Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Carroll’

Going Around Again

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Korte

Hymn To The Gentle Sun

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.” Lewis Carroll

If I had a dollar for every person who said to me in the last few weeks, “I can’t wait for this year to be over,” I could buy three excellent tacos at the new taqueria in Mendocino.

When people say, “I can’t wait for this year to be over,” I am tempted to reply, “Do you really think the first day of January will be a vast improvement over the last day of December?”

But I don’t say that because I know what they really mean is they hope things for them and the planet and everyone they know will improve in the future, so why not use the beginning of a so-called new year as a way to imagine the end of unpleasantness and the beginning of less unpleasantness and maybe even some really fun things happening?

A year, it turns out, for those who believe the earth revolves around the sun, is the time it takes the earth to go once around the sun. The first day of January is the day many people have agreed is the first day of that revolution, but we might agree that the Winter Solstice is the first day, or the Summer Solstice is the first day. Or, as I like to agree with myself, the day I was born is the first day of my current trip around the sun.

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.” Mark Twain

About six months ago, as part of my attempt to lessen the severe anxiety I was experiencing in my every day life, I stopped following the news. I stopped reading news stories on my computer, stopped listening to news on the radio, stopped reading newspapers, and excused myself when the people began talking about the latest mass murder or war atrocity or something terrible our government was doing or not doing.

At first, I felt ashamed and guilty about not keeping up with the daily horror show, but within a few days of giving up mass media, my anxiety was so vastly reduced, I hardly minded feeling ashamed; and pretty soon the shame and guilt vanished, too.

This experience confirmed for me that at least part of my anxiety was related to consuming ideas and images that frighten or anger or depress me. Given a choice, why would anyone choose to consume frightening, angering, and depressing ideas and images as a regular part of his or her daily life? My answer to that is that most people don’t choose to follow the news, but are entrained to do so, habituated to doing so, which means they are habituated to thinking of the world and human society as relentlessly terrible. Which would explain why so many people are eager for this year to be over.

However, if we continue to absorb the emanations of mass media, we will soon be eager for next year to be over, too.

Am I suggesting you stop following the news in the ways you follow the news? No.

“For years I was tuned a few notes too high—I don’t see how I could stand it.” William Stafford

In a recent letter to my friend Max, I wrote:

We change. Our tastes change. I hadn’t read any prose other than my own work for a couple years and thought I might never again read any prose by other authors (except Kim by Rudyard Kipling every few years), and then I was given two volumes of essays by Kathleen Jamie and gobbled them like a starving person. What a surprise. But reading Jamie didn’t get me reading other prose stuff again. Most contemporary prose is dreadful to my senses. But I was happy to know I might still occasionally find things that feed me.

I have become so sensitive to giant imagery and loud sounds that I will never go see a movie in a theatre again because it might kill me, literally. Even attending symphony concerts is getting harder for me because the music is often too loud for my circuits to handle comfortably, and I have to plug my ears during the loud parts.

Thirty years ago, one of my favorite poets was Mary Norbert Körte. She was a nun for several years when she was a young woman, then left the convent and moved to Mendocino County and became a hippy wild woman poet. For a time she worked on the Skunk Train, the tourist train that runs between Willits and Fort Bragg going through the redwood forests, up and down over the coast range.

I read with her once in Sacramento long ago, and listening to her read, I felt I was sharing the bill with a great genius. The first time I heard her read was many years before that in Santa Cruz, and I thought she was one of the most insightful humans I’d ever heard; and I never imagined I would one day read with her. I have a volume of her poems she wrote when she was a nun, Hymn To the Gentle Sun, and I used to love those poems. Now I don’t connect with them. I wonder what Mary thinks of those poems after all these years?

I am forever disappointing people because I won’t/can’t read books they tell me are wonderful and great. I give these books a try by using the Look Inside feature at Amazon, and if any of them ever pass the two-page test I will buy that book and give it a try, but so far none of these recommended books have passed the two-paragraph test. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful books, it just means they aren’t for me as I am currently configured.

Maybe you and I are dealing with huge self-defining issues that have shaped our lives up to now. Maybe we had roles in our families, relational roles that continue to play out in our lives. In therapy, I’ve uncovered some of those early defining issues in my life (what Gabor Maté calls coping mechanisms that become traits—things we did to survive that became habits) such as feeling responsible for everyone else’s happiness or unhappiness. Turns out I’m not. Can’t be. But my system was habituated to trying to make other people happy or feeling I was a failure and despicable if someone I knew was unhappy. A kind of less-obvious narcissism. I am responsible for other people’s happiness or unhappiness? That’s plain silly, not to mention tiring.

So follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell famously said. Follow what you know in this moment to be right for you, knowing you can’t make a mistake. You’re just hiking along the trail and reacting with an open heart and an open mind to what comes your way.

Love,

Todd

Blackberries & Firewood

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

a9-Promise of Spring

Promise of Spring photograph by Ellen Jantzen

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2013)

“Looks can be deceiving—it’s eating that’s believing.” James Thurber

A few days ago, Marion Crombie, our musical neighbor and fellow fruit forager, reported that two of the most promising and easily accessible stands of blackberries hereabouts have begun to fulfill their promise, so the next morning Marcia and I set forth with our knapsack full of glass jars (with lids) to harvest the luscious berries pursuant to making blackberry jam.

This is that marvelous time of year around here when the garden is producing copious edibles, the local apple crop is coming ripe, the plums have peaked but are still hanging about, and the berries—huckle, black, rasp and boysen—are profuse upon their vines. We managed to pick three quarts of black beauties in an hour or so, and with five apples cut up in the mix and using only one-third of the sugar called for in the jam recipe, we cooked up three quarts of the best blackberry jam money can’t buy.

“As an instrument of planetary home repair, it is hard to imagine anything as safe as a tree.” Jonathan Weiner

Yesterday, with the Mendocino air by turns muggy and cold and muggy and cold, the huge green dump truck from Frank’s Firewood arrived from Boonville to deliver two cords of seasoned tan oak destined for our wonderfully efficient Norwegian woodstove. The driver of that well-known truck is Neil Vaine, a master backer upper and superior dumping strategist, accompanied on his rounds by his trusty pooch, a handsome dog with a sweet disposition and a love of riding hither and yon with Neil.

The two cords had to be dumped a good fifty yards from our woodshed, and I look upon that great mass of yet-to-be-released solar power as hours of invigorating hauling and stacking that will ultimately result in thousands of hours of comforting heat when winter is upon us and the rains and cold keep us inside more than out. I am well aware of how lucky we are to live where we’re allowed to heat our homes with firewood, and luckier still to live in a place where firewood is available at all.

I love building fires and feeding them and watching the flames, and I have loved all that since I was little boy. When I was six-years-old, my father taught me how to build a campfire without the use of paper or lighter fluid. He showed me how to build a spacious little structure of tiny twigs around which and on top of I would lay slightly larger pieces of wood, and so on, while being careful to leave an opening for the match to reach those underlying twigs. For some years thereafter it was a point of pride that I make my fires in the fireplace at home or on backpack trips without resorting to paper to ignite the kindling. Nowadays I have no pride when it comes to using old newspapers to start the fire, though now and again I will build a fire without paper just to prove I can.

“Why, if a fish came to me, and told me he was going on a journey, I should say, “With what porpoise?” Lewis Carroll

Speaking of abundance, this used to be the time of year when we would frequently partake of delicious and nutritious locally caught salmon, but now we have drastically reduced our intake of fish in response to the ongoing meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that have permanently poisoned the Pacific Ocean, with millions of gallons of radioactive water being released into the ocean every day from those dangerously crippled reactors because the Japanese lack the technology and sufficient money to stop the radioactive bleeding. Where are you when we need you, President Obama, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, billionaires Gates and Buffet, along with the rest of the entire supposedly civilized world?

Yesterday I read an excellent and terrifying article online from which I learned that a huge mass of radioactive contaminants dumped into the ocean from the Fukushima plants is fast approaching the west coast of North America, this on top of the enormous amounts of radioactive molecules that have already reached our shores and spread through the air around the world. And then I did something I rarely do; I read the comments from readers at the end of that online article, most of which contained the line, “I’m glad I don’t live on the west coast,” and many of which contained the shocking (to me) sentiment that the radioactive onslaught would “serve those rich people in Carmel and Malibu right.”

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.” Fran Lebowitz

Today I stop in at the GoodLife Café and Bakery and purchase a loaf of excellent gluten-free bread, and the thought of a piece of toast made from that yummy bread lathered with our homemade blackberry jam propels me up the steep hill to home, my daily walk to and from the village of Mendocino the centerpiece of my current fitness regime that now also includes hauling and stacking firewood.

As I climb the hill, I rejoice about the abundance of fresh blackberries and our ample supply of firewood while simultaneously feeling sad about the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima and the radioactive tides approaching our shores. I wave to a smiling friend driving by and try not to think about the corporations of mass destruction holding sway over the United States and much of the world. I stop to marvel at a hummingbird visiting the fanciful blooms of a fuchsia and think about brave Bradley Manning, one of the great heroes of our time, being sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for trying to do something about the out-of-control military-industrial complex that has made of the entire world a battle field.

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Gore Vidal

I think we humans made a terrible mistake when we stopped living in or near villages, and by near I mean within a couple miles. I have the feeling that if humans are to survive and thrive on earth beyond the next little while, pretty much all of us will have to become villagers again, and even those who live in large cities will live in village-like neighborhoods within those cities. I think we will also have to become an egalitarian society again if we are to survive and thrive.

When were humans egalitarian? Haven’t there always been people who had much more than other people? Actually, no. Having much more than others made no practical sense for most of human evolution. Have you seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy? A purely egalitarian band (mobile village) of Bushmen, who have never left the Kalahari and never encountered non-Bushmen, come upon a glass Coca Cola bottle dropped from an airplane, and the Bushmen assume that this amazing thing came from the gods.

This glass bottle, duplicates of which the Bushmen cannot fashion out of animal skin or ostrich eggs or bones or wood, becomes the source of conflict among a people who cannot tolerate conflict because conflict seriously endangers their survival. And so it is decided that the man who found the evil thing must travel to the end of the earth and throw the thing into the abyss so it shall nevermore disturb the peace of these peaceful people.

I think the reason that little movie was so hugely successful all over the world is because we saw ourselves in those hunters and gatherers, and we saw most of the world’s problems in that Coca Cola bottle. Yes, people all over the world loved the idea of solving our biggest problems by getting rid of the sources of those problems, those sources being inequality coupled with the manufacture of things harmful to the earth and all her children: nuclear power plants and genetically modified organisms and pesticides and gasoline-powered automobiles and guns and bombs and poisonous chemicals and power plants that burn fossil fuels, to name a few.

And as I veer off the main road to check on a promising berry bush, I am fairly certain the gods are not the crazy ones.

“We must risk delight.” Jack Gilbert

I arrive home to a letter from a friend containing a poem by Jack Gilbert entitled A Brief For The Defense, which is about the mystical and unfathomable and beautiful and horrible and ecstatic and painful experience of living amidst the sorrows and joys of life. Gilbert wrote: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Tenuous Grip

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Desert Dance Nolan WInkler mix med

Desert Dance by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2013)

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” Lewis Carroll

Have you ever had a day when you heard the same out-of-the-ordinary word or phrase over and over again from a variety of seemingly unconnected sources? Long ago when I lived in Sacramento, I wrote a piece for the Sacramento News & Review entitled Recurrence of Ninja, a true story of a single day in which I encountered the word ninja several times in a variety of contexts, spoken and written. Why ninja so many times on that particular day? I came to no conclusions, but I felt certain the unfathomable universe was trying to tell me something.

I was reminded of that day of many ninjas by what happened yesterday. I woke early (for me), had toast slathered with sesame butter accompanied by a banana-kale-flax seed-chia seed-apple juice-rice milk smoothie with Marcia, she the smoothie engineer, I the toaster, my bread free of gluten, her bread infested with the stuff. Then I answered a few emails, posted my Anderson Valley Advertiser article on my blog (I like to wait until the piece is in newsprint before I send the words into the ethers, silly me), worked for two hours on my new novel, and then set out on my walk to town—the day windy and cool.

Not far from home, I came upon a man in a bathrobe standing in front of his house and frowning at the sky. I said hello as I walked by and he replied, “I have a tenuous grip on reality today.”

I might have taken his self-assessment as an invitation to engage in conversation, but I did not. In the past, more often than not, I would have inquired further, but of late I am less drawn to strangers professing emotional fragility than I used to be. So I walked on and did not look back.

“Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.” Voltaire

The wind off the ocean was fierce and the air was full of smoke from a number of burn piles unwisely lit on such a blustery day. I crossed Highway One, the road blanketed with smoke, and said hello to a tall bearded man standing on the corner gazing into a cell phone.

He frowned at me and proclaimed, “They chose a very bad day to burn.”

“Yes,” I said. “Ill-advised.”

“Because they have a tenuous grip on reality,” he said, lighting a large hand-rolled cigarette and taking a prodigious drag.

“Indeed,” I said, so amazed by his choice of words that I almost told him I had just heard someone else use the very same expression. But because I had seen this tall bearded man on previous occasions lecturing loudly to companions invisible to me, I was not greatly tempted to enter into a lengthy discussion with him.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein

At the post office, I mailed two small packages and was heartened to find a few actual letters in our post office box along with the latest AVA. As I was sorting out our real mail from the junk, I overheard two women talking on the front porch of the post office, one of them saying, “So I said, ‘Rick, you gotta get a grip,’ and he said he was hanging by a thread and…”

There it was again, not the exact phrase, but the word grip and the implication that Rick’s grip was tenuous.

“Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” Tupac Shakur

In Corners, buying several fundamental comestibles, the lovely woman at the cash register made a few unforced errors (as they call them in tennis), laughingly corrected her mistakes and explained, “I’m still kind of…not all here today. Stayed up way too late last night. Haven’t had my coffee yet.”

“A somewhat tenuous grip on reality?” I ventured.

“Exactly,” she said, nodding. “Life is but a dream.”

 “For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity.” Jean Dubuffet

Walking home from town, the recurrence of the phrase tenuous grip on reality put me in mind of my eleven years in Berkeley where I enjoyed life without a car and patched together a minimalist living as a writer, editor, ghost writer, arborist, and babysitter. I was single for many of those eleven years and on the few occasions I found myself mixing it up, so to speak, with women more affluent than I, there always came a time, usually around the fourth date, when the question of my economic viability became the focal point of conversation and I was recurrently judged to fall far short of what was minimally acceptable to these attractive pragmatists.

One of the women, bless her heart, who I had theretofore thought to be a wild and crazy gal in the best sense of those words, interviewed me as if I was applying for a house loan. At the end of the interview, she opined, “The only difference between you and a homeless person is that you currently rent a house and don’t walk around pushing a shopping cart.”

“I beg to differ,” I replied. “I am gainfully employed, I…”

“You’re very nice,” she said, rising to go, “and we get along wonderfully well, if you know what I mean, but you’re poor and I’m not about to jeopardize my life savings by hooking up with some medical crisis waiting to happen. Better to end things now before I like you too much.”

The last of the women I dated who was more affluent than I, a successful psychotherapist who sure seemed to like me, terminated our connection after the recurrent financial disclosure date by telling me that my lifestyle choices were, well, indicative of someone with a tenuous grip on reality, though she didn’t use those exact words. She said that someone as intelligent and personable as I, with so many marketable skills, who chose to live without a car or health insurance or a viable retirement strategy, must be at least somewhat delusional and possibly a borderline personality. Ouch.

I remember replying that as far as I was concerned anyone who judged other people solely on the basis of their economic status was either insane or a member of Congress, which I knew was redundant, but I was trying for a bit of levity as she ran out the door.

Thereafter the few women I did get involved with beyond the fourth date were as financially deficient as I and didn’t worry about their nest eggs because they didn’t have nest eggs. And, yes, those sweet paupers did at times seem to have a somewhat tenuous grip on reality, but who doesn’t now and then?

Yesterday’s just a memory, tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be.” Bob Dylan

As I thought about the recurrence of the expression tenuous grip on reality I found myself wondering: is the universe asking me to examine the current state of my grip on reality? And what came to mind was a night when I was thirteen and attending a ballroom dancing class with forty other boys and forty girls, an ordeal my mother insisted I undergo once a month for the two years preceding high school. To attend the class we were forced to wear a suit and tie, which meant I had to learn to tie a tie, which I did, and I had to wear shoes that required polishing, which I also did.

Upon our arrival at the country club where the ordeal took place, the boys would stay away from the girls, who were wearing long frilly dresses, and the girls would stay away from the boys. Then our instructors, a champion ballroom dancing couple, would somehow get the boys paired up with the girls and try to teach us how to fox trot, waltz, cha-cha, and swing. After an hour or so of rigorous practice with a variety of assigned partners, the ordeal would conclude with a half-hour of dancing without instruction. Boys were supposed to ask girls to dance, not the other way around, unless one of the champions announced that the next dance was a Sadie Hawkins (role reversal) dance. For those boys too fearful to ask girls to dance, our adult overseers would arbitrarily pair such boys with those unlucky girls remaining to be asked.

And one night, when the four or five girls I knew from school (so they were not terrifying to me) were paired up with other boys, and I was just about to make a break for the bathroom where I hoped to remain undetected for several minutes, a gorgeous young woman (as opposed to a girl) named Luisa Hernandez asked me to dance with her, though it was not a Sadie Hawkins dance! Luisa was by far the best female dancer in our mob and was often called upon to dance with one of the better male dancers to demonstrate a fox trot variation or a cha-cha turn or whatever those things are called that our champion instructors wanted us to see done well.

“I have two left feet,” I said, anxiously. “I’m no Fred Astaire.”

“You move beautifully,” said Luisa, looking deep into my eyes. “You just need a good partner.”

So we danced the next several dances together, and I can truly say that until I danced with Luisa I had never really danced with someone. I had gone through the motions with others and simulated dancing, and even had a little fun going through those motions, but with Luisa I danced, and our dancing was divine. And what I learned from her was that dancing with someone didn’t have to be about gripping the other person or being gripped by them, but was a way for two people to move together in harmonious time. Holding each other facilitated fueling off each other while enjoying the synchronous flow—the dancing never about trying to control the other—and so our physical connection was light and sure and flexible and tender.

He Touched Me

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2012)

“If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.” Pearl S. Buck

Reading Bruce McEwen’s tragic Hug A Kid, Go To Jail, I thought, “My God, there but for the grace of luck and chance and (in my system of belief) the intervention of angels, I, too, might have been arrested for child molestation and been sent to prison and labeled a sex offender for the rest of my life—on several different occasions. What? How?

When I was in my late thirties and living in Sacramento, I played basketball every morning at a neighborhood park. Three days a week I met my friend Bob there for rousing games of one-on-one, and two days a week I shot around by myself. Along with the basketball court, the park featured a big lawn and a swing set and a public bathroom. So one morning I was shooting hoops and these two moms showed up, each with a cute kid in tow, and they wandered to the far end of the park and spread out a big blanket for playtime and snacking and reading and whatnot.

As I continued shooting hoops, one of the kids, a girl, skipped across the lawn to the restroom adjacent to the basketball court and entered the little cinderblock building on the side marked WOMEN. A moment later she let out a blood-curdling scream, and in the next moment I was on my way into the restroom to rescue her. But some unseen power grabbed hold of me, and a loud inner voice said, “Don’t go in there. Whatever you do, don’t go in there!”

The girl screamed again—bloody murder!—and I turned on my heels and sprinted across the lawn toward the moms, waving my arms and shouting, “Your little girl is screaming in the bathroom.”

One of the mothers jumped up and raced to the restroom and found her daughter bruised and bleeding from a head wound sustained when she slipped on the wet floor and smacked into the ceramic sink. The mom carried her daughter out into the sun and said to me, “Thanks so much. We couldn’t hear a thing over the leaf blowers. We’ve got ice. She’ll be fine. You know kids. Always falling down.”

Then the mom and I exchanged long looks, her look saying, “I understand why you didn’t go in there,” and my look saying, “I didn’t go in there because I was afraid I might be accused of trying to harm her.”

But what if I had gone in there and picked up that little girl and…well, I didn’t, though she might have been bleeding to death. Or she might have been in the clutches of a child molester. I was furious for days after, thinking about how if I had tried to help a hurt child I might have…I mean, what if she had said to her mother, “He touched me.”

“I am fond of children—except boys.” Lewis Carroll

In 1969, twenty years before that Sacramento restroom incident, I was traveling around America in an old GMC panel truck with my friend Dick Mead. On a blistering hot August day we pulled into Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, got a camping spot, and went exploring. That was when I saw fireflies for the first time. There was a huge old swing set overlooking a beautiful meadow, and I was swinging on a swing, marveling at the hundreds of little blobs of light floating and flitting over the meadow in the waning light of day, when suddenly a cute little pigtailed girl took the swing next to mine.

“I can go higher than you can,” she said, kicking off and swinging hard.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, being twenty. “We’ll see about that.”

So we swung together, going higher and higher, and she laughed and I laughed, and then we stopped pumping and allowed our swings to go lower and lower until we were barely swinging, and then she started pumping again and going higher, and I pumped, too, and caught up to her. Then we let ourselves swing to a stop and she said, “Hey, you want to do the spider? Me and my dad do it all the time. It’s so fun.”

“What’s the spider?” I asked.

And before I could blink, that cute little pigtailed girl was straddling my legs, facing me, gripping my wrists and shouting, “Okay, go!”

And I was instantaneously consumed with terror. “Uh, no,” I said, standing up and shaking free of her. “I have to go now. Nice meeting you.”

“But it’s so fun,” she said plaintively. “You’ll love it.”

What if I’d gone ahead and done the spider with her and her father had come looking for her and caught us in the act? What if a park ranger had seen the longhaired stranger from California spidering with that little girl? Or what if that little girl had gone back to her family and when her mother asked, “Where were you, honey?” the little girl had replied, “Oh, I was playing with a nice man on the swings.”

And during further questioning the little girl had admitted, “Yes, we were touching there because we were doing the spider.”

“What is a home without children? Quiet.” Henny Youngman

I worked in a Day Care Center when I was in my twenties and again when I was in my fifties. There are many truths about little kids, but one of the largest truths about them is that they are keenly interested in genitals, their own and those of others. They, the children, are particularly interested in the genitals of adult males, which are the most obvious of adult human genitals. Little boys are particularly interested in these larger versions because little boys possess smaller versions and are fascinated by the size discrepancy and the possibility that they, too, might one day have larger equipment.

I remember during my initial indoctrination as an employee of the day care center, how we were told that when a child touched us “there”, it was imperative to instantly put an end to such touching, and to make sure the children knew that such touching was absolutely verboten. Never mind that a large part of my job was helping kids pull their pants down so I could wipe their butts and then help them pull their pants up. Never mind that when the kiddies wet their pants or spilled paint or juice over themselves, it was my job to strip off their sodden poopy pissy clothes, to render them naked and wash them clean and clothe them anew. Never mind that any one of those delightful creatures at any time might have reported to a parent, “He touched me,” which report might have led to my arrest.

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” Helen Keller

For five years in the 1990’s I ran the Creative Writing department for a summer school for the arts. Ambitious and talented teenagers fifteen to nineteen-years-old were my charges, and among these teens were many sexy young women. I had never taught at any level before then and so had not previously been on the receiving end of the romantic crushes of students.

I will never forget one particular summer evening on the campus of Mills College where our school was being held, a one-month intensive wherein the students lived and breathed their art and the influence of mentor artists. I was walking across the greensward on my way to the music building to find a piano to play, when someone called, “Todd,” and I recognized the voice of Dawn, one of my students.

I stopped, and a moment later Dawn was beside me. I thought her the most beautiful and alluring of my students, and I knew of her crush on me because when I worked with her group of writers she responded to nearly everything I said as if she might at any moment have an orgasm. Then, too, she would linger after class and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me as I tried to concentrate objectively on the excellent erotica she’d written and about which she very much wanted my feedback.

“Hey,” she whispered on that memorable evening, her honeyed breath warm on my cheek. “You and me alone in the dark. Finally.”

“Hey, Dawn,” I said, trying to be cool. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is I want you,” she said, pressing close. “And you want me. And you know it. And I know it. And I’m way over eighteen and I’m on the pill so we’ve got nothing to worry about. Please? Please take me somewhere and make love to me? Please? Or we can do it right here and I’ll make you feel so good you won’t believe it.”

“Nope,” I said, breaking away and running for my life.

And had she been crazy or vindictive, she might easily have gone to the school administrators and said, “He followed me last night and touched me.”

Thankfully she was not crazy or vindictive, though she did show up the next morning for our short story section wearing practically nothing, and brazenly handed me a note—crimson ink on lilac-scented stationery—that said, “Any time, any place. I am so ready for you.”

Junior High

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Wolf Me drawing by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2012)

“Hemingway never grew out of adolescence. His scope and depth stayed shallow because he had no idea what women are for.” Rex Stout

Today I fit several important pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of life, having found the first of those pieces a few days ago while I was at Mendocino K-8 School on Little Lake Road, shooting hoops despite the biting chill in the air and…

Wait. Doesn’t it strike you as remarkable, even astonishing, that in Mendocino of all places, a town known the world over as a seething vortex of artists and poets and potheads, that our K-8 school doesn’t have at least a mildly groovy name? Fantasia Archetype School. Raven Big Tree Learning Center. Earthling Haven Academy. Middle Earth Education Fulcrum. Doppelganger Nine. Fields of Elysium Lyceum. Mind Body Spirit Cognition Node. But I digress.

So…I was shooting hoops despite the biting chill when down the steps from the school to the playground came two people, a shapely young woman with hair of spun gold and a boy some four inches shorter than the young woman, a skinny, dorky boy with drab brown hair wearing a blue Mendocino K-8 School sweatshirt. And though I was a hundred yards away, I knew this boy and woman were courting, that they were the same age, numerically speaking, and that they were headed for the swings where many Mendocino K-8 junior high couples go to swing and flirt and talk about whatever junior high kids talk about these days.

Seeing these two physically mismatched lovebirds, I journeyed back through my memory archives to when I was a drab dorky boy in Eighth Grade and madly in love with three shapely young women who were, in every conceivable way (and I do mean conceivable), ready to hook up with men but found themselves surrounded by boys. And remembering those uneasy days of biological imbalance, when Lucy and Hannah and Shari were so obviously women while I and my male classmates were still so obviously boys, and having just finished reading The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas for the third time, I suddenly understood why so many girls today turn into women well in advance of their male age peers, which understanding was the aforementioned first of several pieces I just today fit into the jigsaw puzzle of life.

“We hope to find more pieces of the puzzle which will shed light on the connection between this upright, walking ape, our early ancestor, and modern man.” Richard Leakey

I love the many-times-proven fact that every human being on earth is a direct genetic descendant of the Ju/wasi (Bushmen) of southern Africa, and I am so grateful that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a keen observer and gifted writer, dwelt among some of the last Ju/wasi to live in the Old Way so we may know how our ancestors lived prior to the ruination of the African savannah and the decimation of the original Ju/wasi way of life.

To quote from The Old Way (with Ms. Thomas’s permission), “If you happen to see a contemporary film or photo showing Bushmen dressed in skins, perhaps beside a small grass shelter or following a line of antelope footprints or handling a bow and arrow, you are seeing a reenactment. Today, nobody lives in the Old Way. All Bushmen, unless they put on skins for a photographer, wear the clothing of the dominant cultures—invariably Western dress for men, and Western or African dress for women—and none live by hunting and gathering, although with these activities they sometimes supplement their meager diet, which today is often cornmeal provided by the Namibian government as a welfare ration. They have jobs if they can get them, although many cannot; they listen to popular music on the radio, dance the popular dances, are influenced to some degree by Christianity, and are aware of the larger world and national politics.”

The Old Way is a record of daily life among one of the very last groups of Ju/wasi living as their predecessors (our predecessors) lived for at least thirty-five thousand years. And guess what? The junior high biological gender divide of our modern times did not exist among our people for those thirty-five thousand years.

“N!ai reached the menarche (began to menstruate) when she was about seventeen years old. At this time an important ceremony was held for her with eland music and dancing—a much more important ceremony than her wedding. But she and /Gunda (her husband) had no child for three years, when she was almost twenty. This was a very normal age for a Ju/wa woman’s first pregnancy.

“In the Old Way, the human population, like most other populations who live in the Old Way, had it own regulation. The strenuous work and absence of body fat prevented hunter-gatherer women from menstruating at an early age…”

In harmony with this biological truth, a Ju/wa man was not allowed to wed until he had killed an antelope, no easy feat even for a strong and experienced hunter. Thus most Ju/wa men spent the years before marriage growing into their full size and strength while acquiring skills that would enable them to provide antelope meat for their families and relatives.

 “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Lewis Carroll

When I was a little boy, my friends and I would pretend to be cowboys fighting Indians, the Indians being in the distance for us to shoot at with our pretend guns. When I was an older boy, my friends and I pretended to be American soldiers fighting Japanese and German soldiers, and these enemies, too, were in the distance for us to shoot at with our pretend guns. But when I played alone, I was always an Indian with a spear (fashioned from a grape stake or broom handle) and the bow and arrows I’d had since I was eight.

My childhood home stood on the edge of an abandoned estate, twenty acres of oaks and olive trees and overgrown vineyards and grasslands and ravines and chaparral teaming with wildlife—paradise. As far as I know, I was the only boy or girl in my neighborhood to habitually pretend to be an Indian; and there were certainly no other pretend Indians in our neck of the woods who took their pretending to the lengths I did. During those long summers when I was eight nine ten eleven and twelve, I lived for days on end in the wilds back of our house, barefoot and naked save for shorts, spending many a night camped out under the stars, with nuts and raisins and beef jerky for food, and a fire of twigs to keep me company as I gave voice to my invisible companions, wise old storytellers who knew everything there was to know about the animals and plants and spirits of that place.

I played tons of baseball with my friends and rode my bike all over the place, adventuring in the world of roads and stores, and I spent hours hunkered down in my bedroom with books, but no matter what else I might be doing, I longed to be in the woods, to follow a bird or butterfly to see where they might lead me; and to sit hidden and still for so long that the quail would forget I was there and resume their foraging around me, and a deer might appear close by, unaware of me, and I would be filled with wild joy knowing I might kill these animals if I needed to eat them to survive.

“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing

than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance” e.e. cummings

I attended school and went insane with boredom, the teachings dead and useless, the only good parts of school being singing and drawing and recess and ball games and socializing with my friends and being secretly in love with girls. And until Sixth Grade all my classmates were boys and girls, and it was only midway through Sixth Grade and from then on that girls became women and boys remained boys, a division that reached a painful zenith in Seventh and Eighth Grade, otherwise known as junior high.

“and down they forgot as up they grew” e.e. cummings

The summer after Eighth Grade I was hired by a neighbor to move many tons of soil from his backyard to his front yard. I shoveled heavy brown dirt from a gently sloping hillside into a large wheelbarrow and wheeled that barrow a hundred yards up and over an incline to the dumping point. This labor—five hours a day—lasted two months and changed my fast-growing body from skinny boy to muscular young man. Then, with only a month remaining before I started high school, I spent two weeks camped in the woods with my spear and fires and beef jerky, knowing these were the last days of my childhood and never wanting them to end.

“and now you are and i am now and we’re

a mystery which will never happen again” e.e. cummings

The week before I started high school, I went to a party; and all the girls my age had become women. They saw I was no longer a boy; and Shari who had been a woman since Seventh Grade kissed me tenderly as we danced and led me outside into the moonlight and we kissed unto mindlessness, but beyond that I didn’t have a clue what to do and Shari was clearly frustrated and disappointed.

A few days later, the Saturday before high school began, I came home from my camp in the woods to find Hannah had come to visit, Hannah whom I had secretly loved since Fifth Grade, Hannah with womanly curves and beautiful breasts, Hannah with a deep musical laugh who always got my jokes when no one else did, Hannah who was my primary dream girl and fantasy lover.

We played ping-pong, and as we played I realized I was naked save for shorts, and Hannah was naked save for shorts and a negligible blouse. I had caught up to her, biologically speaking, and she had come to me—never having been to my house before—because she knew I had caught up to her, and because she liked me.

Somehow we went from playing ping-pong on the terrace to walking through the overgrown vineyard to a massive oak, and there we embraced and kissed and kissed some more until she whispered sweetly, “Hey, you wanna do it?”

“I…I…”

“I know how,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “And I can show you.”

I was thirteen. Looking back, seeing myself with Hannah in those last moments of childhood, I may wish I had allowed her to show me, but now that I have found and fit enough pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of life, I understand that I was not yet fully a man, not yet a killer of antelopes or the modern equivalent, and therefore not allowed to take a wife.