Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Progress Report #104

November 28, 2016

This is a essentially an expansion of my last Progress Report.

I’m ten and a half years now into my memoir, Street Song. It’s been ten and a half years of constant work, so obviously it’s been a difficult project. Why take so many years out of one’s life to talk about the past? That’s something I’m still trying to come to grips with. It’s been some comfort to know that there are people eager to read the book. What I want to do here is to explain at some length what I’m trying to do and where I am in the process.

What am I trying to do? The book began with an image I had of myself sitting on the porch of an SRO hotel in North Beach watching people pass by me. I’d had that image for several years before I started work. When I finally started writing, the book went elsewhere, which has always struck me as peculiar. But books write themselves. If you struggle to take it in a direction that your conscious mind prefers, all you encounter is endless conflict. I’d been trying to keep the finished manuscript at around 350 pages, but I see now that it’s going to be longer. I understand why. I was born into a very conventional family in middle America, but I’ve ended up—philosophically, spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, whatever word you want to use—far, far from there. The book traces the nuances of that development. Nothing I say about anything will be understandable or believable unless I show the twists and turns. It’s not that I’ve arrived at some quirky individual mindset that I think might make entertaining reading. I write because, while traveling a highly unusual path, I discovered some fundamental realities that are universally true and have been either forgotten or consciously dismissed by the modern world. They are not my ideas. I believe that if we don’t get back to them we are doomed.

Where am I in the process? I had to do a lot of research before I could even begin writing. I’ve seldom kept any kind of journal, so I had to piece together my past. It was laborious. The research continues to this day—although there is much less to do. When I finally started on the manuscript, I wrote a quick, moderately long first draft. The second draft was nearly 1,000 pages, which I knew was much more than I would ever use. My approach was inspired by the Chinese sage Lao-tse: “If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.” So now I’m on the third and final draft. I have an outline that calls for 48 chapters—although that could get cut down as I move through the manuscript. I’ve completed the first 14 chapters, which I call Section One and regard as the foundation for the rest of the book. It took a long time to find the right balance and compression to build that foundation. I’ve finished Chapter 15, the beginning of “the rest of the book,” and, as I hoped, the writing has sped up considerably. I’m able to bring my Draft Two material straight across and focus on editing it down to a reasonable length. That wasn’t possible with the first fourteen chapters. I’m optimistic that I can go on a roll now. I need to get this book off my plate.

Progress Report #102

May 28, 2016
date

This event isn’t in the book, but took place during the period I’m currently writing about. My date and I before attending the Joffrey Ballet. 1971.

The pace has been picking up some as my working methods for my work in progress, Street Song, have become more clear. It’s been ten years now, so some clarity ought to be expected! I have completed 13 chapters (chapters 1-11 as well as two other chapters from later in the manuscript) out of 48 chapters projected. The first seven chapters took a long time to get straight, but the channel was dug in those first seven chapter, and the water is flowing in the desired direction. I just finished my second pass through Chapter 12 and will do one, maybe two more before heading on to Chapter 13. Overall, I’m on the third and final draft of the entire book. I project another year of work and then I should be finished. Somebody asked me if I would have started this project if I’d known how hard it would  be and how long it would take. I couldn’t answer. Probably yes, but I couldn’t swear to it.

Progress Report #101 and the State of the Blog Address

February 11, 2016

Hello? Hello? Anybody here?

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog. It’s been difficult getting to it, again, because of my book, Street Song. Anytime I have the energy to write, I always feel I should be putting it into the book. At the same time, I don’t want to abandon this blog. I started it up because there wasn’t anybody saying what I wanted to hear said, which is still true.

As for the book, I’m almost finished with chapter 10, and I have two chapters much later in the manuscript completed as well, for a total of 12 finished chapters. I have 48 chapters outlined, which makes me a quarter of the way through the book. (This is the last draft.) It’s almost 10 years now, but I can see the end. For reasons too tedious to explain, these first 10 chapters have been the most difficult to write. The pace will pick up with Chapter 11. I see one task that I have to attend to soon. Within the first seven chapters especially, I have about twice as much book as I want. I need to do some editing, compressing, cutting, which I don’t think will be too hard. There’s always a little cleanup to do after that kind of surgery, though. I can say beyond any doubt that I’ve learned a great deal writing Street Song. You might think that’s a no-brainer, but I’ve always tended to regard writing as an expression of what one already knows. But that has not been the case here. It’s been a real meditation that has changed me. I understand certain things now that I didn’t understand before.

As for this blog, like I said, I don’t want to abandon it. I have one idea on how I can stick with it. It can never supersede my work on the book, but there’s a lot happening in the world right now, and I’m eager to speak my mind. I’ve been on Facebook a bunch lately, but you can’t really go into any depth there. It’s fast and ephemeral — more cheerleading than anything else, as I have told a number of people. I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of readers here, but I aim to make a return. Not many people hold the views I do. Because we live in a democracy, there is a tendency to think that whatever the majority of the population believes is the correct view. I don’t see it that way. I think humanity has gone way off the track. There’s a lot I want to say about that.

I Did It

June 10, 2015

I’m now on Facebook. I don’t really know how it works yet. I don’t suppose I’m difficult to find. And I need all the friends I can get…

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009816636254

Speaking Gig at Evergreen College

October 10, 2014

For anyone within driving distance and who has the interest, I’m giving a talk at the Evergreen College Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at 7 pm on October 30. The theme of the talk is “Paying Attention.” It will be followed by a screening of the documentary film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I’m being brought up to Evergreen College under the auspices of the Willi Unsoeld Seminar Series. The event is free and open to the public. The address is 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia WA.

I’m looking forward to this. A breath of fresh air. Hope to see you there.

More on My Visit with Mother

September 3, 2014

There’s a short piece near the end of my book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill where I go for a swim in San Francisco Bay and then join the South End Rowing Club. The piece was intended to symbolize my finally arriving in San Francisco after living here for more than 20 years, yet always feeling that I was just passing through. At the time I wrote that, it felt like a bit of a stretch, and it may still be. But I have gotten more into swimming this year. The water temperature in the bay has been unusually warm this year — probably not a good sign, although swimmers love it. (All the starfish have disappeared. All of them.) In the past the temp has rarely gotten above 63 degrees, but this year it has hit 66 degrees consistently, and occasionally even higher.

The South End Rowing Club was founded in 1873. It’s old blue-collar San Francisco—not fancy or expensive. The name is deceptive. Not only is the club at the north end of San Francisco, it caters mostly to swimmers. Originally, the club was at the south end of the city and catered to rowers. At some point, they moved the entire building from its original location to Aquatic Park. If you’ve ever been to the Hyde Street Pier near Fisherman’s Wharf or visited the old sailing ship the Balclutha, you’ve seen the club building. It sits on the beach of a protected cove. Most club swimmers never get out of the cove, and up until now, I’ve been one of those. My wife Judy on the other hand does the Alcatraz swim almost every year. Before I met her, I couldn’t swim—not properly at least. She taught me how to do “the crawl,” but I’ve never felt strong enough to do any out-of-the-cove swims. They’re a little scary. If you get into trouble, you’re way out in the bay, far from land. The club out-of-cove swims are done in groups and have pilots in boats, but it’s still a little intimidating for a weak swimmer. (Contrary to myth, there are no dangerous sharks in the bay.) There is one club swim, the Coghlan Beach Swim, that I’ve always sworn I’d do if all my conditions were met: They had to do it during the summer or fall when the water was warmer, it had to be non-competitive, and I had to have plenty of company. This year the club put together a special Coghlan Beach swim for newbies. So I started training.

Coghlan_Beach

Coghlan Beach with Alcatraz to the right in the background

The beach, named after an old time South End swimmer, Frank Coghlan, is a small spit of sand that has gathered against an artificial breakwater a mile west of the club. They drive you to the beach in a car and then all you have to do is swim out into the bay 20 yards or so, which puts you right out in the current. But it’s not as though you don’t have to do anything. If all you did was float, it would take you a long time to get back to the club. The morning of the swim, conditions were perfect. There was a strong flood tide, and the air was warm, but the sky overcast. People told me that on sunny mornings the sun can blind you. Judy swam with me and I had my own pilot in a row boat, a friend, David Kennedy. I’d expected to be at least a little nervous, but I wasn’t at all. It was fun watching the city float by, and, as I say, I was busy stroking, too busy to feel any anxiety. One technique I used to ease my fears was to look at my watch when my arm was underwater. I’d trained on up to a 53 minute swim, and I could see that I was going to get in earlier than that. The water looks and feels silky right now—deliciously so.

The Pier and the Opening

1) Alcatraz 2) The Pier 3) The Opening to the Cove

Just before the cove is a long pier, and the current really picks up when you get there. It was astonishing to see how fast we were flying past the pylons.

The Opening between Muni Pier and the Breakwater

The Opening between Muni Pier and the Breakwater

At the opening to the cove, I swam through and started making my way to the club beach. It took me 38 minutes to complete. I wasn’t tired at all. Actually, I wanted to do it again.

The South End Rowing Club Building

The South End Rowing Club Building

 

The Beach with the Opening in the background

The Beach with the Opening (1) in the background

It was good to have something take my mind off my obsession with my book for a while. I’ve never pictured myself trying it, but I now see swimming from Alcatraz as a real possibility. Judy will make sure I’m ready and get through it okay. Not this year, though.

I feel a little odd talking about my personal enjoyment at a time when the world seems to be heading straight to hell. I find the news hideous reading these days. But it is reality, and we do have to deal with it. I don’t see anyone saying what I think needs to be said, so I’ll be heading back in the direction of religion and politics soon enough. Meanwhile, back to the book.

An Unashamed Pitch

May 3, 2014

My wife and wonderful filmmaker, Judy Irving, has started a Kickstarter campaign. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s a “crowd sourcing” means of funding creative projects. People make donations within a set period of time and if you meet your goal you get to keep the money. If you don’t meet it, you don’t get anything. Judy has a goal of $50,000 by May 31st. There are little (and big) perks that come with each level of donation, which ranges from $10 to $10,000. The new film is called Pelican Dreams. I’ve seen it several times now and it never fails to move me. Might I be a biased observer? Possibly. But I can never fake a lump in my throat, especially one I assume I’m not going to get this time around. All the information is right here. There’s a trailer, too. Please check it out.

At the moment, I’m in my old hometown of Vancouver, Washington working on my book. I call it “writing in place.” This is where the story begins. I’m staying in an apartment  in the block between old Highway 99 and Interstate 5. It’s a strip mall. Perfect place to begin a story of despair and longing.

Mindboggling

October 12, 2013

This, from a New York Times article summary today:

While acknowledging shortfalls, General Keith B. Alexander said the agency was doing more “to protect people’s civil liberties and privacy than they’ll ever know.”

George Orwell was a piker in comparison to General Alexander.

Leaving Hawaii

October 2, 2013
Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

My nine-day stay in Hawaii is coming to an end. In two hours I leave for the airport. One of the most pleasant aspects of this trip has been where I’m staying: the home of Dorothy Faison, a painter, and Simon Holland, a film editor. They have a place in Kailua, and the beach is within walking distance. This is the same town where Obama vacations when he’s in Hawaii. The beach is perfect and I’ve been there every day but one. I’m not really the beach bum type, though. I’m eager to get home and back to work. I have to go to Southern California for a week first, though, where I’ll be helping Judy with a film shoot for her movie Pelican Dreams.  I’ve spent a lot of time working out some of the book’s issues in my head. It never leaves me alone completely.

Aloha Hawaii. Mahalo Dorothy and Simon.

Reviews, Dreams, and Departures

September 20, 2013

Contrary to all appearances, I have not forgotten or abandoned this blog. It’s been a funny time. Lately, I’ve been spending many an hour reexamining my views. It’s hard to write about what you believe when you’re in the process of reevaluating it. I wouldn’t say I’ve change any of my positions. If anything, I’ve deepened them. I’m reading a book right now: The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters. What a joke!

I had a dream the other night: I was standing in a park and saw across the way Suzuki Roshi (the Japanese Zen Master and founder of Zen Center here in San Francisco) who was in a yellow pickup truck, which had a cab on the back, like a camper shell, but made of wood. The pickup was on a hill and had a stick shift and Suzuki was having trouble getting it into gear. He kept bashing into the car parked behind him. He finally gave up and I went over to ask him if everything was alright. He shook his head “no.” He said the pickup had been a gift from his students and that the cab on the back was intended to be his studio. But he hadn’t asked for it, didn’t want it, and furthermore, the truck had been paid for out of an account that supplied him with his daily stipend and now it was all used up and he had no money to live on.

I’m leaving for nine days in Hawaii on Monday. Work and play. I’ve never been there and I’m looking forward to it. My intention is to get good and rested and then come back to start the last big push on Street Song.