Found

I spent Sunday afternoon with my Little Brother.  We ended up going to the Maritime Museum at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  Well, technically we went to the Hyde Street Pier and not the Maritime Museum.  The Museum was only open for about 45 more minutes when we got there.  There are four or five historical ships permanently moored at the Hyde Street Pier and they sell tickets to board the boats for $5.00 for adults, “kids” under 16 get in free, which was kind of amazing!  What’s more amazing is that the $5.00 ticket for me is good for seven days!

The Fat Mum Slim Photo-A-Day Prompt for Sunday, January 5th is “Found”.  I took a bunch of pictures, not all of which are included here.  I found a few surprises when I uploaded and edited these pictures.  It’s always a treat viewing the photos on a larger than 3.5″ screen.

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But the big surprise is what I found, when I returned to my car:

I was certain I knew that there was no parking enforcement on Sundays.  I intend to contest them of course, but I have enough experience with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority to know that they will not excuse the tickets.

Words To Live By

A couple of years ago, I began reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.  For those who don’t know, the earliest of this series started out as a recurring installment in the San Francisco Chronicle, the local news paper.  I imagine it was sort of like reading a soap opera.  The books take place in San Francisco and center around a young gay man, Michael, and his naive, mid-western suburbia transplant neighbor turned best friend, Mary Ann.

One night, while reading one of the early volumes, a reference was made to an actor by the name of Tab Hunter.  The first thought that popped into my head was that “Tab Hunter” sounds like a made up name (it is) of a porn star (it is not), yet, in spite of not being a connoisseur of pornography, the name seemed vaguely familiar to me.  I never did find out why, but in my investigation I pulled up his IMDb page to see if I would recognize him, or might have seen him in anything.  While I’m sure to have seen him in some of his late career television guest roles, nothing jumped out at me, but as luck would have it, he had starred in a film adaptation of Damn Yankees!, a play I had the opportunity to see in the mid ’90s and very much enjoyed.  It also happened to have significant relevance to my, as yet unpublished (in fact, still unedited) novel I was writing at the time.

While I perused Tab Hunter’s IMDb page I noticed that he was quite a handsome man in his youth, though, to be fair, he’s not a bad looking man now, considering his advanced years.  Anyway, I became curious about him.  Along with adding several of his appearances to my Netflix queue, I also checked out a copy of his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential, from the library.  It was there that I learned a lot of interesting things about Tab Hunter.  Most notable to me, especially at the time, is the fact that he is gay, and while Hollywood (and society) would not allow its leading men to come out publicly, in that day and age, Tab never really made much effort to hide the fact either.  In fact, he claims, in his book, that he never really gave it much thought, never questioned whether it was who he really was or what he was supposed to do or be, and he never felt the need to make a declaration about the subject either.  It was just who he was, and he never gave it a second thought.  Too me, that seems like some pretty forward and progressive thinking, even by today’s standards, not to mention in the 1940s and 1950s!  Tab Hunter Confidential is Tab’s life story beginning with his birth on July 11, 1931, in New York City, as Arthur Andrew Kelm (later Arthur Galeen) and ending with his quiet life on a secluded ranch near Santa Barbara, California where he still lives with his “partner” (I hate that word in this context) of 30 years and their many animals.

In the final pages of the autobiography, Tab describes being at his mother’s bedside as she lay dying.  His mother had been a hard and difficult woman who never quite accepted who he was, choosing instead to ignore that part of his life and never discuss or confront the situation.  His description of the woman reminded me quite a bit of my own mother and her general reaction to the news when I came out to her, and so when he describes reading a poem to her on her deathbed, a poem that I felt was very poignant, I found it quite moving:

A powerful poem I discovered while reading Tab Hunter Confidential, an autobiography.
A powerful poem I discovered while reading Tab Hunter Confidential, an autobiography.

I felt that this poem was a powerful message, and words to live by.  It became the foundation of an idea; an idea which began to shift and grow in my mind.  Over time, it began to take shape until it became something real.

I hadn’t planned to write about this, or share any pictures, until all the touch ups and augmentations were complete and it was completely healed, but circumstances intervened, and here we are.

Today’s prompt (and it actually still is today, as I’m writing this.  Go me!) is Words To Live By.  While I originally thought to find a way to photograph my favorite quote, “Stop laughing!  You can’t fix stupid!”, I decided to try for something that is hopefully a bit more uplifting.  So instead, I now present, in all it’s imperfect, incomplete glory, my fifth tattoo.  The largest, most elaborate tattoo I’ve gotten so far, and certainly the one with the most meaning and significance behind it.  (Not to be confused with the most sentimentality, which is still tattoo number four, all the way!  Which, as it turns out, I don’t think I wrote about here…  Hmm…).

I gave my basic concept to the tattoo artist who created a more elaborate, and better than I could have imagined, design.  The poem, I think, is pretty self explanatory.  The rest represents baring oneself before God, concealing nothing, and basking in the knowledge of God’s grace, mercy and love.  With this tattoo, I proudly demonstrate the certain knowledge that I am a child of God, loved and blessed, free of judgement and condemnation, and that it is not a contradiction to be gay and a Christian.

The finished product is not perfect, however.  As you can see in the third image, the first line at the top, “If I relax” the I and the r are too close together.  The artist assures me that he can fix that and I certainly hope he can.  It was definitely a disappointment when I took the bandage off after I got home and realized that the letters were so close together that it looks like an h “If helax”.  The sun rays, in the colors of the pride flag, need to extend further onto my shoulder, chest and back than they do, and they definitely need to be filled in more.  He told me as he was doing the tattoo that they would need to be touched up.  Blocks of solid color that large rarely heal perfectly on the first pass.  It is also my preference, and he says he can do it, for the colors to be a little more bold and primary, as they appear on the pride flag.

Pride Flag
Pride Flag – Photo credit not mine.

Finally, only after I’d had the tattoo for a few days and had looked at it regularly did I realize, it just doesn’t quite look complete to me.  I have an appointment for this coming Wednesday to have the touch-ups and corrections done and at the same time, I’m going to have him do some augmentation to frame the tattoo in a little better.  I’m thinking more flourishes, similar to what’s at the bottom of the poem along the sides and around my arm, meeting on the inside.  That should be quite an exciting experience since the skin there is quite tender and soft.  It does not go through a lot of abuse, being on the inside of the arm and, therefore, it will be much more sensitive than the outside of my arm was during the original application.

I’ve written about my first three tattoos previously, here, so I won’t get into them now.  If you’re curious, check that post out.  I had intended to link to the story of tattoo number four as well, but it seems that story hasn’t been written…  yet.  I will.  I promise.  It’s a good one.

My Town

I have always had a habit of thinking about “today” or “yesterday” or “tomorrow” in relation to when I sleep and wake up again, rather than by the traditional means of following the clock.  In the strictest sense, it is already Saturday and as with all the other’s so far, this post is “late” because it’s for Friday’s prompt.  I say, however, that it’s the thought, the intent, that matters and not the very “letter of the law”, so, whatever.  Here it is.

The Fat Mum Slim Photo-A-Day prompt for Friday, January 3, 2013 is “My Town”, which is actually kind of a neat coincidence, given that the town I live in, Oakland, California, is known as “town” or “the town” because of its geographic location across the bay from San Francisco, commonly referred to by the locals as “the City”.

*Quick side note:  I’ve always held the philosophy that there are hundreds of “the city”s in existence.  When I was attending my one semester of University in 1993, I was attending a relatively small school about 40 minutes east of Oklahoma City and many of the students at this university referred to Oklahoma City as “the city”.  I always thought that was kind of funny, quaint even, because I had often heard people on television refer to New York City as “the city”.  Then I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and heard the locals talking about “the City”.  It didn’t take long for me to adopt the vernacular and begin referring to “the City” myself.

I finally arrived at the inescapable conclusion that it is all accurate, but in its own way; it just depends on how you spell it.  Observe:  Living outside Oklahoma City when my friends and I wanted to go to the nearest metropolis, Oklahoma City, we made plans to go to “the city”.  I suspect that anyone living near a metropolis, could, and many do, refer to that metropolis as “the city”.  I now live in a significant town with a population of over 400,000 people.  With a large downtown business district and new housing and arts and shopping areas popping up all the time, Oakland is a metropolis in it’s own right, however, it is overshadowed by the specter that is its sister city across the bay, San Francisco.  Therefore Oakland isn’t “the city” because there is a larger city within a reasonable distance.  San Francisco is “the City” (notice the capital C).  New York City, however, is the city with the highest population in the country at nearly nine million people.  With the nations financial center and the east coast hub of the entertainment industry, it is easy to see how New York City would be “The City” (also written as THE City).

Anyway, for the part of the country where I live, San Francisco is “the City” and that makes Oakland “the Town”.  (I’m not making this up.  I actually read this recently in a local paper.)  Since today’s prompt was “my town” I decided to go out into “the Town” to get some shots of a few local iconic sites.  There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of things I could have taken pictures of, but I decided to limit myself to three basic concepts.

On the southwest edge of Downtown Oakland, near the Lake Merritt BART station (a name that has always amused me, given it’s distance from Lake Merritt) is a smallish community college campus, which happens to be the location of my swimming classes.  The main, most identifiable building on the campus is a three sided structure, roughly nine or ten stories tall.  Tall enough, that with an unobstructed view it is visible from quite a distance.  If I had been out late enough, I would have attempted some evening shots as well.  The script sign at the top of the building is repeated on all three sides and created out of green neon lights, making the building distinctive, and distinguishable even after the sun has gone down.

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Arguably the most notable and iconic sight in the Downtown Oakland skyline is the Oakland Tribune building’s clock tower.  It’s visible from all directions, again if your view is unobstructed.  Also created using neon lights, this time in red, the Tribune sign at the top of the tower is visible day and night.  There’s a long, rich history, I’m sure, but unfortunately, I don’t personally know anything notable other than the fact that one Sunday afternoon a few years ago, an employee of the paper climbed up to the clock tower and jumped to her death and since that’s not an uplifting story, we’ll just move on to the pictures.

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Next I made my way to the Port of Oakland where there were lots of things to take pictures of.  The iconic view that I wanted to capture was that of the cranes used to off load the shipping containers when the cargo ships come into port.  The entire area is surprisingly bustling with 18 wheeler tractor/trailer trucks rumbling around constantly.  I was standing on one street corner with my camera at my eye, positioned just so and ready to take a crucial picture when a truck pulled up along the curb in front of me completely blocking my view.  The driver got out, detached the trailer from his rig, then climbed right back in the cab and drove away.  That shot was not to be had.  But that’s okay because it forced me to walk a little further down the street and ended up with a better vantage point of what I wanted.

While I’m sure this is anything but common knowledge around the country, it is commonly held lore around these parts that some of these cranes were George Lucas’ inspiration for the design of the AT-AT Walkers seen in Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back.  (I am a bit disappointed to have just read this article which seems to definitively debunk that theory.)

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Of course, my town wouldn’t be my town without the equally iconic views looking out.  From my vantage point at a public park located in the midst of all the activity at the Port of Oakland, I was able to get some nice shots of “the City” (my City – or so I wish!).

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One last shot worth sharing.  This sign was posted at every pedestrian and mobile entrance to the park.  Guess what I spent the entire time avoiding walking in…

No Dogs Allowed posted at every entrance to the park.  Spent the entire time dodging petrified dog poop.
No Dogs Allowed posted at every entrance to the park. Spent the entire time dodging petrified dog poop.

In Over My Head

So I had the second meeting of the writing workshop/class/group/thingy, last night.  I’ve been really looking forward to it and I’m glad I’m doing it, but I’ve been in for a few surprises.

Last week, we met at the leader’s beautiful house in San Francisco where we chatted amongst our selves for a little while, waiting for everyone to arrive and settle in and then the group leader gave us copies of some pages from a book she had.  After she passed the pages around to everyone she began to read selected sections of them out loud to us.  Following along with her and trying to keep up, I wasn’t able to read them myself and I wasn’t able to fully process what they were saying and what I took away from the endeavor was:

“Secrets are lies and lies are truth and truth comes out in writing in the form or your secrets.”

Or something like that.

Then she told us to take a few minutes and write about a secret.

I really didn’t know what to make of that.  I’ve already told the biggest secret I was keeping.

Before we left for the night we selected which weeks we were going to have our stuff read and critiqued by the group.

Over the last week, I received writing samples from three of the people in the group and was expected to read and critique each sample.  I didn’t really know what that meant, exactly, and as I mentioned yesterday, I found that harder than I imagined I would.

I received a chapter from a memoir which was competently written with lots of descriptive imagery and scenery and even showed a bit of growth in the person the memoir is about, but ultimately was just a piece of a larger work.  I wasn’t personally interested in the location and history of the place in which the story happens.  The feeling and sentiment of the character is moving, but not overly compelling to me.  I marked a few typos here and there, indicated an analogy I really liked, but mostly had very few comments to make.

I received a short story, 15 pages, the first half of which I really enjoyed.  Beautiful locale, really well written, with just a couple of stumbling points in my mind, but then halfway through I felt like the story fell apart and she rushed the second half entirely.  Again, I marked some typos, made a few notes and comments, but for the most part, I wasn’t engaged in the story.

Then I received two pieces from the third person.  An 8-page short story that was whipped out in one morning, because she hadn’t expected to have to submit so early and it just played out that way.  Given that she wrote it in a couple of hours and sent it out with not much editing, it was really good.  Well written and executed.  And sad, depressing subject matter.  The rest of her pages were an excerpt from an early stages novel in progress.  There wasn’t much to glean from that in my opinion because it seemed to come from somewhere in the middle of the book and didn’t cover much.  There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t grab my attention.

But what really had me worried was when we got to class and the rest of the group started giving their critiques.  We sat in the circle and started with one person, going around the room, each of us taking a turn giving our feedback.  We have a four-minute limit and when that time is up we move on.  I listened as each person started commenting on the imagery and the symbolism and the subtext and so on and so forth and I thought, “well, shit, I didn’t see any of that.  I wasn’t even looking for that.”  I don’t think like that.  I don’t go looking for those things.  If they jump off the page at me, fine, but most of the time I see just what the words say and not much more.  So I didn’t need my full four minutes and I didn’t have much to say and I felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight.  And then I felt like a fraud because when it was my turn to talk, I found myself saying things like, “I really like this story” (I didn’t), “This was beautifully written” (sometimes true, sometimes not.  I mean we’re all competent writers or we wouldn’t be there, but some of the pieces weren’t exactly exceptional).  And then I was trying to give my feedback on the things that I saw that needed work and I was so afraid of saying something wrong that will come across as mean-spirited, when it’s really just an observation, an opportunity for improvement or clarification.

I drove home seriously worried about next week.  I am one of the three people who signed up to submit pages for the next session.  I’ll be submitting chapters 3 & 4 of The Teacher.  They happen to add up to exactly 25 pages, wich is convenient, but also, Chapter 1 has been posted on this blog and read by several people with lots of commentary.  It’s pretty polished.  Chapter 2 was given to two people and both had encouraging positive things to say.  So it only stands to reason that I would move on to Chapters 3 & 4.  But I found myself worried.  What if I’m the one person in the room who doesn’t write flowery, symbolic, laced with subtext, deep, meaningful stuff?  What if they all come back next week and tell me that my chapters are vapid and meaningless, with no substance and nothing to pull you in?  What if I just look like an idiot because I’m not an abstract thinker and that’s what this calls for?

Okay, let’s be honest here.  I know I’m a decent writer.  With the occasional lapse in proper comma use (or is it coma? – See, I’m screwed!) I’m pretty technically proficient.  Spell check is my best friend, unless I’m spelling the wrong word the right way (see coma/comma) in which case it’s of no use to me whatsoever.  But I’m also pretty straight forward and literal.  I’ve never been an abstract person.  Suddenly, I feel like a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes in the middle of a grown up party.

I know everyone will be nice.  And the truth is, people who look for those kinds of hidden, deeper meanings, will probably find them even if they’re not really there.  And all I have to do is sit quietly scribbling notes and nodding my head reverently.  Try not to roll my eyes and, please God!, don’t let me blush.  (That’s a pipe dream.)

I want the feedback and I know I’ll gain something from it.  I just don’t want to feel like too much of a fool.

I’m so in over my head.

The Nick of Time

Let it be known that no matter what time this is posted, I am writing it “today”.  I have managed a perfect record of posting every day so far this year, and I would hate to mess that up, but today has been rather hectic and troublesome and there simply wasn’t time to write before now.

And even now…  I’m sitting in my car outside a very nice house in San Francisco, waiting for the commencement of my second week of the Writing Workshop I mentioned that I would be participating in.  I haven’t really had a chance to talk about it before now and I don’t have time now to do it justice, but it has been interesting (and I’ve barely gotten started.)

The time I would normally have spent writing this afternoon, was instead spent critiquing other people’s writing – something I find I’m a lot less comfortable with than I had imagined I would be.  It’s difficult to critique the work of complete strangers you will, nonetheless, be looking in the eye for weeks to come.

It was especially difficult because I didn’t particularly enjoy much of what I read, which is not to say it wasn’t good, just not my speed.  And so, I needed to critique the work without being too judgmental, or insulting, which wasn’t really so difficult, but more than that, I wanted to be constructively critical, but also encouraging.

I’ve discovered that, while I’ve come a long way, personally, I’m still an inherently negative person and it’s kind of difficult to find positive things to say when I don’t really feel them.  I managed to get them done though.  And since it’s the first week of handing back critiques, we’ll see how it goes and how I did in comparison to everyone else… If comparing is even in order.  It may not be.

I did learn one thing, however.  I should NEVER put this off to the last day, ever again!