Duty, courage, fear and bravery are words known by soldiers in battle. In World War II, Americans joined the fight against Hitler and his cruel regime. These soldiers, when face to face with the highly organized, technologically efficient enemy, learned the meanings of other words—brutality and wastefulness.
Reaching, a Memoir, by Grace Peterson, All Things That Matter Press
In rational tones the author takes you on a boat ride into the netherworld of a life coming apart at the seams. Piece by piece the “ties that bind” are broken, so that even in a secure marriage with a man who loves her, she is ripe for the final break. Her childhood years are devoid of love, and at times frightening. Her only solace is in the outdoors, along a river and in the gardens of a relative. She is reaching — reaching always for connection. The only good friend she has, when she is a teenager, dies in a tragic accident. So she feels the earth shaking under her feet. That is how the story begins, with a wonderful description of an earthquake. These verbal pyrotechnics occur throughout the story, peppering the rational view with lyricism and a kind of hope, the hope that humor and perspective brings.
After the birth of another child, she goes deeper into the misery, and becomes part of a religious cult. The journey is full of twists and turns, of being stuck on the wrong side of the river, and trying with all her intelligence to make it seem right. Reaching shows how easy it is for a damaged person, or one who is in a weakened state of depression or illness, to be brainwashed and persuaded to hand over power to another person or group. She is given the promise of “healing” by a self-appointed pastor, supposedly of the Christian faith. For years she follows his dictates, to the point of being held under water in the river. This is followed by a slow dawning that she is not being helped by this man; instead, her own identity begins to re-emerge, and with it a sense of self-worth. She is able to get back on the boat and return to her life, as a wife and mother, and lover of gardens. Her diagnosis in the end makes perfect sense, but you’ll have the read the book for that!
This book should be read by anyone who is following a “faith-healer” or senses indoctrination in a guise of grief or other counseling into any form of religious fundamentalism. It is a cautionary tale.
PJ produced a new piece about intuition. “As you know, I’ve made a study in quest of the meaning of the word: intuition. And I came to understand that it begins in childhood unconsciously, and it is a totally unconscious process; nobody knows anything about it. In other words you’re in a situation and the issue is stated and right away your reaction is instant, and positive. But people can spend the rest of their lives trying to rationalize what they did. Did I explain that clearly?”
“You do,” I said. “Very well.”
PJ’s new definition of “intuition” as integral to human motivation and behavior interested me. He showed its operation in his own life in The Writer.
At thirty one, the young artist made a decision, known to him at the time but unknown during an interim of years until the writer reminded him of it. At that early age, when most young men are seeking a profession which will pay them well, the young man determined that he would never again work for money.
He lived by that resolution, too, while in the competitive society in which he found himself. He did later work on salary. But that was for bread, the landlord and the utilities. He lived to learn that there is no money in living “for the joy of it.”
Then youth to old age, with intuitive perception, he lived for the experience of being alive.
“This phrase, intuitive perception,” I said to PJ, “how can that work with your new concept of intuition?”
In the church’s front office, I picked up a book, Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. He summarized Kierkegaard’s “lie of character” as being “built up because the child needs to adjust to the world, to the parents, and to his own existential dilemmas.”
Not very specific, but it was a summary after all. Becker went on, “It is built up before the child has a chance to learn about himself in an open or free way, and thus character defenses are automatic and unconscious.” Then the person “becomes dependent on them and comes to be encased in his own prison, and into himself … and the defenses he is using, the things that are determining his unfreedom.”
Isak Dinesen, though, said there are ways to escape this prison, this slavery to the accreted self, and create one’s self anew and form new identities at will.
PJ felt he had been forced to create new identities. In each identity he found “a clean slate.” Studying his own identity, he began to think about the adjustments children make.
“Now, presume that a child begins life innocent and amiable and feels no guilt,” he said, “until the first time someone punishes him. Then the child feels anger and guilt. Although later, he may learn to mask hostility with an amiable appearance, there will never be a time of complete amiability again. The hostility may be disguised so well that the person does not know he experiences it himself.”
“So the cause of hostility,” I said, “is that rebuke to your innocence.”
Yes, he nodded.
“Isn’t there one more ‘station’ between impulse and action?” I quoted Voltaire: “’I believe that with the slightest shift in my character, there is no crime I could not commit.’”
He smiled. There was a last stage one’s reactions go through, he said. “You see, character gives a temper point, having something to think about, argue about.”
I liked the way PJ’s theories were specific and not sterile, incorporating emotions such as love and anger, and the palpable senses of guilt and innocence.
Chapter 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.
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.
“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.
Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen
Copyright 2014 by Mary Clark
All rights reserved. For permission to use any portion or all of this document or photographs, please contact me at my Facebook Author page:
Chapter 2 Ladders of Flame
Upstairs in St. Clement’s sanctuary’s vast open space, rows of tall arched windows resembled trees, and their stained glass mosaics formed branches, flowers and leaves. The peaked roof with hewn beams two stories high was Noah’s Ark come to rest upside down on Manhattan Island, filled with seminal winds and sounds of the flood.
A red carpet on the stairs and in the offices was worn but still warmed to the glow from the windows’ mosaics. These mosaics were not primary colors and depictions of saints or scenes from the Bible, but Longfellow’s forest primeval—lichen green on fallen trees, earthy orange, and clouds streaking into blue.
Watty Strouss, a member of the church’s Board of Managers, said, “Oh, they’re actually not stained glass. They’re leaded glass.”
“There’s beauty under the grime.”
“We’d like to restore them, but it’s very expensive. Each piece needs to be cleaned and re-set with new binding.”
A heavy wire mesh covered all the street-front windows, crisscrossing the muted mosaics. The protective mesh made the church look almost medieval.
“Oh,” Watty said, the word “oh” a major part of his vocabulary and depending on the inflection, having different meanings like the Chinese language. “Someone didn’t like our being an anti-war church and threw a Molotov cocktail through an upstairs window.”
In the 1960s, he told me, Joan Baez was married in the church. Later she referred to it as “that funky little peace church on the West Side.” Watty sighed. “She couldn’t remember our name.”
The upstairs space was both the Sanctuary where services were held and a theater. In the 1960s it had been remodeled to accommodate the American Place Theater. After American Place left for new digs in the basement of a high-rise on West 46th between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, another Theater at St. Clement’s was born. That incarnation had a good run, but collapsed amid questions of missing funds. The current Theater at St. Clement’s started in the early 1970s and operated in the downstairs space, which was also called the downstairs theater.
The church’s main income came from renting the Upstairs Space to outside theater groups. Every Sunday church services were held onstage, making use of the current play’s set to match the sermon’s theme. Vestry members with corduroy jeans beneath their robes rolled out altar and pulpit and lowered a large crystal cross from its station in the light grid high in the beams.
So, the Upstairs Space had several names as well, depending on its current use and who was using it: the Upstairs Space, the Sanctuary, and the Upstairs Theater.
Alone at the massive gray metal desk in the front office I heard sounds in the church: voices, stories, pieces of song, wind in the sanctuary, birds in the oak tree, the organist practicing hymns, tales of the flower fund and the trust for burying the poor.
From where I stood on the church steps, I could see lines of tenements come riding out of the setting sun, full-tilt railroad flats roaring toward midtown Manhattan. Skyscrapers rose in Pyrrhic tower after tower, the Hudson River sang through the streets of its power; scarlet mist filled the air, diffusing over playgrounds and bars, vacant lots, delis, schools and cars. Fire escapes flared the red of steel mill fires, and flames slashed across tenement faces.
I walked into the street: This is the fire, this is the glow as flames rise in the core, heat rises ethereal, takes on new forms, almost human, they flow along fire escapes: angels, angels walking on ladders of flame.
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/.
“It constitutes a remarkable piece of discourse in its own right, a book worth reading opening up a distinctive view of the world.”
Mary Clark’s book, Tally, an intuitive life, describes how a friend of the writer named Rogue, introduced Erin (as Mary herself) into the life of Tally, an iconic figure in Greenwich Village. My interest in this book stems from my own work in enabling communities of human occupation in a rural and remote region of Australia. Many such communities are microcosmic in scale and are frequently unnoticed across the more widely publicised political landscapes of the world.
Together, Erin, Rogue and Tally formed a unique community. The focus of that community was organising Tally’s writings and manuscripts into a work that could be accessed by a wider audience separated in time and space from the bold and risky social experiments in art and life that characterised Greenwich Village.
This microcosmic community exemplifies writing as a means of enabling communities of human occupation in a number of ways. First it ensures that Tally’s work is not silenced by his personal death. Second it leaps across the chasm of mere litany or polemics. By that I mean it does not relegate Tally to having “a wasted life”, relegated to the dustbin of romanticism. Third it explores the social world of Bohemian culture in America and contributes to an understanding of its influence on American society. Fourth it constitutes a remarkable piece of discourse in its own right, a book worth reading opening up a distinctive view of the world. Fifth it poses the interesting question in the mind of at least some readers as to the extent to which life can become art, and how a life devoted to art can be sustained in the modern world. “Life-as-art” is the essential metaphor in this community.
To read more of his review, click here.
— David Turnbull’s review of Tally: An Intuitive Life , illuminates the artist’s life in the modern world, and the importance of forming “occupational communities” and enabling dialogue. Transformative consciousness is essential not only to the artist, but to the human species if it hopes to adapt to global changes in communication, diversity, community, economics, political structures and environment. David Turnbull coaches occupational communities, with a focus on enhancing dialogue among very different people. His blog is No Dangerous Thoughts
Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, 2013.
A short biography and notes about Tally: An Intuitive Life appeared in November 2013 on The Story Reading Ape:
Tally is the story of Paul Johnston (PJ), and his relationship with two young poets: Erin Yes and Rogue. PJ lived in Greenwich Village, NYC, most of his adult life. This book is a chronicle of his life, and these friendships in his last years, taken from his letters and writings, and audiotapes he and I did together.
The name Tally comes from an early conversation in the book, when the poet Rogue first introduces Erin Yes to PJ. In PJ’s garret Rogue and Erin see the remains of a rich life: books, film, artwork, theater and dance flyers, photography, music, and photos of family and friends. Rogue says to her: “I’m drawn to old age because I want to know how it all adds up, or doesn’t add up in the end.”
In the beginning, Erin simply wants to help an old man whose sight and hearing are failing. She becomes intrigued by some of his ideas: how an intuitive program is built up in childhood, how we deal with guilt and innocence, what leads to amiability and hostility, and how we can adjust our “intuitive self-guidance.” Rather than rationalize or justify our motivations and actions, he believed we had the ability to honestly (that is, without defensiveness or righteousness) evaluate our intent, behavior and its consequences, and make a change that is positive and remain, or renew, ourselves as innocent, amiable human beings.
With Erin’s help PJ publishes some of his writing and hosts parties in his artist’s loft. He tells her that they are “together in amiable affection.” As PJ struggles with illness and old age, Erin becomes ever more deeply involved in the often difficult, but also rewarding, friendship with this eccentric Old Man.
For more, click here.
Note: Book Promo was November 16, 2013 – but check Amazon to see if there are any new discounts! Tally is part of Amazon’s Matchbook program which means that if you buy the print book, you get the Kindle for $1.99 (send one as a gift).
Excerpts from Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, All Things That Matter Press 2013
PJ chose a bench in Washington Square Park. We were sitting on a bench 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.”
. . . “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.”
And later in the book:
“Added to my own experience and consciousness of it,” PJ said, “I have my lived my life with all the people in the universal stream of consciousness. Do you follow me at all? Just for instance, I was not James Joyce. I was James Joyce, but I was also all the characters that he wrote about in his fiction. Because I had read these things with penetration and made them a part of my life, all my life. All the things that I had read, all the things I had perceived, all the things I had observed and written about were my life.”
Tally: An Intuitive life is available on Amazon in print ($16.95 or less) and Kindle ebook ($5.99)