Our good friend and web master and graphics wizard, Garth Hagerman, he who is responsible for our web sites and the web sites and graphic and computer and publishing needs of many artists and businesses in Mendocino, is in the midst of overcoming leukemia. After spending two months in a hospital in Sacramento undergoing intense chemotherapy, he now needs to have a bone marrow transplant to be entirely cured so the leukemia does not recur.
HOWEVER, because of our
deeply flawed medical system, he will only be scheduled for the transplant if
he can prove he has the money to pay
for attendants to live with him 24/7 in the dormitory adjacent to the UCSF
hospital in San Francisco for 2-3 months AFTER he has the bone marrow
Garth is out of money and
Medi-Cal will cover the cost of the transplant and for Garth to live in the recovery
dormitory for 2-3 months, but they will NOT cover the salaries of his
attendants, nor can he continue to qualify for Medi-Cal if he personally possesses the required money.
Thus we have set up a
checking account into which his GoFundMe funds will go, and we will write the checks
to Garth’s attendants.
So if you have a little something to spare or know someone who might like to contribute to a worthy cause, here is the link to Garth’s GoFundMe page. He needs at least three times his stated goal. Consider that a single day of 24/7 live-in care will cost at least $500, which means he will need $15,000 per month for the time he is in the recovery dormitory.
Todd & Marcia
Always Love a song by Todd and Marcia from their CD So Not Jazz
Time capsule. Buried treasure. A lost story I’d forgotten was lost because I’d forgotten I ever wrote the story.
On Easter 2023 I received an email from my
friend Richard Marks in Los Angeles. Richard is an entertainment lawyer. We are
the same age and he represented me in Hollywood for a few years in the late
1970s and early 1980s. We’ve stayed in touch over the intervening decades and
for the last several years Richard has been a subscriber to my blog and
responds to many of my postings via email, which is a great gift to me.
Attached to Richard’s Easter email was a PDF
of a story I sent him forty years ago. At the time, I must have felt the story
would make a good movie, else I would not have sent it to him. I recognized the
typeface of the IBM Selectric typewriter I used in those days before the coming
of personal computers, yet I had no memory of the story.
Richard wrote: Do you have a copy of it, or did I
rescue a piece of your past? Please let me know. In the meantime, Happy Pesach
I was amazed by how moved I was by the story. When I typed
the text into my computer, I resisted my impulse to rewrite the lines because I
want to honor this story as a gift from the universe (through Richard), and I
feel the roughness of the writing is part of the gift.
When I wrote to Richard to thank him, I said I was tempted to post the story on my blog. He wrote back encouraging me to do so. Here it is. Mazel tov!
by Todd Walton
I’m a very large person. Around the middle I have maybe three or four pounds extra, but the rest is solid, which comes to about two hundred and sixty-five. I’m six-foot-seven. Except for a knee injury I would have no acceptable excuse for not having been on some sort of football team. But in actuality I dislike football. I prefer soccer. My father was a great soccer player. He was under six-feet and very thin, and extremely Irish. He played halfback and swarmed all over the field until he was sixty something. He died recently.
My mother was German and very small. No one
knows where I got my size. I look, in the face, very much like my father, not
that there was ever a question that he was the one. But there are no big people
on either side. I don’t have any hormone problems either. I’m just extremely
My face is actually not too bad, but most
people don’t ever really see my face. They either get preoccupied with my size
or they see my face from below, which distorts it. Any face seen from below is
not especially attractive, and I wouldn’t exactly be classified as handsome to
Because of my size, I have had to fight
several guys in the plant. You would think my size would save me. Actually it
makes me a target. Fortunately, I am quite strong. My father told me when I was
twelve that if I was going to be big, I’d better have the strength to match my
size. He started me going to Logan’s Gym and I still go there. I learned to
wrestle, and best of all, to swim. I love to swim.
Except when the guy used a weapon, I had no
problem defending myself. I don’t believe in attacking someone, but if they
attack me I will hit and hit hard. Once a guy came at me with a pipe and I ran.
He thought I was chicken, dropped the pipe and I knocked him out with a right
Another guy used a knife, and I should have
run. He sliced open my arm. Forty stitches. I broke his jaw and pressed
criminal charges. He did eight months.
The reason for these attacks is so stupid
it make me sick. The reason is that I had a reputation for being invincible. I
still have that reputation. Actually, I hate violence. I won’t go to violent
movies. And though I may not sound it, I consider myself a cultured person. I
like to read, to go to plays and to play chess with my neighbor, Isaac, who is
a professor of English and totally accepts me.
I saw Walter for the first time at the company Christmas party. I didn’t want to go, but everyone in my carpool was going so I had no choice.
At first I was terrified of him. He towers over everybody, but he’s not just tall. He’s got broad shoulders and his arms are as big as my legs, which are not, I’m sorry to say, small.
He was alone. People spoke to him in passing, but he was really alone. I asked Carla who he was and she said his name was Walter and that he was a supervisor. She’d heard he was mean and very hard on the people under him.
I mixed in around the punch bowl and got talking to a guy who worked in Walter’s section. He started out saying what a goon Walter was, but when nobody else except me was listening he said that really the guy wasn’t so bad. He just had very high standards and was very sensitive about his size. I asked him if he was a fighter and the guy said that Walter didn’t look for a fight, but he could fight like hell if he had to.
She just walked up to me and introduced herself. I was talking to somebody from Management and she just waltzes up and says hi. The management guy evaporates and I say hello. She’s easily the most beautiful woman who has ever spoken to me in a social setting. I know there’s a catch, but what the hell it’s Christmas, give it a whirl. I figure she’s trying to get somebody jealous, especially when she asks me to dance, but I dance anyway. She’s so light, I lift her off the ground without even trying.
I’m thirty-seven. That’s what I was thinking when we started dancing. Thirty-seven, never married, barely loved. I make good money. I’m no dummy. I’m so lonely it hurts when I think about it, and yet I can’t ask her out because I know she’s doing this for a reason I don’t want to know about.
After a half-hour of dancing, we walk over to the punch bowl and talk a little. She’s in Accounting. Been there six months. Just rejoined the work force now that her kids are old enough for school. Wants to get a degree in counseling. She asks about me, but then her friends say they have to go. She asks me where I live and I tell her and then she runs off.
I am not much of a drinker, but meeting her made me kind of crazy, so I drink too much punch, hit a couple bars afterwards and wake up on Christmas morning with a terrible hangover. I go over to Isaac’s and we play some chess and he makes me drink tomato juice. I tell him about her and he doesn’t laugh at me. All I know is that her name is Luisa. She has light red hair, two kids, and I can’t wait to get back to work so I can take her to lunch.
Before I got home on Christmas Eve, I’d made up my mind to at least ask him. You can tell quite a bit about a person when you dance with them for a while. That he could dance at all surprised me, but he wasn’t bad. His sense of rhythm was good. With a little practice he could be excellent, though ideally he would have a very tall partner.
I confirmed his strength, but I got no
sense of meanness. That was good and bad. I wanted a decent human being, but I
couldn’t use a soft touch. He would be going up against the meanest man I’ve
People asked me why I stayed married to Wes. If I had told them the truth they wouldn’t have been able to believe it or accept it. No one can accept that a man will kill his wife and children rather than lose them, unless you’ve been there yourself, and even then it doesn’t seem possible. But that is what he would do. I left him twice. The first time, he beat me to a pulp. The second time he beat me, nearly killed a woman who was helping me, and kicked my three-year-old son. I would have murdered him, but I didn’t want to spend my life in prison, though even that didn’t seem so bad anymore.
I knew the chances were good he would come home drunk on Christmas Eve, and that he would try to hurt me and maybe rape me if he wasn’t too drunk. I’d arranged for the children to be at a friend’s. As I sat there waiting for him, I couldn’t believe this was what had happened to my life. On television the people on the talk show were laughing and teasing each other, and I was sitting there, bruised all over, beat up every couple weeks. For what? For marrying him. For his sickness. For my ignorance that it was too late to escape. I was at the bottom, but I thought of Walter and I had a little bit of hope.
I don’t remember what excuse I made for going into Accounting, but I went in there and there she was. She was wearing a ton of makeup, which seemed unnecessary to me until I looked closer and saw that somebody had punched her, and not just once. I got so furious I could hardly keep from screaming. She knew I saw the swelling, but she just smiled and before I could say anything she said she’d love to go to lunch.
Which was the weirdest, most amazing lunch
I have ever had, or not had, since I couldn’t eat a thing. We sat down and she
started talking. Two hours later she stopped and I couldn’t think of a single
damn thing to say. I was incredulous. I took her back to work and then did my
rounds in a kind of daze until somebody told me to go home, which I did.
Isaac wasn’t home, so there was no one to
talk to except my dog Lucy, who was glad to have me home in the middle of the
day, but could tell I was upset. She’s very intuitive. So we went for a walk
and I just let Luisa’s story take me over for a couple hours.
She was a battered woman, that’s what she
called herself. She had two kids. A girl four and a boy six. Her husband was a
big bruiser, a heavy equipment operator, alcoholic, violent. She was afraid to
leave him, but she said if she couldn’t escape somehow, she would either kill
herself or him. She wanted to know if I would take her and her children in and
protect them from him. In return, she would sleep with me, cook for me and be
as good a friend as she could be if I would promise never to physically harm
her or her children.
Crazy, right? Right. But when five o’clock
came around, and I imagined that crazy, sick bastard going home and hurting her
and her little kids, my heart ached, I felt dizzy and sick, and I didn’t feel I
had any other purpose in life but to protect her.
I prayed Wes wouldn’t come home that night. I had asked Walter at lunch if he would take us and I knew he was thinking about it. I wanted to concentrate my thoughts on him so he would say yes. But Wes came home, and after dinner he started drinking, and then he started cursing at the television. Then he yelled at me to come and do a strip tease for him. I said I would after the kids were in bed, but he said Now!
I was in the kitchen and the big knife was sitting there staring at me, and I wanted to grab it and kill him, but I used every bit of strength I had to restrain myself. I put the kids to bed and then came into the living room and he was asleep. When he sleeps he looks so harmless, puffed up, like a big fat boy, about five-years-old, only huge.
I didn’t sleep. I told her yes, first thing the next day. The only thing was, I didn’t want her sleeping with me. That was something I wouldn’t force on anybody. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, believe me. I was just not something I could feel right about. She started crying when I said that, the good kind of crying. Then she hugged me, right there in Accounting where several people could see us.
She took the rest of the day off and moved
some things and her kids over to my place. I couldn’t work thinking about what
was happening, worrying about whether everything was going okay, or if her
husband had found out, so I took the rest of the day off and went home to help
her. Production at the plant was dropping fast.
God, the kids were cute. They were scared
of me, naturally. Lucy didn’t know what was going on and was verging on
hysterics, so it’s good I went home. My apartment always seemed roomy to me,
but it was suddenly small, especially until we got things squared away.
I’ll give her this. She was organized as
well as beautiful. She lined up a Montessori school for the kids, figured out
the bus routes and opened a new checking account, plus did the shopping, all
that first day. Isaac came over and did some juggling to entertain the kids. He
also balanced a yardstick on his nose, which I didn’t know he could do. I gave
her my room, the kids got the other room and I took the living room. For dinner
that night I sent out for pizza and they couldn’t believe how much I ate,
though actually I was holding back.
Then when the kids finally calmed down
enough to sleep, she and I talked about what was likely to happen, how her
husband would probably follow her from work. So I said we’d just have to travel
together until things got resolved. That’s when she told me about him in more
detail. She said he was six-foot-three, two hundred and forty pounds of
viciousness. He liked to hurt things, people in particular. He had no pride or
honor. He’d use a knife, a gun, anything to make sure he won. I said I’d
figured as much.
Which is when she asked why I had agreed to
take them. I told her I knew she had picked me because I was big, but that was
okay, because being big hadn’t been much good to me or anybody else so far, and
I knew she wouldn’t have chosen me if she hadn’t felt there was something else
there besides bulk, because I’m not exactly gorgeous. I guess I’d been waiting
around for someone to recognize me for something deeper, and she had.
She relaxed then and became even more
beautiful than she’d ever been, and I couldn’t help saying something like, “How
could anyone hit somebody as wonderful as you?”
“Who says I’m wonderful?” she said,
frowning at me. “What’s so wonderful about marrying a psycho? I could get wonderful, but I’m not yet.”
“People get into screwy situations,” I
said. “You just look up one day and say, ‘How the hell?’”
“Exactly,” she said, reaching out and
touching my arm, which made me realize she was starting to trust me.
It had been so long since I’d let myself
sleep like that. I guess I must have felt safe. My kids were still kind of
crazy and didn’t sleep so well, and Walter stayed up most of the night, I could
tell, but I slept, and it made me
feel so strong. I was absolutely hyper at work and everybody wanted to know
what happened, and men were looking at me like they always used to, before I
got married, and my girlfriends said they could see the difference in me. I had
been living such a half-life, and my new life seemed too much like a dream and
I made myself sick thinking about what might happen.
It was three days later when he came. I’ll
give this to him, he didn’t wait until I was out. That he had two other guys
with him struck me as a little unfair, but then I had anticipated that. I
signaled to Luisa to call the police, which she did from the bedroom. Then she
locked herself and the kids in.
I let Lucy do her deep growling act and
then I asked politely who it was. Wes was calm at first. Actually, if his
buddies hadn’t been there we might have just talked, but his masculine bullshit
was on the line, so after a brief exchange he started chopping the door down.
I was scared, but I was also confident.
It’s weird, but I was. I had talked to a friend on the police force, a guy I
know from the gym, and we’d arranged for our call, if and when it came, to take
priority. The cops arrived a couple minutes later and arrested Wes. While he
was in custody, Luisa’s attorney served him with a restraining order, which he
tore up in front of witnesses. But even if the cops hadn’t come I would have
handled it. I know I would have, because I could feel the kids and Luisa behind
me and it was like I was being transfused with strength, because I felt like
She wanted to move afterwards. She had very
romantic notions. A new life in Arizona. I said she was free to go, but that I
was staying. I had realized something while Wes was chopping down the door,
while I was getting ready to break his arm when it came through. I realized
that he was a big hurt lonely person who had nothing. The only thing he thought he had was Luisa. And he thought
I had taken her from him. And I realized that the only real difference between
us, besides being different people, was that I grew up with love and he didn’t.
My biggest fear was that Wes would try to
get the children. Walter sent them off in a cab every morning, and he paid the
cabby extra to do all sorts of tricky maneuvering to lose Wes if he was
following, which I don’t think he ever was. It was expensive, but Walter said
it was worth it. He kept saying it would be over soon anyway, but I didn’t
I guess I started falling in love with
Walter at the end of that first week. He’s such a gentle person, it would be
hard not to like him. He’s a little self-conscious and somewhat eccentric, but
that comes from too much aloneness I think.
After the door chopping I would have
married him. I know it sounds stupid, but I felt that way. He was protecting me
with his goodness. He was putting his life on the line for me and my kids. Why?
Because he was bursting with love, and I had given him a place to put it.
And the kids. The kids were crazy about him
and vice-versa. After just a few days, Tommy would fall asleep in Walter’s arms
every night, and Jenny, who is really terrified of most men, started bringing
Walter things, unsolicited. Beer, the paper, sweaters. She likes to dress him.
They were losing their fear because of him and that made me love him, too.
I was afraid to make love with her. I was
afraid I would crush her, among other things. I was afraid I would disappoint
her. She said I didn’t. I guess I didn’t. She kept wanting to. That’s a good
He can lift me with one hand. He is so
gentle, but every once in a while he gives a hint of his strength and I go
I arranged to meet him at Logan’s Gym. I
told him he could bring friends if he wanted. I have plenty of friends there. I
said I wanted to talk.
He is not much smaller than I am. And
actually, I think he’s handsome, in a dark Slavic sort of way. He’s maybe
thirty pounds overweight, but he’s incredibly strong. We talked, but then the
pain boiled up in him, in me, too, so we wrestled. My idea. We wrestled for a long
time, and then we talked some more.
I told him the story of my life, as much as
I could, and he told me what he could of his, but there was so much pain in his
past, so much anger at himself, there was nothing to do but wrestle again. And
this time I thought he might pin me. I have never felt such strength, such
hatred in anyone. But I dug down and held on, and finally he subsided and we
just lay there exhausted, trying to figure things out.
And then he cried and I cried, and he said
he was going to get some help, see somebody. I said I probably should, too. And
then he begged me to forgive him, and I said he would have to beg his wife
because except for wrecking my door I had nothing against him, unless he hurt
her or the kids again, because they had become part of me.
Then we wrestled some more.
We were sitting on the bench in the park,
watching the kids play on the swings while Lucy chased them, when I saw him
coming. I started to get up, but Walter held me in place. I struggled, but he
held me. “It’s okay,” he said. “I asked him to come.”
This seemed completely insane to me,
impossible. It was like a nightmare. I could feel the blows. Walter had told me
about meeting with Wes, talking, but I just didn’t think Walter knew how crazy
Wes could be. “Please,” I begged him. “He might have a gun.”
“No,” said Walter, getting up.
“Where are you going?” I asked, terrified.
“To play with the kids,” he says, leaving
And then Wes sat on the bench, not looking
at me. We didn’t speak for a long time. Then I’m not sure why, but I said, “I
will never come back to you.” I guess that was a fear of mine, that he would
He said he didn’t want me back, that he
understood it would be impossible, even if he really could change himself. He
said he wouldn’t contest the divorce and he wouldn’t ask for any visitation
rights. What he hoped was that someday I would forgive him. I said I didn’t
know if I ever could. He said he could understand that, but that he was truly
sorry for hurting me and making my life so horrible.
And then he said something that seemed to
confirm everything I’d ever thought about him. He said, “You know, it took a
guy that big, that strong. I woulda chewed anybody else up.”
And as I was nodding in agreement, I said
something. It made Wes laugh and look at me in amazement, and I have to admit I
was a little bit amazed, too. I said, “So would I.”
Today I was in Corners, the small grocery store in Mendocino where I shop two or three times a week, and a song emerged from the music mix they were playing on the store stereo that reminded me of a song I wrote circa 1996, otherwise known as twenty-seven years ago.
The song I was reminded
of is entitled Golden Light, and I
remember when I wrote it because I had just moved to Berkeley in 1995 after
living in Sacramento for fifteen years, and being in a new place starting a new
life inspired a bunch of new songs, one of which was Golden Light.
Driving home from town in my little old pickup with two baskets of marvelous groceries, I was trying to remember why I never recorded Golden Light, when I noticed my speedometer had stopped working and said I was going zero-miles-per-hour when I knew I was going much faster than zero, and the disparity made me laugh.
Arriving home, I
remembered I did record Golden Light a couple years after
writing the song, but chose not to include the tune on the album I was making
at the time because… I couldn’t remember why.
After I put the groceries away, I went on my daily walk, and a few minutes into my walk I had the thought Maybe I didn’t include the song on an album because the lyrics were sexist. Could that be? I certainly didn’t think the lyrics were sexist when I wrote the song, never having been one to consciously write sexist songs. However, a few years into my Berkeley sojourn I sublet a room in the house I was renting to woman named Z who had identified as a lesbian for twenty years and was beginning to think she might be bisexual. She and I had several long talks about sexual identity in a sexist society. So maybe those conversations figured into my decision not to include Golden Light on an album.
Then again… what were the lyrics to Golden Light?
I started to sing the
song as I walked along.
Late last Tuesday evening, after midnight one or two,
I was sunk in bitter loneliness, fighting those killing blues
Came a flash outside my window, a burst of golden light
Lifted me from my despair, launched me into the night.
Something made me, something made me go
Went on down to Jackie’s joint, thought I’d tip a few
There she was playin’ slide with her band and…
That was all I could
remember. Hmm. There she was playin’
slide with her band and…
I walked on and heard the sound of geese, hundreds of them, calling to each other, and I thought Migrating geese! Where are they? I was just coming out of a heavily wooded stretch of road and caught sight of a crooked V of hundreds of geese high above me. I got out my little camera and tried to get a photo of them, but didn’t have time to zoom closer before they were gone.
Then I remembered another
line from Golden Light. Oh my God she could play those blues.
For the rest of the forty-five minute walk, fragments of lyrics came to me, but not the entire song. When I got home, I busied myself with bringing in firewood for the afternoon-into-evening fire, and while building the fire I wondered if I might have the lyrics to the song in a Word document on my computer.
After I got the fire
going in the woodstove, I made some fabulous hummus using sunflower seed butter
instead of tahini to go with the garbanzos and lemon juice and garlic and hot
sauce and a splash of white wine and curry powder, and whilst eating the good
goo on crackers, I remembered what Golden
Light was about and thought maybe I hadn’t included the song on an album
because the storyline of the song was
a male fantasy cliché, which might have felt somewhat sexist to me in 1996,
though why I would have felt that way I couldn’t imagine: lonely man meets
fabulous woman, takes a chance, fabulous woman dances with him.
After gorging on the superb hummus I went to the computer, looked in my long neglected Song Lyrics folder and found a Word document for Golden Light. However, it was a strange looking little file symbol, different than the others, and when I tried to open the file, a message appeared on the screen saying my computer and current writing software were unable to read the file because the file was ancient, a modern synonym for more than ten years old.
So I spent some time Googling how to read old Word files and learned that my current Word is considered antique and the newest Word app should be able to read the old file. However, to get the newest Word app I’ll need a new and more powerful computer and the new Word app for which I must pay an exorbitant monthly subscription fee. Can you say greedy amoral creepy jerks?
Then I thought I’ll just send this ancient Word document to my computer-wizard brother and he will make a new copy for me that is readable by my seven-year-old antique computer.
I started an email to my
brother intending to attach the old Word document when I felt a pang of
frustration and annoyance and a touch of anger, and decided to try to remember
the lyrics without resorting to anything other than my memory.
To that end, I sat down at the kitchen table with a blank piece of paper and started writing out the song lyrics. Once again my memory hit a wall at There she was playin’ slide with her band and…
I continued humming the
tune and went on to the next verse, and more and more lines arose from the
archives of my memory, with several large gaps remaining.
I remembered She had big men at her elbows and rich gals
buying her booze.
Time to add another log to the fire. Whilst adding the log, it occurred to me I could try to play the song and sing it. Surely that would jog my memory. I haven’t played the guitar for several months because I’ve been working on a new suite of piano tunes. Thus the guitar callouses on my chord-making fingers would be wimpy and my fingers would hurt when I played and my playing would be lousy because I’m out of practice. And I hadn’t played Golden Light in twenty years. Nevertheless, I got my guitar and my thumb pick and sat down to see if I could remember how to play and sing Golden Light.
Interesting Tidbit: It turns out I do not, independently of my right thumb, know how to play the many songs I’ve written for the guitar. If I try to strum the chords without my thumb pick on, I can’t remember the chords or how to play any of my songs. With my thumb pick on, I can play the songs. I’m not kidding. My thumb is a genius.
I began to play and sing, and here it was, the song in her (or his or its) entirety. As I played, I thought This is a rock soul classic waiting to be covered by singers and bands and choirs for generations to come. Nor did the words or the story seem sexist to me. Was the song a fantasy? Yes. A fairy tale? Yes. Implausible and verging on silly? Perhaps.
Then it occurred to me that anyone who felt this song was sexist would probably not be someone I would invite over for hummus or cookies, though I would, of course honor his or her or any other pronoun’s opinion about my wonderful song.
Here are the lyrics to Golden Light. Maybe someday I will include the song on an album, though now I’m thinking of changing the title to Something Made Me. What do you think?
Late last Tuesday evening,
after midnight one or two,
I was sunk in bitter
loneliness, fighting those killing blues
Came a flash outside my
window, a burst of golden light
Lifted me from my
despair, launched me into the night.
Something made me go,
something made me
Went on down to Jackie’s
joint, thought I’d tip a few
There she was playin’
slide with her band
and there was nothing I
She had a wild mane of
long long hair, luscious tiger’s eyes
She was everything I would ever want
if I only had the strength to try
She had big men at her
elbows, she had rich gals buying her booze
She had pretty boys
and oh my God she could
play those blues
Something made me go,
something made me
I moved past all her suitors and asked her for
She looked at me for a long long time,
Then she put down her guitar and gave me my
Generally speaking, when artists or writers or musicians talk about the creative process, I run away as if pursued by a monster. Not only do I find such talk nonsensical, but many of the hundreds of writers I worked with as a teacher and editor were made to feel like failures by authors of famous writing books, and famous authors pontificating in various venues, all of them preaching the necessity of writing for many hours a day and adhering to arbitrary rules guaranteeing failure for just about anybody who tried to tie themselves into such knots to please the people who, I guarantee you, did not walk their own talk.
Dogmatizing creative expression is always done by people taking advantage
of aspiring artists longing for easy-to-follow recipes for creating marvelous
things. There is only one such recipe. I will give you the secret for free. Try
to create something and keep trying whenever you are so moved to try.
Long ago when I published novels with mainstream publishers and had enough success to land lucrative gigs appearing at writers’ conferences and speaking to writing groups, I was forever being asked about my creative process. More often than not, I would feign going into a trance and say in a somewhat robotic voice I am a channel for Kavon Knarf speaking from Dimension Gazornen Nine. Or something like that. Depending on the group I was addressing, this got big laughs or big uncomfortable silences.
This was in the early days of
personal computers, and many of the people listening to me wanted to know
whether I used Word or Word Perfect or another of the many writing programs
vying for supremacy in those days.
When I said I wrote my first and
second drafts with pen and paper, many of the attendees were terribly
disappointed. They were hoping the kind
of writing software I used would be the key to unlocking their creative
treasure troves. And then came the inevitable follow-up questions: What kind of
pen do you use? Lined paper or unlined?
If that seems silly to you, it is.
Yet I have heard famous authors say, “You must
write for at least three hours a day,” and “Never use the word suddenly,” and “Always write on an empty
stomach,” and “Never write in First Person,” and “Always write in First
Person,” and lots of other insulting unhelpful poo poo.
Why am I going on about this? Because I want to tell you something about my creative process. Tee hee. Not a rule or anything, just something that happened.
So for the last few months I have
been writing and rewriting, at least a dozen drafts so far, the novel I’m
creating from the Healing Weintraub stories some of you may recall from my blog
in the second half of 2022.
For my last run through, before
turning all those pages over to Marcia to proof before we embark on publishing
the book, I read the twenty-six chapters in reverse order (out loud), starting
with Chapter 26 and working my way through to Chapter One. This proved helpful
and revelatory. For reasons no doubt neurological, my brain/imagination loved
Suddenly everything fell into place.
Suddenly I understood who I really
am. Not really.
I had a wonderful time. Really.
When Marcia has done her work and we begin the process of publishing the book, I will embark on the making-of-the-audio-book adventure. To that end I’ve been acting out all the dialogue with gusto and in character, and having big fun honing the many accents required for a neato narration: British (various), American (various), Jewish (various) Irish, German, French, Polish, Norwegian, and Spanish (various).
I’m beginning to feel there may be a
sequel on the way.
When we first moved to our two acres in the redwoods eleven years ago, I endeavored to grow vegetables in the ground despite the warnings from neighbors that the redwood roots would defeat me. In my ignorance, I believed otherwise and dug massive quantities of roots from my beds every few months until after five years of futile labor, I finally I hurt my back one too many times and surrendered.
Thus began the era of tub farming. Easy living with great
results! Yesterday I prepared one of my orchard tubs by turning the soil and
adding aged chicken manure and compost, and then planted seeds of chard,
lettuce, sugar snap peas, and arugula.
In another tub I planted potatoes next to last year’s chard. Zucchini and tomatoes and other vegetables that like hot weather, or at least warm weather, do not grow well here a mile from the coast outside of greenhouses, and we do not have a greenhouse.
When we came to look at this place before we bought it, the first thing I saw was this magnificent old tree in our woods, her twisted trunk having saved her from felling when the area was clear-cut a hundred years ago. Her twisted trunk means that usable lumber cannot be made from her trunk. We believe she is more than two-hundred-years-old.
We mostly heat our house with a woodstove. We buy tan oak from Frank’s Firewood and harvest soft wood from our two acres. Every year I clear brush and thickets of young hemlocks from which I make great piles of kindling. We also occasionally have trees felled that are threatening to fall on the house or on our neighbors’ houses, and from these trees we get soft wood to go with the tan oak in our woodstove fires.
We recently had five yards of gravel delivered for various projects, and every day I move a few wheelbarrow loads to places around the property. I am very careful not to load the shovel or the wheelbarrow too full lest I hurt my back in the process, something I do with annoying regularity these days.
I went to bed last night thinking about fences and walls. We recently removed a large section of the old fence topped with barbed wire that surrounded our two acres when we bought the place. All our neighbors and visitors have told us how much they love the fence being gone, how beautiful the forest vista, and how spacious this whole part of the neighborhood feels now.
When I was growing up
there were no fences or walls dividing the lots in our suburban neighborhood,
which gave a marvelous spacious feeling to our environment. Everyone, adults
and children and dogs, felt connected and could
connect easily with each other. Fifty years gone by, high walls now surround
all those lots, and the neighborhood feels like a vast prison.
I was going to write
more about walls and fences, but the dream I had last night is much more
interesting to me, and I thought you might find the dream interesting, too.
I’m walking on a dirt road on the coast of Spain in summer. I’m younger than I am now, wearing a T-shirt and jeans and I’m barefoot and have no possessions.
I come to a house on a
hill with a view of the ocean. There are no other houses anywhere to be seen. In
search of food, I enter the house and find three women there. I don’t know them
and they don’t know me. Nevertheless, they accept me into their midst and one
of them says of another of the women, “She’s a guitarist from New York.”
This woman, the
guitarist from New York, has long brown hair and is very beautiful to me. She’s
wearing a skimpy purple dress and invites me to embrace her. We embrace and
kiss and disrobe, and she leads me away from the others and we make love.
The other women inform
me they are a lesbian couple, and one of them says she’s never been with a man
and would like to try. So she and I have sex, which upsets the guitarist from
New York. She gives me a look to say From
now on you will only have sex with me. Okay?
I give her a look to
say Will do.
Now I’m doing some
kind of work on the place and need a shovel. A moment later I’m in a big city
in the 1930s in winter. There are electric trolleys and automobiles from that
era, and the people are dressed in the fashions of those times.
I wander around until I find a hardware store. I choose a shiny new shovel and an axe, and on my way to the counter with them I remember I have no money. So I lean the shovel and axe against the counter and walk out of the store intending to go to my parents’ house in California to get some money.
I walk up a street where all the buildings collapsed long ago and trees and vines are now growing in the rubble. I come to a bus stop amidst the ruins and ask a man if buses still stop here. The man speaks English with a thick Spanish accent and says, “Yes. Buses still come here.”
A crowded bus arrives.
I get on and say to the driver, “I don’t know how much it is. I want to go to
the airport.” I get out my wallet and it is bulging with fifty and
hundred-dollar bills. The driver gives me a ticket and two dollars.
I take a seat beside a woman wearing a heavy coat, her hair and face covered by a bandana. She removes her bandana and let’s her hair down. The guitarist from New York!
“Why do you need to fly to California?” she asks, pursing her lips for a kiss, “when your wallet is full of money?”
I learned how to
backpack from my father in the 1950s, and in the 1960s I was fortunate to go
backpacking with some of the people who had the first recorded ascents of many
of the peaks of the Sierras.
There was no giardia in
the waters of the Sierras in those days, so there was no need to filter or boil
water from the lakes and streams. One of my great pleasures was lying on my
belly and drinking directly from a flowing stream. I remember the first time we
had to filter Sierra water. I was in my twenties. I was so sad about the loss
of purity in those splendid mountains, I cried every time I had to filter our
This was also before the
advent of lightweight packs and lightweight tents and lightweight sleeping bags,
before armies of backpackers swarmed the wilderness. My pack for a week in the
Sierras weighed upwards of sixty pounds, and we so rarely met other backpackers,
every meeting was memorable.
We were ever on the
lookout for edible food that needed only water added to make a viable meal.
Forget tasty. Edible. I was a fly fisherman, and in those days so few people
visited the places we went, the fishing was always good and we had trout for
breakfast and supper.
One day a backpacking friend
touted me on a rice dish available in a cardboard box, the ingredients needing
only water to turn into some sort of pilaf. I got some, cooked it at home,
found it edible, barely, and got two more boxes to take on a backpacking trip.
Our first day we hiked
for seven hours carrying our hella heavy packs over two high passes, and we didn’t
reach our destination until darkness was falling. Exhausted and having no time
to fish, we made our cooking fire and boiled a pan of water to cook the rice pilaf.
Yes. A cooking fire. This
was when so few people ventured into the Sierras there was always plenty of
dead wood to be gathered for fires, no permits were required, and there was no
need to carry a little propane stove. When the water came to a boil, we poured
in the desiccated rice grains, stirred occasionally, and twenty minutes later
scooped the gruel into our Sierra Club cups.
Oh my God. The pilaf tasted
like a three-star Michelin entrée, our mighty exertions and our extreme hunger
making the crummy food gourmet.
When I was in my twenties I was a vagabond for a few years. I hitchhiked all over America and Canada, carrying all my possessions in a big backpack weighing fifty to seventy pounds depending on how much food and how many books I was carrying. I also toted a cheap guitar in a flimsy case and played for hours while waiting for rides. I was essentially a highway backpacker.
During the summer of 1971 I found myself in Stowe, Vermont with a few dollars in my wallet and needing work. Stowe is now a swank resort town, but in 1971 it was a small country town. I inquired in the hardware store if they knew of anyone needing a laborer. The friendly fellow working there said he’d make a few calls and to come back in a half hour. To pass the time, I went to the bakery to get a loaf of bread.
The gal in the bakery
sold me a big day-old loaf for twenty-five cents. When I inquired about places
to camp, she said I could pitch my tube tent in her backyard. I asked if she
knew of anyone needing a laborer, and she said there was a guy tending a
warming hut on the nearby Long Trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail,
who wanted somebody to cut and chop wood for the hut. She said he came into the
bakery every few days to buy cookies and bread, and to complain about the
absence of bagels.
The guy at the hardware
store didn’t come up with any work for me, so after spending the night in the
bakery gal’s backyard, I hiked two miles up a trail that connected with the
Long Trail, hiked another mile or so north along the Long Trail, and introduced
myself to the fellow tending the warming hut there.
I don’t know how things
are run on those trails nowadays, but in 1971 hikers did not camp wherever they
wanted along the way and had to stay in these warming huts, which were one-room
cabins with a hearth, a woodstove, and wooden platforms for sleeping bags. There
was no electricity and the outhouse was unpleasant.
The fee to stay overnight was fifty cents. The keeper of the hut collected the fees, made sure there was plenty of firewood, swept out the hut, cleaned the outhouse, kept the water barrel in the hut full, and had a walkie-talkie in case of emergencies.
The fellow tending the
hut was named Bernard. He lived in Brooklyn where he was born thirty-five years
before I met him. He spoke with a thick Brooklyn Jewish accent and was a chess
master with a high ranking. Tall and bearded, Bernard was volubly unhappy about
spending his summer in the mountains. He was there at the suggestion of his
psychiatrist who felt a break from city life would help lessen his anxiety and
depression and anger.
Within thirty seconds of
my arrival, Bernard asked me, “Do you play chess?”
“Not well,” I replied.
“Let’s play,” he said grimly.
A moment later we were
sitting on the deck of the hut with a chessboard between us. I asked him to
remind me how the horse moved and he gave me a look of dismay. “Please tell me
you’re kidding. You must know that piece is called a knight.”
“Now I do,” I said,
Not amused, Bernard checkmated me with ease three or four times, and said, “You’ll get better.”
He then explained his
job included foraging in the surrounding woods for well-aged fallen trees and
branches, sawing them up, and splitting them into firewood for the hut. Never
having wielded a saw or an axe, this labor was torture for him. He would pay me
five dollars a day and cover my food if I would work for him.
I stayed a week, which
was all I could take of Bernard. He was desperately lonely and talked endlessly
about his mother and father, chess tournaments, his most challenging rivals in
the chess world, and his difficulties with women. Fortunately he did not
accompany me on my wood gathering expeditions, so I had daily respites from his
Hikers would start
arriving in the afternoon. Bernard would collect the fees and inquire of each
hiker, “Do you play chess?” Occasionally a good chess player would come along
and Bernard would delight in games he always won. He and I played many times
and I got a little better, but not so it made a difference to Bernard.
In the mornings, hikers
would cook their oatmeal and move on. I would sweep out the hut, pump water
from the spring to refill the warming hut barrel, clean the outhouse, and then go
forth with saw and axe to gather wood from the surrounding forest. In my
absence, Bernard would read, write letters and postcards, and because I was in
the vicinity, he walked into town every other day to mail his letters, get his
mail, make phone calls, and buy food.
We got to be friends,
though Bernard never asked me anything about my life. What he learned about me came
from overhearing conversations I had with hikers who were more inquisitive than
he. By contrast, I knew so much about
Bernard I could have written a long depressing novel based on his anguished
life. Working title: Such A Headache I’ve
At the end of a week,
with thirty-five dollars in my pocket (a fortune to me in those days) I bid Bernard
adieu and left the mountains for another stint on the road.
I was recently on the table of Bibi, our most excellent acupressurist, and as she pressed hot points on various meridians in my left foot, she asked with some urgency, “Are you frustrated?”
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of someone asking
you a question that initially catches you by surprise, and then upon further musing
the question leads to a valuable insight or two. Well that’s what happened to
me when Bibi asked, “Are you frustrated?”
Had she asked, “Feeling a little anxious?” I would have replied, “Is the Pope Catholic?” Or if she’d asked, “A little depressed?” I would have answered, “Am I human and alive on earth in 2023?” But frustrated? About what? And though I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head I was frustrated about, the word burrowed into my consciousness and eventually opened a rusty door in the cranial archives.
My mother was in many ways the embodiment of
frustration. Possessed of an extremely high IQ, a gifted musician and actress,
and one of the first women to graduate from Stanford Law School, she subsumed
her talents to raise four children with little help from our abusive alcoholic father.
My mother was Jewish. Growing up during the Great Depression when anti-Semitism in America was ferocious, her Jewish parents changed their last name from Weinstein to Winton to improve their chances of survival, and they instructed my mother to disguise and deny her Jewishness, and if possible marry a non-Jew, which my mother did. She then raised her children without letting us know we were Jewish, which I’m sure was another source of stress and frustration for her, as it certainly turned out to be for my siblings and I.
My grandmother Goody, my mother’s mother, was also frustrated. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, she, too, was a marvelous singer and actress, but was forbidden from pursuing those arts by her deeply religious parents who equated Show Biz with the Devil. Hence for much of her life Goody felt her destiny had been stolen from her.
What does this have to do with me? Are you kidding? What does this not have to do with me? Yet until Bibi asked me if I was frustrated, it did not occur to me to include frustration in the sum total of neuroses that add up to yours truly.
What is frustration? In simple terms, frustration is a feeling of dissatisfaction arising from wanting something we don’t have. My mother wanted to do something with her talent and didn’t feel she could until her kids were grown. When that day arrived, she became a Special Ed teacher and eventually practiced law part-time. She also wrote children’s plays and was the leading light of an excellent play-reading group.
I was in my mid-twenties the first time I visited my mother at the law firm where she began practicing law at the age of fifty. I was stunned. Who was this serene, thoughtful, funny, brilliant person handling complicated cases with ease and aplomb? Where was my antsy, negative, complaining, beleaguered mother steeling herself for the next blast of abuse from my father? She was transformed! She was, part-time for a few golden years, no longer frustrated.
Recalling these things about my mother and
grandmother, I could feel deep in my meridians how I had inherited my mother’s habit of frustration, and I also understood
that my decision to dedicate my life to writing and music was in essence the
path my mother and grandmother had longed to pursue, and not doing so was the cause of their terrible frustration.
And though I did follow my passion, I, too, was persistently frustrated until I was well into my fifties because what I wanted more than anything was to be so successful with my writing and music that my disapproving parents would finally approve of me, which was never to be.
Now I’m seventy-three. Over the course of the
last twenty-five years my primary motive for writing and composing has evolved
from yearning to succeed in a big way into wanting to share what I create however
So why did my meridians tell Bibi I was frustrated? Because my desire to be recognized beyond my small circle of friends lives on in my subconscious and rose from the depths when we came out with our new CD Through the Fire. And who rides the horse of such desire? None other than the headless horseman of frustration.
And because frustration is a huge energy drain and gets in the way of enjoying life and doing good work, not to mention messing with my meridians, I have turned over several new leaves since that fateful moment on Bibi’s table.
One of those newly turned leaves is to begin each
day with a dance of gratitude for my marvelous friends and for the infinite
possibilities awaiting me in my studio and living room and kitchen and backyard
I’m happy to report: daily gratitude dancing
Our friend Jeff said to me the other day, “I don’t believe in reality.”
I wish I could remember what I said to him right
before he said that, but I can’t.
The moment Jeff said, “I don’t believe in
reality,” my awareness of reality shifted. Not that I stopped believing in
reality, but I began to see the world differently. How so? Hard to say.
You will recall the scene in the prophetic movie
The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the
Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman and the Lion are standing before the big screen
on which is projected the frightening head and face of the supposed Wizard of
Oz and they are quaking in fear of him and he is telling them he can’t help
them, when Toto, Dorothy’s dog, possibly the sharpest member of the cast,
discovers an old man standing in a booth adjacent to the screen, and the booth
turns out to be the projection room, the image on the screen an illusion.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the
curtain,” says the Wizard of Oz on the screen as voiced by the old man in the
He might have said, “Don’t believe in reality!
Believe instead in the nonsense on the screen intended to entrance you and
entrap you and empower me at your expense.”
Yesterday I was on my way into Corners of the Mouth, the worker-owned food cooperative in Mendocino where I shop twice a week, and there were two people, a man and a woman, standing in front of the store gazing into their smart phones. The man said, “Mixed reviews.” The woman replied, “Seems more like a bulk foods place.”
As I passed them I said, “Pay no attention to
the man behind the curtain.”
“Excuse me?” said the man, frowning at me.
“It’s a great store. Full of wonders,” I said,
smiling at him. “I’ve been shopping here multiple times a week for seventeen
years. Every time I go in I discover something new. The produce is
grandiloquent, the employees spectacular, their selection of chocolate bars
The man looked at his phone. “Says the layout is
The woman blinked at me and said, “That was from
The Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to
the man behind the curtain.”
“Right you are,” I said, entering the store and
inhaling of the magnificence.
Which is to say, reality seems to be largely
what we make of things. Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” To which I will
add, “If you think what is projected on your screen is reality, so it shall
My mother was essentially mistrustful of reality whenever things were going well. In other words, she was always expecting something bad to happen. It was almost as if she wanted something bad to happen. I don’t think she did, but her expectation was so strong it might as well have been the desire for disaster.
I inherited this mistrust of happiness from her,
which created in me a lifelong propensity for self-sabotage. I am ever amazed
at how this manifests on both the physical and emotional planes in my life, and
I’m not kidding when I say I really don’t know how I made it to seventy-three.
My mother said the thing she disliked most about getting old was all her friends were dying. She did not say that what she disliked most about getting old was all her friends were falling and breaking various bones and hitting their heads, but for me that seems to be the era we have entered vis-à-vis our friends, along with some of them dying, too.
As one who has fallen many times throughout my
life, though not recently knock-on-wood, I can tell you that in my reality every time I fell I was either
needlessly hurrying or not paying close attention to what I was doing, and
probably both those things. My most recent injury resulting from needlessly
hurrying and not paying attention was to smash my bare toes on a rock
protruding from the path I was on, the result of which was a broken toe, an
infected toe, a wonky way of walking for some weeks, aches and pains from
lopsided posture due to compensating for foot pain, and so forth ongoing.
Why was I hurrying and not paying attention
after a delightful barefooted walk on the beach? The short answer is: I’m an
Why do we needlessly hurry and not pay attention to what we are doing? We might say the answer is different for each of us. We might also say the answer is the same for all of us. For one reason or another we are not content to fully inhabit the present moment. We are entrained to move forward, to keep going, to stay busy, to keep ourselves entertained, our brains stimulated, even if by junk. We don’t know very well how to saunter and to pay close attention to what we’re doing and to what’s going on around us.
Marcia and I take a walk on the headlands south
of Mendocino every few weeks, and after a two-mile jaunt we come to the end of
the trail overlooking a rock outcropping just offshore on which harbor seals
like to roost for several hours a day. Sometimes there are a dozen or more seals
on those rocks, sometimes just a few, and sometimes there are none. The seals
are light gray and dark gray and various shades of brown, their colors very
close to the colors of the outcropping.
Now here’s an interesting thing to me about this
outcropping and those seals. We have arrived at the point overlooking the
outcropping a hundred or so times in my life, and the first thing I do when we
arrive there is to count the seals. And many of those times, my first count
misses at least one and sometimes more of the seals. My second count usually
includes all the seals, but sometimes it takes a third careful scanning before
I clearly see all the seals.
When I was a little boy and I would tell my grandfather Casey something I
thought was terribly important or interesting, he would feign amazement and
say, “Who knew?”
The first few times he responded in this way I replied, “I did.” Eventually I came to realize Who knew? was his way of saying, “Oh my gosh,” or “Isn’t that something,” or “How unexpected.”
By the time I was a teenager, I knew that many Jewish people used the
expression, and to this day when I encounter someone who comes out with Who knew? (usually with a tone of humorous
irony) I feel an immediate affinity.
What does this have to do with our new CDThrough the Fire? Well… when we were making the album we had about forty-five minutes of music to present. A standard CD holds about seventy-two minutes of content and we thought it would be fun to fill some of the remaining space with a story or two of mine, one of the Healing stories and…
“Oh please read Of Onyx and Guinea
Pigs,” said Marcia, emphatically. “It’s both believable and beyond
believable, and it’s so funny.”
So I recorded the memoir in Peter Temple’s studio where we’ve made all our albums and where I’ve recorded all my audio books, and Peter thought the story was fiction, which it is not, though it certainly could be.
Now that Through the Fire is
out in the world and we’ve gotten responses from friends and DJs, Of Onyx and Guinea Pigs is by far the
most talked about track on the album.
My response is “Who knew?” And the answer is, Marcia did.
a link to a site with all the downloading/streaming/listening options for Through the Fire.