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Old 08-02-2002, 07:25 AM   #1
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(08-02-2002) What Things In Life Move You? - San Francisco Chronicle


What things in your life move you?

Dave Ford Friday, August 2, 2002


I've been thinking lately about influences in my life and am wondering about yours.

Who are the people, places and ideas that have most shaped you? I'd love to hear, because the elements that inspire us often are surprising and unpredictable. Write and tell me yours, and I'll gather 'em and put 'em in a future column.

(I know. I always say that, then forget. I'm a space cadet. At least you don't have to live with me. But I promise I'll do it this time.)

Here are mine:

-- AIDS. As a young adult, I learned more than I wanted to about death, loss, grief, agony. I also learned about courage -- not mine, which is questionable, but that of the many friends who succumbed to the disease, and of those who put their lives -- and careers -- on the line to fight for better treatment.

Nothing has been the same for those of us who were young in San Francisco -- indeed, America -- in the 1980s.

-- My parents. My relationship with them through middle adulthood was complicated, as is true for most people. But my Dad died nearly four years ago -- a turning point in my life -- and now I see the things he left with me.

Chief among them was his drive to return something to the community that nurtured him. Second was his love for the California hills and his dedication to conservation and ecological awareness. (This from a moderate Republican: no tree-hugging hippie he.)

My mom, by her actions, has taught me the value of risk-taking and opening to change. Hers has been a varied life full of unexpected twists and relocations -- physical and emotional. She has let faith guide her, and there are worse lessons than that.

-- My brothers and sister. Family is family. It's nice to know, as we all plow into middle age, that I have close blood relatives scattered around the place. A port in any storm; an important kind of security.

-- My partner, Jeff. He has taught me how to love and how to balance my checkbook. I learn from him daily, which seems the point of a relationship.

-- Past relationships. What didn't I learn? If nothing else they were patient enough to endure my quirks, a sometimes thankless task.

-- Friends. Anyone who has them -- hopefully, all of us -- knows their value as steadying guides in sometimes choppy waters. Friendship is tricky, like the rest of life, but without friends, we are isolated and in pain -- a place I hope I never have to visit again. (And if I do, I hope friends will come and get me.)

-- Teachers. I loved school, at least when I didn't hate it, and I remember some junior high school teachers better than I remember my own phone number. Teaching is an art. I met some artists along the way; their influence is with me today.

-- Rep. Pete McCloskey. I was an intern for him in the summer of 1976. He was a "maverick Republican" congressman who, when Nixon was president a few years before, had spoken out against the Vietnam War. Most congressional representatives treated interns like glorified gofers. McCloskey ran his office like a classroom. In three months, I learned more about politics than I had in my previous 19 years, not all of it wholly cheering.

-- The Rolling Stones. In their heyday, they were a fabulously aggressive rock band with a sentimental underside. Keith Richards defined junkie cool, and Mick Jagger was beautiful androgyny personified. A heady blend for a sexually confused and artistically ambitious adolescent and young adult. It only took me about 30 years to grow out of the fascination -- and that's after having seen 'em live roughly 35 times since 1975.

-- Hunter S. Thompson. The cool king of "gonzo journalism" stood political reporting on its head with his Rolling Stone magazine coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign (later collected into "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail"). Another influence I've outgrown, though one who inspired my earliest journalistic efforts. (I have the embarrassing clips to prove it.)

-- Drugs and alcohol. Shaped my adolescent and young adult life, first in interesting ways, then not. When I gave 'em up, new doors opened -- another life-shaping event.

-- David Bowie. A hugely influential artist whom I appreciate for his brilliance, his dedication to synthesizing disparate elements into a weird whole and his ability to change his look every five minutes. And he talks frankly in the press about spirituality and mortality.

-- Bono. The U2 front man has proved himself not just a great rock star but an agent for social change. Once righteously powerless if rigorously humorless, U2 in the '90s embraced irony. More recently they've balanced that with the unsentimental passion for which they were originally known. Their post-Sept. 11 show at the Oakland Arena in November was as good as any I've seen by them or any other band.

-- Gay liberation. The late-1960s and 1970s movement altogether influenced my young life -- the politics, the literature, the protests. Harvey Milk was a trailblazer; though I didn't know him, I felt his influence for years after his death.

-- San Francisco. From the shimmering vision in Herb Caen's columns to the sometimes hardscrabble reality in 2002, the city has absolutely shaped my consciousness. I no longer live here, but San Francisco to me remains a vision: part hope, part loss, part place where anything can happen. Still.

-- Readers. A writer's no good without them. Angry or encouraging, each is part of what I've long considered a secret pact. We meet in the quiet spaces carved into the day's craziness. We don't look into each other's eyes, but the relationship is as intimate as if we did. That's because we're thinking -- and seeing -- together.

-- Mortality. It shadows my every day, and that's not necessarily bad. Though I lived through the worst of AIDS in San Francisco, I was young: Mortality still seemed far off. No longer. Time is getting shorter; one day I won't be here. Sometimes that's impossible to grasp; other times it's clear as lake water. It makes my work and relationships better, when I let it. When I don't, I sink.

-- Spirituality. I've always been convinced that there's something "out there." I've never known what. Still don't. But the pursuit for answers -- in the company of like-minded people -- has brought great hope and structure to an often despair-filled and disorganized life.

Doesn't matter what you call it, or, indeed, if there's an it. Even atheists are searching for something. It's the search, to me, that is key. More and more, it's all I really care about -- that, and living life by spiritual principles. Easier said than done, let me tell you.

So, that's a list off the top of my head.

Now it's your turn. Think hard, write fast and let's see where -- and who --
you are.

E-mail Dave Ford at dford@sfchronicle.com.
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