“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Man Behind the Curtain

I have broken the cardinal rule of blogging:  I have let day after day go by without posting.  In June I made excuses to myself based on the length and complexity of the two posts that I did produce (My Generation I and II).  But the fact is that far from making up for the long delay between posts, the length of the pieces was just another violation of the genre.  I have to remember that this is not Montaigne's Essays; this is a blog.  I must post daily, so that readers will be rewarded for checking in daily, and keep my posts short, so that they can be read through completely in the midst of a busy day online.

I thank you for your patience, you who have continued to check back and are here reading this now, and I intend to do a better job of holding up my end of the bargain henceforth.


I wanted to create this blog while I was living on the street, and much of what you will read here was composed at that time. My efforts were stymied in part by the external problems of getting time on a computer to post my comments with some regularity and with all the necessary links and tendrils reaching off into the web. I also had the internal problems of settling on the nature and scope of the project: should I stick to the political, economic, and journalistic material or post the whole bloody personal drama, the idiosyncratic and intimate details of my experience? I knew deep down that the latter elements were necessary to this kind of personal reporting, but I wavered between confidence in the power of honesty and fear that my foibles and failings might discredit the broader message I intend to deliver.

I am now living in transitional housing, while I try to establish myself in a new job and begin to search for my own place. I am not far off the street, however, living as I do only three floors above the intersection of Eddy and Leavenworth Streets. My experience during the past fifteen months has taught me how fragile a thing the life we take for granted is. It would take very little to land me right back out there again: only one bit of bad luck or one mistake, being kind to the wrong person perhaps, or trusting too easily in my own ability to manage whatever comes along from day to day . If you learn only one thing from my story, I would want it to be the understanding of how close you are to falling out of the comfortable nest that you have been settling into for all these years. Sometimes the bough breaks, and it all falls down.


My first career was academic, but I can now only lay claim to being a sometime scholar of 18th-century British Literature. That Age was very like our own in being conflicted, confused, and anxious: a fundamental re-valuation of everything one is and does was going on in and around and under everyone. The literature was either classical and highly stylized (e.g., Alexander Pope) or radically experimental (e.g. Lawrence Stern‘s “Tristram Shandy”). New forms, such as the novel, were emerging from an eruption of folk traditions, religious evangelicalism, the commercialism of a growing middle class, and the availability of inexpensive presses.  What one finds in the literature of that period is a crowded, noisy, improvised culture that finally matured at the end of the century in the works of Jane Austen.

The new art form that was emerging -- so new and unformed that all anyone could think to call it was "the new", i.e. "the novel", was an ungainly -- and even messy -- mélange. So is the blogosphere today.

So too will be whatever I lay down in these posts.  I have to say that I feel right at home.