Saturday, March 13, 2004

Yesterday I got to hang out with my brother some. That was pretty cool. We went to lunch at a Mongolian Bar-B-Que place in town. Much cleaner than the one I had in Orange County, but then that goes for most places up here. Then we checked out a used cd store before going back to our respective works. I traded a Ween cd that I never listen to for a Philip Glass symphony that I expect to listen to often.
After work Andi went out for the night and Pat and I watched a three hour long debate on Calvinism versus Armenianism. Then we got to talk a little. That was neat.
Today I tried a new strategy with the Chico Friends of the Library. I went late, almost when they were closing. It worked well because the crowd was thinning out enough to actually browse. Also there weren't any less books for me to get because the type of people at the sale are not the type of people who buy books online. The type of people at the sale were the type of people who carry arms full of mysteries and romances to the counter. The type of people I sell books to were still asleep in their dorms across town when I was at the sale.
And this morning before the sale Poster came out looking for food. I ran in and found my secret, hidden, contraband catfood bag empty. So I gave him a capful of milk and he seemed just as happy.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Another item in the file of catching life in the act of rhyming:
Today I bought a printer because I'd been using Pat's and last night I had the inevitable situation where I've got nine orders to print and his printer has just run out of black ink after all the stores have closed. So I'm printing invoices in dark red and figuring the likewise inevitable time of buying my own printer has arrived. And after ascertaining what I'd hinted at yesterday, that is to say that I'm living WAY below my means, I went out and got one.

And the first thing I printed was an invoice. Somebody bought "Codependant No More."

I thought it was funny anyway.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

One of the lessons or probably issues that I've been guided to think about lately is that of pride and humility. It started with the LOTR devotional. Last week's chapter was on choosing pride or choosing humility. Which is one of the many things one could boil LOTR into being "about." One of the "lessons" to the "parable." The quotes are to indictate words that Tolkien would either laugh at or get mad about.
It was funny and off-setting too because I do the devotional on Thursdays after dinner and soon after I watch Survivor, which is the only thing I watch on the television here at the house (which is a whole other issue that I won't go into here. Just in passing I'll say that the twenty minutes of television commercials I'm exposed to once a week is so jarring it gives me whiplash.) And, not to be judgmental, but to have just spent an hour and a half reflecting on pride versus humility and then watch the people on Survivor is an absurdist experiment let me tell you.
So I was going around thinking about my pride and when I could be humble and noticing lessons in others (like Robert McNamara for example.) Then I went to the library and got the video of Wallace Shawn.
Wallace Shawn is hands down my favorite living playwrite (especially now that Spalding Gray is gone.) And if you were to ask me what my dream role was in a play I'd have a few to throw out like Leontes in Winter's Tale, Falstaff in anything, Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, maybe Pere Ubu, an actor in Paradise Now, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Nostalgia, or maybe De Sade in Marat/Sade. But certainly one of the top of the list if not the top of the list would be to perform The Fever by Wallace Shawn. If you've never read it, it changed my life. It changes my life every time I read it. It really holds a stark mirror up to me and makes me re evaluate everything I believe in. Aside from The Dadaists I'm hard pressed to recommend a play more strongly. I'm hard pressed to recommend a work of art more strongly. And even if you're not a reader, it's a play for crying out loud. You can read a play in like an evening or two. Don't give me that crap. And I'm not saying this for personal gain in any way. I don't have a copy of The Fever for sale.
So, I got home and noticed that the video was of Wallace Shawn reading The Fever and I felt my legs buckle a little. I knew I was in for it. And I was.
I spent most of today thinking about what I have and the people who suffered to get it to me and how I never think about that. I thought about how I've chosen to be poor, but how I still cheat with that often. And I couldn't bring myself to drive to the library today because every time I fill my gas tank there's a little eye watching the price meter wondering what amount pays off somebody's life overseas. So I walked to the library and it was about a 35 minute walk. On the way there I saw birds and realized that I wouldn't have seen them if I'd have driven. And part of the way there I noticed how many people were out and driving in our small town in the middle of the day on a Wednesday when decent people should be at work. And I thought about how there's really nowhere in town that I can't walk to. But I also noticed how easy it would be to fill with pride over walking everywhere.
Tonight Pat asked me if I wanted to go to church with him and I figured what the heck. Why not? I'm wearing my purple tie dye with Jerry Garcia on the front. The first person we met at Pat's Calvary church was a guy who pointed at Garcia's image and asked me, "Do you think he went to Hell in a bucket?"
Which is a song Bobby sings. I said, "I don't pretend to know that."
I was thinking, "No, I don't think when Jerry Garcia died his soul was stuffed in a bucket and kicked down to where red men with pitchforks threw it into the brimstone."
Actually what I really thought was, "What a dickweed."
I probably said the right thing.
But the evening's sermon was on John chapter 13, which is the last supper part where Jesus washes the disciple's feet. All pastors teach from John this time of year because it's the joyful gospel story. Nobody teaches Mark at this time of year.
And when we started learning about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples it hit me that the lesson of humility keeps coming back to me and I should be paying careful attention. Something, even if it's my own brain, is telling me to pay attention for some reason. So I'm trying to be mindful of when I'm full of pride and ego and when I'm humble.
And speaking of which, I like Paul Krassner's conspiracy theory that all the anti-virus companies spend a lot of time and money developing new viruses and releasing them so that people will buy more anti-virus protection.
I'm a little put off by the levels of absurdity to the internet. I mean it used to be filled with cranks, and it still is to some extent. But now it's beginning to seem to me like the conspicuous consumers, the SUV crowd, the comfort junkies have a very strong voice on the internet now.
Aside from the ever more insidious and subliminal forms of advertising, I have a modest example. The spam blocker: for those who find a delete key to be too much work. I had a potential customer send me an inquiry about a certain book today. I wrote them back my answer. and immediately got back an automated message. It said that my response was in their spam blocker file because they didn't have my address in their address book. Their only hope of getting my answer is if they go into their spam blocker file and find my message. I laughed, said "not my problem" and deleted the email.
I know that's not much of a story, but it says a lot to me about what people's priorities are and what that's leading them to demand.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Quick round up because I'm crash ready.
Andi left this morning to pick up the nieces just as I was getting breakfast. I noticed Poster in the backyard so I took him his food. Usually when I start creeping towards him he'll stand up and make as if he's about to run and then he'll finally run when I'm about 10 feet away. Then he'll come out and eat the food when I'm at a safe distance. Today when I started creeping towards him he sat down. Then when I got ten feet away he ran. But the comfort is being established.
As soon as he finished eating, Pat stopped by, so that was a close call.
I went to one of the thrift stores and picked up a few books. Then I got lost beyond compare in Bidwell Park. I walked for three hours trying to find my car. This after a good hour's walk to the thrift store.
At home I talked with Pat and Andi some but learned very little about their New York trip except that everyone was drunk at the wedding and wanted Pat to drink too. He didn't tell me if he did.
So now I'm tired.
Here's an idea on what happens. I wanted to find one about what it feels like, but I couldn't. This is what happens to the body.

http://www.aic.cuhk.edu.hk/web8/drowning.htm

Monday, March 08, 2004

Sometimes in the middle of otherwise happy times a lesson or some stern reminders come along. Today, and the past several days, it seems to have been death and loss.
But first of all let me say that all of what you are about to read are observations. I'm doing fine and I'm happy and singing a good deal of the time. I'm cooking and I'm making friends with a cat and taking long walks. I'm happy and joyful. It's just that there seems to be a lot of death imagery in my life right now and I'm commenting on it. Just noticing it and not clinging to it. Really, I'm fine and please don't take this posting as grim or an expression of sadness. It's just noticing thoughts and feelings as they wizz by.
I've been adjusting pretty well. I've enjoyed my time alone, getting a little tanner and eating less meat (actually eating less in general.)
I could probably put the start of these reminders of loss and impermanence at the other day when Nissa called and reminded me that... Well, don't lets go too far down that road again, eh what? Let's just keep it simple and say she reminded me how much I still miss her.
Or I could trace it back to the other day having to tell Moriah that her fish had died. I didn't want to have to do that.
But I'll stick with today because I could analyze those two events for pages if I let myself. And it wouldn't help at all and it'd just serve to get me all wrapped up in my ego, my personal desires and stir up more trouble.
Today I was having a lovely day in the sun. Got some work done. Didn't sleep very well last night because it turns out I can't eat a whole pizza swimming in Tabasco sauce by myself right before bedtime anymore.
I also learned that the glass factory where I used to work has gone out of business for some awful and unfair reasons. So awful and unfair it's best that I'm vague and that I don't even name the place. It's horrible for all my friends who are out of work now. Also, to be a little selfish here, I'd been thinking over the past year that if I totally screw up and sink all my money or the book business goes bust or something I could always go back down south and pack glass again. Well, now I don't have that option.
About halfway through the day I was looking up Chico history online. I found that John Bidwell was buried at Chico Cemetary, which I walk past every time I'm in Bidwell Park. I drove down there and realized that it was not the same cemetary where Jonathan is buried. But I walked around, found a lot of headstones with the same names as streets in our community. It was a very old cemetary dating back to the early 1800's (yeah, I know. Well it's old for California anyway!) I found a section of Civil War soldiers including a few from "colored squadrons." I found General Bidwell's headstone. It's quite striking.
Then I went to the office to find out if Jonathan was buried there. He wasn't. They called the other cemetary and drew me a map. I went over and saw Jonathan's headstone. It's really nice, stunning, and devastating. "Jonathan Isaac Mathers September 18th - October 8th 2003 `God is so good'" and then there's a Psalm sited but I don't remember which.
I came back home and made myself a small dinner. Then Mom called to tell me that they'd found Spalding Gray's body in the East River.
Spalding Gray was one of my heros and I'm not a person who admits to many heros. He taught me that a monologue is an artform and can be a whole play by itself. I think he's the most heavy influence on my writing, the one I've had the most trouble shaking. Nissa once said my fiction reeks of Neil Gaiman and my poetry is heavily influenced by Robert Morris, my friend in New York whose work I admire tremendously. She might be right about those, but I still see Spalding Gray when I read what I write.
I first found his work when I was in high school about a week before my summer vacation in New Orleans. I stumbled on a cable showing of Monster in a Box and it changed my life. I went out and got his novel and ate it quickly over the vacation. Spalding Gray really spoke to me then and, amazingly enough, I've recently rewatched that same film and found so many new insights in it now that I'm older.
I met him once. I went to see his monologue `Gray's Anatomy' at UC Irvine. Just by some off chance in case I got unspeakably lucky I brought along three of his books. And as I was walking up to the theater I saw him come out the back door. He was preoccupied and I probably shouldn't have bothered him but he was polite, obliging, and a distant kind of friendly. He signed my books and they're probably some of my most prized books in my personal library. I like my signed Ginsberg and Bradbury and Paul Krassner too, but they were at the end of a big line. My signed Woollcott was just a matter of searching and money. But with my signed Gray I got lucky.
I hope his family comes through this as best they can. I wish the best for them tonight.
I'm glad my brother and his family are coming home tonight. Just writing this it got a little lonelier in here.
Two amendments to yesterday's film reviews.

1) There was one point I thought McNamara might have been reaching. I thought he might have played up his role in the creation of the seat belt.

2) John Lasseter didn't make Spirited Away and I hope I didn't imply that. The film was made by (well, it was made by hundreds of people, but) Hayao Miyazaki who also made Princess Monoke, which is the only other anime type film I've seen. It's also very good but Spirited Away is better.
No, I mentioned John Lasseter because if it weren't for him I never would have seen this film. He fought for the western distribution and he's got a lot of weight to throw. He used it for good. Which is kind of funny because now there's a uniting factor to my two film reviews. Lasseter used his weight for good and McNamara used his for evil. Wow.
Anyway, I talk about Lasseter in my review like how each time I listen to an awesome piece by Vivaldi I thank Ezra Pound. Or when I watch Chaplin films I thank Alexander Woollcott. They aren't responsible and the work would have existed anyway but it's highly likely the work wouldn't have made it to me if it weren't for champions. The boosters. Y'know?

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Spring lasted about 40 minutes this afternoon. Then it suddenly became summer. Temps in the upper eighties to nineties. I walked to the movie theater dressed, as I have been simularly dressed since arriving in Chico, in long sleeves, cordoroy pants, a hat. About halfway there I thought, "Wow, I really shouldn't be dressed like this. I might be in trouble if it's much more of a walk." Luckily the sun was setting and the earth was releasing its heat by the time the film let out. And now two film reviews starting with today's and ending with something a little cheerier.

THE FOG OF WAR

Robert McNamara was someone my father and I agreed on. In fact, one of the few political things that my father and I agreed on for the same reasons. We both believed that McNamara was one of the great villians of the last century. I would have put him even above Kissinger. I mean in my mind McNamara sent close to 60,000 of our boys to their needless deaths and countless of "the enemy."
I don't care how apolitical or uninformed you think you are. I don't care if you agreed with what my father and I thought or completely disagreed and think McNamara is a hero for some reason. I don't care if you don't think you have the attention span for a documentary. I don't care if you fear being bored (believe me you sure as hell won't be.) I don't care what your excuse is. Everybody EVERYBODY should go see this film right now. It speaks to all of us right now and has some very important questions to plant in our heads.
It is without a doubt one of the most genuinely scary films I've ever seen. The Cuban Missle Crisis section had me gripping my armrests and clenching my jaws, almost wanting to look away from the screen and all that was going on on the screen was a man in his eighties was talking. What he's saying is one of the most frightening stories you're likely to hear in this lifetime. It's also a very sad film. It's also beautiful and at times touching. Yeah, and it's about McNamara. I know. Screwed with my head too.
But what really screwed with my head is that preconceptions were shattered. It's not quite so easy as McNamara is an evil man. It's not even so simple as McNamara did some evil things. There are eleven lessons scattered throughout the film. Two of my reccuring lessons in life came screaming out at me as well. One, Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. Two, Nothing is in black and white.
I called my father this evening and told him that he needed to see this film. I think he had some misgivings because I'm the hairy chinned freak to the left of Leon Trotsky and he's the buttoned down stiff to the right of Attila the Hun. We never agree on anything politcal and I've long since learned to avoid talking about politics around his pighead. But I implored him that I'd really like to hear what he has to say after seeing this film. And I never want to hear what he thinks politically! That's how powerful this film is.
Look, if you have any opinion about what's going on in our country and the world right now you need to see this film. Go. Go now. Now now now. Git! I'll be here when you get back! Go now.
And then let me know what you think. Because personally it made me both terrified and hopeful in a really dark kind of way. Hopeful because McNamara actually has some important insights, lessons and, it seems, regrets. Remember I'm a Quaker who went to meeting this very morning and I'm saying this. I never thought McNamara would ever have anything to teach me except by polar negative example. Some of you out there might remember the Quaker Norman Morrison who set himself on fire and burned to death outside of McNamara's office in protest of the Vietnam war. Norman Morrison is kind of a hero in the Quaker community for doing that. McNamara addresses this very event in the film.
I'm not saying that McNamara changed my position on the war or the terrible, evil things we did to many other countries for no good reason at all. In fact he doesn't deny it either. I didn't get the sense that he was lying at any point in the movie which made it all the more chilling. What he did was that he made me think about that war and war in general in ways I'd never thought about it before. Go see it. Really.


SPIRITED AWAY

Here's another one, but don't go right now. In fact, it's on DVD so you don't have to go anywhere. You can click right over to an online DVD dealer and order it and never even leave the house, you pasty little nerd.
At the beginning of the DVD John Lasseter comes on to tell you how lucky you are to be about to watch Spirited Away. I was a little leery because of his enthusiastic tone (which, by the way, none of you should ever be leery about watching a film because of my enthusiastic tone. You can trust me.)
But he was right. I totally didn't expect him to be for some reason. But John Lasseter hasn't ever lead me wrong except for Bug's Life.
I sat down to watch it unsure if I wanted to sit for two hours on the floor. For two hours I spent most of the time staring at the screen with my mouth slightly open in a wondering smile. Gosh. I know I'm gushing about films today but I swear this is some of the best storytelling in animation I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of animation because I'm a pasty little nerd too. I've only ever seen one Anime type film before (and I may be exposing my ignorance here by assuming that this film falls under anime) but this one was the best. Just really well made, well formed story, visually thunderstriking, and kind of relentless in a good way.
My favorite was the stink spirit.
Heck of a film.
Thanks, Lasseter. You're alright.
So much nature going on up here. So much of it overlapping with our pretense of a town. I was just out in the backyard sunbathing because Spring seems to have fallen like a sack of potatoes. I run across the grass to the hammock because there are little black spiders all through the grass out there. As mentioned before they attract a fair amount of blue jays.
I'm laying there, like I do when nobody's here working myself up, or rather daring myself to private outdoor nudity in the sun. And the tree right over my head is blossoming bright pink blossoms. Petals keep falling on me as I sunbathe like I'm some kind of god. And around the flowers are about fifty bees darting around but leaving me alone.
Then Poster shows up and lays across the yard also sunbathing. His white spots whiter than snow or paper. His white spots are a sinless white.
Then overhead there's a sound like somebody stomping on ducks. I put my glasses back on and first see two hawks circling and I watch them carefully until they move on. The sky is sky blue up here, unlike OC. I don't know if this happens to other people, but when I look at the daytime sky I don't just see a sheet of blue. I see the blue and the veins in my eyes or something like that. I realize that it's probably things inside my own eyes I'm seeing, but it looks like the sky has transparent things moving through it. At least I hope it's my eyes and not some psychotic reaction I have every time I look at the sky. I also hope that there aren't really things that look like transparent veins flying around every day that I'm the only one that notices. So I feel more comfortable assuming it's my eyes.
And then I saw the source of the noise which was a flock of geese going north. They were supposed to be in a V formation but they were doing a very bad job of it. I was happy to see that. They kept flying into each other and clumping up. So it was kind of like looking in a bowl of alphabet soup after you'd just stirred it if the broth was blue.

Anyway.
I went to the Quaker meeting this morning. I liked it a lot better than Calvary. The majority of the congregation seem to be over 40. There are less than thirty people in the room. It takes place in a small room at a Jewish temple. I guess they don't use it on Sundays.
They had hymns before the service which I liked very much. But it was also relaxed, in a circle with a guitar player and you could request hymns. It stayed pretty upbeat.
Then we had the silent worship for an hour. I like that but it's always a little jarring for me when somebody gets up to speak. Then they had announcements and everyone introduced themselves. Then they broke for the morning and everybody came and introduced themselves again. So it went well and I expect to return.