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.

Afternoon Text to Carole

[Cut & paste]

So you will probably get away about on time this afternoon? Dogs are mellow still but I’m a little bored. Sleepy all day until an hour ago but have finally woke up a bit. Each night for the last three I have slept a little more normally. [When abnormal, sleep takes the form of shallow half-hour flashes with golden light around the edges.]

Remote Stations Checking In

When I wake in the morning I sometimes feel like some mid-level colonial bureaucrat from the middle of the 19th century coming into the office to check the communications from the provinces. I read them & hand them back to the clerk, who then either burns or files them as appropriate. So far, nothing needs to be sent up to the level of the ministry. What one wants, of course, is a morning without uprisings & certainly without revolutions. The reports are good this morning–which is to say there are no real reports–just the little scratchings of rumor & innuendo. Furthermore, there are no meetings or conferences scheduled until next week, when more information will become available.


What’s the line between discomfort & pain? I’ve had a sort of bellyache all day that’s made me feel depressed, but it only developed into pain later in the day, at which point I took medication for it. My oncologist says I have a high tolerance for pain (though she probably says that to all the old guys), but the pain I’ve been dealing with lately seems mostly manageable with extended release morphine twice a day. I never know quite whether I should take the short-acting Oxycontin when I feel twinges of extra pain. I guess what I’m trying to sense as accurately as I can the difference between chronic & acute pain. Not that one should feel the need to tolerate chronic pain for moral reasons. How far, then, does one go in treating chronic discomfort? Existing is suffering & all that. There are reasons for not numbing one’s self out, but there are also reasons for not allowing one’s mind to be filled with the distractions & fear of pain. Admittedly, I’m anticipating a time when my pain will certainly be greater. I want to know how best to navigate that coming landscape, which is why I’ve been going over the maps ahead of time.

Bits & Pieces

. . . of the body deteriorating in the most minor ways. Left eye chronically waters, but is it just age or the disease? Same goes for a twitch in the neck, a secondary ringing in my right ear. What’s normal? What’s extraordinary? What’s acute & what steady state decline? Does sorting all this out make any difference? It’s a way of being alert, I suppose.


Around 6:00 a.m. I take the day’s first handful of pills, including a dose of long-acting morphine. Works for pain as intended, but it also provides a bit of mild euphoria that feels entirely deserved.