Make an Assay
2017 by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
you for supporting me and for respecting my hard work.
To Make an Assay
has been time-stamped
designed by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
photographs and artwork are by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
copyrighted to same.
to my spiritual and philosophical touchstone,
Michel Eyquem de
Make an Assay
Very Modest Life
Pier to Forever
Plus and Social Media
Different Kind of Asphalt
Than Your Derision and Disdain
you for the tremble and weave,
For osprey tracing high the
For silver sheets of rainfall fair;
orange rays of draining daylight conceive
verdant hills and tumbling creeks which sound
As through fluffs of
Through which this lonesome road winds forgotten;
walks remembered, and remembered I was found.
you for this morning scene,
And fingers of fog lacing between,
sudden bursts of golden finches, here now and then unseen;
life of my spirit which refutes the mean.
to thank you for my pounding heart
And the urge to strengthen
For the courage to fight my sloth and recommit
this life not apart
grace of your love,
The warmth of which
And rain down from above.
you, dear Lord,
these sterling moments of peace
Amidst the cackle of the
Their corrupting, deafening grain;
These pauses that
unremitting insults of the day
Carried beyond the pale,
but dull, and brittle like shale;
Each step as it may
A cry, a
supplication all its own,
Offered with and over the swirl and roar
The susurration, the crossroad, the cure
Here at last!
At last be shown
glory be, unsayable!
certain steps between uncertain novations prayable!
you for the courage of my convictions
In this deluded and
For the friendship of the insistent Sage
so bad, she says—
This time, this space,
This darkness so
They live in pieces,
glory of God is one.
Truth cannot forever be denied,
The commonwealth will someday shun.
For the constant urge to create,
For the insatiable
desire to mate
The contradictions. Lo the sword
its own art,
Deeper than desire, more intense than pain,
blank numbness against which I refrain
Any measure of victory; in
this I impart
whole of my soul.
Never to death or dust
Shall it give; nor to
And the unworthy jewels it stole.
you, dear Lord, I offer this,
What meager and gritty quarry
mine to give; the words in the story
So imperfect, so imprecise,
but sure as a kiss.
mine but also not:
They're yours, truly, like this day, this
moment, only mine by gift.
Thus is my wish to uplift,
to you, in the end, goes the entire lot.
and by them I have soared,
Through them and with them my heart has
at last come alive.
So long afraid, so long merely to survive
Alive again, and so it sings: Thank you, dear Lord.
I think, for all of us, who now must
stand against a vile Trump
I WAS fifteen years
old when I became a Denver Broncos fan.
54 - 15 = 39. Years.
That's an astonishing
amount of time to be a fan of anything. But it's true. For almost
forty years I have faithfully followed that team and their fortunes
and misfortunes. I have jumped for joy at their triumphs and have
been crushed by their defeats.
Just this last
weekend the Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots to
advance to Super Bowl 50, their eighth trip to the biggest stage in
American sports. They have won twice while on it. The last time they
went, which was just two years ago, they were humiliated by the
Seattle Seahawks 43 - 8. I stopped watching sometime in the third
The pundits are
predicting an equal or greater butt-kicking this go-round at the
hands of the Carolina Panthers, whose 17 - 1 record has everybody
convinced that they're virtually unbeatable.
Maybe they are. I
The Broncos were
supposed to be crushed by the New England Patriots too. Instead they
did the crushing, harassing and dominating the Patriots' offense and
its stellar quarterback the entire day. The pundits, instead of
admitting their horrible predictions and analyses, immediately jumped
on the Panthers' bandwagon and are now saying the same things they
were saying last week. "The Panthers are unstoppable." "The
Broncos stand no chance for reasons x,
And so on.
The Broncos might as
well not even show up to the game!
I guess what I'm
getting at here is that when the chips are down, that few who claim
to stand for the very qualities that got the Broncos to the greatest
stage in American sports—camaraderie, playing for something
greater than themselves, belief in each other, sacrifice, devotion,
friendship, faith, perseverance, loyalty, teamwork—actually
do. Most people abandon them wholesale. Even worse, they deride those
who continue to cling to them as "naive" or "foolish"
or for "wearing rose-colored glasses."
The thing is, though,
a life worth living—a life worth a damn—is only
possible for those who actually stand up for those qualities,
come hell or high water. Spout doom-laden statistics all you want,
cough up nasty probabilities, declare your team totally screwed,
chunter on that your dreams are "unrealistic," refuse to
stand and face the fire, divest yourself of your fandom, detach your
emotions and spirit from the outcome because you believe it to be
hopeless and fear failure, turn your back on the possibility of the
great victory, and you will join that long, gray line of human
mediocrity, to paraphrase Colonel Frank Slade in Scent
of a Woman. As a bonus, you
will do great and lasting damage to your spirit.
The Denver Broncos
stand no chance against a vastly superior foe on February 7.
I stand no chance to
be a recognized and popular author.
Your dream of
becoming whatever your heart truly wants you to be is silly and
should be ignored.
At bottom, there is
no significant difference between those three statements. I can
choose to believe them, citing statistics and probabilities until the
cows come home; or I can ignore the pundits and predictors and
prognosticators and press on. So can you.
That's what the
Denver Broncos are doing; and that's what I've been doing for
thirteen years now, and what I'll continue doing.
What are you doing to
prepare for victory at your
I refuse to join that
awful gray line where so many reside. No matter what.
And go you!
forty-year fandom of the Denver Broncos has come to an end. Here’s
moment the light will gray.
Beyond it you will see an arch.
There is nothing past it you need cower before.
yours to use as you see fit.
Once an instrument of supreme
you may employ it for the supreme good.
it is your destiny.
But do not confuse what I am telling
"Beyond" and "destiny" are traps.
them as so, and you are free to redefine them any way you
That is your gift.
There is no need to feint.
it is not your way.
cried for an angel.
See that she is you, and the tears will
The light will gray.
of your moments. Share them with me.
How? 'Tis easy, my song.
let them change you.
In the changing I will hear your Voice,
And in the changing you will become,
each moment from
more and more who you truly are.
That's how you'll
know I'm there with you.
There are spaces in
fragrant open meadows in which I can breathe.
There are spaces I
can run free and lie down
and stare up at the open sky.
have no idea how rare that is.
I have known many in
this odd, odd life.
Most are industrial parks: crowded and
and utilitarian. They exist only to seek profit;
live only to fill their empty days
with empty activities that
family and so-called friends say are normal and
They seek approval, and they seek fame, and they seek
be first among their polluted neighbors.
You are different.
You are unique.
I can breathe ...
PEOPLE FEAR change. I
do too many times. It can be very scary.
I started writing
full-time in 2004. I split time writing with trying to build a
tutoring business, one that ultimately failed in 2010. I had no
desire to work for anyone ever again. I wanted to call my own shots
and make my own name for myself.
As it turns out, I
couldn’t have picked a worse market than San Diego, California,
to start a tutoring business. Despite having the highest number of
Ph.D.s per capita of any large city on Earth, the city is virulently
anti-education. The dropout rate back then was seventy-five percent.
You read that right: three out of four kids who entered high school
in the San Diego metropolitan area in 2004 didn’t make it to
graduation their senior year. I don’t remember the statistics
for later years, but it doesn’t matter. The business went belly
up, as I said, in 2010. It was barely surviving as it was, but the
recession finally, mercifully put a bullet in the back of its head,
and that was that.
Change has often been
like that for me. It appears as a horrendous calamity. I’ve had
to fight to keep from seeing it as such, because, as in this case, it
really wasn’t as negative as I originally believed.
has a silver lining.” Perhaps not when you look up at them at
first, certainly. But in my case, at least, I can say that,
every cloud gets
a silver lining. It’s just a question of when, and also if,
I decide to look up and see them. That doesn’t always happen.
I went to the eye
doctor this past week. I hadn’t been to one in many years. They
have this newfangled machine, one that eliminates the need for drops
to dilate pupils in order to check for cataracts and glaucoma. You
press your nose up against this pliable plastic barrier while gawking
into a lens with your left eye, then your right. A bright light makes
it painful. If you press hard enough, your eye gets right up against
the lens without touching it, and the painful light turns green,
which is the machine’s way of saying you’re pressing hard
enough. At that point the nurse takes a picture of your eye, which
involves an even more painful bright yellow light passing quickly by.
It turns out I’m
developing a cataract in my right eye. I’ve got pigment
floating around in places it shouldn’t in both, and old scar
tissue around the edges of both, cause or causes unknown.
I’ll let you in
on a little secret. I suffer from clinical depression. Over the
course of the last decade and a half I have learned how to manage it
to a degree that, though I’m certainly not satisfied with it, I
can live with it as I learn how better to take care of myself.
In the past, news
like the one the eye doctor gave me would have been very difficult to
get around. I would have fallen into the Black Swamp, as I call it. I
would have refused to look up for those silver linings.
Instead, this time I
shrugged. Both externally and internally.
Is it depressing that
I’m more than half a century old now, that the days seem to be
sniffing cocaine, that my eyesight is potentially failing, at least
in one eye, that my body looks nothing like it did even in 2010, that
I have two partially frozen shoulders from overtraining as a young
athlete, that bending over to touch my toes seems a harder task than
jogging up Mt. Hood, that I have hair growing out of spots that God
never intended, that my chin’s antigravity is definitely
failing, that I no longer have freckles but liver spots?
Damn straight it is.
Still, for the most
part I have managed to avoid the Black Swamp. I think I know the
In 1998 I was still
teaching high school kids. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. In
fact, I hated it. The stress was overwhelming, the hours more so. It
didn’t help that Loveland Public Schools paid me less than
fifteen thousand dollars a year. That’s not a typo. And that
was for a full-time position. I was putting in eighty hours a week
and making less money than the night janitors, who weren’t full
time and paid by the hour.
I knew what quitting
ultimately meant. I knew I was going to struggle like hell for a long
time. I still am eighteen years later.
exacerbate depression if what you’re struggling for is what you
have always wanted to do with your life. Does that make sense? If you
look forward to getting out of bed in the morning to do the work you
know in your heart you were meant to do, no matter what is facing
you, no matter how insurmountable it appears, depression has a much
harder time gaining a foothold. I speak from stark experience.
I still experience
bouts of depression, most definitely. When they come, I deal with
them as sanely as I can. My life circumstances provide plenty
of fodder for a quick hop, skip, and jump into the Swamp, despite the
fact that I have been hugely blessed with the chance to write full
time. Sometimes, without even knowing I’m doing it, I take the
dive. Splash. I’m a ball of goo in bed, and the days and nights
ooze by like they have sandpaper on them, and I’ve just been
skinned alive and had lemon juice poured on me.
that depression is anger turned inward. I don’t buy it,
especially these days. Depression is depression. For some there may
be a component of inwardly turned anger; but not for me. The
inexorable march of time ... the dreams of youth long since gone ...
the abandoned goals, the futile strivings, the grinding failures ...
those are my triggers. They don’t inspire self-anger or
judgment; they inspire profound sadness. I know myself well enough to
say that with complete confidence.
Art picks me up: a
good movie, or a well-written essay, or an inspiring song or video.
So does connecting with my readers.
It isn’t a
guarantee, of course. Sometimes I’m so low it takes multiple
immersions in them.
Nature works well
too, especially here in southwestern Oregon, where she makes a grand
show of herself no matter which way you turn to look. My affliction
comes with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD—wouldn’t you
know it?), which exacerbates my condition as daylight wanes through
fall and winter. I endeavor to be even more vigilant after September
The one constant in
life is change. It powers the universe. Nothing is ever the same.
Heraclitus said it best: “No man ever steps in the same river
twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same
man.” The full realization of that has freed me somewhat of the
tangles of the Black Swamp, for this too, said the ancient Sufi
poets, shall pass. Even the Black Swamp.
For now, I endeavor
to look up.
THE JEDI don't pee.
At least, I bet that
you can't imagine them peeing. Think of it: Obi Wan Kenobi standing
over a dirty toilet in Mos Eisley or hurrying around a big boulder to
keep those little glowing-eyed dudes in the cloaks from
whisper-croaking-spitting their amusement.
Jedi don't poo
either. Try to imagine Windu Filteredbeer—or whatever Samuel L.
Jackson's Jedi character's name was—say, "Damn,
man, I need to take a righteous
dump! The Force be with my bloated colon! It's losing structural
Palpatine—Darth Sidious—biting his nails or popping a
zit. Does he wear regular underwear, or are there some special and
particularly evil briefs he puts on each morning when he gets up?
They'd be black (of course), but would they be made of cozy,
comfortable cotton? Do Sith Lords like cozy, comfortable cotton
skivvies? Does he ever sit on his throne and squirm on it, thinking,
Does he ever get jock itch? Does he examine the evil hairs in his
evil ears and try to cut them with an evil pair of scissors?
Does Darth Vader ever
take a breath (koooooooo-keeeeeeeeeee!)
and say, frustrated, "Now my indigestion is com-plete ...
One of the great
weaknesses of fantasy heroes and villains is that their authors do
almost everything they can to remove their humanity from them in
order to make them appear unreachable and invincible. Even JK Rowling
did this with Lord Voldemort. You didn't see him cutting farts just
after coalescing back to his nasty, pasty little snaky body after
Wormtail cut his own hand off into the cauldron and dropped in a
dirty bone from Tommy's dad's grave and dripped in a bit of Harry's
fresh young blood. If nothing else gives you gas, I don't know what
will. A more accurate portrayal of his re-introduction into the world
would have featured him walking amid his Death Eaters and saying:
"It's been thirteen—"
"Harry! There you are, standing on the bones of
Heroes also get the
same treatment, as I just mentioned. What would happen if the
Incredible Hulk suddenly developed an erection while tearing down yet
another skyscraper? His pants seems infinitely stretchable no matter
if he's Bruce Banner or his fearsome alter-ego, but can they
If you're Iron Man and have a sudden bout of diarrhea while burning
through the atmosphere, do you need to land in some forest somewhere
and hurriedly strip off all that high-tech fighting armor, or has
Tony Stark engineered a solution to such a potential problem? If so,
has he accounted for the extra thrust generated once he releases his
pent-up bowels? Genius, after all, can carry you only so far. Past
that, one must rely on one's humanity and hope that anything dripping
down your leg won't cause all that electricity humming around you to
Too often fictional
heroes have their humanity utterly excised. They aren't
human; and for many, perhaps most, that is a plus, not a minus. What
a shame. And how telling. We hold our physical beings in great
contempt, and it shows in these stories. It isn't a coincidence that
the Jedi don't pee or poo. It isn't a matter of "budgetary
constraints" among producers and directors that we don't see
Voldemort shedding a tear or Vader struggling to pull chopsticks out
of his facemask after taking an unwieldy bite of alien sushi. Epic
fictional heroes and villains aren't
human—and yet, at least for the heroes, we are encouraged to be
just like them. We are encouraged not
to be human.
Clark Kent has to
poo. That makes him a wimp. It makes him weak. Peter Parker is left
smashing cockroaches in his dank apartment, and so he's deserving of
condescension and contempt. It's only their heroic alter egos that
are celebrated and looked up to.
With one notable
exception—Necrolius Anaxagorius—my heroes and villains
pee and poo. Even the vile Prince Trajan and his hated cohort Lord
Pios pee and poo. Conor Kieran, Melody, Yaeko, Maggie, Luis ... these
great heroes are human beings, and so I have proudly retained their
humanity. Calliel Hiccum is an angel, and so is Ray Wilms. Both still
have to pee and poo.
And Necrolius? He
doesn't have to do either by virtue of his unbeingness. But let's be
clear: it doesn't make him greater than those he consumes and
enslaves; it makes him infinitely less.
Perhaps, in the end, that’s the point.
They shriek into their cell phones,
attention any way they can get it.
doing that today, right behind the car.
She wore a bright purple
with sparkly-pink writing on the back,
stood in the middle of the parking lot,
the borg phone attached to
her right ear,
and she wanted the world to know
existed, that she was IMPORTANT.
buy the splashiest truck or car.
They spam the Internet with
They march about like they're Rambo or the
like they're invincible, like they're God.
want you to notice their coolness, their hard gaze,
tough-as-nails black T-shirt, their painted-on pants,
louder they try to exist,
the less they actually do.
Very Modest Life
THE LAST full week of
April, Kyla and I will travel to San Diego to collect the rest of my
(our, really, but most of it is mine) stuff from a storage facility
in El Cajon, which is a suburb of that city. The storage is running
almost $100 a month—a ridiculous, borderline criminal, amount.
There isn't much to
move. It’s mostly small knickknacks and other personal effects
I've brought along during an increasingly long life. Really, as I
said, it isn't much at all, nothing a five-by-ten locker couldn't
The sum total of my life—all fifty-four-plus years of it—can
be measured by the contents in a five-by-ten space, along with the
space in this thirty-four-foot motorhome.
Not much at all.
I've never owned
much. I've never "owned" a “real” home, for
example. (I put owned
in quotes because, truthfully, almost no one in the modern era owns
a home. The bank or mortgage company does. The same is true for
"one's" cars.) I've never "owned" property, as in
real estate. I've never "owned" a boat, jet skis, diamond
jewelry, a cabin in the woods, a condo, fancy cookware, or even fancy
clothes. Of clothes, I have two pairs of pants, both jeans, and maybe
a dozen shirts, almost all bought from thrift stores. I wear one pair
of shoes—tennis shoes—and a pair of sandals, both worn
out to the point that they need to be replaced. I use the same hair
brush that I did three decades ago (yes, it's clean); and I own
several plants, including a ball cactus that will be thirty next
There are other
knickknacks, not many, and a few cherished plushies, one of which has
been with me since I was five. His name is Ralphie. You may know him
from Sesame Street
or The Muppets.
I could literally put
my entire life's worth of belongings in the average suburban garage
and have plenty of room to spare, probably well more than half. I
think of that sometimes and it blows my mind.
I never had children,
and don't plan on starting.
I don't have a
pension. I am, at the time of this writing, virtually penniless.
Since I'm fifty-four, I'm considered even more useless than the world
judged me at thirty, which means that getting a "regular"
job, should I need to, would be very difficult if not next to
impossible. Employers aren't legally allowed to be ageist, but we
live in a society that habitually ignores such strictures and gets
away with it.*
I came from a
moderately wealthy home that was thrust almost overnight into poverty
He was the sole breadwinner and proceeded to sue my mother
successfully over the course of the next eight years with his teams
of dead-eyed attorneys until she and we, her five children, were
bereft. She was dying at the time from a horrible disease, which made
his cruelty even more barbaric. I have never been able to escape the
impoverishment he sentenced me to.
I went homeless for a
month in January of 2002. Most of the meager possessions I owned I
had to throw away. It was one of the most difficult things I ever had
to do. I had enough cash to store the rest in a tiny locker; I
retrieved them when my natural mother (I'm adopted) grudgingly
offered to help me out. The little U-Haul she funded to get me to San
Diego was literally running on fumes by the time I got to her place.
My entire life was in that tiny truck, all of it, top to bottom. As a
lesson in humility, such a fact has few equals.
I've made less than
half a million dollars through the course of my life. You might think
that sum large. It isn't. Divided by fifty-four years (my age), it
comes out to less than ninety-three hundred dollars a year. If you
ignore the first eighteen years of my life and recalculate, the
figure falls just short of fourteen thousand dollars. The most money
I ever made in a single year came in 2002-2003 when, working as the
lead mathematics teacher at Job Corps in San Diego, I pulled in
forty-six thousand (before taxes; and yes, the irony of getting the
highest-paid gig of my life scant months after being homeless isn’t
lost on me).
But the job was
killing me. A doctor looked at my blood pressure one day and listened
to my tale of woe about eighty-hour weeks and hateful administrators
and gave me a dire warning. "You're well on the way to a
full-blown heart attack," he declared. "You've got a
choice." When I complained that I really didn't have one,
thinking of my month on the streets, he patted my shoulder and said,
"We've all got a choice."
He was right.
I quit six months
later. With it went my income, of which I was saving over half each
My apartment was
virtually empty. The living room was
empty save for a couple of plants and a coffee table my birth mother
gave me before I moved out. I had nothing in the kitchen nook save my
ancient desk and computer and books I managed to save before I hit
the streets. I had my bed—no frame, just mattress and box
spring—the single largest thing I owned. The clothes I still
owned could easily fit in one side of the small closet. I put my
dresser, also ancient and falling apart, into the extra space. That
I got around by
walking or taking the bus. I became an expert with the San Diego
Metro Transit System. The money I'd saved was fast draining away
despite my spartan existence. To survive I started privately tutoring
kids. The Great Recession eventually killed my struggling little
Before leaving San
Diego for this area in 2012, I walked to the summit of a nearby hill
in El Cajon, where we were living at the time, and looked around.
It wasn't properly
the country, but close enough that I wouldn't argue with you if you
insisted that it was.
The sun was setting.
It was quite beautiful. To the northwest was a new development. They
were all custom-built status castles, freshly minted.
I was fifty, which
meant that my same-aged peers probably "owned" those
McCastles. They had spent probably thirty years fighting for the
privilege of having the wealth necessary to put such wood-and-mortal
boils up and pay the bank absurd payments on them indefinitely.
They, like me, had
I didn't have that
wealth. Even if I did I would never build such a thing. As I gazed
around, a powerful realization overcame me. I didn’t want
that wealth, not if in its attainment I could not have what I already
did: less than half a garage of items ... along with the stories and
characters and worlds that present themselves to me each and every
day, and which hold a value infinitesimally close to zero for the
rest of the world.
I know when I go back
to San Diego I'll be thinking a lot about that. Because I'm
convinced, and was while standing up there on that hill, that I made
the right choice, despite the sometimes intense struggle simply to
Trump as president now, even more of those strictures are going to
disappear, most notably the ones that prescribe decency or morality
where others are concerned.
LATE SUNDAY night
Kyla and I will be sitting on the Coast Starlight as it makes its way
south towards San Diego. We should arrive Tuesday in the very early
A.M. We'll grab a cab to Imperial Beach, where we have a reservation
at a budget motel. Sometime later that day, after working our tails
off to clean out a storage locker (the reason we're going), we'll
visit the Imperial Beach Pier.
I haven't seen it in
four years. I'm looking forward to walking on it again.
If we remember to
take our camera, we'll take some photos. I'll include a few of them
in a future post if any turn out and I feel the inspiration to.
Many times in 2003,
as I walked on the beach next to the Pier, I desperately tried to
figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was
forty-one, and remember thinking that at present course I'd be lucky
to see forty-two. I was making plenty of money, but the job I was
doing to make it was killing me.
The Pier always
seemed to take my attention off my problems and pull it to itself.
It's fifteen hundred feet long and often looks perched on the very
lip of eternity, as it did that day.
I had just started
tutoring a girl at the time named Melody. As I walked up the stairs
from the beach to the plaza at the foot of the Pier to meet her and
her mother for a session, Melody
and the Pier to Forever came
to me. Her name was the catalyst.
(I have credited her
appropriately, if you're wondering. She didn't like me all that much,
no doubt because her mother was ultimately paranoid of a male tutor
working with her daughter and unhappy that I wasn't a member of the
cult she and her family belonged to. The relationship I had with
Melody and her family has long since ended.)
JK Rowling has spoken
about how Harry Potter
came to her. As the legend goes, she was riding a train. The story
came to her "fully formed," as she put it. That was how
Melody and the Pier to Forever
came to me: "fully
That isn't to say
there weren't many unknown details that needed to be filled in. There
were. "Fully formed" does not mean "fully revealed."
I knew almost nothing about Yaeko Mitsaki, for example. When I sat
down to continue writing the story months later, her
story instead came out of me in a flash flood of sudden, stunning
inspiration. One minute my hands were hovering completely unsurely
over the keys; the next I was typing as furiously as I could (which
isn't all that furious, truthfully. I'm a slow typist).
There is so much we
don't know about how the human brain works. Much of it may be,
ultimately, unknowable. What is consciousness? Why can't we see it?
Does the human brain differ from the human mind?
I've been watching
lectures by Keith
taught at Oxford University and is an Anglican priest. I very highly
recommend his work. He confronts some of those questions and asks
more that will give you lots of pauses for thought. I have since
adopted him as a philosophical hero.
There is much about
and my other stories I know doesn't come from
me, but through
me. For a long time I thought I'd be judged as crazy for saying as
much. But then I listened to Elizabeth
world-famous author, and then Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam,
who basically, and in their own ways, said just that: that their
stories or music don't come from
them, but through
I'm certain there are
others throughout history, perhaps many others, who have said the
same thing, and not just in writing or music, but in science,
business, medicine, politics, and a thousand other fields.
In this materialistic
age, I find the general indifference to such statements astonishing.
In just a few days
I'm going back to the Pier where my first "transmission,"
as I call them, came to me. It isn't that I'm expecting more, because
that makes no sense. They come when they come. If I don't receive
any, I won't be disappointed. Most of the story of Melody
and the Pier to Forever takes
place very far away from the Imperial Beach Pier. Still, the Pier and
the story are inextricably linked.
I've focused on that
story now for twelve years. There isn't a day that goes by, not one,
when I don't think of it multiple times. I dream of it occasionally;
when I take a walk or shower or drift off to sleep, I often find my
consciousness—the same state of mind or being or spirit that
science cannot grasp, and even denies—trying to push the
boundaries of the story as it currently stands. It's looking for
something—more transmissions? I don't know.
Before 2003, if you'd
approached me and told me that the 2016 me would talk about
"transmissions" and the like, I would have laughed in your
face. I was a dying soul, and had bought into the materialistic and
harmful nonsense that rules the planet today. I've changed, and that
change saved me.
If I do anything next
Tuesday as I stand on the Pier, it will be to give simple thanks to
whatever agency that has chosen me for that story, and all the others
I have written since.
people—many, from all the negative comments I see online—who
hate traveling by train. I suspect, as is often the case with people
and their anecdotes and the Internet, that many are simply false:
they have never even been on a train, especially one like the Coast
Starlight, which runs from Seattle, Washington, to Los Angeles,
I took it Christmas
2003 to Seattle, then hopped on a bus to Vancouver, BC. To that point
I too had never been on a genuine train. The experience changed my
I was by myself. I'd
never done anything like that before—taken a big trip, let
alone by myself, let alone by train.
terminus is Union Station in central Los Angeles. To get from San
Diego to LA, one must take the Pacific Surfliner, which, as its title
suggests, runs along the coast. It's a lovely ride. But it's not the
Fast forward thirteen
years. After a somewhat eventful bus ride from Medford to Klamath
Falls, which featured a potentially psychotic individual looking to
do real harm to the other passengers, to a grossly obese man who sat
across from us and who peed himself, we were dropped off for a
Klamath Falls is
butt-ugly, which is sad, because it's in the middle of stunning
mountain country. It sits on the shore of a shallow but large lake
and reminded me of Lago, the tiny town Clint Eastwood's Man With No
Name set fire to in High
Plains Drifter. It isn't that
small, but the urge to take a torch to it is just the same. It feels
very unfriendly, just like Lago; and in fact the bus driver, who had
lived in Klamath Falls for twenty years, by her admission, remarked
without being prompted just how mean-spirited the town was. There you
The station smelled
like mold, coffee, and urine (the huge dude was waiting with us) and
had a television propped up by the ceiling. We watched it vacantly
while waiting. The sun was setting, and the temperature had dipped
A little after 9 the
old woman at the desk instructed us to follow her. We went out a back
door to the actual train station, which was across a bus yard. This
one was much nicer (the big dude who leaked pee had since called a
taxi and left).
I checked us in with
the Amtrak folks, then sat and munched trail mix. We were informed
that the Starlight was well ahead of schedule and would be arriving
just after 9:30.
I was very excited.
The Starlight! My earthbound starship! It had been too long. Way too
It was big, long,
taller than you might guess, and gleaming silver in the train station
lights and moonlight. The conductor assigned us seats in the last
car. We got on, noting that most people were already asleep. They'd
reclined their chairs and covered themselves. We got to our seats,
stowed our packs, and sat.
It's a very smooth
ride. It's difficult to know you're moving until you look outside and
see that you are. The night deepened, and the Coast Starlight wound
its way into it. Soon we could see only the outlines of trees
whipping by, lighted only by the moon.
No one is awake. No
one is watching. The Starlight at such times feels like a starship
gliding through space. The world without was ethereal, painted
heavenly silver, and fleeting.
Time passed without a
Trains aren't planes,
which is why I take them. Planes freak me out. Flying freaks me out.
I don't do it. I haven't boarded a plane since 1993. If all goes
according to plan, that was the final time.
Everything I've read
about plane travel tells of how it has devolved into a cramped,
smelly, angry, poorly serviced misadventure one overpays for, for the
privilege of getting quickly from Point A to Point B.
None for me, thanks.
You go ahead.
The Coast Starlight
probably gets up into the eighty-mile-an-hour range on straightaways.
That's enough for me. It isn't cramped; there is plenty of room to
spread out. It isn't smelly, even with smelly passengers across the
aisle. There is the regular sheaf of surly folks, but they're the
norm in modern American society, certainly not just on the train.
Kye had fallen
asleep. I got up, stretched, then made my way to the bathrooms, which
were on the floor (deck?) below.
Train bathrooms are
like plane bathrooms: small, cramped, and, generally, of immediate
need of cleaning. I found the cleanest one and did my business,
thoroughly washed my hands and went back upstairs to our seats. Kye
hadn't stirred. I sat and stared out the window.
California. We were
probably in it by now, in the mountains north of Mount
wouldn't get to see that beautiful dormant volcano; we'd be long past
it before sunrise.
is the best part of the state bar none. There are redwoods
and deep canyons with swift, serpentine-colored rivers, and, perhaps
best of all, very few people. Of those who live up here, a
significant percentage are, sadly, meth addicts and alcoholics. Also
tragic is the fact that Northern California, especially Del Norte
County, has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the entire state,
which makes it one of the highest in the entire nation. Crime and
homelessness are rampant. The area is massively depressed with no end
in sight. We've lived amidst all this going on five years now and
it's always unsettling, because the natural beauty surrounding it is
so compelling. It's difficult to square.
destination was our old stomping grounds in San Diego, in deep, deep
southern California, just a hot coal’s throw from the Ninth
Circle of Hell. There was a storage unit there that we'd rented for
five years. We wanted to clean it out and bring our (mostly my)
possessions home, to finally be free of San Diego and the Slum-like
unexistence of Southern California.
I consider San
Francisco part of "SoCal," even though, geographically,
it's in north-central California ("NorCal"?). The Southern
California mindset is just as prevalent there as it is in Los Angeles
and San Diego. We got to Sacramento by seven the following morning,
and after a long stop, pressed on. San Francisco rolled into view
several hours later.
It's an ugly city by
my account, no prettier than its giant sisters to the south. When you
ride the Starlight, you get to see the "real" bits of it:
endless slums and gang-tagged warehouses and heaps of tent cities
under overpasses, populated by the homeless and hidden away by all
save those taking the train. San Francisco is no better than Los
Angeles or San Diego in that regard, even though openly proclaiming
progressive values. The true take on it is this: it's a highly
gentrified metropolis that would rather hide its homeless problem
than actually do anything constructive or humane about it, or them.
We were glad when it
and its sterile, sprawling neighbor to the immediate south, San Jose,
finally gave way to the San Joaquin Valley, the breadbasket of the
It's farmland for as
far as you can see in every direction. Hot
farmland, especially in the summer. Since it was late April, the
temperature wasn't quite 80, according to the conductor.
everywhere. So are tremendous fields of walnut and almond groves,
endless rows of broccoli and kale, lemon groves, strawberries forever
and ever, amen, and just about every other form of produce you can
name. Migrant workers—"illegals" according to Donald
Trump and his caustic followers—populate the fields.
The farmers out here,
judging by the endless political rage displayed on large red-lettered
signs and billboards that appear every three miles or so, are a very
surly lot. The battle for water rights, waged endlessly against the
thirsty cities, has made them that way. What's mind-blowing is that
the farmers have taken the conservative side of the argument, blaming
people like Nancy Pelosi and Senator Barbara Boxer (since retired)
for their predicament, when
in fact it's rich conservative elitists who keep screwing them.
But one thing I've noticed about people is this: you'll never
convince them that they're backing the wrong side of things,
in politics. It's sad. And these days, disastrous.
We got through the
valley around 4, pulling into San
Luis Obispo, a
very pleasant city a few hours north of LA, half past the hour. The
photo at the top of this edition was taken just before we got there.
San Luis Obispo is a
very special place for me, because it's where in 2003 (a very
significant year in my life) I decided I was going to be a writer. I
stayed at a beautiful, intimate, French-style B&B in the center
of town and contemplated quitting my career as a teacher. Seven
months later I finished The
Candle and put the first
words down on the Prologue of Book One of Melody
and the Pier to Forever.
We blew into LA as
the last light of the day drained away.
Los Angeles. Ugh.
That's pretty much all I've got to say about it.
We pulled into Union
Station around 10 p.m., got a bite to eat at a Starbucks adjacent to
the Amtrak terminal before it closed, and went on a hunt for seats to
plop down in. Kye shot this photo of one of the lights above as a
skinny kid played random nonsensical melodies on a piano in the far
corner. The sound echoed hollowly above the constant low hum of
activity. Everybody looked very tired and irascible. I'm sure we did,
The Pacific Surfliner
waited. We boarded it an hour later and off we went for San Diego.
Pier to Forever
THAT’S ME on
the Imperial Beach Pier April 27. I hadn’t stepped on it in
nearly five years. I'm looking towards the North Coronados Island,
which is hidden by fog—a common occurrence in April. If you've
you know that the North Coronados Island is where the Kathlin Rory
Carrick Castle is.
I haven't missed San
Diego—at all. But I have missed the Pier. It means more to me
than I can tell you. In many ways it saved me. It gave me something
to wonder about, write about, and dream about during a time when it
seemed all hope for my life seemed lost.
I tried multiple
times to introduce Melody and
the Pier to Forever to
Imperial Beach, to its citizens, but no one was interested. My name,
after all, isn't James Patterson or John Grisham or Stephen King. I'm
a nobody, and so it does not matter how good a story Melody
is. Nobody authors and their stories don't matter.
Imperial Beach and
San Diego taught me that: that I was a nobody, and that I would
always be a nobody. They taught me that my life doesn't amount to a
hill of beans, perhaps especially because I had taken the audacious
step to claim it as my own and live it precisely as I pleased.
desolation, and desiccation of that metropolis are overwhelming. The
people there are grossly mean-spirited and self-absorbed to the point
of lunacy. There is absolutely nothing of community that holds it
together. It's a vast desert city with no anchor, moral, communal, or
otherwise. It's beyond me how so many believe it to be beautiful and
I was there a full
decade. When I left, it felt as though I had been paroled, and I
cried. I was free to unlearn San Diego’s hateful lessons. I was
free to be
I couldn't get to the
end of the Pier on the 27th, because construction of some sort was
taking place there. Like Melody, like Yaeko, I spent countless hours
at Pier’s end contemplating life and looking out at that
beautiful blue ocean. It was torture leaving it—every single
time. I knew what I was going home to. More indifference. More
abandonment. More skintness. More isolation. More struggles simply to
be able to afford Ramen once a day.
I did a stupid thing.
I tried opening a tutoring practice in a city that despises
education. What's ironic about that is this: San Diego boasts more
Ph.Ds per capita than any other big city on Earth. And yet it
despises education. The dropout rate is commonly over 75 percent. The
one high school in IB, Mar Vista High School, had at the time an 80
percent dropout rate. Think about that. Four out of every five
students who came in as freshman didn't make it to graduation.
I spent money I
didn't have and made piles of brightly colored fliers and walked them
through every neighborhood accessible by bus, trolley, or bike. I
walked until I couldn't walk anymore, then walked farther. I tried
talking to school admins and teachers. Nobody would listen to me.
Nobody took me seriously. I was, after all, a nobody.
I did eventually
manage to gain some clients. But it was never enough to pay the
bills. The 30-day rent notices began piling up. I had to ask people
for cash. I took a job putting costume jewelry together for rich Hari
Krishnas. They paid me minimum wage and treated me like dirt.
I continued writing
I visited the Pier almost daily. Often I would write there, or draw.
I'd print a chapter and take it there and edit it. I escaped in those
pages. I survived in those pages. I'd walk the Pier afterward and
with all my heart and soul picture this:
Does it matter that
no one else can see it? Does it matter that no one else, even if they
would bother doing what I do, which is to believe
in it, to let it have its own life inside them? This is a culture
that hates imagination.
Want proof? Look around. Look at these big cities and the degradation
and despair. Look at how people live their lives: by the amount of
cash they have; by the square footage of their houses and yards; by
who they can order around. Imagination for adults is truncated to
plodding, drooling idiocy: "Think outside the box!"
We didn't stay long.
I wanted to get on the road. The trip ahead was a big one. The Budget
truck was packed and ready to go. We hopped in it and minutes later
got on I-5 for Los Angeles.
No matter how long it
may take to get back to the Pier—and it will likely be years
again—I will always hold it near and dear to my heart. There is
no way I could ever do any differently.
I wanted to get home
to Gold Beach in three days. According to Google Maps, that would
require a minimum of 550 miles a day each day. The car was still in
We had to pick it up and then return the Budget truck. By chance, I
discovered that if I didn't take it out of the state we'd save over
$600! The northernmost Budget franchise was in Eureka.
We left the Pier at
exactly 10:36 a.m. We endured the spirit-sucking hell that is Los
Angeles hours later; a few hours after that we were once more in the
middle of the San Joaquin Valley. A couple hours out from San
Francisco we drove into a beautiful thunderstorm.
As the sun set we got
to San Francisco. Just south of it is a tremendous wind farm.
The photos don't show
it, but the blades on those turbines are tremendous—as in at
least a hundred feet tall. Up close they are intimidating and
mesmerizing to watch.
Like San Diego, like
LA, San Francisco is a nightmare to drive through. We escaped it
around 9, got on Highway 101, which goes all the way up the coast to
Canada, and pressed on. Almost exactly twelve hours after leaving the
Pier, we stopped for the night at a nice
well into wine country.
Wine country. It's
better labeled "Snooty Rich California Yuppie" country.
Giant castle-boils half-hidden by snooty trees on snooty hills. Lots
and lots of Mercedes Benz, Porches, BMWs, and what had to be a
million-dollar Ferrari that zoomed by.
People in these parts
don't have time for little people—like us. Like anyone who
doesn't make at least
$200K a year. Like anyone who would think of traveling in anything
that announces in big bold letters: BUDGET.
That's probably not
you, either. It's gorgeous country, no doubt about it. But Lord ...
is it really
worth it, and does living in it automatically make you some sort of
cash deity worthy of animal sacrifices and brie cheese served to you
with golden forks by ten dancing virgins? I don't think so.
Speaking of food (no,
not brie), we ate some fabulous scones made by the motel's owner in
the morning, then hit the road.
Home of the coast redwoods.
do them absolutely no justice. They commonly top 350 feet (107
meters). There isn't a taller tree on Earth. It's likely that, with
all due respect to their amazing cousins, the sequoias, there aren't
any grander either.
The highway is lined
with them at points. If you're not careful, your perspective gets
shot to hell, and you begin to think of them, by dint of their
numbers, as common trees. But then you pull focus on the highway and
that big semi way up there does seem awfully
tiny next to them, and you
shake your head to clear it.
They are so
magnificent that they create their own microclimates. Walking among
them feels like walking among genuine earth-bound gods.
Skip friggin' San
Diego. Forget Hell A. Stop believing the propaganda put out by the
tourism industry about unlivable and heinously expensive San
Francisco. If you want to see something truly
worthy of awe and even worship, journey to northern California and
stand amid the mighty redwoods.
We drove through Gold
Beach on our way up to Bandon, our stop for the night. It was damn
weird passing the crossroad that could take us back home inside
Bandon is where a new
storage unit waited. It's fifty miles north of Gold Beach along some
of the most beautiful coastline on God's green (on the right; blue on
the left) Earth. We got there as the sun was setting, unloaded the
truck, then went for a search for a place to stay. As a treat (we
assumed it would be one because it had an ocean view and looked very
nice) we stopped at the Bandon
a treat. What a great place, and for what you get there, a great
The biggest driving
day was the last one.
We left Bandon around
9 a.m. after grabbing some bagels and coffee in the lobby and
checking out the motel's nice little gift shop. The trip ahead
involved going all the way to Medford to pick up the car. From there
we would have to go all the way back to Eureka (not
a pretty town), which we'd gone through just yesterday, and where
we'd drop off the truck. That done, we'd head home, back along
Highway 101, which we'd taken yesterday as well. Again, by doing that
we saved $600 on the truck rental. Definitely worth it.
We dropped the truck
off as the sun was setting. Home was 160 miles north. We were
starving, so we stopped for some Thai food on the way out of town.
The restaurant we chose was excellent, so much so that we will likely
go back sooner than later simply to partake once again.
It was past 11 when
we finally got back to the TARDIS. It took several days for us to
recover. We had driven 1,650 miles in three days. Since Sunday five
days earlier, we'd traveled 2,750 miles. Our guts were unhappy,
probably because of all the fast food we subsisted on all that time.
But it was well worth
it. We were, and will be forevermore, free of San Diego, the city
that taught us that we were nobodies, and did its level best to kill
for this highest of martial arts is carved in the great double doors
leading into the training facilities deep inside the Kathlin Rory
Like all aecxes,
evolves, changes, moves. This is just one representation of it. If
you successfully complete the training, known as the Daen-Cer-Dain
(with a d),
you become a member of the super-elite XVI Angeli Magna Coronados,
otherwise known as the Kumiyaay, and may have this aecxis
tattooed upon your person if you so wish, and will receive two swords
with it inscribed in the blades.
Above the great doors
themselves is another inscription, this one written in the warrior
dialect of Pyrrho:
è Tale Ror Honory Vilylvye
which translates to:
are no guards posted here
The song on Melody’s
Musicscape that makes me think of the Kumiyaay most is “First
by Henry Jackman. Have a listen. It’ll make you feel like going
out and taking on the world, which, in every sense, is what the
Kumiyaay are tasked to do.
Imagination is for
children, so the dead claim.
Playtime is for kids. Sterility of
spirit is the hallowed
domain of adults; it’s the longed-for
goal of all who aspire
and enthuse about things and matters the
gods had no hand in creating
for the simple reason that they were
Time is a whore, doll
her up as you will.
It all depends on your income, and your
status, and your drive
to be first among the dolts and bolts of a
social order covered in
pustules and which quivers at the sight of
starched ties and stiff,
hurried gaits. She’s no more
important than your priorities,
which belong in the gutter, though
you envision them in the clouds.
Your cookie-cutter life suits
you: it requires nothing from you,
certainly nothing so onerous as
growth and longing,
certainly nothing that holds up a mirror and
forces you to look,
certainly nothing that laments over your
children, who someday
will be as faceless as you.
The starry sky isn’t
yours. So don’t look up. You sully it when you do.
Why believe when all
I need is to open my eyes?
Why argue with the world? Why even
The world has never and will never care about me,
about my life,
about anything I have to say or will say.
Each day is a broken
egg. Each day is a twig snapping from a tree.
Each day is habit
and routine like liquid pages by which I sail the
Ocean. The illusion of sameness I reject. I am different today,
if what I do today is, for all intents and purposes, the same
yesterday, the same as the day before that and the day before
I reject desolation.
I reject the crushing years where I tried to be like everybody
That was the true death. That was the true rot. Look! The
sky opens, and the stars
wheel soundlessly and silently, and the
rain comes and everything drips like an open
MATERIALISM IS the
philosophy that, in a simplistic nutshell, says that there is nothing
but material in the universe. There is no God or gods; there isn’t
anything spiritual; the soul doesn’t exist; the mind doesn’t
exist; imagination doesn’t exist; consciousness is an illusion.
It’s a philosophy that, self-contradictorily, declares that
philosophy is dead. Science and science alone rules.
It is my belief that
we are living in the most materialistic period in human history. It
is also the most atheistic.
It isn’t a
surprise if you look at it. We have become slaves to technology, and
believe that it will save us from ourselves. We have embraced
suburbanism, of which materialism is an outgrowth, and believe it
will enrich us and keep us safe. Though we are now living in the
so-called Connection Economy, we have been trained as factory cogs,
and so view the world in mechanistic, cold, clockwork terms. We
refuse to think for ourselves, and so people like Richard Dawkins and
Stephen Hawking, both eminent scientists and blaring materialists,
“blind us with science.” By means of their intelligence,
no doubt daunting, they cow us into doubting ourselves, our beliefs,
and our experiences.
Most of my writing is
centered on repudiating materialism and declaring that the soul
exists and that God exists. I am devoted to writing about characters
who discover themselves, their spirits, the spirits of others, and
the holy and numinous suffusing and maintaining all reality.