To visit Martin's writing website, press here.

December 6, 2009

Whatcha want? Whatcha got?

Hello. Buy, buy. Or to paraphrase Mark Twain: Everybody complains about the Christmas shopping frenzy, but nobody does anything about it. Starts about Labor Day now, doesn’t it? Forced labor, shop till you drop. Life is all economics, right? Bad economics = bad life and vice versa. That’s what it’s all about. Give an’ take, in and out, keep the blood/money movin’ around. You shop at my store; I’ll shop at yours. Get it while it’s hot. Newer is better. The one with the most junk wins.

Remember that TV show from 30 years ago where people got five minutes in a supermarket to grab anything they wanted? Wow, what a dream, better than Halloween candy, like the 12 Days of Christmas. I want all that stuff, even if I don’t know what it is. I do know it’s all free! Complimentary, they call it now. [Sorry, can’t walk in the woods or down on the beach or look at the stars or swim in the river. Can’t enjoy breathing fresh air or drinking sweet water, gotta go downtown and get my FREE stuff. I deserve it. I need it. Or else somebody else’ll get it first.]

What if I gave you a million dollars right now? Who would refuse? (Nobody.) Think of all the great things you could do with all the great things you could buy. Sorry, I won’t. Disappointed? Do you hate your non-million dollar life so much? Boys and girls living/learning at the mall, if I only had that ... and that ...

Free at last, free at last. Will we ever be free from the Big Lie of getting something for nothing? Or ‘slave your life away and you will be rewarded’? Money brings happiness. Will they just continue to fool us every time, like lab animals that keep grabbing the cookie even though they get a shock instead of food? Can we shake this tragic distraction of the hysterical market: “Hey, buy this! Over here, buy this!” Can we have a little quiet, please?

And they sell us our opinions, our religions, our politics, our wars, our entertainment, our pastimes, even our conceptions of ourselves as a country, an ethnicity, as individuals: Who we are is right there in CostCo alongside the miracle knives and the flat tummy machine. You are what you buy, they say. You are what you sell, I say.

Yet can we not buy in, just say no? Conformists need nonconformists to define them, consumers/nonconsumers, the buyer weary/the buyer be wary. This silly new green consciousness, for example, a fad, like people didn’t live simply and self-sufficiently in our grandparents’ day. Like we didn’t know what ecologically sound meant five years ago, twenty-five, fifty-five. As my Thomas Jefferson Junior High P.E. teacher, Coach Smith, would say: “I don't buy that brand of crap!”

But we gotta buy something, some brand of crap. Can’t live on air and poetry. Or handouts for very long. And then the gentler, friendlier companies like Starbucks or Timberland or Nike turn out to be the same greedy bastards that have conned us and squeezed us out of our dough all our lives. So the people who see behind the curtain at the little man running the big machine (because they look, most people don’t want to see) know what’s going on, but what’s the alternative? What choice do we have? I used to believe that the little choices mattered (ethical shopping stress), buy the all-natural, all-organic, 100% no preservative soap, even if it doesn’t clean as well. But, you know, there are bigger pictures.

What I need is a slogan to live by. Give me an F! Give me an F?

And whatever happened to the myths, the myth of a non-crashable system, the myth of continuous growth, the myth of noble competition? Back in the seventies and eighties I took Continental Trailways buses a lot and wondered why the station was always across the street from their biggest competitor, Greyhound. Later I found out they were both owned by the same company. It was phony competition, and I was the victim. And tell me again why Microsoft saved Apple from bankruptcy? And, while you’re at it, I’d like a list of the millionaires and billionaires that lost every cent in the recent crack. The soup-lines are full of bankers, right? All we hear on TV are rich people telling us that prosperity is right around the corner, and we chase the carrot around in circles, digging a rut with our work boots.

Cogs. Maybe you’ve got a mission, a noble humanitarian calling. Maybe your work is to save lives or fight injustice or ignorance, poverty or addiction. Are you still selling something? An idea, a principle? ‘Fraid so. Wait a minute. My doctor, for example, is giving his/her gifts away, isn’t he/she? In between rounds of golf. Optimists might buy that, but we can see that the drug company mafia and the insurance company mafia and even the medical research mafia have us all by the throats and are tightening their grasp the more they perceive their power is threatened. And Republicans and Democrats keep screaming: “Brainwash me, I beg you!” I must have quit believing in good intentions (even my own) when I turned fifty. Or I’m in a particularly bad mood this morning.

I haven’t seen Michael Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story," but I did see “Religulous” by Bill Maher. I don’t want to spoil it for you (if you’re brave enough to watch); let’s just say that it’s related to my song “I Believe in Santa,” posted (free) on myspace (click right). As a P.K. I’m exempt from charges of blasphemy.

Yet and all, it is sad that our greatest cultural folk hero representing the values and hopes of an entire nation is not a saint or holy man (surely not St. Nick the Turk, the patron saint of pawnbrokers) or even a superior being or superhero, but merely a cardboard advertising character, cynical fakelore. Two-dimensional too, don’t look around his back; there’s only a speaker going “ho ho ho!” till the battery runs down. That’s no loving old man dealing out justice in gifts, just a phony rip-off artist selling an unhealthy fizzy drink. As the year nears its end, we don’t celebrate some comforting religious legend or the conviction that love of clan leads to redemption; we celebrate sugar water with stimulants.

Humbug and happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Finally, I agree with everything he said. Amazing how he can insult every person on earth in so few words.
Jeff: Yeah. Brilliant. Ruin Christmas. Nice move. What’s next? Our mothers never loved us? I mean, is there no shame?
Mutt: It’s a shame to let any old nutso write a blog, I say. There oughta be a suppressive writers law.
Jeff: I say to write with a broken pencil is pointless.
Mutt: And I say a backward poet writes inverse.
Jeff: This is fun, keep going.
Mutt: A lot of money is tainted: 'Taint yours, and 'taint mine.
Jeff: Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.
Mutt: They say that in a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.
Jeff: And don’t forget: Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
Mutt: One more thing ...
Jeff: What’s that?
Mutt: Santa's helpers ...
Jeff: Yeah?
Mutt: Subordinate clauses.
Jeff: Oh man, who farted?

November 29, 2009

Sunset Intersection

A painting by Robert Bechtle. A tutorial on seeing. A trip nostalgic.

I grew up on this street in the Parkside or Outer Sunset district, also called the Neighborhoods or the Avenues, formerly the Dunes, in western San Francisco out by Ocean Beach, out by the Zoo, out by Stern Grove. I didn’t live here for all of my childhood, but this is what I think of as home. This painting, by my favorite painter, is what I think of as home. Because home is an idea or, at best, an image. Not a place, real or otherwise, a google and oogle map mirage. If a home falls in the forest with no former inhabitant to hear it, it really does NOT make a sound, but wherever the former inhabitant is home is screaming all the time: "Come back, Shane, come back," in a crazed, ghostly voice inside the head. A siren call or the echo in a shell, it’s something you had once or think you did, maybe deja vu, maybe ocean view. Maybe home/heart is where you left it, where you lost it, where you broke it. Your time machine’s broke, though; you’re stranded in the now of the canvas.

Walking by these houses, after a hard day at Parkside Elementary, I told my friends lies about the Pacific trips and escapades that I’d had during the night in the belly of a friendly whale I met down the street at the beach (thanks to Disney’s Pinocchio). Mostly I described China to the Chinese girls I walked home with; mostly they giggled. My storytelling career begins on this very spot.

Every blink of an eye is a still photograph printed on the virgin cells of the brain, one added to all the rest, piling up like flapjacks, like the dead photo bin at the junk shop. Flipped through quickly they seem to be moving, huh? But what is beautiful, what is art? Pull one photo-card out of the deck. Magic trick time. Is one as good as the other? Certainly the one above is the best for me; coulda been the other side of the street, I guess. Who cares? Weird that it’s so quiet. Is it as peaceful as it seems? Actually—looky—it’s three paintings: can I switch ‘em around? Hang ‘em in separate rooms? By the way, what are you looking at right now at this instant? It could be your last, you know? How important is this experiential moment compared to all the rest? Keep flipping. Keep moving. Cut the cards and deal. Nothing up my sleeve.

Someone described this style of painting as a form of abstractism, at least from the painter’s point of view. That those are not houses necessarily, that’s not a street, cars; those are shapes, colors, lines. Stand on your head. Can you look at it like an optical illusion? A woman’s face or a vase? Can it not be the street of my youth 10,000 miles away? For you it’s easy. It’s another painting. Optical delusion.

I, painting, Sunset Intersection in this case, I challenge you; I defy you to make of me something for yourself. You can give me symbolic significance if you want, but it’s your contribution, not in my lines or intention. Yet, I’m not an empty container or a provocation either. I’m one card as good as any other, and I need you to make me. That’s your freedom. Go ahead, make me.

I ran into Robert Bechtle once at the San Francisco airport. I had time to kill before my flight and, wandering, I found a painting hidden in a corner (SFO has a great art collection) called Frisco Nova of a man watering his lawn in a middle-class neighborhood of white stucco houses. That painting shocked me. Shook me up. Never the same again. I know that man; I know that street; I am part of that picture! So that’s how I met Robert Bechtle, a San Franciscan. That’s how I met Hyper-Realism or Photo-Realism or Realism, which is NOT copying a painting from a photograph. I’ve seen sidewalk painters do that for tourists in a matter of minutes. This is painting as an exquisite philosophy. The painting asks, “Who are you?” It says, “I’m not an exhibitionist (like most of my colleagues), so why are you staring at me? Did you resist hypnosis or let yourself go under?”

A new way of seeing, intensity of intent, in that split second, right here right now: LOOK AT THIS! Look what I found; this is reality; this is the world you live in; this is outside your mind not on drugs. This is the other, but still your life, your still life. No judgment now, just live. Be. Like the eyes that saw this and froze it, the hands that took weeks to reproduce it, the eyes that saw it again. The farthest thing from the painting, Sunset Intersection, is the photo it was based on. Hey, what does that mean? Aren’t they the same? Bechtle in his workshop day after day bent over his table until he’s an old man won’t even answer that stupid question.

If it reminds you of something, even a false memory, you’re either in the painting or you’re outside looking in the painting. Enter at will. Get sucked in and spit out, back and forth. Or the painting will exit its frame for you and invade your space. Look around the airport, everything’s a painting! Go outdoors. Everywhere is important! And you’re not waking up from this dream. I dare you to walk down that street again.

I have been in the witness protection program here in Sicily for the last thirty years. Must have been something I saw. Chosen exile, self-inflicted house arrest, called ex-patriatism (not ex-patriotism, but a bit of that too). When you change your name and leave your family (who are always your family but feel betrayed or, at least, abandoned) and your friends (who find other friends fast), take all your belongings in a couple suitcases and tell them to give the rest away, it means you ain’t comin’ back. You, as you leave, ain’t never comin’ back.

And you don’t and can’t because what you would come back to doesn’t exist any more. Not the houses and trees, but you who were there are not you who are here. The you you left is gone. The photo card flipped by like those minute-flipping clocks. Ask the Chinese girls; you in the myth of the you of days past is bigger an’ better an’ braver than the you as you were. As you were. Attention! As you were. At ease.

Okay, you change, but Sunset Intersection stays the same, doesn’t it? Isn’t that the point, cryonics? Or do you look at it each time with different, older eyes? Wow, fixed as it seems, it’s never the same either. Anyway, you can’t choose, you can’t stop that flipping.

So you stood at the intersection, chose a direction, and cleared out towards a sunset. Don’t we all do that? Isn’t it called growing up? Leaving the nest? Heading off into the wilderness to seek your fortune. Into the wild. Being your own family of one, house of one, sack of bones you carry with you always. Embracing danger, courting adventure. Or do we all do that? Sometimes I feel like over here in the Land of Eternal Children, a.k.a., the Land of Spoiled Brats (Mommy do my laundry; Daddy get me a job), I’m a cowboy stuck in a briar patch of giant interconnected nests made of twigs and string, where there’s only one way out. Horizontal. Not today. I’m enjoying this painting. Wish I were there.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: So he found his title. ‘Bout time.
Jeff: I liked it better before. Now we’re stuck looking at the same picture every day.
Mutt: And what crap too. I may toss my cookies.
Jeff: Yeah. Nothing to get all choked up about. Sometimes he acts like such a baby!
Mutt: It’s no act. So I’ve got a question for you.
Jeff: Shoot.
Mutt: Bang.
Jeff: Well, here’s one for you: Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?
Mutt: And what happens if you get scared half to death twice?
Jeff: And if Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?
Mutt: And how do you tell when you're out of invisible ink?
Jeff: And, okay, so what's the speed of dark?
Mutt: Had enough?
Jeff: Damn Wright!

November 22, 2009

Monday Morning Mourning

I was saddened to learn of the recent deaths of two of my heroes: Mike Seeger and Sam Hinton. Both taught me a lot, although our in-person contact was brief.

I only talked with Mike Seeger once backstage at one of his concerts in Berkeley in the 80’s. He impressed me with his generosity and kindness. In a soft voice, with a Virginia hills accent, he asked about what I did and where I lived and so on. He seemed interested to know that an American musician was singing in Sicilian schools and playing old-time music on the local radio. “Sicily? Well, how about that.”

Maybe it’s silly, but I imagined we had made a tiny connection; my name and face would remain in his subconscious files, or, at least, he would represent my desire to learn from a master (I have collected all his classic records, including The New Lost City Ramblers set).

Mike Seeger was a sort of holy man of old-time music. When I saw him last in Berkeley a couple of years ago, I got to the Freight and Salvage early and sat near the front. Before the lights went down I turned around and saw many of my idols, the greatest traditional musicians from Northern California, all sitting at the guru’s feet (the row behind me, for example, was taken by the Cheap Suit Serenaders). Some of them later joined him on stage (Evo Bluestein, Maria Muldaur, Larry Hanks, Laurie Lewis, Eric and Suzy Thompson, David Grisman).

Mike Seeger was an excellent scholar, in the tradition of his father, his head full of details, but he was also a very funny and personable man. He could respect the driest mountain tradition and still put on a warm, wonderful show. And he got his gourd banjo from Bob Thornburg as did I, another connection.

Unless you were tragically immature, brainwashed or on drugs (tv, video games, commercial music, etc.), you had to like Mike Seeger, who showed us all how to respect and love our musical roots.

Sam Hinton was a mentor to me. I took a graduate summer course from him on using folksongs in education, the topic of my Master’s Degree, and he was the best example of what I was most interested in doing with my life at the time. I wanted to be Sam when I grew up. He looked and acted very much like my beloved grandfather.

Since I was the only student in the class who knew folk music well, we had a series of private conversations that I still remember vividly. He showed sincere interest in what I was doing. I gave him a copy of my Master’s thesis, a large collection of song texts and notes (now over 950 pages), and he replicated by digging out of his pick-up truck all of his cassette tapes, tapes I still cherish.

Sam Hinton’s name is not a household word, even in folk music anymore, because, though he was a pioneer, he didn’t promote himself. He promoted the music and the culture it belonged to. He was humble enough, for example, to volunteer to do the beautiful calligraphy for the fine Rise Up Singing songbook. It was the project that counted not the ego.

Sam was as warm as his voice; he was a gentleman, a gentle man, a big fellow with a big smile and big hands. You couldn’t imagine him being mean or violent. He had a childlike twinkle in his eye that told you he had another good song up his sleeve. He played his 1900 Washburn guitar, his diatonic harmonica, and his many other instruments perfectly and remembered the words to even the longest ballads. That was his scientist’s mind and precision showing through (and natural talent).

We children growing up in the sixties heard Sam’s early records at school back when a couple hours a week were dedicated to singing (along with Burl Ives, Alan Mills, Pete Seeger and others). In my fifth grade class we started every morning singing “This Land is Your Land,” instead of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Miss Soite was making a statement, but we just liked the music.

Getting to know Sam Hinton was the high point of my interest in folk music, having lunch together several times (I had a bag lunch; he ate beans and peaches out of the can), talking a couple hours after the last session out in the parking lot. Now he was an old man, who, I believe, died peacefully as he lived, so I don’t feel loss so much as gratitude and privilege to have known such a sweet, quiet giant.

Both men have websites, and many of their recordings are still available.

November 15, 2009

The Dreary Life of the Cowboy

Some people, many, literally thousands, well not literally in a real sense, but lots of people, uncountable, tons, whole entire gangs, crowds, mobs, teeming masses, multitudes, populations, the body politic ... okay a few people, some, several, a couple, let’s say a bunch of people have asked me to print here the words to the cowboy song I posted on my-oh-MySpace page space, and so, by popular request, here they are.

Only a Cowboy

words by E. Martin Pedersen, music by E. Martin Pedersen and Antonino Abramo

1. I can taste salt in my mouth
A clump of prairie sage near my nose
You could say I broke my back chasin’ strays
I bet you say: that’s just the way it goes.

chorus: There’s a cowboy dyin’ tonight
All alone in Montana
Where it’s cold, timberwolves will howl at the moon
Biting his old red bandana.

2. His horse ran off feeling guilty
He covered his eyes with his hat
It’s a good deep sleep out in the open
And to go with your boots on at that.

3. By the time some ranger passes
Scraps of clothing and bones
No name or documentation
A cowboy’s soul long gone home.

4. The boys might search for the cowboy
If his mount makes it back to the ranch
With a snowstorm comin’ in from Canada
There wouldn’t be much of a chance.

5. It’s all the fault of Lucien B. Smith
The inventor of barbed wire fence
He should have left the open range alone
Our wildness, gone ever since.

6. Another beef stew or a Christmas dance
The poor boy will never enjoy
Dust unto dust without even a kind word
Bob or Bud, only a cowboy.

© 2009

If you’d like to read more about the American cowboys, click on the title or go to the link, for my prize-winning article: The Dreary Life of the Cowboy: Memoir and Myth in Cowboy Ballads. The article was printed in Social Education, March 1997, pp.130-138. Please read it there, if you can, because the layout and illustrations are beautiful.

Happy trails, Martin

Mutt: One cow says to another, "Look at that bunch of people."
Jeff: The other cow says, "Not 'bunch', 'herd'."
Mutt: Heard of what?
Jeff: Herd of people.
Mutt: Sure I've heard of people.
Jeff: No, stupid, a people herd.
Mutt: What do I care what a people heard?
Jeff: I saw a people herd the other day.
Mutt: Where?
Jeff: At the moooooovies.
Mutt: You're sick. And getting worse. Must be the full moooooon.
Jeff: Yeah. I feel like howling; as the song says, I'm in the moooooood?

November 12, 2009

Human Writes

If a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters in a thousand years could write the Bible, how many would it take to make people take it seriously? Oh sorry, how many people would it take to make the monkeys take it seriously?: is what I meant. Oh wait, no, I meant the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (nobody takes them seriously). Or maybe some people do take Bill S. seriously (and the monkeys are laughing their heads off). Banana gunk and peanut skins all over the keys. The creationists breaking down the door.

And who’s gonna change the ribbons when computers replace the typewriters and you can’t buy old blue and red ribbons anymore (with over 900 years left to go)? One thing I know (and then I’ll shut up) monkeys could build computers, program them and use them, but only humans could invent (and name) The Blog. It was proposed to the monkeys and they just showed their teeth and typed WHY? WHY?

So we’re stuck with it. Every man a King Features Syndicate. When I was a little kid, and my dad had a mimeograph machine in his office, I thought I could start a neighborhood newspaper for us kids, write funny stories and drawings about the other kids, but there was something about cutting stencils or ditto masters and inking the roller, and anyway it never happened. Now, almost a hundred years later, it’s easy as pie. I have my own newspaper (two, in fact) in Blogland (it ain’t Candyland, but you can see it from there).

What’s writing take? I’m convinced that it takes sacrifice and mental imbalance. Sacrifice, maybe called ambition, means you turn your back on your family and friends, you shut the door on your spouse (if one will put up with you), you de-prioritize your job, and you write like the driven maniac you are.

And when you brood and look out the window, that’s writing too. Wallace Stevens would go for walks every morning, and a neighbor said she saw him walk along, stop, backtrack and walk over his steps again. He was composing. Living in the word world. If you do that your whole life, do you ever live? Are you ever in the horny here and now? (“But honey you seem distracted.” “Let’s do that again, I’m composing.”) And for what? Fame and fortune are a lottery win. Writers are losers. So for what? To leave boxes of paper in the basement that’ll disappear in the fire like Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece sequel to Invisible Man? Poof?

Ben Percy (hot-dog writer/teacher) gave me this quote from Harry Crews last summer:
You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live.... The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait till you got time to write a novel or time to write a story or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read--if you wait for the time, you’ll never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.

So if World is apart from Writer, then Writer is apart from the World. That’s a lonely place, no place. That’s a place that’ll screw with your mind. They said about William Faulkner that he’d go to parties, sit in the corner, drinking, and never speak to anyone. A weirdo. An artistic personality. Somehow exiled to another dimension, almost coinciding with where the rest live but not quite the same world, not exactly the same life.

Franz Kafka and Emily Dickinson (and then I’ll quit with the examples): severe mental/emotional/social problems, chronic depression, agoraphobia, social anxiety, panic, bipolar, WHATEVER. They lived among us but were not quite like us. Over-sensitivity is associated with artists. Hmm. Hemingway’s crap-detector? or Hemingway’s double-barrel?

I got off track. The reason I mentioned Kafka and Dickinson is that they both died having published almost nothing and ordered their remaining works destroyed. They weren’t, and we are the richer. Maybe some other even greater writers’ works were faithfully destroyed by their descendents. Probably Emily and Franz thought of themselves as losers who’d wasted their lives.

Years of writing that nobody reads. Or a lifetime of ridicule (“you stink man, and your writing stinks too”), why ask for that? Why set yourself up to fail? Then there’s the self-doubt monster even when you're successful in the market (can I fool them again?), not to mention the self-pity monster. Uncomfortableness in the market at the very least, with all those shoppers bumping into you, all that yelling, those strong rotten smells, the filth on the ground. Better to go home, hide in the study, hide in books about other people’s lives in the market, and write your own strange stories that nobody even reads.

Fifteen years ago I read a book by acclaimed writing instructor John Gardner (The Art of Fiction), and I thought he was full of it, didn’t impress or help me at all, the self-worshipping jerk. Now I read another book by Gardner (On Becoming a Novelist) and every word made sense. How he changed in fifteen years! Oh wait, he died in 82 and both books came out in 83. Oops, I had changed. I had seen the path less traveled that lay before me, left the crossroads and committed to the journey. The one where you go to birthday parties but don’t have any fun. The one where you might even go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, but you can’t wait to get back to your writing desk, sit down and not ever get up.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Say something funny, man, we need it.
Jeff: How about this: a guy goes to a psychiatrist ...
Mutt: Is he a writer?
Jeff: No.
Mutt: Continue.
Jeff: A guy goes to a psychiatrist and says that he sometimes feels like a teepee and other times he feels like a wigwam.
Mutt: And the psychiatrist says he’s two tents (too tense). Man, that joke is so old.
Jeff: So old that Barney and Fred used it in their ‘that joke is so old’ jokes.
Mutt: So old the Dead Sea wasn’t even sick yet.
Jeff: So old I’ve got an autographed Bible.
Mutt: By all 1,000 monkeys?

October 31, 2009

Best television series ever: In Treatment

How about that for reductionism? Not even a list. Just one. Slam the gavel. Case closed.

I used to say The Prisoner. Good old philosophical escapism, which culminated in the powerful idea that we’re never free but we can be more comfortable. It even wears well forty years after it was made on a budget by British TV. An intelligent and insightful allegory that raised television to a new level. And fun.

In Treatment is a simple idea, psychotherapy sessions. Set like a stage-play, no chase scenes, no shooting, two characters talking. Spelled b.o.r.i.n.g.? Just the opposite. We don’t really want to go farther like we think we do; we want to go deeper. That’s what happens. All crying and yelling? Not really, lots of self-examination. We’re all on the couch, you know, sitting still for the journey inward. Watching therapy as therapy. I feel drained afterwards.

The premise is great; the acting is superb; the writing is phenomenal. In every conversation, even outside the therapy sessions, like between the shrink and his ex-wife, both characters are right. Not one right, one wrong, get it? When have we ever heard writing so extraordinary that opposing characters are both telling the truth? Or talking about something and really talking about something else? And when have we ever seen such thoroughly believable unaware acting? Isn’t listening the most important element in acting anyway? In Treatment is listening made drama. And the power of silence, unexploited in television. This is beyond an actor’s studio display; it’s the hyper-reality missing from reality shows. That’s also due to fine direction, of course.

I read that the original is an Israeli series (Be’Tipul) by a guy named Hagai Levi, whose scripts were often used word for word in the U.S. version. Nice job.

So if we have to discuss the vast wasteland, the mind-number, the opiate of the masses one more time, let me express my recommendation. Good watching, better living.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Did you hear the one about the tap dancer who fell into the sink?
Jeff: No, but I can tell you: I'd rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy.
Mutt: You know, I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.
Jeff: That's nothing, I used to think I was an atheist until I discovered that I was God.
Mutt: I wonder, are we funny?
Jeff: Funny looking.
Mutt: Funny smelling.

October 24, 2009

Wars of Words and Worlds

I’ve been getting a lot of flak (military term) lately about a war song on my myspace page Marching Through Georgia by Henry Clay Work, celebrating Sherman’s destructive March To The Sea during the Civil War. Defined by Wikipedia as the first example of Total War (I doubt that) where an army destroys enemy soldiers, civilians, homes, crops, and burns everything down to the dirt, Sherman’s March might be a turning point, an up-grade. We now talk about “wiping that place off the face of the earth,” “blowing them to kingdom come,” “scorched-earth policy.” It didn’t start with Sherman (a long-time banker in San Francisco), maybe Attila the Hun or some other famous brute, but the genocide against the Native Americans, the fire-bombing of Dresden, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our other atrocities indicate that it’s a characteristic American sentiment. “Let’s blow the bastards to hell” seems like a national slogan (second only to “We’re Number One!”). I hear women reporters using the expression “take out,” a dangerous euphemism for killing, as in “let’s just take out Bin Laden.” Women! Reporters! Americans!

In the early sixties the U.S. was just getting into the Vietnam quicksand, and TV shows were produced like COMBAT! to glorify war, something Hollywood has never shied away from. (see also Twelve O'Clock High, The Rat Patrol, Garrison's Gorillas, The Lieutenant, Convoy, Mr. Roberts, Hogan’s Heroes, and Gomer Pyle) So we kids, tired of cowboys and Indians, started playing WWII soldiers killing Krauts and Japs. My friend John’s father still had his Army gear so we could put on real helmets when we shot water pistols and tossed plastic grenades. Then we got tired of that and started playing spies like The Man from Uncle and Get Smart (right, get smart kid).

It was confusing around 1966 when the news from Vietnam started showing soldiers on stretchers, many with sheets over their faces. What were our heroes dying for? Something called the Domino Theory? Something called The Draft was taking away the big kids and not sending them back. Hey, stop that.

My father was a draft counselor, and I told him I thought that killing was wrong (where did I get that crazy idea?), so from the age of 15 he helped me prepare for my draft board hearings that would probably land me in prison for a couple years. By then (early 70’s) I was involved in the anti-war protest movement so fiercely that I would have done time. Now I see that Canada was a smarter option. As I got closer to becoming eligible for the draft the war was winding down and a lottery system was established, choosing unlucky draftees born in 1954, but then not calling anyone born in 1955 (so my destiny changed by being born 3 weeks late).

By 1973 there was less fighting, less news from Indochina, fewer protests, and I was relieved and reprieved and well into higher education. Then in the spring of 1975 I remember a retreat in the Sierras in which we all went outside, about a hundred people, and we stood in the patchy snow in a large circle and held hands--we didn’t know why yet--and the leader said: "Today we can finally say, The Vietnam War is over!” The Vietnam War? It sunk in. We hugged and kissed and wept for a mixture of joy and sadness and nostalgia for our lost youth. War over, begin normal life.

Can I describe the feeling of growing up during a war, an abstract war far away, a TV war, that becomes more real as your turn to participate comes closer? No. Maybe I don’t need to because the U.S. is fighting two wars right now (Nobel prize notwithstanding). Because there are 44 wars going on in the world right now. Because it seems like there’s no end in sight, no relief, that children will never again have a childhood without the Specter.

Of course we can tolerate almost anything. We can laugh and sing and be merry (although I wish our political leaders would keep a straight face until it’s over). The children can play (yeah, video war games). Because the war’s not right here at home this year but overseas somewheres. Americans are lucky to have two coasts so everything ‘overseas’ is unreal, on another planet. And not worth a headline. Critical war reporting from Iraq? Uh, don’t remember very much. Reporters in Afghanistan like Morley Safer in Vietnam? Uh, nope, too dangerous. We have a very vague idea of what’s going on there. We don’t even see the coffins coming back. Do we want to?

We turn away, but everyone is affected by a world constantly at war. War means lives destroyed. How to measure the pain? 4,351 U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq (31,536 wounded), or should we include all the Coalition forces (4,669) or include the Iraqi Security Forces post-Saddam (11,525), or do we want to go with the total deaths on all sides including civilians, which just for Iraq is reported in May 2009 to be 1,339,711? And, remind me again, over a million people died for what?

Add that to the total number of deaths since 2001 in Afghanistan (55,931) and you get 1,395,642. Hmmm, that number sounds familiar. Total dead in Vietnam: 1,396,357. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a match. And it's not nearly over. So don't let them tell you that this is not another Vietnam.

Lastly, from the Wikipedia page on Orwell's 1984:
“In the end, Goldstein implies that "the war" might not exist; the Oceanian populace know the external world solely via the Party's propaganda, and that the rocket bombings, ostensibly by "the enemy", might be self-inflicted (as Julia suggests), therefore, "the war" is a lie. Moreover, it might possibly be that Eurasia and Eastasia are fabrications, and that Oceania is the sole world power. In such ambiguity is the meaning of perpetual war: internal subjugation disguised as defence against foreign subjugation, the theory and practice of oligarchical collectivism.”

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Can you believe this guy?
Jeff: Well, he has to get it off his chest.
Mutt: Un-American, I say.
Jeff: Good question, is he still American? He's lived abroad so long I bet he's gone over to the enemy.
Mutt: Gone native, I knew it. The traitor.
Jeff: Guilty of thoughtcrime. Should have the Ministry of Truth look into it.
Mutt: You mean the Ministry of Love.
Jeff: Good thing BB is watching our every move to eliminate subversives from our midst.
Mutt: Like those who desecrate a great patriotic song like Marching Through Georgia.
Jeff: Yep. I wouldn't mind marching through Georgia's bedroom though.
Mutt: Rape and pillage? Oh, is it football season already?
Jeff: We're number one! We're number one!

October 14, 2009

Carlos Santana with Kruk and Kuip

On August 25th, Latino Heritage Night, Carlos Santana was honored by the San Francisco Giants, and he spent the fourth inning in the broadcast booth with Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow.

DK: Looking for some runs tonight.
CS: You gotta believe ... and get out of the way ... get out of your own way. Don’t think too much.
DK: He talks like a hitting coach.
MK: Talks like a pitching coach.
DK: So you come up here, you see this view, what do you think?
CS: I think that this is the best place to be in the whole planet.
MK: It is pretty magical.
CS: Yes, we just did a tour in South America, and we did a tour in Europe, and in Istanbul, some incredible cities, and the first I think it was Alexandria or Constantinople. We did Greece, Athens, where the cradle of consciousness and civilization started with Socrates and everybody. Yet there’s nothing comes close to the Wonder, man. I mean, San Francisco is the heart and center of the United States. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Maybe Maui, that’s about it.
DK: Well, we always feel like this place is magical, and it’s just got a good vibe to it.
MK: And we see you here a lot, you come to games, and, you know, the buzz of the crowd always lets us know you’re here.
DK: How do you stay in shape? Do you have a major secret that you can tell us?
CS: I just play tennis, I play tennis a lot. I’m very grateful to my Mom and my Dad; they gave me some good genes.
DK: Carry your guitar around?
CS: Carry a guitar around. Try a little Stevie Ray, and Jimi too, and Eric too, and B.B. too.
Cause we all learned from B.B. He’s like the ... to me B.B. King is like the Frank Sinatra, he’s the Chairman of the Board. We’re very grateful he’s still here. And we’re sorry we lost Mr. Les Paul, the genius, many people are, because he created that idiom of the log, the electric guitar, but we honor him. We honor him with all our hearts. And thank him because some people set the tone for the rest of the other musicians. Just like Willie Mays or Robinson.
MK: Do you play guitar every day?
CS: You know, I take my guitar for a walk every chance I can. I never practice, but I take my guitar for a walk. I take my fingers for a walk.
MK: Just to stay in shape. Tell us about the Milagros Foundation.
CS: Well, Milagros Foundation is something that it came because when I came to San Francisco I learned from B.B. King and Tito Fuentes, Bill Graham and many people, but I also learned from Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and Madre Teresa. To me it was a balance, with the Black Panthers. And I learned that the best thing we can invest, besides a beautiful park like this, is in people. So that people don’t kill each other like they do in Richmond or Oakland or Jerusalem or Jakarta. You know, if we invest in people so people can have a higher education, people can learn to value and have more compassion. Because once you value, you have compassion, you become mercy, kindly and mercy for your fellow man. With Milagros it’s all about investing, giving back, educating youngsters so that they can have a sense of self-worth. That’s where it begins. If you want to turn around this element of fear that George Bush created for eight years. There’s just love and fear in this planet. Fear is so costly, so expensive, love is for free.
DK: We’ll give you a chance to finish your thought on this, because it’s important to you.
CS: Yes it’s really important to me. We as humans can heal one another. I really believe what Martin Luther King said, “Learn, baby, learn, instead of burn, baby, burn.”
DK: Well, those are all good thoughts.
CS: I grew up across the street working at Tick-Tock’s. I came here in ’62 and in ’64-‘67 I worked right across the street from here. So to cross the street and to be here now, and watch all this, I’m just very grateful. I do believe in a Spring Creator, and I believe the best is still ahead for us people of San Francisco. There’s more artists than con artists in the Bay Area. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
MK: Carlos, thank you so much, man, you’ve inspired us for many years.
CS: Thank you so much. Stay in your heart. Go Giants.
DK: Carlos Santana visiting us and we’re so happy he did because I’m feeling better now already. I haven’t even kept score; I have no idea what just happened.
MK: That's a great line: more artists than con artists.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Know why nobody ever starves in the desert?
Jeff: Because of the sand which is there.
Mutt: Ha, ha, good one, huh?
Jeff: Considering the Darfur tragedy, Somalia, the Sudan, Chad and so on.
Mutt: Geez, it was just a joke, man. All you see is pain. Lighten up.
Jeff: Yeah, well, there’s a lot of suffering in this world. Did you hear about the George W. Bush Library?
Mutt: No, what?
Jeff: Burned to the ground.
Mutt: Oh my God, that’s terrible!
Jeff: Yeah, he lost both books.
Mutt: Mmmm.
Jeff: Hadn’t even finished coloring one of them.
Mutt: Yuck, yuck, now you’re talking.

October 8, 2009

last on mud, flood and blood

People often say, “he’s got those deaths on his conscience,” but rarely, “I’ve got those deaths on my conscience.” All the people who could have done something differently in the past to avoid the avoidable part of the recent disaster (see 2009 Messina floods and mudslides on Wikipedia) have all publicly denied any responsibility. But what do they think in private? When they’re alone with their consciences, do they say: those people died because I didn’t do my job, or I diverted the funds to other projects that might get me more votes, or I drew up a regional building plan to favor my rich friends? I doubt that the human soul can take such honesty. We rationalize the truth away. And then feel guilty about slavery and the Spanish Inquisition.

My wife, a city employee, has been interviewing the survivors. She met a young couple who were to be married next week. They had all the preparations made and their house was full of wedding gifts still in their boxes. All gone: the house they saved up years to buy, the gifts, their wedding plans. They told her, “we won’t get married now.” “You mean it’s postponed.” “No, we won’t ever get married. We have nothing left but our lives.”

The United States of America is a country based on the idea of ‘starting over’. Sometimes it seems like that’s all people do, job to job, spouse to spouse, church to church. How many do you know who’ve spent their whole lives in one house? I lived in 24 houses in 24 years. In these Sicilian villages the houses go back to the 1300’s, often in the same family. Now you can see people crying, “My grandfather was born in that house and his before him. I lived there my whole life.” “What house? There is no house.” “What life? There is no life.”

There’s also a disturbing element of racism in the reactions to this disaster. Initially, the cause according to most journalists and politicians was the illegal building, as if the owners had raised cardboard houses and the big bad wolf had blown them down, as if the residents themselves were at fault. ‘Serves ‘em right.’

Totally false and evil, but the denials didn’t make the evening news. Then there was no day of mourning, no state funerals for the victims, no moment of silence at the soccer matches. Then those slights were corrected, but that didn’t make the news either. It seems to us like North Italians, in general, couldn’t care less (most donations are coming in from Messina itself, the poor helping the poor), and the pundits blame the victims.

Sicily, in case you don’t have a map in your head, is about two miles from the Italian continent at the Straits of Messina where I live. That’s a long distance sometimes. They talk of building a bridge, but they’d rather cut the mooring line, hoping Sicily will just float away. Except for vacations. We’re in the Deep South, nearer Africa than Europe, remember Hurricane Katrina? Didn't it seem like if New Orleans had been in Haiti many people would have been relieved? "Hey, not my problem."

An explosion and a river of mud and boulders 15 feet high charging downhill through the little streets. Try to imagine being on the ground floor with mud smashing in through windows and doors like they were paper, filling the room to the ceiling in a second. Even in the pitch dark, even in the bizarre confusion of the event, you’d have time to think ‘this is it.’ On the first floors people were swept off the balconies, but those who stayed inside had mud and water up to their waists. So they had the same ‘this is it’ feeling, but it wasn’t it for them, this time. And on the second floor after the rain bomb went off, then listening to the screams of the injured and dying into the night gradually fade, unable to help one’s neighbors because going out meant death. One guy, an official in the Navy, Simone Neri, did go outside, pulled eight people out of the mud and then was swept away himself. We/I would have done what he did, right? Right? And I wouldn’t be here writing about it.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: So baseball season’s ended.
Jeff: It’s about time.
Mutt: Hey, don’t knock the poet’s sport.
Jeff: Baseball’s like guests.
Mutt: How so?
Jeff: You’re glad when they come, glad when they leave.
Mutt: Yeah, the spikes were tearing up my fancy floor.
Jeff: And all that spitting in the bedroom.
Mutt: But you know they’ll be back, like a migrating herd.
Jeff: And we’ll be waiting with food and drink. Seeya next year, boys.

October 5, 2009


: Monday, Oct. 5, 9 am.

This morning Maybel is here cleaning the house, and we're talking about the typhoons in the Philippines (her home), the wildfires in California (my home) and the mudslides that wiped out parts of Giampilieri, Briga, Altolia, Molino e Scaletta Zanclea just a few miles away from here. We seem united by suffering and dangerous weather.

One thing that impressed us all is the inappropriateness of the television controversy about who's at fault and who's gonna pay, set against the dignity of those who lost everything they ever had, some even their families. These simple village folks gave us all a lesson in what's important and how to act in times of tragedy.

There's a centuries-old feeling of resignation on this trampled island, invaded and abused by every major power in the area: the Greeks, Normans, Spanish, Moors, and now, some say, the Italians. It's suffered earthquakes (1908 - 200,000 dead (compare that with San Francisco)), fires, floods, heatwaves, etc., and, in the last hundred and fifty years, the substitution of the weak, corrupt central government with the strong, blood-sucking Mafia.

So it's another sad season, and, much as we'd like to mourn indefinitely, life will soon be back to normal (or is this normal?).

As the great Helen Keller said: "Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it."

Happy trials, Martin

October 3, 2009

nature goes nuts

I was on the phone wishing my mother a happy 80th birthday when the thunder started to boom and rattle. A few minutes later it rained hard, as much rain in three hours as we usually get in six months. Somebody called it a rain bomb. About ten miles south of here entire mountains slid down to the sea crushing villages on their way. They think there may be sixty people killed by the mud. We're mixing mourning, blame and rescue.

I'm watching more local news today than normal. This hit very close. Previously, I was concerned and perplexed by the earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis and general chaos in the Pacific. The scientists explain it, and we still ask: hey what's going on?

Last winter it rained virtually every day for five months. Then the whole island burned in the summer (the dry grass and bushes and the few trees still standing). As the saying goes: this earth was a nice place until THEY moved in and ruined it. (They is us.)

Happy trials, Martin

October 2, 2009

My friend Hyla Bolsta (see my links) sent me this, and I immediately asked if I could include it in my blog. Here you are:

Lost Bearings of the Mundane
Hyla Shifra Bolsta

I live in a tilt, sliding along with the rest of the game. Rocks, beaches, the sea, the birds, nothing has escaped and found its bearings; all of us unhinged, going down together into the history of life; no harness on reality, no course we know to rely on. Penguins and polar bears can’t count on the seasons, the ice or the water, nor can we. What floats to the top is a new standard that as yet we cannot spell. It reaches inside everything but has not touched down and claimed its name.

It’s as if the earth shifted its axis and plunged askew into new orbit. Yet I remain unchanged, superficially loving the familiar, finding beauty in the world that has created and defined my aesthetics, looking out from a bit of gray matter, immersed and positioned in personal currents. Investigations, injustices, catastrophes and violence penetrate tightly packed cells that take sanctuary in the six-inch space between two bony walls, my Temples. My brain interprets in Shock and Awe; I have lost my bearings.

The mundane isn’t an art or a science, not a path or a discipline, but all that there is. It means worldly, earthly, but a second, rare definition is “indigenous in all parts of the earth.” I’m thinking it may be the one commonality everything shares: Dreams of squirrels collecting food for winter; Spring plants pushing up too early, withering in the frost; Plans for retirement or the next kill; Limits of stability, cliffs falling into dust; Rejections from institutions or the flock; Folding the Laundry, Family Feuds, Marriages, Births, Ambitions and the ease of sharing time over a cup of coffee with your lover in the late afternoon.

What story of mine weighs enough to balance the scales? Silt oozes through ideas that were once clear. Bitter pieces of torn trust fly into my palette and I thank god I refuse to paint angst. Hope, recognition, purpose are constructs belonging to a grounded earth but the ground isn’t solid, the arctic ice has lost its footing in a cold world and fish who were once male are now changing sex in mid-stream.

Is there an art of living the mundane life? Each creature answers, each crystalline lens focuses and each prism refracts light; wavelength upon rainbowed wavelength. On the first sun-stroked day this spring, black carpenter ants swarmed our house. I doubt they think the boards are trees. Can they digest treated wood? Year round, mountain lions creep closer to homes; to what degree has their turf sloped and narrowed? Sonic booms, toxic plankton, runoff from farm pesticides; what’s left for whales?

There are stories of salmon so thick you could reach in and pull them from brooks barehanded, flocks of birds so thick the sky darkened when they flew by, so many whales the air stank from their breath. I’ve read we are down to the last five percent of it all. Lagoons choked, mountains gutted, rivers pushed into paths that leave their animals parched, while dinosaur vehicles guzzle gas on the road to extinction.

“Youtube” brings me glimpses of hubris and shame. An elephant in Thailand holds a brush and paints by rote what they call a self-portrait. Her world is newly insipid; wild, glorious, intelligent life reduced to cheap thrills for tourists now that their forests are decimated and logging is banned. Mundanity skids and I wonder how she copes, if she does.

With six billion cries we can burst through our clouds, through the canopy of air that surrounds this planet and maybe catch life before it drops away. After all, with each line I draw, I destroy what’s there to create what I envision will be better. Or instead, with one enormous shriek or a pitiful whisper, all of us will be taken out.

If there is an art to living in this earthly world, it could be that it’s going gracefully, knowing that, like the old story about five blind men, we touch a small part of the elephant. Unlike those codgers who’ll always debate the nature of the beast, we who see could rejoice in our senses and accept not knowing the truth.

September 22, 2009

political statement

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. (H. G. Wells)

Every sixty seconds, thirty acres of rain forest are destroyed in order to raise beef for fast-food restaurants that sell it to people, giving them strokes and heart attacks, which raise medical costs and insurance rates, providing insurance companies with more money to invest in large corporations that branch out further into the Third World so they can destroy more rain forests. (George Carlin)

Corporations have been enthroned….An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people…until wealth is aggregated in a few hands…and the republic is destroyed. (Abraham Lincoln)
Our own dystopia, too, can only be detected from the outside - by “outsiders” who did not watch too much TV when they were young; who read a few good books and then, perhaps, had a Satori-like awakening while hiking through Mexico or India; who by some lucky twist of fate were not seduced by The Dream and recruited into the consumer cult of the insatiables. (Kalle Lasn)

Made you look, again.
Didn't I?

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Does this guy know how to spell?
Jeff: You mean the 'trials' business?
Mutt: Shouldn't it be the Roy Rogers salute?
Jeff: Yeah, well, he's perverse. Did you guess his name?
Mutt: I tried 'Elvis'.
Jeff: Did you win?
Mutt: Not even close. It was 'e' short for electronic, as in e-mail.
Jeff: E-male is more like it. Elf-a-male, Ha ha ha ha.
Mutt: Yeah, right. He's a virtual Studs Turtle. Ha ha ha ha.


September 18, 2009

religious statement

There is divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance. To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and their disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you. (Elie Wiesel)

The answer is never the answer. What's really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you'll always be seeking. I've never seen anybody really find the answer -- they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer. (Ken Kesey)

Zippy the Pinhead by Bill Griffith at

The Freight and Salvage Coffee House at

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor at

Made you look.

Happy trials, Martin

September 4, 2009

After introducing myself, in a C.V. sort of way, maybe I should talk about something else. Something of import. Coconuts, they're imported.

I don't get blogging. What could I write that anyone would want to read? Outrageous opinions or wise pronouncements: I'm fresh out. I'm not that funny, and I don't have any secret information. And if you want to read what I had for breakfast you're wasting your time.

Maybe that's what a blog is, a challenge. I dare you not to waste someone's time. I dare you to be interesting. I dare you to get read. Find a purpose for this empty space. Find a purpose for the empty space of the 77.5 years you might or might not get (slightly higher for females). Life is a blog? Oh, come off it.

Or maybe it's a gift. One of the wishes a genie would grant you. When in 6,000 years of history has anyone had a forum like this? An opportunity. Anyone on earth so inclined can read what I say, right now. That's scary.


Who's there?

Opportunity. (only knocks once)

I know. A blog is a hole. Go ahead, fill it.

Oops, maybe a deep hole six by three, a grave. Go ahead, fill it.

Or a whole hole full of gravy. Jump in and pull the rest of the hole in after you.

Mutt: Hey, man, what's the 'E' stand for?
Jeff: What?
Mutt: The 'E', y'know, before his name. What is that thing?
Jeff: Uh, I think it means he has a first name, but don't use it.
Mutt: So what is it?
Jeff: Guess.
Mutt: Screw you!

Please excuse Mutt's smuttiness and enter the E. contest, ten points to the first person who guesses what the E. stands for. Twenty points for the best lie.

Happy trials, Martin

title coming

I was visiting my cousin Drimay at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, and while I took a nap after lunch, she set up this blog for me. It seems a little too intimate, like inviting people into your bathroom, but I'll try to overcome my misgivings for the sake of communicative experimentation.

Somehow I got the impression that a blog is for bragging (another thing I have misgivings about), so here goes.

But first, a thank you to my parents, grandparents and teachers (examples: John Griffin, Phyllis Estes, Arthur Joquel, James Freeman, with a special mention to creative writing teachers Charles Clerc, Sam Hinton, Twilo Scofield, Ken Weisner, James D. Houston and Ben Percy) for having instilled in me a love of learning. If you read wikipedia for fun you know what I mean.

As a scholar and teacher, I am an interdisciplinarian. That means I'm interested in connections and interactions between disciplines like language, literature, music, history, folklore, education, and American culture in general. Probably my obsession with my homeland comes from having lived and taught in Italy for thirty years. I have also taught Vietnamese refugees and in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mexico, and California, including my first job at 16 teaching juvenile prisoners to read.

I graduated from Fresno City College, University of the Pacific, San Francisco State University and San Jose State University. I also attended (summers) University of California Santa Cruz, Sacramento State University, Foothill College and College of the Redwoods (Mendocino Coast Campus). And I've done research at Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, Fresno State University and University of California Davis.

From all this study came a number of academic articles, some practical some theorical, with titles like: “The Dreary Life of the Cowboy,” (winner of the 1998 EdPress award for best feature article in a U.S. academic/pedagogical journal) “Paul Bunyan between Scylla and Charybdis,” “Dressing the Skeleton,” “Was Tom Jack?” “The Music Changed at Fort Wagner,” “Storytelling and the Art of Teaching,” “Ending the Yarn,” “Factlore, Fakelore, or Folklore,” “The Poet Lariats,” “The Hellenic League Plays in the New World,” and “‘Tally Ho!’ or ‘There goes the little son of a bitch’.”

I also wrote the non-fiction books: Hear America Sing, You Tell ‘Em Jack, Writing the English Essay, Singlish, and Oltre Stelle e Strisce. (available from the author)

Besides this non-fiction, I've always done creative writing. For the last decade I've dedicated myself to it almost exclusively, producing three novels: Avvocato Ottavio Faranda di Rocca Ginepro, Heal Thyself, and The Basement Tapes (currently unavailable). Right now I'm working on a novel called The Hundred-Year-Old Senora. I've written much and published little: poems, musicals and plays, short stories, songs.

Hopefully, this 'going public' aspect of blogging will help me decide to dedicate the necessary time to sending out things for publication instead of keeping them in my basement.

I will also consider publishing right here.

So have I told you who I am? No, just hiding behind a mask, one of several. Better luck next time.
Happy trials, Martin.