Saturday, March 26, 2005

Free band name

Got a hard-core band? Looking for a name? Here you go, free of charge: Persistent Vegetative State

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Pacific Heights

Today on the street I passed a man with a shaved head, black stubble just starting to poke through the skin, and an enormous, heroic scar running from just above his left eyebrow, arcing all the way up and over to the back of his head, the lips just held together with crude black whipstictching. It was spectacular! I'd never seen anything like it. His left eyelid drooped, but otherwise he had a friendly, Anthony Quinn-ish face. What on earth could have happened to this man that he could look like that and still be walking around? And this was in Pacific Heights, where most people look so pretty you want to check for the zipper. I wanted to stop him right there and ask him, What the hell happened to you? but I decided against it. His girlfriend looked pretty upset. She was having a bad day, but he seemed all right. Imagine that! Yeah, somebody took a cleaver to my head, but I'm feeling okay, how about you? What a conversation piece!

Imagine the stories he can tell his grandkids!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Neal Stephenson, above the fray

Neal Stephenson states on his web site that "...artists often make fools of themselves, and begin to produce bad art, when they decide to get political." He does have a point, political art is often bad, but does that mean we shouldn't become involved in politics? Or, (since I take everything personally) does that mean I, as a writer, shouldn't become involved in politics?

On reflection, it seems an odd manner of quarantining politics from other aspects of life. And taken to the logical extreme (if artists should stay out of politics, should bakers and plumbers, too?), it essentially means that politics should be left to the politicians. Which, to me, seems a particularly dangerous proposition.

In a participatory democracy, politics is everybody's business. This is true in other parts of the world, where political discussion is as common as sports chat is here in America. The only way to keep our political arena healthy and honest is if every one of us pays attention, says what she thinks, and joins in the bloody fray. Blogging is showing itself to be a great method for this. If you disagree with my political view, you can comment on my post, and maybe I'll end up being convinced. How do I know if we don't open the discussion?

True, as Stephenson (whose writing I quite like) points out, I could easily make a fool of myself by exposing my political views, but I risk making a fool of myself every time I lay my fingers on a keyboard. If I fear looking foolish, I'll never write a word.

As for his last reason for avoiding politics:

A novelist needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of just about anyone, including people who have this or that set of views on religion, politics, etc. By espousing one strong political view a novelist loses the power to do this.

I wasn't under the impression, Mr. Stephenson, that your imagination was so limited! Surely you are capable of saying "murder is wrong," and yet portraying a murderer with compelling empathy.

I can understand a wish to deflect readers from assuming particular political bent in his work, and it is his prerogative to do so. But I reserve the right, respectfully, to disagree with his blanket statement, and dive into the nasty fray, teeth sharpened.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

"We are not a merciful nation"

If you're dirt poor, single, and homeless and you get pregnant, you must keep your baby, even though the overwhelming chance is that you and your baby will be hungry, cold, and miserable for the rest of both of your lives. Despite the fact that virtually every competent medical person who has walked into Schiavo's room and smelled the shit-scent of death has declared Schiavo a cabbage or, on a good day, a pea pod, the right smells opportunity to distract people from the gutting of programs that actually do good for the living.(Emphasis mine.)

Courtesy of The Rude Pundit.

The Chauncey Gardiner hypothesis

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic always assumed (as did many of us), that Ari Fleischer was a "diabolical genius," but maybe not:
While I was slogging through [Fleischer's] book, I happened to be e-mailing with a conservative I know. My correspondent thought my Ari-as-virtuoso theory was silly: "When Ari worked on the Hill he was widely considered to be a moron even by other press secretaries, who are mostly a bunch of ignorant dolts themselves." But how, I asked, could he have run circles around the Washington press corps? "Ari is a genius like the [Peter] Sellers character in Being There," he replied. "He was too stupid and too ignorant to know he was telling lies."
(Registration required, I think.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

MUNI, unplugged

I wondered what I might be missing in my daily commute, with my iPod and book, so tonight on the bus home, I unplugged.

Two women and a man stood near me, my eyes level with their belts. The first woman was speaking a language I couldn't identify, maybe Tagalog?

Woman #1: [Unidentifiable language]

Man: Poltergeist, cemetery.

Woman #1: [Language blah blah] ...friends from medical school, and I went for my interviews. [more language - is it Spanish?] So, the night before [blah blah, nope, not Spanish, maybe an Asian language, but not one I know] it's a voice, & I can see down by the foot of the bed, & rising up [language - wait, did she say niño?] and I'm like, scared...

Woman #2: Eeeee!

I look up at them, and we all break out laughing. They're much younger than I expected, Woman #1 is wearing braces.

Man (to me): Scary story, huh?

I nod.

Man (to Wo #1): Next day, next day.

Wo #1: So the next day [blah blah now I'm thinking Tagalog again] across the street, this little cemetery...

I wait for the second bus at Fillmore & Haight, across the street from Whole Foods. There's a flat above the store, its window open, light on, they've been painting a rich red, hint of pink. I've seen the boys that live there on sunny days, leaning on the sill, smoking. Tonight it's dumping rain. Two white boys set a boom box on top of the garbage can and turn it on.

The driver looks me up and down. I think some of the people on this bus rode in with me this morning.

We pass the Vapor Room, Golden Triangle, Dreams of Kathmandu, Pipe Dreams. A hipster with mutton chops, soul patch, rolling his own. A grandly fat woman, a hundred smooth braids, opens her kid-size umbrella, it just covers her head. A tall brown boy with painfully sweet eyes.

UCSF medical center. A woman is wheeled out strapped tight on a gurney, her face turned up, casually chatting with the orderly.

It's dusk. Blue cell phone glow, flowered umbrella, rain slicker.

I love this city, I love this city, I love this city.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The possibility of the impossible

Many years ago, my wonderful mother-in-law mentioned a writer I might like: José Saramago. She reads him in the original Portuguese; I have to make do with English translation, but his prose (and the excellent translation) comes through with living clarity.

The first book of his I read was Blindness. Since then, I save his books, parcel them out as special treats so I don't run out of them too quickly; I wait until I can bring to each book the active attention it asks.

The latest book, which I just finished, is called The Double, and I see that his power continues to grow. I laughed at the following exhange early in the book (Saramago doesn't use quotation marks--you know it's a different speaker because the phrase begins with a capital--sounds odd & clunky, but it flows, inside his books it's almost as though the voices are speaking inside my own head). The speakers are two high school teachers, talking about individual responsibility for the state of the world:

Contenting yourself with the music of the orchestra you play in and with the part you play in it is a common mistake..., Some people are more responsible than others, you and I for example, are relatively innocent, of the worst evils that is, Ah, the usual argument of the easy conscience...the best way to achieve a universal exoneration is to conclude that since everyone is to blame, no one is guilty, Perhaps there's nothing we can do about it, perhaps they're just the world's problems, The only problems the world has are problems caused by people...

And so succinctly does he bring about what I was trying to say.

In the same book, one of the most romantic bits of dialogue I've ever read. Earlier the main character's beloved leaves a message on his answering machine:

...I imagine how wonderful it would be if you were to phone me just because you felt like it, like someone who suddenly feels thirsty and goes and drinks a glass of water, but I know that would be asking too much of you...

Three pages later he calls her:

Maria da Paz asked, Is that you, and he replied, Yes, it's me, I was thirsty and I've come to ask for a glass of water.

If I am doomed to live until I'm ninety-five years old, I will be happy if only I can approach the level of his work.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lateral blogging

I came upon this blog randomly. The writer is working on her English, and the results are more poetic than she can know:

"...I will think them repeatedly to avoid forgetting them and I can't do the next thinking."

I love this blogger for bringing me new combinations of words, for sidling up to the language I've been speaking all my life. I used to toy with the idea of moving someplace where I didn't speak the language (like Stephen Vizinczey), learning to write in an unfamiliar tongue, stumbling on new ways of putting things together, free of clichés, expectations, trod and re-trod paths.

As it is, I'll have to make do in English for now, and bless Jennia for a glimpse through the murk.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Eisner and comic art

My dad started collecting comics when he was a kid, and I got to grow up surrounded by the best examples of comic art from the Golden Age forward. I spent uncounted hours with Captain America, Prince Valiant, Batman, Alfred E. Neuman, anything and everything Dad had filed in cardboard boxes, tucked into the dark recesses of the basement storage room.

Any comic in a plastic bag had to be handled with care, but none were forbidden. Dad collects because he loves comic art, not because he has visions of selling high, so I got to drink in all of it, from the time I was little. I even met some classic novels first through Classic Comics: retellings of Uncle Tom's Cabin, She, and Treasure Island with words and pictures.

But nothing came close to The Spirit. A hero without any super- on the front, just a guy in a wrinkled suit and an eye mask. I came back to those stories over and over. I half-expected to grow up into one of the gorgeous women the Spirit was always tangling with: not Ellen Dolan, certainly - she was too good - and probably not P'Gell, no matter how much I might wish it. Sand Saref, though, was more like it, and Silk Satin...I could understand her. The Spirit had everything - great, absorbing stories, dimensional characters, and the most expressive artwork anywhere in the comic world.

The man who created The Spirit, Will Eisner, died on January 3rd (registration required).

If you've heard of graphic novels, Eisner's the reason. If you think comics might be something more than just junk food for pre-adolescents, you can thank Will Eisner.

And if you want to see some of his work, check out MOCCA in New York, May 21 through September 19.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I've been trying for some time to get my head around the abortion debate. The willful blindness on both sides continues to bewilder me.

I grew up in a very conservative part of the country, and I was raised in the dominant religion of the area. In junior high, I can remember my Health class having a special period devoted to abortion. We were shown pictures of fetuses at different stages of development, as well as pictures of abortions (primarily late-stage procedures). I left class, as did most of my classmates, horrified that anyone would do such a thing. It was so clear to me then that this was murder, and I couldn't believe that it was legal.

So when I hear interviews with people who say, "I would have voted for John Kerry, but I just can't in good conscience vote for someone who supports abortion," I understand where they're coming from. These are people who have deep convictions on this single moral issue.

As I grew up, however, I began to see how a woman could come to such a decision. I saw friends of mine who were raped consider killing themselves to keep anyone from finding out. I saw other friends married at sixteen, or sent away to live with relatives, or disowned by their families because they became pregnant. This was in a culture that was a model of "abstinence education". My high school Biology teacher liked to tell us that the body had a natural contraceptive - the muscle in the neck that allowed the head to shake, "no". This was charming, but allow a girl to slip up just once (under pressure, or because - heaven forbid - she liked it as much as the boys did), and she had to pay for it for the rest of her life. I knew girls who took such desperate measures as jumping off high places, hitting themselves in the stomach, drinking turpentine, and even the old chestnut of the wire hanger. None of them would do something like go to an abortion clinic - none of us even knew where to begin looking for one - what if you were seen?

All this was in a culture where the majority of the citizens had enough money to live on, more or less comfortably. What about girls and women who find themselves pregnant when they can barely keep themselves fed, or safe from abuse?

I began to see that the punitive attitude of "it should be illegal" does nothing to stop abortions from happening. It only makes them so much more dangerous to women desperate enough to seek one.

However, I'm often confused by the stance of many on the pro-choice side of the fence that abortion has no moral dimension, that a fetus is nothing but a parasite until the first moment it draws breath outside the mother's body (although I defend their right to this worldview). One can argue forever about when a fetus becomes a human being - one commenter on this posting points out that in Jewish thought, ensoulment starts "when the majority of a living baby has emerged from the mother's body" - but the fact remains that we don't know, and we may never know. Leaving that question aside, then, abortion (under the best of circumstances) still takes a major toll on a woman's body, and for that reason alone it should only be undertaken as a last resort.

But to point out that the choice to have an abortion is a heavy decision does not take away from the fact that until that being exists separately from the mother, it is - of biological necessity - the woman's choice.

My deeply religious mother (who believed abortion to be a sin) once expressed it to me this way: "That choice is between a woman and God. The government should have nothing to do with it."

As a society that must live together, however, it is incumbent upon us to try to prevent abortions where we can. And that's where I think the debate should be. How do we best prevent abortions? Making them illegal won't do it. Neither will "abstinence education". Instead, we need to do everything we can to help girls and women from having to get to that point. We do this by making contraceptives available and affordable to whoever needs them. Keep the "morning after" pill legal and readily available. I've seen more than one rape victim gratefully relieved of at least one aspect of her terror thanks to that.

For those who fear to have a baby because they live in poverty, we should do all we can to create true universal health care and a genuine safety net for the poorest of our nation.

And when all of these options fail, abortion should remain legal and, above all, safe.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Learning about writing from TV

I generally consider my HBO series addiction a guilty pleasure, but "Deadwood" really is exceptional. And now I see why. In this Salon interview, David Milch beautifully articulates how a good writer allows his characters to be whole and irreducible.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Trevor is a hedgehog. And everyone loves him, apparently.

For my red-state friends (& family)

You liberals who dwell in the loving freak-embrace of San Francisco with me--or in other godless corners of the country--can skip this.

I want to talk a little about gay marriage. Or, specifically, the banning of it in 11 states around the country, and the attempt to make this a part of our constitution.

Some of you, my good friends and family, voted for these bans. I know that you are intelligent and caring people, but I don't think you understand what this means.

I have other close friends (and family) who are gay. Many of them are in strong, long-term, commited relationships. Some of them grew up in religions that considered homosexuality a sin, and they tried with open hearts to deny this essential part of who they were. Some of them didn't. They're all just people going about their lives. When I spend time with my friends in long-term relationships, I'm happy to see that they care about each other and for each other, the way couples should. It makes me happier about my own marriage, and about marriage in general.

But for some reason, a large number of people in this country voted to make it illegal for these folks to get married. Why?

Put yourself in their place, if you can, for a minute. When you were married, the whole community celebrated with you. Now imagine that, instead, the majority of the people where you live feel that a union between you and your spouse is immoral. Dead cats are left on your doorstep. Obscenities are shouted at you & your spouse in the street. Your house or car is defaced. Already, your marriage is not recognized as legally valid, but now, your neighbors vote to make it entirely illegal. Can you see how this would feel hateful, like one more obscenity hurled at you in the street? Like naked bigotry?

Yes, you have a right to worship as you choose, of course. I respect your deeply held religious beliefs. But it's one thing to adhere to certain beliefs, and another to compel others--who do not share these beliefs--to follow them.

Think about it. Does this seem Christlike to you?

For the monkeys

Bathroommonkey. (video)


Today in the metro tunnel, I saw a poster advertising some new movie, with the star in a comic-alluring pose. Fabulous smile. She was pretty, really beautiful. I can see why people like to just--look at her. Why not construct a movie around her, looking adorable--find excuses to dress her up in sexy or charming or goofy getups. People will pay just for that, men and women. Why not? It's not such a bad thing.

But some people take it a bit far. They worship her. They want to be her. There are people who will devote their lives to being an imitation of a person they've never met. They don't really know anything about her personally, as much as they buy the magazines that say "Star Tells All!" or "Learn the Real Story Behind the Fame!"

Others get offended at the sight of her. This face, belonging to someone they'll never know, showing up everywhere, on the way to work, at home, in the doctor's office. She's insipid, she's soulless, she's evil. Nobody really has teeth that white, legs that smooth, breasts that firm. They want to smash this face whenever they see it.

Hey, she's just an actress. People pay her money because she's pretty to look at, because she can play a role more or less convincingly, because some of us for a minute can fantasize about another life. And then we get on the train and off to work, home, class...and forget all about her. Poof--the fantasy is gone, and we live in ourselves again.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Next age?

Today I had a conversation about ritual and the lack of it in western society. Old rituals are dying: from lack of continuity because of mobility, because we don't stay where we were born or with the people who raised us; from the crush of time, because everything is speeding up and spare hours are eaten in the non-social diversions of this age--we're mute and lonely in front of our glowing screens. Yeah, yeah, we've heard all this before. Our social structures no longer support lengthy or dangerous or challenging--in other words, meaningful--rituals.

I'm sick to death of talking. I'm sick of sitting on my couch and complaining about where the world is going and feeling helpless to change anything.

We're only as helpless as we believe ourselves to be. What the next age of human beings will look like depends only on us. So--how should it look? Can we turn inward, away from our terribly entertaining ways of killing time--from glamorous strangers & strangely fascinating grotesques on TV, to, yeah, echo chambers on the Internet that tell us what we want to hear--can we stop sitting around with our cocks in our hands, believing we're holding salvation? Can we stop pressing our noses against store windows, thinking, like six-year-olds, if I can just have that, I'll be happy?

What would be the first step? How do we get through all the layers of righteous appearance and conscience-salving charity and prayers shouted from rooftops--to show that I am fucking holier than you--to what is good, and plain, and useful?

How should the world look? Can we begin the next age now? Tell me. If you take a step, post about it here. I want to know.