Death and Renascence

Excerpt from Chapter 4

Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you identify yourself?”

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

“You had an affair?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tender Branch

Chapter 3 Tally: An Intuitive Life

TenderBranch_Cover (2)

Rogue read from PJ’s novel, Tender Branch, written after his divorce and subsequent hospitalization.

PJ decided to publish a chapter. It would be a chapbook. A local shop had a color copier that PJ had experimented with in reproducing his textile designs.

Rogue and I spent the weekend typing it. PJ came to Rogue’s apartment and helped Rogue sew up the binding of some of Rogue’s chapbooks while we worked. Afterwards, we ambled to outdoor cafés for ice cream, in the deep space of our own world.

“I sought death,” PJ said, “by unintentional injury—not so unintentional, of course. I was hospitalized and spent weeks in hysteria and paranoia. In my own life I have been far from conventionally pure but even in my excesses, I was always innocent. And yet my guilt came out in the paranoia in the hospital. That was all my lifetime of guilt that I had so carefully put away. Oh God, the paranoia. I remember asking my wife: what have the investigators found out about me? My secrets? Did she know? Did they tell her anything?”

Tender Branch opened with a hallucino-dream in the hospital.

“It was a far more vivid experience than the consciousness that was my life. It was a kind of super-consciousness.” He remembered sitting with his back to a wall and in front of him nothing but distance. “Behind the wall, an inclined space. There was brilliant light and to his left, several feet away, naked, sat his wife with her back to the wall.

“She was as silent as he. A voice said: ‘Shut your eyes. The first one who opens them will die.’ For a long time he sat there with his eyes tightly shut, for he did not want to die, and he hoped his wife would keep her eyes shut, for he did not want her to die.

When he could not bear it any longer, he let one eye open, then both. “He turned his head to look. His wife was not there. Surely she was not dead—and he would not die.”

He knew that this was not an episode in his life, although it was certainly a conscious experience. In this new and fantastic aspect of consciousness he understood more clearly the situation he was in.

After signing a paper he was too ill to read, everything changed. “Sometimes briefly he would see at his bedside one of those out to destroy him. Hysteria, hallucinations and dark humor prevailed. He knew he was one of a dozen who were to be the doctors’ victims. They would be used as long as they could be, in the machinations of the programs for the amusement and indulgence of the rich patrons and eventually, when they were no longer useful, they would be murdered.”

He asked his former wife if she were one of them and she said yes. “But he could not believe it. He loved his wife. Even though he knew she would leave him and he would die because he could not live without loving her.”

The major torment the doctors devised was to “open all the shut and locked doors in his mind and transmit his secret thoughts to people in the next room. Film projectors had been set up in concealed places and he could look nowhere without seeing the lurid, erotic, unimaginable images as they danced, pranced, rolling and tossing beautiful color, with the sounds of voices, hysterical laughter, musical voices making disgraceful proposals, and participants freely acting them out, no matter what sex, what age, what combinations.”

He lamented, “Not one of his most secret and buried fantasies or memories could be concealed. Now all these people knew his deepest guilt. How could he continue to live?”

“What was it like to die?”

“Nothing dramatic about it. I welcomed death as a solution of all my conflicts. I would avoid the viciousness of a life without her. She would be free to pursue her own interests.”

“Free to create her destiny.”

He smiled, his eyes winking, piercing blue. “At the same time, I welcomed death as the fulfillment of a very great life. I was content. In fact, nothing could be more right. I had the wonder of living in love with my wife. Surely, few men had ever had it so good.”

“You were aware of what was going on?”

“For a few moments I experienced an exceptional clarity. I felt no sentiment or emotion, no regret or grief. I told my wife, ‘All the happiness I’ve had in my life was due to you, recognizing you, loving you and living with you.’”

He wrote this about dying:

Death enfolded him before he could say more. Death. Silence. Absolutely nothing, if not deep unconscious peace. That is what death is. Release from all consciousness, from all guilt, from all threats of poverty or torture of riches. The dead have no responsibility. There is no ego to establish and maintain at the cost of one’s self and cruelty to others. Peace. The apotheosis of peace, of quietness, of no emotional or physical pain, no wish or seeking for praise.

But suddenly my sublime peace was disturbed. I could not move but I felt. Cold, then warm. A flow of warmth began to trickle in. What is this? The warmth moved at a snail’s pace across a line marking half a body, seeking a place where it could break through. The point was found and with the same languid force the warmth broke through until I felt every part of myself, still inert, immobile, but an eyelid, one and then the other, opened. Without interest I saw my wife sitting in a chair beside my bed, watching me with intense anxiety. From her arm extended a tube to my arm, and then I knew that the warmth I felt was her blood, her life, giving life to my body.

He fell asleep soon after. His last conscious thought was this: She is giving birth to me.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available in print and ebook formats.

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In Search of a New and Innocent Life

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

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

“Who’s Francis Meynell?”

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

“Really?” So far away, I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I heard Rogue say, “That’s Erin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I introduced Rue to PJ and Rogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Guilty? So young?”

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

“But that’s not your fault.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was surprised to hear about A Farewell To Arms.

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

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

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

There were handwritten letters.

“Elmer Adler?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

His face lit up when we handed him the calzone.

***

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

Occupational Integrity

Mary Clark:

This blog was prompted by a question from my new intellectual friend, the Australian philosopher David Turnbull (No Dangerous Thoughts), in regard to the elderly artist in my book, Tally: An Intuitive Life. My Guest Blog on Angela Lam Turpin’s site is a brief look at my own occupational life profile (still in progress thankfully!).

David Turnbull:

Tally was a Bohemian artist. That is part of his occupational form. The thing to explore is what constitutes that? What did it amount to? One would expect him to defy sexual conventions and other conventions about getting a job. He would relegate everything to his art. He may even use people for the sake of his art. He wouldn’t be “moral” in the conventional sense. So how did this get worked out occupationally?

Mary:

As you know from the book, PJ (Tally) came to Greenwich Village to study art, but after a few exhibits was disenchanted with fine art as a career. Still, he loved the hands-on experience of being an artist, experiencing that intuitive flow with which the work begins and which also defines the end of the work. He “transited” into fine press printing, as an apprentice to a printer who published books and broadsides of art and literature. In this way, PJ could remain in touch with fine art and expand his love of reading and writing.

You may have a point, one that PJ would agree with, since he said “intuition has no morality,” because he dragged his wife and small child from one place to another while pursuing this career. At the same time, he told me that he was aware of not adequately taking care of his family, and the guilt, as always repressed, was building up.

He wrote articles on fine printing and at least one book, but the monetary compensation was small. All along he doggedly followed the “intuitive thread.” Eventually, the Great Depression intervened and he took a day job as a book designer. By this time his marriage was on the rocks.

While it looks like he was going from one form of art and occupation to another, this occupational flexibility was actually all part of the same quest, that is, integrated: to work on himself and on his relationships as an artist.

David:

The idea of occupational integrity places a person’s occupation into a moral and political context. It has three aspects: (a) the occupation of the person (b) personal integrity and (c) a moral-political aspect that relates to family, community, and wider environment.

***

PJ and Occupational Integrity: A Life Profile

by Mary Clark

PJ (the Old Man, Bohemian, Tally), the subject of my book, Tally: An Intuitive Life, talked about an “intuitive thread” that led him from one seemingly different occupation to another, but in fact showed they were all connected by and expressed in action a set of values and certain interests.

PJ’s idea of “intuition” is not a kind of ESP or other paranormal activity. It is a mental/brain function that involves processing thoughts, emotions, memory, and self/identity/relationships to others and the environment. In this way, we develop an “intuitive program” or memory storage of positive and negative experiences which influence how we act and react. The building of this program is an unconscious process, and the “many, small unconscious choices” we make, beginning in childhood, guide us in one direction rather than another.

Through an expansion of consciousness, however, we can access “the subliminal stream of consciousness” and there discover our “true motivations” and the “comprehensions and contradictions” of our lives. In this level of consciousness we are always assessing the state of inner life, our behavior and the reactions of others, and our environment. As we are better able to attend to this level of consciousness, we can study and critique what is going on in our lives, and adjust our intuitive program and our behavior.

PJ was a young man in the 1920s when the ideas of the conscious and unconscious mind were popular. As an artist, he was particularly attuned to the intuitive source of his work. And as many artists feel or believe, their work enhances our mindful and spiritual life as human beings. This is usually not, as with science, a conscious contribution, or broadening of our knowledge base. One of Jung’s statements is echoed in PJ’s work: “All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.”

PJ’s attraction to the Bohemian, or non-traditional, culture began in his teens. He said, “I spent hours in the Atlanta Library reading the latest literary journals. I fell in love with an illustration of a woman in Bruno’s Weekly, a literary magazine published in the Village. I found The Quill there, too, so I was already following the Village in my teens.”

He came to the Village to study painting, but was soon distracted. He “transited” into the art of fine press printing, working for Egmont Arens’ Flying Stag Press. There he helped print books and portfolios of art.

He wrote:

Egmont was my first connection with the intellectual people of the time. He became a strong influence in my total life, a source of direction.

 PJ traced the influence of his interaction with the older man:

Nobody can prove that one is ever directed by an intuitive inclination. Yet before he was thirty, that young husband, with his wife, both were indicating the values of what the writer was to call consciousness of the experience of living…

 This consciousness, in its material way, must have been the outcome of the influence of Egmont Arens. … Egmont had never been the young man’s leader or mentor, but in association with the febrile perception of the older mind, the seeds of living intuitively (unconscious of it) with some perception of what was going on in life and why to keep trying for fulfillment, were planted.

 Yet Egmont was never a conscious source of direction in the young man’s life, though, more than most his age, then he was developing an intuitive self-guidance…

It was his interest in thought, literature and fine art that led him to the bookshop where Arens had his press. He soon discovered he had a talent for fine press printing, and a liking for the “abstractions of printing and typography.” Each book was a work of art, and involved working in a community of artists: writers, illustrators, typographers, papermakers, binders, and book designers.

After his marriage, he took a job for pay as a book designer for Knopf. That lasted one year and he and Knopf realized it wasn’t a match. As he wrote years later:

In terms of money, Egmont’s salary was not enough for the married man he had brought into being. A letter to Alfred Knopf brought a change, and Egmont gave him his blessing… He served his term with Knopf. But leaving the job did not help the ego of the young husband, and he determined he would never again work for money. More significantly, he decided that painting representations in imitation of objects in sight was not an occupation for a man who had a wife and child to support. All these were conscious, inner decisions, and he lived with them for the rest of his life.

PJ’s ability to self-critique is evident. This is essential for any artist, or for that matter, scientist, doctor, or other professional. It is important for artists and writers to have their work evaluated by others, including the public and critics. Critics say this is good, this is interesting, and they may be wrong, but it sets up a dialogue that brings in different views and requires clearly defining and explaining those views. PJ lived in an active and vibrant arts community, where opposing views and critical thinking were encouraged.

PJ had come to the big city at twenty, to study art, the art of painting and did so for ten years. He was exhibited in the Woodstock Art Gallery and the Whitney Studio Club. When he saw that art was a profession, he rejected himself as a painter and turned to abstractions to earn his bread, which he barely did. He never abandoned sketching and painting as the avocations he took them to be, but he never took them seriously.

 Isn’t such reasoning for a young man just past thirty years unreasonable?

 But the writer has the old man living his life conscious of all the moments of his life, built on the unconscious logic of the past.

He decided not to work for money, but he needed to support his family. Representational art as an occupation did not satisfy him intellectually and artistically. Creating “abstractions” was risky, but he had the perception to realize its intrinsic link not only to his skills, but to his values. It gave him security in his marriage, as someone worthy of his wife, and in his occupation in the Bohemian and intellectual world.

The young opportunist went to Knopf. But, separated, Egmont Arens was still a source of awareness of what was transpiring in the young man’s life. The intuitive thread that brought them together continued to hold them until Egmont’s death.

 All his life, boy, becoming conscious of sex and being alive, adolescent, man, lover, printer, and husband and father, that young man had been prompted by a strong intuitive directorate…

 He started his own press and decided to publish a literary magazine:

He called it Latterday, fathered material for it, and (bang) a keen intuition stopped him in a common amateur intellectual pursuit.

Instead he presented the idea to Random House and they hired him to print two fine press editions, one of poetry and the other prose. During the next decade he printed books and newsletters, in Greenwich Village, and Silvermine, CT, and Woodstock, New York; all three were working artists’ communities.

Egmont became entangled with Elbert Hubbard’s misconcept of technocracy. He became separated from amateur pursuits and made a good living in industrial design.

PJ rejected the commercial art world, and consumerism. He personified the highly skilled craftspeople who wanted to bring art to the widest possible audience. (All art: fine arts, literature, theater, dance, film.) This was a combination of keeping high standards and finding new ways to reach an audience. To do this without crass commercialism was a challenge. To do this cheaply enough while keeping those high standards meant being inventive. He may have hoped for a blend of fine printing with the promotional capability of major publishers. Random House, led by Bennett Cerf who had been part of the Village crowd, was the obvious choice. However, a small press could not publish large quantities of a book if the demand was made. Major publishers found cheaply produced books were selling. People did buy well-made and designed books, though, when available. Charles Boni, another Village printer and publisher, invented a high-quality, mass-produced paperback: in 1929, he began Paper Books “to place good books, well designed in carefully made, within the reach of any reader.”

The integrity of the Village experience itself went through times of realization and times of submergence to other forces, such as World Wars, the advent of modern advertising and a consumer-dependent economy, and gentrification.

For instance, during WW1 and WW2 many young men went to fight overseas. Some of these young men came from the Village, and some from the country: the latter included those who would have gravitated to the Village. In the Great Depression, the demand for art and books fell and artists and writers had to find whatever work they could, as other did, to survive.

Some, like PJ, continued with the exploration of ways to live as self-guided, positive and creative individuals, in spite of, in response to, or in opposition to societal norms and changes in these norms. To the extent possible, he did this through interaction and dialogue, or through his art and writing.

In mid-life PJ suffered a near-death experience. His “swinging Bohemian lifestyle” confronted him with questions of guilt and innocence. It is possible that the lifestyle was a good fit for the artists at first, but then became excessive, leading to moral qualms. It seems this was the case with PJ. It led him to a stark and honest evaluation of his life, especially his personal life.

His guilt came from the apprehension or knowledge that he had hurt someone else, and in particular, his family. For a long time, apparently he repressed this, so that when his personal life fell apart, all the guilt surfaced and nearly drove him crazy. After that, he was more conscious of having done harm, or being harmed, and dealt with it by a continuing, conscious evaluation of the situation.

His interest in expanding his consciousness of what he was doing, and what was going on around him, became a constant part of his life. He developed the ability, which he believed innate in all humans, to perceive, reflect, consider and critique his intentions, motivations, actions, reactions, and the consequences, holding them to a set of values that aimed at living amiably with others.

David Turnbull noted the resolution in the notion of amiability, which struck him as “a very communal idea, a kind of live and let live philosophy of life… easy to do in the easy-going Village, not so easy confronting hard-nosed politicians, militarists and industrialists.” PJ did not view amiability as passive. An amiable person understands that others can be hostile, even violent, and works to find ways to bring about dialogue. It may not be possible or productive, but the effort is made. He said his “aggressive amiability” had been too much for many people. He wanted to get to know people, and interact with them, but his nosing into their business seemed abrupt at times. An important element of amiability is a sense of humor. With this, he said, an amiable person can take a “threat of disaster and turn it into a memorable and valuable experience.”

He often said that the civilized world had come to an end before the turn of the century (1900). He believed society was in decline, corrupted by materialism. People were easily diverted by the amusements of civilization and lacked awareness and intellectual curiosity. They rationalized their behavior, so no one knew right from wrong anymore, and denied the harm they did others. Of course political leaders and corporate monopolies were suspect. Although PJ lived on the margins of society, he was not a lawbreaker. He would not have swiped anything; he had his own moral evaluative process.

As a living human being, though, of course, he had his share of mistakes and transgressions. He damaged several important relationships, in his personal and professional life, and sometimes with full consciousness. In one case a famous printer and typographer made a comment on PJ’s book about the history of printing, and asked that PJ not use it in the book. However, PJ in his evaluation of the book decided that it was too important not to use. While the relationship suffered, in retrospect, it appears that PJ’s choice may have been the correct one.

PJ’s last job as a book designer was working for someone else, but he had complete freedom to work in his own way and leave when the work was done. Past middle age, he worked for a while as a freelance textile designer, where he explored making abstract patterns using forms he had created. Later he matted some of these designs and showed them along with other work at an art gallery and on the street in what he called the “Fair Weather Gallery.” He also wrote erotica, some of which was published. This was part of his need to re-identify himself after his mid-life crisis. It may have reflected an ongoing conflict between the body and the mind/spirit, that so plagued 18th and 19th Century thinkers. For instance, he separated love from sex: love being non-physical, and sex physical. Ultimately, he arrived at a concept of amiability as the highest form of love. In his last years, he devoted himself to thinking and writing about the large questions that intrigue philosophers.

There are elements that appear in each occupation: love of beauty, design and visual presentation, substance as important as style. He went from being an art student and artist (fine arts) to an apprentice fine printer of art and literature, to an independent fine press printer (choosing literature, designing and printing the books), at the same time writing about fine printing, printers and typographers, and then to book design. Writing was common to all, but so was visual art.

More than this, though, he always remained true to the non-traditional, independent life he felt had the highest value for human beings. It was the life of “a man integrated” rather than fragmented, honest rather than dishonest, as he envisioned and tried to live in a “new world” where people were free of non-essential materialism, free to express and identify themselves, and live without fear of coercion or violence.

***

David:

Mary, this makes the reader want to read the book. By concentrating on the central theme of occupational integrity, being able to describe it in the life of one person, makes everything else in that person’s life coherent. It maps the pattern.  It is the essential form of the identity of the man.

Now this is the level of writing we want to establish. It took you many years to arrive at this standard yourself, Mary. It took your own occupational integrity to do it; far more than personal or professional. It is ethical integrity. It is about bridging the gap between the topic of your writing and the audience who reads it. It is about creating accessibility and comprehension.

Exploring the topic of occupational integrity and related topics such as “distance” is the currently emerging theoretical phase in the development of The ECHO (Enabling Communities of Human Occupation) Model.

Mary:

It was a long, long labor to try to write clearly about this man’s life, as you have noted. To put into the simplest words the complex is the art of poetry. My slight poetic talent helped me with this effort. To write about another person, who is quite different from yourself, is to fall down the rabbit hole, but you as a writer/thinker have to be able to resurface to your own reality and bring it in as well. That means keeping a distance, logically, emotionally and ethically.

Of course, there were areas of affinity between us, without which as you have said, if the world of one individual was completely different from another, then it would be impossible to bridge the gap.

David:

We need to set the context for how your piece contributes to the ECHO model and demonstrates it in practice. It does this by its contribution to level 6 (providing justification of a Bohemian artistic lifestyle, via the concept of occupational integrity with admissions of any shortcomings), and the context would be to go back up some levels and discuss the man in terms of his myth (the professor of love in Greenwich Village, for instance) and some of the discourse around his relationship with the other key identities at the time, involving the worldview of the Village, as an occupational community (a multi-faceted one).

What this analysis does is open up some future questions about how the initiatives that were made by PJ and his friends, travel to us in time, and how they open up possibilities for the future (of artistic communities in general and Bohemian ones in particular).

Mary:

So PJ’s myth was of being an artist, and this he decided was best done by living outside the directive and controlling traditions of society, pursuing intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression. From his teens on, he had a process: expanding his access to the layers of his own consciousness, and connecting to the universal stream of consciousness which he conceived of as having all the knowledge of those living and dead. He had a goal: the apex, as you call it, of making a valuable contribution to the life he had chosen to live (non-traditional artist; also living for the personal experience of it) and to the universal stream of consciousness, giving his life meaning.

I have gone further to say:

Ultimately, his stream of consciousness would mingle with the universal stream (overcoming death).

The reason I say this is taken from, and may be too much of an extrapolation, a comment of his. This conversation is in the book:

“You see, at first, you begin to get understanding, then you get really great, greater understanding, then you get complete understanding, then you begin to get realizations and then you get penultimate realization. And in my life now, I’m living with a penultimate realization. Nothing I can think about doesn’t have a quick organization into perceptible and expressive thought.”

 “You said you had entered into a particular part of the universal stream of consciousness,” I reflected, “and took that into your life. Can we tap in completely to the universal stream of consciousness?”

“That would be too much for a living person.”

“Or after we die, we return to it and our stream of consciousness mingles with all others?”

 “Even now,” PJ said, “from time to time we tap into the universal stream of consciousness. We’ve all had such epiphanies.”

He did not say “After we die,” I did. This was as close as he got to spirituality.

David:

To your explanation of PJ and his explorations of consciousness. This is spirituality. If the universe is conscious, and is infinite in complexity and depth (not in its space time materiality necessarily) it readily follows that any finite being within it would not be able to absorb or comprehend universal consciousness entirely. Consciousness is a stream, and we are part of it.  “Theories of everything” are mistaken in principle.

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 

Tally: An Intuitive Life

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

TALLYFRONT

PJ (Paul Johnston) came to Greenwich Village, New York City from the Deep South, in 1919 at the age of twenty. There he willfully and willingly entered into substance and style of the Bohemian lifestyle. There were years of creativity and equally, of decadence. His marriage ended and he soon fell ill; at mid-life he “died in the hospital” and was brought back to life. With horror, he realized he was no longer the man he had been, but instead was reborn or “re-based” in a skeleton, a ghost of the father, husband, and artist. He felt he had lived past his destiny. But he had to accept life. wrote daily in a journal, and discovered his death had cleansed him of all guilt. He was reborn innocent as a baby, but with the body and memory of as grown man. And then he began to create new reasons to live, and form new identities. This was his “new world beginning.”

Feeling he’d lost the “female half of himself” he created several female identities, gave them histories, wrote twenty page letters to them. “Pearl Joying and Justine Paris, what a pair of gals they were!” Among the identities, some sequential and others simultaneous, were The Artist, The Writer and The Professor of Love.

When the young poet, Erin Yes, meets PJ, he is approaching his 80th year. Losing his sight, he calls her Eyes and tells her she has given him a future. PJ is re-envisioning his long, eccentric life. What seemed to be separate and unrelated begins to fall into place, as this re-envisioning is guided by a greater understanding or perspective on what matters. He found that his intuition had guided him in the “many, small unconscious choices” he made throughout his life. As a young man, these choices were sometimes “conscious, inner decisions,” but then consciousness of them faded. Later in life, he became conscious again of the intuitive process.

PJ struggles with the challenges of aging: the push-pull of independence versus dependence; the effects of chronic physical illness on his mental state; and the increasing limits on what he can do in daily life.  And while he has gained perspective to help him, he is also impatient, and swings from empathetic to self-absorption quickly, and more quickly when he hears the clock ticking.

Discover how he sums up the worth of his life. Tally: An Intuitive Life is available in print and ebook format on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com

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