This is my City. Isn’t it?

Last night on a bike ride with my oldest teenage daughter, we talked about living in different cities and what life must be like. When her mom and I first met way before she was born, we were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. All told, I lived for eight years between San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. San Francisco became my City.

“I was glad that I lived in the Bay Area back then,” I told my daughter on our bike ride on a dark beach path in Long Beach last night, “and I’m glad I’m not living there anymore.”

So many reasons: The high, high, high housing prices. The bad traffic, as bad or worse than L.A. The workaholic corporate types who just can’t wait to get back into their cubicles. Maybe it was things like the recent news story about a guy who lived in a trailer park and drove a Tesla.

We are somehow shocked at seeing a Tesla parked outside someone’s Bay Area trailer, with all of our judgments about class, education and entitlement laid bare. Another well-paid tech worker just can’t find a place to live for less than several million dollars. For years I would say, “the Bay Area people don’t deserve the Bay Area with all its beauty. They’re too busy in their cubicles and their corporate drive.”

Still, it was hard for me to leave the Bay Area. Emotionally hard, like a break-up that no one wanted but had to happen. It took me about five months to actually make the full transition to L.A.

And now? So many years later, in an entirely new life, I am much better here. Oh sure, I’ll go back and visit San Francisco, maybe Berkeley, possibly Marin. And then I’ll go home. San Francisco will always be my City, but where I am now, where my family, is truly my home. And no amount of great views, bridges, good food, fine wine and progressive intellectual thinking can match that.

Meanwhile, my old apartment at 777 Bay St. in San Francisco? The rent there tripled in the instant that we moved out, and it was re-rented in less than a day. I’m sure it’ll be fine. The residents there, I can only hope that they once in a while poke their heads above their corporate cubicles and look around.



London by Day

Back in the mid 90s – that is, the mid 1890s – Impressionist painter Claude Monet created a series of paintings of the Cathedral in Rouen, France. He did more than thirty paintings, all (or most) of which recreate the facade of the church from the same angle.

While from the same angle, they are done at different times of day and in different seasons of the year. As argued in Art & Physics, the series shows a kind of time travel, a fourth dimension: The same object looks differently over time. It evolves and changes, and yet it is the same object. Or is it?

We are humans evolve and change over time and yet we are the same person inside. Or are we? One of the beauties of art is that is stirs up human psychology, history, religion, politics, the weather, technology, and college papers.

“Yours is the best paper I’ve ever read in a freshman survey course,” gushed my art history college professor at the end of my final exam. I was a senior at the time. No matter. Art is its own adventure, and if stories like this could be true, then I want that adventure too.

The opposite idea of Monet’s paintings, and only done with an iPhone and some clever filters. This series is one single photo of Trafalgar Square in London. Under party cloudy skies, a little chilly, and full of tourists and visitors.

And yet each recreated image evokes the same object, at the same time, but with a different feeling and mood. Is it the same object then, in each panel? I’m no Monet, but I’m not so sure.

Arriving in New Orleans


The fantasy of travel, which never goes away, still gets tempered by the actual arrival at a location. The best locations in the world are the ones that, like a shy guest at a party, sit quietly back in the corner and wait for you to discover them.

New Orleans is all about its life, its music, its spirit and its joy, grief and pain all smashed into one colorful pastiche. And yet, just walking off the plane, just before a mid-fall rainstorm hits, and just as the sun goes down, a lone jet-fuel tanker truck rumbles past my plane at the gate, oblivious to the empty runway and the tense, waiting silence that accompanies nightfall when mixed with the coming rainfall.

I was in New Orleans for a conference. Over the space of four days I probably spent five or six hours in actual meetings. Much of the rest of the time was given over to receptions, dinners, cocktails, and in my free time wandering the streets bathed in music, light, people, and more alcohol than anyone could safely consume for long. The brooding blue of my first minutes in town faded away.

I used this photo as on the front page of a portfolio website I made for myself last year. The deep blues, the vision of travel and the sense of anticipation drew me to it. In the end, I took the image down and changed my site layout because the whole site was just too busy. I could never completely explain just how a jet-fuel truck and an arrival gate were related to the site. Even so, that beloved fantasy of travel never goes away, even when I arrive at my destination too late in the day to see much of anything.

Desperately Seeking The Great Gatsby

What is good writing? I’m in the presence of good writing after I write a draft, then polish, scrub, polish, scrub, delete half of it and still love the rest. It’s when I read the same piece the next day and don’t hate it.

Good writing is when I open a vein and distract myself until something major comes out. It always does.

Good writing is when I read a piece over and over again and get so into it that I forget what day it is. Good writing is a moment that comes and then is gone just when you were both getting to know each other.

I thought about the mystery of good writing when I continued my fruitless search for an article I wrote about The Great Gatsby that appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian sometime in the 1990s. I loved that piece. I can’t find it anywhere: not in my files; not on the website’s archives.

My high school junior English teacher, Mr. O’Brien, taught us the ins and outs of The Great Gatsby. He also taught a certain love of reading and taste for pictures, images and feelings in good writing. It’s all in the article, somewhere.

One day, I’ll find that article again. It’s worth a re-post, if only to get back into the moment one more time.

Sunday Books: What are stories good for, anyway?

Okay so I’m a day (and several weeks) late on Sunday Books, but this is a good read so far. A judge sentences Sam Pulsifer to 10 years in prison for burning down Emily Dickinson’s house with two people inside. But at the same time, this judge confuses Sam, his lawyer and the prosecutor over his ruminations on what must have been his frustrateinside_book_coverd career as a professor of literature.

So goes the zippy narrative and biting humor of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. Sam, convicted of murder, blames his crime on the crude stories his mother told him about the Dickinson House after his father, her husband, left for three years.

Continue reading “Sunday Books: What are stories good for, anyway?”