Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Addendum No. Five: Loss, Joy & The Other

Erfert, the ever joyous, suggested I write on these topics and I always do as she tells me to. We all experience loss from our very beginnings, but one of the things that gives me joy now is to see the reaction of my infant son when his mother returns home after being away for several hours. It almost makes the anguish he seems to feel when she departs worth it. As she walks in, or when he see her coming across the courtyard from our balcony, he glows, giggles, then hugs her as she enters the apartment, screams. He is unrestrained in expressing his happiness at seeing this person he is so powerfully connected to, and always will be. Not long ago I lost everything, partly through my own doing, partly through no fault of my own. All gone. Everything. I came within 45 mins of death. I also lost about 95% of my US friends. I now possess nothing and everything simultaneously. At nearly 65, I have no savings whatsoever, no regular income, no health insurance, no property except my clothing and shoes (I wear sandals most days, even in the rain; it's Africa). The everythingness of joy I possess is derived from my wife and son. They are a fire that burns with love. After about 9 years of living in Africa, I have lost most correspondents. Commonalities fall away; Richard Dowden mentions this in his fine book, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles -- the difference of daily life in Africa and Europe or the US is so great that friends just can't relate and, over time, lose interest, associations fade. You lose each other. I rarely hear from friends or family any longer, and when I do it's a missive of 3-4 sentences. The era of the long form letter has been blown away by the digital breeze. I like social media. I text, use WhatsApp, Facebook, but they are not the same as real correspondence. My other loss since moving to Africa is my anonymity. Eyes follow me wherever I go, a movie star without portfolio. In the upcountry villages, everything I do is fascinating, foreign, often funny. I am now and will forever be The Other, the muzungu, the foreign one, always consulting maps, always asking for directions and how to say something, always joy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Addendum No. Four: Traveling in Mexico

I've gravitated toward tropical climates, ancient cultures, and carpe diem societies ever since I first began traveling. I've been to Mexico many times for both pleasure and work. I've also traveled in Southeast Asia, Brazil, Africa, Hawaii, where I owned property near Puna on the Big Island for several years, and watched a grown man teaching young girls the hula on the beach at Honaunau as spinner dolphins danced offshore. I love the heat, the pounding monsoons, the lush foliage, the weird insects and reptiles, the extravagant birds and the even more extravagant humans. Tropical people are what attract me the most. They're so sexy, funny, rarely in a hurry, never irritable or angry. The fat sultry clouds are always welcome as they float in on the hot morning winds, weeping and sobbing over the jungles, the mountains, and the savannahs. The cliffs covered with thick moss want to be petted. But the human life is what keeps me coming back, a craving for the culture, the sound, the tastes and aromas. Mexico and Mexicans drew me back so many times. I looked at them, their caramel faces, and they looked at me, the vanilla Californian. We engaged in a poetry of lyrical glances and stumbling phrases, grasping enough to know that we wanted to continue our awkward interpersonal symphony. When I'm in Oaxaca, home of my coincidentally named pal of many years, Roger Mexico, who suggested this topic, I go to the Zócalo in the evenings and watch the couples dance. Some have been coming there to dance in the dark for decades; everything from their souls to their clothes is perfectly matched. I watch them a long, long time, then I find a willing partner in the crowd, ask her to join me for a dance or two or three. She is invariably beautiful, exquisitely dressed. I am invariably a tall, bald gringo who dances like a three-legged dog, and just as happily. The music begins and away we go, swimming through the other couples, sashaying, skipping, strolling, twirling, sailing, unfurling...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Addendum No. Three: Tech Big Shots I Have Known

My old friend Ann-Marie suggested I write about a few of the people I knew in tech. Though I knew none of them well, The people I found most appealing of all the honchos I met in high-tech were Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon/WebMD and MyCFO (Jim and I were both high school dropouts, but he's a wee bit richer than I am), John Warnock and Chuck Geschke, founders of Adobe, and George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars films, founder of Industrial Light & Magic and founder of the the George Lucas Educational Foundation where I knew him. Clark and I talked almost exclusively about dogs. He had two Samoyeds that he'd bring by my cubicle at SGI every couple weeks and we'd talk as the dogs snoozed or begged for treats; I'd bought a box of treats just for them so they always arrived at the cubicle 5 minutes before Jim did. We'd also discuss his love of sailing, and his ideas for a high tech boat. He mused about writing his life story, which he later did -- with the help of a friend of mine. He had an ego, but he mostly kept it partitioned off and only brought it out when dealing with other egos, notably engineers and other tech execs. I also had some dealings with Adobe's John Warnock and Chuck Geschke. (Years after I met Geschke, he was kidnapped and held for 5 days.) They were both warm, avuncular types, quite unlike the other various CEOs in Silicon Valley, most of whom were asshats of the 33rd degree. Warnock was at gathering once a few years back and attracted much attention by first spilling his drink then finding a rag to wipe up the mess with. People were amazed that a billionaire would do such a thing instead of expecting himself to be waited on, but that was typical of Warnock. It was also indicative of the pretentiousness and entitlement people expected of the high-tech big shots, and apparently still do. For about 9 months in 2006 I worked at Skywalker Ranch and attended many small meetings with George Lucas where I had a chance to observe him close-up. Skywalker is a surreal, too perfect sort of place, a result of George's cinema-besotted imagination and an endless amount of money. There's a sweetness and kindliness to George even though he is often remote and awkward. I suspect Asperger's. In any case, he was always friendly when I met with him, asking if I wanted coffee, offering a chair and so on, yet it was obvious he didn't do these things naturally. He'd been schooled, maybe by his overbearing secretary, to interact with people in such a way when he was hosting them. Also, he needed to employ these traits if he wanted to work in the necessarily collaborative film industry. His fame could not have been easy for him and he sought out ordinary places of refuge, such as a coffee shop I frequented long before I worked at Skywalker. He'd come in, sit at the counter by himself and chat with the waitress. She'd tell him about an argument she had with her mother and he'd sympathize, ask endless questions about the dull minutiae the young women had an endless supply of. They were mind-bogglingly boring conversations but Lucas loved them, did everything he could to extend them. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Addendum No. Two: My Heart
My friend Kaitlin, who is all heart, asked me to write about my heart. It's a tiny, shriveled thing so this will be a short entry. But here's the good news: My heart tripled in size and got much healthier as soon as I saw my son emerge from his mother nearly a year ago. He is now my cardiologist and everyday earns the name we gave him, Mukisa, which means blessing in the Luganda language. My heart broke, literally -- and only literally (I'm with Susan Sontag: illness as metaphor is baloney) -- on Easter Sunday 2013 when it nearly ground to a halt thanks to three arteries that were almost completely blocked (99%, 99% and 84% -- almost enough for you?). The pain was stunning, magnificent and left little question what was going on. Lucky for me, I was near one of the best cardiac catheterization hospitals in the USA and a friend and emergency medical people got me there very quickly. The surgeon told me I was about 45 minutes from the Great Beyond when the ambulance delivered me to the hospital. But the best part happened just after they loaded me in the ambulance at a rural fire station in Marin County, California. As I say, it was Easter, the celebration of Christ's resurrection, if you believe in such things. They put me on a gurney and rolled me into the back of the van. My mind was going like crazy, crazily thinking of all kinds of things in no particular order, kind of a waking dream. Oddly, I was not scared at all, too much other stuff was happening. The doors closed. So of course I thought of The Doors, and of course I thought of "When The Music's Over," and of course I thought of one of its most famous lines, "Cancel my subscription to the resurrection." That was early Sunday morning. Tuesday about noon, I walked out of the hospital -- pain free, energized, thankful -- and went home with four stents in my heart. They are still there, making sure things keep pumping until Mukisa is at least 25. I believe.

Addendum No. One: Things I Like to Cook
As I mentioned earlier, I find cooking therapeutic and have for decades. After writing this, I'll go home and cook a chicken stew for my wife, my sister-in-law, a couple friends and my son, Mukisa. He's now got seven teeth and is very enthusiastic about eating anything and everything and lots of it; my kind of dining companion. Nattabi bought the whole chicken at the market the other day. It's an African chicken, so it tastes like real chicken, not some Foster Farms plasticine robot chicken. I like to chop and drink something alcoholic while doing so -- restricts your intake and sharpens your knife skills if you're interested in retaining your fingertips. I'll dice onions, lots of garlic, bell pepper and potatoes. I'll saute all that in olive oil and butter, and throw in a little salt and a bunch of black pepper, also some sugar to help the onions brown. I'll then cut up the chicken. It's a big sucker so it may take awhile. Once it's in pieces I'll brown it. I'll then mix everything together, add some water and some wine and let it cook verrrrrrrryyyyy slowly, with oregano and rosemary, maybe a bit of curry powder. It will be a one dish meal, my favorite due to my terminal laziness. I will announce it to my guests as Memphis Booth chicken, aka Coq au Kampala, in honor of the man who asked me to write on this topic.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Long View: Being, in no particular order, 25 things I've bumped into along the way and have not forgotten. Yet.

25. Dreams
I mean the kind of dreams we have when we sleep -- not waking dreams or daydreams, not dreams one has about loved ones,  not wet dreams,  not dreams one projects about accomplishment or lovers, not vague dreams about this and that. NO, REM dreams is what I'm referring to, the intense ones, the take no prisoners dreams. I have a half dozen or so most nights. Let me tell you. They're always weird, with strange conversations, transformations, hallucinations and interactions -- rarely nightmares,  but often anxiety producing. Then, just occasionally, I'll have a dream of unspeakable  grandeur and beauty, shimmering, surreal, visually staggering. Such a dream will come to me without warning. Here's one I had years ago and still vividly recall: I'm walking in a field of waist high grass, a light breeze is blowing,  music of the glass harmonica plays gently in the distance, all very ethereal, spacey. 8 or 10 large  black and white butterflies come gliding towards me just above the grass. Suspended from the body of each butterfly is a crystal sphere about the size of a grape, swinging gently as they fly. What did it mean? I know not, except to tell me, "Welcome to your mind, this has been a brief demonstration of what it can do when you let it fly..."

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Long View: Being, in no particular order, 25 things I've bumped into along the way and have not forgotten. Yet.

24. Comfort and Discomfort
"Bite your tongue, get a cinder in your eye. When you feel good, you feel nothing." That ol' hedonist Buckminster Fuller said that. It's always made more sense to me than geodesic domes and dymaxion vehicles. We are sentient, sensual creatures (like the other earthlings) and our feelings -- physical and emotional -- control us, shape our lives. Our ability to deal with those feelings, to manage them and cope with how they manage us is the defining quality of our time here. Some of us are masterful, never show an emotion without intending to, others show too much, too many, inappropriately, inexplicably. Living with a small baby 24-7 gives me an opportunity to witness how he deals with feelings, frustrations, fears (doesn't have nearly enough in my opinion), hunger, anger. He is an even, sweet tempered little guy, but can swing wildly if provoked. And what provokes him? Being tired, uncomfortable and hungry are what get to him most and quickest, it seems. Discomfort is the tough one, because it is essential to keep us going, keep us vital, I believe, even while it can be enormously annoying. Too much comfort dulls us, fattens us, slows us physically and mentally, puts us to sleep. Too much discomfort makes us irritable, angry, skews our judgment. Where is the balance, how do we find it? Somehow we do, or can. Laziness is our greatest challenge when seeking that balance. Maintaining ambition, not fearing struggle is the divine path. When my 11 month old son sees my eyeglasses on our bed, he will exhaust himself getting to them (they fascinate him for some reason). Watching him try, drawing on every bit of energy he has, is an inspiration to me, and illustrates what it is that keeps people going forward when success seems impossible.