CELL at 7 (and 16)

Back in 2003, a major shift had happened at CELLspace. Events had been shut down and a large group of volunteers had pretty much left 2050 Bryant to start the Mission Market back on Florida Street. Tensions were high, people were burned out, and CELL needed to pay rent. CELL had had one of its few retreats to try to reform the regroup after many caretakers left in a huge pile of animosity. Then the war in Iraq started. We had all been protesting to not start this war and most of us saw the meta-narrative of CELL’s plight as that of the world’s.

I was personally down about the war and CELL. I’d backed off a bit to take a break, but I was answering the info email address (because no one else was). Since 1996, CELLspace has inspired many people to start their own space. There’s the Crucible, the Box Shop, and many others. From time to time, people would stop by to study CELL. And we would get emails asking about how to start a space. At the time I was answering info@cellspace, I got an email from Bucketworks in Milwaukee, WI (now in its 9th year!!). They were starting up a space and had great questions about how to do it. They caught me at a time where I must’ve been ready to talk raw and candidly about what was going on at CELL.

CELL had just turned 7 when the email arrived. I had just finished co-producing the Funky Puppet Supper, which was an amazing show that touched on CELL’s plight and the plight of war with Iraq. I pulled the original emails off of the Oblio hard drive last week, and decided, for CELL’s 16th Birthday (this Spring Equinox), to post it on here in its entirety. It is emotional, raw, unedited (well, I did take out a few bits that were too personal). It is a great snapshot of how I saw CELL back in 2003.

I had no help in answering the questions. I did not answer this based upon any horizontal process. So do not expect this to be the definitive angle on what was happening at the time. Remember, I was going to CELL meetings with about 3 other people while about 12 people were meeting and running the Mission Market. And a group of workers had left the space. These were hard times.

Being a lover of history, I cannot pass up adding the following Q&A about CELL to my Month of Blog. Happy 16th birthday CELLspace! So many amazing and intense memories.

……………… Continue reading “CELL at 7 (and 16)”

Month of Blog

Because you crave it!

In the past few weeks, I have become tired of seeing my mind work like a FaceBook post. I actually started noticing this on the 2009 Stencil Nation tour in Europe. As Pod and I wandered around Vienna, Austria, we realized that every city we toured, the word “FaceBook” kept showing up in random places. And we both realized that we were beginning to think as posts to FaceBook. “Woah, that’s funny. I should share that on FaceBook.” I didn’t have a phone in the EU and Pod’s phone was a cheap “dumb” phone, so we couldn’t go from thought to FB in a matter of seconds.

Beyond the concept of having a huge corporation enter my brain as a way to express myself, I have begun to worry about the content that I post on FB. Google just changed the way they gather user information. I’m sure you saw the ads all over the place telling you about Google’s plan to consolidate their user experience, and thus their user’s thoughts. Buddhist ads have begun to appear on FB. I don’t want to buy any buddha t-shirts, but FB thinks I do. As the FTC mulls a “do not track” rule, and Google and other companies get busted for accessing too much user data, I’m beginning to wonder if my already slim profile on FB (and Google+, which I rarely post to), is a bit too much. And as FB changes their format (and user agreements) every 3 months, I am growing tired of the overflow of information. I hear this FB burnout from other people as well, and I think that the FB OD is one reason Google+ just isn’t happening. Most people appear to be thinking “You mean I have to go to yet another website to post my life?!” Continue reading “Month of Blog”

Bab Aziz

Like holding a hand-full of sand, the Iranian/French/Tunisian film “Bab Aziz” sifts through my memory of visual and audial delights. It played to a small screen here in San Francisco, and I was fortunate enough to see it. Certain scenes of this “Iranian Cenemapoem” gave me shivers, touched my heart, and gave my soul a layer of the joy of living. My soul knew, absolutely, that when I die, and I will die eventually, heaven or eternity will be similar to this movie. Ever since seeing this movie, the idea of wandering in a desert, telling stories and dancing, meeting poets, musicians, and madmen, all for the eventual discovery of a spiritual music and dance gathering HAS TO BE ETERNITY.

I loved the movie so much, I begged my friend Jeff Stot, an amazing Middle Eastern producer and musician, to come and see it. He enjoyed it and saw it a second time with some Persian musicians he worked with (they were not as enthused as we were about the movie). I rarely see a movie twice, but I had a hunch that “Bab Aziz” would not be for rent any time soon in my local video store (or, more presently online).

I was correct in assuming this. Not knowing Farsi or Arabic, I have tried to purchase this DVD over the years. I went to many many DVD stores in New York City looking for it. I’ve looked online too, but there is not really an English audience for this movie. I frequently go to YouTube to find segments of “Bab Aziz” to share with people who seem to have a mystical or spiritual depth. Doing this a few days ago, I discovered that Middle Eastern people are posting the full-length movie on YouTube. I found one with no subtitles, and another with Turkish subtitles. Then, I found one in 9 parts with English subtitles. The person who posted the videos describes the movie as an  “Iranian Cinemapoem; A poetic glimpse of ‘Sufi-Darvish’ vision and way of life! A philosophical Sufi story.”

Yes to all three. Finally, after years of watching the segments of the movie sift from my memory, I got to watch it again. It was a little bit-mapped, but the tears and shivers came again. And the deep soul-knowing of my connection to music, as natural as walking or breathing, rang true again. Like a meditation bell or a soul clap: we can feel the truth when it comes to us.

Please watch… sharing this movie may help one understand parts of themselves. It is also from a country much maligned in the US media right now. Iranian leaders may call us “satan” but Iranians are humans after all, and some are capable of making great art.

A Vayable Idea (Wed); Banksy Tour (Sat)

Join me Wednesday on 24th St. when I speak for only 10 minutes at A Vayable Idea

Join me Satuday with TransportedSF for the Banksy Tour.  I will guide you through the six remaining Banksy pieces via a biodeisel bus (drinking and fun allowed).

Some thoughts about Street Art Tourism in SF

Sometime around 2002, when an article about “The Mission School” of public art appeared in the SF Bay Guardian, the alleys where I wandered to photograph stencil art. Of course, this was around the time Banksy was becoming a sensation, Melbourne, Australia’s walls were exploding with public art, and Tristan Manco released his book “Stencil Graffiti.” As books began to get published, websites like MySpace and Flickr began to allow massive photo and info sharing, and digital cameras became cheap and easy to use, people started noticing that I was taking photographs of the sidewalk (and other strange locations). People started asking me questions about the art. Then I eventually saw people taking their own photographs. Prior to about 2005, very few people documented what was now being called street art. But this began to change. Like me, people were traveling around the world to see the art, the exhibits, and the freshest city walls. One of the pillars of street art entailed that artists had to travel and put their art up all over the world. It was only a matter of time before this all went mainstream.

When Banksy wandered through the USA about two years ago, there was a frenzy of Tweets and posts sharing the locations and art he left behind. I jumped into the frenzy and saw many other people wandering San Francisco to snap up photos of the fresh work. A few who scooped Banksy’s visit ended up on TV, and the blogosphere many cities ate up his art (and the eventual removal of much of it). In my mind, the sensation had arrived. Irionically, Banksy was promoting his documentary that looked at the hollow sensation of art’s next greatest thing.

I wasn’t surprised when I was asked to speak as an expert for a Banksy tour in May. With only six pieces remaining (well, one is totally destroyed but still possibly relevant), and a law in the books where drinking alcohol on a bus is legal, there was a good combination for a fun Saturday afternoon. The tour sold out, and we all had a great time. I know that Precita Eyes gives mural tours, and Chris Carlsson gives FoundSF tours, both of whome fill in gaps where the mainstream double-decker buses never tread. Antenna Theater developed the Magic Bus as a multimedia bus show, but demand was so high, they turned it into an ongoing “tour”. There are other tours that I probably do not know about, and some, like the Barbary Coast, Dashiell Hammett, and Beat Generation tours are a bit more mainstream. Jeremy Novy has an exhibit titled “A History of Queer Street Art” which is closing just in time for Pride Weekend. I am sure that people here for Pride are going to this exhibit and then looking for the illegal art afterwards.

Prior to the Banksy tour, I had wondered how many people came to San Francisco to seek out the painted alleys and walls. As street art became a topic of LA tabloids (“Is Banksy going to appear at the Oscars???” “The Art in the Streets show is causing more graffiti!” ) and Shepard Fairey became a household name, I saw the back streets of San Francisco turn into photo opportunities. Back when I visited Melbourne, Australia in 2008, their official tour brochure boasted that tens of thousands of tourists came to the city to see the painted laneways. As I visited the Citylights gallery just off Hosier Lane, I saw Japanese tourists snapping photos, a newlywed couple posing in front of the walls, and even a school group of young children looking at the art. This was only in maybe an hour of visiting the area!

As San Francisco spends $22 million a year to erase graffiti and street art, these changes beg the question “just how much money is the City making from all the graffiti and street art?” The best way to find out would probably be a funded study of underground and subculture tourist trends. If two people stood at both ends of Clarion Alley on a Saturday, and asked a small list of questions, I assume that the results would be surprising for the bureaucrats that only see vandalism. Then there are the stores that cater to the culture of street art. Upper Playground reigns supreme in the Haight. 1AM holds it down in SoMa. White Walls makes the illegal walls quasi-legal with their top shelf legal walls.

This is what I hope to talk about Wednesday night A Vayable Idea. This is a start up dot com that allows people to purchase tours from everyday people who love their cities. I’ve already done a few tours through Vayable and they’ve been great. My tourists have been curious about all the art that they see around them. I try my best to answer all their questions and show them the best spots. There are skateboard tours on Vayable, available in SF. There’s another underground tourist source that is understudyed. Our hills are famous for skating down. So I’m putting the word out: Who is catering to alt-tourism and why isn’t San Francisco paying attention? I’m crious to see what happens. Hope you come by and visit so that I can hear what you think about it all.

Why I (News) Fast

Words. Thousands and millions of words. Constantly getting churned out from keyboards around the world. A never-ending stream of thoughts and details, facts and admissions. Spilling out into the Web at a Class 5 rapid rate.

History. Analysis of the past in the present. Constantly changing, being reframed, deconstructed. Not necessarily too far back and possibly instantly expounded upon. Usually avoided by the technical elite as not worth remembering or thinking about.

Choice. Where do you stand on a subject? What words have you picked to explain something that has happened? What parts of history have you chosen to remember and how clear are your details? What has been LEFT OUT of the word stream? How do you choose to fill your time in the present moment?

News. Must get click-throughs. Must appease advertisers and corporate bosses. Must not upset fragile political alliances. Cowers at lobbyists who scare advertisers. Selectively edited to cause a flood of emotions and then moves on to the next potentially dammed site. Hopefully opens the flood gates before other sources push their own buttons. No topic too banal or useless, especially if it gets click-throughs, thus appeasing advertisers and corporate bosses. News cannot keep up with the speed of words these days. News can only follow social media at times to keep pace with history. News has very few filters with stories that do nothing but waste time for readers.

Readers. Have phones. Read phones. Demand instant words. Usually do not understand history. Get caught up in latest breaking news. Tsunami. Then movie star scandal. Whatever appears in phones is what is discussed with friends. In the flood of words, they skim the surface like insects. Only what is instant is gleaned. Little historical analysis is added to the words. Making a choice about news from a small, consolidated corporate pile of sources. A small percentage of readers go against the stream, but their efforts are large and their needs unattended.

………… Continue reading “Why I (News) Fast”


what more can i say today. found this stencil on the bike ride home from Alcatraz.


Giving Thanks on Alcatraz

The last time I got up early to take the ferry to the Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving, I had many things weighing heavy on my mind. This 2005 day of thanks gave me little room to be thankful beyond the fact that I was alive and able to feel all the intense emotions coursing through me. Getting up that early didn’t brighten my mood either, until I was on the ferry and able to feel the power of community, song, and radical native medicine. As the ferry trolled over the Bay, I thought of all the troubles that the Native North Americans had seen over the generations. I thought of the troubles my Irish ancestors probably faced against the English occupation forces. I thought of all the many struggles for justice and peace that take place every day across the world. This opened my heart up a bit, just a small amount, allowing me to sit with my own present struggles and fell the common thread of humanity’s suffering.

Continue reading “Giving Thanks on Alcatraz”

A Trip Down Market St.

Sit patiently through the Viagra commercial(s) and you will be in for a treat. “60 Minutes” journalist Morley Safer shares a film, and some new historical twists, about San Francisco’s Market Street. Back in 1906, two brothers put a camera in front of a street car, hand-cranked the box as they moved down the “Slots”, and caught an amazing sight of everyday San Francisco. You’ll see anarchic traffic patterns, random pedestrians, no traffic lights, teamsters, newsboys, and a bike or two. You’ll also see a city center that sprung up in mere decades thanks to the Gold Rush of 1849.

Biking down that street every week for the past dozen or so years, and still feeling the residue of an older time, the thrill of seeing this film never diminishes. Now Safer has connected the past to the present, lovingly filming 2010 Market Street and the City I call home while giving the old film new perspective. New proof shows that the film was made a week before the earthquake and the huge fires that burned the whole area to the ground. And, now that we all know it captured buildings that would soon be destroyed, and San Franciscans who would soon perish and/or suffer, “A Trip Down Market Street’s” mystique grows deeper.

I was biking down Market St. in 2005 one Sunday morning on the way to open up the Box Office at Teatro ZinZanni. I had cut over to Mission Street to get on to Embarcadero, and I saw the oddest sight: a roofless, antique street car that looked like a maintenance vehicle. Perched on the front of this odd machine was an expensive digital camera. I biked by with a shrug, and thought it was a Hollywood film shoot. A few months later, I was treated to my first viewing of the original film (thought to have been made in 1905) as well as the new one that commemorated San Francisco’s Market Street a century later. Of course my friend Chris Carlsson is in the new film, and had invited me to see the public premiere just off Market Street at the Embarcadero. Here is the video from 2005:

Pema Chodron’s “Smile at Fear” : Sun. Notes

Summing Up, and “The Education of the Warrior”

KEY THING – teachings broaden our toleracne for all pervasive, unavoidable uncertainty. TR: If fear and doubt arise towards fundamental uncertainty, then humans react and start to go into a cocoon…. We hide ourselves in caves and jungles.

We’re trying to find something to hold on to. Pain arises when we go into that cocoon to avoid uncertainty. A fearful society can develop because of this.

This weekend is a plea to relax into that uncertainty. Manifesting a healthy world starts with human’s courage to turn towards uncertainty. Worst of times are best of times because that makes uncertainty become unavoidable. We need to begin to engage in what we’ve been avoiding our whole lives. GENTLENESS cannot be written big enough when facing uncertainty. If we transform ourselves personally bases upon compassion-based living, then society will follow.

Touch in briefly, starting with the body. Then with emotions. Come to know fear itself, “sip by sip.”

Great Eastern Sun – arises as confidence in your heart that you can dispel your own darkness. Not protecting yourself from uncertainty. TR: what it is like to live outside the cocoon.

Pema then analyzed the following poem by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (I will just post the poem):

The Education of the Warrior

That mind of fearfulness
Should be put in the cradle of loving-kindness
And suckled with the profound and brilliant milk
Of eternal doubtlessness.
In the cool shade of fearlessness,
Fan it with the fan of joy and happiness.
When it grows older,
Lead it to the self-existing playground of
various displays of phenomena.
When it grows older still,
In order to promote the primodial confidence,
Lead it to the archery range of the warriors.
When it grows older still,
To awaken primordial self-nature,
Let it see human society
Which possesses beauty and dignity.
Then the fearful mind
Can change into the warrior’s mind,
And that eternally youthful confidence
Can expand into space without beginning or end.
At that point it sees the Great Eastern Sun.

Pema Chodron’s “Smile at Fear” : Sat. Notes

Pema’s morning talk had to do with Chapters 10 and 11 of “Smile at Fear”

Chapter 10: Tools of Fearlessness – all about expanding the heart

What would it look like to live completely from an open heart?

First, discipline (icon is the sun): of openness (notice that you’re closing, trying to get ground) and then open, notice tightening, lighten up. Notice wrong and then let go – like the sun because there are no exceptions.

Second, meditation (icon is the echo) – meditative awareness – you begin to notice when you’re closing, shutting down, etc. “I’m no quite sure how, but I can to it.” All actions produce an echo. They come back to you. Heed the echo to expand rather than close.

Third, psychological accuracy (skillful means, prajna) basic goodness. Clear seeing beyond “what bout me?” Icon is bow and arrow. Must have curiosity, inquisitiveness, undivided attention of something unpleasant. Act and speak out of it – it manifests as sanity. Breaks down polarization and dualistic concepts. It is expansive. Have to put prajna (arrow) into action (bow)

Chapter 11: qualities of fearlessness

TR: Pain is not a punishment, pleasure is not a reward… kindness, kindness, kindness

First, Trust (icon is the reservoir) you can trust that whatever you say, or do, you will get a response from the world. The world will always give you messages to practice openness. The world will never run out of messages and so is rich for this. The reservoir of trust in the world never dries up.

Second, Joy and Appreciation (icon is music/hum) – comes from realizing that whatever is happening is a dynamic process, a fruition and seed of what is to come. Eternal doubtlessness. “No feeling is final” – Rilke – a fluid way of opening up to the world.

Third, Ability to hold your seat (icon is saddle) – living with ourselves is like riding a fickle horse. Staying present in present time. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t escalate. TR: Success and failure are the path Continue reading “Pema Chodron’s “Smile at Fear” : Sat. Notes”

Pema Chodron’s “Smile at Fear” : Fri. Notes

I will be at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA all weekend sitting with the venerable Pema Chodron. The topic of the urban retreat is “Smile at Fear” which is a book written by Pema’s root teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (henceforth called TR in these blog posts). I will take notes during the talks, and will post them here in their raw form. They are basically jottings of what Pema, and teacher/editor Carolyn Rose Gimian, have said. Pema mentions TR often, so when you see those letters, it is a jotting based upon something he said.

Pema spoke on Friday night, and I found her to be witty, comedic, and extremely to the point. After getting a laugh, she’d get to the heart of the matter and gently tell us what we have know our whole lives.


We need to reach out, be global. Spiritual practice can be selfish. But a spiritual warrior can work on themselves, cultivate their capacity to love ourselves and others, and be of help for the world and other people. We are needed at this time on this earth because of all the mass suffering.

Pema can almost smell the fear in the USA. TR calls it “ubiquitous anxiety.” The ground we walk on is always shaky, but fear makes the shakiness more obvious. Fear is like a dot or doorway that can be good or bad. Avoid the feeling of fear and actions will escalate into violence. Turn toward fear rather than harden against it. Feel its vulnerability and tenderness.

How do we smile, touch into fear, and be present with it?

Time Magazine had an article about fear, stating that science proves that people are more afraid of uncertainty than physical pain! Pema observed uncertainty in herself and others and saw two ways that uncertainty affects us. First, we speed up. Second, we get lazy. These are both ways we express our powerlessness and our avoidance of fear.

TR: “fundamental uncertainty manifests as doubting/not trusting/ not loving ourselves.” Continue reading “Pema Chodron’s “Smile at Fear” : Fri. Notes”

In the Strike Zone

In the Strike Zone

Standing in the outfield of the Field of Dreams, Iowa (2006)
Standing in the outfield of the Field of Dreams, Iowa (2006)

I was having strange premonitions at ATT Park three Tuesdays ago. Just a week prior, the SF Giants were having a hot September. Whenever their bats woke up, supporting their great pitching, they would just barely win. Feeling the post-season interest that I have always had for Major League baseball (going back to my days living in Atlanta during their amazing early 1990s post-season hot streak), I went online to take a look at the Giants schedule. Just two more teams to play, the Diamondbacks and the Padres. The Giants and the Padres were both about tied in their division, but I couldn’t make those games. Looking at my schedule, I saw that the September 28th game with the Diamondbacks worked, and so pulled up a great cheap ticket in the left-field bleachers. Even then, I had a feeling that I was going to see a great game.

With the idea of where my bleacher seat was, I told a friend that I would bring him a home run ball back. He laughed and said “I hope you don’t catch it on your head.” I had a hunch I might actually catch a ball. Getting ready to bike down the hill to the ballpark, my friend Eleni biked by. “You’re going to a baseball game?” she asked. I must admit that few people know that I like to go to a game at least once a season, and always follow post-season Giants games. “Are you going to drink a beer and eat a hot dog?” she asked. Again, Eleni had no idea that I would indeed consume both. Not a great fan of hot dogs, if I go to a MLB game, I’ll eat one. “It’s part of the game for me,” I told her and she looked at me slack jawed. She just couldn’t understand how excited it is to see some end-of-season play, especially when the Giants are doing well.
Continue reading “In the Strike Zone”