Midnight Christmas Mass

December 31, 2010

The Catholic church a few blocks from my house had a real midnight Christmas Mass which was cool.

A huge, 100-foot Christmas tree, a black Catholic church with a white (German?) priest, a piano player that rocked the house, and a soul singer that couldn't hold back at times "Hmmmm." Ha. He did that one time at the end of a song, the congregation laughed, and the priest turned around in a funny, joking reprimand. Regardless, the house rocked like no Mass I'd been to. People were dancing in the aisles during certain of the more passionate songs. The theme "Go Tell It On the Mountain," was one of them. It approached, but didn't reach, my experience with a friend's of mine, Zach, African Methodist Episcopal Church in Des Moines, Iowa. The congregants had tambourines and other instruments (!!), and I think we danced for about 75 to 80 percent of the service (awesome).

The priest himself is an odd character, a showman. When I walked in he was humming, figuratively, with energy, a babe in his arms, as he strolled down the main aisle greeting the congregation. I happened to bump into him in the darkened chapel as I looked for a seat and I said quickly, unconsciously, "Excuse me." And he responded, just as quickly, looking into my eyes, "You're excused." Hmmm. What is this? I know he was pumped up, but it was definitely odd. At the end, in a wonderful, touching moment, he took the same baby, lolling, though awake, and stood amid the congregation and lifted him up while talking about the "innocence of babes, we are all like little Ezekial here" etc. It was beautiful, but strange as well. When he finished, as he was walking back to return the babe to his mother, he said, to a kind-of relieved, though genuine and exuberant, laughter from the congregation, in showman style, "And, no, he's not mine." I had a feeling he was. Ha.

5 shots fired

December 27, 2010

hot corner

At Sacramento and Ashby: saw a gunman today running after firing five shots. Crazy. Apparently it's a hot corner.

Best of the Year?

December 24, 2010

And a related question: Why are these articles free? May be one reason for the sad state (pitiful pay, for the most part, for good work) of American journalism.


Vanity Fair: Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds by Michael Lewis. Oct. 1, 2010.

End of Men

The Atlantic: The End of Men by Hanna Rosin. July/August 2010. [A pitiful article, pitiful.]

Trader Joes

CNN Money.com: Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's by Beth Kowitt. Aug. 23, 2010.


New York Magazine: The James Franco Project: Is James Franco For Real? by Sam Anderson. July 25, 2010. [No.]

The American Scholar: Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz. Spring 2010.

[A surprisingly good publication. Didn't know about it until grad school. See Priscilla Long's poem published in The American Scholar that won, amazingly, the American Society of Magazine Editors (now Magazine Publishers Association) (they do a yearly industry-wide recognized/standardizing National Magazine Awards) 2006 feature writing award. Beautiful, and if this counts as literary journalism, then the world's wide open - thank god. Priscilla said the article was a blind submission to the magazine - amazing. Hear that, aspirants? (Took her three years though). If you're too interneted-out to click on a link, here is a snippet:

Courtly cows dispense with diphthongs. Chocolate-covered theories crouch in corners. Corners rot uproariously. Refrigerators frig worms. Catastrophe kisses the count of five. A statement digests its over-rehearsed rhinoceros. Bookworms excrete monogamous bunnies. Blue crud excites red ecstasy. All this during the furious sleeping of colorless green ideas.]

The above list generated from The Sidney Awards in the NYT by David Brooks, via @cristinadaglas.

A Tale of Two Cities

December 24, 2010

Up Oakland, Down Oakland

Ah, Men and Women

December 22, 2010

At Philz Coffee. They don't make espresso because it "ruins the coffee." Whatever. So I got a double-filtered something. Good, but no cappuccino.

Next to me, two women (middle-aged, not that it matters) talking about finding the right man.

Depressing, and not in that way, but in the way women deconstruct the man they want. I have a feeling it's universal. We are not tools! (but we are) Don't objectivize us! As my friend Daijo said one time, hilariously, to his wife when we three were casually talking about the subject: "We're people, too!" Ha. You must be laughing out loud. :).

I have a whole theory. It involves lions ...


December 21, 2010

Went on a Solstice (3:38 p.m. PST) hike today into the Berkeley hills. Above the Greek Theater (didn't know it was outside! A show there must be stunning.) And into, and quickly ushered out of, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Didn't know.

A glorious walk, though. Up the hill, the Bay comes in view (it was clear today; it's clear randomly; rains randomly; whatever). Was listening to a Fresh Air Podcast. Terry Gross is a little prudent (overly), but her intelligence and perception is stunning; she always asks the questions you logically are asking yourself (they're deeper, more subtle, and the talk flows better) than most other interviewers. It's amazing. Try it. She doesn't hold back, too; she'll ask some amazing, personal questions. Unfortunately, most guests are too cool for school on the show. Too level-headed, to self-serious about their work. This one was Sofia Coppola, who just must be one of the most ideal women (wanna hang out/date?), but she was too cool for school, too. But her new film sounds intriguing. Like her Lost in Translation, it looks like it creates the same smooth, languorous aesthetic: a supple, tangible, bubble-ball feel of relationship between two people, moving in, now out, now glancing into/around each other. Father/daughter, lover/friend, man/woman. Hope to see it. Somewhere.

More later.


December 19, 2010

Will you please stop?

Colossus at Rhodes

December 18, 2010

Amazing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossus_of_Rhodes

Four, then five, older dudes at a cafe

December 16, 2010

These guys were sitting around a table at Au Coquelet, a somewhat depressing, though well-visited wifi coffeeshop/restaurant on this cold, rainy, dark night at about 8:30. Fighting a cold and a writing assignment, the oddness of these guys blended with the atmosphere, but also became unavoidable to notice/observe.

One of the dudes with a beard and glasses in halting, slow speech (slow and unsure to the point that it's surprising no one steals the floor from him),

"A male lion is roughly twice the weight of a lioness, but his heart is only 50 percent larger than hers. So, it explains a lion's overall lazier demeanor." What?

And then I notice (there's harmony in all things), the folded-paper sign: BUUG (Berkeley Unix User Group) that sits on the table.

Life at the Y

December 16, 2010

"It's the first time I saw Arturo in clothes," said one of the morning loudmouths, jokingly, to a couple of guys sitting just outside the steam and sauna rooms on the white plastic bench that serves as a semi-uncomfortable (for me at least) lounge spot in the men's locker room at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. There's a crazy amalgam of regulars; it brings back high school - the institutional feel of it and the absolute mix, about as egalitarian as our modern democracy offers nowadays (struck up a brief conversation with who I guessed is some type of venture capitalist ("I'm flying to Austin at the end of the week"); he was characteristically wary in his responses to my enthusiastic talking (I saw basketball shoes and a basketball in his locker and I was quizzing him on the pick-up game situation (for the info, he could've been homeless for all I care), as some "successful" guys are). The curiously-shaped guy that sits directly in front of the hot tub so you have to curve around his feet, one of which (his left) is elephant-man deformed, a couple of nobs are all there are for toes. A big belly, shorts that somehow hug his big belly, shirtless, and calling out to his regulars when he sees them, "Hey now." (Saw him riding his motor scooter in a different part today). Another guy talks to everybody; I was unfortunate enough to match his flow. Heard him loudmouthing a guy at a neighboring locker as he changed into his swim trunks, yelling at the guys as we passed through the sauna/steam room area to the showers, giggling to himself and others in the shower (soap shower required by state law before getting into hot tub, pool), and then jabbering with the elephant man in the hot tub ... and then yelling to the lifeguard and to his lane-neighbors in the pool. A one-man show.

Anyhow, I had never seen Arturo in clothes either; he's a shuffling, mumbling older hispanic guy with a snow's-spit moustache and a nickel-sized medallion that swings, bounces from clavicle to clavicle just behind the beat of his shuffle; and he's always in the locker room. I had never not seen him actually, and I go at random times during the day.


December 14, 2010

Suitte Francais by Irène Némirovsky (2007), trans. from the French by Sandra Smith.

Published after years in the hands of Némirovsky's daughter who refused to look at the leather-bound book of notes for decades, afraid to re-open the wounds formed in her from her mother's and father's 1942 death at Auschwitz. Suitte Francais was written in occupied France during the war and was interrupted by her abduction by the Nazi machine in July 1942. The book contains two of five planned novels detailing life in war-time, occupied France. It's a devastating work, particularly for the factual appendices, which contain her notes for the planned book series, her impressions of what felt like (and was) impending doom, and the letters surrounding her and her husband's ratcheting trouble from having Jewish ancestors in Nazi-occupied France.

Some random quotes:

Appendix, Némirovsky's handwritten notes:

My God! what is this country doing to me? Since it is rejecting me, let us consider it coldly, let us watch as it loses its honour and its life. And the other countries? What are they to me? Empires are dying. Nothing matters. Whether you look at it from a mystical or a personal point of view, it's just the same. Let us keep a cool head. Let us harden our heart. Let us wait. (Appendix 1, 373)


The French grew tired of the Republic as if she were an old wife. For them, the dictatorship was a brief affair, adultery. But they intended to cheat on their wife, not to kill her. Now they realise she's dead, their Republic, their freedom. They're mourning her.

For years, everything done in France within a certain social class had had only one motive: fear. This social class caused the war, the defeat and the current peace. The Frenchmen of this caste hate no one; they feel neither jealousy nor disappointed ambition, nor any real desire for revenge. They're scared. Who will harm them the least (not in the future, not in the abstract, but right now and in the form of kicks in the arse or slaps in the face)? The Germans? The English? The Russians? The Germans won but the beating has been forgotten and the Germans can protect them. That's why they're "for the Germans." At school, the weakest student would rather be bullied than be free; the tyrant bullies him but won't allow anyone else to steal his marbles, beat him up. If he runs away from the bully, he is alone, abondoned in the free-for-all. [Analogous to America, psychologically, economically, now? The country is a lot weaker, more ridden with fear, fragile, in that devastating place of powerful illusion before the disillusion, than anyone wants to acknowledge (look in your heart, and it's clearly there). Look at our (the policy-makers, big-time journalism) judgements in the world - they're clouded by a destructive self-interest. We have to have self-interest, obviously, but "our way of life" is clouding all reasonable, common-sense, logical, sustainable decision-making. It's immensely sad - the karma that started with the response to the World Trade Center bombing and our vow to "root out evil," is coming home to roost.] (377)

They're trying to make us believe we live in the age of the "community," when the individual must perish so that society may live, and we don't want to see that it is society that is dying so the tyrants can live (378).

[To herself, about Suitte Francais] Have no illusions: this is not for now. So mustn't hold back, must strike with a vengeance wherever I want (379).

Inimitable descriptions but not historical (383). [Of her approach to writing a novel, capturing the spirit, not constricted by documenting inane facts.]

[About Suitte Francais] Keep it simple. Tell what's happening to people and that's all (380).

I think that what gives War and Peace the expansion Forster talks about (Forster: Music, though it does not employ human beings, though it is governed by intricate laws, nevertheless does offer in its final expression a type of beauty which fiction might achieve in its own way. Expansion. That is the idea the novelist must cling to. Not completion. Not rounding off but opening out. When the symphony is over we feel that the notes and tunes composing it have been liberated, they have found in the rhythm of the whole their individual freedom. Cannot the novel be like that? Is not there something of it in War and Peace?), is quite simply the fact ... (386-387). [She was thinking very carefully, intelligently how to tell this devastating story.

What lives on [in the midst of tyranny: life, art, and God (page 388)]:

1 Our humble day-to-day lives

2 Art

3 God

The Holocaust is absolutely mind-boggling. So must all genocides. Think of Rwanda. But something feels so much closer to home about the Holocaust, maybe because of the stronger, more immediate cultural ties (as a nation).

I grew up Jewish, and I must say I'm tired of seeing films, etc. come out about the Holocaust. Can we somehow funnel Hollywood Jewish money differently? I understand, never forget ...

Having just read Suitte Francais, the poignancy and unbelievability of the event is mind-crushingly nuts. Némirovsky wrote the novel/notes during the World War II in occupied France and didn't finish it because, as a Russian Jew (though she was a practicing Catholic; to Naziland, three Jewish grandparents = a Jew, no matter the later manifestation of life - some curious twist on a biblical generational curse), she died in Auschwitz in 1942. The absolutely nuts part about the book and its circumstance is (the book ends with a sequence of her letters and husband's, etc.) is that she knew (as attested in the letters) she was going to die and could do nothing about it. The Jewish round-up slowly constricted life, and she (and many others about themselves) knew it. One day she was taken, and her husband's progressively frantic letters about finding/retrieving her are devastating. As the program intensified, he met her same fate, later, in Auschwitz. What the hell was going on? And France was occupied, but what the hell were its citizens thinking letting this happen? I know the psychology of a slowly ratcheting pain/change, but damn. Slowly boil, instead of flash-fire. Neighbors just watched it happen, but also, as described in the novel, the French soul had rolled over for the Germans (including the country's daughters), so they were basically lifeless/heartless/backboneless, but still. It is absolutely amazing.

Appendix II includes Némirovsky and her husband's, et al., letters.

Michel Epstein [Irène's husband] to Andre Sabatier [publisher] (19 September 1942) [unknown to Epstein, who would be taken to Auschwitz on November 6, 1942, and immediately sent to the gas chamber, Irène had been dead for just over a month by the letter's date]:

Our letters have crossed. I thank you for giving me some news, no matter how depressing it may be. Could you please find out if it would be possible for me to be exchanged for my wife - I would perhaps be more useful in her place and she would be better off here. If this is impossible, maybe I could be taken to her - we would be better off together. Obviously, it would be necessary to speak to you about all this in person.

The blaring question is Why?

For some context, some snippets from Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under the Nazi Occupation (2010):

Poorly prepared, the French Army was soundly defeated in less than six weeks [less than six weeks!] by the German offensive in the West, which was launched on May 10, 1940 (30).

The armistice of June 22, 1940 divided France into two zones, separated by a demarcation line: to the north, territory under the administration of the German Military Commander in Franche (Militarbefehlshaber im Frankreich); to the south -- until the German invasion of November 1942 -- territory under the authority of the Vichy regime. (64).

Collaboration with the Nazi Occupier was the official policy of Vichy France (132).

A timeline:

1: July 22, 1940, outlaw of recent foreign nationals.

2: October 3, 1940, (first ("Statute on Jews") proclamation: defined Jews (three jewish grandparents or two jewish grandparents and a jewish spouse); quit working life and go into exile.

3: June 2, 1941, (second "Statute on Jews"); further employment restrictions, new definition (two jewish grandparents = Jewish).

4: January 20, 1942, the Wannsee Conference, Nazis planned the "Final Solution of the Jewish question." WTF!

5: March 27, 1942, first convoy to Auschwitz, all Jews required to wear yellow Star of David. The mighty king.

6: June 16, 17, Spring Breeze [Némirovsky among this one]; round up, with help of French police, of registered Jews (28,000) and then sent to Drancy and then off.

Summer 1942 to end of July 1944, 76,000 Jews deported from France. Only 2,500 survived.

See Paul Gray's amazing review of Suite Francais in a 2006 long, Sunday New York Times book review here.

Some thoughts on love

December 11, 2010

Don't know about all this ...

Your hair hangs like

autumn rain

full; bunching down, overgrown

- - -

surprised into love by the songs of a nun,

singing like a mantle of worn rock

in a previous sea.

waltz and blush,

gaping at the absent sky

in the catacombs of a once-convent.

move just so,

so we may stand on the lip

of a wasteland

with clouds, dark as mid-storm

above us...

poem after the dash, adapted from a poem by Katy Didden

Some ruminations on personality, business, making, as Juve says, something out of nothing

December 10, 2010


You know, this might come off as bitter. It's not. I swear. Today I went to a volunteer orientation at 826 Valencia at 826 Valencia, San Francisco, the organization founded by novelist Dave Eggers and someone else. What's fascinating about 826 is its relationship with what has become a massive Egger empire - Dave's personality, personal expression, comes through in it all (McSweeney's, 826, The Believer), pervasive. Unfortunately, I find his style to be fussy, put-on, facetious, overly fastidious, tiresomely ironic, and annoying. BUT, he's no doubt a large player in the modern American literary landscape. And amazing in his own way. His 2000 breakout novel, A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius (A Staggering Work of Outlandish Self-Reflection (Navel-Gazing) and Inanity) put him onto the scene. Note: Finally reading the whole thing (I know shameful to judge without reading, but I read parts of it!) and will have a more intelligent, detailed critique soon. But, the Berkeley Public Library has it filed in its Teen section. Enough said?

Dave founded McSweeney's, the West Coast's representation of a "serious” literary journal, a la The Paris Review, Granta. The journal paused as it transmuted a couple of issues into make the outstanding one-time-only newspaper, The San Francisco Panorama. Amazing! I first heard about it from my grad school cohort and bluegrass bassist extraordinaire Brian Heffernan who interned at San Francisco Magazine one summer. He was here (in SF) when Panorama was published. The newspaper listed its exact publishing costs, line-itemed. Insightful, intriguing, a genius-move. It was an experiment in newspapering in this chaotic digital time.


826 is just as Eggerish – rococo sheets billowing from the ceilings, bookshelves/books everywhere, and most notably, the storefront (about 18 yards wide, 15 yards deep) is a Pirate Shop, no doubt born from Eggers's whimsy. He or whomever might argue the details of who did what (suggested what, etc., but the details aren't the issue, the issue, it's the broad vision/inspiration), but the style is unmistakedly Dave's; some people just provide a vision/framework/style and then people take that and run. There's nothing like having a framework in which to work. I've seen this exact same thing before; we all have probably, but this one is notably, remarkably similar. When in journalism grad school at the University of Missouri, Columbia, I came across Paul Sturtz. His name first entered my realm as a public life beat reporter at the Missourian, the MU journalism-student-produced city newspaper (with bunches of issues all its own. Inexplicably, it loses (or did when I was there in 2008-ish) one million dollars a year and has a circulation of 1,200! Pathetic, inexcusable, a waste of time and money (the competing city paper, The Columbia Daily Tribune, had successfully argued that a university newspaper competing against a city paper was unfair, and dangled a lawsuit over the Missourian's head; there has to be a functional, good resolution, compromise. Maybe the Missourian becomes a section of the Tribune. But, whatever needs to be done, stop beating your heads against the wall, please! As a former Missourian, it was painful; the wall stared at you everyday, large thick bricks. You walked in in the morning and there it was about two feet in front of you (no way around, no way over, no way under, and, tragically, no way through) waiting for you to make the percussive next move, over and over and over)). But, unfortunately, this circumstance resonated a certain harmony that sang throughout the journalism school: extreme, professional effort with absolutely no vision, a sincere blindness to common sense.

(I am aware of the irony of this juxtaposition). Anyhow, my great editor, great human being, cool, real, hardworking, inspiring, a canoeist, lead-singer of a rejuvenated teenage Sedalia, Missouri, 80s punk band, The Abusers, skinny-ass Levi pants that accentuate his legs' stork-like thinness (fragility, impression), ending in big brown, clunky work boots, an inveterate smoker, coffee drinker, a deep voice, a very simple, logical, at-the-surface, always-ready-to-gurgle-up sense-of-humor: Scott Swafford (earnest: he was also taking graduate classes with us grad students. In one seminar, I sat next to him in class; several of us had noticed that he had meticulously highlighted all of the text, all of it, on a page of an obscure reading in the meaningless, useless qualitative research methods class. The whole page! It was hilarious; he held it up for a second and shook his head in acknowledgement of the acknowledgement). In the Fall of 2007, when I was a reporter at the Missourian, Scott asked me, excitedly, to contact Paul Sturtz as he had just entered the First Ward city council race. The First Ward is the core of the pop. 100,000-ish town, dominated by the university, State Farm Insurance and Shelter Insurance. It's a swale in the middle of central Missouri's crop fields. Anyhow, Scott was notably reverent toward Paul; the descriptive quote about him stuck out (and indicates Scott's mix of purity, naivete and unabashed straightforwardness), "He writes poetry.” Ha. Scott, 45-ish, grew up in Sedalia, Missouri, and has been a newspaperman since right after school. He has the Show-Me-state sensibility to his core. So, because of my reverence for Scott, and his for Paul, I took notice. Slowly, I learned that Paul (co-(see my Dave Eggers vision point))founded the True/False Film Festival, a world-class international documentary film festival held in Columbia each twilight-of-winter. And he used to teach at the Missourian and he helped save a park and he (co-)founded the independent bar/cafe/movie theater in town.

So, I went after him. Like Dave, he's an amazing hub of energy: directing, inspiring others with a resolute, dependable, detailed and always-reliable vision. I pitched a profile of him to one of Columbia's lifestyle magazines, Inside Columbia Magazine, and got the go-ahead. I then went after Paul. I emailed him and emailed him. He never said no, but he was trying to brush me off. But, I wrote/told him each time, "Just say, 'No,' and I'll go away. Until you say 'no,' I'm going to keep asking you for the profile.” He finally acquiesced. It was about a week before the city council election. He graciously had me over to his house. I walked in and Paul's style/sensibility struck me immediately as a carefree, slightly mischievous Calvin and Hobbes one; maybe because among the books that lined the room was a Calvin and Hobbes collection. He sat down, collapsed in a chair and rubbed his face; he looked exhausted, he didn't want me to do the story in the first place but I went for it. His exhaustion was something deeper. He calls himself a "social entrepreneur," and he said (paraphrasing), "Sometimes I just feel so drained. There are amazing highs from motivating, inspiring people to do something great; and there are great energy lows.” In other words, he's completely conscious of his talent. I was drawn to him because I recognize in me the same skill/gift/way-of-being/curse. Anyhow, I walked with him around the neighborhood on the cold, cold day, his nose running a little, my hands numb. He knocked on each door, wrote a hand-written note on each flier. His goal was lofty: to knock on every door in the First Ward. I said something like, "It's a good way to go," and he replied, quickly, "It's the only way to go." Gives you an idea of his striving for perfection. He said several times in several different guises that what motivates him is a sincere need to justify his existence on earth. With limited resources, what are you doing to justify your place on earth? My piece ("Walking to Utopia") in the magazine ended with a quote from a book that he recited to me in his house, the same quote he closed his First Ward City Council seat victory speech with at The Pasta Factory in Columbia on April 8, 2008: "What is utopia for? It is for this. For walking."


marching to utopia: T/F 2010 opening second-line (band from New Orleans) parade through downtown Columbia - UTOPIA

Just before he acknowledged the win, his True/False co-founder, David Wilson, and he had an aside-moment. David was saying, "Dude, you won. Give the speech,” and Paul was demurring, "I think it's classier if I wait, don't you?” Thorough to the end.

So, the Eggerish thing about Paul is really seen at the True/False Film Festival. As his ex-partner and mother of his son Zola, Sheila Johnson, said (paraphrased), "The year they brought the whole Afro-Cuban All-Stars, that was all Paul.” (In the context of our discussion, to be clear, she was confirming the overwhelming, unmistakable impression I had that Paul was the fest's primal force). I covered the 2010 festival for Inside Columbia (story). Glorious (photos). A true utopia over four days. Art, music. Buskers on the street, throughout downtown, filmmakers everywhere. Encountered a NYC busker wailing Charley Patton with a finger-slide and guitar the opening Thursday of the fest outside a coffee shop in the heart of downtown, a couple of blocks north of the University of Missouri campus. Made your heart sing. And the legendary Timothy "Speed" Levitch gave walking tours of downtown Columbia. Timothy "Speed” Levitch!? He's a legend. I was mesmerized by his starring role in the 1997 bio-documentary The Cruise, in which he basically performed one long paean to the city of New York and the soul-warp of its upper-island grid and the birds-nest creative expansion of South-of-Houston glory. (Click on the freeze-frame below of Speed sitting gloriously framed on his NYC tour bus throne, caught in rapture, mid-top-of-the-brain-ramble, mid-exuberant-seemingly-always-present-poem rhapsodizing from his rara avis genius). He was there in person! I still can't believe it. I went to two of the tours he led. And in a down moment, 15 minutes before one of the tours, I asked him what he's up to now. Living with his mom in Kansas City! Crazy!


Paul, 45-ish, won the seat. Sheila, his former partner, said to me (we became friends; I took over her amazing clifftop house in Columbia's best neighborhood when she went to Nepal for her master's project), in a tone that whispered both admiration and respect, "When he won and we talked, he said, 'You know, it will be just such a great opportunity to learn.'!" I did one more accuracy check with Paul in his True/False Film Fest office a few weeks after he won; he was noticeably happier, more relaxed. It wasn't the happiness/relaxation of a person achieving something specific they wanted, it was the happiness/relaxation that comes, finally, in a life where amazingly hard work has led you to a full place from which you know you will never leave; this was his culminating/climax moment where life and work finally merged. He said, in his office (left a deep impression), "My life finally has some grace to it now. It wasn't easy." I saw the same thing with my brother recently. Where everything (life, work) seems like it's going downhill, in a good way. Nice to see.

Anyhow, at 826 Valencia there is a pirate store with supplies for pirates, stuff they would need like sand, eyepatches, rope (and also some booky stuff and t-shirts). 826 needed a storefront for their proposed tutoring center because the site was zoned commercially, and, thus, the founders had to find something to sell to make the location work. The ironic thing … the store makes a profit and accounts for 10 percent of 826 Valencia's operating budget. The harmony of flowing with the particulars of life. Okay enough for right now …

Will tie this up some time soon, hopefully.

Random Ephemerata

December 9, 2010

City Planners!: please install/design bike racks parallel, not perpendicular, to the street.

Ladies!, The boots are getting a little out of control: 1) It's not that muddy/rainy to require tucked-in knee-high boots (I know that's not the point though, but still), 2) They are no doubt cute, and there are some very nicely designed ones (very nice leather!), but I think we're nearing the end of the fad. It's getting a bit much. Can we move on to something different? I honestly expect now to see girls walking around in boots that reach the upper thigh (saw it recently, oh no). It's getting crazy. Would make a great New Yorker-style cartoon. Might have to draw one. New fad idea: How about flip-flops all the time, any weather, with rhinestones and tattoo designs like you all like?

NOOOoooooo! Saw a guy with pants-tucked-in patent-leather knee-boots on yesterday. Please stop it. Don't. Let. It. Happen.

Trader Joe's has 3.5 oz 85% good dark chocolate bars for $1.49! Makes the disgusting trend of boutique 6-, 7-, 8-dollar chocolate bars all the more insulting (racket).

When looking for housing, skip over the ads with "420 friendly" in them.

Keith Richards's new book is great. Never cared too much for The Rolling Stones, but, as with anything, it's compelling to learn the inside of taken-to-the-limit passion. Since I'm on the down-$ side of things at the moment, I can't buy the book, so I'm reading UC-Berkeley's (at the Morrison Library) copy piecemeal, in steps. Can't complain - the library is stunning (couches, leather chairs, old, comfy, nice wood, check out an awesome panorama of it here). I hope to give a talk there someday, maybe like the one I gave at the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri. Hopefully, it will be for some great work of mine! I'll keep you posted. The university sponsors lunchtime poetry recitations at the library the first Thursday of each month. Maybe break in there.

Anyhow, Keith Richards describes the The Rolling Stones's first gig (and guess what?: he gives credit for the Stones making it not to Mick or himself but to Stu (forgot his last name)), (The Rolling Stones name was born off the cuff as they were booking their first gig and trying to save money on the phone call - an album of Muddy Waters (I think) was laying on the floor and the first song was "Rolling Stone" - that's how it happened according to Keith): Keith says there was something special right away with a group of guys harmonizing in effort and idea, wanting the same thing - elevation. As he put it, it was "flying without a license." Up in the ether. Another great insight: "Everything's conversation. No matter the genius, the latest incarnation is just a variation on a theme," Keith paraphrased, explaining the great influence the Blues had on the Stones. The style is a jerky, short-sentence, though on-topic ramble - Keith speaking. It really feels like the ghostwriter simply organized (themed) his interviews with Keith.


December 6, 2010

I don't eat meat much (I didn't eat a single bite until I was 24!), but recently I've been eating and eating and eating and never getting full - a consequence of this persistent low-grade cold, perhaps. So, I had a gyro wrap for lunch; and it hit the spot.

Anyhow, in a crowded gyro place near Cal's campus, the Telegraph madness, I ordered the wrap and sat down in the less-busy-than-it-seemed place. The blaring middle eastern music supplied about a 30-percent crazier atmosphere than the actual lunch-rush din itself. The spot was more-or-less packed. I sat alone at a four-top, and a girl had to sit down on the other side because of a lack of other seats. Every now and then it's nice just to talk with strangers. We started talking, she had an accent. I asked her where she was from. Palestine.

I didn't go there for a while, but then I did. I asked about the Occupation. Her whole being saddened. A rock, the size and fragility of a powdery limestone, cactus-strewn boulder, crushed her soul/face.

I asked her what should be done. "Two states. It's the reality of the situation." Then we changed the subject.


December 2, 2010

I have a B.S. in Biochemistry and it's coming in use on a freelance article for a European patent award. Some dudes patented a way to make "living" polymers, as in always growing, never stopping until you want them to.

A lot to do in a short while.

Just finished the article. It was great to get back into the meat of science again: mechanisms of reaction, carbocations, olefins, tert-butyls, polyisobutylene, etc. Got to speak with Dr. Joseph Kennedy, of the University of Akron, Ohio, about his ground-breaking 1986-ish invention of a "living" cationic polymer process. That's just fancy talk for building molecules with a reactive end that is a cation, has a positive charge. You ask: Just what is "living" polymerization? When I first got the assignment that question jumped out at me, too - and there weren't quotes around "living" in many of the documents I was reading, i.e. original European Patent Documents - pages and pages of technical, in-depth descriptions of reaction processes/structures/possible outcomes. The patent documents are riddled with ridiculous language, numerous noncommittal, all-encompassing quotes, repeated over and over "It is preferred, though not requisite," "not particularly restricted but is preferably ... ." I guess the idea is to establish as wide-ranging a sphere to your patent as possible, so that any other patents might infringe on your territory and get you P A I D. See the European Patent document associated with the invention here.

The "living" aspect of the polymerization process is quite interesting, and Kennedy and Rudolf Faust's breakthrough with the carbocationic version of it is a good story, recounted by Kennedy here in 1999, volume 37 of the Journal of Polymer Science: Part A: Polymer Chemistry. The living aspect of living polymerization allows polymer scientists to have complete control over the polymer they are building; they are able to terminate the growth at any moment, cap the polymer with specific functional groups and or add one or more repeating groups of monomers to form what are called block copolymers (or terpoloymers (three monomers)), etc. The control results in precisely structured, and sized, polymers: an extremely useful tool for synthetic polymer chemists, as you can imagine. Living anionic polymerization had been around since the 1950s, but living cationic polymerization was very difficult because carbocations are extremely reactive. Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Faust found out how to prevent the growing end of the polymer from reacting with the polymer's body in what's called a chain transfer. Also, nonliving polymerizations terminate randomly, resulting in a bunch of polymers of different sizes (molecular weights). The cation process opened up the living polymerization world to olefins (typical carbon-hydrogen molecules with a double bond of the form CnH2n) like isobutylene, the basis of elastomeric polymers like widely-used butyl rubber. The olefins are cheap and readily available, so the wide applicability of the process is promising, cause money makes the world go round.

The notable extension of living cationic polymerization has been Boston Scientific's Taxus® drug-eluting cardiovascular stent. The invention was used to make a complex block copolymer that coats the stent (a device placed in portions of the heart to unblock it/facilitate its working) that gave it both the valuable property of biocompatibility, but also a finely-tuned drug-eluting mechanism. The block copolymer, made by mixing monomers of thermoplastic and elastomeric properties in an exact proportion provided the biocompatibility and also its specific, timely release of important drugs that aid a patient's recovery. Over five million of these Taxus® cardiovascular stents have been used worldwide.

One of Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Faust's key discoveries was a supernonnucleophilic counteranion complex that would stabilize the charge on the reactive carbocation of the growing polymer chain, but resist the extreme temptation, as its anionic nature would dictate, to nab the carbocation's proton and thus kill the polymerization. Supernonnucleophilic anion is basically an oxymoron, but Kennedy and Faust figured it out, and thus "living" cationic polymerization was born.

A Paean to Youth

December 1, 2010

globular, aesthetic

like the sun on your face

a post-cappuccino dream

everything that's right/safe

beautiful, delicate, intimate

loving, caring, sweet

"in here we protect, comfort"

swings with that quarter-sized

pendant between tangible sensitivity


milk-drunk, mesmerized

Am I allowed to write that? :) Ha.

There it is ...

Went running this evening in the new neighborhood, which is, ironically, near the Oakland Flea Market where I scoured for my just-stolen $1400 bicycle about two weeks ago.

The run was prompted by one of those moments where physical exertion needed to happen. Traffic! Oh ... My ... God. Don't ever drive east on Alcatraz Ave. toward Adeline/Shattuck/Telegraph in Oakland/Berkeley at rush-hour. The light at Adeline is surprisingly congested going east; it's really short. My theory is that it's short because to the west the neighborhood is grittier, poorer and the traffic patterns may suggest not much need for a longer light. The area might be blowing up!? Catch up lights!

Like any new move, it's nice to get a feel for a place on the ground. The location I'm in has all the indications of American ghetto: lingering, shady guys and girls on various corners and along the streets nearby, shady bodegas, liquor stores, burglar bars on every house. (Everyday that I wake up to see my car still on the street - relief and surprise, honestly). But there's also something amazingly alive, one of those pulse-places in the city, where poverty, striving and opportunity meet a gritty stagnancy. The house across the street encompasses some sort of band; my roommates: guy works at Burning Man (Is that actually a corporate situation? It is; office (40 employees!) in San Francisco!); girl does modeling for the Art Insitute in San Francisco and makes jewelry (was looking at one of the books she checked out from the library on ancient Asian art (Iran included) that was left on the kitchen table - was intriguing and prompted me to look up the root of the word votive - vow); guy works at the Berkeley YMCA and is studying to get into a Naturopathy school in Portland; girl butcher (butcher!) of organic, cared-for animals; and me, writer, on the hustle ...

The run was really good. The streets are gritty, but just north the area gets notably more affluent (not "better") with Berkeley Bowl West and a glorious jewel in the night seen from many blocks away that lured me like a beacon does a lost ship on some mild-stormy, cold wind-whipped sea; a glow, approaching gold, lit up the cold see-your-breath night. It attracted me with the same mesmerizing humming comfort-glow of a mosquito zapper (I remember some of those full nights outside in Austin, Texas, with my dad and full family; a table outside - picnic/potluck, the long evening under a huge 500-year old live oak, bordering Boggy Creek, bamboo (with body-sized paths through its seven-foot thick, and at points much, much thicker, thicket) making up the back alley border. The image brings up my father strongly. Bittersweet. Something so right about a young, sincere, striving trying-to-do-it-right man heading a family. The fruition! What happens to a family? Life? How does it disintegrate? So much beauty? The weight of the world, holding the sky aloft Atlas-like. So necessary, so whole, so full, complete, loving, right, perfect, sweet, harmonious, sing-to-the-sun glorious, cry-to-the-gods lovely. The apotheosis of our family came when we took road trips to Taos for skiing from Austin: a Suburban family-deep, blankets, the long soul of northwest Texas, Lubbock, flatlanders, American hippy/country soul music - Bob Dylan, Jimmy Rogers, Johnny Cash, a touch of Sweet Honey in the Rock, my Dad laughing and happy, relaxed. :). The railroad-tie-straight fencelines of eastern New Mexico mountains and plateaus surrounding in the forever-distance, the loggerhead shrikes' canvas, skewered insects, hawks on wires, the approaching enchanted-land. Happiness.) I miss him. I miss that.

Anyhow, the fields lured me and I slowly approached; the glow seemed to shift, like some far-off flat shoreline. I couldn't place it, it shifted with the northward run. Finally, I caught it. Young black kids in football pads practicing. Younger ones practicing next to them. A line of older black parents/uncles/moms on the dark sideline talking among themselves in groups and everynow and then bantering with the kids on the field, "Y'all are getting sloppy now."

The fresh-cut field gleams, a golden hue emanates from the damp, dew-like wet grass with the tracks of the mower still visible across it, creating glorious lighter/darker shades of royal green.

And once again this reminded me of my father. He says he won't start playing the Dobro because he's not ready to give up hardball (baseball). He's 64-ish! "I feel like a kid on the field, heaven." I understand. The sunset over the green expanse - field of dreams. A revolving, dimensionless dream, the comfort of ages, a soul exposed in green, a room open for all the world's hopes, ready to accommodate. I understand.

And this night on the run, I understand again. The bitter, sweet smell of the fresh-cut, wet, gleaming grass - you can almost smell milk and begin to wobble, drunk off the grass's unmade/cud-unchewed milk.

The run continued from that glorious climax. Returned to great-smelling food by the YMCA roommate. I decide to do the food-share; he says it works.