Tender Branch

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Chapter 3 Tally: An Intuitive Life

Tender Branch

Rogue and I toured the narrow winding Village streets, as if on the canals of Venice, floating on poetry’s noble craft. Everyone who saw us thought we were together. I told him in confidence about my on and off again boyfriend, an affair that was not going anywhere.

Rogue had a romantic style that enticed many women. I began to notice him flirting with me, but never thought he was serious. He meshed his seduction into the flow of things, playing hide and seek.

To my distress, Rogue told PJ that I was in a dispirited relationship with a man who did not deserve me. PJ forged ahead as soon as he saw me. “Don’t waste your time with someone who is of no value to you.”

With this tension between us, Rogue and I traveled to Woodstock in late summer. Rogue drove all the way there. In the town, it seemed to me the people were walking dead, in slow motion, eternally young but no longer alive.

I felt a momentary thrill when I saw PJ’s papers in the library. At the same time, in this place, PJ was dead.

We walked down a road from the center of town toward Overlook Mountain, passing a boarded up meeting house. At a fork in the road we stopped at an old, unfenced cemetery on a hillside, with a view of time shaved in the form of mountains and a long valley. I knew Rogue was looking for a connection, a perspective on PJ, but it felt to me we were walking on PJ’s future grave, or the grave of his past.

I told Rogue how I felt, and he quoted a line from Peggy Bacon, a poet PJ published: “A goose is walking on your grave.”

We moved down to a spot by an unpaved road for a picnic, overlooking a muted and subtle tapestry of farms and forest in the valley.

Rogue observed, “This would be a great location for poetry readings.”

Back in the city, Rogue read from PJ’s novel, Tender Branch, written after his divorce and subsequent hospitalization.

PJ decided to publish a chapter. It would be a chapbook. A local shop had a color copier that PJ had experimented with in reproducing his textile designs.

Rogue and I spent the weekend typing it. PJ came to Rogue’s apartment and helped Rogue sew up the binding of some of Rogue’s chapbooks while we worked. Afterwards, we ambled to outdoor cafés for ice cream, in the deep space of our own world.

“I sought death,” PJ said, “by unintentional injury—not so unintentional, of course. I was hospitalized and spent weeks in hysteria and paranoia. In my own life I have been far from conventionally pure but even in my excesses, I was always innocent. And yet my guilt came out in the paranoia in the hospital. That was all my lifetime of guilt that I had so carefully put away. Oh God, the paranoia. I remember asking my wife: what have the investigators found out about me? My secrets? Did she know? Did they tell her anything?”

Tender Branch opened with a hallucino-dream in the hospital.

“It was a far more vivid experience than the consciousness that was my life. It was a kind of super-consciousness.” He remembered sitting with his back to a wall and in front of him nothing but distance. “Behind the wall, an inclined space. There was brilliant light and to his left, several feet away, naked, sat his wife with her back to the wall.

“She was as silent as he. A voice said: ‘Shut your eyes. The first one who opens them will die.’ For a long time he sat there with his eyes tightly shut, for he did not want to die, and he hoped his wife would keep her eyes shut, for he did not want her to die.

When he could not bear it any longer, he let one eye open, then both. “He turned his head to look. His wife was not there. Surely she was not dead—and he would not die.”

He knew that this was not an episode in his life, although it was certainly a conscious experience. In this new and fantastic aspect of consciousness he understood more clearly the situation he was in.

After signing a paper he was too ill to read, everything changed. “Sometimes briefly he would see at his bedside one of those out to destroy him. Hysteria, hallucinations and dark humor prevailed. He knew he was one of a dozen who were to be the doctors’ victims. They would be used as long as they could be, in the machinations of the programs for the amusement and indulgence of the rich patrons and eventually, when they were no longer useful, they would be murdered.”

He asked his former wife if she were one of them and she said yes. “But he could not believe it. He loved his wife. Even though he knew she would leave him and he would die because he could not live without loving her.”

The major torment the doctors devised was to “open all the shut and locked doors in his mind and transmit his secret thoughts to people in the next room. Film projectors had been set up in concealed places and he could look nowhere without seeing the lurid, erotic, unimaginable images as they danced, pranced, rolling and tossing beautiful color, with the sounds of voices, hysterical laughter, musical voices making disgraceful proposals, and participants freely acting them out, no matter what sex, what age, what combinations.”

He lamented, “Not one of his most secret and buried fantasies or memories could be concealed. Now all these people knew his deepest guilt. How could he continue to live?”

“What was it like to die?”

“Nothing dramatic about it. I welcomed death as a solution of all my conflicts. I would avoid the viciousness of a life without her. She would be free to pursue her own interests.”

“Free to create her destiny.”

He smiled, his eyes winking, piercing blue. “At the same time, I welcomed death as the fulfillment of a very great life. I was content. In fact, nothing could be more right. I had the wonder of living in love with my wife. Surely, few men had ever had it so good.”

“You were aware of what was going on?”

“For a few moments I experienced an exceptional clarity. I felt no sentiment or emotion, no regret or grief. I told my wife, ‘All the happiness I’ve had in my life was due to you, recognizing you, loving you and living with you.’”

He wrote this about dying:

Death enfolded him before he could say more. Death. Silence. Absolutely nothing, if not deep unconscious peace. That is what death is. Release from all consciousness, from all guilt, from all threats of poverty or torture of riches. The dead have no responsibility. There is no ego to establish and maintain at the cost of one’s self and cruelty to others. Peace. The apotheosis of peace, of quietness, of no emotional or physical pain, no wish or seeking for praise.

But suddenly my sublime peace was disturbed. I could not move but I felt. Cold, then warm. A flow of warmth began to trickle in. What is this? The warmth moved at a snail’s pace across a line marking half a body, seeking a place where it could break through. The point was found and with the same languid force the warmth broke through until I felt every part of myself, still inert, immobile, but an eyelid, one and then the other, opened. Without interest I saw my wife sitting in a chair beside my bed, watching me with intense anxiety. From her arm extended a tube to my arm, and then I knew that the warmth I felt was her blood, her life, giving life to my body.

He fell asleep soon after. His last conscious thought was this: She is giving birth to me.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available in print and ebook formats.

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A Perceptive Review of Tally: An Intuitive Life

These words are from a review of Tally: An Intuitive Life by Marylee MacDonald, author of Montpelier Tomorrow.

When a young poet stumbles into the life of a Greenwich Village recluse, she meets a bearded old man living in a garret. Surrounded by manuscripts in which he has attempted to comprehend the meaning of life, PJ has entered a time of failing eyesight, physical frailty, and economic uncertainty. Quiet and observant, the young poet Erin, or “Eyes” as PJ soon calls her, begins to help him put his life in order.

“No one is ever conscious of what he is doing or why he is doing it,” PJ said, “even a person who is aware of everything he is doing and after pondering it, can perceive the reason or motivation for it.”

The above is just one of many sentences I underlined last February while I was doing a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center for the Arts. Anyone who makes her or his life in the arts risks winding up like PJ, which is to say not wealthy, except in matters of the spirit.

“PJ’s long bony fingers swept over drifting stacks of books, papers, paintings, typewriter ribbons, photographs and found objets, all jumbled together, everything melting into some other form…’Dali would have had an idea of the melodramatic squalor in which I live,'” PJ told her.

PJ’s intellect and humor makes him an utterly fascinating subject. Some of his musings are brilliant; others, wildly off-the-wall.

To read the entire review, please click here.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, published by All Things That Matter Press, 2013.

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Deep Winter

Excerpt from Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, 2013

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A month of deep winter, near zero weather, and PJ in his cold Village garret was sick. I brought him a foot warmer. The nurse heaped blankets on his bed and set up a space heater.

“What are you doing here?” PJ looked up from his bed. “It’s four degrees outside.”

One evening I became ill, and by morning was struggling to breathe, painfully, as the congestion deepened into my lungs. For three days, I was in bed, getting up to change sweat-soaked clothes and to attempt to eat. By the third day, I was hallucinating. I seemed to be two people, one sick and the other well: the sick body and the rebellious mind?

I had a muddled sense of this and the split was not exactly clear, but one part of me was holding a conversation with another part. I dreamed of fire, then of a building on fire. I was on the top floor with my brother. My paternal grandparents, both actually now dead, were on the sidewalk below waiting for me. I had promised to go to the zoo with them, but first asked them to wait a minute because I had to go to the store, vaguely like Jake’s bookstore, and take something upstairs. So I did and when I was up there, I heard fire engines and people shouting. My brother and I looked out to see people pointing up at us and smoke pouring from one of the floors below.

I went to the door and started to step out, but the stairs had been burnt away, all the way down. Someone on a floor below opened their door and I shouted to them not to go out, the stairs were gone. No one came out and I began to devise schemes for our escape, when the phone rang.

I picked it up and someone said, “Hi, it’s me.”

“Who is this?” I asked.

“I’m the one who never calls anybody.”

“Who?”

“Jake. It’s me, Jake,” said Jake.

“Jake who?”

“Oh my God,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Jake who. My store just burned down and I call my best friend for sympathy and she doesn’t know me.”

Jake told me that there had been a fire on the second floor of the building his store is in. It started in the apartment above his store and there had been some smoke and water damage, ruining most of his books.

I passed away from life again into a delirious state, becoming more dissociated from myself. I thought I was three people, each one belonging to a different part of my face. One part belonged to one nostril and one to the other nostril and another to my mouth. Only the mouth was working. I kept asking, why have they abandoned me? Why don’t they work?

I felt myself floating down a river, and this went on for a long time, inexorably to its end, which I became slowly and in some pinpoint sense keenly aware of, but still I let myself go with the gentle but insistent flow. At last I felt myself buoying up, resisting the flow, and coming to a greater awareness.

Rising, I recovered enough to go to the hospital and be given medicine my mother later told me was used to treat Legionnaire’s disease.

Jake and I shared a laugh about my delirium when I was sick. “I knew you, but not exactly,” I said. “One part of me was telling me who you were and would have been able to talk to you, but I was almost unconscious. Everything was jumbled up. I also thought you were my Uncle Jake calling to tell me my parents’ plane had crashed.”

“Wow.”

“They were fine.”

“But my store did burn down.”

Together we moved through the water-soaked remains of his books and magazines. “I’ll get it going again,” Jake said.

During my illness, I experienced the hysteria and helplessness that PJ must live through daily. It was more than physical suffering and damage to the body. I realized that the mental aberrations and changes in consciousness caused by physical illness could become permanent. That would explain PJ’s “disintegration” and intensified “multiphrenia” and paranoia.

“You cannot experience my descriptions of my sickness with immunity,” PJ said. “You fell sick in a paroxysm of empathy.”

I had fallen beneath the weight of his narrative of despair, pain and helplessness. After this, I knew I could not witness his constant talk of pain and illness. I resolved to distance myself more from PJ. Suddenly, I wanted to find a way to be independent of everyone.

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A Greenwich Village Christmas Story

Excerpt from Tally: An Intuitive Life, the story of Paul Johnston (PJ), a Village artist and writer, and his young friend Erin Yes, All Things That Matter Press, 2013.

We argued over this, and finally he said, “It’s a good thing our friendship doesn’t depend on mutual agreement.”

Finally, I was able to go about his place freely, pick up anything, move it, throw it away, read it or take it home with me. I put his papers in files I had set up in his garret.

He insisted we were together in love, in amiable affection, as we worked on a piece of graphic art for one of his booklets.

“In the gloaming,” PJ sang, “oh my darling, when the lights are dim and low.”

I shook my head, confused at the note of happiness in his voice, on guard against any dip into despair.

“In the gloaming, oh, my darling. Think not bitterly of me.”

Before I left to visit my parents for Christmas, I stopped by PJ’s. He was smiling broadly, and after a cup of hot cider and cookies, he handed me an envelope. I opened it and there was five dollars.

“I had gone to the hospital to try to get some relief,” he told me. “And on the way back, turning onto Greenwich Avenue, there she was, walking toward me, arms outstretched. The old man tried to see her, but could not clearly, except to see a form tall and plain with an eager expression on her face. May I offer you some Christmas cheer? Oh yes, the old man said, of course, I need it and am grateful.”

“Are you giving me all of it? You need it, too.”

“The Third Party, God or whatever it is that arranges things,” he said, “sent this gift to me to give to you.

As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a Christmas present for you.”

And of course he had to write a letter with it, only one page with his monogram on it. Across the top he had typed, “Vanish gloom and melancholy, Tra lala, la, lala la la …” At the end he concluded, “The old man is strictly a catalyst in this deal. Last Christmas he did not know you. This Christmas he was grateful that he has met you. Thank you, Third Party.”

Tally is available on:

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Talking Into The Night

Excerpt from Tally: An Intuitive Life

PJ was in the kitchen wrapped in a blanket with the oven on, heat blasting from its door. This room was warm, but the radiators couldn’t heat the large front room with all its drafty windows. Making dinner restored his fire. We talked into the night. The heat was mine and his, an intensity hard to define.
“I have my prior occupation with innocence and affection and those are the two things I’m going to try to develop as I go on with my writing,” he said. “Affection is particularly beautiful because it is the logic of love, you see. Every other definition of love has about a hundred different varieties. But affection is affection, you can’t change it. It’s a very solid word. And it means affection, it means love.”
“People think affection is a lesser kind of love.”
“You see, affection and innocence go hand in hand. Those are the two themes that I want to work on for the rest of my life to see if I can clarify them. Because innocence is a very essential characteristic of human beings.”

Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, All Things That Matter Press, is available on Amazon/Kindle and Barnesandnoble.com

Tally is an unvarnished story of an elderly man in the last years of his life, looking back and looking forward, distilling and continuously examining and evolving his thoughts on love, innocence, amiability and hostility, aging and mortality, time, memory, intuition, conscious living, and the influence we have on one another even after death.

A New Definition of Intuition

In our modern scientific world, the idea that great thoughts and insights can come from a person who simply uses his mental capacity to study and gain understanding of human nature (or the human condition) has receded into the realm of legend: Aristotle, Socrates, Plato (The Greek pantheon), Rousseau and the French pantheon, Hume and the English/Scottish philosophers, Laozi, and countless others from many parts of the world.

In the 1960s through the late 1980s, Paul Johnson (PJ), a Greenwich Village artist and writer, made his own journey to study the way in which we develop our intuition, how we use our perception and intellect, and how we relate to one another based on these.

PJ discovered that the “intuition” is not ESP, or some magical process, but a rational one. In the “building of the intuition” the use of reason is elemental. Beginning before consciousness or at least consciousness of memory, a child interacts with his body, other people and the environment, beginning to learn of the effects of his actions and reactions.

There is a qualitative value assigned to each experience. At its most fundamental, this can be expressed as either positive or negative. Human beings’ interactions with others and the environment are fraught with emotions, impacts on self-development and image, and one’s sense of “being a good person,” that is, innocent. Placed in a compendium are both the positive or amiable, and the negative or hostile experiences.

Thinking of his childhood and observing others, PJ was able to describe how the “intuitive program” begins. Seeing a child punished in the park for picking up a piece of glass, he said, “That child was amiable when he was born. He felt no guilt. Until someone slapped his hand and said, No, don’t do that! And he felt hostility for the first time.”

“The little one is beginning to make up his own program. He builds up an unconscious memory bank of what would do him the least harm of his actions and reactions.”

This collection, or breviary, of amiable and hostile experiences may be given the name: intuition. The intuition, PJ explained, determines one’s response to a situation as either an amiable or a hostile one. This response is instantaneous and unconscious (although one can become more attuned to it). The intuition is only an intermediary between stimulus and response. It directs the nature of the response.

All of this happens below the level of consciousness. British professor Guy Claxton states that the intuition is “a mental process which is non-conscious, but nevertheless rational.” That is, it follows certain implicit rules. 1 (Claxton uses the word “non-conscious” to separate it from the Freudian concept of the “unconscious.”)

As PJ did, Claxton recognizes the levels of consciousness, and the need as well as the ability to access these levels. PJ came to his conclusions through “tapping into the subliminal stream of consciousness.” In this way he was able to discover his motivations, and to evaluate his actions and their consequences.

This paper will be followed by others on Memory and Intuition, Guilt and Innocence, and Perceptive Intellect.

PJ’s story is told in Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, 2013. Available on:

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1 Han Baltussen, 2007. Did Aristotle have a concept of ‘intuition’? Some thoughts on translating ‘nous’. In E. Close, M. Tsianikas and G. Couvalis (eds.) “Greek Research in Australia: Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial International Conference of Greek Studies, Flinders University June 2005,” Flinders University Department of Languages – Modern Greek: Adelaide, 53-62. Archived at Flinders University: dspace.flinders.edu.au. This paper is available on academia.edu

5-Star Review of Tally: An Intuitive Life

Review by Diane M. Denton

‘Tally: An Intuitive Life’ celebrates questioning and follows the thread of discourse to illustrate how self-discovery is made by way of life’s journey passing through many destinations.

Wandering along a narrative rich with compelling philosophical conversations and very personal events, this remembrance of Bohemian artist, Paul Johnson (PJ), transports the reader to avant-garde Greenwich Village in the 1970’s and 80’s and further back through his earlier history. Much of the book allows the reader to have a `fly-on-the-wall’ look into the solitary, collaborative and transformational experiences of the creative, eccentric, needy yet detached `intuitively conscious’ PJ; and the absorbing, if often ambiguous, connection he makes with the sensitive, curious, compassionate and intelligent young poet and community organizer, Erin.

I was especially drawn in by the novel’s main storyline of youth intersecting with old age on a basis of shared pursuits and exploration of ideas. In today’s society, there is often separation of the young and the elderly, as if one is offensive or even a threat to the other. It’s usually assumed they have nothing in common or to cultivate with each other.

The young can put a lot of time and energy into longing and looking for external experiences to shape their lives; even those who are creative tend to expect inspiration, knowledge and fulfillment to come from somewhere outside of their own abilities, feelings and instincts. In its best scenario, aging makes us weary of life’s pursuits, necessitating reflection over action; so we become less frantic and more self-realized and consciously alive at eighty than we were at twenty.

PJ can `speak’ for himself on this: “Let it cease. I have created many new identities. I have found new reasons to live. I have lived through phases of bliss, of romantic love, phases of death of consciousness, of depression and aspirations beyond achieving, and the fullness of the joy of being alive.”

Read more on  Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com or Goodreads.


This review is by Diane M. Denton, author of A House Near Luccoli, All Things That Matter Press, available on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com. Her forthcoming book, To A Strange Somewhere Fled, is a sequel that continues the adventures of the shy but curious (in more ways than one) Donatellla. Visit her blog, bardessdmdenton-prose, poetry and painting.