do neither what i say nor do
Tuesday June 04th 2019, 11:57 pm
Filed under: Berkeley,Boozy,change,exit,myjobfuckingrocks,myjobfuckingsometimesdoesntrock,narrative,nextish Tags:

This in fact describes Himself and some spectacularly shitty evenings of late. But that’s not today’s topic. I’ve been asked to give the faculty graduation speech. I have no fucking idea what to say. Or, more accurately, I thought I had a few ideas, but dinner with a few colleagues and a handful of graduate students this evening and they all thought it was all wrong. OK. Fair enough. I’ve got 10 days. Some suggestions to watch various graduation speeches of this and that. OK. Fair enough.

Except, I’m the opening act. I’m not the big, inspiring, forgive all your student debt, famous person speech. I’m the guy who goes before that person. I’ve been in such a rubbish place for a while now that the standing joke has become reality. “It’s not too late to go to law school. Maybe as the environment changes and the waters rise you’ll all die terribly and then you won’t have to worry about it.”

The graduate students all suggested some version of “the you we know is great, be that person.” I suppose that’s fair, though the specific nature of the self-constructedness for a reading group on Finnegans Fucking Wake isn’t a self I trot out universally, so, “be the version of you we think we know, be honest about your pragmatism, and if in doubt just spew medieval facts at them,” offers only limited help.

How to be myself to students that know a me that is such a strange slice of who I think I am or who I thought I’d be? Or, if this is the moment to peel back the layers and be a little more of a person as we send them out into the world that, frankly, they all fucking live in already given how nuts the world is and how thin the wall of academia has become, how permeable the not so ivory tower, which layers? Turtles all the way down, onions all the way through.

I’ve got quotes for mother fucking ages. Randomly browsing poetry for some inspiring shit. I’ve no idea what I want to say, what 22 year old me wanted to hear, or SHOULD have heard, or could possibly have heard. Nothing. There’s nothing anyone could have told me. Which is a shame, as I’m actually listening now.

Ellis Avery
Monday February 18th 2019, 3:45 pm
Filed under: exit,friends,grief,magic,memory,New York Tags:

Oh, Ellis. I’m so very, very sad about your death. Too many thoughts in too many directions, not helped by having had a high fever and the flu, and only just coming back into focus as a person.

I don’t think we were as close as we should have been, but I always _felt_ close to you (and to S) despite the distance and the long silences. Our annual tradition of calling and singing happy birthday to the other – I don’t recall how it started. I do recall the very surprised russian woman a few years ago when I didn’t have the right number for you, who politely waited for me to finish before telling me I had the wrong number. Increasingly “close” seems a weird metric for friendship – social media is filled with people grieving your death, who knew you longer and better than I did. But whatever kind of friends we were, we were, and policing its authenticity doesn’t seem helpful.

You seemed more grown up,more assured, partly because of Sharon, perhaps, or for owning a flat in Manhattan, or for having written a book. A book! A novel! I don’t know why you and Sharon rescued me from Wall Street Reporter to do construction. I’m sorry I couldn’t do the window, which I said I could, or the fan. I probably turned out to be a very expensive rescue.

Waiting by your chunky black landline phone as I bustled deliberately around, December 2005 was a weird month, as I dutifully showed up at your house every day to work. Was there really that much work? I remember painting the bathroom with you and S, fucking up the window and the fan, and finally patching the ceiling rather than replacing the sheetrock. Was that weeks of work? And the bidding war for your manuscript, your agent calling with updates. Much like Toni, the day before she died, watching General Hospital as we sat on her couch, and wondering aloud “who ever would think this is how it would end, watching General Hospital with you.” Did you feel the same way about getting your first big publishing deal with me pottering around in your house, your partner far uptown. Did I understand? Was I celebratory enough? I was so excited for you, but I don’t know if I made that clear.

All the grading papers at Mud cafe. I hate fucking grading papers. I’m not grading papers _right now_. Though I wish I had your scansion handout. I’ve looked a few times. There might be a hardcopy in a Dalton box somewhere. It was great. Thanks for teaching me how to scan verse so I could teach it, so little Peter whatshisface could clap wildly erratically beats, far removed from syllables, let alone stress.

Oh Ellis. I didn’t read your cancer memoir after the last time I saw you, when you gave it to me after we had hours and hours and hours of talking and catching up. I think I saw you once more, as you and your scooter visited the little house in Echo Park, and himself was charmed. [Email fact check. Yes, a few weeks later] I read it Saturday, still lightly feverish, after I learned of your death. You were in so much pain for so many years. And the food stuff, that would’ve killed me. S sounding like herself, terribly and truthfully and transcendently.

[OK, email fact checking now has me re-reading a whole seam of correspondence I didn’t really know existed. This stood out, too “Ask me about the the “employee of the month” badge I earned and then promptly sold for $30.” I have no memory of this. But the emails, recalling dinners and computer fixing and the bed platform that was much of the work done at their flat, and walks and coffees and all the rest, paint a picture of a much deeper intimacy than my brain remembers. I used to remember. Sigh.]

The grief is deep. She was so vibrant, so very much herself, so fiercely generous, so impossibly bright at times, so very dark at others. I lack words, really, to describe your impossible self.

20 years of writing a haiku each day. Dead at 46. Fuck that.


I used to know them. Possibly all of them. Sometime after moving to HelLA, when Google Earth was still a new product, I made a flythrough of all the places I’d lived. A few were approximate, and I’m sure I started only notionally in HelLA before the litany of addresses in the Bay and UK – Unit 1, women’s co-op, Dwight, funny summer sublet that the dead guy from Sublime had rented, Piedmont/Oakland, MLK couch, the Mission, Ward, Warehouse, Fyfield, Iffley, North Oxford, (redacted), Goldhawk Rd, West Ken, LES, UWS, West Village, East Village, Brooklyn, aaaand back to WeHo. And then the list continued – midcity, Silverlake, Echo Park. And now, my ultimate fear, back to the suburbs. As if all the in between places didn’t happen. (Apparently, I do in fact know them all still. But that’s not my point.)

Which of course isn’t true. This isn’t the leaving of Ox, or even the leaving London despair of present and future purpose (though return still looks slim). This is a move cross-town to save time, lots and lots of time, for people large and (more importantly) small.

The tangible scars of my past can live again. Not the burns or pierces or tattoos – the BOOKS. No longer in boxes in the basement, the selves that rose and fall, lived and died, and folded tens of thousands of pages over to varying depths. Who failed to read, and failed to fold, chastened, even humbled, by the staggering expanse of unread pages. On bookshelves, freshly ordered for delivery in 10 days.

A walk up in the wet from a bar I’m fond of, but never lived at. A last hike tomorrow, I think, more meaningful, a thousand loops later. Likely without the 35 pounds, though. Toddlers don’t experience nostalgia, I don’t think, in the ways I do.

Though, I think we’ll come back to look at the mustard flowers.

Friday March 09th 2018, 12:34 pm
Filed under: exit,family,HelLA,himself,leaving,nextish Tags:

A new bed, assembled. Small, really, but large. A blue crib disassembled. The days spent sanding and priming and lovingly painting two coats of that saturated blue, not really knowing the person it would be for. A long weekend spent doing the room, while YCT and the dogs were in Santa Monica. Music loud, paint stained jeans, the familiar rhythms of blue tape and cutting in and rolling out. Labor of lifetimes ago, foundational and fundamental competencies in self-righteous opposition to paternal incompetence, to a self that inhabited the life of the mind easily, the world less so. Years of painting walls and caulking bathrooms, of repairing things and building things.

And now, building a small bed, with small hands helping. He’ll never stay in it, of course, so new exhaustions await. And I doubt a week is enough to help him settle in to it before the Big Move happens. A move to the suburbs, really, something too close to the places you will be from. And he won’t remember, not really, the lake and the ducks and the hike. Hundreds of hikes. We’ll shape a different life, of course, and anything that involves 8 more hours a week of living, not driving, can only be a good choice. Inhabit the space differently. Push the angles and round the curves differently. Discover the small sites of possibility. Ignore the dread.

Dread, though, leavened with the small voice of himself, “thaaaaank you, daddy,” tucked up in his new spot, blankets and animals overflowing, blue eyes bright and improbable hair flopped to one side. Anything.


[Update: the last real comments to this ridiculously indulgent nonsense-filled endeavor of mine, were to the post “20 weeks” in August 2014, the weekend I painted the room and the crib. And Helen, saying “congratulations.” Just yesterday I packed the Chagall book you gave me when I left Oxford, following a farewell party at that funny flat. It was your father’s, you said. I had forgotten the inscription, saying I would be missed. Now you are missed, rainbow friend.]

Friday January 12th 2018, 10:59 pm
Filed under: exit,grief,obits Tags:

It’s too soon for words. I don’t have them, just a hole in my heart and an impossibly tangible sense of the absence of a body in my life, and a toddler who is very unsure about what we’re trying to say and to not say. Farewell, inherited poodle. You are loved.

malware and memorials
Saturday September 30th 2017, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Berkeley,calendars,exit,fall,memory,Miscellaneous, Truly,reminiscence Tags:

How the frack did that happen? Most annoying. An email with a list of PHP files that needed to be deleted. I doubt I’ve successfully cleaned it by hand. Changed the WordPress password, the FTP passwords, deleted all but one of the files (permissions issues, but renamed it) so we’ll see. Be a shame if TPT had to be wiped.

Not at the memorial in Berkeley today. Couldn’t face it, emotionally or practically speaking. Last time I was there they treated me like shit. Up to the Christmas Eve “do you think you could revise the whole thing beginning to end for next Tuesday” ending. Also made complicated by all of the animus that “she hates me because I’m younger, prettier, and smarter” used to bear to her. Who the fuck knows. Other people’s insecurities are unfathomable, sometimes.

So I raise a glass to yet another dead friend, teacher. Since the upgrade to iOS 11 my phone keeps reminding me several times a day that I have an un-listened-to voicemail from Helen. I know it’s there. If I wanted to listen to it, I would have by now. But thanks for the ghost-in-the-machine nudges, 2+ years later.

Apparently they closed the Bear’s Lair, where you could buy a fucking quart of beer on campus. And those glorious wood desks from Wheeler Hall offices are piled on the steps, to be destroyed. Relics of an age where big desks meant big dicks, they were gorgeous. Possible too big to remove from the offices without some additional demo. I wish I’d known – I would have rented a uhaul and rescued one. Over a quart of beer.

IHP: Individualized Honors Program
Friday September 21st 2012, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Boozy,can't make that shit up,exit,memory,teaching Tags:

Fitz started it. 1973, it seems, give or take. I was there in the late 80s, give or take. The idea – that the time and talents of highly gifted junior high school students were being wasted. That 10, 11, and 12 year olds could do AP Physics, AP Chemistry, and some of them were up to AP Calculus. And you know what? We fucking were. I wasn’t the smartest person my year, which was an eye-opener. I had been, for all of my impossibly arrogant 10 or 11 years before. But E Hong, A Cohen, M Kauffman, maybe a few others, were smarter than me. Not always across the board, and I wasn’t always trying, which was part of the impossible look-ma-no-hands one-upsmandship: I got an A and I didn’t study; oh yeah? I got an A and I didn’t do any of the reading; oh yeah? I got an A and I don’t own the book.

I know the widow, as she’s been coming to West Coast U events for a number of years, and through the magic of facebook put things together. The daughter of a German mathematician (presumably Jewish) who fled Germany in the ’30s, a true intellectual. Someone interested in debate, discussion, the hard work of thinking.

IHP didn’t teach me to work, though that seems to have been the case for many others. It took me another decade or so, to finally meet someone who said “that’s nice that you’re smart, but that means nothing unless you also work.” I fell in love with her for telling me that, though as I look back, I still can’t explain how strong my feelings are at Fitz’s death. He was a _terrible_ teacher, in many ways. He simply chose to ignore the (many, many, and apparently quite consistent over several decades) shenanigans of incredibly-fucking-smart and finally-not-bored, but fuck-it-it’s-still-school-I’m-bored-on-principle, young teens. I cheated my way through 7th grade Algebra – I just copied my neighbor’s homework (in homeroom) and tests in class. Fitz can’t have been more than 3 feet from me busily copying all the answers, but he didn’t give a fuck. He knew I was sort of learning it, and sort of not, at my own pace. See that “individualized” bit? He really meant it. It’s how, presumably, he dreamt it up in the first place.

There’s a new book out on Highly Gifted/high achieving high schools – they’re a tiny minority in the country – Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, etc (as against private schools, which _offer_ similar programmes for those wealthy enough and smart enough to track into them). But, junior high? Walter Reed is fairly unusual on that front (Hopkins’ CTY being a nice companion program, really). Spending the community’s money on the best and brightest, rather than the most needy, has always been politically complicated. Ron Unz was there this evening, someone who lobbied to form North Hollywood High’s magnet program, the best the district managed as a local follow up to its otherwise terminal crown jewel.

It was OK to be precociously smart. It was OK to be a geek, 10-15 years before, culturally, geekness became an asset and an advantage. Fitz’s oversize glasses, the legacy of the 70s and an insouciant disregard for fashion before he married his 2nd wife shortly after I knew him – they’re hip, now. Fitz as hipster. Hipsters, who still suffer the impossible divide of our time – the admiration for success predicated upon talent plus work (sports, mostly, though some forms of entertainment) and the admiration for success predicated upon work, without regards to talent (everything else). For a few years, now, I’ve been wanting to write a piece on what should be the New Elitism: what the fuck ever happened to expertise. Reading a music-tech blog the other day, I saw a delightful takedown: summarized, “I post in my real name, I’ve worked in this industry for 30 years, I’ve written books on the subject, chill the fuck out.” The reply: “For all I know you might be a 12 year old,” says the otherwise anonymous, might as well be a 12 year old “my opinion is valid too.” Sure, you’re welcome to your opinion. It’s “valid”, inasmuch as that means anything. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S AS GOOD, AS RIGHT, OR AS IMPORTANT AS MINE.

Get off my lawn? Maybe I’m just old. Or maybe my 7th and 8th grade math and physics teacher, who let me take his classes despite my being a bit borderline, and my never rewarding his respect by working to improve (that is to say, doing the fukcing homework) rather than merely working to stay afloat (the bare fucking minimum in the least amount of time…so I could? What the fuck did we do with all the time we had as teens?), was exceptional. Taught me something about why the exceptional mattered, and what to do with it, about it, for it. Had, and inculcated, civic-mindedness I wouldn’t understand for a decade. Made it OK to be different. Not bad for a man who snapped and clapped and shushed a classroom when writing on his overhead transparencies was obstructed.

I still don’t quite know why his death his hit me so. I passed the AP, and like to think I could pass his CP Snow test, that I can read and add, teach literature and (at one time, at least), solve differential equations and do some linear algebra. And got 5s on both the Mechanics and the Electro-Magnetism APs 3 and 4 years after I left his class – a lifetime gap in the short life of those years, damn near consecutive in hindsight from here. Individualized honors. Perhaps that, not just smart, but ourselves – that’s what he gave us permission to be.

Regularly scheduled

Tonight’s regularly scheduled Nostalgia-Fest(tm) has been delayed due to eminently foreseeable circumstances. A contract offered, yesterday, an early morn and the closure of an exam today. One to London, one to New York, one here for a bit before heading to San Francisco, one to the Air Force and another back to his baby boy. They don’t tell you, not the places you’ll go, but the people you’ll say goodbye to as they go to those places. And so, flint (as is apparently the case with my Reading Abbey wall fill rubble) to the tinder, movies of promise and regret and loss before it’s lost to spark the few bits of fuel not already consumed.

grief, unexpected
Thursday December 06th 2007, 2:43 am
Filed under: bastard,damn,departure,exit,exit pursued by a bear,grief,leaving Tags:

I should have known things were going all too well.  A colleague is departing.  Doesn’t that sound nice and clinical and not at all a big deal?  Better, perhaps, “the senior colleague who has generously mentored me, and become in short order a true friend, is leaving for pastures proverbially, though certainly not literally, greener.”  Fuuuuuuuuucccccccccckkkkkkk.  Having spent entirely too many late nights in the office (Fri, Sat, Mon, Tues) leading up to the talk this afternoon (it went fine. B+, I think) and reading these damn hiring files (meeting tomorrow at noon), I’m gonna go home and drink me a bottle of wine.