Saturday, October 07, 2006

A good thing about having had my 15 minutes of fame in 1991 and 1992 is that I am very open to being exactly as well known as is necessary for my writing to do its job, and no more famous than that.

My last jury duty I was actually in the jury selection process, the thing where they start with every single seat in the court room filled, and I was sick. I didn't seem sick, and I had the walking flu.

In a place that crowded, I had to hold it together and not get into any exploration of how sick I actually was. I lived for the breaks.

At each break, I scurried to the jury break room and sipped a few more sips on the Coke I had tucked away there, all I was capable of ingesting, breathed, and looked out the great big window.

Sometimes, while trying to feel sorry for myself, though I didn't really have the focus for extended self-pity, I was very thankful that my fifteen minutes of fame were long gone.

It's the nature of jury duty that one's name is read at least once a day at roll call.

If I had had this jury duty at the height of my short fame, I would have been sitting there nursing my coat and holding even the thought of nausea at bay, and some wonderful person, probably a woman older than me, would have come up and said in warm voice, things like, "Are you the one that wrote. . .", "My daughters just loves. . .", and "It means so much to me."

And I would have wanted to tell her to leave me alone.

I wouldn't have done that. I would have been nice.

Fame for me was having the same eight conversations over and over again. Always positive about me, but the nature of who I am is that having the same 8 conversations over and over is grating.

I couldn't have the ninth conversation that would mean the most to me because I had, as an actual human, so little in common with many who liked that one piece of my work. A genius at turning fame into something real could have somehow taken the bit of actual connection and built and expanded it in a way that I couldn't. I wasn't that genius, and I could only be polite.

In 1985 I wrote a piece that went something like this, (though not exactly like this--I'm working from memory and haven't memorized it.)

"Anything we do randomly and senselessly creates more things like itself and turns reality into itself. Senseless violence creates more of itself until vengence and fear lead us to a world where everyone is dead for no reason.

"But violence isn't the only thing that is senseless until it makes its own sense. Anything you value, do it randomly. It will make itself be more, senseless.

"Scrawl it on the wall:


"I want to practice positive vandalism--break in the rundown school and paint the classrooms bright colors overnight, slip money into the old lady's purse in the struggling part of town."

That was printed, along with a lot of other little short bits, in 1985 "The Whole Earth Review," an aging hippy, liberal, ecology kind of magazine I had worked for and still wrote for, and among whose readers I had fans.

It was an instant hit in that small group, and continued to circulate in the granola set with much approval until 1991. In 1991, it was mainstreamed by Adair Lara, who then wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Her daughter's teacher circulated the saying with the addition of the word "Practice" at the beginning: Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

She asked in her column who wrote it, and I called her and she interviewed me. She wrote a column about it and me in the Chronicle and in Glamour magazine.

The Glamour piece did it. America came at me, heart in hand, telling me I was great.

I was so not in the mood for that.

The Glamour piece by Adair Lara appeared in the December 1991 issue, December touchingness and generosity.

1991 had started with my country bombing and then invading on the ground Iraq.

On TV, this war appeared to be popular and injury free.

It felt differently to me.

I was privileged, and I knew other people with similar experiences, to feel this war in a very visceral way. A perfectly nice woman I was acquainted with asked me on the street in late January 1991 how I was. I said, "People are dying in my body. They aren't dying on TV, so they're dying in my body."

Sitting at a restaurant in the Castro, looking at the wooden table and listening to Patsy Cline sing "I Fall to Pieces." I often felt, and I do mean felt not thought, that this war was so bad that it was like we were attacking the glue that holds everything together. That everything was, in fact, in danger of falling to pieces in a basic way because we were bombing the heart of the world.

I don't know if that war was worse. Maybe there's always some people in any war who have the mixed blessing of feeling it accurately.

Not that I felt it totally accurately or could, but the people who were dying and hurting were somehow in me in a way that I haven't felt before or since.

My country, as I write, is attacking Iraq again and for longer, and that is different for me, a news experience, something happening over there. Since I couldn't stand to watch any news, I didn't know then, like I know now, where Basra is, exactly, but I felt the death and hurt in a very accurate way.

So that's January, February, March. No widespread Internet, no alternate news on a big scale, lots of apparent enthusiasm for the war. So in December of that same year, that very mainstream America which allegedly loved the war came at me to tell me I was great and random kindness was great.

I wasn't in the mood. I had been given the selling out insurance policy. But of course I had to be kind to kind individuals who came up to me, didn't I, to live the value.

I also wanted to expand the discussion, and that, for me, was almost impossible. They didn't care what I thought about that war or see what that had to do with it.