Monday, January 31, 2011

City Life: Stairway to Heaven

Modified version of the staircase picture from my earlier post about the fog. It has a haunted look about it. Maybe even a Stairway to Heaven feel to it.

I'm stomping through the cold dark streets. It's okay to walk in middle of the street because it's after 3:00 am. The streets shine with orange fused illumination from the street lights. I stand in the middle of the street trying to get a picture of some kind but everything keeps coming out wrong.

It seems my desire to photograph what I see is getting more and more urgent but getting the camera to cooperate is something else. I wave at it, cajole the flash, hold onto it tightly (always wrapped around my wrist in case I drop it), and otherwise attempt to seduce my camera into seeing my vision or coming up with a better one.

Still, I'm grateful for this camera. When I bought it I was only focused on the 10x zoom and its luscious small size. I had no idea the lens was so much better than a regular point and shoot though I should have figured that out when I paid good money for it.

The dog just wants to keep going up the street, up that steep hill. I don't know why. There aren't many bushes for her to sniff around in. It's so late that the 36 bus has even stopped rattling by. I look up at a friend's window as we walk up the hill. She's asleep but it's still comforting knowing she's up there. Some people still have their Christmas lights on.

I like that Stairway to Heaven picture. The bright light at the stop of the stairs is one of the orange streetlights. It brings to mind Heaven's retractable staircase in Milton's Paradise Lost. I enjoyed modifying it. I was trying to keep more color in the photo but each time I tried to infuse some color the whole thing would go monochrome orange, green, or blue.

Someday I'll write a Stairway to Heaven story. It's one of the many religious motifs I haven't used yet.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Dog Has Lymphoma

And she doesn't have long to live. Lymphoma means she has cancer in all her lymph nodes.

I had the option of chemotherapy but I can't put her through that. For one thing, it's crazy expensive and I'm still unemployed. More importantly, chemotherapy is terrible. It's very hard on the body. Even if she responds well to the chemo there complications that have to be dealt with because her immune system will be compromised and she'll be sick for a good part of the time. Ugh. No thank you.

Dogs who have lymphoma and who are not treated live for an average of 2 months after diagnosis. As a compromise, I chose the middle treatment of putting her on a steroid, Prednisone, which is supposed to shrink the tumors. It's only supposed to help for 60 days then the cancer comes back with a vengeance but it will be 60 good days where she isn't too sick. As of right now I have about six more good weeks with her. I'm estimating I'll have her for about three more months, maybe four.

Having grown up with pets I've been through these situations before. Also, since I volunteer with the penguins we bump up against these issues every now and then but volunteering allows me to maintain a bit of distance. Because they are essentially wild animals in captivity you are charged with doing what's best for them since you are their caretaker. It's still hard but over the years I've been able to (sort of) steel myself emotionally where the penguins are concerned. My dog is a different story. She's my family, my companion, and my sweetheart. It's going to rough going.

The most difficult part will be the problem of waiting too long. When your pet is really sick and suffering it's your duty to have them put down. Any delay that occurs is just plain selfishness on your part. I have been guilty of waiting too long so I know all about that. You tell yourself just a little bit longer because you can't bear to make that terrible decision. This time I hope to do right by her and make the decision without delay. But it's not going to be easy.

She was adopted from the SPCA when I was still married. My ex told me I should make the decision as to which dog we were going to bring home with us. I looked at lots of dogs. He'd liked her in particular but I wasn't sure. We were told she'd had all her shots and she was spayed. I finally asked how long she'd been at the SPCA and they said three months. I looked at my ex and told him we were taking her home. Three months is a long time for a dog to be at a shelter. She was probably a little less than a year old when we brought her home. She turned out to be housebroken, very smart, neurotic, and overprotective. We adopted another dog as a companion for her and she's now my parents' dog. My parents originally had both dogs but my dad asked me to take her home with me because "she needs you." He was right in that she was very strongly bonded with me. She made the intense transition from living in a good size house in the mountains with a backyard and a companion dog to living in a one bedroom apartment in the middle of San Francisco with just me. She's a good girl.

I've decided when she goes not get another dog. I might change my mind later but having a dog in San Francisco is expensive and difficult. I lucked out with finding my current apartment which allows dogs but most places don't let you have them. I had a dog walker until recently, also very expensive. Maybe I'll get a cat instead. We'll see.

Friday, January 21, 2011


At the end of 1979, Pink Floyd released their monumental double album The Wall. I was in middle school at the time and there was much excitement over this release. I was no stranger to Pink Floyd, of course. My brother had Dark Side of the Moon and I was intimately familiar with it. Also, I had taken the rock music route through school, with dashes of punk thrown in, instead of the usual pop/dance music even though everyone associated rock/metal with stoners.

I was at my best friend's cousin's house and her older brother had just bought The Wall that day. It was still shrink wrapped in plastic. Without asking permission I removed the wrapper, pulled out the first record, and put it on the turntable. The first strains of In the Flesh? came through the speakers and I had to sit on the floor because my legs almost buckled. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I didn't notice my best friend or her cousin protesting that I was playing this record that didn't belong to me and had turned up the volume really loud. I barely noticed when the older brother showed up with his friends. They asked us what the hell we were doing. By that time, my best friend and I were pouring over the album and reviewing the lyrics. I was a precocious kid and had taken to explaining the story to my best friend and her cousin while offering psychological analysis about the album's protagonist/anti-hero, Pink, so they might understand what was going on. This wasn't difficult to do since everything is laid out in the song lyrics. After a while, even my best friend's cousin left us alone as did the adults and we sat there, she and I, listening to the entire album in one go. While we listened to it I silently claimed the album as mine, as a product of this time, my time. Other albums might be better and others might be more favored but no other album spoke to me at such a seminal time in my life as this one did.

I was fairly humming after that and recall sitting in the car on the way home while my best friend's dad teased me. I think it was the only time I ever ignored him. It didn't take me long to buy my own album. I still have it at my parents' house. I should take it out and see what kind of shape it's in. It was the last album I bought until after I got out of high school. By the time I bought it Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 had been released as a single and we had our own anthem:
We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teachers, leave them kids alone.
Hey Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
When you're a kid you hear about anthems and such, something that people can rally behind. We'd claimed this one for ourselves and the song, with its distinctive baseline and disco beat, seemed to be flooding the school hallways. One afternoon on the bus ride home, the driver cranked up the song and we were all screaming the song lyrics as we rode down the street. It was beautiful.

Later, Run Like Hell, Young Lust, Hey You, and that stoner staple, Comfortably Numb got plenty of airplay on the radio. All of them are wonderful songs.

Most of my peers had either never heard the album in its entirety or only listened to it when they were stoned so they didn't seem to know the album was about isolation and alienation, about a man who must build a wall around himself to keep everyone else away because it's his only defense against pain. A man who torments himself so much that he puts himself on trial and ends up destroying his wall, leaving himself exposed and naked to a cold, cruel existence. I was amazed and moved by the story and its wrenching honesty. I couldn't believe that Roger Waters, who conceived the album and wrote most of the lyrics, would expose himself that much.

I went against conventional wisdom by declaring that my favorite songs were In the Flesh?, One of My Turns, Run Like Hell, and Mother. I told everyone that Mother was the best song on the album and defied everyone at the height of The Wall's popularity by telling them this was my favorite album but Dark Side of the Moon was better. Mother was and still is horrifically creepy. One of My Turns is funny even if it shows Pink as the mentally unstable rock star. Run Like Hell is exhilarating though my friends didn't like David Gilmour's "run, run, run, run" vocals in the song. My favorite song is In the Flesh? which clocks in at 3:19. While I love all the songs on the album none of them have the same visceral affect on me as In the Flesh? I would listen to the song and revel in the short lyrics:
So ya thought ya might like to
Go to the show
To feel the thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow

Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes
You'll just have to claw your way through this disguise!

Lights! Roll the sound effects! Action!
Drop it...on em!
Drop it on 'emmmmmmm....!!
(sound of airplane flying, then a baby crying)
I'd crank the volume on this song and scream that last Drop it on 'emmmmmm...!! The song felt and still feels like the grand howl, the terrible shriek of that otherwise quiet, goody-two-shoes kid who yelled in fury to the shock of everyone who knew me. Someday, I hope, I'll see The Wall performed live and I'll be able to scream out this line, adding my voice to the roar of the crowd.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dark Nighttime

It was a dark night. Yep, one of those really dark nights where I lost track of time, where I even wondered if I'd died and was going through that after-death tunnel some people have talked about.

Spirits floated around my bed all calling to me, telling me my flaws and pointing out how wretchedly boring I am. My dog wouldn't stop farting (a side effect of her meds, she has lymphoma). I was wondering the following questions:
  • What is the point of it all?
  • Do I really want to continue on?
  • Nothing really matters, does it?
  • How am I going to make a living?
  • What the fuck ____? (insert what you want here)
I ran through all the usual major things like love, my writing, my friends and family, my desire to travel, and still I came up with the idea that nothing much matters in the universal scheme of things. Before I went to bed I was walking my dog. It was sometime after 2:00 am. I looked up at the clear sky, the twinkling stars (and they did seem to be twinkling a lot last night), and thought about how beautiful the night was. It made me cry and it wasn't even that cold.

I thought about how insignificant I am, destined to become one of the many hordes of common folk who aren't mentioned in history except as an "American" or part of the "American People," a phrase thrown around by politicians. I don't crave recognition or immortality but I sometimes wonder about the huge abyss that stands between superstars and the woman who's trying to cross the street with her dog without getting hit by a car. Of course, superstars are insignificant too. Their burn out so fast and fall so far that we can't help but notice them, for a time.

After coming up with the idea that nothing much matters I then thought about how I could turn the obvious downer that goes along with it into something positive, such as, if nothing matters then you are truly free. Some people discuss freedom and many others crave it but last night I realized that this is real freedom. It was about 4:30 am when I came up with this idea. I was feeling tired and loopy when I went off on this tangent and the few hours I'd spent embroiled with my own demons were really sinking me in the mire.

My own making, of course. I told myself I should just go to sleep and see what I thought of everything in the morning. I felt much better when I woke up but the realization that I had to make changes was staring me in the face. No longer can I coast along. It's time to get cracking. At least I've been steadily working on the writing, the most important endeavor of my life even if no one reads it. Doesn't matter. I'm doing fine in the grand scheme of insignificance. When no one notices you, it's possible to get away with certain things like living the life you want and sneaking around doing cool things instead of cleaning house and doing laundry.

I can't complain even with all negativity from a few hours earlier. I'm glad this dark nighttime is over.

Monday, January 17, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2010 - Finally Finished This Draft: 76,771 Words

A few moments ago I finally finished the first draft of this post-apocalyptic novel ("beta novel") I've been working on. It took another month and a half to write the additional 25,000 words. Though I wrote the ending during the NaNo the story ended in a completely different way. The Epilogue is similar but the explanation of what's really happening surprised me. Very strange. I'm not sure what to make of it but now is not the time to figure it out.

What's going to happen next is I'll put this novel aside and work on getting the Historical novel ("alpha novel") going again. Hopefully I'll finish it by the end of this year. I'll be surprised if I finish it sooner than that. After I'm done with the alpha novel, I'll take another look at this beta novel and see what I think of the story and if it warrants more work.

I must say I'm very tired and I'd planned to finish this novel sometime by the end of the week but this afternoon it became clear I was on a good roll and ready to finish so I just plowed straight through.

I'm looking forward to working on the alpha novel again and eager to get started. It will be such a relief to go back to being immersed in that world again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

City Life: A Misty, Rainy Day in San Franciso

Near Forest Hills Station on the walkway to Laguna Honda Hospital.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Writing Life: Beginning, Break, Rapid (n.1)

The Beginning:

I'm locked in my own head. This never used to bother me but it's been bugging me lately. I can't get outside myself so I can see and experience things from something other than my own perspective. There's imagination, sure, but that can only go so far, right? I struggle to learn new ideas, knowledge, and still I'm locked inside my own head.

I'm a prisoner, doomed to see everything through my own filter no matter what I do.

I'm spoiled with my own viewpoint. I'm inherently selfish and what's worse is I'm feeling self-confident. Why can't I stay humbled yet steady? This is what happens when you're in love with your own words and way of seeing things.

The Break:

There is no break, no frenzied shattering. It's just me sitting here at my computer, writing as usual. I'm not drinking heavily, doing drugs, losing my mind, nor any of the other things artistic types sometimes go through. It makes me wonder why there isn't a break going on with me. Perhaps I haven't been doing this long enough. Perhaps I'm not smart or imaginative enough. Perhaps I'm not experiencing enough torment and pain. I don't know.

All I know is I want to write, have to write, am going to keep writing. Nothing else matters. Not getting published, not if I need an agent, and not even whether anybody ever reads my novels. Eventually, I'll have to address these things but for now creating a polished body of work is the most important thing of all.

The Rapid:

I was going to write about my old life on the river with my ex. I was going to talk about how idyllic the river was during the summer and how it turned into the thundering brown monster when the riverbanks swelled in the wintertime rains, how we had to evacuate, how my ex couldn't hold it together. That was several lifetimes ago and I wore myself out just writing down this paragraph.

No, the Rapid is about simpler things like:
  • The city fog
  • The stairs going up the side of the mountain on my street
  • The Pacific Ocean which is only three miles away from here
  • The places I've been since then, the people I know and have met, the writing I've done
It's all so ordinary and selfish. I spread myself out in my mental mind. I wonder what am I missing? What am I not learning? At least I know what to leave behind, how important it is to move forward, and how I'm getting there even if I don't know the destination right now. I'm not bored, that's for sure, and the second half of my life spreads out in front of me like some wild feast with great food, great drinks, and so much good company. That's not a bad vision to end this Rapid with.

(n.1) Jo-Ha-Kyu (sp) is a concept in a wide variety of Japanese arts that has to do with modulation and movement. Jo-Ha-Kyu is roughly translated as "Beginning, Break, Rapid" and generally refers to the idea that things should begin slowly, speed up, and end quickly.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Writing Life/Movie Musings: What I Mean By "Ferment" And A Little Kurosawa Adoration

I talk a lot about writing something down and letting it sit for a while to "ferment." This is certainly true of my NaNoWriMo novel I'm still working on. I've attempted several times to explain how this works but have never expressed the idea well. Imagine my delight when watching the last film in my Akira Kurosawa film survey, Ran, and finding a quote by the great director himself where he completely nails this idea:
I wrote [Ran] after Dersu Uzala and before the one for Kagemusha. Then I let it sleep in me. It's always a question of ripening, of time, of the duration of the gestation of a work. The definitive script for Ran is very different from the first one I wrote. The development of Ran is spread over seven years. When you write a script, even if you're conscious of its shortcomings, you can't easily change the contents of your own head, so you have to let things ripen, in an unconscious way. That's what I've always done. It's in the course of this ripening that things become simpler and become clearer.
- Interview with Akira Kurosawa in Positif (a French film magazine), October 1985.
I've said this before: after a years long survey of sixteen Kurosawa films which involved watching the films, watching the commentaries and accompanying documentaries, reading accompanying essays, reading Wikipedia entries, reading the appropriate section in the book I picked to accompany me on this journey, The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie, I'm confident in stating that Kurosawa is the greatest director that ever lived. And it's not because one film or another (though you could probably make that claim for Seven Samurai alone), it's the entirety of Kurosawa's works. Getting familiar with his films and seeing how they progress in terms of viewpoint, story emphasis, acting, visual style, and message is enough to make me feel comfortable making this claim.

I'm still not done with Ran. I always watch film more than once from start to finish then go back and watch certain scenes I want to take a closer look at. I also watch all commentaries and always watch them at least twice. In fact when I saw Red Beard, I watched the film three times (twice in a row) and watched the commentary three times (twice in row).

Ran is the last Kurosawa film, at least for the purposes of this survey. I'll do a more complete blog post about this film journey when I'm finally done. I've already chosen my next film survey, the films of Luis Bunuel, though I need to select an appropriate book. Hopefully, it won't take me years to complete this survey.

It makes me very happy that at the end I find this lovely quote by the great director about "ripening." It beautifully expresses what I've been struggling to explain about my own creative process.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

theatre sign in healdsburg, california

In healdsburg, about two hours north of san francisco for wine tasting.
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