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Category Archives: San Francisco

Daily Prompt: Might As Well Jump

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TheWordPress Prompter says Might As Well Jump and then asks: What’s the biggest risk you ‘d like to take–but haven’t been able to?

Golden Gate Bridge

The timing for this could not be more perfect: just yesterday a piece of financial news had me imagining the jump.  Readers won’t love or even like my response, since the expectation of this prompt, or so I assume, is to be inspiring–but that’s of no consequence to me. My jump would, however, require courage–which is in large part why I still haven’t made it. When I saw the words “Might As Well Jump,” an image I’ve harbored for a long time immediately came to me: an image of myself in mid-air, the Golden Gate Bridge behind me, the Pacific Ocean ahead.

I know it won’t feel soothing the way I used to imagine the water would feel; I’ve been told and I’ve read the facts over and over again. The waves will not embrace me, they won’t fold over lovingly. No, they say it’s like hitting cement. WHO says that? The few survivors? There are some who’ve jumped from the GG Bridge and lived to tell the tale–very few, “they” say. Who are these THEY who have so much to say about everything anyway?

I’ve always had romantic feelings about the bridge. Before moving to San Francisco I visited the city, and one day I walked across. The fog swirled around me, and an inner voice whispered, I could write in this City. I was as far away from suicide that day as I’ve ever been. Halfway across the bridge I stopped to stand against the rail and gaze out at the ocean and the skyline, lost in romantic thoughts and future plans. I went into a kind of trance, not that unusual for me, and lost track of time. Suddenly an ancient weathered-faced man appeared at my side. He looked pointedly at me, grinned, and asked, “How we doin’ today?” I nodded and told him I was just fine. And then it hit me: he was one of the guards, or whatever they’re called, who hang out at GG Bridge watching out for potential suicides! I had to laugh.

I was only 42 then. Jumping at the age I am now isn’t entirely irrational. I’m 67, and I don’t look forward to the choices or possibilities that lie ahead. Given I have a lung condition and keep smoking, though struggling against it constantly, I’ll probably go out gasping for oxygen.  The big THEY is always pointing out that it’s a horrible way to go–but come on, what might be better? There aren’t that many attractive ways to get out of here.

I prefer to decide when to go, rather than waiting around to be taken. But the thing is, I don’t exactly want to give up living–it’s just that some of the circumstances of my life make it harder and harder to go on, so given I’ve gotta go anyway…It’s such a bitch that we don’t know when it will happen. I could die today or I could live another 20 years. If it’s the latter, though, what will my quality of life be? It keeps getting worse. The signs, the information, are all around, all I have to do is look at those who are older than me. When my son broke his ankle recently, he was in a rehab facility that was also a nursing home, and I got a real good look. There were days that I couldn’t stop crying.

Sally Binford, a friend of some of my friends, is a hero of mine. She took her life at 70, as planned, even though she was, as far as anyone knew, still healthy. She’d decided a long time before then that she didn’t want to grow older than 70. And then there’s Bill Brent. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Bill, who jumped off the bridge last September–the only person I know personally to make the jump. While I was sorry to see him die, and sorrier still to see another casualty of a culture that makes it almost impossible for writers like Bill to survive, I could not help but admire his courage.

Cover of "Final Exit"

I’ve read books like Final Exit, and I regularly check into online forums on suicide. One of the difficulties of attempting suicide is you might screw up. My preferred method

actually wouldn’t be to jump; it’d be the much simpler way out of an overdose. Trouble with that is, pills don’t always work. Final Exit lays out instructions involving specific drugs and a plastic bag over your head–which isn’t the way I want to go, sitting with my head in a vegetable bag, waiting. I can’t imagine using a gun, or knife, or any other kind of physical violence. It’s like Dorothy Parker’s brilliant poem:

 

Resumé

Razors pain you;

Dorothy Parker Photo: Sat.EvePost

Dorothy Parker
Photo: Sat.EvePost

Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

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He’s a Giant! He’s a Catcher! He’s Busta!

Buster Posey was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player on Thursday. This season Posey had returned after being out more than half of last season after a collision at home plate that left him with a devastating leg injury. Not only did he fully recover, but in 2012 Posey set career highs with a .336 average, 24 homers and 103 RBIs. He helped the San Francisco Giants get to the World Series and win it in four games, becoming the World Champions for the second time in 3 years. Posey is the first catcher in four decades to win the award, determined by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Posey’s 2011 collision

My admiration for catchers is immense. In my opinion, they do the hardest job in the game, squatting for 9 or more innings, up and down, up and down–the physical wear and tear alone is enormous. Then there’s the psychological aspect of managing pitchers, who, as I’ve pointed out before, are frequently psychotic.  

Catchers are underpaid and underrated. Jorge Posadawas my favorite player partly because of his position. I used to call him “Jorge-He-Does-It-All” whenever he hit a clutch home run or a Grand Slam. He was a catcher who hit well.

Jorge Posada

Not superlatively, but well; some catchers can barely connect bat to ball. They’re also notorious for not running very fast on those wobbly “catcher’s legs” that are always going up and down, up and down…okay, no need to belabor the point. It’s a tough job.

That’s why, when a Buster Posey comes along, give credit where credit is due. He’s only 25 and just starting his career–with a bang. It’s going to be fun watching him mature and get even better. Go Buster!

Slideshow: Baseball’s Greatest Catchers

 

Labor Day Weekend

Work, work, work

Let’s hear it for holidays that don’t require vast expenditures of money and time, and that honor the working people to boot. The standard ritual for this holiday is low key: bar-b-que and outdoor games like frisbee or baseball. There’s also a touch of melancholy about this weekend, being that it signifiees the end of summer and the start of school, and, for some people, a return to work.

When I lived in a tourist town—Woodstock, New York, where the concert was not held—I had another reason to love Labor Day: it was when the summer people got the hell out and we locals reclaimed our turf. On that Monday night we’d fill the bars and cafes, previously overrun with tourists, and after we got good and drunk we’d stroll up the main drag, less than a mile from the bottom of the hill to the center of town. The small triangular Village Green was where the Trailways bus deposited the younger pilgrims every Friday night; they’d tumble out, stoned and dressed in their best tie-dye, asking where the concert was held. My daughter and her friends would point to the flag and tell them it was where Jimi Hendrix played.

It was Labor Day weekend 1988—24 years ago—when I moved to San Francisco. Woodstock friends who happened to be here visiting the  mutual friend with whom I lived for the first few months picked me up at the airport, easing my cultural shock.  Instead of walking up Tinker Street that year, we drove down to Monterey.

A lot has happened since then. Today I’ll be watching baseball with my son, thinking about the work I’m not getting. I hope things change, and of course they will: everything does. I just hope the change goes in the right direction this time.

Happy Labor.

May Day

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It’s been decades, maybe even generations, since the U.S. has seen so much political activism on May 1st, International Workers Day. The SF Chronicle ran an article about the many Bay Area events; organizers of educational seminars in New York spoke on Democracy Now this morning. Organized Labor has always honored this date, but this year’s burst of events is testimony to the Occupy movement and the increased political activity of the past year.

When I was younger May Day confused me, and I’ll bet it still confuses some people, what with so many disparate occasions marking the date for so many wildly different reasons. I had a vague sense it was something political, but then I’d see things like the English royalty in the movie Camelot cavorting in fields of flowers—a far cry from those newsreels of Communist displays of power, or even of American workers marching through Cooper Square in New York City. According to an article on Information Please

May Day just might have more holidays than any other day of the year. It’s a celebration of Spring. It’s a day of political protests. It’s a neopagan festival, a saint’s feast day, and a day for organized labor. In many countries, it is a national holiday.”

In any case, today, May 1, 2012, offers people everywhere the opportunity to become educated, or to protest income inequality; to observe the Celtic ushering in of summer, or to honor the goddesses of fertility—to name just a few of today’s holidays. So go out and DO IT!

Actually you don’t have to go out: if you’re a couch potato like me, you can even stay home and learn about May Day. For starters check out the Industrial Workers of the World website, which includes a list of events around the country, or the Marxist Internet Archive. Finally, the online CNN Report is collecting stories and photos of events, so if you do get out there, be sure to send your info to them.

The Return of Barry Zito

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After four years of disappointing performance as a San Francisco Giant, Barry Zito returned from rehab after a sprained foot  (his first rehab in 11 years as a pitcher), last week. He didn’t just return healed, but HEALED. He might not be the old Zito who was one of the most outstanding pitchers in baseball when he was an Oakland A, but he’s definitely made a comeback as an ace in his first two outings, and I, along with other fans, am thrilled to death. Not only is he pitching like he used to, last night he did it  after a three-hour rain delay!  As MLB pointed out, “Many starters would have called it an evening, for fear of injuring their throwing arm or aggravating one that might have stiffened. But unlike Detroit starter Max Scherzer, who vanished after the delay, Zito returned to pitch four shutout innings.” (emphasis mine for comparison purposes).

I’ve adored Zito for many years. Not only because he’s so physically adorable, and when he’s good he’s very very good, but also because his windup and delivery is a thing of beauty; and because he does yoga, meditates, and plays guitar — evidence of a consciously evolving human being.

So welcome back, Barry. I sure hope I’m not jinxing you by declaring your comeback after just two games, but I’m optimistic it’s going to continue. Love ya, babe!

Two of My Other Posts on Zito:

Zito Razzle Dazzles

The Ballad of Barry Zito

Big Sex Little Death: Review

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Susie with Cocktails at Bruno's in the Mish

Big Sex Little Death
A Memoir by Susie Bright
Seal Press  2011

I wasn’t certain I’d review Big Sex Little Death, Susie Bright’s long-awaited memoir, since I’m too close to some of the material to be purely objective — but as it turns out, I just can’t stop myself.

 

Full Disclosure: Susie Bright was one of the first people I met when I came West from New York some 25 years ago, and one of my first acts as a San Franciscan was to submit my sex stories to her Herotica collection. Shortly afterwards, I joined the On Our Backs staff as Susie’s assistant, a year later became their fiction editor, and, finally, was second successor to the editorial throne. Shadowing Susie didn’t end at OOB: I assumed editorship of Herotica with the #4 volume, when Susie moved on to more lucrative projects. I told her I  seemed to be following in her footsteps; she replied with her radiant million-dollar grin, “I’ll just keep warming up the chair for you.”

 

That charm and generosity are quintessential Susie, and they permeate Big Sex Little Death, her journey from childhood to teen socialist to feminist to sexual activist and public figure. I was familiar with much of this history, but seeing it all together in one place, I recognized, for the first time, how much Susie and I have in common, beginning with abusive mothers who lost their own mothers at an early age. Being a “motherless daughter,” I’ve recently learned, can affect a woman more profoundly than any other aspect of her life; it particularly influences the kind of mother she becomes. My mother was emotionally abusive; Susie’s was mentally ill (apparently undiagnosed), and  physically abusive:

She pinched the top of my arm and dragged me out the door. I remember her grip on my arm—and her disgust at my blubbering. I was pathetic, I knew it, but I couldn’t stop. I could see in her eyes how loathsome I’d become.

All this because Susie missed her cat, which her mother had unceremoniously abandoned.

I know all about that look in a mother’s eyes; that Susie was on the receiving end of it makes it that much more astonishing that she grew to become such a strong powerful woman. Lest anyone foolishly credit such experiences with helping to radicalize a person, it was not her mother’s abuse but her father’s love and support that pushed Susie forward. He stood proudly behind his teenage socialist firebrand, and he welcomed her home when the fires went out. Both parents – Mommy dearest was not all bad – were “braniacs; they were language, poetry and music fiends; they took enormous pleasure in big ideas and the power of word. They were literary sensualists.” Not a bad heritage for a feminist leader.

Susie took a dollop of this and a plateful of that from her parents. She incorporated socialist ideas into feminism – and took feminism even further, insisting that female-centered sexual representation and expression were its logical extension.

I wish she’d probed a little bit deeper into her life as an active Socialist. As her one-time editor, if she had asked for my opinion I would’ve urged her in that direction. Some of her anecdotes of life among the Commies aren’t reflective enough to satisfy, and while I loved what I read, I wanted more.

One of the major differences between Susie’s journey and mine is timing: I was a young mother when I first became, as I see it, conscious — while Susie seems to have been highly conscious from birth. I don’t know of many teenagers who can be as confident as Susie seems to have been in her beliefs, especially since they ran against received opinion.

The first time she stands up for women and their bodies is, appropriately, the day she first bleeds. Late returning to school after lunch, sent to the principal’s office, Susie marches right in “like a mad bear,” protesting, “This is not right…My period just started at noon, and I had to figure out the Tampax all by myself….and you can’t discriminate against me just because I’m menstruating…” The mortified principal nearly passed out and practically begged her to leave his office, showing her the power of her sexuality in one fell swoop. She has continued to confront sexual ignorance and patriarchal privilege ever since.

Although I ate up the first two sections of the book, I was, naturally, in something of a hurry to get to the part about OOB. Reading Susie’s account of each incident, from the founding of the magazine to its change in ownership, I kept receiving little shocks of recognition with every turned page. If this was a comic book, light bulbs would be hanging over my head, popping off in every panel, so faithful is Susie to what happened, at least as I remember it. For those who weren’t  close to the scene, I direct you to the book. It’s a helluva story; maybe someday I’ll have enough distance to write more about it myself.

Big Sex ends on a positive note – the day that Susie and Jon and baby Aretha move to Santa Cruz to begin family life anew. That too I remembered….then I eagerly turned the page…and was confronted with a page headlined “NOTES.” I could not believe I’d reached the end! And more than 15 long years ago!

Now,  I have been waiting since the day Aretha popped out of Susie’s belly to see what kind of American girl/child/woman Susie Bright’s daughter would become. As a mother who feels that I fucked up the sex education along with everything else, I was dying to see how Susie did with the hardest job on the planet. Unfortunately, a veil descended and I didn’t find out.

Susie has a right to put in or leave out whatever she wants from her memoir – but as a reader, and as her friend, (and as an editor) I wanted more. I especially want to know what happened in the years since the time of this book’s ending. I want to know about her mothering: how did being raised in an atmosphere of, or at least lip service to, sexual freedom affect Aretha and her attitudes? What about their relationship? My daughter is still angry about some of my sexual openness; what’s the story with Susie’s? More than most people, I understand the delicacy of the mother-daughter relationship, as well as the desire not to violate a child’s privacy – but surely some of Susie’s story can be told without inflicting damage. This is not just idle curiosity, either: I honestly believe that Susie has something important to contribute to  this other area of female experience that’s been historically shrouded in darkness.

Because of this and a few more minor gaps, it doesn’t feel like Susie’s story has been fully told. Then again, nobody’s story is ever fully told, is it? Still, Susie has a lot more livin’ to do: I’m looking forward to a sequel.

On Writing: Poems

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~Bless Her Heart~

These two poems are probably posted elsewhere on my blog, but I’m inspired to re-post them today by another writer who asks on WordPress if we write in cafés. Her post got 412 responses — to which I attribute the loneliness of the long-distance writer.

While the second poem here is my signature poem, published in so many places I’ve lost track, I’m posting the more relevant one first.  

I Write In Cafes (For Tillie Olsen)

They ended, those years:
trudging bags of groceries through the snow
mounds of laundry from car to front door,
boots & mittens & sleds & longjohns.

They ended.

Now I write in cafes.
With a pack on my back
I meander through streets,
find a friendly table
and write.

There’s no snow in San Francisco
and laundry day comes once a month.
I haven’t made a salad in weeks.
My days are filled with writing.

But which is the better poem, Tillie?
Which is the better poem?

I write in the Laundromat

I write in the laundromat.
I am a woman
and between wash & dry cycles
I write.

I write while the beans soak
and with children’s voices
in my ear. I spell out words
for scrabble while I am writing.

I write as I drive to the office
where I type a man’s letters
and when he goes to lunch
I write.

When the kids go out the door
on Saturday I write
and while the frozen dinners thaw
I write.

I write on the toilet
and in the bathtub
and when I appear
to be talking
I am often writing.

I write in the laundromat
while the kids soak
with scrabbled ears
and beans in the office
and frozen toilets
and in the car
between wash & dry.

And your words
and my words
and her words
and their words
and I am a woman
and I write in the laundromat.

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