Posts Tagged ‘Kate Greenstreet’

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Todd and Abi

Abi and Todd photo by Marcia

In case you missed this widely disseminated news report from a few days ago, a woman in Arizona woke up speaking with a British accent, though she was born in the United States and has never been to England and doesn’t have British relatives. She went to bed with a blinding headache and woke up sounding British. Previously, the woman went to bed with blinding headaches and woke up sounding Irish and Australian. She has been diagnosed by actual licensed medical doctors as having Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS).

I know what you’re thinking. This is a spoof, a lampoon, a bit of silly whimsy. Yet this story was reported as fact in dozens of reputable newspapers and news outlets, several medical experts were interviewed about the woman’s condition, and these medical experts testified with straight faces that she manifested these foreign accents as the result of Foreign Accent Syndrome.

In less widely disseminated news, I have FAS. In spades. Two of our good friends, Marion and Abi, are from England. They were born in England and raised by English parents. Thus they are, in technical terms, totally English. When I’m around either one of them for more than, oh, thirty seconds, I begin to speak with a British accent. So convincing and authentic-sounding is my British accent that neither Marion nor Abi snickers when they hear me speaking in the manner of their native tongue, though they do occasionally snort.

Furthermore, my grammar becomes British when I speak with my incredibly real-seeming British accent, my sentences grow longer, and I feel eloquent and wise and…British.

I’ve had FAS since I was a wee tyke, the malady erupting, minus the headaches, hundreds of times in my long and checkered career as a human. Many years ago, I had a fling with a Serbian siren, and for the entire seven weeks we were involved, I spoke English with a Serbian accent so credible that the siren not only didn’t snicker or snort, on multiple occasions she gave me incredulous looks and said, “How do you do that? You sound exactly like my Uncle Boris.”

When I’m with Mexican people, I speak English with a Mexican accent. When I’m with French people, I speak English with a French accent. When I’m with Texans, I speak with a Texan’s drawl. When I’m with Jewish people from New York, I speak with a New York Jewish accent. I can’t help myself. I have FAS and I’m not ashamed to let the whole world know.

In seemingly unrelated news, my web site has undergone a transformation and I invite you to visit the new-look site and enjoy the goodies thereon. One new addition I think you’ll especially enjoy is on the Films page. Along with Bums At A Grave and Stripes, I am proud to present Kate Greenstreet’s videopoem The Magician, featuring my piano piece “The Magician” from my solo piano CD Ceremonies.

The Ceremonies CD and all our other CDs are available from my web site for a mere five dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping charge of six dollars, so order lots of CDs and books and cards to make that shipping charge seem like practically nothing. Or listen to “The Magician” on YouTube as often as you’d like.

Did I put “The Magician” on You Tube? No. All the tunes from my five piano CDs, and all the tunes from the two CDs I made with Marcia, So Not Jazz and When Light Is Your Garden, were posted on YouTube by CD Baby.

The individual drones from Marcia’s Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation are massively popular on YouTube. Thousands of people are hooked on her groovacious drones.

In more seemingly unrelated news, the stock market recently lost a whole bunch of value and subsequently gained back much of the value it lost. There are many theories about why the stock market went down, a favorite theory of silly people being that the Fed is going to raise interest rates. But if that were the cause of the decline, why did the market suddenly go back up? I’ll tell you why.

The stock market goes up and down based on the collective mindset of those who invest their money in the stock market, not on Fed interest rates. When the collective mindset becomes doubtful or fearful, the stock market goes down. When the collective mindset is optimistic, the stock market goes up. Since the big crash of 2008, most of the stocks, as in virtually all of them, have been bought and sold by the richest people in the world, otherwise known as the 1 per cent. Their collective mindset has been, “Everything is for us. We control the government. We get everything we want, including tax breaks and bailouts and loopholes and gobs of free money from the Fed.” Thus the stock market has gone up and up and up.

Recently, however, more and more not so wealthy people have been getting back into the market. Many of these newbies to the current historic market upswing are the same people who were ruined financially in 2008, and these newbies were also the investors most hurt by the recent downturn in the market, so much so that many of them left the market completely once again.

You see where I’m going with this? The collective mind of the 1% got adulterated by a bunch of not-so-confident investors, and the market went down. Now that those less than super-wealthy people have been chased out of the market, the collective mind is pure optimistic greed again.

As one very rich person told me long ago, “When the market crashes, the smart money is already out of there.”

Or, as was the case in 2008, when the market crashes, “We will have the government we control bail us out and make everybody else pay for our greedy gambling.” And that is what the Obama administration did. They gave trillions of dollars to the thieves who ruined the lives of millions of people and then they did nothing for those millions of regular folk who were so badly hurt by the folks who are once again stealing trillions annually from the national coffers.

By the way, I wrote all that about the stock market with an indignant British accent, which made me feel certain I knew what I was talking about. But now, writing with an apologetic Brooklyn accent, I opine, “How should I know? Do I look like a stock analyst? With these shoes? Don’t make me laugh.”

Parts

Monday, January 8th, 2018

bred in the bone 72

Bred in the Bone painting by Nolan Winkler

 

The picture

is imperfect,

partial.

 

As when it’s said:

“I am partial

to”

             Kate Greenstreet

 

I recently came upon a short film on Vimeo entitled Nix+Gerber made by a collective of filmmakers calling themselves The Drawing Room. I have now watched their marvelous little movie three times and sent the link to several people I know. Nix+Gerber not only captures the remarkable creative process of Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber, but eloquently illuminates the steps every artist must take in order to bring his or her vision to fruition.

The word artist is a loaded one in our society and has countless meanings and implications, so for the sake of clarity, I will give you my current definition of an artist. An artist is a person who is committed to making art as an essential part of her life.

The first step illustrated by Nix+Gerber is clarifying to yourself what kind of art you make. Nix tells us she considers herself a photographer more than a sculptor, and says, “I’m not the kind of photographer who is going to go out and find things to photograph. I’m gonna create things to photograph.”

Thinking about my recent novels in this regard, I would say, “I’m a fiction writer writing about humans striving to overcome self-doubt while seeking love and friendship in an imagined present-day American society.”

Regarding my music, “I’m a pianist creating melodic rhythmic patterns on which to improvise.”

The second step of the artist’s process shown in Nix+Gerber is having a vision of what you wish to create. For Nix and Gerber they have visions of things to make so they can then photograph those things.

Their vision for their series of incredibly real-seeming miniature interiors entitled The City, is of a world “post-mankind…where buildings have aged and crumbled and nature has taken back some of the spaces.”

The third and fourth steps of the artist’s process are: choosing your medium(s) and undertaking the creation. To bring their vision of this post-mankind world into being, Nix and Gerber spent many years building a series of hyper-realistic miniature three-dimensional interiors, including a medical school lecture hall, a power plant control room, the shop of a violin maker, a church, a Laundromat, and a subway car.

Each interior took them approximately seven months to create, working long hours every day, meticulously sculpting and fabricating every imaginable detail of that interior—including dust and cobwebs and rust stains—until the scene was complete and ready to photograph. And then, when they were satisfied with their photographs of these interiors, they dismantled the interiors, saved any of the thousands of tiny objects they might use again, and threw the rest away—the lasting artifacts being photographs.

I am reminded by Nix+Gerber of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, the British sculptor famed for his site-specific sculpture and land art, the fame of those works resulting from the excellent photographs he took of those sculptures and presented in big beautiful books, as well as in the documentary film Rivers and Tides.

My latest novel is about a woman nearing the end of her ten-year quest to find and interview and photograph a man who was a very famous chef until he disappeared and was presumed dead. I have spent a year word-sculpting the details of this novel and have recently completed the entire form, which I am now in the process of refining. I will eventually produce copies of the novel to share, and use the original pages for fire starter.

Thus my process is similar to Nix and Gerber’s process. We commit ourselves to making works of art, we have our visions, we decide on our mediums, we create the many parts composing our final creations, and we choose ways to present our creations to the world.

“A writer should immediately tell the reader four things:

1. Who the story is about.

2. What he is doing.

3. Where he is doing it.

4. When he is doing it.” Madeleine L’Engle

The final interior for Nix and Gerber’s The City, is a painstakingly accurate replica of Nix & Gerber’s incredibly cluttered home studio. In the movie Nix+Gerber, as we see in close-ups several of the hundreds of tiny parts composing the amazing replica of their home studio, Nix says, “It’s the little details that really make the scene come alive.”

This is true in a novel, too. For instance, if two people are talking, a description of where they are having their conversation, mention of a cat on a lap, steam rising from a mug of coffee, wisps of fog drifting in from the sea at day’s end, all contribute to the scene coming alive by resonating with the reader’s personal associations to these details of life.

Near the end of Nix+Gerber, speaking of the finished work, Nix says, “I’m too close to see the illusion. I have to rely on friends to tell me if it works or not.”

And this is why when I complete a draft of a novel, I don’t immediately begin working on the next draft. I need time to individuate, so when I begin the next draft I am somewhat distinct from those characters who have become so real to me they inhabit my dreams.

The little movie Nix+Gerber has stayed with me for several days now, not only because the movie is a delight to watch, but because Nix and Gerber’s astounding artistic odyssey inspires me to continue my own journey through the unknown, guided by a vision I wish to share with others.

The End of Something

Monday, December 4th, 2017

TEOS

“In the Eskimo language there are four future tenses: the immediate future, the middle future, the far-in-the-future future and a future that will never arrive.” Robert Littell

I just got my copy of Kate Greenstreet’s newest book of poems The End of Something. Wow. What a marvelous book. Not only are the poems songful and clear and provocative, as in thought/feeling-provoking, but the book itself is a most pleasing objet d’art with beguiling design touches and a splendiferous presentation of the poems, the line-spacing wonderfully spacious, the fonts exactly right, the book small yet not small—an insightful chronicle writ in a language we know but have never used this way.

As I read Ms. Greenstreet’s opus, images from my past rise from the depths; and the next thing I know I’m returning to the present here by the fire, many minutes having ticked away while I slipped and slid down various memory lanes—proof to me of how excellent her poetry.

 

From  80. WHAT TO DO WITH THE WILL TO BELIEVE

Whatever happened to divine

discontent? Longing

as the basis of self-discipline.

Fifteen years ago. I am fifty-three, walking the labyrinth embedded in the plaza outside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The woman I am involved with is twenty feet ahead of me on the mystic coil. She is often displeased with me and emotionally unavailable: two big obstacles to the continuance of our relationship.

A woman comes out of the cathedral, walks down a short flight of stairs, and approaches the labyrinth. She moves without a hint of fear in her gait and posture, her glossy brown hair falling to her shoulders, her skin olive brown—Spanish comes to mind, though she might be Greek or Ashkenazi.

She is wearing a dress that does not become her, a drab brown tube falling to just below her knees, the short sleeves all wrong, yet she takes my breath away. She reaches the threshold of the labyrinth just as I reach the center, our eyes meet, and we stand unmoving, locked in a powerful psychic embrace that tells me we were born to spend our lives together; and I can hardly keep from shouting “It’s you!”

Now the woman I’m involved with says, “We should get going. They’re expecting us.”

And my soul mate, rather than enter the labyrinth, smiles wistfully and walks away, while I, rather than run after her, turn to my girlfriend and say, “Okee doke.”

 

From  91. I SAW MYSELF NAKED BY MISTAKE

To know the longitude and latitude

with certainty, amidst erasure

of landmarks.

I am twenty-six. I have come to New York from Medford, Oregon where I worked as a landscaper. Having recently sold a few short stories to national magazines—a huge breakthrough for me—I’ve come to New York to meet the editors who bought my stories.

From childhood until this moment in my life, I have always had an excellent sense of direction. On backpack trips in the Sierras, sans compass, I was unerringly correct about which direction was which. And in towns and cities where I lived, my sense of direction was invariably accurate.

I enter the subway in Greenwich Village, go down a flight of stairs, pass through the turnstile, go down another flight of stairs, and catch the A Train to Times Square to purchase half-price tickets to a play. I get a little turned around coming up out of the ground at 42nd Street, but find the ticket booth and head underground again to catch the A Train to West 86th.

I board the train, and one stop along realize I’m going in the opposite direction I want to go, so I get off the train, exit the underground, re-enter the underground, and after some confusion catch the A Train heading for West 86th. When I get to West 86th and emerge from the underground, I set out for what I am sure is West 83rd, only to reach West 87th and have to turn around.

And ever since then, whenever I am in unfamiliar territory, I have difficulty synching up my sense of direction with reality.

 

From  39. WHAT FALLS FROM THE SKY

That the truth means

what is going to happen. Or

what I must do.

I am fifteen. I just informed my parents I don’t want to take any more pre-med advanced science courses at my high school. I want to take Drama and Ceramics. My sisters have gone to college. My younger brother and my mother have gone to bed. I am alone with my father in the living room. He is very drunk, standing ten feet away from me, yelling at me, his face deformed by fury and hatred. He says my decision to drop Science and take Drama and Art proves I am a quitter phony loser fake pathetic useless coward copout. My sensory system begins to shut down. I can hear him shouting and I can feel the energy of his fury, but his words are indistinct.

I will not remember this event until twelve years later when I become so ill I almost die. My illness manifests a few months after selling my first novel for a small advance to a major New York publisher. I am twenty-seven, living in a rat-infested house in a dangerous part of Seattle—a house I cannot afford to keep warm during the winter, so I am always cold.

The symptoms of my illness are limbs so heavy I have difficulty moving, exhaustion, inability to sleep, no appetite, fevers, chills, and a persistent cough.

After a month of suffering, I go to a doctor. He runs a battery of tests and can find nothing wrong with me. Three more weeks pass. I am cadaverous now. My throat aches from coughing. Every time I begin to drift off to sleep, I have a coughing fit and wake up.

I go to the doctor again. More tests. Nothing. He recommends I see a psychotherapist. I go home and sit on my bed and consider calling my parents to ask them for money so I can go to a therapist.

Sitting on my bed, I hallucinate a second Todd sitting a few feet away from me, and we have a conversation.

Todd 2: So you’re sick, but they can’t find anything wrong with you. How strange.

Todd: I’m more than sick. I’m dying.

Todd 2: How come?

Todd: I have no idea.

Todd 2: Well…what’s been going on in your life?

Todd: What do you mean? I’ve been terribly sick for two months. I can barely move, barely get out of bed. Nothing else is going on. Nothing else can go on.

Todd 2: What about your novel? Aren’t you about to publish your first novel?

Todd: I have to finish the rewrite, but I’m too weak. I have to get well first, only it doesn’t look like I’m going to.

Todd 2: But isn’t it amazing? You sold a novel! To Doubleday! You must be thrilled. Dream come true. Right?

Todd: I guess so.

Todd 2: You guess so? You don’t sound very thrilled or proud or happy about selling a novel to major publisher. And I notice when you tell people and they get excited, you say the book probably won’t sell. Why do you do that?

Todd: I don’t. I’m happy about the book.

Todd 2: No, you’re not. You’re ashamed, aren’t you?

Todd: No. I’m…I’m glad.

Todd 2: You don’t sound glad. You sound ashamed.

Now a movie screen appears in the air above me, and on the movie screen is my father, his face deformed by fury and hatred, calling me a quitter phony loser fake pathetic useless coward copout.

I shout at the movie, “Get out of my body! Get out of my mind! I banish you. Be gone.”

Now the scene on the screen dissolves and another scene appears—my father snarling, “We gave you everything and you pissed your life away.”

“Get out of my body! Get out of my mind! I banish you. Be gone.”

And for hours and hours memories of being denigrated by my father and mother and teachers and girlfriends and friends appear on the screen and I keep shouting at those memories to be gone from me.

At last I fall asleep and slumber without waking for nineteen hours. When I open my eyes, though I am weak as a baby, my illness is gone.

 

47. ALL OUR BONES

 

All our bones, and the mountains.

 

Mountains always in the distance.

It’s called completion.

 

I want us to tell people.

                                   

Kate Greenstreet

Paterson Jarmusch

Monday, May 29th, 2017

queenandjack

Queen and Jack drawing by Todd

 

Objects have names (what our dreams

come to). “It’s what I want.”

Begin asking.

          Kate Greenstreet

We recently watched Jim Jarmusch’s new movie Paterson and I loved it from first frame to last. Marcia loved Paterson, too, and we have been talking about the film for days—a sure sign of a movie beyond the ordinary.

Adam Driver portrays the main character in Paterson, a man named Paterson, an introspective and emotionally subdued fellow; and Paterson is also the city in New Jersey where the character Paterson is a bus driver circa 2016 and lives with his sweetly zany artist wife portrayed by an angelic Golshifteh Farahani.

Paterson is also the name of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams about this same Paterson, New Jersey, founded in 1792 to harness the power of the great falls of the Passaic River. The movie is, among many things, a tribute to William Carlos Williams and his enduring influence on poetry and literature and art in America and around the world; and more specifically, his influence on Jim Jarmusch.

How would I describe William’s influence on literature and art? While running the risk of annoying those more credentialed than I regarding William Carlos Williams and his place in the evolution of poetry, I would say his lyrical non-rhyming poems explore abstract concepts—death, life, time, love, change, sorrow, joy—through the contemplation of things and happenstance composing everyday reality. His poetry was certainly not the first to do so, but he was among the early escapees from rhyming poetry, his sensibility modern and non-paternal, and his poems about birds and wheelbarrows and flowers and paintings and going to work and changing seasons and grieving and love are beautifully wrought, musical, humorous, unique, and accessible to those who don’t know Latin.

I first collided with Williams’ poetry when I was seventeen, a senior in high school, 1967. I had recently fallen under the spell of the poetry and personalities of Philip Whalen and David Meltzer, so visited Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park to see if they had any books by Whalen or Meltzer.

“Sorry, no,” said the all-knowing clerk, “but we’ve got several volumes of William Carlos Williams. Huge influence on the Beats.”

So I bought Williams’ Pictures from Brueghel and Selected Poems, and devoured them countless times over the next several years, feeling certain those poems were antidotes to the ills of growing up in middle-class suburbia. Fifty years older now, I rarely read William Carlos Williams, but while watching Paterson felt thousands of poetry synapses lighting up and burning brightly—much of that frisson owing to my youthful imbibing Williams and some of the poets he inspired.

In this day and age of political and economic chaos, when most American movies are painfully unoriginal sensory assaults created for the entertainment of not-very-bright children stuck in the bodies of adults, Paterson, a contemplative movie about a poet bus driver who lives and breathes poetry, is so unusual and gratifying for the likes of me, I must heap praise on Jim Jarmusch.

Things got complicated.

“It’s hidden

in the ordinary.”

(a shot that everybody

had

and used)

            Kate Greenstreet

For me, Paterson is a profound call to share our gifts with other humans. To not share our gifts is to go against nature, to betray the purpose of being human. We are here to share our thoughts, our feelings, our food, our wealth, our love, and our creations. Our brains and bodies evolved to interact and collaborate in complex ways with other brains and bodies; and to constantly resist such interactions and collaborations will make us unhappy and unwell.

On two occasions in the movie, Paterson bumps into other poets—people he doesn’t know—and is privileged to hear those poets recite poems they have written. As a result of hearing these poems, Paterson comes out of the shell of his emotional privacy and encourages his fellow poets to keep pursuing their art, to keep sharing their poems with others. As I experienced the movie, the universe clearly put these people in Paterson’s way to show him how to proceed with his life and poetry, a way he resists until…

Where nothing was, it had to be created.

We can’t make everything we need inside.

            Kate Greenstreet

Those two lines from Kate Greenstreet’s poem phone tap from her collection of poems case sensitive, elucidate Paterson’s challenge, the challenge for every poet: to birth a new reality, to bring forth a new world, through our words. Australian aboriginals believe they cause the physical world to manifest through their songs—they call it “singing up the country”.

Which reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s lines from his poem Ash Wednesday, lines I used to preface my novel Louie & Women.

Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place

And what is actual is actual only for one time

And only for one place

I rejoice that things are as they are and

I renounce the blessed face

And renounce the voice

Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice

And that reminds me of another thing I loved about seeing Paterson: the movie inspired me to re-engage with favorite poems written by favorite poets, one poet and poem leading to another poet and poem—a delightful way to spend time. So if you love poetry, or if poetry was a formative force in your life, I think you will enjoy Jarmusch’s movie Paterson. And if you love poetry and movies, you may also enjoy the poetry and videopoems of Kate Greenstreet, who graciously allowed me to punctuate this essay with lines from her poems.

The Magician

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

superstar

A still from The Magician, a video by Kate Greenstreet

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2015)

“Magicians will always tell you the trick is the most important thing, but I’m more interested in telling a story.” Marco Tempest

Most artists are unknown or little known outside their neighborhood or town or small circle of friends. This is not a bad or good thing, but merely the way of the world. My favorite poets are known to only a handful of people, and many of the finest musicians and painters and actors I’ve had the good fortune to hear and see will never be known outside the little kingdoms inhabited by their personal friends and acquaintances.

All of the hundreds of artists I have known in my life, save for those rare few who for one reason or another succeeded hugely in the mainstream of our culture, either came to accept and even relish their relative anonymity in the greater scheme of things or they ceased to make art because the hope of great success was their primary motivation for making art.

A few of my books have sold thousands of copies, but none of my nine music CDs have sold more than a hundred copies. Many people unknown to me have read my books, but most of those who enjoy my music are known to me by their first names. And yet I have always been as dedicated to my music as I am to my writing, and I intend to practice and compose music for as long as I am able. Lovers of my music are few, but they are zealous lovers, and that is sufficient.

A few years ago I recorded an album of solo piano improvisations entitled Ceremonies, each piece an accompaniment to an imagined ceremony.

One of the pieces on the album is entitled “Dance of the Seahorses” and as I improvised that tune, I imagined the slow underwater dancing of those remarkable fish, a hypnotic enactment of a never-ending ceremony.

Another piece entitled “Blue Cathedral” is a churchy blues I imagined as a sacred processional in a cathedral bathed in ethereal light.

And my favorite piece on the Ceremonies album is entitled “The Magician.” As I played that mysterious tune, I saw in my mind’s eye a graceful mime performing a slow dance full of mystical and subtly humorous flourishes.

Fast forward to October 13, 2015, four days shy of my sixty-sixth birthday. An email arrived from my pal Max Greenstreet in New Hampshire informing me that he and his wife Kate Greenstreet had just released Kate’s video-poem The Magician, with my composition “The Magician” underpinning the narrative; and that short film is now viewable on Vimeo, a web site where filmmakers can share their creations with the world.

Words are inadequate to describe how thrilled and gratified I am that Kate chose my music for this video-poem she made in league with Cynthia King. I am a huge fan of Kate’s video-poems, Max her right hand man in the making of her films, and it is not hyperbole to say that having my music harmonizing with her words and imagery is a validation and encouragement that will sustain my musical pursuits for the rest of my life.

You can watch The Magician by going to https://vimeo.com/142189708

“It is the unspoken ethic of all magicians to not reveal the secrets.” David Copperfield

A large part of my joy about Kate and Max using “The Magician” in their exquisite film is that I have endeavored several dozen times over the course of my life to collaborate with other artists on a wide variety of creations, and the vast majority of those collaborations ended in creative or emotional or financial disaster, and usually some combination of the three. It would be convenient to blame my collaborators for these disasters, but since I am the only constant in these many failed equations, I suspect the fatal flaw lies with me.

Long ago in the days before digital cameras, I collaborated on the making of a short film I wrote and directed. The audio engineer on the project said he would only collaborate with me if everyone involved in making the film had his or her role in the process clearly defined, written down, and agreed upon, and that as the instigator and financier of the project, my judgment in all creative matters would be the final one, with everyone involved agreeing to that, too, with signed documents attesting to these agreements.

At the time, I thought such punctilious preliminaries unnecessary, but he was a superb sound engineer and I very much wanted to work with him, so I agreed to his conditions. My cameraman bridled a bit at the strict clarification of his role, but he signed his agreement as did the few other people involved, and we got to work.

No collaborative endeavor I have been involved with before or since ever went so smoothly. The potential clash of egos was dispensed with at the outset, and clashing egos, as I’m sure you know, make collaboration difficult if not impossible.

And though today my creative endeavors are solo flights—no one to argue with but little old me—I often fantasize about how grand it would be to team up with a drummer or filmmaker or singer or dancers who find my music and words exactly what they’ve been looking for to meld with their artistry.

This is why I am so thrilled that Kate and Max used my music in their movie The Magician. My music, in the words of Goldilocks, was just right—our collaboration arising from friendship and mutual admiration.

As I resume collaborating with myself, I imagine my novel-in-progress calling out to prescient publishers and daring movie makers, my latest piano explorations ringing through the global etheric in quest of people who will hear my music as soundtracks to bold new explorations of the light fantastic.

Homeless Forum

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Photo by Kate Greenstreet

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

Unable to attend the forum on the homeless that was held in Mendocino near the end of January, I did read the three articles in the Mendocino Beacon that reported in some detail and with a certain us-against-them slant on the gathering attended by Sheriff Allman and Supervisor Hamburg and members of the community, including innkeepers, restaurateurs, business people, residents of Mendocino, and even a few homeless people.

The upshot of these three articles as I read them (and I admit to reading things differently than other people read things) is that one: the Mendocino Headlands need to be cleared of blackberry bushes so the homeless will have no place to hide or camp or ambush each other and hapless tourists, two: some people are afraid to walk alone at night in Mendocino for fear of being attacked by homeless people, and three: we need more posters telling people not to give money to homeless people because homeless people just use the money for drugs and then defecate in inappropriate places.

Now why would someone, even a drug-crazed homeless person, defecate in a planter box or in the grass adjacent to the sidewalk or even right on the sidewalk instead of, say, in a toilet in a public restroom? Oh. There are no public restrooms open at night in Mendocino. Could that be the reason the crazed homeless person chose to poop in a planter and thereby deeply offend the discoverer of the homeless poop? For the record, I am a tax-paying resident of Mendocino, a year-round resident, mind you, and I’d like to know why we don’t have a decent public bathroom in our village? Is there one mentioned in the new general plan? No? Why not? And why is the one hideous bathroom we do have now locked at night? To keep the crazed homeless people from taking shelter there, of course.

Speaking of defecating, how about the hundreds of dogs that our upstanding non-homeless residents and out-of-town visitors illegally let off their leashes to shit all over the headlands and Big River Beach? Where do innkeepers and law enforcement stand on the dog shit issue? As one who steps in shit all too frequently in our lovely coastal hamlet, I can tell you that the Mendocino shit I step in is always dog shit, not human feces. And don’t tell me the bad canines belong to homeless people and the good canines belong to the homeowners, because I know that’s not true. I have been much more intimidated by big aggressive dogs owned by people driving cars that would make very nice homes than by the few scruffy trios and quartets of homeless people, mostly guys, who are now resident in and around Mendocino.

And why are these guys homeless? How many of them are mentally ill? How many of them are not welcome at Hospitality House in Fort Bragg? Why don’t we have a homeless shelter in Mendocino? Has anyone noticed the economy, the actual one, not the fantasy one, is falling apart and the number of homeless people in our society is increasing by leaps and bounds? Did we expect the homeless people to all stay in Oakland or Oklahoma or Peoria? If you were homeless, would you rather be in Mendocino or Oakland? Oh, but of course you would never be homeless. Why is that? Luck or skill?

I, too, occasionally feel intimidated by homeless guys, though not because they do anything except look kind of scary to me, and not as often as I am intimidated by aggressive dogs and people driving while talking on their cell phones or butting in front of me at the bakery. And I can see how homeless people are problematic for businesses in Mendocino. Who wants a surly non-conformist vagabond in frayed clothing and a scraggly beard posing in front of his or her tourist trap?

However, not giving homeless people money and mowing the blackberry bushes on the headlands and tearing down the brand new bus stop won’t solve the homeless problem. There will be more and more homeless as our economy continues to collapse and as our schools continue to fail to educate our children and as we continue to spend most of our public money on war and subsidizing oil companies instead of on our communities.

The Beacon articles did not, I hope, intend to make the homeless sound and feel like the enemy, but that’s what bad reporting will do. So we’ve got this problem, these faceless, intimidating, lurking-in-the-blackberry-brambles people without homes daring to come into our community and hang around near people who have homes and so much more. Why can’t the homeless just go somewhere else? Or why don’t they stop being homeless? Would these people like to have jobs? Find decent places to live? These are good questions, none of which was answered at the forum.

So what would I do to address the so-called homeless problem in Mendocino? First, I would make it a number one priority to build a state-of-the-art public restroom and bathhouse and safe napping facility in Mendocino with on-site attendants named Pierre and Celeste, large lockers, a really great community bulletin board, and regular visits from job and housing and mental health counselors dedicated to helping the homeless become unhomeless. Oh, sure, Todd. How will you pay for that? Easy. A tax on coffee drinks.

Second, I would annex Heritage House, and with grants from various liberal foundations, turn the place into a Life Rejuvenation Center housing two hundred formerly homeless people enrolled in rigorous spiritual warrior training and comprehensive classes in solar technology, organic horticulture, gluten-free baking, and animal husbandry. We will unleash a torrent of born again housed people on the world, solarize California, and reverse carbon emissions pronto. Oh, sure, Todd. Easy to say, but you’re talking mighty big grants to pay for that many people enrolled in spiritual warrior training. I know, but we’re just talking here, right?

By the way, the notion that homeless people spend most or all of the money we give them on drugs is nothing but dog shit propaganda. As a year-round resident of Mendocino, I watch homeless guys and girls buying food with their money every day. Yep. Bananas, potato chips, pizza, sushi, beer, carrots, refried beans, coffee, scones, almonds, chocolate. Actual food. Same kind you and I eat. Hard to believe, I know, but there it is.

Telling people not to give homeless people money is pure self-righteous selfishness and mean and cruel. If we actually had good places where all the homeless could go and relax and eat well and sleep safely, then there might be something to the idea of giving money to such places and urging homeless people to go to those places, but that is not the case, and wishing it were the case doesn’t make it so.

Thus I think we need posters that say, “Hey, you just spent nine bucks on a gluten-free scone and a large latte, how about giving that totally hungry dude over there a few bucks?” Or “So you just spent more than a thousand dollars for a romantic weekend in a luxurious inn, wine tasting and eating gourmet Mendocino cuisine, why not give a homeless person fifty bucks for a night of snooze and a shower in a decent motel?” Posters like that.

Seriously, folks, we’ve got to do better than removing hiding places on the headlands and not giving people money. The homeless in Mendocino illuminate what we’re all missing: decent public facilities, free community meals and socializing, a local solar-electric power company, a gigantic community garden where the homeless and the housed can work together and help each other, a commodious community hostel, and several excellent community camping places.

Oh, sure, Todd, how are you going to pay for that? Well, we probably won’t pay for any of it. We probably won’t do anything except mow the blackberry bushes and make a bunch of useless posters that won’t do anybody any good. And the dogs will continue to shit profusely on the beach and in the town, and the tourists will continue to come here and have their fun because they don’t mind homeless people because homeless people are everywhere now because our society has been taken over by the psychotically selfish. And as long as we delude ourselves that we are superior to homeless people and therefore deserve more and better than they, we are permanently screwed.

By the way, I have often used the cover of the blackberry bushes on the headlands for the purpose of pissing when I’m in town because I cannot stand the stench and slimy slipperiness of that hideous bunker that is the pathetic best this affluent community provides for us. So what will I do in the absence of the blackberries? What would you do?