Monday, January 31, 2005

Bear Republic

George Bush's election on Nov. 2 elicited a number of responses from "Blue" America - week-long drunken binges, inquiries into Canadian immigration - and this proposal from Californian Jeff Morrissette - why don't we just secede already? After all, California is the fifth largest economy in the world. California pays out far more dollars in federal taxes than we get back from the federal government. We've already signaled a willingness to go our own way on hot-button social issues like stem cell research. And, let's face it, the "Heartland" doesn't like us. Oh, they'll eagerly consume our cultural products, all the while proclaiming their moral superiority over us godless, fag-loving, tree-hugging, femi-nazi Sodomites and pretending that they aren't the ones eating up "Desperate Housewives," but gosh darn it, we're hardly real Americans out here on the Left Coast.

I'll admit, I've long been sympathetic towards the idea of an independent California, ever since I first realized that what I saw as a normal upbringing and culture, having been born and raised here, was often regarded as freakishly bizarre by my fellow Americans. Hey, so WHAT if we had naked hot-tub parties? And talked about karma, and learned Buddhist chants? And ate tofu and sprouts and decriminalized pot? What's so weird about that?

Well, it isn't so weird any more, and that's California's revenge. You're ALL doing yoga now, aren't you?? We create your entertainment, your cultural trends, your wine, your software (okay, so we share that with Washington). California Uber Alles, baby, and now we have the Governator to say it right. Kuh-lee-foh-nee-uh.

Ah, but back in the days of my youth, I had a different vision for an independent California. My friend Paul and I, stuck in a Beijing winter (and what the hell was THAT about? You leave water outside, and it turns cold, hard and SHINY! This never happened in San Diego...), used to obsess about this subject. We'd resurrect the California Republic, which already had a very cool flag. Jerry Brown would be our first President. At the time he was dating Linda Rondstadt, which was perfect - she could be First Lady, and sing our new national anthem (we were leaning towards "All You Need is Love" but were open to alternatives). We'd move the capital to Disneyland, but the rest of Orange County would need some work. Best case scenario, we'd plow all those ugly housing tracts under and return most of the county to oranges.

No wonder that when Jerry Brown announced his candidacy for President in 1992, I was one of the first through the door to volunteer. Not that I thought he'd win, but I knew that I had to be along for the ride. Working on the Brown campaign was one of those rare opportunities in life, the chance to check off an experience on one's existential list of Things To Do that you never thought you'd actually get to. Governor Moonbeam, the Governor of my youth, the guy who promoted solar power and wind power and talked about how small was beautiful, and what was so funny about California launching a satellite, anyway? That was what earned Brown the "moonbeam" tag from columnist Mike Royko while he was California's governor. And during the 92 campaign, Royko took it all back, admitting that he was wrong and Jerry was right; all this stuff he and much of the country had labeled flaky was instead visionary; he just couldn't see it back then.

I like to think that this is what characterizes California still; that we are all still gazing out over the horizon, across the vast Pacific, looking for our next vision.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


This disturbs me...

From the Washington Post:

America's largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch, released its latest product last week -- a beer that contains caffeine.

Obviously, this is a monumental cultural milestone and it raises important questions that we as a society must answer. For instance: Is adding America's favorite stimulant to America's favorite alcoholic beverage the greatest scientific breakthrough of the 21st century? Or the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it? Or what?

To which I must add one word....Zima. If Zima didn't signal the end of civilization by bad malt beverage, nothing will.

Back when that stuff first came out, a friend of mine, the drummer in our band, bought a couple of bottles. He wanted to try it. Our consensus was that it tasted kind of like alcoholic Sprite. Training booze, as it were. Somehow I ended up with a bottle of it in my fridge. It lived there for years. It's gone now, but only because I moved. If I still had that bottle of Zima, it could join my new friends, Mike's Hard Lemonade and O'Douls, in my new fridge. They have been living there happily since my July 4th barbecue, and I doubt they'll be going anywhere soon. Someone might drink them, someday...

When I was a freshman in college, I and the two girls in the room next door used to drink Almanden Moutain Rhine, which came in a large, rather elegantly shaped jug. We'd have it in paper cups and watch repeats of THE PRISONER and GET SMART, and oh yeah, smoke a lot of pot. Who knew GET SMART was so funny? It wasn't just funny, it was a statement on the absurdity of the American military industrial complex! Or not...anyway, after that gathering, which I think was on a Monday, I would attempt to write my weekly philosophy class paper, which might explain why I found the process so traumatic. But not completely. I wasn't really a philosophy class kind of person. I was pretty proud to think of myself as a non-intellectual. No, I was a left-handed, creative girl, into writing, and drama, and political science, but not in an intellectual kind of way. I got suckered into taking this philosophy class because they appealed to my ego: it was an invitation only seminar, and only a dozen incoming freshman would be invited, for two sections.

I bit. I signed up for the class. The professor was a middle-aged woman - though in retrospect, she might have been in her 30s; hey, I was 18 - who wore tweeds and had that nasal, preppy accent that spoke of rarified breeding and lots of contact with horses. She was scarily smart. Intellectual. We were to survey Western Philosophy from Plato to I think maybe Marx, and every week we were to write a paper. So there I'd be late Monday night, snockered on Almanden Mountain Rhine and purple sensimilla, trying to decide if there was such a thing as a coherent self or were we really only random bundles of impressions, tied together by weak threads of experience? Where was caffeinated beer when I needed it, dammit?!

I wasn't the only one who found the class rough going. In the other section, there was a student who was really an intellectual. He had long, black hair that he wore perfectly parted down the middle, and round, black glasses. He was tall and thin and had a long face and a bony nose, and he could really talk the talk. But one time, I got to class early, and he was talking to the professor, who usually confined her remarks to variations of, "Well...ahhhh...what do YOU think, ahhhh?" This time, the student was quite agitated. Finally he blurted out in desperation, "Are you saying that Kant's antimonies preclude the possibility of ever understanding the nature of self?"
The professor paused.
"Well, ahhhh....yes. I'm afraid they do."
At which point the student, tears in his eyes, fled from the classroom.*

*DISCLAIMER TO SURFING PHILOSOPHERS: in fact, I can't remember what their discussion was about and I can barely remember anything about Western Philosophy, so if I've completely distorted Kant's Antimonies, please forgive me.

I struggled through it. But with each passing week, I had a harder and harder time constructing a coherent paper. I just wanted to drink more Mountain Rhine, smoke another bong hit and watch Monty Python repeats (because after all, "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!").

By the last week of class, I was thoroughly blocked. I just couldn't do it. Couldn't write another paper where I acted like I understood the material and presented some half-assed argument that bored me to death trying to write it. I gave up. I'd always been a good student, always. Always had managed at the last possible moment to perform and do well. But that was before I'd started drinking and smoking pot. And this shit made my head hurt.

So, sometime around midnight, I started typing. About how much I hated writing philosophy papers. About how fucking miserable I was every Monday night, trying to work through these mind-boggling arguments and come up with something half-way intelligent to say. I ended up concluding that I was never going to solve these problems, but that the point was to work through them. Something like that, anyway. I was plastered and really didn't give a shit.

I turned in the paper. And immediately was certain that I had committed some sort of academic sin. I'd actually said what I thought and what I felt. I was gonna flunk the class for sure, and I was on a scholarship. I was a baaad student. I'd never been a bad student before.

For the last meeting of the class, we had a cocktail party at the Professor's house. All the other philosphy professors on the faculty were invited as well. After we'd had a chance to drink and mingle, the Professor announced that two of her students would read papers that represented the classes' best work.

The first student was the long haired, round glasses guy mentioned earlier. I don't remember what his paper was about but I remember feeling intimidated by it. The second student was me. Afterwards, one of the other professors came up and congratulated me on the clarity of my argument, or something like that. I was pretty much floored. It had never occurred to me before this night that you could be honest about your feelings and actually get rewarded for them.

"mozhe shitou guo he"

"Feel the stone to cross the river", which I guess means something like, try to find something solid and familiar before you launch yourself into the torrent.

This is a way to get my footing. After years of avoidance I'm taking the leap into the land of web publishing. Tonight I signed up on blogspot, posted my first post and learned how to alter templates to add links. I can see that it's a slipperly slope from here and that a copy of HTML FOR DUMMIES waits in my near future. I want photos! Cool graphics! Embedded MP3s and maybe even entire E-books.

Earlier today, I mentioned to a writer friend of mine who has always praised my work ethic (I'm not sure why) that I was thinking of starting a blog. His response: "Oh. Blogs. They're great black holes of procrastination." But I figure, hey, I've got the Web for that already. I might as well waste time on my own site instead of others.

I've spent years doing creative work. I've always had a very ambivalent attitude about sharing it. I fronted a band in Los Angeles for over a decade. We never had any huge material success, got some good reviews, played in just about every dive in LA for a certain period in time. I was pretty good at it. But for years I would wake up the morning after a gig and panic, thinking, what the fuck did I do up there last night? Was that me? Couldn't be! Obviously my evil twin was getting her required face time with the public, leaving me, the good twin, mortified by her performance.

After a while, gigging stopped bothering me so much. I gradually realized that this wasn't just some in-the-moment expression of my Inner Soul and Creative Spirit, it was really a craft and a skill, and I'd gotten better at it. That's why it's called a "performance," dummy! Well, okay, I've always been a little slow at getting certain basics.

Those of us engaged in self-expression, either as a vocation or advocation, experience a lot of rejection. I think you can cope with this a number of ways.

First, crawl back into your hole and don't show anything you do to anyone. This has worked well for me in the past.

Second, know that you are a Special Person, and recognize that those who reject you simply do not understand the Unique Brilliance of You. I've tried this but can't sustain it for any length of time. I'm really much better at self-loathing and besides, in my experience, this approach works best for those who don't actually produce a lot. There's nothing more brilliant than that thing you haven't yet done.

Third, pretend like you're a professional. Schedule time to do your work, have goals, learn your craft, all that boring stuff I tried like hell to run away from (well, except for flossing. I've always been very good about flossing). I've found that this approach eliminates a lot of the mind-fuck aspects ("what does this MEAN?" "what am I SAYING about myself?" "What kind of FREAK am I?!" "And WHY AM I TELLING ANYONE ELSE ABOUT THIS?!"), thereby improving quality, productivity and in general, increasing one's creative satisfaction.

Then of course I experience rejection and crawl back into my hole anyway.

What's the point of an audience? If we do these things because we love them, because we have to, why is it that we need to share?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bill Gates Praises Chinese Capitalism

Right here...

DAVOS, Switzerland, (AFP) - US software giant Bill Gates (news - web sites) has high praise for China, which he says has created a brand-new form of capitalism that benefits consumers more than anything has in the past.

"It is a brand-new form of capitalism, and as a consumer its the best thing that ever happened," Gates told an informal meeting late Friday at the World Economic Forum in this ski resort.

He characterised the Chinese model in terms of "willingness to work hard and not having quite the same medical overhead or legal overhead".

Kind of like Walmart.

Gates continued by heaping praise on the current generation of Chinese leaders.

"They're smart," he said with emphasis. "They have this mericratic way of picking people for these government posts where you rotate into the university and really think about state allocation of resources and the welfare of the country and then you rotate back into some bureaucratic position."

That rotation continued, Gates explained, and leaders were constantly subjected to various kinds of ratings.

I'm trying to wrap my tiny little mind around this and failing. I want to make Windows jokes. Or speculate that given Microsoft's anti-trust problems, it's not surprising that Gates would find such a system attractive...