Tag Archives: coincidences

I Do Nothing To Stop the Blaze II

Very Busy People by The Limousines Listen on Posterous

I had a strange sensation the other evening. Riding on the Bay Bridge at night always makes me think of the time that tanker truck blew up and I saw a section of the freeway melt. The bridge is covered, so we couldn't see the tanker fire until we were right on top of it, flames suddenly shooting fifty feet into the black starless sky. That stretch of the bridge makes me metaphorical because it reminds me that there are situations where even if the fire you're facing is enormous, it is possible not to see it until it is too late. It is possible to be barreling down the metaphorical freeway, going 80, with few signs of the catastrophe ahead. I was reminded that the empire I was born into is riding the crest of a crashing wave, a tsunami taking down with it the salmon and the sturgeon and the grizzly bears and the polar bears, etc. 

I turned to the driver and in a dry voice I began to monologue about how lucky we are, not only to be born comfortably into the stack of nuclear weapons and Wal-marts that is the foundation of this nation, but also so lucky to have been born into this generation. To be born a hundred years ago in America would be to live before there were unions and women, men and children worked in unbearable conditions with no weekends for no end in site. But to be born a hundred years from now would be even worse: millions of environmental refugees, widespread ecological collapse, severe droughts and floods, starvation, famine—not to mention the largest extinction event in the history of the world. 

As he was agreeing we had won the time-and-place-of-birth lottery, I was thinking of an unfinished poem I wrote years ago. The poem, like the bulk of my work, is about the contrast between privilege and the knowledge that one's privilege comes at the expense of other creatures' suffering. It isn't surprising. I spent the first fifteen years of my life, for as long as I could remember, wanting to be a writer. Then I went to college, and, as my favorite professor Larry Isaacs put it, I "stopped living my own personal narrative and started living history." I felt a real imperative to change the world, even if it was at the expense of pursuing my dreams. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at changing the world. It seems my only real gifts are impractical things: writing, dancing, drawing. Despite that, I spent the next section of my life raising my fist at marches, running social justice campaigns, meeting influential activists, and generally being a hell-raiser. Now I've circled back to focusing on my writing. I live in a state where my vote is irrelevant, because everyone thinks the way I do. I'm happy and life is easy. But I still feel the pull. I still know the fire is coming. And this conflict is what I try to capture in my fiction and poetry. 

The poem that was running through my head ends: 

The indymedia headline reads: THE ELECTION WAS HACKED. I read it and cry and then corporate radio machine plays "Video Killed the Radio Star" and I dance in the sweet happy-face sunshine that I know is melting the polar ice caps.

And then an odd thing happened. I realized the song playing on the radio was my favorite song from 2010. Immediately I perked up, yanked on the volume nob and started to sing. The very thing that I had written about in the poem actually happened: I was distracted from contemplating the terrible situation we've gotten ourselves into; it was a mere abstraction compared to the immediacy of a simple luxury: a song I loved coming on the radio. What was even stranger was that the song itself epitomizes my life of luxury. The song, "Very Busy People" is about the endless stream of pleasure and distraction I was contemplating:  

We'll end up numb from playing video games and we'll get sick of having sex. And we'll get fat from eating candy as we drink ourselves to death. We'll stay up late making mix tapes, photoshoping pictures of ourselves while we masturbate to these pixelated videos of strangers fucking themselves.

The metaphor had become real. I was caught in a tangle of irony. I was caught in a loop, wherein no matter how hard the universe attempted to send me the message: Your luxury is an illusion, temporary at best, the message was always carried on the back of the illusion itself, ZOMG, I love this song, turn it up! Or perhaps it is the reverse: every moment I'm enjoying myself—knitting scarves, scrubbing my feet soft and masqueing my pores smooth, alphabetizing my CDs, laying in the orderly grass and drinking Saki—all of these things are clouded by the knowledge of my privilege. Even the passion for working in publishing is tarnished by the knowledge of the production cycle that produces millions of books every year. The experience was a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we cannot contemplate anything without seeing it through the frame of reference of our worldview. I felt like the cavemen of Socrates, realizing my reality was cast through the distorted lense of the shadows on the cave walls. And all this time, with the knowledge that I'd slipped back into the comfort of my lifestyle, I kept singing: my shoulders dancing, my mouth smiling, and the shimmering skyline of Oakland baring herself before me as we disembarked the bridge. I felt that I was wearing a mask. But which was the mask? The sulking me, that had so easily turned off when my song came on the radio? Or the smiling me, that dances in the sweet happy-face Oakland skyline?

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

I Left My Heart In the Mission District

I ended up with an extra two days off from work so my best buddy Ray and I decided to take a much coveted vacation in my favorite city in the world, San Francisco. Never mind that S.F. is less than an hour from my doorstep. I saved the money on a plane ticket so I felt free to spend carelessly all week.

My vacation started off slow, as we went to three places that were closed. Our first stop would have been the South Park Cafe. But being closed, I enjoyed watching artists work their easels in the park. Leaving South Park, we happened upon a fantastic gallery that runs there own printing press. I watched the machinery print rather unspectacular cards and realized that I am in love with every part of the book-making process. This gallery had, in addition to standard art, many hand-made books.

Failed destination #2 was the Arkansas Friendship Garden. We climbed high on Potrero Hill to not get there. On the steepest streets, instead of sidewalks there are stairs. No wonder the people of this city are more friendly and tolerant. I would have been impatient at all the false starts if the views weren’t so spectacular. The sun glinting off rows of cars on distant city streets looked like mercury floating in rivulets down the side of the hills. And this isn’t Nob Hill; this is standing next to project housing. Already tired and hungry, we trek to the Mission to sign up for a mural tour, which only runs on the weekends (It was Thursday).

Backtrack a bit, the Mission and North Beach have been in competition for my favorite ghettos of the city. The former is Mexican and the latter is Italian, though also known for being the site of the Beat Rennaissance in the sixties. I had been to some mediocre bars in the Mission, primarily around 16th and 17th St., but I had never spent a day walking through the neigbhoorhood’s South side. Every other building is brightened by colorful murals, most of which honor revolutionaries, activists and their ideals. 24th St. is mostly restaurants and small groceries, with the ocassional shop or gallery.
We got a banana for a quarter at a local bodega and some fantastic pastries for a dollar each. Then we caught lunch at La Nueva Fruitlandia. I haven’t had Cuban food so good since eating my Cuban bisabuela’s recipes as a child. We tried to stop at a gallery for local hispanic radical artists but, keeping with the theme, they were closed to prepare for a big opening night. So instead we happily browsed the shops. One shop sold mostly carnival accessories for Day of the Dead and little Mexican dresses for girls to wear to church. But they also carried a lot of Zapatista products and we walked out of there with Zapatista (light roast!) coffee and coffee flavored honey. I also acquired a wrist warmer with Che’s visage for only $2.50. That’s something you won’t find in North Beach.

We turned North onto Valencia, which is more of a commercial main drag. Valencia St. is low-key bars, vintage and kitsch shops, shamelessly radical bookstores and vegetarian chow.

Ray and I happened upon a small side street, more like an alley that goes through, that was entirely covered in graffiti art. I should say, murals, because most of the work was not stylized in the typical graffiti style and you could tell they were all by different artists. Stepping into the alley, we could hear a woman wailing but this did not deter us from taking in the artful walls. I thought the woman was in the thin walls of one of these muraled studio apartments but about half way we found her sitting indian-style with her head in her hands. She appeared to be holding some sort of pipe. Her face was ragged and wrinkled and dirty. She was likely homeless. Her suffering moved me. I asked her if she wanted a hug. She said “sure.” Then she stood up and I held this her in my arms while she sobbed and sobbed. I held her tightly and didn’t let go until she did first. She asked if I had a cigarette and of course I didn’t. We left her still tearful, but no longer filling the corrider with her anguished sobs.
Then a strange coincidence happened. I have hugged a tattered old San Franciscan once before, when I was drunk at the Bar in the Castro. This was after a conversation about her manic depression, as I recall. The first place we went after the alley of art was a small boutique. As I was entering the shop, that same woman I hugged in the Castro was leaving. She didn’t recognize me.

We stopped in 426 Valencia, which is Dave Eggar’s program that teaches creative writing to kids. The project is partly funded by the pirate shop at the entrance. The pirate motif is also a ruse to entrance the kids into getting excited about writing (426 Valencia has been very successful, so you might have heard of other centers around the country). I was hastily filling out a volunteer application when I heard the guy behind the counter telling people it was closing time. I didn’t look up, but I overheard a dejected couple responding. In coindidence #2, the dejeced couple was Lawrence and Cecily; they were staying at my house for a few nights before they move to L.A.
Later we meet up with Lawrence, Cecily, Jeremy and my sweetie at Delirium to have drinks. We barhop to Zeitgeist, a biker bar with fantastic bloody marys and terrible music. Day two of my vacation continues with a youth hostel, North Beach and the search for the perfect San Francisco bar.