Friday, November 8, 2013

Creative Writing Project: Dancing

Dancing. What happened to it? Classical dancing like ball-room, tap, jazz, swing remain intact, but modern dancing has fallen off the floor. Does footwork now mean the kicking that someone receives after crossing someone at a rap concert?

For real footwork, take a step back in time to the seventies and eighties for a glimpse of the footwork performed by, The Stylistics, Temptations, O'Jays, or The Whispers and savor the choreographed agility and synchronized moves of these artists. The 70s and 80s dances were formed by tricky twists and turns and were well choreographed to the beat. Those old school moves and grooves raised your spirit, soothed your soul, quenched your thirst for rhythm and cured your blues. Even the hybrid of "Ska" formed by a blend of a reggae and Caribbean upbeat had its unique steps resembling a cross between a hop and skip known as, "Skanking."

Recently, I found myself transformed back to the early 80s at an English Beat concert. The English Beat are a 2-tone/Ska band who during the early 80s popularized the wearing of pork-pie, Fedora hats and checkered black and white as worn by the 2-tone bands like Selector and The Specials. There were two types of people on the dance floor; those who could skank and those who watched those who could skank. The older people on the floor were those skanking. The younger people in the audience looked on.

On the one hand, remembering how to skank made me feel young again, but reminiscing to my younger friend who was twenty years my junior about how I danced to the Police's, "Walking on the Moon" made me feel old. I looked towards The Beat on stage where the members of that band were now in their fifties. Things looked and felt the same as they always did. The band members were in excellent shape and had as much energy bounding around the stage as they always did.  What's more, I too was in good shape and still had enough energy to skank the night away. My friend left a little earlier in order to get the last train home. I stayed and made my way to the front of the stage, just like I used to back in the day. And like I did back in the day, I cheered for an encore... They came back like they always do and then they left, but not before one of my "old" heroes caught my eye and shock my hand. I melted and felt young again once more. Back in the day blended with today. Today was back in the day.

Dancing Shoes

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Friends and Old Friends

So here I was venturing through Chinatown to North Beach  to see a friend playing in a band at the Old Saloon Bar on Grant Street. My brisk walk through the Stockton Tunnel enabled me to savor the air of an early Saturday evening at dusk. The hustle and bustle of Chinatown was quietly going to sleep as Columbus Street in North Beach was just awakening from its daytime slumber. The street markets slowly dismantled and merchandized wheeled off in crates for the night as darkness fell over Chinatown. I could avoid the the usually slow pace of dawdling tourists and local last minute shoppers by joining the not much faster traffic in the road to continue my walk unheeded to The Saloon.

A couple of blocks from my destination on Grant Street, I stumbled upon an old music store. Curiously, I had passed this store many times before, but it only caught my eye this evening. Vinyl records in boxes were on display outside and in the light-filled windows gleamed instruments of old: saxophones, bongos, drums, speakers, turntables, keyboards, amplifiers and bass guitars filled the store and windows in a display what can only be described as an Aladdin's cave for musician buffs. I paused for a moment and browsed through the old boxes of albums of yesteryear. Memories of old times flooded back of a time when I possessed some of those old vinyls. Album shopping used to be a regular weekend treat; not from old shops like this, but bright busy mega-stores like HMV and Virgin Records. One could never miss these old mega stores with music blaring inside and outside of the store. I moved over to a box of old posters that formed  testimony to San Francisco's musical past of the 60s, and 70s. A voice over my shoulder exclaimed, "Oh I remember those too...!" A somewhat shabby, but not unclean man peered down over my shoulder as I flipped through the posters. As we chatted about music and the store, it emerged we were the same age... But to me, he sounded like a throw back to the late fifties, or very early sixties..., "You should take a look inside, man. You'll trip out!" I replied, "I sure will..." In a brief moment, we were completely equal on a narrow level based solely on a love for music. But economics, and happenstance saw to it that we were far from that. I felt mildly guilty that I had a bed to sleep in and had to explain that I had no change... And for once, I really didn't have any change. Awkwardly, we parted company...

I continued browsing through the posters of old artists and concert announcements of Santana Live at the Fillmore and many other artists. Another voice arose, "Where 're you from then...? Sorry, but I heard you chatting while I was inside and just had to find out where you were from." Oh, I replied, "London, Walthamstow." He was clearly an Essex-boy. I knew that because he sounded exactly like my dear friend Nick from Essex who lost his life a couple of years ago. I was friends with Nick for close to twenty years. Nick played the saxophone years earlier and would have loved this store. The man I started chatting with outside the store even had the cheeky wry grin that Nick possessed. I immediately felt a rapport and familiarity that raised a smile in me. It was that depth and warmth that I felt whenever I saw Nick and shared many a pint with in a London bar -- a depth and warmth that I'd missed. I found myself hurriedly asking him if he lived in San Francisco now, "No, Luv, just visiting and passing through and buying up this store!" My heart momentarily sank as he got in his car and drove off... "Nick" was gone again once more...

I ambled on to the Saloon to meet my relatively new friends, but for some reason, I just could not bring myself to the present. I stared down at the dancing feet, but was still back in a London bar with Nick and other old friends from the past. And I wondered; is the past always present? Memories of the past are always present... And with that thought, my brief moment of melancholia vanished. I joined the dancing feet and embraced my moment of memories and again became present in the moment.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writing Graffiti

Graffiti is the modern day cave drawing forever changing form and color as slates are wiped clean with a new coat of paint.  Walls of the past form the canvas of the new. The spray can transforms into the artist's brush.

Graffiti is the poor person's post-modern art and expression. The graffiti artist clandestinely enters where nobody else dares. They venture towards high places: not in status, but scale scaffolding and delve deep into the guts of abandoned buildings to express their creativity. The work of a graffiti artist is frowned upon by a society grounded in convention unless it's commissioned. Commissioned work loses the rough edge which is the appeal of graffiti. However, that does not remove the quality and creativity of commissioned work. Commissioned work has transformed stark gang-tagged neighborhoods to colorful  urban art galleries. Graffiti is supposed to be subversive and underground which gives it that edge. Unlike music, paintings, or words in a novel, play or book, the work is often temporary. Graffiti is a subculture that bucks the system by purposefully deviating from the norm.

My admiration of graffiti started four years ago in the Marin Headlands after a visit to Hill 88; an abandoned military site emblazoned with color and bright images juxtaposed by green hills, the ocean, and wind wailing through the concrete abandoned barracks of yesteryear. I recently returned to admire the work that I had  photographed four years ago and to see what else the graffiti artists had added to the abandoned walls that formed the open air canvas.  Alas! All of the work I'd photographed four years ago was gone. A blank wall stared back at me. It's blankness screeched conformity:  dull, colorless, and uneventful. No beginning or end.

I felt glad that I had captured the colorful spectacles years before and the work continues to exists on a photo sharing site and various other social networking sites like Google+ . I realized that I had unwittingly preserved the work of a few for many. I wish the artists knew.

I like to think of myself as a curator for the disenfranchised artists who are often seen as vandals for their often illegal, but creative work. To follow in their footsteps tracking their work by venturing inside forbidden places is both thrilling and engaging. Within the bowls of abandoned bunkers, cracks of sunlight  illuminate the art work like track lighting in a museum of modern art. In the starkness of abandonment, there is detail. In the darkness of it all, there is light. In the shallowness of the words, there is depth and color. In the desolation of it all, there is company. Graffiti is the life after death of abandoned walls.

On one wall, a graffiti artist declares, "Everything was beautiful ...And nothing hurt." I wondered what the author of those words meant? Was it a psychedelic drug experience filled with color and beauty like no other view or masterpiece? Were the author of those words making a sarcastic commentary on armed combat?

Another author warns, "Swipe your life away..." Those words resonated with me. Lives are swiped away constantly by the hand of meaningless toil, stuff, and sometimes tragedy; just like the paintbrush that swipes away the work of a graffiti artist. Lives are swiped away by not stopping and seeing the writing on the wall. The graffiti of life needs to be read. Stop and look at the color, the detail, the depth of the words, and a thought for the people behind the words. Like the words and work of a graffiti artist, a life won't be there forever. Block the hand of meaningless mundane toil that swipes your life away. Pause... See the detail that no one else dares to see, go to places others do not dare to tread, and embrace those moments. 

Everything will be beautiful and nothing will hurt.

Swipe Your Life Away - Hill 88 Marin Headlands 2013
What did the author mean?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hasanlu Lovers

two lovers lay without a face
tragically long silenced
discovered in this ancient place
no voice to tell their tale
as archaeologists dig
the voice of past
declare their story
their tale revealed at last
their grave captures
a timeless love
touching forever
in a loving embrace
this shared love
shines on with grace
how sweet they look
in their resting place
their voice of love speaks
through an eternal embrace
for love knows
no time, age or place

Hasanlu Lovers

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ode to the Beast - Along the Dipsea Trail

the beast awaits

quietly, hesitantly, 
they approach her back
and start their way
along her tracks

they are nervous

will she spit and crack
will she glow
will she soothe

they wonder

will her warm licks
be of glee
will she lure them
with views of the sea

perhaps she'll show a rabbit,
a deer, or two
perhaps she'll cool them
with morning dew

i'm nervous

she lures me
like an old love affair
i arrive and wonder
why am i here

but when i arrive
at cardiac hill
i remember why
i love her still

and always will

Friday, May 10, 2013

Running Times

there was a time we ran so fast
my we had such a blast
those moments are so long ago
we were far from being slow

together we ran hills and trails
along side streams and ov'r dales
navigated climbs we never failed
what fun we had with wind on tails

together we ran our personal best
we left behind the best of the rest
surprised we were with our time
we were third across the finish line

my that was many years ago
and now alas you've got to go
and now its time for our last trip
i believe i felt a tear just drip

even though you ran no more
many miles we'd walked galore
old and warn you no longer run
but I shall never forget our fun

i owe you much it's fair to say
i thank and carry you on our way
your next trip's about to begin
as you enter the recycle bin

you mix well with the other shoes
you most certainly will never lose
will you help form football grounds
or a new track to run around

i know that your purpose is plenty
especially that 10km in 47:20
whenever i see a running race 
you are with me in first place

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Creative Writing Workshop - A Strange Signature

I often spent a fine hour exploring all the nooks and crannies of my favorite antique shop while chatting with the owner. I had no idea of the age of the couch way in the back, but my dealer friend guessed around early 1900. The couch soon became my latest treasure despite being covered in worn leather and in need of a good clean. I just couldn't resist the character of this vintage piece of furniture or a good bargain. Its disheveled appearance just added to its charm.

My not so new treasure looked grand in the living room and it complemented the hardwood floors.  It was the most comfortable thing I had ever had the pleasure of laying on.  As I laid back into its welcoming leather arms, I wondered what lives the couch had seen and what conversations it had heard... Perhaps it had witnessed fanciful parties of the roaring 20s, or overheard war stories of the Great War as people danced The Charleston...? My hand wondered around the sides of the couch and I dug deep into its dark depths. I felt and dug out an old thruppenny bit with George V and the year 1913 on the back confirming the approximate age of the couch. I recovered a beautiful sapphire ring which I am sure someone must have spent hours looking for and who died wondering what on earth had happened to it. Lastly, my fingers stumbled upon a piece of paper. I spent a good moment grappling with it trying to get a firm grip and eventually pulled it out. The letter was post marked, Oct 3, 1917 from Craiglockhart, Scotland. I took the letter from the opened envelope and noticed a strange signature at the end of the letter. I started to read the letter, but could barely make out the handwritten script. However, the words, "Dulce et Decorum est" jumped out at me. Of course, these words form the title to one of my favorite Great War poems by Wilfred Owen, the author of the strange signature.

Before my mind wondered a million miles, I got a zip lock bag and placed the ring and letter inside... Further research led me to find that this was one of the earliest manuscripts of the poem. This manuscript was older than the oldest known surviving manuscript addressed to his mother. The manuscript I held in my hand was an unknown, but priceless treasure; a treasure that later found itself in the Imperial War Museum in London. I was even more proud of my ownership of the Owen family couch and now knew that I had no intention of ever getting it cleaned...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Tribute to Madame Bovary

you aspired to all not there
and found love you couldn't declare
lovers jilted you time and again
with no one there to dull your pain

you shielded Charles from all you knew
your true self revealed to only a few
your dreams hid under a veil of smiles
your mind meandered many fanciful miles

starved of sophistication you so admired
you sought what your heart truly desired
boredom encompassed your life external
fashions of Paris shimmered in your journal

but sadly Paris you never did see
alas your story is now history
forbidden love stole your life away
and now you'll not see another day

arsenic was the answer to your life pains
convinced you were you'd never love again
yield you couldn't to mundane contentment
your end was Charles' long death sentence

alas poor Charles he found your letters
leaving him estranged and torn in tatters
his awkwardness you grew to abhor
he hurt 'til his heart could ache no more

now Madame Bovary you'll never know
you were loved and tears for you flowed
but poor Charles just couldn't see
how both your lives were a tragedy

Madame Bovary and the bust of her creator, Gustave Flaubert

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Although it seemed impossible...

You wake up. Your gear is set out and organized from the night before. Butterflies flutter inside, and you tell yourself, "You've worked hard for this!"

Although it seemed impossible, you've arrived at the end of your six months of training and achieved your qualifying time. You lace up your shoes; microchip firmly in place, check; bib number, check; safety pins for bib number, check;water, check. Nervously, you check again as your partner impatiently grumbles something about obsessive compulsive disorder... You take it in your stride. It's just all part of the routine of another race day morning.

The 5am morning air is cool and brisk, but still. You feel a slight chill in your sparse clothing of microfiber shirt and shorts, but warm up quickly with a gentle jog towards the start. Music plays in the distance and bright lights break the night. Everyone looks the same, save for a few intimidating tall very lank people standing nearby... The butterflies return. But then someone smiles and nods knowingly. You smile back. The butterflies settle again and you no longer feel alone.

Your wave is called and you approach the start line with finger on the start of your *Garmin. You calm yourself and conscientiously resist the adrenaline rush and being dragged into a prematurely too fast a pace. All your practice,experience of previous races and how to listen to your body come into play. You've worked hard for this fine Boston spring day. Those early morning commitments where you rose before the winter sun have culminated into  achieving your position at the start of the Boston Marathon. It was not easy running an hour before the day began. But here you are, 10 minutes before the end.

Although it seemed impossible six months ago, you've made it -- almost that is-- until the day that an act of violence so violent that it stole your legs away, your moment of glory and your passion literally blown away forever.

Although it seemed impossible, it was a nightmare, come true. Although it seemed impossible, two young men were convinced by their faith that stealing dreams was their duty to put their world right. To say how wrong they were seems too trite...

My Favorite Tree - Writer's workshop...

we came upon the village green
our old chestnut no long'r seen
where is our tree we so adore
our childhood tree we see no more

her branches held us way up high
she kept us safe as we reached the sky
silently she'd watch us play away
until dusk fell at the end of day

sometimes on a hot summer day
we often tired and abandoned play
we'd lay beneath her shimmering leaves
mindless of how we'll one day grieve

she graced us with her autumn colours
her beautiful leaves were like no others
we gathered conkers and climbed w' grace
a vacant patch now marks her place

this fine lady the subject of sonnets
100 years she'd graced our hamlet
there she stood still as time flew by
her death made you want to cry

what happened to our favorite tree
the tree that we no longer see
like all good things they fade and die
but on she lives in our mind's eye

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Door Opens...

Foot steps quietly creep up the stairs
body stiffens wondering who's there
closer and louder i hear the sounds
body paralyzed but the heart pounds

screaming out but no one hears
silent screams just add to my fear
i can't move as much as i try
deafening - louder - am i to die?

stay calm, relax and lay still
i must be sound asleep i feel
i will the deafening steps to cease
only waking will i find peace

peace alas i fail to find
the din reverberates in my mind
attempted moves only fill my head
with closer louder steps instead

my lungs are heavy legs are lead
is this what it feels like to be dead
my eyes search the foreboding night
what is it that's giving me this fright

the door opens and i glare
i feel the omnipresence right there
time stands still as i implore
cease stop please! no more

release me from this fear and pain
i want a world where i can move again
my eyes open and i see the light
the door opens and lets out the night

what is that spectre that visits me
that comes and goes repeatedly
i read about sleep paralysis
that's my "ghost" was  the analysis

The Nightmare - Henry Fuseli
Oil on canvas

Friday, March 1, 2013

Peaceful Moment

I reached the top of the segment where the trail flattened out before me. Specs of blue and yellow danced about a sea of green greeting me as I caught my breath from my first climb.

Yet it was not this breath-taking view of above and beyond that caught my gaze... but a golden gleam of orange illuminated by the warm early spring sun that captured my glance and warmed my thoughts.

My what a splendid sight of this jewel glowing so bright! Her dance gave me a feeling of warmth inside... Shimmering and bobbing up and down with pride, as if in praise of my every stride. I pause for while to admire her show. I exclaim, "Oh California poppy! You raise my spirit so! You are the sign of spring!"  She nodded her head in agreement as the soft warm breeze brushed her petals.

 She softened and embraced me with her beauty and glow. I resumed my own dance along the trail embracing my encounter with a moment of peace.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tap Your Toe

Tap Your Toe

Tap your toe to make the bus nearer
make the waiter come quicker
for time to move faster

Tapping your toe to a beat is a musical feat
Tapping your toe to the meter of a rhyme
All helps a little to pass the time

So long as you tap in time to the beat,
You'll create the sound of musical feet.