How to tell a story

How to tell a story

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Applause: John Sayles

Just watched Amigo, the 2011 Sayles film set in a village during the Philippine-American war at the birth of the 20th century, the birth of American empire. A small gem, like so much of his work. Highly recommended.

Song of the day, week, month, year, decade, century ...

Words: John F. Kendrick 
Tune: Onward Christian Soldiers
Published in Industrial Worker "Little Red Songbook," March 1916.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Duty's way is plain;
Slay your Christian neighbors, or by them be slain,
Pulpiteers are spouting effervescent swill,
God above is calling you to rob and rape and kill,
All your acts are sanctified by the Lamb on high;
If you love the Holy Ghost, go murder, pray and die.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Rip and tear and smite!
Let the gentle Jesus bless your dynamite.
Splinter skulls with shrapnel, fertilize the sod;
Folks who do not speak your tongue deserve the curse of God.
Smash the doors of every home, pretty maidens seize;
Use your might and sacred right to treat them as you please.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Eat and drink your fill;
Rob with bloody fingers, Christ okays the bill,
Steal the farmers' savings, take their grain and meat;
Even though the children starve, the Savior's bums must eat,
Burn the peasants' cottages, orphans leave bereft;
In Jehovah's holy name, wreak ruin right and left.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Drench the land with gore;
Mercy is a weakness all the gods abhor.
Bayonet the babies, jab the mothers, too;
Hoist the cross of Calvary to hallow all you do.
File your bullets' noses flat, poison every well;
God decrees your enemies must all go plumb to hell.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Blight all that you meet;
Trample human freedom under pious feet.
Praise the Lord whose dollar sign dupes his favored race!
Make the foreign trash respect your bullion brand of grace.
Trust in mock salvation, serve as tyrant's tools;
History will say of you: "That pack of G.. d.. fools."


Alas, the decree of history is perhaps optimistic. We may not survive that long.

Sketch Wins

Often around 3 a.m.
Sketch rattles his collar
to inform me he wants to go out
and when we come back in
we both return to bed.

But sometimes, like this morning,
he'll soon jump onto the bed
and get in my face
as if to say, Hey
I have more to do.

This is Sketch at his best
following his natural energy
a persistent teacher, reminding
me of the first law of existence:
Nature wins.

Monday, April 29, 2013


May my death
be a celebration
of my life

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Death Cafe

First Pdx meeting today. I go out of curiosity. I suspect my own thinking is more evolved than the focus there. We'll find out.

Meanwhile, up to speed on student work, grunt work left to do.

Losing energy early lately. Need summer sun to charge the battery.

Lay low.

Two approaches

In a world filled with so much horror, there are two strategies for living in it. You can be a citizen-consumer and ignore horror, or distract yourself from it, or believe the system itself can fix it; or you can be an artisan-artist and create good work to counter-balance the horror, knowing it can't be fixed. You can participate; or you can counter-participate.

The easier it is to drop out and counter-participate, the freer the society and the more tempting the "rewards" for not dropping out in the first place. The key is understanding that only positive energy can neutralize negative energy. You don't get rid of horror. You match it with anti-horror.

And this is my mumbo jumbo for the day ha ha. Except I'm serious.

Both Sides Now

in a zero sum universe
the media cover half
and the other half finds
the human spirit shining
light into the darkest midnight
by a majority of one

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What Andre saw

In My Dinner With Andre, Andre proposes that we're entering a new Dark Ages, which may last a long time, and those of us interested in preserving high culture must hide out in isolated enclaves, protecting the artifacts of culture, even as some of us add to them; we have to lay low, waiting for a new enlightenment. In a different context, Morris Berman says today the best writing is necessarily underground because the mainstream culture won't admit it's dying, which is the starting point for writing about reality.

This is as hopeful as it gets.

Coming of (Old) Age

Let's say you've been reading
American history most of
your adult life, over half
a century now, and in that time
you've reached some conclusions
not taught in high school
the usual suspects about
genocide against American Indians
lynchings of black citizens
concentration camps for Japanese citizens
and the most extraordinary atrocity
of all, November 22, 1963,
a coup d'etat orchestrated by rogue
elements in the government
and you accept all these
things as true

and you widen the focus
to the world, where good deeds
get lost in an historic avalanche of
war and genocide and butchery
mass graves, killing fields
(inspiration for future video games)
hard to keep track of it all

and all this, too, is true

It's hard to avoid the conclusion
that the United States is no better
than a Banana Republic, though
more livable than most, with
perks like shopping and mythology
and escape valves for discontent
like talk shows and voting
and it's hard to avoid the conclusion
that civilization is an asylum
run by sadists

a lifetime studying history
two sad conclusions
so the question naturally arises
how possibly to live here?

1. lay low
2. reduce your universe
3. remember Nature wins
4. join the winning team
5. lay lower

Applause: Auschwitz

If you have the stomach for it, this 6-part BBC documentary establishes beyond belief the human capacity for calculated depravity. Don't get smug. Our genocide against American Indians, slave trade with its lynchings, and contemporary torturing of terrorism suspects are no models of humanism. Depravity is an equal opportunity employer. Just don't watch this one on a full stomach. These disciples of Goethe and Wagner may convince you that civilization is an asylum.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Whole cloth

Feels like I'm coming full circle ... Brown, Blake ... the real fight, the mental fight ... the fiery chariot of his contemplative thought ... inspiring my first play, Above the Fire, Strah in lead in Oregon, national T Williams one act winner ... and I've been telling variations on this theme ever since ... to a shrinking audience, or so it feels ... but I go on, a majority of one.

Periodic crusade

Now and again through my life I've gone on a crusade to turn thinking people on to Love's Body, Norman O. Brown's masterwork. The first time was in grad school. Maybe I need to do this once more, here in my final act. Hmm.

Violence is exciting

NPR interviews this morning with two reporters who wrote about the carjack and shootout with the Boston bombing brothers. Such excitement in the questions and storytelling! They could have been discussing the latest Tom Cruise movie.

I think of some kid hearing this. How cool! I want to be in a shootout when I grow up!

We are our own worst enemies. No progress since Homer, why should anyone expect any?

Norman Brown nailed it. War is war perverted: the problem is not the war but the perversion. Literal meanings. Decline of Imagination. After Blake: the real fight, the mental fight. The Fiery Chariot of his Contemplative Thought. !!! Yes indeed, Brown nailed it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Applause: Without Limits

This is the best of two films made about Steve Prefontaine, whose running career at the Univ of Oregon coincided with my years there in grad school. Unlike the other, this doesn't run from a probable contributor to his fatal car accident, his own recklessness. Crudup and Sutherland as Pre and Bowerman are terrific.

Lots of personal memories in this film shot on location. I was there. Indeed my office was in the building burned down by radicals in one scene.

Innocence Lost

I must have forgotten
where I was. Ahead of me
as I walked toward the market
was a woman and her little boy
maybe 10, and he's tossing
a ball in the air and catching it

as I'm about to pass them
a throw goes astray and
the boy has to run my way
to catch it, and I say
Good one!
grinning at the boy
who grins back

but then I see the mother
staring at me, all fear and
suspicion - and my heart sinks

she thinks I'm making a move
she worries I'm a pedophile

so I hurry past and into the store
thinking, So this is what we've become
this is America today

and I thank the gods
as I do so often
that I am old
that I am old

Who Is The Majority?

of total population
no, of voting age
no, of registered voters
no, of votes cast
no, of votes verified
no, of votes approved by Supreme Court ...
to hell with it

a majority of one

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Bearing

I can't help it:
throughout the day
my hand goes to
the small round hard
protrusion above my heart
the bearing that
drives my life.

It feels unnatural.
It feels inhuman
even though I realize
it drives the rhythm
of my heart and
keeps me alive.

I feel like Faust
and begin to question
if every trade medical
science offers is in
the best interests of

the human spirit.

Small Triumphs

Sitting on the deck
in the warmth of the sun
Sketch at my feet
Mulligan on the Fire
it feels like vacation
which may be as
good as it gets
in my aging present

Applause: Nick Wauters

Creator of The Event. Although Wauters had five years of the story planned, NBC pulled this series, a sci fi thriller, after a single season. An official failure.

Too sophisticated for lowest common denominator programming, I guess. I loved it. In fact, I'd call it the best "aliens among us" story I've seen. I very much admire its craft of suspenseful storytelling and its high production values.

Without beating you over the head with them, some interesting themes emerge: idealism v. pragmatism in politics; when and if ends justify means; country patriotism v. self-interest.

Ends up there was a small club of fanatical fans, each feeling alone until they found one another on the Internet, that was outraged by the cancellation. But today mainstream culture is driven by the limited perceptions of the lowest common denominator.

I applaud writer/producer Wauters. I think he created a classic in its genre.

End Times

There are days when
not even Sketch can
cheer me up. But
even then, on these
darkest of dark hours,
I count my blessings,
I feel blessed

and I marvel that
over there in the land
of certainty, where
ignorance is sanctified
stupidity an honor badge
they, too, feel blessed.

Do they truly believe
Christ is going to drop
down like a two-bit
deus ex machina and
rescue their sorry asses
or is this some hoax
some convention of
theater majors?

What a sorry lot:
these deluded disgraceful
ignorant manipulative
solipsistic perverted
distorted dangerous
inauthentic sad
imitations of

 our better selves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Applause: The Event

Revisiting NBC's 2010 series, a high octane sci-fi thriller with quicker plot twists than a celebrity marriage, and elevated both by its rich, complicated characters and non-chronological storytelling strategy of modular vignettes. Never a dull moment and, except for a deranged journalist with whom I completely identify, no attempt at heavy meanings. Great edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

LATER. This series bombed. I love it.

Color Code

The trouble with conservatives
is that everything is black or white.

The trouble with liberals
is that everything is gray.


Waking up to pee
moving through the dark bedroom
I can make out Sketch
on a blanket on a chair

and I smile.

Cummings Redux

So many vigils;
such grief to give.
"the most who die
the more we live"

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Listening to Caruso this morning. Something amazingly contemporary, deeply cosmic, and spiritually soothing in his sad voice.

American Tragedy

The major tragedy in America
is that so many good people
who are doing so many good things
no longer control their own destinies

and lack the awareness
and lack the anger
and lack the faith
and lack the numbers

in a culture where ignorance
grows faster than historical insight
--these good people are trapped
in a status quo that has become

a noose around their necks
because they act as if
nothing can happen to them.


Surely the most difficult job
in America today is
the job of parenting.

How do you explain
to your children that
past actions by you
and your countrymen
that you supported
with votes, taxes, ideology
and seldom opposed
with knowledge or protest

that these actions made
a mess of the planet
and are responsible for
the legacy of natural disasters
you now leave your children
storm after storm, each
worse than the other

how do you explain
your culpability, your
lack of power, your
anger and frustration
that these things happened
on your watch?

How do you ask
for their forgiveness?

How do you give them
advice about the future?

I have never been a parent.
I am one of the lucky ones.

So I have no idea.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Starbucks At Three

(Scene: Curt and Baker, men in their 70s, sit at a table on a small patio outside Starbucks.)

C: You watch the Blazers game last night?

B: Missed it. Who won?

C: I didn't watch it either. Couldn't get past the National Anthem.

B: Oh Jesus, here we go.

C: It's the Star Spangled Banner, for Christ's sake. Show a little respect.

B: Who was it?

C: I don't remember her name. Some Grammy winner.

B: Who over-sang it.

C: To say the least. Total show off, can I hold a high note or what? And no way you could understand the lyrics. It was all about showing off her voice.

B: I forget your name for that.

C: The Ella Fitzgerald School of Singing. Versus the Billie Holiday School of Singing, where the song comes first, the voice serves the song.

B: And for this you missed the game?

C: I couldn't watch it. The TV broke.

B: Talk about bad timing.

C: Well, I threw a book at it. Shattered the screen.

B: Jesus.

C: Goddamn it, she was scat singing the National Anthem!

Applause: Client 9

I stumbled upon this documentary and started it out of curiosity, not expecting much. But I was surprised by this story of the rise and fall of NY governor Eliot Spitzer.

This may be the best documentary about the functional heart and soul of America that I've ever seen. Not the theory or mythology of our government and culture, but its actual practice. The cover of the DVD box says it all: Money. Sex. Power. Betrayal.

But the story isn't as simple as it seems. Yes, we have greed and obscene wealth here, high end escort services and corruption; we also have philanthropy, the NY art scene, well-meaning progressives at work. There is drama and farce and comedy, both light and dark. And a few heroes.

I think the interviewed women working at the escort service are heroes. They are bright and rational and live in the real world. They make their living, and a very good living it is indeed at three grand an hour, on biology. Talk about the American Dream.

I think the filmmaker, Alex Gibney, is a hero. He gets the major streams in our culture right. Not a pretty sight but a true one.

A Lesson From Norman Brown

What made my dead friends special
is not how much we shared
when we were talking
but how much we shared
when we weren't talking at all.

"Doing nothing,
if properly understood,
is the supreme action."


Sometimes in this cold house
when even turning up the heat
when even putting on a coat
don't help, the only alternative
is to go back to bed
and get under the covers
which doesn't always help either
but at least it provides
the right image.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Greetings, America

Images on TV
manhunt for a terrorist
and lovely Watertown
turns into a war zone
swat teams and police
gun fire and sirens

and a subtext rises
in the tension and fear
clear to anyone who
would listen, a message

Greetings, America!
Welcome to the world.

History As A Film

Sometimes I feel like I'm trapped
in a movie house and can't leave
until the film is over but it's the
longest most boring movie I've
ever seen, the same story repeated
over and over again, okay with
different actors and different settings
but the same actions, over and
over until I want to scream, I
might as well be trapped in
an elevator with endless Muzak

and you get desperate when subjected
to this kind of torture, you take
risks you might not take otherwise
attempts to escape the movie house
just for the variety of it
and you come up with outrageous
schemes to stop the movie
to pull the electric plug
plunge the city into darkness
anything but this

which is about the time the film
teases you with change
a new plot point!
but no, just a clever tease
to keep you engaged
nothing new here at all
the same repetitive story
new actors, new setting
on and on and on
no end in sight unless
you drop dead on the spot

or is this too part
of this long boring

Applause: Helen Mirren

Am revisiting Mirren's Jane Tennison, the detective in the Prime Suspect series. Does detective storytelling get any better than this? Probably not.

Beyond Surprise

Epistemology is the branch of
philosophy that asks the question

"How do you know what you know?"

How do you know your classmate
is not a terrorist?

How do you know your neighbor
is not a pedophile?

How do you know your priest
won't rape you?

How do you know your wife
your soul mate
isn't a lesbian?

I know a few things.

I know when Sketch
scratches at the door
he wants to go out
and take care of business.

I know if I jump off
the roof I'll land
on the ground.

I don't know a thing
about you really, and
nothing would surprise me

all the same, with some
of you I assume a few
things on faith

and hope beyond hope
I'm right.

Beyond Belief

Here we go again
an early morning shootout
one marathon suspect dead
one on the run
two young brothers from Russia
one "like an angel"
it's "beyond belief" they are violent
according to classmates
which of course is why
they exchanged gun fire
with the police.

Listen, when reality collides
with your belief system
it's time to change your beliefs.

At the door
Sketch lets me know
he wants out; later
he comes in, shakes
himself dry and gets comfortable
on the couch, basic needs

What dogs believe is
what dogs need, according
to their nature, not
according to their


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Writing Life II: An easy scrapple recipe in your kitchen -- photos

The Writing Life II: An easy scrapple recipe in your kitchen -- photos:

So easy, so good!

Oregon Dream (a play)


(AT RISE: Inside a ramshackle cabin.
It's an under-furnished mess and clearly
hasn't been lived in for a long time.)

(At a table sits HANK, 60s. He is dressed
in outdoor gear, as if he planned to take
off on a hike somewhere.)

(Prominent on the table are a bottle of
whiskey and an outdoor vest from
which wires hang out. This was, in fact,
an attempt at making a bomb.)

(Someone is shouting at Hank from
outside. This is CHEYENNE, 30s, his

Dad, please let me in!

(Hank takes a swig from the bottle. No

I'm not going away ... so you might as well unlock the
door. ... Dad, for God's sake! Unlock the door!

(not loud)
It's not locked.

Read the play
This is the last play I wrote. 2008. Probably the last I'll ever write. Never produced. Well, never marketed. This note says why:
Performance rights to Oregon Dream will not be
available until after the author’s death. At that time,
contact his widow, Harriet Levi, for information:
This play illustrates what I mean when I say my work comes from "whole cloth": the autobiographical elements, the echoes from my short film Deconstructing Sally, my poem  I'm Not Fit Company, the work of Norman Brown and Bertrand Russell. One long continuing story. Variations on a theme.

LATER. Read it for first time in years. I own up to it. Very much so.

The Flesh of Friendship

When I outlive a close friend
I trade the flesh of friendship
for something abstract
the memory of friendship

and my friend becomes the star
of a movie in my head
all images and sound track
"based on a true story"

and no matter how vivid the movie
3D and stereo, nothing compares
to the feel of flesh on my hand
when I slap a good buddy
on the back.


in the early morning
dark quiet hours
stillness draws me
like a flame
but if I get burned
surely I will awake
the wiser or the deader
or both

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Applause: Virtual JFK

This documentary asks the question, Would Vietnam have gone differently if JFK had lived?

Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse thought so. Before his death, Morse said Kennedy had implied to him personally that he was withdrawing from Vietnam. This film reaches the same conclusion.

Here the argument traces six different occasions when Kennedy disregarded military advice and avoided confrontation and likely war. This past would have extended to Vietnam, the same mind at work.

A highlight here are extended clips from Kennedy's press conferences. How good mannered they seem! How smart the journalists seem! What honor they give our Republic! A far cry from the embarrassment of political discourse today.

This documentary spends too much time on LBJ after the assassination, drifting from its focus. Otherwise, it's a fine job.

Summer soundtrack

Listening to Royals-Braves game on Fire app. Don't follow these teams but wanted the SOUND of baseball in the house. Sound of summer. Maybe it fools me into feeling warm. Love the sound of baseball on the radio.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ah, youth!

They appear without fanfare
grandson and girlfriend
out of contact for many months
now "hi grandma!" here they are
stopping by on their way
from here to there
traveling by thumb, hitchhiking
this grandson who's never
heard of Jack Kerouac
arriving for favors, which we
give them, meals, showers,
clean laundry, and something
special, a surprise gift,
a small tent and better
sleeping bags than theirs
to send them off in style
in a matter of hours
spending the night elsewhere
before they head north
all thumbs and spirit
too young to be vagrants
on their hitchhiking adventure

and watching them go
I remember my own
travels by thumb at 19
from Berkeley to Louisville
for Derby Day, 1959
and I want to thank them
for bringing this memory
to life after so long
but nothing happens quickly
at my age and by the time
I think of this they are gone
back on the road, all
thumbs and spirit, with
no time for an old man's
war stories.

A video project?

Been a very long time since I shot any video. A project on my mind for years made small progress today. Doesn't require actors or collaboration. Still brooding but looks promising.

On the road

Surprise of surprises, H's 19 y.o. grandson and his girlfriend appeared on our doorstep. They're in a traveling mode, hitchhiking (!!!) around the country. Hey, that's what I was doing at 19 (without a girlfriend), so I approve and had fun trading war stories.

He lost 60 lbs, is clean and sober, and is much more mature. He can join the rat race later if he has to. I think he was surprised to find me so supportive of living on the road.

He never heard of Kerouac or On the Road. Need to get him a copy.

An adventurous reader

Someone checked out the paperback version of The Seagull Hyperdrama, which doesn't happen often and certainly is not the easiest way to read the layered story. An adventurous reader indeed! Probably read the Build Your Own Adventure series as a kid, which uses a similar principle. Was this series the first published hyperdrama?

Trouble Makers For Sanity

You see the role a lot
in film: the likeable fuckup,
punished by the villain, but
the fuckup keeps grinning,
the villain raises the ante,
the fuckup keeps grinning,
Paul Newman was great
at this.

If terrorists are like villains,
may we be like fuckups,
grinning an appreciation
of the mundane and special
rhythms of life, even through
our tears, even through our
desire for revenge, may we
always cherish the very things
a bomb hopes to destroy,
and go on grinning as if
this pain and punishment
bring no more distraction
than the buzzing of a fly.

May we be the Paul Newmans
of our lives.

Sorry I Don't Trust You

Sorry but I don't trust you.
Nothing personal. What's
at work here is bigger
than both of us. It's called

You see them on TV
all the time, neighbors
shocked by the news
that the young man with
the big smile, who drove
your daughter to the
emergency room, who
drove you to work when
your car didn't start,
turns out to be what?
a pedophile rapist murderer
assassin for the mob
but he couldn't have chopped
up his girlfriend, that sweet
thing? and put her parts
in the freezer in the garage
he gave the kids ice cream
from that freezer this can't be

But it is. Did I mention
I don't trust you?

I am old enough to remember
when everyone trusted everyone.
You didn't have to lock your doors
in Milford, New Jersey. You
kept the car idling while you
ran into the post office.

Even in the 1960s, hiking in
the San Gabriel mountains
north of L.A., you could find
a furnished unlocked cabin
with a note on the table:
"Please clean up after yourself
and leave a contribution for
the food you eat. Thank you."

As late as the 1980s in
Elgin, Oregon, I visited
an old friend and found
nobody home, the house
unlocked, expensive belongings
everywhere, stereo and TV,
art on the walls, all there for
the taking, all safe in Elgin.
I waited an hour before
they got home.

I'm old enough to remember
a different reality.

That was then.
This is now.

You may be Mother Teresa's
clone. You may be the next
TV pervert. Sorry, but

I don't trust you.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Remembering Lew Welch

A friend reminded me that Welch's comments on polluted Chicago - you can't fix it - also apply to the ingrained attitude toward dying. Another reader wrote that corporations make too much money keeping old folks alive for as long as possible to let us choose an early exit.

Both are probably right. Welch took a gun into the mountains and entered the food chain. There may be no more honorable alternative.

I don't own a gun and haven't shot one since the army. Whole situation pisses me off. Maybe in time I'll get lucky and follow the family tradition.

Art and atrocity

In a zero sum universe, I try to balance negative energy, like the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, with something immediately positive. In this case I watched once again the Michael Caine performance in The Quiet American, a story about terrorist attacks in an earlier era, at the end of the French occupation of Vietnam as the Americans prepared to replace them. A brilliant performance, except for the ending a good version of the equally brilliant novel by Graham Greene. Now I feel better. Art is good medicine. Helps get through the sadness.

Some folks surprised by this. What planet do they live on?

Death With Dignity

I doubt if the Death Cafe meeting will give me the forum I seek but maybe I can meet some people who share my concerns. I want seniors to control the circumstances of death in a supportive environment. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out how to do this.

Expand Oregon's Death with Dignity Act in this way: at some age - the lower, the more controversial, so let's say 80 for the sake of argument - any Oregon citizen can get a peaceful pill for passing. Illness is not required! Age and desire are sufficient.

I want to be part of a political action group that works to get this done. I don't even know where to begin. We'd obviously need legal brains in the group.

Presently you have to have a terminal illness, then find a doctor to give you the pill. What's a terminal illness? For example, my pacemaker lasts four years. What if I refuse to have it replaced? Do I have a terminal illness? If not, can I be a test case and challenge it in court?

Seniors already have a moral right to die as they choose, in my view. But society makes it difficult, ugly, even illegal. They need, WE need, the legal control of our deaths.

Maybe at the Death Cafe I can find others for political action. And maybe not.

Death Cafes Grow As Places To Discuss, Learn About End Of Life

Death Cafes Grow As Places To Discuss, Learn About End Of Life:

Someone started one in Portland, first meeting end of month, I plan to check it out but with some healthy skepticism since a facilitator has a related consulting BUSINESS.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Just watched Happy, the documentary, which asks the question, What makes us happy? Its strengths are an international perspective and a good balance between science and personal profiles. Its weakness is an incomplete, optimistic view of group behavior - think the French revolution and Lord of the Flies. A thought-provoking film.

On collaboration

For much of my writing career I've been a collaborator. Writing for actors as a playwright and screenwriter, it's the nature of the beast. And I've been fortunate: as playwright-in-residence at two theater companies (and a third online, meeting in a chat room); as director of minifilms of my own scripts, working with the same actors, I've had good, satisfying, creative collaborations. Once I was commissioned to write a play on a particular historical person using four, and only four, particular actors. The experience was a joy and no less than Hal Prince called the result "first rate work." Collaboration has been good to me.

But not always. Journalism, too, has its collaboration with editors, readership and advertisers. When I was managing editor at Oregon Business Magazine I frequently had to cut stories at the last minute in order to fit one more ad into the magazine. I hated it.

I retired as a playwright and filmmaker in order to retire as a collaborator. I wasn't tired of working with actors per se; I was tired of the logistics that go with it, the scheduling, the problem over there that creates one over here, the stress of juggling so many balls, trying to keep them all in the air. I wanted to spend the end of my life as a solo creator.

And so I have.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pipe Dream

This is what I thought would be
my years as an old man:
living in simplicity
would be my closing plan;

a small town in the desert where
I never would be cold,
quiet living without cares,
contented, peaceful, old.

But this is not how life turned out.
I live under gray skies
where seldom is the sun about
and summer's a surprise.

I can't recall when I was warm,
I shiver all day long.
They tell me rain can do no harm
but I think they are wrong.

Sometimes dreams indeed come true,
at least that's what they say,
so maybe they'll come true for you.
For me? A rainy day.

Applause: Huxley On Huxley

In the Hollywood hills in the 1950s, Aldous Huxley and his remarkable second wife, Laura, hosted a small community of artists and intellectuals, exploring most of the "new" ideas and practices later attributed to the sixties. This documentary tells the fascinating story.

Majority Rules

By and large, it seems to me that
there are more good individuals
in the world than good groups
of people. Whenever people come
together in a formal way
into clubs and committees
into organizations and companies
into corporations and governments

there's a shift in the moral landscape
people become profiles
lives become lists
tragedies become talking points
and a bureaucrat is born.

Thoreau saw this.
He stared bureaucracy
straight in the eye
and said

I have no need to join
I already am
a majority of one.

Civics 101

Ever notice that Nature isn't
shedding any tears as we
accelerate in free fall toward
our own demise?
                                  Nature plans
no funeral as we dig the hole
of our grave deeper and wider.

Nature does what Nature has
always done. It follows the rules.
Nature is the mother of all
good citizens.
                            It's we who
flunked Civics 101.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The ghost of Brinkley

My fictional characters waiting to be born have bad manners. They'll invade my thoughts at any moment, arriving unannounced. Having my attention, they are apt to do anything.

And so it was that Brinkley entered my head as I was driving to help H unpack her art. He told me the most outrageous backstory about his life and new outrageous elements in his belief system. The thing is, now he's a more complex and eccentric - and entertaining- character than before.

I have much to brood about between now and summer.

Most who die

the most who die
the more we live
was written by
e. e. cummings

I once had the surreal
experience of hearing
a deranged undergraduate
explain how this is
a celebration of
serial killing

no, no, no

cummings reminds us
that life gets defined
by death
the more exposure
we have to death
the more precious
life becomes
the most who die
the more we live

and this applies
not only to
our bodies
minds too
can die

the most who err
the more we think
(and we need thinking
more than ever)


You have to assume the world
will survive long enough
for you to contribute whatever
it is you strive to do.

You have to assume the world
will survive long enough
for you to find whatever
happiness is available to you.

You have to assume the world
will survive long enough
for you to leave behind whoever
matters to you safe.

You have to assume the world
will survive long enough
for you to doubt whatever
it is you are sure of.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The future of books

Maybe if  books become "old fashioned," they might also specialize in old fashioned content - such as literature. Books for lit, ebooks for everything else.

Thinking lit may need a unique package to survive in a LCD world.

Applause: Tales From The Script

This documentary about screenwriting was sent by the gods. It reinforces a number of things I've already told my students - but I think some don't buy it until someone Famous tells them, somebody who wrote a movie they've heard of. I show it early on in my 10-week class. Today.

Weekend work is reviewing their story ideas.

Really glad I got to read my colleague's book/journal parody. What a different writing climate it comes out of! Aiming for the highest, not the lowest, common denominator.

Elite rocks!

High Art

A colleague shared a project with me that really brought home how much literary taste has changed. The book is an edgy parody of an academic journal, with its barbs and satire extending to its footnotes and ads. One article investigates, for example, whether Sylvia Plath's birth certificate is authentic.

Intellectual foolery like this was common in the sixties from authors like Barthelme, Coover, Barth. The thing is, the humor assumes certain knowledge, which is lost or fading today. I doubt if many of my colleague's own students would get the satire.

But I loved it. And I loved the fact that he spent so much time and energy on something so esoteric.

There's a great line in the book:

He wanted to become the reader for whom his book was true.

Don't we all.

The Biographical Fallacy

I like to think that
after I'm long gone and forgotten
on some rainy afternoon

someone surfing the Internet
will stumble upon something
I've written, doesn't matter what

and start reading
and continue reading to the end
and think to himself

What an interesting writer!
I wonder what it would have
been like to know him

and no one would be around
to tell him, Not nearly as
interesting as the writing


In the Army Security Agency I had a Top Secret Codeword security clearance. This is pretty high. My colleague and future best friend, the late Dick Crooks, translated the disturbing message that became the Berlin Wall: major movements of supplies and troops were heading to the city. It suggested an invasion, and every American soldier in Europe went on alert.

Long before this, my own military career did not begin smoothly. On a train to Baumholder, I was pulled off just before we got there. I was told there was a problem with my security clearance. Until it was straightened out, I would remain here on TDY, temporary duty.

It was winter and snowed every day. I was given a chow pass and issued bedding. That's it. I found a bed, found the small base library and read all day. I got away with this for almost a week before a sergeant noticed me and wondered why in hell I wasn't shoveling snow.

I made a deal with him. I'd volunteer for the earliest snow brigade at the Officers Quarters, 3 to 7 a.m., if he'd assign me to the library for the rest of my day's duty. He did, and I got off at noon.I liked the gig. He also loaned me money because I was broke.

This adventure lasted almost a month. I was told my clearance had been miss filed. I never believed them. I figured I was getting special attention for two possible reasons: I had joined in Berkeley, that lefty mecca; and at Cal Tech I had become a Linus Pauling groupy, peddling his new book, No More War. At any rate I finally was off to do what I had been trained 12 months to do.

In Baumholder my reputation had preceded me. My drinking buddies from the language school had been talking me up as a mathematical genius. Maybe I could solve a pressing problem, predicting the additive change. This referred to a page, 00 to 99, in a captured book of codewords used by the Russian army units in East Germany. If the "additive," or top page, was known, all the others fell into place and all the intercepted messages could be identified. But this top page changed about once a week or so, and until the change was figured out, we didn't know who was saying what. It would be terrific if we could predict these additive changes.

After more initial training I was called into the CO's office before final assignment. Did I want to look at the additive problem?

I was baffled by the offer. Why weren't real mathematicians at the Pentagon solving it? Probably were. What the captain saw, I quickly understood, was a chance to roll the dice for major. Sure, I'll look at it.

I suppose I looked like a math whiz to the army. I'd been to Cal Tech. I'd even published in a math journal. But I knew better. The beauty of math is you always know exactly where you stand.

What I was trying to do was predict what came next in a series of numbers. Not my area of expertise. No access to books that would teach me something. But I did notice a few things.

For example, no number got repeated in the same calendar year. Hmm. After a while, pressure mounted on me to make a prediction. What would come next? I had no idea. I also was getting bored. Even though I was being treated like a big shot, like an officer, with more or less a duty day defined by myself, once I understood I was in over my head, I was bored. I wanted to do what I'd been trained to do.

So I figured I'd make a prediction, it would be wrong, I'd admit defeat, and that would be that. I made a prediction.

I was right.

Terrific. My buddies called my insistence on luck "modesty." And the captain went nuts. He cabled the military world that HIS outfit had been doing Special Research and had just made HIS first breakthrough.

Now for an encore.

The next few months were the worst of my enlistment. I knew I had made a lucky guess, informed by a few dozen previous numbers I figured it would NOT be, I knew the truth, but everybody else assumed I was on to something. My next prediction was two numbers off, which had no significance whatever, but looks "close" to those who don't understand the problem. What a mess.

It took months of wrong predictions for me to talk myself off this boring, stressful, useless gig. The captain decided he had made a mistake bragging about my, that is his, success: the Russians had changed their system in response! I went down as the linguist who almost broke the additive code.

What a trip.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My "Wish Me Luck" Marathon

3 British spies
Just finished the third and final season of Wish Me Luck, the BBC spy drama created by Jill Hyem and Lavinia Warner in the 1980s. I haven't been so addictively engaged with a drama since listening to the audio books of the Dos Passos trilogy. I love the concept: British female spies working with the resistance in occupied France. I think the first season is the strongest but the entire series holds up for me. I love it.

Some thoughts about why I like it, in no particular order:

  • giving each new season its own slant by introducing new major characters. Keeps the story from getting stale. Keeps the initial premise and retains characters as well.
  • extraordinary production design. I don't know what their budget was but it has a very authentic look and feel, indoors and out, in villages, in mountains.
  • fine acting.
  • avoids cheap shots, lets sympathetic characters die, permits Nazis characters who don't fit stereotype, an ending that provides bitter irony without flag waving.
  • strong narrative keeps moving forward, great storytelling efficiency.
  • emotionally engaging.
Wish Me Luck, a female-led second world war resistance adventure that ran from 1988 to 1990, was genuinely groundbreaking.
Inspired by the autobiography of secret agent Nancy (The White Mouse) Wake, it starred Kate Buffery as an unhappily married mother who signed on to the Special Operations Executive, run by Jane Asher in Whitehall, to be trained in espionage and dropped into occupied France. Both survived three series, but most of their sisters-in-arms weren't so lucky. Much was filmed on location, but the cast was resolutely English: Trevor Peacock as a kindly Quercy local; Terence Hardiman a fabulously dastardly Nazi (a clear forerunner of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds). (by Catherine Shoard)
I see all 3 seasons are out in DVD and in our library, maybe in yours, too. This is first rate drama.

Act Three

Sometimes I get impatient
for the end, not with a morbid
wish to die but with
a dramatist's healthy curiosity
about what happens next.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Maintaining a series

Not easy. Most make the mistake of becoming extreme. Wish Me Luck uses a more successful strategy. Each new season introduces a major new character or two, while keeping others. Gives each season its own feel around the same premise. Works for me.

"Nothing You Can Do Can Help A Dead Man"

Edwin died in his sleep of natural causes.
He was 74. A musician and composer,
he had gained some fame in the 1980s
both playing jazz piano in local clubs
and writing a jazz opera called Attention!
that was well received
on the west coast.

When he died he had been out of the limelight
for a very long time, though he still
played a gig now and again
and according to his son
who lived in Europe and seldom
saw his father, though they wrote,
Edwin was frustrated about being
forgotten, which is what his life felt like.

In fact, the son pointed out at the funeral,
since no one else seemed to remember,
in 1985 Edwin was named by the newspaper
to be one of the 25 creative persons
in the city who were most responsible
for the city's cultural life in
the past 25 years. One of 25!
Yet so quickly forgotten.

Until death, that is, because the local
music critic came out of retirement
to write a very glowing and very long
post-mortem on Edwin and his piano playing
and his composing, especially of the jazz
opera, and as a result all his CDs
in the library now had waiting lists
and at Amazon the CD of Attention!
was selling briskly, and suddenly
Edwin seemed to be more popular dead
than when he was alive.

But when a reporter said to the son,
You must be proud to see how your father
is held in such high esteem
the son exploded

You fucking asshole!
Why didn't you write about him
when he was alive and could have
appreciated it?

and with this the son caught
the first plane back to Europe
and remembered why in hell
he had left America
in the first place.

The corporate life

Driving in early, hitting rush hour traffic, I was reminded of my one and only year working in corporate America. (Well, the argument can be made that academia is now corporate America but the lifestyle of the workers is definitely different.) This was 1962-3, just out of the Army, pushing figures for Burroughs Corp. It was a very educational year for me.

I ended up hanging out after work at the local bar for an hour or so with a couple guys in my (financial) dept. and with some tech writers. Of the half dozen of them, four were frustrated novelists! One even had an MFA! All had entered corporate America for the MONEY after having kids (usually unexpected). All had killed their dreams and took it out in the subtext of their drinking.

I never met more bright and frustrated men in my life. The men in the Army Security Agency were brighter, and they all had something to look forward to, i.e. getting out of the Army. These guys felt trapped -- and probably were. They were fun to drink with. Lots of wit, lots of book and movie talk, lots of laughs. After an hour they'd run off to their families. They'd return hung over and it would take an hour or two to get them working in the morning. Lots of coffee and donuts.

I thought, by the gods, what a miserable life! That's when I decided then and there to return to school. And I was even pretty good at what I did -- in fact, I was offered the carrot of a good promotion if I stayed. I impressed the hell out of the Big Corporate Boss one day near the end when most of my office was home sick, an emergency came up, and I handled it so well that the Big Corporate Boss called me in to find out Who was that masked man? I had drawn a Venn Diagram to solve the problem (!) and he, knowing what it was ha ha, was most impressed. He wanted me in his department -- asst to the Big Corporate Boss! Mucho Money! Thank the gods, I remembered the frustrated drinking buddies I met with after work and figured what happened to them could happen to me, and I was out of there.

Bob Trevor
I thought I was going directly to UCLA but I was short credits in transferring quarter classes to the semester system, so I made those courses up at Pasadena City College, less expensive, where I met my all time favorite teacher, Bob Trevor, who turned me on to literature and writing. Serendipity. Story of my life.

Monday, April 8, 2013

When Sketch sleeps

Watching our rat terrier
curled up against a pillow
on a chair in the bedroom
I am overwhelmed by
a sense of stillness, silence,
           My species has
made an art form of
disrupting harmony.
Sketch, happily
oblivious, simply gets
comfortable, closes his eyes,
and brings me and
the world the gift
of tranquility.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A lost art

In the late 60s or early 70s, I did a story for NW Magazine on the Portland Beavers radio announcer. The team couldn't afford to take him on road games, so he recreated the games "live" in the studio. He did a one-man show, a theater performance, fascinating to watch.

He got a phone call after each half inning, telling him what each batter did. No balls and strikes. So he made the inning up, complete with sound effects.

He had a bat hanging from the ceiling, which he'd hit with a smaller bat. He had a ball and glove and would throw the ball into the glove in front of the mic and scream, Steeeerike one! He'd hit the bat, Foul into the stands!
He had recorded crowd sounds. I was impressed.

He had great war stories, like about the time his resource got drunk and stopped calling, so he improvised a very long rain delay.

Few were still doing this when I interviewed him. And nobody has for years. But what a treat to see this guy in action. A lost art indeed.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Applause: Wish Me Luck

Discovered this 1988 BBC series about two female English spies in occupied France during WWII. First rate! 3 seasons, so I have lots to watch on the Fire if it maintains its high dramatic standards. Hope so, I love its first two episodes.


Once upon a time
I was naked with a naked woman
and we made love in ways
that felt like more than sex.

This actually happened.
More than once.

But here's the rub:
in the longer run,
these experiences, as profound
as they seemed at the time,
had no staying power and changed
nothing. Old barriers remained.
Old habits remained. It was as if
the experiences never happened.

I've long thought that herein
lies a tragic perversion of
human priority. Properly understood,
those experiences should have
inspired awe by their intensity,
spontaneity, physicality and
mystery. Being awe-some, they
should have been cherished as
amazing gifts of connection to
mysterious life forces, a modern

Instead, at best we recall them
as good sex and save "awesome" for
finding a penny on the ground
or getting a job promotion
or hearing the latest pop song
or any of hundreds of ordinary
moments in the day.

We've taken the awe out of awesome
and keep too busy and distracted
to consider what we are doing.
Thoreau said most men live lives
of quiet desperation.
I say most men live lives
of noisy distraction.

This is why Norman O. Brown said
Doing nothing, if properly understood,
is the supreme action.

He also said, Murder is
misdirected suicide
(which is awesome).

He also said, Personality is
the original personal property
(which is awesome)

He also said, To be is
to be vulnerable

which is awesome but
not as awesome as

a lover's passionate
cry in the night.

Captain Milkshake


Look up "absurd" in
the dictionary:

wildly illogical

Look up "absurd" in

a benevolent God
who fills the world
with horrors;

citizens restricted to
choices presented by
corporations who
call themselves free;

brides and grooms
pledging lifelong love
knowing full well
half of them are liars;

deniers of science
heading Congressional
science committees;

social critics pointing out
absurdities as if
this will change anything.

What makes absurdity bearable
is not the illogic
but the wildness.

Or as my mother used to say,

"People are more interesting
than anybody."

An Old Writer Speaks To A Young Writer

The only advice an old writer
can offer a young writer
is this: persevere - and on
your own terms. Dismiss
those who offer fame and fortune.
Dismiss flattery, which can be
more destructive than character
assassination because you may
believe it.

Always remember your calling:
to tell stories that tell the truth
in ways that are elegant.

Make your stories matter
as in


in other words
blow the reader's mind.

Please begin.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Joys of brooding

Some first rate brooding while out on chores today, testing the new point of view for the Brinkley material. I'm encouraged. If you posit a narrator who doesn't know what he is doing, then you can do anything! Ha! Suddenly I see much more (dark) comic potential here. I'm excited, always a good sign. The joys of brooding.

Tape and Wire

Sometimes I feel like an old VW
held together by duct tape and baling wire.

I take six pills every morning.
A protrusion above my heart
small, round, hard as a steel bearing
locates the alien implant
of my pacemaker.

What's left of my natural self?
Who is it that is actually here?

Sometimes I think my funeral
passed by and I missed it.

I know, I know.
Medical technology is wonderful.
So was oil. So were dams.
Short term advances
are wonderful before long
term surprises bring disaster.

All I know is someone in
this body is held together
by tape and wire
pills and bearings
and I want to know
who the hell it is.

I have a message for him.
Beware short term solutions.


Now that my body is
fading faster than my mind
I thank the gods it's not
the other way around.

I'd rather be bedridden
with a mind
than physically active
without one.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Value Systems

I'd rather be whistling in the dark
I'd rather be pissing against the wind
I'd rather be writing cliches in a poem

than to be sitting at a corporate desk
doing anything

Brooding and flash!

A sudden idea came to me a moment ago. I found myself brooding unexpectedly about Brinkley and CJ, the main characters in my new novel/novella struggling to be born. What I know about it is this: CJ is on the road, as at the end of my last novel, Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones ("This book surprised me. It is intelligent, funny, bawdy and real. The protagonist is such a likable fellow adrift in an America he no longer understands, that one cannot help but root for him." Amazon), and meets another old fart, Brinkley, and they begin traveling together, each in his own rig. CJ is concerned about dying: he thinks it should be his right as a citizen to get a "peaceful pill" for the purpose when it's time. Brinkley, a Catholic, does not agree with him. CJ ends up dying of natural causes. Brinkley brings his ashes home to Portland. 

What I've been struggling with is the point of view. I tried omnipotent. I tried first person Brinkley, which was better. But what just flashed into my brain is a very disjointed first person "journal" of a book, in which Brinkley says up front that he's not a writer, that his grandson is going to publish this as a free ebook on Amazon ... but that Brinkley has thoughts about CJ and what they argued about that he wants to share because he thinks the issue is important. He tried to get a couple writer friends interested but they dismissed him. As best he can, he'll now do it on his own.

Of course, this is all bullshit, this will be a highly crafted, carefully wrought delivery of "amateur writing," but this will be the premise to the reader. What I like about this approach is its non-linearity, it's easy movement to vignettes and aphorisms, its lightness of spirit, its Nietzsche-like approach to the most serious question we can ask, How do we die? Of course, this would be a hell of a lot harder to write than a traditional novel. I like the challenge as well. I usually opt for the more difficult alternative. I easily bore myself ha ha.

So! Will this stick? I have no idea. I won't be doing anything serious, I suspect, until summer. 

Spirit transfusion

 I'm overdue for listening, start to finish, to my favorite opera, Weill/Brecht's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Probably my favorite work of art. The ending is above, from a recent Los Angeles production, which I flew down to see. It's rarely done, although there is a woman in Portland who has wanted to produce it for decades. A good work of art is like a blood transfusion, a transfusion of the spirit. It's time soon.

"Nothing you can do can help a dead man."

On creating hyperdrama

I think my design for a hyperdrama theater is very doable and would be a large step toward attracting an audience for the new dramaturgy. I wish I'd thought of it 20 years ago. I wish Kickstarter had been around then. But  hopefully a young theater artist will understand the possibility and significance of hyperdrama and go for it.

My hand is out ... somebody grab the damn baton!

Good Job

If you wanted to create a society
insensitive to pain and suffering

unable to hold interest in anything
for over five minutes

ready to try anything once
especially if it's on sale

fearful of nothing except

you couldn't do better
than what media do now
bombarding the populace

with so many horrors
they lose meaning

such rapid news
nothing sinks in

such variety of products
you always feel needy

relentless relentless jabber
the sound track we live by

Pascal said
All humanity's troubles
come from not knowing
how to sit still in
one room

but in his day
none of the rooms
had TV sets

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ways To Die

I used to think the best way
to pass was in my sleep until
I realized this would mean
my wife would wake up
with a corpse.

The most humane, direct,
easy and logical way to pass
is by taking a "peaceful pill"
given to me by my doctor,
which should be the right
of any citizen over 70,
but this is not the case
and no such pill is available
to me in a culture that
considers the request for
one immoral, even deranged.

My mother died on the spot.
Wham! dropped to the hospital
floor, dead. My father died
on the spot. Wham! dropped
to a cousin's floor, dead.
Maybe it runs in the family
but with my luck I'd drop
wham! while explaining to
my students that the end
of act two coincides with
the low point in the journey
of the protagonist.

Maybe the best I can do
is get a terminal illness
with a very short leash
two or three months to live
and therefore qualify for
the pill from my doctor
under Oregon law. But
this is a mere crumb
of control over what should
be any elder citizen's primary
business, the control of
one's own death.

No, the culture makes it
hard for me. I have to
buy a gun, or jump from
a bridge, or step in
front of a train. Fuck
you, culture! How
dare you call yourself
humane! Where is my
pill? Where is my pill?

I'm not saying I'm ready
to use it. I'm saying I
want the empowerment
of knowing that it's there
when it's time.

I'm saying I want
to be free.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Simons interviews Deemer

War and Peace

We have become immune
to war. Violence is
an adrenalin rush in
a computer game. Bombings,
mortar fire, are computer
programs. With a volunteer
army, almost no one knows
a soldier. War is far away,
abstract, as nebulous as

We can fix it. We can
make war visceral again.

A universal draft increases
the demographic reach of
those waiting for coffins.
If we give each soldier
a great sword, then we too
can behead the enemy.
We need more beheadings.
We need more blood, more
brains splattered on uniforms.

Let's put the stench back
into war so our literal minds
can recall what the hell
we're dealing with here.

Yes, it would be nice if
reading Homer were enough
but obviously our imaginations
are dead. We'll never realize
the true horror of war unless
we make it visceral again.

So I say, more blood
and guts! Enough stench,
enough gore, maybe we'll
again feel war's pain
and take to the streets,
demanding an end to it.

Trailer: The Farewell Wake

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ready to roll

Despite the short break, I'm not only ready for the new term but eager to begin. Warm weather surely is ahead!

The Five Blessings of Old Age

The first blessing of old age
is mental capacity. How sad
to have no memory of events
and people in your life
(though I'd just as soon forget
the opening night I soiled
myself in a white tuxedo).

The second blessing of old age
is a friend or several, the older
the better, a kindred soul
with whom to share the hours
(with double duty as audience
for the inevitable repetition
of war stories).

The third blessing of old age
is financial solvency, just
enough to be comfortable
(but not enough to rescue
family screwups from themselves).

The fourth blessing of old age
is mobility, just enough
to maintain independence
(but not enough to drive
to Reno with that
22-year-old stripper).

The fifth blessing of old age
is a sense of humor, especially
about yourself (i.e. many jokes
about yourself, none
about God).