Archive for December, 2008

Progress Report #3

December 18, 2008

I’ve always been interested in the creative process, how a work comes into being. My favorite aspect is the serendipities, where you see Big Mind at work, creating structures that you notice only after the fact. But there is always the conscious struggle with issues that you’re aware of and trying to resolve. My current struggle is with “How much does the narrator now?” When writing a memoir, you’re two people: the narrator and the main character. How much knowledge of what will happen to the main character should the narrator display? In The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill I wanted the narrator to know nothing more than the character did. I had specific reasons for that, which I won’t go into. With this new book I’m having a constant debate over what the narrator should know. In the day-to-day writing, I keep gravitating toward innocence, but I think that became a habit during the writing of the previous book. With innocence you can create suspense, but it takes you longer to go deep. If the narrator reveals his knowledge of what will happen to the character, you lose the compelling force of suspense, but you can say more, and say it more easily.

Another thing I’m having to deal with is that the book begins with events that happened 42 years ago. Although my goal is to tell a story that is timeless, it’s also about an era—late 60s, early 70s—that I’d like to make understandable to young people, particularly young guys. The reality of that time has been mischaracterized and satirized so much that few people, even those who lived through it, remember it accurately. How much historical and cultural exposition—something I don’t particularly like to read, let alone write—do I need to use? I keep thinking that if the poetry is there, it’s not a problem.

The Little People

December 12, 2008

Yesterday, on my way back from a brief trip to San Jose, I stopped to eat lunch in Millbrae, a town just south of the San Francisco airport. After lunch, I was heading down an entrance ramp to 101, when I saw that the Highway Patrol was blocking the line of cars I was in from entering the freeway. So I slowed to a stop. I was too far back to see what was happening, but my assumption was that there’d been an accident. Then I realized that there were no cars whatsoever in the northbound lanes. Suddenly, off to my right, on a second parallel on-ramp, several more Highway Patrol cars appeared. They were followed by a caravan of official-looking black cars all moving at high speed. They quickly entered and then disappeared down the freeway, which they had all to themselves. The whole thing looked and felt sinister to me. Who was it? A politician? I wasn’t aware of any major political leaders coming to town. Was it some billionaire? (For a moment I wondered if it might be Larry Ellison.) I said to myself, “If they’re extending this kind of treatment to billionaires, then things are screwed up even worse than I thought.” We’ve been heading in that direction. Today, I heard something on the radio that makes me think it was probably the President of Ireland.

While I was sitting in traffic, waiting, I had the feeling – again – that our democracy is a sham. I felt like I was just one of the little people sitting around waiting for the big shots who control everything in the landscape to complete their move.

The Economic Crisis

December 11, 2008

I have to admit that I’ve been waiting quite some time for the current economic crisis. The course we’ve been on has been a disaster waiting to happen. I have little doubt that if we try to rescue ourselves by repairing the old economic machine, we’ll be asking for even greater trouble farther down the line. But that’s what I expect to happen. I don’t see many people learning anything from the current crisis. The model we’ve been using has been running faster and faster, gobbling up every free niche of space and time, so that there are few places to escape to. This isn’t life. Life is not frenetic pursuit of money. The Reagan era set things up in a way that if you chose not to keep up with the machine, you could be crushed or left stranded. It requires an intense effort now to survive outside of it. We need to slow it down and change how it works. If we don’t, it will run over us.

I’m always hearing about “savvy” people adapting to changing markets and technologies. But those aren’t the savvy people. The savvy people are the ones who are figuring out how to get free of it.

Redistribution of the Wealth

December 3, 2008

For me, the most irritating episode of the 2008 election was the Republican attack on Obama for being a “socialist” after he suggested to the faux plumber that it might be a good thing to spread the wealth around some. In an interview with Joe Biden, a Florida television news reporter tried to tie Obama to Karl Marx’s dictum

From each according to his ability to each according to his need.

Biden, to his credit, replied, “Are you joking? Is this a joke?” She might well have tried to tie Obama to

And they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need,

which is from Acts in the Bible and predates Marx by nearly two thousand years. But that would have foiled her aim. To the Republicans, redistribution of the wealth is, of course, a Great Evil. And yet, here’s Jesus in Matthew telling a rich man:

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Here Jesus is clearly advocating redistribution of the wealth. And it’s hardly the only instance of it in the Bible, which is radical in its condemnation of materialism. But within the general culture, it was decided long ago to ignore this sort of statement. They are always explained away. I did an Internet search on the second quote and found a forum where somebody asked what Jesus meant. The response was invariably, “Well, he didn’t mean that,” and “He certainly didn’t want people to be homeless.” But Jesus urged his disciples to leave their jobs and their homes and to follow him in his wanderings.

I tend to see a blog as a ridiculous place to explore this kind of idea in depth. The Internet is too ephemeral for deep discussion. But somebody needs to point out that you can’t condemn redistribution of the wealth while simultaneously embracing Jesus, as most Republicans do.

Buddha is Waiting

December 1, 2008

Most people assume that if you quote Jesus, you must be a Christian. Or if you quote Buddha, you must be a Buddhist. Others insist that if you don’t call yourself a Christian, you have no right to quote Jesus, which is nonsense. Christ and Buddha are the same. They are different bodies living in different times, but they have the same mind. Strictly speaking, there is no Buddhism and no Christianity. The true religion has no name. It’s universal law, the way things actually happen. The Japanese Zen Master Suzuki Roshi said the same thing on several occasions. I won’t go any farther into my own thoughts on the subject right now. This is merely a preface for a Suzuki Roshi quote that I like very much. I find it humorous. From Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness:

Even to create one page of new dharma is very difficult. Even though you feel that you have invented something new, the Buddha is always waiting there for you. Buddha will say, “Oh, come here. Good for you! Come nearer to me. I have some more things for you.” It is very hard to surpass his teaching.