Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Navajo Grandfather Once Told His Grandson.....

There is a story about a Navajo grandfather who once told his grandson, "Two wolves live inside me. One is the bad wolf, full of greed and laziness, full of anger and jealousy and regret. The other is the good wolf, full of joy and compassion and willingness and a great love for the world. All the time, these wolves are fighting inside me.

The boy said, "Which wolf will win?"

The grandfather answered, "The one I feed."

Elizabeth Berg

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How Mark Bittner Became A Writer

Mark Bittner is now the well-known and well-respected author of a best-selling memoir, *The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill*. It's a fascinating account of his interactions with a flock of wild parrots that lives in the North Beach area of San Francisco. For many years Bittner studied, fed and protected these birds even when he was struggling with homelessness and poverty. He kept a detailed journal on the flock, but resisted the idea of becoming a professional writer. Bittner was a devoted student of Eastern religions, and wanted to cultivate peace and serenity in himself. All the famous writers he'd heard of seemed to have become drunkards, drug addicts, brawlers, wife-beaters. Bittner was afraid that if he wrote, he would become some kind of psychopath, develop a host of exotic problems and die years before his time.

Eventually, however, Bittner noticed that his journal on the parrot flock had become 1000 pages long. In other words, he was already writing. Also, he loved reading and studying books, and slowly he accepted the idea that maybe it would not be too bad an endeavor to write one. This is his description of his change of heart:

"As for my old fears about the fate of writers, I was ALREADY destitute, and having survived the streets, I was no longer afraid of going insane or becoming an alcoholic. I found some milk crates and an old door and improvised a desk. I'd written short stories and I'd written songs, but I had no idea how one went about writing an entire book. My usual method would have been to buy some books on how to write a book, but I didn't see myself as having the time for that. I didn't delay even a single day; I just sat down and started writing."

*The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill* is one of the most delightful, as well as tough-minded and informative, books you could read, this year or any other year. It continues to sell very well. Bittner can now afford a real desk and computer, but he still often likes to write by hand. He's now reached the second-draft stage of his new book, *Street Song.*

His fears about turning into a degenerate never materialized. Bittner and his wife Judy live a remarkably healthy life. They can often be seen biking up and down the San Francisco hills, or swimming in the icy, rambunctious waves of the Bay in close proximity to waterbirds, sea lions, and harbor seals.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Attention, all you joyous Dems and everybody else who enjoys having his country back: I think you'd like, as much as I do, a cover story in Kotori Magazine which is titled "666 Reasons Sentient Citizens Are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush." Political writer Dan Benbow did an incredible job of research on what is a virtually complete record of the abuses of the Bush presidency--specifically, large and small disasters which occurred during those eight lost, dark years. It may seem odd to describe an article with 666 power points as "concise," but Benbow's focus is lazer-like. The link is:

Throughout, the article is compelling. And personally, I think it would be a good idea to print it out and re-read it at least once a year. Lest we forget.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The great filmmaker Akira Kurosawa had an onset nickname: cast and crew called him Tenno, The Emperor. One close friend described Kurosawa as "a demon of strength" when directing his magnificent films, which included The Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Yojimbo. His personality was so imposing that actors would endure the most incredible hardships to please him. This might vary from painless but disgusting tasks like wearing the same stinking rags for months, both onset and off, since he believed that actors should stay in character; to being nearly drowned, since he liked torrential rain in his films, and plenty of it. In the final scene of Throne of Blood, actor Toshiro Mifune was nearly skewered by the hundreds of real arrows that were shot at him by expert archers. In The Seven Samurai actors attacked each other with real swords, knives, pikes, and cudgels in hip-high mud while being deluged by The Emperor's favorite Biblical-strength rain.
Apparently actors seldom so much as said "Boo" to Kurosawa about his methods. He was just too big, too powerful for them to question.

Because of incidents like these, Kurosawa's scriptwriter friend Uekusa told him that obviously he had never known regret, desperation or defeat, the weaknesses that most people struggle with. Uekusa said that "Tenno" had been born strong and born lucky, and that his achievements had come easily to him. This is the way Kurosawa responded:

"I only wear the mask of a strong person...I am not trying to defend myself. But I feel this is an opportunity to make myself understood. I am not a special person. I am not especially strong. I am not especially gifted. But I hate to show weakness, and I hate to lose, so I am a person who tries hard. That is all there is to it."

Monday, February 16, 2009


(This is a Valentine's Day poem, a little late...the tumultuous crush took place during school daze...)


Young men in that class grew fierce traditional snake-braids
spearing the debate, others blackened the room
with enormous, spittle-shimmering Bolshevik
storm-beards of sedition.
While you called Nietzsche sentimental
and others roared you down,
I studied the earth-orb of your sumptuous 'fro
and wished it were made for me.
Let it be mine,
your hard and stubborn head
with its yew-dense, mustang-brown fur of knots
tempting my hand. In it
I could have clipped topiary shapes of Adam and Eve,
their fast-breeding menagerie and garden of delight.
Then I would have said to you
Screw Nietzsche. Here's a mirror. See
how we could be.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One Who Is Good At Preserving Life In Battle.....

One who is good at preserving life
does not avoid tigers and rhinoceroses
when he walks in the hills;
nor does he put on armor and take up weapons
when he enters battle.
The rhinoceros has no place to jab its horn,
the tiger has no place to fasten its claws.
Weapons have no place to admit their blades.
What is the reason for this?
Because on him there are no mortal spots.

Tao Te Ching, quoted in the book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales