up a creek (and a beach)



Back again after some much-needed post election rest. As the year winds down, I will be coming up with some novel-writing goals for the year and posting more of that process on this blog. I welcome, as always, comments from any and all readers on any and all topics.

Tomorrow I leave for Portland for a quarterly work meeting.

We spent the holiday weekend in LA, enjoying a Friendsgiving in the suburbs near Long Beach and a long-awaited exploration of the bike trails around our place.

The bike path that runs the length of the coast (22 miles from Palisades to Palos Verdes) is one of the best things about living here. On Saturday we drove our bikes to a lot just on the edge of LA proper and took the path into the utopian cities of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. Envision the stereotype of Southern California and you probably think of Venice and Santa Monica. If those places are where visitors go to experience California life, then Manhattan and Hermosa are where people are actually living it. That means no tourists, tacky shops selling weed tshirts, or shops selling actual weed. It also means a lot of settled wealth and small, walkable, Midwestern-style downtowns overlooking small piers and ocean sunsets.

We rode in the morning just before as a rainstorm drenched the area, so the air was cool and the sky cloudy–perfect weather, especially after another hot, dry summer.

Dark rain clouds covered the coast again today, but the sun was fully out when we struck out from our apartment and rode most of the length of the Ballona Creek path all the way to the beach, not far from LAX. Ballona Creek is a “river” that flows from roughly Mid-City (Venice and La Cienega?) through Culver City and the LA neighborhood of Mar Vista, and ends in a wetland preserve just south of Marina Del Rey.

As with any lengthy Los Angeles pathway, you get to see a bizarre and fascinating cross section of the city’s class and racial composition. Culver City is a middle class enclave, a quiet studio town filled with young families and good schools. The creek runs behind green backyards and baseball fields. Mar Vista is a contrast, with housing projects and gang-like graffiti marking much of the creek and it’s surrounding surfaces. The presence of a low-income neighborhood on the West Side still confuses me, and I know very little of the history behind it. After Mar Vista, the land around the creek becomes more open, a flat and overgrown transition zone between urban sprawl and the boxy seaside homes that crowd the cliffs overlooking the beach and the beach itself.

As the creek/path gets closer to the sea, the channel fills out with silt and mud, and later becomes a wide body of water where ocean water has made its way inland. Huge flocks of gulls sweep up and down and across the wetlands and the winds get markedly stronger. Joggers and cyclists of all races and ages zip to and from the coast. Eventually, the land the bike path sits on narrows into a thin strip separating Ballona Creek from the Marina. At the end of this strip, a small bridge spans the creek and turns onto the coastal path on a wide, wind-swept beach with high dunes. A pair of cargo ships were anchored out just before the horizon. If you turned around and looked back eastward, the air was clear enough to see the snow covered peaks of the San Bernardino mountains nearly 100 miles away.

It was almost two hours of riding, 15 miles.

I’m not sure what else there is to say about it. We came home and made dinner (Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, pomegranate seeds, rotisserie chicken) and I set to writing this post and packing for my trip to Portland. Mostly, I just wanted an excuse to write a blog post.







three articles

from a public art installation at a BART station in San Francisco’s Mission district.


realists of a larger reality” (Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen in the LA Times):

Here’s what I have to say to American liberals and leftists: instead of listening to the strategists, who don’t believe it’s possible to dramatically change our society, can we finally be bold and listen to the artists and the outsiders and the radicals and the freaks and the avant-garde and the base and the youth and the anarchists and all those who don’t want to do business as usual with the limousine liberalism of both the elite Democrats and Republicans? Can we listen to the dreamers instead of the doubters?

Here’s what I want, in the 1992 words of the artist Zoë Leonard: “I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.” Her powerful and provocative text goes on for thirty-four lines in this manner. “I want a Black woman for president,” she writes, and if you say that’s preposterous, you evidently did not see that the preposterous just happened….

A better story than what Trump or Clinton offered America is needed. It can’t come from the compromised, cynical insiders, as our president-elect saw. Often the outsiders see us better than we on the inside can see ourselves. Artists and writers are usually among these outsiders, but even so, our art and writing are often not that radical, or even very political. It’s time for us to get political as we once did in great numbers in the 1930s. We need to use our talents to help build a coalition of left and right, black and white, and everything in between, just large enough to move the country in a more inclusive, equitable and just direction. Is this unrealistic? As Ursula Le Guin said, writers need to be “realists of a larger reality.”

Bad times come slowly, one cut at a time (via LitHub):

All of us have to transit from the streets to institutions. From that very American-Allan-Poe “man or woman in the crowd” to organizations. From a large, noisy and generalized reaction, to the sum of millions of small, individual, more silent but also more concrete actions focused on creating and supporting community bonds. It’s not difficult, not heroic. And it could certainly happen in United States, there’s no doubt of that.

stop me if you’ve heard this one before (via The Baffler):

In a society where the President is experienced most often as a character on TV, why shouldn’t he be played by a TV personality? There are differences: Reagan was an actor, whose job was to read his lines, while Trump comes out of reality programs—he expects to improvise, and trusts that the editors will snip and splice everything together so that he comes out in the best possible light. The format changes, but the show’s the same.

This is not to say that everything will be fine. That’s another line that liberals are now taking to console themselves: yes, we raised a lot of panic during the election, but there was a similar panic back in 1980, and it wasn’t the end of the world. Maybe Trump will surprise us, maybe he’ll be like Reagan, maybe it’ll be okay. Except that for many people it wasn’t okay, and the world really did end.

Reagan was a bumbling idiot, but he was also a monster, a slimeball fascist whose mercenaries and paid fanatics gunned down thousands across the globe, who fought wars of aggression for PR purposes, whose crackdown on drugs amounted to the all-but-genocidal repression of his own population, who empowered Salafists and death squads, whose economic policies replaced the supposed drudgery of unionization and job security with constant anxious panic for the many and a vampire’s glut for the few, who left communities to be hollowed by disease, whose administration was packed with sleazes and scumbags and scandal. Reagan tore deep gashes in the surface of the world, he killed without conscience, and he did it all with the effortless lubricated grin of a shitty Hollywood actor who knows that it’s all a charade.

History doesn’t remember Ronald Reagan that way, but history is always a useful place to hide the bodies. Reagan, who should have died in a cold cell, never faced justice; instead he was granted an apotheosis. He was the Great Communicator, the compassionate conservative, the cheery national uncle who brought the country out of its doldrums with nothing more than a camera-perfect wink and his faith in the goodness of the American people. Liberals deified him, because in the end they find power irresistible. Just watch the steady rehabilitation of George W. Bush, now a hero of tolerance with Michelle Obama’s arms draped around his shoulders. And the same is already happening for Trump.




from the coast

tiny mushrooms, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
abalone shell, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park

Words continue to spill out about the election. Too many words, it often feels like. Some of those words have swayed me from some of my original positions. Other positions remain unchanged. In all of it, I’m trying to stay attuned to the moods–emotional and spiritual–of the people around me. Having spent the last week in the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, distraught and shell-shocked conversations are happening all over. Pacifica Radio here is a bastion of progressive activism, and it has been both comforting and disconcerting to hear the commentary. It is easy to take for granted here that we live in a county where compassion for undocumented immigrants, justice for young men of color, and bold action on climate change are top priorities. The truth is more complicated. The country is much bigger and hostile and slow to understand than many thought.

It is easy to criticize these bubble-dwellers. After all, for many other Americans there has never been the luxury of such disillusionment. Immigrants, Native Americans, African Americans, LGBTQ Americans–all have long struggled under hostile–often deadly–regimes. For them, this election has shows that America is exactly what they always thought it was. The struggle will go on.

But enough of all that, for now. I’m writing from San Francisco, where the air is crisp and cool and anticipating evening rain. The change of scenery has been good for the mind and for the soul. It is impossible to stand on the bluffs overlooking the mighty Pacific crashing into the continent and not drift into a meditative awe. This world is so much older, so much bigger, so much more patient than I am. That patience is also there in the lush redwood forests, where groves of towering trees have stood silently for centuries. Days and nights pass in those forests with nothing to distinguish or measure them–at least nothing we have the attention span or eye for detail to easily notice. To notice change in such places, it is necessary to slow down to stillness. I tried to, but still it was a struggle to notice anything outside of my self. A hundred racing and nervous thoughts poured through my mind even in the stillness and silence of the forest. I felt like a chattering mouse, here one day and gone the next while the ancient trees and rocks barely registered me as a blip, or a light breeze.

I guess it’s obvious or cliche, but these experiences bring comfort and perspective when there is so much chaos and uncertainty in the human world. The world goes on, and we’ll be OK because ultimately we are not in control.

On the personal front, my writing has been pretty slim recently. My pace on the novel has slowed, partly because of the election and work, and partly because I’ve been absorbing some advice from different writers on having a clear ending in mind as you write your draft.  Watching the news from Standing Rock has also provided a lot of food for thought–about resistance; about spirituality that sees the earth as a living thing; about the intimate connection between political/economic oppression and the very stuff of human life: water, earth, air. More here.

Christmas will be spent in New Mexico for the first time in a few years.

On the even more personal front, the path of healing continues to have its ups and downs. I have learned a great deal about myself in the last ten months. Much of it is helpful for moving forward. Most of it is hard to come to terms with. I am not as patient or compassionate or loving as I thought myself to be. I am like a child in more ways than I’d want to admit. In the process of being torn down to be built back up again, I’ve struggled with fear and hopelessness, as well as doubt and faith. I’m overwhelmed with the magnitude of grace and forgiveness I’ve experienced. And though my first impulse is to say I don’t deserve it, I know that impulse is rooted more in shame than in humility. So I choose to just be grateful one day at a time, even when everything seems to be going wrong or making me frustrated.

Thanks for reading.



Because I never tire of reading him, and because he seems to have emerged as an elder statesman of sorts, here are some thoughts on the election from Junot Diaz (along with 15 other smart and funny people).


the nations they see

Pablo Martinez Monsivais’s photograph of Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday (via The New Yorker)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais’s photograph of Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday (via The New Yorker)


from Vinson Cunningham in The New Yorker:

But to me, [the] photo of one President and the next—their heads like busts, almost inversions of each other—is a kind of metaphor for the fact that there have always, and not only since this sad Tuesday, been two spiritual Americas: one of intellect, one of spleen; one graceful, one grubby; one cool, one lit by resentment from below. They tilt their heads toward different horizons; the nations they see, and describe, overlap seldom, if at all. That the cruder half of our nature will soon hold the reins of institutional power, occupying that office alone, means that now, as ever, the other half—our “better angels,” in Lincoln’s famous words—will need, very quickly, to draw up a plan.





“There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the list of actors has to start with Facebook,” wrote Joshua Benton, the head of Nieman Lab, a think-tank at Harvard…  “And for all its wonders—reaching nearly 2 billion people each month, driving more traffic and attention to news than anything else on earth—it’s also become a single point of failure for civic information. Our democracy has a lot of problems, but there are few things that could impact it for the better more than Facebook starting to care—really care—about the truthfulness of the news that its users share and take in.”

Benton gives the example of what he saw, in the days leading up to the election, on the Facebook page for the mayor of the small Louisiana town where Benton grew up:

Among the items he posted there in the final 48 hours of the campaign: Hillary Clinton Calling for Civil War If Trump Is Elected. Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President. Barack Obama Admits He Was Born in Kenya. FBI Agent Who Was Suspected Of Leaking Hillary’s Corruption Is Dead.

These are not legit anti-Hillary stories. (There were plenty of those, to be sure, both on his page and in this election cycle.) These are imaginary, made up, frauds. And yet Facebook has built a platform for the active dispersal of these lies—in part because these lies travel really, really well.

a retreat

img_0301 img_0289

I hope people are out there taking care of themselves today.

I am in Sacramento, attending another early childhood conference. The mood is subdued, the hallways and lobbies filled with head-shaking and sombre conversation. But it is good to be in the regular flow of the world, of people doing real work to leave a better world for the next generation. Today at a lunch session we learned about the brain science behind young children’s tremendous capacity to learn through play. This morning, a panel of advocates and policy experts dialogued with the audience on how we can all work together to bring positive reform to California’s early childhood care and education system.

So, life goes on. I’ll try not to post much more about the news. I’m trying not to read so many articles, but it’s hard not to want to understand, to wrap my mind around things.

Instead, I’ll get back into some good books and some fresh air. This weekend we’ve booked a cabin near Santa Cruz (see the photos) for a mini-vacation. We stayed there in April and the idea of going back this week and unplugging feels like heaven.