Asking For Help

This may or may not surprise anyone who reads me, but I have absolutely no problems asking for help. Through comments both public (published) and private (email) I have been called pig-headed, intellectually boorish, a know-it-all, any expression you can think of that would tag me as someone who knows better than anyone else about anything, any time, anywhere.

Truth is, I can agree that it appears that way. Truth also is, in matters where fact can be provided through research, I either do that research or I have/had already done that research in the past. The only knee-jerk answers I’ve given have been in the heat of the moment and in a blog, with its store-and-forward qualities, there can be no heat of the moment because there is no real-time aspect.

So anyway, I’m asking for help. Help from those of you out there who are artists. Not “artist” in the sense that it’s your occupation or even avocation. Artist in the sense that you create images using consumables or pixels. In this case, though, I’m looking for help from someone who uses dry media (like pencil, crayon or especially dry (not oil) pastels). I’m asking for help with technique.

The technique involves creating color fields, backgrounds on white drawing paper. With oil paints or watercolors or any of the wet media, it’s obvious—or at least easy once you understand the few non-obvious techniques (e.g., wet the sky area of the paper with a brush and clear water first, then while it’s still wet, wash blues across it).

In my case, I want to cover significant areas of a page with a dark and unremarkable (no specific features) color. I’ve done a few ‘studies’ with various techniques, and I’ve come up with one way of accomplishing my goal, but I have this sneaking suspicion that the technique will not scale to a significant area without looking patchy or uniform enough.

My art teacher (I had weekly 2-hour art school sessions from when I was 7 until I was almost 16) was a big fan of fingers to smudge pastels and charcoal to the point of insisting each of us learn to go without the tightly-wound paper smudge tool that came with a set of charcoal or pastels. What I’ve come up with so far, a small patch that suits my intentions in color and in effect, pleases me quite a bit. And that’s saying something because I don’t have much relative experience with dry (chalk) pastels and because the work suggested that at least some of my instincts are intact.

So please, if anyone can give me a hint or two, I’d greatly appreciate it! If you prefer not to respond publically, send me email. It’s an important project to me, so the sooner the better (how ballsy of me, huh?)

Thank you in advance.

Freedom’s Just Another Word For…

There’s that personal Sense of Abundance I have, and it’s served me well. It’s imbued me with the ability to stop time when it’s necessary, and speed it back up when the need is fulfilled or otherwise dispatched with. This Sense of Abundance is not something to be exploited, nor is it something that one should expect to be there to avail one’s self of. It’s not so much a force of nature as it is a fact. One of my facts. Of my life. Your mileage may vary (a relationship inversely proportional to your awareness and acceptance of metaphysical and emergent phenomena).

Examples are good. Let’s try one: driving up 101 towards the City just past the Potrero/Bayshore/Cesar Chavez exit even the highway as a feature: Hospital Curve. It’s named so because the rather severe snaking of a major highway as it yields to the Potrero on the right. The roadway ends up doing a flyby of San Francisco General Hospital, hence the name. The flyby is just enough to distract you that when you turn, as you must, back to attention to the roadway, the very miracle of San Francisco opens before you, a shameless yet elegant first impression. And remember, it ain’t braggin’ if you can pull it off.

As I walk through life, whether measuring that in individual steps, or in seasons; in years or in eras; the Sense of Abundance surrounds and infuses me, making individual steps lighter, the minutiae of changing seasons more obvious, and years (and more) a dialable continuum, where I can move a slider in my head and go to whenever I wish. None of this jibes with the notion of getting older, of mortality, of finiteness.

If your gut isn’t informing your sensibilities right now, then you and I do not share this Sense of Abundance. If to you this sounds like a cosmic insurance policy or a spiritual welfare system or, worst of all, some kind of insular cocoon that hides you away from the world in which you move, perhaps it’s better to stop here and move on. Here, I’ll help: The End.

Still here? Well, good, but there’s really no capturing in the flinty tools we call language this sensation that the well-meaning and harmonious entities of the world are inseparable from it. John Lennon took a valiant (if sexist and nonsensical) stab at what I’m talking about:

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

Chi is a univeral currency, a universal language, no ink can lay down its glyphs. And it’s there to match need with providential sussurration: spiritual osmosis. Firmament rises to each footfall and disappears behind you, whisking off to other footfalls.

And finally I’ve arrived at an allusion that suits: I simply expect solid ground when my foot drops, always. Why? That’s a cosmological question and let’s just say that’s beyond the scope of my epistle on scopelessness.

But faith and expectation come under fire, as I have been under fire from so many different sources, both malicious and random, and I live very close to the Questioning: Will there be a next footfall?

General populations are most easily knocked off balance by disruption of those things that are most taken for granted, and my balance requires a measure of attention that opens my eyes to things I might have easily absorbed and then dismissed in a simple sequence of observation. Not so, these days: dismissal of jejunely ordinariness and the mundane and expected blessing of that small relief that washes over me when I live in el mundo bueno require some thought work, needing restoration.

It’s not that I have nothing left to lose; it’s that the quality of freedom, like mercy, is depends on us all. And my Sense of Abundance fails to see the world ponying up.

• • •

Nonsense prevails, modesty fails
Grace and virtue turn into stupidity
While the calendar fades
Almost all barricades
To a pale compromise

And our leaders have feasts
On the backsides of beasts
They still think they’re the gods of antiquity

If something you missed didn’t even exist
It was just an ideal—is it such a surprise?


— All This Useless Beauty, Elvis Costello

The Accidental Irony of Mobs

No, I’m not going to bash the “MSM” (Main Stream Media), the TLA that the vituperative Right Wingers like to use as pejorative. Be nice, they think they’re being clever.

The Media aren’t liberal (or even Liberal), they’re whores. Headline whores in print, Click-whores on the intarwebs.

Now, I love Salon.com. It’s one that I visit every day. Sometimes multiple times every day: immediate stuff during the day, and more editorial-type stuff in the evenings (Joan Walsh rocks my world), but no media source, no personal source, no expression of opinion by anyone who’s every lived upon this nutty little rock we call home, is free from error.

Farhad Manjoo is a staff writer, San Franciscan, general gadget and tech geek, and all-around reasonable fellow. He’s more accessible (in topic, in text and, it seems, personally) than one might have any reason to expect, no matter the egalitarian byproduct of the web.

He’s written a book: True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, and being that the book speaks to the same general realm to the same general audience as he column, hell, why not excerpt it and kill two birds with one stone? I don’t blame him for that (in fact, I’m chipping in my humble help in selling his book for him: links galore!).

I do, however, have concerns about a lack of alternate explanations when he speaks about “Apple fanbois” and comments on articles about Apple products. There are plenty of batshit crazy commenters who, like he says in the excerpt/column “Why Apple fans hate tech reporters” look for any reason to stage a nutty. Strangely though, I know no one in real life who reason flies out the window because someone wished Macs came with card slots. Anyhoo, if you’re at all interested in the topic, please go read the article.

I don’t have a problem with him exposing the rabid Apple fans. What I have a problem with is that he never goes any further, never qualifies it with context or percentages or, well anything else; it’s a simple declarative. Now I suppose that he never really claims to be an investigative journalist, but I’d hope he might have a theory-making facility in his head that might go looking for historical and causal elements for what has brought so many Apple fans to that beyond-reason state of mind. He doesn’t even bother to muse about it, implying that rabies befell the Apple fans and they dropped into his world, intact and crazy.

But such knee-jerk behavior doesn’t spontaneously occur. In fact, the most common (I’m guessing) way that people arrive at such straits comes from years and years of having to challenge misinformation, having to abide snarky dismissal, and often, well, having to do the reporter’s job for him/her, only to be thanked by being rounded up into a group that you can easily, snarkily dismiss and then broadcast (from your taller pulpit) misinformation about these “kinds of people”.

Before, during and after my tenure at the Mothership, I find so much misinformation out there that I get all fired up (this stuff affects my professional ecosystem, after all) and get ready to post, only to think twice: I’ll be dismissed as “one of them” no matter how eloquent nor researched nor level-headed I am. And that’s too bad.

But Manjoo gets paid for this shit. He should know better. He works for Salon.com, so in my opinion, his standards should be significantly higher that just anyone’s.

And what’s happening here, at least with the genuine (more on that in a bit) pro-Apple commenters, is the classic minority v. majority pattern, and I can think of a few alternate explanations right off the top of my head:

  • years of published misinformation, being corrected by commenters who get ‘no joy’—nor do they ever see corrections
  • Trolls. Good lord! He doesn’t even mention malicious commenters amping things up.
  • Anti-Apple spoilers posting as “Mac fanbois”, adding to the bad reputation

I wonder if any of these things crossed Manjoo’s mind. I’d like to think it’s ignorance and not malice. Nuance and complexity certainly water down the sensationalism. Meaning less inflamatory headlines, meaning less clicks, meaning fewer opportunities to whore, meaning, well, less pay/interest/reading.

M501-1186-main2-ca.jpg He even comes out and asks, “Why are Mac fans so quick to see bias everywhere?” but he never answers it. Why are generalist tech writers who write about the Mac so quick to see bias everywhere?. Instead he trots out reactions to—get this—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! Ridiculous. But Mr. Manjoo? I’ll answer your question directly: it all started with “The Macintosh is just a graphical toy” (c.1984) and it hasn’t let up since. Another example: someone gets bent out of shape because Mossberg complained about the iMac not having cardslots? Asked and answered a bazillion times: Steve don’t like seams and aesthetic clutter on surfaces; oh, and how many card types are out there now? The pic to the right is a 64-in-1 card reader. Price? $14.99. Anecdotally, the last card I used was a first-generation iPod shuffle and I used it (shhhh) to boot my Apple TV from when I was hacking around with it. Can’t imagine why anyone would be frustrated to have to answer already-asked-and-answered questions over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Apple fans don’t hate tech reporters, they hate a lack of research by tech reporters. And, they hate Rob Enderle. Hint to the would-be Apple fanbois out there: if you read an article, STOP reading if you see Enderle as a quoted source. Do it for the children.

Which sucks less? A fervent fan who defends his likes, a spoiler who only knows how to play the spoiler, or a reporter who doesn’t know the difference and doesn’t bother to learn?

Blogging Advice: Keep A Private Journal

The regular Writing Life for me began on a flight from San Francisco to Pittsburgh (with connection to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). It was a non-event at the time: a thought, a jot, a shot at recording nothing more than a moment. But many things can come out of a moment, even a moment which is deemed so just because it was intentionally noted and tagged soon enough after the fact.

It was near Christmas, just two or three days before, in 1993.

Before year’s end I will be marking the fifteenth anniversary of that bit of notation, and don’t you see? It’s the what-follows that promotes a moment into an event, an event into a milestone (and, I suppose, if your work typecasts you out of illimitability, the milestone becomes the millstone around your neck and you end up with a bad back).

I was in flight, as I said, and of course Allen was beside me. It was a 757. Good Lord God of Biscuits! you may be asking yourself, how on GoB’s green earth did you remember that? Easy: Allen’s legs. Long, rangy man that he was, getting into an airline seat was more an act of folding than sitting. Allen, clever, eidetic, encyclopedic man that he was, kept a catalog of airlines and their fleets (by model) in his head, because legs can only do so much folding and so only certain models (like a 757) on a specific airline (because some airlines pack an extra row or two into coach) would make a cross-country flight bearable.

He always had the aisle seat, which put me not so much in the middle seat as, of course, in the seat beside Allen. You wouldn’t think that 6’4” and 5’6” would be such a fine fit, physically, but his shoulder, bony as it was, was a perfect spot to rest my head. Perhaps that’s why the inaugural bit of writing was so terse (yes, I can do terse). Comfort called, the casual intimacies of two people fitting together, nothing more. His left arm around me, his hand on my left shoulder as we walked through the Castro. Pride! Always his left, because he smoked and because he was a righty.

I’m not going to tell you what I wrote. Not that it wasn’t important: on the contrary, it stands sentry as the bookend for the beginning. And that’s quite a lot of responsibility, especially for a handful of words aimed nowhere, which means they went everywhere. Why won’t I tell you?

There are some things one can never know about others. Simple as that. Not that I’m gratuitously withholding, but rather that pull-quotes don’t travel well between public and private realms. Profound privacy goes to maudlin proclamation. That “somewhere only we know” turns tourist trap.

Keeping a blog has its merits, but it’s no panacea. Nothing is.

And in the twisty-turny perverse reversal of sex and intimacy and the private and the public among gay men in relationships so open that only a deeded property or paper contract may provide evidence of union, or relationships so porous that men have convinced themselves they own the cake and can gorge themselves on it, too, old identities are dissolved in the bile and new labels gerrymander the world into self-involved hamlets, each with the same casual disregard for coexistence with differing worldviews.

But there are things which the world will never know in ways that you do, no matter how many soapboxes, pulpits, captive audiences or kind, lent ears. Tender, gentle things often die in the gusts of the breath which speaks them.

Cast caution—and all the small and so very precious things that make you who you are—to the wind and that oily smudge on the pavement will be all that’s left of you.

Intimacy can be an act of solitude and I have seen intimacy being bled from the world in dribbles, and all those too-open books are slapdash with ink spelling out vulgar aphoristic claptrap and proclaiming themselves bibles.

And look! Look what happens when bibles force themselves upon the greater humanity.

As Told To Sam

I have not been sleeping well. As in, every other night I sleep, and when I do, it’s more due, probably, to the muscle relaxant I take in late evening. So in that regard, I’m like Patsy.

Oh, and the night—well, just read the previous entry about the dreams. But I caught something of a break last night with a dream that was just a bit…weird. It involved Walter, the cat.

But first, some backstory. When I’m laying down on the sofa, I’m usually on my side but leaned back against the back of the sofa. Sort of a 45° angle. Walter likes to climb up on me, waits for me to get a little flatter and then tests the afghan for the gap between my chest and my arm. When he’s satisfied that the nestling space is to his liking, he’ll step with one paw off of my chest over the gap and onto my arm. Then he’ll drop and curl up, usually with his head nearly touching mine. It’s sweet and I feel useful. At least I’m sufficient (most of the time) as a kitty bed.

So I told Sam about the dream I had. “I had a dream last night that Walter was standing on top of me, but instead of finding his ‘spot’, he dropped onto his belly, y’know, like a Sphinx. And he was staring at me. Staring at me and it seemed like he was trying to tell me something. But I couldn’t understand him. Frustrating.”

Sam answered, “You know what he was trying to say?

<br/>

Walter the Cat
<br/>

“Meow.”

And I think it was.

Sleep Comes Down

I have had quite a few ideas for blog entries, and most of those I’ve even started to write, but I don’t seem to accomplish as much as I’d like. Why? Add a few more things to my ever-growing list of maladies:

  1. inability to sleep the night
  2. incredibly disturbing dreams that aren’t scary enough to wake me up
  3. hypersensitivity in my skin that keeps me from sleeping (see #1) or from doing anything other than medding up and hoping for the best

Some things not yet written (with no promises/threats that they’ll ever land on this page:

  • The “Mythical” Supervention
  • Color My World
  • The Open Book
  • Family With All The Trimmings
  • Above and Beside
  • Abandonment of Admonishment
  • .) (seriously, I don’t know why I titled it that. Probably a misfiring.)
  • A Dearth of Intimacy
  • Fear & Otherment (hey, if Shakespeare can make up new words, why can’t we all?)
  • Evolution & Family Values
  • Abusing St. Thomas

If the previous entry, “Tiburon Triptych” weren’t so semiotically turned in on itself, I would have no explanation for how that one got out of its cage. (Helpful Hint from Heloise: never try to make a right turn off of a Möbius Strip)

I can write this now because right now, after having slept (finally!), no tingling of the skin, headache-free (fleetingly), I feel not to cold, nor hot, nor tired, nor lazy, nor stressed (beyond usual), nor benightmared, nor anything but as close to “better” as I’ve been in a while.

Reason enough, no?

Tiburon Triptych

On the way to Tiberon proper just when you begin to head south on Tiburon Blvd there on the right is a small field between the roadway and the water.

In the middle of this grassy area nearer to the water is a small tree. Just that one tree alone in the middle of the lawn, save for one companion: a wooden park bench facing the water. More to the point, it faces the tree.

Such a small thing for someone to have planned. Such a small, unassuming thing. Small and unassuming: only at first blush.

Is the bench there for looking out at the water or for looking at the tree? Is it meant for sitting, just some furniture to fill an empty space or is the empty space there to give solitary context to the tree and the bench?

We do have religion out here in the Bay Area, you just have to look for it. Or look with better eyes. Or less sophisticated ones: is the tree playing at idolatry? I don’t think so, for there were no kneelers in front of the bench. Is the bench playing at supplication of the tree? of the water? of both?

Perhaps none of that. No one ever said that sitting Zazen required an official-literal blank wall. Nor does it require actual sitting (though the bench might—it knows nothing else). Perhaps the tree frames the view, blotting out things of humanity and to remind us that we are the whitespace around trees and bays and grass and not the other way around. But trees and bays and grass demand nothing, offer everything. Demand everything and offer nothing but that which we offer ourselves.

And its demonstration of selfish selflessness can serve and be served by a tree and a bay and a bench. And the grass underfoot offers good chi and the skies take away our bad chi and the tree and the bay and the bench witness the solemnity and the jubilation.

And amidst the tree and the bench and the grass and the bay do we find absolution or do they remind us to absolve ourselves? The tree and the grass and the bay know how; the bench just invites us to stay for the lesson.

We must first lessen ourselves, humble ourselves, in order to open to that which we do not yet understand; learning.

The tree and the bay and the grass understand merely this: sometimes there is no understanding to be had, merely knowing. We are tree and bay and grass and they are we. And what they took eons to learn we have learned along with them.

And understanding comes with the conclusion that there is no understanding, and that nothing ever really concludes.

The Day Microsoft Lost

Today was the day that Microsoft’s mobile efforts started to die. Perhaps it will be a slow death, but I expect not. I expect it to go the way of HD DVD: first a slow build-up of disdain for it from its inferiority and then comes the tipping point. And everything collapses.

Did you know that Windows Mobile used to be called WinCE? Yes, “wince”. People should’ve realized it then and there. But no one turns a blind-eye to the obvious like Microsoft fanboys (I’m not including those of you stuck with Windows or a Windows Mobile device).

It’s all about the iPhone SDK and the next major version of iPhone’s OSX. Apple seems to finally be in a position where licensing Microsoft technology (Exchange/ActiveSync) and not have it look like an all-out surrender. The iPhone is undeniable. In every way. It’s a phenomenon, a very popular fact of life.

Apple has opted—like it did with the original Mac and every model since—to invest computer power into the user interface and not just to, say, run Excel faster. That’s why they all called it a graphical toy, even though its interface in 1984 was superior to Windows (and still is). They’d bitch about the machine being so slow for having to keep the graphical user interface running and “what a waste”. Stupid people to whom it never occurred that the computer was being OPERATED BY HUMANS. So of course, in my opinion, the UI should get as much of the CPU as it needed first and foremost (assuming, of course, that the UI routines are optimized to be faster and more efficient). Still, the UI is the first priority of any technology that humans use. Period. This is unassailable fact.

Same with the iPhone. People call it a smartphone because it can run non-voice applications. Others insist it’s not a smartphone unless it talks to Microsoft Exchange servers. Some people call it a smartphone if it’s got a keyboard and its use requires someone who’s got a knack for succeeding with arcanely byzantine tasks.

The iPhone both fits and does not fit in the category of smartphones: There’s more processing power and more memory than a typical smartphone. No, the iPhone was expected to be a phone that was a better phone than anything out there. And guess what? It is. Look at the voice interfaces. Notice how you don’t have to remember how to turn it to a speakerphone, or that you have to embed a numeric keypad into a QWERY keyboard. Before the iPhone, did you know how to turn on speakerphone after you were in a call? Or to create a 3way call? Did you have to read a manual when you got your Crackberry? Or your Symbian phone?

The iPhone maintains the Apple’s long history of flipping around the common wisdom of the ages. It’s the most difficult programming in the world to make an application that’s easy enough to never have to ‘learn’ because it’s so evident what to do, or because your choices are always right there in front of you.

The iPhone is like the original Mac: an appliance.

Today, though, Apple just enabled a few thousand developers to push themselves past their talents—and mind you, most will—to produce a polish RIM and Palm could only dream of. I won’t even put Microsoft in that same category. Today, Apple just lined up millions of potential iPhone buyers because now all those developers can probably provide any solution anyone might need.

Touch is the new platform, starting today.