Currently I am sixty years old and running a Childcare with my wife on a small farm in New Hampshire.
I was born in 1953 in Boston, Massachusetts, the fourth of six children of a surgeon and a nurse. They were both very intelligent “rising stars,” though in many ways opposites. His focus was his job, and hers was the home. His focus was the medical profession, and hers was to be upwardly mobile, materially and socially. His response to stress was to work harder, and hers was to heal by resting. At a party, she preferred polite chit-chat and sophisticated laughter, but he liked to whoop it up and wear a lampshade.
A wrench was thrown in the works when he got polio in 1954. It seemed impossible he could operate again, but by sheer force of will he was operating again by 1955. His attitude was, “when the going gets tough the tough get going,” and was at odds with my mother’s love of serenity.
My childhood was a front row seat at a drama, and taught me how opposites attract, and also how brilliant people with high IQ’s, fame, fortune, and all that money can buy, can fail to work out their differences. My parents separated in 1964, back when divorce was still rare, and then proceeded to go through an amazingly ugly legal battle, wherein my mother fought for her freedom and my father fought divorce.
The peak of my father’s fame was in 1962, when he was part of the team that were the first to reattach a boy’s arm, separated from his body at an accident on train tracks. In 1964 he spent a couple of months in a mental hospital, followed by time in jail for refusal to pay alimony or child support. In 1968 their divorce was finalized, and my mother married a wealthy Harvard Law School Professor 28 years older than she was. Six months later my father married a hospital technician 14 years younger than he was.
Watching this soap opera play out gave me a very low opinion of high society, fame, fortune, Harvard, and psychiatrists. I wanted to find someplace better, and found two places. One place was the place I went when I wrote, which decided me upon becoming a writer. The second place was anyplace away from my home town: I began hitchhiking around the east coast. I hitchhiked down to Cape Cod and the Islands, and then up through Maine to Montreal and then down to Lake Ontario, when I was only fifteen, and down to Florida when I was sixteen. (America and hitchhiking were much safer then.)
By the time I graduated high school at age 17 I had become a “hippy,” and was involved with drugs, mostly marijuana and speed, but also some LSD and mescaline. I had agreed to spend a post-graduate year at a school in Scotland, and therefore had no concerns about my future, and suffered through, (and often enjoyed,) a totally wild “senior summer,” wherein I often didn’t know what town or state I was in, which was a wonderful adventure, but worried me because I was aware I’d lost a lot of weight, and my skin was grey and papery when I looked in a mirror.
As my friends headed off to college and got even more wasted, I headed off to Dunrobin School in Scotland. Once I got there I felt like I’d been tricked into enlisting in the Marines, and hated the rigorous discipline, though I was also aware that being off drugs improved my physical and mental health. In many ways the school likely saved my life. I put on forty pounds of muscle, and also sweated my way through enough scholarship to pass both my English and Economics “A-levels,” which was a feather in my cap as I had only two terms to study what most took six terms to study.
I returned to the United States at age 18 eager to rejoin the “Revolution” and to bring about a world of “Peace, Love and Understanding,” and was appalled by how wasted all my friends had become during the year I was away. “Peace,Love and Understanding” had been replaced by “Sex, Drugs and Greed,” but when I ventured my views I was told I didn’t understand.
I was insecure enough to feel that maybe I didn’t understand, and went through a spell where I looked up to various father-figures who got me into all sorts of trouble when I followed their advice. One fellow “borrowed” a rich man’s yacht, in order to sail it down to Jamaica and fill it with cheap marijuana, which could then be sold back in Boston at a huge profit. The sail was a prolonged, seven-week, near-death experience, and we only made it as far as Nassau before the FBI wanted to have a little talk with me. It was a time I was glad my stepfather taught law at Harvard, for I only escaped jail by the skin of my teeth, (mostly by playing dumb and saying I didn’t know the boat was “borrowed.”)
That sail convinced me that some sort of Higher Power was watching out for me, for I should not have survived. However I seemed to have used up all my good luck for a while, or else I was being taught that looking up to corrupted father-figures was a bad idea. In terms of Sex, Drugs and Greed, every sexual escapade was vile and disgusting, every time I took drugs it was an adventure through hell, and every get-rich-scheme was a debacle that left me impoverished. In terms of seeking psychiatric advice, I did learn a lot of jargon, and how to sit around talking rather than work, but discovered psychiatry was just a more expensive way to be told I didn’t understand. Unfortunately the one psychologist who did seem understanding fell in love with me, which spoiled everything. In the end I gave up hope of finding a human to look up to, and began searching for a Higher Power.
This led me to India, because that was what the Beatles did, and perhaps I was in some way still making others into father-figures. Peter Townsend of the “Who” recommended Meher Baba, and despite the fact most of Meher Baba’s younger American followers seemed utterly mad, there was something about the older ones that seemed sane, and something about the “Don’t Worry-Be Happy” picture that was very attractive. Also others had told me that they had amazing experiences when they went to Meher Baba’s tomb, and I wanted to have amazing experiences, so I quit drugs for six months, (as that was a rule,) and then off I went.
One amazing experience, which I did notice at the time, was that I actually achieved what I set out to do. That was very rare, in my life at that time. However I was rather disappointed in India when I didn’t have any visions. (I think I was hoping for some sort of LSD trip, with nicer hallucinations.) However my two-week trip gradually extended until I had to come back after three months, because I had run out of money and people I could borrow from. I did not want to come back, because I was so comfortable there.
One reason I was comfortable was because Meher Baba’s disciple’s were kind in a way I wasn’t used to. My expectations, when people were kind, were that sooner or later I’d feel a hand on my butt, either after my wallet or balls. That never happened. Nor was I expected to contort myself and do yoga six times a day, or read certain things, or feed the poor and work in hospitals. I basically sat around for three months, telling stories and listening to stories. I hardly even asked any questions, (which makes me kick myself, when I think of it now.) The closest thing I came to a mystical experience was when I sat down and spent a week writing without a single episode of writer’s block, but even that seemed so normal and natural I hardly noticed it, until I got back to the States and it didn’t happen any more.
That happened in 1974, nearly 40 years ago, and in all honesty I have never felt such comfort since. However the thing about comfort is that it is hard to describe, or even to notice. Heading back to the States, I was plunged back into discomfort, which gives you much more to write about.
Very roughly my life can be devided into three 20-year periods, with some overlap as I moved from period to period. Upon returning from India the first 20 year period ended and I left my home town of Weston, Massachusetts for good, which caused me pain, as I knew the brooks and woods like the back of my hand. However it had become a town that excluded the poor, and it had become fairly obvious to me that it would be a while before I wrote a best seller, and became rich enough to live in my home town.
The next 20-year-period was spent being a starving artist, only I never starved. Even when I was broke I never missed a meal, though the meals were not always the best. During the start of the period I associated with “bohemians,” but never quite fit in, for I’d quit drugs and promiscuous sex. (I did drink, sometimes heavily, and I consumed lots of coffee and cigarettes, which often cost me more than my food.) I drifted away from my fellow artists when many of them compromised in ways I was uncomfortable with, and also many vanished during the years after 1980, when AIDS first appeared and there was no cure.
As this period passed I gradually stopped calling myself a “writer,” even though it was my favorite pastime and I wrote every day. I simply got tired of the inevitable questions, and the way some people back away, with a hand instinctively protecting their wallets, when you tell them you are unpublished. Not that I blamed people. At the start of this period I was a skilled moocher, and went years without paying rent.
The most painful mooching, (or the mooching which people shame you worst for,) are those occasions when you “move back in with Mom” (or Dad,) however strangely I am proudest of two such periods, during the twenty years.
At the start of the period my Mother was going through a depression after the death of my Stepfather, and I went through a bit of a nightmare with her, because I had been through such landscapes before and could show her the way out. When she was on her feet again, I left. Then, at the end of this period, I discovered my Father was a midst a black depression, all but incapable of action, and I walked with him through his nightmare as well, and saw him regain his feet at age seventy and get back to work, and then I left.
One of the most difficult of Commandments is to honor your mother and father, especially when they have divorced and tend to dishonor each other. However helping my parents through their depressions was a chance to honor them, and I’m thankful I received such a gift.
As this period passed I was transformed from an effete and spoiled young artist to a blue-collar worker, able to walk into nearly any workplace and be useful. I’ve lost track of how many jobs I’ve held, many of which I did without experience. For example, when asked to help load two buffalo into a horse trailer and transport them twenty-five miles, you have no time to go to college; you just do it.
My favorite jobs were at a cannery in Maine, a bronze foundry making city-park-statues in New Jersey, moving furniture in South Carolina, working with teenagers in a Burger King in California, delivering beer in remote parts of New Mexico, and running a small gas station and store on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. But there were many more.
By the time I returned to New England to help out my father I had all the skills to do most anything, though I was “master of none.” I got by as a landscaper and handyman, and then, when about to pack up and leave, something astounding happened, and the third twenty-years began.
I went on a blind date with a woman with three small children, and the next thing I knew I wasn’t able to sleep in my car any more, because I had three little ones to support. (The mother was that beautiful.) Within three years my wife and I had five little ones to support, which was hard work, but a wonderful way to spend twenty years.
Now the fourth twenty years will phase in, as the youngest is off to college. I was expecting “empty nest syndrome,” but it hasn’t happened yet, with grandchildren visiting and grown children returning to the nest from time to time. However it does seem I’m entering a new and more reflective time, which is why I started this blog.
Even while raising five children and working an amazing collection of jobs I have continued writing, sometimes thinking I might make money at it, but mostly because I enjoy it. One thing I would like to eventually do with this blog is to dust off fifty years worth of writing, (including my boyhood diary, which starts on March 24, 1962,) and turn a section of this blog into an obscure library of obscure works. If nothing else, it might be of interest to historians, in some distant future.
It is no small achievement to be an unsuccessful writer, because the lack of success makes so many quit, in which case they are not a writer any more. I still write, and I’m proud of it. In fact, even if my writing succeeds at this late date in my life, I will not call myself a “successful writer,” for two reasons. First, successful writers tend to have a disconnect from reality, and to be the last person you’d want raising children. Second, being an “unsuccessful writer” is much cooler.