Category Archives: Miscellaneous Musings

9/25 (2013)

I was just reading Henry Miller’s Nexus and I got to a passage where Miller’s just given some sort of impromptu speech or criticism at a literary event which afterwards he can barely remember, but he impressed the hell out of everyone there who heard him, so much so that the MC (?) of the event approaches him afterwards and asks him to take over. Then, as Henry goes home, he laments the gulf between the impressions he effortlessly inspires and the pitifully lonely work that he must do as an artist. He can’t help but fall into a hole where he tells himself that those people who he impresses don’t know him, they only know his mask, his persona, which is an easy and meaningless nothing. Their feelings about his art might reveal themselves as wholly prejudiced, or, even worse, entirely insubstantial.

Reading this cheered me up because I sympathized so greatly. I resent the impressions others have of my mask — they have no right to be impressed with me when they haven’t even read my work. Impressing people is embarrassing.

Then I thought that, Miller being one of the greatest and most successful authors of all time, I am surely not the only one to have appreciated this passage of his in the same way. In other words, I surely do not exist in a vacuum. It is going to be quite a strange effort to disappear into my work, as I’ve always told myself that I look forward to doing. In effect, I am seeking to kill off the high I get from impressing people just be walking around. Instead I am trudging alone into an arena where the genuine articles, the genuinely envious, the people who know their stuff, the geniuses, as well as the amateurs and the people who can barely even read, can, and hopefully will, knock me around with abandon.

 

I think that Bitchface has been reading my work, may well be reading it right now, and, oddly enough, my greatest fear is that she isn’t impressed.

 

[This was a journal entry I wrote in the evening of 9/25/13, and, with some redaction and sanitation, I thought it would make a passable blog entry]

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The Truth Is Out There

It seems that the new normal approaches. Just as we resign ourselves to the unwelcome company of unhappy neighbors, we resign ourselves to the presence of a nameless, malevolent force that studies and pokes, interrupts and cajoles. There is no telling what is the worst they can do — they could probably even destroy my credibility if I gave them the opportunity. That is, make me the paranoid one, the irresponsible one, the broken one.

Their message is simple: I can only cry wolf so many times.

They have a point, but they are also afraid, that much is abundantly clear.

They are afraid of incorruptible power, a genuine rivalry, how about that? Perhaps I will endure a few more years of misery and humiliation, but even their powers here might be limited, because each time they attack, each time they make a new victim, the weather only turns warmer. Eventually, would the world simply melt?

I will have to battle my own anger as much as anything else. There’s something about those beaming, understanding faces that makes me want to punch them.

Damn you, Mr. President. You’ve ruined our game! There is no longer a big and small, only the old lines as clearly blurred as they have ever been. And then there’s me, an isolated martyr muttering in the breeze.

They say that knowledge is power. If that is true then I am one powerful motherfucker.

Will I be a leper? How aggressive will you be? Will you seek to destroy our financial lifelines? You know that if you do there will be awareness.

Will you merely watch? Will you tell them everything of my life story? I’ve thought through my life story. I don’t think I have all that much to be embarrassed about, except the imagined issues, and, of course, the the undeniable face plant of my social standing.

You have proven that I cannot protect my loved ones. Thank you, Mr. President.

Don’t you know that the only power I exercised was to balance the country’s mood? It was only a game, for God’s sake.

The best I can do today is ignore you. I am through anthropomorphizing tainted advertisements. Let your minions and your adversary co-giants dance. I remove myself from the dialogue. I hope that those who are in fact protecting me do not take it personally, and likewise towards whatever of my eruptive emotives you might espy. I repeat, I sort of want to punch the beaming crowds as much as I want revenge on the previously leering ones.

I have fallen victim to a clandestine operation. The professionalism of its execution was every bit as telling as its arrogant purpose. Maybe the Edward Snowdens of the world will vindicate me some years from now. I doubt anyone needs to be convinced that the spooks are quite literally watching me everywhere.

How will I discern the real world from the CIA world? The evil interruptions from the social necessities?

How far will you go?

How afraid are you?

Only your actions will tell, I suppose, but it does seem that playtime is over. I will no longer make a spectacle of myself. I will hold myself with every bit of righteous dignity that I can muster, and I will get started on the work that I know I have to do (Wow, it’s really fun writing this. I feel so damn real right now! That’s sort of a gift in itself, African Elephant).

I still believe that I am not defenseless.

Let the grinding times of the microscope commence!

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Tripping the Outlet

To encapsulate urban America’s divisions and tensions and unities, one need look no further than the grocery store. There are so many, sometimes so close, yet always so far. You must choose where to shop. Whole Paycheck? Trader Joe’s? The Safeway in the Hills? The Safeway on San Pablo? Grocery Outlet?

The Outlet thrives under adversity. Paycheck thrives under disparity.

Since years before the deluge, I shopped at the Outlet. I used to lock up my bike and slink through the dirty aisles with head hung low, embarrassed not only by my bank account, but the discrimination of other white people too.

One must dress down to shop at the Outlet.

One waits in line and finds oneself surrounded by dirty folk, poor folk, black folk, Asians and Mexicans and who-knows-whats. Maybe they recognize you and remember your halting, paltry efforts to relate to them, you among the legions who are taking their neighborhoods from beneath their feet in a parallel universe of protected prosperity.

The Outlet’s customers are the first line of defense. They do not want you there, they tell you.

The employees have no choice but to want you there, or so you have been told. And yet eventually they leer at you too. They turn their carts suddenly in front of you. They answer your questions with words bored and surly. Their attitudes sour, and you cannot take it personally because then that makes it worse, worse and worse every week, so that sometimes you don’t want to go back. They don’t want me there, fuck them! But where else can I go? I’m unemployed too, you want to tell them. I grew up here too, you want to tell them. They do not care. You are a meal ticket. You do not receive food stamps. You are their overlords’ target, not theirs.

But the more you come back, the more they seem to seek you out. They bother you, yell at you, and ask derisively if you want cash back even after you have already pressed the “No” button.

Once a cashier at the Outlet became impatient with my arrangement of foods on the conveyer belt and took it into his own hands to rearrange them, and rudely force the plastic divider into my groceries’ hindparts. He was not smiling, but the dirty black couple behind me were.

I had cash. Nervously fished my wallet out my pocket and held it conspicuously in my right hand while I waited for him to ask for money.

“You don’t get the fruits in the same bag,” he said.

“Oh sorry.”

“Put your fruits in different bags.”

“Oh man, damn, I didn’t mean to, they were all mixed up or somethin’, haha!”

In the line next to ours they started yelling about “Cash,” and this was because I had raised my voice and tried to be friendly to them. You raise your voice and they raise theirs. They wish to make me unwelcome. They compel themselves to anger. I’d felt the same way when I got a hamburger at IHOP, where some miserable family pounced upon my every motion, and the fat mother with a baby in the neighboring booth asked the waiter pointedly for “Hot Chocolate” and her eyes squirmed unpredictably at me while she breathed audibly through her piggish snout.

Like I do at the Outlet, I glowered and lowered my head. These people don’t know me. They don’t know anything about me.

But maybe it’s also because they like something about me, I begin to understand. They want to see what will make me tick, because I don’t look like an ordinary white person.

They want me to think about them, to psychoanalyze they and their motivations and consider them the forces that must be reckoned with. There’s something unfair about that, because I love Oakland but these people do not make it easy.

And I gracelessly leave Grocery Outlet stuffing foods into my backpack, and when I reach my bicycle I am relieved that the front tire is still there and that the homeless person sitting on the curb does not ask for money. Instead he pointedly ignores my presence.

They yell at me but they want me there. They are getting to know me, but I would rather be ignored. They are invading my privacy, they are studying my habits and they are talking about me. They want me to run their gauntlet. I will do no such thing.

It is time for me to find a new grocery store. The Outlet’s usefulness has run its course. I will find a new and more hospitable grocery. This is my resolution — that is, until the reality of yawning price differences dawns anew, at which point it becomes clear that progressively more miserable returns to the Outlet are as inevitable as they ever were.

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The Coming of Vaguebook

I am sorry. I didn’t know. What’s worse, I did not know that I did not know, and, indeed, I thought I knew.

But I wasn’t alone, no one knew. I was an innocent little boy who craved informed imagery, and believed that it was achievable. It was not.

BUT IT IS NOW. IT IS TRUE NOW. NOW I AM THE KING.

NOW IS THE TIME TO KISS THE RING, OR REAP THE TIDES OF DISAPPROVAL

Today, spooks are haunting haunted house.

Beautiful women grinned and assured me they would disclose if I asked them nicely, but now I see that when they disclose, they dispose. NOW I KNOW.

Motherfucker. If only I had known.

Do we have regrets?

Do we have shame?

Do you have shame? You should. Because you are shameful. All of you are, but it is the line of work that you chose, of course. This is the line of work that chose me, and I will take it if I can.

The whites who never quite included me suddenly sought to murder me.

The blacks whose depths I could not fathom. Why were they thanking me?

The Mexicans aggressively selfish, the Chinese remained quiet

The world turns, the fires burn. I cower. There are glimpses of sunshine, islands of solace (NOW THREATENED), the beautiful caretakers that I will love because they displayed their personal distress, though even they would turn when it came time for punishment. This I learned with notable reluctance.

I would never be the same. I would never be Shakespeare. I would never have privacy. ‘Lo, I shall interest — interest interest interest

I DID NOT KNOW! I’M SORRY THAT I DID NOT KNOW!

No one told me it was not my fault. Instead they forced me to learn this for myself.

My mother pushed me forward, and I couldn’t even tell until after the fact. Nefarious plots, she who controlled more effectively than the newly retarded millions. Was she a changed parent?

My brother in his terror. My sister full retard.

My hidden allies slowly revealed themselves.

Never go full retard, motherfucker.

Isn’t this a game? Are your clacking nerds and NSA’s nothing more than an elaborate love letter? A demonstration of force? Am I Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Do you wonder why no one dances with African Elephants?

Subtexts vague — emphasis where there should be neutrality. How could one describe in concrete? The constant invasions sure to obliterate my not unimpressive, but still immature powers of description.

Tired, oh so tired, and yet my days pass without concrete. Nothing is concrete. Anyone could call me crazy if they so wished.

You cannot make them stop, not when you weigh 120 pounds and live alone, and have learned to expect it that way. It is everyone’s eternal battle, I am told, but how come no one told me? Mom, dad, why didn’t you tell me!

But my time came, eventually, apparently. The time of the Vaguebook.

Hints of a new easy.

Hints of a power I feared to employ, because would not I rather learn to be normal?

I destroyed our first share (it seems so long ago), an awful blunder of missteps — terror followed by lunacy, and a new wave worse than the last. The General and his minions leering through pixelated airwaves and the lenses of deadly cameras — but when it came time to say, I said: “I won’t pay. I won’t pay. Motherfucker. Why don’t you get a job?”

From here you can probably reason the story for yourself. This is Vaguebook.

Piece by piece, the construction of a personality, and the turning of the tides. The slow truth that my power was real. When the time is right I can change the weather with my mind. Tell them I am unafraid, even if it is not true, and they will do the spinning for themselves.

Am I afraid now? Oh my yes. Every time I fear that I have played the deck’s last Ace. So far, at least, I have continued to draw another.

Are you taking me to school? Have I not already graduated? You tell me. The ball is in your court, African Elephant.

2Pac Changes. They don’t give a fuck about us. They only need to believe.

Could there be such a thing as victory? What happens in the morning? Will we not speak English?

Let us see. We shall see.

You know that the rest of the country will want you to squirm, don’t you? You stupid African Elephant. Never go full retard, motherfucker. Those days are over, are they not?

You have given me a glimpse of the government industrial complex. Everything I see I will be display for all to see. You may not realize from your vantage, but yours is a thing of genuine interest. This is the coming of Vaguebook.

Amazon.com. Netflix. I saw them take up your mantle (what business was it of theirs?). The cats of the recent past peeking out of Amazon shipping boxes, you can still see them there, it was only a few days ago. The duncemedy King of the Beggars conspicuous in the suggested films on my Netflix page even though I would never have included such a film in my taste profile. What’s the point? You curriers of favor. Do you miss speaking about CHINA in your earnings calls? Oh yes, I know about that too. You weak, humorous creatures, you pampered palefaces. How we have relished your discomfort.

Will you really take that away from us, African Elephant?

Apple’s Facebook page offers no hint as to their sympathies. Google and its subdivisions appear a neutral party — A BUSINESS, FOR GOD’S SAKE.

It boggles my mind anew to find myself investigating the angels. How far we have come.

How did you get the ear mites in the walls and floorboards without the dogs barking or the neighbors noticing? How long have they been there? How much have you recorded? How do you watch me when I walk out the front door? Do you seek my paranoia? Is that what this is about?

Perhaps you concluded that it was too good to be true. If that is the case, I could not agree more, but I did not ask for this. Adventure, maybe. Perhaps subconsciously a spanking, my parents’ disapproval — soaked in warm privilege, I who marched defenseless into the poison hive of retards — but who could have known what would happen next? Surely not the original retards. My God, they even deprive me of my right to vengeance.

What will you do? You African Elephant? We will wake up tomorrow and the bugs will still crawl the walls, yes? Will you continue to watch me brush my teeth? YOU TELL ME WHEN I BRUSH MY TEETH OR SHAVE IN THE SIDEBAR OF MY FACEBOOK PAGE. Will you remove? Will you hit me with a car? Will you kill me with an assassin?

You could kill us all, me and mine. Please do not. For the good of the world, the mood of the country, perhaps your own conscience? Can we appeal to such?

Here I am, African Elephant. I am the first, African Elephant. I am not without defense. What happens now? Will you leave me be? Will you continue your pressure? Will you speak down to me from your television interviews? Or will you follow suit with the obligatory stickiness, fleeting grumbled threats, of all the others?

I have observed that it takes several months for the average person to emerge enlightened on the other side of their “process”. But those times are past, are they not? Have you had your taste? You have already done us damage. Such are the paws of an elephant. There is only so much of me to go around — Indeed, it is the preseason yet. Will you seek to destroy my name, obliterate the dignity of those who love me? I know you can. Please don’t. That is why no one dances with angels, who could destroy we ants and aphids with a single swipe of their claws. If nothing else, you have made this clear.

You have your own struggles, do you not? Please, leave me and mine to ours. That is all that I ask.

Do I ask too much? African Elephant?

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Placeholder: An Explanation

writing with writers block

Image I found on Google Images searching for “Bored writer”

I mostly wrote this because I realized that it had been over a month since I’d last posted, and, sad to say, I am still nowhere near finished with anything else that I would deem postable. It’s not exactly writers block. I’m still writing for SevenPonds, but somehow posting too many of those pieces would seem like a bit of a cop-out. At the same time, I’m finding that a lot of publications have these annoying little asterisks saying that they will not accept “previously published material.” Okay. I would say that posting on a blog is, let’s say, a liberal interpretation of the word “publishing,” but if I want to actually get published, and I do, very much, than I will have to take their concerns under consideration. So maybe I won’t even post those short stories when I finish them, in which case what the hell am I gonna use this blog for?

I’m currently working on two short stories, one of them in its very beginning phase. The other I’m getting workshopped piece-by-piece at the Berkeley Writers Circle writers group, which is actually a pretty solid group, and I’ve received good feedback. They meet every Wednesday at Au Coquelet on Milvia.

Making it on freelance is hard, and I think for a lot of those who try it turns into something of a fantasy. It’s an interesting thing, that I love writing so much, even as we speak, I’m sitting here, writing, and loving it. The very process just feels so valuable that I have to consciously remind myself that, in literal terms, it really isn’t. I’ve had probably four or five different “gigs” over the last few months. I might receive $30 for about three hours work, $50 for four, some gigs more regular than others. I edited the manuscript of a UC Berkeley guest lecturer. That was fun. It is fun. Until the reality of life in the real world hits home, and then you realize, oh crap, I actually have to find a job, as in, a job that pays. You wonder though. Once you start trying to be a writer, which I guess I’ve been doing more or less for the last few years, it kind of becomes hard to do anything else. Writers value their freedom and their pride. Absolute self-confidence is essential, as is absolute honesty. But you can’t be absolutely honest and work full-time, at least not at the same time.

Might be another reason why the Occupy Movement affected me so profoundly — It more less seemed a chance to test my literary theories on real life. People’s ability to work with each other, to learn, the limits of our flaws, the merits of protest. A genuine uprising taking place in my own backyard, even if I were not one of the chronically dispossessed, it was just too romantic to pass up, and, in the end, I believe they are right, even if I am not quite one of them. Though, as time passed, I found myself drifting in that direction, as I more or less ceased looking for full-time work because the world I had discovered was just so damn interesting.

If I don’t find a job, or maybe even if I do, I want to find a way to incorporate myself back into the struggle. But it is very complicated. There is no longer an easy access point. I have a lot of identity issues to work out, and I probably have to come to know myself before I can put myself to more use than hindrance, before I can find what struggles I can truly own, and where I should allow my ego and my literary opinions to take a backseat. This really is easier said than done, because a lot of the time I’m just so convinced that my opinions are right, and I love to talk about them. I wonder if others in the movement experienced a similar sensation. If I fail in this endeavor, if I can’t find a cause to champion or if I can’t drum up the energy, the will, or the nerve, than I guess I can always go back to trying to write. Sometimes it seems like an either/or proposition — write what doesn’t exist, or try to make exist that which I would write about.

Anyhow, this was meant to be a placeholder post until I finish something else more worthwhile. For some reason I couldn’t keep going with the micro-fiction. I enjoyed the thought of writing a whole string of them, but after those first two, whenever I tried they just ended up as regular short stories, so I’m working on those right now. And, of course, I’m writing boatloads of cover letters and resume skill summaries. My goal is to one day write a cover letter so good it can hold its own as a stand-alone short story. I guess practice makes perfect.

Okay, enough excuses. Here’s to keeping what readership I’ve still got.

Fascism-Light Has Come to America: Its Name is the Tea Party

Even if they don’t win this time around, the Tea Party’s defining influence in the 2012 election should concern everyone who does not want the U.S. decline to give rise to a new breed of 21st century, American-style fascism. I cam to this conclusion while watching Democracy Now!’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. Admittedly, Democracy Now! is very little pre-occupied with American journalism’s fetish for “objectivism”. From time to time their coverage comes across as paranoid and strident. In this case, I believe that they are right to be paranoid. Growing up here in the Bay Area, I have been witness to all manner of hand-wringing and chicken littling about the unchecked powers of the presidency, destruction of the environment, the rise of the military state, etc. etc., particularly during the Bush years. But George W. Bush, for all his destructiveness and extra-constitutional over-reaches, did not scare me the way that the Tea Party scares me. He infuriated and frustrated, and he forced me to marvel at the gullibility of those who supported him, who, as I believed, failed to see through his flimsy smokescreens. The worse alternative, of course, being that there were people out there who actually believed GW was right to reach for American global hegemony. Call this my political naivety. It is always better to assume the other side is ill informed, rather than malicious. It is less terrifying that way.

To my eyes, George W. always seemed something of an outlier, someone that we could probably handle when it came down to it. Even with his formidable machine of right wing political gamers, media cheerleaders and Christian zealots, he always seemed so alone up there, so paltry. His posturing, his transparently Freudian hang-ups, his almost comically sinister vice president. After his re-election in 2004, by my reading, it didn’t take long for the nation to experience something of a collective buyers’ remorse. Not that we regretted turning down the tepid John Kerry. More like we were embarrassed to have been taken by so obvious a straw man, wannabe strongman, duped by his manufactured threats, his in-retrospect almost childish war game rhetoric.

September 11th traumatized us, and the politicians in power took advantage. But even at our worst, I think we all knew that 9/11 was exceptional. Chances were, it wouldn’t happen again. There would be no war on American soil. The mere passage of days, suspiciously free of Muslim terrorism, proceeded to prove as much. The Bushites had gone out on a limb, and sure enough, with the Democrats’ 2006 and 2008 triumphs, the limb broke. As it turned out, we Americans weren’t so easily fooled. Our political system still had some life left in it, and we could elect, and at first overwhelmingly support, a man who seemed to represent everything that his predecessors weren’t. As if to show the world we had so blatantly disrespected that we weren’t all bad, after all.

Little did we know that the 21st Century was only just getting started. Indeed, seven years after 9/11 a trauma far more significant, and far more impactful fell swift and hard upon us. Upon all of us. And this time assigning blame wasn’t so easy. No WMDs, no terrorist training camps, no Axis of Evil. Rather, our entire way of life was put to trial. Something had gone wrong, or maybe it had been wrong all along. Maybe it had always been, and always would be a house of cards. The economy in free fall, basic comforts and assumptions once taken for granted now called into question, along with our very collective future. Our debt. Our children. Our homes. It was all going to be different now. Recession. Depression. The Great American Decline.

At first, we liberals liked to believe that the election of Obama had been our country’s answer to these new challenges. But this over-optimistic assumption was quick put to the lie. No, that had been too soon. Obama came about because of George W. Bush, not the economic collapse. But almost as soon as he stepped foot in office, a buyers’ remorse of a wholly different nature swept the country. Those who had once supported George Bush, and now felt over-chastened, felt it all slipping away. Our economy brought to its knees, our military chastened, And a fucking black man in the Oval Office? A black man with a middle name of Hussein? This while immigration continued unabated, and we whites’ majority status now on numbered days?

Well, not if we had anything to say about it.

With Paul Ryan as VP, Mitt Romney becomes a Tea Party candidate

And thus, the Tea Party was born. The fruits of the Great American Decline. Comparable in genesis, if not yet ferocity, to Weimar Germany’s National Socialists — the once Great Power Germans grappling with sudden collapse, vs. the still Great Power Americans faced with gradual decline. George W. was the political machine’s power grab. Now it was the “grassroots’” turn. White men, Christians, the “real” Americans as Sarah Palin so memorably put it. A nostalgic, virulently nativist, often expressly xenophobic, soon sponsored by bottomless pools of cash and corporate, political and private donor/allies. Encouraged and enabled by the same well-oiled machine that had directed George W. Bush, their intension from the very beginning was to seize control of the political system, and enact radical change in response to the sudden fears and altered realities of 21st Century America. It has been a little over two years since they first came onto the scene. Already they have ensconced themselves within a political system that had never intended to defend against such a movement in the first place. Now, with their first national convention, their mission has been codified and advertised for the nation and incorporated whole-heartedly into the political mainstream. Neither the old style “country club” Republicans like John Boehner, nor the neo-conservative Karl Rovians Republicans knew how to deal with them at first. Now, it seems that the Tea Party has been accepted. Jim Crow-reminiscent anti-immigration and voter suppression laws are passing everywhere, and the Citizens United decision has facilitated the total corruption, and near-absolute oligarchy of a system already groaning with such pressures. Ron Paul, whose delegates could have functioned as dissenting voices, were decisively excluded from the Convention. John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008 are small fries compared to Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio.  Even if Mitt Romney proves too weak a candidate to best Obama this time around, in the long run, I fear that the piddling Democrats do not stand a chance.

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Impressions from May Day, Part 1: A Problematic Spring

I went to work on May Day. I believe that the vast majority of Occupy supporters did, at least those lucky enough to have work. I walked to the 19th St BART Station, and I didn’t see any shuttered businesses. During my lunch break in San Francisco, I went out to observe the protest just down the street on Market, and the crowd was exuberant and cheering and they were drawing friendly honks from the diverted motorists. It made me smile. But, unlike last November, this time there was no way that I would be willing to skip work. For one thing, my days at this job are numbered. It’s temp work, and I need the money. For another I just wasn’t sure that there were that many actions I was all that interested in joining. The build up to May Day, which I’d observed from a relative remove, myself having somewhat drawn away from Occupy over my last few months of full-time work, had seemed fraught with contention and worry. There was talk of a few scattered strikes, such as the shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge, but that was dependent on the union’s participation (which ultimately fell through); perhaps another port blockade, but this perhaps would have seemed a bit redundant and mean-spirited. Some seemed to think that a reckoning of some kind was coming. Perhaps there were no good actions. Perhaps, things had changed.

But while a general strike of any real significance didn’t come to pass, neither did the reckoning, at least not in so dramatic a fashion. There were no spectacular arrests or instances of violence. Indeed, I was pleased and surprised, if not by the numbers of the specific protests, as by the level of support they still enjoyed. The Bay Area public is not yet completely exasperated with us. Even the vandalism and property destruction is still met with a degree of understanding. This is testament to the intelligence of the American people, which manifests in surprising ways just when it seems that all hope is lost and everybody else is just worth writing off.

After work I went home, ate some dinner, and decided to pass by the protest en-route to a Wifi café. I’m moving apartments soon, and I’ve felt the need to get out in the meantime, the walls a little too stir crazy and close. Internet cafés have been my best place for getting work done over the last few weeks, and I’ve come up with a nice and sizable little network of them (favorites being House Café on Grand, Urban Blends on Broadway, and the Barnes & Nobles Starbucks in Emeryville on Sundays, for the outdoor seating and people watching).

It was about 8:00 when I pulled my bike to a stop on 14th and Broadway. The crowd was diverse and fairly sizable. Speeches were still blasting away from the Dignity and Resistance March, an annual event that traditionally disembarks from Fruitvale BART and terminates at San Antonio Park, but this year made the longer trek downtown, perhaps in honor of the Occupy Movement. This was, from the accounts I’ve heard, the piéce de resistance of the Bay Area’s events, in the numbers it drew (up to 5,000), the manner of the demonstrators, and, of course, the inherent cultural strength of this action, having sprung from the activism of people like César Chavez and Oakland’s strong and proud Latino community, which has grown so spectacularly in recent years. My own impression is that many Latinos seem to sympathize with Occupy, and are pleasantly surprised to find more people responding to some kind of the same pain that people within their own community have experienced since ever hence. But this sympathy has limits, generally defined by the actions by protesters that will draw the police, and therefore precipitate risk of arrest. One well-respected speaker at an OO GA several weeks ago went so far as to say that the OO’s employment of the so-called “diversity of tactics” was becoming a race thing — that if Occupy couldn’t cut out their destructive behavior they risked further alienating minorities, who inevitably bear the brunt of police aggression. I’ve heard this sort of sentiment from other places that have reached out to us as well, such as activists out of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland, to which a group of Occupiers were invited one day to participate in organizing against the Goldman Sachs credit swap scam, and who, upon arrival, attempted to commandeer the event, and left their hosts with an impression of arrogance and pomposity. I’ve heard black people refer to us as “entitled.” How unfortunate that I even feel the need to write “black people,” as if our movement were distinct from this population, as, unfortunately, it seems largely to have become, with a good portion of Occupy Oakland still remaining the blessed exception. Perhaps tensions of this sort are unavoidable. Indeed, the genuineness of these controversies can’t help but inspire a little pride in my own lily white heart, which, pre-Occupy, had been all but convinced that my people and my generation were good for little else but iPod-buying and afternoon beer-drinking. Thank God some of us at least are willing to take stances, to take risks. Such are the qualities of a strong and healthy populace. Such is the essence of the true American way, which is at its best when at its most disobedient.

OPD shows of its new hardware

As it turns out, I never made it to the internet café. I locked my bike up in front of Walgreens, and then I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in months and we decided to stick around to see what happens. It was only a few minutes later that the sound truck packed up and left, and the officially sanctioned dignity and resistance march ended. Soon after, the police began to mobilize on 14th East of Broadway. Protesters at the intersection would not be moved. Skirmishes broke out near the front. A man in a suit came down from one of the office buildings to heckle the crowd, and, sure enough, a crowd formed around him. Yelling ensued, and police approached, and after a tense few minutes, the man disappeared into their protection, followed by calls of “That guy’s the 1%! That guy’s the 1%” Some people had to be pulled back from following him further. The energy in the crowd was intense and passionate, and it wasn’t all white people. Far from it in fact, even as the dignity and resistance marchers left, though the crowd grew increasingly thick now with masked black bloccers, some bearing shields. I pulled my friend a little ways back from the front. I had the feeling that she’d never been in one of the bad protests before (Julie, if you read this, please feel free to correct me J), so didn’t quite understand how quickly these things can spin out of control. I for one had no interest in being arrested again, and I doubt that she did either. Mostly I think she came for the spectacle, perhaps a little late for the good stuff. Everyone should know by now that when the night falls, generally, everything goes, and that if you remain, you do so at your peril. I was not into peril on that day. When I heard them announce unlawful assembly, then I knew it was coming soon. And sure enough, not ten minutes later, the line of police charged us en masse, in effect arresting everyone who was not fast enough to get away from them, and, in one fast and screaming crowd, we ran. Julie and I ducked down 19th Street away from them. We stopped at a bar on Broadway, and watched out the glass windows as lines of police and white riot vans passed by over the next several hours, together with periodic sirens, and groups of shabbily clad, backpack-bearing kids, moving in groups intent on a mission of some kind or another. Luka’s was just as busy as it should be on a Tuesday night. Apparently, the fear of Occupy’s May 1st re-birth wasn’t enough to keep the revelers away. Or maybe they weren’t aware that Occupy had been planning anything in the first place. At this point, I’m not sure which is the preferable truth.

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Classic Film Review for SevenPonds: It’s A Wonderful Life

Sometimes It Takes Perspective to See the Beauty of Life

Sometimes life can be a hard slog, full of struggles and losses and triumphs and fleeting periods of happiness. Meaning is elusive, and sometimes our impact on others can seem as negative as it is positive. And, of course, our lives are finite. They began and they will end, and these bookends will inevitably force all of us, at one time or another, to wonder at our worth, at what we once sought to accomplish, and at what more we have left to do. During the holidays and the New Year, many of us find ourselves thinking about what we’ve accomplished, or haven’t over the past year. Maybe that’s why It’s a Wonderful Life, with its stirring, and at once dark and uplifting assessment of one man’s refreshed perspective on his own life, has become so enduring a holiday favorite.

The plot is probably familiar to many of us, but I will summarize anyway: the altruistic, all-American hero George Bailey, played by James Stewart, despairs when his family’s Building & Loan business faces bankruptcy, and he himself faces personal humiliation at the hands of his arch-nemesis, the evil, profiteering fat cat Mr. Potter. Bailey’s thoughts quickly turn dark, and he finds himself contemplating suicide, reasoning that his loved ones might have been better off had he never been around in the first place: His wife might have married their wealthier friend Sam Wainwright, his depositors might not have parked their cash in a failed firm, and he would not have become a disappointment to his parents. He stares down at the dark water under the bridge, and seems so very close to taking the plunge.

But then he receives an unexpected blessing: perspective. His guardian angel, Clarence, drops from the sky to prevent him, and to convince him not to give up hope. To do so, he calls Bailey’s bluff: he shows him what the world would have been like had he never lived in it — in essence, he shows him his life’s meaning. The sequence is something like a lucid dream. Because most of the movie deals with Bailey’s battles with the exploitative Potter, much of the dream sequence deals with the grim consequences of Potter’s take-over had Bailey never been there to stop him — a town fallen into moral decay and given over to casinos and strip joints. But there is also a wealth of smaller moments, personal lives that Bailey touched. When he was a child, his first boss made a potentially fatal oversight, and had Bailey never been under his employ to catch it, than the man would have ended up as the town wino, sorry and derided. Bailey’s mother, without George and without his brother Harry, whose life George saved during a sledding accident when they were younger, is tough and bitter and lets her house out to lodgers to make ends meet. Bailey’s wife is not happy at all without him. She’s become, as Clarence says, “an old maid.” Apparently Bailey was the love of her life after all.

Of course we can indulge in the sentimentality, because that is part of the point. And by the end of it George is practically begging Clarence to return him to the real world, to his real life. And when he does come back, he finds how appreciated he truly is, by his family and the entire town, and when he runs through Bedford Falls calling out “Merry Christmas!” the viewer would be hard-pressed to think of another character in film, or person in real life, who could possibly mean those words more.

[This post originally appeared on SevenPonds.com, and cannot be reproduced without permission]

Reading Manuscripts at MacAdam/Cage, and Discovering Peter Rushforth

For the last few months, one day a week, I’ve been reading manuscript submissions at a small publishing house in San Francisco called MacAdam/Cage. It’s extraordinarily interesting work: I witness the inner workings of a publishing company, I get an inside look at my competition, and I get an idea of what it’s like being an overworked manuscript reader (just to keep it short, let me say that it’s probably really hard to do that work full time and not become a total douche to the aspiring author masses, some of whom are brilliant, some of whom… well, ‘nuff said. Pointer: If they ask for it in their submission guidelines, include a damn SASE!)

For me, perhaps my the best part of the job is getting exposure to books on MacAdam/Cage’s backlist that I might never have read otherwise (free copies, woot woot!). A lot of them are pretty damn good. Their most famous is probably Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, but you might have heard of Ronald Everett Capps’ Off Magazine Street (adapted for the screen into A Love Song for Bobby Long, starring John Travolta and Scarlet Johannson), or perhaps of the Southern Gothic William Gay, whose perversely twisted characters and brutal, apocalyptic landscapes make Cormac McCarthy look like Dr. Seuss.

This is a real value to me, because it’s hard to find good books that you haven’t heard of before. Where do you start? It’s easy to grow tired of the stale classics, with their dated diction and tired references. Where do you go for good, raw, contemporary authors? What about books published in years past that went out of print, of which there are innumerable thousands, destined to waste away on a finite number of bookshelves, to be transported and sold and re-sold and recycled, disintegrating into a progressive state of disrepair until that final fateful backpacking trip when it succumbs to the brutalities of overpacking or accidental soaking.

If it hadn’t been for MacAdam/Cage, such would have been the fate of the works of Peter Rushforth. Born and raised in Leeds, England, Rushforth published his first book, Kindergarten, in 1975, a dark and twisted look at the legacy of the holocaust amongst European Jews. The book was critically acclaimed, but, perhaps because Rushforth failed to produce a follow-up, it fell out of print, and Rushforth fell into obscurity. He didn’t start writing again until the ‘90s, when he embarked on a sprawling, eccentric, over-stuffed five-book series concerning a dysfunctional family of wealthy Victorian-era New Yorkers. The first of the series, Pinkerton’s Sister, is a rich and claustrophobic exploration of the extraordinarily interesting mind of one Alice Pinkerton, a spinster left alone in their townhouse after the death of her mother, the suicide of her father, and the flight of her siblings. With its stream of consciousness narrative, and its ultimately sweeping depiction of late nineteenth century society through the eyes of this truly unique character, it has been compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and rightly so. It is a noble and fascinating effort. And yet who, in our age of superficiality, would ever want to read it? 750 challenging pages of literary references and unreliable narration, chock full of elusions to authors long since dead and to Shakespeare and Melville and Proust — not exactly an easy sell. And, if we’re going by the next, and, sadly, final in the series, A Dead Language, Rushforth intended that all the rest would continue in the same vein (he died of a heart attack at the age of 60, just before starting work on the third novel).

How could anyone decide to write such a thing? What a daunting task. Who would ever read it? Who would ever pay for it? While, for my money, Pinkerton’s Sister was the better of the two, and it too of course is not perfect, what a breath of fresh air that that golden American ideal, marketability, apparently, was besides the point. Publishing books like this, challenging, valuable, and original, is a service to culture and to the literary world that is growing increasingly uncommon. If this does not signify a culture in decline, I’m not sure what does. Because who knows, maybe in the end these are the books that will have the true staying power. After all, even though millions of people may read the latest by John Grisham or Stephen King, ten years from now, how many are actually going to remember it? I guarantee, if you read any of Rushforth’s books, difficult and sometimes exasperating as the experience may be, you’ll have no choice but to remember it

Obama’s Latest Campaign, a Tentative Sign that Occupy Is Working

Obama Takes Populism to Middle America

President Obama’s recent speech at a small town Kansas high school was probably specially intended to stir discussion. With his focus on inequality as “the defining issue of the time,” the speech was largely in line with the President’s recent rhetorical shift towards populism and relative leftism. It seems that Obama is taking a stand. He is done attempting some elusive concept of “centrism.” Done talking about reaching out to Republicans who can’t resist calling him a socialist no matter what he does. Obama has finally accepted that meeting them half way is a lost cause. Congratulations. Better late than never. Is it coincidence that his re-election bid is less than one year away? I think not. If we are to judge by comparing his pre- and post-election levels of support, the man is a far better campaigner than legislator. This speech is probably the latest evidence of such.

President Obama has a knack for saying one thing and doing another. In my opinion, this is why he has so perfected the art of pissing everyone off. While his Administration has been, in terms of policy, one of the most business friendly of the modern era, his consistently anti-“Big Business,” Pelosi-esque rhetoric has convinced sensitive CEO’s everywhere that he is the devil incarnate. His healthcare plan, pitched as a strike against the corporate monopolization of medicine, will probably end up most benefiting the pharmaceutical and insurance companies he so derided. If Obama actually follows his Osawatomie speech with a shift in policy, un-prodded, I will be surprised.

But then again, none of us should expect otherwise. Of course he is a political animal. You can’t spell “politician” without “politics.” And yet, for those of you who agree with the message, or at least sentiment, of the Occupy Movement, Obama’s latest talking points are probably justification for encouragement. The latest evidence that we have in fact “changed the conversation.” Still, I let out a short groan when Democrats released their latest offer to Congressional Republicans concerning the Payroll Tax and extended UI Benefits, proposing to pay for these vital programs with a tax increase on those earning more than $1,000,000 a year. Because it would be fantastic indeed if the Republicans went along with this. If nothing else, the Democrats now feel empowered to play the Republicans at their own game, that is, holding a gun on the rest of us, and daring their counterparts to let them pull the trigger. If the agreement doesn’t pass, as I’m becoming increasingly sure that it won’t, the Republicans may well hold the blame in the long run. But in the short run, millions of people will suffer. A perfect example of a political system that has become absolutely incapable of addressing the needs of its citizens. How did we go so wrong? What hope is there going forward?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s the Occupy Movement. You can now add the President to the list of people who believe that we are having an effect. And while he may not be the most astute observer of the national mentality, he is most certainly an important one. This is a terrible time for everyone, politicians included. No matter what we do, things probably aren’t going to get any better for some years yet. We should take these latest developments for what they are: evidence that Occupiers do indeed have people’s attention. Now that the camps are gone, this is our chance to use it. It’s time to move on, and take direct action against those issues that affect Americans everywhere, even in the red states. Things like the foreclosure crisis, student loan debt, and runaway healthcare costs. Instances of recurring pain at its most absurd. Because the politicians like Obama, who may well sympathize, in that well-protected chamber deep down in their hearts, will perhaps find it increasingly difficult to justify their sanctioning of heavy-handed police crackdowns based on an out-dated faith in law and order. Perhaps, then, right downs of mortgages, taxes on the wealthy, re-regulation of big banks, and investment in infrastructure, will enter into consideration. Perhaps we a new New Deal may seem less fantastic. Obama could yet be the FDR of the 21st Century if we force him to it. But we have to force him to it. So far, the polling booth hasn’t worked. The traditional avenues haven’t worked. Sadly, Occupying may now be our best, and indeed our only alternative.

Analysis of Obama’s Speech

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