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Saturday
Jan262019

From an Oval Office

In the Age of Chivalry it was live by the sword, die by the sword. In the Age of Trump it's live by PR, die by PR (should there be the Age of Trump).

As noted here before, were there really a 'Deep State' Trump never would have become President as the 'Deep State' would have seen to his not becoming President. 

Winston Churchill's latest biographer, an Englishman, interviewed the other day on C-SPAN, was asked hyper-politely at the very end of the interview if Churchill was an alcoholic. "O no," the biographer said, "he drank far too much to be an alcoholic." 

Perhaps Churchill drank in excess because he knew how many biography's would be written about him.

Henry Adams, a fine writer himself--the great-grandson of John Quincy Adams who served as the sixth president of the United States (1825-1829) and whose diaries have just been published that reveal JQA to be a surprisingly broad-minded, enlightened politician for his time--called politics "the systematic organization of hatreds."

Tuesday
Jan222019

San Francisco, 2009-2019

The first year we lived in a smalllish single-family house on Washington St. between Steiner and Fillmore. The bed was small but the bathtub was so big it took almost 20 minutes to fill it with water. Lea Ann was testing out San Francisco to see if she liked it; the moment I stopped trying to sell her we started having little adventures, meeting people, living like we'd lived in Los Angeles our more or less normal lives but in San Francisco, separating slowly but surely into our unique sovereign individualities while also enjoying doing the things together that made us both happy.

I hadn't thought it through completely, not figuring into the equation how many people from Los Angeles would like to visit, as much or more to see San Francisco as to see us. Friends slept on the small, hard couch or stayed in nearby hotels. I remember one friend, a poet from LA, sleeping on the couch one night, asking if he could make up a bed in the bathtub, but I can't remember him actually doing so: under oath I'd say he hadn't.

In 2010 we moved into a duplex in The Presidio, a sturdy brick building built sometime in the 1930s for denizens of the nascent military-industrial complex. I called myself 'Commander Roddan' for fun and ate and drank at The Presidio Social Club. My office on the third-level had a view of the GG Bridge: from my desk there I wrote the book "Mare Island" and published books of poems and novels by (mostly) San Francisco writers under the IFSF Publishing imprint. I'd joke about it being the international headquarters of IFSF, but the duplex did serve us well: Lea Ann and I could be alone together in the place, she in her basement studio making pottery and I upstairs in my office, twiddling my thumbs while looking out the window and counting the euycalptus trees along Lover's Lane.

Aunt Lois fell at her home in Palm Desert sometime in 2011. We were in Scotland, traveling, when the phone rang: my brother said he'd taken her to a Christian Science nursing facility in Pasadena, Ca. No medication, no x-rays for Aunt Lois, age 90, a Christian Scientist. Somehow Lea Ann got our flight changed and we were back in the States post-haste. As fate would have it, the only Christian Science care facility in the western US is in San Francisco: when I use the word 'fate' I could also use the words 'divine mind' were I still a Christian Scientist, but I'm not a Christian Scientist and fate seems more appropriate to me in the case of Aunt Lois, as she was now, more or less, in my care. I don't mean this literally, as she's taken good care of over at Arden Wood in the west Portal neighborhood, but figuratively, as she now lives in The City; therefore, as the executor of her estate etcetc. she's in my consicousness much more than she was when I lived in San Francisco and she lived in Palm Desert as a free and independent human being.

The Aunt Lois experience--cleaning out her house in the desert and getting it sold, situating her in San Francisco (by the way, she didn't like San Francisco, called it "the last place I'd ever live")--did reveal the psychological underpinning of the pleasure I was finding in living in San Francisco: that I was, for the most part, free from responsibilities while living in San Francisco; or rather that I was responsible principally to myself which is, of course, another form of responsibility, a responsibilty that was impinged upon by my responsibility vis-a-vis the Aunt Lois' situation and my geographic proximity to it.

O well. Eight years later Aunt Lois is now 98, and still at Arden Wood. And I, oddly enough, have moved even closer to her, moving from The Presidio to a house in The Richmond in 2016, though the time that's passed since has lessened the feeling of responsibilty I once had for her: weekly visits now seem to be more than enough for both of us. 

So far, The Richmond is proving to be a daily demonstration of what our first SF landlady said of San Francisco: that it's essentially a small town and that you'd soon run into people you'd seen before, some of whom you would actually know, as opposed to Los Angeles where everyone you knew was spread out over a vast landscape and the chances of seeing anyone you knew by chance were greatly reduced. San Francisco is a provincially cosmopolitan city, and while I may not actually know my Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, young hipster neighbors that I see out walking along Geary or Clement I feel like I've seen them before, if not in The Richmond then in The Mission or The Sunset or in Potrero Hill.

Potrero Hill! How it's changed in the ten years I've lived in San Francisco. Almost beyond recognition. I had lunch there the other day with my friend Tom I_____, who's lived and worked in PH for years, and almost all we talked about were all the construction projects going up around the neighborhood. As we drove to lunch on 16th Tom rolled down the window and gave the finger to one of those Google map cars, cruising the neighborhood to figure the coordinates for the next condo project. That's the spirit, I thought.

I've made some good friends in San Francisco, and lost some good ones too, though if I lost them they couldn't have been too good to start with. Only two deaths, though there are more coming I'm sure.

I still haven't gotten the tattoo I thought I'd get here, and now that I've been here for ten years I know I won't. IFSF's published ten books from its San Francisco headquarters, including two works of fiction by Thomas Fuller, Monsieur Ambivalence (2013) and The Classical World (2018) and the award-winning memoir, Kiss Me Again, Paris by the redoubtable Renate Stendhal. And more books are coming!-- a contemporary 'take' on Goya's Caprichios by the artist Sheila Newbery; a new novel by Fuller, The Autobiography of Poetry; and, for lack of a better genre classification, a sports book by yours truly, Golf is Ruining My Life.

Friday
Jan182019

Live Life to the Fullest: guest blog by Thomas Raher

I've often heard the line, "live life to the fullest." What exactly does that mean? Usually I notice said refrain after someone experiences a near death occurence. Cancer patients in remission, near fatal car accident victims are some common proponents of grasping more tightly to what they've been given. And when given a second chance, just what is it we become more aware of?

When I put myself in those shoes and think how could I live life to the fullest, my mind reels. My perception or concepts tend to see exaggerated efforts, huge and risky endeavors and experiences beyond mundane, daily activities. Like climbing Mt. Everest, parachuting period, single-handedly sailing across an ocean, or hiking North to South America, things I'm not going to do.

Are these grand efforts, and all they entail, really living life fuller? Say you slip on Everest ice and slide to your death, or the chute doesn't open and wham, or a raging storm sinks your boat and you drown, well your fans can sing, he lived like to the fullest. I don't know, I tend to approach the idea of a fuller life a bit differently. Say I know I'm going to die, which I do, we all are, and I've been given a relative time limit. I ask myself, how can I be happy, or happier? What makes me happy and is happy what I want, and is happy equal to fullest?

Let me just interject, knowing I'm going to die does not make me happy. I'm a septuagenarian and have given considerable thought to the subject of a full life. I'm also a pragmatist and understand clearly that happiness (fullest) is personal and subjective.

Happy 1, marked by joy

Happy 2, marked by good fortune

Happy 3, eagerly disposed to be of service

Happy 4, well expressed and to the point

So if I stir these ingredients into the stew of a full life, I honestly don't see traipsing up mountains as a goal. I can though, use the examples of two figures I admire, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, who climbed mountains and sailed oceans daily, humbly smiling, fortunate to be in service to their fellow man.

I think it's important to realize a full life is a perslonal domain. The defining qualities of a full life are not determined by others, but by you. Various monks, Buddhists, Trappists et al, dedicate their lives to austerity, compassion, and harmony, attributes I consder quite fulfilling. This is where I turn inward on my quest for a full life. Knowing I don't have the resources or desire to triumph over obstacles like mountains and oceans, I can strive to see clearly--to see what makes me happy, calm and joyful, and express it. Understanding is triumph. When I'm silent like now, thinnking of those words and what they mean to me and trying to convey them, I'm joyful, I'm happy. Can't this moment be considered living life to the fullest? I say yes.

The funny thing is I apply this logic, my logic, to all my actions and observations. Each morning when a flock of geese honk their way over my house I revel in our connectedness. When the neighborhood children stop to play in my wife's fairy garden, and hold the small seashells to their ears, listening for the sound of the ocean, I appreciate the harmony. I can climb two city blocks and see both the Pacific Ocean to the West and turning East, the City's striking skyline downtown. My Everest. Most significant of this inward looking triumph is family. Logically I reflect, contemplate and dwell on my good fortune, which is my wife, my sons, their wives, and my grandchildren. This family web of conscisouness spreads and covers most all my world. All that I see or do has links to family. Fullness.

I won't bore you with my medical history, but I can attest to being faced with the notion, "I better live my life to the fullest." What is the fullest? I subscribe to the idea, the mundane, our daily life, what we do and don't do, are the components necessary. Being aware, being aware of yourself and your surroundings. When you are sitting in your chair and worried about living your life to the fullest, you are. Know it.

 P.S.

I would be remiss if I didn't include a note about the flip side of living a full life. I have some experience in the field and I know more than a few who would discard or discount my earlier thoughts. Those, who would embrace the vices as a means to fulfillment, and shirk all responsibility while diving head-long into final debauchery. Oh well, death awaits either way! 

 

Thomas D. Raher lives in San Francisco. His previous guest blog for IFSF, "Doing Nothing" (December 14, 2018) investigated an extremely complex life proposition--the art of doing nothing--with clear expository language not often found in such a profoundly philosophical text.

Wednesday
Jan162019

On Walter Benjamin's, 'Unpacking My Library'

Benjamin seems to be writing as he unpacks, his books not yet on the shelves, "not yet touched by the mild boredom of order."

This phrase that's so wonderful, 'the mild boredom of order', seems to just come to him; I mean to say I can see it just coming to him in the midst of him doing something else, something other than writing, taking his books out of the boxes he'd stored them in, being a Jew in 1930s Europe, constantly moving from capital to capital, trying to find a place that was culturally and politically sympathetic.

Reading Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library", from his book, Illuminations--Essays and Reflections, this morning, a gift from a new friend, a bookstore owner, was to wake up knowing I needed something to read, something besides the 'news' which has pre-occupied  so many sides of myself the last few years; I needed something larger than just yesterday or the day before that, something that went farther back and also had the possibility of going forward, some sort of stimulant made of words that would cause me to feel I was doing something good with my time.

As Benjamin unpacks, case after case, it's no longer the books themselves he's unpacking, he's unpacking the feelings, one-by-one, the books bring out in him, "not thoughts but images, memories. Memories of the cities in which I found so many things: Riga, Naples, Munich, Danzig, Moscow, Florence, Basel, Paris..."

I have more books than I need, many of them books I've yet to read, often acquired at times like this time when I need news beyond what I've already seen or heard. I'm going spend some time today looking through my shelves for the book I haven't yet read, the book I need right now, the book that has the one ideal disordered future stored up inside of it that's made just for me.

'Silk purse with Macbook Pro', photographic composition by the author, June, 2018, all rights reserved.

Sunday
Jan132019

The 'base' is Mike Pence: guest blog by Pudd'nhead Wilson

Populism isn't a political movement--it never has been and never will be. Rather it's the method of manipulating discontent by the contented upper classes to make it appear to the discontented lower classes that they will benefit by the manipulation.

I'm not so sure the USA brand of populism is populism: it seems more like a modest experiment in fascism-lite, with an oligarchichal twist and a hit of Diet-Coke. I too disliked DTrump from the beginning, but hoped that he perhaps might bring with him the unintentional blessing of exposing the System, not for what it is but for what it's become--a big media heavy, money grubbing sloth of a contraption that parades its Christian virtues while dropping bombs in Yemen and denying politically persecuted immigrants legal access at the southern border.

What has been interesting i.e. something I hadn't expected, is Trump's administrative and entrepreneurial incompetence: to transfer to politics a phrase that an art critic once applied to a painter, it's so bad it's good. In DTrump's case it isn't that his incompetence is good, it's that it gets worse and worse instead of better and better, to the degree to which even a political cynic might say, 'this is absolutley delightful', knowing the next move will no doubt be even more absurd. 

Has anyone noticed that Mike Pence is much more in the picture in the last few weeks?  Or is it really only me who's noticed? Pence Tweets now about as frequently as his Boss, he's a presence in virtually all White House communications, he's on TV much more frequently than he was when Trump first took office, albeit lurking. Lurking is a word created especially for a fellow like Pence, he lurks, he lives to lurk, he's a good lurker, lurking becomes him and so forth. I suspect the power elite in this country have just about had it with Trump, hence Pence's new visibility, Lurker-in-Chief

People worried that if Trump's deposed--impeached, found guilty of obstruction of justice--his 'base' will revolt in some sort of holy national insurrection, shouldn't worry. There's really no such thing as Trump's base.

You know how I know there's really no such thing as Trump's 'base'? Because he doesn't really believe there is either. I've known men like DTrump: they only trust the flimsiest of idols, and they do so without thinking.