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In This Moment

what if it matters?

Writing and identity

Thoughts on speaking your mind, your self, not only your “affinity” group.

Idiot Joy Showland

There are also others, an infinite number of them, the innumerable generality of others to whom I should be bound by the same responsibility, a general and universal responsibility. I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another without sacrificing the other other, the other others… As a result, the concepts of responsibility, of decision, or of duty are condemned a priori to paradox, scandal, and aporia.
Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death

schiele1915

0. To write feels like violence. All of us are mortal, but the text can survive long after its author: who are you, fleshy and contingent thing, who wants to live forever? To write is to stain clean paper, press sticks in smooth clay; in some sense always, to deform the world. To write something down is to turn the limitless possibility of what could be into the dead presence…

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Uncomfortable

Note to self Friday:  Reflect on the Uncomfortable.  Not sure why.  But I’ve been uncomfortable these past few minutes.  As it happens I walked up Montgomery with the idea of executing a “walking photo tour” assignment I gave myself today, as a way to get back in touch, get grounded between projects.  Guess I have lots of getting in touch to do as the walk is uncomfortable.  Why?  The discomfort seems to be from lack of psychic force:  I’d done a presentation this morning, made cold calls, and confronted my marketing department in trying to solve a long-term problem in my brokerage work.  The discomfort was partly from distrusting the psychic strain of all this would produce a good result, partly just from exhaustion.  Empty, and without hope of being filled.  Uncomfortable.

It’s cold in the City today, so I walked uphill until I got to the Ritz, then stood on the sunny sidewalk out front.  Thought of going in but that would be more psychic strain.  What if going into a place like the Ritz-Carleton is simply a use of psychic force, not about money?  What if everything around me is about psychic force?  This morning I arrived at work before 8AM and by the time my cube-next-door neighbor arrived I was nearly into my second hour.  Oh the space in an empty office!  He started talking up a storm, telling me about his grandfather who’d had a stroke years ago.  Had to put up a virtual psychic shield to stay focused.  What did it cost?  Feels like I’ve burned through reserves and am now depleted.  What recharges me?

Pushed through that psychic resistance and went inside the Ritz.  Dressed in a stylish suit who’s to question me?  There are others standing around the lobby on devices too.  Within the outer perimeter it’s easier, so I don’t have to stay out with the grandmoms walking their grandchildren across the top of the hill.  But there’s a different psychic challenge inside.  The barrier is replaced by a demand.  I don’t want a drink or a snack and don’t feel properly demanding, so the implicit demand of the space itself that I act like I belong steadily grows.  Funny, if I were more rested I could handle loitering in the lobby longer sipping their lemon water.  If I were more demanding of food, shelter, drink also long time in lobby.  Too bad, I want to demand.  With nothing to push for I’m soon back out on the street.  The result of another layer of psychic defenses in that place?  Yes.  What is the agreement amongst people there?  I could’ve taken out my laptop and worked at the bar or in the nearly empty restaurant beside it.  Ordered something minor.  A cup of tea.  What pushed me out was feeling not quite in-sync with those around me.  It was a pensive place, gray and empty except for these guests wandering around looking at their phones.  It only now occurs that the guests with their sidelong glances, not the staff, are the enforcers of who belongs.

The place I went next had everyone working, good music, even a co-working use fee.  Pushed out of the free Ritz-Carleton in favor of a place that charges by the hour.  Plus I purchased coffee and a snack (having escaped from the dismal Ritz I was hungry again).  Could’ve had coffee at the hotel, but that place is dead–if  I’d been staying there I’d have gone upstairs for a nap.  At the co-working cafe I slowly begin to gather my forces.  I remember sitting at an open air cafe on September 11, 2001, in the warm sun, gathering force.  How many hundreds of times, both notable and not, have I been reflecting at a cafe?  Now I’m focused on recovering from the efforts of the day, sipping coffee, nibbling on the coconut pudding, letting the music wash over me.  Let them charge me $2 an hour, it’s cheaper than paying for parking if I had brought a car…

Managed by psychic forces, I tend to feel discomfortably buffeted, as though by a rock in a river, a sudden turn in the rapids.  A drop.  A swirl.  Don’t necessarily hit the rock, just feel queasy rushing past, changing direction, washing up to a high place (the Ritz) and back down to the co-working cafe.  I could sit and look at roses all day, but don’t, I mean can’t.  I’m embedded in a psychic milieu that permits me to do this and that, but not all.  The best I can do is look at a photo I took with my new phone of some roses on a tabletop, glancing at it while I’m carried towards the next thing.  It would be uncomfortable to stop.  Would it even be possible?

Late

Am I late?  I know the feeling so well.  Today I board BART  at 8:03 AM.  My goal to be at my desk making calls at 8 AM.  That makes me late…Or do I make myself late?  Walked down to the station rather than taking an Uber, that pretty much made the difference.  Talked with my wife about plans for the coming week.  That made the difference.  Played mini-basketball with my son.  Of course you can add up each little thing or you can pick them out one by one.  Each one makes the difference.  What’s the net product?  I’d rather be late like this than on time missing any one of these things.

Maybe the real feeling of being late that rankles is the feeling of being out of control.  If I’m late by choice it’s OK.  If I pretend it’s not by choice, my whining causes damage to my self.  The train sits at the sunny BART terminal at MacArthur and I see an attractive woman with slumped shoulders.  I have to say she doesn’t appear attractive. Maybe just for an instant before the slumped shoulders registered.  It’s like being late: if you think you’re late and you slump sadly then you’re the essence of late, you’re the self-condemning late person rather than the cheerful late person, and that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Now I’m on time, at this moment, because I’m doing the one thing I’ve agreed to do right now.  Write.  Even though not everything went as planned today, I said I’d call the Uber at 4:45PM and start writing for 45 minutes at that time.  Even if I haven’t written for every second of the time, I have done it.  Even pulled a picture of a tree taken against the sky and placed it onto this post.  Why?  Because we all know the tree is not late.  And I’m supposed to switch to going for a run at 5:30 PM, and no, I’m not required to do that while in the Uber as long as it gets me home within another 15 minutes.  So I could be on time for that too.

Here’s the real challenge.  As I was stepped into the elevator to go down to the Uber I could feel it.  The resistance.  Inchoate.  Resistance to actually sitting in an Uber and doing my writing the whole way.  And that is the failure, not the reading of emails, the quick playing a round of a video game.  The failure would be in that tired moment at the elevator.  So I said to myself, at that moment, look at your reflection in the elevator doors, face the resistance because this is it, here.

So, am I late?  Only when not present.  One thing we do that trees probably don’t do:  pretend this isn’t really happening.  I’m thankful for all the things I can do that aren’t getting to work on time.  I’d still like to set a time and be there.  More important to me, to set a goal and reach it.  More important still, to have a clear intention and stand with that.  So my various intentions are to follow through with some core goals, and deliverables in service to these goals.  Such as spending time with my kids, making creative contributions to the world, as for example building applications and writing on subjects that others actually read.  Things I’m excited to be present for.

There comes the tricky part.  I know in principle, what I want to do.  Yet in practice it’s easier to oscillate between two states: reacting to what’s at hand and recuperating from that.  Do you notice those two things can describe a life?  Technically I’m outside the iron trap now to the extent I’m not either reacting to the command to write nor escaping from my life through writing complete crap.  But guess what lies outside the trap?  A wasteland.  Yes, you step out for a second and there you are in a beautiful, terrible and bare place where it’s cold (or unbearably hot), you have no apparent sustenance, and no one to help you.  That’s how I feel, anyway.  The iron trap:  answer emails, then, after an hour or two, go to the cafe and try to forget.  The wilderness: instead of playing a video game, checking email, jumping on the Web while I sip my coffee, I write.  And the most wildernessy thing about the Wilderness is stepping into it.  That’s when the resistance reaches such a peak that to submit to the desire to not move forward seems very pleasurable: “What, you dare to set aside email responsibilities (pleasure of checking, of addressing, of deleting) to create something new?”  Surely not now.  And the pleasure of just a momentary diversion–can’t I do that first?  Or, wait, what about just writing now.  Well, it’s either now or else I’ll be late for life.

Nix

I wanted to bring some sanity to my life.  So I went out to a cafe that plays jazz music (did I know it would?  No…just that it has a small, European flair so it would play something distinctive if anything), sat down to write.  Did I write?  Not right away.  First I had to work through a friend’s comments that my writing’s a waste of time (I’m still working through that…), a Presidential candidate’s insane-sounding misogynist comments (easier to be distracted by the fear and hysteria this person creates than face my self-doubts), and then got down to it.  Yep.  I disallow the friend’s comments, and the candidate’s, leaving myself hollowed out.  Thank God for the happy, jazzy music.  A psychic survival tool.  I feel I could stay here a long time, that I should have come sooner.  Earlier, I rushed home from my day job and ran to another cafe with my dog.  That lead nowhere.  The staff questioned the dog’s credentials, there were no seats, it was too shady.  The dog was cold.  So many reasons not to write.  “Excuse me, Monsieur Dog, may I please see your papers?”  Second class citizen to a dog, to a better writer, to a chauvinist.  (Oh, God, thank you, Economist, for giving Donald Trump a true name, chauvinist.  He would likely be proud to bear the title, and it is the source of all the misogyny, ethnic nationalism, and everything else that he brings.  Too bad it comes from apparent insecurity.  What if it came from strength?)

Time to go.  Last light of a fall afternoon fades as the jazz music stops.  God, how lucky I am to have beautiful music that can run out!  How much better than to be threatened by neighbors, friends and misogynists.  Does anyone know what it does to you to have someone attack the opposite sex, to have someone tell you one of the few things you love is crap, to have a neighbor who cannot handle the closeness of the neighbor relationship and decides persecute you as evil?  These things run in parallel.  They drain the life out.  Like debt, or sickness.  Your only chance is to get through it by main strength because these things literally drain the life energy.  Too much and you’re gone.

Or is there another way?  Only today, after writing this weeks ago, before the chauvinist came to be elected, only today did I say to myself: I need a psychic defense.  Of course if you look up psychic defense online the meaning of the word isn’t “mental,” it’s woo-woo energy.  But…I’m such a believer in first principles, and roots of words.  That sort of thing.  Psychic means “mind” to me.  Why?  Because that’s what I believe in, what I bring to the table.  So, to damn the torpedos, and flak and stuff, and full speed ahead I type “psychic defense” into Google and start reading the I’m Feeling Lucky first reference.  Why?  Because I am the road less travelled by, even though I walk down the main street.  So why not?  I put the first technique in the first article into practice within five minutes and my day is changed.  Yep.  I’d been debating commissions with a colleague and was dreading facing him in the office.  Psychic Defense 101, Exercise I, The Mirror.  I visualized a mirror  between me and him, protecting me from his “bad energy” and Viola! or maybe I should say Violin! what I’m sure was my own self-pitying defensiveness lessened and I was able to ignore my colleague’s presence and focus on my work.  Then later I addressed the issue at a time and a place of my choosing.

So today I’m here again at the European cafe, small, not the large outdoor French-style cafe, at the same place with my shivering dog who cannot stand any temperature outside a ten-degree range.  I’ve taken her in my lap instead of bringing her home.  I wanted to go inside the cafe, where it’s warm, but instead I’m out here shivering with my dog.  Can’t hear the jazz music, if that’s what is playing, if anything at all is playing in there right now.  Let me be clear.  In possible contrast to the other day (and the prior paragraph) I’ve chosen this.  I’ve decided to walk and run the dog, then see what’s next.  I could’ve taken her home then come here, and in retrospect should have.  However, I gain two things (at least) this way.  One, I get to choose my course, having considered and discarded the option of taking her home first, now I live with this choice of mine.  I wasn’t forced!  Somehow that seems to matter in this post Donald Trump p-grab world (I’m told I shouldn’t spell out the word in this context, and that “p” could mean either male or female private parts, and that men should imagine The Donald grabbing them, too, because that’s exactly what he intends?, plans?, that is exactly what he is going to do, so get ready for it, fat white men without college degrees, get ready for it…).  Second, I have something to potentially look forward to on another day:  another day, having proven how silly it is to sit with a shivering dog, even though she perches in my lap, I can pursue the course of walk-dog-and-then-sit-in-warm-cafe.  You know the anticipation is worth at least as much as the experience itself.

There is a gnat in my kombucha beer.  My iPhone is down to 10% power.  The song I just tried to Shazam is Allah-Las, woman-with-a-seashell-to-her-ear, but it sounds like the Rolling Stones.  Try to double-check.  Too late.  Sun goes behind a building.  Will I ever be able to listen to these songs?  Last time I tried the speaker wouldn’t (mate? sync?) connect with the phone.  Debate tonight.  The Donald debates The Professional.  Is “The Donald” a dirty, non-PC word, now?  If he wins, will POTUS become a swear word and the United States an insult when used in an imperative or declarative sentence?  Did you actually work out what “imperative” or “declarative” mean or just reflect for the briefest moment on whether that sounded cool.  Did it?  The kombucha beer is gone.  I’m down to 5% and hoping for an Uber ride (using this phone) home.  The Russians are the one’s trying to win here by pushing the Donald as far as he can go.  Will they win or will we, through the adversity of an actual competitor, join forces internally and prevail.  I bet Putin is not smart enough to actually make us fail.  I think he’s looked into the eyes of the stupidest and greediest of us and thinks he understands our soul.  Putin, not only do you not understand our soul, you’re not qualified to understand it.  You cannot understand what you’re not willing to entertain.  Send your kids to college here and then we’ll see what happens.  Your Russian patriotism is not linked to any ideology, it’s just nationalism.  At least we believe in something abstract, be it nihilist.  We’re something worth writing about.  You’re only history in the making.

My cafe looks down on my dog.  At least I have that first world problem, now I can listen to the crows caw above the massive outdoor semi-transparent shade-lighting-and-heating cover at the gluten-free place that’s so idealistic the servers look like deranged monks and the customers have permanent over-serious expressions on their faces.  I’m right at home.  I’m struggling with the existential dilemmas because the biggest challenge I face is deciding whether to walk twenty feet to the private restroom and pee.  I think it’s time.

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I Am Eating Salami

The perfect segue into the Election of 2016.  If Donald Trump wins we’ll all be eating salami.  If Hillary Clinton wins we’ll go on eating whatever we were eating before.  I think the Trump supporters just want us to all join them at the table and stop putting on airs.  OK, I admit it, I’m having two different kinds of salami (they call it salumi here), by choice.  And smoked gouda with some pretty good Zinfandel.  Yeah.  I seem to be the bad guy?  I don’t know…I care about women.  Wait, that’s what Trump says… OK, how about this, I’m open to criticism?  So, how well do I score on the Fact Checker with that one?  Because Trump has shown us that you can say anything…  Here’s how I check out:  I’m open to criticism as long as you put it into terms I can support (my logical structure), and you present it in a diplomatic way (stroke my ego while shattering it).  Is that too much to ask?  Frankly, or salamilily, I do think that I’m worlds different from Trump, as I push my way through paperwork and sales calls to try and grow my own real estate empire.  Um, I’m not a politician.  Wait, he says he’s not either.  He probably says he’s not a liar.  What am I supposed to do, say that I am?

My active, always-on spellcheck tried to make “salamilily” into “Salami Lily.”  I bet Trump called somebody that sometime.  Sigh.  Truth has a hard time in an environment where people are being regularly abused.  Or maybe it’s humor that has a hard time.  Or maybe…what if people have been being abused for a long time and we’re all just trying to figure out how we make our way out of this smoky room into the sunlight?  I think so.  In that case Truth is really about something called integrity.  And I have a question about that.

Just now I’m sitting at a bar in a tapas restaurant with a whole bunch of other people from Berkeley who have lot’s of apparent character.  They aren’t looking around trying to figure out whether to pick up on someone, no, in the afternoon glow at 4:35pm I’m with the Berkeley geriatric crowd.  These people are charging into their older years full force and full of purposeful talk.  It’s almost a 1960’s Madmen feeling of camaraderie in which I don’t participate.  Or maybe I do.  I predict in 15 years my kids will be out of the house, my mom and my wife’s mom will be in a stable place, and I’ll have quit my job and so will my best friend.  So me and him and my wife and his wife can come here in the afternoon and have chitty chatty about the new condominium towers in Berkeley, the fall of the Russian and Chinese empires, the virtual worlds that have consumed all the have-nots, and maybe, if I’m allowed to temper the mood, the diminishing world of ours in this tapas bar, in the late afternoon, in the fall sunshine, at 4:35.

Maybe.  I hate to be a harbinger of things that no one will hear, but one of us will have suffered a change of life that will throw off the others.  Even if it’s just an unremitting sadness of heart.  And another one of us will be looking far beyond the confines of this little bar.  The other two will be trying to figure out what the f*ck is going on.  And the Trump supporters won’t actually be gone, they’ll be in the virtual worlds doing stuff.  And I hate to pop your bubble (if I am, which I’m not, because you either already agree with me or won’t listen…unless you are that odd person who actually keeps an ear to the wind and a foot across the threshhold) but that stuff will actually matter in proportion to the amount of passion and luck those people have, not their presence in the virtual world.

The virtual world will be so blended with this one in fifteen years that we’ll wonder how the two were considered separately.  So, I’m all wrong about the have-nots because they’ll be marginalized in all Worlds, even if they elect a president to try and represent themselves.  The best they can hope for is to try and change the dialogue.  And that matters…  OK, sorry, it’s not that I lied, just that I got carried away, made an assumption that just because someone goes into a virtual world, and just because the virtual world is where the power resides, that someone who goes there becomes powerful.  Nope.  But give me one shred of Hope to hold out to those of us who don’t want to see other humans lose every last part of dignity: of those who disappear into a virtual world some will prevail there when they failed here in the bricks and mortar, de-industrializing, AI-got-my-job real world.  After all, the AI lives in the virtual world so at least you’re taking the battle to it on its home turf.  At least you’re meeting the adversary unblinking.  There is something to that, you know.  Let me whisper it to you: it’s called Meaningful Work.  Because all work, in a world where less than 1% produce food, is make-work.  So, make work that means something to you.  Why?  Because then you have many advantages: you’re moving, you’re engaging, you’re building and you’re giving.  The worst possible thing, in America, is to be prevented from doing those things (otherwise known as pursuit of happiness).  So go go.

In

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re in something.  I just came down to the underground train platform in downtown Berkeley and the moment I passed the point on the short stairway where my view was the platform instead of the upper terminal, bam  that was it, I was in.  And now, guess what, the train approaches.  I’m on the platform.  Walking towards the train door, and, I’m part of the seat grabbing rush!  That was different because the transition was accompanied by a stressful activity.  Instead of a visual instantaneous transition it was not only invisible, but somehow unappreciated.  I look up for a moment and see ranks of people looking at their phones.  Or more exactly ranks of seated people all wearing dark clothes, and I happen to see one person focused on her phone.  And I glance to the right and the person next to me is holding her phone.  Accompanied by a frenetic clicking noise that it turns out is the seat rattling. Turns out her phone screen is dark and she’s looking at the blank screen.

Weeks later, months later let’s be honest, I still think of her looking at her blank smartphone screen and I think how often I’ve turned to the phone knowing it will hold something for me but not necessarily knowing what.  Like turning on the TV and channel surfing.  One step back from surfing the internet, surfing my own unique but similar world of things.  And God help me how different is that, really, from a blank screen?

I’m sure more goes on around me, and different things than I realize, far more than I know.  My question is not only Does it Matter to me, but is it even likely there is anything I can do to make it matter?  Look inside.  The truth is in there, carried with me from transition to transition, whether cleanly accomplished from station lobby to platform or murkily, rushing into a train without full awareness of my surroundings.  In all cases I carry with me an image of what I imagine is around me.

What matters to me has to do with its proximity in space and time. I honestly don’t remember whether I read that in a Buddhist book on meditation and life perspective or the book on Machine Learning that I’m reading.  OK, pretty sure it was the machine learning book but it really could have been either one.  That is a meta thought that matters to me because it consolidates and points to the area I explore in my writing.  I like to call it the moment.  The moment is what is here now. I believe there is a word for this in machine learning, and there is a dimension to it that goes beyond proximity in time and space.  That dimension is accesibility.  I make up in my head most of what I believe I know about my surroundings, therefore most of what happens right now, right next to me, is inaccessible.  So it may as well not be proximate.  I also have a feeling there is more than one dimension of accessibility within the realm of awareness.

What do I turn to to find out what’s around me?  The smartphone.  If I do this while I’m on the BART train I bring a different set of things into my awareness. The email a client just sent from Paris.  And I lose touch with the people on the train with me.  So what?  The main problem I see is the question of What am I In?  If I am no longer in the train but have stepped onto another platform, into another room, an email room, then OK but what are the characteristics of that room?  Can people see me, understand where I’m coming from, catch my attention and communicate as fully as possible with me?  I don’t know.  I read the email from Paris and I gather the transaction we’re discussing is a lost cause.  She wants way more than the building can likely sell for at this time.  My job would be to make this Owner proximate with someone who can actually pay her price.  That may take time, yet there is the chance that this Buyer is out there even now, standing in front of her property looking at it.  Yet Buyer and Seller are not proximate to each other.

I sit outdoors at a cafe in Berkeley and to whom am I proximate?  I distance myself from my email, from home, from work, and here I am. It’s an early fall day not really Indian Summer but sunny and OK for sitting outside in a sweater.  People are coming and going and of course I’m not really close to them.  I am significantly alone…although sharing this space, being seen by these others.  The short order cook comes out and presses down the garbage.  I smile and wave to him and he says “hi” so happily.  How can I call this alone?  He remembers me from ten years ago when my son was a toddler.  He hasn’t changed much but he works so hard, and he seems a bit sad.  Florencio.  His name that of the city where I began writing about moments almost twenty years ago. The hard work he cheerfully endures so different from the situations that I have been in these past decades, yet…he helps me recall Florence, and that ties together my passion for writing and travel over my lifetime.  Even though (did he say he has four children?) it doesn’t seem like he can travel much, as he puts on his helmet and wheels his bicycle into the street I wonder where he has been, the man who is always at the cafe.  I’m often at a cafe, just not always his.

I’m proximate to Florence and Florencio and an endless string of cafes and emails and photographs of places.  And of course stories that begin to tie them together into a meta-place where old men press down garbage for students and old men and women who scribble in journals long after their coffee is cold and bitter as death.

 

Center of Gravity

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area you live in reference to the City, San Francisco.  Yet interestingly that city is on the westernmost edge of the continent.  So everyone in the Bay area faces west until they get to the City, then they stop.  Does San Francisco face west?  Arguably it has been the portal to the Pacific.  But I wonder which way San Francisco does face?  First thought is inward, as it tries to incorporate its exterior constituencies into itself.  The city contains much Pacific Rim culture, China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Australia.  It contains Pacific Northwest.  And more of late it contains Silicon Valley.  For better or for worse.  On a recent trip through Silicon Valley to Cupertino, through Los Altos and out to Santa Cruz I noted, as always, the oak trees, open hilly spaces,  mid-century architecture.  There’s no way San Francisco contains that.  But the life of Silicon Valley, those young hipsters, they face San Francisco and San Francisco consumes them.  So who will win, the oak hillsides of Sand Hill or the restaurants and bars of the City?  The secret is the South Bay was always a staging area or a retreat from the City.  So you enjoy your horse farm and your vineyard in the hills south of San Francisco precisely because you can afford a retreat from the City.

I grew up in the East Bay.  The light industrial side of things.  There are so many people out there, UC Campus, lots of malls and community colleges.  It’s not the heavy industry of the areas immediately north and east of San Francisco, the refineries and former shipyards.  Just lots of people spreading out towards Mount Diablo, washing around it actually, a 4,000 foot mountain that will get a tiny bit of snow sometime during the winter on its deserty scrub and oaky slopes.  The dreams of those people are dreams under an oak tree in summer, ephemeral and gentle.  I see my high school classmates becoming more and more puffy and hunched over as they walk.  I suppose the best of them are like oak trees with a solid, enduring air.  Anyway, that is Walnut Creek.  I had a taste of Concord, also, with its working classes and cheese cooperatives, back in the 1970s.  Who knows what they do now in Concord.  I think it’s a back office city, so what goes on there is subsumed within the expression of multinational corporations to the world at large.  Seen in downtown Walnut Creek, where everything is actually sold.  A hub within the East Bay, a Chicago for the Bay Area.  And what of the Bay area’s Atlanta?  How will Oakland fare this time when it has taken some of the wind out of Little Chicago’s sails?  The wind blows through but as yet no large cranes catch the air and drive development forward.  Will they come this year?

In the meantime I can go to San Francisco to write, or just kick it in one of these other cities.  There’s a ferry from here to Oakland, the 3rd nicest city to live in in the US.  Or I can just have lunch here in the City and remember eating out with my family in Seattle which looks towards San Francisco past the heads of certain high tech giants.  We had a great week there and I can sit here and look back on that week in the city that looks back at San Francisco.  Yes a lot of mirrors and reflection.  And fewer beards here, less competition there.  You notice that’s two things about Seattle, not about San Francisco.  The consumer and the consumed — in a gritty reality contest you know Seattle would win.  But that’s like a contest between the brain and the stomach, the parent and the child, the theatergoer and the director.  Who is in charge?  Who writes the script and who approves it?

The Financial District is a bit unexplored for me.  I’m in a little burger bistro on a restaurant alley I didn’t know about.  It’s 1:30 and everyone suddenly left, except a few of us.  A couple of executives, a man with his sister, two men at the bar looking like they need to discuss important matters with the bartender, a big man and a woman at a high table.  The fast kids left.  Back to work.  The buildings are tallest here.  The water pretty far away.  These pedestrian alleys are cool, right in the shadow of the TransAmerica tower.  The servers seem happy.  Everything is so fast, how could anyone complain?  In the mania of it it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what all of us is doing, just that we’re doing something, and we care.  Counterpoint, my junior colleague at work chooses a pace that gives him lots of time for self-doubt and moaning and groaning.  What’s the point?  Why not drown your doubts and sorrows in enthusiasm and more work, instead?  The doubts and sorrows may go away.

What about me?  I definitely need to keep the momentum going.  And so I go in to work and scream through my calls for the day, finishing them quickly so I can shift focus to follow-ups and projects.  It’s like I’m in a whole different world from my junior colleague.  This woman calls me from Paris and says I’ve promised her an offer on her building.  I have people lined up to gather the info we need, analyze it, write the offer, schedule a follow-up call.  We will execute.  Meanwhile I hear the song Jessie’s Girl playing and celebrate Bruce’s enthusiasm but not his assumed pathos.  If you want a girl like Jessie has, you just have to go out and get her.  Probably in San Francisco, although that is one of the places in this world where you’d have to work harder than anywhere else.  Better try Chicago or maybe some weird hub city like Cincinnati?  Berlin?  Rio?  Goa?  Just don’t stay in that little suburb that Bruce is singing about, where everyone holds on to what they have as prosperity slips away.  Then you’d just have to be satisfied as Jessie’s sidekick.  What girl wants to go out with a sidekick?  Sidekick girl.  Still, that would be a more wholesome song than Jessie’s Girl, much more Marvel.

Over a thousand words.  I have a secret for you.  Wait for it.  Tainted Love plays and all but one of the guys at the bar and a big group praying in the corner leave.  One quiet male couple arrives to snack on sliders and salad…but we’re energized by the unseasonable heat and the Herculean efforts of those who have already gone back to work.  Those two guys don’t seem worried.  Seems like they could be sitting in Puerto Vallarta.  Maybe they own the restaurant.  Thank you, calm, shorts guys; if there’s anything I actually like better than Puerto Vallarta it’s idealizing Puerto Vallarta, and reliving the moments there that seem to have just the right combination of otherworldly and familiar, gay American and homophobic Mexican (or will Donald Trump and Jessie and his Girl have it the other way around?  Homophobic American and permissive, tolerant, long-suffering Mexican).  Just as an aside, Hillary Clinton actually called all of us racist in her effort to highlight the racism of Donald Trump.  Better to admit it and try to change it than to cover it up and have it come belching out under the influence of whatever makes us feel at home.  A woman stomps out of the corporate group praying to the ideals embodied by the leader, the one paying for lunch, in her high-ish heels — a commonplace late Admin exit.  You can hear someone bossily expounding over there.  Almost 2 PM.  Can she finish up in time to catch the Clinton/Trump debate t0night?  Did I mention it’s hot today.  Oh yes, but down here in the artificial valleys of the financial district there are cool breezes and U2 plays.  We shift quickly, here.  Mad rush to cool afternoon.  You find your place.  The secret is this place is not essentially different from Puerto Vallarta, or that pathetic town where Jessie’s sidekick watches his girl.  I have a feeling Puerto Vallarta and Sidekick Girl beat Jessie in his San Francisco suit every day.  The secret is Jessie dreams of escape and he’s probably always had a thing for Sidekick Girl.

 

So Beautiful

On BART.  Again.  This time the fog hangs thick and low, cool over all. The trains swish in and out of curly tendrils, down into the heart of the cloud.  So beautiful, and the moment is mine.  Mad Max: Fury Road won a lot of Oscars yesterday and my kids saw the whole social-political spectacle.  A line from the movie mentions that our life is in the moment.  Every existential pain I feel is tied to this feature.  I don’t exist outside of it so I’m constantly under pressure when I try to bridge the gap between one perceived moment and another.  Why do neurons have gaps?  Humans have separate male and female counterparts?  The short circuit is death, life is in the gap, in the movement from one place to another.

In the gap time has passed since Mad Max took the Oscars home.  Months.  If I were Mad Max wandering the desert I might wonder how many months and see the stubble on my chin in a broken shard of mirror and laugh at death coming swiftly for me.  Have you noticed six months is 160th of a lifetime, an eightieth of a working career, a thirty-sixth of a childhood?  So if Mad Max looks in the mirror and it’s a flash of time since six months prior, and if that’s a single frame of a film he’s in he’s got 4.4 seconds of life since his birth.  Of course we don’t know what 160th of a lifetime is, because no one knows intuitively what anything from a thirty sixth through a 160th is, so it doesn’t matter to us (we can understand 4.4 seconds, though, it’s a long intake of breath).  How about this:  I’m likely to stay in a home for six years, stay in a career for nine, watch my kids go from preschool to college in thirteen.  Take any one of those items and six months is between one twelfth and one twenty-sixth of the whole.  That’s something anyway.  Impressive?  No, we have no idea what anything as small as one twelfth is.  Oh well, I just had the idea that six months is a big chunk out of a lifetime.  I know it is.  I know by the time I slowly draw breath (4.4 seconds) the leaves will blow through this narrow outdoor corridor of this cute restaurant in Walnut Creek once more and I’ll be dead.  What will my kids think?  What will those 4.4 seconds look like on screen, if anyone watches?  It’s getting so cold here, and you know what warms my heart?  The knowledge that I’ve changed so much about what I’ve written, today, that I will not publish it yet.  I’ll wait for a day, a week, a month, God knows how long, to review, revise and consider publishing.  My stand in defiance of the impossible power of the passage of time:  I’ll wait until the moment is right though it cost me everything, though the writing is stillborn, incomplete, or even a soul that never was…

Picked up this thread, So Beautiful, because I’m at Cesar, the tapas place with the good wine.  Thought it appropriate to appreciate beauty here.  More than wine, the bartender last week said their cocktails are of higher quality.  I’m usually disappointed with cocktails.  Because of the lower quality.  Take a mimosa.  Why adulterate champagne with orange juice…unless it’s not very good champagne, and then why drink it?  To get high from cheap champagne and also have a heart attack drinking orange juice?  Here at Cesar they play Spanish guitar music I can’t Shazam and take home with me.  Sometimes they come up with fresh garden vegetables you couldn’t get at the Chez Panisse.  And Cesar has a collection of Scotch that’s So Beautiful — varying shades of brown.  So I sip my Cabernet and observe their Scotch collection surrounded by Old People from Berkeley.  I’m relatively young here in this un-Shazamable place.  If you don’t know what Shazam is then Google it.  If you don’t know what Google is then congratulations to you.  Just kidding, of course.  You know what Google is.  But the point is I’m not a big Scotch drinker and yet I appreciate this Wall of Scotch.  It adds to the credibility of the place.  Even though I only sip the wine here.

Did I mention why I came to Cesar?  No?  If I do will you let me know, because I’m unsure.  And more than that:  I’m not at Cesar, I’m at Va de Vie in Walnut Creek.  Watch out, the transition from one place to another can seem instantaneous, even though a day, a month, a year or a decade passes.  Would I dare pick up this same piece after a decade?  Would it give you a chill if I said that’s what I’ve done?  I came (to Cesar, to Va de Vie) as an exercise.  I’m writing the script of a life, so wherever I choose to go and do becomes the story.  That’s obvious, but the point is my choices aren’t existentially important for what they produce but for their stories.  God, it just went from hot to cold at Va de Vie as the sun passed into shade and the wind picked up.  I’m reminded, as I have often been, of The Swimmer, a story in which the protagonist swims his way home through friends’ pools in the neighborhood but finds his self-absorbed focus takes him on a much, much longer journey through the loss of his social credibility and many of his friendships, and his youth before he can ever complete the simple exercise.  4.4 seconds.  An in-drawn breath.  I try to get my outbound sales calls at work completed by noon each day, and then shift my environs at noon.  For lunch.  But also to tell a story, the story of a creative afternoon.  Does it matter the exact course it takes?  No, the point is it’s not an office.  My client just called me after I sent him multiple prospects to review.  Another several weeks pass with no further contact with that client and another client calls me in person for the first time and says “Oh yes, I am open to doing this transaction” that would make half my year’s goal.  Half my year’s sales calls all realized in that one statement if it turns out that it’s realized…  Uncertainties and perhaps 18 months of extended transaction ahead.  What are the probabilities?  Has this intrusion into my creative time defined a success?  Or a half-hour step farther into the darkness of failure.  Or, guess what, no one knows and yet I am here, I am here, like the smallest Who crying out to the unknown.  Do I sit next to a high mountain peak in Colorado sipping Cabernet with family members?  No, but given I’m having lunch, having lunch, having it again, I can call my client back and the moment and the paella form a bridge to that mountaintop (and don’t forget the steak, and dare I mention one hundred other meals?)  A creative afternoon.  Maybe I’ll close a deal with my client (which one?), but not at the cost of my soul, I hope.  Not entirely, anyway.  A discount half price sale on souls for half a day today.  I have a break, the story has a twist, and today it was Cesar, I mean Va da Vie, I mean, shall I claim a future lunch date with myself, before it arrives?  The wind has died down.  It feels warmer… Notice the lie because there is no future.  Our family plans to go swim in the pool of an old friend of mine soon but be clear, please, we can only claim the plan.  And as we seek a date the weeks shift from September to November.  Big difference for a swimming date, though. 

Not on BART, or Uber, now.  Certainly not driving.  Getting places is important to the story, but how much more important being there?  Here.  Being here.  By the time my fingers reach the keys to type out where here is, it likely won’t be Va da Vie.  It’s not. It’s called Desco and they have great espresso. Looking back, too, perhaps this alley was once not paved with stones and dotted with tables (Perhaps?  Come on, you know it wasn’t.)  But the wind very likely blew leaves from the enormous oak tree even before either of the brick buildings formed an alley there.  Of course that tree was once an acorn, perhaps 120 years ago?  The current length of a human lifetime without accident, disease, or genetic failure.  I’m 50 in so far, so I’ve got a ways to go if I fight for it.  Or maybe 7% chance if I don’t?  Or, what, 20% chance if I do and the world continues on its current elitist development course?  And what does fighting mean and by fighting do I change my in-drawn breath from 4.4 seconds to 5.3?  Since I live in Berkeley I may as well eat at Cesar, seeing the vehicles swiftly pass on Shattuck Ave in the Gourmet Ghetto.  So close to the Chez Panisse I can see the shadow of its Chez Panisse (connifer?) tree.  I talked to their gardener the other day when he picked me up in his pickup to take me to a potential job site for him.  And he told me the name of that unusual tree that you see in front, and that surrounds the most cute dining area in the cafe upstairs that Bill Clinton probably didn’t get to sit in because his entourage was too large (all probabilities, of course, and what I wonder is what was actually on his mind and did he care whether he could sit with the unique bunya-bunya framing his, for that moment, Arts & Crafts window?  Did he know about the tree?  Did he notice it?  Would he have cared?  I think he would have, if someone (the gardener?) talked with him about it.  And I am here, in the shadow of the Chez Panisse and its bunya-bunya, listening to un-Shazamable music.  Oh, one of the pieces got Shazamed, but I don’t know which one, and it’s not available on iTunes.  For some reason this reminds me of visiting the famous main library in Seattle and my daughter hurt her leg running on the escalator and the Uber driver waited for us on the far side of the building.  I got so little satisfaction out of that visit because my daughter complained the whole time.  And in memory I have nothing immediately before or after.  Pike’s Place chaos market before?  Our tiny Airbnb apartment after?  Logical.  Still, I just remember beautiful escalators suspended in air, and my daughter falling on one and whining, whining.  The quality of her whining is so demanding, so confident.  I feel like the world had better watch out for her.  We’ll see.  Always in the shadow of something, I write so late in the summer that who can remember it’s summer?  The fog coming and going, mostly coming, over Berkeley, and at 2 PM in late summer of course it may be typical, if not the Indian Summer delight we look for.  Yet how can it be Indian Summer when it is still actual summer and so we must endure the summer fog.  And if six months have passed who can say whether that’s a big piece of my life.  I know it is.  And yet Seattle was barely six weeks ago.  Seven.  Eight.  Is six weeks long?  Seven, eight?  Is time long?  And when was it we were at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz and did not ride the tram cars, the cable ride, the one where you dangle your legs over the park as you travel over it?  My wife got beautiful and cheap sunglasses there.  And we got passes that we haven’t yet used.  Maybe we will soon.  Oh yes, Santa Cruz, I have you in my sights.

Just You & Me..

Tanya Izz


Let’s get out of here, just you and me. I don’t need the promise of tomorrow and yesterday tastes bitter in my mouth. I want to watch the sun rise over a landscape that breaks into all the things I never thought I’d see; all the things I was too afraid to reach for. We’ll take your car and I’ll oversee the radio, I’ll play the soundtrack of my life and you’ll smile like you don’t know. We can chase the memory of passion lost, a trail growing colder with every mile we leave behind.

Let’s ditch this town, this tired collection of haphazard streets and lawns built on haste and disinterest. I imagine blue skies and sweet air that isn’t heavy with all the choices we’ve both made, the words we never should have said, and pretend, for a minute, that the grass really might be greener. I want…

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