Friday, May 18, 2007


Feeling semi-despondent as I usually do at the end of a week when there has been no measurable accomplishment, since I am a combination of the Protestant Ethic with Jewish Guilt, a day's work well done or I feel terrible, I went with Mimi to have lunch and made my way to Katsuya, a Japanese restaurant on San Vicente.A formidable wind blew through the coral trees that line the midsection of that quite scenic local boulevard, and I imagined myself being carried to Bali, or Polynesia. But my arms were too weighty and i hadn't done my yoga, so I stayed where I was and ordered a spicy tuna roll.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear but Sir Anthony Hopkins, a gentle soul I think, and quite shy I thought: I had seen him some years ago trying to become a part of the shadows at the Hotel Bel-Air, imagining that he could disappear into the foliage that lines the driveway. So I greeted him today, told him my name, and said I knew him from the Bel-Air which was not quite a lie, then launched into some genuine praise for 'Fractured,' his latest pale blue-eyed, evil stare into the camera, and remarked at there being something inside him that could project all manner of villainy, well-differentiated, from that same pair of eyes. My clever friend Joie had noted that to me recently, saying there had to be something inside him that could do that, but her appraisal leaned slightly towards madness. I did not pass that on to Sir Anthony.
I asked him what was next, which apparently put him greatly at ease, so standing there on the sidewalk-- I was tempted to invite him to sit down, but did not want to do anything to make him self-conscious or interrupt the flow-- he launched into a tale of a stream of consciousness movie he had written, 'Slipstream',produced himself, put up all the money and done the score for, which score he also conducted. "I don't mean to blow my own trumpet," he said, to which I replied "But you probably could have done that,too." Steven Spielberg had encouraged him after reading the screenplay to make the movie-- "He didn't have the money to do it?" I queried, having learned from my friend Nyle yesterday that Spielberg's upcoming TV show 'On the Lot' is having trouble casting as he doesn't want to pay the actors anything. Pass the hat, anyone?
Anyway, Sir Anthony was most gracious, and dismissive of Spielberg's not putting his money where his encouragement is, speaking happily of what pleasure he had in putting it all together himself, overcoming his insecurities, it being his wife's idea that he should also do the score. He has also been painting, which he admits he has no training in or idea about, but his paintings have been selling nonetheless. "It is all about getting past your Ego," he said, and when I queried him as to how one did that, he said "You just have to let go." He was carrying a very fat book by the English author Colin Wilson called Mysteries, and I take it that that gentleman, too, has been burrowing through the tunnels of forgetting about yourself and letting the universe do it. A book apparently fell from the shelf in a library where Colin Wilson was, that was all about this subject, so he took his inspiration from that shelf and has written this TOME which, though Sir Anthony made some slight reference to age, he is apparently in good enough shape to carry. Carry on, I say.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Day of the Jacaranda

The jacaranda are in bloom: a pale tree flower, lavendar-- can't you almost hear Katharine Hepburn saying that one? It was always the color, the soft burst of tree that soothed my soul when I lived in Beverly Hills and went on my walking jag, which I did the last several years we were in the house on Hillcrest. I think it was Palm Drive where the jacaranda were, and I would walk up and down the three or four blocks between Santa Monica and Sunset, and try not to tread on the fallen, delicate, tubular blossoms lining the sidewalks, hoping for inspiration. After about 1.6 miles it usually came. I can measure that exactly because when I was on my second retreat with Jack, the one where the musical started, I would walk that distance every afternoon and a song would come. Before I left I measured the mileage, as if one could find out exactly how far to go to start shooting off endorphins. Back home, the walk, combined with all that lavendar, would usually feed a novel. So I think I thought that jacaranda time was mine, the signal to be creative, and disciplined: be inspired, and get to work. An optimistic, hard-headed mantra.
When I moved to this apartment I had radiant, violet mornings, where just after dawn I would open my eyes, and they'd be bathed with that pale purple glow. But this year the tree outside my window is dark, the branches spiked with green, but nothing but dusty buds that show no color or promise. I of course take it personally, as I unfortunately take everything personally, including what's happened to this country I love. The tree right next to it has its share of color, and as I drive around West L.A., I see the pattern is the same all over. One or two trees are alive with Spring, the others dark. I try to check if it's the dryness we've been through, or some trees receiving more sunlight. But there is no logic to it, or reason I can see. Maybe trees, like people, have their own season, individual wills, an opening night/and or day. Maybe Nature is capricious, and pissed right now at the abuse it has suffered at our hands, doesn't choose to pamper our eyeballs.
I was in Johannesburg one autumn, in a hotel high above the city, with crime and all that people fear at a very great distance below. But the horizon was lush with lavendar, it being the same as our Spring, and jacaranda bursting bursting bursting across the bottom of my view. So all I tapped into was the peacefulness, the clouds of color obscuring the mayhem. I suppose that blossoming trees are another thing you shouldn't get attached to, lest they, too, be capricious in their ability to deliver.
I note a certain listlessness, like that of the trees that should be more on schedule, and suppose, quite realistically, it is because I am suffering a really deep hurt that I don't want to inflict on all of you. But having sent you my post-Happy piece in Paris, I will share with you a bit of that past I have found in yet another secret compartment of my computer, when I took a picture of Happy, my Yorkie, in a swami hat, and wrote the doggie version of The Prophet. I can't remember the title of the book, but it was very clever, for all the good that did. This is what Happy had to say about Anger.

Speak to us of Anger

The Mirror Image of the Night
Shines not so darkly
As the soul of wrath.
It is in forgiveness
That we are elevated
To the path of Angels
Which bears not the weight
Of the heavy-hearted
Or those with their foot
In their mouth
Which is all ire is
React not to those who would
Prick your peace
But bathe them with waves
Of love
Drown them with the overflow
Of your pardon
That ought to fix
The sons of bitches.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Shut Up, Memory

A friend of mine in Belfast said once "A beautiful day in Northern Ireland is more beautiful than a beautiful day anywhere else." That seemed at the time to me to be true, because I had a passion for Northern Ireland, imagining I might be able to help make things better, the hatred that characterized that at once poetic and brutal nation still roiling beneath the surface, and me being in my peacemaker mode. Besides the fear of saying anything too loud even when walking along the shore, lest it fall on adversarial ears and you finding yourself shot, the weather was so foul when it was finally a sunny day, it seemed like unrequited love returned at last. Also that pronunciamento came in that thick, almost undecipherable brogue, less mellifluous than that of the south, so when you could brain your way through the thicket, and understood what he was saying, it did seem, indeed, that a beautiful day in Ireland was more beautiful than a beautiful day anywhere else. So I had to agree.
But we did not take into account San Francisco. There is a glitter on the water that is absolutely Shakespearean, glister you would have to say, on a beautiful day, which is not as rare as a beautiful day in Belfast, but is rare enough. Last weekend I went to the Bay Area to visit my friend Ed, the retired cop and writer, who helps me, always, with plot, and often with life. Ed and his wife Diane and I went into the city Saturday night to hear Bob Dorough, my personal jazz man,--he played the Mars Club in Paris when I sang there, and accompanied me. North Beach, where mailto:Jazz@Pearl is is unchanged, City Lights Bookstore still chugging along next to a head shop, and all the same people on the streets as when I was young there, only they're still young, or young again, there being always a new crop who will want to hang with Kerouac, even dead. The old manager of City Lights, our mutual friend Joe, was always highly articulate and fun, so Marshall Naify, one of Forbes' 400 richest Americans in 1995, took a shine to him, I mean, really a shine, sent him to law school, so Joe is now handling Naify's estate which includes racehorses and oh, maybe a billion. Some there are who make friends with all the right people.
Zapping around the glistering bay on Sunday, my whole life, or at least a number of times in it, passed before my eyes without my even having to fall overboard and drown. I went on that same ferry as a graduate student at Stanford, when Stanley and Kristiana Kubrick came up to visit me, and knowing Stanley's favorite thing was the evil underbelly of man, we whipped around Alcatraz, and in that somber moment he told me: "I'm in big trouble. I just bought Lolita, and Dwight MacDonald(the #1 film critic of that day) is going to give me a great review because Nabokov is a literary genius. But he can't write one line of dialogue." Pause, a black-eyed glower at the water. A sort of smile. "You're the best writer of dialogue in America. Would you come help me out?" (unspoken) Oh please, use me use me. (spoken) "Of course." Full story told elsewhere.
Further along the coast, San Quentin, where Kesey and I did our vigil the night before they executed Caryl Chessman, full story told elsewhere. But you remember these things when the ferry glides around that corner, and you wonder if the wind still whips so fierce and chill on that hill at night. Talking to the ferry-ticket-taking man on the dock at Larkspur Landing, you believe him when he says that is the choicest piece of real estate not on the market, what condos could be there, with that view, what a golf course! But they won't move the facility to the desert because the trial lawyers don't want to have to drive that far. So San Quentin it will stay.
There is a statue of Gandhi on the dock by the Ferry Terminal when you leave San Francisco, with the sentence "My life is my message," which is both inspiring and intimidating, since I don't know yet what my life is, and I better hurry up. By Larkspur Landing, just down the road apiece from the prison is a tall metal statue of Don Quixote, armor flashing in the sun, and a very impressive round metallic ass facing the water, which Ed and I puzzled over, the positioning that is. Why wouldn't they give him the view? So Gandhi at the beginning of my journey, Don Quixote at the other end. Somewhere in there is who/what I am, I think.
Am watching the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell, so it dovetails with my struggle to forget myself even as I write about me. He is very sanguine about letting go, following your bliss, watching pieces of yourself fall off as you get older, like a car, without feeling bad about it. I would struggle and am struggling to get to that, but always in the back of my mind I hear "Do I have to?" Especially as i know from Jack, who taught with Campbell towards the end of his life, that Campbell wanted more than anything to be famous. After he died, which is letting go in the deepest sense, the interviews went on the air, and he became as famous as a spiritual teacher could be. But, by his own appraisal, the hereafter would be so ablaze with being in the presence of God, one would lose oneself completely. So the time to do something with whatever is YOUR gift is NOW.
Meanwhile, check out a tree. A sunset. A child. The warmest place in your heart. Or catch San Francisco on a dazzle day.