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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Talking Into The Night

Excerpt from Tally: An Intuitive Life

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

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

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

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

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

5-Star Review of Tally: An Intuitive Life

Review by Diane M. Denton

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on  Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com or Goodreads.


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

My Writing Process: The Blog Hop Tour

DM Denton (http://bardessdmdenton.wordpress.com) invited me to participate in this Blog Hop Tour and answer four questions about my writing process. Diane is the author of A House Near Luccoli, All Things That Matter Press, an historical romance based on the life of the Baroque musician and composer Alessandro Stradella. An accomplished artist, she illustrates her own books. Her short fiction books include The Library Next Door and The Snow White Gift.

1) What am I working on?

I am taking a stab at philosophical essays, relying more on my sticky-note mind that gloms up ideas, phrases, points of view and a dim memory of wandering into the wilderness from time to time in my life, than any deliberate reading or traditional educational experience. Some of these essays are inspired by a writing group of thinkers, caregivers, teachers, and disabled persons: actually each person in the group embodies several or all of these “labels.”

Currently, I am working on Children of the Moon, or is it working on me? In this long short story, or novelette, a troubling and enigmatic character named Shadow is befriended by several teens. Two teenaged brothers, Sandy and Will, are separated as Sandy is convicted of assault and sentenced to a long jail term. Two teenaged girls, Laurel and Mira, face their own challenges along with those of the brothers. A rancher-lawyer, Morris Rubra, tries to help them all. There’s a bit of mystery in what happens to Sandy, and at the end, an unexpected link to another book of mine.

The other major project, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, is much longer. This is what I call a “docu-memoir” of my early years on Manhattan’s West Side, working in the arts and transiting into community services.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Each of my books mixes styles, or genres. In this way, perhaps my writing will bridge the gap between very different people, and if I can achieve it, between and among diverse communities.

I’d like to think I’m part of a trend toward mixing genres and creating new classifications. One popular author, Alexander McCall Smith, in his detective series combines the slimmest mysteries with philosophy, social commentary, ethics, and a dash of history.

Tally: An Intuitive Life (All Things That Matter Press) is part memoir, part biography, and features conversations about philosophy and art history. It differs in that it doesn’t keep to a strict chronology, and two of the main characters’ names are changed, really a literary device. So it’s best described as that new amalgam, Creative Non-Fiction.

Children of Light (BardPress/Ten Penny Players) is a blend, or alternation, of poetry, poetic prose and dialogue, built around the themes or issues, and characters, rather than traditional plot lines. It is traditional in that it is chronological, but even in the specific times and places, there is universality. A reader called it a “poetry novel” years ago and the name has stuck.

Covenant (self-published Kindle Direct)  falls into a new category: Boomer Lit. It is primarily historical fiction, with occasional poems, calling on some of my own experiences growing up in Florida in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Other parts came from research and stories I heard later on.  There is little embellishment, which there often is in the historical fiction genre, but there are variations of theme and character, so it is my hope (it springs eternal) they appear at different stages, in different lights.

In Children of the Moon, my writing continues in this terse style, with metaphors bundled into a few sentences. These follow one upon another. Each sentence or two sentences is like a Tweet. I began writing like this about twenty years ago as modern life bore down upon me with all its stimulation and diversity. Before that, I was interested in the detail, the finest descriptions. The change helped me cull out the meaningful from the noise, and move on, because so much more is available, out there to be apprehended. Yes, there is a loss of the wonderful detail, the embellishments of 19th Century literature. But I think we receive and take in information differently now.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There’s the sheer beauty of the experience. It began with that, and still does. Writing is also an adventure into the unknown; sometimes it’s a response to a subliminal beckoning: into what you sense but don’t realize that you have any knowledge or understanding of until you make the journey. There are always surprises, times of pain, times of fun and epiphany.

Certain ideas and characters have been with me for years. With them I live through and express my reality. In a way they are avatars that I unleash in fictional or historical settings. The ideas that populate my mind, that Jungian garden, involve human motivation, our essential nature, and our role, if any, in the universe. So there’s a lot about intent, guilt and innocence, identity, relationship with the natural world, love and friendship, freedom, search for meaning, and death.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, for instance, is an unvarnished look at old age and dying, and how we determine the meaning of our lives. It is a story of caregiving and friendship across generations and values and lifestyles. It will challenge you as a reader.

4) How does your writing process work?

It would be a good idea to have one! I suspect I would be more successful. Basically, I sit down and write whenever and wherever I can, as long as I have the space and time to concentrate.

And now, I recommend visiting the websites of these fine writers who have joined us in the Blog Hop:

Grace Peterson is an author, garden columnist and blogger. Depending on the weather she can be found either pecking on her laptop or puttering in her garden. Her blog can be found at www.gracepete.com

Jo Robinson is a South African writer. In her book, African Me and Satellite TV, a woman living in modern Zimbabwe has managed to escape reality for years, until she takes in an elderly domestic worker and begins a journey into the turmoil outside her door and within her own life. Jo also writes short stories, science fiction and fantasy. Her blog on “My Writing Process” starts March 3: http://africolonialstories.wordpress.com/

MaryLee MacDonald is unable to join the Blog Tour since she is working on her new novel. She is a prolific writer of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. Her book, Montpelier Tomorrow, is forthcoming from All Things That Matter Press. Please visit her Author’s Guild website: http://www.maryleemacdonald.us/.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, Excerpt from Chapter 1

PJ_1979“But by God, two people have met in the maelstrom, by the fragile thread of human involvement, and intuitively (shall I imagine it?) become one.”

Chapter 1, Entangled

It all began with an invitation, this intersection of lives. Rogue invited me to meet him in Greenwich Village. We came together on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street.

Rogue’s dark eyes had a deep inner glow, his smile a wild spark. “I need to prepare you, Erin, for what you’ll see.” Rogue’s voice was hesitant but melodious. “PJ was a recluse for some time before I met him.”

Rogue took out a key and opened the side door of a three-story colonial building. Steep stairs led along the outer skin of brick wall to the upper floors. Rogue’s sandals and my sneakers fell lightly, but the stairs creaked with age and neglect. A narrow hall with a rickety wooden railing stopped at the only door on the top floor.

Rogue’s call was laughing, tongue-in-cheek, but I heard a note of euphoria. “PJ.”

I followed him into a Village garret stripped bare of any amenities.

“I’ve brought someone to meet you.”

A tall, gaunt man with a bent hawk nose and intense blue eyes peered at me. His whimsical smile was wreathed in a white beard and curving mustache. His white hair fell back from his forehead and almost to the collar of his light blue dress shirt.

The garret was every artist’s twilight nightmare. Walls were scuffed, doors scarred and furniture scourged down to the flesh. In the cluttered front room, art claimed every perspective.

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

I looked about in amazement and distress.

“This is how I’ll end up.” Rogue cupped his chin; his smile a concupiscence of anxiety and merriment. “I’m drawn to old age because I want to know how it all adds up, or does not add up, at the end.”

Two World War I gas masks hung from a post by PJ’s bed. I wondered aloud to Rogue, “For a pair of lovers? Or paranoid lovers?”

PJ hovered near a battered desk and primordial Royal typewriter. Behind him, bookshelves lined the long outside wall. Typewriter paper boxes were stacked on them.

I picked up one box. “What is this?” I blew the dust off.

“That’s The Document.” He passed a hand over the collection. “My lifelong stream of consciousness work.”

Inside each box were hundreds of pages of onionskin paper filled with words, single-spaced and in a tiny font.

“For the first two years,” he said, “everything I wrote was rationalization. After that I wrote to renew my innocence.”

In the aura of a fading Village, with PJ’s guidance, Rogue and I began cleaning dirt and debris away, clearing a space around PJ’s bed and desk.
As we began to make order out of the rubble, the deeper we dug the more the vivacious past leaped out. I sorted through photographs of PJ as a young man, his wife and daughter, and old postcards, pamphlets, letters and theater flyers.

I showed a small handout to Rogue:
It is raining love in Greenwich Village (one time the capital of romantic love). Like autumn leaves falling, pieces of yellow paper flutter down to settle in doorways or on sidewalks. About three inches square, they bear, printed in large letters, a dirty four-letter word. Under it is a very artistic monogram: PJ. What other can the obscene word be but: LOVE (a word of limitless obscurity.)

I was puzzled. Why is love an obscene word?

There is a rumor going ’round that anyone, collecting a thousand pieces of these litterings, on delivering them to the WORDS office will get the prize of a thousand (useless) dollars.

PJ (the provocateur of this misdemeanor) confronted with this rumor, smiled, and spoke with love: We’re out to litter the world with love. He continued with a grin, No one can deliver a thousand pieces to the WORDS office because we are underground. No office. We seek litterers all over the world. We have the small papers, printed on one side: LOVE/PJ. These may be handed out to people wherever gathered, parties, theater lobbies, bank lines, buses …

“Those are his Love Tokens,” Rogue said. “In the early 1960s, he left them around the Village, in bookstores, cafés, for anyone to pick up. It was a kind of performance art. That’s when he was the Professor of Love.”
I shifted to look at PJ. He had been watching us in silence. “Do you know how The Old Man met Rogue?”

“No,” I said, loudly, realizing he did not hear well.

He folded his long body into a straight-backed wooden chair. “One Christmas Eve I went out in a terrible snowstorm to a poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church in the Bouwerie. Rogue did the same thing, independently. And there we stood on the steps of the church and read together that the night’s reading had been cancelled.”

He invited Rogue to his garret for a glass of wine. That was how the relationship of the Aging Bohemian and his equally bearded protégé began.

“Are there coincidences in your life?”

Yes, I nodded.

“There were in mine,” PJ said. “It’s incredible how my life became entangled with others, seemed to work in and out of others.”

Summer brought Rogue and I out to the streets. We strolled through the ways and byways of the Village, east and west, spending eight or twelve hours at a time together. We were the new Bohemians.

After wine, tea or coffee at O’John’s or The Riviera, and stopping at cafés for salad or hamburgers, we visited PJ. We left him to attend poetry readings or search for delectable pieces of text in bookstores, ending the night in bars upscale or dive where poets, writers and other vagabonds played pool, parodied their own and other’s poetry, and fell down drunk.

Rogue and I became friends very fast, more rapidly than I ever had experienced before. We talked for hours about poets and poetry, and at the outdoor cafés he introduced me to poets and writers. The weeks were filled with new people, images, sensations and a feeling of lagging behind in taking it all in. I was saturated. Rogue never seemed to stop or rest.

One afternoon, we decided to meet PJ. I got off the subway and waited for Rogue. On the next corner we could see PJ sitting outside with his Fair Weather Gallery. On days when the weather was good, he set up his artwork on the street near his apartment, by the library or in the park.

“Let’s circle around,” Rogue said, “and come at him from different directions.”

So we circled around the block and walked up to PJ at the same time from opposite directions as if by coincidence.

PJ looked from one of us to the other, and laughed.

Rogue and I left PJ in his garret and went to Rogue’s place, where he made coffee and I looked through his bookcases. He read parts of a novel by PJ called World’s End. It began with: “The world’s end has come and gone, and no one is the wiser.”

The book sounded like an original folk masterpiece. It was very intellectual, but not in the scholarly sense. He detailed the history of “intellectual leadership” in the world from ancient times, to its first weakness, and current decadence.

In another piece, for modern times and minds, PJ had redefined the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They were: the hospital, the telephone company, the power company and your choice of bureaucracy.

In his late 70s, PJ was beginning to bend from the weight of so many years and thoughts warping about in his head like spaceships carrying aliens and exiles. His chest and shoulders curved from trying to turn round on himself, to go back or flee, to see what wreckage he had left behind, at the same time to advance towards death.

“I’ve lived so long, looking like death, because I keep so close to it that death forgets I am here.”

Tally: An Intuitive Life 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: you can buy the print book and get the Kindle for only $1.99. Barnes and Noble paperback $16.95 and Nook $5.99.

Tally: An Intuitive Life

TALLYFRONT

Tally: An Intuitive Life, published by All Things That Matter Press

Available at Amazon/Kindle and BarnesandNoble.com/Nook

An unlikely friendship between a young woman and an elderly man becomes a journey into identity, aging, and the meaning of life. The young Erin Yes is intrigued by the 79 year-old Greenwich Village artist Paul Johnston (PJ).

Erin Yes, called Eyes and Eyart by PJ, learns of his early days in the 1920s Village, and his career as a fine printer, book designer and writer. But in mid-life, PJ tells her, he and his wife split up, and he fell ill. He died in the hospital, and accepted “this death as the fulfillment of a very great life.” To his consternation, he is brought back to life to find he is receiving a blood transfusion from his estranged wife.

After this “death and renascence” he realized he is a “ghost of the father, the husband, the printer” he had been. At the same time, he has been purged of all the guilt of his previous life. Still, he  is not a baby, but reborn or “re-based” in the skeleton of a man with the mind and memory of an adult. He has to re-identify himself and “find new reasons to live.” Over the years, he creates several identities: The Writer, The Artist, The Professor of Love, and The Old Man.

Throughout the second half of his life, he re-creates himself anew, each time returning to innocence. He begins to write a daily journal, tapping into several levels or layers of consciousness, where he finds “all the comprehensions and contradictions” of life. He evaluates his intent, motives and behavior, and in this way, is able to adjust his intuition so that he can act and react in an amiable and positive way.

Erin is intrigued by his concepts of intuition in life and art, of guilt and innocence, and the transforming role of consciousness. Erin and PJ’s friendship is an emotional and intellectual adventure, often testing the limits of their relationship. Erin comes to realize PJ is more than a teacher and friend.

Will you think of me, and love me,

As you did once long ago?

Review excerpts:

“Unexpectedly, I found myself very moved by the book’s ending, feeling the question: how can we be sure we have influenced someone as significantly as they have influenced us?” – Diane M. Denton, author of A House Near Luccoli

“PJ’s intellect and humor makes him an utterly fascinating subject. Some of his musings are brilliant; others, wildly off-the-wall. … It’s not a book you can race through, but one that will make you think a lot about how anyone assembles the flotsam of life into a coherent story. Lest you think PJ was some kind of eccentric and amusing kook, a chapter near the end will prove you wrong.” – Marylee MacDonald, author of Montpelier Tomorrow