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.

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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Miami Morning: A Leila Payson Novel

cropped-cropped-miamibeach3.jpgLeila Payson, known to her students and friends as Miss Pacer, is always pushing the boundaries of her experience, to become a better teacher and human being. She enjoys her work as a high school Social Studies teacher, her adventures with her diverse friends, and her volunteer work at a local playground. But Leila is at a midpoint in her life.

When one of her students begins to lose his hearing, she immerses herself in learning about people with disabilities and the challenges they face. This takes her back to an earlier time when she spent a year teaching in South Africa. There she saw an occupational therapist at work, and met others working in the disability community. Now, years later, when the student asks for her help, she begins a pivotal journey.

Besides this, a mysterious man keeps appearing at her favorite places. Her friends keep her on her toes. And at Leila’s high school, a young guidance counselor sees Leila as a mentor, while the other counselor views her as a rival. Trouble is brewing in the paradise of South Miami. But are there new possibilities as well?

Publication date: Spring 2016. Publisher: All Things That Matter Press.

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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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

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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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A Perceptive Review of Tally: An Intuitive Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read the entire review, please click here.

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

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Deep Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is this?” I asked.

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

“Who?”

“Jake. It’s me, Jake,” said Jake.

“Jake who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow.”

“They were fine.”

“But my store did burn down.”

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

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

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

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

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