Archive for October, 2013


I’ve been looking at photos of myself. My friend Ellen Newman took them. I’m not playing out the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his image in a pool of water. I need an updated author’s headshot for my new novel The Boy Walker, officially launching this February. Alas, like most people, I see images on screen that don’t match those inside my head.

Oh that we could all look like Hollywood stars! Of course, movies and TV are about illusion. The camera often loves our idols only after extensive assistance from hairdressers, makeup artists, costume designers, the occasional apple box on which to appear taller, and a cinematographer’s skilled adjustment of lights and camera angles.

Beauty of the soul is another matter. It’s found on the inside and requires some searching out. This takes effort. So we often drift towards what lies on the surface, deceiving ourselves that “what you see is what you get.”

I see a parallel with technology. Oh how easily we fall in love with bells and whistles. Millions of people can’t do without tech’s equivalents of the Kardashians and the housewives of New Jersey. Technology often seems to exist for its own sake. Anything that can be programmed must be worthwhile. “I exist, therefore I’m meaningful.”

Here in San Francisco, headquarters of social media, Heaven help those who don’t prostrate themselves to the gods of code. A recent article in the Chronicle explained that many adults take classes to relate to younger, twenty-something programmers. Said programmers can be quite dismissive of anyone who doesn’t speak their language. It’s like the old ‘sixties protest: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Lacking patience and basic communications skills, they turn off to their clients—the very people who pay them. This can throw a digital monkey wrench into the plans of anyone trying to get a website going.

Am I now an official curmudgeon in spite of using an (old) iPhone? Check out any restaurant. It’s a rare table at which one or more—or all—diners under thirty aren’t engrossed with their devices. Older folks, too. They text, tweet, comment on Facebook or engage with email. The world must know what they’re eating and drinking, and when they go to the bathroom. Right now! Rather than talk, they flash their screens at each other.

Ideally, technology makes communicating simpler by rendering physical distance irrelevant. Yet often it increases emotional distance. People seem increasingly challenged to converse face to face. It’s hard to engage a person whose device puts someone supposedly more exciting a click away. I’m reminded of cocktail parties where guests keep looking past each other to search out more enticing partners for sharing empty smiles and inane babble.

As to my author photos, I’m satisfied. Still, they’re just digital representations. For the real me—the real you—you have to dig deeper. This post—a somewhat long-form use of technology—can help. But it’s no substitute for meeting in the flesh, taking time and making the effort to really get to know someone. There’s just no app for that.

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On Wednesday, Congress finally agreed to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling. Many House Republicans yielded and joined with Democrats to end Washington’s latest stalemate. Yet TV showed House Speaker John Boehner fist pumping. “We fought the good fight,” Boehner said. “We just didn’t win.” He seemed to suggest that Republicans really didn’t lose, either. That left me curious about the political outcome.

Yesterday, The New York Times saw definite losers. “Republicans Lose a Lot to Get Little” headlined a story by Jeremy Peters. A Times editorial addressed “The Republican Surrender.” Its lead: “The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc.” But The Times represents only one voice in the United States. A brief survey of other newspapers and related websites revealed a variety of opinions—and non-opinions.

Closest to home, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined, “End of shutdown boosts Democrats.” Of course, this is Nancy Pelosi country. So I went online to get the word from between the coasts. (The Dallas Morning News) simply stated, “Federal employees get back to work after 16-day shutdown.” No winners and losers here. Still, an editorial offered, “Budget deal is reached, but internal split is harming GOP.” (The Orlando Sentinel) led with, “Lock your car while pumping gas, cops warn.” I had to scroll down to find, “Post-crisis, Obama tells Congress to get to work.” Is the State of Florida in a state of denial? (The Kansas City Star) showcased a sex assault case. But an editorial—if you looked for it—asserted, “GOP political tantrum has damaged America.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) stayed with the story: “Obama: ‘American people are completely fed up.’” Columnist Jay Bookman offered the moral: “Excessive certitude proves to be a damn poor substitute for intelligence.” (The Daily News) led with Shelby County foreclosures dropping 10 percent in the last quarter. Again, I had to scroll for news of the agreement. (the Memphis Commercial Appeal) didn’t run a story at all.

Only a TV news clip—from St. Louis yet—was available at (The Cincinnati Enquirer). On the other hand, (The Arizona Republic) led with: “Obama signs bill averting default on debt, ending shutdown.” Neutral stuff. The site also ran an Associated Press report by Donna Cassata noting, “To Senate Republicans, Cruz and [Sen. Mike] Lee [Rep.–Utah] are near pariahs” but that “Among ‘tea party’ Republicans, Cruz’s popularity has climbed, from a 47 percent favorability rating in July to 74 percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.” A presidential run gaining steam? The top story at (Utah’s Desert News) concerned football changing the life of a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome.

After all this, I’m thinking that winning and losing is a matter of perspective. But two things seem certain. The sound we heard coming out of Washington wasn’t cheering but the clink of the can again being kicked down the road. And if anyone got the short end of the stick, it wasn’t the Republican Party—it was the American people.

In a previous version of this post, I referred to Ted Cruz as a Republican senator from Florida. Cruz represents Texas. I must have confused him with Marco Rubio. Now how could that happen? 

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Once, the people of a great land divided power between their king—chosen after each fourth harvest—and heroic knights. The king reigned in the Great Castle. The knights gathered in the Great Hall to debate at a trapezoid-shaped table. A round table would have upset the narrow hall’s feng shui.

Many knights wore beautiful armor. Some of their helmets, however, had loose screws. These knights could not always see what was before them. A few strutted in armor rusted by uncontrollable drooling. The marketplace speculated on injudicious parental mating.

One day the king proposed, “Let everyone in the land be given a daily banana.” Despite the kingdom’s wealth, not everyone could afford bananas, rich in health-enhancing potassium. A majority of knights assented. Bananas were made available to all. Still, some knights insisted that the doors to the treasury be locked and bananas restricted to only those subjects who could afford them. “Let them eat cake!” they cried. “Sugar promotes energy. Besides, we question the blasphemous tenets of modern dentistry.”

“Bananas for all!” announced the king. “It’s the law of the realm.” The opposing knights countered, “The law isn’t the law unless we say it is.” In protest, they established the Cake Party. Donning bakers’ garb and brandishing studded rolling pins, they bellowed, “The king must be removed and the Great Castle turned into a bakery.”

Some knights who opposed distributing bananas nonetheless believed Cake Party members to be several ounces short of a cup. Still, they feared making enemies. Chief among them was Sir John, who sat at the head of the trapezoidal table. “Only if the kingdom forswears spending on bananas,” he said, “can it amass more gold. Then everyone can buy their own bananas—although scientific evidence concerning potassium is questionable.” Hoisting a screwdriver, he sighed, “If only the king would negotiate and do as I say.” Then he watched as the Cake Party catapulted stale loaves of bread at the Great Castle’s walls.

The king, many knights and most of the people objected to these attacks, but Sir John held firm. Hadn’t he the kingdom’s best interests at heart? And if the Cake Party pried him from his chair, wouldn’t conditions worsen? But in truth, Sir John loved his special chair at the trapezoidal table more than gold or even croissants. The chair was covered in glitter and sparkled with bits of shiny metal and glass. Privately, Sir John granted that the Cake Party might be a cup or even two short of a quart. Yet he lusted after his glittering chair.

The kingdom foundered. Dragons, now emboldened, flew overhead, belching fire and brimstone. The rich hunkered in bunkers, their gold in iron vaults, while farmers’ fields and craftsman’s studios went up in flames. “Fools!” the people cried. In response, the Cake Party baked cakes and iced them with the words, “It’s a matter of principle.”

This, of course, is only a fable. And everyone knows the old saying, “All that glitters is not gold.” But legend has it that each morning, Sir John would stand in front of his glittering chair, wave at the dragons and with a long-handled wooden spoon wipe the spittle from his chin.

Many thanks to Michaela for inspiration. This post, however, expresses only the opinions of the author.

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at Order at, or 


I hear lots of talk about art and artists, but I’m clueless as to what art is. So I asked people associated with the arts to enlighten me.

What can be called art? Dan Weiss, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, and art and jazz patron sees a level of art in every human activity. “Someone causes an aspect of our lives to be discovered anew and possible transforms the mundane into the heavenly.” Painter Jim Shay states, “Art exists to focus our spiritual nature.” He cites medieval cathedrals. “By viewing the stories carved in stone figures, the participant can combine the spatial shock received from the soaring spaces with the allegories and stories to a finer understanding of God.” Sculptor Karen Shay confesses, “I don’t know what Art is.” Hers “is about making the emotional and psychological into physical form.” Art with a capital “A” concerns “that which is universal, timeless and often spiritual.”

Ron Eaton, a former classics major, and art and music lover, comments, “At a minimum art must be a physical product or an act that exhibits conscious mastery of form, and that mastery must elicit an emotional response.” As such, “A well-made but frenzied Tibetan tanka and an elegantly simple Cycladic idol can both be art; badly made, neither is.”

Fiction writer/teacher Tom Parker proposes that even if it’s not always pretty or “artful,” art “provides the reader with a unique take on the human condition, an uncommon angle on the commonplace, a fresh way to view the world.” Actor Carolyn Power (Mrs. Perlstein) adds: “Art originates in the soul of the artist; manifests through expression of this vision and is made real through commitment and sheer hard work.” Carolyn focuses on the craft of “creating the bones of the character and interpreting the language of the play.” She is not aware of the art side to the equation, “but the audience is.” Dancer Aaron Perlstein (my son) sees art as about interpretation.

Can anyone claim to be an artist? According to Jim, few people can. “Wayne Thiebaud once said that he’s a painter, not an artist. He said ‘artist’ is a rare thing and somewhat unknown. I agree.” Karen believes there’s “a whiff of elitism or snobbery when the term gets thrown around too loosely.” Aaron asks, “What’s the point in defining who is or is not an artist?” He adds, “Viewers and critics of art are just as important to the process.”

Is there a difference between art and craft? Jim believes that much “art” is more craft.  “For example, well-painted but empty realist work.” Yet a crafted object like a Japanese teapot may rise to the level of art. According to Aaron, craft creates functional items, like a sweater or a house. However, “Adding intention from the craft maker to interpret or express does blur the lines.” Ron asks whether a Japanese netsuke or a kimono is art or craft. “Both can be things of great beauty and control of form but also serve practical purposes.” For Karen, craft lacks an emotional component.

Does society have an obligation to artists? Aaron says that nobody has an obligation to anybody. Yet “Funding the arts is good for society, and funding the arts with public money will help our economy.” Jim acknowledges that society has definite obligations to artists. “I don’t know what they are, though.”

Given these comments, I just may be able to jump in on the next conversation about art. How about you?

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at Order at, or