Passages, Chapter 3: Martin

This is the entire third chapter, now on Kindle Vella as well.

A year earlier. . . 1974

My name is Martin and I live in a Jersey suburban home on a road down from a nine-hole golf course where the working class plays the wealthy’s game. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog in the shredded grass of the right-of-way. I know that if I trip and fall, the neighbors will let me lie by the side of the road. They might call 911 to complain, but no one will come to my aid.

A girl yells out the window of a passing car, “Which one is the dog?”

I’m young and skinny and sometimes I look defeated. Sometimes I shine. Both men and women have come on to me.

I hardly flinch. Insults are common parlance.

I am the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I am the rivers drifting and the big fat sea. I have my own world and many, many visions. I want to fly and learn physics and have a book published and travel. I believe life – Life – is complicated, with uncertainties and changes in perspective. I want to drown in it, rather than walk about on the surface. Not to be a trendy “celebrity” saying foolish things, superficial things. Where I can’t be a total person. As if I’d ever be a celebrity. I’d rather be anonymous in the midsection of American life, flowing with the blood, losing, winning, decaying, renewing.

What I’m searching for is communal and infinite. Like on a crisp clear night when you see the stars above the golf course. In daytime, it’s something less. You can’t get a hold of anything. It’s not like being underwater where it’s peaceful, quiet, a continual world. Everything is linked together. On the surface, people in their boats with beer cans, things are not connected.

I must learn to cope with the disconnected, the abrasive. When I close my eyes, it’s dark, peaceful, eternal, infinite. Opening my eyes, I will have my own perception. I will. Can’t let anyone or anything knock away my vision. Lose so much. If people come up to me and ask: Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Or a homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual? Or a commie or a cappie? Or a socialist or a socialite? Does your detective debutante know what you want? It’s all so stupid.

I take my dog home, watch him curl up and close his eyes, to sleep, to dream dog dreams. At least, this.

I dream I’m playing baseball in a field and look up to see an eagle circling above. The huge bird plunges to earth and recruits the kids, who pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among the half-constructed buildings near the field. The kids, and men and women among them, apparently cannot harm me. They melt away. I look up to see the eagle hovering, talons unsheathed. They’ve run from the menace. The eagle lands on the other side of the wall, but my perspective has changed, I can see it’s turned into a person about my size. He comes around a corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it.

Not a man, a beautiful woman.

Mid-January

I feel no pain. Or pleasure. I am a dull, grey person floating away from a dull, grey planet. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about the birds that flash before my eyes. I don’t care about the trees or the grass or the blue sky or the big fat sea. I don’t care about the feel of the earth against my feet, the swirl of water, the living texture of a tree, or sex or the best sex in the world or beds or twilight. I don’t care about the fear I feel at the top of a tall building. I don’t care about my parents, my friends or airplanes or the stars or books or films or children of my own. But so what? Don’t read no poetry at me. I don’t care about truth, beauty or justice or Washington or spring or chocolate milk shakes or the wise men of the East or being wise which I’ll never be. I don’t care about the highways, the patterns, the order, the noise of the city or the high I get from drinking too much. (If it doesn’t mean anything to you – I know. It very seldom means anything to me – all this not caring. But tonight, bless me, I feel no pain. My brain is sanitized, everything gently eased away. I am left with a proud child: isolation. And to me—the terrible thing is I had this thing right in my head, but I can’t remember it now. Can’t remember the things I don’t care about, and the right sequence. Color. The color of something. Rainbows? The planets in space. My bones beneath the skin.)

During this inner monologue, I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper with its theater and music reviews and poems, stop by to talk with my old guidance counselor at the high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of the state. We have wild and exciting talks. Flareups of substance. He told me about Kurt Vonnegut, recommending Cat’s Cradle. After that, I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Told the counselor he reminded me of him. “I’m not Mr. Rosewater,” he (almost) barked in his affected William Buckley style. And I laughed. At his discomfort. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like Mr. Rosewater to me because he distributes his wealth – in his case, of knowledge, and his insistence that people live well.

February

I take the train to New York City looking for a job, fill out applications for copy editor at Scribner’s and Macmillan, leave resumé at Random House. No openings anywhere. I hope they notice the minor in English.

What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m writing, thinking of writing something rambunctious, flashy, to break into a career. Ah @*!

I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to do a film, probably never a book and so on. It’s depressing to waste, if I may say so, talent, ideas, energy. It won’t matter in the universal plan, but I and many others, man, we haven’t got a chance.

I feel like chiseling a design in the walls of my room. A Design for Myself.

Redesign. Redesignation. Martin is my second name, the first is Avery. Sometimes I feel like Avery. I think it was part of the name of a steamship my great-grandfather skippered. My grandfather remembers his father taking him out on his boat in New York Harbor to witness the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Avery fell by the wayside before I was three because my sister couldn’t pronounce it. She said, Vree. I like Vree, it sounds like verity. Authentic, real. And free.

Snowstorm. Winter in NJ. 

Writing a new thing, to pass the time, about death.

Should I take the job delivering news? Old news? Ripostes of revenge?

I help make dinner. Throw in mung sprouts I’ve grown in a glass jar on the windowsill. Not bad. This bean growing is the result of a Simon and Schuster salesman sending me three books: Journey to Ixtlan, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and The Beansprout Book.

All because I print a hundred copies of a community rag with book, theater and music reviews and poems on a mimeograph machine in the basement. I’ve also been trying to help publicize the works of an elderly artist who lives nearby. Emmy was born in Moravia, studied in Vienna, and had to flee that city with her husband when the Nazis came in. They went to Russia, and then to India, where they lived during World War 2. While there, she was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi. After some gentle and persistent efforts, he allowed her to do life sketches and from them she created a life-sized painting. She learned the Old Master style in Vienna, but also does modern Expressionist work.

Spring.

With my friend Sally, my only friend besides Robbie who lives on my street, I go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, then to their house to look at her boyfriend’s paintings. I don’t know what to expect, happy his stuff isn’t terrible.

I take him to Emmy the artist’s house, and he goes crazy over her Gandhi painting. Very excited, which makes me happy (I was afraid he wouldn’t be impressed). He keeps saying, “I don’t believe I’m here. I don’t believe I’m actually here” when he’s looking at the Gandhi. Practically floats out of the house.

That experience, that high, even if things fade later, is priceless.

Sally is writing plays. One about people dropping out of the sky. Idea from painting of a woman lying in a desert with no footprints around. So, people drop from sky, don’t know what to do, start hand-signing then reach out and touch each other and so on. About what are we doing on earth. There’s more, but I’m tired. A little nauseous.

I haven’t touched another person in months. Except for Robbie. A hug around the shoulders now and then, a squeeze of affection, or more I don’t know.

No job. No money in the bank account. I feel the losses. I feel the doors shutting.

I am twenty-three and living with my parents. He is twenty-one and living with his parents. He is the crazy one. Everyone says.

My sister has a job and her own apartment. Our parents helped her finance a car since she’s working. Getting to use the family car depends on my parents. My mother says it can be used for work, but not frivolous activities. I’ve joined a theater group for the company of human beings. To be around creative people. I bought tickets to see “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well” at the playhouse. My sister says she’ll go with me.

I wish I could throw my words up like a rope on the walls of this prison and climb over them.

Summer.

Emmy, the elderly artist, is in the hospital. I visit her, frail and pert by the window as she presides in bed telling me stories from her childhood about 1900. About her sailor hat blown off by a gust of wind and flying into the horses’ hooves on a wide cobblestone avenue. Bright, breezy stories.

My writing needs inspiration, to breathe in, to be breezy, light, cheerful as her laugh. She’s disappointed I don’t laugh more at her stories. She shows delight in my ability to read German. Haltingly I read her letters from a friend in the old country. Remembering Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I read it in the original German, never thought that language could be beautiful until I read that book. This is one of the gifts of a college education.

Emmy was apparently a member of the privileged class. That was long ago. Still, she smiles, and she means it, she’s one of the survivors.

The newspaper lists more jobs now for people with Psych degrees and I’m optimistic that I can get one. My former psychotherapist, Dr. Laura Walker, is sending a plethora of bills, but I have no money, so that’s that. I wonder if I can claim bankruptcy.

My Psych friends did get jobs with the Probation and Parole departments. One closest to me, whose intelligence is greater than mine, with a stable temperament and good humor, has taken a job as a parole officer. I think his gifts will be wasted in that job. Maybe not, as he can help people in situations where they are usually abandoned or pushed down even more. And he might rise in the department or find a better job. Some of my classmates have gone on to graduate school, often working full or part-time.

I hear from child protection services that I’ve been scheduled for a job interview.

As I walk into the government building, I hear weeping. Office doors are open but there’s no other sound. I slow my walk, disconcerted, checking the address, then move ahead and find the office number I’ve been given.

A man rises from a desk in a dark office, a large polished wooden desk, two sturdy chairs in front, curtains drawn. Lighting seems a secondary concern.

He asks why I’m interested in this job. I can’t tell him of my own experience of abuse. I make it seem as if I’m concerned and want to help. My memory of the child psychology course I took is marred by the professor’s response to my thesis that fathers are just as important to children as mothers. No! he’d written across the top of the first page, they’re not. Mothers are most important! No grey areas, no discussion of time, that mothers in infancy might be more important, but as we grow, fathers can be as important. And mothers can turn on you.

The interviewer paints a scenario, painted words with blood on the walls, across my temporal lobe, of a mother scalding a child with a hot iron.

“What would you do about it?”

I said, call the police, remove the child.

“No, you can’t do that.”

He explained child services workers had no authority to do anything other than observe and talk to the abusers.

“Do you think you can do the job?”

Given my history, I doubt it. I want to lash out at that parent. To get that child away from her. How can I forget my asking a teacher when I was twelve, can you adopt me?

I think so, I say, as my uncertainty mutes my voice.

“You hear that down the hall? That young man crying?”

I nod.

“He thought he could do it.”

In my dad’s white Corvair before I pick him up from work, I drive the streets black and white. The radio plays Curtis Mayfield’s “Keep On Keeping On.” I want to believe in what he’s singing. My little town is a mostly white, working- and middle-class suburb. My blue eyes behind sunglasses, I cross the line a few blocks from home into one of New Jersey’s oldest cities. The city’s population is changing from white to black. I drive past stately homes once belonging to the city’s white elite and now black families live in them, I see their children playing in the yards. A woman who works with my father has invited us to a party at her home. It’s one of the gracefully aged mansions. Her blonde hair is streaked with grey. She is generous, intelligent, with minimal makeup, and not moving. Her garden is tended with love. The teacups are translucent. And her garden party is a blip on the screen as the frames change.

I’m back in the shade of lilacs. A hedge grows between our home and our neighbors. Azaleas bloom by the living room’s picture window.

It’s an early August morning. A knock on the door at 7:30 a.m. I open it and see a man and woman who are friends of Emmy on the doorstep. Classic messengers, timeless.

“Emmy died last night.”

Oh. The breath goes out of me, gently, slowly. I feel myself fade slightly. But I’m very much here. Reality is a weight in my hands.

“We’d like you to write her obituary for the local paper.”

Yes, I say, I will, feeling inadequate to the job. It’s a special trust, of course, so I must.

I run the obit into the paper’s office before noon.

In the world? News bulletin. President Nixon is close to resigning.

Watching TV. Watergate hearings. Cast of characters, vivid personalities, allegiances, betrayals. Nixon is raging in the halls of power.

Watching TV. Excellent PBS shows. “Anna Karenina” and other BBC productions with Simone, a beautiful British actress.

The way she moves her hands, the inflection of her voice, I am captured between the two. I follow her movements in time and space, cues and clues that I can feel. Like a hunger that has always existed, as though waiting for this moment.

She seems to me to be the woman, the man, the mother, the father, the lover I have always wanted. I conceive of her as sassy and sensitive, and watch her eyes half closed, suggesting, thinking, caring, misunderstood, misunderstanding, and understanding too much. I turn on the television and see my sister stare back at me. She reminds me of her smart-mouthed, wide-eyed face. Simone’s teen girl look, the bad boy look, which in swift combination falls between —–:

charms me and threatens to end my ambivalence toward women. I stare at her as if we are alone in the same room. She is self-effacing and immodest at the same time. She vaporizes the world in acts of idealism and bravado. I laugh, in welcome at the feeling. I accept her happily, some harmless fantasy, someone I will never meet.

I write about it in what I call Celebrations (I don’t want to use that word too much, as though it’s sacred).

#

What is your favorite Civil Rights song?

What is your favorite Kurt Vonnegut book?

Passages, Chapter 2: Maryanne

In this chapter, the story is told from a woman’s point of view. The chapters will alternate throughout the book.

I spring from the needy gardens of youth, coming to the amphitheater of hope, and I only know that I will be demanding, I am not going to be turned away.

I stroll through icon-strewn paths toward an image of the past, someone I knew, not father or brother, but familiar, an archetype sealed in glass as I approach golden doors leading to a stage. I see the image, an icon in the lead role, emerge in flesh and blood onto the stage, a fantasy with the audacity to take life and trespass on the fantasizer’s territory.

My passion-riven ghost haunts the theater to watch the actors take their bows and when the audience is gone, I stand behind the rows knowing I must someday be part of the ritual. No difference between waking and sleeping, the dream is always present. I walk day after day, until an aging usher in a burgundy suit turns away with a wispy smile to let me approach the stage, and stagehands glance at me cool and curious, they understand the need of people to touch its wooden eminence.

Opening the door I slip inside, not knowing what I will find. A security guard steps into the hallway and asks what I am doing, and I leave again to pass through image-postered paths, scanning them for a sign that will tell me what I am doing.

Voices, and there he is, walking from the stage, talking with the stage manager, looking as he does in the movies and on TV, he is beautiful. He asks, what did you want to say to me? I can’t speak. The lights go off in the hallway. Now! I must say something. Time’s running out.

In the darkness I find the courage to speak and follow his direction into another room, while he dances round the room before he sits by the light-encircled mirror, and I am sitting across from him.

His body reflects his personal drama as his hands flit about and twitch with all the awareness of an ordinary human being in a world of other people; by his hands he is moored, linked to the external world and with them he weaves his greatest illusions because they tell nothing of the truth about himself.

I follow his cues, to hear him say he originally wanted to beguile the world with his hands, he wanted to be a pianist.

And how can I ask him to place his hands on me, to hold me because I need to be held together?

You could at least touch me, I say, and the moment I touch his hand, I feel a passion that is unspeakable. I feel the elevation and violation. Followed by a sadness that is unbearable, a burden of sadness I have carried for years, which flows in a suffocating, bitter poison throughout my body. It is a sorrow too great to be felt alone and survive. I seek solace in his eyes, and they draw back, huge ancient doors, revealing an isolated hell, an endless plain filled with nothing but occasional circling wind and a singular figure. Is that him? A reflection of myself?

I do not know what to think, I have a mission on this day, and I am running out of time. I feel a heavy weight above me, and he leans down so that he can see my face, our eyes locked in a suicide pact.

All my strength subsides as my momentum carries me forward in a cradle of inertia. His hands leap to catch me. Everything goes dark except a light very close around my body. I become incoherent admissions confessions omissions on every level as time spins out of me and I am jettisoned into nothingness, I feel nothing, I did not expect that, I freak so far I am afraid I will not come back. In the void, a vital energy sparks from unknown and unforeseen love-rage. I am alone, but in the trip I’m taking I am not alone, I am a child again and he is my father, the father of my adult self, as I link to the iconic figure I have chosen from all others.

I am in a glowing dark green world with definite boundaries where light comes from one source. A small human-shaped form is connected to me, a girl in the same position that I am in, and I am her protector, her guide, as she grows up into me. I feel my blood rush like sacramental wine in the womb as I am a parent to the person I am becoming. I move to the next level of associations and feelings. Leave it alone, said a voice, and I am hooked into an infinite space of pain, infant pain, until the light breaks, and time varies and hits distortions at different places and events, and in all these stages I am aware of the archetype’s hand, wizard’s bones, his touch.

I travel back through childhood and its years of abuse, and ahead into my independent life, growing through the years in a span of moments, while I hold on for protection when I feel defenseless and for the ride when it feels good. We speed through time bonded as a double helix, flying in tandem, father and daughter, and to be separated from him at that moment would be to die.

I pass through stages to regain consciousness. Connected to my father’s anti-agent I have grown stronger. Coming to the light I realize the icon is holding me, as I had wanted in the first place. Progressed into more, and into less. Something tracks the other way. Is this what I came for? And separating, watch him adjust as I take flight.

Downstairs, I push open the door, and a light bomb explodes in my face, cupped in the hand of night. I stop at the threshold, struck by time’s passage. A man turns toward me, smiles in the hot white brilliance beneath the marquee. And I leap into the light. I feel triumphant. I’ve made my fantasies real. My reality is transformed. Nothing can be denied me anymore.

Passages

It’s been a month since my last post. A new project and health problems kept me from working on the blog. I know my blog isn’t the usual kind of personal observations, original poems, photographs, or serial editions of novels. My blog does focus on poetry, excerpts from my writing, and book reviews. I thought, I’ve been doing this for a decade, it is time for a change. Recently, I looked into Kindle Vella. Unfortunately, much of what I read there is of low quality. The blogosphere contains much better work. I will give Kindle Vella a try, though, and publish some or all of the new work on this blog, beginning with serial posts of Passages, my latest work in progress. I’ll continue with the poetry theme as well.

Cover in progress

Passages is a story of finding one’s place in the world in terms of sexuality, work, and social action. It involves gender fluidity, childhood physical abuse, sexual awakening and love. The time is the “anything goes” 1970s. This may not be for every one of my readers, I understand that. The writing is not graphic, but some passages may be considered erotic and others may trigger traumatic memories.

I’ve split the story between two people, male and female. Martin and Maryanne are twenty-somethings who have basically the same story. They are evolving into adult sexuality as they dream, fantasize, and explore real life relationships. They become involved first with a rising film star (Simone/Ethan) and later with a hard-working immigrant (Rafaela/Rafael) in the bustle and hustle of Broadway and Times Square, New York. All the while they try to untangle their experiences of domestic violence and mental instability. As they work through these complex relationships, they pursue their dreams of being poets and useful, creative people.

Will Maryanne’s and Martin’s gender influence readers’ reactions to the same situations? Will the words and actions of the male characters be viewed differently than the females? Passages is an experiment. Some parts of the narrative are repeated word for word (which may try readers’ patience!) In these, however, often a few important sentences differ. Other passages appear in one narrative but not in the other (and these contain clues or additional information to illuminate the other narrative, a suggestion by a friend ). I hope my readers will enjoy the literature, art and music mentioned, discussed, and/or quoted by the characters. At the end of each chapter, I’ll post author notes.

I welcome any suggestions and comments.

The Old Man Sings

Sea Grapes Jetty Park

Over sand flats the Old Man raves,
sunlight cresting on waves,
the truth is out along the borders
roving the island seeking new quarters
– full of unrest, full of solace

A twisted morass bars his way,
black thistle, buckthorn, and palm
rife with full-throated glory songs
roam above his outstretched arms
– full of unrest, full of solace

Plundering triumphant cries of raptors,
rhapsody of warblers and wrens
weave around him as he traces
the hammock’s periphery in rapture
– full of unrest, full of solace

From the magic circle the echo
of a willet’s scream: will it, will it
and the royal terns’ call to arms
lure him into the echo of time
– full of unrest, full of solace

The Old Man cups his ears to capture
the final alarm, the eternal song,
a siren call of infinite pathos
in the flooding and the flowing out
– full of life, full of death

Branches scrape above him adagio
but there is no way into, no path
through the mystifying terrain
until he cries out in a crescendo
– full of death, full of life

Copyright 1998 by Mary Clark

The original poem appeared in Waterways magazine, Vol. 30, No. 11, May 2010; and Jimson Weed, Volume 30, New Series Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall 2011. In this version, the ending has been slightly revised.

Book Review: Increasing Intuitional Intelligence

This is my review of the book, Increasing Intuitional Intelligence, by Robert W. Sterling and Martha Char Love

The 1970s were a time of foment and ferment in psychology. Many believed that the “thinking brain” played the most crucial role in human development, and questioned the existence of instinct. This focus on the cortical garden became the predominant model. Some, however, took another path, going deep into the weeds of instinct, emotion, intuition, and the collective unconscious. Among these were Robert W. Sterling and Martha Char Love.

Today, scientists are beginning to corroborate the path less taken. They have found that learning is genetically passed down through generations. Neuroscientists are now able to better study how our brain works and are finding that conscious actions have been preceded by an unconscious or non-conscious process. Our behavior begins long before we are aware of what the action will be. The work of psychologist Colwyn Trevarthen demonstrates the instinctual ability in infants to relate to others and share emotional responses. Jaak Panksepp, researcher in affective and social neurosciences, has shown the primary role of instinct, the subcortical nervous system and emotions in animals.

In clear and thoughtful language, Sterling and Love show how the Enteric Nervous System, the “gut brain” begins operation at birth and directs the development of the Central Nervous System or “upper thinking brain.” These two “brains” each contribute to the learning process and knowledge base of the individual. The “gut brain” or “second brain” or Hara gives us important information about our interior Self. The upper thinking brain is the sensory brain and gives us information about the world outside the Self. They develop through interaction with other people and the world.

To read the rest of this review, please go to The Gift of Intuition

The Experience of Being Alive

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

TheWriter_CoverPJ produced a new piece about intuition. “As you know, I’ve made a study in quest of the meaning of the word: intuition. And I came to understand that it begins in childhood unconsciously, and it is a totally unconscious process; nobody knows anything about it. In other words you’re in a situation and the issue is stated and right away your reaction is instant, and positive. But people can spend the rest of their lives trying to rationalize what they did. Did I explain that clearly?”

“You do,” I said. “Very well.”

PJ’s new definition of “intuition” as integral to human motivation and behavior interested me. He showed its operation in his own life in The Writer.

At thirty one, the young artist made a decision, known to him at the time but unknown during an interim of years until the writer reminded him of it. At that early age, when most young men are seeking a profession which will pay them well, the young man determined that he would never again work for money.

He lived by that resolution, too, while in the competitive society in which he found himself. He did later work on salary. But that was for bread, the landlord and the utilities. He lived to learn that there is no money in living “for the joy of it.”

Then youth to old age, with intuitive perception, he lived for the experience of being alive.

“This phrase, intuitive perception,” I said to PJ, “how can that work with your new concept of intuition?”

***

In the church’s front office, I picked up a book, Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. He summarized Kierkegaard’s “lie of character” as being “built up because the child needs to adjust to the world, to the parents, and to his own existential dilemmas.”

Not very specific, but it was a summary after all. Becker went on, “It is built up before the child has a chance to learn about himself in an open or free way, and thus character defenses are automatic and unconscious.” Then the person “becomes dependent on them and comes to be encased in his own prison, and into himself … and the defenses he is using, the things that are determining his unfreedom.”

Isak Dinesen, though, said there are ways to escape this prison, this slavery to the accreted self, and create one’s self anew and form new identities at will.

PJ felt he had been forced to create new identities. In each identity he found “a clean slate.” Studying his own identity, he began to think about the adjustments children make.

“Now, presume that a child begins life innocent and amiable and feels no guilt,” he said, “until the first time someone punishes him. Then the child feels anger and guilt. Although later, he may learn to mask hostility with an amiable appearance, there will never be a time of complete amiability again. The hostility may be disguised so well that the person does not know he experiences it himself.”

“So the cause of hostility,” I said, “is that rebuke to your innocence.”

Yes, he nodded.

“Isn’t there one more ‘station’ between impulse and action?” I quoted Voltaire: “’I believe that with the slightest shift in my character, there is no crime I could not commit.’”

He smiled. There was a last stage one’s reactions go through, he said. “You see, character gives a temper point, having something to think about, argue about.”

I liked the way PJ’s theories were specific and not sterile, incorporating emotions such as love and anger, and the palpable senses of guilt and innocence.

Intuition

Chapter 10 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, published by All Things That Matter Press

PJ was wearing a tan turtleneck sweater and peaked white hat, álà Vincent Van Gogh. We seized an empty bench in Washington Square Park. Nearby, a woman had spread a blanket. Her older son was playing at the fountain’s edge and the younger one was crawling on the blanket toward him. The little one reached out and picked up a piece of broken glass.

His mother grabbed him and slapped his hand. The glass fell to the sidewalk and the boy screamed with rage as she placed him back on the blanket.

PJ acted as if he had seen nothing, but I felt him recoil when the child screamed. “That child was amiable when he was born,” PJ said after a moment. “He felt no guilt. Until someone slapped his hand and said, No, don’t do that. And he felt hostility for the first time.”

“He is angry,” I replied. “But he shouldn’t pick up glass.”

“Better that he is angry at the glass if he gets cut.”

The older boy came running to see what happened. He taunted his screaming brother and gave him a shove.

“You sit down,” the mother shouted. “Both of you behave.”

“Hostility is punished,” PJ observed. “He will learn to mask it with amiability. A laugh or a smile, a joke or a flattering word. After this, there will never be a time of complete amiability again.”

The mother and children were leaving and we watched them pass by the bench.

“The little one is beginning to make up his own intuitive program. He builds up an unconscious memory bank of positive and negative experiences. You see, now that we have computers, it can be compared to a computer, because the programmer puts in what can be taken out. And soon, we act and react with either amiability or hostility to any situation. It’s just—” He snapped his fingers, “yes or no, pro or con.”

“We react positively or negatively,” I said.

“If a child’s experiences evoke hostility and guilt for the most part, then the intuitive actions and reactions may become more often hostile than amiable.”

“I can see that.” And vice versa. Amiability: that was a desirable goal.

“And it’s already done before we know it. Most of us rationalize it afterward, even if it’s not necessary.” He smiled. “We may even come up with the right reason.” Then, reflectively, “We can’t bear the possibility of guilt, or we have so much built up, we respond with rationalization.”

PJ stood up slowly, steadying himself, and we walked back to his abode. In the following days I asked more about the “building of the intuition.”

“The cause of hostility is guilt,” he said. “And guilt is the absence of innocence, the feeling of being wrong. This sense of not being innocent is, for a reason I’ve not been able to discover, unacceptable to human beings. A person must perceive himself as innocent. He can do no wrong.”

“In The Fall,” I recalled, “Camus wrote that the ‘idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature, is the idea of his innocence.’ He said we insist on being innocent at all cost, even if we have to ‘accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.’”

“And so, Erin, we must believe our intentions are never hostile. The motives and consequences of our behavior are explained away, rationalized away in painstaking detail. Guilt is never allowed to remain in the consciousness.”

“I think you can admit you’ve done something wrong.”

“Nobody can admit to himself that he is wrong, ever. And I’ll tell you why. As you said, it’s because a human being cannot survive, I don’t know why, but he cannot survive without perceiving himself as completely innocent.”

He was sitting by his desk, the bright sun misting the ancient window and his white hair. “You see, the first compromise, a rational compromise, a child makes with what he knows is wrong—if there is such a thing as right and wrong—is not a very violent one. He doesn’t have to make a violent compromise because all he has to do is get around one contradiction. But as the contradictions of life pile up, he has to make more rationalizations.”

He elaborated, “What he learns about harming himself or other people, he may build up to a justification of harming other people, or he builds up a defense of it and a pretense of amiability. So when it comes to action and reaction, he has no moral control of what he does or says. Because it’s always done before he knows it and he has to rationalize it afterward.”

PJ picked up his glasses and shuffled through some papers. “You see, it’s rationalizing guilt that takes so much time out of most people’s lives. Because guilt has to be rationalized, it has to be put away, it has to be quieted down meticulously.”

“It’s an interesting idea …”

“When justifications and rationalizations have gone so far by the time a person reaches age twenty, he begins to wonder if he couldn’t be wrong.”

I smiled, remembering PJ had come to the Village at that age.

“But nevertheless, he’s got to be right. So then he begins twisting, he will switch around and hop around and do anything to keep from knowing he really is hostile.”

“We become conscious of our guilt.”

“No, conscience is a conscious matter, but guilt … the point is there is no guilt in the consciousness of the average person. They are saturated with repressed guilt. Until a person’s intuition becomes overloaded with guilt and hostility. In this case rationalizing becomes necessary, a way of life.”

I told him he was using words that needed to be defined.

He thought their definition was clear, but was now trying to clarify them. “To define intuition is difficult,” he answered. “The intuition’s fragments of memory and images never become conscious.”

“And what is rationalization?”

“Rationalization is the use of reason to make one seem innocent to oneself. Actually, rationalization distorts motives and behavior to make them seem innocent to the rationalizer. You see, no one knows, or can admit, that one’s intent is but good, and we lose as we rationalize any sense of what we’re doing. We lose this sense because we reverse hostility to a pretense of amiability. Many people have laid lie upon lie, compromise upon compromise, so they no longer know whether their motives are amiable or hostile.”

What a horror. Are we this imprisoned? “But is rationalization the only way to deal with guilt?”

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Amiable Affection: Tally

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

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

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

PJ was working on a piece called Love. He hoped to have it ready for the New York Small Press Book Fair.

… This booklet took a long time to type and print…. PJ asked me to type it and I did, very slowly, because I found myself opposed to the words and ideas.

I told him, “It’s too full of generalizations and I don’t like generalizations.”

He answered that he had ended it with a new definition of love. I went back to work, curious.

At the age of 72 or 74, the writer began to work on the idea of the future of love, after feeling and professing a strong delusion of love and romance for more than fifty years. People were not fooled, after all. Not because the delusion was not the greatest invention of its time, in all the world, but because the concept could not stand the helter skelter of civilization. As the idea of romantic love became more popular, and valuable, it was exploited and the exploiters made it sex and made it ridiculous for even greater profits.

He engaged in “ensearch,” his word for studying his stream of consciousness, for the answer. This study of his stream of consciousness would lead to universal truths.

A year and a half after this, he came to a new understanding: the world’s hope for survival depends on a new concept—amiable affection.

He said he had not been able to know the true worth of a woman when he was young and so full of hormones he could not relate except sexually. He had not been able to know or love a woman until he was older, “past middle age and with a heart condition, practically a eunuch,” although he remained emotionally and mentally sexually active; only then had he discovered the value of knowing a woman.

This gave me an amazing sense of relief in our relationship.

…It seemed The Company was working out for our mutual benefit, and would find its form in time.
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Existent Death

Chapter 8 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

At PJ’s the three convened to work on Tender Branch [an excerpt of PJ’s account of his “death and renascence” in mid-life]. Whenever Rogue and I talked about PJ’s invented words, odd style and his way of separating sentences with three dots, PJ looked annoyed. Rogue was curious about PJ’s “new” words, engaging in word play with him, while I tended to accept them whole.

It was hot inside his apartment, with only a fan to cool the three of us, and when we were almost finished editing, Rogue and I decided to go outside and enjoy the day. PJ, reluctantly, let us go.

Coming back from the park, PJ met us on the corner and ambled back with us to the street-level door. Rogue waved and went on his way. I followed PJ upstairs.

“Rogue is deliberately taking you away from the work,” he fumed, “because he does not want The Old Man to accomplish anything.” He went on to say that Rogue wanted him to remain handicapped and helpless. “The Company, he could see, would never work, because Rogue was determined to subvert it.”

I assured him that Rogue said he would finish the typing later that night. But PJ felt Rogue would find some reason not to do it. “He’ll find one excuse or another, because it has never been his intention to help PJ.”

His assault on Rogue appalled me. If he kept harassing Rogue, wouldn’t he leave?

As soon as Rogue came back, PJ attacked him. Rogue shrugged it off. He took the pages home to type. Leaving PJ’s apartment, he and I agreed that it was “all exhausting.”

PJ said that Rogue was attracted to handicapped people. In PJ, the handicap was his age and illness, his “decrepit body.”

I received a letter from PJ:

The old man gave the kids their freedom after dinner and came to his squalor, was lonely, far too, went out into a light drizzle. Sixth Avenue had become a street theater. Couple guitarists, amplified, and a wailing sounding instrument were blasting country music; seated in a shelter, a large circle had gathered for audience and the guitar case was full of coins and bills. Good for the old man. He could hear every note, feel the rhythm. A young woman in street clothes danced, her feet, body and arms punctuating the sound. The old man felt an anguish of pleasure, stayed and watched for an hour.

The dancer was a cripple, at last she took an abandoned cane and shopping bag and limped away. So, we’re the existent dead. Moments of diversion, sound in the rain, then back to our evasion (however) of life. The old man returned to his lonely bed, after pills, with a wish for sleep/death.

“I don’t think you’re one of the existent dead.”

“No,” he said, but at times he experienced it. He handed me several pages.

I read, “Existent death is a phase of variable lengths of time. The existent dead live without consciousness and completely through rationalization, a thought process by which we evade evaluating what is happening in our lives. Everyone goes through periods of existent death, and of being renewed, into times when we are more conscious of what we are doing and pursuing what is valuable to us.”

He wrote what I thought was succinct, with a provocative ending:

Existent death is a state of being in a functioning body, by one’s self and in relation to others, but evading consciousness of experience, especially the memory of eternity in the present instant.

PJ stayed up late cutting the pages and pasting them up for his booklet. Coming in I saw him lying on the bed in a state of exhaustion. At the work table Rogue and I had set up with its strong overhead lamp to aid his poor eyesight, I looked through the pages. Some were slightly crooked, but easily fixed. I had to admire the job he did.

At the bottom of the title page, though, he had cut off the last lines. I told him and he nodded, yes, he thought so. He wasn’t sure, because his eyesight was so poor.

He had asked me to make a number of copies of each page in case he made errors, and I selected the best one of that page and cut it carefully and correctly, aware that he had done this as a professional in his earlier life.

My assistance made him look dejected, but simultaneously hopeful. When I finished he barely glanced at the work, as if to say I know it’s all right, but I couldn’t do it, don’t rub it in. So I moved on quickly. He acted resigned, but as we collated the pages he livened up.

We put the cover on the mock-up and he was enthusiastic again.

“The old man has been thinking we three might promote the publication of PJ’s million words.”

Tender Branch was out, he said, and before that a blurb on “World’s End.” The writer had hundreds of pieces. The three of us could print, bind by hand, and mail them.

He wrote to me:

The old man’s efforts at promoting the writer had been weak, for the lack of concept how to. Tender Branch had shown the way.

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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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