Sunday, January 30, 2011
CHARLES JOHNSON IN SAN FRANCISCO
In 1981, I lived in San Francisco from mid-June through mid-December (I was on my first sabbatical from UW that year, after receiving early tenure and promotion in three years), working as one of two writer/producers hired for the second season of KQED's dramatic series about a black family, "Up and Coming" (a sort of precursor to the later "Cosby" show.) I lived alone in a small, efficiency unit at John Muir Apartments---they had a terrific weight room for the residents---with the barest of essentials (no television, a fold-out bed/sofa, a dinner table that doubled as my writing desk, and my typewriter). Those were transformative months that saw my mother's death, my daughter's birth, and also the death of Lawrence Lariar, who helped me to become a professional, prolific cartoonist in my teens. When not at KQED, writing episodes or rewriting those we farmed out to free-lancers (as well as two scripts I was writing for WGBH in Boston, one of which was a version of the Frankie and Johnnie story intended to be a vehicle for Aretha Franklin and Glynn Turman), I trained religiously in the evenings at the main Choy Li Fut kung-fu school of grandmaster Doc Fai Wong, immersed myself deeply in the daily practice of meditation, and the study each night of a small library's worth of Buddhist texts and other works of Eastern philosophy. It was like being on an intense, spiritual retreat for six months, or living as a hermit.
And since then I've always liked San Francisco, which in so many ways is similar to Seattle: both are built on seven hills, both once burned to the ground, and both have populations that are racially and culturally diverse. Furthermore, it's a beautiful city. I did make a trip to City Lights Bookstore (I had no car and always took public transportation) but, as I said, I generally retreated from the social world for that half a year to work on PBS teleplays, and work on my(self).
Posted by Ethelbert Miller at 3:13 AM