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Friday
Jan112019

Room with crawdads

Anyone who's seen my room can see why sometimes I like to close all the blinds just to be able to open them, for the view from my room is spectacular and is worth seeing over and over.

This doesn't mean that anyone other than I understands why I sometimes close the blinds and reopen them, or that I fully understand this behavior myself, but if someone were to ask I'd say the view is even more spectactular then, whatever the time of day or night, whatever the weather. There are times I feel I could spend a whole day opening and closing the blinds, and then opening them again, but I don't, I have better things to do.

Outwardly, my room's a mess to anyone looking at it, anyone other than the one who's room it is. My stuff is scattered around the room--books, paints now that I've taken up painting, boxes, little backpacks full of things I've forgotten, a poster for a book a friend of mine once wrote, manila folders full of things I've cut out from the newspaper, a stack of bills to pay, the bright orange box that bottle of Glenmorange scotch came in--though I know exactly where everything is. 

And still, some questions like to lay around in my room for months at a time, lazy questions that pose as questions and aren't really interested in answers: why did I keep that copy of The New York Times 'Hardcover Best Seller' list? Was I intrigued by the titles--The Reckoning; Fire and Blood; Where the Crawdads Sing; The Next Person You Meet in Heaven; Nine Perfect Strangers; Kingdom of the Blind; The President is Missing...? I have no idea why I kept the best-seller list in my room all this time, none at all. Was the act some sort of professional jealously/envy, that I as a writer of unpopular books, of Lousy Sellers, might take revenge on writers of Best Sellers by mocking their titles? 

It's possible also that I was intrigued by the language of the titles, as I hadn't known that crawdads sing. 

In my room I make the time of day any time I want it to be. I can pull the blinds down at 10 a.m. and make it dark inside, so dark I can hear the crawdads singing from the swamp outside as the sun goes down, when all the little animals gather to say goodbye.

I crumple up the Best Seller list  and throw it in the recycling receptacle. The president's missing but life goes on.

View looking southwest from the author's window, where he opens and closes the blinds many times each day, searching for the lost president and listening for signs of singing crawdads, an endangered species, January 11, 2019. (Photo by author).

Saturday
Jan052019

Ten days in Hawaii

Hawaii is often mistaken for paradise, but paradise to me is a place where I start thinking, 'could I have done anything else with my life?' and come to the conclusion, 'no', an indolent conclusion fanned by tradewinds and palm trees.

The environment here is both king and queen: the water in Hawaii wants me to be a fish, the air asks me to be a bird and so forth.

By the third day in Hawaii I come to that time in my life when politics no longer matters as it once mattered, and I can see that our social and politicial organization(s) are working about as well as they can work, given that we are human beings with giant flaws and disproportionate gifts.

I start reading a novel by a popular female novelist that I never would have read back home in San Francisco. She's a good writer, so good that I only have to read two-thirds of the book she's written, feeling perfectly capable myself of being able to supply the ending. 

The plumeria tree outside my window inspires me to begin writing a poem that begins with the words, 'The plumeria tree outside my window.' However, upon further reflection, I see it's not the tree that's inspiring me to write the poem, it's the blossoms of the plumeria tree, so perfectly made, so sweet smelling.

God, or whatever you want to call the life-force of all beings, isn't the greatest mystery: love is the greatest mystery.

One morning, a little fuzzy from champagne & sleep, I walk down to the kitchen and make coffee, slice a papaya in half. Everyone in the house--all the children and their children, all eight of them--is still asleep. I take my coffee and papaya and sit outside. The light looks touchable, so I reach out as if I can touch everything in it--the trees, the wind, the little birds hopping around, those beings for whom every day is the new year. I sit there alone until I hear one of the little kids, Grace I think, say "where's Grandpa?"

"Where's Grandpa?" I don't know, I have no idea, where is he? 

One of the joys of being in Hawaii, and I thank the time-change for, it being two hours earlier in Hawaii than it is in San Francisco, is that I'm able to watch the sunrise every morning here. It takes about an hour for the sun to fully arrive on the Kohala coast, starting in the east over Mauna Loa, a real-time demonstration of the patience I'd so like to have. While I watch the sunrise I can hear all the others in the house begin to rise, each one of them rising and stirring around in their own way, so that I begin to see the sunrise in a different light--that the number of sunrises corresponds directly to the number of people there are in the world.

I need my memory now more than ever; I depend on my memory now to back things up the way certain computer programs are said to be needed to back things up. So I write things down and then erase most of the things I've written so that what's left becomes all the memory I need.

Saturday
Dec222018

Fuller and Roddan

Thomas, have you read anything worthwhile lately?

Yes, Notes from the Woodshed by Jack Whitten, the painter and sculptor who passed away about a year ago. Anyone as interested as I am in 1) becoming a human being 2) becoming an artist and 3) becoming an original thinker might read this book for, dare I say it, inspiration.

And you Brooks, what have you read lately that made an impression?

The Journals of Jules Renard, a book I started reading in 2017 and that I hope never ends. I keep it on my bedside table and read an entry or two every night in the hope that I'll wake up one morning and become a writer.

Thomas, before we move on to other matters are there any other books you'd like to mention?

Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle, originally published in 1967 and the best explanation I've yet to read of the time we're in now, the time of Trump and the other inexplicable political phenomena we're reading about in the newspapers and watching on tv. I could tell the French were on to it all long before we were, but I couldn't read them--Lyotard, Baudrillard et.al. were unreadable to me. Debord's not necessarily easy to read but the clarity he's able to achieve about the shift from our need to be to our need to have is key to any understanding of our time. Here's a snippet: "The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather it is a social relation among people, mediated by images." We now live in a social construct that is a representation of authentic social construct, and our political representation reflects it.

Ah, I see. For example, I don't remember ever thinking about Donald Trump, why would I? Now he's almost all I think about! 

Yes, Brooks, more or less.

Thomas, I keep a notebook. Do you?

No, not really, I keep any notes I may make on my iPhone. At the end of the day I erase anything I don't deem worthwhile, which is pretty much everything.

Well, I write in a notebook almost every day and the notebooks pile up of course to the point where I often throw them away once I fill them up. I looked at my current notebook last night and saw some things of value to me, things I'd forgotten I'd written, sketches I'd made and so forth, and I'm now sorry I'd made a practice of throwing my note books away once they were filled; that from now on I'm keeping my old notebooks.

Anything you'd like to share from your last notebook Brooks?

Sure, I'll just go through it from beginning to end, randomly:

abstract expressionism is the garage band of contemporary art

if I don't have the feeling at some point that what i've gotten myself into when i'm writing or painting then i might as well not continue

at the poetry reading the silence at the end of the poem is most interesting: perhaps IT IS THE POEM, what the poet had already said and what couldn't be said

i don't like referees, umpires etc. using instant replay in sports to make sure they've made the right call: sports is all about human success and failure

Starbucks: the new Coca-Cola

Idea: the creation of a sustainable pain pill, one that could be taken once in a lifetime, therefore voiding the concept of addiction etcetc

there's no money in poetry, part of its beauty, but the poet is the ultimate entrepreneur

Franchot Tone (why did I write this?)

I've never molested anyone, unless telling a lie is a molestation

Cheever: I'd forgotten what a good nature writer he is

my life: one big pre-existing condition

on the walk along the coast in nothern Oregon I see a river of birds

sleeping on the couch: I should try to make a painting of that!

I want to go live in the United States of Sleep

It seems possible and advisable and achievable to "meet" every person in the world, if only to introduce yourself, "Hi, I'm Brooks Roddan", "Hi, I'm Samir Patel" and so forth and, if not face-to-face then on one of those internet things, SKYE and FACETIME and so forth

weird how when i'm painting, as i'm doing now and doing more and more of, the solution is always to use more paint, as opposed to writing in which the solution is always, always to use fewer words

Monday
Dec172018

Coyote on Divisadero

Re: world mammals: 96% of the world's biomass is now human and livestock, which means that just 4% is wild.

And there are now more dogs in San Francisco than children.

A friend of mine said he saw a coyote run across Divisadero Street the other day. For those of you not familiar with Divisadero Street, it is a what I would consider a major urban traffic artery that runs north to south in the city. The stretch of Divisidero where my friend saw the coyote is particularly urban, with restaurants, bars, clubs and at least one marijuana dispensary.

I happened to be walking along Divisadero the other day, not looking for the coyote but thinking for some reason about pop culture and my relatively new loathing of it. I used to be quite a consumer of pop culture, literally and figuratively pop culture played a major part in my life. Andy Warhol was my favorite painter then, and James Rosenquist my second favorite. The writing of Barry Yourgrau was important to me, and before Barry Yourgrau, Richard Brautigan. These artists and writers are all quite wonderful in their way, but ultimately none of them led me to anything I hadn't already seen or heard, which is as good a definition of pop culture as I can now come up with, even though I suppose I could make a case that it was High pop culture that appealed to me rather than Low pop; pop culture's really all the same in the way that a dog is a dog whether the dog's a Great Dane or an Irish Setter.

Walking along Divisadero I started counting the people who were using their 'devices' while walking: 7 of 10, or thereabouts, were on their iPhones or Androids or whatever they're called. It occured to me that had the coyote appeared along Divisadero at the time these people on their devices were walking along the street they might not have seen the coyote. These people were seeking different information, and who was I to question what they were seeking? Besides, others have written much better than I could ever hope to write about the distractions of technology and the new-fangled distribution methods of mass media...still it seemed kind of sad to me that so many people were consulting their devices while out in the urban wild.

Walking, I patted the front right pocket of my jeans to make sure my iPhone was there--it was, so I continued walking along Divisadero. As I walked I adjusted my thinking, from negative to positive: the iPhone is the summum bonum of pop culture, there simply couldn't be a greater achievement, the iPhone and its many competing manifestations have managed to encapsulate and express both the spirit and substance of pop culture to the degree that pop culture no longer needs expression; and the people using the these devices are hunter-gatherers in their own right.

I can't begin to say how good it felt to have this feeling, other than to say that I was able to see the world in a whole new light. It's perfectly ok to live in the Anthropocene Age, the world shaped almost exclusively by human beings; I could even be proud of where I am, released into a new wilderness beyond Pop culture where not even Post-modernism could harm me.

Friday
Dec142018

Doing Nothing: guest blog by Thomas D. Raher

Doing nothing is nearly oxymoronic, because it implies the absence of action. Herein lies the conundrum: there is a great deal of activity, mostly mental, involved in doing nothing.

And don't you love the sound of doing nothing? It's quite melodious. Actually the sound of the words themselves, doing nothing, is the first of many thoughtful diversions in the art of doing nothing. Just imagine the time spent comfortably applying musical references, sounds, songs, rhymes, even visualizing dance routines, to the fluid "ing" "ing" of doing nothing. I think you're getting the gist, or at least this simple example may set the tone for my explanation.

I've had just cause to try, however ineptly, to define doing nothing. The notion began harmlessly after I retired from regular, daily employment, Friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers on the street, would ask, somewhat bewildered, "what do you do now?" What do I do now? Well my first reaction, being of a slightly confrontational nature, was to reply, "whatever I damn well please, thank you very much!" But I realized those good folks asking were generally curious, as most were of my age: retirement loomed and they were confused. I'd observed over time, work colleagues, as well as the average Joe, whether a bank executive or a lineman for the county, all stigmatized themselves by the belief that what they did for a living defined them. Their self-induced identity was job-related, hence their consciousness, their sense of self, was chained unrealistically to their professional status.

I first and foremost realized separation from the mental identity of the working me was crucial in the transition to a new and better me, where anxiety plays a lesser role. But I also found that people's habits aren't easily changed or discarded: this realization is a critical phase in the passage from doing something to doing nothing. All I can say at this juncture is the more nothing you do, the easier it becomes. Doing nothing can take all day if you don't try to hard.

There's another rather pertinent aspect to doing nothing, which is linked to the work related identity crisis identified above, and that is guilt. Our Judeo-Christian culture is steeped in guilt. There's guilt for most everything we do, guilt for not coming to a complete stop, guilt for not saying "I love you," guilt for calling in sick, guilt for oogling that beautiful woman, and the guilt goes on. And guilt, perhaps the greatest guilt, is feeling guilty for doing nothing, for not producing. But why?

I truly believe people wake up in the morning and think to themselves, if I don't do something my day is wasted. They feel guilty. Here's what I differ. In my long and happy journey to acheive nothing, or at least to do nothing, I've eliminated guilt. Some days it takes a good long while disassociating guilt with anything I'm not doing. I began to make doing nothing into an art form: my days not wasted because what I do or don't do is guilt free. This concept allows a certain freedom--a freedom to open my mind and absorb, of letting the world in through silence, solitude, through the act of doing nothing! My senses became more alive. The "ings" of living, seeing, listenind, feeling, yes loving--these action are the essence of doing nothing. My point of course is that doing nothing is full of action. The key then is learning, acknowledging, accepeting the reality of the moment, the doing it, being it, enjoying it.

When I make coffee in the morning I recognize it's only the beginning of my doing nothing. I have the good fortune, knock on wood, to live on a corner, with floor to ceiling windows. This particular environment is invaluable to doing nothing. I can spend an entire morning, and afternoon if I so choose, staring at a moveable feast, to use another author's fine line, out the window. Watching the parents walking their children to school, staring at the regular dog walkers, and making sure their dogs don't poop on my stretch of sidewalk, checking out the senior ladies marching back and forth on their exercise walk, or, and most befuddling, watching the car-parkers trying to squeeze again and again into a space too small. Often after a good long sampling of these endeavors, my mind searches the vault of memory for corresponding experiences. I relive walking to school, the proverbial mile in the snow. I can remember the wild Weimaraner we had, who strew the neighbors garbage all over the alley, I relive parallel parking with ease, to the astonishment of the officer monitoring the driving exam, all this through doing nothing. I say, time well spent.

If guilt-free thinking still seems less than adequate for doing nothing, there's the act of walking, which I consider to be doing nothing in motion. I will meander to the bank, well not really for there's no need to anymore, to the deli, or to the post office. I always carry my iPhone which is, I admit, addicting. I especially use the camera to record and share interesting and unique visuals of our beautiful city. These meanderings can zig and zag leading me nowhere in particular, but when I return home I'm full of wonder--the wonder of doing nothing. And as the day wanes like the winter moon, I'm aware I haven't even read the next chapter of the more than a few novels I have at arm's length, or tuned into the intriguing detective series I love on cable tv. You see, there is more of nothing that I can save for tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. Doing nothing is time consuming and endless if only you embrace it.

I've found as I age and my world shrinks, doing nothing can actually expand the world, the world that matters most to me, the world in my head, my mind.

Living

learn-ing

stand-ing

stare-ing

listen-ing

laugh-ing

sing-ing

touch-ing

love-ing

think-ing

walk-ing

feel-ing deeply

You get the picture, doing nothing is not doing nothing!

As Sam Wainwright said, "See ya in the funny papers!"

 

The Autobiography of Thomas D. Raher:

I'm a life-long union worker and an Army Veteran. When I stand up I lean to the left. Most importantly, humor floats our family boat. I'm retired, old, and struggle with the unconditional joy of being a grandfather. Old and Lucky! Hmmmm!

Mr. Raher lives in San Francisco. His book, "Letters from a Working Stiff," is available from Lulu. Lulu.com