Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Tome Exodus Begins

Tomorrow, at last, the first truck arrives in front of the Berkeley apartment. Two trucks in fact, one for donated books (41 boxes) and one for personal papers off to the museum (16 cartons). Then on Tuesday, two more trucks; one for furniture (14 large items) and one for the antiquarian books (20 more boxes), which means --- I can schedule the carpet cleaner and potentially, if the river don't rise, I will be sleeping in Berkeley come next weekend.

There is still the matter of all of the art to be evaluated and sent off to the appropriate collector, dealer or museum, but I can share space with art and come mid-week there will be enough space in the apartment for at least one large humanoid and twelve million dust mites.

Once I am in residence I will share some of the truly interesting facets of my latest domicile, but as of today I am officially closing the final calendar month of the longer-than-expected non-domiciled period I so casually entered early last year.

The next big life decision: will I be in one place long enough to once again co-habitat with a feline. It has been three and a half years since last I shared space with a furr-ball and I surely do miss the purrs.

Friday, February 26, 2010

High Quality Pencil Sharpening

Let me just say up front that I derive no monetary benefits from your potential use of the website profiled in today's post. I am not an affiliate member, nor do I have any financial interest in said website, nor do any members of my immediate family or any recent lovers.

I am not a fan of solitaire and having recently given up online poker, so I was in need of some cyber-pastime other than my interest in english language newspapers from non-US countries. Then I discovered I apologize to any of my readers who become addicted to Sporacle but as all consuming websites go, it is more educational than most and a lot less stress on your wrist than many more pictorially oriented sites.

Sporacle describes itself as "mentally stimulating diversions." It is that and also frustrating, embarrassing and challenging. It is design to be "played" solo but while in Indiana on my recent trip, my brother and I found with a laptop each we could have Sporacle Challenges.

Basically, Sporacle is a factual, quiz, trivia, general to specific knowledge set of tests which as of now number "2,782 published games plus 60,865 user created games that have been played 199,855,339 times." Allow me to tweak your interest.

How about can you name all fifty U.S. states? Easy right? Well you get 10 minutes and yes they do give you a map.

Think you are geographically intelligent. Name the countries of the world. There are 195, you get 15 minutes and if you manage half of them, you are a star. Oh, did I mention spelling counts. Is it Herzegovina or Herzagovinia or Herzegovinia? Kasikhstan right?

You can pick from the most popular lists or go with geography, history, entertainment or sports among the fourteen categories.

Can you name the Seven Dirty Words?
How about the three most populous cities of the world by letters of the alphabet? Nope not Athens or Atlanta.
There are quizzes on corporate logos, college mascots and famous Dicks.
Some trending topics are topical, there are a lot of Olympic ones right now.

So go ahead give it a click, why not it's only time you could be spending with your family or planning your retirement or solving global warming (hint: fewer people being entertained by a power gobbling computer). Have fun.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Humbled By Hubble

I am a big fan of the Hubble Space Telescope and I visually anticipate the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) now scheduled for a 2014 launch. Politics and budget deficits may have even more impact on that launch window then the already two year delay but us galaxy-gazers have cosmic faith.

The photo above of the Sombrero Galaxy was voted the best picture taken by the Hubble. You can see the top ten Hubble images here and on NASA's hubblesite. Besides providing brilliant images from far beyond our galaxy, not to mention great desktop backgrounds (I am currently using the Tarantula Nebula); the Hubble also has accumulated hard scientific data that will be under analysis for decades.

This is the Cone Nebula, which is about 2.5 light years long and growing or expanding to be more precise. If you are feeling like a new desktop image, might I suggest the 80+ options of Hubble Wallpaper. I recommend that you avoid the Omega Centauri globular cluster, I know someone who lost a manuscript on just such a desktop.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Pain in Time

"There is no magic immunity from pain. Mostly there is just blissful ignorance." --Amy Calistri

I am a bit consumed by pain today. Partly because I moved one too many boxes of books yesterday and am now paying the somatic price. But also because of several oft delayed and disparate ruminations of the topic of pain.

Amy made the point the other day in her piece on recent events in Austin. Humans tend to think that "it" simply cannot happen to them. Whether the it be financial, familial, psychological or other. We do have some unreflected set point that points to bad events happening to others and not to us. But, of course, every thing good or bad does indeed happen to someone and one of these times around the existential track the us will be us. Pain can motivate or demotivate people to do all sorts of things that one would not ascribe to them. Which is why the neighbors always look right into the camera and say: "He was always so friendly, I can't believe he could have done what they are saying he did."

Pain is a bitch of a motivator and psychological pain with no bleeding or bruising can be the worse. Not that physical pain is not the cause of many a out of character moment, we hope others will overlook or forget. I remember being enraged watching a news program on medical marijuana some years ago and hearing some smug 30-something congresswoman say: "Well, we can talk about this for the terminally ill, but I hear people wanting us to make pot available for arthritis, that is ridiculous." Clearly the words of someone who had never experienced pain. At the time I was supplying grass to a woman who had knuckles the size of walnuts and six inches of her spine supported with steel pins, all as a result of rheumatoid arthritis. But heaven forbid, we allowed her to seek relief from her pain in some natural substance. How could such legislation be justified? What is this to be, a nation where the health and welfare of each human is considered paramount? But, of course, should relief of pain also bring happiness, relaxation or euphoria; well that would be wrong. Sorry, no 420 rant intended.

Too many politicians only come around to enlightened positions when they or someone close to them falls victim to some painful, degenerative disease. Then they become wise and profound. Remember Lee Atwater, he saw the light and changed his position but only after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

And then there are the physicians who mouth platitudes about pain management but have never experienced pain; so they prescribe tylenol when morphine is what is needed. Pain management has been the rage for over 30 years in the medical profession but I heard yet another NPR show the other day, where the same criticism was made about doctors who don't get it yet. Whack those ignorant bastards across the shins with a tire iron and see if they don't run for the oxycodone.

Take a look at this picture, which was labeled "Back Pain".

Trust me, as someone who has had back pain for five decades, this is not a depiction of someone with back pain. This is someone with a sore back. Because if you are experiencing back pain you can't get your arms around behind you to massage it away. You are lucky if you can stand up in less than five minutes and you keep a loose pair of loafers around to eliminate the impossible task of tying your shoes.

And I haven't even ventured into the realm of psychological pain, which for now will be another post for another time. Because I am going to take another pill and crawl back between two heating pads and a cat.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Time, Time, Time

One of my bestest friends on the entire planet has an incredibly terrible sense of time. She believes it will take her an hour to do what anyone else will give themselves a day to accomplish. She has practically no sense about a day having 24 hours and some of them you might want to allocate to sleep. And she still hasn't mastered the time zones, even though I explain to her that they actually don't change twice a year.

I bring up her temporal dyslexia because I am experiencing something like it myself. I know I have a finite task in front of me. I can see, smell, taste and touch what needs to be done but somehow the more I work the slower the progress. This is not a writing project where I could blame excessive editing or flights of the muse for the pace. Nope, this be a real in-the-world labor with things and items and stuff.

Some evil imp is clearly adding work from the bottom of the pile. It could be a loaves and fishes thing, perhaps some manifesting algorithm is in play. Whatever the explanation, I am not going to succumb to the inferior explanation that I just allocated less time than the task required. No there is some nefarious collision of universes here, I will accept no lesser explantion.

In the meantime, I will be late for all engagements and quickly looking around often in an attempt to spot the metaphysical gamin, gnome or gremlin which is clearly vexing my path forward. My kingdom for a 196 hour week and more mothballs.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Which Came First the Media or the Sheep?

For quite some time now I have held the opinion that the dumbing down of the news media in the United States has been solely the responsibility of the news media itself. We all know it is easier and cheaper to run a quick gossip piece that it is to fully research a segment on nuclear energy, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur or fraud in the Department of Justice. The media moguls argue that they are only covering what the public wants to see, hear and read. My answer has been: Bullshit! I for one do not believe who Tiger Woods might be screwing is on the moral equivalent of two wars, global economic meltdown or the fate of the Hubble telescope.

Last evening, however, I tuned into the Charlie Rose Show and found him leading with an interview of a senior reporter from Golf Digest. Seems Tiger made a fully scripted statement that said blah, blah, blah. Charlie Rose lead with some bullshit PR piece by an athlete who was unfaithful to his marriage. There actually is more hard news on The Daily Show than on PBS.

Let me be clear on this item. Tiger Woods is the best professional golfer in the world. I enjoy the accomplishments of athletes like Woods, Michael Jordan, Pele, Gretsky... I like that every so often someone really is heads and shoulders above everyone else. It proves, if nothing else, that socialism is wrong. But who any of these people sleep with is not news. Repeat, not news.

I am not a news junkie, at least not what passes for news on television or in the the olde print media. I get my news from the net, where I can filter it. Yet, even with rigorous tweaking of what comes to me as news, I still know who this worthless piece of flotsam is:

Did I search once too often for "romantic european capitals" or "tackily themed las vegas casinos"? No, the news media machine decided that this creature was worthy of covering, something she apparently is unable to do on her own.

So, I asked myself: Am I wrong? What does the "public" really want to see covered in the "news"? Since I get my news from the web, I thought I should consult the internet and in particular Google for my information.

As of this moment, these are the top ten Googled items on the web:

1. who's afraid of virginia wolf
2. facebook problems
3. alexander haig
4. jazimine cashmere is pregnant by what rapper
5. facebook not working
6. dragon wars
7. miss peregrym
8. facebook outage
9. crossroads tickets*
10. tiger woods

*if you are in Illinois in late June, this is worth checking out

And these are the top ten trending topics:

1. tiger woods
2. glenn beck cpac
3. woods
4. tiger
5. olympic hockey
6. facebook
7. stick it movie
8. haig
9. wii
10. tiger woods effect**

**That last one got me, so I followed the link and found among other things that during the 13 minute Tiger Woods apology speech, the New York stock exchange actually slowed as traders paused to watch.

I shall now alter my opinion on the survivability of the human race.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Job for a Divestor

Regular readers are by now familiar with my non-domiciled nature over the past year or so. Associated with that I have also been in phase two of my divestment period. When I left San Francisco in 2000, I basically gave away my stuff; keeping only a bed, a desk, a wok, clothes, a computer and two cats. I did have some other "stuff" stored or carted in never opened boxes and those have been the things I have been divesting in this latest wave of non-accumulation. I now officially declare myself to be a semi-professional divestor.

This makes my current project all the more interesting. In order to occupy the apartment in Berkeley (my next semi-permanent place) first there is the matter of 3000 books and several hundred pieces of museum quality art. Not to mention the papers, oh my the papers! The prior occupant, my good friend's father, was more than a collector. He and his wife were the driving force behind the Magnes Museum in Berkeley. Which means that the apartment is not simply full of books and art; but is filled to the brim with treasured items of historical significance, which he collected from around the world.

So to clear out my new space, the divestor has taken on a role in placing thousands of items in the hands of those would give them the places of respect and access they deserve. So with care and respect we still have to deal with the task of literally packing and moving thousands of items.

Yesterday was a significant day in that process. Twelve boxes of personal papers detailing years of work with the Magnes Museum and the collection were removed from the apartment and delivered into the hands of the archivist of the museum. Also yesterday, a book dealer, personal friend of the family and now friend of mine, went through the entire collection; we boxed up 20 cartons of literature for his collection and we have those ready for immediate cartage pick-up. Plus the remaining books are now ordered and cataloged and ready to box and donate. I begin that task tomorrow.

On the mundane side of the apartment prep list, we got 50% of the required plumbing work done, the cable company installed phone, internet and cable plus the car donation was completed. So I can now park in the garage at my new place and access the internet. Actually sleeping there will take another week or so but progress has been made and acknowledged by even the most pessimistic among us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We Used to Speak the Same Language

Recently one of my friends asked for some help, a bit of assistance with a project. He/she told me that if I went to the museum and looked at the sculpture in viewing room #4 and then went to the gift shop and purchased the replica of the key depicted in that sculpture, I would have all I needed to complete the requested favor/task.

Being a friend, I did indeed go to the museum and found viewing room #4 but alas, there was not a single sculpture in that gallery. So I inquired of my friend about this mystery. She/he was unable to get back to me until later that evening, but then told me that I had gone to the wrong museum but not to worry the same key could be found in a local art store near where I lived. She seemed a bit stressed, so I did not make a point of the "wrong museum" being the one he had originally directed me to.

I googled the location of the art store and discovered it was not anywhere near where I lived but if one store had the key then why not another. After a bit of searching, I found an establishment with the same key and I picked it up the following day. I then called my friend again, only to discover that he had gone out of town until next Monday, which apparently was why she needed my help in the first place.

The key, however, had to be delivered by this Friday in order for the task to be successfully completed. Since my friend would not be back in town until Monday and she had not given me the destination for the delivery, it would seem like all was for naught. Further, he was not answering her cell phone.

Making one last attempt to salvage the endeavor, I called my friend's colleague from work and inquired about his knowledge, if any, of the process and discovered that the whole enterprise had been rethought and not only was delivery of the key not needed by Friday, apparently the key was not longer going to be required at all. So in the end my help was entirely unnecessary.

I have been sitting here reviewing this little escapade, which briefly goes something like this: a favor is asked of me, the favor is outlined with incorrect information, when I attempt to comply using initial instructions and discover the bad link, new allegedly simpler information is discovered, which too proves to be inaccurate. Through my own devices, I managed to acquire necessary item, which cannot be delivered in a timely manner, but which is no longer needed in any case. My friend managed to delivered incorrect information or instructions each and every time she spoke to me and neglected to tell me the entire project was no longer necessary before she up and left town.

After due consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I can shorten my list of friends by one inconsiderate flake and I now consider the entire adventure a complete success.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Big Week

After nearly a fortnight of prep, negotiation and staging; this week big progress will be made on the new digs. Not only will the plumber come by to fix the annoying leak but the donated car is being moved out of the garage, internet and phone go in and the book dealer will spend a whole day cataloging and packing up a goodly portion of the 4000+ tomes in the apartment.

This is the week to satisfy the most ardent list-maker, numerous items will get the inky slash-thru before any sabbath doth arise again. I myself am not so lexiconic, but I have friends. And I am not critical of the need to chronicle a life, personally I don't worry so much about what I may have missed.

Hopefully by the end of this week an actual move-in date will be in sight and the settling process shall begin after over a year of having a key to a storage locker always at hand, whilst periodically scratching my head over the unanswerable question: "Where the hell did I put that?"

I often need to admonish myself that I am indeed the architect of this life style and creator of the confusion but the conversations in the mirror don't always go so well in the seventh or thirteenth month of the same discussion. She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me not, who cares anymore. Particle, wave, flour, corn, boxer, brief...

Another new chapter begins, already I am knee deep in the preamble.
art credit: Ron Mueck (Australian, b. 1958). Big Man, 2000. Mixed media, 80 x 47 1/2 x 80 1/2 in. (203.2 x 120.7 x 204.5 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On the Other Hand

Call it ying & yang, woof & wharf, dark & light or simply balance. It does seem that all things trend back to the center over the long term. The only question is how patient can we be when seemingly at the other end of the happiness continuum? But metaphysics is not my topic today, rather synchronicity.

I have been searching for the answer to a particular question a good friend had recently posed to me. Suddenly with an ever so quiet eureka! it came to me. Like so many "answers" it was informationally correct but implementally incomplete. I knew what to do but I did not have the means to complete the task. The following day, she called to tell me about a message she had received from another friend who told her exactly where to find what I had been seeking for her. He has no clue we were looking; she was unaware of my answer without an answer. It all just fell into place--synchronous.

Then another friend offers me the second draft of his novel to read. Here I find not only a needed aspect for my own writing but a story that deeply parallels my own. Reinforcement is a powerful motivator. Knowing others are wandering on the same mountain as you, even though their path be different.

A good antidote to yesterday's thoughts. May all creatures be happy.

Friday, February 12, 2010


As I have said before in this space, one of the clarion calls of my existence is the phrase: pay attention. Notice it is not written Pay Attention! nor Pay Attention! or even Pay Attention!!! I simply and quietly attempt in my life to attend to those thoughts, words and actions that present themselves to me during the course of my day. In particular, I try very hard to practice close attention when I am speaking with someone I like, love and/or treasure.

I do admit that some part of this attending fervor of mine is a learned behavior from my years of training as a psychologist. But clinical techniques are really not necessary in the ordinary course of going about one's life; what is required is a desire and a commitment to really paying attention to what is presented in hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching and other.

One of my current writing projects is thematically all about this topic, the plot and story build on attending to the tiniest of motes of action and information that pass before the eyes, ears and heart of my protagonist. Think of the word "attend" not in the sense of attending a performance but of attending to a person. Being in service to them, to look after, to minister to. The exact oppose of ignoring or dismissing. This is the quality I am speaking of and fostering moment-to-moment in my interaction with others.

Which brings me to an observation about the variety of my acquaintances. Once again I refer to my recently ended journey on which I saw and interacted with so many friends both old and new. Now I am back in the Bay Area and once again in the midst of my academic cohorts. I noticed in my travels that while my friends were busy with their full and active lives, they had time or we could make time for intense, meaningful, in-depth conversation and friendship. If I attended to them, they were able to reciprocate, even if generally speaking such interactions were not the norm in their everyday life.

Sure most of the human contacts in my life have college educations. There are many big brains outside of my academic tribe and many more big hearts. What surprises me then, is that within the large cerebrum, fully lettered gaggle of friends there are several examples of gross non-attending. I don't just mean the stereotypical absent-minded professor. I mean fully functioning, highly educated, well-meaning friends, who just don't have a clue. They seem to talk the talk and grok the written word, but in action they simply fail. They either will not or cannot pay attention to what so many of us find important. Ideas and feelings they give lip service to, seem not to actually be of any significance in the day-to-day conduct of our friendship.

What I feel about these friendships is sadness. What I hope to communicate to them is simply nothing because I know none of these individuals will ever read this blog. To those who do, let's have lunch, I have something wonderful to tell you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Writing for an Audience or Something Like That

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it. -- David Sedarus

This has been an interesting week for communication and failure to communicate. I have shared my writing with several individuals and found that where I was going with a piece or a scene was not necessarily where my reader found themselves.

One wonders, I wonder, how much of my stories are going to be transmitted as they are in my brain and how much will just be fodder for the fantasies and mindscape of a reader. For instance, I told three people the same story with four parts. I was clear that the writing was true but not accurate. This literary genre being variously called: non-fiction fiction, nearly fiction, or the old artistic license. As Mark Twain is said to have said:

The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction must be absolutely believable.

So I told the four part story to the three people and each found some part believable as fact or at least non-fiction. However, each listener found different combinations of fiction versus non-fiction in the elements of my tale. Apparently we decide which is right and which is an illusion.

Which leads me to another strange discovery on the subject of the written word. Being back in a stable environment, meaning I am going to be here for a time measured in months not days, perhaps even years not months. Being in such a place, I have launched myself onto an internet dating site or two. On one of these I use "Poker Shrink" as my screen name. One member of the female variety actually found a way to make Poker Shrink obscene. Yes, there actually is an X-rated interpretation of that moniker. A large dill pickle if you get it; don't try too hard she was a really inventive ....... character.

So the moral of this pondering -- Don't be careful what you write, it's all going to be interpreted completely differently by whomever reads it anyway. Speaking of which, you know a good plastic surgeon could fix that.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Different Sunday

While today is Super Sunday for many of you, for myself and a small gathering of my close friends here in San Francisco, the celebration will be of a different nature. Thank all you facebookers and calendar keepers for noticing and particular thanks to Sir Paul for the wishes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Cleat in Time

There comes a time in every man's life and I've had many of them.

-- Casey Stengel

I am not a big resolution person. I don't make dramatic changes in my life or lifestyle. 'A line in the sand' always seemed a fairly impermanent metaphor for taking any sort of critical moral stand. Minor tweaks or slight course corrections seem to work better for my phlegmatic demeanor.

However, I have had friends argue that the above analysis flies in the face of certain realities, not the least of which are my fairly frequent employment changes and my fluid homestead history. Add to that I have just added a six month undomiciled meander to my life record.

Pondering this last evening while meditating in a damp San Francisco garden, I was reminded of a dream I had during what passes for a life crisis in my world. This was back in the mid 90's. The dream involved a sailing metaphor. For the sailors in the audience, I am not one. I am not a boater of any sort, so I do not know from whence this imagery arose, but it did.

I felt at that time that I had spent a number of years a bit adrift. I had a job and several serial relationships but there really was no direction in my life. I wasn't headed anywhere in particular. In the dream I was alone on a single masted sailboat with the large sail untrimmed and lolling in the wind. I caste a single line out to a cleat. I felt as if I got just a bit of trim into the sail I could or would begin to navigate the course of my life, instead of skimming around the surface at the behest of whatever wind might blow. Now mind you, these "winds" were providing me with a fairly interesting life at that time but a bit too directionless.

So, feeling directionless again are we? Well, no. I have learned how to use those life lines and cosmic cleats to bring some dynamic tension into my life. The sense of purpose that I consciously laid aside during the last year, while I traveled about the country is slowing rising. I am already lining up both the mundane and the creative endeavors for the next several months. The lanyard is in hand and thankfully the youthful desire to grip and tug mightily is well suppressed.

Watch your head, we're coming about.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Many Thanks Along the Way

I have just spent eight months on the road and most of that time I was not staying in hotels or motels but in the homes of many good friends. I want to sincerely thank every one of you for opening your doors, yours hearts and your homes to my vagabond ways. I enjoyed the variety of experiences at each and every stop and would not hesitate to encumber you with my presence again in the future.

Particular thanks to Randy, Gary and Cyndy, Bill and Kathy, Dan and Sue for not only inviting me to stay but also having the extreme good manners to pack up and leave. The only thing better than good friends would be good friends who offer you the shelter of their home and then go away.

Celebratory thanks are also in order to Pat, Bob and Holly, Jim and Mary Grace for timing their parties to coincide with my visits. The many meals at all stops were just too scruptious to mention but Bill, Pat, Mary Grace and Eric will be remembered for their culinary skills. Also the caterers in Virginia, the grill in Weed and the barbeque at Salt Lick in Austin.

To those who opened their homes for weeks at a stretch, I am gratefully indebited. To those I was only able to share a meal and a conversation, you too. The briefest of stops in the strangest of locations were like beacons into our past.

I learned the intricacies of the DVR at many different stops along the way. I became a fair to average Wii disc golf player and I observed various examples of Ipod, Bluetooth and other new techno devices both enthralling and frustrating their new owners. I even acquired my very first GPS to find my way from doorstep to doorstep. In all cases, I can honestly say to every one including myself: RTFM!

Thanks to David and Kim for opening their spare room on short notice. To all my old college friends in Kalamazoo, was great to see you, wish we had more time to talk. To the several dozen 'friends of friends' I met on my travels, twas nice to make your acquaintance, except for that one crazy woman in Florida. To those I saw but did not homestead with, was good to catch up and to those I missed along the way - I am not done traveling just yet.

Special thanks to the PokerBoyz for all the laughs in Biloxi, when are we doing that again? I would point out for the Boyz that I remain the only member to have met Becky, Rachel and Eric or to have seen and visited all but one of the PokerBoyz home turfs.

I would be remiss without sending cyber scritches to Midnight, Rascal, Matisse, Tigerr, Cat, Duffy, Jerome, Abra, Edmund, Crattchet, Blackie, Java and nuzzlin' my keyboard as I write this - Vlad.

What did I learn on this adventure? Well part of it I hope you will be reading in the book/story I am writing roughly based on the geography, if not the actuality, of the trip. Second, I came to realize on a much deeper level why people refer to me as their friend. I want each and every one of you to know that I value whatever interaction we had, I am humbled that you consider me that type of friend and you have more than repaid me with your friendship and camaraderie. Each and every one.