Thursday, July 30, 2009

Odds and Ends

My life is like a space mission. I try to concentrate, as I fall through the void at high speed. The results—good and bad—are often accidental. After I posted about windows and views last week, I realized I'd left out the most beautiful view I've had, of this sexy Russian Orthodox Church on Geary Boulevard, seated beside the Golden Gate. I lived in this apartment from 1989-94, and I could see a large part of San Francisco, from Downtown to the Marin Headlands, from its fifteen windows.

Choreographer Twyla Tharp writes:
I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.

In recent years, the author who has inspired and taught me more than any other is Robert Greene. Recently he wrote a blog entry about his upcoming book, The 50th Law. This short piece cuts to the heart of the confusion I have struggled with throughout my life. In the second part of the piece, Greene expands his personal observations to political party behavior during the last election. If this part turns you off, just ignore it and re-read the opening paragraphs. Adjectives fail me in describing the writing of Robert Greene; the words that most apply have been diluted by overuse. I am in awe of his writing.

Finally, I offer this short video by British author Alain de Botton on Class Anxiety. His opening about depression on Sunday evening describes every one of my Sundays in adult life. I'm going on a long trip this weekend, and will update you when something interesting happens. Something interesting will definitely happen.

Misa and Max Designs

My son Max is five years old. He draws and makes collage-type gift cards. He was interested in making images from an early age, but only recently his drawing advanced beyond pure scribble, to recognizable pictures.

Max is completing his last summer session at ABC PreSchool. To thank and honor his teachers, he drew these images. Misa scanned and printed them onto transfer film, then ironed the film onto the cloths. They made aprons for the female teachers and one black T-shirt for the male teacher.

I'll write more on parenthood in another post. Its rewards are much greater than I'd imagined. Greater also are the demands it makes on us. Misa gives all her energy and patience to Max, and I couldn't face the job without her.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Windows and Views

Windows have played a big role in my life, and maybe in yours, too. They act like a theme in a play or an opera, setting the tone for everything that happens.

This first photo is of a window in an efficiency apartment I moved into when I was twenty. It was on the 20th floor of a building on 13th Street in Philadelphia. Outside, I could see most of the old city, the Delaware River and Camden, New Jersey on the other bank.

I got a spectacular sunrise every morning.

The view was especially dramatic at night.

I moved to a lower floor of the same building, and enjoyed windows facing north. Here I made a painting of the view at night. The view was real, but the girl was just wishful thinking.

Surprisingly, the window needn't have an expansive view to brighten a room. These windows in a restaurant where I worked faced a narrow alley and brick walls. Their reflected light feels more protected, almost intimate.

I got a similar effect from my windows on Nob Hill, which faced a light well between buildings. Once I painted them and gave myself a longer view.

This time the model was present but the view was not. That view is from Filbert Street on Russian Hill, a few blocks away.

No one does windows better than the Italians. This was the communal bedroom of a pensione in Rome, where I paid $4.50 per night to stay. Sometimes I wonder why I left.

And a nicer pensione in Florence, with a much younger me.

In Paris, behind these windows, anything could happen.

This bathroom is on the second floor of a Victorian House in Virginia. The windows look out on curvy farm and forestland.

This is a window I have today. The view is unremarkable, except for small patches of ocean on a clear day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Miracle of Youth

Don't it always seem to go

that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? — Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

It's not possible to appreciate youth while you're still young. Eighteen-year-olds don't look in the mirror and say, "Wonderful! No gray hair!" But now, when my face is starting to look like the lunar surface, I delight in seeing flawless young faces like that of Max's classmate, Coral. It's a special gift of age, a heightened pleasure, watching the young. Many beauties are amplified by distance, and so it is with the distance of age. Young people appear to us elders like snow-capped mountain peaks, touching the sky.

One morning in 1993, I walked across a bridge near Embarcadero Center, where I worked. I had a lot on my mind, and all of it was bad. I was stuck in a simple, low-paying job. It was the kind of job college kids got for a few months before their first real job, but I was thirty-three and I couldn't get out of it. On the home front, I was about to lose my wife and my apartment.

Paralyzing panic attacks struck me at least once a day, and every minute I wondered when the next one would strike. I read some people's panic attacks were behavioral accidents, like allergic reactions. I knew mine were not accidents, but alarm bells, warning of real danger. Big changes were coming, and I did not want them. I couldn't control my future, nor could I run away from it.

A voice woke me from these depressing thoughts, just as I hopped up a stairway. I turned and saw an old gentleman, thin and dignified, looking up at me sadly. "What you just did," he said, pointing to the stairs, "I just wish I could still do that!" We stood in silence for a minute. I felt guilty and ungrateful. I smiled, put my hand on his shoulder and wished him a good day.

Since then, during hard times, I've often remembered the old man. Even on bad days, someone watches you from a distance. They wish they could take your place, problems and all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Personal History of Computing

This was my first computer, a Mac Classic, circa 1991. It had a 40 megabyte hard disk and a processor screaming along at almost 8 megahertz! It had a tiny black and white screen [not even grays, just black and white]. Writing had never been so easy as typing on the Mac. The words appeared on the screen magically.

I bought a modem, even though I wasn’t sure what to use it for. I liked getting email from people outside of work, but internet content was still primitive. Compuserve was mainly a list of directories, like a card catalog. Clicking through them was tedious, but it infected me with a gambler’s excitement. If I dug around in there long enough, perhaps I’d find something valuable.

The modem also allowed me to fax letters and resumes without a fax machine. This small improvement in transmissions got me two new jobs.

I adored my Classic, but it was not portable. I dreamed of a notebook computer, and wondered when I might afford to buy one. A stroke of luck: I got a job at a company with lots of old computers. They gave me a PowerBook 165 for nothing. Once I put a computer on my knees, there was no going back to a big, heavy desk machine.

By this time, there was more interesting, useful stuff on the internet. I joined and met several women I would never have been introduced to in my analog life.

The next time I spent money for a computer, I got a bright color screen. The 1400c had enough go-power to let me design a web site.

In 2000 I bought a black PowerBook Pismo. This machine had a 400mhz processor and could play DVD movies. This helped me peep in on popular culture, because I didn’t often go to a theater and didn’t have a TV [still don’t]. The Pismo was better for web design and photo-editing, but it gave me no end of trouble. I replaced the hard drive three times in the eight years I owned it.

Last year I bought a white MacBook. It goes with me everywhere. So far it is a perfect machine; I don’t even restart it for a month or more. I used it to make my videos on YouTube. It has a 250 Gigabyte Hard Disk, 6,250 times the capacity of the Classic. When inflation is figured in, the MacBook costs less than the Classic did.

In 1996 I read Nicholas Negroponte’s book, Being Digital. I liked what he said, but some of it sounded too good to be true:

The access, the mobility, and the ability to effect change are what will make the future so different from the present. The information superhighway may be mostly hype today, but it is an understatement about tomorrow. It will exist beyond people's wildest predictions.

Mr. Negroponte, you were right.