Posts Tagged ‘Toad Walnut’

Sane Man Walking

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

When Your Heart Is Strong painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“ Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying.  To solve a problem, walk around.” Gregory McNamee

After a severely stressful year of extreme physical challenges finally resolved by two successful surgeries, I am once again walking to and from the village every day, and slowly but surely building up my strength and stamina. The three-mile trip—downhill to town, uphill coming home—is invigorating now rather than exhausting, and the hour of steady walking is always a welcome relief from desk work and my connection to the electrical digital reality that underpins so much of my life today.

Spring has sprung, the plum trees and camellias and quince are in fulgent bloom, crab apples, rhododendrons, and cherry trees soon to follow with their outbursts of color, while Japanese maples spread their leafy wings and daffodils wave their trumpet-like flowers over the green grass that will never be so brilliantly green as when it first erupts from the flanks of Mother Earth. How sweet to walk through this riot of new life—what fun to write such purple prose.

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” Raymond Inmon

Having just finished writing a new novel, copies being made at Zo, the one and only copy shop in Mendocino, Ian the meticulous maven of duplication handling my case, I find that I am already in the grip of yet another novel, three chapters written and a fourth being told to me as I walk through the piney woods, the new story so intriguing I can barely remember the other book that owned me so completely for several months until just the other day.

I was talking to a friend about the experience of writing my new novel, the first I’ve birthed in some years, and I used the expression necessary delusion to describe why, whilst in the throes of giving birth, I felt so certain that this new book was truly fantastic, though it might not be any good at all.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” said my friend, frowning quizzically. “Why was it necessary that you be delusional?”

“Because,” I explained, “if I’m going to spend months and possibly years working on something that has very little chance of succeeding commercially, when I might otherwise make real money editing other people’s writing, I must believe the novel is going to be the next Moby Dick or Portnoy’s Complaint, or better yet a combination of the two.”

“But maybe you’re not delusional,” said my friend, an optimistic fellow. “Maybe you did create a masterpiece.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Masterwork or drivel, it is imperative that I believe the book is superb or I won’t continue. And because the epigenetic overlords controlling me wanted that thing written, they caused the requisite endorphins to be released into my blood along with whatever else was needed to silence my inner critics long enough for me to get the job done, after which the spell was broken and, to thoroughly mix my metaphors, I turned back into a frog, or Toad, as I was called in elementary school. Toad Walnut.”

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” Simone Weil

Yes, indeed, until I was fifty, I cared deeply about what might happen to my stories and novels and plays after I completed them, hoping fervently that they would bring me renown and buckets of money. And it was this hoping and caring, I now realize, that kept those creations glued to my psyche for months and years after I finished them. Now, blessedly, I understand that keeping things glued to my psyche is the creative equivalent of going deaf from wax buildup in my ears—an impediment to hearing the call of the muse, a blaring egotism that tells the gods I am not the tabula rasa they require; and so they desist from using me in the way I love to be used.

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate those rare and inspiring notes of praise from readers and listeners—I do—or that I don’t hoot for joy when I find a check in our post office box for something I wrote or recorded—I do. But I am happiest nowadays when the muse has me under her power and there is nothing glued to my psyche to distract me. I feel most alive and empowered when no attachment stands in my way of hearing the muse in full surround sound stereo, my attention undivided as I work to translate her imagistic offerings into prose.

“Walking takes longer than any other known form of locomotion except crawling.  Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.  Life is already too short to waste on speed.” Edward Abbey

Countless authors have written about how their most famous works came to them while they were on long walks; and many great scientists, Einstein among them, have said that their most profound theories were first imagined while they were taking walks. I attribute this recurring linkage of inspiration and walking to the profound interrelationship of our specie’s evolution from little-brained tree-dwelling apes to walking-around-on-the-ground hominids with huge brains—the relatively swift evolution from small-brained to big-brained coinciding precisely with our specie’s adaptation of walking and running on two legs as the fundamental means of getting around in the absence of trees to swing through.

During my brief collegiate career, I majored in Cultural Anthropology and was required to take an introductory course in Physical Anthropology, a field I found both fascinating and infinitely less morally questionable than Cultural Anthropology as it was generally practiced in those days—a university-funded imperialism, if you will, that treated indigenous societies as specimens to be intellectually dissected and analyzed by Great White Academics whether those specimen societies wanted to be dissected or not.

In 1967, the year I began my avid reading of Physical Anthropology texts, one of the debates raging in that field was whether bi-pedal locomotion (walking on two legs) or the advent of the opposable thumb was the adaptation most responsible for and/or conjoined with the dramatic enlargement of our australopithecine brains.

This distracting debate eventually went the way of the Dodo, thank goodness, and we followers of the fossil discoveries and resultant theories of how we came to be the humans we are today were no longer distracted by academic dickering while we marveled at the ingenuity of nature guiding our evolution from little hominids who were the favorite prey of enormous cats to large hominids staring at television screens while miniature versions of those enormous cats sleep on our beds and demand to be fed or they’ll shred the furniture.

My point being: I totally grok why walking ignites the imagination, and I enjoy thinking about that ignition as a variation on good old ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny—the physiological development of the individual organism recapitulating the physiological evolution of that organism’s species—the imagination ignited by walking recapitulating the interconnectedness of bi-pedal locomotion and the dramatic enlargement of our incredible brains.

 “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.” George Macauley Trevelyan

I have previously extolled the wonders of Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, which might have been subtitled A Treatise on Walking and the Evolution of Human Society, and I feel compelled to extol his book again. A favorite anecdote therein echoes my own sense of how Nature intends for humans—amalgams of body, mind, and spirit—to function on spaceship Earth.

“A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.”

That story strikes me as an excellent explanation for the discombobulating sensation known as jet lag, as well as explaining why I always feel so much more relaxed and present when I walk to town rather than drive. I have not run ahead of my soul. Or put another way, I am in synch with my essential nature. I am grooving with my intrinsic biorhythms. I have fortified my sanity by doing what my body and mind and spirit require for optimal functioning. In walking I am practicing the yoga (unification) of body, mind, and spirit free of digital electronic automotive interference—striding (or in my case ambling) through the natural world as our Bushmen foremothers and forefathers strode on the sands of the Kalahari.

Here is another thought-provoking tidbit from The Songlines.

“In Middle English, the word progress meant a journey, particularly a seasonal journey or circuit. A progress was the journey of a king round the castles of his barons, a bishop round his dioceses, a nomad round his pastures, a pilgrim round a sequence of shrines. Moral or material forms of progress were unknown until the seventeenth century.”

What I especially like about that earlier definition of progress is how it resonates with my feelings about my daily walk to town, my own little pilgrim’s progress, my shrines the post office, Zo, Corners of the Mouth, Harvest at Mendosa’s, the bank, Goodlife Café, the Tiki god statue overlooking the mouth of Mendocino Bay, the driftwood sculptures on Portuguese Beach, the library, the hardware store, the traffic light on Highway One—the pleasure of my progress amplified by meeting other pilgrims along the way.

What’s In A Name?

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

(This essay was written for The Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2010)

“Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I answer the ringing phone, I am distracted by my cat chasing his tail and do not hear the brief telltale silence presaging a stranger seeking money. “Hello. This is Doralinda Kayamunga of the NRA calling for Mr. Tom Walsmar.” I hang up, though in retrospect I wish I’d thought to ask Doralinda how she got Tom from Todd and Walsmar from Walton.

My childhood friends delighted in calling me Toad Walnut, and did so with such frequency that their teasing ceased to rankle. Please note: their playful distortion of my name was intentional, whereas the thousand and one subsequent manglings of Todd and Walton result, as far as I can tell, from endemic mass idiocy. I have been called Tom, Toby, Tad, Ted, Tony, Don, Rod, and Scott hundreds of times in my life, usually in combination with Watson, Walters, Weldon, Waldon, Walsmar, Wilson, Welton, Waters, Waldo, and most recently Watton.

For goodness sake, my name is not Jascha Heifetz or Ubaldo Jimenez or Ilgaukus Christianoosman. In England, Walton is as common as Smith. My surname derives from Walled Town, and in medieval England nearly all towns were walled towns. In those long ago days, a person might be known as Roderick of Walled Town or Sylvia of Walled Town, and over the ensuing centuries, William of Walled Town became Bill Walton of UCLA and the Portland Trailblazers.

I’m sure that you, at one time or another, have had your name and/or names misread and mis-said, but I have yet to meet anyone with a name as simple and straightforward as mine who experiences such persistent moniker mishandling. My wife, Marcia Sloane, her first name frequently spelled Marsha by even her close friends, and her last name often presented minus the E at the end, posits that the very simplicity of Todd Walton is the cause of people mistaking my name (s) for others. She has yet to convincingly explain why simplicity breeds confusion, and in support of my theory of rampant idiocy I remind her that when she recently gave a talk at the Unitarian, both the Beacon and the Advocate referred to her as Marika Solace.

Perhaps the most egregious distortion of my first name came in 1967 at the outset of my first year of college at brand new UC Santa Cruz. Dazed and confused, I dutifully followed the orders in my freshman orientation packet and went to consult with the advisor assigned to me, a nationally renowned sociologist I shall not name. This mean little man would soon be locally renowned as a middle-aged sex fiend preying on gullible undergrad females. To that end, he made sure only females landed on his list of advisees. So why was I on his list? Because some administrative dweeb transcribed my name Todi, and this horny old fart took the misspelling to be an Italian (or possibly Finnish) girl’s name. Needless to say, he was extremely displeased when a sweaty boy and not some svelte female darkened his door. After a brief and icky meeting, he grimly suggested I find other counsel. Todi, indeed.

“And we were angry and poor and happy, 
and proud of seeing our names in print.
” G.K. Chesterton

When I published my first novel Inside Moves, I did what all first-time authors do; I visited myriad bookstores to see if they were carrying my book. In several of these stores, my book was shelved in the hobby section, the resident geniuses having read the title as Inside Movies. When the book and subsequent film provided me with a brief stint of notoriety, I was asked to provide congratulatory blurbs for other books. And on the back cover of one of these books I was Tod Wilson, author of Night Moves. On another, I was John Walters, author of Forbidden Pulses, my second novel being Forgotten Impulses. What a woild!

“Proper names are poetry in the raw.  Like all poetry they are untranslatable.”  W.H. Auden

In 1973 my mother offered me her doddering and essentially worthless Ford LTD so I could move with my girlfriend and our paltry earthly possessions from Palo Alto, California to Eugene, Oregon. We got as far as Sacramento when the old car began to shimmy like my sister Kate. By some miracle, we managed to pull into a wheel alignment garage moments before the car could shake into pieces. As it happened, we had just enough cash to fix our coach, but the mechanic said he was booked solid for three days.

And so, resigned to crashing on a friends’ floor for the duration, I despondently signed the estimate sheet. But when the mechanic saw my signature, his eyes widened and he blurted, “Walton? You’re a Walton? Walton’s mountain? John Boy. The Waltons. That’s our favorite show in the whole world. That show…that show is the story of our life. You’re a Walton?”

I had never seen The Waltons, but I’d heard of the popular television show and been called John Boy by countless cretins, so I vaguely knew what this fellow was talking about. I also knew that the creator of The Waltons was named something like Hammer, and the stories were based on his family’s history. However, since Hammer lacked the grace and elegance of Walton, he decided…

“I gotta tell my wife,” said the mechanic, nodding hopefully. “Could you…if we did your car this afternoon could you hang around so my wife can meet you?”

“Sure,” I said, struck by the happy realization that for the first time in my life there might be some advantage to being named Walton.

And though I felt compelled to explain to these good people that I was no relation to the fictional characters they worshiped, they would hear none of my disclaimers. I was a deity to them, and all because I hadn’t followed the lead of many of my cohorts and changed my name to Rainbow River or Jade Sarong.

The mechanic’s wife presented us with a special pumpkin pie “just like the Walton’s have for Thanksgiving supper.” She spoke of the Waltons in the present tense, for they were very much alive to her.

This blessed nonsense culminated in the mechanic donating all parts and labor to our exodus from the golden state. Then he fervently shook my hand and declared that meeting me was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. Yet neither the mechanic nor his wife seemed stupid or deranged. Indeed, they struck me as intelligent and resourceful people, their only shortcoming the inability to distinguish a television show from what they imagined to be a docudrama set in the Deep South about people related to me.

When I asked if I might know their last name, the mechanic said, “Oh, it’s a common old name where we come from.”

“Still,” I said, having finally surrendered my fate to the largesse of satirical angels, “I’d love to know your last name?”

“Knuckles,” said the mechanic and his wife, speaking as one.

“Knuckles?” I echoed. “I’ve never heard of anyone named Knuckles.”

“Dime a dozen where we come from,” said the mechanic’s wife. “And every last one a cousin.”

“Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.” Japanese Proverb

That is, if the name left is actually your name.

Marcia and I just took possession of our two new CDs. The first, So not Jazz, features Marcia on cello and yours truly on guitar and piano. The second, 43 short Piano Improvisations, is just that: forty-three musical haiku. Our wonderful UPS delivery person brought the myriad boxes to our door, and as we gaily opened them to make sure the CDs were, indeed, ours and not those of a Fresno Reggae ensemble (which happened the last time we made a CD) I noticed the boxes were addressed to Todd Watton and Marcia Sloane. Oh, well. Just a silly typo. Todd Watton. No problem.

Yes, problem. A few days after we sent out the first batch of our CDs, my brother, a highly adept computer and Interweb person, emailed me to report that all forty-three of my piano improvisations and all nine of my collaborations with Marcia were showing up on iTunes and several other digital download sites under the purview of Todd Watton. Web crawling logarithms were gobbling the misnomer and spreading it hither and yon throughout cyber space, and good luck replacing that leading T in Watton with the L we so very much wanted to be there instead.

We contacted the manufacturer and they promised to do what they could to rectify the situation. We are moderately hopeful the erroneous moniker will be thoroughly expunged from the electronic highways and biways, but we won’t hold our breaths. Fortunately, I subscribe to the philosophy that the occurrences composing so-called reality are not random, but only seem random because we lack sufficient data to explain why the occurrences are occurring. In honor of this philosophy, I have coined the word confluencidental, and I hope one day this grandiloquent word will be granted entry into the Oxford English Dictionary and possibly into the yet-to-be-established Buckminster Fuller Hall of Fame. But again, I digress.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William the Spear Shaker

Ultimately, when my body dissolves into the mother of all molecular whirlpools and my life essence goes wherever life essences go, my names will only live as long as it takes for the people who remember me to die, for the books I’ve published to turn to dust or flame, and for the recordings I’ve made to become unplayable. Thereafter, Todd Walton (or Tom Walsmar or Toby Watson or Todi Watton) will only be remembered if things he or she made—songs, poems, stories—take on lives of such vibrancy that future generations will feel compelled to keep those creations alive. And should such miracles transpire, the names attached to those creations will surely be irrelevant.

I once met a guy who claimed to have written a famous song stolen from him by the person who got famous and rich for writing the song. I have no doubt this guy honestly believed he’d written the famous song the other person got the credit and money for writing. But I never liked that song, so I didn’t really care one way or the other.

Todd and Marcia’s new CDs and songs are available for sampling and purchase at UnderTheTableBooks.com.