Sunday, February 27, 2011

More on San Francisco and the Blog

Among the wonderful things I learned at the San Francisco Writers Conference was to blog seriously and well.  I have blogged seriously, but not always well.  More than a couple of entries have done me less than proud.  One was my infamous pity party on the page.  Another was my cutesy attempt to turn some of the hundred best movie lines of all time into a lesson on dialogue.


With that one I started toward point A and wound up zigging and zagging to the unknown.  No doubt, Rod Serling would call it "The Twilight Zone."

From here on I'm going to set up a different set of guidelines.  The problem is I don't have them all finalized.  I will promise not to post haphazardly, to consider each entry as a representation of my writing thrust into the blogosphere.  Because lord knows I learned the hard way about admitting to the world that I'm bleeding.  I'll bleed privately from now on.

In the original guidelines of the blog, I promised to post the good and the bad.  I can still do that, but with great care.  Therefore, I may not post every week, or I may post twice or three times in a week.  Depends on what's happening.  I'll formulate this as we go along, entry by entry.  It'll be a constant work in progress.

For now, though, let me share some of my San Francisco experiences.  I'll start with the Top of the Mark, where Princes, Presidents, Judy Garland and Elvis have spent time.  The view is amazing.  With good peripheral vision one can see both Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I have good peripheral vision.  Breakfast is a bit pricey.  It's a solid $12.95 buffet for $35.95.  And Sunday's brunch is $70.09 per person.  I'm a cross between cotton candy and a medicine ball, and I couldn't eat thirty-six bucks worth of breakfast.

I discovered that a cab ride to many restaurants in North Beach, combined with a glass of wine, is less expensive than a single glass of wine at the Top of the Mark.  Still, I had a few up there because the view is so breathtaking.  It's what I'll think of when I hear the name San Francisco.

I adored Fisherman Wharf, particularly Scoma's, where a friend and I had a wonderful dinner.

I enjoyed the City Lights Bookstore.

San Francisco is not Maui, but it shouldn't be.  It is what it is and that's pretty damn awesome.  I understand why people love the life there.

Yes, I'll be back next year for the conference and the city.  It's a place that grabs you and holds on until your heart opens to it.  And, according to the song, you can leave your heart there.  Thanks, Tony Bennett.  I've had the devil's own time bringing mine back.  And the writer in me likes that.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Flowers in What's Left of My Hair

I'm writing this entry from my hotel room at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, the sight of the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference.  I'm sure my view isn't the greatest, paying a conference discount rate, but I can see a bit of Fisherman's Wharf and the bay.  The view is spectacular at the Top of the Mark on the nineteenth floor.  With minor blocks, it gives a 360-degree view.  From it you can see a bit of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and most of Fisherman's Wharf.

The sight blew me away and brought a tear or two, as friends and acquaintances have lauded the praises of San Francisco for decades. I can't forget all of the movies I've seen set in San Francisco including Hitchcock's Vertigo, which shows this very hotel. And the novels I've read set here.  Finally seeing some of the sights with my own eyes pulled the emotions just over the edge.

And then there is the conference.

I feel like a junkie in the middle of a fix.

Dorothy Allison the first of our keynoters is one of the most amazing speakers I've ever encountered.  One sentence will break the room into belly laughs while the very next will send chills everywhere.

Yesterday featured David Morrell, father of Rambo, who holds the room with an economy of words.

Both inspired.

I'm going to post this now, short as it is, because I won't have time later.  Next week, I will lay out new guidelines for this blog based on suggestions from industry professionals. And also post some of the many things I've learned here at the conference.  If I listed any now, I would miss breakfast because I wouldn't be able to stop.

I will say, though, that I learned how to use a coffeemaker to brew tea.

I might have to invest in a coffeemaker for home.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let's All Play

I think more people should learn how to play a musical instrument.  How about a guitar?  Keyboards?  Maybe even an autoharp?  It's fun.  I'm reminded of that from time to time when I play alone or with friends.

I'm not kidding myself.  I'll never be a star.  Never trot onstage with my guitar to the roaring screams of crowds and break into song, be that in an arena or a ten seat pub.  But it's fun to imagine it.  More so to get together for a mutual jam session and play as a group, everyone getting a chance to shine a little.  Maybe the experience stops there.  So what if it does?  It's a great way to while away a few hours enjoying either our own company or that of friends.

In the decades before television; the time when live concerts weren't nearly so prevalent; when radio was the primary entertainment for families, more people played instruments, in their living rooms, on their front porches, wherever and whenever the mood struck.

Stars emerged.  From Jimmie Rodgers to the Carter Family.  Robert Johnson to Doc Watson (pictured on right).  Most of the great blues artists from the 20's through the 40's were discovered playing on front porches or small joints.

Let's set that aside a second.  I've already said that we're not going to become stars here.  But we can become a little closer, sharing a creative endeavor rather a position in an audience.  Make no mistake, I love watching other people create whether at a monster arena or a ten seat pub.  Truth be told, most times I'd prefer the ten seater to the monster.

So why don't we do more of it?

Because we ... myself included, and I've been playing for forty-five years... aren't particularly happy starting with folk songs and one-four-five rock and twelve bar blues then, working together, building up the more complex material.  We want to play the guitar like Clapton or Slash or not at all.  We want to be Elton John on the keyboards instead of enjoying a little Heart and Soul.

Listening to the perfection of those who practice six to eight hours a day, five of which is nothing but scales and bleeding fingers has spoiled us.

But I say let's all learn an instrument.  I'll learn a new one.  I'll buy a banjo, or maybe I'll learn to play the autoharp like Maybelle Carter played it.

And writing songs is pretty fun, too.

I leave for San Francisco this Thursday for the conference.  I'm not expecting anything.  I have hopes, but mostly I was to see a beautiful city.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Revenge of Tom and Tex

When Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, his first order of business was to fire Tom Landry, their legendary coach of 29 years.  The only coach they'd had up to that point.  Anyone could understand that a new owner might want to go in a different direction, but a fair and decent man, a man with any class at all, would have explained that privately to Coach Landry and given him a chance to retire with the dignity his place in professional football had earned.

Jones's second order of business was to hang on to Tex Schramm, the architect of the Cowboy brand, long enough to learn the ropes before putting Schramm unceremoniously out to pasture.

Had Jones any sense of honor he would have renamed Texas Stadium, Tom Landry Stadium.  He didn't do that.  And it took four years for Jones to induct Landry into the Cowboy's Ring of Honor, three years AFTER the NFL waived the usual waiting period and inducted Landry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Schramm wasn't inducted into the Ring of Honor until 2003, three months after his death, and eleven years after he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It took the Texas Legislature to properly acknowledge Landry's contribution to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area by naming Interstate 30 between the two, "Tom Landry Highway."  They did so in 2001, the year after Landry died.  We used to call that stretch "The Turnpike."

The Cowboys have had success with Jones as owner, winning 3 Super Bowls and Cowboy fans remain fans, but there still exists a resentment of Jones for the way he treated Landry and Schramm, and, later, his Super Bowl winning coach, Jimmy Johnson.

In 2009, Jones built, thanks to the city of Arlington, an amazing Stadium that will host the Super Bowl tomorrow (Sunday February 6th).  Jones was hoping that this would put his dream stadium over the top in terms of legend.

Slight problem.

The weather.

From this past Tuesday, ice, snow and amazingly cold temperatures for this area (I've never seen it like this) have come close to shutting us down.  Add to that, this last day when the ice and snow started to melt, much of it slid off the top of the stadium damaging structures and injuring some workers.  One wonders whether the stadium will be deemed fit by the various safety marshals to allow people in.  This has caused many to wonder whether Dallas will ever get another Super Bowl.

If the game is delayed, then we have the answer.

All for you, Jerrah.

And somewhere, I suspect that Tex Schramm is laughing, and Tom Landry is smiling.

I leave for San Francisco in less than two weeks, and am proud of the first hundred pages of Catch a Falling Star.  I've said this before, but I'm quite serious when I say that this draft will be the last until and unless someone wants it.  I have too many other stories to tell.