28 October 2012


The San Francisco Giants are champions of baseball. Hallelujah!

27 October 2012

Seven Psychopaths A Wonderful Confusion

Seven Psychopaths is a movie that knows it's a movie. And revels in it.


I did too.

It's about....Stories. How they are created and refined and made interesting and nurtured. And its also about how characters are what make some stories really interesting and others maybe not. Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits are particularly good as people playing parts to the hilt. And Harry Dean Stanton just stands around staring for a bit and who could do that better?

Farrell plays a struggling screenwriter with a drinking problem. His head is so far up his arse that he's mean to his delicious girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). He's far nicer to his bit actor buddy (Rockwell) who is a bit of case. Said friend is in cahoots with an older gentlemen (Walken) in the dognapping business. Of course. The duo nab a dog owned by a crime boss (Harrelson) and mayhem ensues although truth to tell there was already mayhem what with some psychopaths loose already one of which we meet at the beginning of the movie -- who is that masked man.

So there are stories told within the larger story we are watching and there are revisions and corrections made and what is real and what is not and where it is all going is a wonderful confusion. This is semi-linear story telling that is enhanced if we suspend the need for constant clarity. Better to enjoy the great affect with which the casts vamps. Harrelson bites huge chunks out of the scenery playing it with all the subtlety of an uppercut. Walken puts on a clinic of acting like a version of his quirkiest self. Hey he's playing a man who doesn't drink but does eat peyote. And by god he will not raise his hands just because you're pointing a gun at him.

Rockwell is a revelation. This guy. Good. Is. We can hope for decades of him on screen bringing his unique every guy quality (assuming this every guy is a bit let us say touched) to performances. I say performances because the man he be performing.

Waits is a guy with a bunny rabbit who details how him and his gal...aw see for yourself.

The movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh who previously delighted audiences with In Bruges (2008). I like the dialogue he writes. It's character driven and interesting and happily minus cliches. Okay not everybody talks that way but for the love of God if I want to hear how people REALLY talk I'll save the ticket price and ride a fucking bus.

There is violence and blood and shooting galore in Seven Psychopaths. But it manages to telegraph the fact that none of this is to be taken too seriously its really just part of the story being told and could you just relax about it already? There is nothing gruesome or gratuitous.

There are also two interracial couples just because I guess. There's a quaker killer and all I can say is its about time. The Quakers and the Amish have been getting a free pass from Hollywood for too long. Also an ex Viet Cong with a Yale educated prostitute. And oh by the way the movie essentially admits within it that its female characters are mistreated. What movie does that? This one.

23 October 2012

The Intellectual Richness of Baseball

"I believe in the church of baseball. I've tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball. And it is never boring.... I've tried them all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball." -- From Bull Durham (1988).
Someone cut into a discussion I was having regarding the forthcoming World Series to complain about the intellectual vacuity of baseball.


Such confusion. As if the exertions of the body were separate and unequal from the mind. As if playing a game were not an indicator of intelligence. Woody Allen said in Annie Hall (1977), "That's one thing about intellectuals — they've proved that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on."

The mind should not be left to its own devices. It so easily develops a complex about physical acts --  an ugly snobbery that labels athletic achievement as inferior rather than seeing it as another part of the human experience. Some of those soft weak kids who couldn't play sports in school can still appreciate athletics. Others scoff and snort and create an illusion of superiority because they read Proust while we are watching a man hit a baseball 400 feet and marveling.

Sunsets waves mountains the snow. Visceral and physical and thus to be diminished. That notorious  jock Albert Camus once said that "an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself."

My two favorite sports are baseball and soccer. They are beautiful games that seem slow to the novice but provide endless talking points and huge casts of characters. For that is part and parcel to the love of sports the players -- people -- who perform. It is not just their physical actions but what they bring of themselves the unique people they are their story their zeitgeist to those performances. And then often how they magically gel as a team. Team. Coordinated efforts of individuals towards a common goal with an opposing side trying to best them not just through physical means but by matching wits as well. And the drama they create. The real life stories that unfold before our very eyes. Stories that sometimes defy fiction. Tragedy triumph comedy drama elation and heartbreak. Such a rich stew for the mind to sup on. Intellectual vacuity indeed.

My quibble is with sports watchers who do nothing else. Junkies hooked on the game and not its beauty but its results its numbers its gossip. There are 24 hour sports networks an endless array of sports websites and tweets and updates and scores and it all becomes a meaningless jumble that detracts from whatever purity is involved in athletics. So many obsessed people who care too much and seem to know too little who are engorged by their tribal attachment to a team and knowing every last bit of trivia and keeping up with every score as they parse parse parse the night away.

There has to be a balance.

A balance between the effete rejection of people in motion and teeth gnashing when the home team loses. It's a game. Which is a good thing. And its a game which means it has a place that is not every place.

One reason I'm glad my beloved San Francisco Giants made it to the World Series is that I get to watch them play for at least four more games. If they win the title I will celebrate and feel happy and satisfied and good as I did when they were champions two years ago. Should they lose I will happily go on about other matters such as reading great books and pondering great questions and watching teams and athletes in other sports match talents with others.

That is not vacuity but a very rich world indeed. And one worth talking about.

22 October 2012

Thoughts On A Monday

It was like being in a long vertical room with metal sidings empty of anything save wooden chairs. With me speaking loudly my voice ricocheting around and about and back to me. I heard the sound of my own voice as if it came shouting at me. It rang through my brain. I was teaching on a Monday morning and the class was especially quiet and docile. I've grown used to lively vibrant classrooms with  a lot of interaction and those accented voices from around the world sharing the space with me. But today they were quiet they were listless they were seemingly outside of their bodies and in another space entirely. I could hear my thoughts ringing about seeking solace in forgotten corners. I put them in groups where they were obliged to talk and felt the waves of their voices soothe me.

Later in the day I buzzed happily on coffee sharing quips and stories and observations with colleagues. I spoke too much now too fast too silly and giggled at my own jokes. I was quickly on to me and drew inward and read student papers and silently stroked my ego with thoughts of how cool I could become at a moment's notice. I thought I'd like to be in a community of people like Hemingway and F Scott and even TS Eliot and certainly ee cummings and 1930s European foreign correspondents covering the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazi Germany and jazz scenes and James Joyce and oh those romanticized times when typewriters clickety clacked. When smoking was okay and whiskey hangovers were a sign of manhood just like catching marlin and slapping cads. I thought of that community of writers and journalists and people who mattered but were unselfconscious about it. They did not have twitter nor Facebook followers. They had class. When class meant something.

I felt how my body responds to a cold and missing trips to the gym and eating sweets and sitting a lot. I walked on the beach and talked to seagulls and they consistently failed to respond -- as if my words didn't matter to them! I thought of our cat and my daughters and my beautiful wife as I looked at the Golden Gate Bridge and the sky so bright blue after the morning rain and the clouds so brilliantly white and massive and gorgeous. The sand was ubiquitous. I threw a rock into the bay because I am still in so many ways 10 years old. I squinted. I stared. I scratched. I shook my head in disbelief at all the little tiny moments life offers that we miss because we are so busy being someone. Not ourselves always. But a someone. Who others would have us be. We are so many Zeligs. But I realized that life is fair enough for most of us when you consider the alternatives. We get by and abide. Thus spoke zarathustra.

21 October 2012

Trying to Live Up to My Remembrances of the Past, The Sixties Redux

I gave a talk on the 1960s a few days ago. It was called: The 1960s, The Music, The Protests and Me. I felt good about it. I felt energized. I felt that I lived in a magical time in a magical place and seen amazing things happen. I'd seen hippies, the National Guard, tear gas canisters, the world through LSD. I'd heard anti-war chants. Beatles records on vinyl that I bought new for $3. I felt excited and hopeful and like all things were possible. I felt there was a chance to change everything. I grew to be disappointed that only some things were changed. I grew to appreciate that which did change. I grew angry and cynical and morose. I grew out of that to wax nostalgic and to re-visit Joplin and Hendrix and Neil Young and The Who.

I saw Watergate and said: that figures. I saw Vietnam end and said: it's about time. I saw Reagan elected president and said: oh no. I saw disco come and go and said: dance, dance dance the night away. I saw an end to my own over indulging and said: thank you.  I saw my children born and said: this is fantastic. I saw the U.S. invade Iraq and said: here we go again. I saw a middle school classroom for 18 years and said many many things. Now I see how things have been and understand some and not others. I am glad to be able to remember what I do and wish that I could have been a better passenger for the first decades of my trip through life. I learned to accept what I cannot change and not have regrets not have resentments and to try to be honest at all times in all things. I learned there are worse things than run on sentences.

I gave a talk on the 60s a few days ago. The Beatles were singing, people tripping, soldiers dying (when, oh when, don't they?) and a helicopter flew over my head pouring tear gas on us. I was in high school, cut class and headed for the demonstrations on the Cal campus. On the way through campus large men in bright blue uniforms in full riot gear hid behind shrubbery, they were as obvious as the sand in a desert. We chanted, we yelled, we exercised the U.S. Constitution. Gave that mother a good work out. Then a helicopter appeared with the white clouds flowing out of unto us. An indelible moment in a young man's life. Lo these many years later the sound of a helicopter has a special meaning to me and not a pleasant one.

We ran.

I escaped the clutches of arresting officers and made my way back to school, the day's lesson learned on a college campus.

I spoke of this the other day. I spoke of Woodstock, Altamont, the Domino Theory, Nixon, Johnson and the Haight Ashbury. I write of it now. I write of belief. So powerful to have a belief system and values. A code we live by and up to and with and never ever -- if we can -- ignore. If we fulfill our duties to ourselves we are doing all around us a favor. The Sixties formed me and gave me backdrop and a sense of what is important --- crazy crazy ideas like peace and love. And brotherhood and sisterhood and true equality and not tolerance but respect and holding your truths to be self evident and not in need of facelifts. We who we are have us to become and to value and to hold dear and be and we be as we are this. This. Ourselves.

We are who we were.

I was young and smart and idealistic. I have a past to live up to.

11 October 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy and School Appearances

I've spent years pondering the strong desire many Americans have to be busy. Not only do people aspire to being busy, they boast about how busy they are. It's as if relaxation, recreation and contemplation were signs of weakness. Odd when you think about it. We work for more hours and harder than many previous generations. Instead of creating leisure we create more work more activities more ways to fill the calendar.  But I think I get it now. To be busy distracts us. Keeps us from looking ourselves and our mortality in the eye. To have free time is to be able to contemplate the abyss that awaits. It begs us  to go about the awful task of self evaluation, to consider who we are, what we have wrought and what is to come.  We fill those vast expanses of thought with work and what's left with television and chores. Child rearing is an especially good out, particularly in today's society where children are constantly waited on, taken to soccer practice, violin lessons, play dates (imagine!) while parents occupy themselves with ancillary activities like PTA meetings. Two working parents trying to earn enough to pay for all the needs of their children while saving for their college funds have no time nor any inclination for musings on the universe.  Children don't demand so much of their parents' time, the parent's demand it of themselves and their children. When do kids have a a minute for an unscripted thought? They are rarely alone and never without something to do. If there's not a coordinated activity in place there is the TV and the computer. Young minds are taught from an early age to fill open moments, all of them with "something to do." Hopefully something productive. Idle minds are the devil's workshop, people must suppose. In truth, a people given time to think will frequently start to ask the question: why? This can lead to trouble for authorities, institutions and conventional wisdom. Further, considering the why can lead one to uncomfortable truths. Better to keep busy.

Today a North Dakota high school freshman walked in front of his class, apologized then shot himself. The principal, Jay Townshend said this: "This has never happened here before." You know pal, it's not like it's an everyday occurrence at other schools across the country. But this is expected reaction of the soulless bureaucrat that is a public school administrator. To them it's all about appearances. This kid shooting himself makes us look bad and we've got to get out in front of the story and assure people that our students don't make a habit of performing ritual hari kari in full view of their classmates. I'm reminded of the last principal I worked for, a chubby walking buzz cut of pseudo man who personified the modern de-flavorized administrator, who wouldn't allow in school suspensions. Was it because they were counter productive or harmful? No it was because they "looked bad." This bad look stemmed from the fact that most students who would be serving on campus suspension would be African American. So forget about addressing the problems our young black students are having, let's just make sure we keep it under wraps. Appearances. As a teacher the evaluation process never -- I literally mean never -- examined the tests I gave, how I graded them or how I prepared students for them nor did it ever consider the projects I assigned or how I graded them or how I prepared students for them. But the arrangement of my desks and the amount of student work displayed on my walls? Always. Sadly, I kid you not. It was all about appearances, how the room looked, not what went inside it.

03 October 2012

Answers to Questions Never Asked

A portly woman in early 30s who chuckles constantly at her own inanities. Pleasant competent was a solid student and is headed for a middle management career and a late marriage to a pleasant if banal fellow. She has been stripped of any originality by the sheer weight of her competence and hours of television popular modern literature and a total lack of nuance. She has bad colds but no serious injuries failed romances from 17 to today with one bad sexual encounter because she gave herself to the wrong guy. She likes everyone and everyone likes her but she lives without passion and avoids risks by never thinking of them. So many things in her world are what happen to other people and she just chortles forever content and completely and totally empty and shockingly unaware of it. She'll say the wrong thing occasionally -- punctuated by a titter -- but won't notice it and it'll be quickly forgotten anyway because she is after all such a nice person. Very nice.

There are moments that turn your insides outward and alter the way in which you process the everyday events of every day. They are not moments of great joy or pain or insight but are borne of numbing ordinariness. That  insipid comment the breath of a breeze that dropping of a pencil that has the taint of so much endless repetition. That street has been crossed so many times that it is not stirringly unique and brilliant and shining and now we understand what so much has meant. Through these wonderful blazing rays of incandescent light shining brightly on the baby carrot you just bit...we see what has been missing for so long. An answer. To a question unasked. Clarity. A window into how we function. Who is around us and how we relate. From nothing comes all that LSD never could see -- truth. But like a drug we seek more of it. This endless drive to make meaning. The unquenchable desire to make sense of the inherently senseless. Like explaining a dream that is only half remembered. We are what we think. But patience always. Frustration with our ignorance blocks. Let it come and be surprised and happy and wiser.

Question: why do some people feel the urge to tell you that thing you enjoy...they don't like it. Odd. Straight out. You're watching soccer? I don't like it! You love Bergman films? I don't like them! You like fog? I don't! What an all consuming ego an amazing self possession a soaring insecurity it must require to constantly apprise people of how your personal and by the way superior tastes conflict with theirs. Imagine the responsibility. One would think the sheer weight of such a burden would render a person immobile. But no they trudge on the peerless contradictors. Never at a loss for an opposing view. Vive la difference!

02 October 2012

The Satori of Early Autumn

On the doorsill the Paranoids, as we leave milk to propitiate the leprechaun, had set a fifth of Jack Daniels. - 'From The Crying of Lot 49' by Thomas Pynchon.

And so there is in every day a way. A path for muddling through or soaring and tearing and maybe rending as we seek to survive or understand higher truths or digest hard realities. There is the merry mixture of the what and the why with hows for good measure and let us not forget the oft significant when and where and whos that can perplex. Perplexed in Purple that dazzling rock band from the 1980s whose sole hit was -- like them -- non existent. Gads.

On the trolley to work this morning a large black woman (why does it matter? I don't know, why doesn't it?) had her i pod blasting away disturbing my reading. So I put mine on careful not to be too loud and listened to Hendrix. Purple Haze all in my brain...excuse me while I kiss the sky. Having to look up I saw across from me two characters from a Wes Anderson film. The man of about 33 wore a loud striped shirt that was decades old and never looked smart or stylish even when an old aunt gave it for a birthday gift -- cue the, "thanks Aunt Louise!" and the "try it on" and the "oh good, it fits." He was totally bald and and tall and dorky in a pleasant kind of way. He spoke of the weather. His companion was an Asian American woman about five years his junior, equally pleasant looking though plain as brown paper bag. She'd survived the rages of acne. Her attire suggested someone in a hurry with piles of clothes strewn about the closet. They were not lovers nor destined to be. Co workers probably and on friendly terms. It was nice to sit across from them. Hiya.

Hey, speaking of Wes Anderson, have you seen his latest? Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Should do. Let's talk about it sometime. Uh huh.

I had causal car pooled to San Francisco as I do every morning. This was a bad one as the car radio was tuned to an AM station which meant constant and loud and obnoxious commercials and faux brainy news readers who were more into reading the news than understanding and boy did I miss NPR.

The US is crazy loud and filled with advertising. You can't sit in a movie theater, a football game, a car or in front of your TV without being besieged. And lawdy those disclaimers in which they ejaculate a word a millisecond. I'm rather amazed at how excepting most Americans are of these loud intrusions. There is a certain passivity that has set in. It's like being in the dentist chair as the novacaine takes full effect and you settle into the chair surrendering your mouth to whatever the dentist has a mind to do. Let it come, I will not resist.....

"I cry at the drop of a hat, so please, keep your hats on." - David Letterman.

People are too willing to take on faith who they are. They except without question the role that has been fitted for them by parents, teachers, peers, role models, media bosses, authority figures. There should be a greater thirst to define oneself both as an individual and as a member of society. We are us and can be what we want to be we should be we must be. Verb yourself pick your modal and selectively go through all applicable adjectives -- even the non applicable ones. Boldness. No need to let Mrs. Crank your third grade teacher or that drunken uncle with the big mouth or Sassafras McGee from next door dictate what you be -- you know the verb "to be" right?  Well be it, brother -- or sister.

Brother. Mine still deceased. Two weeks now and...

Well that's that.

I guess.

Hitler loved the film The Lives of  a Bengal Lancer (1935). Hunh!