INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Kerry Karma

I forgot to report on a Kerry fundraiser I recently attended. I’m still somewhat in a state of shock at the amount that Jill and I became emboldened to fork over (several C-notes).

Oh well, what the hell? I’ve been bitching and moaning about Bush being the most dangerous president of all time. Time to put my money where my mouth is. My tax bill came up a few thousand short of what I was anticipating. So why not take a chunk of my proceeds from the disastrous tax cut and throw it back in the face of these weasels?

In the spirit of the Laws of Karma, Jill’s name was picked out of the hat for the Grand Prize in the drawing that concluded the affair. We’re getting a free dinner at one of San Francisco’s hottest new restaurants—Town Hall. The critics have been raving about it. Wow! Never won anything before. Hope it’s a harbinger for the election.

The host of this affair has given fundraisers for many years. He has an exquisite home up the hill from us and likes to use it for good purposes. He said that the take from this year’s event was more than DOUBLE his highest take ever.

An encouraging sign—especially given the fact that, this being Berkeley, there was a large sprinkling of Nader-leaning Kerry skeptics circling about.

So, despite their whining and smart-ass, more-politically-correct-than-thou attitude, they were curious enough and concerned enough to come listen to the Kerry surrogate. That wouldn’t have happened four years ago. They wouldn’t have been caught dead at a Gore fund-raiser.

And their presence most certainly did not dampen the enthusiasm nor inhibit the deep reach into the pockets of many folks like myself.

May our humble neighborhood event be a microcosm of broader trends everywhere!

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The New Nirvana

Here’s an item that hasn’t made it to the DaypopTop 40, but deserves a spot right up there. The current issue of a local rag, The East Bay Express, fearless reporter of all things weird in our divine California culture, has a lead article, cleverly titled “The Wonk of Wank,” about Joseph Kramer, the High Priest of—get this--Masturbation Education.

I'm not making this up. Not only did Kramer found, and subsequently license, circle-jerk workshops for men on how to improve their masturbation, he got his coursework licensed by the State. You can now get a license to teach this stuff!

No wonder California has the reputation it does.

Kramer’s defenders will no doubt accuse me of simplifying something profound and missing the point--that the purpose of the training is not how to jerk off, but rather, how to attain higher states of consciousness through the application of the right auto-erotic techniques.

OK. I plead guilty.

Gee, to think I’ve wasted all these years seeking Nirvana with art, music, poetry, philosophy, meaningful conversation, sexual congress with someone you love, psychedelics, pharmaceuticals, hiking, golf, and baseball—when all the while it was within my hand and a closed door.

Well blow me down and gag me with a spoon!

If this were the route to enlightenment, all males would be Ascended Masters. I can’t think of any area less in need of instruction than male masturbation. Yes, there may be more than one way to skin a cat, but this is out of the spigot and over the top.

Wrong metaphors, but you get my meaning.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Silence of Gadgets

An interesting string of comments to Yule Heibel's post of April 18 in which, among other things, she reflects on the way things are different for today's youth with respect to the way they may be processing the psycho-social-sexual dynamics of the offline world while living in a now-ubiquitous virtual one.

Commenting on others' comments, Yule says,

"I don't know, maybe teens and 20-somethings generally walk around, in between rushes of pure physicality, in a hormone-induced stupor akin to a batch of bad dope. I know I did, and it took me a while to really get a hold of my body: it was the roller-coaster thing -- "I'm alive!! I'm dead... I'm alive!! I'm dead...." But at the same time, I didn't have to deal with all the GADGETS and their mediation of my life. I could get stoned or drunk, I could go dancing, I could listen to music, read, or make art, or write, but I couldn't plug my brain into a computer. I didn't have a relationship with an online community or an anime or an avatar. I don't know how that really changes things. . . . . . . . . Things have changed for kids, in relation to the stuff we put in front of them and subsequently in terms of their peer experiences, and it's really not completely the same for them, today, as it was for us, back then."

Last week we were celebrating my youngest son's twenty-fifth birthday at an Italian joint over pasta and martinis, and something in the conversation--I don't remember what--probably Iraq--inspired Jon to say,

"I have to admit, most of my peers don't seem to give much of a crap about anything, or if they do, they don't do much to express it."

His older brother agreed: "They don't seem to have the passion you guys had. Why is that?"

Very perceptive of the lads. I reminded them that I've noticed, over their teen years and beyond, that whenever I saw them get together socially with their peers, or discussing plans for it, the main event of the evening was usually watching a flick on the VCR or DVD, followed by participation in video games and/or fantasy sports leagues on the Internet.

I contrasted that with the social get-togethers in my youth:

"There was no renting a flick, playing a video game, and certainly no Internet. You TALKED. If you were sufficiently lubricated, you might join in song. Or someone might get up the nerve to whip out a notebook and interject, "here's a poem I've been working on. Tell me what you think." Or someone might grab a book off the shelf and read aloud from something."

All those activities--the talking, the singing, the reading aloud--the stuff I don't see happening much in the social life of my son's peers--are most likely healthy contributors to building the kind of passion whose lack is being noticed by my sons, and whose presence helped lead their counterparts of an earlier world into not just vociferous protest, but wild exuberance over rock stars and folk musicians, and, yes, even poets (see my previous post).

I'm not trying to ascribe any superiority here to one generation over another. Just speculating, along with Yule, on what the effects might be of a world that's inexorably

I'm reminded of something I once posted to my blog:

"I wonder--had the internet been available in the '60's--would the power of the protest have been deflected by people taking out their outrage in a flurry of blogposts? Would they have had the illusion--and only the illusion--of empowering themselves and changing history through the act of cross-blogging, when, in actuality, the only force that could have changed anything was the years of dogged determination, blood in the streets and campuses, defections to Canada, banishments from the family, willingness to spend time in the slammer?"

Monday, April 12, 2004

Howling Recollections

An interesting piece of nostalgia in today's San Francisco Chronicle, occasioned by the sale of a local storefront--now a rug emporium, but a half century ago, an art gallery which was the scene of a seminal moment in American cultural history.

The year was 1955, and a motley collection of avant-garde poets of the day had gathered at the site, then known as The Six Gallery. The group included such future luminaries as : Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth, and Jack Kerouac. Whew!

To quote Kerouac's description: "I followed the whole gang of howling poets to the reading at Gallery Six that night, which was, among other important things the birth of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. Everyone was there. It was a mad night.''

It was the occasion of the first public reading of Ginsberg's at-the-time, earth-shattering "Howl."

As The Chronicle describes it,

"The crowds that stood under the big redwood pillars of the place and lined the black painted walls were stiff at first. Some of them even wore ties. But soon they warmed up. They were high on cheap red wine (Kerouac had taken up a collection and bought several jugs) and on the poetry . . . . Kerouac yelled 'Go! Go! Go!' Old poets wept and the room rocked with the power of the language.

Dennis McNally, Kerouac's biographer, quotes Lamantia as saying it was 'like bringing two ends of an electric wire together.'

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who owned City Lights, was there, too, and sent Ginsberg a telegram that famously quoted Emerson: 'I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do we get the manuscript?'

McClure wrote years later, the night and Ginsberg's performance 'left us standing in wonder ...but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice had been hurled against the harsh world of America and its supporting armies and navies academies and institutions and ownership systems and power support bases.'

'A point of no return,' McClure called it."

I wonder if a single poem could have that kind of power and reaction in today's world. I doubt it.

I think that the darkness of the 50's--subsequently purveyed to the younger generation as a time of happiness and simplicity--was one of those situations where you had to be there to fully grasp what a disheartening time it actually was. Artistic souls were among the few people of the time who were able to see the myopia and dishonesty that permeated our public and social life.

Consider the despair of today over Iraq and the rest of the Bush horrors, and magnify that by ten. There were no organized voices of protest, no tradition of protest, no possibility of protest. If you thought that the state of society was dangerous to the soul, you kept it to yourself and a handful of like-minded others--if you were fortunate enough to have any.

The make-believe facade of happy times was crushing and nearly impenetrable. I think it was that kind of atmosphere that made "Howl " such a breathtaking event. And let us not forget that Ferlinghetti was busted for publishing it.

Today's article from The Chron has prompted me to recall how I got into blogging.

Back in January 2001, I was exchanging some emails with Jeneane Sessum, exploring the possibility of getting into blogging. In her group blog, GonzoEngaged, which was very active at the time, and crackling with daily give-and-take from some of the best bloggers in the game, Jeneane graciously introduced me and quoted from something I had written her. Thanks to her pushing me into the scene and giving me a favorable reaction, I was then emboldened to start my blog.

Here's what Jeneane quoted from one of my emails (I can't remember why I was writing about this, but anyway, here it is):

"Suddenly, it's 1958. I'm sitting in my college pad in the attic of a cheesy rooming house. My on-top-of-everything buddy, Jack, hands me a book of poetry and says, 'fasten your seatbelt.' It's Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl' It's one of those moments you never forget. I'm practically leaping out of my chair. I know, instinctively, that somehow, somewhere, the revolution we didn't know we were hungering for has begun.

It was ten years before the streets spilled over, but, believe me, there were plenty of discussion groups going on in the interim--perhaps not so different from GonzoEngaged--people not wanting to live The Lie any longer--ferment and urgent inquiry simmering beneath the surface of the bullshit gentility of the time."

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

130 Years and Disengagement

I won’t apologize for my infrequent blogging of late. It’s just the way the ball is bouncing at this current stage. I’ve been preoccupied and not only not writing, but not surfing other blogs.

I figured that I better try to crank something out now because it’s only going to get worse in the coming days. Procrastinator that I am, I’m going to be completely sunk in the swamp of tax preparation for the next week or so—a task even more overwhelming this year due to re-opening my business after a retirement with a lifespan rivaling that of the fruit fly.

To those tempted to say, “Get an accountant,” forget it. I’m a cheapskate.

Immediately following this tempest, comes a more pleasant, but very time-consuming task—nailing down itineraries and accommodations for our European vacation this summer. Jill and I have just completed our decade-turning birthdays (60 and 70), and we decided to celebrate 130 years of combined existence with our first-ever joint European trip.

So, best to get in a post now, before the deluge hits.

There’s been another wrinkle getting in the way of my blogging—admittedly a bit esoteric, but perhaps a dynamic worth mentioning.

Reaching this milestone birthday has been something of an emotional challenge. A change of perspective is needed. One’s usual linear and physical way of looking at the world will only make you depressed when you contemplate the amount of time you’ve been hanging around, vis-à-vis how little is left.

I refuse to spend that remaining time in a state of depression. It ain’t gonna happen. So, the spiritual orientation becomes doubly important at this stage. I don’t mean New-Agey magical thinking horseshit. I mean a change in the way one regards the “self.”--elevating the consciousness to a level where one is operating from a broader perspective than just that of the body/mind mechanism.

I’ve found that one of the best tools for facilitating this shift is an exercise recommended by Florinda Donner, the former sidekick to Carlos Castaneda and one of the sorcerer’s apprentices to the late don Juan Matus.

She suggests writing a journal every day in which you do not allow yourself to refer to yourself in the first person. Your journal ends up sounding something like this: “Tom mulls over the notion that_________.” “Tom concludes that___________, yet he is concerned that____________.” Ultimately he decides to_____________.” “He notices that he’s feeling________,” and so on.

It’s very stilted, of course, but when I practice this exercise, I notice that the self, or ego-consciousness, does seem to recede somewhat. Feared burdens begin feeling lighter, possibilities greater, daily events more enjoyable. This is a space I want to occupy more often. It’s an excellent antidote to worrying about your freakin’ age.

Blogging, on the other hand, is all I, I, and more I—which is fine. It’s what we want from reading a blog—to experience the I writing the blog. It’s the heart and soul of good blogging. But, as I attempt to disengage from ego-consciousness, I wonder if the first-person requirement of blog writing will complicate my efforts.

Well, I won’t find out without trying.