The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — February 2009

Catching a Wave at Pacifica

Waiting for a Wave

The City of Pacifica, which is a short drive north of San Francisco, is a favorite spot for surfers. The parking lots are often full, and surfers dot the water like black sea lions, waiting for a wave.

They say the quality of light is unique in Venice and that Tintoretta somehow captured the essence of it. The same is true of the coast of California. The sky and water seem somehow bluer than anywhere else in the world.

Below is a well-known surfer dude riding a wave all the way to shore.

Catching a Wave at Pacifica

February 24, 2009   Comments Off on Catching a Wave at Pacifica


Transitions are often difficult.

I have one last grand gesture in me, though I don’t know what it is. Certainly, for the past few years I’ve burned my bridges and am sucking up my courage for some special purpose.

Continuing to write doesn’t make sense. I’ve reached the end of subjects that interest me, and, for the most part, I have practically no readers. It’s become obvious—even to me—that this will not change. Writing is not really something I do for myself (except for an occasion poem or two). I do it to communicate, and I can’t communicate with bots that scan my site for keywords.

I suppose I could contribute my time to a nonprofit, or even start one myself, but I don’t have the Gandhi gene. I certainly have enough self-righteous ego to do something like this, but not the desire to save humanity.

As an alternative, I could spend my time meditating. This idea is currently leading the pack. Since I’ve always been a sybarite, I fancy the idea of becoming an ascetic in my old age. Limiting my diet to rice and vegetables, wearing sackcloth and ashes, and sitting on my zafu and zabuton with no other purpose than to face down death sounds pretty cool.

February 24, 2009   Comments Off on Transitions

nada y pues nada

I first started my blog as a means of recording my thoughts and impressions, especially during my travels, as an alternative to a writer’s journal, a thing I’ve never managed to maintain. It’s been an interesting experiment.

Mostly, my blog has met with indifference, though, at times, with an extreme reaction or two. People are people. Most are decent and respectful. A few are not. I’ve learned that my original purpose (using the blog as a means of recording my thoughts and impressions) was a viable one—perhaps the only one that makes sense.

Is it useful or important to share this process with others? I’m beginning to doubt it. It’s like giving a reading at a suburban Barnes & Noble, and only three people show up—your mother, your wife, and some straggler who thought you were Terry Gilliam stopping by on the way to the airport before returning to England.

“I though you were Terry Gilliam.”

“But I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“How can you tell?”

“Where’s your English accent?”

“I was born in Medicine Lake, Minnesota, Senior Cow Pie. Why should I have an English accent?”

At this point, of course, the straggler walks out, and the only two people left in audience are your mother and wife, who is rolling her eyes and indicating with a gesture across the throat that you should shut up.

February 23, 2009   1 Comment

Gliding above Mount Tam

Gliding above Mount Tam

A favorite spot for hang gliding is from the top of Mount Tamalpais to the beach below. From a distance the white gliders look like hawks with wings outspread searching for prey. If Leonardo had tried to glide, not fly, he might have been successful. By the way, there is a spot in the woods above Fiesole that commemorates the spot where da Vinci conducted his famous experiment.

February 22, 2009   Comments Off on Gliding above Mount Tam

View of Stinson Beach from Mount Tam

View of Stinson Beach from Mount Tam

A large portion of Marin is protected and contains wonderful beaches, campsites, and hikes. One of my favorite hikes is along the Coastal Trail from the Pantoll Ranger Station. Once you get past the part of the trail that leads downhill toward Stinson Beach, you practically have Mount Tamalpais to yourself.

February 21, 2009   Comments Off on View of Stinson Beach from Mount Tam

Ask me Bollix

I’m still sipping my cup of morning coffee, which has grown rather cold. From where I sit, I can see part of the famous bridge on the far side of the city, and just behind it, Mount Tam.

Someone said the owner of the Liberty Cafe died a month ago. I miss talking with her, who always had a glow and a vision of culinary perfection. The Liberty has a bakery with the best brioche in the universe. Sorry Parisians, but it’s true. Of course, the Liberty is not at the level of Zuni, which is my favorite restaurant in San Francisco (my sister says it started as a place to sit around and smoke a joint, which illustrates how far it’s come). Wait, I take that back. Sushi Ram is the best restaurant in San Francisco, if you include Sausalito. Anyway, I get my coffee down the street from the Liberty from a French Moroccan immigrant, who can be as brusque as a Parisian. He appreciates my few French phrases, however, so we’ve become fast buddies.

Today in the patio in back, I found myself listening to two guys talking about refrigeration projects. They both seemed like project managers, so I sympathized. One of them was Irish, and I listened carefully to his accent. He mangled his words in that special “Ask me Bollix” sort of way, so I told him he was from Dublin. I had to laugh. It was the first time I’ve seen an Irishman at a loss for words. I asked if he missed the Guinness, and he said he didn’t, but added he only drank it if the establishment had two taps, not just one–meaning they poured a lot of the stuff. I knew exactly what he meant.

February 20, 2009   Comments Off on Ask me Bollix


No longer hearing
The wind howling through his mind,
He saw snow falling.

February 20, 2009   Comments Off on 162

California Poppy

The California poppy is the state flower. It’s drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow (although my sister says she has trouble with it). The northern California variety found in San Francisco has yellow flowers, is perennial, and somewhat prostrate (it doesn’t grow as tall). Extract from the poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked. Just what I needed when my arm was dislocated from my shoulder.

I still remember walking through fields of red poppies between villages in southern Germany–me and the slugs making our slow way through a stroboscopic image we had somehow become part of. “A boy’s will is the wind’s will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

February 20, 2009   Comments Off on California Poppy

View from Sutro Heights

View from Sutro Heights

This is the stretch of beach just below the Cliff House. Lots of surfers out. The waves are breaking beautifully today.

February 19, 2009   Comments Off on View from Sutro Heights

The Art of Damning with Faint Praise

As an illustration of how to damn with faint praise (and how effective it can be), I offer the following:

The editor of my second novel loved it, and, I think, was sincere in her praise. Of course, it’s never good business for an editor to admit hating your work, but her comments in the text were spontaneous and positive. Even though she liked it, I knew the novel didn’t entirely work. The ending left the reader unresolved. I tried fixing it, but couldn’t, and, finally enlisted the aid of someone else. Her reaction was just the opposite of the first editor’s. She hated it. Among other things, she disliked being locked in the skin of this guy she couldn’t stand, and suggested changing it to a third person account. When I was in the process of doing this, I knew how to end the story and made the changes.

I quite like the story now. Other readers like it, as well. It is my attempt as an author to consciously kill a previous self, an old person I had outgrown. The second editor never understood this. In her remarks, she said (and here is my point) that everyone says they want to write a novel, but never do, but I had and should be congratulated for my efforts. It was a perfect example of damning with faint praise. After I made the changes, she was unwilling to look at manuscript again, and refused to give me any of her contacts in the publishing world. It was devastating. I may not be the greatest writer in the world, but I know I’m not that bad.

The first editor was about my age or older, and understood the illusions of our generation and why one might need to kill them. So much of the hippie ideal was nonsense or worse. The second editor was in her twenties and had no idea, or, if she did, didn’t care. In a sense, I was an anachronism even before I started writing at fifty-five, but like all of the challenges life brings, I like this one the best. On the page to anyone under fifty my characters are dead in mind and spirit. Their actions and feelings make no sense. Youth wants to kill age. It needs to discover the next best thing. It wants to introduce the next great feminist writer to the world. I couldn’t agree more.

But the problem is I live on (minus a previous self).

What can I do about this? The answer is obvious. Laugh. Laugh like there’s no tomorrow. Laugh like the sun is falling from the sky. Laugh so hard that even Steppenwolf rolls over in his grave.

February 19, 2009   Comments Off on The Art of Damning with Faint Praise