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Outer light…

Posted by oedipamaas on

It’s Sunday and I’ve returned after aimlessly wandering the City.  Mostly wandered the drab, yet beloved by me, Outer Avenues.  These neighborhoods are home to Chinese, Irish and Russian populations and there’s a nice amalgamation of Irish bars and Russian churches, Polish delis and Chinese dim sum restaurants.

Was thinking about the time I was married…Jiri and I used to come out to the little computer shops out here and build our PCs to spec for as cheap as possible.  And we would eat dim sum afterwards.  Now I wander the low squat buildings, all of them with electric wires bisecting the sky in a interlaced canopy covering the whole street until you get to a pole where they all converge.  It’s like so many lives, per block, humming with hidden energy, the tendrils reaching out for its needed connection.  Everything mysterious, secretive.
The sky was a cold, iron bruise and no rain was falling.  I was nursing another mild depression (I float in and out of these and have been doing so all of my life, so walks always help).  I found Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant and I’ve always heard about this place, so I went in.  It was exactly as i expected it to be, given the old sign out front.  A proper old school sit down Mexican food place with a nice bar.  Familes and people were scattered throughout the warm interior and a football game droned on where the bartender and two men watched it while talking about the neighborhood.
I ordered enchiladas, a constant favorite from childhood and sipped one of their famous margaritas (only fresh lime juice and agave for sweetner and Herradura).  And listened to the chatter while watching the end of the Saints game.  My own feeling of directionless unmooring thuding a bit in my ears.  But there is something soothing in Mexican food.  And soon I was eating a delicious enchilada with the red sauce I remember as a kid.
It caused me to remember this friend my father hadwhen I was  growing up.  His name was Stu and he was one of my dad’s flying buddies.  He would come into town (from Arizona) in his Beechcraft and stay nearby at a hotel for a few days.  My parents seemed to love this.  Often, he brought his wife, Nancy.
We would always go out to his favorite Mexican sit down restaurant, Pancho’s over in a nearby mall.  He always ordered the same thing, cheese enchiladas.  He and my father were both staunch Republicans and they would while away the early evening drinking and talking about the liberals, aviation, taxes, immigrants (they didn’t like them) and all sorts of other things.  My mother and Nancy would talk about shopping.  I retreated into my own world.
Later, when I was older and Nancy had stopped coming on trips with him, he and I got into heated arguments.  He was glad we had used the bomb on Japan and wanted to use it on other countries.  I was filled with disgust at the way he spoke about anyone non-white.  That night, in the parking lot of the mall where Panchos was, he gifted my father a bumper sticker.  This was in the 80s at the height of the influx of the “boat people”, the nickname at the time for the Vietnamese refugees flooding into the Bay Area to escape the aftermath of the war. The bumper sticker depicted a man in a rice hat and a big red circle was drawn around the man with a slash going right across the center of his face.
They put it on the truck and had a great laugh.  Years later, it finally came out, via my mother’s admission, that Stu had been beating Nancy all along.  She had been hospitalized becuase of this.  And when I saw her years later, after I was finished with college, she smiled when she saw me and said, “you never did like him.  That was good you didn’t.”  So this what I think of when I have enchiladas.
I walked home and arrived when it was completely dark.  Staring down the barrel of another SF winter night.  Sifting about inside myself for what to write about.  Aren’t writers supposed to write about anything?  What about something as mundane as a walk in the Outer Richmond and Mexican food in a Russian neighborhod.
There is a beautiful and big Russian Orthodox church just a block down from Tommy’s.  Across the street is a Catholic church and day school.  I, of course, am not religious and do not ever expect that will change.   But I paused in front of the Russian church.  It’s huge, imposing and the four domes are gilt in a beautiful reflective gold.  What light was left in the sky seemed absorbed into them, almost like they created a light of their own.  The doors were open and there was a throat of darkness going a far distance in and the small specks of candles flickering at the end.  Occasional movement, people walking slowly hid the candles and then the flickers appeared again.
Finally, some families emerged.  Older Russian woman with scarves tied over their heads.  Then men with Russian looking hats.  There was a beauty to them.  How they emerged from this glowing on the outside, dark on the inside closed world into mine.  There was some sort of tug of wanting to belong too.  But also the reminder, that my sense of belonging is often skewed.  It’s more to fight lonliness.  And if that’s the only reason you belong to something, you’re probably not going to remain.

Negative Capability

Posted by oedipamaas on

The rains have arrived for a six day stay.  I’m sitting here watching TV and writing.  The two do sometimes go hand in hand for me…my roommate is completely perplexed by this.  When I work from home, I work with the drone of the TV in the background.   Woke up today with a hacking cough.  Just laid in bed until noon feeling feverish and coughing.  I’m still coughing.  I have to quit smoking.

So my New Year’s resolution this year is “self-love”. It’s not like I haven’t improved my relationship with myself in the last 5 years or so, but still, I slip up here and there.  So, I have to start somewhere.  This whole lifetime of moving around, uprooting myself, keeping distance from people, from myself.  It’s not going to work anymore.  At some point I owe myself forgiveness.

So, that said, self-love is going to entail some work.  Harm reduction comes to mind…in various forms.  Really pushing myself to find a relationship.  I’ve spent years not dating.  Leaning back on my old relationships long past their due date.  It’s time to find someone I can stabalize with, someone here.

In the meantime, I’m also trying to figure out how to be a better friend to those in my life.  How to really let love and friendship co-exist and how to let that make me feel loved, supported (and visa versa).  Well, this turned into some emotional drivel quite quickly, eh?

That aside, I have fourteen days alone, sans roommate in my flat.  I rarely leave except in the evenings to go to the bar and play cards.  Another thing that I need to stop, if some sort of stable, nurturing life is what I truly want.  I’m writing more.  Focused on work less, but still focused.  Just not burning myself out at the tech startup.  If I fall behind, I fall behind.  I’ve been there for a year and a half (the average stay at a tech startup is about 2 yrs).

Trying to find the right thing to read.  I’ll pick up one book, start reading, get bored.  Onto the next and the next.  Out yesterday, driving through the driving rain to Oakland to shop at IKEA.  Good christ, what was I doing at IKEA?  Trying to replace the bathroom mirror that fell off the damn wall several months ago.  Both the roommate and I are too lazy and/or irresponsible to replace it so after we swept up the broken mirror shards, I said something about I would replace it and then life careened on, sans bathroom mirror.  We’ve been hunching over a smaller round mirror I put on the counter in there for 8 months now.

So I go to IKEA and I spend 2 hours wandering the maze-like box full of suburban families, screaming children, hipster couples low on cash and looking for a bed, and look in vain for the bathroom mirror deptartment.  Meanwhile I had a lot on my mind and IKEA wasn’t really helping.  Finally, after discovering the bathroom mirror department and finding the mirror that would suffice in the fake display room, I wander the purgatory like aisles where the goods are packaged and ready for people to struggle them onto carts before the 45 minute wait for the cashier.

But, and not to drag this story out too long, the mirror was gone.  Out of stock.  I stood there heartbroken as a Russian couple next to me argued about a large hallway mirror and then finally dragged one down, still in disagreement, onto their cart to join the throngs of people; indeed all of them looking like the seething masses at an immigration check point.

I left the two water glasses I had otherwise planned on purchasing and walked out into the dusk and rain.  A beautiful bruised sky above me.  Found my car and started driving.  I’ve been going through some hard emotions as of late.  Some difficult realizations about myself.   But then this good feeling took hold of me.

And as I hit the Bay Bridge, I could see the lights had been turned on (the Bay Bridge has this beautiful artistic light installment) and the lights of the City were glowing.   And I felt some sort of faith again.  Not in god or anything.  Faith in myself.  And the fact that, generally, I’m pretty lucky right now.  I just need to continue understanding negative capability (this is a term the poet Keats used to talk about periods of uncertainty) and moving through it all to something more fruitful.






Moving ahead…into the deep unknown

Posted by oedipamaas on

I’ve been going through a lengthy period of writer’s block.  I guess a good year?  That’s a long time.  I blame it on some sort of mental stagnation due to a mid-life crisis of sorts.  But as I think about it, the mid-life crisis just might be an extended reaction to getting older and that just continues.

I finally sat down the other day and just wrote and wrote.   Steps that were tentative turned into a full run.  Now, I need to be up for the marathon. Ran into some fiction I’d written some time ago and, much to my surprise, I liked it.  It gave me confidence seeing how I can bring my voice that I see in my poems to the narrative world.  My real issue is getting the insight into how to craft a good story end to end.

I think the real problem is, five years ago I was deliriously happy, as some of you may recall.  Happier than I can recollect ever being before.  I had a great job and I was home again, here in San Francisco.  The person I worked for really believed in me and encouraged me to bring both sides of me into work…the writer and the engineer.  A new world settled inside me and began to bloom.

But like most things, the job dissolved and I found another one.  And it was kind of soul crushing.  I traveled a lot though and that really lit a spark in me again.  But the ebb and flow of tides…

Today I was standing in my backyard.  It’s cool here in San Francisco, right on the cusp of the New Year.  I felt the chill in me but the sun was at play in the branches of the redwood I love so much (and not many people get to have a redwood in their backyard in this city!).  I give in too easily to some of the worries in the world and there’s a lot to worry about, current President aside.  I was feeling despondent, depairing a bit.  But here’s the interesting thing about age and getting older.  It’s easier to talk yourself down from ledges. It’s easier to remember why self-love (in the right ways) is so important.

And then I was able to see the hummingbirds, the hawk that landed on my fence looking for mice.  I was able to breathe in and out and to forgive myself for things.  I’m hard on myself and with that comes confusion.  And it doesn’t serve me well.  And this is where my writer’s block came from.  My inability to relax into the moment of writing and let it go.  To love the moment.  This isn’t to say I haven’t had beautiful and extended moments of happiness this year.  I have, believe me.  Some incredible revelations about myself and others.  But the holidays are very hard for me.  I get lonely.

That is what is changing in this new year, investing all in on self-love.  Self-forgiveness. And my writing.  All the other good stuff will follow.  I have faith.  In myself, in those I love and in those who are distant from me.  That what is meant to rise back up and converge will do so in its own time and when it’s right.

I have a ton of work in front of me.  It’s good.  I plan on enjoying the ride.



Once more, with feeling!

Posted by oedipamaas on

Time to return to the blog.  No one reads it, but I enjoyed keeping the previous incarnation for fourteen years.  A good long time.  Until I lost my credit card in Phuket, Thailand (a journey documented here:  And then forgot to update a new card on my hosting account.  Everything lost.

But the thing about loss is it’s always a good opportunity to start again.

So to recap, I am a writer.  Mostly poetry, but I’m trying fiction now too.  And essays, I suppose, but more epistolary ones that I wrote during a correspondence with another writer.  The blog is an interesting medium in that it provides me with a platform to write to an audience and not just one specific person, be it either me or a friend.  So here we go again.

I need some sort of outlet, some way to write aside from my work.  I guess it helps me reflect.  Anyway, blogs are kind of dead now, aren’t they?  It’s too bad.




Posted by oedipamaas on

(Samuel Beckett, notation on MS of Happy Days)

Fire comes bouncing in from the
desert a threat to houses Here’s
what we do says the King to
Rudyard Kipling who is visiting
Stuff wet rags in the eaves throw
the silverware in the swimming
pool And my letters Rudyard
Kipling is thinking will you be
pressing my letters to your
breast as we skid towards
the car Truly diverse people
the King and Kipling one or
the other was always getting
his feelings hurt Above them
a strip of once blue sky now
dark adust

Nowadays there are technicians
of despair you can work at it
Going to the Buddhist study
group I pass a thin crumpled
man at a wall his face on the
bricks Behind him another big
black city legs wide apart roaring
Say you aren’t stupid then why
aren’t you happy

New guy at the Buddhist study
group Eyes cut to bits I want
he keeps saying So I don’t get
 he keeps saying A bunch
of sage grass has blown onto
his head and grown down into
his mind He shakes hands with
everyone over and over again
at the door

I had previously been to
the Old South Thirty minutes
into the faculty dinner a man
to my left drops his eyes and
his voice says he murdered his
brother with a shotgun when
he was twelve The other diners
appear to have heard this
before On the plane home I
sit across from a vet with a
falcon on his lap It observes
the other passengers severely
Drinks apple juice from a
cup with very small silver

At twenty-eight thousand feet
above the uncarved block of
NY state a cricket jumps onto
my coat Vaguen it says

—Anne Carson


Shooting at the Divide…

Posted by oedipamaas on

Lately, I’ve been stewing in fustration.  I mean, I’m not even simply blaming the obvious political maelstrom currently choking the life from us; flushing down any last shred of Democratic checks and balances and oversight that swirl in the toilet bowl with the last of the American spirit we once collectively possesed.  No, it’s been other stuff too. But yes, inescapably, it’s worth noting that it’s also the time of emperors.  And given the way we’ve conducted ourselves, why shouldn’t it be?  I think we get what we deserve.  Honestly, did we not think, as liberals, our smug investment in the world of books and ideas and money (yes money because liberals do tend to make fairly good livings) and coastal living wouldn’t eventually catch up to us?  Did we really think ignoring people like my father with his subscriptions to news sites that have titles like militiamen and his cluttered house full of guns would make them somehow go away?

The divide is wide and wider each day.  Some of my friends grumble about leaving and I will admit to entertaining this notion myself.  And I love Europe.  I really do.  But something inside me would miss, beyond rational or reasonable explanation, the terrifying expanse of the American West.  I was born and raised here, a fourth generation Californian.  There’s something about wide open spaces and large mountains and trees and deserts and oceans that have become inextricably fused to my own internal wanderings.  And with that, goes the “uglier” side too.  I’ll admit, even, to a strange fondness, probably born out of familiarity, for the gun toters, the Central Valley republicans, the overly masculine truck drivers and all of that.  Why?  I was raised with it.  By it.

That’s because my father was always a staunch Republican.  I knew from an early age we would never agree on matching our visions.  He flew small planes as a passionate pursuit and this culture was also dominated by mostly white male Republicans who also flew planes.  With this was the implicit understanding that if one did this, they had an innate foundation, that others lacked (especially liberals in the cities and other such freeloaders), of self-sufficiency.  My father’s people were people who had no need of the help of others.  Who reveled in doing things their own way.  Who had a right and unshakeable sense of the American independence this country was founded upon. One that, thanks to social democrats and immigrants, was slipping away.

In flying, men could still be men.  In control of their own plane, their own flight plan and if trouble arose, if the engine failed, they had trained and trained on how to cope with that too.  I’m not sure how strongly I can impart to others how much this foundation in the lives of white conservatism plays a part in this growing divide and in the way they see liberals, immigrants and well, frankly and almost especially, black people.

And how also, for those who are white and disenfranchised, this plays a role in making “sense”, if you will, of the helplessness they feel now with manufacturing and the hard work of the middle class having left the back door to Mexico and Asia (thanks again to those with all the power over them, mostly associated with the name Clinton).  Think of it, if you will, as a way to make oneself still feel less helpless in the face of the anxiety that comes with a shifting landscape of fewer jobs, a mortgage meltdown ushered in by bankers with degrees from Harvard, immigrants coming in and making them feel worse by accepting field work (which no white man will stoop down to do), the complexity of different languages moving in next door, the religions that are not their own (my father was not a religious person, but still found familiarity in the idea that Christianity was foundational to our general culture), and then the real crux: the constant perceived attack on guns.  I really wonder how many liberals have taken this into deep consideration, just how important the Second Amendment is to conservatives.  How my father laughs at the countless posts by liberals to enact more gun control.  For him and his brethern, this is not an option and it never will be.  There will be no rational discussion around the finer points of this either.  Guns are fundamental to how he and others vote and think.  It’s his first and last line of defense against all the things that are confusing, emasculating and beyond his control.

Anyway, I also learned how to fly, via my dad, and even got my pilot’s license before my driver’s license.  I used to live in the Sacramento Valley, in a single wide trailer on a small airport and made my living by taking people up in gliders every day and was paid in kind by comraderie with my fellow male pilots in addition to about $80 – $100 a day.  Sometimes less.  But I loved it.  I really did.  And flying above the valley, all those brown hills and ranches and argricultural places that stretched out all the way to the Sierras, it sparked my imagination in ways that made me want to write, to experience, to travel further and further into that vast horizon.

Not only did my life involve planes and small Valley towns, but the guns went with all this too.  When I turned 14 my dad felt it was time to get my hunting license.  Instead of a coming of age celebration that some girls did back then, it was time to learn how to shoot.  And I was good at it too.  He gave me a rifle with a fairly good scope.  And I got high marks from the cowboy hat wearing field instructor. I’ll admit to enjoying lying flat on my belly, like some kind of sniper or hunter even, and sighting the bullseye and the satisfaction of hitting my target.  And yes, I’ve owned a gun before too.  In New Mexico.  But everyone there had guns.  Growing up, guns were everywhere.  In my life, they were ubiquitous.  I can’t say I like them, but I also can’t say I dislike them.  A dangerous thing for a liberal to say.  There’s the tendancy, after all, for other liberals to really take umbrage with how one thinks and then correct it.  Something that has caused our conservative American counterparts to retreat further and further from the conversation and into their own isolated news sources and communities where they don’t feel corrected or belittled by those who seem to want to dictate how the disenfrachised should live and think.

Anyway, I’m writing a memoir piece about my father and I suppose all of this is on my mind.  And I began this post by voicing a frustration.  All week has been marked by outages at work, an overworked and overstressed boss who’s way younger than me and has a hard time seeing managment as collaborative (to his defense, he mostly manages people in Bangladesh, so it’s a different style altogether).  I’ve been feeling isolated and alone mainly because I’m the only US engineer and there have been a lot of moments with the servers or applications going down, getting rousted at 5am to fix things, people feeling anxious about it all and no one to really depend on.  Feeling angry that the outages were caused by acts of god or faults in the software architecture.  Things beyond my own control.  It’s like what I was saying about the flying thing…that sense of self-sufficiency.  If your engine quits, it’s on you and you alone to solve it.  To land safely.  No one else will help you make that series of critical, in the moment decisions, other than what you’ve trained for and how you keep your shit together.

On the other hand, as I’ve grown older and and further away from my younger years, I have also come to value being able to depend on others and find meaning in community and the sharing of ideas. But this week, it’s just felt more like that isolating self-sufficiency thing instead.  And just as I concluded a long time ago, it’s no real way to run things.  No real way to live.  And in the middle of all this, the stress took over and my writing and reading time, which I value highly, went straight out the window.

Poetry is a type of self-sufficiency, if you think about it.  It fights (if it’s done well) generalizations.  It offers insight into unknowable places of at least one human experience, the poet’s.  It celebrates a sort of individuality that can’t be robbed by political language, by fear, by blandness, by New Age asphorisms, by religion.  It strives to balance the inward and external storytelling place within us by doing the hard work of stooping down to harvest what’s been grown, what’s been ridiculed, what’s been ignored.  But it’s no utopia.  Everyone has an idea of how this world could be better.  Some think it would be by leaving the guns alone.

Others think that it’s by taking them away.  For some, it’s about being the lone cowboy against the maddening world.  A good poet tries to be all these things and more.  And the poem is only good if one feels the need to return to the lines to read them again and again.  Usually a way to remind ourselves of our frailty, our failures, our hilarity.  And our stories.  It becomes an utterable shot in the dark, one we can use again and again to defend ourselves against the encroaching banality of dogma and greed and violence or whatever it is that seems to want to absorb us into something no longer based on humanity.

Can it lessen the divide between me and my father?  Probably not.  But every day I remind myself of who he is, how he reached his conclusions and refused other narratives to inform himself otherwise, and how that in turn shaped me.  He gave me my weapon.  And I try and look down the scope of it when I can carve out the time, so I can attempt to hit a bullseye.  Truth is, it never stops being frustrating and hard.