Marylee MacDonald, a gifted writer, in an interview with me for her blog, asked some challenging and insightful questions. Read the interview at maryleemacdonaldauthor.com
Marylee MacDonald, a gifted writer, in an interview with me for her blog, asked some challenging and insightful questions. Read the interview at maryleemacdonaldauthor.com
Monica Brinkman and Kenneth Weene talked with me about my books, concentrating on Miami Morning and issues of disability, sources of inspiration, influences and creating complex characters, then moving on to my first book, cats, birds, and other topics.
For those of you who’ve read Tally: An Intuitive Life, and for those who haven’t but wouldn’t mind an introduction, here’s a piece from Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, which I’ve published on my Scribd.com site. He appears in the first chapter and then on other occasions throughout the story.
Working on PJ’s cryptic writing, I played with his new definition of Intuition.
At an elemental level, he described how we learn what advances our desires, and what thwarts our wishes. When the action or its consequence is harmful to ourselves or others, we learn to dissemble, all to ensure our “emotional security” by convincing ourselves of our innocence.
I made notes. What’s valuable and what’s not? How do we make these judgments?
With him I challenged his ideas on building the intuition in childhood. “What kind of intellect can a child have? What level of perceptual awareness?”
“A child’s sensory and perceptual apprehension of the world is pretty great,” PJ responded. “It has to be for the learning process to take place. The intellect evolves, often seeming to the individual to match the world’s maturation. It’s an incredible process, both gradual and immediate.” Then, he added, “But the concept of time is another subject.
“You see, you keep piling one lie on top of another and another on top of that,” PJ said, developing his theory of rationalizing guilt. “And the deeper you get into rationalization, the more you get away from ever becoming amiable again.”
This is a process over time, he said, and can lead to justification of whole sets of actions. Eventually we feel the overload and break down, and start over again with the slate wiped clean, or we continue to heap one justification on another until the intuition, swamped by guilt and lies becomes more hostile than amiable, and is unable to change.
“What about your conscience? Doesn’t that give you a guidepost to follow?”
“The idea is that once a person becomes saturated with guilt, he has to abandon his conscience, because he can’t do anything against his conscience, so he forgets he has one at all, and he is no longer a man integrated at all. He has no integrity anymore. You run across these people everywhere you go, as you know.”
Winter with PJ was a return to innocence, a primitive meta-state when human beings held the future in their opposing thumbs and “emanated” abstract renderings on cave walls.
He showed me a series of small designs he called “Emanations.” He said that he may have chosen the colors to work with on his watercolors and designs, but there was no way he could have planned the forms that came out.
“It was purely an intuitive thing,” he said. “And the intuition brings you back to innocence.”
PJ (Paul Johnston) was an artist living in Greenwich Village most of the years between 1919 and 1987. This is one of his memories from the 1960s.
All through his forties, fifties and sixties the ghost of his wife’s husband, the passionate lover, the rejected lover and the professor of love, was in unbelievably good health.
Did a turning point come when he loved Olga at first sight, he sixty, she twenty five? And would rather be her celibate lover if the alternative was a one night stand or a brief affair? Six years in love with Olga—an embrace, a long kiss in love on greeting, but never a bussing in bed.
Meanwhile during frequent amiable meetings, going to art galleries, Off Broadway theatres, films, far out happenings, dances, year in and week out for six years, the old man was in robust health, fulfilled in amiable love.
But coincidentally with age sixty, the doctors imposed on him a heart condition.
He was in fine health between the losses of life’s time in hospitals, which he took without complaint. Nor did his losing O to a worthy husband affect his health.
On, on to seventy, the professor of love loved, often to fulfillment.
All those days he’d wake up singing, even if he slept alone. A loner, singing squeezing orange juice from the half shell, singing frying eggs, singing (but not out loud) while he worked. His health was disgustingly good.
“I met Olga when she was in the happenings and fell in love with her right away. And we made of it what we did, that’s all. I was sixty and she was twenty-five. I couldn’t see making the big lover pose, that I was in love with her for sexual reasons, which I was not. It was my first experience with amiable love. Amiable affection. And I played it by note.” He laughed, “By rote. I played as it played. And it was very beautiful.”
Olga married a young man. PJ understood this. “After all, I had nothing to offer her. It was a natural thing, and I could live with it.”
“Was her husband the one who was into happenings?”
“He was in the happenings, Claes Oldenburg’s happenings. He didn’t do any happenings. He thought art and science should be mixed, and he got a bunch of scientists to make these art pretensions,” PJ said. “But Olga was a natural genius. She was an artist in her own right, but her brilliance was beat down by her husband who used her as an attractive model-type wife to attract capital to his enterprises. Until, one day, she had enough.” After she divorced him, PJ recalled, “She left a note on my front door saying she wanted to see me.” He dared to hope they would get back together. “But her heart wasn’t in it,” he said.
“The funny part of it was when she rejected me years before, she said you know those years you claimed you were in love with me all the time and we were going out together all the time, I never felt it a bit. So she tells me this after five or six years, when I was there when she was going out with me and I could tell she enjoyed it very much. So it was just one of those things, she had become disillusioned with everything else, and she had to become disillusioned with me.”
That was quite a blow, he said, for the professor of love. The experience left him “disillusioned in love.” Soon his health declined and he was in the hospital again. At age 66, his health had been broken by a broken heart twice. The first was a passionate love, the last worthy of a supreme Zen master.
“How did you meet Olga again? Did she come here?”
“I met her a few years ago when Rogue called me and asked me to come to a poetry reading. Patty Mucha, a friend of O’s, was reading. And right away, I was sure then at least I could find out whether Olga was alive or not.”
The poet came and he asked her about Olga. “And sure enough, she said yes, I invited her, she may be here. While she was reading, Olga came into the room.”
“Did Rogue know Olga?”
“He didn’t know her. He knew Patty Mucha, the poet. Patty used to be Patty Oldenburg. She and Olga have been friends for twenty years.”
“Did Olga say she’d come around to one of our parties?”
“I’ve invited her to bring her man and come over to see my art, but they invited me first to have dinner at their place and I refused, because it was so far, all the way down in Soho.”
“Does she sound … seem happy now?”
“She claims she’s very happy.”
View photo of Olga Adorno and Patty Oldenburg and other performance artists
“A living person, living alive, seeks to penetrate the perpetual underlying stream of consciousness. Even when he is asleep he seeks to know and experience his dream, for it is just so, a stream of consciousness.”
Words of Paul Johnston (PJ). Artwork by PJ. Read more.
PJ produced a new piece about intuition. “As you know, I’ve made a study in quest of the meaning of the word: intuition. And I came to understand that it begins in childhood unconsciously, and it is a totally unconscious process; nobody knows anything about it. In other words you’re in a situation and the issue is stated and right away your reaction is instant, and positive. But people can spend the rest of their lives trying to rationalize what they did. Did I explain that clearly?”
“You do,” I said. “Very well.”
PJ’s new definition of “intuition” as integral to human motivation and behavior interested me. He showed its operation in his own life in The Writer.
At thirty one, the young artist made a decision, known to him at the time but unknown during an interim of years until the writer reminded him of it. At that early age, when most young men are seeking a profession which will pay them well, the young man determined that he would never again work for money.
He lived by that resolution, too, while in the competitive society in which he found himself. He did later work on salary. But that was for bread, the landlord and the utilities. He lived to learn that there is no money in living “for the joy of it.”
Then youth to old age, with intuitive perception, he lived for the experience of being alive.
“This phrase, intuitive perception,” I said to PJ, “how can that work with your new concept of intuition?”
In the church’s front office, I picked up a book, Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. He summarized Kierkegaard’s “lie of character” as being “built up because the child needs to adjust to the world, to the parents, and to his own existential dilemmas.”
Not very specific, but it was a summary after all. Becker went on, “It is built up before the child has a chance to learn about himself in an open or free way, and thus character defenses are automatic and unconscious.” Then the person “becomes dependent on them and comes to be encased in his own prison, and into himself … and the defenses he is using, the things that are determining his unfreedom.”
Isak Dinesen, though, said there are ways to escape this prison, this slavery to the accreted self, and create one’s self anew and form new identities at will.
PJ felt he had been forced to create new identities. In each identity he found “a clean slate.” Studying his own identity, he began to think about the adjustments children make.
“Now, presume that a child begins life innocent and amiable and feels no guilt,” he said, “until the first time someone punishes him. Then the child feels anger and guilt. Although later, he may learn to mask hostility with an amiable appearance, there will never be a time of complete amiability again. The hostility may be disguised so well that the person does not know he experiences it himself.”
“So the cause of hostility,” I said, “is that rebuke to your innocence.”
Yes, he nodded.
“Isn’t there one more ‘station’ between impulse and action?” I quoted Voltaire: “’I believe that with the slightest shift in my character, there is no crime I could not commit.’”
He smiled. There was a last stage one’s reactions go through, he said. “You see, character gives a temper point, having something to think about, argue about.”
I liked the way PJ’s theories were specific and not sterile, incorporating emotions such as love and anger, and the palpable senses of guilt and innocence.
Chapter 10 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, published by All Things That Matter Press
PJ was wearing a tan turtleneck sweater and peaked white hat, álà Vincent Van Gogh. We seized an empty bench in Washington Square Park. Nearby, a woman had spread a blanket. Her older son was playing at the fountain’s edge and the younger one was crawling on the blanket toward him. The little one reached out and picked up a piece of broken glass.
His mother grabbed him and slapped his hand. The glass fell to the sidewalk and the boy screamed with rage as she placed him back on the blanket.
PJ acted as if he had seen nothing, but I felt him recoil when the child screamed. “That child was amiable when he was born,” PJ said after a moment. “He felt no guilt. Until someone slapped his hand and said, No, don’t do that. And he felt hostility for the first time.”
“He is angry,” I replied. “But he shouldn’t pick up glass.”
“Better that he is angry at the glass if he gets cut.”
The older boy came running to see what happened. He taunted his screaming brother and gave him a shove.
“You sit down,” the mother shouted. “Both of you behave.”
“Hostility is punished,” PJ observed. “He will learn to mask it with amiability. A laugh or a smile, a joke or a flattering word. After this, there will never be a time of complete amiability again.”
The mother and children were leaving and we watched them pass by the bench.
“The little one is beginning to make up his own intuitive program. He builds up an unconscious memory bank of positive and negative experiences. You see, now that we have computers, it can be compared to a computer, because the programmer puts in what can be taken out. And soon, we act and react with either amiability or hostility to any situation. It’s just—” He snapped his fingers, “yes or no, pro or con.”
“We react positively or negatively,” I said.
“If a child’s experiences evoke hostility and guilt for the most part, then the intuitive actions and reactions may become more often hostile than amiable.”
“I can see that.” And vice versa. Amiability: that was a desirable goal.
“And it’s already done before we know it. Most of us rationalize it afterward, even if it’s not necessary.” He smiled. “We may even come up with the right reason.” Then, reflectively, “We can’t bear the possibility of guilt, or we have so much built up, we respond with rationalization.”
PJ stood up slowly, steadying himself, and we walked back to his abode. In the following days I asked more about the “building of the intuition.”
“The cause of hostility is guilt,” he said. “And guilt is the absence of innocence, the feeling of being wrong. This sense of not being innocent is, for a reason I’ve not been able to discover, unacceptable to human beings. A person must perceive himself as innocent. He can do no wrong.”
“In The Fall,” I recalled, “Camus wrote that the ‘idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature, is the idea of his innocence.’ He said we insist on being innocent at all cost, even if we have to ‘accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.’”
“And so, Erin, we must believe our intentions are never hostile. The motives and consequences of our behavior are explained away, rationalized away in painstaking detail. Guilt is never allowed to remain in the consciousness.”
“I think you can admit you’ve done something wrong.”
“Nobody can admit to himself that he is wrong, ever. And I’ll tell you why. As you said, it’s because a human being cannot survive, I don’t know why, but he cannot survive without perceiving himself as completely innocent.”
He was sitting by his desk, the bright sun misting the ancient window and his white hair. “You see, the first compromise, a rational compromise, a child makes with what he knows is wrong—if there is such a thing as right and wrong—is not a very violent one. He doesn’t have to make a violent compromise because all he has to do is get around one contradiction. But as the contradictions of life pile up, he has to make more rationalizations.”
He elaborated, “What he learns about harming himself or other people, he may build up to a justification of harming other people, or he builds up a defense of it and a pretense of amiability. So when it comes to action and reaction, he has no moral control of what he does or says. Because it’s always done before he knows it and he has to rationalize it afterward.”
PJ picked up his glasses and shuffled through some papers. “You see, it’s rationalizing guilt that takes so much time out of most people’s lives. Because guilt has to be rationalized, it has to be put away, it has to be quieted down meticulously.”
“It’s an interesting idea …”
“When justifications and rationalizations have gone so far by the time a person reaches age twenty, he begins to wonder if he couldn’t be wrong.”
I smiled, remembering PJ had come to the Village at that age.
“But nevertheless, he’s got to be right. So then he begins twisting, he will switch around and hop around and do anything to keep from knowing he really is hostile.”
“We become conscious of our guilt.”
“No, conscience is a conscious matter, but guilt … the point is there is no guilt in the consciousness of the average person. They are saturated with repressed guilt. Until a person’s intuition becomes overloaded with guilt and hostility. In this case rationalizing becomes necessary, a way of life.”
I told him he was using words that needed to be defined.
He thought their definition was clear, but was now trying to clarify them. “To define intuition is difficult,” he answered. “The intuition’s fragments of memory and images never become conscious.”
“And what is rationalization?”
“Rationalization is the use of reason to make one seem innocent to oneself. Actually, rationalization distorts motives and behavior to make them seem innocent to the rationalizer. You see, no one knows, or can admit, that one’s intent is but good, and we lose as we rationalize any sense of what we’re doing. We lose this sense because we reverse hostility to a pretense of amiability. Many people have laid lie upon lie, compromise upon compromise, so they no longer know whether their motives are amiable or hostile.”
What a horror. Are we this imprisoned? “But is rationalization the only way to deal with guilt?”
Excerpt from Chapter 9, Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press
PJ was working on a piece called Love. He hoped to have it ready for the New York Small Press Book Fair.
… This booklet took a long time to type and print…. PJ asked me to type it and I did, very slowly, because I found myself opposed to the words and ideas.
I told him, “It’s too full of generalizations and I don’t like generalizations.”
He answered that he had ended it with a new definition of love. I went back to work, curious.
At the age of 72 or 74, the writer began to work on the idea of the future of love, after feeling and professing a strong delusion of love and romance for more than fifty years. People were not fooled, after all. Not because the delusion was not the greatest invention of its time, in all the world, but because the concept could not stand the helter skelter of civilization. As the idea of romantic love became more popular, and valuable, it was exploited and the exploiters made it sex and made it ridiculous for even greater profits.
He engaged in “ensearch,” his word for studying his stream of consciousness, for the answer. This study of his stream of consciousness would lead to universal truths.
A year and a half after this, he came to a new understanding: the world’s hope for survival depends on a new concept—amiable affection.
He said he had not been able to know the true worth of a woman when he was young and so full of hormones he could not relate except sexually. He had not been able to know or love a woman until he was older, “past middle age and with a heart condition, practically a eunuch,” although he remained emotionally and mentally sexually active; only then had he discovered the value of knowing a woman.
This gave me an amazing sense of relief in our relationship.
Chapter 8 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press
At PJ’s the three convened to work on Tender Branch [an excerpt of PJ’s account of his “death and renascence” in mid-life]. Whenever Rogue and I talked about PJ’s invented words, odd style and his way of separating sentences with three dots, PJ looked annoyed. Rogue was curious about PJ’s “new” words, engaging in word play with him, while I tended to accept them whole.
It was hot inside his apartment, with only a fan to cool the three of us, and when we were almost finished editing, Rogue and I decided to go outside and enjoy the day. PJ, reluctantly, let us go.
Coming back from the park, PJ met us on the corner and ambled back with us to the street-level door. Rogue waved and went on his way. I followed PJ upstairs.
“Rogue is deliberately taking you away from the work,” he fumed, “because he does not want The Old Man to accomplish anything.” He went on to say that Rogue wanted him to remain handicapped and helpless. “The Company, he could see, would never work, because Rogue was determined to subvert it.”
I assured him that Rogue said he would finish the typing later that night. But PJ felt Rogue would find some reason not to do it. “He’ll find one excuse or another, because it has never been his intention to help PJ.”
His assault on Rogue appalled me. If he kept harassing Rogue, wouldn’t he leave?
As soon as Rogue came back, PJ attacked him. Rogue shrugged it off. He took the pages home to type. Leaving PJ’s apartment, he and I agreed that it was “all exhausting.”
PJ said that Rogue was attracted to handicapped people. In PJ, the handicap was his age and illness, his “decrepit body.”
I received a letter from PJ:
The old man gave the kids their freedom after dinner and came to his squalor, was lonely, far too, went out into a light drizzle. Sixth Avenue had become a street theater. Couple guitarists, amplified, and a wailing sounding instrument were blasting country music; seated in a shelter, a large circle had gathered for audience and the guitar case was full of coins and bills. Good for the old man. He could hear every note, feel the rhythm. A young woman in street clothes danced, her feet, body and arms punctuating the sound. The old man felt an anguish of pleasure, stayed and watched for an hour.
The dancer was a cripple, at last she took an abandoned cane and shopping bag and limped away. So, we’re the existent dead. Moments of diversion, sound in the rain, then back to our evasion (however) of life. The old man returned to his lonely bed, after pills, with a wish for sleep/death.
“I don’t think you’re one of the existent dead.”
“No,” he said, but at times he experienced it. He handed me several pages.
I read, “Existent death is a phase of variable lengths of time. The existent dead live without consciousness and completely through rationalization, a thought process by which we evade evaluating what is happening in our lives. Everyone goes through periods of existent death, and of being renewed, into times when we are more conscious of what we are doing and pursuing what is valuable to us.”
He wrote what I thought was succinct, with a provocative ending:
Existent death is a state of being in a functioning body, by one’s self and in relation to others, but evading consciousness of experience, especially the memory of eternity in the present instant.
PJ stayed up late cutting the pages and pasting them up for his booklet. Coming in I saw him lying on the bed in a state of exhaustion. At the work table Rogue and I had set up with its strong overhead lamp to aid his poor eyesight, I looked through the pages. Some were slightly crooked, but easily fixed. I had to admire the job he did.
At the bottom of the title page, though, he had cut off the last lines. I told him and he nodded, yes, he thought so. He wasn’t sure, because his eyesight was so poor.
He had asked me to make a number of copies of each page in case he made errors, and I selected the best one of that page and cut it carefully and correctly, aware that he had done this as a professional in his earlier life.
My assistance made him look dejected, but simultaneously hopeful. When I finished he barely glanced at the work, as if to say I know it’s all right, but I couldn’t do it, don’t rub it in. So I moved on quickly. He acted resigned, but as we collated the pages he livened up.
We put the cover on the mock-up and he was enthusiastic again.
“The old man has been thinking we three might promote the publication of PJ’s million words.”
Tender Branch was out, he said, and before that a blurb on “World’s End.” The writer had hundreds of pieces. The three of us could print, bind by hand, and mail them.
He wrote to me:
The old man’s efforts at promoting the writer had been weak, for the lack of concept how to. Tender Branch had shown the way.
Chapter 7 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press
Talking about his artwork, PJ said, “You have to get away from the idea of creating work out of your head or out of the objects you see.”
Rogue held one of PJ’s “Impressions,” running his fingers over the braised surface of cloth, paper and matte background. “Purely by chance. These are purely by chance.”
“No, No.” PJ reset his words. “I worked ten years as an art student, painting and so on, and the first exhibition I had was at the Woodstock Art Gallery and Whitney Studio Club in New York. But right away, I didn’t want any more paintings. I didn’t know what I wanted. And it took, well, I was in my forties, when I was working on the PJ Impressions.”
Rogue nodded, his eyes following PJ’s train of thought.
“And finally, I got the basis of abstracting an abstract.” PJ laughed an infectious quick laugh. “I got the abstraction from which any number of new forms could be produced. It was reduced to a sort of a scale, like a musical scale, there were instructions of what I should do to get a form at all and my surprise at what I got. So that applied to the textile design.”
“You did textile designs?” I was surprised that he would be involved in such a commercial enterprise.
“For about five years. When you see any home décor, take time to look at the patterns, the geometrical shapes or the flowing shapes, and colors. Someone designed that.”
I nodded, wondering at an artist spending creative energy on these things. But then again, Andy Warhol showed that commercial art could be far more.
“The point is,” PJ regained momentum, “Leonardo’s influence extends to today when you go into a store and any package that you see has a Leonardo-like rendition of what the contents of the package are, all printed up in beautiful colors and likely forms. Today I was thinking abstract art has no object. It has nothing to sell. It is simply form and depth and movement. And that’s what these are.”
“How did you come up with the idea?”
“I have an idea about how I got these things. But having got them in that way I can’t make up my mind I’ll do it again and get the same sort of results. It was an unintentional organization of color and form. It can’t be imitated.”
“Didn’t the pop artists have a similar method,” I said. “Or were they consciously directing their work before they did it, while they did it?”
“The best let the designs formulate themselves, using certain elements. Warhol had a sense of play in his work. And he developed a method of replicating designs so that each one surprises. It’s always a fresh experience.”
“Capturing the moment,” I said. “Which one is the truth, the original, the flawed one?”
Rogue rested the artwork against others. “Do you think Warhol was mocking us?”
“I think he loved his subjects, but he may have taken advantage of the commercial world and also meant it as a rebuke.”
Author: Words From An Unlikely Poet and the follow up, Further Thoughts.
Author of "A Past Worth Telling"
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We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. -jack gilbert
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