E009: A Gilroy Burrito

I just have to apologize. This is episode is the most untoward display of bad eating manners that I've yet demonstrated. It's disgusting. Otherwise, we discuss the origins of this Web Series initiative, maintaining two versions of yourself, and a little more about what you can expect.

E008: Freeform Sunday: Rice Pudding 2006

Back in my silent film days, I produced this short film about a sailor who'd been away at sea for too long and he'd forgotten about the simple pleasures in life.  Like rice pudding.

Jetfoil: The Ballad of Elsa Morales

You don’t find homes of the well-to-do under the flightpath of a busy airport, a stone’s throw from the runway where the roar of jet engines moves the air like thunder. That real estate is reserved for working-class folk. The same is true for the land abutting railroad thoroughfares. Have you ever taken the Northeast Express from DC to New York City? If you do, you won’t see manicured lawns and whitewashed fences backing up to the tracks. No, your comfortable seat affords you a blurred and passing view of warehouses and factories and the terrible townhouses of forgotten Baltimore whose backyards terminate at the rail grade.

Back now to California: In 2013, I became acquainted the Morales family, of the Pacoima Moraleses. Elsa and her husband, Joseph, and their five boys: Arturo, Pablo, Eduardo, Joey Jr, and Marcus. I never had the opportunity to speak with Marcus but I once sat behind him in a courtroom when he was on his way to the state institution where he lives for the time being.

I met the Moraleses because a friend and I were doing a short documentary about their youngest, Pablo. We were with him on Friday, September 13 when when he walked out of juvenile detention with Elsa and Joseph Sr — happy, all of them. We spent the next week with Pablo and his family, to capture the challenge of reentry, and what families go through when one of their own is freed from incarceration.

But we had a dual purpose: we figured it might do Pablo good to have a couple of guys with cameras following him around, making sure he didn’t get into trouble over the course of the seven days before he was to board a flight to Colorado, where he would attend a rare and remarkable school for kids from underserved communities.

We only had seven days with Pablo, or so we thought, so we spent a lot of time at the two-bedroom apartment to which he was confined on house arrest, the judge’s own measure to keep him out of trouble until his departure. Over the span of that week we got to know the Moraleses pretty well, because all of them who weren’t locked up lived in the apartment: Elsa and Joseph Sr, Pablo, Arturo, Joey Junior and his girl and their two-year-old, Little Joey. Eduardo came and went. I met him a few times. He was leery of these strangers with cameras in his family home and who could blame him.

I won’t take you down the rabbit-hole of Pablo’s story. Suffice to say that he didn’t make the flight. The hundred year flood that hit Colorado that fall closed the school and a week later, maddened by the uncertainty of ‘what’s next’ and the Siren song of crystal meth, he cut off the ankle monitor and went back to the streets. Ten days later Elsa got a phone call that he was locked up again.

For all of the time I spent with Pablo, I spent more with his mother. I came to admire Elsa for the depth of her strength and perseverance. She was the sole breadwinner for the family. Her husband is plagued by diabetic seizures and other demons that prevent him from holding down a job. He used to have a good gig, then the seizure started and it was downhill from there. Elsa works 50-some-odd hours a week at In-n-Out Burger, has for nearly 20 years.

I’ve walked with her the four blocks from the apartment to the restaurant, two of which cross the notorious street that lends its name to one of the most reviled gangs in the San Fernando Valley, the gang that rules four of her five boys. On her way home, Elsa would stop at the small market run by a member of her extended family, buy groceries and an 8-pound bag of ice for the cooler that was standing in for a refrigerator back at the apartment.

Between the long hours of her work routine, of her cooking and tending to the endless tide of laundry (with Arturo’s help, to his credit) Elsa cared for and worried after the men in her life:

For her husband, and his repeated trips to the emergency room;

For Pablo, who was finally out and bound for something good, if only he could stay on track;

For Joey Jr, who was finally out and starting a family, but who was also answering the call of the streets and disappearing for a couple days at a time;

For Arturo, though for Arturo least of all, because he was a student, a good son, gang free, and his transgressions rarely fell outside the domain of normal adolescent shenanigans.

Marcus was locked up and bound for a two-year bid, so she didn’t have to worry too much for him. At least he was ‘safe’.

Eduardo didn’t show up often and I couldn’t say where he stood at the time, but I could hazard a guess. You can tell a lot by the way young man carries himself and what you could tell about Eduardo was that Elsa’s worry was well-founded.

But through all of her worry and failed hope, Elsa kept going. And she was kind and gentle and so incredibly strong, stronger by a magnitude than her strongman, streetwise kids. Somehow juggling the perils of her children has not driven her to cynicism or worse. She stands four-foot-ten, and I swear she could carry the world.

Yesterday we buried Eduardo. He made it to twenty-four before the life caught up with him. Another Latino shot on the streets of Los Angeles… El Niño this year, and did you hear? Game of Thrones is coming back, and how about that Donald Trump?

It wasn’t until Elsa draped herself over Eduardo’s coffin that I saw her cry. I mean really weep. Her chest bucked and she wailed and her hand caressed the fabric-clad coffin as if it were the body of her son. One hand opening and closing, opening and closing. There, over the hole where her middle son would soon be lowered, she released a little bit of that sustained sorrow and pain, and Good Lord, I hope it brought her a moment of relief.

Now all eyes are on Pablo. He gets out of prison in September/October and if he can escape the Siren’s call, maybe they can pack up and go to New Mexico where another node of Elsa’s family is living a life that more closely resembles the Mexican-American Dream. But for now she’ll pray. And she’ll work. And Elsa Morales will carry on.

They laid Eduardo Morales to rest a few hundred feet from the end of the runway of Bob Hope International Airport. His service was punctuated by the roar of 737s lifting off, the occasional howl of a private jet. There are no headstones in that corner of the cemetery, just small marble slabs recessed in the grass, no character. In a few years it’ll be tough to find his grave, but they’ll find it thanks to that little stone tag.

Toward the end of the ceremony another familiar rumble rolled through the calm as an Amtrak train slowed to a stop, splitting the distance from the grave to the runway. I saw a guy disembark: orange shirt, rolling suitcase. He glanced at the funeral, looked at us for a beat and then back to the sidewalk in front of him, head down and thinking, perhaps, ”sad day.”

CHIPMAGINATION E005: Practice Makes Perfect

Today I take you behind the scenes and share a glimpse of the techniques one must develop to be a consumption-based video host. Plus: a window into my soul via the most unflattering angle at our disposal.

One can never be too careful.

CHIPMAGINATION E004: White House Banana

When the President calls, you damn well better answer.

Over a banana we discuss the option of rapidly indulging your ideas, shipping them, and moving on. An opportunity crossed my path and I responded to it, pitched an idea, made an episode about it, all in the span of twenty minutes. Now I don't have to think about it anymore.

CHIPMAGINATION E003: Groggy Trailmix

Any time of the day's a good time for draggin' ass.

Sometimes it catches up with you. You get that demotivated, unenthusiastic, uninspired, terrified, self-loathing, quasi-depressed feeling... when really your body just wants a nap.

CHIPMAGINATION E002: Oakland Granola

Join me for a lovely bowl of 5AM granola.

Some thoughts about the errant ways of journalism, social justice, and waking up too early.

Chipmagination E001: Squash Enchiladas

Our first episode. Thanks to my crew, my writers, all of my producers, and most of all, my editor. You'd almost think this is all one take.

The inaugural pilot kick-off of a brand new series. In this informative and inspiring few minutes you will here the genesis story, learn a bit about my habits and manners, and get a taste for what's to come (not that that could prepare you). More at nineblocks.com.

Slower Still

We have to slow down in our paces

and not just from hurried to normal.  

No, further still, until the crawlers

lap us in their frenzy.  

 

We will move like tree limbs

in a calm August

as our eyes grow clear

absent patterns of movement, 

shape and structure,

modern scaffolds dissolve.  

 

The air will come back to our lungs

true breath, 

not the forced aspiration of descent, 

but limitless clean air.  

It's been years, blinding ages and

the wind-swept tears raise callouses  

from almond corner to temple.

 

Yes, when the burning subsides

what a world we'll see.  

Hospital Room

Wrinkled blue scrubs, one with stains

short fake sounds and artificial smells

chemical powders, tablets and alcohol swabs

fluorescent diluted by sunlight

waiting

Hug Watchers

There's that awkward moment when three people come together at a cocktail party or maybe at the airport, and you're one of the people, and the other two share a big hug. You might have a hug on the way, too, but for that instant you're left standing there hug watching, or maybe hug waiting, but either way it's just kind of a creepy feeling.

On Tools

The tools you use should be invisible by the time you deliver whatever you used them to make. Whether you’re writing or woodworking or cooking or jewelrying, those who consume your work ought not be distracted by the tools you used to create it.

An obvious exception: musicians.  A tuba.  I’m pretty sure that fella is blowing a tuba.

Still, creators and makers fetishize their tools.  I’ve been guilty of it.  And yes, there’s something to the feeling of a fine writing instrument streaking across artisanal paper, but that experience does not lubricate one’s ability to create.

This sense that improving the quality of your tools somehow translates to an improvement in the quality of your craft… it’s a popular fool’s errand.  You find novices spending the upper limits of their budget, and beyond, on tools they feel may give them a heightened sense of their craft.  The fact is, when you have a heightened sense of your craft, you delight in how you can turn out stellar creative work on the crudest of instruments.  Here’s an example, that's also an exception to my exception:


A Pivot

Notes From the Porch is evolving. I’m evolving, too. It’s been a very long time since I sent any missives to the group, and there is but one underlying reason for the absence: last year was a fucking doozy.

I won’t get into the particulars, but we endured a sustained period of loss and grief that stunted my outward expression, whether conversational or electronic. Those of you with whom I maintain a periodic phone date know that those rituals also faltered through the latter half of 2015.

I could drill into psycho-self-analysis about my proclivity for isolation, but that’s a different note altogether. Maybe another time.

Here is Today’s News and a Fresh Idea. Today's News first:

I’m going into semi-retirement with documentary production. I say semi-retirement because I’m still rocking Kings of The Yukon, and am deeply committed to telling that story in whatever form it takes. But Kings of The Yukon will be the last documentary project I undertake as the lead creative, at least for the next fifteen or twenty years. Never say never.

In lieu of continuing my pursuits as a filmmaker, I’m bringing my deepest passion to the fore and beginning the arduous task of making a career of it. I’m finally going to buy a Subway franchise.

ust kidding, I’m stepping out as a professional writer (to be).

I’ll get into the how and why and what’s-that-like in a new format for Notes From The Porch. That’s the aforementioned Fresh Idea, by the way.

It’s not a matter of proclamation: I’m not a mountain climber just because I say I’m going to summit Everest.  No, it’s a journey, an exploration, and it’s an adventure.  My adventure might have begun in 1997 when I wrote my first (awful) screenplay, “Last Call at Quixote’s Den,” and if I had known that it would take another 19 years for that aspect of my creativity to manifest as a career, I might have stopped then and there. But I didn’t. Why? (More on that as we go).

The Making of Black Stump Hollow. Yes, that's a nonalcoholic beer and a scented candle.  What?   Go ahead, say it.   Say it to my face, why don't you?  You see, this new direction is 100% warts-and-all fearless self exposure.

The Making of Black Stump Hollow.

Yes, that's a nonalcoholic beer and a scented candle.  What?   Go ahead, say it.   Say it to my face, why don't you?  You see, this new direction is 100% warts-and-all fearless self exposure.

o instead of being That Guy at the cocktail party who tells everyone a little too loudly that he's a writer, I'm going to let you watch.  How many times have you had a window into the week-to-week world of someone trying to go from being a complete unknown, to having an established and successful new venture, especially one as whack-a-doodle as being a paid Hollywood screenwriter and novelist?

If odds mean anything, you could have a front row seat at a spectacular failure (and who doesn't love that?) but I’m inviting you on the journey, nonetheless.

I hope there’s more than train-wreck fascination to coax you along. This transition is a tough one, but it’s also exhilarating. It takes discipline, the sort of discipline that you rarely muster in other parts of your life. Quieting those voices of doubt and pragmatism is no small task, and I’ll share my strategies for doing that, too (as soon as I develop them).

So I’m not going to make the public proclamation any more distinctly than this, I’m just going to say, come walk with me. Let’s see what we find.

It all starts with Seven Stories… Next time on Notes from the Porch.

Rubbernecking As Much As Humanly Possible

I never wanted to admit my desire to stare at the accident as I passed it on the highway. Indulging some sort of morbid fascination seemed like the basest of human tendencies. Now I rubberneck like crazy, and I encourage you to, as well.

There's a Stoic ideal that mandates you visualize the absence of a something you value––a car, a job, a spouse––as a means of cultivating desire for the things you have, rather than for things you do not.  The practice seems to contradict that of visualizing the things you want or want to happen, i.e. if you meditate on losing your sunglasses you might somehow effect that outcome.  I don't believe it works that way, but again, that’s something you may learn with practice, more than through this rambling entry.

So what's that have to do with rubbernecking?  I live just off a beautiful and deadly stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.  There was a fatality yesterday at the foot of my road, a severe head-on collision two nights before that, a pedestrian fatality, a cycling fatality, and four or five other serious accidents since the beginning of the month.  Yes, all that in the last two weeks.

Nowadays, when I have the opportunity, I look at wreckage as a reminder of what's possible with every lapse of attention, the type of which we're all guilty, whether from adjusting the radio, dealing with a backseat conflict, daydreaming or texting.   Being hyper-attentive could mean the difference when that aimless motorist drifts into your lane from the eastbound side of the road.

It's not a bad thing to be viscerally reminded of what it looks like when the force of destruction in which you are barreling down the highway becomes just that.  Sure, my rational mind knows it’s true, but looking empathically at what horror someone’s ordinary morning has become, really taking it in, nurtures a greater sense of vigilance.

Reading List

Here's my simple, digestible reading list. These are from disparate traditions and modes of thought, but if you read them and get really honest about the counterproductive ways that you might sometimes navigate this life, you'll find all sorts of awesome little tidbits.  You don't need a whole library, just these four books:

The Four Agreements [Amazon Link] (Toltec)
The Stoic Art of Joy [Amazon Link] (Stoicism)
Turning The Mind Into An Ally [Amazin Lonk*] (Buddhism)
The Tools [Amazon Link] (A Twist on Western Psychology)

*I left the typo because I like it