Mostly for Fun

In the post to follow this one I’d like to take a serious look at just where I am now when it comes to having entered the Brave New World of multi-faceted digital communication–or blogging. However, the apprenticeship hasn’t all been hard work and effort, for I’ve had some “fun” or amusing encounters along the way, and I’d like to kick back and relax for a moment, and offer some straight out–enjoyable, I hope–storytelling this time out.

When, some time ago, my son Stephen set up a website for me (www.bminor.org), I included my own translations of Russian poems alongside woodcuts and drawings I’d done (I mentioned in an earlier post that I was originally trained as a visual artist at Pratt Institute and U.C.-Berkeley). We also posted a long poem in several parts–“A Fireside Poem: Homage to Osip Mandelstam”–which included my own translations from the work of my favorite 20th century poet. Because of this work and access to Cyrillic texts I had on my computer, I was suddenly inundated (three pages worth might pile up in my Spam “box” in a week) by invitations from Russian ladies–a host of Annas and Olgas and Veras and Katerinas, Larisas and Ludmillas and Marinas and Ninas, Oksanas, Sofias and Tatyanas–who wished to marry me, sight unseen, on the spot. Talk about “high levels of interconnectivity” or networking! Some sent photos and when I asked my wife of fifty-six years Betty if she felt I should risk opening one or two, just out of curiosity, she said she didn’t think that would be wise–so I set all temptation aside.

In case you might be curious, I’ll show you the sort of fare that fostered such offers (work only someone with sheer animal magnetism could produce, I assume, unless those women somehow mistook me for a C-level executive, anesthesiologist (highest paid profession in the USA), broker/analyst or professional athlete). The first two are prints and translations of two poems by Anna Akhmatova, and then two drawings of Mandelstam I did and a poem of his I translated.

Akhmatova 2    Akhamatova Earth

Akhmatova Icon   Akhmatova Icon

Mandelstam 1Mandelstam's InsomniaMandelstam2

Not all that long ago also, I was asked to be a part of film director Mark Baer’s excellent YouTube “100 Story Project” (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9614CCD8B63B9DE5) in which he documented, by way of interviews, nearly every once-lived or presently existing aspect of life in Monterey, California (“The most thorough video history of the Monterey Bay ever created.”). I was asked to talk about the Monterey Jazz Festival and the La Ida Café in Cannery Row, run by “The Queen of Cannery Row,” Kalisa Moore.

I may know something about these subjects, these institutions, but I’m also one of those odd human creatures who does not drive an automobile nor own a cell phone, so on the day of the filming I filled my pockets full of quarters (It was raining hard and the Big Sur Half Marathon was taking place and would finish just outside The Museum of Monterey, where Mark housed his project), and I took a bus there. I’d asked my wife, should the rain not abate and a mob of “mudders” be assembled just outside the Museum when I finished, if she’d come pick me up if and when I called her on a pay phone–and she said yes. I think all you High Tech folks can see what’s coming. The filming went well, but when I emerged (feeling victorious), I couldn’t find a pay phone anywhere: on the wharf near the museum, in downtown Monterey, at the Coast Guard pier nearby–nowhere. Pay phones no longer exist!

I started walking in the rain, remembering that the Plaza Hotel, located at the edge of Cannery Row, had a line of pay phones not far from the reception desk, but that too had disappeared. There was a line of phones, but they were all white “in house” specimens. Desperate, I picked one up and dialed my wife–but a youthful female voice broke in and asked, “Sir, are you a current resident here at the hotel?” I explained my situation as best I could, but when I said, “and I don’t own a cell phone,” a long pause ensued, and the voice returned with, “You don’t own a cell phone?” Another long pause, and then, “Sir, that is very unusual!” The young voice disappeared again, and I assumed that when it came back on, she would, out of the kindness of her heart, informed by a sense of human decency, connect me to my wife, but she said, “I’m sorry, Sir, but I cannot place that call for you.” And that was that. I continued my trek in the rain, up to my favorite lunch spot (by this time I was more than halfway home), Archie’s American Diner, and there my Hispanic friends lent me a towel with which to dry out (I was soaked to the skin) and took me to a private office, saying, “Si, Senor, please use our phone”–and I called my wife, who turned out not to be at home just then. I completed my journey in the rain, not quite as happy as Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris on one of his late night wet walks.

If you’d like to check out the two YouTube videos that are the one good thing to come out of that day, you can find them at: “100 Story Project–William Minor: The Monterey Jazz Festival” and “100 Story Project–William Minor: Kalisa Moore and La Ida Café.”

My most recent State of the Art amusing adventure came when my wife Betty and I accompanied our son Tim to San Francisco Giants spring training camp in Arizona (I’ll confess to being a fanatic Giants fan). On the day of Tim’s 55th birthday, we saw the Giants play the Milwaukee Brewers at the latter’s stadium. Tim is a former Cross Country All-American (University of Nevada-Reno) and was national cross country champion after he turned forty. He now coaches the sport at Galena High School and has been named Northern Nevada Coach of the Year for the last three years. Although he no longer runs competitively, he doesn’t seem to possess more than an ounce of body fat, and when we arrived at the stadium and discovered we had a row of ten nurses directly behind us who’d been drinking beer all day, the first thing they said when they learned a little about Tim was, “Boy, you sure look like a runner!” And when they learned that he’d just turned 55 and that Betty and I were his parents, one of them bent over to me and said, “Now if he’s 55, what does that make you?” I told her that Betty and I got married when we were seven, so the math worked out OK.

A gentleman to the left of me was text-messaging throughout the entire game, and I discovered that I could make what I called “Twitter Talk” on the spot, saying to him, “SSBCHJCUTB.” When he said, “Wha?”, I translated, “Sir, shortstop Brandon Crawford has just come up to bat.” It was amazing how fast I could come up with complete sentences that way, using only the first letter of each word, no matter how intricate the syntax of the sentence might be. The gentleman, still texting and missing all the great plays, finally grew irritated and said, “Will you stop doing that!” I longed to respond with, “Sure, I’ll stop, if you stop living out of the palm of your hand,” but I recalled an old Irish joke I know that ends with the line, “An’ thas when the fight started,” and thought better of making a retort that might cost me a broken nose.

“And so it was I entered the broken world/To trace the visionary company of love, its voice/An instant in the wind (I know not wither hurled/But not for long to hold each desperate choice,” Hart Crane (maybe my second favorite 20th century poet after Osip Mandelstam) wrote in his poem “The Broken Tower.” And so, in my seventy-seventh year, I’ve entered a world that has re-invented and reshaped itself beyond anything I might have predicted or anticipated just a few years ago: a Brave New World sporting amazingly high levels of interconnectivity with potential Russian brides, the smart phone I don’t own, and baseball fans text-messaging their way (without witnessing a single non-virtual play) throughout an entire game.

I’ve had fun posting this blog, so I think–because it’s going to end up in the “About” category–I’ll close on another highly personal note: one more anecdote about my family. Tim’s daughter (Betty and my granddaughter) Emily works at The Continuum in Reno, Nevada: a “community-based intergenerational health and wellness center serving clients ‘From Pediatrics to Geriatrics,’ providing “outpatient rehabilitation with a full range of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy Services.” Emily recently graduated in Health Science from The University of Nevada-Reno, after spending three months working at an orphanage in Ghana, an experience which changed her life. She asked me to play piano and sing at The Continuum, which I did, but an even bigger thrill than a chance to bring some joy to the “clients” there (you can see the older set lip-synching the words to songs like “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” or even attempting to belt them out like Judy Garland), was watching Emily at work, requesting a dance with an elderly gentleman who was reluctant to accept for only five seconds, or getting the group to sing in chorus. Here’s a photo taken after the “gig”: our grandson Blake (who is a junior at the University of Reno-Nevada, an excellent student, golfer, great guy (if I do say so myself!), and soccer star), Emily, my wife Betty, and me.

Reno Piano Gig

Oliver Sacks says that music is the very last thing to leave a human being, and Plato said that music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul. With those fine thoughts I close out what has truly been a “fun” post for me–with, I hope, more to come.

How I Got Where I Am

Following through on “Sound Check/Getting Started,” I’m that guy who’s been writing for fifty-two years and began to play jazz piano when he was sixteen, but I was also trained as a visual artist (Pratt Institute and U.C.-Berkeley), and I exhibited woodcut prints and paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Smithsonian Institution: mostly woodcut prints that incorporated  the text of Russian, Modern Greek, and Japanese poetry–which I also translated.

Attracted by the “multimedia” work of William Blake, e.e. cummings, Kenneth Patchen and Shiko Munakata (and the voice of Dylan Thomas), I began to write poetry as a graduate student in Language Arts at San Francisco State in 1963, and produced my first book containing poems and woodcut prints, Pacific Grove, in 1974. I have, since that time, published five more books of poetry: the latest Some Grand Dust (Chatoyant Press), for which I was a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award–but I’ll save word of that book and other work for the section called “Other Books.”

For now, and because–in keeping with what I said in “Sound Check; Getting Started”–I intend to make use of nearly every approach I can (text, photos, audio, video), I’ll show you what I look like, a modest backyard photo taken by my friend and former student Milo Martin–and recent enough not to be a touched-up affair acquired years ago in a previous incarnation. And I’ll also toss in a photo (by David Royal) of the group I now make music with: vocalist Jaqui Hope, bassist Heath Proskin, and myself—taken in Washington Park, just half a block up the street from where I live in Pacific Grove, California.

Author Book Launch    Pianist and author Bill Minor, center, with vocalist Jaqui Hope and bassist Heath Proskin in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Perhaps an even better way to let you into my life is to post an interview (YouTube “Bill Minor-The Inherited Heart Interview”)  that host Mark Baer conducted when The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir came out, one that was presented on his ampmedia “Your Town” TV show–a talk in which we discussed everything from growing up in a “totally musical family,” a book I wrote on the Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years), Clint Eastwood, a commissioned CD called Love Letters of Lynchburg (a spinoff from The Inherited Heart), and poets I admire.

Before I get to particulars about learning new ways to make meaningful work better known today, I would like to say a bit more about my own interest in and “conversion” to those means–because I feel this is an experience I share with many people, young and old, as I said before.  I’ll confess that, because of temperament and not just age, I–up until now–had resisted or avoided many online networking sources available, regarding some of the procedures they entailed as indignities. For some time, I’d been made painfully aware that I was not just months or even a year (or two) behind on e-mail replies to family and friends, so I decided I  didn’t need any more “interaction” with folks than I’d been able to manage (or mismanage), did not need to get any more “relational” than I already was. Consequently, I would turn down even a close friend’s request to be their “friend” on Facebook or Linkedin, pleading lack of free time.

I’ve always regarded friendship as a sacred matter (not an “institution”), a condition that came about naturally, spontaneously, and often accidentally, but once set in motion, a state that would span a lifetime. Consequently, when it came to my own work, I found the thought of having to choose “friends” formally and “officially” and asking them to represent themselves that way (especially for the purpose of selling my own books) appalling. However, I also woke up one day–after having represented other writers, formally and officially, as a National Writers Union book contract advisor for ten years (voluntary work I enjoyed much and found rewarding)–woke up to the fact that the world of publishing had been stood on its head and that much (if not most) of  what I’d once known was no longer in effect –that a “Brave New World” had arrived and, although totally “new to thee” (as “civilized” people were to Miranda in The Tempest), I’d better get with it and learn it, or get totally “left out.”

In Bill’s Blog, I hope to tell the tale of this conversion–this secular “redemption”–by way of examples from my own experience–focused on the Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, but also other books I’ve published and music I’ve made (the discovery of the joys of YouTube for one!). The journey from skepticism and concern that I might get gorged by an information glut (an infusion of “infotoxins”) to solid belief in the benefits of a revolutionary “State of the Art” approach (with its nutritional value: a healthy new means of getting “word out”) has truly been a “trip” –and discovering what’s available today has turned out to be an adventure, in and of itself!

I’d like to close out this portion of “About” with a coda referring to the panoramic photograph that tops Bill’s Blog. When my wife Betty and I started what’s now been a fifty-six year marriage, we were twenty-one and lived for a summer in The Garden of Eden, in what I call a “shack” and she calls a “cabin” on an open spot on the Wailua River in Kauai. We were surrounded by mangos, papaya, bananas, with crayfish in the river, subsistent no electricity living, but “city kids,” we didn’t really have a clue as to what to do with it all. While my beautiful young wife scythed down grass in front of our shack/cabin, I sat under a lanai and wrote stories about having been beat up in the subways of Brooklyn! The photo shows the bend in the river (on the left) where we lived, half a mile up from the Pacific Ocean, which we reached by canoe. And yes, the photo does do full justice to the sunrise, the landscape, and the river–that timeless adventure!