I want to share with you this Preface by Arthur Franks to his book The Wounded Storyteller:
I wrote the outline of The Wounded Storyteller in early spring 1994, while I still had stitches from the biopsy that determined I was not having a recurrence of cancer… Writing The Wounded Storyteller was as much a work of self-healing as of scholarship. I needed to gather around me voices that shared what I had been through during the previous years of illness. I had written about my own experiences in a memoir, At the Will of the Body, but I needed the insights and articulations of other ill people to assure myself I wasn’t crazy. I needed others’ thoughts in order to become fully aware of my own. That is the book’s consistent message about why suffering needs stories: to tell one’s own story, a person needs others’ stories. We were all, I realized, wounded storytellers. The wounded storyteller is anyone who has suffered and lived to tell the tale. Suffering does not magically disappear when the tale is told, but the more stories I heard the less space my own suffering seemed to take up. I felt less alone. This book was my attempt to widen the circle, to amplify and connect the voices that were telling tales about illness, so that all of us could feel less alone. The wounded storyteller is a guide and a companion, a truth teller and a trickster. She or he is a fragile human body and a witness to what endures. People need a guidebook for the day when they become wounded storytellers, because most people find themselves unprepared. I certainly needed such a book, despite having spent much of my professional life [as a sociologist] studying health care. The Wounded Storyteller was my attempt to provide that guidebook.” What surprises me rereading the book is how little my ideas about bodies, illness, and ethics have changed. Since I wrote this book I have read new memoirs of illness and interviewed ill people, but as generous as those people were about their experiences, the voices here are the ones that continue to resonate in my thinking, defining illness for me. The voices that speak to us at particular moments in our lives, especially during transitions or crises, imprint themselves with a force that later voices never quite displace. Returning to the The Wounded Storyteller, [20 years later] I realize how deeply I loved the voices of those whose stories I retell, both people I actually knew and writers whom I came to feel I knew… This book was written at two particular moments. In my life, I was at the end of a decade when it seemed all my conversations ended up being about illness, and most started that way. The book was also written at a particular public moment when ill people were claiming the right to tell their own stories, but that right had yet to be attained. Today, illness stories proliferate, especially on the Internet and in mass media, but when I was gathering the materials for this book, speaking publicly of illness felt new and necessary. …[W]hen I joined a cancer support group sponsored by a national organization, we were not allowed to post fliers in the local cancer center, to tell patients where and when meetings were being held. My sense of what was deeply wrong was affirmed when I read Audre Lorde, who wrote as a breast-cancer survivor around 1980, “My silence had not protected me, your silence will not protect you.” That quotation is one of the lines that resounds loudest when I think about illness. My questions are always: who is preserving what silences, what do they imagine is being protected by silence, and who suffers by being kept silent?” Lorde shows a way out of silence: speech that has the power to create community. “But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” The Wounded Storyteller was written to expand that contact between people who had stories to tell of illness. I sought to examine the words in which people attempted to speak the truth about illness, words in which they tried to “fit a world” that seemed worth believing in. This book is not a memoir, as deeply rooted in my own experience as it is. I wrote it with a sociologist’s core conviction that people’s sense of their own originality is highly overrated. This book reflects a tension between two recognitions of human life that sound paradoxical but are actually complementary. First, people’s experiences are intensely personal; claims to the uniqueness of experience are true and deserve to be honored. Second, people’s ability to have experiences depends on shared cultural resources that provide words, meanings, and the boundaries that segment the flow of time into episodes. Experiences are very much our own, but we don’t make up these experiences by ourselves. People tell their own stories about illness, but what seems worth telling, how to format the story, and how others make sense of the story all depend on shared ways of narrating illness. The core chapters of The Wounded Storyteller describe three narratives that storytellers and listeners use to structure and interpret stories, respectively: restitution, chaos, and quest. Each is also a way of experiencing illness. Restitution represents my life as a patient. Health-care workers expected any experience to be interpreted within a narrative of movement toward recovery of health. Whatever happened to me could be understood only as a necessary step toward that achievable goal of health. I wanted to get well and appreciated reassurance that I would. But I also needed recognition of my suffering at that particular moment, as well as recognition that my recovery was by no means assured. I increasingly resisted the restitution narrative, especially how it positioned the physician as the protagonist and relegated me to being the object of that protagonist’s heroism. I was certainly part of this story, but it could never truly be my story. The restitution narrative had no space for the chaos part of my illnesses: the months when my rapidly progressing testicular cancer was misdiagnosed, first as a sports injury—muscle strain—and then as an unknown disease, probably, but not certainly, cancer. Chaos was in the disconnection between the increasing pain that was sending my life off the rails and my physicians’ frustrated insistence that nothing serious was wrong. Chaos was in the claustrophobia of confronting others’ inability to see what I so clearly felt. Many people with chronic illness, especially multiple sclerosis, have written about this diagnostic uncertainty and the relief when some physician validates how much is actually wrong, as devastating as that diagnostic news can be. My own chaos was bad enough, but I never experienced the chaos in which many people feel trapped, when each misfortune seems to trigger some other collapse: disease leads to job loss, which creates a housing crisis, and then some other family member gets sick. However, I went through enough to recognize that desperation and the silence that chaos imposes. Those living in chaos are least able to tell a story, because they lack any sense of a viable future. Life is reduced to a series of present-tense assaults. If a narrative involves temporal progression, chaos is anti-narrative. My period of chemotherapy was bordering on chaos when my understanding of what I was going through began to shift. A sequence of experiences brought me out of an obsession with my own pain and vulnerability and gave me a sense that I was participating in something shared. Time spent being ill ceased to be time taken away from my life. Instead, how I lived with illness became the measure of how well I could craft a life, whether I was ill or healthy. This attitude is the basis of understanding one’s story as a quest narrative. Illness remains a nightmare in many ways, but it also becomes a possibility, especially for a more intimate level of connection with others. Illness as quest is described by Anatole Broyard’s posthumous collection of writings, Intoxicated by My Illness, which became available late in my work on The Wounded Storyteller. Broyard, a writer of some fiction and much literary criticism, presents living with rapidly progressing prostate cancer as a problem of style: “It seems to me that every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness.” I understand telling stories as an especially important medium through which we discover what that style might be. Storytelling is less a work of reporting and more a process of discovery. Broyard then writes the sentence that, in retrospect, defines not only the quest narrative but the core issue of The Wounded Storyteller: “It may not be dying we fear so much, but the diminished self.” He thus expresses what remains my crucial question: “If I become ill again, or when I do, how will I find ways to avoid feeling that my life is diminished by illness and eventually by dying? Broyard was clear that physicians are often a part of the problem of diminished lives.“Doctors discourage our stories,” he writes. I did not include that dig at doctors in The Wounded Storyteller, and I am surprised, rereading today, how disciplined I was in depicting health-care professionals only from the perspective of patients and minimizing even that. My intent was to write a book that kept health-care workers generally, and physicians specifically, in the background. Even criticizing doctors makes them central. …[T]aking the professional perspective undoes what The Wounded Storyteller is most concerned to bring about: a view from the ill person’s perspective, in which the central problem is how to avoid living a life that is diminished, whether by the disease itself or by others’ responses to it. The professionals in health care and other fields who have communicated with me about The Wounded Storyteller all realize that providing treatment should not be equated to offering care, however that distinction is expressed in the respective idioms of different professions. Other readers are working to make sense of their own suffering, struggling to find words and narratives that share their experiences with others. What I appreciate most is when the boundaries between these two types of readers blur. Professionals bring their personal suffering into their work, and ill people discover forms of vocation in illness. The wounded storyteller, ending silences, speaking truths, creating communities, becomes the wounded healer.” —Calgary, Alberta. Arthur W. Frank
Maya Angelou. All God’s Children Got Traveling Shoes
Erik P. Antoni. Song of the Immortal Beloved
St. Augustine, Confessions
Barbara Becker. Enclosure: A Spiritual Autobiography
Stephen Batchelor Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
Malcolm Boyd, Gay Priest, An Inner Journey
Frederick Buechner. Telling Secrets. A Memoir
_______________.The Eyes of the Heart. A Memoir of the Lost and Found
John Bunyan. Grace Abounding
Sister Chittister. Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy
Carol P. Christ Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess
Albert Flynn DeSylva. Beamish Boy. A Memoir of Recovery and Awakening
Mathew Fox. Confessions of a Post-Denominational Priest
Bede Griffiths. The Golden String
Chris Glaser. Malcolm Boyd, Gay Priest, An Inner Journey
G.I. Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men
Andrew Harvey. A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism
____________. Hidden Journey: A Spiritual Awakening
Christopher Isherwood. My Guru and His Disciple
Sarah H. Jacoby, Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro
Carl Gustav Jung. Memories, Dreams and Reflections
Swami Kriyananda. The New Path. My Life with Pramahansa Yogananda
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. The Wheel of Life. Memoir of Living and Dying
The Dali Lama. My Spiritual Journey
Therese of Lisieux. Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux
C.S. Lewis. Surprised By Joy
Sri. M. Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master (A Yogi’s Autobiography)
Sri. M. The Journey Continues: A sequel to Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master
Brennan Manning. All is Grace. A Ragamuffin Memoir
Mark Matousek. Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story
John J. McNeill, Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey
Jane Hamilton Merritt. A Meditator’s Diary: A Western woman’s unique experiences in Thailand Monasteries
Thomas Merton. The Seven Story Mountain
Mourning Dove. Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography
Joel Morwood. Naked Through the Gate: A Spiritual Autobiography
Swami Muktananda. Play of Consciousness: A Spiritual Autobiography
John G. Neihardt. Black Elk Speaks
John Newton and Vasile Lazar AMAZING GRACE: An Autobiography
Steve Norwood.Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary
Meghan O’Rourke. The Long Goodbye. A Memoir
P.D. Ouspensky. In Search of the Miraculous
David Persons. Finding My Way Home: My journey to a Universal Spirituality (An ordained minister’s journey to a more ancient spirituality and the price he paid)
Helen Prejean. River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey
Michele Pulford. Climbing into Eternity. My Descent into Hell and Flight to Heaven
Tulku Urgyen Rinpche. Blazing Splendor, The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpche
Richard Rodriguez. Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography
Kenneth Rose. The Light of the Self
Soko Morinaga Roshi. Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity
Lori S Stevic-Rust. Greedy for Life. A Memoir of Aging with Gratitude
Hakuin Ekaku and Norman Waddell Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin
Alan Watts. In My Own Way
Irina Tweedie. Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master
Paramhansa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi
Jocelyn Zichterman. I Fired God: My Life Inside—and Escape From—the Secret World of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult
(1) Mad Like Me by Merryl Hammond
(2) A Schizophrenic Will. A Story of Madness, A Story of Hope. by William Jiang
(3) My Schizophrenia by John Gunter
(4) Surviving Schizophrenia by Richard Carlson
(5) My Mental Madness Memoir by Stephanie Anne Allen
(6) Same Time Next Week, True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness edited by Lee Gutkind
(7) Show Me All Your Scars. True Stories of Living With Mental Illness edited by Lee Gutkind
(8) Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes by Peter Levine
(9) Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson
(10) Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim’s Orthogenic School by Roberta Carly Redford
(24) The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle
(26) Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience by Allison Pataki and Lee Woodruff
(27) Fall to Pieces: A Memoir of Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Mental Illness by Mary Forsberg Weiland and Larkin Warren
(32)The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts by. Charity Tillemann-Dick
(38) This River: A Memoir of recovery from Addictions by James Brown
San Diego Memoir Writers Association is a community of local writers committed to the craft and business of memoir writing. Our purpose is to create a community of inspired, nurtured, and educated memoirists. One of the ways in which we do this is by hosting monthly member meetings with speakers who educate our writers on both the craft and business of memoir writing. Writers of all levels are welcome and encouraged to join us to help build their own writing tribe.
The June 2019 San Diego Memoir Association monthly meeting was the second of two free meetings this year. Expert facilitator Marni Freedman led the thirty-five attendees through a process for healing through writing. She previewed material from her forthcoming book Write to Magic: How to Get Unstuck, Access Authentic Courage and Live in the Creative Flow of Life.
With empathy and compassion, Marni introduced creative approaches for identifying wounding moments and turning them into fuel for a creative and bold life. Participants examined their life experiences through free-writing prompts that can lead to radical self-acceptance.
Even in the hot July temperatures, the workshop was packed and everyone walked away feeling rejuvenated and inspired to continue writing projects or begin new ones.
Founded in December of 2016, San Diego Memoir Writers Association is located at Liberty Station in Point Loma. Please send us an email if you’d like to learn more about the organization, get involved, or come speak at one of our monthly member events.
We look forward to meeting you!
My life is not this steeply sloping hour,
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am only one of my many mouths,
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
I just read Mitch Albom’s recent nonfiction memoir, HAVE A LITTLE FAITH about an African American and a Jew.
What if our beliefs were not what divided us, but what pulled us together? In “Have a Little Faith,” Mitch Albom offers a beautifully written story of a remarkable eight-year journey between two worlds–two men, two faiths, two communities–that will inspire readers everywhere.
Albom’s first nonfiction book since “Tuesdays with Morrie”, “Have a Little Faith” begins with an unusual request: an eighty-two-year-old rabbi from Albom’s old hometown asks him to deliver his eulogy. Feeling unworthy, Albom insists on understanding the man better, which throws him back into a world of faith he’d left years ago.
Meanwhile, closer to his current home, Albom becomes involved with a Detroit pastor–a reformed drug dealer and convict–who preaches to the poor and homeless in a decaying church with a hole in its roof.
Moving between their worlds, Christian and Jewish, African-American and white, impoverished and well-to-do, Albom observes how these very different men employ faith similarly in fighting for survival: the older, suburban rabbi embracing it as death approaches; the younger, inner-city pastor relying on it to keep himself and his church afloat. As America struggles with hard times and people turn more to their beliefs, Albom and the two men of God explore issues that perplex modern man: how to endure when difficult things happen; what heaven is; intermarriage; forgiveness; doubting God; and the importance of faith in trying times. Although the texts, prayers, and histories are different, Albom begins to recognize a striking unity between the two worlds–and indeed, between beliefs everywhere.
In the end, as the rabbi nears death and a harsh winter threatens the pastor’s wobbly church, Albom sadly fulfills the rabbi’s last request and writes the eulogy. And he finally understands what both men had been teaching all along: the profound comfort of believing in something bigger than yourself. “Have a Little Faith” is a book about a life’s purpose; about losing belief and finding it again; about the divine spark inside us all. It is one man’s journey, but it is everyone’s story.
Writing is hard. Everyone knows that. How do you keep going, when you feel lost and discouraged and want to quit? When you feel like quitting, think about why you started. What was that creative spark that got you going in the first place? Visualize that moment now. Write about that instant when the idea for your project first hit you right between your eyes. See if you can feel some of the excitement or enthusiasm again.
Now ask yourself why this idea still interests you, and what it really means to you; why do you care about it?
Appreciate where you are in your journey, even if it’s not where you want to be. Every season serves a purpose.
Great things never came from comfort zones.
You don’t grow when you’re comfortable.
You will not always be motivated; so you must learn to be disciplined. Develop a good morning writing routine and follow it religiously.
Do you waste time in the mornings on reading and answering emails and posting your status and ideas on Social Media. Well, don’t. That’s not going to get your book finished is it?
Get in the habit of asking yourself every few hours: “Does this activity/action support me in attaining my goals?””Does this support the life I’m trying to create?”
Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally, but from what you do consistently.
Be consistent! Write every morning. Religiously.
The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now.
Don’t compare your life to others’. Make no comparison between the sun and the moon. They shine when it’s their time. So do you.
The original vision of childhood is a sense of wonder at everything. I have seen that sense of wonder in my children. I must have had that, too. I recall being fascinated with many things as a child, enjoying playing with fire and water and digging in the earth and building things especially model airplanes.
When I was five my parents took me to see the film “Cabin in the Sky.” Ethel Waters a big black woman, had the lead role. In fact all the actors were blacks. I was frightened by a figure that appeared in little Joe’s nightmare who had horns on the top of his head and called himself Lucifer Junior.
My mother used to leave we with a Mexican lady, Maruca Martinez, wife of the painter, Alfredo Ramos Martinez, in the afternoons to be taken care of. Mina, her maid, frightened me by telling me that if I was not good she would throw me down the stairs into the hands of the boogey man in the basement. Coquitta, (really Maria) their daughter who was crippled from polio frightened me too. I wanted to be part of a family, but I did not belong anywhere.
Sometimes my mother also left me with the sculptor, Jane Rosen, and with her mother’s friends like Tante Nana and Fraulein. I hated the old ladies in black veils. She also left me at the convent on West Adams with Mother Valerean. She left me with Gwen in the desert and left me at Big Bear Boys Camp where I was very homesick and frightened. She sent me away to boarding schools. The message I got was “You’re no good. We can’t do anything with you. We don’t want you. You don’t deserve anything of your own. We don’t love you. Nobody likes you.”
The only positive people I can recall in my early life were my grandparents Elmer and Katie Staude, in Texas, and Betty Frank. I did not like my mother’s motherland her entourage in Los Angeles. I remember being sent away from them because I made too much noise.
I loved to read. The first book I remember reading on my own, with help from my mother who read to me a lot was Robin Hood. There was also a book of fairy stories and legends I enjoyed. I particularly liked the stories of St. George, of Perseus, and of the Dragon.
While I was away at mass, with my mother, my father would stay home and listen to Wagner. I decided that Grand Opera was his religion, and it seemed to be much more exciting than the boring masses I had to attend with my mother.
Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation meant little to me. They were rituals I went through to please my parents. I found going to Church was very boring.
At age 8 I was sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s where I was indoctrinated with traditional Catholic catechism and internalized guilt feelings regarding sexuality. The nuns frightened me with their images of Hell and the Devil who I feared would punish me if I was not a good boy.
FDR died in 1944. My grandfather died at about the same time as did a young boy who lived next door to me, John Clyde, Andy Clyde’s son. That was my first encounter with death.
In early adolescence I awakened to a sense of the spiritual through poetry and the first stirrings of love in my heart. For me God has always been most approachable through the body of a woman. It is She that evoked wonder in me and led me to turn to him, our creator, in gratitude.
I attended Catholic school for a few months when I entered adolescence in order to prepare for confirmation. I recall that I was fascinated by the emerging sexual beauty of some of the young women in the class, but I was taught that it was sinful to have “lustful” thoughts about women. One should not notice their bodies, I was told, but think of spiritual things instead. I felt guilty about masturbating and was told by the priest to hold a rosary in my hand. The pain would prevent me from continuing. It didn’t. I struggled against these sexual temptations for many years.
At Webb School I was also required to take classes in the Bible as literature. This bored me, but I enjoyed a class in comparative religions in my senior year taught by Mr. Wilson. He had pictures of figures from Greek myth on the walls of his classroom. It was with him that I first developed a real interest in the meaning of myths and symbols. I also was fascinated with the stories told in Bullfinch’s Mythology and particularly the stories of adventures, heroic journeys and the like. When I got to Webb I had an ambition to read every book in the school library, and I just about did. (It was a small library).
As a boy I was impressed with the poetry of the English romantic poets. I think this set the tone for my worldview and religious ideas and feelings. I feel there is a strong continuity between my early romanticism and my later idealism. I have never felt willing to accept mundane reality as it is, as the only world we can know and experience. Already as a youth I accepted the notion of multiple realities and the Buddhist view of the world as an illusion, though I often get caught up in identifying with my own personal suffering and am unable to practice this view in my daily life.
When I was about 15 years old at the end of my sophomore year at Webb School, I traveled to Europe with my parents for the first time. My mother was already in Europe when my father and I left. We sailed from New York on the Liberté, a luxury liner of the French line. I never had so much food in all my life. Tony had an affair on the ship as he had done on the train going from LA to New York.
When we arrived at Le Havre my mother was waiting for us with a little English car a Humber Hawk. We drove through Rouen to Paris. The sky was grey and it rained and rained. The sky reminded me of the skies in some of the French impressionist paintings I had seen in our living room at home. France was more or less as I had imagined it would be. I recall the strange smells in our first Paris hotel room, and the strangeness of the old lady who watched us through a veiled glass door as we entered the building where mother had rented a small apt for us. I learned that such women are an institution in France called the conscierge.
I recall the smell of French coffee and pain au chocolat. In the mornings I had hot chocolate rich with fresh milk and hot croissants. Like a puppy I explored the unfamiliar sights and smells in the neighborhood.
Mother had acquired an escort, Gerard, and his attractive wife or mistress Paulete. I developed a crush on her and enjoyed dancing with her despite the fact that she smelled of garlic. Her full breasts bulged out of her low cut black chiffon dress. I fantasied that I would like to make love to her, but I did not yet know how.
I recall going with my parents to the bar at the Ritz Hotel. I ordered a Coke and Bisquit. I anticipated getting a coke and cookies but instead they served me coke with brandy in it. I felt betrayed and spit out the coke in disgust and made a scene.
We set out in the car and drove south to Tours, Poitiers and the Chateau country which we explored for several days before heading south into Provence. I was particularly enchanted with Carcasonne, which conformed to my image of medieval France. I had just completed an elementary course in medieval history at Webb and now felt thrilled to see a real medieval town complete with towers and encircled by a high stone wall.
I learned of Simon de Montforte and the Cathars and the Courts of Love of the Troubadours. These tales fascinated me and I determined to learn more about medieval France someday. I still love medieval towns and medieval art and history.
The objective of our trip, from my mother’s point of view, at least, was to see as many beautiful churches in France as possible. I can’t remember them all. I had the feeling of being dragged around France from church to church like Eloise in New York. I was impressed with Chartres, Ronchamps and St. Paul en Vence.
We drove on over the Alps to Italy via the Dolomites and Cortina d’Ampezzo. I developed a crush on a pretty American girl there. We played tennis and I longed to play with her tits which I watched bobbing like tennis balls before my eyes.
We left there too soon for mty liking heading South into Italy. We stopped in Verona and in Venice where we stayed at the Royal Danieli and visited the Lido. Later we went to Florence Pisa and finally to Rome. By this time I had eaten too much Italian ice creamn and got sick. I spent most of the time we were in Rome sitting on the toilet or lying in bed in the hotel.
On our return journey we stopped again in Paris and visited Montmartre where I made the acquaintance of a delightful character named Mimiche. He ran a little joint restaurant near the Lapin Agile. He played the cello and told dirty stories. I recall the climax of one story when he unzipped his pants and pulled out his pecker and waved it at the audience. I later discovered that this long thing was not his pecker at all but a rubber. It was some time later before I learned what condoms are used for. At that time I thought it was like a rubber glove.
We then took the Golden Arrow train to London, across the English channel, the luxury boat train of those days. We rode in first class, of course, and I loved how we were served tea and sandwiches. I loved high tea and later had it at the Grovsnor House in Mayfair, where we stayed. I have always enjoyed London. We returned to the USA at the end of summer and I returned to school at Webb in the fall.
I traveled all over the world through my imagination, reading adventure books, horse stories, classics, whatever I could get my hands on. What I wanted to understand really was myself and other people but it was a long time until I discovered psychology. My first study of human nature was through literature. One of my favorite books from my high school days was Jean Christophe, though I never read through all the volumes of the entire long novel.
In my late adolescence I became more committed to writing and to spirituality.
I had been lonely at boarding school up until my junior year when I began dating Nancy Palmer, a girl who lived up the street from us in Hollywood.
I would like to describe the atmosphere I experienced during my last year in high school when I was 17 years old. I was editor of the school paper, The Blue and Gold, and had finally carved out a small place for myself at the school. At the end of the year upon graduation I was awarded a prize for having read more extra books than any other student. I was proud that I had my name in most of the books in the Webb School library. My grades were never extraordinary and I did not get into Princeton the college of my first choice but I did get into Duke so I went there.
After I graduated from high school I spent the summer in England as an exchange student with the Experiment in International Living program. That was a turning point in my life.
I sailed on a student ship, the Arosa Kulm and returned on the Arosa Star. It was lots of fun, but very different from the luxury liners I had sailed on before with my parents. We sailed from the port of New York. This was the first time I was traveling so far away from home alone. I was excited and anxious. What adventures lay ahead for me? I was to be plaed in an English family in Plymouth in Devon. I enjoyed the English lifestyle very much. Thus began my lifelong love affair with England.
I first began to take a serious interest in the divine and to feel some relationship to Jesus Christ when I was 17 or 18 years old, during my first year at Duke University. At that time I became seriously interested in mysticism and began to read everything I could about it.
I thought I wanted to be a writer, so I thought I would major in English. I found the English professors too pedantic, however, so I switched to history. There was one English professor I liked very much–Russell Fraser, who had a student literary discussion group that I participated in with relish. It was called Areopagus, after the original Supreme Court of Athens.
One person was particularly influential on me among my college teachers. That was Dr. Harold Parker, a brilliant modern European historian. From him I first discovered that history was not so much a collection of facts but the interpretation of the relationships among these facts. Equally important for me as mentor at this time was Prof. Ernest Nelson, who was a specialist in Renaissance and Reformation history.
My freshman essay was on Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. I tried to demonstrate that Werther was a symbol of his age and that Goethe managed to resolve his own personal inner conflicts through his creativity. I had my own share of personal emotional problems at this time myself.
I went to college in the South because I knew that so many of the great modern American writers came from the South and I wanted so much to be a writer. At Duke I sought to write for the Archiveliterary magazine but my work was not published there. Instead I wrote copy for the Playbillprograms. I have always been better at re-working material than creating it from scratch.
I recall my first year Duke where I made friends with young men like Bill Spann, Rusty Stahlnacker and Tyson Underwood, Fred Chappel and Reynolds Price.
Tyson came to visit me in California during our summer vacation in 1955. He had stopped at the bus station en route and dyed his hair black.
My first sexual experience was with Betsy, a beautiful blonde southern belle, in the college dorms. She was so sweet. Yet I rejected her after a while and went for Joanie, a dark haired beauty who I met on a blind date arranged by my roommate, Dick Phillips. I felt so close to her and we had good sex, but afterwards I felt guilty. I went to confession as soon as possible after I had sex.
I was also troubled by what I was learning in my philosophy classes. I wanted to find out my own identity. my values and beliefs. I loved history. I had good teachers like Prof. Harold Parker, Bill Holley and Ernest Nelson, the Renaissance and Reformation scholar. I admired him very much. In my sophomore year I took a class from him on the foundations of Western Civilization.
I will never forget that class. We read Heroditus and Thucydides and Sophocles and St. Augustine. I have always loved the Greek classics.
When I was supposed to go to work for Brunswig Drug Company, the summer after my freshman year, I could not face it and read Greek tragedies as a way of protesting my fate. Eventually I got a summer job as a law-clerk instead.
I enjoyed the chamber music concerts. I remember one concert in particular in which I was making love to Betsy in the adjoining ladies lounge while the quartet was playing.
I felt guilt about sex and confusion with the secular modern philosophies I was being exposed to at college. In fear and defence I fled to a Catholic Jesuit university where I was guaranteed of being taught the TRUTH. However, I was disappointed with the philosophy and theology I was taught there.
In my sophomore year in college my mother gave me a book by a Benedictine monk, Father Bede Griffiths, The Golden String. It meant a lot to me. This was the first time that I saw that a religious quest could be taken seriously by an intellectual, which was what I aspired to be someday. At this time I also first read St. Augustine’s Confessions. He became one of my lifetime heroes. Soon afterwards I read The Outsiderby Colin Wilson, which introduced me to Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Pascal and other existential thinkers who became my heroes as well. I was also fascinated by the life and thought of Nietzsche.
When I entered my first year of college I was supposed to join the ROTC but I did not want to. I did not have the courage to say no directly, but I resisted letting the orderly take a blood sample from me. He told m I had better get used to it because there would be a lot of such experiences of such unpleasantness ahead for me in the military. On this basis I decided not to enroll in ROTC. My advisor taught Russian Lit. so I enrolled in his survey of Russian Lit instead. Here I encountered Lermontov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Thus began my lifelong interest in Russia and in Russian history and literature. (Later in graduate school I specialized in comparing modern Russian and German intellectual and cultural history).
At the end of my sophomore year I transfered to Georgetown. The summer between Duke and Georgetown I drove a traveling bookshop around Cape Cod. Got to know soem interesting people on the Cape including Paul Chavchavadze, a Russian emigré writer. I’ve always had a weakness for Russians.
I was scheduled to go to Europe at the end of my Junior year but instead so as to be near Joanie Knowles I spent the summer working as a counselor at the Big Toe River camp with the crippled children. I see a familiar Pattern here of sacrificing an activity which requires my being alone and taking a risk with loneliness for the security of staying in a familiar place in order to stay with a girl or woman I love.
Beginning in the fall of 1956 I transferred to Georgetown University in Washington DC.I recall reading Jung and Freud and philosophy and searching for the truth and listening to Fr. William Lynch lecture on literature and philosophy. Also Father Martin D’Arcy, Dr Rommen, reading Samuelson and Schumpeter and studying the History of Economic and Political Thought.
I found the Thomism and Scholasticism at Georgetown dry and boring. Instead I turned to the French existentialists and to exploring philosophy through literature. I found great inspiration in a literature class taught by Fr. William Lynch.
To this day literature is my favorite way to access philosophical and religious or spiritual ideas. I enjoy encountering ideas in the contest of personal drama. The evocative images speak to my heart. On the other hand for religious feeling I prefer sacred music. I had some courses in philosophy of religion with Father Martin D’Arcy who I found inspirational, but he was often over my head.
The one philosophical work I remember reading in college that really opened up new vistas on religion for me was William James’ Varieties of Religions Experience.Even today I can hardly think of a work of greater significance for me for James introduced me to the psychology of religious experience. I also became interested in the psychology of Freud and C.G. Jung at this time, as I was looking for a therapeutic alternative to Thomistic psychology.
I recall discovering a different kind of spirituality with Fr Damasus Winzen OSB at Mt Savior. I want to mention one person and a place that had an influence on my spiritual development–Father Damasus Winzen, at Mt. Saviour, a Benedictine community in Elmira New York where I made several retreats before I went to Europe. “Incline the inner ear of the heart and listen to the world of God” Benedict said in the prologue ot his rule. Through Father Damasus and Brother Gregory I discovered the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome and Origin, and came to appreciate the beauty of the Bible and the Liturgy. At Mt. Savior I sometimes had the sense of being in the presence of God, of experiencing wonder and gratitude at his majesty and glory. With the Jesuits this had been only an intellectual concept for me. Among the Benedictines I experienced it in my heart.
In my senior year in college I became interested in French literature and philosophy, particularly after reading Wallace Fowlie’s book, A Guide to Contemporary French Literature.This led me to embark for a year of study of French literature in Paris. However I did not really know French well enough to read the literature or criticism in the original for enjoyment. I did read some Camus and Claudel and some other modern French writers and even wrote a play modeled on Claudel’s work while I was in Paris. I was still troubled by guilt feelings about sex. It took some years of psychoanalytic therapy to finally move beyond that place in my spiritual and emotional life.
When I arrived in Paris in the summer of 1958, after graduating from Georgetown, a young Frenchman I had met on board the student ship I had sailed on from New York suggested that we find a small hotel and share a room. He did not have much money, he said, so he offered to show me around Paris if I would pay for his meals. He knew just the place. It was on the Left Bank, right near the Place St. Michel. The hotel was small and clean but our room was tiny and the bedsprings sagged to the floor when I lay on the bed–as French hotel beds so often do. We stayed there two or three nights and explored Paris during the days. One morning when I got up I found to my surprise that my “friend” Gerard had disappeared. This was right after I had told him I was getting worried about how much money I was spending. He left we with the entire hotel bill to pay. I felt angry and disillusioned. This was a preview of other similar experiences I was to have in the future.
I felt delighted to be in Paris and was determined to learn French properly. I began by attending a course at the Sorbonne, but found it was too much work so on hearing about a pilgrimage going to Brittany I decided to join that. It was run by Pax Christi, a group that grew up after World War Two to help young persons heal the wounds and overcome the stereotypes left from war propaganda and experience.
After the Pax Christi pilgrimage I went to Grenoble to study French.I first visited Germany in the summer of 1958. I was studying French in Grenoble. My parents were traveling through Europe and invited me to meet them in Düsseldorf. We traveled down the Rhine by train and got off in Stuttgart where my father picked up a Mercedes he had ordered in America. It was quite a ritual picking up the Mercedes. I resolved then that someday I would get a Mercedes of my own. We drove to Munich where we visited my “brother” Pierre and then drove on to Salzburg and on to Vienna. There my mother made a diatery cure in a hospital and she and her doctor decided that it would be good for me to make the same cure so I did. What was peculiar about her cure was that instead of following the hospital regime she had a hot plate under her bed with which she cooked her own supplementary meals.
I had been eating too many pastries and pommes frites in France and Germany and had become constipated. The doctor created a culture from my stool and injected this culture into my rectum thereby creating new bacilli to move along the stool through my intestines. I have never suffered from constipation since. My bowels work like clockwork.
I returned to Paris in the fall ready to study. At first I tried to stay in a Benedictine monastery but they through me out after I came home late a few times. I then stayed in a Catholic boys college on the Rue de Vaugerard. After a short time I was thrown out of there also because I did not mix well with the other boys and also refused to adhere to the early curfew imposed on residents of the college. I t reminded me of my life at Georgetown University, until I had escaped and gotten an apartment off campus.
I then moved to a hotel on the Boulevard St Michel around the corner from the Sorbonne. I enrolled in a course on French literature for French teachers from abroad. The lectures were over my head and I could not really do the assigned reading much less write the required essays. I dropped out after a couple of months. While I was in the course I met a nice young American called Greg who had a flair for languages and seemed to know not only French but German Spanish and Italian. He played the guitar and seemed more able than I to live on his own. I admired him and enjoyed our few meetings together. I also got to know a few other students who were friendly enough, but most of the time I felt isolated and alone. This was to be my primary experience in Paris and most places thereafter, feeling isolated and alone.
I spent most of my time in Paris either reading in my room or walking the streets exploring the biways of Paris. Eventually I met an attractive young French girl, Denise, and tried to develop an intimate relationship with her. We never got beyond holding hands. As a good Catholic boy I had ambivalence about sex as she did as well. But I wanted her to be my girlfriend anyway and she refused.
I was lonely in Paris and felt forlorn as the winter set in. One time an old friend of my mother’s Midu, invited me to visit her in her room at the Crillon hotel. She greeted me in a neglige and lay invitingly before me on a chaise longe. I was very uncomfortable, I felt like the boy in the Graduate with Mrs. Robinson. I couldn’t respond to her. Though she was very beautiful she was old enough to be my mother and had a son older than me who I had once played with. I later learned that my “brother” Pierre had had an affair with her. My mother later told me that she was a nymphomaniac.
In time I got to know a group of German students in Paris, outsiders like me. I found them much more open and friendly than the French. One of them invited me to spend Christmas with her in Heidleberg. Another German girl I had met during the Pax Christi pilgrimage wrote inviting me to visit her in Westphalia; so I decided to spend my Christmas holidays in Germany. This was to be a white Christmas.
I had acquired a Porsche as a Christmas present from my parents. I decided to try it out on the winter roads of France and Germany. I went to Westphalia first, driving Northwest from Paris into Germany via Saarbrucken. I went to visit Ingrid, a slim blonde, but when I found she had another boyfriend I cultivated her plump motherly girlfriend Maria. I later wrote a one act play about my relationship with Maria. From Westphalia I proceeded South to Heidleberg. It snowed in Heidelberg while I was there. It was beautiful. I stayed only a few days and then went on to visit my brother Pierre who was then staying in Mulhouse near Basel.
I drove down the highway along the Rhine and suddenly became terrified when my car skidded out of control and I almost landed in the Rhine. I was terrified and telephoned Pierre swearing that I would not drive anymore even if it was Christmas eve and I wanted to meet him. He encouraged me to drive slowly and carefully and to come along. I did and arrived in Mulhouse with no further mishap. Pierre and I talked a long time about our plans and prospects for the coming year. He had just finished studying design in Basel and was going to move to Munich to open an office there with his friend and partner Klaus Oberer (Obei). I was going to write the great American novel in Paris. I returned to Paris shortly after New Year’s.
So I spent my first winter in Europe. It was too cold for me and I longed for the warm sun of Southern California. After over twenty years in Europe I still have trouble with the winter cold.
In Paris I got to know another German girl. We had a Platonic relationship, which was all I felt capable of because of my guilt feelings about sex but when I learned she was screwing other guys I decided to try my luck as well. She was agreeable after a long petting session, but when it came to it I ejaculated before I could even enter her. I felt so guilty about all this that I rushed to confession the next morning. My brother had a more casual attitude to it. Wash it and its as good as new he would always say. But like Lady Macbeth though I washed and scrubbed it I could not wash away the stain of sin in my consciousnesses. For this it took the magic of priestly authority.
The most extreme example in my life of this compulsive behavior was one time when I actually felt so guilty that I told a girl while I was inside her that what we were doing was sinful. She thought I was joking but eventually I convinced her I meant it. she pushed me out and pushed me away. I could not understand why and begged her to let me continue making love to her. She said I was crazy. I ran to a priest and got absolution and then came back to her to try to talk her into making love with me again. It took me many years to overcome these guilt feelings about sex.
At St. Severin in Paris I had my first experience of “worker priests” Through them I learned to think of my workplace as my altar. I learned from Pere Villart at St. Severin that there was a way of taking the mystery and grace we experienced gathered around the altar at mass out into the world of everyday life.
I returned to California in the spring after my winter in Paris. I did one term at Stanford University studying drama and playwriting and then transferred to Claremont Graduate School in Southern Calif where I studied ancient and modern history. I got on the defensive about my religion and wrote papers for my grad seminar in Renaissance Studies in which I tried to show the truth of the Catholic faith embodied in Dante’s Divine Comedy.This was not well received by my professors at CGS. I wrote a master’s thesis in History on “Jacob Burckhardt’s Philosophy of History”.
The next year 1960, at UC Berkeley, I tried to confront modern historicism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis head on but had a hard time holding on to my Catholic faith in the process. I was fascinated with Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity and by Marxist sociology of knowledge. As I was also interested in philosophical anthropology I finally decided to write a dissertation on Max Scheler, a German Catholic philosopher and sociologist. Work on Scheler, particularly his philosophy of religion helped me find a better intellectual footing for my faith. Gradually, however, my faith and commitment to Chirstianity got lost in other concerns. I remained a Catholic but psychotherapy, particularly Freudian, Jungian, and Gestalt psychology, replaced Christianity as my principal frame of reference for a long time.
After being hidden away in a cabin in the desert for my first two years, I was adopted by my own mother, though I never knew she was my mother when I was a child. I was simply told that I had been adopted. I grew up in a large house on Canyon Drive, in the Hollywood foothills, near Griffith Park and not far from Hollywood and Vine. I loved to hike and play and ride horseback in Griffith Park and in a smaller park called Ferndell, which was even closer to our house. The house itself was a large wooden single level structure, custom built in a modern ranch-house style. It was L-shaped and was organized as follows. One entered climbing a brick stairway flanked by Japanese cypress and orange trees surrounded by a ground cover of tall ivy. To the right from the entry hall was the kitchen followed by the laundry room, the maid’s room and the garage. To the right was the living room, and beyond that a dining room. A hallway led to a den and, at the end, a bathroom and my room. At this point a wing angled to the right which held a family room and two separate master bedrooms occupied by my father and my mother with an adjoining bathroom connecting them. I had no idea that it was unsual for a husband and wife to live in separate bedrooms.
The house had a large garden which contained a swimming pool, a badminton court and a large brick barbecue area. Eventually a studio was built for my mother, a sculptor, in the far corner of the garden, where the badminton and barbecue had been.
My grandparents’ house, the Brunswig mansion, was an exact copy of an eighteenth century French villa. It was quite large, with 25 rooms. It had once housed a large domestic staff including a cook, butler, nurse, governess, upstairs maid, downstairs maid, two gardners and a chauffer. By the 1940’s when I visited and played there, the staff had been cut in half, but there were always plenty of servants to be called when one needed anything.
The entrance to the house was done in classic eighteenth century style with glass French doors and two large stone lions guarding the stone stairway. Upon entering the house one walked into a large entry hall and then came upon a large wooden staircase at the center of the house. It was carpeted in red and led directly to the second floor. There were twelve rooms upstairs and at least as many large rooms downstairs, which included a ballroom and a private chapel where the family would sometimes gather for mass on Sundays and feast days.
When she was living there, Madole’s room was the end room on the first floor. Later that became a guest room, and that is where I slept when my parents stayed late in the evening. Adjoining this room was the governess’s room, which had also been converted into a guest room by the time I came on the scene. There were also two other small rooms as well as a large guest room on the ground floor. In the middle of the house upstairs was the master bedroom, which was where Madame, my grandmother, lived. Next to that was Monsieur’s bedroom and next to that stood a hobby room where my grandfather kept his barbells, his pornography collection, and his photography equipment.
Across the hall there was a big linen room and then my uncle Walter’s room. Near the far end of the hall there was a large sewing room, where the dressmaker came to do the repair work after the washing. Downstairs was a music room or ballroom, a sitting room, a wood panelled library, a dining room, a billiards room, and a small chapel, as well as a large kitchen, pantry, sewing room, guest rooms and an outdoor dining room on the loggia.
The grounds were large and included tennis courts, a swimming pool, and at the bottom of the garden, a large dolls’ house in the form of a miniature copy of the villa. This had been built expressly for my mother when she was a little girl. She had spent much of her time there as a child, and had converted it into a studio after she was grown up.
It was a huge house with many places for me to discover and to hide in. The house was segregated off from the neighbors’ homes on each side by a small bamboo forest. I used to climb through this bamboo in search of playmates next door. However, most of the people at the mansion were too old, and did not like small children, anyway.
The large, red, carpeted, oaken staircase climbed up through the center of the house leading from the entry hall, downstairs, to the master bedroom, on the second floor. I enjoyed sliding down it from the second floor to the mezzanine landing below. I was not allowed to slide down to the main floor lobby below because I was not supposed to disturb the old ladies. My grandmother and her sister, whom the family called Tante Nana, were usually wrapped in black veils.
Monsieur was already a very old man by the time I was born. He was always very nice to me, his little grandson, and called me le petit bonhomme. He even allowed him to play on his bed. He had an attractive nurse who flirted with me and liked to sing to me, “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, how you can love! Oh Johnny, oh Johnny, heavens above…” which embarrassed meso much I blushed and had to run out of the room every time she sang this song.
Madame was more serious and cold. She did not like small children, she said, and I found it best to stay out of her way. I later remembered her as surrounded with old ladies with furs and perfume and black veils over their faces.
When I was five years old my parents took me to see a film from which I emerged terrified— “Cabin in the Sky.” Ethel Waters, a big black woman, had the lead role. All the actors were blacks. I was terribly frightened by a Satanic character called “Lucifer Junior,” and had nightmares for months after, fearing that “Lucifer Junior” was coming to get me and carry me away to hell.
My mother often left me in the hands of a Mexican family in the afternooons. The father of this family was a well-known Mexican artist, Alfredo Ramos Martinez. Their daughter, Maria, who I called Coquitta, had been crippled from polio. She was like a big sister to me. The family housekeeper, Mina, frightened me by threatening to throw me down the stairs into the basement if I misbehaved. There, she told me menacingly, waited the hungry, angry Boogey Man, who would gobble me up if I had the misfortune to fall into his hands.
I felt rejected everywhere I went. I wanted to be part of a family, but there was little family feeling in my family, where each person did his or her own thing. I felt that I did not belong anywhere. I felt that Madole would just as soon be rid of me so she could devote herself to her art career. She often left me with her mother’s friends, like her aunt, Tante Nana, and her former governess, Fraulein Gersteinmeier.
I hated these old maids who were always shrouded in black veils. Sometimes Madole left me at a Catholic convent near her parents’ home on West Adams. There I received instruction in Catholic catechism from another woman garbed and veiled in black, the terrifying (to me) beady eyed and stinking Mother St. Valerian. Sometimes Madole left me with another friend of hers, Gwen, at Rancho Yucca Loma in the desert.
When I was ten I was sent away to a boy’s summer camp at Big Bear Lake. There I felt very homesick and frightened. I had been abandoned again. I always felt I was the victim, the abandoned child, because I was continually sent away to boarding schools. The message I got was “You’re no good. We can’t do anything with you. We reject you. We don’t want you. You don’t deserve anything of your own. You’re lazy. You’ll never amount to anything.”
I loved to read. The first book I read alone, with some help from my mother was Robin Hood. Soon I began reading books of fairy stories and legends. I particularly liked the story of St. George and the Dragon.
Having been brought up a Catholic and educated by the nuns, I was told more about hell and taught to feel afraid of the devil and more than to love God. Like the young James Joyce at Conglowns College he was taught about sins of all kinds, original sin, venial sin, and mortal sin, but very little about God’s love. Like most Catholics of my generation, I felt guilty and anxious about sex and was brought up in the tradition of original sin rather than Original Blessing, Grace, and Gratitude. The sacraments of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation meant little to him. They were rituals I went through to please my teachers and my parents but I found going to Church was boring.
I often got into trouble with my teachers and classmates at school. I was an angry and upstreperous little kid, filled with hostility towards everyone and resented having to obey rules. What was I so angry about?
We had a housekeeper named Myrtle. I called her Myrtle the Turtle. She was an elderly spinster from Vermont, a real New England old maid who Johnny used to love to tease. One time he stuffed his bed with pillows to make it look like he was in bed and went out. Once he put a small bomb under the receiver of the phone and then went out and phoned the house. When she picked up the phone she was almost made deaf by the explosion. He found that hilariously funny. Another time she looked in on him when he had put the dog in his place in his bed. She did not know the difference. He hid in the closet to see.What was the point of all these childish pranks? He was angry at the world and was getting even.