Journal: Blind Joe Death

February 6, 2022 7:39 am Last Homely House (reading room)

Sunday. Foggy February morning. Quiet at the Last Homely House “east of the sea.” Audio world this morning: John Fahey, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death. Side A, Track 2: “Orinda, Moraga.” The tune always calls my thoughts to the Old Ground in California. No regrets. Those were blessed days. So are these—quieter, gentler, but still sustained by grace. The winter mist reminds me of other vaporous mornings at St. Mary’s College as I meandered under leaden grey sunrise to the cafeteria for breakfast—where my friends whispered muted morning words over coffee, eggs, and toast. After murmuring my own half-asleep words I was off to early daylight Shakespeare with Bob Hass. Student days. Fifty years past.

This morning Stephen King, a different literature. The Dark Tower 3: The Waste Lands. Gunslingers, giant robot bears, murderous choo-choo trains, and magic doors to other worlds.  Here in the Pacific Northwest I am not living in a waste land. Tall pine trees wait like guardians in this misty air. The ravaged world of crazed humans seems far away yet akin to King’s peculiar tales. The Last Homely House is a place of cool contemplation. This is my home. My center. This is New Ground. It has taken four winters for me to settle into it the same way I dwell under my blankets at night. This is my place of rest. It holds the past. It contains the present. It becomes the future day by day.

These words are Sunday morning contemplation. Self-sermons. As I write, Fahey is picking out “Bicycle Built for Two.” The itinerant guitarist is buried not far from here, in Salem in a non-descript cemetery in a non-descript grave. He died in poverty and ill health. I visited his resting place a couple years back. I need to visit again. I’ve heard the voice of his guitar countless times over the last half century. It’s a reliable comfort.

Each day I have time to wait for my voices to arise. One is here now as I write this. A different voice from Deejay, Elder Richard, Young Richard, and Kid Richard—the characters that inhabit my new writing project. This journal is my practical voice—the laidback amiable speech of an aging grateful man who lives with an open heart and mind. Settled, yet still aware that life can change to tragedy in an instant.

The source of my voices always has been literature. From the very beginning: Dick and Jane. The Cat in the Hat. Aesop’s Fables. Winnie the Pooh. Hardy Boys. Tom Swift Jr. Poe. H.G. Wells. Robert Louis Stevenson. Jack London. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke.

And then—Tolkien. Life change. Desire to write. Read. Read. Read. Especially on Sunday mornings like this one except then living in a new house built in lima bean fields that were giving way to tract homes—parcels sold by the children of farmers who were dying off. I’d go paperback shopping with JS at the Book Nook or ride my bike to the Oxnard library on Saturdays to find more science fiction. Also Dickens, TS Eliot, Orwell, Conan Doyle. Meetings with JS at the Patiogon, our name for his parent’s sheltered back porch where we would make up stories. Now we meet on Tuesday mornings over the Internet.

All I wanted to do was read and understand how books functioned. No argument about what to study as a college student. My parents let me read as much I wanted. No questions asked. They never asked “what are you going to fall back on?” Dived right in. I lived in pools of words, swimming in them. Chaucer. Milton. Shakespeare. Then wham!—James Joyce: Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home. Yeats: O may the moon and sunlight seem / One inextricable beam / For if I triumph I must make men mad. Blake: I will not cease from Mental Fight.

In the background always SF/Fantasy/Mystery. Saki short stories. Chekhov. Summer of 73–reading War and Peace on a cross-country trip in the back of Dad’s ugly Cadillac and the sudden realization that my mind was my own, unchained. Impossible for it to be caged even if I was taken prisoner like Pierre Bezukhov.

On to my own life from there. Living in Bollinger Canyon. Constant reading of spiritual texts. Alan Watts. Aldous Huxley. I Ching, the Wilhelm/Baynes translation. Jung. Campbell. Poems. Gary Snyder. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Stories and yarns: James Clavell Shogun. Late Dickens—Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, novels that verged on modernism.

After I met Candace: Wilkie Collins, Dorothy Sayers, Yukio Mishima, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Mann—literature I was never exposed to in college. Quiet nights where the two of us read by the fire in a silent house as John Fahey played The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death in the background there as well. Living our Way of the West while the horses nickered in the back yard and views of Hunsaker Canyon sunrises and sunsets blossomed at the ridge behind a house that no longer exists.

Then children: reading to them aloud from Golden Books and all the books Candace and I had read as kids. Quiet evenings in Lucille Lane with all of us absorbed in a book. I turned to Faulkner. History. The American Civil War. Page Smith. Mark Twain. Jack London—this time the novels and stories I didn’t know. Martin Eden. The Star Rover. The Red One. The realization that Jack was writing science-fiction and mythic fantasy. So many books. I can’t remember them all. I have lists in my archives.

Reading on BART on the way into the City to wrestle with technology and earn my lucre. More Zen—translations by Thomas Cleary. Always more poems. Deep Time stuff: Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality—a recognition that I was an Integral guy. Linkages and fragments fell into place. Self-published Full Canvas. Assisted JS with first drafts of his early books. Photography came back and that got connected as well.

Tragedy. My world fell apart. Losses: friends, in-laws, spouse—end of their days. I was drop kicked out of the Real World. Three years of putting pieces back in order, integrating them again. Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Landing here in the Pacific Northwest at the Last Homely House, my bookshelves loaded with gems from the past and books yet to be read. The whole house is my library. Some volumes are penned with inscriptions by my lost ones. Also shelves crammed with recorded music—compact discs and vinyl treasures constantly rotating. Billions of musical notes in my mind like all the billions of words.

My own words are emerging because I have the time to listen to the voices in my imagination and put them in the computer. Winterland Nights in 2020. An ongoing book about the Beatles unlike any Beatle book ever written, I hope. I write for Boomers who love old music. Write what you know. My own words rising out of a lifetime of learning. There’s still time. Make haste. Time to do some transfiguration of my own.

Here I go.

No Confirmation Required

January 18, 2022, 5:24 am Last Homely House (reading room)

A thought: doing things for the sheer joy of doing things. No reason other than the making. Gathering thoughts, visions, and emotions together into forms of art: words, images, sounds, some organized and others random. All of that with no expectation or need of validation other than the doing of it. No transactions. No monetary gain. No emotional return. Only the process. No goal other than the creation.

Is that purity or reality? Is it a rejection of profit and motive or is it the actual core of creativity? If it is the latter (and I believe it to be) then how does one live in a culture like ours where confirmation is measured at best by the temporary pleasure of ego stroking and at worst by the shallow endorsement of monetary worth? Because any way you measure the result of the process, all of it is impermanent, even the doing. Eminent art that endures through centuries is dwarfed by geologic time. Bach and Shakespeare will not survive the heat death of the universe and the end of entropy.

No—it’s all in the crafting. In the pure grace of it. The fun of it. The joy. For some reason that I’ll never fathom, that is where I have arrived. In fact, where I have always been from the beginning.

These thoughts arrive after an hour of meditation, which came after another 4:15 am wake up out of a dream that was so utterly stupid that I gave up trying to sleep. (My rest had already been punctuated by wakefulness.) In the dream I needed to catch a ferry to “Alameda” and after walking slowly across a familiar beach (recognizable from countless other ludicrous dreams) and through a rundown casino populated by sinister criminal characters and worn down down on their luck folks standing in long queues for no evident purpose, I looked across a hopeless, ugly, colorless landscape that revealed no path to my goal. It was not an alameda, no promenade shaded by trees. I awoke swearing—angry at the dream because it was hopeless and meaningless.

Yet I am encouraged by the realization of joy having nothing to do whatsoever with our cultural madness. What I do here in this journal, what I do in the studio, as well as the actions I take during the day in sustaining my existence here in the unconventional and mystical Pacific Northwest require no validation. They are things in themselves. Ding an sich. As they are, they are what they are—Isness. Little bits of the Kosmos. That’s all. Not quite Kant—but also more than Kant. Numinous, not philosophical. Reality, not sophistry.

Perhaps all my experiences are a lingering dream, sometimes stupid, sometimes sublime, cresting to moments of elation when my heart opens to everything and words do not suffice. My past is present. My future is unclear, but overflows with hope and gratitude. Everything I do is a totem from the day before, revealing a path that meanders to the next present moment.

The poem of the mind in the act of finding   

What will suffice. It has not always had   

To find: the scene was set; it repeated what   

Was in the script.

                               Then the theatre was changed   

To something else. Its past was a souvenir.

Of Modern Poetry, Wallace Stevens.

Journal: January 11, 2021

8:34 am Last Homely House

Brief moment of light behind clouds—rose-orange blue. Gone now. Oregon clouds. The garbage trucks are roaming. My coffee is strong, hot, and sweet. I have another day. I get to do the things I love to do—except for travel—but that’s a minor problem. I’m thinking about just driving around town today just to look and see the world. But first—time in the studio.

9:07 am Last Homely House

As life is interrelated, the effort to cut oneself off from the other has the impact of cutting oneself off from oneself and life itself. We deny part of ourselves when we deny the other, as the other is indeed a part of us.

John A. Powell

1:14 pm Last Homely House

At about 11:30 I felt the need to get out of the house and drove to the Willamette National Cemetery. I’d been meaning to explore it for some time. It was an emotional journey.

The place is enormous. Hundreds of acres. It was dedicated in 1950. Over 164,000 internments.

I went to the highest point. There is an amphitheater there. A tall flagpole that is lit by floodlights 24 hours a day. When I got out of the car, I saw four placards and read them—all eulogizing 4 Medal of Honor recipients. My emotions got going. The flag was at half-staff. I’m not sure if it always is or whether it was set that way because of the Capitol Police that died in the riot.

I started to grieve, something that is always close to the surface of my emotional life. I kept thinking about the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol on January 6. Some of them were vets. How could they do that?

All those graves—many of them markers for people who gave their lives to defend a democracy. I don’t often think in those terms. I thought of my son-in-law, an Iraq war veteran, now a historian. I thought of my father, who didn’t fight but had a short stint in the Navy towards the end of WW2. I thought of my Uncle Lawrence, a tailgunner in a B-29 that was lost somewhere in the South Pacific just a few weeks before that war ended. The plane and the crew were never located.

It is sacred ground. Liminal space. There is no doubt about the authenticity of that feeling. The view, which was impaired by cloudy weather, was tremendous. I could see the base of Mt. Hood, covered in fresh snow, the peak occluded by clouds. Silence blanketed the vista and the grounds on which I walked.

Bare trees. Christmas wreaths on many graves—hundreds? A panorama of glistening green rings and robust red ribbons.

I don’t know what a patriot really is—it’s a word that is misused often and is soaked in sentimentality. I do know that I have never felt my identity of an American citizen as I did so strongly during my short visit.

I did not go there expecting any of that. I just wanted to visit the cemetery since it is close to my home. I had no intention of making a connection with the events of the last few days, and the last four years.

1:47 pm Last Homely House

Then there is this, which puts it all into a different perspective.

Something Intimately at Hand

4.17.20 9:36 am Last Homely House

“It has something to do with presence—not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.”

Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001) 

Outside my studio window the morning light emblazons the maple trees in the backyard. I often feel a communion with that luminosity, except at those moments when my dualistic mind kicks in and my ego overwhelms my reverie with anxieties of one sort or another. During the last six years I have migrated from hope to fear and back quite often. That cycling has been due to the abrupt changes in my life walk. Through it all, when my head cleared and I was able to see my way past my troubles I have come face to face with that “something” that I can only label as God. That proper noun seems inadequate because of what most people assume it signifies—which is not what I mean at all.

“Being met” with that communion and sense of love for me as who I am, is what I think Bourgeault means by mystical hope. It’s what I am writing about in Winterland Nights, though I don’t tell it—I try to show it—as in the final scene that finishes Chapter 14. It is “an abiding state of being” whether I am aware of it or not. It is subtle—yet sometimes obvious. When I become aware of it my eyes tear up and I am filled with an indescribable emotion, a bliss state that transcends all my ego experience and simply sustains me with love. I do not want to break off the intimate connection to that condition when I am cognizant of it.

I sensed it the other night as I was reading a poem by Joy Harjo from An American Sunrise, titled “Directions to You Rainy Dawn Ortiz” (pg. 22). It begins:

Follow them, stop, turn around
Go the other way.
Left, right,
Mine, yours.
We become lost,
Take a deep breath,
You will not always be lost.
You are right here,
In your time,
In your place.

Then, yesterday, as I sat in the passenger seat of Paul’s truck riding through the valley of the White Salmon River, and later, eating my lunch while standing in the empty parking lot of the Mt. Adams Ranger District building, I could discern my departed ones enfolding me, not physically—though I like to imagine it that way—but spiritually. As I think about it I see that they are now bound up in that same communion. As Harjo writes: You are right here, / in your time, / in your place. That comforts me.

This does as well:

But we do hope. It is the main impulse of life. Why do we awake to a new day anticipating that things will improve? What accounts for the hope which lies within us? If life was simply about random particles interacting with no purpose or meaning, death too would be meaningless.

Ilia Delio, Hope in a Time of Crisis

I suppose all these thoughts are whirling around inside of me because of the pandemic and all the psychic energy that’s being projected by multitudes of people. That’s unmeasurable of course and easily dismissed empirically. But I can’t do that. There was a time that I tried, but my heart wasn’t in it. Something inside of me—the poet, mystic, artist, and creative man—wanted me to understand that Flatland thinking can only explain everything as particles interacting “with no purpose or meaning.” Not much poetry there! Now, in this time and place, in these circumstances, it’s obvious to me that the myriad things are not obvious.

Instead, there “is something intimately at hand.” The fact that I can’t fix a specific word on it just shows how intimate it is. That truth disturbs some people, so they either dismiss it as unscientific, or smother it in sentimentalism or literalism and remove all the sacredness from it.

There is nothing new in this journal today, save for the definition of hope as mystical. These days of waiting and quarantine are starting to seem like a blessing to me. I’m not sure what I really mean by that other than the outside world, that I normally discount, is now so quiet it seems not to really exist. I find that fascinating, because somehow that also comforts me. It is possible that this experience that everyone one is part of (“we are all in this together”) is a turning point. Maybe we are close to that moment of global awakening that I have hoped for. I will not dwell on that. All that’s important now is that I sustain my health and write, think, read, and care for my little piece of Earth and Heaven.

Seal Rock State Park, Oregon – photo by Richard Gylgayton

The Last Gasp of Something Grasping

A Winterland Nights Bonus Track

September 16, 2019, 9:21 am—Last Homely House. Monday morning. Much work to do today in the studio. Each morning when I wake up I am astonished by where I am and what I’m doing. Retired—what an inexplicable word.

At this moment I’m sitting in the reading room. I come in here first thing when I awaken and open the curtains that cover the bay window. A cloudy morning. More rain coming. Another front arriving tomorrow. A wind warning up on Accuweather. Possible thunderstorm this afternoon. The weather is always metaphorical as well as physical. I might be able to get out for a walk this morning after I finish my coffee. 

Anyway, yeah, retired. I never expected it and certainly not in the way that it transpired. When I attended the Hot Tuna concert the night before last I looked around, and everyone, and I do mean everyone, was my age, most of them grey-haired. Men with big stomachs, even bigger than mine (gonna do something about that). Wizened ladies dancing and whirling. Tie dyed T-shirts. Good crowd. An exuberant Dionysian mood in Revolution Hall. (Yes, that’s the actual name of the venue.)

I thought about my generation and how we were transformed by psychedelics. We woke up. Some of us anyway. You can read that history now in a book called Acid Dreams—also Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind. All that happened long ago, but it lingers. We thought we were going to make vast changes. We did make a few. We ended an unconscionable ultra-violent war in Southeast Asia. We began thinking about the ecosystem. We raised our children to think planetarily. We failed in other ways. The power structure is resilient, and there are always new people willing to hypnotize themselves into having a piece of it. 

What we are going through now is the last gasp of something. Business as usual is not sustainable. Literal religion doesn’t work. We have made a mess of the planet. The hounds of war are still at it, ravaging and tearing the natural equity of the world, migrating it into cash so that affluent folks can have more golden toilets to crap in. I think this is temporary. It’s all unraveling. It can’t last.

I am light years apart from those who love their guns and knives, those who have no doubts about their righteousness whether they are religious or not. That’s a trap—being so into your self-imposed relief from fear and discomfort that you cannot even consider that your solace is a warped fantasy. On occasion I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

But not now I think—not as I sit here listening to Bach’s Art of the Fugue on a Monday morning in the Pacific Northwest, gazing at threatening skies, while commuters rush past my home to their glorious day in the American economy.

What do I believe in? Books. Art. Music. Kindness. Love. The goodness of people despite their confusion over race and religion. I suppose you can believe in love and still carry a gun or a knife, but would you use it? Do you need it?

Music is at our roots, as humans, and as Americans. Examples: The Carter family and Jimmie Rogers. People from uneducated backgrounds who had no money but knew how to sing and play three chords on the guitar, or who could pick on the banjo or saw away at the fiddle. They got connected with recording technology and there it was—The Spirit of the Depths. Popular culture that arose from the bottom up rather than filtering from the top down. Simple and sincere. No music degrees. Only passion and play.

Same thing last Saturday night. Two guys, Jorma and Jack, who have been playing together for more than fifty years. Rock is here to stay. It’s part of that American music—the roots are blue and black with a bit of Europe thrown in as well. 

It was all coopted by white people way back when. I laughed when I once saw a poster for a Carter Family concert that claimed the music was “morally right.” Everyone was concerned about appearances. God was a judge—a sky king. Understandable in those times. But these are new times. I wonder if what we know as popular music now is a desire to hold onto values rather than celebrate with song. Much of what I hear these days is sentimental and sugary. Or devoid of the human touch—wiped away by Autotune.  

If maudlinism is the core of your cosmic foundation then you will be easily fooled and confused. Sentiment is a barrier to clear thought. Life is harsh. No point in trying to alleviate suffering with saccharine. Humans are temporary. Everything is. Even the universe will end—someday. In the short time we have as “spiritual beings having a human experience,” should we be anything but realistic?

I’m at that age where I can look back and see it all. I remember what life was like in Pennsylvania when I was a little kid. We were middle class, but those memories are all fading to grey sixty years later. Maybe that’s just recollection working in a mysterious way. I am as fallible as anyone else. My father and mother moved us to California in 1966. I came of age at a time when that celebratory Spirit Power was the air. We learned that what we considered as normal was anything but—the Establishment was the same horrible power structure that had always existed, fueled by hate, fear, and greed.

In America we were the center of the modern world—at least that was how it was advertised after the maelstrom that we had helped create after World War II. Now we are trying to get that illusion back, and it’s impossible. White people are vainly grasping at their privilege at all costs in a culture that has become so lightweight, shallow, and ingenuous that there seems no way out. Except to let it all collapse and build from what we have learned in the last fifty years.

That’s why I write as the world unravels. Not only is it a way to “getting the world right” (Wallace Stevens) but it’s a way to leave something behind me. There are far too many people on the planet. I’m one more slob trying to stay healthy and happy. There’s not a day that goes by when my monkey mind wakes up expecting some kind of ghastly news to arrive in my life. I imagine all sorts of personal horror. There is no point to that sort of thinking. I dismiss it and do the best I can.

Time for a walk before it rains. Then back to the studio. Words. That’s all I’ve got. Bach just ran out. Literally. Art of the Fugue, as I recall, was what he was composing when he died.

Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.

Wallace Stevens

Notes on the text:

  • Hot Tuna History
  • Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain, Grove Press, ISBN 9780802130624
  • How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, And Transcendence, Michael Pollan, Penguin Press, ISBN 9781594204227
  • Art of the Fugue, Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Zhu Xiao-Mei, Accentus Music CD, ACC 30308)
  • “But I did not consider that the spirit of the depths from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit of this time, who changes with the generations. Carl Jung, The Red Book.
  • Modern Music’s Death by Autotune (Rick Beato video)

The Long View

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Dark Star – 2021 Outback Onyx XT (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

After Paul left for the gym I headed out for a long drive in Dark Star. After a quick stop at Powell’s Books in Cedar Hills (to pick up a copy of the new Richard Thompson memoir—just published) I drove out Highway 26 and up Highway 47, the latter a road I had not yet navigated. By that time the weather was cold and windy, and I sensed rain approaching. It’s Oregon, I thought. What else is new?

The drive, the road, the weather, the time behind the wheel—all of that was the essential experience of being physically unrestricted, able to move easily, wherever I wanted to go. I was elated because it seemed a harbinger of my upcoming post-pandemic life—not so much the drive, rather once again the observation of my own life voyage. I’ve missed that freedom and my long road trips back to California and explorations elsewhere.

I stopped at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park— not a big place. It’s another one of those nooks in the crannies of Oregon. There were a few folks concealed inside their RV’s—and I thought of what Paul would have said: “that’s not camping, not if you’re going to hide indoors all the time.”

I got out of the car at the top of a hill and walked to a picnic table. Leaning against it I regarded uncut wooded hills, a plume of smoke, the overcast sky, and felt cold gusts of wind. There was no one around except for a grey-haired, elderly woman getting into a black Prius with her quiet terrier. For a moment I felt the ordinary veil of consciousness disperse, and wham-bam the emotion of being alive was there—present, and impossible to ignore —not that I would have avoided it because I long for it. I search for it. All I could say was “thank you,” which I did, and which no one could hear except for God, Great Spirit—whatever you want to call it—and a few crows hopping on the grass, searching for grubs.

Driving further up Highway 47—little towns—places that still depend upon timber extraction. Vernonia, just 2100 people, not far from Portland (I was home in two hours) but thousands of miles away in terms of the who-what-where-when-how of my own existence. North of town the hills were denuded of trees. At one point a sign proudly declared “replanted in 2018” on a stretch of land that even three years later looks as if it was clear-cut yesterday. My excursion along that road as an afternoon of getting away from my slowly receding lockdown suddenly became the hard and cold reality of visualizing history and perhaps the end of the world—doom-thoughts about climate change.

Turbo Woody – 2015 Forester XT (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

I continued up 47 through Mist (the town name is descriptive) to Highway 30 and then decided to drive over the Longview Bridge to I-5 and home. Back in 2018 Finn and I went up Highway 30 in July—a trip to Astoria on a hot day when the air conditioning had crapped out in Turbo Woody, and I saw the Longview Bridge stretching over the Columbia River, strangely built “way up in the middle of the air” as if it was on stilts. It was designed by Joseph Strauss of Golden Gate Bridge fame.

I wanted to drive over it that day three years ago, but I was escaping the heat of Portland with no cool air in the car and wanted to see Astoria to recall the time that JS and I went through there in 1977. Today I crossed the bridge while surrounded and hemmed in by truck traffic—many of the trailers hauling logs to the port in Longview, Washington—where they were destined to be cut or shipped, I have no idea which. I was reminded of the continual harvest of natural resources, and stripped mountains.

Woody – 1998 Forester S (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

I drove my fossil fueled car over that elegant 80-year-old bridge on my way home to comfort, food, and warmth. 170 total miles. No photography, just the drive. There was one treacherous, rainy moment on I-5 when a serious white out condition materialized, but I moved into the slow lane and cut my speed way down. I still get a little freaked out by that kind of weather since my accident in Woody way back in 2002. Now the driver-assist functions of Subaru Eyesight reduce the stress considerably.

Finn – “Let’s Go!”(photo by Richard Gylgayton)

It’s all too much, this “further up, further in” C.S. Lewis stuff here in the Pacific Northwest corner of America. A region far removed from my previous geography and yet not distant from the memories of my previous life embedded in the neurons that make up my cerebral cortex and that also provide me with the consciousness that makes me say “thank you….” Yet all of it is temporary. 

All that in a few hours, in this new geography—another taste of a land that I still do not know intimately. How long will it take for the Pacific Northwest to feel as familiar as my old home and its dry hills and oak trees? Will it ever? There is still so much to see, and time is short—but my wandering will always continue.

Notes on the text:

  • Paul is my brother. He and I often travel together. 
  • Richard Thompson’s new memoir Beeswing is a must for anyone who is a fan of his music. One of the great singer/songwriters/guitarists of our time.
  • Finn was my greyhound and loyal companion for many years. He passed away in February of 2020, just before the pandemic began.
  • JS is my old amigo, John Schettler
  • “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis


My Shadow at Coos Bay (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

Another late rise because of a late night. Coffee in hand. Oh, that’s good coffee. I’m thinking about the day ahead. Cool and cloudy for once. I can get some outside work done. Time to water the plants. I keep forgetting. 

My self-imposed news blackout continues. Sick of it all. The evil spreads like unbreathable vapor from a swamp filled with Lovecraftian monstrosities. I keep thinking how much easier it is to love than hate.

The problem is fear. Even the rich are afraid. They are more anxious than anyone else. They have more to lose, so they think. I lost almost everything that was significant to me, yet here I am. Alive. Happy. Lonely, but satisfied.

Accepting the loneliness is how you get to enlightenment. Goldberg in Wild Mind. She’s talking to her Roshi: 

“Are you lonely?” I asked him. 

“Of course,” he answered. “But I do not let it toss me away. It is just loneliness.”

So there you have it. There are days I think, how did I get into this writing? But here I am. And the truth is I wanted it.

I get it. I feel like raising my hand and waving it like an excessively enthusiastic student. I always wanted this. I never really thought about it because I had responsibilities. Like Candace, I also had “things that need to be done.” She said that whenever I encouraged her to write more often. Exactly those words. Every single time.

That’s all completed. The remaining responsibilities I have are minor. The girls are grown. Candace has passed. Finn needs me, but he’s laid back. Willing to wait for me in all things. He’s growing old as I grow old. He won’t outlive me though. I ponder that reality often. There are layers to loneliness. Dogs struggle with it also.

Here I am by fate, accident, karma, or as the Chinese say, the “Will of Heaven.” I am lonely. Yes. But so is everyone else. Nothing new there. It is just loneliness. I knew that before I migrated. It’s not so bad. It’s beautiful here. Huge sky. Big clouds. Low stress. Besides, I was lonely in my former home. Those days I was terrified by my solitude. Now, I relish it.

Writing is the reason I am here. I didn’t think much about it when I decided to move. I had other priorities. But it was there, unconsciously. 

Everyone is lonely, even when they are with other people. “Alone with others,” as Stephen Batchelor writes. “Our sense of aloneness and individuality is only conceivable in the light of our constant coexistence with other human beings, and we can only be together with others and participate in their lives because we and all others are in fact distinct individuals.

That’s why there are so damn many love songs and poems. That’s the only way we can even begin to cross the divide and ride the Great Silence between us all. We can recognize others as individuals, but we cannot be inside their heads and their experience. 

So, some of us write. Others make music or art. Cook. Build furniture. Design things. Figure things out scientifically. “Art is a thing done well.” I think Amanda Coomaraswamy said that.

“What is done in love is done well.” I know Vincent Van Gogh said that. 

Process, not outcome. I’ll go deeper and bring the light to the shadows. Light the swamp. Defeat the monsters. That’s what heroes do, after all.


Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life, Natalie Goldberg, Bantam Books. 1990

Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor, Grove Press, 1983

King City Wandering

Image credit: Dorothea Lange. (1936) “Bum blockade.” photograph, public domain.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 – 8:07 am – Last Homely House

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Looks like a bright and sunny day ahead. Another press of coffee this morning. It’s the best way to wake up and write.

From Richard Rohr—a photograph by Dorothea Lange.

King City! I’ve wandered through there countless time traveling on 101—that “hard road to travel” as John Fahey titled it. Never had the sort of problem as expressed in this image though. Reminds me of the time I picked up a hitchhiker in Santa Maria. Only time I ever did that. I should write that out sometime. A strange experience. I remember it vividly, as I do most things.

We are all wanderers looking for love. Our journey starts with people, and that’s how we find the love of God. Even as I sit here in my homely house, in a fresh state of mind, with resources, warmth, food, and possibilities, I’m still wandering through my own experience. My own life. My own story. I’m grateful for all of it. There have been very rough times. But through it all I’ve always had—and have—hope and the knowledge that the higher power is looking out for me.

Occasionally when I reflect on moments of the past they not only seem like personal experiences but become representations of the larger human journey that we all make. Yesterday while talking with JS we discussed that fact, though we used different words. A life without reflection and contemplation is a half-lived life. It’s not for me to judge people who are incapable of that self-awareness—meaning the bigger Self that is the God-part within us trying to reveal itself—loving us the entire time.

You can’t get out of your own way without reflection and consideration. You can’t be authentic without looking inward and finding the Source. I think that’s the utter stark truth. All the struggles that we have in life, especially the ones we have with other people, can’t be understood in their entirety and scope without knowing and loving ourselves.

This last year I have watched it play out in my own country—the only time I can recall in my life when all of us were in crisis at the same time. Existential crisis at that! Staring at the possibility of catching a life-threatening disease and having to stop everything that we considered normal in order to protect ourselves. In doing so we had to face the possibility that “normal” was anything but normal.

I already knew that from my own understanding. Loss does that. It shakes you up. You deal with it, or you don’t. What we’ve seen in our fellow humans is that fact playing out in the midst of a planetary event with unmeasurable psychic effects and countless variations of response and non-response from every one of us. Our fantasies of comfort and security were revealed. Some of us saw that. Many did not. And though the light is at the end of the tunnel I wonder if we have learned that “business as usual” is not sustainable.

I learned that fact seven years ago when my wife passed away unexpectedly. It’s taken that long for it to sink in. I surrendered to it and it redeemed me. Maybe that would have happened anyway. This last year was not as bad for me as it was for others. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t lose anyone to the virus. (My old pal Lou Pierotti passed, but not from complications of Covid.) In fact, this entire experience gave me the opportunity to set my roots deep into the Pacific Northwest. Bloom where you are planted.

Yesterday I was able to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine. March 29. Not so much a sense of relief as that of freedom. (Those two things are not the same.) I am reminded that the higher power is always there and that I need to surrender to it. Over and over again. And then again, as I wander down my own highway looking for a ride.

John Fahey 07 101 Is a Hard Road to Travel