John Perry Barlow

Word came yesterday that John Perry Barlow’s run is finally complete; the last several years have been a damned rough road for him and, in that sense, I’m grateful to hear he was able to just lay his hammer down and let go in his sleep.

I’ve said a little, and reposted some things over on Facebook. And I’m certainly gratified to see some of the “younger folk,” who know Barlow primarily, if not exclusively, from his terribly important work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (the internet ecosystem in which we function and thrive today would, in many ways, not exist without the vision and labor of JPB and his cyber-compadres) posting up on the Twitter machine and vowing to continue to carry the fight forward in his memory. Aside: I think that’s so terribly important now. My cohort and I are old, with some hard earned life lessons but without the energy it always has and always will require to carry the fight to the entrenched power.

John Perry Barlow “back when.” Date and photo credit unknown.

But I wanted to take a moment here to recall, and pass along some thoughts he shared a while back.
See, my history with Barlow dates back  to when we were both young and frisky, running wild in and around scenes involving a gang of colorful outlaws that was becoming known, even then, as The Dead Family. I was never a fully pledged member of that brotherhood; I had an instinct for preserving my options and independence that kept me from completely buying in, at any level. But it’s fair to say I had a cordial and respectful “peer to peer working relationship,” if we can even try to characterize stuff that was happening in the 1960s and ’70s with 21st Century terminology.

Whatever you choose to call it, I knew Barlow when we were both playing the role of free-range, hard riding, young blood “neo cowboys.” It was a period when a lot of interesting exploration occurred, fun things happened, dangerous territory was occupied, and mistakes were made.
Some of us have survived. Some didn’t. Most of us who remained learned a lesson or two — some of us more slowly than others.

So, all of this is by way of getting around to sharing with you something Barlow posted up a decade or so ago, when he turned 60. To clarify, the introductory remarks are from that vantage point. They set up a list of, as he characterized them, “Principles of Adult Behavior” that he had first drafted half a lifetime earlier, when he hit the then overly mysticised age of 30. Took me a hell of a lot longer to get my brain lined up with all this (I started out with some damned screwed up ideas about what life is about — had a lot of unlearning to do first in order to make room to get my head screwed on properly). But I am comfortable today saying this reasonably well encapsulates a great deal of what I know.

So long, Barlow. Happy trails, and fair winds.

FINALLY, A LITTLE GIFT FOR US ALL…

I didn’t think I would live to 30 either. I was shocked, shocked I
tell you, to find myself on the eve of my 30th birthday, weirdly
alive. In this, I was quite out of step with most of my friends to
that point, more than half of whom were already back in the sweet realm of infinity and love. Chickenshits. If you’re going to
volunteer in the first place, go right into the Special Forces.

In any event, it occurred to me that, past 30, I could no longer
defend my peccadillos on basis of youth. I would have to acquire some minimal sense of responsibility. While I didn’t want to be a grown-up, I wanted at least to act like one in the less toxic and stultifying sense of the term.

So, I sat down around 2 am on October 3, 1977 and I drew up this list of behavioral goals that I hoped might assist in this process. Now, thirty years later, I can claim some mixed success. Where I’ve failed, I’m still working on it. I give these to you so that you can provide me with encouragement in becoming the person I want to be.
And maybe, though they are very personally targeted, they may even be of some little guidance to you.

Anyway, this is what I wrote that night:

PRINCIPLES OF ADULT BEHAVIOR

1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth:
Assign responsibility, never blame.
Say nothing behind another’s back you’d be unwilling to say,
in exactly the same tone and language, to his face.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble
than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you yourself can deliver.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than whom is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Do not
endanger it frivolously. And never endanger the life of another.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason.
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission
and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Never let your errors pass without admission.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Forgive.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
25. Endure.

I don’t expect the perfect attainment of these principles. However, I post them as a standard for my conduct as an adult. Should any of my friends or colleagues catch me violating any one of them, bust me.

John
Perry Barlow

October 3, 1977

Hold me to these please.

And thank you so much for all the love you’ve given me, despite all of my efforts to resist it.

May the Good Light shine on you,

The Ancient Barlow


**************************************************************
John Perry Barlow, Peripheral Visionary
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law School

Peter S. Beagle Remembers Ursula K. LeGuin

Photo Credit: Self-Rescuing Princess Society

I haven’t had the time (or the temerity, for that matter, given what that woman could do with the English language) to gather and post my thoughts on Ursula LeGuin’s death, though I’ve been mourning her all week.
But my gods, she was a hero whose work saved my life more than a few times.
I shall miss her, and treasure her words the rest of my days.
I was delighted this afternoon when a dear friend passed along this remembrance from the remarkable Peter S. Beagle*. He’s done a wonderful job of describing the hole in the firmament she leaves behind.
[A note: Mr. Beagle has graciously invited us to share these thoughts across the internet. It should go without saying (though I suppose it must be said) that, if you pass this along in any way, he should be credited and that the following is © 2018 Peter S. Beagle, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.)

In Memoriam, Ursula K. LeGuin
Peter S. Beagle

​It takes the shiny off everything. Everything. Including the pure shameless pride of being declared a Damon Knight Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. All of it.

I’m a good writer. I know that perfectly well, after some sixty years of doing whatever it is I do, and then doing it over. But I’m not shuffling my feet, looking down and mumbling shyly when I say that on my best day, with the wind at my back and the fish biting, I couldn’t have carried Ursula K. LeGuin’s spare gym socks. I know that equally well. Sharing a great honor with her won’t ever change that.

I didn’t know her well. She lived in Portland, and I’ve been all over northern California in the last half-century, with six years out for the Seattle area. We hadn’t yet met when I followed her by a week into the Clarion West workshop (1972, was it?), to be greeted by a note saying, “Welcome, Unicorn! Make the little kobolds work their tails off!” Mostly we ran into each other at various conventions, grabbing coffee where we could. I do like to recall a serious conversation, initiated by me in increasing alarm at having become known more and more, in the intervening years, as the Unicorn Guy. Meanwhile, Ursula’s recently-published Earthsea novels had, as far as I was concerned, put paid to dragons as literary figures: I felt – and still feel – that dragons should be off-limits to all other writers, no matter how gifted or inventive they might be. But I was younger then, and had the chutzpah to offer to trade my unicorns even-up for her dragons. “Unicorns are really easy to housebreak. They always ask to go outside.” I remember that I was even willing to throw in a utility infielder, if she insisted.

Ursula’s response: “Do you know how impossible it is to keep dragons off the curtains? And they’re absolute hell on carpets!” We never did make the deal, but not for my lack of trying. As I say, I was younger then.

I’ve often told the story of appearing onstage with Ursula and Vonda McIntyre in 1975, at Oregon State University in Corvallis, the three of us speaking about being considered genre writers, inhabitants of a certain ghetto: our work generally tolerated – even loved, in certain corners of the ghetto – but almost invariably unrespected as real, proper, literary fiction. Some of the male students in the back of the auditorium began to complain loudly that they’d come to hear talk about ​ good old rocket-jockey science fiction, and not this “shrill feminism!​”​ Ursula, sitting on my left, turned to Vonda on my right, saying severely, “Vonda, I don’t know how many times I’ve told you about being shrill!” Vonda responded calmly, – without missing a beat, “No, Ursula dear – I’m strident. You’re shrill.”

Me? I sat between them, absolutely vain of actually knowing those two women, and trying very hard not to giggle. I can’t honestly remember whether I managed it or not.

In fact, she was never shrill. Fierce, yes. Intense, yes, with a great many things that she wanted to say, since no one else was saying them. Deadpan funny, always, even at her most passionate. Pissed-off, certainly, of course, as she bloody well should have been – as she bloody well needed to be. She meant business, Ursula did, and never a doubt of it. But kind, always, with the angry compassion of her Space Crone. Forever fiercely, stubbornly kind.

In my introduction to the 2017 Tachyon anthology NEW VOICES OF FANTASY, I wrote:

“Years ago, knowing that I was scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of [SFWA]…Ursula LeGuin​,​ wisest of us all, warned me as follows: ‘Remember that most of your audience will be drunk by the time you get up to speak, and remember always that all of us feel, to one degree or another, that mainstream fiction has been stealing our ideas – and even our classic cliches – for generations, and selling them back to us as Magic Realism. Tell them that, loudly and repeatedly, and the ones who can still stand up will be buying you drinks all night. And never forget that this is a small, highly incestuous group, and a lot of people have been married to, or sleeping with other members of the group – so watch what you say.'”

There’s nothing I can say about her now that isn’t all over the Internet today, and won’t be providing endless exhausting doctorates, seminars, fellowships and festivals tomorrow, and in the years to come. She was the master. She still is. She lived as full and honorable a life as anyone could have, and she got her work done. But I don’t believe for a minute that she ever thought she’d gotten her work done. The truly great ones never do. There’s always more.

_________________
*By the way, word also came the same day news of LeGuin’s death arrived, that Peter Beagle is the 2018 recipient of the Damon Knight Grand Master Award – a lifetime achievement award bestowed by fellow authors in the SFWA “for his contributions to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy.” Beagle joins the ranks of such writers as Robert A. Heinlein, Ann McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, the aforementioned Ursula LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Fredrick Pohl, and numerous others. An honor richly deserved for so many reasons.

 

 

The Magick’s in the Music — Part II

It’s worth noting, as an aside, that my obsession with music dovetailed nicely with my co-occurring fascination with radio. Once again, the happy accident of growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s and ’60s exposed me to some of the most wonderful stations and air talent in the history of broadcasting.
I’ll return to this later, because the unique and intersecting subcultures of broadcasting are another area where I was privileged to enjoy several decades of involvement that enriched me in ways beyond my wildest adolescent flights of fantasy. But, for the moment, let’s stay focused on the music, the musicians, and the scene in which it flourished.

As I touched on in Part I, music can play many roles for those open to it. Several approaches seem most suited to stimulate and challenge the intellect, be that through political and literary lyric themes, or the complex constructions of much modern jazz, classical compositions and yes, even some improvisational rock explorations.
Other music best serves to inspire emotional response of various sorts. That may be the lush and juicy love songs that serve as the sound track to so many romantic explorations, the exhilarating party themes that get rooms full of people on their feet dancing, the sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes wry life stories rolled out in much blues and country, the pride and inspiration engendered by anthemic declarations or cherished cultural heritage music (be it Celtic, African High Life, sea chanteys, gamelan music, or any of a hundred other “outside the commercial mainstream” genres that each hold their own unique truth), or the transcendence of liturgical compositions and hymns.
Of course, there’s plenty of intersection, overlap, and multi-function stuff in play as well.
I’m just scratching the surface here; my point is that music can, and often does, play a significant role in what defines us as humans.

The place and time in which I began my transformation from childhood toward adulthood positioned me perfectly to satisfy my longing to get closer to that special space.
I was so young; in some ways I still could not know what I didn’t know, but I was acutely aware of my lack of specific skills. However, the ceremony requires more than the shaman to work its magick. And I was able to find a toehold as San Francisco (for reasons beyond the scope of our current discussion) made its transition from one of the country’s premier jazz towns to the epicenter of a massive existential pivot in the shape and scope of rock music and its place in the broader cultural context.

My first “job” in the music business?  I figured out that I could hang out around the corner on Cole Street, outside the stage door of the Straight Theater on the afternoon of a show, help load in band equipment from vans and trucks to the stage, and earn myself “free admission” to that night’s concert.
It was a small thing, but proved to be my foot in the door. That led to a semi-paying regular gig for a few weeks taking care of the dressing room for actors in an experimental play the theater mounted for a month or two.
A couple things happened as a result of this. First, I had the opportunity to be present, as “staff,” not just “audience,” at several events that eventually took on semi-legendary status in certain circles.
One such that comes to mind was the night I found myself “peaking” in the balcony when Neal Cassady joined the Grateful Dead for an extemporaneous stream of consciousness ramble while the band vamped behind him. Frankly, in my — ahem — altered condition, Neal’s exposition seemed to go on for hours, or perhaps months. I gather (based at least in part on this recorded fragment) that the objective elapsed time was somewhere around 20 or 30 minutes. So, that was a thing that happened.
Another was the night we hosted the American premiere of the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour film. The band had donated the loan of a print which was flown in from England for screening to benefit striking air talent and engineers at KMPX, the precursor to the legendary KSAN, and radio giant Tom Donahue’s initial foray into programming what came to be known as “underground radio” on the then neglected FM band of the broadcast dial.
In retrospect, a number of exceptionally unusual things happened in and around the Straight. But, perhaps equally important for me, my face became a “known individual” to a number of crew and musicians around town.

That made the transition pretty smooth when I fell in with the cleaning crew over at the Family Dog’s Avalon Ballroom. It had soon become clear, even to a rank rookie like me, that the Straight (interesting as the scene might be) was never going to become a stable venue, so employment prospects were shaky at best. At that point, the Avalon and the Fillmore Auditorium, Bill Graham’s venue, pretty much dominated the scene.
Of course, not much was required to get by in those days. Survival consisted of a few folks getting together and figuring out how to hustle up sixty or seventy bucks a month to rent a flat, scraping together enough food to keep going, and managing one way or another (often by “making little ones out of big ones” and engaging in a little retail activity) to keep the flow going in order to maintain our heads.
So, once again, my initial “foot in the door” at the Avalon consisted of working for free. The paid cleanup crew enjoyed the option of placing folks on the guest list (Chet was always pretty damned loose with the guest list; there were reasons which I expect we’ll discuss in the fullness of time) and I became a regular “guest” in exchange for being a reliable extra pair of hands after the show when it was time to sweep and mop.
That led to a “promotion” up to full membership on the paid cleaning crew, as more senior swampers either moved up or moved on. Hanging on to the edges as “staff”, I was able to stay with the Family Dog during the transition period after the Avalon closed and before Chet acquired the old Beach Pavilion venue out on the Great Highway. During that interregnum the Dog mostly subsisted on mail order poster sales, along with a modicum of band management and one-off gigs in various venues. But I was able to stick with the circus and ride the momentum out to the beach, where it became an “all hands on deck” effort, involving probably a couple dozen of us, maybe more, as paid staff and well over a hundred volunteers who pitched in to get the hall up and running while earning themselves some future show passes.
I’ll fill out more of that part of the story in the next installment.

 

Nights and Weekends Too

It’s a little tough to make out, but the cracked and worn clay poker chip  that accompanies this post commemorates “1 year” of continuous sobriety.

It was passed along to me by a dear friend who had found his way into recovery fourteen or fifteen months ahead of me. He’d picked it up at the “Tuesday Downtown” meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in San Francisco, one of the longest running meetings in one of the hardest drinking cities in the United States. I hung on to this talisman; carried it in my pocket for several years. Then, as you can see, the wear and tear cracked it in two. Since then, it has resided in a place of honor in my late Dad’s jewelry box, along with the cuff links and tie tacs I never wear. It means my life to me.

I’m sharing it with you tonight because today (January 16, 2018) I celebrated 36 years of continuous sobriety. That’s more than half my life and it has, in so many ways, made all the difference.

Look, I enjoyed more than my share of opportunities before I turned 31 to be present with exceptional people for remarkable events. One of the primary motivations for doing this blog is to pass along some of those stories while I still can. But here’s a thing that was true for me: I was never able to fully participate in those remarkable events because I carried so much of the classic alcoholic baggage with me.
I was always working so hard to keep the front up; to be “cool” enough, knowledgeable enough, useful enough. It was all an effort not to be found out for the fraud I believed myself to be. You could say I had some self-esteem issues (one of these days we’ll have to talk about what growing up in an alcoholic household and having to guess at what “normal” looks and feels like does to a child’s sense of self).

So, by the time I found myself trying to get a grip on what life might look like without drinking and using drugs — desperately wondering whether such a life was even possible for me, I had pretty well torn through all aspects of what most might consider a “normal life.”
And yet, I hadn’t overdosed (yeah, a few close calls); I hadn’t drunk myself to death (that sort of “suicide on the installment plan” takes a lot longer than you might imagine). So, I was pretty much at the end of my rope.

Fortunately for me, I fell in with a loosely confederated gang of folks in Santa Cruz County who, much to my surprise, seemed to be a lot like me in many respects. And yet they somehow seemed to have found a way to live, even enjoy the hell out of themselves, while not taking anything. I was intrigued to say the least.
And these folks (at a time when not many people were happy to see me coming any more) were willing to open their hearts and their lives to me, and show me how they were managing to pull this off. Virtually all of ’em had harrowing tales to tell of their “old lives.” Sometimes physically dangerous, sometimes just stories of living in that dark and desperate state of soul-sickness that no drink or drug can cure.

One of the things they taught me (a bit by talking about it, mostly by example) was a way of approaching life that meant confronting one’s demons and secrets, going to whatever lengths where necessary to make peace with them, and sharing that process both with fellow travelers and with those coming up the road behind us.
We live out loud and we pass it on, because that is what we do. It is what we MUST do to survive. An earlier generation of folks in recovery had been much more circumspect about such things. But by the time I stumbled through the door, a new sensibility was taking hold. One which was committed to acknowledging feelings and actively working to heal.
I’m talking about this in particular because word came this week that one of the pioneers of this more freewheeling approach has died.

This guy was a reasonably successful “medium big deal” out there in the outside world. Lived in Southern California and worked as a professional screenwriter. Any number of TV shows and films you watched and enjoyed if you’re “of a certain age” came out of Bob’s typewriter.
But Bob was a deeply damaged human being. He’d had an upbringing that made my alcoholic family look like Ozzie and Harriet. And he had generated plenty of chaos, and frequently behaved like an first class asshole, in adulthood. The man had serious demons to excise.
And as he did what he had to do to find his place to stand in sobriety, he by god told everybody around him about his process. He couldn’t help it. Storytelling was in the man’s blood. As a result, Bob E. had a hell of an impact within the recovery community. By dumb luck and happenstance, I’d fallen in with a mentor in recovery who had, in turn, been mentored by a man (another writer) who’d been Bob’s best friend for a number of years.
So Bob’s brave journey through the fires had a direct influence on how I came to understand what living sober looks like, and his hard won wisdom was passed from mouth to ear in a direct line.

But Bob had a significant, even life changing effect on thousands who didn’t enjoy that direct connection. Because he was so good at telling a tale, and because his message was in many ways a radical departure from what had come before, he was invited to speak at gatherings large and small across the country. And recordings (remember cassettes?) of many of those speeches were passed from hand to hand, copied and recopied like the most rare and transcendent Grateful Dead shows got shared around between Deadheads.

So, I’m 36 years clean and sober, Bob Earll is dead and gone, his dear friend Tom (coming up on a half-century of recovery himself) is on the other side of world, grieving a loss as intense (if not more so) as any blood family and staying close to many of us who love him through the mysterious magic of the internet. And we, those of us in recovery, continue to do our best to hold each other up, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Because that’s what we do. As best we can.

_______________
Edit: A handful of “morning after” edits for typos and word flow. 2018.01.17

Mini Review: “The Shape of Water”

Note: What follows is, essentially, a rewrite of my Facebook post about the picture. So, if you caught that, you can probably safely skip this entry.

So, Yoshimi and I caught a late afternoon / early evening screening at the local multiscreen “cafe and lounge,” in the modern parlance. We both found it wonderful and recommend “The Shape of Water” without hesitation.

Also worth noting this is a film that, I think, benefits from viewing on a theater screen. Not a big “action picture” with lots of stunning effects and crap blowing up, which is sometimes why you want the big screen experience.
But just a beautifully crafted production, with every element exquisite. Locations (I was never in Baltimore in the early ’60s — come to think of it, I’ve never been in Maryland at all, but this film sure as hell put me there), set decoration, props, costuming, cinematography (gods, the cinematography!) all so richly executed that the clean, undistracted focus of the theater really enhances the experience.

I won’t say much about the story. It’s hard to talk much about specifics. I think the film needs to be allowed the space to unspool the tale on its own terms. Plus, unless you live under a media rock you already know the rough shape of it. del Toro (who has always had a certain affection and affinity for “monsters” retrieves and retells the tale of The Creature From the Black Lagoon for our modern era (though the picture is set in 1962). There is love; there are bad guys; there are flawed, imperfect, and damaged people. Events occur; choices and personal agendas have consequences.

The writing is elegant and lean, the performances range from exceptionally good to, in the case of Sally Hawkins, career-making. Worthy of special note in supporting roles: Richard Jenkins who (as he so often does) infuses his character with a depth and implied back story a lesser actor might have missed and Morgan Kelly, who does more with his Pie Guy character than perhaps even the writers imagined.

One other thing: If you have someone who can fill that role, it’s an excellent “date movie.”

The Magick’s in the Music — Part I

Music always “loomed large” in my life and story.
From early on, it was far more to me than entertainment and diversion. It spoke to something deep inside me, reached and moved me in ways that few things did.

Some of that was an intellectual exercise, especially as I got into my teens and began to explore work outside the popular genres; blues and folk for the most part. The lyrics, and frank, often unpolished, performances spoke of truth to a boy who, appearance of privilege notwithstanding, felt himself an outcast, a stranger in his own land if you will.

Reading (be it novels, poetry, political polemics, or whatever came to hand) was a comfort in this regard as well; and the best writing brought at least momentary feelings of relief and transcendence. But there was all that and something more in the music.

By the time I was in my early to mid teens, I was slipping away many evenings to hang at the local folk coffeehouse, soaking up both the music and a social scene that seemed filled with other misfits. There was even a brief, abortive effort to learn to play guitar. I spent about a year transposing guitar chord charts (I was left handed), training my fingers into those awkward positions, learning to tune, and strumming my way earnestly through the simplest standards from Sing Out! magazine.

Eventually I had to confront the fact that I had no more aptitude for the guitar than I had found for the clarinet in 6th Grade Band Class when I tried to learn it in one of my earliest attempts to please my unpleasable father, who had played semi-professionally as a young man. I remember explaining to someone at the time: “I really love good guitar music. There is a lot of bad guitar playing in the world. I choose not to add to it.”

So, becoming a ramblin’ shamblin’ folk hero, nor a shredding guitar god were not to be my ticket out. Any more than I was gonna suddenly wake up one morning magically struck with physical coordination that would lead to a professional baseball or basketball career. But damn, I did love the music.

Lucky for me, the accident of birth had put me in the right place at the right time. Coming of age on the San Francisco Peninsula, just as the City’s folk scene was taking its first nascient steps toward transforming into the behemoth that became known within a few years as The San Francisco Sound.

Rock, folk, blues, a couple sprinkles of jazz (and even, in a handful of cases, classical training); it was all tossed into a blender along with the remnants of the North Beach “beat” culture of the ’50s and early ’60s, a significant dose of political thought provided by echoes of the civil rights movement and the inescapable fact that the Vietnam War hung over all our heads. Add some color and spice (provided in part by new frontiers in mind altering chemistry) and the sudden jolt of the Baby Boom effect — young people representing a higher percentage of the population than ever before and identifying themselves as distinct and apart from the broader culture. And wham, here I was, young and energetic, standing at the center of the whirlwind.

Take all of the above as setting, and it seems almost inevitable that a kid who’d been cutting school since sophmore year to hitchhike to San Francisco and spend his afternoons ensconsced in the basement of City Lights Bookstore reading material he’d never find in San Mateo, was bound to fall into the embryonic Haight-Ashbury scene and slip gratefully into the first environment in his young life where he didn’t feel like an outsider.

But let’s bring it back around to the music. Down on the Peninsula, bars that featured rock bands were beginning to supplant the folk scene, at least in my neck of the woods, and I found myself loitering outside the back doors of such establishments, hungry for the music. So hungry in fact that, at times, I’d slip into those back doors and join the folks a few years older who were clogging the small dance floor, free-form moving to the music. Of course, the bouncers were not amused, but damn I wanted to be there.

By 1966, something called “dance-concerts” were gaining traction in San Francisco. Events that did not rely on drink sales from a full bar to break even, and thus weren’t subject to strict “21 and over” requirements. I’d found my home away from home.

All this is by way of context and prelude to what I really wanted to talk about. That’s ahead in Part II.

Casting Call

I’ve vowed to essentially keep this space free from my seemingly boundless obsession with political junkiedom — there are plenty of folks in the blogosphere doing the commentary thing much better than I can (and, if you really want it, it’s pretty much unavoidable in my Facebook and Twitter feeds).

But my friend Claudia Lamb was struck with a bit of inspiration this morning on the Facebook machine, and it looked like something that might be fun to try here. It’s gonna require a little audience participation from you.

Unless you’re stationed in Antarctica, you pretty much couldn’t avoid the news the last day or two about Michael Wolff’s  new “tell all” from inside the White House. The presale marketing runup to this thing is without equal since the Harry Potter series ended. So, here’s the game.

You know damned well, the pitches are already well underway for the film rights and the jockeying has begun for the juiciest roles (hmmm…script by Aaron Sorkin?).

Now we get to be the collective Casting Director. In the comments, please offer your nominations to play the parts in the picture.

The ground rules (which I just made up): Any actor, living or dead will be considered. Non-actors MAY be accepted on a case by case basis.

 

Birthday Boy

I turned 68 today.
So, what did you do for your birthday, Ace?
Well, mostly I sat around in my sweats and, in consultation with a couple valued friends, one old and the other new (thanks, Bunny and Alys!) finally got this long threatened blog up and live.
Expect the look and feel of it to get tweaked over the coming days and weeks, but at least it’s here and I can start dropping random thoughts.

The Deal on the Thing — Part 1

EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is a recycled mashup of a couple of Facebook posts published not long after my prostate cancer was rediagnosed as “advanced” and my prognosis adjusted to “inevitable” (not a technical term).

These are some things I know

[First published 22 July 2017]

*          *          *          *          *

Hello, friends. This is the public iteration of a memo that went out a week or so ago to a very limited list of friends and family members. If you already saw that, there’s really very little new here, other than a little more clarity on what I’m currently understanding to be the “next right thing(s)” for me to do.

If you did NOT see the earlier note, and you’re wondering why, since you and I are indeed pretty close, my apologies. In the initial rollout, I felt it necessary to, for a time, really hold this information in a small group while I went through some processing of my own. One of the toughest pieces for me in the initial exercise was making the calls about who I looped in when. But I think it’s time to “go public”.

To be clear: I’m not asking for anything here. I don’t need any advice, or anecdotes about what happened with Aunt Millie (bless her heart), or assurances of your “thoughts and prayers” (though, if it is your practice do have such conversations with your personal higher power, I certainly don’t object to having a good word put in on my behalf). But it’s been my custom for some time now to pretty much just lay my life out here. I know that’s weird for some folks, but it seems to work for me. And now, more than ever, doing what works for me seems like the way to go.

*          *          *          *          *

Down to business.

Depending on how closely you follow Facebook (and what determinations the algorithms have been making about what you should be seeing in your news feed), you may have noted me doing the Happy Dance earlier this month when the news came through that a series of scans (specifically bone, CT, and bone density) all came back clear and “normal” (yeah, I know). As most of you know, I’ve been living with prostate cancer for a number of years, and normal scans indicate there is no evidence the bastard has metastasized yet. So, yay.

I did have a phone consult with my oncologist a few days later to discuss those results. She began the conversation with “well, the good news is that all your scans look normal.” Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that when somebody’s opener is “the GOOD news is…” that a shoe is about to drop. And yup, there’s more.

Here’s the deal. After living with the beast inside me for 17 years, [edit: 18 years as of December 2017] I have now officially graduated to “advanced” classification. All right, what does that mean? At the moment, nothing except that we’re adding a new oral medication to my daily drug regime. One whose job it is to prevent any of my hormones – not just any residual testosterone the Lupron isn’t suppressing, but the other secondary hormones we all produce that are somewhere in the spectrum between testosterone and estrogen – to prevent those hormones from binding with the cancer cells (which promotes more rapid growth). Apparently, it does that job pretty well, but basically we’re retarding progress, not stopping it, and certainly not reversing anything.

So, the net result is that expectations are that the cancer should become metastatic within a year or so, likely moving into either my bones or lymph system. Once that occurs, and depending on how it presents, there are a handful of treatment options – various chemo approaches, possibly radium injections if it’s in the bones. None of those are “cures’, they’re a way to buy some time. And once we get there, we take a closer look at the options and the tradeoffs.

Again, let me emphasize that, at the moment, I’m in exactly the same position I was in a month ago – just taking one more pill in the morning. No big lifestyle changes in the offing. The only immediate potential shift will be whether the new hormone blocker creates significant side effects for me (most common are hot flashes and fatigue). Should know that within a few days.

But what’s true is that, after a remarkable SEVENTEEN YEAR RUN since I got my initial diagnosis and the news that surgery was not an option due to how advanced the cancer was when we found it, I now find myself at the head end of what appears to be a long, gently sloping offramp. From here, I can’t quite make out what the end of the ramp looks like, or just how far out it is. But the inescapable fact is that this is, indeed, my exit ramp.

I, of course, have complex and mixed feelings about this and one thing I’ve already learned over recent days is that getting clarity on what those feelings are, owning them all, but choosing which ones to feed and which not to nurture (without denying any of ‘em) is apparently going to continue for however much time is left to me.

But again, my life today is physically no different than it was a month ago and, in the words of my oncologist, “at this point we’re treating numbers, not tumors.”

What has shifted is the context. An end result which has always (well, for the last 17 years) been out there in the “eventually” category is now, while not immediate, in the room with me and demanding acknowledgment and attention.

As you might imagine, this reorders priorities somewhat. There’s really not much room now for postponing stuff until some vague “later”. If it’s important, it’s time to address it.

I have been encouraged by a couple of folks to look for some way to articulate things I know, things I’ve learned, things I’ve seen. I am seriously contemplating (not for too long, I trust) how to best do that.

Not sure just what that looks like yet – if you have thoughts about it PM me. I know I’m NOT interested in doing a “this is my life working my way through the endgame of cancer” blog or podcast. It’s already been done, and done well. More than once.

But I’m contemplating some sort of blog or blog/podcast combo. It’s not that I’m convinced I have some life-changing “wisdom for the ages” to share. But it is fair to say I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed an unusually interesting life and if there’s some way to articulate and pass along some of the lessons I’ve picked up from that body of experience it seems a good use of my time.

[Note: This blog is the product of the above ruminations. The possibility exists that at some future point a good friend with some experience in that area may sweep some of this up, organize it, and create a book of some sort. We shall see – or you may at any rate.]

And that’s What I Know So Far.

 

You asked…

[First published 7 August 2017]

[Note: A couple weeks after I announced my graduation to the Advanced Class, and my trading in of my urologist for an oncologist, one of my dearest friends sent me a private message to inquire where I was at in processing the Big News. My response to her.]



“I mean, really how are you?”

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

Turns out the answer’s not as simple as I’d like it to be.

I’ve done my level best to be honest with myself over these last three weeks since the news dropped.

And I felt like I’ve done pretty well on the emotional and intellectual side. It’s a complex cascade of emotions, of course. That’s so nakedly obvious it would require a serious, consistent, life-long commitment to denial to miss it. I, from Day One, was committed to coming at this quite the opposite. Meet everything in the complex stew of reactions head on. Examine them directly and with clear eyes. Make conscious choices about what to feed, and what to acknowledge and set aside.

It’s a good plan. There’s a lot to do, and a dauntingly limited amount of time and resources to get it done. And that’s been the way I’ve elected to approach this season of life. I really have NO desire to piss away any more of my limited supplies than necessary curling up into a self-indulgent ball of fear and woe. What the hell does that serve?

But now, three weeks in, I’m beginning to find the flaws in execution. There are a number of them.

Ironically, one stumbling block is that physically things aren’t really a hell of a lot different than they were a month ago. Side effects from the new meds are minimal. I’ve noticed I’m drinking more water now, but that’s both trivial and something I’ve needed to do for a long time. My fatigue quotient may be a bit higher, but that’s so damned hard to quantify because I already don’t have near as much gas in the tank as I did for most of my life, for multiple reasons.

So with no obvious physical indicators that this beast is getting away from me, this becomes entirely a theoretical mental exercise. And there’s a pathway for self-sabotage (aided and abetted by people who love me) very available down that alleyway.

Why? In part because I’m inclined to default toward optimism. For many years now (I suspect, at least in part, due to having now spent more than half my life in recovery from alcoholism and addiction) I’ve been that guy who falls off the top of the Empire State Building and calls out to folks gazing out their windows on every floor “doing OK so far!” So there’s a temptation to normalize.

And that’s fed by dealing with family members who are not at all eager to let go and, despite the fact we’re all old enough to know better, have little inclination to stare death in the face.

One of the things about me is that I tend to “emotionally caretake” those I love. And I find that I love a lot of folks (a good thing). But it puts me on the dangerous edge of falling into people-pleasing. The problem with people pleasing is that you can lose yourself there.

So, I’ve got a spouse and partner who, despite some relationship difficulties that had reared their heads before this turn of events (and which we were, with professional help, working on when the medical grenade turned the status quo on its head) finds herself not wanting to examine too closely the prospect of making her way alone in the world after three and a half decades in a partnership. And I’ve got siblings who insist on holding on tight to the fact that we don’t have a date certain, so it’s all good, right? Plus a daughter and adult grandkid who have (with my encouragement) come to regard me as a reliable North Star in their lives and feel most unready to let go of that.

Now, as a people-pleaser I slip into reinforcing all those points of view without even realizing I’m doing it. And that undercuts my desire to focus clearly and walk through all this with eyes wide open. So I realized, when the question was asked, that I’ve begun the process of packing my reality in cotton batting, the easier to manage it for myself and those around me. And goddamn it I don’t want to do that! It cheapens the truth of it.

*          *          *          *          *

I’m also frustrated with myself that I’m not making more headway putting together some sort of blog/podcast project yet. One of the very first things I knew when the news came that my countdown clock is running was that I carry within me a unique body of experience and life lessons. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to live an exceptionally interesting and informative life. I was “there for the party” far more often than most folks get to be, and I’ve absorbed some knowledge (I refuse to call it “wisdom”) along the way. And if I don’t manage some sort of brain dump download over the next while or so, I just take that with me when I go. I have no idea if it’s of possible use to anyone else, but it feels like I need to make the effort to make it available in case it is. I’ve got some random scraps of writing – portions of this can probably be recycled, for instance. But still no coherent vehicle.

*          *          *          *          *

I’ll just say it here: I’m freaked AF about the economics as well. Both our short-term shortfall (the apartment is without a tenant and has been a black hole we throw money into for repairs over the past month+, and we’re really missing the cash flow from that crap radio producer job I quit a few months back), and the long term planning for Yoshimi. We’ve been saving up for this Last Great Tour to Europe for well over a year now, and we have another year to go before our planned departure. And we’ve had to dip into the kitty this past month to “borrow from ourselves” for apartment repairs and living expenses. And beyond that, I have no idea what her budget looks like without me here keeping balls in the air.

We are going in to see our old friend Ed the Undertaker tomorrow to set up a “death insurance policy” that will cover the basic costs of burning my leftovers when the time comes, so that’s a positive step moneywise, and, not incidentally, another little milestone along the way of making all this real for Yoshimi. And goddamn it! I hate like hell putting her in this position. It damned near destroyed her when Jude died – that’s 17 years ago now, and his memory is still with her every day. At the best of times, her relationship with me has never run as deep as the ties between a single mother (which she was most of his childhood) and her only child. How could it? But for the past 34 years, I’ve been the one who was there to backstop her when the world tried to knock her down. I’m going to be both the instrument of her trauma AND unavailable to help her stand. That sucks.

*          *          *          *          *

And I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a nod to the cold nugget of fear in my gut. I’m determined not to be governed by it, but I can’t pretend it isn’t there. Everything I’ve said above is just all detail work around the edges of the central fact that we are discussing the End of Me. That’s daunting.

It’s the single constant of life for all humans. We die at the end. Sometimes the end is sooner, sometimes later. But that’s how it all turns out. We know this intellectually. Some of us live in fear of that Great Fact. We as a culture have a terribly dysfunctional structure built up around death. But that’s a different conversation.

This is distinctly personal. And relatively immediate, though not so much so that I’m spared plenty of time to contemplate it.

I know plenty of folks who enjoy some sort of faith tradition or belief narrative that brings them great comfort in contemplating their death — an emotional certitude about a post-termination existance. I don’t begrudge them that mindset at all. It beats the hell out of going kicking and screaming into those final moments.

But I have no such soothing expectation of “passing over”. I just don’t. I’ve tried on a few over the course of my life, but none truly seemed to fit me well. And it sure AF would be intellectually and existentially dishonest to grasp for some “late conversion” now in the interests of finding some reassurance. I’m not a vehement denier, either. Too uncertain to claim atheism as my home turf either. Just put it all down, for me, as a “known unknown.”

That’s who I am. Problem with it, though, is that logic dictates that however it plays out, the consciousness/ego construct I’m used to regarding as my “self” most probably ends when my run in this body (frustrating vehicle though it may be) is finished.

And frankly, I’ve gotten pretty used to being “me” over these last seven decades or so. The idea that final encores will be played, the system shut down, and loadout begun in the relatively near future is sobering, to say the least.

All right, Deb. I’ve taken sixteen hundred words now to say: “How am I really? Fuck if I know, but I truly appreciate you asking.” I honestly do.

 

Why we’re here.

 

Just what is it that we are embarking upon here, and why?

Well, as you may know, I was delivered the news a few months back that, after living with inoperable prostate cancer for the past 17 years, the bastard has finally grown impatient. My doctor expects metastasis within the year (which would, I imagine, likely mean sometime between now and the end of next summer) and, at that point, an educated guess says I’m good for another one to three years. If you’re interested in my initial reactions to that news, you’ll find the story here.
But the long and short of it is this: While the dark one who comes for us all one day may not yet be in the room with me, he IS in the building, and is in the process of making his way to my floor.

* * * * *

For a while, now, I’ve been fond of speaking of “seasons of life”. I find it an aesthetically pleasing metaphor, and useful in many ways.
But there’s another common trope that, I’m thinking, centers well on my situation these days. That’s the one where people speak of “chapters” – as in “leaving home for college turned the page to a new chapter in my life.”
If we belabor the model a little bit, we can look at each of our lives as a book on the shelf in the library of human existence. We all contain, or embody, a book. Some are thicker; some short but powerful. Some are more dramatic, others more practically helpful. But the library of human existence is full of books.
I’m pretty happy with mine. It’s been a hell of a read, with plenty of unexpected turns along the way. Mostly interesting, a lot of it fun. Some heartbreaking chapters as well.
But here’s the thing. Since I’ve been made privy to a rough estimate of the page count remaining, I realize I have the chance to do what, in many ways, is the most challenging part of the work for many writers. Can I make my book end well?
There are a few chapters left to get down here. And in many of the best books, one of the jobs those final chapters serve is to provide the chance to tie up the loose ends, sum up the arc of the story, and punch up an ending worthy of the pages that went before.
I think that’s a part of the task(s) I am about here. And it strikes me that it may also be why, despite a lifetime of speaking into microphones, and loving it, I’m drawn to do most of this in print, rather than in a podcast.