Archive for January, 2011

In New York City

January 27, 2011

Judy got a week-long job here in New York City. They’re putting her up in a Park Avenue Hotel, and I got to come along for the ride. Of all the things there are to see in New York, the thing I wanted to see most, the thing that I would have been disappointed not to see, was…snow. Before we left San Francisco, the forecast did not favor my wish. But the forecast was way wrong. Now, when I close my eyes, I see snow running across the screen of my lids.

28 Degrees

New York in the Snow



January 20, 2011

I’ve been holding back from saying anything about the shooting in Tucson, waiting for more facts to emerge. But that may take awhile, and I’ve had some thoughts running around my skull that I want to get out.

First of all, I don’t buy the idea that the shooter wouldn’t have been influenced by the current heatwave of angry politics. It seems to me that most of the people who think this way (a majority of the country according to one poll) have a superficial understanding of the mind. Someone once described the common American way of looking at the mind as this: We believe that each of us lives in a completely isolated shell and the only communication that takes place is when someone writes a note on a piece of paper, ties the note to a rock, throws the rock at someone else, and the someone else reads it. It’s a materialistic idea of the mind—and a shallow one, even for a materialist. Whether anyone believe it exists or not, there is a commonly shared pool of consciousness. What we think and say matters.

But what I suspect is even more influential in the Tucson event is the urban/suburban environment we’ve created—the world of shopping malls, tract housing, and freeways. When I was touring the country behind the book and film I was able to see just how far it has spread. It is so vacuous and so soulless, and it’s everywhere now. I would look at these places and wonder about the young people who are growing up in them and never see anything else. Try standing in a mall parking lot at night under the stark lighting and take in that reality. It has no heart. It sucks the life out of you. I believe it’s driving people crazy. I first started seeing this world when I was 14, and it drove me to the brink of tears one day. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to stay as far away from it as possible. If you’re a little lonely and a little off kilter while growing up in a place like that, there is no clearly true ethical or moral system that will support you. Life looks like a long bleak plain. Within the system we’ve created the only thing that really matters is that you find some job to carry you through until the day you die so that you don’t be a burden to anybody. What kind of job hardly matters. I seldom hear anybody talk about this, but I think it’s a vital aspect of what’s going on in the national psyche. I’m writing this in a bit of a hurry. I’m getting ready to leave town for a week. But I can’t imagine that even those who might disagree with me won’t understand what I’m trying to describe.

Progress Report #51

January 11, 2011

I finished the first pass through Chapter 24 of the second draft. The working title is “E is for Education.” It tells about a period on the street when I fear that I’m going under. I was surprised by this one. It turned out to be even stranger and stronger than I thought it would be. Tomorrow I start the second pass.

In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, there is a scene where the main character, Humbert Humbert, goes after his nemesis, Clare Quilty, with a handgun. As Humbert shoots him again and again, Quilty pleads with him to stop, to go away, to stop his monstrous assault. That’s how I feel about the news right now. I have thoughts that I don’t hear anybody voicing, and I often have an impulse to write them down and post them. But more than that, I want the news to leave me alone, to go away, to stop its monstrous assault.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

January 5, 2011

For the last week or so, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, has been playing on the tube. I was aware that it was going to be on, but I’ve been focused on my new book, Street Song, so only “vaguely aware.” It took me a little by surprise when I suddenly began receiving a torrent of e-mails about the film. I’ve tried to keep up with them, but they’ve finally overwhelmed me. I hope to get around to answering them all eventually, but for the time being it’s impossible.

When we started the film, my hope was simply to have a visual record of the experience before I had to move on. It is extremely gratifying that the film, which depicts events that happened 11 and 12 years ago, and was released into theaters six years ago, has such “legs.” Both Judy and I thought it was good, but we both knew, too, that you can’t presume that a project will succeed based on its quality alone. So many other factors come into play. In fact, Parrots had an extremely difficult time breaking into the film festival circuit. The gate keepers there tend to be postmodernists who have little use for this kind of movie. But it did well on the art house circuit. It was one of the last to succeed there before the circuit essentially shut down. And it’s done well on DVD, Netflix, iTunes, and PBS.

People often ask, “Which came first, the book or the film?” I was already working on the book when I met Judy. Both projects were done entirely separate from one another. My book is not the same as the film. It covers the full six years of the experience and goes into aspects and individual parrot friends of mine that the film never touches upon. My book did get somewhat buried by the film. More people watch movies than read books, and a lot of people assume that, because they have the same title, the book is simply a rehashing of the movie, which it isn’t. They are complementary, but not the same. (Others assume the film was based on the book, which it wasn’t.) In the film, I’m shown taking photos of the birds, and it is implied that I see a possibility of making a living from my photos. In reality, we had both agreed that it would cheapen the film if we used it to advertise the book, so the photos were meant to symbolize me beginning to make a creative living out of my experience. This is the advertisement!

P. S. After posting this I went for a ride on my bike. I stopped at the Warming Hut, a small cafe/bookstore out by the Golden Gate Bridge, and saw that the paperback, unbeknownst to me, has just gone into a tenth printing.

Hate is Too Strong a Word

January 1, 2011

The new year is here, and one thing that I know is coming is the partial resurgence of the Republican party. For two years, it’s been kept on something of a choke chain. But now it’s going to be out of the yard, snarling and snapping at us. I’m grateful to have had two relatively peaceful years of not having to listen to crap like, “Why do you hate America?” My answer to that was, “I don’t hate America. I hate the Republican vision for America.” But then I would always have to step back and remind myself that it really isn’t okay to hate.

When you hate something, even if it is something evil, your mind becomes clouded. You can’t see straight. You make bad decisions. You are filled with the evil of hatred. This is all true. I wonder what to call the proper response to evil. Opposition? Well, that’s certainly part of any correct response, but it seems a little mild. Revulsion? Yes, but that’s a purely personal, interior response. Something has to be done to stop evil. Is contempt the same as hatred? Does anybody have a good idea for the right word?

And make no mistake. What the Republicans push is evil. Their calls for personal freedom unhindered by governmental interference is really just a disguise for unbridled egotism—the dog-eat-dog kind. In the Republican universe, money and power are King, which is your basic, garden-variety definition of evil. It astonishes me that they can claim to be the representatives of morality in America and not get called on it. If this country ever has a serious discussion on what constitutes real morality, the GOP will be utterly discredited.

Over the next two years, I have little doubt that from time to time I will slip toward the fringes of hatred. And each time it happens I will make a conscious effort to pull back. But I’m sick of this. We have to stop the Republican party. We (I don’t mean Democrats, I mean Americans) have to drive a stake through that organization’s dark heart and never let it get back up. It could be done if we all got real.