible to staunch Democrats. Sit down with a Hillary supporter and carefully prove beyond all doubt that Ms. Clinton is a rabid servant of the big banks and the super wealthy, a proponent of endless war, racism, big pharma, fracking, and corporate dominance at the expense of the American people, and the response will never vary because Fundamentalist Democrats cannot, will not, hear the truth.

For some years I thought these people suffered from IDD (Intelligence Deficit Disorder) but now I think they are captives of a deeply ingrained delusion nurtured by the ruling elite. To wit: change is bad and the status quo, however rotten and amoral, is preferable to the unknown. Bernie Sanders wants to change things, and change is bad. Hillary promises to keep the stock market Ponzi scheme going, to keep robbing the bottom ninety per cent to fatten the upper ten, to keep students in debt, to keep wages low, to keep the healthcare debacle in full flower—and staunch Democrats not yet starving will support her sickening agenda over anything else.

In related news, speaking of the upper ten per cent, some anonymous person recently gave us a subscription to Sunset Magazine. I hadn’t seen Sunset in thirty years, and if you remember this magazine from the 1950s and 1960s, the only thing about the new Sunset you will recognize is the name. Gone are the articles on how to make dolls from empty toilet paper rolls, how to make papie-mâché piñatas, how to make gerbil cages from old fruit crates. Gone are articles on how to plant, harvest, and cook string beans. Gone are ads for garden tools and inexpensive armchairs.

The new Sunset is exclusively for rich people. Imagine Vanity Fair meets Gourmet meets Travel For the Super Rich. Celebrities grace many a cover and are featured inside modeling expensive togs whilst lounging by waterfalls adjacent to their mansions. Every month brings us a list of The Top Ten Most Expensive Getaways In North America and glimpses into the kitchens of new restaurants so expensive only Hillary can afford to dine there, not Bernie.

In news related to that related news, you won’t read an article in Sunset about the shocking and cataclysmic disappearance of the kelp forests along our coast from San Francisco to Oregon and the simultaneous population explosion of purple sea urchins, devourers of kelp.

Scientists are blaming the disappearance of the kelp and the rise of the urchin barrens on several factors: a mysterious “disease” in 2013 that wiped out nearly all the millions of starfish on the west coast of North America (starfish being big eaters of sea urchins), an absence of sea otters, also voracious eaters of sea urchins, the huge warm water blob off the coast that appeared in 2014 and the El Niño of 2015 that further warmed the ocean and deprived the coastal waters of the upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water that helps kelp grow as much as 10 inches in a day.

Without starfish to keep them in check, purple urchins on the North Coast are now sixty times more plentiful than five years ago, and these urchins are extremely hungry. Thus any kelp that starts to grow in their midst is quickly gobbled. Abalone feeds on kelp, too, and without kelp, abalone are shrinking and dying, and abalone may soon disappear from the local coastal scene.

I remember those reports of virtually all the starfish along the west coast of North America suddenly dissolving in 2013, and a few writers daring to suggest there might be a connection to this unprecedented disaster and the billions of gallons of radioactive water that have been continuously flowing into the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan since 2011. These suggestions of a connection between that ongoing river of radioactivity pouring into the Pacific and the vanishing starfish were quickly dismissed by the scientific community because, well, staunch scientists are never eager to entertain the possibility that the failed nuclear power industry might play even a little part in the ruination of the ecosystem of the west coast of North America and beyond.

Staunch scientists are like staunch Democrats voting for Hillary. Confronted with unpleasant truths that should cause them to question their failed notions of reality, they reflexively shake their heads and say, “That can’t be true.”

Two Stories from Buddha In A Teacup

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

buudha-pb

Change

What was her name? She modeled for him twice. The four paintings he made of her sold before the paint was dry. Something about her angularity—a hunger in her bones. Or was it the sorrow in her eyes—the first glimmering of old age?

A gigantic face looms before him, startling him. “Hello Boo Boo,” says a voice coming from enormous lips on their way to press a kiss against his cheek. “You poopy? Need a change?”

Huge hands close around his middle, lifting him from the cushioned chair. He moans softly, a sound his mother hears as the beginning of language.

I’m Walter Casey he tries to say. The artist.

But only the most primitive sounds escape him, his brand new larynx yet untrained.

*

Helpless on the changing table, his mother frees him from his itchy pajamas and lifts away his soiled diapers. He sighs with relief to have his bum free in the open air. She wipes him clean, cooing as she pulls the string on the musical bear—Twinkle Twinkle Little Star playing for the thousandth time.

Mendelssohn he tries to say. Mozart. Anything but this ice cream truck twaddle.

*

She sits with him in dappled shade, chuckling at how ravenously he feeds on her.

Maria. That was her name. She wanted to make love with me. All I had to do was ask. But I was too arrogant. No. Afraid.

His mother pulls him off her nipple. He begins to shriek in despair.

“Hold on, Boo Boo. Switching breasts, that’s all.”

*

He falls asleep and drifts through layers of time to

a snarling dog lunging at him

his father saying You Are No Son Of Mine

forms appearing on his canvas as if by magic

mother clutching his hand as death takes her

his lover kissing his throat

*

The man who comes to visit every day is not the baby’s father. The baby’s father is bearded and stays in the house throughout the night. This other man has no beard. He only stays for an hour or so, speaking out loud to the baby, but conversing silently with Walter Casey.

How are you feeling? asks the man.

I forget more than I remember now.

Yes says the man. Soon you will forget almost everything that came before this life.

But I don’t want to forget.

What do you wish to remember?

Everything.

Choose one thing.

The baby laughs. The man laughs, too.

*

The creek tumbles down through the wooded gorge—a sensual chill in the air. Yellow leaves drift through slanting rays of sunlight and settle on the forest floor. Walter stands at the water’s edge, the tip of his fishing rod pointing toward the sun, his line disappearing into a deep pool. Tomorrow is his seventeenth birthday.

His mother appears on the ridge above him. She is small in the distance, lovely and strong. She waves to let him know it is time to come home for supper. Walter waves back to her and reels in his line. Now he looks up at the falling leaves, at the branches of the aspens, at the billowy white clouds in the gray blue sky, and he begins to weep.

*

“Don’t cry, Boo Boo,” says his father, lifting him from his crib. “Here we are. Don’t be afraid.”

I am not afraid. I was remembering the happiest moment of my other life.

“Don’t cry, Boo Boo,” says the gentle, bearded man. “Mama will feed you. Everything is okay.”

 

Beginning Practice

Joseph, a self-conscious young man with a shaved head, sits at a small table in the darkest corner of the café, writing a poem. The first two lines came easily to him.

broken glass, green and brown—

a necklace round the tree trunk

Beyond that, he has drawn a blank. He wants to say something poignant and meaningful about the trees that grow up through the sidewalks of the concrete city, but every new line he writes sounds trite.

He puts down his pen, rubs his eyes, and decides to have a cup of tea. He prefers coffee to tea, but the three people he admires most—his mentor at the Zen center, his yoga instructor, his favorite poet—all drink tea, so he is trying to develop the habit. His father, from whom he is estranged, drinks quarts of coffee every day.

Stepping to the counter, Joseph smiles at the word BUDDHA printed in large block letters across the pale blue T-shirt worn by Irene, the young woman who works the morning shift at Café Muse. Irene is a voluptuous brunette, each of her carefully plucked eyebrows pierced with seven gold rings, her dark brown eyes enormous. The U in Buddha rides atop her right breast, the H atop her left.

“Green tea, please,” says Joseph, raising his eyes from Irene’s breasts to her eyes. “Are you a Buddhist?”

“Sort of,” she says with a shrug. “Are you?”

“Absolutely,” he replies, his chest swelling with pride. “I’ve been going to the Zen center for years.”

This is not precisely true. Joseph has been going twice a week for three months.

“Is that, like, free?” asks Irene as she prepares his tea. “Can you just…go in?”

“We have regular meditation times.” Joseph’s voice deepens with authority. “I generally go in the evenings. Seven to nine.”

She hands him a white mug and a small black teapot. “I’ll check it out. That’s two dollars.”

“Cool,” says Joseph, eager to prolong the conversation. “So where did you get your T-shirt?”

“They’re my favorite band,” she says, turning around to show him the back. The word GROOVES is written in crimson Italics. Irene turns back around and peers down at her breasts. “Buddha Grooves. They’re kind of world beat reggae with some metal and hip-hop. Very danceable.”

“Are they Buddhists?” asks Joseph, his tone disdainful.

“Is that like a big deal?” she asks, frowning at him. “Knowing if someone is a Buddhist or not? I thought Buddha loved everybody no matter what? Wasn’t that why he stuck around instead of going off to nirvana? So he could spread the light?” She looks deep into Joseph’s eyes. “Isn’t Buddhism about becoming more and more open to what actually is, instead of just following some old dogma?”

Hearing these words from her, the blockade between his mind and his heart—an amalgam of fear and sorrow—begins to crumble.

 

 

American Exceptionalism

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Shakespeare PC Map (todd)

A Shakespearean Map of the U.S.A. courtesy of David Jouris

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

“There are no exceptions to the rule that everybody likes to be an exception to the rule.” Charles Osgood

Recently listening to fascinating interviews with Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange, I was struck by their repeated use of the expression American Exceptionalism. The expression as they used it had geo-political connotations, but I think American Exceptionalism also captures the essence of the most popular operating system of the individual American psyche.

In geo-political terms, American Exceptionalism refers to the belief of those currently ruling America, that America can and should do things militarily, politically and economically on the world stage that America will not tolerate any other country doing. In terms of the individual American psyche, American Exceptionalism manifests in countless ways. For example:

Arriving at Big River Beach a few days ago, hoping to enjoy a stroll on the sand, I was confronted by a large growling unleashed dog. When the dog’s owner—a woman in her thirties wearing a Sierra Club sweatshirt—came to my rescue, I informed her that dogs are supposed to be leashed on Big River Beach. She bristled and said, “My dog won’t hurt anyone.”

A young man we know who recently received a Master’s degree in Environmental Science because he “wants to educate people about the dire need for humans, en masse, to shift our energy consumption habits,” recently flew to Paris from San Francisco “just for fun” and has trips planned for next year to Chile, Thailand and Australia because, “I have so many frequent flier miles.”

This same wannabe world saver turned down a lovely apartment an easy walk from the private high school where he teaches classes in Environmental Awareness and chose to live “in a hipper part of the Bay Area,” necessitating a ninety-minute car commute to his job. That’s ninety minutes both ways.

Is this intelligent young man unaware of the hypocrisy of his behavior in light of his professed beliefs? I think so. I think he is a quintessential American Exceptionalist. In his mind, everyone else needs to stop driving so much and flying everywhere, but not he. Why not he? He’s an American.

“There are two reasons why a man does anything. There’s a good reason and there’s the real reason.” J.P. Morgan

A few months ago, Marcia and I watched the very good and creepy (to me) movie Her about a bright personable man with intimacy issues—played by Joaquin Phoenix—who falls in love with an incredibly sophisticated computer operating system possessed of clairvoyant artificial intelligence. At a crucial moment in the movie, the operating system, voiced with sweetly sexy allure by Scarlett Johansson, informs our hero that she is simultaneously carrying on “intimate” relationships with hundreds of other users. Crushed to the core by this news, Joaquin nonetheless soldiers on with his relationship with the operating system, though things can never be as wonderful as they once were because She was supposed to be his and his alone. It would have been fine for him to have another relationship while maintaining his relationship with Her, but that was unacceptable for Her.

When Her was made (a couple years ago) the movie was intended to be futuristic. By the time we saw the film, we could discern almost no difference between the reality depicted on the screen and the lives of millions of urban computer peeps of today. Indeed, we just saw an excellent French movie, shot in Manhattan a year ago, Chinese Puzzle, and the constant use of computers and mobile phones as key factors in the lives of the characters in Chinese Puzzle made Her seem like a period piece set in the recent past.

“From the naturalistic point of view, all men are equal. There are only two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots.” Mikhail Bakunin

The Ebola epidemic, verging on a pandemic, has clarified (for anyone willing to face the truth) the extreme interconnectedness of the global community. Powerful idiots, led by Ted Cruz and other mega-morons, are urging travel bans to and from afflicted areas, thereby impeding the crucial flow of medical personnel and medical aid to those countries where the epidemic must be fought if there is any hope of containing the disease. Ted Cruz and other People Of Little Brains seem to personify American Exceptionalism to an insane degree. What do they imagine will happen if the airline industry suddenly and dramatically contracts? The major airlines would quickly go bankrupt, the stock market would collapse, and the ensuing global economic disaster would then make the spread of Ebola into all nations a sure thing instead of highly probable.

The Ebola epidemic reveals American Exceptionalism to be what it actually is—a cancerous blood clot in the main artery of what might otherwise be an effective, functional, egalitarian global community. All the nations of the world will have to become highly cooperative with each other in order to defeat Ebola, and the sooner everyone realizes this the better our chances of not only defeating Ebola, but of establishing new modalities for dealing with the many other threats to the biosphere.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw

I came out of the post office yesterday just as a man in a humongous pickup truck pulled into two and a half parking spots—his truck effectively blocking one of the two lanes of the little street—and left his gargantuan engine running as he climbed down from his cab and sauntered into the post office. The sticker on his front bumper said SEVEN FUCKING MILES PER GALLON. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

The sticker on his back bumper said I EAT STEAK EVERY FUCKING MEAL. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

I walked home imagining scenes in which I engaged this fellow in discussions about global warming and fossil fuels and gigantic trucks and American Exceptionalism, and in every scene he got out his gun and mowed me down.

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.

The Way Of Things

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

a5-Remaining A Mystery

Remaining A Mystery photograph by Ellen Jantzen

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2013)

“You are the music while the music lasts.” T.S. Eliot

My brother sent me a fascinating article published recently in New Scientist that warns of the impending loss of a gigantic part of our recent cultural heritage. To quote from the article: “Magnetic tape begins to degrade chemically in anything from a few years to a few decades, depending on its precise composition.” and “The Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations has recently estimated that worldwide some 200 million hours of culturally valuable audiovisual content (videotape) is in danger of disappearing entirely if it isn’t converted into a preservable digital format.”

This estimate does not include the hundreds of millions of hours of cassette tape recordings and videotapes that you and I and countless other cultural bottom feeders and outsiders and just folk created in those bygone days (not very long ago) of such outdated media. So what do you think? Are those words and music and audiovisual adventures you and I and our friends tried to capture on swiftly disintegrating magnetic tape culturally valuable?

The article continues, “Some cultural institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Galleries and British Library in London do now have digitization plans, but many do not. At current, sluggish rates, 70 per cent of content recorded on magnetic tape will be lost a decade from now.”

Why am I not upset about this?

When I moved to Mendocino eight years ago, I brought with me a trove of about sixty cassette tapes, recordings I had made and recordings made by friends. Then a year ago, when Marcia and I were moving to our new home, I got rid of all but six of those cassette tapes. I just now perused those six artifacts and felt no great need to keep any of them. Yet eight years ago, I couldn’t imagine getting rid of any of those sixty precious cassettes. What changed?

 “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.” James Joyce

I was sitting on the terrace of the Goodlife Café and Bakery in Mendocino the other day, scribbling away in my notebook and enjoying the dialogue coming out of my pen, when the young woman at the adjoining table looked up from the book she was reading and asked me, “What are you writing?”

“I think it may end up being a novel,” I said, guessing her to be twenty-five, though who can tell anymore? She had short curly black hair, no makeup, big brown eyes, a green tank top showing off muscular arms and a small tattoo of a butterfly on her left shoulder. “Time will tell.”

“You look like a mad scientist,” she said, grinning. “Smiling demonically as you write. What’s it about?”

“I don’t know,” I said, thumbing back through the last few pages I wrote. “I never know until I’m done, and even then I don’t really know until years later, and then years after that I think it must have been about something else. Or…”

“Would you read to me what you just wrote?” She nodded enthusiastically to encourage me. “Please?”

“Well…” I said, never (that I could remember) having read something I’d just written to a complete stranger, especially the unedited rough draft of something. What if it’s awful? “Okay.”

She moved from her table to mine, bringing her mug of black coffee and book and purse and cell phone, and sat close enough so I didn’t have to shout but not so close as to seem intrusive. She struck me as perfectly sane and admirably relaxed—someone on vacation or home visiting her parents—and I assumed the invisible ones had sent her to me for some good reason. You know how that is.

So then I read aloud what I’d written, and as I always do when I read aloud I became my characters, the scene involving Maeve, sixty-two and Irish, Simon, an exceedingly bright ten-year-old American boy, Donald, Maeve’s thirty-four-year-old son, and Ida, Simon’s thirty-two-year-old mother. They are in a diner where Maeve is a waitress.

“What have you settled on, Simon?” says Maeve, resting her hand on Simon’s shoulder, having already heard what Ida and Donald want. “Are you an egg man or a waffle fellow? Or do you fancy pancakes this morning?”

“Don’t you need to write things down?” asks Simon, frowning at Maeve and imagining her as his grandmother. She would be the best grandmother in the world.

“I like to keep my hands free,” says Maeve, winking at the boy. “In case I have to foil a robbery or something along those lines.”

Simon gives her a doubtful smile. “I guess I fancy pancakes this morning, though I’m usually an egg man.”

“Koo koo ka choo,” says Maeve, referencing The Beatles. “And if you don’t mind my asking, what will you be drinking with those cakes? Coffee? A shot of whisky? Or is it…don’t tell me.” She closes her eyes and feigns clairvoyance. “Orange juice.”

“Amazing,” says Simon, madly in love with Maeve. “Large, please.”

“No more amazing than you,” says Maeve, leaning down to kiss Simon’s cheek. “I shall place your order and we will banter further as time allows.”

Maeve strolls away and Simon says to Donald, “Is she always so funny?”

“Only when she’s performing,” says Donald, looking around the crowded diner. “And this is her stage and these are her fans.”

The young woman frowned at me and said, “So then what happens?”

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging. “That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Chapter Eight.”

“I love it,” she said, nodding in her enthusiastic way. “When will it be published? I want to get a copy.”

“I…uh…well, assuming I finish writing it some day, I will make some photocopies at Zo right around the corner here and you can buy one if you want. If you give me your address I’ll send you a notice.”

“Photocopies?” She wrinkled her nose. “Can’t you at least put it on Kindle or something?”

“I can’t,” I said, sighing. “I don’t have the heart or the brain for that sort of thing. But photocopies work just fine, believe me.”

“I love to read,” she said, plaintively, “but I don’t find much I like these days.” Then she sighed. “I had this horrible thing happen recently.”

Uh oh I thought. Here it comes. The real reason the unseen ones sent her to me. But she did listen to me and flatter me and I got to hear my words out loud and aimed at someone else. So… “What happened?”

“I was so desperate for something good to read, I decided to read the Harry Potter novels again because when I was eight and nine I was insanely in love with them.” She paused for a long moment as if remembering an old friend she would never see again. “And they were just…so bad. So…infantile. So…predictable and vapid and fake.” She looked at me, horror-struck. “Has that ever happened to you? Where something you thought was so great turns out to be just shit?”

“The thing is,” I said, curious to hear what I was going to say to her, “those books were perfect for you when you were eight and nine. But you’ve changed, and so has your taste. You’ve lived in the real hard cruel world, yes? Had your heart broken a few times. Maybe nearly died. And in your quest for good books you’ve read at least a few, so the bar has been raised for you. You have tasted something better and now the old food just won’t do.” I sighed again. “And so it goes. When I was ten I saw the movie of the musical South Pacific, and I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. But when I was thirty-three, I saw it again in a revival house in Sacramento and I thought it was one of the worst movies ever made, and I ran out of the theater the minute Bloody Mary finished singing Bali Hai.”

“What about your own writing?” she asked sadly. “Things you wrote a long time ago?”

“Certain books and stories have stood the test of time for me, and others haven’t. Happens with music, too. Seems to be the way of things.”

“This helps me,” she said, looking at her phone. “Oh, shit. I am so late. Nice talking to you.”

And with that she was gone, and the first thing I thought was Darn, now I won’t be able to send her a note when I finish writing this book, if I ever do finish. But then she came running back with her pen at the ready, I flipped opened my notebook, and she wrote her name and address in the little space beside Maeve saying Koo koo ka choo.

 

 

Fiscal Cliffs

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2012)

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” Bo Derek

So…immediately following and ever since the re-election of President Obama, we have been told day and night by the various media that we, America and her people, are approaching a fiscal cliff. Are we approaching this cliff from the bottom and looking up? No. According to the latest diatribes, we are moving inexorably toward the edge of a cliff over which we will fall to our fiscal doom if the Republicans and the Democrats can’t agree on how to proceed with taxing the American people (while barely taxing the corporations who have most of the money.)

Hmm. Whenever our overlords trumpet something like an impending fiscal cliff or constitutional tsunami or economic donnybrook, I think of Dorothy and Tin Man and Lion and Scarecrow trembling before the scary projection of the Wizard on the gigantic movie screen in Oz, trembling until they discover the projection is the creation of a wimpy old man hiding behind a curtain bellowing, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Which is to say, I wonder what we’re not supposed to be paying attention to while the mass media and her propaganda pundits scare us with fiscal cliff hocus pocus, and by hocus pocus I mean illusion.

America is awash in money. Last week a new kill-as-many-people-as-you-can video game was released and took in close to a billion dollars in just a few days. New iterations of the Iphone and Ipad and Imac rake in billions and billions for Apple. Americans spend billions of dollars a year on lottery tickets and gambling, and the latest beyond-stupid teen vampire movie will gross a billion easy. Meanwhile, America continues to spend trillions of dollars on military operations around the world for the benefit of multinational corporations and continues to hand hundreds of billions of dollars in interest to the owners of our national debt, while many of the largest American corporations and most of America’s wealthiest citizens pay little or no income tax. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of us hand trillions of dollars to amoral health insurance companies that should have been replaced with Single Payer Healthcare a generation ago. So I’m not buying this fiscal cliff nonsense. What we have is yet another charade to keep us baffled and bewildered while tens of millions of Americans who long ago fell off their personal fiscal cliffs are suffering terribly and many more millions are on the verge of falling into bankruptcy and poverty.

“Money often costs too much.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The American economy today is in large part a consortium of extortion rackets, the largest racket being the oil gas automobile industry, otherwise known as the great engine of global warming. Speaking of which, could the man behind the curtain be global warming? In a report written for the World Bank and published last week by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, the authors declare that humans must immediately impose radical limitations on carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement and death of hundreds of millions of people. If we do not undertake extreme ameliorative measures, the report concludes, then the planet will inevitably warm by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, with unimaginable disasters wracking the earth long before then.

To quote a bit from Chris Hedges writing for Truthdig, “The 84-page document Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided paints a picture of a world convulsed by rising temperatures…a mixture of mass chaos, systems collapse and medical suffering like that of the worst of the Black Plague…and the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such a temperature increase almost inevitable…causing a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases…Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct.”

But, hey, surely extinction can wait while all the Chicken Littles rush around screeching, “We’re approaching a fiscal cliff! Here comes the fiscal cliff!” and the bozos in Congress argue about whether to raise taxes a teeny little bit on wealthy people or to keep screwing the middle class and the poor. What a dilemma? Meanwhile, the governor and other top politicos of New York are asking Congress for 32 billion dollars to pay for the damage done by super storm Sandy, money that will no doubt be used to rebuild archaic housing and transportation systems guaranteed to exacerbate global warming and spawn more super storms. And where will Congress get the money for New York if we go over the fiscal cliff? Maybe on the way down the cliff, you know, as we’re falling and falling and falling, our wily representatives will find little caves in the cliff full of money for New York and for waging endless war and stuff like that. Sure. Yeah. Little caves full of money. Okay.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France

For much of my life I lived on the edge of a monthly fiscal cliff that necessitated my coming up with enough money to pay my rent, my utilities, and for buying sufficient groceries to keep me alive. The fiscal cliff was the last day of every month, which was when my landlords required me to pay what I owed them. I did not own a car, did not have health insurance, bought my few clothes at the Salvation Army, and rarely traveled outside my local watershed. I patched together a living as a laborer, editor, and babysitter, and I tried to give myself a few hours every day to work on my writing and music, which occasionally brought in a bit of money.

When I had an especially good month, I would squirrel away anything extra in my savings account to give me a leg up on the next month, and every once in a while I would get two or three months ahead and allow myself even more time for my creative pursuits. My great fear was that I would hurt myself or get sick and not be able to work, and the few times that happened were frightening times, indeed, times I only survived with the help of friends.

In other words, I lived as many Americans live, one paycheck away from homelessness. For a few years I supported a friend and her daughter and thus needed to treble my income, a feat I was able to accomplish by giving up my artistic pursuits and doubling my workload. The largest expense was always rent, far more than half my income, and I was constantly worried that sickness or injury would render me incapable of working.

So when I hear politicians using the metaphor of a fiscal cliff to keep the American people frightened and unresisting, I am filled with sorrow and anger. There is so much we could do right now to transform our society into a wonderful system for everyone, a system of living and working and learning and sharing that would swiftly reverse the environmental damage done by the current system of senseless greed and plunder. There is plenty of money. There is no fiscal cliff. There are merely choices to be made. Do we use our fantastic collective wealth in ways that will benefit everyone and mother earth or do we continue to flush our wealth down the toilet of greed and selfishness and over the cliff of monstrous stupidity?