Ringing the Bell on the Best of San Diego 2012

by on January 2, 2013 · 0 comments

in Culture, History, San Diego, Under the Perfect Sun

In some Buddhist traditions people bring in the New Year with contemplation, evaluation, and meditation. One element of this celebration can be a fire ceremony where the karma of the old year is symbolically burned leaving one open to the next moment. Usually, after yet more meditation, at midnight a bell is rung to welcome in the New Year. Or, to put it more accurately, they bring in the happy new instant.

So, before the old moment bleeds into the new one, here are a few things cultural and political to remember and be grateful for about the last calendar year in San Diego as the next one comes into being.

The Far East: Everything Just As It Is

This groundbreaking anthology of prose, fiction, poetry, art, photography and spoken word notes of East County, “It’s in many things—a hooker on the court, a California poppy, wild, among the brush along the freeway. It’s in a temporary connection with a stranger on the trolley, or the recognition that there are still fruit bearing trees . . . It’s everything just as it is.”

While the anthology itself is full of beautiful poetry about the natural splendor of our city’s eastern half, such as Steve Kowit’s sublime “Dusk in the Cuyamacas” and Heather Eudy’s “California Poppy,” it also features the noir side underneath the tourist postcard. It is an innovative, multidisciplinary alternative cultural roadmap that does for East County what no other cultural document has done to date—explore that part of our cityspace without feeble booster sunglasses. For this editor Mindy Solis and the folks in the Grossmont Community College Creative Writing Program, such as Sydney Brown (who has done great work for years on their literary arts festival), deserve much credit.

The Far East: Everything Just As It Is is exactly the kind of smart literary/cultural work that this city needs; it is an invaluable step in the fledgling process of representing the unrepresented San Diego.

Anyway*

This is Arthur Salm’s debut novel, a young adult book, something those of us who have known Arthur for many years might not have expected. But Anyway* is not just any kid’s book, as the Washington Post’s review of Salm’s novel observes, “The asterisk in the title points to an explanation that says, ‘A story about me, with 138 footnotes, 27 exaggerations and 1 plate of spaghetti.’ What this story is really about is a boy who takes advantage of going away to camp to assume another identity — Mad Max, a wild and reckless guy. Everything about this book screams summer fun.”

Thus Salm (who was the book review editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune, back when that was the only reason other than sports to buy the paper) has penned a deeply innovative tale that takes risks with the genre and succeeds wildly. After the many years of good work that Arthur did for literature in San Diego, nobody deserves a solid debut more than he.

Gregory Page and Shine, Shine, Shine

I’m listing the artist and his award-winning album because it’s not just his stunning new collection of big band style ballads that deserves note but also his generous work in helping to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the San Diego Free Speech Fight last winter and spring. Fresh off a tour, Gregory took the time to learn original IWW songs, put his sweetly melancholic stamp on them, and played a key part in a number of the Free Speech Fight commemorations. He graciously shared the stage with the Proles, an aspiring new group, as well as writers, student performers, and labor leaders. This and his work at Filner fundraisers make him deserving of a big thank you for his cultural and political work last year.

That Gregory blesses us with his hauntingly beautiful voice and wonderful historically informed, deeply nostalgic music is a gift for the whole city. He fills theatres in Europe but frequently flies under the radar screen here in his hometown of San Diego. He’s on tour in Australia as you read this, but if you haven’t ever seen him play, you need to make that happen. You can listen to and buy his independently produced music here.

Bob Filner and Us

For the first time in the history of San Diego, we have a genuinely progressive mayor. There is no other way to say it: this was the biggest political victory for progressives in San Diego, ever. The former Freedom Rider beat the spawn of Grover Norquist in Richard Nixon’s lucky city. Hallelujah!

And, early on, it appears he is willing to put his money where his mouth was. He is paying attention to the voices of the unrepresented and leading in a way we have never seen before—with a principled vision that puts ordinary people first.

We’ve already seen a small victory with the passage of the long-delayed Property Value Protection Ordinance and, when pressed by the Center on Policy Initiatives to make poverty a priority in his administration, Filner’s refreshing response was to tell them he was already on board, so what next?

Huge challenges loom in 2013 and beyond but it’s clear that if we stand behind this mayor and help push an activist agenda, there is hope we can make San Diego a better place for all of us.

Happy new instant, dear reader!

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