Jun 072015

Samantabhadra close-up, with his consort Samantabhadri

I’m learning some remarkable subtle lessons about how we all engage with each other, about our desire, and about karma. This is a happy coincidence of changes on the outside, a teaching I received yesterday, and my buddhist practice. I say coincidence, but really, is there any such thing in an existence where every thought and action has karmic consequences?

This little story begins with conversations that I’ve had with Jen over the last few months about our future together, and what kind of life we want to create for ourselves. We both desire more flexibility, and the first step has been to look for ways to work from home more. We’ve talked about consulting, individually and together, and we’ve talked about where we want to live, both short-term and long-term. So I’ve been setting an intention for more flexibility in my work.

A month ago, I learned that the company I work for is being acquired. The public company Lyris will be dissolved, and a new email marketing/software organization is being created…as a virtual company. Everyone works from home. I have the opportunity to become an architect in the new organization, working with others on a global basis. This is delightful, and exciting for me, as I worked from home for years at Sun Microsystems. So lesson #1 is to remember, yet again, that intention is a powerful force. I’m not responsible for the Lyris acquisition of course, but I am accountable for my desire, and it’s my choice to be receptive as this opportunity shows up.

So I will be working from home soon, within a month perhaps. I remember when I started, back in 2003, that I would spend days seeing no other people except my wife, and I had to force myself to go out, meet friends for lunch, take hikes, do whatever I could to engage with life away from my computer. A challenge when working from home is creating contact with others, and avoiding isolation. The tools are better now, Skype video chat and Google hangouts make it much easier to see and interact with co-workers. However, there is a curious issue with virtual tools.

Have you ever noticed how eye contact is almost impossible over video? The camera and the image of the other person may be near each other on the screen, but you cannot look into the camera at the same time as you look at the image of the other person. So video conferencing feels a little surreal, like we are 90% in contact, but never fully connected.

I’ve been practicing eye contact for many years, and like most of us, direct eye contact can feel a little frightening to me. There are workshop exercises around this, and gazing directly into another’s eyes for minutes at a time is a very intimate experience. There is research demonstrating how intimate connection (and even long-term relationships) can be created by a combination of increasingly personal conversation topics, and periods of prolonged eye contact.

Yesterday at a buddhist teaching, a group of my friends combined some very specific meditations with direct eye contact. The result for me was startling; I could track feelings of fear and excitement as they arose in the moments I am gazing into the eyes of another. This is a direct experience of attachment and aversion, the Third Noble Truth. And a profound learning became available as I released my feelings and placed my attention directly on the experience of meeting another persons’ eyes. In that moment, I had no awareness of phenomena, of my other senses, I became completely present for the connection between the two of us, if only for a moment.

I don’t know what this is, and I cannot describe it. I encourage you to take a few minutes with a friend or a loved one, and try it for yourself. If you are like me, you may feel intensely uncomfortable at first. Remind yourself that there is no harm possible, try to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise, and put them aside for a moment. You will find something deeper, and perhaps divine, beyond.

We experience this all the time, as we look at each other throughout the day. We only meet eyes briefly, yet those brief moments enable us to connect in ways that are important, even with our co-workers. As I move into a job where I work from home full time, I will miss this contact, and feel sad about the loss. At the same time, I’ve learned something new as a result. And I deeply appreciate this insight.

 Posted by at 10:33 am
May 292015

A normal weekday on Market Street

Pigeons, horns, cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust, roaring construction generators. Knots of people walking quickly and determinedly, often gazing into a smart phone, or lost in a private world of sound from earbuds. A man yelling at the top of his lungs “TREAT BLACK VETERANS BETTER!” Trash jewelry and tacky artwork sold on sidewalk tables. Six unfamiliar languages. Tourists walking around in shorts, on a typical foggy 55-degree summer day. People going through trash cans. No one meets my gaze. Except for the people who immediately ask for money.

I grew up in this city by the bay, a place that is so familiar I can tell a story about something that happened to me on every block of Market Street. Now I’m making new stories, but they aren’t as pleasant. Both San Francisco and I have changed a lot in 40 years, and I find myself teasing apart the details.

The city is more vibrant in many ways, with the influx of tech and millennials. More and better restaurants, interesting bars, youth and vigor and money and higher rents. More bicycles and motorcycles and skateboards. Fewer people wearing suits and heels. It’s more crowded now than ever, with more than 840,000 residents, 200,000 more than in the ’90’s. When I got here, there were lots of people with long hair, including me when I came back from college. Back then, people smoked dope publicly, and the gay scene was a thriving, unique visual and cultural feast on Polk Street and in the Castro. Cars, buses and trucks burn cleaner now, so the pervasive smell of auto exhaust is much milder. And many buildings and sidewalks have been renovated beautifully, stone walls cleaned of diesel soot, less trash in the street.

I on the other hand, have been living in Marin for almost 30 years, and love the open space, the quiet at my house, the clean air, and the way folks will meet my gaze and smile and greet. I know all my neighbors, unlike my years of living in the city. I like the parts of me that enjoy the quiet and smiling at people, and I feel resentful that contact in SF is generally rewarded by an outstretched hand.

After two full days of this, I did something rare for me, I indulged in retail therapy. On impulse, walking past Goorin’s on Union Square, I ducked in and found a linen cap, something I’ve been keeping an eye out for since the new year. They had exactly what I wanted, in my size, and the friendly salesperson and I agreed that the cap looks great on me.

As I walked down Geary towards the bus that would take me home, earing my new possession, I realize that I look a little iconic, wearing this, and muse how nearly everyone in SF has a look about them that defines who they are in some way. This has been true as long as I’ve lived here, and feels more pronounced in the city than any other place I’ve been, except perhaps Paris or the French District of New Orleans. In the early ’70’s it was color and bell bottoms and jewelry; now it’s unique hair and tattoos and piercings and shoes.

And hats, a minor but ever-present element of style. I’m the only guy I see on my walk today wearing a cap like this, although I do see a fedora, knit and baseball caps, and a few hard hats at the construction sites. I feel somehow more comfortable in my iconic identity, as though it’s an accommodation that creates some space between me and everyone else, without having to withdraw into numbness. Perhaps this is an essential element to life in San Francisco, where my senses are bombarded so heavily that I have a hard time staying open and receptive, smiling at strangers.


Goorin linen cap, a little injection of personality

 Posted by at 1:38 pm
Mar 152015


I backed a Kickstarter campaign over a year ago that just came to fruition with the release of The Wrecking Crew, a rockumentary movie about the group of LA session musicians in the ’60’s and ’70’s that played on more albums and songs than I can keep track of. I was able to watch the movie (finally!) yesterday, and it was worth the wait. It took Danny Tedesco something like 18 years to get the film together, partially to honor his father, Tommy Tedesco, who was a core member of the group. It’s a fine film, and a great tribute to everyone involved. Click on the pic to see the trailer. And you can watch it now on iTunes!

But there is something missing from the movie, something that crept out in the updates during the Kickstarter campaign. Danny interviewed many living members of the crew, not just the half-dozen who are the focus of the movie. Please allow me to share some of the most delightful clips on the Kickstarter website.

Leon Russell and Cher, the day he jumped onto his piano and told Phil Spector to fuck off


Don Peak, and the spontaneous creation of the opening to Marvin Gay’s Let’s Get It On. “…says, why don’t you make something up at the beginning?” Shivers down my spine.


Richard Carpenter, and the untold story of Close To You


Bill Medley, how You Lost That Loving Feeling became a baritone song


Jerry Fuller, how Travlelin’ Man very nearly ended up in the trash can, before Ricky Nelson turned it into a 6-million record hit


The making of Phil Spector’s Christmas Album


Don Randi, eating on the road with Frank Sinatra


So much fun stuff on the Intertubes. I don’t miss cable TV at all :-)

 Posted by at 1:27 pm
Jan 232015
love and fear and fearlessness, part ii

I’ve been reading theoasisofmysoul, catching up with the last month of Ara’s postings, and there are some profound topics he opens. This man has been wandering on a BMW motorcycle for a decade since his son passed away. We share a deep wounding, a love for BMW airheads, and a life in the west. I […]

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Dec 072014

This evening is my first completely solo time in my home in ten years. It’s a little startling, because it came about quickly through happenstance, like a random collision of pinball events. Since December 2004, I’ve always had a cat (and most of the time my partner!) sharing my home space. Tonight Jen is out […]

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Oct 182014
one big altar

(December 8, 2013) Five years ago, this was how my house looked at Christmas. In fact, I have a blog post exactly five years ago tonight, with the same photo. Nancy and I moved into our new home in July 2008, and our first holiday season was an opportunity to put some lights up. This […]

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Oct 162014
attachment is a good thing

Fireworks are detonating in San Francisco tonight, as the SF Giants win the National League Championship, and go to the World Series. WOOOO-HOOOOO! Let me make my feelings clear! It’s especially sweet that Travis Ishikawa’s homer ended the game. He has been a workhorse all year, and there is something perfect about him finding such […]

 Posted by at 10:13 pm
Aug 232014
returning home

Ah, home. The word means something different when we are days or weeks away. A driving trip to a distant place makes home far away, and I had lots of time to contemplate as I journeyed back with my Canadian flotilla. Here are some numbers: 6138 miles total on this trip, and the return took […]

 Posted by at 6:15 pm
Aug 182014
the roxy road

Today is transition day, I’m feeling a ton of things, and letting something shift inside. Punctuated by Roxy Music. Al and Kathy have put us up in a delightful cottage on their property on Duck Lake, and this has become my base of operations as we picked up Miss Powassan and put her in the […]

 Posted by at 11:33 am
Aug 142014

We’ve arrived, after five-and-a-half days of easy travel, beautiful scenery, and happy coincidence. Our overnight stays have been in three hotels, two campgrounds and with my sister Camille in Idaho. Along the way, we’ve experienced a lot of trains, a fantastic bakery in Reno, a wonderful family dinner, more trains, booming oil economy in North […]

 Posted by at 10:54 pm