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July 2000

We hope to see you at our next celebration

Sunday July 9
4-9 PM
CRANIUM’S Coffee Company & Eatery
  12301 Lake City Way N.E., -Seattle, WA
  Phone: 206-364-1924

Driving instructions to Craniums Coffee House and Eatery, for those of you in the Seattle vicinity:

From I-5 South:
At I-5 Exit 175, turn off onto SR-523/N.E. 145th St. When you come to SR 522, turn RIGHT (South) onto SR-522 [Lake City Way NE]. Continue on Lake City Way NE until you see Craniums, past the intersection with NE 125th St.

From I-5 North:
Take the Lake City Way Exit, and go North on Lake City Way, until you see Craniums, (before the intersection with NE 125th St.)

Art Sharing: Sunday June 5, 2000

Larry Lewis shared his charcoal artwork. Roberta Gregory played videos of 3 short “Bitchy Bits” that played on Oxygen cable TV network (also visible on Oxygen.com website under “X-chromosone”). Carl and Lida Sloan showed and explained their Mexican/Mayan photographic works . They brought with them artist Leonel Vasquez who shared his Mayan watercolor paintings. Ben Miller brought us up-to-date regarding Pantarbe.com. He will set up FOKUS@pantarbe.com to be a communications receptacle for FOKUS email information to be forwarded to Bruce, Bob or Pippin. This offers us a very quick and efficient communications center. Bruce Taylor read the story “Spacesuit” from his novel Edward: Dancing on the Edge of Infinity. Bob Olson read his essay (enclosed in this newsletter) Denial and Dysfunction. Donna Barr complimented all of our conversation and Seiko Olson listened.

Other Stuff:

Bruce Taylor, along with Brian Herbert, were fortunate enough to have the rare honor of meeting with Ray Bradbury on May 17th, courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library.

Bruce Taylor will be reading from Kafka’s Uncle and Other Strange Tales and The Mountains of the Night at CRANIUM’S Coffee Company and Eatery (8:00 PM - June 2lst). Free parking.

FOKUS member Betty Tisdale (who is known as the Angel of Saigon in the TV movie in which actress Shirly Jones played the part of Betty) has a website for helping orphans worldwide. This is: www.helpingorphans.org

FOKUS has received a welcome contribution from Genie Dickerson of $10. Bruce Taylor will be teaching a new class at Shoreline C.C.: “Step by Step: Writing the Personal Experience.” This class starts June 29.

Bruce Taylor’s Editorial: Accepting the Unacceptable

The news is, of course, awful. I listen to the speaker at the writers’ meeting and I’ve heard it before and it always sounds awful.

“You have to think of your book as a product…”

I see, I think: like a block of cheese, or a dishwasher or a can of insect repellent.

“…and it’s sad because we’ve got good books that deserve to be published, but the market just isn’t there…”

So, I think, no need to publish it; no need to explore the possibilities; no need to think about how it could be marketed -- after all, who would have ever thought about a market for pet rocks?

“So,” the speaker continues, “the bottom line is profitability. We can’t afford to take a chance to publish something that won’t sell.”

I raise my hand then yank it down because I immediately recognize the sarcasm behind the question I want to ask: “How do you know something won’t sell unless you publish it?” And behind that, yet another layer of sarcasm, “You must be God if you know the future like that.” By now, I’m so scrooched down in my chair that I’m just about wiping the floor with my butt. I think about my book that was published because the editor liked what I had done, took the chance, and the book sold out. It had great reviews, it had great cover blurbs, and it’s impossible to get it reprinted. The market for it, judging by what some editors have told me, simply isn’t there, has suddenly vanished, and, of course, no one wants to try it unless I sound like another Danielle Steel, Stephen King or Whoever. (Each famous because some editor did, indeed, take a chance.)

The speaker continues, “We just can’t afford to take the chance.”

You’re God, I think, because you know the future without risking anything. How do you know that? I thought only God knew the future. I think back to my novel, Edward: Dancing on the Edge of Infinity, based on the book by Karel Chapek, War With the Newts and the comment by two agents made five years apart: “If this book had been available before 1985, it would have been a national best seller.” I look at my 600 plus short stories, my three short novellas, and my two novels, and I feel a pang of despair. I’ve sacrificed too much in terms of economics, relationships -- so much for my art. Was it a mistake? I try to feel hopeful, to think positively, but the pain is there. Editors telling me there is not a market for my book after it’s sold out and I’ve gotten great reviews. Is this lunacy, or what? Somehow I’m not being seen as profitable, so why bother? Somehow this sounds eerily similar to what it must have been like to live in the Soviet Union before it imploded and international corporations bought it and gave the proletarians McDonald’s hamburgers (as if that would give people more purpose in life). Back then, before glasnost, your art was only considered worthwhile if it sought to forever make new and heroic visages of Marx and Lenin in the name of Socialist Realism. Anything that didn’t fit with that meant you either felt the wrath of Kruschev and got your exhibit bulldozed, or your works were published abroad while you were harassed at home, i.e. , Boris Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago. Here, some Capitalist/Corporate Realist deems whether or not material fits Profitability Realism and, if it doesn’t, you don’t get published. I guess it’s not as messy as getting your art bulldozed; besides, who the heck dies these days of a broken heart when their dreams get trashed? No one. Uh-uh. We have Prozac to take away the pain, and hundreds of TV channels with endless reruns of I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Flintstones. These can just channel out that pain.

There are times when I want to do just that: watch The Discovery Channel for all the different positions the Malaysian wonkydinks can screw in (it’s science, remember). Or watch Channel 29, the public access channel, to see Skinheads trash those they’re too frightened to understand.

But I can’t hide for long. So what keeps me going on, in spite of the insanity and stupidity of the times in which I live? I do not know the future. I am not God, and when I slip into bitterness, I know I’ve become God: I know what is going to happen and it’s gonna be bad. Thus, I turn into God, just like editors and publishers become God when they know what is or is not going to sell. I am not God, so every day is still a gift of possibilities, every day an unopened box filled with magic, an ever-changing kaleidoscope of events, occurrences unending. My job? To keep opening the box -- to never forget the capacity for surprise, wonder, awe and delight -- and to write about it, to share it to the best of my ability. And maybe somehow, some way, another pre-1985-mentality editor will come along and say, “I don’t know what the market is for this, but it sure deserves to be published and pushed. I’m willing to take a chance --” And maybe new books will emerge from me and from a lot of folks -- books that are refreshing, different, and revolutionary in the best spirit that defines Art as a brave, unique way of viewing the world. I hope so. I keep wanting to write to tell people about how amazing, wonderful and bizarre the world really is. (And it really is, you know.)

But what I also have to realize is that maybe the way things are, is exactly the way they are/can be no other way, and that this is the way of Fate. Maybe the world/my life are turning out exactly as it should. While it isn’t my way, it is turning out the way Fate/God has in mind and this is the way it is. I must learn to accept this with grace and gratitude. Maybe it’s time to watch the movie, The Little Buddha again -- to help remind me that there are other ways to live and appreciate this gift of life.

Cow Joke from Rix Mallonee:

A Texas Foreman was taking his cowboys with a herd of “beeves” across Texas. When he came to the Brazos River, the water level was up and he wasn’t sure where to cross. He saw a man walking on the other side of the river and yelled across to him, “How do I get to the other side of the river?”

The man yelled, “You’re already on the other side of the river.”

A drawing and poem
from an upcoming project by Dean Koontz:

My favorite pastime is wondering why.
Why is it blue up there in the sky?
Why not green, yellow, chartreuse?
Why do birds fly but not one moose?
If a moose could fly, why not sing?
Oh, what a lovely, wonderful thing.
A moose that could fly and sing.
And if he could sing, why not dance,
Up on a stage with red-sequined pants?
What a very famous moose he would be.
People would come from miles to see
Him fly, sing, and dance all in red.
And why not balance mice on his head?
A pyramid of five happy white mice,
Each of them juggling grains of rice.
He would be a rich and famous moose.
He’d buy a train with a gold caboose.
And if he happened to be my friend,
We would travel around every bend,
To magical places both near and far,
Eating doughnuts in the dining car,
Across the plains and over the hills,
With endless adventures and thrills,
Every day happy and full of delight,
With laughter and music every night.
And all this because I wondered why:
Why is it blue up there in the sky?

Dean Koontz & Phil Parks

Essay by Bob Olson: Denial & Dysfunction

On Mothers” Day 2000 I told my daughter how fortunate we were. So many of my friends grew up in dysfunctional families with abusive parents -- not me, nor my family. Our family was so loving and perfect. My parents truly loved me, as I loved my wife and children. A tear rolled down her cheek as she told me, “When I grew up my family was dysfunctional.”

What was she talking about? This statement of her memories seemed a contradiction, until I slowly realized my own denial. I think of my wife Seiko and our love today and I seem to have forgotten the rocky road we traveled and my mistakes along the route.

Denial and dysfunction are words that have become so much a part of our popular vocabulary in recent years. During my childhood, and my life as a young adult, parents and teachers were expected to discipline their children with a paddle. It was believed that if you “spared the rod” you would “spoil the child”. In poor rural communities even incest was often the hidden family skeleton. No one ever heard of a “dysfunctional family” and denial was the usual response to embarrassing accusations.

Although I refused to recognize it, dysfunction and abuse were a part of my early family history. My grandmother Stillman (my mother’s mother) was “mother” to her younger siblings because her own deserted the family in the mid-1800’s. My father never got along with his arrogant, hot-tempered father, who never learned to speak English -- the only language my dad spoke. I remember my own parents as exceptions to their times. While my friends were less fortunate, my parents never abused me. However, there were times when I have been the abuser. I might have been acting out of fear, anger and frustration, or following a "macho” misconception of masculinity; but my behavior was inexcusable. Now, I realize a denial in my memory when I seem to have forgotten the bad times.

I treasure my blessings today: these include: my loving wife Seiko, three happy, successful children and six wonderful grandchildren. In my good fortune sometimes I gloat. This in itself might be a dysfunctional abuse -- when I take a “holier than thou” attitude. If I receive unexpected recognition or praise I try to hide my glee while I eagerly anticipate my next opportunity to brag.

Thank you my dear daughter for the painful reminder. I can no longer deny my past behaviors. Although life has rewarded me in my old age, I was not always a good parent. I apologize for transgressions -- for my vile temper, for the brief times I split my family by moving out of the home, for devoting more of my attention and love to teenagers other than my own, for my attitude of superiority, and all of the other abuses my memory may still hide.

Admitting my own dysfunction and denial has been very hard for me. I like to find humor in my life and there is no humor in these words. However, now I feel a closer bond to friends who acknowledge the dysfunction in their lives -- even as they share accomplishments.

May we all love and appreciate the humanity in each of us.

Last updated:  June 24, 2000