Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Bit of Inspiration from Cannery Row

I have not written in my blog for over a year. Why should I? What do I have to say?

I've been paralyzed by the idea that I have nothing to say, that my life has changed beyond my capacity for explanation, that there's no point in writing for some unseen audience, the invisible not-knowing, that-which-has-not-may-not-ever-come. I began my self-editing before I ever began. It's easier that way. It gives me an excuse for not writing. I work too much, have too many obligations...

In fact, in myself, I see the flaw that I always caution against: the need for perfection. I'm in the process of writing my great novel. I have some material written. I'm just editing the narrative perspective, narrowing the focus, inventing some never-before-seen genre.

Well, the reality is that I wake up and go to sleep digesting thoughts like anyone else. And, my great American novel might be like most great American novels, a feeling, a glimpse, a hope, never materialized.

And I'm OK with that.

Then today, I had an experience that woke me out of complacency, just a little. I've been teaching an English course at the Monterey Institute focusing on the topic of sustainability. We've read a number of fascinating texts about the environmental crisis that we all know we are in (but manage to ignore on a daily basis). We've visited Stephen Palumbi of the Stanford University Hopkin's Marine Lab and Recology in San Francisco, but today, the experience was somehow different.

We met at Doc Ricketts Lab on Cannery Row in Monterey. Steinbeck made Ricketts famous in his novel Cannery Row, but Ricketts was locally famous in his own right for his contributions to marine biology. I've lived in Monterey for about 10 years, and it is a testament to Ricketts that I heard several tales of his lab before entering. According to legend, I would encounter milk jugs of petrified oceanic specimens and biological oddities upon entering the lab...In reality, I found a cozy living room with a couch you could sink ten feet into and old photos of mafia men and a wholesome good life only the great generation could imagine. In the back room, a piano cozied against a bar in some speak easy dream.

In that living room that belonged to a generation pre-Web, prior to the closing in of a world, a generation, a collective heart and life story, Charles Seaborn spoke to students from China, Japan, Togo, Iraq, and Korea. Frank Wright, who knew Ricketts and experienced Cannery Row at its literary height, told us stories of the bygone days.  We could feel the legacy of Steinbeck, Campbell, and Ricketts in our own voices. Our experiences emerged from the electronic ether and became human conversation. And in that moment, I yearned for something concrete, a pile of wood that I chopped, a house that I built, an engine that I made hum. In the modern world, our every working moment glows from a screen, every thought a transaction. I realized what it is to become human and I wanted to do it again and again.

And so...without any excuses...

I am always dissatisfied with the 500 photos I have on my iPhone with no place to go. The story of the last three photos on my iPhone this week, the story of my life:

Here is Charles Seaborn reading from the book Reverence. He points out that Reverence has three components: Awe (like AWESOME!), respect, and shame. What's that you say? Shame doesn't fit here? Well, many of us have experienced the beauty of nature or of love and felt unworthy guilt at our psychological or physical pollution, that plastic bag we grudgingly take, the exhaust we see blossoming from our tailpipe on an autumn morning. And then, we pull ourselves closer to the person we love, the scenery we hold close and say, "Thank you for loving me anyway." It's a beautiful shame to have.

 Yesterday was Halloween, and for some reason, this year, I was LOVING Halloween. I woke up excited like a school kid anticipating the big day. Halloween took two tangible forms for me this year. First, I taught a lesson on "13 Trivia Questions on Halloween," and second, I celebrated Halloween with the office at Pacific Metrics (I dressed up as Yogi Bear for a "TV" theme). After the work day was complete, I wondered if any children might be popping by my place for a little trick or treating. I bought chocolates and a glowing jack-o-lantern just in case...but there was a light without a party.

I thought about my own childhood, how we went trick-or-treating in our own neighborhoods...and I felt a little let down. Yeah, times are changing. Folks take their kids to Carmel or PG, wherever the feudal lords sit reigning benevolently over their stocks...and pass out chocolate to the appreciative pagan audience. But of course, that's just my cynicism wishing for the good ol' days...which in my case would be the Reagan 80s which I can't imagine were really all that good. So on to a better photo.

Yeah, that's pretty much the best cat that ever lived. Her name is Pele, and in this photo, she is posing as a bunny for Halloween. Pele lives with my X who is away for a couple weeks, so Pele has come to stay with me and my sweetheart for a limited time only. And wow! I had forgotten the blessing that our furry friends bring. Here is number 1: Be here now. Live life. There's no hurry when you're at the stop light rushing to yoga. Imagine that car in front of you is driven by your grandma (particularly in Monterey)...Yeah. Love everybody unconditionally. Love is good stuff, right?

Ok, now let's play.

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Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
- Oscar Wilde


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