Some Autobiographical Notes: A List of Six

  1. I spent the formative years of my childhood about halfway between the Mystery Spot (Santa Cruz) & the Winchester Mystery Houseâ„¢ (San Jose), so it is no wonder that I developed–& have held onto over decades–a feel for the occult. Add to these the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum  & you have a recipe for addle-headed New Age bunkum I feel lucky to have escaped.

2. Looking back, I can’t imagine why my step-father, a fundamentalist Christian of the restricted type, took me to such places. His brand of Christianity has a terror of the occult that goes back to the burning of “witches” & continues into the present with Jack Chick’s manichæan vision of the supernatural battle between God & Satan as it plays out among human beings: they were–& still are, I guess–very big on the doctrine of original sin, especially as it applies to children. Chick’s tracts were all over the church we attended, but they failed to take hold of my spiritual imagination. Even aged 10, something told me not to be taken in.

Rest Home santa cruz
The house where the author spent the formative years of his childhood

3. But that makes my resistance to my parents’ fundamentalism appear more heroic & far more coherent than it was. As a child, I was often filled with fear.1 It didn’t help that we lived in a large Victorian house–not the Mystery House by any stretch of the imagination, but big & old enough to contain spooks. The place had been converted to a “rest home” for the ambulatory elderly & my mother had been hired by some Christian organization to run the place. We lived upstairs, though I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, the only place my mother ever seemed happy.

4. There was a stained glass window on the landing of the main stairs that depicted an abstract floral design & beneath the flowers, a scroll with the name Elsie. The local lore–passed along by a neighbor when we first moved in–was the man who built the house had given the window to his young bride on the occasion of their wedding. The story grows dark, though, as the owner is increasingly jealous. First, he locks Elsie upstairs & tells the neighbors she is ill. Eventually, he grows so possessive that he restricts her to the master bedroom. She refuses to eat & dies–she dies in the room where I sleep from age 6 to 12. There is reason the believe, then, that the house was haunted–at least in the imagination of an anxious child.

5. I had a precocious vocabulary & saying my prayers at night, I would run through the standard list of praying for my mother & father, but would always end by praying that “no catastrophes befall us in the night.” I was afraid of Elsie’s ghost, afraid the place might burn down, afraid of burglars, & just blankly afraid, especially at night.

6. They say that the Winchester Mystery House is haunted–& well it may be. It was built by the widow of William Wirt Winchester, the treasurer of the eponymous manufacturer of firearms. William was the second generation of the family to work for the company founded by his father. After William’s death, his wife Sarah built the Mystery House, which, some say, is haunted by the ghosts of all the people killed by Winchester firearms. That would be a lot of ghosts, but being incorporeal beings, perhaps a million of them could walk up & down the staircase that led only to a blank wall.

Show 1 footnote

  1. In retrospect, I think that composing &/or distributing those tracts to children should count as a form of child abuse.

Noted & Recommended: A List of Six

  1. Timothy Burke, as usual, is confronting the present political situation with his usual good sense at Easily Distracted.
  2. Just discovered Open Culture, a site that provides links to all sorts of texts, mostly free, that are available online. The proves one can insist that the internet can be a positive literary & political force. Thousands of links to audio & video materials.
  3. { feuilleton } may be the most elegant blog out there, both in design & content.
  4. I’ve been waiting for something like this. A sophisticated bilingual literary journal emerging from the Vietnamese diaspora. I hope the journal manages to establish itself in American & Vietnamese literary culture.
  5. The world’s oldest playable musical instrument is a flute.
  6. Hardcore Zen. No bullshit, from a Buddhist perspective.

Is it a Dangerous Precedent?

The folks at  An Fur Ünd Sich align with my own view on this, the first day of the Trump Era. I still cannot get my head around the results of the recent election. It feels like a dream, or a masque intended to warn & educate me & my fellow-citizens. But it is no dream & it is going to be a rough time for our already frayed & tattered American democracy.

I remember back the last time the Electoral College delivered us an incompetent overreaching fool — one of our watchwords in those years was that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. And so, on November 9, Obama should have said, “We all know the Electoral College is nonsense, and so I am going to begin the transition process with President-Elect Clinton.” I’d rather the bit about the Electoral College be a dead letter than the emoluments clause, for example. Is it a dangerous precedent? Not as dangerous as the precedent that the person who loses the election takes office and we all act like it’s God’s fucking will.


“When in Good Health” by Viá»…n Chiếu (990 -1091)

When in Good Health—Viễn Chiếu (990-1091)

Remember how the body decays like an old wall.
Facing death, it is natural to be afraid, but when
you are filled with emptiness, you will see that
the separateness of the ten thousand things turns
out to be nothing but another delusion & you
will be able to allow the law of change that governs
everything—visible & invisible–to run its course.

[Translated by Joseph Duemer]