Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Helliconia Winter

from the diary: “Sunday 8/3/86

“I’m reading Helliconia Winter, the third and last Helliconia book.”

When I wrote about Julian May’s The Many Colored Land I may have been remembering the Helliconia books. Now that I’m faced with writing about the Helliconia books … uh … I don’t remember anything about them. Except maybe I found them kind of boring? Yeah, I remember subdued landscape covers …

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crisis in American Institutions

from the diary: “Thursday 7/17/86

“I’m going to the JC library tomorrow to study the book that Linda (Collins, our instructor) has on reserve: Crisis in American Institutions.”

Friday: “I checked Crisis out of the JC library today. They let me take it out over the weekend. It’s due at 9:00 on Monday. Good thing the bus gets there so early, I guess.”

The college course I signed up for summer of 1986 was not my first college course – I’d taken a Creative Writing Workshop and a Sign Language Class, both of which met in the evenings at the local high school – but it was the first at the JC campus and was an experiment – would I, could I start going to college? That is, would college be a way out of the hole I was in? Mom was hopeful. I was dubious, having always hated school, but there were plenty of things I wanted to learn and people told me college was different and what did I have to lose? Maybe I could even get a job on campus? Mom had a buddy who was an instructor and, should I decide to enroll in the fall, she promised to put in a good word at the library.

What was the course? Social Deviance. As I would tell people, “I figured I knew something about it.” The instructor thought a better name would have been “Social Variance,” which does sound nicer. Crisis in American Institutions was the text and it was my first exposure to textbook pricing. The current 13th edition retails for $75.00. I’m sure it seemed similarly steep in ’86. According to the “card catalog” description at Amazon, This book “[p]resents articles on such social problems as corporate power, economic crisis, sexism, racism, and inequality.”

I quit Day Treatment to go to school. I was told I could visit and I did. But I think I only did that once. I liked the class well enough. One day there was a panel of homosexuals talking about homosexual stuff, available to answer questions, la. I don’t think I asked any. On the day of the panel I brought a bouquet of daisies and handed out a daisy to everyone in class. A couple of the boys refused theirs. It was, like, totally obvious I was coming out, eh?

For my term paper I interviewed the pastor of the local Metropolitan Community Church. He said I had pretty eyes. He said I would hear that a lot. I haven’t heard it since. Teacher gave the paper an A- (A+ for content, presentation “variable”).

Monday, February 26, 2007

God Save This Honorable Court

from the diary: “Friday July 4, 1986

“I read God Save This Honorable Court by Laurence Tribe.”

End of June the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled (in a 5-4 decision) that sodomy laws were not unconstitutional. Laurence Tribe was the lawyer arguing before the court that sodomy laws should be struck down. Back in the 80s he was frequently mentioned as a likely Supreme Court nominee should the White House go to a Democrat. In the Wikipedia article on Tribe there's the assertion that when “he testified against Robert Bork, [Tribe made] lasting enemies in the U.S. Senate”. Had Clinton chosen Tribe, the article implies, Tribe would not have been confirmed.

Of God Save This Honorable Court the NYT says, Laurence Tribe “combs the history of the High Court for a set of interesting but unstartling propositions … A single Justice … can affect the Court profoundly. The narrow literal interpretation of the Constitution prized by conservatives is largely a myth. Most Supreme Court Justices … turn out to be pretty much what their benefactors wanted. ... And, perhaps most important, the Senate has both a long tradition and constitutionally mandated duty to scrutinize all High Court nominees closely.” These remain true, don’t they? Truisms, maybe? One might tack on a couple more. Howabout: Conservative judges are activist judges.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk

from the diary: “Thursday 6/26/86

“Just finished The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.”

I remember Harvey Milk. I grew up 50 miles north of San Francisco but our TV stations were SF TV stations so the news tended to be SF news. And Harvey was telegenic. There’s a TV news report that appears in the Oscar-winning The Times of Harvey Milk in which Harvey, an SF supervisor, highlights the need for his pooper-scooper legislation by marching across the Civic Center lawn and stepping in dog poo. He lifts his foot, aghast, as though it all happened spontaneously, the offending poo half-squashed against the sole of his shoe. I saw that report as a kid when it first showed and I totally fell for it. Wow. There must be poop all over the place in San Francisco!

I also remember the Briggs Initiative, the first time one of the religio-right’s coffer-stuffing take-it-to-the-voters ballot attacks on the queers made it into my consciousness. says, “In crafting the initiative, Briggs had used extremely broad language. Any teacher found to be 'advocating, imposing, encouraging or promoting' homosexual activity could be fired. This meant walking in a gay pride parade, assigning a book by a gay author, or attending a meeting about gay rights could cost a teacher his or her job. Casting the issue as a matter of free speech, opponents pointed out that a teacher could be fired simply for opposing the Briggs Initiative itself.” While I wasn't owning up to gay feelings at the time (I wasn't yet 13) I was a confirmed free-speecher and was appalled that one's thoughts, one's mere opinions could get one fired. I remember walking around my paper route fuming about it. Harvey Milk, was the most visible out-gay elected official and he traveled the state fighting the Briggs Initiative, even facing John Briggs in live debates. I probably saw one of those -- ours was the kind of household that tuned in to things like that. I'm pretty sure Mom was solidly against the Briggs Initiative, though I can't recall any particular incidence of voiced opposition. She was a schoolteacher and had to sign a loyalty oath (instituted during the McCarthy era and still required) to work in the California public schools. She wasn’t impressed with that, I know.

The Briggs Initiative was defeated. Three weeks later Harvey Milk was assassinated.

I remember watching the silent candlelight march that took place that night. (The mayor, George Moscone, had also been gunned down by right-wing supervisor Dan White.) I remember the White Nights riots after Dan White was patted on the head by the courts and given a token five year sentence seven year sentence (of which he served five). Police cars were set on fire and their sirens screamed and screamed. The City Hall’s glass doors were bashed in.

The Mayor Castro Street is a good read. I’ll read it again sometime.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Seven Mysteries of Life

from the diary: “Thursday 6/5/86

“Am reading The Seven Mysteries of Life by Guy Murchie. Engrossing but long.”

6/12/86: “Still reading The Seven Mysteries of Life.”

6/13/86: “Finished 7 Mysteries. Liked it. Synthesis book.”

OK. What do I remember about this book? I don’t remember much about this book. Had something to do with science … Helpfully, there are reviews on the net.

At Amazon Bugs Patrick helps out with “the *seven mysteries*: Abstraction, Interrelation, Omnipresence, Polarity, Transcendence, Germination, and Divinity.”

P. K. Paraskevopoulos says, “Firstly, you are led to realise that your concept of life is too narrow and prevents you from realising that life pervades everything - from particles and atoms to complex organisms - and that the Earth itself is a complex live organism. Then you see that all life is interrelated. For example, you realise that the most distant relationship among people is, approximately, 50th cousinhood, which means that all people are related and gives a new meaning to concept of `the brotherhood of man'.”

Another reviewer says, among the other explanations is “how sand is deposited on beaches.” Huh. I wonder if it’s from Guy Murchie I got the beach formation idea, rather than The Blue Planet. Twenty years on it’s hard to tease out where I picked up one thing or another.

At Piero Scaruffi has a more thorough overview. Among the things Scaruffi picks out (and I remember some of this) is this bit about the non-inertness of nonliving things, “Life is inherent in nature. Murchie describes sand dunes, glaciers, fires, etc as living organisms, the life of metals and crystals. The question is not whether there is life outside our planet, but whether it is possible to have ‘nonlife’. … The laws of Physics describe the social life of particles. Electrons obey social laws that we decided are physical laws instead of biological laws thereby granting their behavior a different status from the behavior of bees. But this is an arbitrary decision. Mind is a universal aspect of life and energy.”

I do remember being asked about it while I was reading it. Have you ever tried to describe to someone a third person’s argument and having the person to whom you are describing start to protest, to pick holes, to disagree? This was one of those books that taught me not to try. No way could I do justice to Murchie’s ideas. I didn’t want to be put in the position of advocating for them, but I did like thinking about them. After much frustration I learned to say, “If you want to know, read it yourself.”

I’m now reading through the diary that covers 6/6/86 thru 10/14/86.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The diary, 3/12/86 – 5/24/86

I can’t talk about the diary the way I talk about published books, other people’s books. When I read the diary it fires emotions that cloud what’s on the page; there is much, in other words, that is going on in my head that is not going on on paper where others can see it. I have thought about using the diary as material for a memoir or novel; I doubt that will happen. Working with the diary would be like trying to groom Sutra – he turns and bites the brush, then the claws come out.

The diary covers a lot of ground for a two month period. I got on an antidepressant, I started going to Day Treatment at Community Hospital in Santa Rosa. I made some progress toward escaping from my “mind-forged manacles” (Blake). But I also did a lot of rattling of them and moaning as the hard cuffs dug into my wrists. In my mental image of the time I rarely left the house; yet the diary records friends who drop by and parties I go to, poetry readings and town wanderings.

movies mentioned:
Pretty in Pink
Prizzi’s Honor
Mrs Delafield Wants to Get Married
The Naked Prey
Kiss of the Spider Woman
The Last Picture Show
Harold and Maude
THX 1138
Teen Wolf
Eddie and the Cruisers
Altered States
The Brother from Another Planet

TV shows:
I Love Lucy
Hill Street Blues
Austin City Limits
MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour
St Elsewhere
Washington Week in Review
Leo and Liz in Beverly Hills
The Last Precinct
Miami Vice

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Endless Enemies

from the diary: “Tuesday 5/6/86

Caught a cold so “I lay around and drank peppermint tea, threw back vitamin C tablets, and kyolic garlic capsules, read Endless Enemies -- all about the U.S.’s shitty foreign policy.”

The next week I wrote: “Finished Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World by [Jonathan] Kwitny. He argues very convincingly by just showing that the best foreign policy is noninterventionist, in which the U.S. supports the principles that make it great rather than worrying endlessly about the latest dictator and whether he’s a ‘friend’. We’re the biggest economy in the world, he says. Everybody wants to be our friend – if only we (our govt) didn’t make itself such an asshole around the world.”

In his review Robert Carlberg says, “Jonathan Kwitny, a former NYT reporter, describes in excruciating detail U.S. foreign policy disasters in Zaire, Angola, Iran, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Cuba, The Philippines, China, Lebanon, El Salvador, Vietnam, Korea, Ethiopia and elsewhere -- and frankly after a couple hundred pages of this I was simply too dispirited to continue reading. I'm probably naive or idealistic or both, but I want to believe my country stands for the principles expounded in our Declaration of Independence. Reading this exhaustive, carefully-researched, emotionally-detached and factual account to the contrary turned out to be painful and destructive to my civic pride.” Another reviewer adds, “Although this book is over 15 years old, everything it states still seems … to be true.”

It hasn’t gotten better, eh?

Says William Blum, “The section on U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 was largely excised from a 1986 Penguin Books edition due to a libel suit brought against Kwitny by former New York Times reporter Kennett Love.”

And, finally, and you might call this ironic, Kwitny, the NYT review insists, is no leftwing socialist. He’s a free market purist! “[W]hen a free-market economy is allowed to compete openly with a Socialist one, the former wins the battle every time. … But the United States won't let that competition happen … For a variety of complex reasons, mostly having to do with either misguided ideology or sheer greed, this country keeps obstructing the free play of developing economies.”

Kwitny’s thesis would be one of the supporting documents for my contention that even if what Iraq really needed was Democracy at the Point of a Gun, the U.S. government (especially the Bush regime) was not going in there for democracy’s sake. After all, if Bush believed in democracy he would support it here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Redundant Male

from the diary: “Saturday 5/3/86

“Reading The Redundant Male. ‘Is sex irrelevant in the modern world?’ asked the subtitle. Halway through the book the answer seems to be, ‘Yes.’”

Before moving on to humans authors Jeremy Cherfas and John Gribbin review reproductive strategies among other animals. Russell Bell summarizes thus, “In some genera asexual species dominate and, in many environments, have displaced sexual species entirely. They find the illustrative examples such as the Jacana, a tropical American bird whose females mate with multiple males, the males incubating the eggs (the males build nests to encourage a female to give them an egg.); hermaphroditic snails and fish (they switch between sex as their relative population warrants, or do both at once.); an insect like the Ascaris Lumbricoides, a parasitic worm whose male lives only in the cloaca of the female; the stickleback, a fish whose male makes the nest and chases the female away after she lays her eggs and raises the fry alone; crocodiles and turtles whose eggs develop into males or females depending upon their temperature (but with an opposite relationship between the two.)” I recommend another review of varieties of reproductive strategy that appears in Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, pub’d in 2004.

Then they ask, with the advent of effective birth control (& female autonomy) what is the advantage of having men? Men don’t help much with rearing the kids. Women could make the gecko’s choice, just make more of themselves. What with all the wars, graffiti, and missing the bowl, aren’t men just not worth the trouble?

Lionel Tiger in his review in the New York Times asks, “Does the apparent shift in the sexual balance of control condemn the male sex to a kind of shiftless and baffled exclusion from committed participation in the central biosocial process? To paraphrase Marx, have men become alienated from the means of reproduction? In strict behavioral terms, the authors' answer is yes. Given the broad evolutionary canvas on which they draw their picture of contemporary sexuality and kinship, the threatened self-sufficiency of females for reproductive purposes might be expected to drive men wild.” Poor things.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

writing group

Sunday evening I had two poets over for workshop. Haven’t done workshop in years. Kent opened us a bottle of chardonnay and that probably helped loosen the ol’ tongue. I’m not a fan of workshop, really. I like it for community but I’ve never felt it returned value commensurate with the effort, time, anxiety put into it. I’ve learned what I’ve learned about revision through reading poems I like, yes, but mostly by sounding my poems, thumping them and shaking them, reading & rereading them, and allowing myself to cut them and mend them, to graft to them unwieldy limbs, to force march them down muddy roads, to let them take over and ride me. I’ve seen so many poems subjected to workshop that in reatction to critique only seem to get worse (mine included). I can’t remember any that improved. Such an event ought to stand out.

There were three of us working the shop. Alan Bern (who brought his new book, Waterwalking Berkeley), John Selawsky (a poem of his is here), and myself. I had more fun that I expected. I think the key was that I got to talk poetry. The particular poem didn’t matter so much. I would read the poem and talk about what I saw there, what I liked and disliked, what I thought clever, what I found tiresome. Did I do most of the talking? Probably.

When I searched for poems by John online I was amused to see DIR appear among the search results. Was invoking his name a summoning? Who knew the man would walk into my house eight months later?

Monday, February 19, 2007

God’s Bullies

from the diary: “Tuesday 4/29/86

“I’m finishing God’s Bullies, all about the ‘New Right’. Jerry Falwell and his cronies. Good book, icky people.”

On his website author Perry Dean Young writes, “I have to recall with some embarrassment and a little humor that I pushed my publisher to get this book out before the 1982 elections because I felt the religious right was a passing phenomenon, a mere blip on the national political scene. We needed to get the book out because the religious right would no longer be a force in future elections and my findings would no longer be relevant. Boy, was I ever wrong. Twenty-two years later, the religious right is now more powerful than ever. It is no longer a mere radical lunatic fringe, but a force that has quite literally taken over our government.”

Yeah, a lot of lefty commentators & bloggers seemed surprised by the ascendance of the Religious Righteous, as though they were some new phenomenon. I remember them clearly from early in Reagan’s reign. They never went away. Having deified George W. Bush one may hope the Rightites will crash and burn with him. Of course, Bushie hasn’t quite crashed & burned, has he? The steady downward march of positives in the opinion polls haven’t done much to thwart him. He sure as hell ain’t gonna resign.

Coming up to the 2004 elections I was predicting his ouster. After all, Gore didn’t really lose in 2000. No way would anybody who voted for Gore vote for Bush, and I was sure Bush hadn’t won more friends. As Young says, “We simply could not believe that a majority of our people had fallen for the lies and misrepresentations of George Bush and his administration. What made this defeat all the more painful was the fact that [we are] faced with one of the most immoral administrations in history. … And, yet, the people clamor for more of the same.”

Part of why I knew the Rightites never went away? I’ve been reading the gay press. The gay community has been the particular target of the Rightites all along. The homos seem to scare money out of the pocketbooks of little old ladies right into the sweat-damp pockets of the preachers. I guess most of the nongay left has been oblivious. Who cares about this gay stuff? As the relatively liberal Charles Barkely, in responding to the latest contretemps over gay men in the locker room, put it, “Gays don’t bother me.” But, then, he doesn’t much bother about them, does he?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Spencer Selby

Spencer Selby is a poet. I’ve seen his work around and he maintains a helpful list of publications (many of them ezines) that feature “experimental poetry”. (I use the quotes because it’s the term Selby uses and because there always seems to be argument about what to call poetry other than the rhyming/conventional/mainstream/accessible sort; or, maybe, any sort?) It’s called Selby’s List.

He lives near the Claremont branch and one day while helping him at the Circulation Desk I mused aloud about how familiar the name seemed, “Spencer Selby … the poet?” And he did a doubletake, for what poet expects to be recognized, and we’ve since been nodding acquaintances. He has a new book, Twist of Address, and he left a copy with me Friday. I hope to get the library to buy it. We talked about having him read as part of Poetry & Pizza but that hasn’t come together yet.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown

from the diary: “Sunday 4/27/86

“Dropped You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown in the library book slot.”

I loved Peanuts as a kid. I learned the word “depressed” from Charlie Brown. These were kids not involved in hilarious hijinks but ruminating about life. I bought lots of the mass market size reprints and they always said the strips inside were “selected from” some larger volume so I tried to find the larger volumes and sometimes succeeded. At one point, my ardor cooled and eager to get my hands on the new fave, I sold off my shelf-load of Peanuts to buy B.C. reprints.

A couple years ago I saw a batch of the Peanuts books in the Friends of the Library book sale, many of the ones I’d owned long ago, so I gathered them up. No, I haven’t reread them. But I see Fantagraphics has embarked on a project – reprinting all the Peanuts strips in a high quality format. Good for them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

from the diary: “Saturday 4/26/86

“Biked to [Rohnert Park] to see [David]. Sat around all day. Readed hiz copy of DARK KNIGHT, Frank Miller’s new batman comic. eh. Glad I dint shell out the bucks fer it. Ceptin’ it’s worth three an’ five times the coverprice now.”

The Dark Knight Returns was Frank Miller’s rehabilitation of Batman (or, The Batman, as the supposedly more serious formulation has it). I’ve never liked Batman. OK, that’s going a little far. I was always disappointed in Batman. He didn’t have any superpowers, just, as Jack Nicholson’s Joker said, “wonderful toys.” His villains didn’t have superpowers either, just goofy costumes. And lots of henchmen. Yeah, so I mostly knew Batman from the campy TV series. I liked Frank Miller’s noirish version of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, a blind lawyer who ran around at night fighting crime. Daredevil has superpowers, but they are fairly mild – no rays shooting from fingers or eyes, no superduper strength, no ability to teleport or burst into flames. Daredevil has enhanced senses. Though he’s blind, his sense of touch is so extraordinary he can pick up the patterns of ink on paper so read, his hearing so acute he can judge the shapes of objects by the sound that bounces off them. Stuff like that. I hadn’t cared about Daredevil till Miller took him on.

The Dark Knight Returns is set in the future. Bruce Wayne is old. Yet still in fighting trim, it seems. I found I didn’t really care. Tim Burton’s movie rehabilitation of Batman seemed to owe a good deal to Miller.

If you want a minutely detailed synopsis ofBatman: The Dark Knight Returns there’s one here: Dark Knight Storylines

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reflections on Gender and Science

from the diary: “Saturday 4/19/86

“finished Reflections on Gender and Science by [Evelyn Fox] Keller – good book, dense. Couple stories into Ward Six and other stories by Anton Chekhov – very contemporary, good stories, hundred years old but not dated. Began The Ape’s Reflexion by Adrian Desmond.”

I didn’t remember a thing about Reflections on Gender and Science until I googled it. A review in Psychology Today says, “Keller argues that … scientists tend to choose dictatorial rather than interactive models of nature.” Science is objective and pure; it is unemotional and gives one control over the phenomena studied – these are male gendered notions. We ought to be able to think up other ideologies of science.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”

In an essay about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Amos Oz makes an aside, “[A]s the poet Robert Frost reminds us, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’” Considering that Oz’s essay is about misunderstanding (as much as anything else) it’s a touch ironic that he attributes the good fences good neighbors sentiment to Frost. “Mending Wall” is at least as much a critique of it. Not an attack, no, but when Frost and his neighbor walk along the half-wreck of a stone wall that marks their property line, picking up fallen stones and putting them back, Frost gets to musing aloud about the purpose of the wall. “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. / My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. / He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.” In response to his neighbor’s unflinching refrain Frost says, “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence.” It seems to me the actual content of Frost’s poem (the whole here) would have borne Amos Oz in better stead than the quip.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reflections of a Rock Lobster

from the diary: “Thursday 4/10/86

“I just read Reflections of a Rock Lobster, Aaron Fricke’s story about growing up gay in Rhode Island. It also tells how he came to take a male date to his senior prom. I remember seeing him and Paul [the date] on DONAHUE. He appeared on DONAHUE again, I think, a couple years later, this was after his book was out, also after One Teenager in Ten was out, cuz I remember Donahue holding up the books. I got [Reflections] today from the library – it belongs to the Solano County library so I got in on an interlibrary loan. It had a big paper on the front hiding the cover, just like One Teenager but I took that off.

“[When Mom came home] I had Rock Lobster open in my lap and after she finished [telling me what she’d been up to] I said, ‘I’m reading a book by that guy who took a male date to the prom.’ I showed her the cover. I said I empathized with the way Aaron was treated in high school gym class.

“… Mom and I talked more really openly about sex than we ever have.”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wonderful Cut-Outs of Oz, part III

from the diary: “Monday 4/7/86

“Got a letter from [Baum Bugle editor] Doug Greene – bawling me out about [Wonderful Cut-Outs of Oz] review. I wrote back today, saying, ‘it was all my fault for sending the thing in late. Though I still like my original version better than your indented one.’ His mucked-up, junked-up one. I hate the stupid thing anyway. Hated it before he diddled with it. So I guess it doesn’t matter.”

The Baum Bugle is the main publication of the International Wizard of Oz Club.

Just seven days later I quote a letter from Doug Greene, “I thought we were corresponding amicably.”

This review remains my only contribution to The Baum Bugle. I am still an Oz Club member. I’m no good at writing to order.

Earlier posts on writing the review are here: part I and part II.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The First Time

from the diary: “Friday 4/4/86

“Speaking of fucking (and we weren’t) today and yesterday I been reading The First Time by Karl and Anne Taylor Fleming. This should be required reading in high school. It helps to know that a lot of famous successful people had a hard time with sex. Dr. Benjamin Spock was a virgin when he was twenty, too. And coming (unfortunately no pun intended) right after For Your Own Good I pick up a lot of what Alice Miller said about children being the dumping grounds of their parents’ problems. We repeat our parents. Not always, and never exactly the same way, sometimes worse, sometimes better, but we get an incredible legacy.”

I’m not a big one for dumping secrets. I’ve read memoirs/personal essays in which the author seems to be telling all, and that’s fine, I can be shocked and amazed, and I can wonder what reaction others in their lives are having to seeing/hearing these stories told. I’m not a big one on keeping secrets, stuffing them away in boxes. But then at most my secrets are embarrassing, nothing criminal, no big betrayals or addictions, diseases or accidents or violations.

I didn’t really know enough about my mother’s story to be able to say with authority, “We repeat our parents.” And I knew a good deal less about my father’s story. It’s a pretty banal statement, though, isn’t it? We repeat our parents in so many obvious ways, what’s unreasonable about saying it likely our sexual lives are not without precedent? Mom, it seemed to me, was uncomfortable talking about sex, uncomfortable with the idea of sex, let alone the actuality. My sister, who knew Mom when Mom married her father, sister already eight years old, remembers a woman who wore form-revealing dresses, drank cocktails, and went out dancing with her handsome father. Sister did not consider my mother repressed.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence

from the diary: “Thursday 4/3/86

“I spent a couple hours of the afternoon reading Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. She traces Hitler’s early childhood, and says that children often act out the neuroses of their parents. Finished reading the book this evening.”

I remember this book in the office of Don, the therapist Mom was paying for me to see.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Dream Makers

from the diary: “Sunday 3/30/86

“I lay around all morning. Finished reading a book of interviews with sf authors -- Dream Makers. I’m now reading vol. 2.”

4/1/86: “I find I don’t like the interviewer. I don’t like his attitude. I enjoyed reading the words of the authors but I got more and more frustrated with Platt’s opinions. Maybe I’m glad there won’t be a Dream Makers 3. The [Santa Rosa] Library had another copy of the second volume so I was able to read from the book even though I hadn’t brought it with me.”

I used to read a lot of interviews. These days I tend to avoid them.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

what's new

I went downtown Wednesday afternoon to work out at the Y. I haven’t been in about a month. Every time I’ve stretched and exercised lately I’ve ended up with a headache so I’ve been rationing my exercise pretty carefully. Shorter stretches, longer recovery periods. Last two strong stretches did not result in headaches so at last I was able to muster some enthusiasm for a trip to the gym.

After an easy yoga and weights session I stopped at a cafĂ© for a sandwich and coffee and read the latest East Bay Express, the feature article being about a real estate writer who got sued for saying allegedly defamatory things about one of those inspirational get-rich-quick real estate gurus. Turns out the critical things our writer was saying was nothing compared to what he uncovered during the lawsuit – a hit and run that left its victim brain-damaged, a robbery that resulted in prison time, an affair with an employee that had him admitting paternity of her child. Guru time!

Half Price Books had a couple carts loaded with clearance literature so I picked up Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of Dawn, Russell Edson’s The Song of Percival Peacock, Sylvia Molloy’s Certificate of Absence, and the 2006 issue of New American Writing, edited by Paul Hoover & Maxine Chernoff.

The Mishima is “the third novel in The Sea of Fertility tetralogy” (that’s one more than a trilogy). I know I have the first two. I didn’t think I had this one, anyway it was 50c. And I’m pretty certain I don’t have the fourth. Years ago I read Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and thought it interesting and intense, plus Mishima’s life is its own kind of interesting. I’ve enjoyed Russell Edson’s prose poems. This is the first time I’ve seen anything under his name promoted as a novel. I don’t know Sylvia Molloy at all but the book’s from the University of Texas Press which pushes it as an Important Work of Latin American Literature (Molloy is Argentinian) and I would like to be well-read in Latin American literature so for a dollar I figured I could throw it on the growing pile. I have a few issues of New American Writing but none recent. Time I bought another, especially if I read it through. As I’ve said before I am buying (and actually reading) literary magazines again. I like the idea of adding them to the paperbacks collection at Claremont after. I’ve gotta bag up a bunch of ten and fifteen year old lit mags that I bought new, donate them to the Friends group or something.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

One Teenager in Ten

from the diary: “Wednesday 3/26/86

“Just read straight through a book called One Teenager in Ten. It’s writings by gay teenagers. Wow. Some of them were very intense. One sixteen year old girl wrote some pretty good erotica in recounting her first sexual experience with her dance teacher. I wasn’t turned on – but almost! Got the book from the library. I requested it and they got it from the Solano Library. Has a big paper wrapped around the front cover saying, 'NON-RENEWABLE, Interlibary loan' and such-like, also very conspiratorally hiding the book’s subject. In the back they offer to forward letters from gay people under 21. I qualify. Maybe I’ll try.”

I did send letters through Alyson Publications' penpal service. I'm sure I'll write about what happened as I read through my diary. Anyway, it also turned out Ann Heron, the editor of One Teenager, was an editor/writer at Nolo Press here in Berkeley when I got a job there after graduating Cal. I didn't work with her, exactly -- I was in customer service not editorial -- and my telling her that I'd read the book didn't lead us to much intimacy, still, it was kind of cool happening into her orbit like that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Fit or Fat

from the diary: “Tuesday 3/25/86

“I’ve been reading Fit or Fat, a very interesting book that says that fitness should not be based on how strong you are or how fast you can run, but on how fast your heart beats. (Mine beats very fast – I took my pulse – which means I’m not in good shape.) You’re supposed to do an aerobic exercise that makes your heart beat 80 percent of maximum heart rate and sustain that level for 12 minutes.”

Since I read Fit or Fat the target heart rate has become orthodoxy. Everybody makes sure they include aerobic exercise in their healthful routine (don’t you?). Frankly, I find most specifically aerobic routines so boring they drive me crazy. The treadmill? Please. I like to walk, however, and if I have a destination in mind I can walk at a good clip, which presumably raises my heart rate to the aerobic. I long since stopped checking my pulse because, what, I’m going to walk faster & faster if I’m not at the optimum? And I’m already walking so fast my feet hurt? When I started walking to & from work at the Claremont branch (a 2 mile jaunt) I would get sweaty and, especially climbing the hill north of UC campus on the way home, would feel some strain. Now I breeze up the hill. And it’s not like I walk all the way every day. Usually I take the bus part of the distance.

One idea I picked up from Fit or Fat: you can be thin and fat. It’s one of those nicely contradictory notions that makes sense after the explanation. Y’see, you’ve got skinny arms, right?, but the muscle, because unexercised, is permeated with fat molecules. Strength-training isn’t enough to banish that intra-muscle fat because your daily meals typically provide enough fuel for muscle growth, especially if the exercise makes you hungry, eh? But if you build your heart muscle through aerobic exercise then even when resting your metabolism is higher, requires more fuel so burns up the stored fat. Fat is the lowest quality body fuel and during exercise your body burns sugars and proteins. It’s when you are resting that your body harvests the fat.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Other Women

from the diary: “Saturday 3/22/86

“I started Lisa Alther’s third novel yesterday. Other Women. Finished it today. About a woman trapped in depression and the therapist who helps drag her from the ‘Dismal Swamp.’ I got engaged with the characters and was never bored. But the therapy sessions didn’t ring any bells and I couldn’t altogether relate to Caroline’s depression. I guess I got a different type. Just having my shitty patterns pointed out to me doesn’t help, the way it did for her.”

I'd read Lisa Alther's Kin Flicks (I thought the sex scenes hilarious), and I liked her second novel, Original Sins. Nothing in the bio at her website mentions Alther's sexual orientation, but one may suspect she's lesbian being that there are prominent sympathetic lesbian characters in each of her novels. In an interview she gets this question:

"Do you think people now tend to think of you as a lesbian novelist?

LA: I don't know what people think. I would imagine probably by now that's the conclusion some people are drawing, yeah.

Well, that's not exactly a "Yep, I'm gay" moment.

Alther elaborates:

"I was fortunate to have KINFLICKS be a best-seller. It meant what I wrote after that would be published even if it did have lesbians in it [laughs]. ... In OTHER WOMEN, I was writing about lesbians as people who love women but who also have this whole full life of paying their mortgages and raising their children. One aspect of their lives is that their partner is a woman. I've been a wife and mother, so I've done it all, so to speak." [I guess that's as close as she gets to coming out.] "Again, for centuries we've had to read about the heterosexual view of the world. Homosexuals can read heterosexual books and appreciate them, and I don't see why the opposite can't be true. [One] thing about writing about lesbians is that it's exciting to do because it's an area that hasn't been dealt with. And when it has been, it's had to be concealed in various ways. So to be in a position to be able to write openly about it is very challenging -- and not just about lesbians but about women in general."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

theory of series

from the diary: “Friday 3/21/86

“I checked out from the library Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia Trilogy. I don’t like reading a series unless I have all the books – if it turns out I don’t like ‘em, I can return them all at once; but if I love the story I can’t wait around for book three to become available – some year.”

Am I more patient than I used to be? A little. I intentionally took breaks between volumes of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Waiting: the Whites of South Africa

from the diary: “Thursday 3/20/86

“Finished Waiting: the Whites of South Africa tonight. Was an okay book. Kinda dull.”

The premise of the book, if I recall aright, was that the Whites of South Africa knew they couldn’t stay on top indefinitely, knew, in fact, that their time would pass soon. What was soon? Nobody knew.