Archive for March, 2011

A Song

March 27, 2011

I’ve been trying to get to a new post regarding the nature of evil, but I keep running into obstructions. So, here’s an interim post, a song. I wrote it 40 years ago. It was true then and it’s true now. It’s a short song. It’s called Life.

Life goes on.

It’s ongoing.

On and on and on

and then it’s gone.

Progress Report #59

March 18, 2011

I just finished the second pass through the second draft’s Chapter 27, working title “Up On the Roof.” I’m quite happy with this particular chapter. I’m at a good point now, a point of relief. I’ve been working on this second draft for something like four years. It’s over 800 pages long—and it’s not finished yet. I’ve known from the beginning that this draft was going to be much longer than the final book, which I intend to come in at around 300 pages. I’ve been working from the idea, “If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.” Because I’ve been uncertain as to what would be included in the third and final draft, I haven’t bothered with fine-tuning the voice or polishing. There’s no point in struggling over the fine points of a passage when you’re not sure whether it will be included in the final text. Most of my work has been the creation of story structures. But it drags me to do so much writing that isn’t of high quality. When I wrote songs, I polished every line before moving on to the next. I’m not used to writing this way. But when you’re working on a long book, it’s the only practical method.

A few days I ago I came to understand that everything that follows this point in the story has to relate back to something that came before. So tomorrow I start work on the outline for the final draft. I know enough now to do that. This also allows me to determine what goes into the rest of the second draft. So I won’t have to spend time working on stories that won’t be in the book. I welcome the change. I’m exhausted from working day-in and day-out at the same level of quality. It’s less than satisfying not to be able to work on the nuances, which I love. I’ve been craving a change that wouldn’t take me away from the work—there’s still so much to do—and working on the third draft outline fulfills that perfectly. It’s also something I can do by hand at a time when I’m sick of looking at the computer. And then there’s the feeling of coming into the home stretch. I’m not quite there yet, but when I lay my hand out flat just above my eyes, I can see it.

Street Singing

Street Singing in Seattle in 1972. Photo by Timothy Eagan

Progress Report #58

March 15, 2011

I just finished my first pass through Chapter 27 of the second draft. It has a working title now: “Up on the Roof.” Tomorrow I start the second pass.

In the last few days I’ve had a shift in my concept for the overall structure. (This happens many times over the course of a creative work.) Happily, this new idea should allow me to get through the book a little faster than my old idea would have. I’ll pull the curtain back a little farther in weeks to come.

The Disaster in Japan

March 14, 2011

All attention in this household—obsessive attention—is on Japan at the moment. (I apologize if any of this sounds rushed or distracted. I’m constantly checking the headlines, even as I write.) Nuclear power is a subject that took up ten years of my wife Judy’s life. Her first feature-length film, Dark Circle, (she co-directed, co-produced and narrated it) was about the links between nuclear weapons and the nuclear power industry. It won several awards, including an Emmy. In the last few years, I’ve watched her become increasingly dismayed over the renewed interest in nuclear power. She’d thought that the battle was over. She has told me repeatedly that public officials and the media will never tell you the truth about a nuclear emergency as it’s happening, and I’m seeing that she’s right. The “experts” they call on for commentary are almost invariably pro-nuclear power. Judy can read an article, dissect it—tell me what they’re really saying. The corporations, including those that own the media, want nuclear power. They are reluctant to publish anything that will make it look bad. What many people don’t understand—I didn’t for the longest time—is that all nuclear power does is boil water. That’s it. It’s just a fancy and dangerous way to boil water. The issues that nuclear energy raises are much more complicated than what most of us know. Dark Circle goes into those issues. It’s available on iTunes to rent or own and can be purchased through Amazon. This isn’t a pitch for product. Judy no longer owns the copyright. What she wants is that people educate themselves.

So I sit here working on my book and watching the news. Whenever I fall into thinking about nuclear power as simply a domestic political issue, I lose sight of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Japan suffering tremendously right now. It’s terrible to forget that. Through my exploration of Zen Buddhism as well as my encounters with the Japanese, I’ve developed an affection for Japan. I’m pulling for them.

The Evil in Wisconsin

March 9, 2011

Tonight I was reading the readers’ comments attached to the New York Times article about the sick act the Republican party pulled off in Wisconsin, and I found myself hitting the recommend button on any post that said, “this is war.” I don’t know yet how that manifests itself. I’m not the kind who gets enthusiastic about wars—of any kind. But it’s clear that something needs to be done. The Republican party is evil. While it will destroy itself eventually—that’s a real universal law—it’s doing far too much harm to the common good right now to just stand by and wait. For starters, I sent some money to the Wisconsin Democratic party to help them in their recall efforts.

There are readers of this blog who dislike it it when I use the word “evil.” But it is the correct word. I’m leaving tomorrow morning for a speaking gig in Pasadena. When I get back I’m going to start work on a post dealing with my thoughts on evil.

Progress Report #57

March 5, 2011

I finished my second pass through Chapter 26, working title “Life on the Rock.” The next chapter, Chapter 27, contains an expanded version of pages 15-17 of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I receive a visit from two policemen who tell me I’m not to sleep in the alley anymore. I end up on the roof of the Tower Hotel, where I make a tent and begin a new period in my life as a street person. There’s much more to it than I was able to fit into Wild Parrots.

When I finish this next chapter I’ll be in a position to start work on the outline for the third and final draft. I’ve been working on this second draft for three or four years now. It’s over 800 pages, with another 200 or so to go. The final draft will be around 300 pages. There is daylight at the end of this long, long tunnel.

Left, Right, Left, Right

March 1, 2011

As I’ve said here before, I don’t like to describe the political spectrum with the words “left” and “right.” Within any given era, Left and Right are relative, so they don’t mean much. I think most people assume that any position that’s off to one side can’t be correct, that the correct position must lie somewhere in the center. If you posit Sarah Palin as representing the far right and Obama as representing the far left—which much of the media does these days—a centrist position would be somewhere in between the two. Sorry. I can’t hack that one at all.

I keep thinking up different ways to say this, but to my mind it’s like this: There’s truth and there’s bullshit. No left, no right. No two ways. To know what’s true, you have to give up all your preconceived ideas and take a completely open-minded look without pushing for a particular outcome. I don’t know of very many people who have done that or even have any interest in taking the trouble. People tend to take positions based on where they’ve grown up, what they’ve been exposed to, who their friends are, and who they’re angry with. We have to look beyond our own self-interest. The main problem I see with the so-called “right wing” is that it considers looking out for one’s own self-interest a virtue. But it isn’t. “Enlightened self-interest” is an oxymoron.