Sunday, December 20, 2009

narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life

Little cat, so
thin on love
and barley.


I have been scattered for the past few days. This post will bear the heavy mark of that. After a heady first week of work, I fell off a little. The intention is to recover, but with the holidays it is likely that little will be done between now and the first of the year. What has gone wrong? Perhaps my cooking hasn't been spicy enough.

A friend passed recently, a dog named Tess. I had known her for seven years. She was the companion to Liam, who comes to the Pub every day at noon and drinks a few pints of Hen. Tess was a fine old black lab who, in her younger days, would occasionally come by the pub without her old man and we'd have to call him. (This was before my time.)

In the past year she lost a great deal of weight and her trouble walking became more pronounced. She lost interest even in the treats we would give her. Liam had her put down last week.

Off to the Pub in the sky, old girl. I'll see you when I get there.

I found a new dangerous place in Santa Cruz, a bookstore called Logos. Despite the dandified sneer of the middle-aged host, or maybe because of it, the shelves are filled with odd and old used books for very little money. All the poor remaindered Tuttle editions of Natsume Soseki, two of which I hadn't found previously, and a number of old volumes of Andre Gide's work... I read and was much impressed by The Counterfeiters years ago, but hadn't sought out the rest of his work at the time. I devoured Strait Is the Gate in a single sitting.

The distance between such writing and writing now is too sad to really think on this morning.

But, like many major foreign writers, (Pessoa, Soseki, etc) Gide is hardly if ever read even by literate people in the country. The culture of reading has changed, I guess, and turns to books for reasons different from my own.

I read somewhere that the percentage of books published each year by foreign writers in translation hovers around 0.4-- Oy. It's probably higher, at least statistically relevant, if the books were limited to Fiction/literature, but still.

The Orthodox church nearby is devoted to St. Lawrence. I do enjoy all the stories of the saints, so I looked him up. The story is not usually told as a joke, but it is, and an excellent one.

St. Lawrence lived in pre-Christian Rome where to be elected to an office in the church almost assured martyrdom. St. Lawrence was elected Treasurer. He was promptly brought before the judge who ordered him to turn the treasure of the church over to Rome.
"But your honor, I will need three days to gather up all our riches."
Three days were granted to St. Lawrence.

During those three days, St. Lawrence tended the poor and sick and desperate just as he always had, but asked all those who were able to appear outside the courthouse when he was being tried inside.

One the appointed day, the judge asked St. Lawrence if he was ready to turn over the church's riches to Rome.
"I am ready, but our wealth is too great to fit in the courtroom. It lies outside. Come."

So the judge and the soldiers and all the observers followed St. Lawrence out of the courtroom. They found the steps and the streets filled with the poor in their rags and the sick in their torments. St. Lawrence turned to the judge.

"This is the treasure of the church. I entrust its care to Rome."

And when they were flaying him and roasting him on a spit, he couldn't stop laughing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Something like wit

Discovered yesterday afternoon in conversation with A.

'Pynchon is Dan Brown for assholes.'

Glib, over-simple, and mean-spirited, but I stand by it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Growling each letter to itself

Letter to the Light

Morning's paper is splendidly unfolded
on the Earth, it is a new day
and a tractor is already out there with its lumpy fist,
writing a letter to the light, growling
each letter aloud to itself, for it's important
to get everything in, the thunder and the bees,
the ant trail that's extended it's little
silken foot in the grass, our peace
and the unease we feel about everything-- it has to get
all these in.

Large moist lines and a slow hand
that shakes a lot but now it's all said,
the page is full and everything's laid out in the open
like a letter to no-one, the plow's letter
to the light that anyone who wants to can read.

Rolf Jacobsen

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


It should also be noted that my little sister, Stacie, also attended the church in Mentor, and that its function was also very social. We both benefited from the kindness of many of the Mentor United Methodist Church.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The St. Lawrence Orthodox Church occupies a broad, barn-like and very beautiful redwood building a scant two minute walk from my apartment in Felton on Highway Nine. Orthodoxy has fascinated me since my acquaintance with it, academically thru my Russian Studies major, and personally thru a lovely Professor, one Masha Kipp, who more or less adopted me in college, often providing my meal for the day accompanied by wine, brandy, good bread and literary argument. It values beauty, in an opulent, Near-Eastern manner, and retains enough old church qualities, like the singing of the service, the dedication of each day to one saint or event or another, to please me and seem, somehow, essentially honest. It will often surprise you with its modern lyricism. The church blooms 'like an orchid in Siberia' and the Lord is asked for mercy for all those 'unwatered by the streams of grace.'

However, incense makes my throat close.

Having a longing for devotion, prayer, and ritualized beauty, and believing in building my life thru the accident of what surrounds me, I stopped in last night for their Vespers service, sung almost nightly, and twin to Matins, a morning service more or less the same.

I can't say I grew up in any church per se. Our family was vaguely Irish Catholic but my grandfather had had a falling out (or, rather, a casting out) and this carried over to Mom, who also honestly worked too much to have time for church. The only church in Mentor, the little grain elevator town I lived in before the farm, was Methodist. Being a civilized sort of feral child and immensely curious, I began attending by myself, sitting in the unoccupied second row, and devouring everything, hymns, parables, homilies, that the services and their books provided.

Now, since the fervor of prohibition has mostly come and gone, Methodism has become one of the most milquetoast of the Protestant churches. They use grape juice for communion, and only do that once or twice a year, but other than that have adopted a bland, Mid-Western, middle-class tedium of faith, which was, for me, saved by the garrulous, fearless, melodramatic personalities of the mostly elderly membership. They hated and thwarted each other so politely! And the pancake feeds where all the kids served and stole sausage links dipped in syrup on the sly.

At ten I encountered my religious crisis, my first thoroughly intentional and conscious act as the man I have become, and left the church, tho retaining a sort of automatic monotheism and habit of prayer. The rest has been a reflexive animism grounded in the transcendence of beauty.

So I attended the small service, made up mostly of the monks actively serving, and stood along the back wall with one of those thin aged to agelessness women heavy with suffering and devotion found in every Orthodox church everywhere. They may not even be people, rightly speaking, but a kind of goblin native to the buildings.

How good it felt to sing the response, Lord. Have Mercy. in the ancient lilting minor key melodies. The plea for mercy-- I believe in this.

Kýrie, eléison.

After the service, I spent a modest amount of time looking at the many icons and the organization of the church. Imagine my surprise, and complete lack of surprise, when I turned to the icon directly behind me and found St. Patrick. Has it been you the whole time, Pat?

I could go on. I have an entire line of thinking based on Religious 'gesture'
for instance, but I'll leave you with some words from the newsletter that I essentially, tho clearly not in every detail, agree with, and describes what I try to counter when I invite people into my home.

"It seems thousands of years removed from us, but it was not so very long ago
that life was marked out by religious feasts. Although everyone went to church,
not everyone, of course, knew the exact contents of each celebration. For many,
perhaps even the majority, the feast was above all an opportunity to get a good
sleep, eat well, drink and relax. And nevertheless, I think that each person felt, if
not fully consciously, that something transcendent and radiant broke into life
with each feast, bringing an encounter with a world of different realities, a
reminder of something forgotten, of something drowned out by the routine,
emptiness and weariness of daily life.

Consider the very names of the feasts: Entrance into the Temple, Nativity,
Epiphany, Presentation, Transfiguration. These words alone, in their solemnity,
their unrelatedness to daily life and their mysterious beauty awakened some forgotten
memory, invited, pointed to something. The feast was a kind of longing
sigh for a lost but beckoning beauty, a sigh for some other way of living.
Our modern world, however, has become monotonous and feastless. Even our
secular holidays are unable to hide this settling ash of sadness and hopelessness,
for the essence of celebration is this breaking in, this experience of being caught
up into a different reality, into a world of spiritual beauty and light. If, however,
this reality does not exist, if fundamentally there is nothing to celebrate, then no
manner of artificial uplift will be capable of creating a feast."

Things not to do

I could fill up the internets with my own personal list, but today's lesson is this: don't completely rewrite your work after a publisher has already agreed to publish it. It bothers your editors, who are very good people (and at least one them reads this blog) and will eventually earn you a reputation for being difficult. Which really isn't as interesting as you might think. As a once-editor myself, trust me, difficult artists are not more passionate or more interesting than others, they just get off on being willful, like two-year-olds.

And for complete transparency, here is basically the manuscript they first agreed to and prefer.

Oh, and in case there is any doubt, I rolled over. My revision will just live in my heart!

This contains some storyboard based suggestions, but you're all smart people. You'll get it.


Kenichi, the brave, Kenichi, the adventurer, but first, Kenichi, the little boy, sat perched like a bird along Osaka harbor. Sailors filled Osaka Bay with little sailboats, and all the boys liked to watch them. But no one watched as closely as Kenichi Horie.
The wind took the boats far from shore until Kenichi could see only the white dots of their sails. Before the day grew dark, all the white dots came closer and turned into boats again.
Kenichi wondered why.
Why come home when
the wind blows forever
across an ocean that never ends?

Kenichi's journey began with that question. Kenichi began to transform. He studied the living map of the stars. He learned the names of clouds. His hands became practiced with needle and thread.
During the day, Kenichi sailed with men and older boys. They teased him and worked him until his bones ached, but Kenichi never complained. At night, Kenichi drew sailboats, studied them, and then threw the drawings away.
One day, after Kenichi had learned all he could, he visited the shipwright in secret.
“Build this,” he said, “but tell no one.”
Kenichi visited the shipwright every day after that. Planks were slowly sanded and slowly bent. Wooden mallets slowly drove in wooden pegs. The workers moved so slowly!
“Stop yelling at my workers,” said the shipwright, “your boat will be ready tomorrow.”
Finally, the boat Kenichi dreamed was real. It floated proudly before him. He named it: The Mermaid.

[Two page Mermaid?]

Kenichi slung a fifty pound bag of rice over his shoulder. He squeezed rolled maps of the ocean floor and the sky under his arm. He put thirty jars of jam, a radio, and some books into a box and carried it all toward the Mermaid. He pulled eighteen gallons of water behind him in a wagon as he walked alone down the deserted streets to the harbor. Shadows filled Osaka Bay.He boarded the Mermaid, untied it, and sailed into black Osaka Bay. Only the little old woman who sold rice balls to the sailors saw him go. From Japan to America. From Osaka to San Francisco. From one edge of the Pacific Ocean to the other, because
the wind blows forever
across an ocean that never ends.

[Two page departure?]

But the ocean is a monster, and is home to monsters. Innocently the Mermaid floated, small as an eyelash, across its uncaring surface. The first monster came on cloud feet: the Typhoon!
The ocean scoured the sky. The wind drove its fists into the sea. In between, Kenichi was lost. Helpless. Alone. The typhoon fought the sea for fourteen days before it became bored and went away.

The ocean and the sky were bright and new and calm, but Kenichi could not see them. He sat huddled in a shadow. He had been so scared, but there were no arms to hold him, no eyes to warm him, no voice but his own. He cried out: Kodoku-- the cry of loneliness. Then Kenichi breathed evenly. He mended the little things the typhoon had broken. A porthole. The sail. His courage.

Swarms of fish followed Kenichi as he sailed. He bent his arm to the water, waited, then snatched the little fish from the sea. The good days tasted like fish.

Sometimes, in the enormity of life, we find friends we will never see again.
Kenichi met a pod of whales sunning themselves lazily in the wide soft ocean. When the wind told him that it was time to leave, he was full of sadness..

[The world grew bigger each day.] --Can be cut in favor of a two page spread.

The ocean hides great hunters. As the fish liked to follow Kenichi, Sharks liked to follow the fish. When the sharks came to feed, they slammed against the side of the Mermaid. Kenichi hid, trembling, until they were full, until he was sure they had left.

Ships are floating cities propelled across the ocean by enormous engines. They carry thousands of people. They weigh a million pounds. As the Mermaid passed through a ship's shadow, Kenichi waved at hundreds of people on deck. Then he sailed on, alone, with only the wind to help him.

Kenichi forgot about land. He forgot about everything but the never ending ocean, the wind that goes forever. Once the ocean was full of man-of-war, jellyfish like creatures that use the wind to sail. Kenichi forgot he was not one of them.

San Francisco carved a hole in the night with its lights. This was the end of his journey. Had he won? Was the ocean defeated? San Francisco Bay is filled with rocks. Biting his lips, Kenichi dropped anchor and waited until morning.

As the sun rose over North America, Kenichi sailed into San Francisco Bay. His soul was as big as a bridge. He stepped on shore and kissed the comforting earth. He burst with joy. But somewhere inside him, he heard, like the beating of a drum, the words:
The wind goes on forever
across an ocean that never ends.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

the shout

Yesterday I met with Hanae Rivera, illustrator of Kodoku, to try to work out her storyboards. I had known since my meeting with J. at Heyday that I couldn't stand most of my previous draft, but had hoped the feeling would go away. It didn't because I was right. My previous draft was not good enough. It was muddy, went in all directions, lacked form.

I had written it before I worked on Kodoku the play. In writing the play, I finally realized why Kenichi was important to me and why I felt the thrum of the story so powerfully. It's about becoming an artist.

Here is the new version. The first bit is just an informational paragraph. The later part of the manuscript is intentionally sparse to allow for some purely visual storytelling.

In 1962, twenty-three year old Kenichi Horie boarded a
sailboat called The Mermaid, left Nishinomiya, Japan and
began to cross the Pacific Ocean. His destination was San
Francisco, California. His solo journey lasted ninety-four
days and was the first of its kind. Kenichi Horie has spent
his life as an adventurer. His first sailboat, The Mermaid
was donated to the San Francisco Maritime Museum.


Kenichi watched the waters. The waters watched back.
They showed him the wind and the boats and the wind
moving the boats across the waters. White smudges on
Osaka Bay. The waters shouted to him.
The wind moves forever
across an ocean that never ends.
That is what Kenichi heard, but the shout is different for
everyone who hears it.

The shout leaped inside Kenichi like a heartbeat. To be a
sailor on that wind... To launch a boat across that ocean...
To prepare, Kenichi studied the living map of the stars. He
learned the names of clouds. His hands became practiced
with needle and thread.

Kenichi grew older but the shout stayed young.
The wind moves forever
across an ocean that never ends.
He bent wood into a boat that was small, sturdy, and fat.
She was built with his sweat. She was built with his blood.
She was built with his breath. He called her The Mermaid.

The journey began in a night with no moon. The waters
that called to him were black. The wind kissed the sails
softly, as if frightened to wake them. Only an old woman
saw him push off slowly from shore. No one knew he was
crossing the ocean.

The ocean is a monster and is home to monsters. The
typhoon came on cloud feet. Kenichi and The Mermaid
fought the monster for fourteen days before it became
bored and went away.

The waters were bright and new and calm, but Kenichi
could not see them. He sat huddled in a shadow. He had
been so scared, but there were no arms to hold him, no eyes
to warm him, no voice but his own. Those who follow the
shout will hear this also: Kodoku-- the cry of loneliness.

His journey became broader and stranger.
The good days tasted like fish.

In the enormity of life, there are friends you will only meet

The shout can consume you. Kenichi began to forget
himself. There was only the ocean, only the wind. He lost
his past. He cared nothing for his future. He rode the wind
with men-of-war and thought he was one of them.

San Francisco carved a hole in the night with its lights. It
said, warm bath and it said hot meal and it said people!
Other people! Kenichi dropped anchor and waited until the
sun rose to show the way.

Kenichi's soul had become as big as a bridge. But even as
he touched the land again, and even during the parades and
parties and fame that followed, he heard it. The waters. The
wind. The leaping shout.
The wind moves forever
across an ocean that never ends.