Fists Against The Posts

One kept thinking there had to be another way of looking at it, of really seeing *I*T*, and kept lamenting that particular brand of consciousness so limited in terms of time, space and perception. Oh, to soar as a school of fish — to feel the sea passing between its thousand fins now this way, now that. Or a yearning of swans — the intertwined indefinity of wings passing air down along the silent wind for others to grasp and master; Or roots pushing deep into moisture-thick earth, hardness yielding to an infinitely subtle softness; or to cry with the thousand-voiced dawn, not as birds but their urgeful chirping and its solid unyielding core: ball of life whirling through sunbound courses to push and dive and collide and bend around and back on itself again — and to know the immediate, im-mediated, proxyless and inviolate NOW of all and none of these NOW: … instead of one of a billion desperate afterimages, held in fading fingers as proof.


This is what I said about Jim at his funeral:

When studying to be a rabbi, I learned a tradition that says one should begin every public discourse with a jest. So here?s Jim?s and my very favorite shared joke ? at least, the one that?s suitable for mixed company:

A man who had studied much in the schools of wisdom finally died in the fullness of time and found himself at the Gates of Eternity.

An angel of light approached him and said, “Go no further, O mortal, until you have proven to me your worthiness to enter into Paradise!”

But the man answered, “Just a minute now. First of all, can you prove to me this is a real Heaven, and not just the wild fantasy of my disordered mind undergoing death?”

Before the angel could reply, a voice from inside the gates shouted:

“Let him in – he’s one of us!”

The ironic thing about my best friend dying is that he’s the only one with whom I want to discuss it.

This is my first visit to Griefland, and I’m still finding my way around. But “Sputnik” would see the black crushing horror part of it AS WELL AS the intensely spiritual aspect. And know that the one does not preclude the other.

Jim and I were soulmates for life, even though our 1980s-era experiments at roommate-hood proved that we would viciously murder each other in our sleep if we ever tried living together again. We were that much alike, and when you love someone that deeply it gives them leave to annoy you mightily. And annoy each other we did, though never intentionally.

But what really annoys me is that Jim finally won the game we’d been playing ever since we met in 1978. You see, he now knows something I don’t.

For Sputnik and I, the Alpha Male game was measured not by how big our toys were but by how big our brains and hearts were — and how well we used them. Our serious quest for the Sourceless Source meant we couldn’t afford to mess around with anything less — and even though we freely acknowledged that our quest was ultimately unachievable, we wanted it to be real.

An anthropologist’s skepticism, saint’s reverence and anarchist’s sense of humor, coupled with his amazing memory, made Jim fingertip-familiar with numberless and little-known facts, theories, theologies, philosophies, ontologies, epistemologies, epiphanies, chemical interactions and their results, and strange doings of mutual friends and secretly-famous personalities. As Jim’s psychic twin, I can tell you that this paved the way for inevitable and mutual quasi-macho posturing.

Now, one of the great joys of sharing unshared information is making the other fellow say, “Wow! Where’d you hear that?” During our quarter-century together, I could probably count on one hand the times that actually happened instead of the usual “Right. And have you thought about this or that correlation?”

This unspoken but obvious competition kept us both on the Path, which — for the two of us — was the exact same path with the exact same curves at roughly the same time, exquisitely tailored to our individual hands, accompanied by headshaking laughter at our unswerving devotion to something so obviously arbitrary and wordlessly meaningful as our different religious traditions ? his Christian, mine Jewish. But Jim was always a practical guy, living both in the moment as well as in its multiple interpretations, cheerfully accepting the Mystery even as he poked at its manifestations.

Well, that Mystery is cleared up for one of us. And now that Jim’s life is a closed book, I’m really beginning to see how much we actually were a part of each other — and how much a part we all are of everyone we know, especially if we let each other all the way inside.

None of us will never “get over” Jim’s death, because we will never get over Jim’s life. We can’t help it, because we ultimately live in each other. And while it may take a long time for the pain of Jim’s death to lessen, if it ever does, it won?t take nearly as long for us to understand that he is, and always will be, still with us.

Happy trails, my friend. I hope I’ll see you later.

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Pithyism #0

GOD BELONGS ONLY TO GOD; religion belongs only to humanity; humanity belongs together.

Writing News: The Interview

HAVING LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY “DONE this in my sleep(1)” on occasion as ahem an award-winning reporter for the Sonoma Index-Tribune and Sonoma Sun (and freelancer for the Novato Advance, Petaluma Argus-Courier and The Bohemian) and being somewhat-to-greatly rankled by what passes for “news” these days outside of local outlets and the Daily Show, methinks it urgent to spread some of the skills needed to excel in The Game. Let’s start with the Interview.

The goal of the Interview is to extract information from someone who has it: whether they’re an eyewitness, a neighbor, a mayor, a relative, a senator or just a bunch of old guys reminiscing about Frank Sinatra in the backroom of an old Sonoma bar at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday. You will want to have the following:

– Tape recorder (smaller the better, and with a counter)
– Pad and pen(cil)
– Relevant and brief questions (what, when, where, how, maybe why, and — most importantly — “Anything else you want our readers/listeners to know? Anything I should have asked you, or that you’d wished I’d asked you?” This often yields the best quote of all.)

(Make sure that either tape or pad includes “the scene.” Include lots of color and context, body language, etc., but don’t go overboard at the expense of the nut-o’-story(2); include at least three relevant details. Some disdain tape recorders, but if you’re like me you’ll want people to tell you things in their own words — and you’ll want to quote them accurately. The counter’s for noting what point in the Interview contains The Quote.)

Two types of Interview there are: Field and Telephone.

Field Interviews are, by their nature, unpredictable; this is where your tape recorder is paramount. Identify yourself to the interviewee and give them a graceful way out: “I’m Clark Kent with the Daily Planet; mind if I ask you a few questions?” Keep as open and friendly a face as possible(3). If they consent, begin recording with something like, “This is Clark Kent of the Daily Planet on today’s date, and we’re speaking with …” Let the interviewee speak (and if necessary spell) name and title into the recorder; it both indicates consent and is a good way to break the ice.

If your interviewee is an emergency responder at the scene of something horrible, look for the guys in the white helmets (fire) or in a vehicle on the radio (police or also fire). Remember that while California Penal Code section 409.5d gives you legal access anywhere (your state or country may vary), you are a low priority to those trying to bring things under control. Keep your questions brief and to the point (that’s also a good general rule) and stay well out of the way (I usually back against a tree or something).

Interviewing witnesses and families can be dicey: some folks want to be in the newspaper and some don’t. Don’t push it; some may have a beef with the paper, or reporters in general, or be drunk, or indefinably weird in a way which makes you wish you’d studied finance. Be professional, as though you’re doing something serious (you are). Sometimes that can be contagious.

Interviewing someone who’s been traumatized by tragedy is invasive and, occasionally, necessary. Use extreme care. There is no other advice I can give you.

Other types of Field Interviews (e.g., press conferences, meeting interviewees at their office) are similar enough to the Telephone Interview as to make a good segue.

Telephone Interviews are easier in one way than Field Interviews, if you’re typing the conversation directly into your word-processor (typewriters, not so much). You’re limited in that you can’t see your interviewee’s eyes or body lingo, but if they’re not answering the phone you get to tell the secretary or voicemail “If I don’t hear from you by 2 p.m., I’ll have to write “Could not be reached by presstime.” (You’d be surprised how often this actually works, especially for those whose newsworthiness depends on public image.)

* * *

As nothing else comes to mind at present, I hope this helps those either curious about The Game or eager to play. As Edward R. Murrow said, “Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.”(4)


(1) Much to either the amazement or confirmed suspicions of my former editors, if they’re reading this.
(2) Picked this up from a former editor-in-chief, who referred to the summing-up paragraph of any story as the “nut graf.” Being a hick, I don’t know if that’s a universal term.
(3) On the other thumb, I used to work with a guy (also award-winning) whose favorite tools were gruffness and insouciance. Whatever works. It’s my nature to befriend people, so I go with that; also, I’ll come right out and say “Explain this to me so that I can see it the way you do.” It seems to me that a successful reporter should pretend to be the dumbest guy in the room — and pay close attention to the people trying to explain things.
(4) He also said “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful,” which is even more important. Your byline is your reputation — cherish it!

First Graf: VALIS

IN FEBRUARY AND MARCH OF 1974, science-fiction author Philip K. Dick had a series of experiences which might have been psychosis, hallucination or divine grace. Phil often tended toward the last explanation, at least in print, and based a handful of novels (and more than a million pages of exegesis) on trying to figure out what happened to him. VALIS is one such novel; its thesis (in part): through an ancient satellite named VALIS (for Vast Active Living Intelligence System), a rock and roll musical, and a little girl, God or something like It is trying to comfort us all — most especially the broken ones. There’s much more to it, but this — and the fact that Phil once lived around the corner from where I live now — is what makes VALIS this week’s First Graf pick.

Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now, she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more, to be on the safe side.

Prosatio Silban and the Mayor of Ixtachet

EVERYONE WANTS TO BE THE Mayor of Ixtachet, at least until they become so: this Prosatio Silban discovered on a chance visit to the edge of the Blue Void which forms one border of the Uulian Commonwell.

Ixtachet was one of the few villages in the Commonwell not blessed with verdant pasturage and running streams. Instead, its inhabitants lived in a series of cliffside huts, each with a breathtaking view of the Blue Void’s eternal twilight and a small landhold containing a handful of roosts for the precarious-clinging snoat, whose richly flavored eggs were the economic foundation of Ixtachet’s existence. The village consisted solely of the cliffside huts, one public well, and a great warehouse called the Mayor’s House, and was largely unvisited save by those lost or seeking snoat eggs.

As a wandering cook, Prosatio Silban was both – rather, he had been lost until he realized (as one long-schooled in Uulian delicacies) where he was, and the prosperous figure before him had introduced himself as the Mayor of Ixtachet. He certainly looked the part: well-made red and yellow silk robes set with small gems, and well-fed mouth set in a disapproving frown.

“Unless you are licensed by the Victualer’s Guild, I can sell you no snoat eggs,” said the Mayor of Ixtachet. “They have each one of them been marked or spoken for.”

Prosatio Silban displayed a confidant’s smile. “Surely you could spare a single egg – say, sufficient for a half-dozen custards to adorn the table of a discerning Heir Second, as a complement to clinking crystal and after-dinner laughter?”

“Alas, no,” replied the mayor. “I could no more spare an egg than I could spare an Ixtachetian.”

“Why so?” Prosatio Silban asked.

The Mayor of Ixtachet then related his particulars: that his village was the only spot along the Blue Void’s rim where the tentative snoats would roost, and then only under such conditions as could be guaranteed through constant supervision by the entire village. The eggs brought almost incalculable wealth, but so busy were the Ixtachetians with snoat maintenance that they could spare only one day a year to enjoy it: the day they buried the old Mayor of Ixtachet and elected the new. Everyone wanted to be Mayor of Ixtachet – it meant a rest from the ceaseless toil of snoat-watching – and the election generally picked that year’s most charismatic and beloved person; it was considered an act of both mercy and trust.

But the Mayor’s task it was to guard the village’s health as well as its wealth: the vast treasure would also have been his pleasure were not his the hands which repaired and rebuilt, his the tongue which dealt with (licensed) traders, his the eye which oversaw everything and his the shoulders which carried it all, day by day.

This lesson was only learned on the first day, and confirmed by slow experience, because those who learned it were too enfeebled and used up by their service to warn their successors on Election Day.

“All they see — all I saw — is the robes and the restfulness,” said the Mayor of Ixtachet. “Not the responsibility.”

And as Prosatio Silban bade the village an eggless farewell, he reflected: Everyone wants to be the Mayor of Ixtachet – and probably, always will.

Pithyism #9

Fig. 1.

YOU HAVE NOT LIVED UNTIL you have allowed a small animal to sleep on you.

Pithyism #+1

THANK GOD, OR THE GODS, or Fate, or Luck or Fortune or Purpose, or just feel grateful, that you still have one more thing to do.

5 Thoughts: The Idolatry of Gay Bashing

1. READ A LETTER TO THE SF Chronicle’s editor this morning by a gentleman saying he voted for Prop 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative, because heterosexuals own the word “marriage.”

2. I’ve heard this argument before, and like the other arguments favoring less freedom for minorities it does not persuade me. In essence, this particular argument, a favorite of Bible-lovin’ folk, makes a word more important than people.

3. But Bible-lovin’ folk (of which I consider myself one, in some sense) must needs believe that people were created in “God’s” image.

4. And the word “marriage,” like other English words, came to us long after Biblical Hebrew. Like other words, it’s an artifact — a man-made thing — and by definition, not nearly as important as a living, breathing, bloodbeating human being made in God’s image.

5. So why are some Bible-lovin’ folk so quick to commit idolatry?