Yesterday I was listening to a public radio story on The California Report. I gritted my teeth as the announcer thrice referred to horned toads as lizards. I like to think that public radio folk are reasonably bright and that they proof-read stories, and so when a friend called, I asked, “Are amphibians lizards?” Well, amphibians aren’t lizards, but then horned toads are actually misnamed short-horned lizards.
This afternoon I read the following from the June 6 issue of “The Week” with glee:
“By lucky chance, astronomers were peering at a galaxy 88 million light-years away when they witnessed the initial blast of a star exploding into a supernova–the first time that rare stellar event has been seen as it happened.”
Though, for all I know, perhaps astronomers have figured out how to observe things without being limited by light-speed, and we’ll be able to watch the supernova explode again 88 million years from now.
Looking kind of Greek, I think.
Thursday I attended an art opening at a gallery called 20 GOTO 10. I learned of the show as I learn of many parties these days–through a friend on Facebook. Most such parties I learn of through one particular friend and it lends me to wonder if she spends her time searching for events on Facebook. (I tried this recently, but the interface is poor.) My working hypothesis is that she networks with a lot of the hipster Web 2.0 crowd and she thereby gets invited to events posted to Facebook. She probably gets more invites than your average Internet groupie because she is a “total babe” but whatever the deal she has lately been responsible for a fair proportion of my going-out / nightlife in San Francisco.
Anyway, yesterday I hit a gallery opening after work because the art in question was technological in nature and because art openings are a good way to score free snacks and wine. I showed up at the start time of 7PM because I didn’t want to romp around so late and because I figured it would be less crowded and possibly more delicious at the early end of the evening.
They needed more time to finish setting up. (In San Francisco everything happens late–it is a cultural thing.) I waited on the sidewalk with a middle-aged Asian man named Mike. He had a scruffy goatee with several meandering strands of beard, many of them white. He said he had recently moved from Bayview which has bad air that irritated his skin and bad neighbors, to the Mission, which suits him better in many ways. The hallmark of a true San Franciscan, he at one point mentioned his cultivation of avocados in Bayview. He said he is an educational technologist. One thing he did was design a widget for the old 8-bit Nintendo that slotted in between the system and the cartridge, and would show you and let you fiddle with the various registers and whatnot so that a curious kid could explore how fiddling with these things affected playing the game. I thought that sounded like an awesome fun thing that would help open the understanding of technology as something we can control to the people for which such appreciation is most important. He seemed proud, but explained that the project never really got anywhere.
There was plenty more time to wait and I think Mike really needed to talk because he continued through stories of himself–geek friends inviting themselves over to his workshop to use his lathe, for example. He said now that he had divested his life of such things as the workshop that he didn’t get visitors so often. He did not tell this story as an appeal to pity but as a simple matter of fact.
“It should be, ‘Hey Mike, I’ll bring a pizza over tonight and then maybe I can use your lathe.'”
“No, they never brought food.”
“Well,” I offered, “geeks do tend to lack in social graces.”
Another story he told was of his efforts to touch up a mural. He strategized things out in Photoshop then, frustrated that the muralist was busy, he went and fixed things himself. “Because I had to look at it every day.” He said that his efforts had been recognized as an excellent job, and that this had softened the attitudes of his neighbors towards him.
He asked if I knew of ephemeral art. I know of Mandelas made of sand and then cast into the wind. He said a large one had been assembled outside of the De Young Museum and while it lasted he took his own steps to preserve the thing — a series of photographs stitched together into a very large image. He wanted to build a tilt-shift lens, and I was pleased that I could ask a question along the lines of “it somehow shifts the lens to get a consistent focus across the depth of field?”
The show opened, and Mike took an SLR digital camera from his bag. It sported a home-made fish-eye lens and he explained that this took round pictures which he wanted. Lenses on the market distorted such optics back to a rectilinear format, which is not what he wanted. He seemed dubious of his ability, however, to fashion a tilt-shift lens.
A crowd of us entered the tiny gallery — fascinating paintings of various repeated geometrical shapes that were set into motion with changing colored lights. Fascinating and wonderful. I squeezed carefully to the back and grabbed a plastic cup of wine and a handful of what I suspect are actually gourmet dog treats. I squeezed my way back through the gallery, really digging the art work, especially two of the more complex works that did a lot of subtle color mixing within layers of geometric shapes — one was quartets of circles within ever larger quartets of circles, and another was circles within faces of stacked cubes.
I finished my nosh and since space was so tight I stowed the empty plastic wine cup in my bag, made my way out the door, where a line of people had formed, and headed home.
MikeyA’s recent comment got me thinking about how to bring this web site back to a more personal feel. I’m trying a slightly different tack the last few days. The following was originally written long-hand.
June 6, 2008
I recall in my Tellme days that more than one person expressed enthusiastic enjoyment of my online journal. “It is so damn funny!” I of course appreciated this praise but it left me wondering because I wasn’t trying to be funny. I just figured that my sense of humor shone through and that everyone has their own experience of a text.
Later I came to the awful realization that the humor was in my playing the awkward “straight man” in my own life and that to an extent the humor was along the lines of David Sedaris dressed as an elf. They weren’t laughing with me, they were laughing at me, but they thought I was in on the joke.
At any rate, over time I dropped away biographical detail from the journal. The difference between a journal or a diary and a modern blog is that a blog isn’t about the author. My web site has evolved that way.
Still, the maxim for good writing is to “write what you know” and the biggest subject that anyone may be an authority on is themselves. How do you write about yourself without giving yourself away?
Paul Theroux provides a clue. I have read a few of his novels about train travel. While traveling he talks less about the places he goes and more about his experience of travel and his experiences of people met along the way. In this way you learn something that he cares to reveal about his character without really talking about himself.
And he doesn’t lack for interesting material.
So, my mission here would be to talk about some of the adventures I have in my life, with some focus on those where I interact with interesting strangers or at least “public figures” or at least people who don’t mind or even like being written about. I can share my own thoughts and reveal something of myself along the way.
Saturday morning was volunteering with Mount Sutro Stewards via One Brick. A contingent of Cisco employees appeared from their haunts across the region as part of some sort of New Hire / outreach program. Nice kids. “I work for IronPort.” We were clearing a path for a trail re-alignment. The first step is removing the “duff” which is the top soil and its organic matter. Organic matter decays over time so it is not the best bed for a trail. Clearing the “duff” is harder than it sounds because the aforementioned organic material is layers and layers of interconnected, knotty roots. It is good, hard work.
I napped in the sunshine for the afternoon.
Later, after seeing Someone Special I was waiting for the L-Owl on Market St. A motley crew — the guy who asked if he could borrow my phone but since his own phone was dead he couldn’t retrieve the number. There was a “crazy homeless woman” and a short guy with a case of Modelo Especial. This guy checked the next bus on his cell then popped open a beer. He continued drinking on the bus, which was raucous.
Still waiting, I noticed a pretty gal in high heels on the corner. I had a moment of hope that she would join our party but pretty girls in high heels do not belong on the night bus. She very subtly hailed a cab. Another guy showed up smoking a joint. He offered to trade with the beer drinker for a cigarette after the beer guy offered the joint guy a can of Modelo Especial.
My personal drama involved the “crazy homeless lady”. While shifting around to pull on her gloves, I noticed a ragged slip of paper drop to the ground. I figured it could be her transfer and in another time with a different passenger I probably would have said something. But this evening I rationalized my disgust towards the homeless woman as wanting to be a fly on the wall. “Writers are parasites watching the lives of others” or such was a line in the movie I had caught earlier in the evening with Someone Special.
A bit later the lady was shifting around again and rummaging through her stuff with increasing agitation. She was clearly upset and looking for something important. I wondered what would happen to her if she couldn’t board the bus. I wondered if I had a $1.50 in change to help her out, if it came to that. I took a look around and spied that ragged little slip of paper in the street. I fetched it, found that it was not merely ragged but soiled, and I handed it to her. She was grateful and remarked that hers was a ragged slip of paper. She kept it firmly in her gloved fingers and as far as I know she had a good night.
I love sleeping. I have a peculiar fondness for that lazy part of the morning drifting in and out of consciousness, especially if the sun is shining through the window upon those parts of me where the sun don’t shine. I can hit the snooze button for hours.
I have put away the alarm clocks, and lately I have set my mobile phone and watch on the far side of the room. I’m getting back toward childhood when waking up in the morning meant stretching and scampering out of bed to discover what the world has in store. The mystery of not knowing what time it is sort of helps this.
That, and sunshine fills me with hope. Overcast, chilly days trigger my hibernation instinct.
This morning I walked to the post office to send a book to å£åº„. Along the way I considered the relative merits of relaxing a bit at the coffee shop versus just heading straight to work because Wednesday is Donut Day. Then I recalled that Wednesday is also street cleaning day where I last parked. So, after the Post Office it was back up the hill to hop in the car. It was a pleasant drive with a great breeze because I lowered the back window. All the same, my heart is in public transit.
When I arrived at work, I found a donut, and headed upstairs. “I smell bacon,” I thought. I wondered at this, and then saw out front of one of our training rooms that breakfast had been served! Now, this food is not intended for me, but when our clients have fed themselves the employees take it upon themselves to clean up the leftovers. Because I had driven to work I was standing in front of the bacon . . . and eggs, and orange juice, at that critical time between when the customers have had their fill and the employees have cleaned up.
Today is off to a good start.
I was sitting in the Danish cafe in Kata, Thailand. I was thinking of the rhinoceros I photographed two months before at the Berlin Zoo. I drew him from memory, so this guy is one horn short and has floppy ears like my old dog, Max. I did try to move him, in my fantasy, from institution to the great outdoors.
This is a favorite of mine.
“Mr. Watts was as elusive as ever. He was whatever he needed to be, what we asked him to be. Perhaps there are lives like that–they pour into whatever space we have made ready for them to fill. We needed a teacher, Mr. Watts became that teacher. We needed a magician to conjure up other worlds, and Mr. Watts had become that magician. When we needed a savior, Mr. Watts had filled that role. When the redskins required a life, Mr. Watts had given himself.”
I like that epitaph: a life lived for others. It is also a reminder that whoever you may think you are, more versions of you come to exist in the minds, hearts, and souls of the people you come to know.
And one more excerpt from Mister Pip which so aptly describes depression:
The only thing I could think to do was to get into bed. And there I stayed.
For six days I didn’t get up except to make a cup of tea, or fry an egg, or lie in the skinny bath gazing at a cracked ceiling. The days punished me with their slowness, piling up the hours on me, spreading their joylessness about the room.
I listened to the buses change down gear outside the boardinghouse. I listened to the hiss of tires on the wet road. I lay in bed listening to the woman downstairs get ready for work. I listened to her run the shower and the shrill whistle on her kettle. I waited for her footsteps on the path below my window, and as that brief contact with the world departed I shut my eyes and begged the walls to let me go back to sleep.
A doctor would have said I was suffering from depression. Everything I have read since suggests this was the case. But when you are in the grip of something like that it doesn’t usually announce itself. No. What happens is you sit in a dark, dark cave, and you wait. If you are lucky there is a pinprick of light, and if you are especially lucky that pinprick will grow larger and larger, until one day the cave appears to slip behind, and just like that you find yourself in daylight and free. This is how it happened for me.
Done in Thailand. I don’t recall if this was before or after I got sunburned. Pretty colorful for a white guy!
. . .