Saturday, September 29, 2007

Walkabout

In the morning, freshly revived from the feeling of sadness induced by having her first submission rejected the night before, she received a phone call from a friend and colleague who needed advice on a Pro Tools technical question. Although she had never met this woman in person, she had spent hours with her on the phone over the years, both training her, and just chatting in general. They had become close. She went outside to the perch at the top of the stairs and talked on the phone while staring out over the bay. The view was impeccably clear. She could even see the windmill on Angel Island, the tines of which would often disappear in a hint of haze. The friend suggested she contact a woman living and working in Asia and who might possibly become an important mentor in the pursuit of her career. When she heard this revelation, she felt a strange feeling; it was hard to explain, kind of like a warm feeling that said 'yes'. What it meant, however, was that she might need to spend a significant portion of her life living and working in Kathmandu.

Immediately the fear began to set in. She went out for a walk around the city to clear her mind. Meandering through the city, she found herself down at Fisherman's Wharf. Tourists dressed in San Francisco t-shirts and khaki shorts, weighing more than is healthy ambled by, licking ice cream cones and eating cotton candy. Deep in her own thoughts, she hurried by a number of local street artists: a man beating on various pots and pans in excellent rhythms, several mimes who painted themselves silver and did hip hop dance routines on milk carts. A lone saxophone player blasted his horn into her ear as she passed and she quickly reached up to protect her already damaged hearing.

Her ears were still ringing from her sojourn to Kathmandu earlier in the year. This happened because she failed to take precautions to protect herself from the un-muted honks of the motorbikes which crowd the narrow streets; the sound magnified by the surrounding buildings would cause her to double over in pain. That combined with a genetic disposition for tinnitus caused an irreversible hearing loss.

And now she might go to Kathmandu for a while. A long while. It is possible she may have the opportunity to study journalism with a Fulbright Scholar who is busy setting up radio and print operations over there, and that she, in turn could help this woman because of her wealth of technical expertise. The drawback? She would have to leave her family and friends behind, of whom she is quite attached, and be really incredibly brave.

On the other hand, she has never felt more of a sense of freedom in her life than she did when she was in Kathmandu. And at this moment, there really are no reasons why she shouldn't do it. She wondered if she would step up to the plate of what has been calling her for years. If it wasn't going to happen now, it might not ever happen and she might have to settle into some kind of menial desk job that didn't suit her personality at all.

Of course, she realized that all of these thoughts were presumptuous. After all, she hadn't spoken to or even shared an e-mail exchange with this person. And yet, it was as if some kind of earthquake was just starting to rumble within her, and it was going to be a very large temblor.

She would need to sit with this for a while, until the next chapter revealed itself. It did occur to her that perhaps the attenuated earplugs she bought for her next trip to Asia were quite a fortuitous purchase.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On living, dying and birthdays

Yesterday I found out about the deaths of two friends; a completely unrelated coincidence. I wasn't very close to either, yet both people influenced my life in one way or another. The first, a friend from high school, died several months ago of alcoholism. In school, she introduced me to Monty Python, Queen, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. We went to see Queen at the San Diego Sports Arena together back in 1977. Lori always made me laugh and I loved knowing her then. Her leaving reverberates in a very sad way through my system. I am sorry that I didn't even know that she was living right here in San Francisco all these years, probably mere blocks from where I am now.

The second, a sweetest soul, Diane Bodach died last week surrounded by family and friends. She was a poet, and I knew her because of that. She would come to my house years ago, to record poetry for the radio show I worked on. We would sit in the garden and talk about existentially spiritual matters, and her eyes were always beaming love. But her body was weak, ravaged by cancer and other immune deficiencies, she shook and could not stand or even sit upright for long. This only seemed to sweeten and lighten her, and I'm sure that when she went, it was a direct ascension to the angels.

The memorial is in a month, and it looks to be fantastic. It got me thinking, why is it that the best party of someone's life; the one where that person is finally fully acknowledged for all they do, all they contribute, who they really are, does not happen until they are gone and can't participate? Why are there not living memorials?

I shed a goodbye tear for both my friends.

I was born on this day 47 years ago. Today is a warm autumn day in the city and I will walk about in it, grateful for each step I am taking and each breath I inhale.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

City Sounds

Today, as it has done every Tuesday for my entire life, the sirens sounded at noon, echoing through San Francisco. No longer needed, the former air raid siren is now just the relic of a warning system. As a child of the 60s the sound used to cause nightmares of nuclear holicaust. Right up there with the school imposed practice of dropping under the desk in case of the A-bomb. I'm glad we lived to realize how futile that little effort would have been.

In North Beach, the sound of Big Ben has been placed into a loudspeaker at St. Peter and Paul, and is broadcast every 15 minutes from 9 to 6 every day. Because of this, I thought I knew the sound of a bell. Then, in 1977, I went to Europe; I heard a toll that simply can't be duplicated. We don't have that sound here. There are other bells here, and they are lovely, but they do not hit you in the solar plexus and force you to come to church.

A constant whining tone can be heard from my flat. I don't know what it is. It is some kind of industrial sound that seems to come from the direction of the sewer plant near Fisherman's Wharf. My father has lived in this flat for 40 years, and he has heard it as long. He has asked many if they hear it, but no one does, except me. Not only do I hear it, but I hear the accompanying minor second that joins it from time to time, ringing dissonance throughout the town. Dissonance that no one else seems to hear but we two.

Sea lions bark at each other from their perches at Pier 39. They are the best part of Pier 39, a conglomeration of Disney style shops on a pier that was built to replace another pier that burned down in the 70's in a spectacular fire. Boats honk from the wharf. When a cruise ship backs up out 0f its pier, it gives 3 long and low blows. That's what tells me to come and watch as it starts its journey out the Golden Gate and into the open sea.

The rolling of the Powell and Mason cable car line running under the street to pull the cars sounds from 6:00 am to midnight. It is always a quiet day around here when the line is shut down for repairs. The operator rings the cable car bell in rhythmic beats, the tourists scream in an E-Ride thrill as the car flies down Mason Street. Formerly, it was a mode of transportation for San Francisco residents. Now, at five dollars a ride, it is simply a charming tourist attraction.

A relatively new sound to the auditory landscape of this city is the chattering of parrots. A number of years ago, some were let loose somehow and they now dominate the city. They dine on pine nuts and other delicacies they find on local trees, and seem to have found a great niche here. They fly in flocks to and from various favorite enclaves and are quite vocal. Noisy yes, but endearing.

Sounds that annoy: The pile drivers, the car alarms, the youngsters in the flat next door at 2:00 am, the concerts in Washington Square which should be banned for disturbing the peace, The Blue Angels. Wait, The Blue Angels? Yes. Love to watch, love to hear, but the cost of flying those planes, and the waste...those thoughts are always present and almost as loud as the jets themselves in the spectacle of their Fleet Week visit.

Finally, the consummate San Francisco auditory delight; the fog horn. A quiet symphony of tones when the fog is thick, to lull me into sleep. The sound that haunts my dreams, from wherever I am on Earth.