Friday, December 29, 2006

When The New World Is Revealed...

It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog with any regularity whatsoever, or to anyone who has known me for any time at all, that I am an inveterate and thoroughly unashamed fanatic for The Boss.

However... this song, which I heard him play last spring as his encore at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival just completely knocks me over the edge. When I heard him play it last spring, he introduced the song by saying something like, "there's at least a dozen people here right now who can do this song better than me..." and then he moved into it with such a soft touch and such a sincere heart (as he had played his whole set) that I just sat down in the mud and cried.

My dear friend Mary sent this link to me the other day and when I finally got around to viewing it tonight, I had the same reaction I had at the New Orleans Fairgrounds eight months ago. I simply sat down and wept.

It's my nomination for best performance of the year in any medium and with any purpose. It's the perfect way to end this horrible year and begin a new one that I hope (and I imagine you hope) will be as good as any time gets. It does what a gospel song (and really any song) is meant to do... it calls us to be better than we are right now; it calls us to be fresh, and hopeful, and new.

Take the time (even if you have a slow connection) and listen to this amazing version of When The Saints. Think on the plight of the city I love so much and the city that I hope you too hold in your heart, but also let it wash over you and disturb you a little bit; let it call you to be a better person, in a better place, with a better heart. The sixteen (that's right... sixteen) months since Katrina have remade me in a way that I never would have expected and through a process I absolutely would never have chosen voluntarily. However, the fact is I'm a better person (maybe even a MUCH better person) than I was the day I started writing this blog, and while I wish I could wave a magic wand and prevent all of the suffering that came out of Katrina, and that continues to this day, I would not wish for myself a different path.

I DO want to be in that number... both right now and in the far off unseen future.

Oh yeah... Happy New Year Y'all!

Monday, December 25, 2006

On the First Day of Christmas...

The day started before midnight amidst several thousand people in the giant cave of Grace Cathedral and next to my daughter, standing, singing (and me crying through it all) Oh Come All Ye Faithful and smiling, weeping, swooning with what I experience of the magic of the myth and the grace of the story.

It really started much earlier in the evening when I had dinner at my daughter's new place and she, her boyfriend, his brother, and I opened presents, laughed, talked and ate an amazing vegetarian repast (concluded with bronzing our own creme brule'e). After that, Jen and I headed to the church.

The service, as always was a moment of clarity, encouragement and affirmation in the midst of an awful lot of confusion, a time to stop, to remember why we exist on the planet and to live out the hope that we might be able to do it better this circuit around the sun. Alan Jones sermon was especially poignant this year, the night was magical, musical and worshipful (and you can hear the entire two hour service here).

I got up this morning and opened a few really wonderful presents from friends and family (thank you so much!) and then sat down with a glass of champagne, and lox and bagels to watch the movie Scrooge, my favorite version of the miraculous (and always life-transforming) Dickens' story.

After that it was lunch time and for some reason (I don't know whether it's the Christmases I spent in Arizona, or the winter trip that Marsha and I made to Santa Fe where I discovered the dish, but Mexican food in general and stuffed pasilla chilis in particular, mean Christmas to me. My chef housemate Matt left me a particularly wonderful version of the stuffed pepper for which I prepared a black bean sauce with roasted red pepper salsa... Red & Green, sharp and spicy; whatever it is, it says Christmas to me.

Finally, in a couple of hours I'm off with a huge bowl of my Shockingly Decadent and Unbelievably Miraculous Egg Nog to spend an evening of eating, drinking, chatting and singing.

Beats a Partridge in a Pear Tree... but not Kwan Yin in a blue box.

Jen and I even caught a glimpse of Santa roaming through downtown San Francisco at about 1:30 in the morning. Jen made the observation that he must of lost his reindeer. Maybe that'd be why he showed up in the Bayou last night with eight alligator instead... well, at least that's the report I heard.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Longest Night

This is quite possibly my favorite night of the year.

From here on out the days get longer and the nights grow shorter. The sun returns to my side of the planet and the dark fading cave of winter... while actually just beginning, is already fading into the fecundity of spring.

People have lived this reality out for all of human history and I first became enamored with it when my astronomer father brought a CBS film featuring Astronomer Gerald Hawkins and his theories on the origin of Stonehenge to my Lake Worth Florida grade school when I was about 10 years old.

The Winter Solstice brings together all the things that make life real for me. The dynamics of the universe, the way the world plays out its reality in a system that remains mostly beyond our understanding, the fact that for all of human history we have been trying to explain our existence with songs, and stories, and big piles of stone.

Welcome to the solstice... Have a drink on me!


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Yentl for Chanukah

Last Saturday, for the second night of Chanukah, KQED ran Barbra Streisand's remarkable film, Yentl. Okay... so first of all, I'm a sucker for faith of just about any disposition. I'm also a sucker for brainy women; I am definitely one of those folks that believes the brain is the most important sex organ. In addition, as anyone who has spent any time reading this blog knows, I am a father who dotes on his daughter, and if there's a better father/daughter movie than Yentl, I have yet to see it. In addition, I still have memories of my DDD at the age of five or six sitting and watching Yentl over and over with me and both of us crying and laughing and loving it all (just like I did all by myself on Saturday night).

We won't even start on Mandy Patinkin or Amy Irving, okay?

Finally, I'm also a fanatic for the basic concept that you should never, never, never give up your dream, and THAT really is the point of the movie... and the point of Chanukah itself. Between the steadfast determination of the Maccabees to refuse the forces that sought to overwhelm them and the "miracle of the oil" at their triumph... Well, it's just a great great story; a story that EVERYONE should make a point to know better than most of us do, and one that I find especially worthwhile at this particular moment in my life.

So thanks (again) Barbra and thanks KQED... you made my night!

Happy Chanukah... Papa watch me fly!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Always take the drop with commitment...

Well damnit! I suppose if I'm going to ask for suggestions I damn well better be prepared for them.

Hoz's link to Shaun Tomson's new book and the discussion about it in Surfline has given me the first of the thoughts for the day... "There will always be another wave." He has provided the second as well, which I found on the Surfline site when I went to read the first. It's that second thought that I feel a real need to take with me into the day. "Always take the drop with commitment..." feels like a surfer's way of relating what E's quote from the Dalai Lama was about yesterday. A way of saying that the day is out there for you to make a life and if you're going to do it... do it. This is not a trait that I am particularly adept at. My life has tended to be characterized by actions that are hesitant, confused and timorous. I have a tendency to more often ask "what could go wrong" than "what could go right." The fact of the matter is that you may not succeed at what you attempt today (or tomorrow) in fact, much of the time you can be pretty sure that you WON'T succeed, and that's where the other thought comes in... "There will always [always!!!] be another wave.

It's a new morning... a new day... time for commitment; time to get moving.

I need to get to the beach.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Place To Begin...

Okay... So I rose out of my bed this morning, awake and painfully aware; knowing that I have no money, knowing that most of my resources have disappeared, and ultimately knowing that I really know nothing at all. In the midst of this I rose up choosing to move forward with determination, and meaning... and glee.

Before I've even made coffee, I check my email (on the ancient iMac that I borrowed from a friend) to find that my friend E has sent me a bit of electronic encouragement for the day...

"Everyday, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others for the benefit of all beings."
-His Holines the XIV Dalai Lama

Stop and think about that for a minute. There is something very deep there. That fourth sentence in particular; His Holiness puts a real responsibility on the act of living in that one. "I am going to use ALL my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL BEINGS." Damn... all I was worried about was how I was going to pay the rent on my office and buy a couple of Christmas presents for my kid!

It's going to be a great day!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

18 months and counting... Could we start again please?

I began this blog just short of 18 months ago... The first post was an exciting launch into a new idea and a new plan... a way to report on a new adventure that I thought was going to be a truly new and interesting phase of my life.

Well... it's certainly been interesting, I'll give it that.

What I knew at the time, but did not expect to continue in the way it has, was that I was jetisoning much of who I had been and what I had collected over all the previous years of my life. That process has continued, unrelentingly, for a year and a half. Many of the folks I know in New Orleans lost everything they had in a matter of minutes and hours. For me the process has been more of a general fading away, a dropping off, a peeling back of layers to the point that I stand now pretty much with nothing and on the edge of a chasm that I can't see into, let alone through.

It's time to find a new road... But I seem to have lost my maps.

I expect that the journey is going to take some time, after all, it's taken 52 years to get here.

I guess I better get started, even though I don't know where I'm headed.

Any suggestions?

Would Jesus Shop At Walmart?

In my frustration with the reality of corporate America and the way Apple, a company that I thought of as the best in the bunch, has personally affected me recently, I have accidented upon a couple of pieces about a company that I've never had any illusions about... WalMart.

I've written about this on George Washington's Cousin this morning, and you can find those reflections here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It Just Works... WRONG!

I've been buying Macs since Macs were created. I'm the guy who drank the Kool Aid and passed it on to everyone else. I'm the guy who made every argument that it's possible to make about how great Apple is and how smart Steve Jobs is and what a lovely, helpful, thinking company Apple is.

I have, on many occasions, made the statement that the world would be a better place if everyone used Apples.

Well... this is the moment of truth; this is the point where I realize the dark, sad reality that not only do people who you don't know steal your car and computer, and not only do other people sell you (to the tune of $1,000) a broken machine that has only been glossed over enough to pass the visual test, but the "perfect company" with the cute commercials and the smiley faces, the company that claims "It Just Works" and promises to repair a product for a reasonable flat rate fee ($326.00 to be precise) is just as crooked, greedy, and evil as the rest of them. That the holy mountain is actually populated, not by the lovely vegetarian Buddha of cyberspace, but by a penny pinching Ebeneezer Scrooge who will suck every cent out of you that he can get ($1240.00 to be precise... a sum that I neither have, nor would pay if I did).

And yeah... I'm not only feeling anger at being cheated, and being lied to, and being given the run around by the "geniuses" (did someone at Apple perhaps spill liquid on this machine???? I know that I certainly didn't). I am also feeling the pain of the betrayed true believer who finally discovers that the Wizard is just a little man behind the curtain.

Apple used to be a GREAT company... now it's just like the rest... greedy, predictable, unhelpful, unbending and uncreative (except in inventing new ways to get people to spend more money).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Who Dat!?

This evening the New Orleans Saints destroyed the Dallas Cowboys, and they did it in Dallas. That makes me VERY happy!

I've never been a real [American]football fan. In fact, until I landed in New Orleans last summer, where The Dome holds the skyline and where the team is everyone's team (unlike the Bay Area where the choice of Raiders or Niners tends to be a class based choice), I never really had a team I seriously cared about. But the Saints captured my imagination and my heart before Katrina and AFTER Katrina... well, forget aboud it!

Now... the other side of this equation is that having grown up Southern Baptist and having attended a Baptist seminary, I was conditioned to the religion of the Dallas Cowboys... and what that means for me is that I pretty much feel like ANYONE beating the tar out of the Cowboys is a very very good thing.

Well... tonight the Saints not only STOMPED th Cowboys 42-17, they did it in the Cowboys' own house!

Who dat? Well... You KNOW who dat!

Slipping into Darkness...

It's dark and grey and alternating between dripping and pouring... Welcome to wintertime Northern California. Right now I'm thinking that pretty much all of the suggestions from the last post (surfing... acid... nature... and holding) seem like a darn good litany of coping mechanisms, and just the fact that there are people wishing well and making proposals of the sort goes a long way to making the day work a little bit better.

We are 11 days out from the solstice when we will have the shortest day and longest night and then we start the circle again. I love the smell of optimism in the morning!

Last year on New Year's Eve I spent it with misplaced musicians and cooks from New Orleans... dancing to "I'm a lonely boy... I ain't got a home." This year I'm considering attending a "Pirate Ball." What better group of homeless people to party with than PIRATES? I mean... after all... we're a year further on, and I (along with so many friends) still "ain't got a home."

Something else I ain't got right now is a computer. My "replacement" for the computer that was stolen seemed to pick up something like the same disease my brain had a week and a half ago and so after several days of spending 10 hours working with it to get an hour of work out of it, I decided to leave the damn thing in the ICU unit of the Apple store for repairs... At this point I'm about ready to start looking for work, any work, that doesn't require the use of silicone based technology.

Topping the "good news" list this week: my bill from the hospital came yesterday and clocks in a little cheaper than I expected (though it doesn't include the ambulance charge) at just over $2,000. Maybe the pirates will help me pay it!

Regardless of all the above... it's the second Sunday of Advent, one week into the church's new year, and I still choose to believe that things have GOT to start looking up soon!

Like I said... I love the smell of optimism in the morning!

Go Saints!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Onward... Through the FOG

It's been just over a week (sitting in the exact spot where I am sitting now) since I had my seizure and just under a week since I started popping Dilantin again. It took a couple of days (the half life of the drug is 22 hours) before it whacked me, but it's done the job now.

I spend most of the day in a slight haze that feels not terribly dissimilar to the hazy aura I get right before a seizure. I find my patience, something that I have been very happy about developing over the last several months, to be easily worn thin. I guess that at least some of my "progress" of late had more to do with not taking Dilantin than it did a great spiritual and psychological breakthrough. The fear of not eating, and thereby setting off another seizure is taken care of; I find myself constantly hungry and perpetually tired. I just read someone else describe this feeling as "tired but wired" and that's as good a description as I have ever seen. My brain goes ever around in circles and there is no straight line of thinking. I find myself doing the same tasks over and over again while letting other things fall by the way.

Basically... this sucks.

In the words of Huey Lewis... "I want a new drug!"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Shake... Rattle... And Roll

Well... Monday afternoon about 5:00, not that long after I had written the previous post, I started to hear a whole lot of music playing in the air. It was a bit frenetic and I could understand every lyric, but I couldn't recognize the songs. I finally began to think it was a little weird for there to be music playing so loudly in the Petaluma Library, and then it dawned on me that it wasn't playing in the air at all... It was playing in my head.

I got up from where I was sitting and noticed a strange kind of fogginess that seemed to be filling my brain as gradually it dawned on me that this is what the brain doctors always call an "aura." It's a precursor to one of the grand mall seizures that I have at had intermittent times over the last 30 years. I haven't been taking my meds like I'm supposed to. They mess with my brain, which I guess is what they're supposed to do, and sometimes make it hard to think. It's also been pretty well established that they are the source of a lot of the irritability that I express in life and that I have been trying to get rid of. I also have discovered that if I'm very very careful about eating carefully and eating regularly I don't seem to have a problem.

Unfortunately for me, on Monday I pretty much didn't eat.

So, at around 5:15pm I looked around for a comfy chair that I wouldn't hurt myself in and sat down in anticipation of waking up looking at the ceiling.

And that's exactly what happened. I woke up with a couple of guys leaning over me asking if I knew where I was (like being in one of those spy shows where they blindfold you to take you somewhere and then quiz you about the trip) and when they gave me back my cell phone I couldn't figure out how it had gotten to be the end of November so soon. It took a few hours, and some serious pain killers, to clear the fog and the headache from my brain and I don't even want to think about what the hospital bill for that little jaunt is going to be. The good side, if there is a good side, is that my new computer (the one I just bought to replace the one that was stolen a month ago) was left behind at the library, but it was STILL THERE when I got back.

The bad side (besides the money of course) is that the DMV is most assuredly going to lift my driver's license for at least six months... Here we go again.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Home Sick Once More...

In about a week it will have been six months since I was last in The Crescent City. At the time that I left in June I expected to only be gone for a month. After that it became impossible to return for a while and I reluctantly settled into the idea that I would have to be away from home for three months or so. At the end of summer it was still obvious that I had no way to return and no place to go once I got there, so I simply sucked it up and put my head into the wind ahead of me, seeking a way to move somewhere without really knowing where that where was.

Now we are coming toward the end of the year once more. A year ago I was in a thoroughly devastated New Orleans with very few resources but with a sense of purpose and a hope for the future. I attended one of the annual Peace Stories concerts with my friend who had only just returned from exile in Houston (the first concert this year is Wednesday night, and I won't be there... but I hope she'll go for me). Last December I spent a lot of time with people who had nothing but hope and a dream, along with a fair amount of anger at the government, to sustain them. Yet, we were making it; we knew things could only get better… Hell, they couldn’t get worse.

But in some sense that is exactly what they did.

Now, a year later, there are far fewer people who have returned to New Orleans than anyone expected, the promised money has yet to be distributed to the people who need it, people who thought they could rebuild are still waiting for neighborhood plans, and insurance companies, and FEMA; many who simply can’t wait have already given up. Harry Anderson, who ran a magic shop and a nightclub in the French Quarter, has packed his bags and left town, my friend who ran the Irish Shop on Toulouse has left for Ireland, another friend is house hunting amid the frustration of little progress and less help, and when I was in Ohio a month ago I heard the story of a woman who had just accepted $30,000 for her house (about 15% of what it was worth) because she simply couldn’t hold out any longer. You can bet that someone with the resources to wait things out is going to make a boatload of cash on that deal!

Mardi Gras season starts in just over a month (when the 12th Night Revelers celebrate on January 5th) and it seems to me that this year’s Mardi Gras is going to be far less festive than the one – so controversial in its own right – last year. Despite what many people thought, last year there was a reason to celebrate, if for no other reason than the fact that we had survived. Like it says in Randy Newman’s song of that other great flood, they had TRIED to wash us away but we were still hangin’ on. Right now it’s looking like that sentiment might have been a mite premature. Any way you cut it, the road back is going to be a lot longer (and a lot rougher) than any of us first imagined. In fact that road seems to be getting longer and rougher by the day… even the street signs are screwed up.

There are, of course, people in New Orleans sticking it out, fighting it out, pulling it together and holding on to hope, but (and for me this is the most difficult part) I am not one of them.

I miss it… I pine for it… I want to help with the work and join in the celebrations. Despite every bit of progress and every moment of hope, every day I find another piece missing from my heart.

I want to go HOME for Christmas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Salmon Creek Sunday

grey sky to grey sea
and whitecaps layout
the line as sea birds
dot the space between

shades of green and brown
accent the foreground
rivulets of mud
rain drops on the roof

north coast winter
beachside dark grey flood
a single surfer
drops in off the lip

two of us alone
sharing one moment
separated by
watery distance

Saturday, November 25, 2006


there’s a spider running
around my feet
in the kitchen
while i write

it reminds me
of one of the first
notes you ever left me
after we first met

i hope that none of them
were affectionately
called by the name
of charlotte

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ring Those Bells

For the last few days the brass bowl/bell that I use to begin and end my morning meditation has been acting a little out of whack. By taking a wooden mallet that is part of the set and turning it around the edge of the bowl it is possible to make the bowl resonate with a beautiful tone that builds exponentially as you round the rim over and over and over. Eventually the turning around the rim is almost effortless and with only the slightest addition of speed or pressure it is possible to make the bowl ring very loudly. Or you can simply lighten up, applying just enough pressure to keep the bowl ringing at the established level. This phenomenon is something that I use regularly as an example of what the process of meditation, patience and self-improvement is really like. It takes a while to get to the point of critical mass, but once you are there the process is nearly effortless.

The problem, however, is that the bell has not been ringing as it should. For several days, no matter what speed, what level of concentration, what magical thinking, patience, emotional peacefulness, speed or muscle-heavy effort that I applied to the process, the bowl would not ring. The problem was that I had oiled the mallet a few days ago.

The mallet had become very rough, dry and a little bit ugly. It made the bell ring beautifully, but it wasn’t very aesthetic itself. So I added a little oil to it and polished it up. Unfortunately, while this made the mallet look much more beautiful than before, it also reduced the friction that the mallet creates on the edge of the bowl and no matter what I tried, the bowl simply would not respond to the touch of the new instrument. This was driving me crazy. I would begin and end each meditation with an attempt to use force – in one way or another – to make the bell ring properly and after several minutes of frustration would eventually give up and strike the side of the bowl to get any ring at all (ironically, in such situations the best, most aesthetic ring is accomplished with the very lightest touch at the round curve near the base of the bowl). Needless to say, this process was not making my meditation period very peaceful.

Finally, yesterday evening, fed up with this problem, and beginning to feel not just a little bit inferior to the bowl, I decided to roughen up the mallet. I washed it with soap, hoping to dry out some of the oil and I scraped it with an aluminum cleaning pad to roughen up the surface and bring back its natural texture. And it worked. It took a bit longer to get the bell to ring as it should, but with some attention and patience the mallet and the bowl began once again to interact with each other and the tone began to rise magically in the room.

This morning the bell rang as easily as ever.

For me, much of the last fifteen months have been a trip around the edge of the bowl, over and over with nothing to show for it (no money, no work, no place to live), while at other times the journey has been a moment by moment experience of grace, moving me forward inch by inch, giving me manna - sufficient only to the day – for sustenance and support but leaving me without anything to arrogantly declare my own. Sometimes, often at the most unexpected moments, it has been a showering down of surprising blessings when everything flows as it should and I find myself laughing with the joy of the moment and the gift of the day. These times seem to come most often on the heels (or in the midst) of the rough mornings, the days of struggle, or the sleepless nights of disturbing thoughts and dreams.

The bell rings loudest when the mallet is dry.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In The Beginning Was The Word

For the last two weeks (ever since I woke up on Wednesday morning after the election) I have been buried in a life reflection (for lack of a better term that comes to mind this morning) with the purpose of finding a way out of the seemingly never ending limbo that my life has been plunged into since August 28, 2005. The reasons I picked this particular time to pursue this effort were three-fold.

The first reason was temporal, as the year winds down, as the sun recedes southward, the days grow short and the nights grow long, I am always drawn into a reflective mode in which I feel the call to self-examination and commitment as the new year gets ready to turn. It’s a behavior that is not really unique to me obviously, and it’s one of the reasons I am particularly enamored with the liturgical calendar. Observing certain seasons, and certain prescribed behaviors thereof, helps to maintain some kind of manageable perspective in the midst of the generally unmanageable reality of daily living.

The second reason had to do with missed opportunities. On that morning after election day my friend Hoz got married in Hawaii. I was supposed to have been at the wedding; nearly two years ago I declared “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” But the exigencies of the last 15 months had so completely balled up my finances, my work, and my spirit in general that the fabulous opportunity this represented simply turned to so many grains of speculative sand in my hand. Paul was in Honolulu getting married; I was waking up in Petaluma unclear on what to do next.

The third reason was situational and practical. As I watched the slowly growing victory of the Democrats in the election it was very clear that the earth didn’t move of its own accord and while it would be nice to think that people just generally “got it” finally, the fact is that Nancy Pelosi put together a hell of an organization and marshaled her forces with the determination of a winning coach, or triumphant general. It struck me that if I was going to pull myself out of the ever-swirling spiral that has been my life since Katrina I was going to need some kind of plan. Planning, particularly over the last year (just in case you hadn’t noticed), is not exactly my strong suit.

So I began a self-imposed, self-improvement plan. 45 days (now 34) to Christmas Day with a set of disciplines, a regular time of reflective writing, and the goal of setting my life on a path that I can, once again, commit to.

What’s come out of the first ten days is the central importance of one thing that I have been working on for about 30 years: my writing. Beginning today, I am dedicating myself to a solid four hours a day of writing. A good portion of that will show up here, as I hope to return to essentially a daily blog (something that I have been clearly lax about of late) but other bits of it will go into work that I have had lying around in various stages of completion, or sitting in the cobwebbed corners of my brain, for a very long time.

I have been engaged by writing most of my life and I have made some kind of a living at writing, in one form or another, for much of the last 30 years. However, like so many writers (and would be writers) I am particularly adept at figuring out all the things to do instead of writing. Today, I am making a public commitment to change that reality once and for all. Like many of the other things I have included in this blog over the last fifteen months, I am staking my flag in this ground, on this relatively public forum, as a way of forcing myself to put up or shut up; as a way of attempting to be honest.

It’s not like I haven’t made these kind of commitments before. I’ve made them many times, but all the good intentions have almost always died in utero, generally due to a consummate lack of discipline on my part. I am posting this statement in an attempt to circumvent that one particular failing. People making changes in their lives are often advised to play their cards close to the chest. It’s a philosophy based on the idea that those who do don’t say and those who say don’t do. Well, that perspective has rarely worked for me, so I have decided to take a different tack. I am climbing these stairs and nailing my proclamation on the cathedral door (how’s that for a grandiose allusion?).

Here I stand… I can do no other.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Open Your Golden Gate!!!

It’s been over a week since the election and I haven’t written a thing about it, mostly because I am still in a bit of shock.

The big words, both before the election and subsequently with the virtual coronation of Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker of the House, have been those three words, initially coined by Fox News hate-monger Bill OReilly, “San Francisco Values.”

All I have to say is, "Hooray for San Francisco Values!"

I moved to San Francisco in 1977 to go to Baptist seminary in order to earn a Masters degree in Divinity and Social Work (a degree that the Southern Baptist Convention has exorcised from their curriculum as they have shunned their historical roots and moved backward to become the centerpiece of the neo-cons “faith based” base). There was no mistake in my destination, either in the program or the environment. San Francisco, more than the seminary, was the real choice I was making and I have been committed to the values represented by the people and the politics of San Francisco for what will soon be 30 years. What is seen as an epithet by so many is for me a compliment of the highest order. San Francisco values are Thom Butler’s values.

So, what do I believe these values to be? You might think that is something relatively difficult, and terribly complex, to answer, but it isn’t at all.

True San Francisco values (as opposed to those coined by OReilly) center upon a reality that I learned long before I moved to San Francisco 29 years ago. They are values that I was taught by my Grandmother in the DAR and my father who volunteered for WWII while he was still in high school. They are the values that I learned in Sunday School at the First Baptist Church. They are the values I learned at Sahuarita High School when I was required to take American History as a junior and American Problems as a senior. They are the values I was taught were the values of our “founding fathers” (and founding mothers by the way). They are the values that I began to glean from the Bible when I came to a place where I could begin to figure out those mysterious stories for myself. They are the values I learned from reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Paul Tillich, Howard Thurman, and Martin Luther King Jr. and by being gifted with the friendship of people like Elizabeth Nordquist, as I evaluated whether I was made of the stuff that preachers are made of (a question that has yet to be fully answered incidentally).

Those values involve the right of all people (citizens and non-citizens alike, just as it states in the Constitution) to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of whether they agree with me (or you) or not. They include the right of people to think and speak freely, to love whomever they choose while still hanging on to the possibility of jobs and homes and health care and hope. Those values involve the RIGHT (not a privilege bought with PRIVILEGE) to food, and clothing, and safety; to free-speech, and free belief, and love and joy and hope (I said that one before... and I'm gonna say it again). They involve the responsibility of society to take care of the roads... and the water... and the air... and THE PEOPLE.


Last week Michael Moore dropped a great letter to conservatives that looks at what the “liberal agenda” is really about and implicitly compares the tactics of the two opposing political camps. It’s a good letter and I agree with him completely.

So here we are… 11 days after the election and 792 days away from a new president… HANG ON BABIES!!!!! HOPE IS ON THE WAY!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Feeling A Little Out of Sorts...

I pirated this image from my daughter's MySpace page because when I saw it earlier today I couldn't think of anything that expressed my sense of how weird it is to be here at election day in The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave feeling so completely wacked out and out of sorts. Six years ago (when Jennifer was first voting and I was holed up in Palm Beach County, Florida watching the nightmare unfold first hand) could anyone have even fathomed how deep, dark, low and lost we would become in such an incredibly short time? It's like all of those Bush disclaimers... "No one could have imagined that people would use planes as missles..." "No One could have imagined that the levees would fail..." "No one could have expected the kind of insurgency we face in Iraq..."

Well, yeah... people did imagine and those people didn't vote for Bush. What we truly couldn't have imagined (or at least I couldn't imagine) was the extent to which one man and one man's friends could turn this country into such a cesspool of greed, corruption and failure and how easily they would do it with all of us looking on.

I really want to have much more to say about what I hope will be the outcome of this election, but frankly, it seems to me that most of it has already been said.

There's only thing I'm really feeling right now, after literally dozens of conversations where people have made the comment, "it doesn't matter who you vote for."

Three words (and the above photo) to that... YES IT DOES!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Weekend in Defiance

I just spent the last four days in the little town of Defiance Ohio (the first time I have been in the state where I was born since I was six months old) and it was a supreme delight. I was on a panel at Defiance College with Dr. C.T. Vivian (my personal hero) and several other new friends from New Orleans.

One of the great things... perhaps the only great thing... to happen to me since Katrina has been the wonderful people I have met because of the storm. Something is going on in my life and I really don't know what it is just yet; I still can't figure out if the more appropriate Biblical metaphor for my last fourteen months is Jonah or Job.

What I know is that I am blessed.

I am blessed by the kindness of Old Friends
I am blessed by the kindness of New Friends
Family... Home... Presence

But seriously... Can anything good come out of Ohio?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Little Things Mean A Lot Department

I just got a notice that I have "a balance" in my Cafe Press account.

It ain't much, but I didn't expect there to be anything! As it turns out, two people whom I do not even know have taken a fancy to my Blues Routes souvenier T-shirts (logo design by PhD by the way)and bought a couple.

While I wasn't even looking!

Money for Nothin'!

You too can participate in this lovely experience and get your very own Paul Horrell designed Blues Routes T-Shirt... Be The First One On Your Block!

Be Careful What You Wish For...

I actually find it kind of amusing that I put down a post entitled "Don't Just Do Something..." and less than 24 hours later my car and computer, the symbolic, as well as very real, facilitators of both my mental and physical movement are simply, casually, and without warning, lifted from my reality.

It's as if The God(dess) simply was reading the damn blog and said... "well... okay then."

Late Monday night I got a call from the Police Department to let me know that my car had been found in relatively undamaged condition and so I spent all of yesterday and most of today going through a long list of problematic dealings and relatively costly expenditures (though not as costly as it looked like it was going to be) to finally re-acquire my vehicle.

Unfortunately... the thieves evidently liked my computer and that didn't make like Little Bo Beep's sheep and come home... not yet.

So here I am, three days from a trip to Defiance College to talk about Katrina, without the tools of my trade and with no real good idea of what I am going to do about recovering them. Sitting here is not only a good idea... it's pretty much the only option.

On the other hand... I had a great "sit down" with Jen last night. When I wasn't able to get my car, we hooked up downtown and had a couple of drinks, some great almonds, and a couple of hours of really wonderful conversation that made every single bit of every single thing that went wrong worthwhile. The fact is (as sad as this reality is) I would not have had that opportunity had I not lost my car and computer.

It was - as time with Jennifer always is - a great, great gift.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Just When I Thought It Was Safe...

Saturday started out with so much beauty that it was almost excruciating to behold. The sun was shining, the sky was clear; I had to go to The City for work, so I decided to take the long way around and go down Highway 1 through Stinson Beach, up over Mt. Tam and through Sausalito. By the time I got into San Francisco I still hadn't gotten the day out of my system, so I decided to make a stop for lunch at Memphis Minnie's in the "Lower Haight" (what used to be called The Fillmore when I used to live and work in the neighborhood).

I parked my car on Fillmore and went for a walk around the block, past the old Fillmore Baptist Center where I was a seminary intern, down the block of Haight where I used to get PoBoys and have a beer at Toronado. When I returned to my car (or more accurately where I had left my car), I discovered that someone else had decided that it was a good day for a drive as well.

A drive in my car... with my computer in the trunk.

I spent the rest of the day looking to see if I could find the car and then ultimately reporting it stolen at Northern Police Station. Then I caught the bus back to Petaluma and finished off the day trying to be sprightly and partyish at my friend's big fundraising Halloween Party at The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma.

As I write this now, it crosses my mind that spending the evening in a place called The Phoenix might be just exactly the right thing.

I've got to start RISING out of the ashes sooner or later... I really don't have anything left to lose.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Don't Just Do Something... Sit There

Life moves slowly these days.

The picture at left is about as good an explanation of that movement as anything that I can think of. The window in the background is the window that I wake up to every morning. There's a huge tree just out of frame that makes me feel like I'm waking up in a treehouse every day.

The meditation cushion (zafu) which sits in the center of the bed was made for me some years ago by Jennifer. Because of that fact I find it both a sort of launching pad to the cosmos and a lock to the ground... exactly what it seems to me a zafu is really all about anyway. It is the place I start almost every day. It is the source of a center that has kept me whole and relatively sane during the last 18 months. On top of the cushion is a meditation bell, a copy of Thoma Merton meditations and my miniature labyrinth (also from Jen). These are the elements that make up the microcosm of my life.

The little red and black books on the right are my latest journals. One is labeled The Plan, the other is labeled The Theory. I started these particular journals a few months ago when I thought I might actually be able to figure out a systematic approach to stitching my life back together again.

It's not working very well. Those two journals are about as chaotic a set of documents as I have produced in the nearly 40 years that I have been keeping journals. I still don't know any more than I did when I first started keeping track of the meandering thoughts in my brain.

Finally, the little black bag in the corner of the photo carries my work materials, my laptop in particular. Over the last year and a half it is the black bag and the zafu that have come to represent the yin and yang of who I am. My work and my sitting and the places that those touch the lives of the people in my life. That's really all I feel right now.

The great big grandiose plans I have had at various points of my life and the big troublesome fears and worries that have plagued my nights and days. Right now... these days... they pretty much all come down to the stuff in this picture... and the invisible attachments that lead out from there.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I Could Have Danced All Night...

The thing I didn't mention about the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest was the fact that on Saturday, Jen and Andy and Mel and a whole bunch of their friends (Stuart, and Jerry and Eric in particular) joined me at the fest and, for the first time in many many years I got to dance to Cajun music with my daughter. Her comment was, "I'm not any better at this than I was when I was eight...." well, the thing about that is, neither am I. But who cares... it's dancing and we don't have to be good.

Jen sent me the picture earlier today and I just found a copy of the John Denver song that is (yeah yeah it's embarassing but it's true)the source of her name. I was younger (a LOT younger) than she is now when I heard this song and thought I wanted to give my child this name. It's interesting to me that it's a song about dancing and Jen is definitely a lover of dance. Considering how many women of her age are named Jennifer, I'm guessing there was a fair number of people who liked the song. But I don't care... to me it's about her... and (like the song says) I do want to live forever "... in all the joy and all the sorrow we can only hope to share." If I've learned anything this last year, it's something like that.

Having the chance to dance, even for just a few minutes, with my girl... hey... it really doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I'll Never Get Over Those Blue Eyes...

It's taken me three days to really come to terms with processing the three days that I spent at the Warren Hellman / Emmylou Harris Amazing Music Fest, otherwise known as The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. With the single exception of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, there is nothing anywhere that compares to this.

The weekend started, as I mentioned in a previous post, with Friday afternoon's Speedway Meadow concert featuring Jimmie Dale Gilmore (one of my all time favorite musicians)and Butch Hancock, followed by Elvis Costello… with accompaniment provided by the Blue Angels. Joining the roster of players was Emmylou Harris (The Goddess of Music in my opinion), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who all joined Elvis' set (after he had already played a 30 minute solo set, AND a 30 minute band set ) for a rousing hour long preview of just the way the rest of the weekend was bound to go. The San Francisco weather even responded when the grey fog of the previous week, broke through to clear skies (something almost unheard of in the fogbank of western San Francisco) at sunset. A glowing orange sun lit the stage with an ethereal light while the whole crew sang an astonishing rendition of "Train Train" to close the set, before returning for several encores, including Elvis' declaration of political clarity – "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?"

The weather held for the rest of the weekend with bright sunny skies and San Francisco's amazing Indian Summer temperatures providing the unspoken theme of clarity and brilliance as every style of music found its way into the Hardly part of the fest and Bluegrass Legends (and near legends) held forth on the Banjo stage, the Rooster stage, the Arrow stage and more.

The constant reminder of Bush's war machine, in the guise of the daily Blue Angels flyover (it's Fleet Week in San Francisco doncha know) provided an interesting juxtaposition to anti-war tunes of every possible stripe from classic bluegrass protests about the human cost of war (written in response to our own civil war, but still applicable to the one currently taking place in Iraq) to reimagined blues tunes like Huddy Leadbetter's "Beaujois Town", 60s utopiana like "If You're Going to San Francisco," and hot off the presses esoteric protests like T Bone Burnett's "Palestine Texas."

The highlight for me though.. in the midst of three days of astonishing acts, and painful choices (I had to forego hearing the North Mississippi Allstars and Richie Furay in order to catch Richard Thompson and Emmylou Harris), was Emmylou's opening afternoon duet with Elvis on "I Still Miss Someone." Bluegrass, and bluegrass influenced music of all stripes, is nothing if not melancholy and the pain of loss (lost love, lost lives, lost opportunities) is the rue from which the gumbo of the music comes to full boil. In that sense, beginning with that lovely duet Friday, plucking at my personal heartstrings with golden voice and thoughtful touch, and concluding in much the same manner at sunset Sunday, it was in this musical reflection of the losses in my life during the last year (the loss of love, of home, of place, of purpose) and the similar (and often far more profound) losses of friends and acquaintences, that I found relief and strength and joy and hope. Obviously, these were accompanied by the frequent tears I have come to know of late and the deep hurt in my chest that never totally goes away. But it was on this weekend, saturated by this music, that I was treated, again, to the bright flower of a hopeful future that seems to be rising from the raggedy ass garden of my disconnected life.

What a weekend!

Thanks Emmy!

Thanks Warren!

Friday, October 06, 2006

By the way...

I just got a new cell phone yesterday, so for those of you who need to know the number... it's 707-364-2419.

You can of course still reach my on my other numbers:

San Francisco - 415-691-6140
New Orleans - 504-273-6186

Or online at Skype. My Skypename is mercreate.

Joy Will Find A Way

Yesterday, while reading a book review by a new friend of mine (and the person from whom I am renting my room in Petaluma) I read a reference to the author Mark Nepo, referring to him as a "deep optimist" and it captured my imagination. I think my attraction to the idea is strong because, in contrast to the depression I have felt over so much time, I am feeling very optimistic myself these days.

I wake up every morning with a deep gratitude for the world outside my window and the day that is ahead. I even find that days when I know there's much work and responsibility (something that I have not always been happy about) I head into the day with a sense of joy and anticipation. This is something that feels like a legacy from the last year since Katrina. So much of my life over the last year has been a wait and see, take it step by step, kind of reality that I have fallen into a sort of slot of optimism that is almost always peaceful and sometimes downright exciting. I find that I anticipate the day and look forward to finding out what I don't know yet. The experience is no doubt aided by the big tree outside my window that I wake up to every morning; it's as if I live in a tree house, my window view filled with green (now turning to yellow) leaves and the sound of birds filtering through into my slowly rising consciousness. I find myself – every day – waking up with a smile and a thank you on my lips.

Right now I'm sitting in the back corner of the Beach Chalet on the beach in San Francisco (that's my view from the window at the top there). I'm grabbing a bite to eat, a beer and some WiFi, and after I finish this, I'll be loading up some new material for web work I've been doing this week before I head out for the afternoon show in Golden Gate Park (Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Elvis Costello) opening the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest... three days of fun and music (as they said once about another fest). It's rainy and foggy and we all may be turned into wet noodles before the weekend's out, but it'll be worth it (particularly since, thanks to Warren Hellman, the whole event is FREE).

The music - as always - stands on its own.

And that says a lot.

Bruce Springsteen's new album features a rockin' folky version of an incredible piece of American folk music, Mary Don't You Weep. It's a song that's been holding me up since I first heard it while still in NewOrleans this spring. Bruce Cockburn used to do a song called Joy Will Find A Way, a song that always brought gladness to my heart and a smile to my face. At this point in time... quite literally by some sort of amazing surprise, I find myself feeling that kind of uplift almost every day.

I really have no idea where I'm going over the next few months (who knows, maybe even years), but damn if the journey ain't turnin' out to be fun!

Friday, September 29, 2006

But... Butt... BUTTS

It's a rainy Friday morning in Northern California. It's the kind of morning that brings out a reflective attitude and thought process; it's a morning for reading, thinking, poetry writing and BIG IDEAS!

One of those ideas hit me a few hours ago and I couldn't decide whether to post it here, or on headbutts or Washington's Cousin.

It's a thought that applies equally to the topics of each, so I decided to throw it up here.

Give it a read... give it some thought.

I'm probably crazy, but it's clearly a good idea.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Like Hell It Was!

I promised more to say about the Saints game and about New Orleans and about... well about everything, but I find myself speechless, still, two days after the fact.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the tires I've been driving on to try and get every last bit of rubber out of them, have finally decided to give up the ghost. Last night in The City (fortunately just as I turned a corner, as opposed to when I might have been on the Golden Gate Bridge a few minutes later, or on the downhill side of Waldo Grade half an hour later) my right front tire blew out. So now, I'm runnning on 4 bad tires and no spare. It's got my mind a bit pre-occupied.

SO... instead of coming up with grand eloquence about how deeply moved I was on Monday night (and how weird it was to be in a sports bar full of people who couldn't figure out why I kept screaming, or sobbing, or screaming AND sobbing), I am going to, instead, thank my dear friend Mary - who was actually AT THE GAME - for sending me the link to today's column from The God of Southern Journalism, Chris Rose.

Read it and weep!


P.S. My favorite line.... "Irma sang the national anthem. Jesus wept and I died. Then and there. Died over and over. Live, die, rise up. Live, die, rise up. Over and over."

Me too... and I was all the way on the other side of the country watching on a TV set in a sports bar named "Beyond the Glory."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Go Saints!

I ain't got nothin' else to say except that I really wish I was home damnit!

I'll have more to say tomorrow... but right now, all I really wanna do is go to bed.

Good game boys!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Corrie's Running...

An odd Race for the Cure this year, but something I still had to do.
this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Sun Is Going Away...

Yeah yeah... I know... it's been over a week and I haven't posted anything. It's been one of those kinda weeks, but then I guess it's really been one of those kind of years.

Thursday was the autumnal equinox, the day on the fall end of the calendar when the night time and the day time are of equal length. On top of that, there's an eclipse today as well. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere won't really catch it, but it's out there nonetheless. From here on out to the end of the year, the sun is leaving us and moving down to warmer climes.

I feel a great temptation to follow it. To move, right along with old sol down to Brazil, or Argentina, or Peru. I would like to maintain an equilibrium of light to darkness; equal amounts sun and shadow, some sort of hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not, in fact, a train.

A year ago I was right where I am now. I had just returned to Petaluma after having spent two weeks in exile in North Carolina. At the time, I expected my return here to be brief; a chance to pull some things together and figure out what to do while they were draining the water out of my city. By Halloween I was back in New Orleans fully imagining that by Mardi Gras we would be getting things, more or less, back to normal.

Not so, unfortunately, best laid plans of mice and men and all that sort of thing. Since that time a year ago, I've been back and forth between New Orleans and San Francisco half a dozen times and I have tried to find a place that feels like home in one of those places or the other only to continue, as before, living rather nomadically with little sense of permanence and less sense of direction.

I do like living by the seasons though. There's something that intrigues me in the feeling that I am tied close to the earth, connected with the shifting elements, tucked into Gaia's arms and floating with her rhythms as she crosses the heavens, hurtling through space.

It is certainly an interesting reality of the universe that while it seems we are making no progress at all, we are at the same time moving so fast, so furiously, through space and time. We are at one and the same instant incredibly important and totally insignificant.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Still looking for a place to call home

My friend Mary gave me a call this afternoon to let me know that one of my favorite singers in the world, Judith Owen, was on WWL radio New Orleans and that I could listen to it online. Judith is in New Orleans to play at my favorite venue anywhere, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art for their Thursday night concert. I checked her website and she'll be in San Francisco at The Makeout Room in two weeks and I'll be there to hear it. Judith, and her husband Harry Shearer, live, like me, in two places and, since Katrina, have been back and forth many times. In their case it's NOLA and Santa Monica. Thanks to the Simpsons they have resources to live in two places that I do not at this point possess, but the draw and the catch that moves them to be in both places is echoed precisely in my own experience.

This little interlude from New Orleans comes at the peak of several things that have been going on over the last few days. I've been working hard to complete material for the Churches Supporting Churches website (complete with fabulous Flash opening created by Hoz) and discussions with folks near and far about a trip I'll soon be making to New Orleans and then on to Ohio to speak to people about New Orleans. It all comes back around, like happens so often, to the sense that I am still deeply out of place. I have been in California for just over three months and I've been thinking I might stay here for another three months before heading back to The Crescent City, but there's no way I can hold out that long.

This is who I am... My heart lives in San Francisco AND New Orleans. I keep trying to delineate some kind of separation but it's never going to happen. I am of two minds, I possess two souls, I have two homes (and no home at all).

Now, I just have to figure out how to survive it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Tale of Three Cities

September 11 is what it is. Knowing that the date was coming, feeling some difficulty in knowing how to respond and some quandry at the way our government has used the suffering of our people to justify creating untold suffering on others, I have been waffling all week with what to write on this day, or whether to write at all.

Then I received an historical note from some friends at the BPFNA and I realized what I needed to write.

This is of course a day of historically trying circumstance, a memory for us as U.S. citizens that does not easily go away. What is maddening about the commemorations, and the justifications (and things like tonnight's show on ABC) is that the suffering of people has not been given its proper attention by the people who claim to be giving it attention. Instead they are simply using it (as they always do) to justify the machinations of their own power mongering and war making.

On another day, 28 years earlier, the U.S. took the occasion of another 9.11 to initiate the attack, and ultimate destruction, of the democratically elected government of Chile. Our president at the time, Tricky Dick, was behind that one as the CIA and the military joined together, much in the same way as today, to overthrow a foreign government with as much violence and disregard for human life as those guys on the planes five years ago.

On still another day, 100 years ago today, a different kind of overthrow was initiated when on September 11, 1906, Mohandas Gandhi convened a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to mobilize his community to oppose racially degrading legislation. On that September 11th, more than 3,000 people solemnly pledged to disobey the proposed law. this was the begining of the "Satyagraha" movement of organized nonviolent action, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As you remember the day, and those who died, please take some time to remember the others as well. The folks who died in New Orleans because our government was too busy in Iraq, the ones who have died in Iraq itself (our soldiers as well as Iraqis), thos e who were killed by us 30 years ago in South America and those who died at the hands of the dictator we installed.

Remember too... Gandhi and his peaceful revolution. The fact is not that non-violence CAN'T change the world. The fact is that it's never really been tried.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Darling New Orleans

It's been three months since I was in the Crescent City, but just in case anybody has doubts on where my heartstrings are tugged, I want to make some things perfectly clear.

New Orleans is, and will forever be, my home.

I am currently, and will probably be for a long time, a resident of San Francisco. As most know, before moving to New Orleans last summer, I had been a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area (a term I really detest by the way) for nearly 30 years and there was a time when I felt like San Francisco was likely the only place I could ever live. That changed a few years ago when I first experienced New Orleans tugging – consciously – at my heartstrings for the first time. I later became aware of the fact that the city had been tugging at me since I was 15 (maybe even earlier) and I was just a bit too dim to notice.

Now… as I have mentioned here on several occasions, I feel a somewhat divided loyalty. There are some things that are very important to me about California in general, and San Francisco in particular. First and foremost, my daughter is here. She's one of those rare people who was born and raised in San Francisco (probably a species that is even more rare than the person born and raised in NOLA). Secondly there is the ocean and to prpoerly discuss my relationship to the ocean would take a much longer posting and perhaps an entire blog of its own. Thirdly, there's the City itself – the food, the wine, the art, the music, and the theater – the entire aesthetics of the place I have loved and been at home in for so long that it feels like it’s a part of my body and my soul. Fourth on the list, there's Northern California in particular (Big Sur especially, but that's another other story) and the whole state in general. Lastly, but by no means leastly, there are the people whom I love throughout the state. These days – because of the people, and even because of the place – I'm even in love with LA, and that's a real challenge to admit for a diehard San Franciscan like me.

But… it's interesting… I have a very different reaction to both of the places that I love to call home.

San Francisco, with my history and my daughter; with the conversation and the politics (and the beer… oh my god, the beer) and the deep sense I possess that I have been here before, is a home for me in a completely wholistic, connected, and interesting way.

New Orleans, on the other hand, with her people, her food, and the ubiquitous, effervescent music that I love, has captured my heart in a way that I have never experienced before and which I certainly never expected. I love New Orleans like no place on earth. Over the last year – and particularly over the last three months while I have been solidly back in California – I have had people engage me and ask me point blank if I'm actually planning to move back. It's such an unbelievably odd question I can't even be polite about it any longer. Yes, I say. Then I just go on (or off, depending on your perspective on my particular commmunication style) about how I can't get Louisiana outta my blood. On a day like today, when I've spent a number of hours listening to New Orleans music and thinking New Orleans thoughts, it fills me up so completely that I can hardly stand it. Like some sort of strange shamanic force, New Orleans pulls at my soul, lifting it from my body and drawing it through space and time on a journey that lands me, fully awake and aware, in the middle of St. Charles Avenue, across from Popeye's, and down the street from Cooter Brown's.

I am in love with My Darling New Orleans more than I have ever been in love with another place or (with the exception of a handful of dearly loved folks)most people and I want to be there so badly I could scream (in fact, sometimes, I do scream). My challenge right now is to figure out how to bring something to the New Orleans table. There is so much needed and so much to do, but there is little business, and even lesser resources. When I moved to The Crescent City over a year ago, I was prepared to work and dig and scrape to find the work and the resources that what I do always requires (especially in a new location). After Katrina, it's another story entirely. Everyone – or nearly everyone – in New Orleans needs help, and as a wet behind the ears newcomer I don't feel that I have the credibility, or even the right, to go after what others need to persue as well. My calling, on this side of The Thing, is to find resources to bring back to my city. To add to, or hopefully even MULTIPLY, the resources available in order to help more than just myself.

New Orleans really is my home and I am sure that I will ultimately live out the last of my life, "On the Avenue." For now, I am content – in fact there are days, sometimes even weeks, when I am significantly more than content; when I am downright happy – to be living on the western edge of the continent, looking out at the ocean and planning a way to go home.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

One more for the year...

Bob Geiger at the Huffington Post has rerun a column that he wrote last year after Katrina and if you haven't read it, you should. If you have read it, well... read it again. It's a commentary on the picture here, which is of a kid in the Superdome a few days after Katrina.

The picture itself, and Bob's reaction to it reminds me of the first time I went to Nicaragua in December of 83, when my daughter was just about to turn two. It seemed like every kid in that war torn country was "dos anos." They were all just cute little terrors that reminded me, several times a day of the little girl I had left safely behind in California. The problem was, these kids weren't safe. Their houses were being shot at, their farms were being burned, and their parents were being murdered, by people who, at the very least, were being encouraged by our government, or were being paid by our government, or, worst of all, were American soldiers sent to fight against the Sandinista government and the people of Nicaragua. When I got back to the U.S. a fortnight later, I was forced to face into my own complicity in their horrors, sickness and death. I had to face the fact that my little girl was safe, while they were in danger, and I was responsible for both situations. That realization led me to take a number of actions that I'll have to go into some other time on some other blog, but some of those actions are still affecting me today.

The little boy in the picture, and Bob's beautiful column in response is the same situation all over again, only this time it's all happening on our "home ground."

The fact remains that, whether it's a kid down the block , on the other side of the country, or on the other side of the world, we are all in this damn life together, and somewhere, sometime, pretty damn soon, we all better start acting like it.

In the meantime... read it and weep.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's Hell Without Brains

I'm sitting on Petaluma Boulevard using the WiFi from a real estate office across the street.

In front of me just pulled up a big gas guzzling silverado pickup with a smiling fish sticker (looks kind of like a Jesus Shark) on the tailgate.

On the right side of the rear bumper is a sticker that states "It's HELL without JESUS" (along with attendant cheap graphical rendition of hell fire), on the left rear bumper is a sticker that states "fucbinladen."

I don't know what it's like without Jesus (though I'm pretty sure that I'm not interested in this guy's version of him), but damn if it sure ain't hell without brains!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

42 Reasons Why!

That's Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth (and the rest of the band as well) over there on the left... He's got a song that you have hopefully played off this blog before, but if you haven't well, then you should right now. He/they get the award for best band/artist in Gambit Weekly's Best of New Orleans issue. Printing the pages off the website will cost you 42 pages of recycled paper, but damnit... trust me... It's a great freaking list!

I was going to start listing my favorites (including two, count them two, listings for Bruce Springsteen's mind boggling jazzfest performance... in NEW ORLEANS, where they almost never give an out of towner a music or a food award).

So... here's the plan... go to the website, print out the list, then go to JetBlue, or Southwest and book yourself a cheap flight, and head on down.

Then write back and let me know what YOU LIKE!

If you're already there, then you already know... so what are YOUR favorites?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nothing To See Here... Please Move Along

Okay... enough of that. It strikes me that it's time to start getting things done around here (wherever "here" might actually be).

Here's a piece from the stellar NPR series "This I Believe". It says a lot about why people are drawn back to New Orleans even after, and perhaps even a little bit because of, what's happened.

I feel very much the same way.

Use Me While You Can

It was a year ago this morning that I sat next to M on her bed in Hattiesburg as we watched Katrina pass over, around, and through us, and I put my hand on her leg. It was a non-verbal way of trying to say, "thanks for taking us in," an expression of tenderness and connection, of despairing fear coupled with a modicum of hope leftover from our 17 years of loving each other. That really was the point where we were finally over. It was a moment that will remain indelibly carved into the granite spaces at the deep center of my memory.

It's taken an entire year for me to get that, to figure out how complete and permanent it was; I've flopped backward and forward in my lack of understanding, my hurt frustration, and my desperate need to be loved still, and more. But we were done that morning just as surely as the folks in New Orleans, who didn't know how hopeless the situation really was, were doomed to be left and lost and forgotten.

What I didn't know at the time was that I was one of those people too.

I did not suffer in any way like they suffered for I had the resources and the opportunity to escape the worst of that storm's fury. I had only lived in New Orleans for a month and my roots were only just beginning to grow down into that bayou dirt. Nonetheless, in that moment, with my reality divided between two, even three places, with no home and with all that I had collected over 51 years of living given away, lost, or about to be; life as I had known it, was ending.

I wake up this morning in the place where this journey started 390 days ago (the day before I moved to NOLA) and it almost feels like nothing has happened, like this morning's awakening was simply a normal rise from sleep and the close of a strangely disconcerting dream. As if the last year – the last 18 years, in fact – has been a sort of Wizard of Oz experience where everything that happened was simply an unconscious drama played out on the cinema screen of my nocturnal perambulations.

Even now, as I write this, tap tap tapping on my laptop keyboard, I look up through the kitchen window to the view of fog shrouded trees and brown dried grass, Bruce Cockburn's music wafts passed my ears, and I feel an odd disconnection of body and mind; I struggle, literally, to grasp for the straws of maya that pass for the previous 365 days of living. They are vanishing before me, even as I reach to snatch them and pull them in, placing them in a shoe box, securing it with tape and tucking it in underneath all of the other junk in the back of the car that currently passes for the closest thing to permanence I possess. Maybe… if I'm lucky, or wise… some day I can open the box and sort through all the scraps and figure out what the hell happened.

For now, what I have to help me make it through is the anger I feel at the callousness, incompetence and veniality of those who could have prevented that other disaster and who could have, in the ensuing year provided the kind of help necessary for a true new beginning for people I know there who have nothing, or nearly nothing, still. Could have, that is, if they were not otherwise distracted by their grasping, greedy, misguided quests for fortune and fame.

I am also sustained by my connections, new and old connections, to people who love me, root for me, and support me just as Dorothy's friends took care of her as they meandered through Oz. Without each of those (you) folks, without the prayers, generosity, thoughtfulness, hopefulness, humor and encouragement I have received, I really don't think I would have made it this far. In fact, I am CERTAIN that I wouldn't have. Honestly.

I really have very little idea where I am going from here. I feel nearly as lost this morning as I did surrounded by the snapping trees and pounding rain of Katrina's fury and this day feels like starting again, again. On the other hand, maybe that's the point of every day.

As it has done for all of my adult life, Bruce Cockburn's music reaches across time and experience to describe this moment perfectly; it sets me, at least temporarily, back on the path.

"I've had breakfast in New Orleans, dinner in Timbuktu
I've lived as a stranger in my own house too
Dark hand waves in lamp light
Cowrie shell patterns change
And NOTHING will be the same again…"

Monday, August 28, 2006


My birthday (I promise this is the last post on this subject) started with a song on my car stereo - one of those perfect song moments that make it feel like someone is composing a soundtrack for your life – just as I started the car the song came blasting from the speakers… Melissa Etheridge starting the whole weekend's theme with "I wanna see how lucky, lucky can be… Ride with me." On those notes, I headed out of my little side street and into the rest of my life.

For some strange reason the song kept finding it's way into my consciousness over and over again throughout the weekend. Another significant moment being when I got in the car after going to Glide Memorial yesterday and being treated to a Katrina weep fest (half an hour of choir music and Katrina photos) that was purging and aching and powerful all at once, combined with a pep rally sermon from Pastor Douglas Finch that majored on the idea that you must take your own power into your life and neither give it away nor expect others to do the work of living for you. It was a strong message and absolutely perfect for the day. Returning down Ellis Street (thoguh the crowds of hookers and homeless) to my car, I got in, turned the engine, and got walloped right between the eyes with Melissa's Lucky Song (it wasn't until this point that I noticed that when programming the album sequence she had the perverted sense of humor to make the song cut #13).

Now… heading into a new week and a new year, on the anniversary of my escape from Katrina (at this very moment one year ago I was filling up Pat Jolly's van and looking for a way out of town, a 100 mile journey up to Hattiesburg that would wind up taking eleven hours), I am ready to put a new shine on this journey. If last year was the "year of leaving dangersously" this next year must be the year of returning to life.

There's another line, from another song on the same album, in which Melissa sings that "I am still learning the lesson, to awake when I hear the call…" I think that's my new image for this new year. It's that sense that the central image of Buddhism is "Wake Up!

So… here we go. I'm ready… I hope…

What's Next?


And while we're on the subject of LUCK... it's looking like Eduardo is going to be nice to New Orleans and go blast the poor folks in Florida this time. I hope those Okeechobee levees hold!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's My Party and I'll Blog If I Want To

I had an absolutely great day yesterday!

It was probably, on an emotional level, the best birthday that I have had in years. I heard from all kinds of friends, I completed a series of work plans that I had been working on for the past week (really much of the past four months, but it all came to a head in the past week). I spoke with one "old" friend, who has his birthday just a month before mine and heard stories of how he is in very much the same place as me; starting new work, moving forward in ways that he never imagined... It was a true reaffirmation of new life right at the anniversary of the events of a year ago that turned so much of my life into chaos.

Some of my big plans (dinner and the theater with my kid for example... a big party for all the local late August birthday boys) got put aside, but I ended the day with a load of friends hanging out drinking, laughing, and talking. I even had creme brulee with a candle on top!

Now that's the way to close out a birthday.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Leaving the Waters of Babylon...

There is really no reason for this flag at the left, it just happens to have come in my email from the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan and I like it... I like it a lot.

So there... I realized earlier this week that not only is tomorrow my birthday, this whole week has been sort of a symbolic closure to not just one year of unmitigated disaster, but ten years of turmoil, frustration and creative enervation. Ten years ago this week, I had a seizure on the freeway that should have killed me, but I got away with a seriously smashed up hand, and a new neurologist. The point in and of itself was the culmination of a long process that included a major personal depression and a full year of the roller coaster nightmare that was my partner's cancer diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and further treatment. I have always attributed the particular timing of the event to my body - with Marsha safe and also out of town - finally declaring, "OKAY... my turn for a breakdown!"

These thoughts came to me during my attempt (relatively unsuccessful, but valiant nonetheless) to force myself into a sort of year end reflective retreat. As I urged myself to look back on decades of achievement (and un-achievement) I became keenly aware of how fallow my creative ground has been over the last ten years, as compared to times before. I could go on and on, and some of you who read this know exactly what I mean... but I won't. The exile is over.

I decided to take that as a signpost... a new direction... a way out and a way home.

I hereby plant my flag... August 2005 - August 2006 has been a transition year of chaos in the same way that the year of August 1995 - August 1996 was a transition year of chaos. The decade in between I have decided to give over to the gods and goddesses as time sacrificed for love, learning, growth, heart, hope and new direction.

It's time to start again... It's time to retrieve the harps from the trees, to recall the songs forgotten and look to the journey ahead.

As Fast Eddie (played by Paul Newman) says at the end of The Color Of Money...

I'm back!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Time Travel... There and Back Again

I've had the picture at left on my desktop for the past couple of weeks and it always brings a smile to my face. It's a picture of my daughter on a trip through Ireland that she and her sweetie made last spring.

What I see on the top of it all is the delight on her face and in her life in the midst of that beautiful country at a happy time in life.

What I see below the surface is four generations - well, really five - from my grandmother (and her parents even) who began in Ireland before making it across the ocean, through Canada, and New York City, and Philadelphia, and New York City again,and Miami... and on and on through my mom's life, my dad's life, my life, and now Jen's life lying out ahead of her.

It's all there in that one picture of Jen on the side of a lake in the Irish springtime.

After all the weird places I've been in the last year and the strange, sometimes very hard experiences I've had, I find a really great joy in looking back through time as I gaze at this picture... It reminds me of how everything moves forward... and how all of us move on.

That's something worth remembering a week away from my birthday and just 12 days away from the anniversary of The Thing.