Wednesday, May 21, 2008

As Nanny Ogg Would Say, Tempers Fuggit

I went to Office Depot today, looking for a replacement stylus for my Palm. It's not new -- I replaced my old M100 a year or so ago, choosing a low-end, monochrome model fine for my basic PDA uses -- ebooks and backgammon, with occasional calendaring.

I wandered through the aisles, wondering where the PDA displays were. Not with computers, not with calendars, not with software or cameras or cables. The clerk had never heard of a Palm, a handheld, or a PDA, much less a stylus.

After some fruitless paging, I eventually found an older employee who told me they no longer carried any PDAs or accessories.

They're outdated.

Monday, May 19, 2008

May We Have the Envelope, Please?

The National Trust’s 2008 list of Most Endangered Places is out. This annual rite gathers historians, naturalists, and architects in nail-biting suspense. What monuments to our heritage are closest to being razed, paved, or mutilated? Which historical sites, architectural treasures, cultural resources, and natural landscapes should we visit now, before they vanish forever?

Among this year's lucky winners I found the spectacularly elegant Boyd's Theater in Center City Philadelphia. It's an eighty-year old movie queen, the architectural equivalent of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. It was the first of the great Art Deco theaters, and it is the last movie palace in Philadelphia.

The Boyd used to be the SamEric, which closed in 2002, and I have very fond memories of its spacious auditorium and fine acoustics. The Boyd was convenient--a block from Rittenhouse Square, close to bookstores, restaurants, and transit. Nearby was a small State Store where, one sultry night, my date and I picked up a flask of Old Granddad to smuggle into the theater. The film was noir, the stars were Nicholson and Lange, and between the bourbon-fortified fountain Cokes and the Art Deco ambiance, the movie looked wonderful. No big-screen TV can do what the Boyd did so well.

Another old friend made the list. The entire California state park system.

The state park system is falling apart. There's no money for maintenance, and hasn't been for years. I was appalled when I first went to a California park and was charged an admission fee, but taxes won't cover operating costs. And this is a tragedy.

California is one of the richest states by any measure and one of the top economies in the world. It hosts the insanely lucrative high tech and entertainment industries as well as its vast and productive agricultural sector. From wine to lettuce, carrots to cotton, California produces more. Think Wisconsin is the dairy state? Think again. We're number one. And there are plenty of other industries -- fishing, manufacturing, lumber, tourism. The real estate is some of the most expensive in the world. And, at least in Silicon Valley, you can meet millionaires and billionaires any time you go to Fry's computer store.

The parks preserve wild lands, protect redwoods, open history to visitors. They save the smaller patches of the great historic redwoods and joshua trees and offer sanctuary to birds from egrets to condors. Once you've seen the bleakly indifferent peaks of the Sierras, the passes deep in snow, the brutally sheer mountainsides, you gain a new comprehension of the courage and fortitude of the people who crossed them in wooden wagons -- or who died on the frozen heights above the lushly blooming valleys.

The parks provide recreation and education and green space. In the state that boasts Big Sur, Death Valley, Yosemite, and the Avenue of the Giants, the state parks shelter the smaller local spaces where people can picnic, camp, hike, watch birds and wildlife, or frolic with their dogs. One of the things that makes the crowding of the East Bay endurable to me is the presence of parks, acres of countryside I can visit easily and always see on the horizon. They keep our spirits going.

This state can afford to preserve and share its magnificent natural resources and historic heritage. If California is punished by God with a disaster, it won't be for recognizing love and commitment between same-sex partners. It will be for allowing greed to destroy our endowment of history, landscape, and human potential.

Link to list from Still a Ways Away.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Four Years and Several Months Ago . . .

Gavin Newsom celebrated Valentine's Day by opening marriage to same-sex couples. My friend RJ and I joined dozens of other volunteers to help celebrate marriages in San Francisco City Hall. People were coming in from all over. I get teary-eyed just at the memory -- the joy was palpable, and shared among so many people.

Now what we did then has been upheld by the California Supreme Court. We now have marriage equality -- if we can fight off the various attacks on it.

A deep, deep joy.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Small Rewards

I always want to know where the roads go. Saturday I found one of surpassing beauty -- a winding country road, flawlessly cambered and almost empty, snaking over hills. It ran through chaparral, grassland, oak hills, even a redwood forest damp and sheltered enough for ferns -- a rare sight here. Every turn brought a new prospect: hills, valleys, woods, the Bay glittering in the sun, a reservoir mirroring the sky.

Except for bicyclers, the road was almost deserted on a Saturday afternoon. I bet it's even better on a weekday afternoon, when the bike-riders are off at work. A place to stretch my reflexes and my eyes, to dawdle or zip as the mood dictates.

Best of all, this road is not forty miles away, across the bay and up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It runs from Hayward to Oakland. You might know it as A Street or Redwood Road. I've driven sections of it a thousand times but never, before, beyond the high school, where one turns off to go to the Episcopal church.

That road felt like an extraordinary gift from the universe. Or maybe part of God's Frequent Seeker Rewards Program.

For most of the time I've lived in the East Bay, I haven't had time or energy to go exploring. Particularly when I was making the vicious commute to Palo Alto, the last thing I wanted to do on weekends was drive anywhere.

The life I was living prevented me from doing the things I loved and wanted -- the big things, like writing fiction, and the little things, like exploring country roads. And the things I substituted for what I really needed were both insufficient and expensive.

And it's not a question of leisure versus work. I am working now -- working damned hard, in fact -- but under conditions that are much more conducive to my being able to function day to day. I'm cooking and eating a variety of foods, I'm able to give more energy and love to my partners, I'm doing better with life maintenance chores, and I am even unpacking boxes and sorting possessions. Someday I may no longer be living in an apartment that looks like I moved in an hour ago.

Clearly this is something I need to consider when I look for the next job. It's almost a tautology -- when you're living the right life, you'll get the things you need, because by definition the right life is the one that feeds and nurtures you. But why is it so damned hard to remember that?

By "getting the things you need" I don't mean that you'll become a lottery winner or be protected from all loss and grief. I am not one of those prosperity Christians who thinks that prayer exists to beef up your bank account. Mine will undoubtedly shrink, in fact, and that's OK.

Maybe it's easier to see it the other way around: a job that twists your soul, a marriage that gradually erodes your sense of selfhood, a life where you have to deny who you are and who you love are bound to make you miserable. They will have compensations, of course, otherwise you wouldn't stay long enough for it to become a problem. But they have high costs, and they swallow the energy you could be using for something more productive.

The rewards of the right life (or miseries of the wrong kind) are not in the nature of arbitrary reinforcement from a Skinnerian deity with a sadistic sense of humor. They're much closer to the laws of physics. Defy gravity at your peril, and don't blame the mirror when the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

I was talking about this with Michele when I was struck with a another aspect of the issue. The work to build the right life may hurt like hell. It may even seem worse than the familiar wretchedness of the wrong one. But it pays off -- and that positive payoff is something I consistently forget to include in my cost-benefit analysis.

There are excellent reasons for that quirk of psychology. But it's useful to remember that it isn't usually true any more. Asking for what I want, trying to get what I need, making changes -- these do involve some frustration and pain, but these days when I do them, I also actually get what I want without having to pay a cost too high to endure. This is what I have to convince my protective back-brain, which doesn't want me to throw away whatever I have now in hopes of a better future. It learned too early, too thoroughly, that asking for change brought things much worse than whatever I was enduring.

I have a huge chunk of work to do in therapy about reconnecting with my body, and I have been seriously considering not doing it. What's the point? It's going to take years of work and a lot of misery, and I'm 48. Why bother? By the time it's done I'll be old and close to death. The alternative to doing it will probably be shortening my life by some unknowable number of years. And I was very close to saying that an earlier death was preferable to fighting this war.

But maybe, if I do it, I'll get rewards I never even thought of. I didn't quit my job to write so that I could find beautiful back roads or eat a better diet. Those were bonuses. I bet there will be bonuses to the bodywork, too -- things I cannot imagine now.

Worth trying.

Another Frequent Seeker Reward: free MP3 of Dirty Town, the new Steve Winwood single. I've been waiting for a good new Steve Winwood album. This looks like I've got my wish. The verses may not be not great songwriting, but the choruses and riffs are catchy, urgent, compelling.

Winwood's voice is deeper, maybe a little hoarser, than his voice when he was the fourteen-year-old lead singer of the Spencer Davis Group. His keyboard line starts like a lonely blues song but breaks into a rock anthem -- and nobody writes better rock anthem than Winwood at his best.

Eric Clapton's godlike guitar sounds more like the passionate, protesting wail of the Cream years than the magisterial resignation of some of his recent work. Which is not to say all of his recent work has been rockless -- have you heard the Cream reunion album? Blew me away. They are still damned good -- better than anybody else -- even if Ginger Baker looks as kippered as Keith Richards.

Definitely worth the download. Amazon has an MP3 downloader, but it only works with Mac OS 10.4 and up, and I'm still running 10.3.9 on the laptop. Nevertheless, I had no trouble downloading the song.