The purpose of this afterword is to allow the reader a glimpse into the state of my Body-Mind-Spirit as I came to an understanding of The Turn of the Screw about 46 years ago, an understanding which has not altered.
Like the James children, I was raised in a neurotic, if not psychotic atmosphere. After this upbringing I was drafted into the Army right before turning 21. In the Army, I trained for a year, then spent 10 months in Viet Nam during 1968-69 fighting as an infantryman in the jungles and mountains mostly near Da Nang and Quang Tri. I should mention here that my mother, in one of her sober moments, gave me a copy of Nature, Man, and Woman by Alan Watts shortly before being drafted. I read the book cover to cover, finding no sense at all in it.
About 7 months into my tour in Viet Nam I had a powerful psychic vision during the middle of one night of life being in perfect harmony each and every moment. This very beatific vision lasted no more than a minute before turning into a vision, much like Henry James Sr.’s vision, of ‘abject terror’. The reason for this (I later determined) was that before this vision, my neurotic upbringing had given me only a vision of life being a chaotic mess, such a mess that I almost welcomed death as a way out of it. After this vision, I didn’t welcome death anymore, I wanted to live, and here I was, in a situation where young men, my friends, all around me were dying daily in most horrific ways. I continued on out in the ‘bush’ in a neurotic haze, hiding my state of mind as best I could, but I think some recognized that I had picked up ‘short-timers syndrome’.
Very luckily, not too long after this vision, I was called to the rear to complete some paperwork I had started for an ‘early-out’ of the Army to attend college. I had been accepted at the University of California Irvine and would be allowed out of Viet Nam and the Army close to 2 months early upon completing this paperwork. Even luckier, while in this rear base camp attending to paperwork, I ran into an old high school chum of my brother Mike who was a lieutenant in charge of the motor pool. He put me in contact with a lieutenant buddy of his who was just starting to build an in-country R&R center. He offered me the job being in charge of building and running the entertainment area – a bar, a USO stage, and a small outside movie theater. As one might imagine, I jumped on this job and spent the last 2 months of my tour in Viet Nam in an ever increasing state of high anxiety until my DEROS (Date of Expected Return from Over Seas).
On the morning of the day of the first leg of my homeward journey, there was a major rocket and mortar attack on the runway. With one of the worst hangovers I can remember, I and several other men hustled aboard a heavily overloaded C-131 and taxied down the runway amidst rocket and mortar explosions and small arms fire, barely making it over the fence at the end of the runway. Whew!
After a few days of processing out at Fort Lewis, WA, I traveled to my mother’s home in Costa Mesa, CA. I got to her house shortly after dark and knocked on the door. She answered in a drunken haze, with a vague look of recognition, and she let me in before going back to her drinking buddies and continuing their conversation. Her drinking buddies were a man who would die within 5 years from alcoholism, and a recently paroled bank robber, both named Jack. In a short while it dawned on her who I was, and where I’d been. She stumbled back over to me slurring, “I was just kidding, honey; glad to have you back”. She imparted the family news to me. My brother Steve was at that moment lying clinically dead at Hoag Hospital from a drug overdose, my brother Mike had shipped out to Viet Nam now that I was back in the U.S., and my younger two half-brothers, Otho and Fred, were staying with their father to escape the chaos in her home. Then she said to me, “You know, honey, if you’d have died over there, I was going to quit smoking!”. All through this my Grandma ‘Louie’ (Louella) was crawling around on her hands and knees under the kitchen table retrieving a bottle of pills that had gotten knocked over and spilled during the drunken discourse.
Unable to live with my mother, I moved in for a short while with my long time friend, Mike Pope, during which time I started the enrollment process at UC Irvine. Also, during this time, I connected with my father who suggested he move down from Los Angeles and we set up an apartment together near where I would go to school. From living with my father intermittently for a total of about 3 years between my early and late teens, I knew he was mentally unbalanced (PTSD from WWII), but he was my best option for getting my life back together. I scouted out a little apartment in Corona del Mar and we moved in together.
During this time of living with my father and going to UC Irvine as a business major, I lived in a constant state of high anxiety with daily panic attacks, some of which would knock me unconscious. I drove around in an old, broken down red Chevy Nova with a large bottle of Pepto Bismol in the glove box, taking not the most direct routes between points, but the roots with the most gas stations where I could stop and stand around the bathroom toilets, eyes watering, drooling, waiting to vomit. The icing on the chaotic cake of this time came one evening at the apartment, after a couple of drinks with my father, trying to debrief my experience over in Viet Nam, when he said to me, “Come on son. You can’t compare that BB gun thing you were in over there to Dubya Dubya 2”.
I dropped out of school, moved out of the apartment with my father, and moved into a vacant little cottage apartment I had lived in before going into the Army. At this apartment I read again the book my mother had given me before I went into the Army, Nature, Man, and Woman by Alan Watts, and it now made all the sense in the world to me. I now had a path toward healing from the war, as well as making sense of life in general. I read voraciously in this area. I read all of Watts’ books, I read from D.T. Suzuki, Hubert Benoit, Krishnamurti, Jean Klein, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and more. I was fascinated with this line of inquiry, as it offered a way out of the psychological quandary I was in.
One evening in this apartment, I was on about my 4th half quart can of Brew 102 beer watching a rerun of The Wizard of Oz when I had a sudden revelation about the Tin Man, the Straw Man, and the Lion relating to the game Rock, Paper, Scissors. Looking back, I now label myself as having irrevocably entered the Psychic stage of spiritual development with this revelation. (Much later I built a Web page attempting to show the relationship between Rock, Paper, Scissors and the Tin Man, the Straw man, and the Lion – or think, feel, do.) In this year or so at the little cottage apartment I also applied for admission to UC Berkeley as an English Literature major and was accepted. I felt now I was ready to go back to school.
When I got up to Berkeley I found and settled into a small, roach infested apartment on Channing Way and started attending classes. This would have been about the fall of 1971. One of the classes I chose to take was titled Rhetoric in Reading. To pass this class, one had only to attend the lectures and then pick a book from a given list and write a 20 page paper on it. Because the length was only 92 paperback pages, and the title was kind of cute, I picked The Turn of the Screw by Henry James to write my paper on. I was not familiar at all with this author. Not wanting to lag behind, I read the book immediately to get its gist into my head and start mentally preparing for a paper. Wham! How was I supposed to write anything about this story? Well, I had plenty of time until the end of the quarter, and I was enjoying my other classes, as well as the street life and the beer bars in and around the University district. I just let the story smolder in my mind while attending to other business.
As time passed the smoldering over this story became hotter and more intense, until I had to start writing. I remember clearly taking a shower in the early evening toward the end of the quarter and sitting down in my bathrobe in an easy chair. I had writing implements and a copy of The Turn of the Screw on a small coffee table in front of me. I would lean forward, take up my pencil for a few minutes, then sit back again in frustration. I did this over and over again for over an hour, reaching ever higher levels of frustration. At the peak of my frustration, I sat back in my easy chair in a haze and rested my arms on the arms of the easy chair. At that moment, one of the hundreds of cockroaches living with me decided to crawl out of one of the many holes in the chair I was sitting in and crawl up the left sleeve of my bathrobe. I jumped up, shook it out, put on some street clothes, and started rambling around the streets of the U district.
At 8 or 9 p.m. the streets were still bustling. I saw a young man with dread locks lying in the gutter on Telegraph Ave with his arms wrapped around a German Shepard, making out with it. On a couple of street corners there were hawkers proclaiming in loud voices, something like, “Reds, Quaaludes, rainbows, cocaine, marijuana; you want it, I got it”. At the fountain at the entrance to the campus from Telegraph avenue, I listened to a tall, thin man with a goatee on the lip of the fountain lecturing on Zen Buddhism. (After later seeing a picture of him, I came to believe this was Alan Watts himself.) I took in a short street skit by the East Bay Sharks, the most dynamic street performers I have ever seen.
I eventually wandered upstairs to a pizza/beer joint I had been to before, and which I liked. I ordered a beer and sat down at a small, lonely table. I sipped my beer and my mind began to relax. A short while later, during the middle of a sip of my half finished beer, the author’s intent, and the meaning of The Turn of the Screw hit me like a sledge hammer.
I don’t remember whether I finished my beer or not, but I do remember wandering around the entire Berkeley campus in the dark of the late evening in an ecstatic state, marveling at the meaning I had extracted from the book, as well as how this meaning related to life in general.
I got back to my apartment around midnight and completed my 20 page essay in about an hour. It only took an hour because each page was a single sentence, and though I never saved it, the paper went something like this:
‘The ghosts were either real, or they weren’t, I think.’ (page 1).
‘The children were either possessed by the ghosts, or they weren’t, I think.’ (page 2).
‘The governess was a psychotic murderer, or she was a hero, I think.’ (page 3).
And so on, until I ran out of clever conundrums at page 17, and wrote:
‘The Turn of the Screw is a story, or a non-story, I think.’ (page 17 – 20).
I continued to attend my classes for several days, waiting for the conference with my Rhetoric in Reading professor, during which we would discuss the progress of my paper. The time came and I handed my paper over to him with the announcement that it was already whole and complete. I was expecting something like a smile, a wink, and a nod from him, as well as an A+ for the paper, as well as for the class, but all I got was argument, and a complete refusal to accept my paper as it stood. I might have complied with his wishes to elaborate my thoughts, but other than his staunch refusal of my paper, I also gained from my learned professor the understanding that he was woefully in the dark about the meaning of James’ book, and what I was expressing in my paper. At this time I assumed that the true meaning of The Turn of the Screw was certainly well known by ‘those in the know’, and I lost faith in this professor and the whole educational process as well.
I stayed in school for another few days and attended all my classes, but with this new knowledge I possessed I eventually felt that further schooling was irrelevant. I dropped out and traveled to Mexico and spent 4 months in San Blas, Nayarit surfing, chasing women, and drinking beer. During this time in Mexico I had a another minor revelation. It was that I no longer had to force myself to be some high ‘mucky muck’ with letters after my name; rather I would continue on from here working with my hands, where my talents lay.
After Mexico, I hitch hiked around the country for about a year, working for Manpower and other various pick-up jobs in various places, and wound up in Santa Cruz, CA and got a job as a seasonal firefighter. After a few months of baking pies and watching the Olympics in a DNR trailer in the middle of the Santa Cruz mountains (no fires that year) I ended up in my hometown of Costa Mesa, CA. I worked as an interior boat carpenter for a bit over a year, and then in 1975 my mother approached me to rent a little shop and print her ‘bike bags’ for her. She was about half behaving herself at this time, so I agreed.
About a year into building my silk screen printing operation, I went to a flea market, or garage sale and happened upon A Casebook on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, edited by Gerald Willen. I got excited when I saw in the lower left corner of the cover ‘Text of the Famous Horror Tale with Analysis and Controversy’. As stated previously, I assumed that ‘those in the know’ had figured out the meaning of this tale and the authors intent, and I could finally get confirmation of what I had gotten out of the book. I read the tale again to reacquaint myself with it, and then got into the the 16 or so critiques of it. To my amazement, all of these literary super-thinkers had missed the ultimate mark, even while exposing many points and themes that I wasn’t aware of. Being as absolutely sure then in 1976, as I am now, of the meaning I had extracted, I began writing my own critique.
I finished my work and sent it off to several places to see if someone would publish it, but no luck. My screen print business was expanding and I was wearing myself out writing in the wee hours of the morning before the work day, so I eventually gave up on publication of this piece and got back down to business. In about 1980 I took a 3 month sojourn to Ann Arbor, MI to study Aikido (Zen in action). I had much free time during this trip, so I availed myself of the great libraries at the University of Michigan and researched other critiques that weren’t in A Casebook finding the same thing, that the critics had missed the mark. I added to my own critique and polished it up a bit, but nothing new I researched and read had any influence on my position. But I never tried to publish my reworked piece, as it had changed very little.
It was also about this time that my mother introduced me to the book No Boundary written by a dishwasher at The Red Rooster in Lincoln, Nebraska. I studied this dish washer’s prolific work for the next 20 years or so, during which time he became labeled ‘The Einstein of Consciousness’, with which I don’t disagree. His 4-Quadrant model of the Cosmos, discovered at least 20 years ago, but not generally acknowledged, is like a Windows operating system for discovering, considering, or categorizing any type of knowledge in the Universe.
During this time of studying spiritual books, writing, and building a business, I was more or less escaping my feelings about my participation in the Viet Nam war. While I had gained much insight into life, and accomplished a few things, I had still not dealt with the war. In 1983 I finally cracked up and started having severe anxiety attacks again directly connected to the war.
I sold my business and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1985 and started about 8 years of vet rap group therapy. In 1994 I went back to Viet Nam and made peace with the land and the people, successfully and finally resolving this issue. In 2004, after 10 years of 3-month winter sojourns to Viet Nam, I met and married a Vietnamese girl. In 2006 we had a semi-cute baby girl who was midwifed and born in the middle of the floor of the 192 square foot little guest house I had built about 15 years prior.
It is now 2016. I am 70 years old and fading fairly fast. The COPD I have from the 30+ years of suicidal cigarette smoking I did after the war is moving from mild to moderate. The cannabis I grow and turn into oil is not helping with this condition, and there doesn’t seem to be much that does. Oh well, as some barroom philosopher said, “One out of one die of something.
In any case, the time has come to polish off my essay, add a few links to make it a bit more viable, and get it up for public consumption.