Tally: Lucid 90 Proof Vodka

Tally: An Intuitive Life by Mary Clark

PJ_1979

Amazon UK Review by Philippa Rees

I think a reviewer owes a reader some declaration of his or her intersection with a book, why they read it and why review it, so any opinion is given a clear lens.

I bought this book for its title, knowing little about its subject, except that it was bound to be philosophical. I am interested in any reflections on the meaning of our seemingly haphazard existence and any wisdom pulled like threads from a personal tapestry and rewoven.

The discovery that it was about the near heyday of Greenwich Village, and characters living like rats in neglected garrets or churches momentarily vacant and underused, and the noble small presses pushing out chapbooks or poetry readings was a definite plus. This is a world I had heard about, but never directly sampled. The shadow of Alan Ginsberg and his ilk loomed large.

My only connection with this world was through a long and wonderful correspondence with an editor at Alfred Knopf, Sophie Wilkins who had mentored John Updike, George Braziller, Thomas Bernhard, William F. Buckley and many others now renowned, but who also found time for me. I did not deserve the attention she gave me but that was a reflection of the world of letters in that period, and this book, and the character of PJ evoked that distant generosity in which writers and writing were the only things that mattered. So my inclination was to absorb it as it came; sympathetic to the exhilaration of a world open to youth, even jejune youth avid for acceptance. That I did understand.

What makes reviewing it problematical is the autobiographical celebration of the main character PJ (Paul Johnston) who was clearly the seminal influence of the author’s life. His almost total (and vividly recreated – seemingly verbatim) philosophical reflections are almost all interesting, many provocative, never dull. Yet he is in unwinking focus throughout. I seldom abandon a book once I have committed to it, and I was never tempted to abandon this, for its lucid re-creation compelled, and it is cleanly written. That ‘cleanly’ is not meant to be derogatory, on the contrary, it served to keep the tungsten light firmly on the stature of its single character PJ whose shadow deepened increasingly, although his actual daily presence diminished. He was like a thread of elastic, the more stretched the greater his pull.

In a way the influence of PJ was to effect a growth of the author, incrementally strong enough to escape him. Yet the narrator Erin is in such thrall to PJ, so bent upon her tribute to his ideas, and his tragically diminishing physical powers she hardly seems to exist. Her peripheral relationships founder one after another, as perhaps they did, but this self-abnegation extends even to the absence of smell, or colour or atmosphere. It is a work about ideas, mostly the ideas of PJ, and nobody has a greater appetite for ideas than I do – a wonderful section on art being invisible but authoritative when it takes the creative reins – yet the author gave herself little liberty to live outside the mind. Or not on the pages of this seeming memoir.

What seems to happen is the repeated distillation of ideas repeated and refined until they have the clarity of 90 proof vodka, sharp, invigorating but with scant taste. I would love to meet this author and exchange vodka for single malt whisky with peat and autumn and the scent of heather, and woodsmoke and ask her to tell me about why PJ had such power, and whether having delivered her tribute she could now live a little lighter for it?

I urge you to read it nevertheless, if only to enjoy a quarrel with PJ, or to give thought to his uncompromising belief in intuition as the basis of relationship, a better index of love, a more autonomous source of creativity. In this he did master an understanding; and this work does certainly illuminate his originality, recognised by his (over) modest scribe, Erin.

Tally: An Intuitive Life by Mary Clark, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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.

The Experience of Being Alive

Chapter 12 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, available on Amazon and B&N.

TheWriter_CoverPJ 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.

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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Amiable Affection: Tally

Excerpt from Chapter 9, Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

Paul Johnston (PJ) the Bohemian artist in Washington Square Park

Paul Johnston (PJ) the Bohemian artist in Washington Square Park

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.

…It seemed The Company was working out for our mutual benefit, and would find its form in time.
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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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Remembering poet Virginia Ruth Scott

This excerpt is from  my memoir, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen (Part 1 is on Scribd.com). The time is summer of 1981, and the setting St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 423 West 46th Street, Manhattan, NYC.

I was almost finished with Gore Vidal’s Two Sisters, and I told Virginia Scott about it when we were talking in the downstairs theater for a couple of hours. Virginia was interested in playwriting and getting away from editing and publishing, but her press had recently been given three grants from the NEA, so she had to work on those books.

Discussing our publishing adventures, she said, “You are a poet who has made a commitment to publishing, and it’s quite a commitment.” She went on to say, beside what you have to give up, people abuse you, use you, judge you.

In her year’s sabbatical, she wanted to learn about play production, from the manuscript to the final production. “St. Clement’s is just the place to do it.”

Our “negative space” [a reference to the book about film, Negative Space by Manny Farber] was filled with poetry. The physical space was filled with the pungent aroma of food. While we planned the October 25th benefit for the Poetry Festival, I went to the kitchen to investigate. I had $5 in the bank and spare change in my desk drawer. With a cup of tea in my hand and a muffin left over from Sunday lunch, I came back, telling Virginia, “I couldn’t get Robin Morgan at Ms today. No answer twice and then she’d just left.”

“If you can’t get Gloria Steinem or someone just as big,” said Virginia, “forget it. You’ve got to have the balls to stand up to Robin Morgan.”

“I do.” I wanted Denise Levertov and thought that she would be a good draw. But where is D.L. in August? All the big hitters left the city in August.

Who to ask?

“Ginsberg,” we sighed.

“He could’ve been a force,” she said, recalling the literary world twenty years ago. “I picked up the first issue of Partisan Review the other day and the names were impressive: Sartre, for instance, and even the lesser ones, like Stephen Spender.” She compared it to a recent issue and was appalled. “Aren’t there any great intellects in the 1980s?”

“That’s what Gore Vidal said in his book.” And my friend PJ: “There’s no intellectual leadership in the world today.”

We stopped to watch the crew work on the set for the next play.

“This is what fascinates me,” Virginia told me, “the behind the scenes work, set design, building a set.”

I thought, she sounds like me when I first came here.

I introduced her to Anita [Anita Khanzadian, Theater at St. Clement’s] and they seemed to connect. I hoped Virginia would hang out at St. C’s, as she said she would.

Traveling to Greenwich Village was a journey into another life. My negative space was filled with good vibrations. Elaine Fenton’s Manhattan Poetry Review publication party at the Speakeasy made me feel like a traveler who has discovered new lands and cannot go home again. Elaine was gracious, smart, funny; for her I made this trip. Friends swam out of the crowd. I smiled and dove in. Kathy Nocerino pointed to my new Hell’s Kitchen tee-shirt. “See, she’s telling us who she is.”

Virginia Scott was reading September 13th. In late August, in the downstairs space, Virginia and I sat at a long table, talking about women writers while she looked through scripts.

“You are the sexton?” Virginia laughed. “You could change your name. Mary Sexton.”

“Anne Sexton had a play done here,” I told her.

“Really?”

“Yes. Wait, I know. My middle name is Ann. Mary Ann Sexton.”

And I rolled my eyes and we both laughed.

Read more about Virginia Scott.

Stream of Consciousness

Chapter 6 Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

I arrived just as PJ was on his way out, locking his apartment door.

“I just called you at home to find you weren’t there,” PJ said. “It’s a case of intuition prompting us into action.” He pocketed his keys in his bright orange shorts.

We stopped at the drugstore and walked to Washington Square Park. He talked about the changes in sexual mores and the history of marriage, including his own, concluding, “It’s necessary to be emotionally uninvolved with people.”

“Isn’t it possible to control the involvement so that only what is good in the relationship remains?”

“That’s what I mean,” he said. “But then there would be no emotional involvement.”

Wow. What’s that?

After a moment’s reflection, he said, “Except perhaps affection. Amiable affection.”

I smiled, thinking, where did PJ fit into my life? PJ was over the hill, but he was still a handsome man. Walking down the street, we might have seemed a May-September couple. And that was all right with me. Let people think what they will.

PJ chose a bench in Washington Square Park. We were sitting beside one of the long winding paths between hedges, watching children playing on the grass, people sitting beneath trees, talking, holding hands, reading books.

“What was your favorite book?” I asked him.

Ulysses. I read it five times in all and each time it was a different book that I was reading. That was when I learned about inferential writing. It’s possible for the reader to pick up and use what he wishes and make it a different experience each time.”

“That’s not like your style.”

“No, it’s not exactly like my style.”

I could tell he was hurt.

“My style is a more suggestive one. In recent works, I’ve been working on the idea of asking the reader questions. Once in a while, instead of making declarations. In other words, I build up to a statement that has to be proven, and I ask the reader, is this not so?”

“You said it was inferential writing?”

“They said it was stream of consciousness. But it isn’t the same stream of consciousness I write out of. You see Joyce, presumably, according to his critics, was quite conscious of his style and what he selected.” PJ continued, “Now he had a predecessor named Robert Burton. Burton was an 18th Century, or late 17th Century, writer, who simply got all the classics and extracted from them anything that would apply to the idea of melancholy, for his book, The Anatomy of Melancholy. I read that long before I ever read Joyce.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. It was a beautiful day in the park. “It’s about melancholy.” Time to tell him I suffered from time to time from severe depression? No.

“It’s really a very uplifting book. Because it had so many classic quotations and citations and so on. And Burton kept it running with a style of his own. He would leave off longer discussion about one subject and go into another one. But Joyce, I haven’t any idea how he really worked and I don’t compare myself with him because of the fact that for a long time, maybe three years, I was reading what I wrote more than I was writing what I read. And that’s a very thrilling experience, to detach yourself from the writing side of it, and begin reading the words as they come out.”

“What do you mean, your stream of consciousness is not the same as Joyce was writing from?”

“I don’t know Joyce’s well enough. All I know, after Ulysses was written there were a lot of hack critics around New York and London. They started picking it apart and telling where Joyce got his material from and claiming such and such a passage was influenced by a prior writer.”

“Have you read Finnegan’s Wake?”

“I couldn’t quite read Finnegan’s Wake. It was decidedly a different book. I enjoyed Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but when it came to Finnegan’s Wake, he lost me.”

It seemed to me it was stream of consciousness, overflowing with archetypes and images. In a performance by an Irish piper at the Poetry Celebration, Finnegan’s Wake came tumbling out like notes, pure sound, the way thoughts and images meld in dreams or streams of consciousness, an amber world of old and new lit by a passion for words.

“I’m conscious of my style now as I’m writing more than ever before,” PJ said, “but it’s still a very free style that I play with as I go and I love it.”

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Fragile Thread of Human Involvement

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

PJsmaller

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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