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metaphysic

Cake

Deeper magic from before the dawn of time.  Because eating the cake is never enough.  You know we’re waiting for something beyond what we can see and touch, because even the dawn of time, that Big Bang when we really get started, or, if you look a little farther, right now, is never quite enough to satisfy.  That’s why we seem to need the even deeper magic from before, beyond and Outside our experience.  And did anyone ever mention you can’t have your cake and eat it too?  You know why they say that?  Because you have to either live in this moment or wait for another one.  And what they mean is you should wait, for a Better World.  Oh yes, wait.  ‘Cause if you eat your cake now you won’t have it any more, and everyone wants to have cake, right?  Wait, did I ever say I wanted to “have” cake?  Aren’t there contrasting parables about not storing up your grain, or hoarding your talents, and that birds and grass are happy even without “having” anything?  Oh, those radical Leftist Christians rallying against acquisitiveness and greed!

Don’t believe it.  We always have our cake and eat it too.  You can’t have one without the other.  How can you eat the cake if you didn’t spend some time wanting it first?  You can’t; even if you’re a dog you anticipate the treat.  To lose yourself in deeper magic from before the dawn of time you’d have to be dead.  Then you wouldn’t count anymore, not independently.  And so, the deep magic we have in the present is just the eating, just the reveling, and despite our fears (or hopes) of where that may lead, it’s worse than it seems:  not only does the reveling lead nowhere but it’s also unachievable.  You can’t get there.  Sorry Bohemian, your journey is just that, a journey.  You have no place to lay your head, not even Noplace.  No break, not really one moment of eating the cake that isn’t shot through with anticipation of eating it.  You can’t take one bite and just enjoy it.  Do I dare to eat a peach is the philosophical question of daring to think about these things, be aware while eating the cake.  The ultimate hubris (even though the philosophers would tell you it’s only natural to think about things while you do them, they secretly admire the proletariat freedom to just enjoy things, and so J. Alfred Prufrock is afraid of losing his teeth, missing out on sex, and dying; thank you T.S. Elliot, for sharing this perspective, but, sorry, this admiration for those who just do things is ill-founded: nobody, not even a dog, just does things).  I can try to lose myself in eating cake or peach but will inevitably feel the pull of the bungee cord of human reflection drawing me back to thinking about it.  If I jump in while conscious of the cost, the ramifications, the inevitable pull-back, the alternatives, something different may happen.  Do I dare to think about eating cake, the cake that I must forever both have and eat, that no matter how hard I try I cannot stop having and eating?  That’s the thing the Buddhists understand but the Western philosophers miss: the thinking about it mingled with the doing it is the real daring.  And the Western philosophers are doing exactly that.  They should pat themselves on the back!

Why is it all reversed?  You can’t have your cake and eat it too is wrong, you can’t not have your cake and eat it too.  Do I dare to eat a peach is actually do I dare to think about eating a peach.  The core of the Christian Gospel is radically leftist even though Conservative and Christian are words that travel intimately with each other.  Try too hard to do anything and you end up with the opposite.

What about this: sentimentality rots the core of our lives, it’s maybe one of several ways to ruin everything.  I listen to Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd and see two miniature rat terriers lying side-by-side on a woman’s lap outside the cafe and recall the times I lost myself in that song waiting for another time to come.  There’s a lot of Waiting in rock music.  And of course isn’t there also a lot of Eating Cake — do I miss something to say there’s a lot of Waiting to Eat Cake?  Kind of crosses all the Political Divides because I could say I like Little People’s Mickey Mouse Operation better than Lynyrd Skynyrd, but would it actually be true?  I can’t bring myself to mention any politician’s name but what would it help?  If a woman breaks the Presidential Glass Ceiling this year does that speak more about her or about our society’s need for her (and for her opposite) now?  Can I deny I get a good feeling when I hear the opening bars of Titanium by David Guetta,  though I’ve got to slog through the rest to get to another, anemic rush when the woman shouts “I am Titanium”?  If I have the right speakers the off-beat bass is good, if I’m distracted during the build-up I may start thinking again the song is cool.  But there’s almost nothing left for me in that song but sentimentality.  And guess what?  The sentimentality, while it rots the core of our lives, cleanses us.  Your core rots out, you’re left with nothing, an empty husk, and then you go on and let yourself get filled up with something new.  So it goes: we begin this paragraph with the claim sentimentality is our best shot at destroying ourselves and yet its rot is the lifeblood of renewal, laying down the sod for the growth of new things.  Because to eat cake you must have someone go out and plant it, grow it and harvest it, and after all humans don’t know how to eat grass…  But if there were no cake we’d stop eating it, yet we wouldn’t stop trying to have something even while we’re eating it and saying it’s impossible, and always getting it backwards, except for the part we may notice about humans always thinking about things and never just doing them.

 

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Fall

French Hotel.  Fall.  Berkeley.  With my Americano I have the sense of times past, Italy and train stations, of wandering freedom.  An older woman sails across the cross walk towards where I sit.  She looks so much like a man I’m sure she is for a long time.  But as she stands and talks with the other elders gathered outside the cafe I see something feminine in her features and then that she wears a dress.  The elders have this guy with them that I’ve seen many times before who is clearly autistic.  They talk as though they’re having a council meeting.  Anyway, not that the dress is definitive, just that it confirms by observation that the person’s features are distinctly feminine.

I’m waiting for pickup time for my kids.  Late in the day and only three p.m.  There’s something old-style about this cross walk with all the old people using it, as though a bridge back to the sixties and seventies, whether by way of seventy-year-olds who were in their twenties and thirties then, or by way of people in their twenties and thirties who carry yoga mats and dress in seventies styles now.  What’s the difference if you put them into a place like Berkeley where all can focus internally on their own life path?  The youngsters have more natal chi, but they waste it.  The elders floating across the cross walk or gathering for their meetings hoard it and use it…to what end?  The circle: young frivolous seriousness and old serious frivolity.  Where is my coffee; this is a bit much for my fifty-year-old brain, halfway between thirty and seventy.  But those ages don’t matter, do they, all in the mix.  More important I’m half-way between 20 and 80.  Those are real ages, moments in life when we’re something unmistakable.  Logical follow-on question: at fifty, am I an unmistakable age, or am I unmistakably mistakable in my place in this continuum?

The cross walk is an old crossing in front of the BMW’s and Acura’s today.  Actually I bet it’s newer than the traffic lights at the two nearest corners.  A mid-block cross walk to a cafe.  Those cars have to stop or-at-least-slow-down while oldsters and youthful acolytes drift across their way like ducks or metal targets. Microcosm of Berkeley.  The French Hotel, Gourmet Ghetto next to the cross walk is not gourmet and seems the opposite of ghetto.  The opposite of a ghetto would be a truly integrated city, and Berkeley isn’t.  Berkeley is nearly a ghetto town in which each ghetto is a ghetto of one single person living a fantasy of his or her own.  How well I fit with the misfits…

I feel my most recent work here was one of those targets, floating through time, shot down by an undeciphered error message while I sat at a little table in a new restaurant serving oversize sushi rolls.  Sumo.  I trusted their wi-fi network, thought I was so smart, and all the updates since the elder crossing were lost.  Now I climb from Sumo to the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus.  This feels like a ladies’ place with all these salads.  I mean tell me if I’m wrong about that, I didn’t even look for the steak, just accepted what they suggested for me; I always love trying the press-button solution.  And it’s good.  I would hazard to say it’s better than what they have at the Nordstrom Bistro on top of that institution.  And the wine seems pretty good.  I’d love to see a comparison of how much food, wine and experience quality you get for the dollar at different places.  Can you guess my guess?  I propose it would be the-more-you-pay-the-better-it-is.  I know practically everyone who writes about things or pursues things tries to get a deal, tries to see how one thing is better than another for reasons other than price.  Do you see the fallacy?  All these people writing about things and thinking about things are the ones making sure that it’s an even playing field: if one restaurant is a relative bargain then everyone will want to go there and try it (long lines theory of quality).  If a restaurant is overrated in terms of price per increment of value then fewer people will attend and I can’t help thinking it will be in a hotel (or a department store?) and people in pajamas will be nursing coffee refills at three in the afternoon, or a stampede will be there at 9:30am if you happen to be there then.  The point: my wife says I’m a hedonist and I’m having a pretty darn good glass of wine many floors above Union Square at 2:30 in the afternoon.  I bet the people around me are filthy rich but what do I care, I’m not going to try to proselytize them, in fact I’d rather read about the downfall of the Comanche empire a century and a half ago than look at their pale white hair, their clenched Asiatic jowls, or listen to them go on about how the project the one hired the other to do was so…successful?  Just a project.  I bet the white-hairs have made real contributions to the University of California, San Francisco, the Asians own a lot of San Francisco property and I’ve called them on the phone before, and the interior designers know someone whom I could use for both my home remodel and the exterior project in North Oakland.  Just being practical, there is no way in I’m going to approach any of them.  Oh well.  I find in writing this out I’ve actually generated a wish to do exactly what I am saying I shall not do, make contact.  Deep breath.  Other projects first.  Maybe in a dining car on a train through Russia.

Break. Work for several hours, receive relentless complements on my cuff links, sweater, hat and tie, buy Christmas presents for the kids, read about the Comanches, eat, drink wine and write.  That’s a perfect day. I found a Chinese restaurant in a Chinese mall today with a tiny front filled with hanging ducks and went back inside to where they don’t speak English well.  The hostess shooed another patron over so I could sit at the big round table and there I read about the Comanches and ate steak with brownish sauce.  Good.

How many things I could do.  I didn’t expect to find presents for the kids here at this other mall (Nordstrom, Westfield) in San Francisco.  But I did. There’s a building I’m selling that I’d really like to look at, but as darkness falls and I’m burdened with two bags of presents I won’t venture into that neighborhood.  Not the plan but here’s what is:  another day. I’ll come back (maybe tomorrow!) and I’ll see that building. God help me my source of energy is this balance of personal pursuit with work.  If I had gone up to that building today after already exceeding the planned time on real estate work it would have led me to a place where I’m less happy, less successful, less alive.  Dangerous abyss one skirts working for oneself, working sales.  I must keep some balance or lose all hope.

Fall.  Nordstrom Bistro.  So many meetings this week and last week. I’m swimming in them.  December 16.  That’s Fall, but barely.  So many meetings that my life is swim, meet, eat, family.  Answer emails and make a few calls. Field questions from clients. Write. Wonder why it feels like a treadmill. Start over the next day.  I’m on the outside looking in at my life, in a way.  How can I get back in?  Hello, you at the table at the Nordstrom Bistro, listening to Frosty the Snowman, sipping Cabernet, asking your assistant to do things for you.  Yes you.  You’re buying a charmed life.  Hope the tab isn’t more than you can pay.  Hope you’re having fun.

And you know what?  I am having fun.  For seventeen years now I’ve been grinding away at real estate and I actually like real estate.  So that’s lucky. I like writing too, and the real estate seems to support that as the late almost shortest-day-of the-year sun reflects off a seven story building for a moment into my eyes atop Nordstrom.

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Tunnel

There’s something exiting about traveling through the Transbay Tube on BART.  Just finished watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and have that after-dinner-on-a-Friday-night-after-the-movie indestructible feeling.  I feel I must rise to a higher level of engagement with the world around me and need to write.  BART and all trains, but especially trains that look like a 1960s future series of railcars pulled by an engine and make lots of noise but mostly hollow hissing, move you magically along while you continue your business inside.  Like life moving us forward except simpler.  The train, the seat, whatever I have in my lap.  Perhaps a companion.  And the outside world sliding past.  Maybe the darkness of the Transbay tunnel.  Anyway, if a train is pulled by an engine and BART has every car powered individually, does that make it not a train, or only similar to a train?  BART is like a train except that it’s very silvery and hisses, doesn’t choo-choo

A different vantage:  the Saturn Cafe in Berkeley.  All windows around the outside and people walking by all the time.  I wouldn’t have thought it the best pedestrian corridor at the bottom of UC campus where Oxford is full of fast traffic and you can’t get into campus through the baseball field.  Guess I was wrong as lots of people are walking by and I’m inside the fishbowl of this cafe, but I know from experience I don’t really look in from outside.  And from inside one sees the world going by.  Like being on a train except the world is moving and you’re still.

Before I could write much about the Saturn the Uber came and I’ve written most of this in the Toyota Sienna with Arabic-looking rugs on the floor and an Asian-looking man named Rommel driving.  Now I’m getting dropped off.  Thus ends my commentary for two weeks.  Back on BART again after coming through the BART tunnel during Friday, Oct 30 afternoon commute in my Halloween costume.  Dropped off, picked up again by the Uber.  Just like my job making three hundred calls this week to buyers and sellers and lookers and listeners.  Givers and takers and movers and shakers…and fakers.  And it seems to come down to chance, and I get dropped off at the same intersection where I broke my leg a year ago.  Coming back around to the same places.  Traveling through the same BART tunnels.  But you know, every time something changes.  Today the sun has just set and it’s warm and there’s a different feeling in the air that autumn carries.  So this moment is not the same as others were.  It’s more fall and sunny.

Here’s an interesting idea related to seeing the same places again and again, working on the same piece in different but similar places.   To me that has come to seem like a tesseract, a construct with an additional dimension (in this case time) allowing for a series of similar events to compress together, accordion-like, into a common moment. Ok, yes, that’s really cool, and in watching my favorite TV show I came across this idea for a fifth dimension:  if you see time as unfolding and in the process linking everything and everyone together as a fourth dimension, in what dimension would time travel occur?  Or, here is the kicker from Continuum:  would traveling in time require a fifth dimension because of changes time travel causes in the first four, creating a dimension of alternate worlds.  Because we’re used to the idea of time moving only forward, if you jumped backwards to a prior point in time, how would that affect things?  How would we understand the relationship between the world before you did that and the world afterwards?  That is what works as a fifth dimension, the dimension consisting of different possible outcomes based upon our choices.  I just realized something maybe too neat, so obvious I’m surprised I’ve never heard anyone talking about it.  Suppose we define a fifth dimension to our ordinary lives as the parallel worlds created by our choices.  Then…all the ramifications of choice are evident in the resulting continuum.  Choice?  Free will, right?  What are the areas of human endeavor most associated with free will and choice?  Besides career planning… philosophy and religion!  I’ve always tried to interpret Christ’s statement “The Kingdom of God will come as a thief in the night,” at a most unexpected time and place, to mean that it is concealed within each moment.  Existentially, if something big is going to happen at a surprising time, something really big, then there is probably only one surprising time it can happen.  1999?  2112?  No, now!  That’s the only existential time that has any real utility.  Everything else is unreal, who knows may never become real because…there are so many possibilities.  In a fifth dimension we have a way that literally everything from dropping your ice cream cone on the ground to the Rapture of good souls, the separating of wheat from chaff, goats from sheep, the end of the world, can coexist.  All the predictions were correct, every one of them.

So many paths to consider.  What about this one: in the Continuum series the most disturbing aspect was to have to face a reality in which one did not belong, say by coming into a time where there is already one of you there.  You can’t very well both sit in your favorite armchair at the same time.  You also can’t both spend one-on-one time with your child at the same time, or your fiancé… So, what about these groups that have predicted the end of the world.  What if it ended in some timelines as the believers predicted, but not for us in this timeline we happen to be on?  If there are parallel worlds initiated by every choice each of us makes, then any of us could be heading down a path to any one of those worlds any time and the people we know are doing the same.  So there might be really cool worlds that we might or might not get to depending upon the choices we and others make, and we might get there with our friends, but only with the ones who made certain choices.  All religious thought that supports an afterlife or a consequence from our free will might be proved out in one of these parallel worlds right here and now.  Heaven and Hell can literally exist in parallel worlds that we could get to really easily by means of our choices…

By creating disturbing situations such as persons meeting themselves, Continuum made it more clear that each moment we make decisions that may remake our future.  The kicker was the decisions that had the greatest impact were the ones made with the greatest degree of caring and insight.  That makes sense in that the decisions that affect humanity will be the ones that in some way take its interests into account.

For a second I’d step out of the flow of time as it rushes past in the form of fire engines, students, three lanes of cars, someone nearby playing a guitar.  As a bassist rolls his acoustic instrument, taller than himself, with an electric amplified monitor, past the bicycles and bystanders while the sun goes down behind the Revival Bar & Kitchen across the street from me in Berkeley.  But I wanted to step out to enjoy this moment.  The hedonistic impulse may or may not be culpable, maybe without it I’d be bereft of any meaning, so hedonistic impulses have their purpose in bringing us closer to truth through creating a frame of reference.  If I seek a certain pleasure at least I’ve created clarity of intent and action.  I say taking a step back is one entry to that fifth dimension of free will and choice, a dimension not easily perceived and not easily used to good purpose, or even used at all.  Let’s say I’m using it now because let’s say I actually care that I use my free will.  Say I engage in an exercise, a practice whereby I take note of what I perceive and what I feel.  I thereby create a different world.  And the only way it can be different is through use of free will, and free will is tied, inevitably, to action, and the only premeditated action is practice (because otherwise it’s just vague ideas, not acts we can actually count on making), and so by a practice, say of meditation, or swimming, or stopping and listening to my kids, I give myself a tiny almost invisible moment to use my free will.  And that is creativity and that is magic.  The glass that holds the wine.  And all along you thought it was your hand that held the wine.

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Cool

It’s cool under my mother-in-law’s house.  Here and more important writing I feel free even safe. The thump and crack of my youngest’s gymnastics on the floor upstairs is background.  Loud voices, television, blend with the whoosh of cars from the street farther down the hill.  Into my thoughts of the day.  I email my CPA, talk to my son, text my mom, view a LinkedIn post and a Facebook photo.  I feel the freedom to write or not and the texture of the moment, of my breath as I lie back on this little bed my wife’s mom has down here.  Making the feel of the moment mine.

Earlier I finished Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.  No need.  Partway through it was clearly about taking control of the moment.  You let life carry you along or you take charge.  Tom Cruise gets the opportunity to try over and over.  Getting it right could take ten tries.  Or, despite the repeated chances it may never happen.  One could just take a half-step back, slow down, and do it now.  All I have to do is take control enough to feel it, to know I’ve done it…

When I’m not in control…is that when I’m uncomfortable with the way things are going, as when I’m with family and my situation seems out of balance because the kids are screaming, I’m tired and something seems missing?  Or is losing control when I feel good, like while playing a computer game or watching a movie?  If the latter, being in control is more difficult to test than just noticing that I feel good.  That could be taking control if I were purely a hedonist.  I’ve decided writing, reflecting and looking at sunsets is taking charge, but not because it’s hedonistic, because it’s a practice.  And taking charge happens in the actual moment, not just from stepping back.  It’s about technique.  The act is everything.  Take perspective; take action.

I could start a new vignette now at Cafe Strada.  Touchpoint: years ago my wife and I would walk here from the other end of town.  We’re closer now and I come with my children who listen to the students.  It was blazing hot while I worked on my taxes, ate and walked.  It was hot at home and the kids fought.  My wife was calm, thank God, but it was not cool there and no escape from the day though still early.  The early evaporated into consultation with my CPA and the next thing I knew I was across UC campus at Strada with my daughter on her bike and it was after six and she was pretty much not interfering with my writing.  And it was cool.

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