Elixir of Nepenthe

Nepenthe (pronounced [nə-ˈpen(t)-thē]) is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a "drug of forgetfulness" mentioned in literature and mythology. 

Imagine what that would be like, a drug of forgetfulness. My first thought was that it would inevitably be abused. Who would take it? How severe must the trauma be to demand forgetting? Would their be psychological gatekeepers of the nepenthe?

Would a bad break-up be sufficient distress to prescribe the drug? I think not.

The loss of a child. Perhaps, yes. Direct, immediate psychic trauma would meet my criteria. War experiences, torture, physical abuse. But "a medicine for sorrow," we learn so much from our experiences, particularly from death. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, an elderly neighbor; don't these losses prepare us for the truly painful losses. We all have different attachments to friends and relatives, but what if we never learned about death, about how it feels. Yes, we become callous; we call it experience, wisdom; we call it life, the measure of being human.

No, I think nepenthe would have to be saved for those really awful experiences, those that carry such sorrow, such trauma that forgetfulness would be the humane course to recovery.

Surely nepenthe would come in a gilded chalice and possess a bitter yet forgetful taste.

Rest In Peace Gator

A good friend died this week. He took his own life. We are all shocked and saddened by his passing and we are all asking ourselves - why? Which is to say, we are having the normal human reaction to such an unnecessary loss.

I am not going to praise him here, most of you did not know him. For those who did, we will find the time and place to share our memories. Today I am going to do something in his honor.

This is for our lost friend.

If you read this blog and you have my phone number then I ask should you ever feel so lost, so alone that you consider leaving us, I beg you to use that number and call me. If you read this blog and you don't have my phone number then I ask that you call that person today, the one who you talk to when times are darkest. Call them today and agree that should you ever walk too close to the edge, you will reach out to them. You make that promise in the light of day; promise you will cry out past the darkness. Make the promise, make it today.

My friend called me at times when he brushed against his demons and we would look at the world in ways only two friends in conversation could, I believe it helped. This time he didn't call and all of us are left to ask - why.

Rest in Peace Randy, we will miss you for a long, long time.

Saturation Saturday: Ruby

the Ruby Slippers

a ruby

ruby throated hummingbird

the ruby-throated sparrow

Ruby Tuesday

ruby grapefruit - my favorite

rubber ruby nipples

Just Another Day

Today's story starts at the Oaks card club but this is not a poker story. The card room is just the setting for part one of my tale. The Oaks has an elevated rail like many card rooms. For the non-players that simply means the area around the poker tables is separated from the common area by some kind of rail or railing. In this case there is a very large wooden ballister about four feet high with heavy thick wood posts appropriately made of oak. And the common area is two steps above the playing area, so those waiting to play can watch the games quite easily from above the action but behind the rail.

Yesterday I happened to be seated at one of the outer tables facing the rail, so I could see the six or seven spectators up there. At some point I looked up and an elderly oriental gentleman was at the rail. He was old, not ancient; dressed in a hooded sweat shirt with a well worn but not frayed leather jacket as an outer garment. He was wearing a wool knit hat, you know the one size fits all winter hat, he also had on big black glasses with the side bows worn on the outside of the wool cap. So he looked just a bit odd. When I looked up a second time he was vigorously wiping down the top of the wooden rail with a paper towel. He was very diligent about his cleaning chore, once done he discarded the towel in a nearby trash bin and then began a slow inspection of the now sparkling clean two foot wide section of the top rail. He then stepped up to the rail without touching it, watched one hand of play at our table and walked away.

An hour later, I happened to look across the room to see the same gentleman cleaning a section of the rail on the far side of the card room. I kept an eye on him, when he finished his task, he again watched one hand at the nearest table and departed. I have nothing more to say about this.
On the way home, I stopped into Berkeley Bowl, a local favorite, for some groceries. Near the checkout stand  was a large five shelf display of package nuts, candies and assorted treats. While I waited in the queue, two offerings caught my attention: Organic Gummy Bears, which seems like an oxymoron. The second item was candied fennel seeds. I have nothing more to say about this either.
that is actually not a lime on the cat's head but a carved pomelo; some kind of chinese tradition; attribution for the picture is lost in the shadows of the internet

$15 for the New York Times

The New York Times began offering a paid subscription last month. Basically anyone can read up to 20 articles a month for free. After that you have to pay up or wait for the new month to kick in. I never really kept track but I was fairly sure I hit my limit well before the end of a calendar month. What surprised me was when I signed up (99 cents for the first month, $15 thereafter), when I signed up I did not feel like I had just made a NPR donation or a relief for Japan, Haiti, Kathrina or tornado alley contribution. Fifteen dollars a month is a deal.

I read the NYT often. I hunt around in the archives for research, I get three of their teaser email newsletters and click links often for the full stories or editorials. I nearly religiously read the Sunday Review of Books usually on Thursday when it comes out online. I also read the online version of Atlantic (Monthly) still free, it would be a more difficult decision to pay for it; I really prefer magazines in hard copy, particularly the longer pieces. The Economist also gets a cyber-passthru each week but again a subscription might have to be for the hands-on edition. I read both the Atlantic and the Economist at the Berkeley Public Library, along with several other research oriented periodicals; usually on a very hot or rainy mid-week afternoon.

I also am not sure about magazines on eReaders. Books yes, but there is more to a good magazine than the words. The illustrations and the New Yorker cartoons don't translate so well to the digital screen. 

Ah what literary times of choice and bounty we dwell within.

Upon Attempting to Be a Novelist

All praise to any novelist who takes us out onto thin ice, under which large, dark shapes are discernibly swimming. Michael Cunningham

As a rule it is not a good idea to tell someone a story before you write it. Any comments or feedback will distort your vision before you have committed the words to paper or cyber-storage. About eight months ago I told two good friends and trusted critics the first part of my novel. I had what I thought were all 35,000 words written and I was interested in their reaction to the big reveal that finishes part one. Indeed it was at this point all of my large, dark shapes came into view and I did indeed have my readers out on very thin ice without them even noticing they had been led out onto a lake.

Unfortunately, neither of them liked the dark turn my story takes and I was concerned that the tale was way off track. So I turned back to the pages and began to edit, I could have simply changed the big reveal but I was sure I had it right. Must have been the lead-up twas lacking. After several weeks the 35,000 words had burgeoned to 63,000 and I sent the newly fattened part one out to six readers, including those same two I had verbally told the story. Lo and behold none of them were put off by the big reveal, in fact, the two who had been less than luke warm originally were glowing with their praise.

I pondered this for a few moments and realized I had attempted to condense my well structured dark forms into a two minute verbal summary. Clearly, darkness needs some time to build. I needed those thousands of words to lure my readers out onto the dangerously thin ice and then and only then to reveal the sinister shadows beneath them. 

Lesson learned, I ain't tellin' nobody no stories no more; at least not ones that are going to take hundreds of thousands of words to deliver all the darkness and shadows.

Saturation Saturday: White

white peacock

Great White

white orchid

white lion

the White Album

white tiger cubs

Ghostrider Snowball Pumpkins
(casper luminas)

nice eyes

and, of course, Barry White

Security & Stuff

Edward Lemay, assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire and his colleagues found that people who had heightened feelings of interpersonal security — a sense of being loved and accepted by others — placed a lower monetary value on their possessions than people who did not.

I am becoming more and more anti-stuff. I have always been anti-shopping but some of that is simply not liking the process of looking, finding, sometimes trying on and then purchasing, followed by being told I could have gotten it cheaper, larger, greener or with more power. Anti-stuff is both anti-consumerism and anti-clutter. I find the weight of ownership to be a burden. The process also requires that I labor to produce capital to expend on the objects I find objectionable. Seems like an obvious wicked circle, Dante comes to mind.

On the other hand, I don't find that being loved or accepted has much to do with my meager ways. I just don't like stuff. In fact, often upon entering into a loving, accepting relationship the event is inaugurated with a flurry of accumulation. New furniture, new clothes, new this, new that. OK some of the this and thats are fun, you know one of those things with the whatchamacallit and the thingamabob attachment. But other than that - no more stuff!

The Lemay study actually asked people to put a monetary value on their possessions. So it really isn't that being accepted and loved will make you purchase and consume less, but rather that you value the stuff at a lower price point. Hoarders, in particular, value their piles of items as much as five times more than those who are secure, loved and accepted.

However, if love and acceptance makes anyone less attached to their possessions dollar-wise or otherwise and if being less attached means accumulating fewer things - well then I am all for it! I love you, I accept you. Let's celebrate by not going to the mall.
Art: the BuyMoreMandala made of plastic shopping bags

Silly Bigotries

Church leaders [in the 1780s] saw theaters as competition with the kind of indoctrination they provided. Laws were passed in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island banning the performance of plays. Preachers spoke of theaters as 'the Devil's Synagogues,' places where fabricated human emotions were on display. The contempt continued into the nineteenth century, a time in which many religious leaders forbade dancing in public. Acting was considered an even viler form of expression, one step down from public drunkenness. - Finding Oz by Evan I. Schwartz

We read those words today and think how pedestrian, how silly, how deluded were those ancestors of ours. Banning theater seems so ridiculous as we think back from our place in the 21st century. Yet while plays were being banned as works of satan, there was also slavery; women couldn't vote - well you know the list.

Fast forward to the 60's and coalesce the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement and the anti-war vietnam protests. One might have thought that the baby boomer generation would have swept away all forms of prejudice as they aged through the society and took control of the means of production and the direction of zeitgeist. But no, it has been left to the children and grandchildren of the boomers to put down prejudice against homosexuals, hispanics and political independents. As the boomers die off, so too will those lingering pockets of prejudice and injustice.

But before the Gen. X and Gen. Y members get too smug, I have to wonder what lingering anthropocentric chauvinisms the Millennials will have to step up to extinguish. Will they be the ones to finally address environmental degradation? What lingering discriminations will they put to rest? And what narrow-mindedness will today's youth carry to their graves?

The good news is that we seem to be evolving in the right direction. Each generation does seem to be shedding the blind hatreds and unfounded fears of their elders. Want to accelerate the process - it might be as simple as watching what your kids do and emulating them.

A Nearby Earthquake

A small earthquake occurred in Berkeley yesterday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The 2.0-magnitude quake happened at 10:37 a.m. and was centered near Panoramic Way, just southeast of Memorial Stadium on the University of California at Berkeley campus.

I can verify that report. The epicenter was only a mile away and I am up on the 8th floor. It was nowhere near the biggest jolt I have experienced; it wasn't even as moving as the one last month on the other side of the Bay. And nothing like a couple of big temblors in the middle of the night when I lived in L.A. in the early 80s.

I missed the Loma Prieta earthquake here in the Bay Area in 1989, I was living in L.A. at the time. I also missed the Northridge quake in L.A. in 1994, I was living in San Francisco then. Apparently the earth does not move when I am around, at least not big time moves.

Yes, over 400 earthquakes in California in the past week.

Why I Blog

Recently (June 2011) there has been a big jump in the number of internet friends who visit this blog for the first time. Partly this comes from several online chat rooms I have joined for "professional networking" purposes. I also have begun using the net for some other leisure activities and that means many of my new friends see the promos I put up on social networks like facebook and twitter whenever a blog post goes live. 

Not all of these new friends know that I am a fairly active blogger, so I thought it might be a good idea to introduce this blog to new acquaintances and perhaps to clarify to olde friends exactly why it is that I write this blog.

I hope you enjoy what leaks out from my head, my heart and my soul into this blog, if not; please just block my announcements, I know I am not everyone's flavor of the month.

Here is some of what you might want to know about me before investing your time reading this blog:

-I am a writer and I often use the blog to test out ideas for articles, stories, even book chapters;

-I have a wide range of interests; some might say perhaps a bit too wide;

-I might be considered politically liberal but I often seem too annoy my lefty friends with what I write here; I have lots of olde and new readers from all walks of life spread around the world;

-I do have an advanced degree in psychology and I do sometimes write with big words; on the other hand I like to write on a wide range of topics, in particular my Saturday posts tend to annoy my old academic friends;

-when something interests me, I will often chase it around the internet for several hours or days and report back in a blog post;

-while my political posts are heavily United States oriented, the rest of my material is not, at least I hope it isn't;

-I often tell stories about things that happened to me yesterday or thirty years ago; these stories usually have a point to them, but I often forget to mention what it is;

-There have been over 500 600 700 posts since I began back in 2007. Should you want to know more, you can find a blogger's list (100 things about me) here.

-ADDENDUM: I got really involved with the Occupy Movement late in 2011. I am rethinking the focus of my blog for 2012. Announcement to follow. (03/12 - still thinking)

If you do drop by, I invite you to use the comments section on anything that you like, hate, don't understand, really like or completely detest. I enjoy the feedback or blowback as the case may be.

Most of all - thanks for reading. Writing is such a solitary act, it really helps to know someone is listening.

Saturation Saturday: Yellow

The Yellow Brick Road

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Yellow Submarine

Yellow Simpsons

Yellow Hat

Yellow Umbrella


a more venomous yellow jacket

The Beauty of Crying

Crying is a natural emotional response to certain feelings, usually sadness and hurt. But then people also cry under other circumstances and occasions, for instance, people cry in response to something of beauty. Stephen Sideroff

The place was the Los Angeles County Museum, the time was the fall of 1990. The exhibit was The Masters of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Jimmy, Audrey and I entered together but soon drifted in different directions. Nearly half an hour later I noticed Audrey at the far end of a small display hall, I was at the other end, inevitably we would meet near the group at the center of the room. As we got closer the group dispersed leaving Jimmy standing alone in front of a shimmering Monet. Reaching him at the same time, we noticed his tears. We embraced him, Audrey at his waist, I around his shoulders. "There's a word beyond beauty," he said.

Some time later Jimmy and I met in front of one of the early impressionistic works and were marveling at the techniques that were simply invented by those artists. We walked together into the next room and found Audrey standing alone in front of a huge Renoir. Tears streamed down her cheeks, followed by another embrace.

Late in the day, I was standing in front of a very pointillistic work by Camille Pissarro. I was transfixed by the movement created on flat surface and the shifting of light with just a infinitesimal movement from me. I remember the scene so clearly, the picture was on a short wall section next to the opening to the next gallery. At some point I looked just slightly to the right through that opening to see Jimmy and Audrey coming towards me. I had to blink the tears from my eyes to see their smiles.

A Pondering Quote

Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. -William James

I remember this quote a bit differently. And I am not going to sully my smeared memory by googling the 'correct' version.

Our normal waking consciousness is but one type of consciousness. Whilst all about us, separated from us by the filmiest of veils lie many other forms of consciousness patiently waiting for us to awaken to them. -William James as remembered by my consciousness  

To me the meaning is clear - ordinary reality is not only just one of a myriad of ways of perceiving reality; it does in fact shape the reality we identify as ordinary or waking consciousness. Change your reality, change your perceptions of reality or change your perception of reality, change your actual reality. 

Astronomers now believe their are literally hundreds of thousands of potential earth-like planets circling stars near and far (mostly far). I would suggest that there are just as many realities circling each of us, we need only awaken to them. How to do that? How to experience those realities just out of your sight? 

Well, meditation comes to mind as a well traversed path. Drugs are clearly another (insert caveats here). But I think one preliminary step is almost a necessity, particularly if your end goal is enlightenment, nirvana, wisdom or growth. You need to honestly embrace the belief that those "filmiest of veils" exist and then examine them to see them for what they are. We construct the veils, the walls, the impediments to the multiverse of realities and, of course, only we can take them down. Step one - recognize your energetic funding of your own limited view of realities.

Say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in. -Mika
art by Thor Lange

Upon the Occasion of Finding Something

Why is something always in the last place you look?

I have (had) been looking for an item for over a month. About ten minutes ago I found it! I reached into a small travel bag which should have contained only paraphenalia of a certain genre, which is precisely why I had not inspected that container in detail before. I stuck in my hand way down to the bottom and pulled out my passport. Really? Thirty days of randomly focused searching and that's where it was? 

You see today I had become semi-desperate. I missed an appointment at the DMV last month because I couldn't locate all the necessary documents to prove that I was me. I need the California Seniors ID card for another endeavor. I don't have an original social security card, neither have I a birth certificate nor a live birth document. Clearly I shall never be president.

But wait you say - don't you have a "safe place" for such documents? Well of course I do! Unfortunately, no one put the passport there. When I searched the "important document" box this morning (for the third time) the passport still wasn't there. Imagine that. Apparently three times is not a charm.

Last night I emptied the final two boxes I had hauled down from the Sebastopol storage locker, you remember Sebastopol, I live there in my friend's hut back in the early months of 2009. Twas then I began my undomiciled period and therefore rented a small closet to dump my stuff in. Those few boxes were my best and last hope for finding the passport.

I was wrong. The elusive document was here all along. The logic behind placing it in that bag escapes me, just a Duh! moment I guess. During the search I did find my 1981 passport (Antarctica) and my 1996 passport (Bali); no they were not in the same place. Also found drivers licenses expiring in 1979 (Pinckney, MI.), in 1992 (Hermosa Beach); in 2005 (San Francisco); in 2006 (Ann Arbor) and a picture of Amy & me with a lion cub at the MGM (circa 2008).

So passport found. Two boxes of sorted & resorted stuff to be discarded or recycled and one more blog post about nothing in particular. Now where did I put that grenade pin?

When A View Is Not A View

I have spoked of my apartment view often in the past, perhaps a bit too often. Please note there have been no pictures from my window since I returned to the apartment after the remodel. Speaking of the remodel, while I have been back in the apartment for over two months the final piece of the remodeling was completed just a week ago - the window treatment as the decorators like to refer to it. Or the blinds as us normal folk say.

You see the apartment has a stretch of windows nearly 25 feet across. Big windows from the ceiling to about three feet above the floor. A huge amount of glass, the aforementioned panoramic view and in the afternoon a whole big bunch of sunlight. Without something on the windows there would be no working in the afternoon or early evening as the view is due west and blindingly bright. And, of course, I have my desk right up against the windows so the view is always right there for me to enjoy, ponder and meditate upon. Temperature is only an issue a dozen days a year in the temperate northern california climate, light is the really big concern. So I lobbied for and got vertical blinds. They can stand up to being adjusted as often as five or six times every day, I can tweak them to block light but still let me have the view. Sturdy, functional slats unlike those flimsy running material sheer blinds that look so elegant, but block the view entirely and can't stand up to heavy duty usage day after day.

An interesting thing happened the first day the blinds were in. I closed them and the apartment became a completely different space. The huge view draws me out, the immense wall of blocking blinds wombs me in. The word "cave" will have popped into several of my friends thoughts about now, yes I have my cave again. But the visuals out the windows are compelling and now malleable. I can completely block the light streaming over the desk and still have wide open views both right and left. I can tweak the openings between the slats to limit light but still keep the view (amazing what binocular vision and the human brain can do with partial information). And, yes, the hibernating bear can close off the view entirely and retreat into the cave - after all Plato did it.
photo: sfgate.com


I wrote a short post the other day about our late wet season this year. As some of you know I have this tendency to follow single facts down the rabbit hole that is the internet. I like research, I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. Yes, the snowpack interested me, so I looked a bit deeper as it were.

Yesterday and today it was been wet and grey outside my windows and I read an article by a water management district representative who said that we should not be worried about flooding just yet because this "usually wet late season storm would keep the temperatures cold in the mountains." He went on to say that this system was also going to add even more snow to the already above average snowpack, so the flood watch would continue much later than usual, probably until the end of July.

Off I went looking for data on average snowpack and runoff. The first good source I found was a chart based on the average snowpack as of April 1st. It seems that is an excellent date to measure from because late March and early April is statistically the height of the snowpack throughout California. The melt begins around then followed by the streams and rivers beginning to rise.

First stat I found was that as of June 1st we were at 109% of the average April 1st snowpack up here in northern California. Not a worrisome total at all, but you gotta be careful with statistics. If we are at 109% of normal that would be one thing, but the numbers say we are at 109% of normal for April 1st that arbitrary measured date. So I had to ask: On June 1st, how are we compared to average for June 1st? I mean shouldn't we already have had about two months of melting?

It took some searching but I found the numbers. Before this big storm came through, the one I am looking at outside my window right now; before this drenching we were at 559% of normal snowpack for June 1st. No typo there - Over five times normal. Its a double whammy of a big snow season and a wet spring that has delayed the spring melt.

Donner Summit at the top of the pass between Sacramento and Reno has seen a staggering 740 inches of snow this winter/spring (so far). Only four years since 1900 have seen snowfall in excess of 700 inches. The average is just over 400 inches. In 1982-83, Donner got 880 inches of snow; that summer in many higher elevations the snowpack did not completely melt, not until the following spring after a more normal winter in 83-84.

What does this all mean for the 2011 fire season and for potential flooding? Well short term predictions are generally unpredictable. But as far as global warming or climate change as is the current PC label - this year's wet winter adds nearly nothing to that conversation. Annual or decade long variations do not preclude the scientific evidence on the long term effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The only piece of evidence I can verify is that it is very wet outside at that moment and snowing up in the Sierras.

Meanwhile, could someone please locate two wolverines and a pair of pythons.

Saturation Saturday: Violet

violet sabrewing hummer

dayglo violet leaves

vitelotte (violet potato)

violet sky

violet moon

and a violet bathroom

Shared Marginalia

A couple of months ago Amazon quietly announced public note sharing for their Kindle eReader. I was surprised they didn't make a bigger deal about this great leap forward. You can now read a book with a friend, friends or classmates and share each other's marginalia. I don't know if you have ever passed a book around with everyone adding to the margin notes but I can attest from several such ventures that it is well worth the time. The only drawback was waiting for your turn to get the book or being first in line with completely virgin pages. The last in the queue, of course, gets the full benefit of sharing everyone's thoughts, dreams, reflections and critique.

Now we can do it live and be updated as the group reads through the book in real time. Sure we all have to buy a Kindle or download the free app. to our laptop and upload the same book but trust me this is worth the effort. I assume all the eReaders will add this feature soon. 

Geographical separation will no longer limit the members of your book club; you can have an eBook Club. Who wants to read Heart of Darkness with me? Or the Foundation Trilogy? Or Catch-22? Or . . .