This Mild Yoke: A Writer’s Eyesight

Following successful cataract surgery, I enjoyed a solid month of “born again” eyesight—able to write on a yellow legal pad, do extensive work at the computer, read infinitesimal print, see charts at the piano, and “dig” the details on old black and white films on TV with ease—all sans glasses for the first time in a long long time. It was a month of absolute joy, and then it all went away and, an avid San Francisco Giants fan, I found myself watching the first five games of the regular season with my eyes closed (of necessity: everything vague, out of focus on TV) not only during commercials but also when the “other” team was at bat. Given how poorly the Giants have fared so far, I probably should have kept my eyes shut while they were “up,” and only opened them to witness the opposing team as it collected its hits and runs.

In this post, I’d like, once again (I’ve done it, just once before I believe) to break a pledge not to bore folks with an account of “medical issues,” and examine–in a personal essay format– the threat of declining vision from a single perspective with a larger purpose in mind: the obstacles any serious writer might have to face when her or his most essential “instrument” is threatened: the eyes with which we witness the world and then attempt to set perception down on paper in words—the plight of a writer for whom eyesight is as important as hearing to a musical artist (unless, of course, you’re another Beethoven).

I am well aware of the many seemingly inevitable losses that can accompany the “aging” phase of human existence (a phase which, at age seventy-nine, I seem to be “passing through” at present)—but in spite of knee surgeries and occasionally reluctant (or even “numb”) legs, I was never athlete enough to regret or resent that compromise (although, as a kid, I did enjoy playing ice hockey–I still have my goalie’s stick!–track and field, and even boxing: growing up near Detroit under the influence of Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson); and in spite of some typical abdomen and esophageal woes, I’ve never been gourmet enough to feel seriously deprived on that score—nor robbed of a career as a high-wire artist or rock climber because of an (inner ear infection-induced) ongoing (but under control until now) vertigo condition. I could cite other age-related diminishing returns related to both body and brain—but in spite of them, I do count myself not just fortunate but, yes, blessed at this stage in my life: for the obvious reason: I’m still alive; but also, because a few important portions or parts of me do seem to remain relatively functional.

However, neither athlete, gourmet, or high-wire artist, I am a writer, and  a writer needs his eyes—in my case not just to observe the world but also set initial phrases down on a yellow legal pad, then transfer (or translate) them to a monitor, print out what I have “composed,” edit (with an O-honest-to-God red pencil) what I find on those pages, and then go back to the computer (over and over again) until I’ve got the whole thing right, or as right as it’s ever going to be. Please indulge me, Gentle Reader (I’ll use that phrase, since the way I go about writing is admittedly somewhat “old school”), while I offer some thoughts and feelings regarding my encounter with declining vision—a condition that began eight months ago, when I learned I had cataracts which required surgery.

First: a disclaimer. Shortly after I began Bill’s Blog on July 20, 2013, having also “signed on” for Facebook, I posted a statement that I intended (or hoped) to avoid such pitfalls of social media networking as divulging family secrets or personal matters such as culinary preferences, birthdays, the number of grandkids one has (just four in our case, but they’re all over 20 years of age), rapid (or rabid) aging, home improvements, the acquisition or demise of pets, civic service, low politics or high finance, Selfies—and especially: medical matters. I found I had to renege on the latter because I’d also said I did hope to promote artistic activity I valued (both my own and that of other people), and, receiving “invitations” from literary and musical artists to readings and performances I could not attend because of eyesight “issues,” I felt a need to explain just why I failed to show up for such events (I could hear but couldn’t see, clearly, what was going on), and why my absence did not constitute an offense or affront to the participants.

One thing led to another, and I did eventually touch on aging and family in Bill’s Blog, and then Facebook, where I found searching for and posting TBT photos not only good “fun” but highly useful, invaluable, as “prompts” for my writing (for work on a memoir I’d started, tentatively called “Going Solo”). Much that I’d pledged not to write about seemed to relate to and interact significantly with what I felt was “fair game” as material (although, to my recollection, I have yet to post political commentary or a recipe).

As for the “medical issues” I originally planned to withhold, once my regular eye doctor told me I had cataracts (adding that so informed, people have three options: they either schedule surgery right away; they spend a reasonable amount of time consulting with spouse, family, friends, etc. in order to make a decision; or they wait too long and … run the risk of sacrificing their eyesight), my eyesight seemed to deteriorate at a fearful rate. I found that I needed to “budget” both my reading and writing time—and just when I’d been on a roll with the memoir (seven chapters of “Going Solo” completed in draft), was having fun with Bill’s Blog (experimenting, trying different styles, formats, and approaches on for size) and Facebook  (providing short pieces: vignettes based on the TBT photo prompts I mentioned, and which people seemed to enjoy). As far as reading went, I’d even reached page 1208 of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, a monumental work in the infinitesimal print of John E. Wood’s splendid translation.

However, now, I could only work or read for so long, and then I had to sit (or lie) still for half an hour or so with my eyes closed, listening to music—which was a good thing (I truly just listened, devoid of all the “monkey brain” distractions that usually accompany any act of attention), but these “breaks” cut down on my writing time. My wife and I “conferred” on the situation, and I set up dates and times for cataract surgery, with the same ophthalmologist who’d provided  successful surgery to improve her vision. After a pre-op physical with my regular doctor (and I was “cleared” for surgery), we set a December 11 (left eye) and December 18 (right eye) date for me to undergo the same procedure.

At the pre-op for cataract surgery, the ophthalmologist, because I had previously been “at risk” for detached retina, wanted to make damn sure that baby (my retina!) was firmly in place—which, apparently, it was. We did discover I have “age-related macular degeneration” (“We can’t stop it,” he said, “but … we can slow it down”), so he prescribed PreserVision (Eye Vitamin & Mineral Supplement) Areds Lutein. Having seen his credentials on the wall of the examining room (he undertook his medical training in Ireland), I liked and admired this man the moment he opened the examining room door: a ruddy Irishman with whom I even exchanged jokes before I departed (alas, he’d heard my “Four Guinness” joke before, but passed approval of my fake Irish accent), and we talked jazz. He knew the music of my favorite pianist, Art Tatum, and plays guitar himself. I felt in good hands, and he made it perfectly clear, right from the start, that, “I can give you new lenses, yes, but I cannot repair ‘the camera’ itself should it be at fault”—a disclosure, a truth I would need to keep in mind and acknowledge in the future.

Up to the time of the surgeries and during the time of the procedures, I still had to rest my eyes and just listen to music, and that process became part of the total “adventure.” After the first surgery, I wrote a poem of thanks to the ophthalmologist in which I included the following lines: “Living for a time with my eyes shut tight/–both before, to rest imperfect sight,/and after cataract surgery to assist recovery/(with a Sargasso Sea of drops I’ve been given/to keep my eyes clean)—I learned to love/the sightless moments I filled with music,/and began to see, giving them full attention,/the rich harmonies and rhythms that match/not just the flow of blood within the body,/but the lives of every nerve and cell as well …Music became my Tuscan landscape,/my living room, bed chamber, my earth/and sky, golden icons, church windows,/naked woman, the Museum of Modern Art,/my Florence, my Wailua River in Kauai,/Mount Fuji, a luncheon on the grass …I lie down in this island of respite,/this archipelago of serene delight, and listen/as I’ve never listened before (even though/I make my living playing music on occasion),/for I know I soon shall possess sight/such as I have never known before, delivered/by the skillful hands and mind and heart/of the doctor who has adroitly replaced/(an amazing procedure—miraculous!) what/the Irish call “damaged goods” with IOLs/(intraocular lens) to make the whole world/clear and bright again.” I trusted him implicitly, and still do.

All that I said in the poem would prove true (for a time) and I remain grateful. I ended the poem this way: “Soon, my listening sessions over/and both eyes renewed,/ I shall wait, as I did as a kid/in Detroit, anticipating the unveiling/of a fresh line of automobiles, brand new/Buicks and Lincolns disclosed with a whisk/of a cape—but the event I anticipate/makes those revelations as my father would say,/“Like thirty cents with the three rubbed out,/like a one-legged man in a kicking contest.” … Once these bandages are removed, I shall/stand and thank (Meister Eckhart said/“If the only prayer you say in your whole life/is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice”) all those/ who made this moment possible: the right/to observe, perceive, to truly see and create/the gift of this world again in full light. Thanks.”

I did have a fine humorous “adventure’ on the day of the last surgery, December 18. I was conscious for both procedures (and that “journey” was extraordinary!), and I heard my ophthalmologist and the anesthesiologist discussing surfing in Kauai when they were young (I must have been a bit groggy), and I cried out, “Wow! My wife and I lived in a shack on the Wailua River in Kauai in 1957: mangos, papayas, crayfish in the river—subsistent living! … just married, age 21 … I was the only Haole singing in an Hawaiian troupe”—and I began to sing, “Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana lâ/`Ike i ka nani Kaimana Hila lâ/Kau mai i luna.” In the post-op session, the ophthalmologist said I was the first patient he’d ever had who began to sing in Hawaiian immediately following surgery.

Once the bandages had been removed, all that I’d hoped for did prove true, and I wrote a good friend: “Today is the First Day for my two new eyes (or IOLs: Intraocular lens) working together.  I’ve had to suspend most reading and writing until now (because of “complications”–although I had many grand long listening sessions to music with my eyes closed!), but the surgeries themselves went swimmingly. Notwithstanding a Sargasso Sea (or at least Lake Tahoe) of drops I’m to take for four weeks (in “recovery”), I’m reading and writing again–and without the assistance of the glasses I’ve worn for what seems like ages. I even played piano at a private party at Ed Rickett’s Lab (site of Sweet Thursday) in Cannery Row two days after the first surgery (I wore dark glasses and everyone thought I was Ray Charles–until I started to play and sing that is). I’ve been writing, reading (back into Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers with its miniscule print), and playing piano (reading charts) without glasses (a wild experience for me, because I’ve been dependent on them for so long)—although I have one more Post-Op appointment for glasses I will need for distance vision—on January 12, the day before my 79th birthday.

And I had that one last recovery “ritual” to survive: each morning I did lie absolutely still for forty minutes while Nurse Jane (my wife Betty) administered four drops (two for each eye), with ten minutes between each drop (to allow them to “set”), so we timed the procedure by way of Frank Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours of the Morning (approximately three minutes per track, three tracks between each drop). I got to know those fine old standard tunes pretty well (very soothing). We enacted this ritual until January 15.

I did have one glorious month in which I could work at the  computer without glasses—and do the same writing on a legal pad, and could read both books with small print and charts (at the piano) again. It was wonderful! And I had new glasses for distance viewing. Then … it all “went away.” At work at the computer, I began to experience a wild flickering fluttering light at the periphery of both eyes. I could mitigate the distraction somewhat by way of the frame of the “new” glasses I’d been given (for both distance and close-up vision when I was “outside”), but I discovered I could not now read anything without those glasses, and even they “assisted” imperfectly. I had to hold my head at an odd angle to focus on the monitor—and my distance vision (with the glasses) went kaput (watching TV and attending a jazz concert).

So back to the ophthalmologist I went—who’d become a good friend by now!  I did recall him saying, right from the start, “I can give you new lenses, but I can’t fix the camera itself if it is at fault,” etc. Obviously, my “camera” had its share of flaws unrelated to cataracts. We now discovered that I had added something called “ophthalmic migraine” (no headaches, but “inflammatory substances released around the nerves …. changes in blood flow to the brain”) to my collection of visual imperfections—this, aligned with the ”age-related macular degeneration” and the risk of detached retina causing the “light show” at the edges of my vision apparently. I also had “lightning flashes” at night, when I turned over in bed, and occasionally semi-circular displays directly in front of me—and once, even a brightly lit “Christmas tree”! Once, before the surgeries, in mid-November, I’d witnessed an uninvited  full-fledged psychedelic ceremony: a light show that made Grammy Award Show extravaganzas look tepid by comparison: the black stovepipe in our living room separated by jagged strikes of “lightning” into three sections (this accompanied by swirling “halos”). I sat there massively intrigued, impressed, entertained by what the mind can do (once it receives the wrong information from the optic nerves). I sat there relishing science coupled with mystery.

Now, in early March, the new glasses, which I’d only worn for less than two months, were worthless—so the ophthalmologist said it would be best to wait three weeks to see if there was any further change. How my vision could change (decline again) so rapidly was a mystery to me, although he said that, highly unusual as this was, it could or did happen—and it just happened to happen to me!

I wrote a couple of friends who were curious about the state of my eyesight, giving them (and apologizing for) a detailed “report,” but added that I was still trying to understand just what the hell was going on with my eyes, and that writing about it all actually helped (I’ve long found that true regarding not just seemingly traumatic events, but nearly everything!). I now found it necessary, again, to mix any sustained visual activity with an equal portion of “rest” (listening to music with my eyes closed, as I had before). The good news—having had my eyes dilated and checked again extensively–was: I did NOT have detached retina (I’d recently talked with a former teaching colleague who ate, slept, and defecated for 22 days with his face in a pillow after his retina was reattached!). I had a wait of three weeks ahead of me, and then, should my vision not have changed again, I would be measured for and receive a new set of “new” glasses and hopefully be restored to something resembling “normal” sight.

Which is what happened, and where I am now. I did watch my first complete game of the current baseball season, and did not need to close or “rest” my eyes while anyone (on either team) was at bat. I could even read the score on TV, the inning, and the number of balls and strikes accumulating easily, for the first time in a long time—but, alas, for all the loving care proffered on my part, the Giants still lost.

Now, I have both good days and bad days with regard to sight: days when I can write for significant stretches without taking the musical “rest,” and days when my eyes actually hurt (sting, feel irritated, pressured, “smart” a bit), and do not seem to wish to cooperate at all with my trade as a writer (or reader, or musician who requires a chart)—my eyes just refuse to collaborate (and not with each other, but with me!). The light shows persist: both at the edges of my eyes (and not just when I’m writing) and at night. I mentioned that writing about somewhat traumatic events (or nearly everything!) helps–to clarify the situation (through detachment, distance, disinterest, getting out of a condition by going further into it?), and I’ve also had a lifelong habit of resorting to humor—or attempts at humor. When I started to tell friends about post-op appointments, etc., I’d preface my remarks with “Well, we shall see” … “I’m looking forward to the results” … “It would appear to me” … “This situation deserves more than just a cursory glance,” etc.—realizing  just how much of any ordinary conversation is made up of references to sight! I am a jazz pianist (of sorts), and I also began to joke about the possibility, should the visual condition get worse, of someday possibly being able to play as well as Art Tatum, George Shearing, Lenny Tristano, Marcus Roberts, or Stevie Wonder.

I also thought about authors who were blind or struggled with seriously impaired sight: Homer, St. Paul, Helen Keller (of course), Susan Townsend, Harriet Tubman, James Thurber, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges, Aldous Huxley …. Or the most prominent example perhaps: John Milton. One of the most personal, and powerful, commentaries made by Milton on his condition is present in the sonnet “On His Blindness.” The poem begins on a note of what might have led to self-pity, but refuses to remain there: “When I consider how my light is spent/Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,/And that one talent which is death to hide/Lodged with me useless”; then presents the overwhelming question: “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”—and the answer Milton grants himself is amazingly accepting of his plight: “who best/Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best … They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton, in the person of Samson, in Samson Agonistes, is far less accepting, allowing his protagonist to protest with considerable fervor (and at considerable length). Here are a few lines:  “ … Eyeless in Gaza … what if all foretold/Had been fulfilled but through my own default? … O loss of sight … Blind among enemies! … Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct and all her various objects of delight/Annulled … Scarce half I seem to live, dead more than half./O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,/Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse/ … O first-created beam, and thou great Word,/‘Let there be light, and light was over all,’/Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree? … if it be true/That light is in the soul, She all in every part, why was the sight/To such a tender ball as th’eye confined?”

It’s enough to give a writer attempting to accommodate such a sudden change in her or his life the chills—and the lines had that effect on me. My mother had macular degeneration, and was blind in one eye in her 90s, and deprived of most of her sight by the time she closed out her life at age 101.

I would, if I could, change large portions of the world at large as we know it (both the natural world and human), as we experience it on a daily basis, and I realize there’s more than a little work I might do on myself as an inhabitant—but the overwhelming, immediate task, now, seems to be one of acceptance: living with a situation or condition for which you cannot hold yourself solely responsible. “I love what is,” Lenny Bruce said, “what might have been is a dirty lie” (and he, of course, had immense difficulty accepting that premise, as we all do). Yet in her brilliant book on boxing (!), Joyce Carol Oates, comparing the “sport” to life itself,  writes: “Nothing that happens to the boxer in the ring … is not of his own will, or failure of will. The suggestion is of a world-mold in which we are humanly responsible not only for our own acts but for those performed against us … The blow we never saw coming—invariably, in the ring, the knockout blow—is the one that decides our fate.” So: no excuses, no exceptions, and no more disclaimers!

Commenting further on analogies between boxing and “life,” Oates writes, “The artist senses some kinship, however oblique and one-sided, with the professional boxer in [the] matter of training. This fanatic subordination of the self in terms of a wished-for destiny.” Here she refers directly to the work that goes into writing a book, an artifact “that when ‘public’ is but the final stage in a protracted, arduous, grueling, and frequently despairing period of preparation … a life-goal: the willed transposing of the sensation we know as pain (physical, psychological, emotional) into its polar opposite … To not only accept but to actively invite what most sane creatures avoid … pain now but control, and therefore triumph, later.”

One of the first things I realized (saw!) I had to get beyond if I was to bear my own “mild yoke” and deal honestly with a destiny I could not have predicted, much less planned, for myself as a writer, was the inevitable question, “Why me?” And why my eyesight?! I knew from Shakespeare that the gods got a big kick out of sporting with us like flies (“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,/They kill us for their sport.”: King Lear Act 4, scene 1, 32–37), and I could accept the irony of that (maybe even be amused by it on occasion), but it somehow didn’t seem fair or right that they might go after the one thing you would need above all others for the given activity you most prized.

I’m not disinclined toward prayer (although I do try to keep it to praise or thanksgiving, and not ask for anything much aside from “our daily bread”: τον αρτον ημων τον επιουσιον δος ημιν σημερον)—an activity I’ve indulged in since my parents sent me off at age eight to be an altar boy or acolyte (an undertaking which, talking with other ex-altar boys now, they seem to have resented or disliked, but which I enjoyed). A coincidence: working on the memoir, “Going Solo,” I found old letters from friends (including a girlfriend), letters written between 1955-1957, when I went off on my own to attend an art school in Brooklyn, Pratt Institute. At the time, I was discovering (mostly as introduced to me by this very bright, “light-years-ahead-of-me” young woman) a number of writers I would come to admire: D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, e.e.cummings, Hart Crane, Baudelaire, Kenneth Patchen. A previous favorite (very influential, although the presence of my girlfriend did tend to dissuade me from any lingering inclination to become a Trappist monk) was Thomas Merton, who I have been re-reading lately (The Seven Story Mountain, Seeds of Contemplation, The Sign of Jonas, Contemplative Prayer), again as a “prompt” to writing about that period of my life, that significant mid-50s era, in the memoir.

I found the following in Contemplative Prayer (the last book Merton would write in his life)—thoughts on learning to live with what, or who, you really are: finding oneself in a “dark night” that “rectifies our deepest intentions.” There, in the silence of this  “night of faith,” we turn to “simplicity and sincerity of heart … in direct and simple attention to reality”—no longer favoring aspirations (however worthy of attention they may appear to be) that are illusions beyond the range of our real nature. Merton quotes St. Augustine’s words: “Noverim te, noverim me” (“May I know you, may I know myself”), and adds, “We wish to gain a true evaluation of ourselves and of the world so as to understand the meaning of our life.” I find this solid secular advice—especially for someone in my present circumstance, although I acknowledge the pretension of suggesting that I might be able to obtain such a state, even on a strictly secular level.

Thomas Merton was strongly influenced by St. John of the Cross (author of Dark Night of the Soul), who advocated the “silent and receptive attention” that accompanied “the secret purifying action of grace” within the soul’s “dark night”—a “narrow way” that was “authentically spiritual (therefore simple and obscure).” Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to have compromised sight if it allows you to “see again” that which is most essential in a life (getting right down to the core of the soul, so to speak), something with which you may have lost contact? With such paradoxes in mind, I wrote a poem (one that will be published in the Fall online issue of The Homestead Review, so I can’t reproduce it here in full): a poem about all that I touch now having acquired a “personality”—a poem about finding new meaning and value in all that surrounds me: even the air that “clings to my body,/both within and without.”

Another writer I’ve learned to value of late is Oliver Sachs, and his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat—a book I used when I taught Humanities at Monterey Peninsula College, because of its “upbeat” approach to neurological disorders and the amazing compensations that Sach’s patients worked out for themselves and with his assistance. In one essay, “The Disembodied Lady,” a young woman 27 years of age, Christina, who had children, played tennis, and led an active life, discovers that she has lost her entire sense of “proprioception” (our “sixth sense” or the awareness of the position of one’s body). She lost tone, muscle, and vocal posture, due to “sensory neuritis, affecting the sensory roots of spinal and cranial nerves throughout the neuraxis … the axial unpaired part of the central nervous system, composed of the spinal cord, rhombencephalon, mesencephalon, and diencephalon.” (The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary).  Having no sense of herself (other than that of having turned to jello), she was able to mimic movement, physical activity, by way of watching 8 mm movies of her former self. Christina was told that she had to use her eyes to take over for the sense proprioception that was lost—using her vision to control how she moves, talks, holds herself, everything that one does automatically that she now had to think about. Oliver Sachs states, “There was no in-between, no modulation, whatever.” Christina could function, but only in her own unique way. I can imagine few deprivations as difficult to live with as hers—and yet she learned to live with it (once again: the importance of “sight.”).

About his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat  in general, Oliver Sachs has written: “To restore the human subject at the centre—the suffering, afflicted, fighting, human subject—we must deepen a case history to a narrative or tale; only then do we have a ‘who’ as well as a ‘what’, a real person, a patience, in relation to disease—in relation to the physical.” I hope I’ve been able to manage some of that in this personal essay.

Previously, I made brief reference to an inner ear-induced vertigo condition I’ve had for twenty-seven years—and that condition, kept well under control to the point of being nearly forgotten , has returned, on and off again (but with a vengeance), alongside the “sight” issues (perhaps caused by the host of multiple images I have been “entertaining” for eight months, my brain a tad confused by all the conflicting “information” it’s been receiving? In spite of what specialists say, I’m beginning to feel that all this “stuff” is somehow intricately connected). Teaching at the local college, I rode a bike to work for fifteen or so years, nearly every day, until one day I turned my head rapidly from left to right (as you are required to do on a bike to gauge traffic), and found myself flat on the ground, miraculously uninjured but having entered a whole new “phase” of my life. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, but it took me three years (and another miracle-working doctor at U.C. Medical Center in San Francisco) to learn that I had permanent damage to my inner ear caused by a viral infection (a severe “flu” the date of which we could trace accurately). I would subsequently learn a lot about compensation myself (and human behavior in general), consigned to Rapid Transit  (back on the bus again, as I’d been throughout my “student” days)—and I learned even more from an amazing man named Paddy, when I undertook rehab at the college Adaptive PE gym. Paddy, who was in charge of the program, was blind, and he showed me wonders on a speed bag I worked out on—making my own “mild yoke” accommodations look pale, amateur, just plain silly compared to his lightning-quick (the bag a hummingbird blur) demonstration workouts.

Compensation! The adaptability of the human spirit—and mind! And body! It’s all a balancing act—and a very tough one to bring off at that! Even though I taught for a total of thirty-two years at three institutions (The University of Hawaii, Wisconsin State University-Whitewater, Monterey Peninsula College), I was never very good at giving “advice” (of a “direct” or overt sort), frequently resorting to quoting Theodore Roethke’s words I attempted to live by myself: “[We] learn by going where [we] have to go.” I’m not sure just what sort of “advice” I’d give myself right now! It seems to me that the most meaningful mode of persuasion is through example (“But nothing promised that is not performed”; Robert Graves: “To Juan at the Winter Solstice”). I seem to be at a stage in my life when, win or lose (no matter what may “evolve” from this point on), I do feel grateful for the total content of my present life and past as well (all that has led up to this point)—feel good about the “whole show,” the complete adventure as the very great gift it is.

I hope to finish (I’m now on Chapter Ten) and publish the memoir, “Going Solo” (that end is well in view—to employ another visual metaphor), and we now have definite plans to make YouTube videos of the songs I’ve been writing (my own poems set to original music), songs which Jaqui Hope (vocals); Heath Proskin (bass); and I on piano presented at a recent concert at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel, California. We already have a video of one of the songs, as performed at the Museum of Monterey, “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep,” and it can be found at:

In John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, the blind warrior’s father, Manoa, bids him: “Act not in thy own affliction, Son … if the punishment/Thou can’t avoid, self-preservation bids”—thus “extolling patience as the truest fortitude/And to the bearing well of all calamities.” I am definitely in the “list of those that hope” (“Faith & Patience”! And more than just “a little help from my friends.”)—and I look forward to future blog posts, Facebook vignettes, to seeing (Yes!) Going Solo in print, and both watching and listening to my own songs on YouTube. What I have offered here is, ostensibly, an essay, so I have not (as I enjoy doing on blog posts) provided any “illustrations” (by way of art work or photographs)—but I will close out with a couple of “pics”:  the first (many thanks to James Chang of Top Dog Images!) of Brian LaPlace, videographer and sound engineer (at whose Boxcar Alley Studios in Pacific Grove, CA we will do the videos), vocalist Jaqui Hope, me, and Rick Chelew (bassist, guitarist, singer, and friend); one of Jaqui, Heath Proskin, and me taken at the Museum of Monterey concert; and a photo taken by David Royal of the “Something Cool Trio” which will bring the songs to life, and keep them there (for eternity, ho ho) on YouTube.

Next blog post: even in these hard and troubled times: a heartwarming story about an act of kindness, an exceptional gift given a favorite local performer: jazz vocalist/drummer Dottie Dodgion (about whom I’ve written here before—one of the most “popular” items, in fact, posted in 2014). See ya later!

Brian, Jaqui, Me, and Rick Jaqui, Heath and Me, Museum of Monterey  Pianist and author Bill Minor, center, with vocalist Jaqui Hope and bassist Heath Proskin in Pacific Grove, Calif.


Author: William Minor

I am a writer and musician who has published twelve books: most recent: Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems; also The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, a comic novel (Trek: Lips. Sunny, Pecker and Me); three books on jazz (most recent: Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within), and seven books of poetry. A professional musician since the age of sixteen, I have released three CDs (most recent: Love Letters of Lynchburg--spoken word and original musical score commissioned by the Historic Sandusky Foundation in Virginia). I was educated at The University of Michigan, Pratt Institute, The University of Hawaii, UC-Berkeley (MFA in Painting and Drawing), and San Francisco State College (MA in Language Arts). I taught for thirty-two years (English, Creative Writing, Humanities at The University of Hawaii, Wisconsin State University-Whitewater, and Monterey Peninsula College). Originally trained as a visual artist, I have exhibited woodcut prints and paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Smithsonian Institution. I have been married to Betty for fifty-nine years and we have two grown sons: Timothy and Stephen. We live in Pacific Grove, California where, retired from teaching, I just write and play music, both of which I love.

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