Posts Tagged ‘Zo’

Ida Four

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

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

Two hours into tonight’s Open Mike at Club Muse, a dumpy old pub on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond California, most of the eighty-seven patrons have ceased to pay attention to the performers—the music awful, the comedians worse, hope of anything good fading fast.

Now the master of ceremonies, Tony Glick, a sweaty guy with scraggly gray hair and a huge beer belly, his yellow T-shirt sodden, his skinny blue belt barely holding up his saggy gray pants, steps to the microphone on the treacherous little stage and says, “Okay, yeah, thanks for that, Fred. Tell it like it is. Okay. Now we got a special treat, chick came all the way from Fort Orford to sing for you. Please welcome Nai O’Reilly.”

“Don’t call her chick,” says a bleary-eyed woman in a wheelchair near the stage. “Sexist pig. You want us to call you cock?”

“Whatever,” says Tony, rolling his eyes. “Here she is. Nai.”

The low roar of drunken blabber dies down a bit as a tall young woman sporting a ruby red guitar steps onto the stage. Wearing a creamy white long-sleeved shirt tucked into black jeans, her long brown hair in a ponytail, Nai scans the crowd to get a sense of her audience—the blabber falling to murmurs as the truth sinks in: this pretty gal is way too young to be here legally, yet here she is, standing at the microphone as if she’s been doing this since she was a baby, relaxed and unafraid.

Now she plays a slow progression of minor chords and sings a funny sad country lament, her voice strong and tender and perfectly pitched—even the most jaded of the patrons falling silent to listen.

Six-foot-one in my stocking feet,

still only fourteen years,

I tried to stop my growing

with an avalanche of tears.

Five-foot-seven ‘fore I made it to ten,

I was five-foot-ten at eleven.

Six-foot-even when I turned thirteen;

Cousin Day stopped at five-foot-seven.

Yes, I’m six-foot-one in my stocking feet,

still only fourteen years,

I tried to stop my growing

with an avalanche of tears.

***

That is how the just-published coil-bound photocopy edition of Ida’s Place Book Four—Renegade begins. Naomi, nicknamed Nai, is conceived in Book One, is five-years-old in Book Two, nine-years-old in Book Three, and fourteen-years-old in Book Four. For forty years I wrote single-volume novels focused on less than a year in the lives of their characters, and now I am writing the fifth volume in a series of novels collectively spanning, so far, twenty years.

One reviewer of my published novels described them as contemporary explorations of the lives and interactions of complicated people in various stages of overcoming or not overcoming emotional obstacles to their happiness. The Ida’s Place books certainly fit that description, but because the lives of the many characters unfold over decades, the explorations are of a different nature than those in my single-volume novels.

Had I introduced fourteen-year-old Nai in a single-volume novel as she appears in Book Four, the reader would not have experienced her childhood and be privy to many formative moments in her life. I would attempt to fill in her back story in the course of that single-volume work, but there would be no way to duplicate the depth and complexity of her character as it evolves over four volumes unless I made her the primary character for most or all of a single volume.

I do endeavor to write each volume of the Ida series so it may be read with satisfaction as a single-volume work. Indeed, a few avid followers of the Ida series encountered the second volume first.

Shortly after I brought out Book One, readers suggested I append a Character Glossary at the back of the book so they might refresh their memories of the many characters before, during, and after reading each volume. I have done so, and the glossaries are now a big help to me as I write each subsequent volume.

For Book Four, we enlarged and bolded the frontispiece announcement of the Character Glossary after two readers reported that while reading Book Three they longed for a character glossary, only to finish the book and find the Character Glossary awaiting them.

Please don’t imagine thousands of people are reading the Ida series. Nor are hundreds of people reading this series. Indeed, with each subsequent volume, readership has fallen precipitously. As of this writing, Book One has sold 120 copies, Book Two 66 copies, Book Three 35 copies, and Book 4, just printed at Zo, the best and only copy shop in Mendocino, 22 copies—those twenty-two stalwarts already pounding the drums for Book Five. Most amazing to me is how my enthusiasm for the saga has never waned, and I’m sure the ongoing encouragement of those twenty-two devotees is the main reason I continue.

The satisfactory completion of a single-volume novel requires the author to wrap everything up at the end, everything important, and I often found such labor exhausting and somewhat artificial. In writing the multi-volume Ida’s Place, I feel no compulsion to concoct a grand denouement for each volume, but rather allow the various story threads to reach satisfying and enticing and natural-seeming preludes to what might come next.

Here is a one-paragraph snapshot of the café from Book Three.

Ida’s Place, a splendiferous bakery café housed in a gigantic old building made of purplish-red bricks and massive redwood beams, has been likened to a cathedral by many a restaurant reviewer and postcard writer—the great room endowed with eight large skylights and fourteen gigantic windows through which the ever-changing light comes numinously streaming.

You may read the first three chapters of Ida’s Place Book One—Return on my web site, which is the only place Ida books are sold, each copy signed and lavishly numbered by the author. Who knows? Perchance you are someone for whom the Ida saga will be elixir.

Cover Stories

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

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

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

I recently got a letter from my editor at Counterpoint Press, the daring publishing company bringing out a paperback edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup in early 2016, saying he would soon be sending me samples of their cover ideas. So I held my breath for a few days and recalled my book cover adventures with publishers of my previous books. This helped temper fantasies of a superb cover for Buddha In A Teacup. Indeed, after reviewing my history of book covers, I decided to hope for legible.

Inside Moves. Published in 1978 by Doubleday, my first novel had a basketball subplot and the cover sample featured a small airborne man holding what might have been a basketball, but also might have been a bowling ball. This ambiguous athlete, wearing slacks and a sweater, was floating through the air surrounded by gothic-like letters with enormous serifs. At a glance, the letters seemed to spell INSIDE MOVIES. I expressed my concerns and the ball problem was addressed, but the confusing lettering remained and the book was often shelved in the Hobby section of bookstores.

Forgotten Impulses. Published in 1980 by Simon & Schuster, my second novel was originally entitled Mackie, which remained the title until a month before the book was to be printed. The cover for Mackie featured a spectacular oil painting of a woman wearing a sunhat and kneeling in her vegetable garden, the roots of the plants growing down through layers of soil to entangle the name Mackie. Alas, my editor called at the proverbial last minute to say Sales felt Mackie lacked punch. Could I come up with a meaty sub-title? My brother Steve, who came up with Inside Moves, helped me come up with Forgotten Impulses, and Sales dropped Mackie entirely and went with Forgotten Impulses. The hastily assembled new cover was composed of garish yellow gothic-like letters on a red and blue background.

Not that it mattered much. Simon & Schuster took the book out of print a few days after it was published.

Louie & Women. My third novel was published by Dutton in 1983 and featured a poorly rendered painting of a short buxom naked woman standing at a window. Filling most of the window frame was a painting of a wave—a painting within the painting. On the bed in the foreground of the room lies a pair of large white men’s jockey-style underwear. I strenuously objected and my editor said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to kill the book before it comes out anyway, so…”

“But why?”

“They don’t think it will sell. Sorry.”

Ruby & Spear. My fifth novel was published by Bantam in 1996 and the cover shows a black man going up to dunk a basketball into a hoop with a half-ripped net. This cover was so antithetical to the spirit of the story, I called my editor to express my disappointment and she said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to take the book out of print.”

“But the book hasn’t been published yet?”

“I know,” she said sadly. “Sorry.”

The Writer’s Path, published by 10-Speed in 2000, is a large collection of my original writing exercises. The proposed cover design was hideous and featured misleading subtitles that made the book sound like a touchy feely book for people trying to access their inner artist. The cover was changed from hideous to blah shortly before publication, but the misleading subtitles remained. Sadly, the hideous proposed cover was put up on all the online bookselling sites and remains there to this day. Nevertheless, the book sold ten thousand copies entirely by word-of-mouth. 10-Speed did absolutely nothing to promote the book, and then, in their great wisdom, Sales decided not to do a third printing because, after all, the book was selling itself.

“Everything in life matters and ultimately has a place, an impact and a meaning.” Laurens Van Der Post

Shortly before the cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived from Counterpoint, my editor wrote to say he had presented the book at a sales meeting and the response was positive. However, the consensus was that my original subtitle—tales of enlightenment—was inadequate because it did not say the short stories are contemporary. So I came up with Contemporary Dharma Tales, which he liked.

Ere long, five cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived via email, and just as I was about to unzip the big file to peruse them, another email came from my editor saying they had selected two finalists from the five and I should ignore those five and look at the two. But I looked at the five, loved one of them and disliked the other four, and then with trembling mouse opened the file containing the finalists. And lo, the one cover I loved was one of the two finalists. My wife and several friends agreed with my choice, I sent in our votes, and…

Will the final cover be the one we want? Will the book have a long and eventful life in print? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am about to finish writing Ida’s Place Book Four: Renegade, the fourth volume of a fictional epic set in a mythical Here and Now, the covers for the Ida books exactly how I want them because I create them myself with the help of Garth the graphics wizard and Ian the master of the color copier at Zo, the finest (and only) copy shop in Mendocino. Coil bound copies of the Ida books, lavishly numbered and signed by the author, are available from my web site until that glorious (mythical) day when some prescient publisher presents them to that great big world on the other side of the tracks.

The Ida’s Place books and the original self-published hardback of Buddha In A Teacup are available at Underthetablebooks.com

Ida’s Place Book Two—Revival

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Amazon Paradox

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

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

“Surrealism to me is reality.” John Lennon

My books are for sale on Amazon. New and used. So are my music CDs. My books and music are downloadable from Amazon, and that includes audio books of my work narrated by yours truly. Do I feel like a rat and an enemy of local bookstores and local music stores? No, because with the exception of a few extremely local bookstores where I am personally known to the proprietors, my books are not available in any local bookstores in America or even in the few remaining chain bookstores, and that is also true of my music. This is also true for the vast majority of writers and musicians (those who produce books and albums) in this country. Without Amazon and a few other online sites, most writers and musicians would have nowhere, practically speaking, to sell their work.

Ironically, local independent bookstores with their extremely limited shelf space carry almost entirely mainstream corporate product (i.e. imitative junk) because that is what most people buy. Amazon, on the other hand, has unlimited shelf space and carries everybody’s books and music, including works by the most esoteric poets and writers and musicians in the world, works no one else will carry. Amazon has also been a fantastic boon to used booksellers, many of whom were going out of business before Amazon provided a way for those used bookstores to reach millions of people who otherwise would never have known about them.

Before the advent of Amazon, many well-meaning people believed that shopping at chain bookstores would bring about the demise of local bookstores. However, my first five novels were only (albeit briefly) available in chain bookstores and not in local independent bookstores because the chains had shelf space for less known and less mainstream books and the independent stores only carried what the New York Times said was worth buying. If you don’t know it already, the New York Times only reviews and touts books published by their major advertisers, the giant corporate publishers, which are wholly owned subsidiaries of huge multinational corporations. Local bookstores thirty years ago, and local bookstores today, carry books, with very few exceptions, that get reviewed in mainstream newspapers and magazines owned by huge corporations who also happen to publish nearly all the books that get reviewed and advertised in America.

You see the problem. We are told to support our local bookstores in their selling of corporate product because…why? Doing so pays the salaries of a few local bookstore clerks? If local independent bookstores primarily sold books published by independent publishers, that would be a different matter, but if they did that they would immediately go out of business because most people, including hip savvy happening people, only buy books and music they’ve heard about through the corporate media, which includes National Public Radio and The New Yorker, and don’t kid yourself that NPR and The New Yorker aren’t corporate bullhorns.

What if, just for the sake of discussion, Amazon did exactly what it does, except Amazon employees were treated humanely, paid handsomely, given fabulous benefits and fat pensions, and worked in environmentally marvelous solar electric facilities sending forth goods in recycled biodegradable organic packaging material transported by environmentally fabulous systems of purveyance? Would it then no longer be a sin to shop at Amazon? Less of a sin? Is it how Amazon does what it does or what Amazon does that makes them so awful-seeming?

To sum up a prevalent notion of reality shared by way too many people who should know better: if you can’t get a gigantic corporation to publish your books and spend tons of money getting those books reviewed and advertised and distributed to local indie bookstores, you should just stop writing. And stop recording music, too. Just make a living some other way. Don’t even try to be an artist unless you can be immensely successful and have articles written about you in The New Yorker. To do otherwise is unfair to small businesses. Got it?

Am I a pimp for Amazon? Nay. I buy almost nothing from them. I walk everywhere and drive very little. My carbon footprint is a few toe indentations compared to the average American. Still, I struggle with the paradox of knowing that my books, the ones recently published and the ones long out-of-print, have lives (in the sense of being available to people) almost entirely because of Amazon. Nor were my books readily available before Amazon. Prior to the advent of Amazon, if someone asked where they could get a copy of one of my books, I would say, “Well, if you have a stupendous and well-endowed library system or access to the greatest used bookstores on earth, you might find a few of them.” Now all my books are readily available from independent used booksellers availing themselves of Amazon’s organizational system to sell their goods. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. Could it be better? Of course. By the way, I don’t make a cent from the sales of used copies of my books and I make almost nothing from the sales of my new books, but I’m still happy that people have easy access to my work.

“There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book.” Saul Bellow

This just in. The National Library of Norway is planning to digitize all the books in Norwegian by the mid 2020’s (hundreds of thousands of books). This will mean that if your IP (Internet Protocol) address proves your computer is in Norway, you will be able to access all the Norwegian books ever published, even those still under copyright, for free. The article did not say how publishers and authors are to be compensated for their work under this plan, but Norway is wealthy and socialist, with a highly literate population, so I imagine Norwegian writers will not be dissuaded from continuing to write because of this mass digitization.

It has never been easy for artists to make livings from their art, and for millennia now in the so-called advanced societies virtually every artist we’ve ever heard of was beholden to some king or prince or wealthy merchant or powerful editor or rich person to subsidize the making and dissemination of those famous artists’ art. Is this a bad thing? Is selling books and music and artistic creations on Amazon (because there is nowhere else to sell such things) any worse than beseeching (or having sex with) a powerful duke or prince so the big idiot will commission a sonata so you can pay your rent and buy food? Is getting in bed with Amazon worse than playing footsy (or having sex) with a Medici or two so they’ll pay you to sculpt David out of marble and paint the Sistine Chapel? You tell me.

When I published my first novel in 1978, I was invited to join the Author’s Guild, an esteemed organization that claimed at that time to represent some seven thousand American authors published by major publishers. I joined because my literary agent said it was a good idea, but I eventually resigned because the Author’s Guild was forever asking members for money to help writers from other countries while doing nothing to help American writers, including and especially their own guild members. However, before I resigned, I took part in a survey with my seven thousand fellow members of the Author’s Guild, and the results were that less than one-quarter of one per cent of the seven thousand writers surveyed made even a minimalist living from their writing. Some vibrant culture we’ve got, huh?

“Take away the paradox from the thinker and you have a professor.” Soren Kierkegaard

I am now publishing books at Zo, Mendocino’s finest and only copy shop. This does not preclude future offers from daring, creative, prescient publishers who wish to publish my work, but from now on the first editions of my novels will be Zo Editions, unless Zo goes out of business before I cease to produce books. My first venture, the novella Oasis Tales of the Conjuror, launched in November, has now sold thirty-one copies, and as of copy #28 my design and manufacturing costs have been covered, which means the last three copies I sold (through my web site) have brought me massive profit, easily enough to take Marcia out for lunch at the Mendocino Café, if we share one of the less expensive entrées and two large glasses of water, hold the bubbles.

My publishing experiment proves (to me) there are three kinds of people. By far the largest number of the three kinds are those who react with contempt and pity and varying degrees of disgust when they hear of my comb-bound individually hand-numbered and signed publishing venture, the second largest number are those who smile and say “Neato!” when they hear of my new old way of bringing out my fiction, and the smallest number are those who don’t hesitate to say, “I’ll buy one,” and they do.

The sad and undeniable truth is that most people in our society do not consider writing fiction or composing music or drawing or painting or any kind of art making to be real work. Ours is essentially an anti-artist culture, which is why most people need those corporate stamps of approval before they will believe something has value. Talk about a paradox. The Amazon Paradox is an easy ten-piece jigsaw puzzle for small children compared to the paradox of why so many seemingly intelligent people still believe the corporate media communicates anything other than advertisements for the products of huge corporations, and only by accident and once in a blue moon allows something so subversive as original art to reach a large audience.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

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Wild Gardener Black painting by Todd

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

“And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world—unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.” e.e. cummings

In those long ago days when I was invited to read from my novels in bookstores and libraries, and for college audiences and writers groups, I was frequently asked if I had any helpful advice for people who wanted to become writers and make their livings from writing. This was before the advent of personal computers and digital everything, before people began writing with their thumbs on phones, and before a new myth conquered the collective psyche. That new myth goes something like this: Writing novels is easy. Anyone can write a novel without any practice and without ever having written a short story or even a viable paragraph. Just do it! And then publish your novel online and…voila!

Myths take hold and become established because they reflect a strong collective belief or wish. The myth that writing a novel is easy reflects a strong collective desire for everything to be easy. The suggestion by e.e. cummings that even just beginning to master the art of writing a good poem may take many years of practice, is the quantum opposite of the new myth about how easy it is to write poetry and fiction. After all, poems are just stacks of lines of words, right? So say today’s college academics and snake oil merchants making millions running the thousands of Creative Writing MFA programs now extant in America, programs wherein the only requirement for getting an MFA is enough money to pay the exorbitant tuition.

How hard can stacking lines of words be, especially now that the latest vogue in academic poetics is for those stacks of lines of words to not make the least bit of sense—literal, symbolic, or otherwise. Indeed, making sense is now considered a bad thing by academic poetry professors. Logic and meaning and connectivity are clearly signs of enslavement to something or other and must be avoided at all costs. Strike out any combination of words that might be construed to possibly make some sort of sense. Embrace the random whatever. Okay! Let’s get stacking.

Contrast the new anybody-can-do-anything-with-ease myth with cummings suggesting, “If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.” Ten or fifteen years of hard work? Nobody gonna buy that app.

In any case, way back when I was presenting my published works to a public still abiding by the old myth that it takes years of practice and persistence to possibly succeed as a writer or an artist, I was forever being asked for advice about how to proceed on the artist’s path. After several bumbling attempts to give helpful answers, I settled on the following. “I have two words of advice for anyone who wants to be a writer or an artist in our society, and those two words are low overhead. The less time you must spend making money to pay for rent and food, the more time you will have, as cummings put it, to fight and work and feel your way to the beginnings of mastery.”

Ah but mastery of the art form is only part of the struggle if an artist hopes to make money from his or her creations. And it is on this trying-to-make-money-from-art leg of the artist’s journey when most artists give up their quests, for this is the part of the process largely controlled by others. This is the part of the journey when the artist learns the painful truth that making money from art in America has little or nothing to do with art and everything to do with selling one’s self.

How ironic! Having worked with hundreds of writers as a teacher and editor, and having known hundreds of artists, I feel confident in saying that the vast majority of writers and artists in our society are introverts, many of them extremely introverted and painfully shy. Yet nearly all the successful artists and writers in America, as measured by the amount of money made from their creations, are extroverts. Indeed, all the most commercially successful of my former students and clients are minimally talented, while none of the several brilliant writers I worked with has had any commercial success to speak of.

This was not always the case. American literature and music and art prior to the advent of television and mass media and the corporate takeover of culture, was peopled with many painfully shy introverts represented by savvy extroverted agents and publishers who recognized the value of those oddballs’ genius.

So what? What’s wrong with most of today’s popular authors being beautiful and handsome and sexy and coming off well on talk shows and infomercials? Sure their books aren’t very good, but some of the books are kind of okay. Aren’t they? And besides, who cares about making money from art now that anybody can publish his or her book online and no one will stop him or her. That’s great, isn’t it? Artistic freedom from the tyranny of corporate lap dogs. Power to the people. A global creative renaissance via YouTube and podcasts and cyber sharing! Right on!

Yes! Nowadays anyone can publish anything and record anything and draw anything and say anything and film anything and offer those anythings to the world. And I’ve studied many of the ways people do that kind of sharing and I think that’s…yeah, exactly. Okay. But because I am a painfully shy introverted techno doofus detached from all cyber social network sites, as well as being an old-fashioned diehard three-dimensionalite, and because shameless self-promotion is a necessity for the cottage-industry artist of our time to eke out a living amidst the new electronic digital smartphone e-everything reality, I offer the following for you to reject or embrace or ignore or respond to.

Shameless Self-Promotion Presents

Todd’s New Stuff For You and To Give As Gifts

Helloooo out there wherever you are. I’ve got two new creations for you to possibly buy along with lots of somewhat older goodies you may wish to consider buying. If you’ve never bought anything of mine, that’s okay. Please don’t let that stop you from doing something you’ve never done before. I hope you’ll buy multiple things from me and in so doing support the arts and stir the synergetic pot and be happily surprised at how good my books and music are. This my hope.

I just got my shipment of Incongroovity, my fourth piano-centric CD, and I’m selling this entrancing album for a mere ten bucks. I still call them albums and array the tracks to be listened to as an album, though the new norm of perception is random individual track downloads, and you can do the download thing with Incongroovity, too, from iTunes and CD Baby etc. But you might love the original art I made to package the disc. Talk about a neato stocking stuffer. This is it. Nine groovacious piano instrumentals, one song Real Good Joe (a stirring tune about coffee and love) and two evocative and sensual poems set to piano music.

And I just picked up my second batch of my novella Oasis Tales of the Conjuror from Zo, Mendocino’s premiere copy shop. Illustrated by the author, each handsome comb-bound copy is individually and extravagantly signed and numbered by the author. Oasis Tales of the Conjuror is the story of Anza, a clairvoyant, and his family and friends who live in a walled oasis in a time of relative peace following an era of apocalyptic war and famine. The tiny paradise is home to artisan farmers and is remarkably self-sustaining. Allied to a great city, the oasis is on the brink of new disaster as its population begins to outstrip its food supply. Through a series of connected tales, Anza and the people of the oasis must overcome escalating challenges to their continuance, which they do in creative and harmonious ways. The stories are humorous, dramatic, and mysterious, driven by the imperatives of community, love, and survival. Only seventeen (17) bucks a copy, you may want to get several because…why not? To further whet your appetite, you can read the first three chapters of Oasis Tales of the Conjuror at Todd’s web site UnderTheTableBooks.com.

At this same web site you can listen gratis to big chunks of audio versions of Todd’s novels and short stories, sample music from Todd’s music CDs, peruse his art, and buy books and cards and music with a credit card or email Todd to arrange to pay with check or cash. And no matter how many of these wonderful creations you buy, shipping is only five bucks. Such a deal!

So there it is, my shameless self-promotion for 2013—my response to the new digital age. I may be out of step, out of time, out of gas, and out to lunch, but as I climbed the steep hill from the village yesterday, my knapsack full of the next twenty copies of Oasis Tales of the Conjuror, I felt some invisible power lift my pack so the load did not weigh too heavily upon me. And as I began to flag on the home stretch and to doubt the wisdom of my seemingly retrograde strategy, there came a delicious tail wind that propelled me onward.

Slaves of Fruit

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Slaves of Fruit

Cooking Down the Apples photo by Marcia Sloane

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

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Martin Luther

A few days ago, Abigail Summers, cellist, pianist and yogini, came over from Willits to work with Marcia on their string camp and attend rehearsals of the Symphony of the Redwoods wherein Abby shares a stand with Marcia at the front of the cello section. When I say string camp, you may imagine groups of people sitting around campfires playing with various lengths and colors and thicknesses of strings, and perhaps weaving those strings into fanciful sculptures or useful bags for carrying fruit and such. And though that sounds like great fun, the string camp I’m referring to is Navarro River String Camp, a twice-a-year event without campfires for beginning and intermediate adult players of violins, violas, and cellos, people keen to play chamber music with other string players and be coached by great and sympathetic professional musicians.

Upon her arrival Abigail gifted us with seven gorgeous persimmons on the verge of perfect ripeness, and I placed those delectable orange orbs in a bowl on the kitchen counter next to a bowl of walnuts recently given to us by our neighbors, and there the persimmons and walnuts sat for some days until last night when…

But first I must tell you about the apple and pear harvest we attended yesterday and why we, Marcia and I, are now slaves of fruit, as Marcia so aptly described our current reality here at Fox Hollow, so named for the foxes who share this neck of the woods with us and are especially enamored of our plums.

This has been a stupendous year for pears and apples in Mendocino, and though apples may retain their perfection for weeks and even months after picking, pears are perfectly ripe for but a fleeting—a few days at best—before they devolve into inedible rot. Yet when a good pear is perfectly ripe, there is little in the world to rival that fruit for sweetness and juiciness and the embodiment of life at the zenith of fulfillment. Thus when we arrived at Sam Edwards’ place a quarter mile down the hill from our house to participate in Ginny Sharkey’s and Sam’s annual apple juicing soiree, we were heartened to discover that along with hundreds of perfectly ripe apples adorning the many spectacular old trees on Sam’s Little Acre, there were many dozens of large and very ready pears, some to be juiced and some to be ferried home along with copious quantities of huge and delicious apples.

In these terrible times of hyper-inflation—never mind the phony governmental figures to the contrary—when not-very-good apples sell for three dollars or more per pound in the grocery stores, there is something positively surreal, nay, ultra-real, about walking through an orchard of well-established and well cared for apple trees and seeing so many huge and beautiful and delicious apples there for the taking, or in our case the shaking, which is how we got a good many of the orbs to come down, the ground a thick mat of just mown grass to cushion their falls. And as we gathered the fruit in buckets and bags to carry to the juicer, I imagined we were Bushmen coming upon this fabulous forest of fruit on the fringe of the Kalahari, the generosity of nature causing us to shout and ululate and dance a thank you dance to the apple gods.

“A major harvest of this kind was very much like a successful hunt for big game, and such major bounty was shared in the manner of big game, if without as much excitement. As the owner of the arrow, not the hunter, made the first divisions of the animal killed by the arrow, so the owner of a bag made the first division of the nuts, no matter who gathered the nuts or carried the bag. This sort of food gathering was surely of recent origin (“recent” in geological time), because without large skin bags, such a harvest could not take place, and before people could obtain large skins by hunting big game, there were no large skin bags.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas from The Old Way

Back home at Fox Hollow with our booty of apples and pears, a craving for a sweet treat overtook us after supper and Marcia was about to make pumpkin bread when I happened to fondle one of the aforementioned persimmons and diagnosed the fruit to be on the verge of liquidity. “Hark fair maiden,” I cried out to my wife as she prepared to open a can of pureed pumpkin, “these persimmons fast approach the point of no return and should be used post haste or nevermore.”

And yay verily it came to pass that Marcia, with cracking and chopping and stirring help from Todd, did make a stupendous loaf of gluten free and eggless persimmon walnut date bread that pleased us mightily before we went to bed, and again at breakfast with coffee. Gads what a taste treat, over which Marcia observed, “Methinks these tender sweet pears we gained from Sam and Ginny do quickly morph from yummy to yucky, which means today is the day we must render them into chutney, lest tomorrow prove deathly to their deliciousness.”

“I cannot but agree with you,” I exclaimed, “but before we enslave ourselves further to these sugary fruits, I beg you assist me in the pruning of Marion’s apple tree, the Golden Delicious thereupon crying to be picked, the branches of that ancient tree strangling each other for want of pruning.”

So we took ourselves thither (just two doors down, Marion another of the string camp honchos) and pruned and hewed and snipped that generous tree until we’d relieved her of myriad redundant appendages, and gathered another couple bags of fruit. Then we ate lunch, ran some errands, gave a big bag of apples to Ian at ZO, Mendocino’s incomparable copy shop, and spent much of the rest of the day peeling and coring and chopping pears to be cooked and spiced and stirred and canned, with a cup of excess spicy chutney juice proving a most delicious sauce on our rice at supper.

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” Mark Twain

The original Hebrew text of the Old Testament says nothing about apples being the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; and for historical and geographical and climatic reasons, it is much more likely that the forbidden fruit mentioned in the Bible was figs or pomegranates, though why any non-poisonous fruit would be forbidden is another of the great Judeo-Christian mysteries.

“About 69 million tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, and China produced almost half of this total. The United States is the second-leading producer, with more than 6% of world production. Turkey is third, followed by Italy, India and Poland.” Wikipedia

Now we gaze upon our hundreds of apples to be turned into sauce and chutney and pies and crisps, and given to friends and neighbors, the badly bruised ones to be taken to our neighbor Kathy Mooney who will feed them to her magic horse Paloma. Magic? Yay verily. Paloma is a glorious white steed with sky blue eyes, the source of truckloads of manure per annum that not only enriches our vegetable beds, but fills the basins around our fruit trees where winter rains soak the vivacious nutrients out of the poop and feed the soil and fatten the worms and invigorate the roots and cause next year’s apples and plums to be huge and sweet, and so on.

For more information about Navarro River String Camp, please visit NavarroRiverMusic. com

A Person Here, A Person There

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Blessed Brew Nolan Winkler

Blessed Brew  acrylic and crayon by Nolan Winkler

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

I keep forgetting and remembering and forgetting and remembering how things work in this universe for the likes of me, speaking of how best to go about sharing my writing and music with others. I think the reason I keep forgetting is that my ego keeps taking over to get us through certain parts of the process, but then years go by before my ego quiets down enough for the higher self to be heard. If that makes sense to you, we are kin.

Walking to and from the village provides me with an excellent vantage point for considering my role in the larger scheme of things, and not long ago while climbing the steep hill to home I solved a nagging emotional and strategic dilemma I’d been wrangling with for years—the solution provided by the juxtaposition of me walking up the hill while dozens of cars driven by versions of me zoomed by.

The dilemma I solved has to do with recent techno-digital changes that have radically altered the ways in which music and writing and visual art can be made available to the world, and how, as these technological changes have become more and more well-established, I have felt I should be availing myself of these new fangled modes of delivery in order to share my work with others. Note the word should. Aye, there’s the rub.

For instance, because it is now possible to write something, anything, a page of unedited doggerel or a reimagining of Goethe’s Faust without verbs, and upload said writing to any number of verbiage-spewing websites to sell or give away, that is what millions of people are doing and what many people tell me I should do with my writing. These same people say that once I have uploaded my novels and stories to these verbiage-spewing sites, I should join Facebook and tell my friends to tell their friends to Like my verbiage so people will download my writing to their pads or readers or phones. Why wait, they say, for some old-fashioned publisher to Like my verbiage? Just spew, digitize, upload, and hope to go viral.

These same people and other people, too, tell me I should record my music on Garage Band and upload everything I record, even junky noodling around, to a cloud thing connected to sites I should then constantly Twitter about so people will upstream my music and Like it and have their friends go to my Facebook Store to download my music on their iPods and add those tunes to their Pandora options request queue or something.

But for some reason I cannot bring myself to join Facebook or Twitter, or to learn how to use Garage Band or to learn how to digitize my verbiage. The thought of doing so fills me with the same dread I feel when I imagine trying to cross the Grand Canyon on a tight rope. Am I being irrational? That depends on your definition of rational. I do know that in order to make the recordings I want to make, I need Peter Temple to use his excellent microphones and expertise to record my piano in my living room. Maybe I have a personality disorder, but I consider my successful use of email a major accomplishment.

And as I was walking up the hill and feeling fine to be walking rather than piloting a hurtling mass of steel, I thought, What is the equivalent of walking when it comes to sharing my writing with others? Photocopies. What is the equivalent of walking when it comes to sharing my music with others? Making an album with Peter Temple at the controls and pressing a few hundred CDs.

Making three-dimensional artifacts is what I am comfortable and happy doing. If Universe wants to upload my creations to the global digital realm, she will send people with the requisite skills to do that for me. She has already done that for some of the things I’ve created, and she hasn’t yet sent anyone for other things I’ve made. So be it. In any case, I shall henceforth no longer be weighed down to the point of dysfunction by these damnable shoulds, and I will have goodies to share with people who want those goodies. What a relief.

To that end, I went into ZO, Mendocino’s finest and only copy shop, and consulted with Ian, the maven of duplication, about making an elegant comb-bound photocopy edition of my novella Oasis Tales of the Conjuror (with illustrations by the author) to get a sense of how much such copies would cost me, which would help me figure out how much to sell them for via my web site and P.O. Box. The copies will be extravagantly signed and numbered, which will add to their inestimable value. I should have done this when I finished writing the book a few years ago, but I got so derailed by those aforementioned shoulds, that the handful of people I know will want the book have had to wait all this time for my higher self to wrest control of the steering wheel.

Speaking of happy, this AVA article is my 250th for the esteemed journal, and I know I would not have written any of these epistles if they did not first appear in newsprint before I load them onto my web site blog. That said, no one has ever offered me money, serious money, to write for an online publication, and I suppose if someone offered me more than a pittance, I might be tempted, whereas I have gladly written thousands of articles and stories for pittances for three-dimensional publications. What’s my problem? Why can’t I get with the times? I dunno.

The title for this article, A Person Here, A Person There, came from my dear friend Max Greenstreet. During a recent email exchange, I told Max about the occasional outbursts of web site orders for my obscure little book Open Body: Creating Your Own Yoga. These orders come from Australia, New Zealand, Finland, England, Sweden, Canada, and even sometimes America, a person here, a person there, as Max put it, wanting to buy Open Body from me despite the international postage being twice what I sell the book for.

The reason for these occasional outbursts of interest in Open Body is a perfect case in point about how best to go about sharing my writing and music. To make a long story short, some fifteen years ago, after a number of friends asked me for guidance in dealing with their chronic aches and pains, I made a little book about how I deal with the pain and stiffness that have accompanied me since I was a teenager. I made ten photocopies of the little tome, called it Open Body: Creating Your Own Yoga and gave the copies to friends as Christmas presents. One of the friends showed the booklet to a literary agent who contacted me and said if I would double the number of words, she would try to find a publisher for the little tome.

I expanded the book, appended inspiring figure drawings by my friend Vance Lawry, and the agent sold the book to Avon for ten thousand dollars, six for me, four for Vance. I was stunned by this turn of events, never having published a book of non-fiction and knowing little about the formal practice of yoga. Then, as with all the books I’ve ever published with big New York publishers, the villains in Sales got a whiff of the project and decided to kill the book. Open Body was remaindered—taken out-of-print—three months before it was published, and I was given the opportunity to purchase a few boxes of the book for a dollar each, which easily beat the cost of photocopying. Thus despite the premature death of Open Body, I ended up with a neato artifact at no cost to me beyond the emotional anguish of dealing with corporate morons who have made of our culture a wasteland.

Now here’s the fun part. Before the Sales cretins at Avon aborted Open Body, the young Avon editor who bought the book in the first place, sent the manuscript to Donna Farhi, a world-renowned yogini and yoga teacher, and she loved the book and gave us a rave blurb that appears on the book. And to this day, Donna reads from Open Body at workshops she gives in New Zealand and Australia and around the world for yoga teachers and zealous yoga practitioners, which readings result in occasional inquiries from people who want to buy new and signed copies of the book from me rather than used copies for pennies from online booksellers. A person here, a person there. Donna is also a fan of my piano CDs and frequently plays them at her workshops, so I occasionally sell a few of those to her followers in the form of actual CDs or as…downloads!

Having escaped once again from those terrible shoulds, I will soon be sending out notices of the photocopy publication of Oasis Tales of the Conjurer and the arrival of my new piano CD Incongroovity, featuring the groovacious song Real Good Joe. If you would like to be on my mailing list, please email me at my web site or send a note to P.O. Box 366, Mendocino, CA 95460. What fun!

The Machine Stops

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

theroaroftime

 

The Roar of Time pen and ink by Todd

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

“In this world there are only two ways of getting on—either by one’s own industry or by the stupidity of others.” Jean De La Bruyère

E.M. Forster, best known for his novels Room With A View, Passage To India and Howard’s End, published a great short story in 1909 entitled The Machine Stops, an extremely prescient imagining of a future we may soon inhabit. Forty years before the advent of television, Forster foresaw computers and the worldwide internet, the demolition of the global environment, and the total collapse of technological society.

I thought of Forster’s story this week for three reasons. First, we are in the midst of The Government Stops, second the climate news is more dire than ever with rising global temperatures on pace to make human life on earth untenable within a decade or so, and third, my trusty iMac, a senile seven-year-old, has finally become so obstreperous and the screen so degenerate that I have ordered a new iMac and trust the universe will employ the precessional repercussions of my action to her advantage. Buckminster Fuller described precessional repercussions as those right-angled unintentional effects of an intended action; for instance, the honeybee goes to the flower with the intention of getting nectar, and one of the marvelous unintended repercussions of the bee’s action is pollination. Mazel tov!

Little did I realize how much time I spend using (and being used by) my computer until going mostly without the blessed device for these last two weeks. Yikes. Not only do I several times a day type my longhand output into on-screen documents, but I carry on most of my correspondence by email now, read several articles a day online, watch sports highlights and movie previews, and pursue several lines of research, all as a matter of barely conscious course.

I am happy to report that I don’t feel I have missed much these last two weeks and know I have gained valuable time to do important work to prepare this old (new) house for winter, work I never seemed to have quite enough time for because, well, you know, there were links to click and leads to follow and Truthdig and Bill Moyers and Rhett & Link and and and…

As of this writing, our government has been “shut down” for eleven days, with polls showing a slight majority of people blaming Republicans for the impasse and a frighteningly large minority blaming Obama. That anyone could blame Obama for this blatant sabotage of our system is silly, but that tens of millions of registered voters blame him for the actions of a bunch of cruel racist lunatics is, in the words of Grouch Marx, “A travesty of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of a sham of a mockery.”

The central bank of China owns a large chunk of our national debt and is highly displeased with America’s governmental constipation, as are the various global financial markets. “Please get your money business in order pronto,” they chorus with growing vitriol. “We don’t care if you want to starve your own citizens and deprive them of healthcare and decent education, just don’t jeopardize our investments in your big bubble economy or we’ll stop buying and holding your stinking debt!”

The Japanese are pissed off, too, but they don’t have a leg to stand on with their (our) Fukushima nuclear disaster so close to global endgame catastrophe I wonder how anyone can sleep at night, let alone eat fish.

“There are two worlds: the world that we can measure with line and rule, and the world that we feel with our hearts and imagination.” Leigh Hunt

Today Marcia and I walk to town to buy groceries, run a few errands, and split a salad at Goodlife Café and Bakery, the day cool and windy, a large coalition of vagabonds and their dogs conferencing in front of Harvest Market, their mood upbeat, many cups of coffee in evidence.

While Marcia copies things at Zo and returns a DVD to our miniature library, I go to the post office where marvelous Robin sells me four sheets of the fabuloso new Ray Charles stamps and I send one of my books and two of my piano CDs to a lucky customer in New Zealand, the postage twice what my creations cost her. What a woild!

Marcia catches up to me in the cozy confines of Corners of the Mouth where I note that the sunflower seeds are from North Dakota, the pumpkin seeds are from Oregon, the peanuts are from Georgia, the coconut oil is pressed and jarred in Oregon, and the bananas are definitely not from the Anderson Valley. If the vast petroleum-powered food transportation machine were to suddenly stop, much of what we eat these days would not be here to eat. We grow vegetables and potatoes, and we buy more of the same from local growers, ditto berries and apples and eggs, but rice and beans and avocados and and and…

We trudge up the hill with our laden packs and arrive home to a Fedex note stuck to our door saying the delivery person came two hours in the future with my new computer but needs a signature before he or she can leave the package. The note says, “Go to Fedex.com and enter the Door Tag tracking number to learn what your options are.”

So I dutifully go to Fedex.com on my barely functional computer, enter the tracking number, and there in large print is confirmation that my package was delivered on September 6, five weeks ago and four weeks before I ordered my new computer. Zounds! Talk about efficient.

Feeling miffed and disoriented, I call the Fedex 800 number and get a sexy woman’s voice that turns out to be a voice-recognition system that sounds confident she/it can understand why I’m calling if I will clearly explain my situation using telltale words and expressions such as delivery and wherefore art thou, Romeo.

“Did you say package?” says the sexy voice, her tone endowing the word package with suggestive connotations. “Please tell me your Door Tag tracking number.”

I tell her the number and she responds enthusiastically with, “Okay. Your package was delivered on September 6.”

“No!” I scream. “No! No! No!”

“Okay,” says the robot lady who never needs to sleep or eat or go to the bathroom or see a doctor or complain about low wages and lousy working conditions. “I’ll connect you to a service representative. Please tell me your Door Tag tracking number.”

I tell her the number again and she rewards me with a hideous synthesized instrumental version of Hey Jude. After thirty seconds of this sonic blasphemy, a different sexy sounding female voice announces that my call may be monitored for quality assurance and to determine if I am naughty or nice.

When I make a silent vow to listen to the original version of Hey Jude so I might like the song again, the universe rewards me with a real live person who says his name is Mark, pronouncing his name Mar-ek. “How can I help you today?” he asks, sounding as if he is in a large room with hundreds of other people all talking at the same time.

I recite my name and address and explain my situation and Mark says, “The driver made an error and used an expired tracking number. He attempted to deliver your package at 3:48 today, but no one was there.”

“Mark,” I say, “it is not yet 3:48 here. Is this perhaps another driver error?”

“Yes,” says Mark, giggling. “Yes, it is.”

“Will the driver come again tomorrow?”

“Yes,” says Mark. “He will.”

“Why did he not just say that on his door tag, Mark?”

“He did say that,” says Mark, “but he used an expired door tag tracking number so the correct information was not available to you online.”

“But he will come again tomorrow?”

“Yes,” says Mark, sounding a wee bit impatient with me and possibly in need of a coffee break. “I am almost a hundred per cent sure he will bring your package tomorrow.”

“I’ll be waiting with baited breath.”

“Oh, just sign the door tag,” says Mark. “And then you don’t have to be there when it comes.”

“Thank you, Mark. You have been very kind to me.”

“No problem. Have a nice day.”

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.

 

 

Sane Man Walking

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

When Your Heart Is Strong painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“ Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying.  To solve a problem, walk around.” Gregory McNamee

After a severely stressful year of extreme physical challenges finally resolved by two successful surgeries, I am once again walking to and from the village every day, and slowly but surely building up my strength and stamina. The three-mile trip—downhill to town, uphill coming home—is invigorating now rather than exhausting, and the hour of steady walking is always a welcome relief from desk work and my connection to the electrical digital reality that underpins so much of my life today.

Spring has sprung, the plum trees and camellias and quince are in fulgent bloom, crab apples, rhododendrons, and cherry trees soon to follow with their outbursts of color, while Japanese maples spread their leafy wings and daffodils wave their trumpet-like flowers over the green grass that will never be so brilliantly green as when it first erupts from the flanks of Mother Earth. How sweet to walk through this riot of new life—what fun to write such purple prose.

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” Raymond Inmon

Having just finished writing a new novel, copies being made at Zo, the one and only copy shop in Mendocino, Ian the meticulous maven of duplication handling my case, I find that I am already in the grip of yet another novel, three chapters written and a fourth being told to me as I walk through the piney woods, the new story so intriguing I can barely remember the other book that owned me so completely for several months until just the other day.

I was talking to a friend about the experience of writing my new novel, the first I’ve birthed in some years, and I used the expression necessary delusion to describe why, whilst in the throes of giving birth, I felt so certain that this new book was truly fantastic, though it might not be any good at all.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” said my friend, frowning quizzically. “Why was it necessary that you be delusional?”

“Because,” I explained, “if I’m going to spend months and possibly years working on something that has very little chance of succeeding commercially, when I might otherwise make real money editing other people’s writing, I must believe the novel is going to be the next Moby Dick or Portnoy’s Complaint, or better yet a combination of the two.”

“But maybe you’re not delusional,” said my friend, an optimistic fellow. “Maybe you did create a masterpiece.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Masterwork or drivel, it is imperative that I believe the book is superb or I won’t continue. And because the epigenetic overlords controlling me wanted that thing written, they caused the requisite endorphins to be released into my blood along with whatever else was needed to silence my inner critics long enough for me to get the job done, after which the spell was broken and, to thoroughly mix my metaphors, I turned back into a frog, or Toad, as I was called in elementary school. Toad Walnut.”

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” Simone Weil

Yes, indeed, until I was fifty, I cared deeply about what might happen to my stories and novels and plays after I completed them, hoping fervently that they would bring me renown and buckets of money. And it was this hoping and caring, I now realize, that kept those creations glued to my psyche for months and years after I finished them. Now, blessedly, I understand that keeping things glued to my psyche is the creative equivalent of going deaf from wax buildup in my ears—an impediment to hearing the call of the muse, a blaring egotism that tells the gods I am not the tabula rasa they require; and so they desist from using me in the way I love to be used.

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate those rare and inspiring notes of praise from readers and listeners—I do—or that I don’t hoot for joy when I find a check in our post office box for something I wrote or recorded—I do. But I am happiest nowadays when the muse has me under her power and there is nothing glued to my psyche to distract me. I feel most alive and empowered when no attachment stands in my way of hearing the muse in full surround sound stereo, my attention undivided as I work to translate her imagistic offerings into prose.

“Walking takes longer than any other known form of locomotion except crawling.  Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.  Life is already too short to waste on speed.” Edward Abbey

Countless authors have written about how their most famous works came to them while they were on long walks; and many great scientists, Einstein among them, have said that their most profound theories were first imagined while they were taking walks. I attribute this recurring linkage of inspiration and walking to the profound interrelationship of our specie’s evolution from little-brained tree-dwelling apes to walking-around-on-the-ground hominids with huge brains—the relatively swift evolution from small-brained to big-brained coinciding precisely with our specie’s adaptation of walking and running on two legs as the fundamental means of getting around in the absence of trees to swing through.

During my brief collegiate career, I majored in Cultural Anthropology and was required to take an introductory course in Physical Anthropology, a field I found both fascinating and infinitely less morally questionable than Cultural Anthropology as it was generally practiced in those days—a university-funded imperialism, if you will, that treated indigenous societies as specimens to be intellectually dissected and analyzed by Great White Academics whether those specimen societies wanted to be dissected or not.

In 1967, the year I began my avid reading of Physical Anthropology texts, one of the debates raging in that field was whether bi-pedal locomotion (walking on two legs) or the advent of the opposable thumb was the adaptation most responsible for and/or conjoined with the dramatic enlargement of our australopithecine brains.

This distracting debate eventually went the way of the Dodo, thank goodness, and we followers of the fossil discoveries and resultant theories of how we came to be the humans we are today were no longer distracted by academic dickering while we marveled at the ingenuity of nature guiding our evolution from little hominids who were the favorite prey of enormous cats to large hominids staring at television screens while miniature versions of those enormous cats sleep on our beds and demand to be fed or they’ll shred the furniture.

My point being: I totally grok why walking ignites the imagination, and I enjoy thinking about that ignition as a variation on good old ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny—the physiological development of the individual organism recapitulating the physiological evolution of that organism’s species—the imagination ignited by walking recapitulating the interconnectedness of bi-pedal locomotion and the dramatic enlargement of our incredible brains.

 “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.” George Macauley Trevelyan

I have previously extolled the wonders of Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, which might have been subtitled A Treatise on Walking and the Evolution of Human Society, and I feel compelled to extol his book again. A favorite anecdote therein echoes my own sense of how Nature intends for humans—amalgams of body, mind, and spirit—to function on spaceship Earth.

“A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.”

That story strikes me as an excellent explanation for the discombobulating sensation known as jet lag, as well as explaining why I always feel so much more relaxed and present when I walk to town rather than drive. I have not run ahead of my soul. Or put another way, I am in synch with my essential nature. I am grooving with my intrinsic biorhythms. I have fortified my sanity by doing what my body and mind and spirit require for optimal functioning. In walking I am practicing the yoga (unification) of body, mind, and spirit free of digital electronic automotive interference—striding (or in my case ambling) through the natural world as our Bushmen foremothers and forefathers strode on the sands of the Kalahari.

Here is another thought-provoking tidbit from The Songlines.

“In Middle English, the word progress meant a journey, particularly a seasonal journey or circuit. A progress was the journey of a king round the castles of his barons, a bishop round his dioceses, a nomad round his pastures, a pilgrim round a sequence of shrines. Moral or material forms of progress were unknown until the seventeenth century.”

What I especially like about that earlier definition of progress is how it resonates with my feelings about my daily walk to town, my own little pilgrim’s progress, my shrines the post office, Zo, Corners of the Mouth, Harvest at Mendosa’s, the bank, Goodlife Café, the Tiki god statue overlooking the mouth of Mendocino Bay, the driftwood sculptures on Portuguese Beach, the library, the hardware store, the traffic light on Highway One—the pleasure of my progress amplified by meeting other pilgrims along the way.