Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Grand Lake Marquee

The latest comment by the owner of the wonderful old movie palace in my neighborhood....

Rainy Days

From the tower in the De Young Museum...

Outside the window by my computer...

Friday, January 18, 2008

U.S. Out of Cuba!

While Martha Hubert is, for the most part, taking a vacation from painting in order to oppose the war in Iraq, her picket signs are superior -- great quotations, weatherproofed signs, even tape on the handles to prevent splinters -- and her large banners are great. This new one was photographed by Jes Richardson of Gandhi Peace Brigade. He and his wife Leslie are doing lectures cross country about their time spent in Iran, and I forgot to email him a request for a larger copy of his photo before they left. I like Martha's banner, but I think it should be accompanied by a picket sign saying, "U.S. Out of Cuba!"...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daniel Ellsberg, Col. Ann Wright, Cindy Sheehan

No politician, no one in public media -- NO ONE -- speaks anything close to the facts, and so I feel both terribly grateful (while the situation is sad) that I am able to be present for meetings such as the one staged tonight by COURAGE TO RESIST. By all means, contribute to the large number of soldiers resisting service in Iraq -- As Cindy Sheehan said, moral support is great, but these guys need food: http://www.couragetoresist.org
All the people who spoke were shining examples of moral integrity, and so it was appropriate that the event was being held to introduce DISSENT: VOICES OF CONSCIENCE by Colonel Ann Wright, U.S. Army, Retired -- who went into the diplomatic services, then left the government in protest over the war in Iraq.
Jeff Paterson, with Courage to Resist, reported on his attendance, with Lori Hurlebaus, at a hearing of a committee of the Canadian House of Commons which swung closer to providing sanctuary to the many soldiers who have gone to Canada. At their website you will find the addresses for writing letters (requires 69-cent stamp), to three Canadian officials, asking "you to make a provision for sanctuary for the scores of U.S. military sevice members currently in Canada."
Daniel Ellsberg wrote the foreward to Ann Wright's book, and I assume he is one of the heroes in her book as one of the first to speak out with conscience, not bend to some blind, rote commitment to party or politics. His definition of the moral action that is required even by certain government principles that are supposed to be posted in every government office -- loyalty above person, party, etc., loyalty only to country and high moral principles -- spoke from the place from which the only hope for the country comes. He was great, urging not only that impeachment of Cheney and Bush should proceed, but reminding us that people like Pelosi are also violating the Constitution. That she and Jane Harmon knew about tortures being used and did not immediately speak out about them publicly makes them NOT voices of conscience.

Ann Wright told some of the stories of the heros described in her book. One of them was about the soldier who took the photos of the tortures of Abu Ghraib that revealed to the world what was going on there. Rumsford revealed his identity while speaking to his unit in Iraq, so much endangering the young man's life that he must now live in hiding under the Witness Protection program.
Ann Wright asked this wonderful group how many had served time in jail as acts of conscience. I felt embarrassed to be one of the few who had escaped jail, but one woman said that being in the Army for two years would do to represent my jail time. The wide variety of groups represented there -- labor, teachers, Code Pink, those working for Impeachment, etc. -- as people who served time as a result of protesting so many stupid U.S. actions over the decades -- invasions, overthrowing governments, etc. -- represented the secret and better part of U.S. history so far as I am concerned. As with other resisting veterans, Mike Wong's equivalent of "jail time" was his exile of two years when he deserted the American War in Vietnam. In groups like this, I always understand the power in an old spiritual turned protest song: This little light'll shine. Ann Wright, I saw, resisted the easy way, despair.

When sending in your contribution to Veterans Resisting the War, and those refusing to serve in this illegal war, you might also send a contribution to the Congressional Campaign of Cindy Sheehan (http://www.cindyforcongress.org/). It is so refreshing to listen to someone who doesn't mince words, unlike Pelosi, the mealy-mouth she would replace, who is part of Nob Hill society, and a party functionary.

Keep an ear open for all the politicians who speak of the U.S.A. as a Capitalist Democracy. Those are the code words that are supposed to make us salivate. What is Capitalist Democracy? Looking around, it looks like a disaster locally (except for those content to have a iPod in place of a brain as they step over the people sleeping in the streets) and internationally (where we are replacing the Nazis as symbols of sadistic and murderous arrogance). If you want to see what Capitalist Democracy is, see the documentary, OUR BRAND IS CRISIS. What would non-Capitalist Democracy look like? I think I want some of that.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Miscellaneous Recent Photos

Lucky, the cat I cared for recently, while his owners were on vacation -- looking at me closely to see if I am near death so he can eat me...

At the 12 December 2007 annual celebration of Our Lady of Guadaloupe at the San Rafael Mission in San Rafael, California:

Winter landscapes, McInnis Park and Wetlands, San Rafael...

Another piece of the cathedral being built in Oakland, looking through the South (?) window showing through to the North (?) window...

Snowy Egret in the Morning...

A goldeneye dives...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

2 January 2008, Another Day of Wandering

Returning from a month in Marin County where I almost totally avoided a computer and could not overschedule myself as I do when I am in Oakland, I was not, and am not, certain that I want to be carried back into that routine. However, here is one of those typical days, repeated on 2 January. It started in the morning with doing tai chi with my buddy Martha. Her neighborhood around Church and 29th Street still has an autumnal look...

The rain made the building where Mother Theresa's order lives (beside the church that was the location of the film, SISTER ACT) look especially somber, streaked with rain.

Martha had prepared the canvas for her next painting, the canvas, lying flat, looking like a pool of orange. Her arrangement of things in her and Thom's apartment are artistic compositions in themselves.

To keep from taking too many trips to San Francisco in the week, I try to arrange a lot in single days, which makes for more free time in Oakland, but can make for very long days in San Francisco. How to kill the time between one site and the next? I take books, writing to revise, but then sometimes too I just let the day carry me along to unexpected places. Next I went for my appointment at the V.A. Hospital. I try not to be too depressed by the men worn down or broken by war.

But then you can wander around behind the V.A. hospital and get a panoramic view of the entrance toward the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay, and the buildings, probably WPA constructions, have wonderful decorative work.

Next is the writing group with Louise at 7 p.m. in Glen Park, but that leaves quite a bit of time to fill, so, when I start out on the Great Highway, intending to take Sloat to Portola to O'Shaughnessy to Glen Park, I find myself stopping by the beach beside the Great Highway. When I first came to San Francisco, that was the favorite destination, being a guy from the plains who had never seen an ocean, but I had not dropped by this area for many years. On such a winter day, there were only solitary walkers along the sand, or lovers, and two people walked into the ocean to surf.

The houses on the street facing the ocean, the Great Highway between them and the Pacific, have a look peculiar to the houses in that area.

Before it grew dark in the Glen Park district, I saw the signs of San Francisco's January spring.

It grew dark long before 7 p.m., and I wandered around looking at the holiday lighting of the houses, and found too that people were playing games in the night on the lighted field in Glen Park.

Back home in Oakland, after the writing class, I took the time to begin to look at photos taken in and around the house where I stayed in Marin. Before Kenneth and Rafael left for Nicaragua, I had overlapped with them for a day, and I saw a startling image on the glass door to the garden where bird feeders hang that draw the yellow finches, hummingbirds, and other birds. I went and interrupted Kenneth who was at his computer. "Would you please come look at something?" I thought perhaps he had stenciled an image on the glass door, but he said, "That happens sometimes. A hawk may frighten a bird and it flies into the glass. Sometimes it kills them."

Labor of the Lost Wallet

Wonderful to housesit/catsit for Kenneth and Rafael at their house off Huckleberry Road in Marin where an hibiscus may grow inside.
I loved sleeping in a room with one of the quilts made by Kenneth's mother. (Some more pieces throughout what follows.)


I chose to see the most useless and absurd day I spent during my recent retreat, as housesitter/catsitter, as a classical Labor, as in the Labors of Hercules or of some other mythical figure. When Psyche, overcome by curiousity, wanted to see the lover, Eros, who had been visiting her nightly, she broke his rule when she raised her lamp to look at him as he slept, and Psyche was condemned by Eros’ mother Venus, ruler of love’s silly games, to suffer for her new knowledge. She would not be allowed to recover love without enduring some maddening task -- in her case, finding something tiny in a large pile of grain, searching seed by seed. Call them the tedious days we work for the sake of certain golden days or moments – we who live where love is not at all a constant. Now that I’ve gone all mythical on you, for my own sake I want to review my Labor of the Lost Wallet grain by grain, but you may skip all that by jumping to the paragraph that begins with the capitalized words: “SHOWERED AND READY….”

Late afternoon on 25 December, my friend Fred dropped by on his way back to San Francisco after spending time with his relatives in Sacramento, and, faced with the challenge of finding a place to eat on Christmas Day night, we met up with his friends, Howard and Tom, who live, with their son Matthew, near where I was staying; they arranged for us to meet them at the House of Lee in San Rafael – How many times have I found that the one restaurant open on Christmas Day night was a Chinese restaurant?

After dinner, we dropped a weary Tom off at their home, and Howard and Matthew took Fred and me on a tour of houses with elaborate holiday decorations. Late that night, “home” alone, I discovered that I had lost my wallet. I went back and forth between kitchen and bedroom looking every place I had been since returning to the house. I went over the same route a dozen times, meanwhile imagining how someone was using my credit card, and spending the cash in the wallet. All the cards would need to be replaced, including my driver’s license. And there was that extra key to my car that I must conceal in my wallet as I am always locking myself out of my car. Sleep was almost impossible as I continued to run a circuit through the house in my mind, forced to get up at times to explore some new notion of where the wallet might be.

In the morning I called Fred who searched his car thoroughly, especially around the passenger’s seat. I also called Fred’s friend Howard. He was about to take his son to his school nearby, and he would pass by the houses we had seen last night and write down the addresses. He called me later with the list of addresses, and I drove around to each house, all of them looking so different by day. Moving bean by bean, I was searching for that needle, my wallet. By day the houses, without their lights, lost their magic, like the painted canvas backdrops at a carnival show that come alive only at night among the revolving lights of amusement rides, with the barkers' magic incantations. This was the clear light of day, and even before 9 in the morning, a wallet would have been noticed.

Following an obvious sequence of actions, I drove into San Rafael and parked near the House of Lee. They would not respond to my knocking on their glass door (of course nothing comes easy during a Labor): Someone inside shouted, “We open at 11!” After killing time at the Kenneth's favorite morning sot, the Aroma Coffee Shop, a few blocks away, I returned, and finally gained admittance to the House of Lee. I looked under the table where we had eaten. One of the women folding napkins there obliged me by stepping out of the chair where I had been sitting. No wallet to be found. The manager said, “If you had called us after you left last night....”

“I didn’t discover it until after midnight,” I explained.

The days of my enjoying a retreat by housesitting in Marin were precious and numbered in my mind, and this was a day that, of necessity, would be spent in a long series of absurd measures that I had no choice but to take step by step and in sequence. Up until now, there had been some vestige of the hope that I would be handed the familiar wallet, embossed with “Borinquen” – a loved gift from my friend Victor who brought it back from a visit to Borinquen (Puerto Rico); it would suddenly appear before me as if bathed in a holy light: You know, that great surge of relief when something lost is found again – and the pain of hope would be healed when hope was no longer needed.

But, clearly, this last step, back to the House of Lee, was the end of false hope. The thing was dead and would not be revived. I remembered how I had fumbling with the wallet after dinner, as we calculated the bill, at the same time that I became entangled in my carrying bag and jacket as I was also needing to go to the restroom. It was time to accept that whoever followed us at that table, consistent with the U.S. and California tradition of “panning for gold,” could not resist considering the wallet an official “find,” with no connection to any person’s “loss.”

In a way it felt good to be rid of that search to find the lost wallet. All the next steps were rote -- initiating the replacement of cards, etc., by driving back to Oakland to find the appropriate numbers to call with the information I would need to convey by phone. Dropping by the Post Office in Oakland on the way home, to pick up whatever mail had accumulated, I wondered how I could persuade them to give me my mail without the customary identification, a driver’s license. I had recovered my mail the week before from the same short, cheerful Asian woman standing before me. At that time she had asked who that man was on the button on my jacket.

“Lt. Ehren Watada,” I explained. “He is refusing to serve in Iraq.”

“He’s very handsome,” she said, amused.

On the basis of my plaintive manner and the button of Watada that she remembered, the woman was willing to accept primitive proof, my name typed on a piece of paper in my wallet, and gave me my mail.

The very last wisp of hope evaporated when I reached home and found no message on my home phone telling me that someone had found my wallet. Now there was just the tiresome but necessary business of making copies of auto insurance and registraton papers, etc., then calling to have a new credit card and a new Bank ATM card generated and sent to me (enduring the Bank employee’s usual speech about taking advantage of other Bank services.

Then I drove over to the DMV in San Francisco to order a replacement Driver’s License and obtain a temporary paper one. So, next step: Drive across the Bay Bridge. Take the Octavia Street exit. Turn on Fell Street and proceed to the DMV. Stand in a line while filling out a form. Then receive a number and wait among the mass of seated people until the number attached to your form appears on one of the television screens, telling you to report to a particular window.

Figuring that there would be time to get a new V.A. card before my next appointment there on 2 January, I drove back to Marin, with my tedious Labor behind me; I had ticked the tasks off so efficiently that I even had time to stop for another look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin Civic Center, this time with the tower shining bright and golden in the late afternoon sun; and I even had time when I got back to my temporary “home” to climb the high hill behind the development of Eichler houses. The trail began at the wooden sign where someone had indicated with an upward-pointing arrow and clear white letters: “To NeverNeverLand." Up there on the hill, the autumn oaks were gold and umber in the dying light as I witnessed the earth’s evening turn away from our Mother Sun.

It was time then to go to my borrowed “home,” shower, and settle in for the evening so that their cat Lucky might have time to enjoy a nap in my lap.

SHOWERED AND READY for the sofa and the cat, I opened the container in which I had brought my favorite tea bags, and found the wallet embossed Borinquen inside the tea container.

What a relief, albeit a relief somewhat degraded. I was grateful to have the wallet back, although now it was a wallet with inivalid credit and ATM cards. I am too Freudian to see this as complete accident. I had to believe that putting the wallet in with the teabags couild not be pure nonsense. As the hours were approaching when I would need to leave this latest house I had cared for as a happy solution to the need now and then for a period of isolation, a place for a creative retreat, I realized that I put the wallet in the container of tea bags because that was where I wanted to "put my money" -- place my values -- where my heart abides: Making tea after twilight and settling into those evening hours when one is free of obligations and other commitments, hours when the imagination is free to roam where it will and create what it likes.

After the usual initial period not of being "blocked," but of "avoiding," with the time narrowing for my stay off Huckleberry Road, but I continued by making a mobile, revising verses or a play, making collages – such as this one – an image for beginning the year 2008:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

An Image For the New Year

"Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is the supreme law. By it alone can mankind be saved." -- Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas K. Gandhi, 1869-1948)