Dreams

DreamParty “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.

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Intuition

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?”

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Existent Death

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.

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Abstracting an Abstract

Chapter 7 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

PJ_Impression1Talking 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.”

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Fragile Thread of Human Involvement

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

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Paul Johnston (PJ)

Rogue and I celebrated PJ’s 79th birthday in Washington Square Park. PJ was festive in burnt sienna pants, a white somewhat stained Arrow shirt and a red scarf around his neck. His daughter, who looked like him in a sleeker version, joined us, bringing homemade ratatouille.

“The fragile thread of human involvement,” PJ observed, “is actually very strong. It’s impossible to break it, consciously. No one human being can break it.”

PJ asked me to help him organize his writing and publish booklets of his work. It would be a challenge to unravel his mysterious typo-filled pages and recreate them to make sense. At times, the ribbon was so light I could barely discern the letters; I used a pencil to bring them up. Other times his hand settled on the wrong row on the keyboard and I sat by my typewriter comparing the letters on his manuscript to the corresponding keys on the row above. After making corrections, assembling sentences and finding the general drift of the piece I re-typed it for him and brought it back to read to him.

“You’re the old man’s eyes and ears,” he said. “You give him a future; you give him a reason to live.”

***

PJ gave me monogrammed letterhead. He had cut out the letters “EYES” and pasted them up. The letters were neat, elegant.

“Like you,” PJ said.

Rogue smiled, saying PJ had worked hard on it and taken it to the copy shop himself. There were 1000 sheets. It was an extravagant gift from someone as poor as PJ.

“It’s for The Company,” Rogue said. He called PJ’s proposal “The Company.”

We were going to work together to promote the work of all three of us.

I took the paper home, with a strong aversion to being known as “EYES.”

PJ was trying to change my identity. I recognized that Rogue’s using the letters of his first, middle and last name as almost another name had come from PJ’s influence. PJ, meanwhile, had started calling his corporate self, Words.

“The old man,” PJ said, “hopes to relieve his poverty and Rogue the prospect of poverty for the rest of his life.”

***
Rogue left to visit a relative and PJ and I were completely alone for the first time. I was not sure if PJ had asked Rogue to engineer this or if Rogue had his own reasons.

PJ and I walked to Washington Square Park. I was nervous. What was I going to say to him?

PJ was obviously pleased and said that Rogue’s “intuition” in leaving us alone was “very strong.” In the park he said his first impression of me was that I had been able to remain innocent, not an easy thing to do in this world, and that fascinated him.

“You know when you meet someone, you make an instantaneous decision. It may be a pleasant experience, but if you don’t get anything of value out of it, and that’s an unconscious evaluation for most people, you never find the time to meet with them again.” He spoke more softly, “Those offers and promises of lunch, coffee, a movie, somehow never happen.”

I nodded, yes. I had experienced this. I had always thought warmly of the person, but in fact, the connection never developed. Consciously, I would not admit that I had determined there was not enough worth knowing in the other person to incorporate them into my life, and vice versa. I recognized the truth in what he was saying. What was my value to PJ? To be seen with a young woman? To bolster his ego, or to assuage his loneliness?

Over dinner in his cramped kitchen, he confided, “In losing my wife, I lost the female half of myself. After the hospital, I existed completely male in the body of a skeleton.” With a bohemian leer, he added, “And no place to hide my embarrassment.”

“But don’t you have a female side as well?”

He shook his head, no, he did not have that. He needed a woman in his life or he was only half alive. “And of course, I had no recourse to the intellectual collaboration which two perspectives make possible.”

And so, over the years, when there was no woman in PJ’s life, he created female personalities, wrote under their names, wrote twenty page letters to them each day, created life stories for them and carried on the collaboration.

“Pearl Joying and Justine Paris. What a pair of gals they were.” He began to hum a “little ditty” from his childhood.

The women he knew in fact and in theory were essential to his ideas.

“When I look back on it and appreciate my wife was one person and I another, I realize she and I were so intuitively together that six years after the split, we got together again for a year and everybody knew, just seeing us together, that we were a man and a woman in love. That was the intuitive thing that sometimes a couple goes on for maybe a year or a year and a half before they begin to get suspicious and start quarreling, start raising issues.”

PJ pulled a box from a shelf beneath a street window and pointed to nine or ten others along the long outer wall. All had the name “Document” hand-printed on them.

“It’s not like any other diary ever written before,” he suggested in an explanatory way as though to persuade me. “This is a study, a documentation, of one’s man’s stream of consciousness, written daily for over thirty years.”

“Every day?”

He nodded yes. “But not compulsively. If it had been compulsive, I’d suspect that it was written as a substitute for being with a woman in love.”

“After your divorce.”

“After the hospital. The Document begins with an account of the paranoia in the hospital. It’s about papa’s death and rebirth in a wasted body at forty years of age. Then he was deserted by his wife.”

“What do you mean? I thought you left her, or it was mutual.”

“I became conscious and saw her blood flowing to me. Then I passed out. When I woke again, she was not there. She never came to see me again. I was lost until the writer identified the emaciated remains as the ghost of his wife’s husband.”

“It’s stream of consciousness?” All of it? It seemed exhausting, overwhelming.

“It didn’t start out that way.” He opened a box and showed me onion-skin pages inside, thousands of them. “The first two or three years, it was garbled and confused. Because I was writing to justify myself. I was rationalizing all my actions and my motivations.”

At the time he was working as a book designer at a press in Greenwich Village. In the mornings, he would do his work and leave the information for his assistant, then spend the afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art. Besides the art and relaxing ambience, it was a good place to meet intelligent and interesting women.

One afternoon he met a woman in the penthouse restaurant.

“I was telling her about everything that was wrong with my life, about my illness and recovery, about my divorce and my low salary as a book designer.”

She listened quietly until the end and then she said, “You seem to have things pretty much as you want them.”

He shook his head. “And I thought, my God, maybe I do have everything as I want it. I thought, maybe I’m not right about this. I began to investigate my thoughts, as they occurred before, during and after situations.”

I sat in MOMA and let the flow of my consciousness go by. I could feel,” he said, his fingers responding to tactile memory, “its ripple. Do you know what Walt Whitman said about idleness? ‘I loaf and let the world in.’ This is what I did.”

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Death and Renascence

Excerpt from Chapter 4

Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

PJ described the hours and days that followed. “There was a terrible clacking noise beating on his eardrums. Loud. Sharp. Penetrating, like metal against metal, woke him. When it moved away it came back again, stronger, louder, more tortuous than before. How could he bear it? He cried out, ‘What is that noise? I can’t stand it. Can’t someone stop it?’”

A nurse answered, “It’s only a power mower. Someone outside is mowing the lawn.”

“Make them stop it,” he pleaded. “I can’t take it.” But already he could begin to take it. After all, it was only a power mower, a man mowing the grass. The sound became normal.

“What is this?” he cried out. “Where am I? What am I doing here? Who are you?”

With her calm and matter-of-fact voice, the nurse answered, “You were out yesterday for a long time, out cold. Now you’ve had three blood transfusions and you are alive again. Take it easy. Don’t worry, just rest.”

He thought, “How awful. Yesterday I was dead. My God, what a silly sentimental speech I made.” When he woke up and saw that he was alive, it repulsed him. “Why couldn’t they have left him alone? Why couldn’t they have let him remain dead?”

He wrote:

There was really no place in the world for him now. He was not a newborn baby. He had a man’s body, a man’s consciousness, a man’s load of experience, memory. How could he accept life?

He had died and those damned doctors were probably patting themselves on the back, bragging about how they had saved him.

Damn them. Why didn’t they let him die?

He hated with all his strength the life he would now have to begin to live. He turned his face to the wall. He was horribly shattered that he had to live again. His family could have taken more easily the consequences of his death. Now, he, himself, would have to live with them, while they lived with a man who was no longer a husband and a father, but a specter returned to harass them. He buried his face in the pillow. He did not weep, or mourn for himself, dead or alive.

“The Father and Husband died on the operating table forty years ago. I could not continue my former life, could not be the man I was before my death.”

“You said you’d lived past your destiny.”

“Yes. But I had to accept that I could not regain my death any more than deny myself alive.” He was a skeleton, but he was alive. “I had to learn to live again, and find new reasons to live.”

In “Tender Branch,” he quoted the Book of Job:

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down,
that it will sprout again,
and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.”

“So when I physically died on the operating table, I was reborn, innocent as a newborn baby, but with the memory of a grown man. But death had taken away all my guilt and replaced it with innocence.”

***

PJ, in yellow cut off shorts and ravaged wicker sandals, was sitting on the corner by the restaurant with his Fair Weather Gallery. People passed by and I heard one of them say, “Look, the Old Man of the Village.”

He would not put a price on the drawings and designs.

“Art is priceless,” he said. People failed to understand that when they took or received a piece of art they were supposed to offer a contribution to the artist, so the artist could keep on working. PJ continued to be mystified by people who took a piece of work and simply walked away.

I sat down on a folding chair next to him, picking up one of his paintings and resting it against my legs. Across Greenwich Avenue, where the Women’s House of Detention once stood, a garden was in full throttle. “I didn’t know if you’d be here,” I said. “I took a chance.”

“The fragile thread is woven from these intuitive acts,” PJ commented.

People sat at the sidewalk café. Again, the owner waved to PJ, who smiled back.

“Intuition is the motivating force behind our actions. It’s natural to respond and act intuitively, and unnatural to think about acting.”

PJ evoked many different responses on the street. Some people thought he was a bum, some thought he was crazy. But others, artists, printers and writers, Village residents, would stop to chat, recognizing him.

“I wanted to talk to you about The Document.”

“Do you want to ask me questions about The Document?”

“Is it a journal? What kind of thing is it, exactly?”

“The Document was begun one year and two months after he split with his wife. The purpose was to identify the ghost of Vivian’s husband because he had been reborn and didn’t have an identity. So the documentary writer decided to take this new born, fully grown baby and ‘make a man out of him.’”

“How do you identify yourself?”

“The first thing was that Vivi’s husband had an idea of one man and one woman. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of love with Vivi and he had just had a hot love affair with JJ and she had rejected him. The whole thing was a terrible mess.”

“You had an affair?”

“It was a big whoop-dee-doo affair that was supposed to take the place of losing Vivian. What it led to was a big deception on my part and on JJ’s part, too. She deceived herself that it was love and that I would marry her and things like that. The affair lasted a year and she decided she would reject me and give it up, it was a sudden thing. This was a tremendous blow to my ego. So that was when the document writer picked up and began trying to get me ordered in a line. He wrote for the ghost to read, that after all, a man could love as many women as he wanted to, as would let him and it didn’t have to mean sex in every case. That was the birth of the great lover.”

Over the years, he had created new identities, new reasons to live. He recorded all his “deaths and renascences.” Some identities were sequential and others simultaneous. Several of these identities were female. The most constant, perhaps continually renewed, were The Writer, The Artist, and the Professor of Love.

“You can die of an overload of guilt and hostility,” he summarized. “I died of an overload of guilt many times and was reborn with the innocence of a baby.”

“Didn’t N.O. Brown say something like that? About a new man, reborn into a second innocence?”

Yes, he nodded. “As one identity succumbs, a new one has to be created.”

In The Document he sought his motivations and evaluated the use of his time and the consequences of his behavior. “And in those early years I lived my life intuitively,” he said, “although I did not know it then, making choices which were completely unconscious, but which all together moved my life in a certain direction. We may not know it, but we make decisions based on what is valuable to us, and these small unconscious decisions cause us to go in one direction or another.”

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Tender Branch

Chapter 3 Tally: An Intuitive Life

TenderBranch_Cover (2)

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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A Greenwich Village Christmas Story

51ezxsrbol-_uy250_This is an excerpt from Tally: An Intuitive Life, the story of Paul Johnston (PJ), a Greenwich Village artist and writer, and his young friends Rogue and Erin Yes (Eyes), published by All Things That Matter Press.

Tally: An Intuitive Life is available on Amazon and Barnesandnoble in print and ebook formats.

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.”

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In Search of a New and Innocent Life

Chapter 2 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

In PJ’s apartment, Rogue showed me PJ’s fine press work, the hand-colored prints of Joseph Low, and letters to and from typographers, printers and publishers: W. A. Dwiggins, Burton Emmett, Dard Hunter, Eric Gill, Bennett Cerf and Ward Ritchie.

“Who’s Francis Meynell?”

“The founder of Nonesuch Books.” Rogue handed me more letters and broadsides to sort through. “I could do some research on PJ in Woodstock. I’ve been talking to a man who was interested in setting up a poetry reading there.”

“Really?” So far away, I thought.

“I’ve been thinking about moving up there. The city is getting too much for me.”

I hid my surprise and alarm with my silence, focusing my eyes on the documents. In the lamplight my bangs were lit up with red and blonde strains; all the range of colors that made my hair an ever-changing reality: in less light, brown, in more light, strawberry blonde.

Looking at PJ, I wondered what color his hair had been, how he had looked in his early days in the Village, and what he was thinking as we sifted through his much younger life.

Rogue set up an art exhibit for PJ at San Caliente.

PJ prepared a leaflet that said his art “was unique in all the world” and other things that I could not decide were meant to be sincere or satirical.

After hanging the exhibit we ambled down Ninth Avenue to a Spanish restaurant for dinner. For dessert, we went back to PJ’s, then to Washington Square Park. It was crowded on this late May evening. We sat on a bench near the fountain, students and mothers with children scattered about, a spring breeze in the young green leaves.

I took photographs in the park. Rogue was sketching and PJ encouraged him to work intuitively, without preconception, to let it happen.

Rogue was as beautiful as a young Don Juan, with his gleaming auburn hair, brown eyes and sparkling smile. His sketches grew greener and greener as night fell.

I thought we formed a wonderful threesome, two young aspiring artists and an elderly man whose mind was sharper than ours would ever be.

At San Caliente’s reading series, Rogue introduced the poets and small press publishers. He asked me if I would like to meet them, but I preferred to stay by the door handing out flyers. I was too shy to introduce the evening’s featured poets, much less read my own work. Instead, I took it all in with stunned dismay or awe.

At one reading the featured poet entertained us with ribald, working class poems. Jake was a heavy set young man with stringy light brown hair. He invited everyone to a book party at his East Village bookstore the next Saturday.

I heard Rogue say, “That’s Erin.”

“That’s Erin?” Jake gave me a surprised and appreciative look. He approached me and urged me to come to his party to “Celebrate Spring.”

My friend Rue and I arrived a half hour late. Light flowed from the small storefront, moving with the people as they moved. The place was packed. Literary magazines swayed like loincloths on a clothesline in the large plate glass window.

“Where have you been?” Jake roared at me, looking like a lost hippo among flamingoes.

The crowd milled around free-standing stacks of magazines, comic books, and small press chapbooks. The walls were lined with metal shelves displaying arcane, esoteric, famous and once-banned literary books. Two fluorescent light fixtures with exposed bulbs hovered over us like time-lapsed explosions.

People in the crowd kidded Jake, “Where’s Ted Berrigan? Did you even talk to him, or were you drunk? How many mushrooms did you eat?”

“He said he’d be here,” Jake bellowed, his face flushed by stress or drinking.

Rogue arrived with PJ, who lingered tall and frail by the door. Someone brought him a chair. His smile was genuine, childlike. He was offered food and wine, which he accepted.

I introduced Rue to PJ and Rogue.

Jake rousted his large body through the crowd. “You never spoke to him,” a man said to Jake.

“He was here.” Jake’s blue shirt was open two buttons down and sweat poured down his face. “Promised me he’d read tonight.”

We waited, we ate the cheese and drank the wine. I drank more wine.

“He’ll be here at midnight,” Jake announced. “He just called and he’s on his way.”

“He forgot,” a friend of Jake’s shouted. “They’re just as high as we are.”

Everyone was high, whether on wine, pot or excitement at being at an impromptu, late night reading by one, or perhaps two, of the last of the great Beat poets. Where Ted Berrigan went, Allen Ginsberg might also. Maybe he could be persuaded to speak.

Rogue told me PJ had to leave because of his health. Rue had to catch the last bus to New Jersey at midnight. We hailed a cab on Second Avenue and all climbed in.

Rue and I sat in the back with PJ. He was looking for his nitroglycerin. “It was a good party,” he said. “I’m glad I came.”

***

A few days later, Rogue and I met at PJ’s. We thrashed our way to the unwashed front windows. The Jefferson Library wavered beyond them like The House of Usher.

“The Women’s House of Detention used to be there.” PJ pointed to a garden behind the library, an Impressionist vision through the years of dust.

He hung his shirts from the mantel in a line in front of the fireplace. “All bohemians do that,” he said. “They never use the closet for clothes.”

In the hallway all sizes of matting boards leaned against one wall. A large skylight in the bathroom caked with grime let in almost no light, but that was the landlord’s responsibility. Very few repairs had been done on his apartment, partly because he would not let workers who were strangers in, and because he was a rent-controlled tenant paying a pittance each month and the landlord was waiting him out.

Next to a small round kitchen table, an ironing board stood upright, covered with papers, letters, bowls of paper clips, nails, rubber bands, screws, and small linoleum blocks used for print designs. A tray held ballpoint and felt pens, screwdrivers and assorted tools. On one shelf rested an ancient cutting and splicing machine for films.

I helped PJ line up bottles of pills and tubes of skin ointment on the counter by the gas stove. On dingy once white walls a calendar with a full-lipped smiling woman and a drawing of PJ by Rogue flirted beside a room thermometer.

The brick inner wall of the front room featured an ad of a beautiful woman half-clad in a bath towel.

PJ saw me looking and said, “Olga,” he said, “O.”

The famous O, his last love. He had written thousands of pages to her and about her.

There were boxes in the front room labeled “O,” and others labeled: Loves, Early Loves, and Later Loves.

At first, the Bohemian lifestyle shocked him but, in fact, he was running from his puritanical upbringing. “I came to Greenwich Village in search of a new and innocent life. At the age of 18, I was already leaving behind a guilty past.”

“Guilty? So young?”

“I had a tumultuous relationship with my mother,” he explained. “She had an unnatural love for me, all her life. We shared the same bed until I was twelve. I had strange dreams as a child that may have had a factual basis.”

“But that’s not your fault.”

“I started to watch the girl across the street and walk naked around the house. Finally, I went outside without a stitch of clothing and walked down the street. A black woman I knew worked in one of the houses saw me. She didn’t blink an eye and told me, ‘Young man, go home.’ I didn’t know it then, but I was becoming an exhibitionist and a voyeur.”

As we cleaned the place, I found piles of newspaper and magazine clippings about pornography: sex and violence, theater and nudity, art and censorship. Many images were lurid and over-the-top. I was disgusted and thought of walking out on PJ. I mean, it’s sex. Just do it.

There were stacks of nude photographs of men and women that PJ had taken. He also made erotic and pornographic films; the reels were scattered around.

“I was in a porno film once,” he said. He knew other filmmakers and went to see their movies. I picked up early editions of Screw and several volumes of Casanova’s memoirs.

“Casanova wrote his memoirs in his old age,” PJ said. “How much exaggeration do you think there might be in an old man’s memory?”

Sexual exaggeration. I looked around. That’s what it is. What had he been looking for in all this? His youth of wild passion? Compensation for lost love?

He told me Egmont Arens and Jo Bell had been the previous tenants of the apartment. Jo Bell had been involved in a court case about obscenity in literature.

“Apparently she had the look and demeanor of innocence,” PJ said, “because the judge dismissed the charges. It was a big issue then,” he said. “Ulysses was banned, and later Lady Chatterley’s Lover and A Farewell To Arms.

I was surprised to hear about A Farewell To Arms.

Rogue told me PJ talked about the galleys and handling the plates for Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He had done some research, “The book was banned in December 1929.”

“So that means PJ would’ve worked on it probably in the 1930s.”

“He said he took the books to Frances Steloff at the Gotham Book Mart. I went up there and spoke to her, and she asked, ‘How is Paul Johnston?’” Rogue smiled. “I said he was clinging to his sense of humor.”

 ***

Egmont and his wife were divorced and one day, passing by, PJ saw a note on the downstairs door saying that the garret was for rent. The rent was low and he took the apartment. Gas and electric, though, ran five times higher than the rent. A few years ago, he told me, he had an outstanding bill to Con Ed for several thousand dollars. One October when it was beginning to get cold, his gas and electric were shut off on a Friday afternoon. There was nothing he could do about it until Monday. Because he was going blind, he could not read their bills or notices threatening discontinuing service.

After this, the city found him eligible for visiting nurse and home care. But PJ refused to let the women in the front room or give him much nursing attention. The home care attendant kept the bathroom and kitchen clean, basically housekeeping, and had to wait for him to leave the apartment before she could charge into the front room and change the sheets.

Rogue was setting up a contribution of PJ’s fine press work with the New York Public Library. PJ would receive some much-needed compensation.

After I cleaned the kitchen and swept the hallway, I moved to the front room, clearing paths through the rubble, sorting out trash for PJ to inspect and agree to discard. We gathered like things together, making sense of years of artwork and book design.

There were handwritten letters.

“Elmer Adler?”

The Colophon,” PJ answered. “It was a quarterly for book collectors.”

Into a box went Adler. “One from D. B. Updike? And Bruce Rogers?”

“Bruce Rogers,” PJ said, “who in 1899 or so he was working for Houghton Mifflin. Updike was a very careful and thoughtful printer. Both Updike and Bruce Rogers had nobody to lead them in their styles, but themselves. They had only the history of good printing to look back on, and they were making their contributions to a movement that started in the 1400s, well, I would say, 1500, began to take on a very distinctive style and even after …

“See, I researched all this in the New York Public Library. The library was my alma mater. I used to go in there all the time, spend the day and days and days in there, looking up old specimen books and old printing work. I found an unknown New York printer who had, like Updike, a style of neat printing, and they were printing dissertations of students and politicians and poetry. In the 18th Century, in the 1790s, to put some style in their work they were publishing dissertations. T & J Swords. So I researched and did a story on them. I did all that research in the library. When Updike began in Boston in 1900s, early 1900s, he had nothing to guide him but his own good taste in printing. He was not imitating because there was no style in printing. Rogers was up against the same thing.”

His research and correspondence led to his book, Biblio-Typographica: A Survey of Contemporary Fine Printing Style, published by Covici-Friede in 1930.

While I collected his fine press work, placing them in clean boxes and labeling them, I admired the book designs, the exquisite fonts and covers and binding.

“All that ended when I died in the hospital,” PJ told me.

PJ’s innocence ripened for forty years before it was plucked from the vine. “I plucked it,” he said, “but isn’t that often the case? I was in an affair, and so was my wife. I thought I was in love and I sensed that my wife needed to be free of me. But after the separation it became unbearable. I’d made the worst mistake of my life. The affair ended, of course.”

When he realized he was losing his wife, he became ill and was hospitalized; surgery on his heart led to complications. In the hospital, he physically died and was revived by the doctors.

Afterward, he began The Document. In the early years of writing, he was often depressed. “You do not want death, no matter how much you cry that you do. Yet you are fighting against life. You fight it with illness. You fight it emotionally, being unwilling to love others, to be full of love and attract others who could and should be loved. You have discovered that your lassitude and illness is an evasion of the necessity of making your life worthy of yourself.”

After a pause in which PJ sat with his hands loosely clasped, he said with a hint of a grin, “I wonder how many who wish for death in their youth, at the first stroke of disintegration, live to be a hundred?”

***

Jake told me he was going on vacation, and asked me to work several days at his East Village bookstore. For the job, I wore my best blue jeans and a short-sleeved Asian-style blouse. On the last day, Rogue came by, lounging among the book stacks. He looked Continental Communist in lightweight European-style pants and a workman’s pullover shirt. We walked as evening brushed the Village with its paints. To escape the summer heat, we stopped to browse in air-conditioned stores along the way. I had a drink at a vegetarian restaurant on Spring Street that made me woozy.

As darkness fell we saw the lights of the Our Lady of Pompeii Festival bloom above the low-rise tenements and brownstones. We bought calzones, and one for PJ, and strolled up Sixth Avenue to his apartment.

In the night, with people swirling by, PJ occupied a lawn chair on the corner of Greenwich Avenue.

I asked him why he had not brought out the Fair Weather Gallery and he said he had just come out to cool off.

His face lit up when we handed him the calzone.

***

Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble: Paperback $16.95 (check for discounts)  and Kindle $5.99. Tally is in Amazon’s Matchbook program, which means you can buy the print book and get the Kindle for just $1.99. Send one as a gift!