Monday, December 30, 2013

Indeed, that one.

Nostalgia is a funny, old beast. This idea of "The Old New York," or maybe that should be plural as it transcends generational differences, pervades casual conversation. All the while politicians carry on that they have made it better for all of us.  So why are so many people looking to the bygones?

No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn

So much for going to sleep early.  It was all looking good there for a bit, but the bruja in 1R got lonely and called 911 for company.  It was the fire department that showed up this time.  If memory serves it was a home invasion the last time and a SWAT team showed.  Things have gotten... real... around here.  Real weird.

I'd written a while ago that she hasn't been exactly cogent since her old man died.  She was 10 years younger for a spell after his funeral, but then things went south pretty quickly.  There were budding relationships with the raccoons and feral cats from the lot next door.  They were, evidently, her primos coming back around to visit.  She cooked for them and left plates out, and carried on conversations.  Then she started turning up around the neighborhood all confused with her hair on sideways.

She hasn't locked herself out in the cold for a while, and that saves me the worry that I'll be leaving early to walk the dog and find her perma-frosted to the doorknob in her housecoat.  The 911 calls are getting troublesome though.  She was disappointed when they left a while ago, and she's upstairs now spiking about on her heels and spindly legs.  My guess, given its gone half past midnight, that the music will start soon and she'll dance.

Don't get me wrong.  I usually sleep through the solo soirees she has up there by her lonesome.  Were it not for this particularly strange bout of insomnia, perhaps the detritus of a holiday pastry binge so fierce I thought I would shit whole sticks of butter, it wouldn't be anything to write home about.  Given that there have been a few consecutive bleary, weird nights though, going upstairs and knocking her the fuck out has crossed my mind.  We would both be better off.  Trust.

Then there's the question of her "spiritual" practice, some form of brujeria from back home she is reported to have been into.  She does have the little, Viva A Chango shrines and whatnot.  People in the neighborhood have said she has considerable talent.  I don't know if these powers take flight and head back to Rincon when the mind starts to fracture and spill.  That's sad in a way, but preferable to thinking that the woman who calls 911 when she's lonely might be aiming her magic wand recklessly about Brooklyn in a pique of delusional paranoia.  Who knows?  She might be up there right now, reading my thoughts and cooking up some horrible retribution spell.  Somehow I doubt it, but you never know.

So... so much for my plans.  If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for tomorrow... and all  that jazz.  Sleep will come, or it won't.  Maybe ol' Dominga upstairs has something that will help.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Old Rugged Cross

Memory & Memoir

Oliver Sacks on the elasticity and fallibility of memory... 

I'm probably guilty of flogging a dead horse on this topic in recent months.  I'm probably doubly guilt of the auto-plagiarism he describes therein, whereby you catch yourself treading back over  your own steps and repeating older ideas as if they were brand new.  Memory is, on a good day, inconsistent, and on others entirely non-existent.  It's only after traveling a certain distance into an idea that it all becomes very familiar.  If I backtrack over my own footprints I often find that  I'm repeating myself.  There are cases where it comes out with greater clarity the second time, but that's not always the case either.  Often the ideas were better formed during the first visit.  Forgive me if this is one of those times.

Sacks, and other writers over the years, have found themselves in the same position, realizing that not only had they been there before, but they are remembering it differently.  The Mark Twain quotes in the article are especially revealing.

This poses a confounding problem for people, like myself, who are embroiled in their own self-excavation (in my case for reasons both related to healing and recovery, and also for a memoir I've been writing).  The model is to be entirely truthful and honest and to record the events as they happened, and the players involved as they were.  Yet when you catch yourself remembering things differently than the first time, where do you begin to fact-check any of it?  The obvious answer to that question is to consult the other witnesses to the events, but there is no guarantee that their memory is on target either.

Then there is the collective mythology of family and groups of friends, a concept I first encountered in Mykal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart.  A family or a close-knit circle will recount a story over and over again, each party contributing their own bit, but also accepting pieces of the puzzle offered by other members of the group, even if it's not exactly how they would have described it.  Yet the story gets told time and time again until it becomes a single, solid edifice.  Half-truth by committee.  That's not to say that this is an intentional deception.  You just come to believe it because everybody else tells it that way.  It's only having been decades removed from the mythology that my own recollections of how things differ from the offerings of the others have crept back in, and with that, the doubt.

There is another phenomenon that occurs when you tell people that you are attempting a memoir.  It is a sentence that launches a five-masted ship of reminiscence with the hold laden heavy and the sails full.  It's one of those trigger concepts for everyone.  Everyone has something to contribute in that hey remember when way.  I'm not going to say that this is any kind of a conscious attempt to add a spin.  You may not even be writing about a part of your life that includes them, but they don't know that, so it's possible that they come forward with the vested interest of seeing themselves portrayed in a good light.  Or it could just be reminiscing.  I think everyone with an IQ over a certain threshold at some point wonders whether their own story is worthy of a public, autobiographical exposition.  I'm not even sure that mine is.  There is the therapeutic value though.

These articles though, that seem to be prevalent in Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds lately, then combined with pieces on this emerging science of genetic imprinting of personality and memory, have made me pause in my tracks.  I feel like a hound out in the woods that's just picked up something on the wind.  I'm questioning myself.

Am I remembering this correctly?

Is this even my memory?  i.e.  Was I really there or have I just heard this story so many times that I believe that I was there?

What really happened back then?

These doubts don't really lend themselves to confidence moving forward, and several times over the last six months I've considered stopping already.  James Baldwin, another writer that I love and respect, dismissed memoir and autobiography as largely fantasy.  I know I'm repeating myself here when I voice my suspicions that he was protecting someone out of a sense of loyalty, BUT... He may be correct, to an extent.  His life-experience though came through so clearly in his fiction that an autobiography might have been obnoxiously redundant.  Perhaps mine is too.

There is that line, however, in writing, where the Venn Diagram of fact and fiction overlaps so profoundly that all that is exclusive to either becomes mirrored crescent moons on opposite sides of the chart.  Perhaps that's true for all our lives.  Just maybe it doesn't really matter, though it will when you approach a publisher with a manuscript.  AND post-publishing because we can't have Oprah Winfrey crucifying us on national television.

I'm not too too worried.  I've been reading a lot of writers, writing on writing memoirs (Lord, that is clumsy), and many do say that there will always be someone who will stand up and declare it a "pack of lies."  There are lawsuits.  It's not like a work of fiction where you can put a disclaimer at the start, declaring that any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental.  Even that doesn't keep publishers and writers out of court, so whatever.  Where to go?

The destination is trying.  I'm going to move forward and try to capture things as accurately as possible.  I offer no apologies for either what comes out right, or wrong.

The other gift these articles on the fallibility of memory has given me is an understanding of not just how people may remember things, but why they may remember them a certain way.  I'm not talking about an intentional motive, but pain is a great subconscious motivator.  Some history gets revised out of malice, but I believe most of it is a question of emotional survival.  We automatically, without any effort, forget the sensation of pain.  That's a well known fact.  These articles have given me empathy and compassion for people in my story.  That allows me to write about them with compassion, and to dig beyond what were former resentments into fond memories of their beautiful, human-ness... their humanity, their quirks, their endearing if frustrating idiosyncrasies that often angered me.  I wanted more from many people over the years than they were capable of.  And to be fair a lot of people have expected and wanted more from me.

I recall now, conversations with a woman that I was involved with for a short time in the half-distant past.  We shared, beyond a mutual distrust and enmity on some core levels, a lot of emotional intimacy on other levels.  She had a very complicated relationship with both of her parents, who had divorced when she was young.  There was still a lot of baggage that she was slowly unpacking, but it is a slow process and I do get that.  If she had related the details to you, you would understand that there was still  a good amount of residual anger.  Yet when she wrote her memoir, and I don't know if it was ever published or not, they were portrayed with an astounding depth of understanding and compassion.  The story wasn't whitewashed at all.  They were painfully human and flawed.  She loved them wholly though and was coming to peace with how their humanity impacted her life.  She loved them for the good, the bad and the ugly and it came through.  I remember reading the lions share of the manuscript over a weekend, enrapt and tearful and joyful.  It made me love this woman, the author, despite the co-dependent disdain I had felt.  We were not for each other, but her honesty in this writing was a gift to me for which I remain grateful

So I hope, sitting here in this neurological illusion, this Matrix if you will, that I can get this right.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Half Empty or Half Full

I've been deceived, and perhaps self-deceived, but it is deceit nonetheless.  You hear this old saw throughout your life:  What kind of person are you?  Do you view the glass as half full, or half empty?  There are value judgments attached to your answer too.  If the former, then you are an optimist.  You are a positive person with a good attitude and therefor a good person.  If the latter, you are a pessimist and a negative person, and probably an ingrate.

I should qualify that these axioms really only apply to those people in the world living outside of dire need.  There are people in the world for whom the glass will always be half empty, and the ugly truth is that the rest of us are the ones at fault for that.  Sorry, but there you go.

But I've always just taken it for granted that there are only two choices.  You either accept what you have -- not only accept it but  revel in it.  Or you are a turd that is never happy with anything.  It only occurred to me recently that there are more than two choices and I think it's important to put this out there.

There are miles of choices between optimism and pessimism.  Some of these choices are situational, and within this subset there are situations that can be changed and others that simply cannot.  Perhaps MOST of these choices are situational, and the realization of just how many of them over which we are powerless is astonishing if you sit down and make an honest accounting of it.  Yet if you tell people just how many things we are all powerless over they just do not want to hear it.  Vulnerability = fear, or that's how it shakes out with the half full/half-empty people.  That may mean most of us.  I'm not sure.

I'm not sure but I'd certainly like to propose at least a third choice.  I'm neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  Not being the former doesn't automatically make one the latter.  We have been deceived, again perhaps, self-deceived into believing that if we are not the former, then we are the latter, and hence just less than decent.

You are actually allowed to look at the glass and neither rejoice nor despair.  Sometimes it just is what it is.  That's what you have to work with.  Sometimes it's enough.  Often it's not.  It doesn't make you a better person to be okay with just enough.  It doesn't make you a bad person to come up short of what you really want nor need.

You are allowed to look at the glass and with some resignation say, "It is what it is."

And for God's sake, if your glass is short of what you need, you damn well have every right to say so.

I share this really, to pass on my experience of having been stuck within this cultural, either-or paradigm.  I can easily get locked into this cycle of feeling less than for having less than, and then feeling less than for feeling less than.  It leaves me feeling like an ingrate, because I am much more fortunate than some.  Yet there is more to the picture than that. isn't there?  There is another place to "be."  The truth is larger than an ungrateful compare and despair.  We need to cut ourselves some slack, and save some of the empathy for ourselves.

Just a thought.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Prone to looking for messages in the mundane, it is easy sometimes to find God (or the Devil) in the details. PAIN in confectionary, Granny pink couldn't possibly have any relevance in my life, could it? But then again, why not?

Spend a fee decades shambling about the town and the inside of your head in a chemical frenzy and everything and  anything can gain its own gravity.  Ironically to the extent that when everything contains some urgent message or dire warning,  everything in the Universe becomes equally meaningless.  Which is preferable to the other alternatives of buckling under the weight and having a complete breakdown.

Or a lapse of reality.

Or this message is not for me, which is probably the case. It meant something to someone  though.  Someone needed get something out so badly that they were willing to stand in the bitter cold and paint this with pink nail polish.  Call me a voyeur but I would love to hear this story. There is something riding the border of poignancy and brie in the act of standing in the cold and painting this single word on a lamppost in Skinny Park. 

But I want to know.

Not that I done witness enough bright pink expressions of anguish on a daily basis, but I want to know THIS one.  My suspicion is that it's a good one.

Schadenfreude?  No.  I don't know what it is. It just feels like a good one.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

It's been my habit, over the years, to sit down on Christmas Eve and take an inventory of sorts covering the year since the previous Christmas.  Maybe one year I'll put together an anthology of the often drunken, almost always incoherent, shambling ruminations.  

Not this year.

This is the first year that I've given it some thought and come up short of anything to say, meaningful or otherwise.  It's not that it hasn't been an eventful year.  Quite the opposite in fact, it's been a landmark year in many ways, filled with numerous 'adventures,' curiosities and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Guess what.

I'm still here.  

My trials in 2013 are largely a reflection of the struggles of countless other people all over.  It would be dismissive to call them mundane, but listing them would be an abject denial that they are common.  There is nothing unique.  They are nothing to write home about.  At the end of each and every day, I am in very good company and there are a lot of folks punching their way through with a lot less grumbling.  You wake up.  You take care of business.  You go back to bed.  You wake up again.

Until you don't.  It's really that simple.  

I've gotten into the habit in recent years of writing (almost) daily gratitude lists.  I know I've written about this very recently, but it bears repeating.  We all have two lists, whether we write them down or keep a file tucked somewhere in our monkey brains.  So I write down a list of things I am grateful for, and the other list kind of makes itself.  It's a list of things I wish were different, and things that I want, and things that I want right away.  

There came a point in 2013 when I started spending a lot of time poring over this second, unwritten list.  The other list, though faithfully recorded on that (almost) daily basis, went largely ignored.  My hands did the work, so somewhere all the proper synapses were firing so everything made it from my head to my hands to paper, but the return feed back up from the eyes to the head to the heart never quite connected.  List 2 became a major preoccupation and what followed was despair, frustration, and then anger, some justified for sure, but mostly it was a list of issues with no corresponding action to address them.  


Maybe my entry for Christmas Eve 2013 is really just a confession of dishonesty and selfishness.  Maybe it's a mission statement related to that first list.  What's on that list?  Well, it's not secret but it's personal and much of it wouldn't have any gravity with anyone else.  You can all write your own if you want.  It feels good, and I recommend it.  For now, I'll just stick with what I wrote out back around Thanksgiving.  This is the cornerstone of my gratitude list.  It anchors the rest of what's become a rather  lengthy bit of writing, on an honest day.  

1)  I am grateful to God, for God.  I wish I knew what the plan was or the details of what's in store for ME ME ME, but whatever. 

2)  I am grateful for 2nd chances.  And 3rd, and 4th, and so on. 

3)  I am grateful to find myself in the lifeboat with good people who are as invested not only in my survival but my happiness, as they are in their own.  It was only a short time ago that I would have sworn to you and believed it that no such people existed.  I was wrong.  Sometimes I feel I don't deserve them, but they don't give up on me.

4)  I am grateful that I have lived long enough to grow up.  The 4a on this is that I am grateful that as I grow up, I am seeing the world through the new, fresh, clean eyes of a child.

5)  I am grateful that fear has been scaled away like a reptile sheds it's skin and becomes shiny and new.  Or maybe more aptly like a caterpillar transforms from its cocoon... 

6)  I am grateful to have the opportunity to be part of something good, and this goes right back around in a circle to the first item on the list.  I have the opportunity to be useful to other human beings, and that really is my purpose, after all. 

I'll wrap this up by thanking everyone who kept me propped up since last Christmas.  Everyone who gave me advice, and it was always good.  Everyone who called me on my shit.  You all know who you are, I hope.  

It's been a hell of a journey, and I'm pleased as all get out that you're all here with me.  


Glory to the newborn king...


Monday, December 23, 2013

Best Advice I've Gotten In a While

Do everything!

The words came in response my questions during on of those this or that, where do I go from here, where do I take this, either or moments.  The context was largely about what to do with this blog, and writing in general, but not limited to that.  It was really more wholly about where the whole of everything is headed.

Do everything?

Yah, really.  Why not?  There are no outside expectations or pressures to focus either here or there, or anywhere.  There are no inside expectations either.  I've run around my entire life listening to the failure is not an option pundits and harpies.  There is a greater truth though, and I'm going to tell you what it is right now.

Are you ready?

Failure doesn't matter.

What's it that the zen cowboy prophet Kris Kristofferson says?  Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

I'm laughing today though.  It's so simple.

Do everything.




Sunday, December 22, 2013


Of course there are those who wouldn't "feel" the blessings in driving about in a faded, purple, late model Nissan so nuff respect to the soul that does.


The Earth seems strangely unsettled tonight, for reasons I'm not managing to put words to.  It's not about me being unsettled.  Quite the contrary, I feel oddly at peace.  Today, or yesterday at this point, was the first day of winter and despite three snowfalls already, the temperatures swelled up to a balmy 60.  Compelled at nearly 2 am to walk outside, I looked up to see the clouds coasting along at a good clip, despite that the air down here at ground level is eerie calm.  It's like the planet stood still but the atmosphere kept going, reminiscent of Rumblefish, an odd bit of cinematography that stuck with me... stuck in my hard from the first view.  The world can be like that sometimes.  Things get stuck in place, unchanging, while the rest of the world moves on its merry way.  People stay stuck in place while everyone else moves on.

I've felt that way too.  I've been that way.  Lived that way.  There may still be days or weeks like that but mostly I'm moving on the high current and things look like they're standing still.  They'll catch up, or maybe not, but that's got nothing to do with me.  It can be present or it can be past.  That's not my call.  I'm on cruise control, and for the moment, feeling pretty serene despite being out of synch with things.

I've come on that time of year also, where despite myself and despite my intention to avoid too much reflection and to make no resolutions, I start to piece together the year and decide what it may or may not portend for the coming year.

Fade back to pass...

Remember the line, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for tomorrow.

Follow through...

If you want to make people laugh, write out a public posting like a time capsule, detailing all your big plans for the coming year so they can hit you up in six months and ask you what happened.  Not that people really care, and not that I even care if people care.  Not anymore.  It just seems a waste of time.  Don't write it.  Just do it.

Where am I going with this?

I don't know.  Its 2 in the morning.  Leave it at the word change.  There will be changes.  Some I will make.  Some will just happen.  I'm trying to decide where to proceed with this writing thing, but right now I just wish I had a way to film what's going on outside right now with the clouds and the moon and share it.  There is no wind at all at ground level.  It's dead air.  Up above? It's humming!

Watch for changes here.  It's time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ho ho ho!

A certain coming of age.

You know you've crossed a certain, new threshold when you understand why older people leave the house in the morning, regardless of the weather, to sit on benches in quiet places.  It always seemed a question of being lonely, but now there is this new wisdom that you don't seek.  It just comes of its own accord. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

People oh my people... RIP Peter OToole

It's going to be fun... hopefully, on the other side.

Glossophagia on Nutrition

Because you can't survive on words alone.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Japanese Shouting Vase

In case I need it later?  No, really.  A place to get rid of one's anger sounds like truly progressive thinking, but does it come in 2XL?

Get Off My Lawn! 2

Inta Ruka

You can never go wrong with a little black dress.

Jonathan Messe

Get off my lawn!

Here today..

A Christmas Carol

This 1951 film adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol will remain the definitive celluloid version in my mind.  There have been many worthy competitors, from Patrick Stewart to Mister Magoo, but no man seemed able to capture the horror as aptly as Mr. Sim.  The stills alone inspire fear and revulsion.  This movie, in fact, remains one of the movies from my childhood that terrified me the most profoundly, though I wouldn't realize for decades how it may relate to my own life -- the true sign of artistic relevance in film and literature -- literally ageless.

It only occurred to me recently how very lucky Ebenezer Scrooge was that he was carried through such profound revelation and insight and change over the course of a single night.  Most men and women aren't graced with epiphany.  Salvation will come, only if sought, through grueling excavation and surrender, that for a long time leaves one emotionally and spiritually scuffed and scarred.  Picture the worst instance where, as a child, you fell on the pavement and tore layers of flesh from your knees and elbows and everything was rendered exposed and raw.  Every movement you made for weeks after would serve as a grim reminder of your indiscretion and your willful revolt to run where you should probably be walking carefully.  That's the road to redemption for most.  It's travelled over a long period of time on one's knees.  It's fraught with moments of impatience and frustration where you stand up and get smacked harshly back to Square One.

That's how it's been for me, over the course of several  years, and yet, and how should I put this succinctly, there are, "miles to go before I sleep."  Always back to Robert Frost, and on such a frigid morning too.

There has been a veritable parade of Jacob Marley's throughout my life, to whom I rarely if ever listened.  The connections weren't coming.  Always the question, "What's that got to do with me?" Incredulous and resentful at these messengers from the past who were really only there to help me.  I was content to stick with Bob Marley and go my own way.  It seemed awfully important to be right, albeit I'd suffered enough of being wrong even when I was right, because being right even when they're wrong is important to others as well.

It was only in recent years that I came to listen just a little.  My chorus of Jacob Marley's warned me that there would be another legion of Ghosts of Christmas Past, and there has certainly been no small number.  They come in ones, twos, threes, and sometimes in groups of several dozen.  They come at night.  They come over meals.  They corner me in the street.  The drag me down alley's like rogue cops and slam me against walls.  They turn off all the hot water while I'm showering and leave me convulsing in the cold.  Sometimes they whistle a warning that they're coming.  They usually show up when I least expect them.

The difference is that after my last encounter with Mister Marley, Jacob... I invited them to come.  I told them they would be welcome.  I just didn't know that they'd come in such numbers and with such ferocious intensity.  That has caught me off guard.  The Ghosts of Christrmas Past are fewer in number now and they come less frequently, and usually only when I need a kick in the backside or a firm reminder that I'm not in the clear.  That I will never be in the clear.  Destiny is funny that way.  It's not exactly set in advance, but there aren't that many options either.  You can have what's behind Door #1, which is always a one-way ticket to fear, and you might often be inclined to choose that anyway just so you know what's coming.  Or you can have what's behind Door #2, which remains a mystery day by day.  All you know is that it's not what's behind Door #1 and if that isn't enough for you, then you're pretty much set.

#1 or #2.

That's it.

No holiday in Aruba with sun and umbrella drinks and whatnot.  Well, maybe, but there are no guarantees.

I'm envious of Scrooge that he was graced with Enlightenment Bootcamp.  My guess is that if it came all that easily to me I would probably piss all over it and laugh right in the crowned face of Christmas Yet To Come, whom I've yet to encounter.  That's my suspicion, given what the previous visitors have shown me.  No.  It's pretty much a given.  Get off my lawn and all that.  I've got this!

Yah, right?

Christmas is around the corner.  I don't dread the holidays like so many people.  They can be stressful on many levels.  They can be lonely, or even worse; they can be filled with people with whom you've not made any kind of peace, nor overtures towards achieving even some manner of balance.  Being alone and lonely is often better than being in a crowd and lonely.  Trust.  I've been there too often.

Where am I in my own Diekensian journey?  Not quite sure.  A couple minutes and a few steps from the beginning at the least.  And I'll spare you the Robert Frost.  My horse knows...


Monday, December 09, 2013

I had this horrible dream...

I was a herring.

A thankless job...

Cookies and milk.  Really? REALLY?

Pretty much...

Rain o'er me...

I could easily Google the answer, but does this seem to anyone else like the rainiest year in New York City history?  It doesn't seem to end.  At any point where it seems I've bleached the mildew off my old bones it starts right up again, and I'm perpetually soggy.  Like a stack of old newspapers in the garage (and I guess that doesn't happen so much anymore with people grazing out of digital newsfeeds).

Things still need to be done, though.  The dog needs her time outside, as does her creaky, mildewed human, so at some point, it's just time to get wet again.  No great revelations out in the rain today.  No messages seeping in from the ether like the rain seeps through the Carhartt.  Just wetness.

I was reminded, though, that I do live in a pretty good time in a pretty good place.  We were out at the dog run with my neighbor Richie and his huge, twin-balled pitbull, Apache.  They are easily the most intimidating-looking duo in the neighborhood, but conversely the nicest.  I would love to take a picture of them just to show everyone, but you don't just ask a huge tattooed guy that trains MMA fighters if you can take his photo.  It doesn't come off the right way.  

Richie is also one of the smartest people in the neighborhood.  You don't get tortured by idle small talk about the weather (sorry) or which are the best pre-schools for Baby Jesus and whatnot.  Today we spoke about parents, and our changing roles with parents and they age, and of course, as we age along with them.  He just got back from visiting his parents in Florida, where he and his mother had a long conversation about his lunatic father and how he is going to be lost should anything happen to her.  He doesn't get along well in the world and she is the buffer that keeps him from getting shot by this person or the next that he is bound to offend very deeply.  Richie's proposed solution was...  well, it was a private conversation but let's say it was darkly humorous and my biggest laugh in days.  

It did make me think though, after Jane and I headed home and the Man/Dog Juggernaut headed their own way.  It made me think about how very close I have been to the get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon that requires a handler out in the world.  It's easy for the chains of resentment we drag around with us to latch onto those weighted blocks of concrete anger and leave a person nearly immobile and not really capable of navigating "polite society."  Not that polite society isn't entirely full of shit half the time, but we're all kind of stuck with it as it exists.  You can't spend your whole life fighting, and this creaky, mildewy bastard was well along that path into old age, at least until I sidestepped it and took off in another direction, trudging the road of happy destiny, as it were.  

These were happy thoughts though, maybe like those of a little kid that's been trapped inside on a rainy day finally getting out to splash in the mud puddles.  No compare and despair here today, only legitimate feelings of relief, and something beyond relief.  Maybe you call that hope.  I think it can be called hope.  


Sunday, December 08, 2013

All in all you're just another...

A metaphor of sorts for a bit of writer's block, which was really more about deciding how much to say rather than what to say, or exactly how to say it.  A memoir requires absolute honesty, and as much as any critic can claim that memoir as a medium is the easy path, consider that a lot can be purposely concealed in the semi-autobiographies that pass as contemporary fiction these days.  

The chore is really two-fold, that is beyond finding an accurate and compassionate, empathetic portrayal of others that pass through one's personal history.  There is nothing uglier than a hatchet-job.  The harder job many times is finding compassion and empathy for oneself, and above that not whitewashing the truth.  It's not fair to pose a memoir and revise history out of fear of exposure.  

It's easy to become just another brick in the wall.  There has to be a leap of faith, and it's not at all about making sure people like you at the end.  One can always hope, but... 

These guys got better drugs than I ever did.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Dream Deferred

Patrick Martinez

Ron Ackins

via Afro-Punk

Americans and Pacifism

I need to put this somewhere, so why not here.

Americans, by and large, have no genuine regard for pacifism or non-violent resistance, despite that we often pay it lip service.  If you don't believe me, try to name a single white person held in reverence and admiration for being a pacifist.  We largely shake our heads at Quakers and conscientious objectors and draft dodgers are called cowards and traitors.  Think about that for a second and tell me it's not true.

The one name that almost comes in is Jesus Christ, but he doesn't count.  Why?  Because he gets a pass for being the Son O' God, and his whiteness is questionable.  And don't say St. Francis of Assisi either, because I can't count the number of times I've heard the "A Sissy" joke or seen him labeled the proto-hippie.

Why do I qualify this by asking for the names of white pacifists?  Because I would be willing to bet that had I not, the first name that would have come to your lips is Martin Luther King Jr.  He is a shining example of a pacifist, and exemplary of the virtues of non-violent resistance, but I can tell you that even liberals, despite their understanding of what kind of horrors black people faced here in the U.S. under Jim Crow, none of them are jumping to have their kids learn about Huey Newton or Eldridge Cleaver in grade school, or even high school.

Who else comes up?  Gandhi, right?  We're all about teaching our kids what he achieved with non-violent resistance and the masses rising up peacefully.  That's all true.  It's also only part of the story.  All the non-violent stuff ended at the point the British threw up their hands in despair and skedaddled their khaki-clad asses back home.  You can Google the details of what happened after Indian independence and during the partitioning of Pakistan.  It continues to this day along the border regions there.  Indians are no more pacifist than we are.

In recent days there is a lot being said about Nelson Mandela and how he admired Gandhi, but a lot of his history is being whitewashed as well.  I am by no means speaking disparagingly of Nelson Mandela.  He is central to the most important progressive movement of the 20th Century and beyond.  I only wonder why there wasn't more violence from the ANC and other parties.  (There actually was in the early 90s, but that's not really taught here either.  Nelson Mandela's legacy is certainly not one of violence but he was not by any means non-violent, nor under the circumstances should he have been. Most (white) Americans would prefer to think of him as a pacifist, and you are unlikely to ever see a Mandela bio-pic cast with Samuel L. Jackson.

My point is that Americans by and large, and particularly White Americans, only hold non-violence in any regard at all when it is brown people refraining from violence against white people.

Consider this:  Most of what we teach about African-American heroes (which is dreadfully insufficient in total) is within the context of non-violence.  Most of what we teach about Black or Brown heroes from abroad, is also within the context of non-violence.  You seldom, if ever hear about Black or Brown military heroes from here or anywhere, Hannibal and Colin Powell bookending a sprawling list of two.  The ONLY time we speak the praises of violence in predominantly non-white countries is when non-white people are killing other non-white people in support of American political or economic interests.  Remember when the Taliban was called the Mujahideen and we liked them?

And an inordinately large percentage of White American heroism is taught within a military context.

So when I hear all this bullshit about the virtues of non-violence I just want to say...


Please stop.  You're not being honest.

Not just for blockheads anymore...


James Weldon Johnson

Friday, December 06, 2013

Color My World 2

The clouds and drizzle have settled in for a second day in NYC, and but for a few rebellious shrubs, it's become a monochromatic world.  This isn't a colorful city on a clear day but it's drab to the point of tedium in the rain.  The cold is returning with this second wave though and the rain is now falling in larger, icy droplets.  Reports say it's all ice to the west but we'll just wait and see if that makes it here or not.  I'm ambivalent.  I like the cold.  I like the ice.

It was probably a bad week to get my hair shaved down but there is a strange comfort in that.   God knows what that is about, but maybe it's connected to the same dormant, hayseed gene that makes me more comfortable moving about in big, ol' Timberlands than in running shoes.  Kind of anchors me to the pavement during those spells when gravity fails.  

It's really too dreary even to be out and about and that's saying an awful lot.  Life always feels more... alive... when the earth is moving beneath my feet.  It all makes for fewer distractions though, and that's not a bad thing.  There are things to be done, with and a deadline to meet.  There are plans to be attended to and none of it will get done with me floating about the boroughs in a semi-mystical, semi-reverie.  

On to it then.  I will not be one of these frivolous, colorful shrubs today.  I will be the brick and mortar for the moment.  Drab and responsible.  

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Victor Jara

I don't really know why it was one of my earlier heroes that came to mind when I heard the news that Nelson Mandela had passed from this mortal coil.  Perhaps because early on, never being possessed of words to express feelings... having had no one to pass down such treasures to me, I turned to others, usually musicians to fill in the blanks.  It's fitting in this case to express the feelings with a song.  Some men, under extraordinary circumstances, become larger than life.  They become almost works of art.  Paintings, sculptures, songs... or symphonies.  

Victor Jara wrote his own songs, and this is a good one for the moment.  What are you willing to give for what you believe is right and proper?  This was the last song that Victor Jara wrote while he was awating his execution with tens of thousands of "dissidents" including writers, journalists, poets and musicians, by a U.S. backed junta of murderers.  They didn't just shoot him.  They broke him to pieces starting with his fingers and goes and worked their way in towards his body.  The lyrics were smuggled out of the football stadium where they were all packed in, waiting for their turn.  

Yo no canto por cantar
ni por tener buena voz,
canto porque la guitarra
tiene sentido y razón.
Tiene corazón de tierra
y alas de palomita.
Es como el agua bendita,
santigua glorias y penas.
Aquí se encajó mi canto
como dijera Violeta;
guitarra trabajadora
con olor a primavera,
Que no es guitarra de ricos,
ni cosa que se parezca,
mi canto es de los andamios
para alcanzar las estrellas.

Que el canto tiene sentido
cuando palpita en las venas
del que morirá cantando
las verdades verdaderas.
No las lisonjas fugaces
ni las famas extranjeras,
sino el canto de una lonja
hasta el fondo de la tierra.
Ahí donde llega todo
y donde todo comienza,
canto que a sido valiente
siempre será canción nueva.

English lyrics
I don’t sing for love of singing
or to show off my voice
but for the statements
made by my honest guitar
for its heart is of the earth
and like the dove it goes flying....
endlessly as holy water
blessing the brave and the dying
so my song has found a purpose
as Violet Parra would say.

Yes, my guitar is a worker
shining and smelling of spring
my guitar is not for killers
greedy for money and power
but for the people who labour
so that the future may flower.
For a song takes on a meaning
when its own heart beat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song.

I don’t care for adulation
or so that strangers may weep.
I sing for a far strip of country
narrow but endlessly deep.

So I have no fitting words of my own, but this is my grief, in words.

Cuando la izquierda unida, jamas sera vencida.  

Gratitude Part... something

There was a light rain falling shortly after 5 this morning when the dog and I headed out for our morning constitutional.  For our morning conversation with whatever you want to call that Big Other that surrounds us and inspires us, and often/usually baffles us to a point where we try to stop thinking about it.  The term rain barely applies as it goes, and it wasn't really falling at all.  The droplets were kind of just suspended in air, heavier than a mist but not falling or rising.  Simply there, like a still photo.  It was warm too, so it was almost like a spring rain, except it's December.  My Carhartt and Jane's hair repelled it for a bit.  The droplets sat there like gel beads until about the 30 minute point where they burst their shells and sank in.  She stopped every so often and shook it out, but I just walked with mine.  It was warm enough.

It seemed darker this morning than most.  Perhaps the cloud cover accounts for that but it felt like more than that.  It wasn't a foreboding blackness.  It was more like turning out the lights and climbing beneath a pile of blankets.  It was that sort of darkness.  Warm and comforting.  It wasn't one of the thinking deep thoughts walks.  It was one of the empty my head as much as possible and see what sort of transmissions comes through walks.  The powers-that-be and the rest of the Universe must have gone on radio silence because there was precious little external or internal communication.  There was just the blackness.  There was silence broken occasionally by the sound of radials on wet asphalt.  There were distant jets cruising in still above the very low cloud cover.  Not even their lights was visible.  There was the sound of Jane's paws scuffing along.  There was my occasional cough.  Every so often I would look down at her and I could just see enough that she was looking up at me with that pitbull grin.  "Only pitbulls really grin like that," Evan says.  I think he is right. Call me goofy but it's an extraordinary feeling to look at another living being and have them grinning a bit ol' happy grin at you. It's hard to argue that the world is an ugly place when you see that.

No messages coming in from the ether this morning, except that maybe sometimes the message is just about experiencing this pockmarked beach ball we live on.  Maybe that's always the message and everything else that gets shouted or whispered or sung back to you is just to slap you back to these moments.

It was still black as we were headed back, except for the oddly small spots lit up by the street lamps.  Just beyond the next one I saw two silhouettes approaching.  One definitely a man, the other only somewhat smaller?  A man and a child?  A tall man and a short man?  As they came under the street lamp I recognized them as a man, whose name escapes me, and Elie the big, mellow wolfhound pup.  Jane's friend.  She gets all goofy, puppy-like around Elie, wagging, and crouching and leaping.  The dogs played for a bit, and the man whose name I've never learned and I exchanged sleepy pleasantries, and we moved in opposite directions.

Jane was still worked up, her whole body twisting and wagging now.  She wanted play.  She wanted action.  I can't say what it was that inspired me, because it is a very rare day that you will see me run for anything.  I don't exercise like that.  I don't run for trains and buses.  I generally don't run for anything.  I'm more like that silly, gangly wolfhound.

But I did run.  I ran with Jane and she bounded along next to me, looking up at me with a widemouthed grin.  Not even looking at the sidewalk ahead of her.  We ran, and we ran.  I didn't feel out of breath.  My brain flashed to this late summer afternoon at my aunt's house in Millbrook.  I was running with the dogs.  I felt tireless.


I felt weightless.

I've struggled off and on my entire life with body image and insecurity.  I was an awkward, kind of ectomorphic child and clumsy.  I was always aware of my body.  I would play basketball and take these great leaps towards the rim thinking I had cleared 3 feet of air, only to find that it was barely 3 inches and the ball was slapped away before I'd left the floor.  Yet later on as I got older I grew, and grew into my body.  I no longer tripped over curbs, or my own feet.  I could run, and run forever.  I slammed the boards at schoolyard basketball games.  I defied gravity.

Then that disappeared for a long time, and again I was an awkward pre-adolescent in a much larger, heavier package.  My shoulders slammed doorways rather than passing effortlessly through.  I scuffed and stumbled.  Then that disappeared too and all the physical became secondary to other forms of clumsiness.  And then that disappeared also.  I guess we all run through these cycles.

I ran this morning though.  I ran effortlessly with my dog.  I laughed and she rocked harder between her front and back paws enjoying the sound of my laughing.  Encouraged by it, and I could be wrong but it seemed like she was encouraging me too.

It was a moment.  So today, I am grateful for these moments of effortlessness.

Of weightlessness.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Savage Beauty

Once again, where my words fail, a ghost slips in from the past and speaks for me.  This is... This is exactly how I feel now some days still, and it is why I have always sought refuge outdoors rather than squirreling myself away in a garret somewhere, or under my bed.  This is why I walk.  It is frightening sometimes to be out and lost in it and away from my comfortable blues that are always waiting for me at the end of the trip.  

I have a low, humming, 60hZ sense of dread that my ability to escape into it will be chiseled away by time and age.  What will I do when I'm left to sit with it and can't disappear into this other thing?  What happens then?  Age, infirmity, and brittle bones.  A fall.  Not the autumn.  What will I do when I can't walk?  These are the thoughts that come at me, telegraphed up from my right hip that starts to sing off-key dirges at the 7 or 8 mile mark. 

For now though, I have this thing that I no longer need to describe because this timid woman walked these paths before.  It's already been said so now a walk is about the wonder of it and the chill up the spine that can make a man... a man just like me... stop and shiver and shake it off and look up at the sky and ask, "Really?"  

Journey to the Center of the Vegetarian Earth

Save the robots?

With robots becoming more human, how long before m isanthropes hate them too?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

And though it's been said...

I don't know that I'm quite ready for this, but it's here.  It's not about Christmas.  I love Christmas and have many good memories.  It's about... well...


It was about 60 degrees today and I broke a sweat in my Carhartt.  That doesn't really settle so well with the spirit of the thing.  That's what happens when you're native to places that used to be cold.  

I grew up in the Hudson Valley and will readily admit that when it came time to get, I got.  There were a lot of things I took for granted though and the nature thing is at the top of that list.  What I miss most? The crunchy sound under my boots when we walked outside. Ice on the ground.  Fresh, crisp, nosebiting air that still smelled like somewhere in Saskatchewan where the moose (mooses?) hadn't crapped.  Granted we weren't out Christmas tree shopping on Thanksgiving Weekend either and that will never make sense to me, if for no other reason than I can't take that leap of faith that household wiring isn't as sketchy as it used to be.  Those strings of lights?  A tree going up like a match on Christmas Eve?  

Anyway.  this is how they do things these days in New York City.  Some Christmas Tree Mafia from north of the Canadian border where moose may or may not crap takes over every other street corner and sells trees.  There are fresh batches coming down the Major Deegan and into the boroughs every day.  Is it too early for trees?  I don't know.  I know that some families get one right after Thanksgiving and it's on the curb while they cart in a new one a week before Christmas.  Seems a bit much to me, but who am I?  

Getting juiced!

Ah, juice!  High in irony.  There was a time when it was really little more than a vehicle, the SmartCar if you will, for my good friends Georgi and Popov, but times change.

Times change.  People change.  Hell, you can't even count on places staying the same.  It wasn't so long ago that there was only one place to get super-fortified, fresh-juiced juices in Park Slope.  That was up in the world of the landed gentry, in an earthy, crunchy grocer up in The Name Streets.  Now even the scuzzy diners offer a section of their poly-clad menus.  This was, like the rest of Brooklyn, more a case of "if you come they will build it" than vice versa.  That's how Brooklyn has evolved.

I'm not going to launch yet another tirade on the evils of gentrification.  They're a little tired at this stage of the game.  That's how real estate works, in cycles of rise and decline.  Nobody really truly owns a neighborhood despite the length of history there or any nostalgic attachments.  There are too many forces beyond anyone's control.  Even the landed gentry who've come along in recent decades will find that things ebb and flow beyond their capability to hold onto what they've created.  Honestly speaking though it took a long, long time for Park Slope to become what it's become.  Fort Greene rolled over a bit faster.  Clinton Hill and Bed Stuy may only go so far with the prevalence of housing projects.  Red Hook and Bushwick bookending it, pretty much the same.  

Powers beyond anyone's control, no matter how much influence their money buys.  Whatever.  

I do have my own strange nostalgia though, and that can be somewhat baffling.  There were really no good old days here, unless you can call not feeling uneasy and and a bit insecure about how you measure up to your neighbors "good old days."  That's the ugly truth of it.  There's a bit of an inferiority complex and some insecurity behind a lot of these tirades against gentrification, my own included.  Yet there are some surreal days here in the South Slope.  It is different.  

The dog and I were walking past a small, private pre-school this morning while the children were being dropped off by their quite obviously "not hurting financially" parents.  You can tell the "not hurting financially" people around here, ironically, by the condition of their walkabout wardrobes.  It often looks like a contest to see who can wear the most ill-fitting , motheaten items that the pulled off a fence by the trash can.  EXCEPT for the expensive hiking boots.  That's another story altogether.  The space that the pre-school occupies used to be one of my favorite dives.  It was a regular bucket of blood back in the 80s with crowds of hard drinkers spilling out into the street on an otherwise residential block.

I'll resist the urge to make parallels between a crowd of drunks and a horde of 3 year olds, but let's just say that the average 3 year old doesn't carry a weapon.  This place could be rough!  I once witnessed a man there stab his best friend between the shoulders over an argument about who was holding out on the other recreational substances they were indulging in.  No police were called, nor were they ever called there unless there was a cold body.  I'm not exaggerating.  I had to wonder this morning if the parents had any idea what the space used to be.  Or if there was still any strange energy saturating the timbers of this old house.  Or if the children ever saw ghosts.

The ex-wife and I had actually looked at that building when we were in the market for our first home.  The bar was still there then and I had big plans, let me tell you!  She nixed that tout d'suite and it's probably for the best in the long run.  I can't imagine the mischief and mayhem that would have ensued, despite my intentions to change the place to my liking.  Bars, like neighborhoods though, take on their own lives and their own clientele no matter what the person paying the mortgage intends.  I've seen that too many times.  

Powers beyond anyone's control.

There were a few places like this one "back in the day," and I witnessed similar incidents in all of them.  Brutal fights, stabbings, and even a shooting in one of them, which the police were actually called for even if nobody divulged any information on who had actually pulled the trigger.  Stupidly, and sadly, I kept going back to all of them until they were no longer there.  I can only shake my head and wonder what I was thinking back then.  I'm still sorting that out and trying not to make more stupid decisions.

Times change.  People change.  

There is still a bit of nostalgia though, and I know in my heart of hearts that it's all lies.  We catch ourselves drifting back into what may have been comfort zones at one time or another.  You form a better relationship with the truth though and it cleans you out as fast as juice from the earthy, crunchy places.  It's still weird though watching little kids filing into the Bucket of Blood.  That's a sense of weird that I'm not likely to shake any time soon.


Who indeed...

I could, of course, go on about this. The words say it all.  They might include the police. They may include a lot of people. We know what the problem is. Post-racial... indeed.