Monday, December 18, 2017

There Are Stars


I don't like writing about art, visual art. Or film, or poetry, or prose, really. Yet I've done all of the above, and have learned of great works by others who have done the same. Still, what I find on my own is always what I favor most. Much of the magic is in the finding, and then watching the formerly unknown film or painting or poem or novel as it opens up to me.

I'll return to the best work again and again, if I can find it, but I wonder if my returns are less about the great works themselves and more about attempting to reclaim the magic that was in my initial moment of discovery, and how my first experience with the work changed me. But can these things be separated? Isn't it all intertwined—the work, the discovery of the work, the way the work changes the viewer? Doesn't it all combine and add another layer to each person who sees the work? 

Part of me wants to tell everyone I know to get to the seventh floor of SFMOMA before January 1st, when the exhibition that holds the work I discovered Friday, stayed with for over an hour, and then returned to with someone special on Saturday for closer to two hours, and share this experience with me, but I hesitate. 

I know my telling will subtract something from all the work can be, and I even worry that the someone special I introduced to the work on Saturday was unable to feel what I felt on Friday, when I walked into a particular room on the seventh floor of the museum, without a single preconceived notion, and felt myself begin to change.

“There are stars exploding around you
And there is nothing, nothing you can do”

Lyrics in this work I reference, such as the above, are drawn from parts of Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir’s poem, "Feminine Ways."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Joan Didion on The Rock

Imagining Alcatraz, 2017

I moved to San Francisco seventeen years ago, yet I've never visited Alcatraz. I haven't had the desire, with the exception of contemplating seeing Ai Weiwei's artwork there. Missing that exhibition was probably a mistake. Yes, it was a mistake. I meant to go, but then kept thinking later, later, then it was gone. But the idea of boarding a crowded ferry and being part of a large group of tourists shown around the island by a guide... Nope, not appealing.  Not at all.

I've been thinking about Joan Didion lately, she never leaves my mind for very long. I decided to dip back into Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The first thing I turned to was her 1967 essay, "Rock of Ages." The place she describes, and its three inhabitants, is enticing in a strange fairy tale sort of way.

In her first paragraph she begins to describe her attraction to this former prison:

"It is not an unpleasant place to be, out there on Alcatraz with only the flowers and the wind and a bell buoy moaning and the tide surging through the Golden Gate, but to like a place like that you have to want a moat."

And she continues in the next paragraph:

"I sometimes do, which is what I am talking about here."

Later in the essay she explains how she "tried dutifully to summon up some distaste, some night terror of the doors locking and the boat pulling away."

And then she closes:

"But the fact of it was that I liked it out there, a ruin devoid of human vanities, clean of human illusions, an empty place reclaimed by the weather where a woman plays an organ to stop the wind's whining and an old man plays ball with a dog named Duke. I could tell you that I came back because I had promises to keep, but maybe it was because nobody asked me to stay."

I finish reading and I'm left wishing someone actually did ask her to stay, and that I could somehow travel back to 1967 and find a way to become inhabitant number five, at least for a little while.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Good Bones

Light in the Dark, 2017

Reading a poem like Maggie Smith's "Good Bones" presses hard, it leaves a bruise. But for me, what also rises to the surface is a sense of feeling grounded, walking on solid earth again. Such a relief, after treading so lightly, for so long, hiding from what I feared, or attempting to ignore it, desperately concentrating all energy on the good, the kind, the beautiful, but none of it ever really coming into focus, always distorted by that greasy smudge of fear. "Good Bones" just addresses it all, puts the fear and sadness and everything else right out there, makes us deal with it, but note how Smith ends the poem with the word beautiful. Terrible things are out there. Some of these things are within our control, many are not. Beautiful things are out there too. When I remember to acknowledge these conflicting truths, fear loses some its power, I can direct my energy, and it is possible to clearly see what is good again.

This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful. 

 Excerpt from Maggie Smith's poem, "Good Bones."

Monday, September 18, 2017

May Sarton Wisdom

Stinson, Summer - 2017

I can tell you that solitude
Is not all exaltation, inner peace
Where the soul breathes and work can be done.
Solitude exposes the nerve,
Raises up ghosts.
The past, never at rest, flows through it.

-from May Sarton's Gestalt at Sixty

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Ritual, 2017

I've always had a soft spot for individuals with a wild side...

"On my feet again, I explored the abandoned silver mines in the canyon walls, found a few sticks of dynamite but no caps or fuses. Disappointing; but there was nothing in that area anyway that required blowing up. I climbed through the caves that led down to the foot of Mooney Falls, 200 feet high. What did I do? There was nothing that had to be done. I listened to the voices, the many voices, vague, distant but astonishingly human, of Havasu Creek. I heard the doors creak open, the doors creak shut, of the old forgotten cabins where no one with tangible substance or the property of reflecting light ever entered, ever returned. I went native and dreamed away days on the shore of the pool under the waterfall, wandered naked as Adam under the cottonwoods, inspecting my cactus gardens. The days became wild, strange, ambiguousa sinister element pervaded the flow of time. I lived narcotic hours in which like the Taoist Chuang-tse I worried about butterflies and who was dreaming what. There was a serpent, a red racer, living in the rocks of the spring where I filled my canteens; he was always there, slipping among the stones or pausing to mesmerize me with his suggestive tongue and cloudy haunted primeval eyes. Damn his eyes. We got to know each other rather too well I think. I agonized over the girls I had known and over those I hoped were yet to come. I slipped by degrees into lunacy, me and the moon, and lost to a certain extent the power to distinguish between what was and what was not myself: looking at my hand I would see a leaf trembling on a branch. A green leaf. I thought of Debussy, of Keats and Blake and Andrew Marvell. I remembered Tom o'Bedlam. And all those lost and never remembered. Who would return? To be lost again? I went for walks. I went for walks. I went for walks and on one of these, the last I took in Havasu, regained everything that seemed to be ebbing away."
                                                         -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Thursday, June 8, 2017

It's Called Taproot

Space to Breathe, 2017

Did you know there is a magazine out there without ads, created for makers, doers & dreamers, with sections titled head, hands, and heart?

Yes, it exists. It’s called Taproot.

I’m honored to have my writing in their latest issue, GROW, in the heart section, accompanied by a papercut illustration by the talented Jennifer Judd-McGee.

The people who pull this magazine together are the types who don’t have a problem dedicating their first two pages, as well as their last page, to a peaceful floral print, and this makes me happy.

We all need a little space to breathe.

Thanks for doing what you do, Taproot.

Issue 22 :: GROW

You can find more of my work in these earlier issues of Taproot:

Issue 6 :: WATER

Issue 3 :: RETREAT

Friday, June 2, 2017

Things I Don't Want to Forget

Meadow Trail, May 2017

The young man with glasses and neat short pants who sat next to me in the cafe window and slowly drank his espresso and small glass of water, without a sound, his phone resting untouched on the counter before him.

Seeing my mom's handwriting inside a small note card with a gold pineapple embossed on the front.

The taste of a warm foil-wrapped burrito eaten in a meadow after a hike.

The afternoon there was a fleeting soft space between my apartment and the sandwich shop, where bracing wind ceased, sun shone, and street sounds were muted.

The translucent green of the cresting wave I knew I couldn't capture with my phone.

The way I slice an apple.

The morning we sat at a picnic table and ate an entire loaf of Brickmaiden's Pain au gros Sel (salted potato) as an impromptu breakfast.

The day all of the old men I saw in North Beach had Grandpa John's eyes.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Lunch, 2017

I've seen young furled ferns while hiking and I have always admired their beauty, but never had any idea if they were edible. I did know some people ate a fern called fiddlehead, so when I, always interested in experimenting with a new fruit or vegetable, saw them at the farmers market, I snatched them up immediately and took them home.

Once I got home, things became a bit more complicated. I tried to do some research online, but as is often the case, there were a variety of opinions, and I wasn't sure who to trust. For instance, it wasn't exactly clear how I should clean the fiddleheadswhich cleaning specifics I should classify as necessary and which I could write off as too precious. Each fern was heavily decorated with brown papery threads. I didn't know if the threads were only undesirable from a textural perspective, or inedible.

I also learned quickly that the fiddlehead eaten raw or undercooked could make a person sick. I saw the word toxins, I saw carcinogenic, and I saw clear instructions to thoroughly boil them to make them safe to eat. The amount of boiling varied. I started wondering if I should eat them at all, but that went away quickly. Maybe I've spent too much time with my daredevil father. I moved forward.

I cleaned them up, still unsure if they were quite right, and boiled them for 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the boiling meant that they lost their bright color, the vibrant green you see in so many photos, but I'd decided that I wouldn't risk poisoning myself for aesthetic purposes.

While my penne boiled I made a new mess by trying to clean up my now boiled fiddleheads a bit more. Then I trimmed the bruised ends (I surely could have done that earlier, but...) and cut them into bite-size pieces (I thought some of the unfurled parts were too long. I'm one of those people that isn't fond of huge lettuce leaves in my salad, or giant pieces of broccoli I cannot fit into my mouth in my stir-fry.) The second cleaning and trimming was followed by a sauté in olive oil with garlic and capers. I tossed the fully prepared fiddleheads with al dente penne and squeezed fresh lemon juice on top.

It really was a delicious lunch, but I'm not sure fiddleheads are worth the worry and preparation time. Wouldn't I have been pleased with any vegetable prepared with olive oil, capers, garlic, and lemon? I think so. I know so.

Still, I might try preparing them again. As with most things in life, listening to advice, reading instructions, and watching what others do will only get you so far. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Learning, and the comfort that follows, takes time.

My bowl is empty. At the moment I appear to be alive, and not feeling at all woozy. Cross your fingers for me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

She's Got a Way

Transition, 2017

Of course, I flip directly to the Linda Pastan poem, and smack-dab in the middle I find these lines:

I've started to dismantle my life already, throwing
out letters from people I remember loving, (14–15)

And they stick, like a bur to a sweater.

-Excerpt from Linda Pastan's poem, Plunder, in The Paris Review, No. 220.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Today Felt Like

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This afternoon, as I was leaving my apartment building, I saw a little boy, maybe four or five years old, with the viewfinder of a beat up digital camera held to his eye. He was alone at the base of our front stairs. I surprised him when I walked out the door. He stepped to the side, where I then saw his mother. She told me he liked my stairs. I told him to go right ahead and enjoy them, then I looked back at them myself. I’d never really paid much attention to them before. They are mostly terracotta tiles, with what appear to be hand-painted tiles showing on a stair face every so often. They’re a bit beat up, but still in fairly good shape for a building standing since the 1920s. It had been kind of a melancholy day up to this point, but this observant little boy changed my view. I know he helped me find this cloud. He might have also made the sun feel warmer, the air more brisk, and even had something to do with my climbing up and down this city's hills at a quicker clip than usual. Thanks, little guy, wherever you are. I hope when you are a man you are able to look back at those photos of our stairs and remember what today felt like.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


January is running out.
It will never be replaced.

I am tasting my tea,
watching steam lift from its surface.

I can make another cup, just like this one,
but I cannot add another day to this month.