The LifeStory Institute
The writer's workshop for memoirists, autobiographers and family historians.
Founded in 1991 as a how-to newsletter/magazine, LifeStory, and also as an over-the-road workshop
travelling North America teaching and coaching new and longtime writers of all ages how to write about
their lives and the lives of their ancestors.  The premise is that everyone can, and probably should, write
their life story to pass on to their family,friends,and others interested, including and perhaps especially,  
All material on this website unless otherwise indicated is Copyright 2014 by The LifeStory Institute.
The LifeStory Institute
                     BAKED FRESH THIS MORNING!

Tues., October 28, 2014                        Home.

Sometimes I have idea attacks and I can’t write things down fast enough.  Other times—
like right now, right this minute—I am as blank as the wall.  I can’t think of a thing.  If I
don’t have a prompt in front of me, I’m sunk.  In 50 years of journaling, even a slow
learner like me has learned something.  Go get a prompt.  Or two.  So here’s a

The photo is of my dad standing in a yard, I don’t know whose or where except that it
was surely in Madison, and he is wearing his doctoral robes and either he is about to get
his MD degree or he has gotten it already.  This would be the summer of 1932—an
unbelievable 82 years ago.

Dad wasn’t vain, really, but he was quietly proud of having done that--he, a boy from a
village  in Wisconsin, the son of a blacksmith, had put his nose to the grindstone and
studied hard and worked hard and went to the university and got that MD degree.  I was
just an average student, he often told me, and expressed some admiration for my grades
in college and graduate school.

So he was a humble guy, never threw his weight around, but sometimes in the evening
in his little study off the main hall upstairs he’d sit at his desk and, maybe just before
making some notes about the operation he was going to do in the morning (he always
read and re-read before surgery) and testing his fountain pen, he’d sign his name:  C. R.
KEMPTHORNE, M.D. C. R. KEMPTHORNE, M.D.   And then he make his notes, usually
indecipherable, as his handwriting looked like a series of lines.
When he retired, I don’t think he was ever able to return to being “just” Charley
Kempthorne.  Retirement is famously a comedown for anybody—much has been written
about important men going back to their office after retirement and finding that instead of
being treated with deference there are shunted politely but quickly aside as being in the

So you have to adapt.  And Dad didn’t do that very well.  He didn’t know what to do with
himself.  He could play a game of golf, but golf was just a game, and he didn’t obsess
about it, and I think because of his Parkinson’s he gave it up entirely.  He was of the
school that said, If you can’t do a thing well, don’t do it, period.  Don’t do it at all.  He
couldn’t correct his hook shot, and now he had Parkinson’s, and so there.  He quit.  

He was rather shy, not like me a “hail fellow well met,” as my mother used to say, and so
he didn’t really enjoy the reminiscence at the old boys’ club downtown at the café.  He
came home and leafed through his medical journals and tooks naps—more and more.  
Retirement was the unhappiest time of his life, probably the only time he had been
unhappy for any extended period of time. ###

Mon., October 27, 2014

It was good to be home.  The old familiar place, home now these many years: almost
exactly forty-three years.  Since November 18, 1971.  In trees now, it had been in
cropland then, the house abandoned and dilapidated, the outbuildings collapsed or not
there at all.  There was a grain bin.  There was a single bay pole shed large enough to
hold the former owner’s combine.  All this stuff now, buildings and more  I had done--
mostly me.  

I haven’t been out to the garden yet.  We haven’t had a frost.  The pear tree is still loaded
with pears.  I’m sure the ones on the ground have a bite out of each one from a visiting
I put things away.  June did too.  We talked for awhile.  She wasn’t hungry.  She made me
an onion and cheese sandwich.  I tried to take a nap but couldn’t fall asleep.  June went
to town to do her PT for her rotator cuff.  I did a little more housework and blanched at all
there was to do if I was to move LifeStory upstairs again.  

Last year, not a year ago, or maybe longer, I moved all my LifeStory stuff downstairs.  It
was a huge job and I did it all by myself.  I thought I was making room for Ben and
Melissa and also downsizing LifeStory so I could work just downstairs.  I was too old to
run up and down the stairs.  

I’m still too old for that but it didn’t work out to have my LifeStory office down here.  It
was just too crowded.  June’s office is about 9x12, but upstairs I had two rooms that each
were 12x22, not counting two large closets.  I had plenty of room up there.  Down here…I
felt crowded, I couldn’t find anything, I couldn’t spread out to work on an issue of
LifeStory or to examine what I’d done in a book.  So back upstairs I am going.    It’s crazy,
but it’s just exercise.  I feel better now about my breathing.  Some people play golf.  
Some people jog.  I just move things around.  It gives me the impression I exist.
I came away from Saint Louis once again with the country boy’s conclusion,  why would
anyone want to live there?  Not just Saint Louis, but Kansas City, Seattle, LA, or any
megalopolis anywhere in the world.  The hours of traffic, the millions of molecules of
humanity stacked one on top of another…why?  Why?  

Of course they have their reasons, as I have mine in living on a square mile in which
fewer than ten people live, and far enough apart so that we cannot see one another.  I
look out the window and I see deer, I see coyotes, raccoons, birds, chickens, ducks, but
not one single human except my wife.  I see hundreds of trees, millions of leaves, and
earth all around, earth and sky.  On the one hand, it is easy to feel lonely here.  The
cliché that it is even lonelier in the city I have never bought.  Here in the woods you are
alone, no two ways about it.  In the city you are never alone unless you want to feel that.  
I love people.  I love seeing people.  Oh, sure I could live in a city.  Sure I could.  But not
so many, and not having to drive for hours every day  in the rocketing traffic.###

Sun., October 26, 2014

I love googling.  I google all my old friends and sometimes I find them.  If they have
common names they are of course very hard to run down.  But if they have a name like
Eduardo Keelie Glockenspiel, I can locate them right away.  Charley Kempthorne is
pretty easy to find, too.  There are a handful of us throughout the world but most of us
are laying low.  

It’s hard to believe that there used to be a popular show on early television (and radio
too, I am sure) called This Is Your Life, and it was built around people coming on, just
ordinary people (this was in the pre-celebrity era), and the producer would get all the
important people in the person’s life and bring them forth, one by one, live, onto the
stage.  It was a thrill to watch them being thrilled.

Sadie Pearson would be on, say, and the emcee (Ralph Edwards, maybe—some famous
MC guy) would interview her a little about her life, how she was born in Pottstown, Pa.,
and went west to Chicago where she worked for the telephone company as a long
distance operator for thirty years, married and had three kids, and so on.  Then the
emcee would pause and a voice from behind the curtain would say, Sadie, do you
remember how we used to pinch straws down at Eddie’s Drug Store…?  

And Sadie would shriek with joy and surprise and say, Arthur!  Is that you, Arthur
Schimerkorn?  And out from behind would come a much age-enhanced Arthur and
they’d hug and dance around as well as two old folks could.

Can you imagine that happening now?  No, of course not.  We google one another, we
meet on Facebook, we’ve kept in touch more or less all these years.  It’s a different

Still there are people in everyone’s life who seem to have dropped off the face of the
earth.  There are people out there, can you believe it, who aren’t on Facebook, don’t
watch UTube, and think LinkdIn is some kind of typo.  These same people wouldn’t touch
a computer with a ten foot pole, and yet such reports as there are suggest that they lead
happy and productive lives.  

I just don’t get it.  
I bought a t-shirt in Macy’s yesterday that cost me nearly $9.  It was the cheapest thing I
could find, just an ordinary t-shirt.  We tried to find a thrift shop but couldn’t, so we went
to Macy’s, a store I have not been in since my mother dragged my brother and me into
the real Macy’s in NY in 1949 and the two of us played on the escalator.  In this one,
yesterday, we had to take a long escalator down one floor and June, of course, was
afraid that it would eat her alive.  “You first,” she said, grimly, and down we went.  
Nothing happened except that we could down to the men’s department and I
experienced about six different kinds of sticker shock: an ordinary shirt for $98, socks at
$15 a pair…and then I found the t-shirt for just $9.  I grabbed it and said, “Let’s get out of

The only reason I wanted a t-shirt was that I had only a heavy sweater to wear and
yesterday was in the low 80s and rather humid.  We were sweating—October 25, and
we’re sweating!  And so I had this $9 for a t-shirt experience.  

Of course I remember prices as of old.  I remember when you could buy a good house
for about $9, and cars were two for a quarter.  T-shirts were given away, your size and
your choice of colors, when you paid 12 cents for a ticket to the matinee.

Quo vadis? ###

Sat., October 25, 2014

When I ran away from home in 1953 my pal Johnnie Rush and I first went to Saint Louis.  
No interstate highway system them, I think we just got on US 24-40 in the middle of the
night out of Manhattan and drove east  and about dawn we arrived in Saint Louis, 383
miles later.  We ate in a diner, very crowded, read the morning paper (was it the Globe-
Democrat?) over our coffee and cigarettes just like we were really grown up.   We got a
hotel room in some place on Kingshighway or just off it, kind of a dump but clean and
cheap, and stayed the night.  I think the original plan had been to find work in Saint
Louis.  We scanned the want ads for jobs that required 15 year olds who knew nothing
and could do nothing and, not finding any such, we decided to turn south and drive down
to Jackson, Mississippi where there had just been a tornado and, we reasoned, they’d
need guys like us to help clean up.  But when we got to Jackson actually stopping and
looking for work somehow wasn’t as appealing as driving on to New Orleans, where I
figured we could jump a ship and be cabin boys or deck hands and sail the seven seas.  
Or at least I thought so.  Johnnie was mum about it, but willing to go along.  He was 17, a
little older.  

And so we drove on, and we did get to New Orleans.  We were driving in Johnnie’s car: a
royal blue on midnight blue 47 Chevy Fleetwood.  We stopped at a roadhouse outside of
the city and had a beer like grownups  and discussed our maritime future.  We didn’t
have much money left but I was sure there’d be ships on the dock waiting for us and so

Once in the city, down to the docks, New Orleans being a huge city with 900,000
strangers looking at us, the docks a forbidding enough place with those ships from South
America and all over, and, well, you know, I just figured maybe we could go somewhere
and park and talk this over.  We drove around and found Audubon City Park and pulled in
a spot overlooking a golf course.  We watched some fancy ladies all dressed in white
play golf and it was then that Johnnie shared that he had decided he was going to go
home and join the Air Force.   Where shall I let you out, Kempthorne?  He said.  That was
the way we addressed one another back then when we weren’t feeling particularly

Now I should have said, Well, Rush, just let me out right here.  I can make it on my own.  
But instead I did what was to become my MO for many, many years: I chickened out, I
had a failure of nerve, and so I squeaked, I guess I’ll ride back home with you.  

We had about four dollars between us.  Gas was cheap, less than twenty cents a gallon if
you can believe that, and so we might make it if we pushed in the clutch every time we
went downhill and had a good tailwind.  

And so we went home, and we did make it with some help from a guy in the Air Force
who had a couple of bucks to help with the gas, and we drove night and day, he talking
up the Air Force to Johnnie, that Air Force that he was going to join and I was not
because I was just way too young.  

We got back to Manhattan a week before Christmas.  My parents welcomed me
unconditionally—well, my brother and father teased me a little—but I was too
embarrassed to go back to school.  I just wouldn’t.  I didn’t call friends.  I didn’t tell
anybody for a long time.  Gradually even though I didn’t go back to school it became
known that I was back, and I was accepted back, took some of the laughter hard but
without dying, and I got a job because I was always a worker and, anyway, my folks said,
Get a job if you aren’t going to school, you aren’t going to lay around on your ass all day.  
And so it was.  ###

Fri., October 24, 2014

So here we are in Saint Louis, having rolled in late yesterday afternoon after a long drive
of six hours through 350 miles of the great Central Hardwoods region of the Middle
West.  The colors—a zillion shades of red and brown and green and yellow—were
something to behold.  Crossing the Wide Missouri near Columbia was as intense as ever,
though of course traffic is even more intense and so instead of driving slowly and
peering down into the great river you have to zip along at 75 per.  It’s all a blur, though as
I said, the emotional experience, if you love rivers as I do, was intense.  Today, here in
Saint Louis, we are going to see the great Missisloppy, the very river that Saint Louis
native T. S. Eliot called a “sleeping brown god.”  Even though we don’t have any
business in East Saint Louis, we’ll probably go over there just to cross the river over and

Once maybe fifty years ago I was hitch-hiking to Wisconsin and I caught nothing but
short hauls all day crossing Iowa.  A brace of four nuns from the nearby seminary and
convent gave me a ride as far as Dubuque and deposited me at the foot of the lower river
bridge downtown.  There was no place to stand to hitch so I had to walk across the
Mississippi on that bridge.  The walking part  had a heavy wire mesh walkway, and I
could look down 200 feet and see the great waters flowing past.  I was scared—I had then
and still have an unhealthy dose of acrophobia, which 15 years of housepainting didn’t
cure me of—and I was so scared I whistled and sang all the way across…you know that
old song, Whenever you’re afraid, sing a happy song..or something like that.  Don’t be
afraid!  And the cars and big trucks rolling past made the bridge wobble and shake.  But I
got across, got a ride on into Wisconsin, and then I was, home,  in the land of my father.  

We’ll do a workshop presentation today at the APH convention about getting old folks to
write, and then on Sunday we’ll do one at the very church where T. S. Eliot went as a boy
and young man.  

When I was a kid of 12 or so Dad and Mom went to New York and took my brother and me
and our baby sister along with them.  Dad had to go to a medical convention, the only
reason he went anywhere for most of his adult life.  So my brother, then 16, and I were
allowed to go out on the streets of New York.  We saw some things we’d never seen:  a
guy asleep in a gutter in broad daylight as thousands walked past on the sidewalk and
paid no attention, a line of tourists going past a taxicab and we wondered what all the
excitement was and somebody coming out of the line said, There’s a dead man in there.  
So we got in the line and got up to the cab and looked in and there was nobody in there.  
But by then we got it, and so as we walked back to join the throng, we said to some other
kids, Hey, there’s a dead guy in there. ###

Thu., October 23, 2014

I am looking at a pic taken in 2006, the year my granddaughter Violet was born.  In the pic
I am standing and looking on as her Mom, Amy, holds her.  Mom is smiling happily and
Violet is looking up at her happily, her little feet sticking out from her pink suit and her
cute little toes are curled.  I am beaming, happily, of course.  It was a happily kind of
moment.  I think whoever took the pic, probably June, was doing it happily too.  The
photographer could well have been Dan, the father, also happily.  Today Violet is the red-
haired belle and, I am sure the brain, of 2nd grade in her school in Seattle.
Today we’re hurrying to get ready and go to Saint Louis to do a couple of LifeStory
things.  We got back last night from the opposite direction, Larned (KS) where we did a
workshop at the Library there.  That was a 300 mile plus round trip, all in one day.
It’s 350 miles from here to Saint Louis, and we’re going to do that in one day too.  I wish it
could be otherwise, but we have to be in Saint Louis at the motel tonight.  We don’t like
driving that much.  We split the driving, usually, about 50-50.

When I was a lad we drove places far away and thought nothing of it.  Actually, when I
was a lad of about 60 I drove all the way from Los Angeles to here (about 1500 miles)
straight through all by myself.  I think I drove about 24 hours with a stop a mere half hour
at a rest stop in Wichita, nearly home.  Luckily I didn’t have much traffic—a Sunday
morning.  But coming out of LA still dark I was zooming along the eight lane freeway and
suddenly right in front of me was an empty grocery cart, just sitting there like it was
waiting to make a trip through the canyons of groceries at Ralph’s Supermarket.  
 But I did a
quick jerk of the wheel and missed the thing.  Luckily there was no one in the lane I
switched into and so now, Here I am, escaped to tell thee about that.   

This trip is a long one for us now at our age but we’ll stop for bathroom breaks and
maybe, if we’re running ahead, in some town where there’s a thrift shop so we can buy
more books and clothes that we don’t need.  In Great Bend yesterday we stopped at a
Salvation Army store and June bought a pair of slacks and I bought a whole suit, a really
beautiful brown checked (small checks) suit, I just love it, and for just $4.99 less the
senior discount.  I mean, what’s the trunk of a car for?  

When I got it home and tried it on I noted that there’s a little problem, a little three inch
problem, with the waist—my waist as well as the waist of the suit.   I’ll grow into it. ###

Wed., October 22, 2014  

I am looking at a photograph of the Manse, as I laugh and call it, of the place we’ve built
here in, as I call it, Letter Rock Park.  It looks like a cottage but is actually a five bedroom,
two bath home.  It has three decks, a large yard, an ancillary building of four bays or
shops: an art shop, a mechanical shop, a one-bay garage, and a paint shop and mini-
lumberyard.  There is also a grain bin, a large chicken house, a huge dog house, and a
garden shed. The place is on a hillside on 43 acres, most of it now woods, a couple of
ponds, an inseason creek and through it all about 2 miles of walking paths kept mowed
and a picnic/camping ground on the banks of one of the ponds.  

This is where I came to make my stand in November, 1971, almost exactly 43 years ago.
It wasn't like that then.    Then the outbuildings were falling down and the house was a
dismal four room shell not lived in for something like eleven years, the haven of huge
wood rats, wasps, snakes and creatures of every description.  It had no running water, no
electricity, no heating plant, much less air conditioning.  No decks.  No yard, really, no
trees around the house except for a few dying elm trees.   June came along less than
two years later, and together we have built this place.

And so it has been.  We love it.  I like to think I’m a spiritual-over-material kind of guy, but
this is something physical that I love.  Letter Rock.  (So called because some huge rocks
on the hillside above us—Letter Rock Hill—have jutting out from the ground as if they
were letters of the alphabet.  We joke that the letters are probably some sort of
hieroglyph that say, in Indian parlance, White Man Go Home.  And there were Indians
here 500 years ago, all along the banks or Deep Creek, which is not on our land but rolls
past less than half a mile north.)

The place is all wood frame, and was painted just a few years ago, so it’s in fairly good
shape.  Some siding isn’t good, and in one place the soffit sags a little.  The roof leaks
slightly in two places in heavy rains.  The eaves troughs are probably filled with dirt and
leaves.  The place needs work.  I’ll probably have to hire it done, I’m too old to be
crawling around on the roof or even working off a ladder.

There are several fruit trees.  I should plant some more.  Apple trees, a big old pear still
bearing heavily, some younger trees coming along. Half a dozen mature  walnut trees
shade the house.

We raised six kids here, more or less.  Two were born and raised here, two by my 2nd
wife lived here a year or so way back when and came for summers many times after
that; and two by my first wife never lived here but of course have visited and stayed
here for a few days at a time.  Two or three of our grandsons have spent part of their
summers here.  

So this is where I have lived most of my life and here I want to stay.  We own two bits of
real estate a couple miles north in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, and we could move
there someday, but the more I think about it, we could just stay here and fertilize this
place for our children’s children. That’s a very comforting thought, you know?  ###

Tues., October 21, 2014

I’m looking at a photo dated 1-1-1998 of myself and Rip in front of a room addition to the
house, what is now what we call the dining porch, and I am very happy and smiling
broadly.  I have never seen myself happier.  But Rip is not. His look is one of suffering
the old fool of his father—though not gladly.   He looks pissed, actually.  No doubt I got
him out of bed to help, or he got out of bed early and thought he was going to town to
hang out until I cornered him and maybe threatened a little.  He was bigger than I was
then but I still had a little clout, if only the means to make him feel guilty.

He was 19 then, and I was…let’s see…oh, right at 60.  I loved being 60.  We are both
wearing tool belts and we’re standing in front of a piece of masonite siding that, I just bet,
we’re about to hoist into place and nail down.  I’m wearing a little orange Porter Paint cap
and Rip is wearing a blue one that advertises Wolverine shock absorbers.  I’m wearing a
sweatshirt that says BERKELEY on it and Rip is wearing an old green down-filled coat of
mine that is daubed with paint.  
Happy days.

I loved working on my house, with or without help from my children or anyone.  I still
love it though I don’t have the time--the old dodge, I know, but it’s true right now.  And
when I do have the time if there’s any heavy lifting involved, as there often is, then I just
can’t do it.  I don’t have a project going right now, but I should.  I can’t think of anything
more important—aside from the maintenance and caring for your family—nothing
matches it.  I am so pleased to be able to sit in my chair in the evening and look around
me and remember the things I’ve built and the struggles that that entailed.  In 40 plus
years of working on this place, I’ve nearly killed myself at least half a dozen times.  In
fact I am really quite surprised to be alive today.  

Rip is now 35 and I bet he’s working on his house in Tacoma, Washington.  His daughter
is just 2, but in a few years, I’ll bet she’s out there helping him.  Rip and Joanne, his wife,
are both accomplished builders.

One of my fond childhood memories is of helping my dad one Sunday morning when I
was around 10.  My older brother was there too, and we were both out in the garden with
Dad, who was supervising our picking up potatoes that he had dug up.  My brother was
just mad, but I was bawling.  We wanted to be anywhere but there.  

I don’t think anybody took a picture of that but I have a picture of it in my head.  No doubt
after we finished Mom took the edge off things by making us all a great Sunday dinner.  
But I don’t remember that. ###

Mon., October 20, 2014

I began reading Richard Russo’s book, Empire Falls, which  won a Pulitzer Prize some
years ago.  It is so dated—a 50s novel—and imitative of that genre that I read only a few
pages of a lengthy prologue. That being so, I am still suspicious of myself and my dislike
of reading.  I read newspapers, I read some stuff online—mostly news and stuff from
Wikipedia—and I read an occasional magazine article, though if it’s in the NYer I don’t
usually stay with it.  I read stuff from subscribers, usually with relish, and I read my own
stuff when I have to, as when, like now, I’m writing it.  
Here it is late at night.  I went to bed too early and woke up before midnight, wide awake.  
Story of my life.  But it doesn’t have to be a bad time.  I’m working, I go from one thing to
the next and get a fair amount done.  June sleeps on, lucky her.  What I need to be
careful to do is never to sit down on the couch after the news, or even before.  Have
something in mind that I’m going to do.  
I have reached that point in my 50+ year-long habit of journaling that I journal because I
have always journaled.  At the very least it is exercise for my fingers.  I guess that’s
good if in the long run, day in and day out, I am producing something over and above the
value of the finger exercise.  And I am, I am sure of that.
But I have been sluggish lately about having prompts at the ready.  
This morning I got up and it was daylight already.  (I had been awake a couple of hours
during the night.)  I looked out the kitchen window at the orchard and there were two big
deer grazing.  It was a pleasure see them but they have been damaging some of the
trees.  They get itchy places on their head where their horns will appear and so they
scratch them on the tree.  So I went over to the living room windows and rolled one of
them up and yelled, “Hey, those are my pears!”  and those two and another two came
from somewhere and all ran away and leaped the fence easily and crashed into the
woods.  I felt guilty and proprietary.  Deer know nothing of ownership.

Yesterday a big coyote was out there for a long time.  He kept trying to bite something
on his back.  We stood in the living room watching him.  “Something’s tormenting him,”
June said.  “Maybe a bee stung him.”

That seemed likely.  The bees are all over the fallen pears that have been bitten into, and
in the morning early like this they are likely to be easily roused.  I have been stung a
time or two by those little bees myself—not this year, not recently.  They’re not
honeybees, I don’t think.  Just bee bees.  Maybe they’re Bee Gees? ###

Sun., October 19, 2014

We ate at Dillons snack bar, June had an egg roll with rice and I had a turkey and cheese
one-half sub sandwich.  We drank water.  I had bought a New York Times, feeling guilty
that I’d bought one, the very paper that I used to buy for a dime (I swear) when I lived in
NYC that I now paid $2.50 for,  and I spread it out on the table and read while I ate,
occasionally talking with June about some item in the paper or whatever.  It was a
pleasant time for us both, though at one point June said, “This eggroll is awful.”  She
pointed to the crispy thing, half eaten or less.  “Want to try it?”  I took a bite and
immediately regretted it.  It was awful.  I actually spat it out, gross of me, but I was afraid
I’d gag and involuntarily do something more gross.

“The chickens will like it,” June said, and wrapped it all up, my regurgitation included,  to
take home.

Outside I remembered we could advance vote, and June was agreeable, so we drove to
the courthouse, parked, and went upstairs.  I was puffing by the time we got to the top of
the long concrete stairs.

We didn’t have to wait, one of the nice things about advance voting.  I was briefly
checked out (“Could I see a picture ID, please?”) and escorted into the voting room
where stood half a dozen or more voting machines of the new order—for electronic
ballots, not paper ones.  The man ran me through the instructions, asked me if there
were any questions, told me that he’d be nearby if I had any, and I said okay, so then he
left me to it and I was on my own.  I knew who I wanted to vote for and so it didn’t take
me long.  I voted against retention of all the justices except one, a woman, feeling a little
guilty and sustained only by the old phrase, “Throw the bums out.”  I voted for the one
woman thinking, we need women in the judiciary, if women ran the world, it’d be a better

With such subtlety, enough for me I guessed, I left, thanked the guy who’d been my
guide, and said, “You are a gentleman and a scholar.”  He smiled and said something
about how it was nice to meet someone else who used that old expression.  I was given
a little oval decal with an American flag and the words I Voted on it, which I glued to my
lapel.  I noticed June put hers on the dashboard of the car.  
Now it’s Sunday and the day looms.  I have so much to do and I don’t like having so
much to do. I had been that way for too much of my life.  Here at my advanced age I was
running around like…what, some poor boob in mid-life who hasn’t figured things out yet.  
Well, much of the time, I am such a poor boob.   I have worked so hard trying to figure
things out that I didn’t figure them out.  ###

Sat., October 18, 2011

I began reading Richard Russo’s book, Empire Falls, which apparently won a Pulitzer
Prize some years ago.  It is so dated—a 50s novel  written in 2000—and so imitative of
that genre that I read only a few pages of a lengthy prologue. That being so, I am still
suspicious of myself and my dislike of reading.  I read newspapers, I read some stuff
online—mostly news and stuff from Wikipedia—and I read an occasional magazine
article, though if it’s in the NYer I don’t usually stay with it.  I read stuff from subscribers,
usually with relish, and I read my own stuff when I have to, as when, like now, I’m writing

Here it is late at night.  I went to bed too early and woke up before midnight, wide awake.  
Story of my life.  But it doesn’t have to be a bad time.  I’m working, I go from one thing to
the next and get a fair amount done.  June sleeps on, lucky her.  What I need to be
careful to do is never to sit down on the couch after the news, or even before.  Have
something in mind that I’m going to do.  

I have reached that point in my 50+ year-long habit of journaling that I journal because I
have always journaled.  At the very least it is exercise for my fingers.  I guess that’s
good if in the long run, day in and day out, I am producing something over and above the
value of the finger exercise.  And I am, I am sure of that.  

But I have been sluggish lately about having prompts at the ready.  

This morning I got up and it was daylight already.  (I had been awake a couple of hours
during the night.)  I looked out the kitchen window at the orchard and there were two big
deer grazing.  It was a pleasure seeing them but they have been damaging some of the
trees.  They get itchy places on their head where their horns will appear and so they
scratch them on the tree.  So I went over to the living room windows and rolled one of
them up and yelled, “Hey, those are my pears!”  and those two and another two came
from somewhere and all ran away and leaped the fence easily and crashed into the
woods.  I felt guilty and proprietary.  Deer know nothing of ownership.  

Yesterday a big coyote was out there for a long time.  He kept trying to bite something
on his back.  We stood in the living room watching him.  “Something’s tormenting him,”
June said.  “Maybe a bee stung him.”  

That seemed likely.  The bees are all over the fallen pears that have been bitten into, and
in the morning early like this they are likely to be easily roused.  I have been stung a
time or two by those little bees myself—not this year, not recently.  They’re not
honeybees, I don’t think.  Just bee bees.  Maybe they’re Bee Gees?

I note that I have only 499 words here, and by Imperial Command I am supposed to write
at least 500.  

Now I have 523.###

Fri., October 17, 2014

It’s sad to note that 25 years ago today, October 17, 1989, I wrote in my Journal (here!)
about scheming to come up with the money to pay my taxes, about getting our van to
the shop and getting it fixed, about working at a job painting and papering, and--the
saddest part--that was all I wrote about.  I guess it might have been even sadder if that
were possible had I written
nothing.  I could then look at my blank page and note how
blank it looked.  

Fifty years ago, on the other hand, I wrote about teaching—my first year of teaching, my
first year of graduate school, and my struggles just to keep the class of freshmen
interested—and awake.  

t is the less sophisticated,[I professed at the tender age of 26], the less jaded, students
who keep a teacher on his toes.   They do not let things go by their boards.   It's
embarrassing sometimes, but it's healthy.   They resist; sometimes actively, sometimes
passively.   They either argue with me, or sleep.
And they raise the damndest questions.   Yesterday, for example.   We were discussing
definitions.   A student gave, as an example of evil, the act of killing.
"All right," I said, "a fly comes into the room.   I raise my hand and kill him.   Have I
committed evil?"
"You have to the fly!" someone shouted, and the students laughed.
"How do you know that?" I replied.   "Evil is a human concept."
"How about to someone raising flies?  You've committed evil to them."
"I don’t know of anyone raising flies," I answered smugly.
"How about in the laboratory?"

And so it went in October of 1964.  Now teaching goes more easily, though I don’t know
that I’d want to be out there day in and day out working for a university and teaching their
students, or trying to.
This is all rather dismal stuff.  Let’s look ahead 25 years to 2039 and see what I’m up to:  

I am 101.  I’m down in Pleasant Valley Cemetery, where I’ve been hanging out—so to
speak—for quite a few years now.  It’s very restful, and pretty predictable, but Hallowe’en
is a special time, the one time of year we are allowed out of our coffins to go out on the
town.  Our job is to frighten the living into changing their ways so that they won’t end up
too soon like us.  

There is a night room, as we like to call it, in the cemetery, where we gather at the witching
hour and have a glass or two of the bubbly and celebrate the coming of Hallowe’en.  We
don’t need to wear scary masks or anything, of course, because we are scary masks, all
wrinkled and parched  flesh stretched across our creaky bones, and encrusted  as we are
in ancient and dried blood.  Some of us are, after all, pushing  200 years old.  Yet still we
enjoy getting out and having a glass along with some fine old aged cheeses.  A few of us
are fine old aged cheeses.    Our conversation isn’t too lively, either, so we focus on
watching the young when they come to be scared.  “Whoo-whoo-who!” we go, and that’s
enough to make them turn and run home to their mothers.  It gives us a welcome laugh,
and it’s a joy to hear our teeth clackety-clacking together.  

Well, so it is with the oldest of old folks.  To everything there’s a season.###

Thu., October 16, 2014
Perhaps I am just out of the loop, but I have not yet heard one single Ebola joke.  Have we
lost our means of dealing with catastrophe?  

Some years ago there was a terrible plane crash in the Everglades and all the passengers
aboard were killed, something like 160 people.  Within hours there was a joke making the
rounds:  Q.  What did one alligator say to another in the Everglades?  A.  (Sound imitating
lip-smacking by alligator.)  Hmmm, the alligator said.  Not bad for airplane food.  

At the time I remember thinking that this was a way we had of dealing with catastrophe in
our life.  The excruciating pain of realizing the death of all those innocent people was
relieved only by seeing life as essentially a cosmic joke.  Humor isn’t a cure but it can be a

Years ago I heard the late Kurt Vonnegut speak to us young writers at the Iowa Writers’
Workshop.  Someone asked him what black humor was (not Black humor, but simply
“dark” humor) and he defined it by telling this joke.  


Really, life and all its changes are quite bizarre.  Yesterday I was reminiscing with some
other ancients and we decided that rising prices are the chief cause of death.  The price of
a bag of peanuts, once a nickel, is now $2.25, and you walk into the store, totter in I should
say, and the 20 year old clerk says, That’s $2.25 please, and you have a stroke and die
right there on the spot.  

Even death costs more than it used to, and that is the main reason so many of us stay
alive: to save money.  We are waiting for the specials.  

Even more years ago I was working as a contractor and I had a contract to repair the
floorboards on a porch and then repaint it.  I sent a young man who claimed to be an
expert carpenter as well as a master painter (he was 18 years old) over to the job and told
him to do the tear-off and then call me.

But half the day went by and he didn’t call me.  I drove over to the house to see what I
could see.  Well, there was young Rob, sitting on top of a huge pile of boards smoking a
cigarette.  He was quite proud of what he had done: he had torn off the entire porch.  I
looked and looked and then I started laughing.  What are you laughing at?  He was
offended.  If I don’t laugh, I said, I’m going to start crying.  

I think the same thing was going on  there, dealing with disaster through humor.  When
things get really, really bad, that’s when we laugh—or need to.  I dunno.  You decide.  ###

Wed., October 15, 2014

So the Royals have won again.  It’s 3 zip in the pre-world series series against them bad
Baltimoreans.  And if we win today, then…  Hey, Charley, What is this we business?  What
did you do?  Well, I did…what did I do?  I didn’t even watch the game!  Actually, I have
never, not once, never ever watched a baseball game even for a single inning!  Never!  And
here I am, now that they’re winning, acting like a fan?  As if I cared…?!  
Well, I do care.  I care so much that…I’m willing to watch the game tonight—if we got it on
the teevee, which we don’t.  Oh, go to a friend’s house and watch it there?  Spend an entire
evening watching a game?  Well, sorry, I’m busy.  I have work to do tonight…plus I’ve got
to be in bed by 930 or…!!

So that’s how much a fan I am.  Yes, sorry, that’s the extent of my fannery or whatever you
call it.  I don’t even know what the Royals’ icon or emblem or logo or whatever you want to
call it is.  I do know they wear blue, and I would recognize the correct shade of blue.  I do
know the name of their stadium: Kauffman Stadium.  I saw it once when I went to the
Truman Museum.  I do know that baseball is played with a bat and a ball and they go
around bases.  Three strikes and you’re out…I think.  And four balls and you walk?  Or is it
four walks and you ball?  

In other words, I’m like a lot of people.  I’m a fair weather fan.  I’m trying to hitch an ego
ride on the backs of the Royals good fortune.  If they win a lot, then we are winners too.  If
they lose, well… they’re no kin of mine.
June just came in and asked me what I wanted for breakfast.  “We could have eggs,” she
said.  “Do you want eggs?”  “What do you want?” I said.  June sat down and looked at
me.  “I want to please you.  You’re the one who’s always complaining about breakfast.”  “I
am?  I don’t complain about breakfast,” I said.  “You do too. You always—’’  “Okay,” I
said.  “I want two limestone rocks heated to 171 degrees.”  She looked at me balefully and
stood up.  “Okay,” she said, and left.  She’s in the kitchen puttering around.  We shall see.  

Now we have two suspenseful things going:  will the Royals win this afternoon and go to
the World Series?  And will I be served two limestone rocks heated to 171 degrees?  Who
knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man (or woman)?  The Shadow
knows…hahahahahaha!  ###

Tue., October 14, 2014

How much is that doggie in the window? I suddenly sang as I walked out of a meeting
yesterday?  Now why did I think of that stupid old song, just then?  Something must have
clicked.  I was nowhere near a dog or even  a window—.    But there must have been some
unconscious link…?  How much is still in there in my ancient head?  Everything?  Every
memory trace I ever laid down?

It has been cold and rainy all day but now the rain has stopped and it is, strangely,
warming up a bit.  I went out with a plastic bag I took from the cabinet by the back door
that is stuffed with them, and I sauntered along through the wet grass to the pear tree.  I
quickly picked up nearly a bag full, but I tired to bending over so I got on the six foot step
ladder standing nearby and pulled the rest—to fill the bag—from the tree.  Hundreds
remain.  Some were black with cedar fungus.  It washes off easily, and you can eat it
without washing it off but who takes a bite out of a juicy fresh pear and, hearing it snap,
says, Ah, that fungus is wonderful!  

Nobody.  I filled the bag and then saw one apple remaining on one of the Arkansas Black
apple trees. I pulled it down and bit into it, fungus or no.  It was wonderfully sweet when I
bit into it.  I came to the house, put the pears in the kitchen and came in here where June
is sitting writing an estimate.  I sat down in the green vinyl soft chair and, still eating the
apple, saluted her with it and said, “Last one of the season.  Very good.”  “Hm,” June
smiled, and went on typing.  
Rain all day long.  And cold.  In a month, this’ll all be snow, I said to June as we walked
into the grocery.  I have never been a winter person, I thought, walking on, and I never will
be.  Not even when I lived in Wisconsin, where the snowstorms were absolutely beautiful.  
They are not so beautiful when you are shoveling, or when you’re putting your shoulder to
the wheel pushing your car out of the ditch it has slipped into.  I remember doing some
painting inside the house of a very wealthy lady, she standing at the windows looking out
as I came in, and I stomped my feet on the mat and laboriously unbuckled my boots.  “Oh,
isn’t it beautiful,” she sang.  “I just love winter.  It’s my favorite season, I believe.”  I smiled
at her because I had to smile or I would have bitten her head off.  
I guess sooner or later we will all be on Facebook.  Maybe I’ll start a social network called
Tomb-book, where we can connect for all eternity.  Really, I don’t know why I’m so
cynical—habit, I suppose—when Facebook is really a wonderful thing.  I’d love to be in a
big room with all the people I’ve ever known—well, most of them—and just wander around
exchanging pleasantries and maybe even having a deep conversation or two, but certainly
telling one another stories. Surely the world really is made of stories or, if not, what?  And,
more important, why not?###  

Mon., October 13, 2014

Last night with a group of friends I mentioned that I’d finally finished my book on
journaling and they applauded.  Then we laughed because I think we all knew they were
glad for me but also they were probably sick of hearing me talk about it.  I said, “Hold the
applause, now I’ve got to sell the thing,” and I went on about how arduous that was.  When
I wrote my book in 1996 about writing, For All Time, it was easy to write a few letters to
book reviewers and let it go at that.  Now it’s all FaceBook and Twitter and stuff like that.

While I was writing this book, which is called Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More
or Less Happily for the Rest of Your Life, I would some days think, I have written a book
that is going to be adopted by every school system in the world and it will revolutionize the
approach to how we learn to write.  Other days I’d think, This book is going to fall flat on
its face, go nowhere and be forgotten within a few weeks.

Now it’s done I have a little more distance from it and my judgment is less impaired.  I
think this is a rather quirky book but it is very readable and it is a significant contribution
to the field of journaling.  Actually, the field of journaling is more like a vacant lot on a not
very busy street in a quiet part of town.  There just hasn’t been a lot written about
journaling.  And there is nothing, nothing at all, written about narrative journaling, which to
my thinking makes all the difference.  
After I dropped Ben and Melissa off at Walmart I turned around and headed for home.  It
was dark, of course, nearly 930 at night, and anymore I’m not used to driving at night.  It’s
not so easy as it used to be.  I’ve lived most of my life in this town of Manhattan (KS), a
college and military town (Fort Riley is nearby) of less than 100K for the whole metro area,
but it is challenging for an old man to drive in.  Everything has changed, for one thing.  For
another all the bright lights are blinding, and the things that should be well lighted—the
streets themselves, the turns and the like—aren’t well lighted.  So I chug along.  I turn off
my radio.  I keep both hands on the wheel.  And I keep my eyes on the road.  This is
automobiling when you are olde.  

One time so many years ago it isn’t funny my pal Jim Logbeck and I drove in reverse in his
1951 Ford sedan all across the town.  We did it just out of boredom and to see if we could
do it.  It was probably 2 am and I don’t think we’d been drinking.  We were just crazy kids,
anything for laughs, doing stuff just to say we did it.  And we did. ###

Sun.,October 12, 2014

June and I were just sitting here waking up and watching/not watching something goofy
on the TV and somehow we got to talking about camping out.  Oh, yeah, we heard our
neighbor, Glenn and his son and a couple of his son’s friends all went camping
somewhere.   “I don’t see how anyone could possibly enjoy that,” June said, “I hate
camping.”  I said these last three words with her because I knew she was going to say
them. She has always said that; and she has never gone camping in the 40+ years I’ve
known her.  Well, once—one time when the boys Ben and Rip were little, we went camping
west of here fifty miles on so on the shores of some lake or other, and got the tent set up,
precariously (it was growing dark fast), and went to bed.  I think I might have read a scary
story to the kids and June, The Tell-Tale Heart, I think.  We had a good time, it was fun.  
June was enjoying it too.  And then in the middle of the night a terrible storm bore down
on us, a complete surprise—one of those Kansas surprise “weather events” as
meteorologists like to call them, and our tent blew over and we got soaked.  In the middle
of it all we loaded the car and ourselves and drove for home.  We stopped in Junction City
at an all night café and watched the bar crowd having coffee. That was fun.  The boys had
never seen anything like that, that many people wide awake at 2 in the morning, laughing
and talking.  

We never went camping again.  Nearly everyone of the many road trips we’ve gone on over
the last twenty plus years, I’ve loaded a tent and camping supplies.  They were never used,
not once.

But I think one of the things I liked about camping was that life became very focused
there.  Writing, yes, as always, was important and had to be done no matter what.  But
otherwise it was all pretty elemental.  Put the tent up, roll out the sleeping bags, find a
place to put your trash, find a place to dump, get some wood, start a fire, cook something
simple, eat.  Food always tastes better in the woods.   
Maybe camping is just what we should do.  We love going on the road doing workshops
but we don’t always get the workshops set up, or something doesn’t work, and we end up
in an expensive motel.  Of course, any more camping with all its fees and regulations, is
more involved, and sometimes nearly as expensive,  than a motel.  In the old days, you
could camp by the roadside. Maybe you’d help the farmer pitch hay in the morning or
maybe just tell him thanks and be sure you cleaned up after yourself, left the spot a little
nicer than you found it.   

Sigh.  Everything was better in the old days, weren’t they?  The only problem is that they
don’t exist anymore.  Or do they?  I am olde and I have my memories.  Who’s to say what’s
Sat., October 11, 2014

So here it is a beautiful Saturday morning, without doubt a fall morning—summer is
history, baby—and so what shall I do?

Why, tweet-tweet chirp-chirp, I guess I’ll sit here on my butt and write in my journal.  But it’
s Saturday and I could do anything I want.

1.         I could sit in my playpen and work with my wooden blocks.
2.        I could go over to Harry Dean’s and see what he’s doing and maybe we could get
with Charlie Kerchner and play some workup.  Later we could go to the movies down at the
State (12 cents) and watch Roy Rogers in The Raiders of Sawtooth Ridge, though first, of
course, see a serial  with Lois Lane about to be run through with a dagger by the bad guy
who laughed evilly and wore a tall black hat, just in case we didn’t get it that he was the
Bad Guy.
3.        I could go over to the Hole in One Club with Larry and Tony and shoot some
4.        I could sleep in after a big night ashore in Naples or Tripoli.
5.        I could nudge my wife and cozy up to her and have a little dalliance before the kids
woke up.
6.        I could go to town early and get started on that warehouse job, probably doing all
the prep and setting up to lay on the first coat on Monday morning.
7.        I could re-write the first issue of LifeStory.  It probably needs it.  
8.        I could go to a yardsale with June, driving our little white pickup and filling it with
9.        I could call the grandchildren and hear what they’re up to.
10.        I could sell some of the junk that is smothering me and buy a ticket to Florida.  
So I could do any of those things.  Or none of them.  
Michael Martone, a writer who teaches at Alabama University and whom I met a dozen or
so years ago at a the one and only writer’s conference I ever went to (in New Harmony,
Indiana), and in whose seminar I had the honor to sit, once said that writers write lots of
stuff to people and never hear a word back.  

Writing isn’t necessarily the loneliest job on earth but it’s right up there.  And for sure you
can write your little heart out and not hear zip from anybody.  But let’s say, just this once,
just this morning, we connect, we speak.  Write zip to me and I’ll write zip back.  Tell me
you read this, and I’ll write back in ten words or less and tell you I read what you wrote

My email is ###

Fri., October 10, 2014

You are on the wrong side of history, I say to the Taliban and those other guys who are
just about like them.  Malala Yousafzai, a young lady from Pakistan, has just won the 2014
Nobel Peace Prize—announced just now on the news, which is on as I sit here writing.  
This 16 year old was shot in the head by some Taliban goon several years ago when the
girl was advocating for education for women.

Maybe someday we’ll have somebody advocating for education for men, and then we’ll
have some peace in the world.  
I am moving all the boxes that I had in the closet upstairs for years and that last spring I
moved downstairs and stowed in the utility room and in a corner of our bedroom.   These
are those white 1 x 1.5 x 1 file boxes you can buy at an office supply store.  I brought about
40 of them downstairs.  Now I’m carrying them back up.  It’s good exercise, but with my L4
vertebra problems it’s probably exercise I don’t need.   I moved them downstairs to make
room in that big north bedroom closet for Ben’s stuff, but he really never used it.  And now
Ben’s  moved out.  

All I can say is that what I did is  no more useless motion than playing golf or walking.  
True, playing golf if you’re playing with another is a social thing, and therefore intrinsically
good; and going for a walk gives you time to think, and if you’re walking with someone
else, it’s a friendly thing too.  In all honesty I guess I’d rather go for a walk with my wife or
friends, though knowing me, I never go for a walk: I go for a talk while walking.   And golf,

I don’t know about golf, whether it should be banned or not. What do you think?    My
parents both loved golf, especially my mother.  She would leave the house in the summer
at 5 am and come home at 7 pm, much to the chagrin of my father, who was frothing at the
mouth for supper.  Mom was a pretty good golfer, and one year was co-champion of the
country club.  She was not a great cook, and often as not, not a willing one.   
Well, it’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s wet.  I wonder if they have an app for finding the hottest
place on earth at any given moment, along with where you can get a plane there quickly.  I
would pay money for such an app.  Not finding one, and not having the money or the time
to go there on a plane, I am forced to remember:  

The Red Sea, 1958, where the temps were 100 plus and we had no air conditioning on
board (except in the Captain’s cabin, I always heard) and we all broke out in something
called prickly heat, tiny red dots (or were they white pimples?) appearing on our skin that
were treated with calamine lotion, which wasn’t really any treatment at all, the only real
treatment being, as you might surmise, getting on a plane for the coldest place in the
world.  Which of course wasn’t available.  

We’ve had some hot days here too, right here at Letter Rock Park, sunny and hot July and
August afternoons before we had AC and just pulled all the blinds and flaked out until it
cooled off.  

In the summer of about 1978 Jim Phelan, Ron Sitts and I all worked framing up dormers for
an upstairs—four of them and standing up there in the brutal sun shaded only by rafters
we’d just built, it was 115 or so.  We wore shorts, a tool belt, and a bandana around our
head and nothing else.  We drank a lot of water during the day and some beer in the
evening.  ###

Thu., October 9, 2014

It’s not too cold today.  My bet is, though, that before mid-November, it’ll get colder.  For
sure by mid-December.  And then what?  Propane isn’t a viable option.  Trop cher! We can
hang a heavy curtain over the doorway to the stairs and thus close off half the house.  We
can do lots of little solar things—a friend has offered to show us some cheap fixes about
that.  We can do more spot heat.  

We can cut our own firewood, a little bit each day.  I have done that for years and years,
and even if I’m olde and infirm now, I’m not that old or that infirm.   I can do my work in
town at the library.  Hmmm.  I just thought of that, but it’s not a bad idea.  I could get up
and with some spot heat bathe and dress and then go to town, walking into the library at
9.  I could go hang out at the Bluestem Bistro when I got bored and wanted coffee.  (Of
course coffee there is expensive.)  Then I could ease out to AA and then after errands in
the heat of the afternoon, go back home.  Evenings we would sit in the living room with
our arms around one another and afghans up to our neck.

One summer on a lark I went with a friend who was working his way through college and
graduate school by running a gambling game in a carnival called Beat the Dealer.  This
guy, Ward was his name, said I could come along and help and we went down to the little
town of Florence, Kansas, where a carnival was running.  Ward’s method was to go to the
owner of the show and try to freelance a spot onto the midway.  Which he did.  He
introduced himself as The Professor, but I don’t remember what my nickname was.  
Ward said everybody had to have a nickname, a moniker—he even had a nickname for
nicknames, but I can’t remember that either.  A nickname was your…spike or pike or
something like that.   

So Ward showed me how the game worked.  Of course it wasn’t actually rigged, the little
wheel turned well enough, but there was something (and I can’t remember that either)
inherent in the game that made it almost impossible to win unless you pyramided your
bet, and that was explicitly prohibited.  Pyramiding was simply doubling your bet each
time until you finally won, which of course would happen sooner or later.  Okay, that was
illegal.  I think my job was yell out to the passing crowd of farmers with their girl friends
and say, “Hey, beat my roll and take my dough BEAT THE DEALERRRRR!  I
don’t think I was entirely convincing—the slant rime roll/dough bothered me, and I
tended to say, Beat my roll and take my dole, which of course was nonsensical.  But I did
it for a few hours, helped Ward out as I could, and in exchange I think maybe he bought
me a hotdog and a beer.  

We did this Friday and Saturday night and then went back home.  Ward told me he
sometimes would line up half a dozen pretty campus girls who were willing and take
them to carnivals as strippers.  I volunteered to help with that but he never did call me.  

Wed., October 8, 2014

No one told me I’d end up in the movies.  I was told I’d end up in the gutter (my father), in
jail (the police) or in a nut house (my psychiatrist).  Only the psychiatrist was right, and
after only four years, I proved him wrong.  

But I did end up, as we all must sooner or later, and it was on a farm in Kansas, just about
the last thing I would ever have guessed in my youthful salad days.

It wasn’t quite the career path I was working on until I met the great Hippie Revolution
and the Back to the Land movement.

I don’t know where the term came from—back to the land—but it surely is an old
revolutionary slogan that emerged about the time everyone moved to town and became
disgusted with it.  I first heard it, read it, in the famous book by Helen and Scott Nearing,
The Good Life: How to Live Safely and Sanely in a Troubled World.  Scott Nearing was a
professor at CCNY who with his wife left that cushy urban life and moved to a
hardscrabble old farm in Vermont where they ate from wooden bowls and had one spoon
and did everything by hand.  
While I wasn’t exactly Scott Nearing, I did act on what I believed, and in the spring of
1971 when I was offered a contract at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point that
would have led to tenure, I turned it down and resigned my position as an assistant
professor of English.  Maybe I felt—surely I did—that I was acting on some anti-elitist,
anti-establishment principle in doing that, but on principle I couldn’t allow myself to do
anything on principle.  I was, as some of us said back then, a Marxist, Groucho style.  
Maybe like the great Groucho, I also felt deep down that I could never belong to any
organization that would have me as a member.

So I quit.  That was my Frostian moment when two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and
I took the one less travelled by—and that has made all the difference.  In fact I took the
one almost nobody travelled by, and I was soon so far out in left field that I was no longer
even in the game.  

I came here to the exact spot where I am sitting now—eight miles southeast of
downtown Manhattan, Kansas, the town I grew up in and the town I am surely going to
die in.  There was an old wood frame house, empty for the last decade and then some,
white paint peeling from the clapboard siding, weeds all around, electric wires fallen
away, most windows intact, miraculously, a caved in lean-to porch with (what?) a white
enamel bedpan sitting on it that was, I swear, filled with recent use.

Inside there were four rooms of about equal size.  On the west end there was a screened
in small porch that covered a concrete steps to the one room basement and food cellar.  
There was no bathroom or indoor plumbing.  There had been a pitcher pump by a small
sink in the kitchen.  All this had broken down.  I don’t know what I did with the pitcher
pump.  I think the only cabinet was an old flour cabinet with many coats of paint on it.  I
think I threw it away or gave it away.  Later somebody told me that those things probably
had some value, but I was focused on making a liveable home for my wife and two
children, not on fixing up and selling antiques.  

There was no electricity.  There had been at one time but the copper wiring—rod and
tube wiring—had been taken and sold for scrap, as had all the switches and outlets.  
There was no bathroom.  There was an outhouse a few steps out the door on the edge of
the woods.  

I loved it and I happily turned to and began to make it a home for us.  That was mid-
November, 1971, forty-three years ago, and I’m still trying to make a life here.  What is
the saying?  
Persist in your insanity long enough and it will become the sanest sense. ###

Tues., October 7, 2014
I ended up sleeping the afternoon away, and got up for an hour or so when June came
home, ate a bowl of French onion soup, a bit of ice cream, and then half a Snickers
bar…and with her, went back to bed.

Except for the comings and goings necessitated by  peeing, pain, and pills, I slept through
till midnight; I got up then to work for an hour and a half, and then I was tired so I went
back to bed and slept through till a little bit ago—330 am.  

I’m okay now.  I’m rested.  I have a busy day ahead: a meeting at noon, then  Meadowlark,
an appointment with the doctor, getting no. 146 into the mail, getting a few gigs on the
Western Road Trip (I have all but given up on the Near Southeastern RT, it’s just too late),
trying once more for retirement communities  and churches in the Saint Louis area and
maybe also a senior citizens place or two…or even a coffee house or other place where I
can rent, cheaply, a room for a couple of hours and do a workshop that I take enrollments
for myself or—like Amarillo a couple of years ago—rent a place and get what publicity I
can and just hope for the best.  Who will walk in?  Nobody?  (I shudder to remember
Olympia, Washington so many years ago, a bright cheery room on a Saturday morning and
no one, not one soul, not even a mouse—it was a well kept municipal building, the mayor’s
office just down the hall—no one came.  I stood there a moment, pondering the other uses
I might have made of the outrageous $100 rent I paid, sighed,  and went on with life.)  
Nobody!  Me, myself, and I.  But in Amarillo at the last minute and through my persistence
I got a tiny article on the front page of the community page the day before in the
Amarillo…Globe, I think…and the place filled up!  

Ah, life on the road. Life among the elderly, the old man who lives in the country and
quietly writes his life away.  

My dream and my retirement plan as a younger man was that I would at about 60 (which I
then considered Olde Age) retire from everything and open a book store and use as my
inventory all the thousands of books I have accumulated all these years.  Books were
valuable, right?—I knew because I had spent all my money on them.  Now, I craftily
thought, I’d get my money back with interest because everything rose in value, right?  That
house I sold in ’66 for $16,500 would now bring about ten times that, at least—
conservatively estimated (how I loved that phrase)—and so that French dictionary I paid
$50 for, the mammoth Larousse would be worth at least $300!  Oh, mais oui.

Yes, we’d live well in the back of the store, I would be typing away (for whoever heard of
computers?) and changing my ribbons happily while June puttered about in her art studio
and occasionally sold one of her pictures for $10,000—which money we conservatively
estimated—would take us to Bermuda (wherever that was, where they made the shorts) for
the winter while one of my admiring ex-students would be so honored to mind the store for
the winter, feeding the cat and scraping the frost from the window, filling the cash register
selling French dictionaries and such—ah, the good life a la retirement, right?  

Right? ###

Mon., October 6, 2014

I haven’t done my PT yet this morning.  My PT (Universal Language for physical training)
helps me, I can see the results immediately, but I don’t do it as much as I’m supposed to.  
Why not?  That’s stupid, Charley.  

I remember PT in the Navy.  Hey, you with the headlights!  The drill instructor yelled.  Hey
you!  Of course, I was the guy with the headlights.  I was wearing glasses.  This was before
they had contact lenses, and I had to wear glasses because I was half-blind without them.  
And so, feebly doing butt thrusts, I was called out in a huge room full of maybe 500 men.  

Me, sir?

Yeah, you!  Come up here!  

I was made to advance to the stage where the drill instructor  stood and to be given an
extremely public lesson in how properly to do a butt thrust.  Not really a complicated
series of movements: stand up straight, bend over and put your hands on the floor and
thrust your butt (necessarily, actually--what else would you do with your rear end when
you put your hands on the floor?) upward so that it was the highest part of you.  Do it
again.  Again, again, again.

That little memory, stored up there in my head for the taking out this lovely fall morning
nearly 60 years later, is perhaps one reason I don’t do PT when I should.

So, without my headlights or with them, I will lie down on the floor here directly and do my
PT.  No butt thrusts this morning, thank you, just some gentle stretches of the legs and the
few other remaining muscles I have.  
Each week in Boot Camp we started different classes.  It wasn’t like English and history or
even geography.  We had marlinspike seamanship, gas warfare, swimming in fire, putting
out a fiery burning airplane, and, oh this big one, military courtesy.
Military courtesy referred to them, not us.  We learned to salute.  That was big.  How, when,
where.  When in doubt, simply bow and scrape.  Or salaam.  They never addressed,
however, the question of what to say to women officers.  Good morning, Ma’am?  I guess
that’s what most of us did when we saw, rarely, a woman officer in their funny little hats.    
How important is it to write in your journal every day?

If you have determined that journaling is something you want to do, then it is very
important; it is critical.  Even if you HATE the idea of writing on a particular morning (or
night, or whatever preferably regular time every day that you have chosen to journal), even
if you are almost in a RAGE at having to do it, of having told yourself, this I will do, or
die…then go ahead and do it.  

Let’s say you’ve made your bargain with yourself to write 500 words every day.  Fine.  
On this morning when you are angry at the thought of writing, write Now is the time for all
good men to come to the aid of their country over and over until you get your 500 words.  
That sentence is, after all, 16 words, and so if you simply copy it (500 divided by 16 = 31 or
thereabouts), then you have your 500 words.

Now does that seem silly, or what?  No one made any promises about writing 500 brilliant
words.  Note that what is at stake here is your habit of writing.  This stupid repetition
keeps the habit.  Tomorrow we will hope you write something more substantial.  Because
there will be a tomorrow if you write you write today.  ###

Sun., October 5, 2014
So I’m alone here.  June is asleep.  It is 7 am.  Some woman on the TV is dancing before a
great audience in (I find out later) a concert hall in Baden-Baden.  She is singing a song
the main line of which seems to be, My kisses are so hot.  She is actually quite beautiful
and is carrying a big bouquet of roses.  From time to time as she dances across the stage
singing she plucks one of the roses from the bouquet and throws it to a man in the
audience.  The man who receives it seems to be flattered.  My kisses are so hot, she sings,
dancing off.

I am here.  My kisses are not hot at all.  Probably I have dragon breath.  The room
temperature is 62, and it is cold and I am gloomy.  My kisses are…well, cold.  I feel like a
corpse.  I sit.  My back hurt all night and I did not sleep well.  There are dirty dishes in the
sink.  The big Jewel Tea bowl that had egg salad in it for days that we nibbled at is now in
the sink, dirty gray water floating in it.

By grace of having set it up last night, I have a little fire going in the stove.  The room
temperature is now 63.  Merv Griffin is singing a duet with Beverly Sills, whom he is
interviewing, I guess.  Merv plays the piano, turns the pages of the music, smiles at
Beverly and then at the audience…what a guy.  He’s dead now, isn’t he?  And so is
Beverly, I think.  Later I’ll google them.  I think the babe who was singing about her hot
kisses is either dead or an old crone by now.  

The coffee is done.  Why can’t I have a servant bring it to me?  My kisses would be one
hell of a lot hotter if I had a cup of hot coffee.  I’m feeling better just thinking about it.  
Where are my pipe and slippers?  I’d be a merry old soul too if I had a staff of 100 people
to attend to my every wish.  

I flip the TV to Al Jazeera, and the vice president is apologizing for some gaffe or other.  I
suppose his kisses have been deemed less than hot.  

I’m going to throw another log on the fire, get a cup of hot coffee, and plunge on.  The
sky is lightening.  Protestors in Hong Kong are going at it.  The Chinese government
says…  something in Chinese, I guess, I didn’t catch it.  My Chinese is a little rusty.  In a
hospital in Dallas some guy is in critical condition with Ebola.  I don’t want to catch
Ebola.  I don’t want to watch the news.  You could catch the news watching ebola.  I
mean you could catch ebola from watching the news, don’t I?  I switch it back to Classic
Arts, where a bunch of overdressed people are making noises with group with various
instruments while the conductor with long frizzy black hair jumps around like he has just
caught ebola. ###

Sat., October 4, 2014

The days are whizzing by, and I have nothing booked in Saint Louis and the Southeast
Road Trip we plan except the presentation at the Association of Personal Historians
Convention in Saint Louis on the 24th.  I need to get out on the road and meet people and
sell my books and LifeStory.  I don’t want to hang around here all winter just to keep the
home fire going, no mere metaphor, as it takes a lot of wood to burn to keep this place

There’s plenty to do here, writing and non-writing, and we could stay around, I suppose,
and work the Internet—website, Facebook, all that—and maybe that’s what we’ll end up
doing.  Just go to Saint Louis, do the convention, and then come back here and work
work work.  

I could work half days or more, for example, on my next book, White Hat, a memoir of the
US Navy.  I’ve got maybe 40K words so far, stuff written in the Journal over the years.  I
have to re-read all that and then do a chronology and list the series of scenes.  Right now
I’m have trouble thinking of scenes that I haven’t written up once or even twice.  The day
I joined the Navy, the day I got out and many of the highs and some of the lows
Today.  Well, yesterday.  I worked. Duh.  Now the day is a blur.  June helped Ben get into
their new apartment, a two large room affair near downtown; small kitchen, very small
bathroom.  But big enough for the two of them, I am sure.  Melissa can walk to work from
there, and Ben can get to jobs one way or another.  Good for them.  It’s one block from
where he went to grade school and, as a matter of fact, where I went to grade school,
too: Woodrow Wilson School.  

I can’t say that I’m nostalgic about old Woodrow, where I attended the 5th and the 6th
grade, and thence I went a few blocks south to the Junior High School for another three
years; and thence to the Senior High School next to it for another three years until I
graduated in 1955.  I’m not nostalgic about any of those joints, actually.  

Not that I’m not given to sentimental recollection.  I am.  But my old schools just aren’t
part of the picture.  Colleges I’m more sentimental about, the University of Kansas and
the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and the one at Stevens Point, especially, where I
was for four years a faculty member.

Why am I not sentimental about school?  I wasn’t unhappy there, but I honestly learned
much more out of school than in.  Out of school I read the newspapers, the magazines,
the books I wasn’t supposed to read; I went to movies, I talked to my parents and other
adults…I even ventured into libraries, though I can’t remember ever checking out a
book.  My first real library experience was as a graduate student at the University of
Kansas where I was told to spend the semester exploring their huge Watson Library and
compile a complete annotated bibliography of a now insignificant Irish writer, John O’
Keefe (1733-18something), who was the most popular playwright of his day.  His life and
work are a study in the transience of our lives, he is a kind of literary Ozymandias
swallowed up by the sands of time.###

Fri., October 3, 2014

In every one of our scars there is a story.  Most of them are interesting, especially the
ones from childhood.  Above my left eye is an ugly short scar less than half an inch long,
but deep and wide--evidence of some high drama or horror or other.

Laughing, both of us screaming with glee, my brother chased me on a summer day
through our house at 1819 Poyntz Avenue, in the back door, through the kitchen, past my
surprised mother, through the dining room, the living room and out the front screen
door—or so I intended.  I was stopped cold, though, part of my forehead embedded in the
metal grate across the screen door as I was now bleeding bad and falling to the floor, my
brother standing over me, my mother coming. The door was latched shut!  I was maybe
9, my brother maybe 12.   

Then there is the missing tip of my left index finger and going with it, an inch long
tortoise-shaped white scar on my left forearm where Dr. Bascom took some skin to graft
onto the tip of the finger, which tip was never found.  Presumably, as I had been rapidly
using a papercutter at school making snow for the annual Christmas masque, the story of
the birth of Jesus that ended in front of a stable in winter, snow (and my fingertip) falling
on the Christ child.  The loss of that tip prevented me from a career as a guitarist, which I
had not then intended, but ten years later had in fantasy embarked upon, taking my
fantasy to the point where I took lessons on the guitar: but had to abandon them because
the skin on my left hand, needed to fret the C and D strings, would not callous over.  

There are others, though I have not so many as some.  I was more or less a cautious
child, I had no near death experiences like some of my comrades, no deep gashes from
playing swords or football injuries.  Nor do I have any war wound in spite of my time in
the Navy. The worst thing that came out of my one day in a combat zone in Lebanon  was
a hangover.     
Nor do I have any tattoos, coming as I did from a generation where to have one or more
was a sign of very low social class, low morals, the criminal class perhaps, or at least of
those who had nothing better to do with their money or time.  Once, maybe twice, in the
Navy I passed a tattoo parlor on a drunken liberty, and was invited to partake, but drunk
as I was, I knew I didn’t want one, even if some of my shipmates had little pale red hearts
with  "Betty" or “Mother” written across them.  ###

Thu., October 2, 2014  

It’s so dark now.  I would like to order a world in which it is dark when I switch off the
lights, and it is light when I get up and turn them back on.  
Now, later, it is daylight, but not broad daylight.  Not daylight enough for a broad.  Just a
misty morning in the fall.  Is it pleasant out? June asks, sitting on the couch icing her
injured shoulder.  Is it cold?  Is it warm? She wants to know.  
I am amused and annoyed (a strange alloy) at this, her ancient habit of not wanting to get
up and walk ten feet to stick her nose out the window and decide for herself what kind of
day it is.  Well, I said, I wouldn’t wear Bermuda shorts and a halter top.  In fact what I’m
going to wear is a long sleeved shirt and long pants.  June knows I wear a long sleeved
shirt almost every day of the world.  I won’t wear a wool sweater this morning, I said,
turning away from the window.  

Thank you, honey, June said, smiling graciously, and maybe a little sarcastically.  Thank
you.  You’re welcome, I said.
Imagine all the junk I’ve ever owned.  The stacks of comics, records, the roomsful of
books, the cars (at least 50), the clothes…my glen plaid topcoat I so loved, my little
corduroy suit I wore to high school graduation, all my navy blues and whites and hiphops
and low-cut shoes…the first time I ever heard the expression “low-cuts” for shoes was
in the Navy.  I learned a lot in the Navy.  It was my first real venture into the wide world.  I
had gone out into the world to seek my fortune and there I was, sweating and swearing
and wishing I hadn’t at Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Waukegan, Illinois.   Great
Lakes resembled nothing so much as a prison.  Lots of fences, gates with armed

Why oh, why oh, did I ever leave my hometown and join the Navy oh?  I had no idea,
really, and here I had three years and three months left.  God was punishing me.   I would
never get out of the Navy alive.  I was going to die wearing a little white suit with a stupid
round white hat.  I hadn’t wanted this.  Please, please, could I reverse and reset?  True, I
had wanted to get out and sail the seven seas.  But as for doing it under the aegis of the
United States Navy, I asked for another chance.

Ships and the sea, I loved.  It was love at first sight.  The Rose was the first ship I
boarded, a big gray ocean liner, really, no guns at all.  I liked that.  I didn’t like guns.  I
would lean on the ship’s rail (made of wood, the only wood exposed on the whole ship),
and lean out and look down at the sea.  The sea with its thousand faces in a thousand
storms.  The sea was God, huge, everywhere, unknowable, all powerful.   ###

Wed., October 1, 2014

Lethargy.  I feel like a zombie with a kidney stone moving.  Do zombies have kidneys?  Do
zombies pee?  I don’t  think so.  
Did it rain last night?  All night I heard thunder.  I just looked out and saw the deck was
(Later. ) In Manhattan they got 1.42 inches.  I don’t know what we got.  I went back to bed
and just got up at 638 but it’s still dark.  How is that possible, darkness at 638?  When I
was a kid it was always daylight by 5 am.  
Suddenly I hate the idea of writing.  Hate, hate, hate.  Suddenly I can understand why most
people would no more get up in the morning and write in a journal than they’d get up and
jump off a cliff.  
Maybe I need a day off.  But I can’t take a day off.  
Liberty in the Navy.  Liberty began at 1600.  I quickly learned that.  At the other end,
morning muster was at 0700, or 0800 or…at the pleasure of the Captain.  The Captain at
NATTC Norman (Naval Air Technical Training Center, Norman, Oklahoma) was one Captain
Lloyd Withers Parrish, USN, a flying officer.  A little bit heavy, he shuffled along the
corridor receiving Good morning sirs from any and all of us.  I suppose his wife when she
passed him in their home corridor stepped to the side and said, Good morning, sir.  
Growing up in the Midwest, I really never had anything to do with the word sir, not calling
anyone that and certainly not being called that.  Southern boys learned to sir, and when I
first met a kid from Texas who called his father sir, I laughed.  I had never heard such a
thing.  Good morning, sir!  I respected my father but I never called him anything but Dad.  
That guy was Tony Alderson, now dead and gone, ten years ago or more.  We were close
friends in high school.  He and I and Brummy, Larry Brumm—the three of us ran around
together.  Larry is dead and gone too.  Five years or so ago.  
I remain.  “I alone am escaped to tell thee,” the guy in the Book of Job tells Job when he
reports on the unfavorable condition of Job’s estate.  
Maybe I will be the last person on earth, the last man standing,  and I will go to God’s
office, knock on the door, and say, Good morning, sir!  And give Him a snappy salute.  
Now my fingers are nimbly treading the keys.  I am tickling the ivories, as a pianist might
say.  I can hear the music. I rise from my coffin and greet the day.  
One time when I was a little boy crying over spilled milk or some other inanity, sobbing my
little heart out with self-pity, my mother, doing the dishes, said, Laugh and the world
laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone!  And so it is.  Though I have found that sometimes
you laugh alone too. ###

9th journalong...  
Sun., September 28, 2014

Getting up this morning wasn’t easy.  I slept in till 530 and then got up and walked around
the quiet house and turned on Al Jazeera News and pulled an afghan over me and slept.  
Then I got up, turned off the TV, and went back to bed for about twenty minutes more.  So
that now here I am going at it, finally, but it’s almost seven o’clock.

I read my email first and I got a letter from my friend Christy, who walks her dog and walks with friends and
lives near Milwaukee.  (Get it, MilWALKee.)  Everybody in Milwaukee walks.  A city of a million people on the
march.  And here I live near Kansas SITy, a town just as big and they’re all sitting on their butts.  

Christy pointed out that she accomplishes a lot in her long walks through the beautiful woods around t
home, which probably ought to be a national park.  Sometimes, people accomplish a lot by not being so driven
to accomplish, she says.  

Can this be true?  

I actually once lived in Milwaukee and I loved every minute of it.  I think I’ve told that story here.  Briefly, I was
just a kid of 15 with my brother of 18 and we went there in the summer of 1953 to prove to our parents that we
didn’t need them one bit.  The parents obliged by suggesting we go live somewhere else for a while and we
did.  We got on the train and chugged and whistled our way 650 miles north to Milwaukee.  I still remember, it’s
still up there in my head, the image of the train slowly moving along the trestle fifty feet above downtown
Milwaukee and the conductor slowly walking (that word again!) through the cars singing out MILLwaukee!  
MILLwaukee!   I was so beside myself with excitement I think I may have wet my pants.  I could just see myself
going back at the end of summer to school and other kids would say they worked on the farm milking cows that
summer and still others would say they helped their dad stacking cans of greenbeans in the family store…but I,
I, Charley Kempthorne, the Richard Halliburton of Manhattan, Kansas, could say, I worked in Milwaukee in a
great enterprise and lived on my own, nearly, among a million strangers.  

But it didn’t quite turn out that way.  I looked and looked for work.  But all five of the big breweries were on
strike and so the thousands of men laid off were taking little jobs like the ones I might have gotten.  My brother
got a job, finally (I’ve told that story elsewhere, quite an interesting story, really), and I almost got a job as a
messenger boy in downtown Milwaukee at a great printing plant but was denied it because I was too young.  

My heart aches to think of the things I would have liked to have happen in my life that never did.  That job is at
the top of the list.  Others on the list:

1.          That time I ran away from home to New Orleans and got there and was broke and in a huge Southern
city, no job, and the friend who owned the car we had driven down there in said he was going back home to
join the Air Force and where did I want him to drop me off on the docks?  (I bragged that I was going to jump a
ship and become a cabin boy and sail the seven seas and write books like Mr. Howard Pease, a writer of boy’s
books who had visited our school a few months’ earlier.)
2.        That time I didn’t go to Berkeley to the University of California but instead went to Madison to the
University of Wisconsin.
3.        That time I went to the University of Wisconsin and was just getting into it and chickened out and went
back home to Kans-ass, my tail between my legs.
4.        That time Marilyn Monroe wanted to spend the night with me but I said,
Oh, no, Marilyn, I am a married
man.  Thanks, anyway, I know you’ll do well in that acting career you want.  

However, I don’t regret declining the nomination for President.  It just wasn’t a good fit for me.  I’m not a walker and
so I sure wasn’t going to run. ###

Sat., September 27, 2014

The USPS is doing the best it can, I believe, with the money they are given and the money they earn, and with
rules and regulations passed by Congress.  But it is piss poor compared to what it used to be.  Two clerks
working like beavers waiting on 12 people, all lined up in a row.  Some people have 3 or 4 packages that need
to be weighed, classified, stamped, and, usually, fortified with tape the post office provides—all while the rest
of us wait.  No one behind the counter notices us and calls to the back for more clerks.  There aren’t any.  This
isn’t your supermarket grocery.  This is the US Postal Service, and they are doing the best they can.  Want to
blame  someone, blame our Congresscreatures.  
I’m late this morning.  I got up at 4 per usual but did other stuff and then I had to go to town, so here I am, 1030  
am and still baking.
This morning out in the yard at dawn or a little before standing there I saw two big deer fifty feet away watching
me.  We watched one another watching one another, and then I took a step toward them and the spell was
broken and they bolted into the woods.  Later I saw a dozen wild turkeys looking for something in the grass of
our orchard south of the house.  And June said we have four new baby ducks, little yellow beings hopping
around like they owned world they’ve just come into.  
Aboard ship at sea in the Navy in the cool of the evening I’d come into the galley and the night pantry where
we gathered for the evening movie and I’d wear a cardigan sweater.  I had two or three different ones and I
enjoyed wearing them.  Maybe I wore cardigan sweaters because the Chief Engineer, Mr. Calcanis, did.  I
admired him and chatted with him sometimes.  He was a very well educated Greek man—possibly born in
Greece, though his English was totally American—and seemed to be willing to talk to me.  Maybe that’s where I
learned to interview: asking questions of people like him, and all the others on board in the ship’s company.  

I also liked the word cardigan and just about anything from Scotland.  And maybe that was because I was in
love with the voice of Glynis Johns, who—if I recall—was in Brigadoon, one of the movies we saw.

We had a movie every night we were at sea, and they were always first-run movies.  One of the movies I
remember was called Abandon Ship.  I don’t know what wiseacre special services guy ashore thought of that
one for us, but there it was.  And it was a pretty good movie, too, with Tyrone Power, Bette Davis, and the bad
German guy played by the great folk singer/actor, Theodore Bikel…but maybe I’m mixing that up with another
movie about a shipwreck.  

I was never in a shipwreck but if I’d gone to sea on the ship I first went on, the Rose, a couple of months
earlier, I would have taken part in the rescue of the survivors of the shipwrecked Andrea Doria.  I missed out
on that and always regretted it.  Wouldn’t it be neat to toss that name around, and let people think I was in
there captaining the whole thing.  ###

Fri., September 26, 2014Okay, I slept well for the second night in a row.  Well, not so terribly well, but pretty
good.  Pretty good.  
Pretty pretty pretty good, as Larry David used to say.  
And I begin the day with prayer:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death,
I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.  
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

This prayer is more comforting to me than the Serenity Prayer.  For one thing, it is a couple thousand years
older.   And  having been a shepherd, I can relate to the imagery: the still waters, the green pastures, not really
much different from the days when I'd bust open a bale of alfalfa and watch the sheep nibble their way into it.    
And the prayer comes right to the point: we
are in the valley of the shadow of death.  The only thing that palls a
little is the thing about
mine enemies, but I can take that as historical, that’s the way things were back then.  
Now the very idea of beginning my day with a prayer is astounding to me.  Twenty years ago I would have
laughed, would have cried: me, pray?  Moi?  Jamais, jamais!  

My happiest social moments of the day, sometimes, are when I’m in a store and checking out.  Maybe the clerk
is a pretty girl or boy, or even an old lady or old man, it doesn’t really matter all that much: I enjoy schmoozing
and kidding around.  At Aldi’s, of course, I try to guess the exact amount of my groceries.  Sometimes I come
close.  Once in all these years I hit it right on the button.  $16.81.  I’ll never forget that.  A sweet young thing
named Abby was at the cash register, and as she finished rolling everything across the beeping scanner,
watching the register that I couldn’t see, and then her eyebrows went up and she turned the little register sign
so I could see it, and together we laughed:  $16.81.  Ah, happy, happy days!
In the Navy aboard ship I went everywhere.  I spent the first two years in the Navy ashore in boring and
familiar  places like Norman, Oklahoma, but once I went to sea, I went.   From my homeport in Brooklyn, New
York, I sailed many times to Casablanca, Morocco;  Livorno and Napoli in Italy; Tripoli; Piraeus (the port of
Athens), Greece; and Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey.  Then we turned around and went back the way we came, the
very same ports.  We called it the Med Run, because all the ports except Casablanca, were Mediterranean

I had a great adventure and I learned how to spell Mediterranean.  ###

Thu., September 25, 2014

Somehow this date seems significant.  At my age, every date seems significant.  I don’t mean just in the sense
that each day counts for more and more as you get older but simply that when you’ve lived this many years you
have a lot of anniversaries.  Kyle’s birthday (Kyle is my oldest grandson)is the 27th.  He is going to be 17.  What
a great age to be!  
I got a good night’s sleep.  A good night’s sleep begins with no nap that day.  And yesterday, not out of will
power but simply from the way things worked out…I had appointments all afternoon in town---and so I didn’t
have a chance to take a nap.  Had I been home I certainly would have.  But I didn’t take one and so I decided I’d
just stay up as late as I could and then try to sleep through the night.  What a novel idea!  

Yet even so I last only till about 7 pm.  June and I watched the news together.  We ate some dinner, leftover
manicotti and a small dish of ice cream.  Then we sat there.  I was glued to the couch, glued to the TV.  At great
length and with great effort I came unglued and got up and put some of the dishes and food away.  I should
have kept right on going and done the dishes and cleaned the kitchen and then, with that bit of a jumpstart,
gotten down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the floor with a toothbrush.  Honest.

Activity, activity, activity!  There’s nothing like meaningful activity.  To me meaningful activity is cleaning things
up, fixing things (the overhead light in the kitchen, the sagging soffit on the south side of the house), and
writing.  Or helping others.  And there are, I suppose, other things.  Perhaps even golf could be considered as
a meaningful activity, though I doubt it.  Walking…well, where are you walking to?  If you’re walking (notice now
I’m legislating for all humankind) down the road to get the mail, okay.  If you’re just walking for the “exercise,”
as they call it, well—is that really what God intended for you?  Okay, okay!  But I’m just saying, why don’t you
walk out to the garden and bury your garbage instead of grinding it up and emitting it into the sewage system
so it can float down the Mississippi and effluent its way into the Gulf of Mexico and thence onto the wide

As I was saying, I got a good night’s sleep.  I feel wonderful this morning.  It’s 421 am and I’m on top of the

How about you?  Why don’t you write to me and tell me what you think?  Okay, maybe you’ve slept till noon and
are hungover and not quite sure what you did last night, or who you did it with…write to me.  

In the old days I would write to friends and I would make my return address something like this:

Charlie Roosevelt Kempthorne, Junior
Rural Route 3
Manhattan, Kansas
United States of America
North America
Western Hemisphere
Planet Earth
Solar System

Now that would probably get to me even today, except that now I spell my first name
Charley.  And in all honesty
I don’t use my physical address much anymore (but it’s 3591 Letter Rock Road, and my zip is 66502), but my
email is

And I'd love to hear from you. ###

Wed., September 24, 2014

We had a dog named Sissy, a black cocker spaniel.  I think she may have come with us from Indiana, though maybe
not.  I wasn’t really attached to her.  She died one day in a field south of the house.  We had cats too.  None of them
are memorable.  I guess I’m not much of a pet person, or wasn’t as a child.  Or I just don’t remember.  I do remember
we had a dog of some sort that someone ran over on the road in front of the house, the old Docking Place a mile or
two from here  where we lived from 1947 to 1951.  We (my brother and I) buried the dog behind some evergreen
bushes in the yard, a shady spot, and we made a sign for a tombstone that  said of the dog (whatever it’s name was I’
ve forgotten) that it was “run over and killed by some dirty bastard.”  
We had a dog in town, too, a pedigreed of some brand I forget, a sort of scotty thing, and he had a pedigreed name,
Mister Michael Malarkey.  He was okay, but I don’t remember much affection for him.  He was very horny and would
try to hump my leg when I sat in a chair.  Everyone would laugh.  He wasn’t just after me, anyone’s leg would do,
though I don’t remember his ever trying to hump my mom’s leg, so maybe he was gay.  Of course, Mom never wore
jeans, not in those days, anyway.
As an adult sometimes I had a dog or two.  We had one in Iowa City in our first floor apartment, Luke, or more often,
Lukey-Luke.  One time my wife was broiling  a steak (a rare treat as we didn’t have much money) and the phone in
the next room rang when she had the broiler half-open to look at the steak, and when she came back Lukey-Luke
had pulled it from under the fire and eaten the entire thing. He sat there burping and looking both pleased with
himself and guilty when Patsy came back.  

Luke was half-coyote, we thought, and quite skittery around strangers and, sometimes, even us.  He spent most of
his time under the couch in the living room but when a firetruck or police car raced past on the street outside,
siren going, he would go to the windows, jump up and howl mournfully.  

With all this stuff we’re going through about spending most of our time living on the road doing workshops and
leasing the farm or closing up the house, so many decisions and decisions, it’s a tonic to remember bygone days
when I was a college boy and all I had to worry about property wise was my stereo, my typewriter and a few boxes of
books. And my car, where everything I owned went in the trunk of.  I remember moving to Lawrence to the
University of Kansas after a year or so at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, very happily moving and trudging about
looking for a crummy enough and cheap enough apartment—I ended up renting a basement room that had a back
of the house ground floor entrance, and the kitchen had, God’s honest truth, a dirt floor that was covered with a
loading pallet. $35 a month.  

Tu., September 23, 2014

Working in people’s homes was an adventure.  Basically this was something I did from about 1974 to 1992, 18 years,
and of course I was there when June and Ben (and for a time Rip and Joanne) were working right up to now.  
Customers became friends, enemies sometimes, characters in my novel, Gary’s Luck, the stuff of my Journal,
anecdotes told among friends and associates in the biz…it was glorious to experience.

We worked mostly in the Manhattan area but some in Topeka and very occasionally, out of state, as when we
worked for Jay Workman in Louisiana or when, years later, June and her crew papered a house for the Edwards’ in
Branson, Missouri.  She and her crew spent a week there, living in the house and papering it, fishing every night off
the dock in the big lake in the backyard.  
June mentioned when I read the first part of the KPP history to her that I hadn’t said anything about Phil
Montgomery, my good friend and neighbor, who was always broke like me  and willing to try about anything to make
some money.  We worked together on a number of jobs in town and out here.  

I worked with Dave Irvin, too.  Notably we tore a house apart together.  Dave was a graduate architect waiting to
pass his board examinations.  I don’t remember that we painted anything in town together.  
I have a song, a tune, running around in my head this morning but I can’t remember the name of it.  Da-de-da-da-de-
de-do…right, that one.  I am forgetting more and more so that I remember less and less.  

Not remembering is a big, big thing, and it’s only right to take note of it.  I guess I could take memory lessons or I
could resolve to write more things down—I mean lists and such, not stuff here in the Journal.  The Journal of
course is a huge help.  I remember far more than most people—sometimes people are amazed at how much I
remember about our common past—but it’s simply because I wrote things down and I am, let’s face it, obsessive
about the past.  

I may have mentioned that a couple of weeks ago I visited an old friend who is deep in dementia and remembers
nothing of our time together.  His memory used to be excellent but the disease has taken all such material.  

Now let me come at this a little differently.  Someday sooner or later I will die.  Then I won’t remember much, will I?  
Of course I’m joking:  “I” won’t remember a thing.  “I” won’t exist.  So when we’re talking about permanent memory
loss, we’re really talking about little deaths.  Nature is hacking away at us.  Today it’s the names of songs, tomorrow
it’s old friends, the day after it’s members of your family, and one day it’s what you did in the Navy or on your first

It’s hard to believe that’s a tragedy when we knew all along that that was going to happen one day.  It just is.  I was
Charley Kempthorne.  Maybe it’s an occasion for sadness, maybe not so very much as I might think.  I won’t be sorry
when I die.  I won’t be able to be sorry because I won’t be.  The people I leave behind will be (maybe) sorry I’m gone
but, you know, life is for the living, and life goes on.  

This is morbid stuff.  I cheer up though when I remember years ago an old man walking into a memoir writing
workshop and saying (with a laugh) that most of his future was behind him.  

Mon., September 22, 2014

You can’t judge a book by its cover, it is well said, but in fact people try.  People do judge a book by its cover.  At
least at first.   People pick up a book based on the front cover.  Then they flip it over and look at the back cover.  
They may read the blurbs thereon, and then they may look at the inside back cover and read about the author and
look at his or her picture and size them up.  Maybe they’ll toss it back on the rack but maybe they’ll thumb through
it.  Maybe they’ll read a page or part of a page, or even more.  Or maybe they won’t.  

Someone said once they judge a book by reading page 100 of the book completely.  If that’s good, they take the
book.  If it isn’t, they don’t.  

I have a problem with that in that my just finished book, Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More or Less
Happily for the Rest of Your Life, is a large size book and doesn’t have 100 pages, only 80.  When it is reformatted as
a paperback it will have more like 200.  But right now…here we are.  

There aren’t a lot of books on journaling, and the ones I know of aren’t adequate.  None seem to even come close to
the idea, which I think is extremely important,  of narrative journaling.  Most seem to be about half or more DIY
psychological investigation of oneself. They try to be inspirational and tell the reader how much they will benefit
from journaling if they do it.

o quitting it soon after starting.  I try very, very hard to help the reader cement the habit of journaling.  

Narrative journaling means you narrate, you tell stories rather than writing essays.  This comes naturally to most of
us.  In my book I encourage people to write not (say) an essay or article about what they think Life is meant to be,
but rather simple little everyday stories about their life.  It’s more fun to write, easier, and more fun to read—for

My book is unique among other books on journaling also in that it has large chunks from my own journal.  In fact,
the book is an invitation to journal along with me as they work their way through the book.  I have also printed a
number of sections from my past journal…my “ancient journal,” I call it.  At the very least this shows the reader
that I really do journal, have journaled for 50 years and I’m still (more or less happily) at it.  I didn’t just dream up the
idea of keeping a journal a couple of months ago.  It has been part of my life for most of my life.  

It is certainly autobiographical, not  so much for its own sake, but to show the reader how a journaling habit can
work for them to create an autobiography.   ###
Sun., September 21, 2014

Undoubtedly to some extent the memoir movement and the triumph of memoir in the literary world has been
fostered by the inability of the writers of fiction to give us what we as a society need rather than, in the words of
Samuel Johnson, what is possible.  Artiness is not literature.  But also there has been (and paradoxically) a great
increase in creative writing.  

When I was a young man and a college student there were three universities in the country that offered a graduate
degree in creative writing:  Iowa, Oregon, and Cornell.  Three!  This was in the mid-60s.  

Now there are hundreds.  You can get your degree online, on campus or, probably, under a bridge—maybe the best
place of all.  

And thousands have gone to these hundreds of schools and gotten their various degrees.  What have they done
with them?  Probably gone to teaching, for the most part, but many have gone to work in business doing something
creative like advertising and thousands more have taken up (as I did) farming, plumbing, carpentry, or maybe just lit
out for the territories and were never seen again.  

But what happened to their need for self-expression, an absolutely legitimate and genuine emotion?  I suggest that
many have gone to private journals and memoir.  They are the ones who took up the natural music of the Memoir
Movement and have played it fully, segueing into the growing need for a real history of our world instead of the
artificial and rarefied drivel about Clinton and the Roosevelts and Clemenceau all the way back to Ramses III.  

The internet has become a huge sponge to soak up a great deal of this memoir, and what a wonderful thing that is!  
God bless all engineers and mathematicians, say I!

This is the way life works, I think.

We are born and have experiences.  Of course we know now we’re not born tabula rasa as old John Locke said, but
we are born with tons of information already in our bodies in the form of genes.  Then we add to that throughout
out lives.  I don’t know quite how all that happens but I’ll let you know just as soon as I invest wisely my Nobel Prize
money for figuring all that out.  

But we do.  We live, love, hate, work, play, goof off, go to jail, get out, run for president or dogcatcher or we just
quietly retire.  But what has happened in all those years is we have developed a cast of mind (or a sensibility if you
want to call it that), and maybe quite a bit of it is stored within us genetically—maybe all of it. Maybe in the future
all we’ll have to do when we are born is press enter and when we die click on delete.  I don’t know.  But meantime, I
suggest, we need to record it by telling the stories of our lives.  At least in the short run.  And practically speaking,
our grandkids aren’t going to go for us dandling them on our knees and reciting some genetic codes.  

And so we must, or should, write.  That in my opinion, is how it all works. ###
Sat., September 20, 2014

I am starting to feel pretty good about being an old man.  Maybe it started when I turned 75 nearly two years ago and
I didn’t notice it.  I mean, I noticed being 75, of course, but I didn't notice that certain feeling.  Just today, though,
just this morning, for the first time consciously I began to think, Hey, I've made it!  And then I realized that many of
the old people I have worked with over the years had the same attitude.  I noticed it especially in those in their 80s
and 90s and beyond.

Years ago in the late 70s I interviewed an old man in a nursing home who had just turned 100.  He was joyous.  “I
can’t believe I’ve made it!”  he said happily.  His name was Earl Lord and this was in a home in Council Grove,
Kansas.  He looked just fine but he was quite deaf and I had to shout.

Then he told me about his long life as a bank teller, including a story about being held up by a gang of robbers in
the Bonnie and Clyde mold, though not Bonnie and Clyde, when he was a teller in a little bank somewhere in
southern Kansas.  He was ordered to stick up his hands, to reach for the sky, and he did.  As the robbers left the
bank with a bag of dough, one turned around and took a shot at him.  The bullet missed his body but went through
the back of his coat, which was winged out because his hands were in the air.  

I think sometimes when I’ve told this story I’ve added that Mr. Lord showed me the coat with a bullet hole in it,
hanging in his closet at the home.  But I think I might have concocted that memory.  I do recall that I told this story
to my father and he said Mr. Lord had been a patient of his.
Yesterday was a happy day that ended with my working more than two hours doing some heavy manual labor
moving some junk from one place to another.  I had not done manual labor like that in a couple of years, and I felt
exhilarated—and sore and weary.  I ate some ice cream and I fell into bed and slept like a…a 76 year old man.   
I have always loved to talk to old men and women, beginning I guess with my grandfather, my mother’s father, who
lived with us for a few years before he died at 80.  In the Navy on board the USNS Rose, a civilian-manned ship that
had a military department on board (of which I was a member), an old timer from Brooklyn, New York, told me about
growing up in rural Brooklyn when he was a child: they had a milk cow in a barn in their backyard.  He also bragged
that even though he and his wife had eight children, he had never seen her naked.  

This was the late 1950s, so Mr. O’Connell was describing Brooklyn in the 1880s.   What a long reach our history

Fri., Sep. 19, 2014

I read a good article in AARP about clutter and how to get rid of it, control it, cut down on it.  I thought, Well, clutter
isn’t just physical: what about the clutter in our minds?  And of course I related that to journaling.

I am a clutterer among clutterers.  The four of us who live here cannot resist a give-a-way, a bargain, a yard sale,
garage sale, auction, found on the street…we pick it up, figure it might be useful or beautiful, and move on with it
in our possession.   When we get home we put it…by the door, of course.  Eventually it may get moved to a specific
room, though often it sits in the living room like some kind of quarry or piece de resistance or trophy of the hunt.  

We realize we are the prisoner of junk, but we cannot stop.  

I have to say I have slowed down.  Old Mortality is teaching me a few things, like You can’t take it with you, and
maybe even, Who would want to?  

But that mental clutter I took care of fifty years ago when I started a journal.  Actually I am so proud of myself for
having done that and stuck to it all these years I capitalize it: Journal.  And sometimes I call it (to myself) my Blessed
Journal.  It has saved my life.  Mental clutter was and still could overtake me.  It's stuff I just can't throw away!

I am careful about my journal.  The organization is simple and straightforward.  Every day I write and I save it both
as print on paper and electronically, by date in order and by month in a folder.  At the end of each month I print it
out.  And put it in a 5 inch wide 3 ring binder.  At the end of the year I make sure all 12 months are there and then I
put it upon a long shelf, about twenty feet long, that runs from 1964 to 2014.  

At one time I considered indexing the journals but time and technology have made that unnecessary, even
redundant.  All I have to do is open the files and click on Search and Find and I am escorted through the entire
thing.  I have used this feature to write beaucoup articles and a few books.  I am just now working on a memoir
about my time in the Navy.  All I’m doing at present is hunting and gathering.  I go to Find and type in Navy and each
entry that comes up I highlight, copy, and paste it to a new file—White Hat, the name of my memoir.  
To the extent that I have succeeded in my life, and that is not to say it is to a very great extent, I have succeeded
because I have followed some kind of crazy rules.  One, I came to believe the “infinite monkey/infinite time/infinite
typewriter” theory of writing: that if I wrote enough, sooner or later I would write something pretty good.  Two, that
if I persisted in my madness long enough, it would become sanity.  Why that is true I do not know, but it is.  I guess
that’s a cousin, at least, to what goes around, comes around.  ###
Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tuesday at Meadowlark Prairie Star writers I asked the dozen or so present to begin writing with an action line and
having faith (if that is the word, I said, a little leery that they would close their minds to me because they thought
me too spiritual and too nutty) that the next line will come.  Write something like, I said, something like, I walked
into the room and there was Hilda and I said hello.  

I gave a couple of other examples.  You phoned the bank and asked for Teresa, I started the car and backed out of
the drive.  

Sentences like that, and maybe like a lot of others, suggest action to us.  We are much better off, I think, when we
write action rather than explanation.  I have no explanations for my life, really.  I do do things, though, and I can
relate those.  Maybe action is the humblest—and most effective—way to begin any writing about your life.  I was
born and then…
Yet clearly some days go better than other days—writing wise, everything wise.  I don’t know why, maybe some deep
anxieties, or maybe it’s the old dictum of Two steps forward, and one step back.  That is to say, that things tend to
lapse after going well.  If you’re a brain surgeon, well, two brain aneurysm repairs go well, and then the third one—
well, maybe there are some problems, or maybe (we surely hope) they’re just a little harder to make go well.  And
maybe it’s something in the water, something in the air we breathe…it just is.
I remember the sound of my grandfather’s breathing as he lay dying.  It was massive, it took over the whole once
silent house, as he breathed in and out, in and out, long, labored breaths that were to be his last.  He lay with the
rifle on his lap, and a tiny red hole in between his eyes.  For twenty minutes, or so it seemed, he breathed like that,
in the full majesty of death, and then it stopped.  

The men came and gently put him onto a stretcher and carried him away.  My father came home from work.  My
mother cried.  I stood there.  I don’t know what I did.  My sister, two years old, looked lost, clutching our mother with
whom she had been taking a summer afternoon’s nap with when Gramps shot himself.  

I had been in my bedroom next door, quietly fiddling with one of my hobby collections, stamps, autographs…my
pennants.  And then the gunshot, perhaps in the windiness of the day sounding like  a door blown shut.  But I stood
up.  Mom came out of her bedroom, followed by Kathy.  Oh Charley, she said, looking into her father’s room, he’s
shot himself.  

And so it was that this man, Lewis Clinton Isaacs (1870-1950), ended his long life, miserably sick with asthma and
probably what we would today call COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.  Born in Kentucky, living there
and in Indiana and then Kansas, he had been essentially a happy man, laughing and dandling me on his knee while
he made up poetry about old dogs that slept with one eye open and mules that kicked, and crows that went right
down the row eating the seed corn even as he planted it. ###

Wed., September 17, 2014

ROAD CLOSED, I read.  What the…?
The road is closed, June said.
I know but…
Turn around.  The road is closed.
Okay.  Okay.  I backed up and turned around and start going back the way we came.
Turn left, June said.
But you said…
Turn left, she said, more emphatically.
You don’t have to yell, I said.  I’m not that deaf.
Go around the building, June went on.
I know.  I know, I said.
So we went around the back away.
Dr. Floersch has an office back here somewhere, I said.  
Watch the road, June said.
I am watching the…   Right over there, I said.  See—Matthew Floersch.  We rolled on slowly.  Dr. Singh has an office
in Junction City, I went on.
Left, June said.  Left.  Now stop.
I stopped.  Now what?  
Left, June said.  I turned left.  
Stop, June said.  Park.
Not yet, I said.  I have to stop at Jane’s and leave a her a LifeStory.  It’s in the back.
I’ll get it, June said.
I’ll get it, I said.  Your arm…
I stopped, opened the car door, got out, opened the rear door and then reached in and took a copy of the mag and
stuck it in Jane’s mailbox.  
Back in the car, I drove on.  Where to? I said.
Park, June said.  We’re here.
Oh, sure.  But.
But what?
We’re here, I guess, I said.  
Yes we are.  Park.
I parked.  We got out and went inside and did our LifeStory class.
The days go by.  Quickly.  Yesterday was as fine a day as we’ve had in years.  High about 78, windless, sunny…just
perfect.  I wish I had been home, working in the garden.  When we drove off this morning I looked wistfully at my
first crop of fall potatoes.  If only I had time to get out there and hill them up.  New potatoes in October.  What more
could one want in this world, this vale of tears?  With some fresh green beans the way June makes them. The first
year we gardened here, the first year we were married, that spring of 1974, we had everything.  We had an acre of
sweet corn, we had beans, we had tomatoes and tomatoes, we even had kale and broccoli and squash and even, for
the love of God, kohlrabi, which we’d never had before or since.  The next year we grew peanuts, a strange little
plant that put out runners and they went into the ground.  

What a life it was, back in the day.
Oh Frances, Oh Frances Oh please tell me why
Your mother is calling and you don’t reply.
The soup it is boiling,
The cow’s in the corn.
Your mother is calling for you to come home,I sang.  

Then I smiled in the mirror and then I washed my face with warm water.  I stood back and looked again.  “Good
morning,  God,” I said.  “Thank you, sir.”  And I saluted perfectly, my arm parallel to the deck, the tip of my fingers
two fingers above my eyebrow.  And I was happy.

Tu., September 16, 2014

I remember saying years ago that the happiest day of my life was January 16, 1959, the day I got out of the Navy, or—
as I put it then—the day I was released from the clutches of the United States Navy.  I was a veteran.  I had done my
time.  That could never be taken away from me.  I felt just like a man who had been freed from prison.  It was
glorious to walk up that Brooklyn street in the winter sunshine, get in a taxicab and tell the driver to take me to
Idlewild Airport (later John F. Kennedy).  I think I had a cigar I’d bought in Cuba for a dollar, an El something or
other, and I must surely have lit it and smoked it like the big man I felt I was.  I suppose the cabby laughed to
himself.  It cost about $25 with tip to be driven all the way out to the airport.  I got on the plane, flew a mere six
hours (a propeller driven plane) to go all the way to Kansas City, where my wife met me, and we began Life.  I was a
civilian and an adult.   

A couple of days later I was a student in a classroom at Kansas State University.  I walked into a life I was to love for
the next twelve years.  

I never regretted not staying in the Navy.  Never.   Though I came to love my time in the Navy rather than hate it (as I
did when I was in the Navy), I never regretted taking my discharge papers and getting out.  I was a smart kid, a good
test taker and, truth be known, capable of kissing all the necessary asses--not even quite 21 (I got out a week
before my 21st birthday), and I knew what the Navy expected—by then I knew—and I probably could have gone to
some kind of officer school, OCS, or more like NROTC as I attended college while still in the Navy—and maybe I’d
have made Admiral or something.  

It would be fun to be an admiral now, say a three or four star one, and get up in the morning and have an aide or
two waiting to drive me somewhere where I’d return a lot of salutes, looking like Jeff Chandler in Away All Boats,
and maybe get on a ship for a couple of hours and walk around with my white gloves checking out the brightwork
and putting a few bo’sun’s mates on report.  But I probably wouldn’t have made admiral until the 70s, and how then
could I have been the Hippie that I became?  

“Good morning, sir!”  How would that sound to the ears of a Hippie? It just wouldn’t work.    As old Robert Frost,
more Hippie than Admiral himself, wrote, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both…

Still, a funeral with full military honors sounds pretty cool.  ###

Mon., September 15, 2014

The kid at the counter was only a little apologetic.  A dollar seventy-nine, he said.  For a refill? I asked.  I had already
filled my cup and had it steaming in front of him on the counter.  Usually I pay fifty cents for a cup.  I haven’t paid
that much for coffee since I was in Canada, I said.  I know that’s ridiculous, he said.  But that’s the price.  I gave him
two dollar bills and got my 21 cents back and thanked him and left.  

In the good old days…ah, well.  In the good old days I worked and worked hard for fifty cents an hour.  
At Cedar Rapids we put the pedal to the metal and zoomed home.  We stopped in Des Moines to spend an hour with
Scott and Shana at a picnic, hopped in the car and drove down the map to roll in here at 7 pm.  Iowa, Missouri,
I’m struggling to write these days.  I’m not sleeping well and I’m getting up tired, that’s part of it.  But another part of
it I feel I have nothing to say.  Uh-oh.  That means I have too much to say.  Everything in me tries to get out the door
at once and jams up in the doorway.  Time to make some prompts and/or look at my little book, which I’ve neglected
on the road.  Where is it?  
I can’t find it.  I can’t find anything.  
Maybe in my numbness induced by driving 2,000 miles, I have lost the power of observation.  Everything is a blur,
everything is motion, no stillness.  

So it’s back to the basics….
I got in the car.  I stepped on the gas.  The bottom dropped out and I fell on my….   Hahahhaha…age 9.  
In Norman, Oklahoma, I lived at 765 N. Jenkins Avenue.  Apartment no. whatever.  Upstairs at the top of the stairs, I
don’t remember the number.  Fumble for the key, fumble to find the lock, push open the door and there I
was…home for a year or more.  I was all of 19 years old, and head of a household of two: she was 19 too.  We owned
our clothes, a new TV, and a car.  I wore a uniform every day to work.  I was in the Navy.  One day I got my orders
and we got in our car and drove to Brooklyn, New York.  We stayed at the Mohawk Hotel, a retirement hotel, the old
people in the gloom of the dining room stared at us.  They all looked like Abe Vigoda.   Against rules we did some
eating in our single room upstairs.   We washed our dishes in the bathtub.  Soon I was sent aboard a ship, the USNS
General Rose, and I went to sea, and Betsy drove back to Kansas by herself and finished college.  General Maurice
Rose was a World War II hero, killed in action.  Another guy in yeoman school, I forget his name, but I can still see
him saying to me when I got my orders, “How come  you got a Jewish ship?”  I laughed. “You’re not a Jew.”   I didn’t
know General Rose was a Jew.  
This morning my life seems a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying…nothing.  ###

Sun., September 14, 2014

So here we are in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and on our speedy way home.  We should get there tonight.  At this moment,
however, I am sitting here in the Red Roof Inn sipping bad coffee and writing this to all the world.  

I note that there is no Bible in the desk drawer.  Does this mean the Gideon Society has given it all up and joined
ISIS?  Somehow I think not.  And here I was just getting to enjoy reading it, a verse or two, every time I stayed the
night in a motel, Red Roof or whatever sort of roof.  In my traveling years I have stayed in every sort of motel, Red
Roof Inns, No Roof Inns, you name it.  The worst motels for the money in my opinion are Best Westerns, always
overpriced and loaded with ugly expensive furniture.  Red Roof Inns and, sometimes, America’s Valu (or some such
name) are among the best dollar for dollar.

However yesterday late as we went through Madison, already tired, we stopped at one of those Valu places, and
really it looked pretty ratty but we were tired and all we wanted was a place to sleep a few hours so I pulled up and
June went in.  She came back in a minute, smiling strangely.  $99, she said.  $99? I said.  What’s the deal?  I asked
her if it was for the week, June said.  We drove off.  Maybe it’s  a brothel? I said.  June shrugged.  

Years ago in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, Marian Anderson, the greatest contralto in the world, came to
sing at the college.  I went to hear her, this beautiful black woman who had this great voice, and I was forever
impressed.  Later I heard they would not let her stay at the Wareham Hotel downtown, that she had to take a room in
a motel in the south end of town that was more brothel than motel.

Everyone probably knows, of course, the story of her not being allowed to sing in Constitution Hall, which had  
capacity of 2,000, in Washington, D.C., because she was black.  Eleanor Roosevelt, God bless her, hearing this,
invited her to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which she did, before 75,000 people, and the cameras
whirred and Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, was forever stained.  And so it
should be.  The clip of her singing on the steps of the memorial is sometimes shown on Classic Arts Showcase.  
I was never allowed to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, actually.  I did hear Eleanor Roosevelt speak once
in Topeka, but she took no notice of me there in the 27th row and no mention was made of my singing anything

So instead, yesterday in Milwaukee, at the opening of our workshop, I sang, honestly I did, My name is Jan Jansen, I
come from Wisconsin, I work in the lumberyards there!  I go down the street, the people I meet, they ask me my
name and I tells ‘em, My name is Jan Jansen, I come from Wisconsin…

Okay, Charley, that’s enough.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014 Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I lived here in Milwaukee part of one summer 61 years ago.  I was a lad of 15, and I came here with my brother of 18,
the two of us being challenged by our parents to go out into the wide world and seek our fortune ourselves.  This
no doubt after we complained and whined about having to live at home under their house and thumb.  Milwaukee
was selected because we had an uncle living here and other kin a couple hundred miles away in southwestern

And so we came, a few dollars to sustain us, and we got a tiny 4 or 5 storey walkup one room apartment at (I still
remember the address), isn’t that remarkable?  1624 North Farwell.  And our phone number was (alas, I can’t
remember the entire number, I can only guess) BRoadway 2-8951.  (I wonder if that was really it?)  

We set up housekeeping, went to the grocery, probably we bought cans of beans and maybe boxes of Kraft dinner
and, no doubt, a huge jug of milk.  They didn’t have fast food places in those days but they did have what were
called hamburger joints…but I don’t remember eating even in one of those.  We were economical and disciplined.

We looked for work immediately: that was the whole idea.  But as it happened Milwaukee was in the middle of a
brewery workers’ strike, and that at that time was the big industry in town.  So all those striking workers were
moonlighting doing the kind of jobs that my brother and I were looking for.  My brother finally got a job (I have told
his story elsewhere) at Broan Mfg. Co., and I almost got a job when I lied about my age at a printing plant as a
messenger boy.  It would have been heaven and my subsequent life would have gone much better, I am quite sure.  
I have told this story elsewhere, too, about trying to get that job and getting it and then being denied it because I
was too young.  

So I left my brother and went downstate—probably hitch-hiking—to my father’s ancestral home, Rewey, Wisconsin,
where lived my Uncle Pete and his family, and they took me in and I worked there the rest of the summer de-
tasseling corn.   I found that job bor-ing, and the only fun of it was that there was a crew of us, ten or fifteen boys
all about the same age, working, and making the big bucks—as much as 85 cents an hour!  

Toward the end of the summer Uncle Pete's oldest son and my bosom buddy, Gary, and I hitch-hiked to Kansas,
joyously arguing all the way about which state was best, Kansas or Wisconsin.  

My Uncle Arthur—the one who lived in Milwaukee and worked at Seaman Body (?), or was it called Nash Motors
then, and who was a champion pool player—we never saw him.  He was a bachelor and a loner and just a bit, well,
weird.  ###

Fri., September 12, 2014  ON THE ROAD near Stevens Point, Wisconsin

When you go looking for the old farmhouse where you used to live 43 years ago, you may have some trouble.  
Houses close up and are demolished, roads change, people of course are dead and gone…even if I remember, they
may not.

So it was with driving north of Stevens Point yesterday.  We couldn’t find my old place in Dewey Marsh.  We did find
Dewey Marsh.  The Marsh is still there.  The tamarack trees were still there, the tall grass, some roads.  We drove
and drove.  I think we might have driven past it and not known we did.

I think of Sandburg’s poem, The Grass, isn’t it?  “I cover all.”  It’s a poem about the dead at the Battle of Ypres in
World War I, how they’re piled up, and then the grass covers them.
We milked two cows, Ethyl and Blackie.  We had a cream separator.  One of my jobs was to wash the thing
afterwards.  It had a million parts, all those cone-shaped baffles, the big bowl…everything.  We sold the milk, most
of it, in town.  I don’t know why we did all that.  I don’t even know why we had not one but two dairy cows.  But we
did.  We had two dairy cows, we had thirty or so chickens, we had an old workhorse named Molly…

I got on Molly, a gentle old white horse, and she walked under a tree and there was a low branch and she scraped
me off onto the ground.  I don’t think she meant to.  I think she was probably surprised to look down and see me
lying there bawling on the ground.  I never got on her or any other horse again.

In the summer we swam every day (all day it seemed) in the creek.  Deep Creek was a major creek.  It flowed for
about twenty miles from its beginning at a springs a few miles southwest of us down just south of the little town of
Zeandale and thence a few miles more into the meandering Kansas River, onto to Kansas City where it was all
dumped into the Missouri and across that state and into the great Mississippi.  

We had on our place a half mile or more of the creek, and in that half mile we had three or four swimming holes.  
They had shallow places where we could wade in and feel the water getting colder and colder deep down until we
pushed off and began swimming, dog paddling, out to where the water was well over our head.  I’d pinch my nose
and raise a hand straight up and drop down to touch the bottom and then shoot back up.  It must have been eight
or ten feet deep in places.  

We’d get out after a couple of hours and play and there’d be leeches on our legs.  Some were very small but some
would be big as a half dollar.  
We’d light a cigarette and burn the leeches off with the hot tip.  We’d smoke it too.  In the warm sun we’d lie there
on the pebbly sandy beach naked and luxuriate and smoke a cigarette just like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  
This was 1948 and life would never end.  (543 words.)

Thu., September 11, 2014

Last night I watched a movie, Still Mine, about a man in New Brunswick who insisted on building a small house for
him and wife to live in.  He built it on his own place, and he just went at it.  The plan was in his head.  He was
building on his own land.   He was a lumberman and a carpenter of long experience and so he knew exactly what to
do.  The authorities, in the person of the building inspector, intervened, or tried to.  He had not gotten a building
permit; he did not have blueprints for them to look at and stamp with their approval; his lumber (which he made
himself in his small sawmill) wasn’t stamped lumber…oh, they were very upset.  This was a true story, the man’s
name was…I forget.  The actor was James Cromwell, and his wife, played by an actress I didn’t really know but who
apparently is quite famous.  They were well cast, the movie was carefully paced, understated, the story just rolled
out scene by scene.  It was a good movie.  

I liked the movie but didn’t really like the man, however.  A few years ago I might have; probably would have.  I was
the guy who admired Elvis for his singing of I Did It My Way—the message therein more than the singing—I was the
guy who fought the system to a draw again and again, at least in my own head.

But now this doesn’t work.  The man was all ego, society and the government go hang.  It was his land and his wife
and his land.  For him, life was all about mine.  

And I just don’t buy that anymore.  

This isn’t my life.  It’s ours.  I am not here to take over or even to stake my claim.  I am here to do the group’s will; or,
if you like, I am here to do God’s will.  
I don’t know what think till I see what I say.  A movie is good when it raises a problem to discuss. Some movies do
that for me; this one did.  Maybe a great movie is beyond all probing and argumentation.  Paths of Glory was such a
movie.  Billy Budd. Maybe Roy Rogers’ The Raiders of the Sawtooth Ridge.

Still Mine not a great movie but a good one, is grist for the mill going in my head.  Maybe in yours too.  
Today looms.  It is gloomy and cold here in Wisconsin, a reminder that winter is coming.  Here the television
meteorologists are already talking unembarrassedly about first frosts. My thoughts are of warm sun and the South.  
I don’t want to spend another winter pitching logs on the fire.  Never again.  I was born in January and I have lived
through a lot of Januaries in places like North Dakota and Wisconsin and Iowa and Kansas.  But now I hear
Southern California calling, south Texas, Florida…the sun in my eyes all the livelong day.

Wed., September 10, 2014

I don’t have my notes for the past day or two at hand so I don’t know what to say.  My mind is blank.  I sit here taking
it all in at the home of friends in Wisconsin—the woods surrounding us, the quiet as we three diddle our respective
computers, the rain falling on the leaves of the trees…the beautiful old dog, Delilah, a white Lab of 11 years,
padding around the house wanting to be petted.  What peace!  

I tell my friend that if I had a dog like Delilah lying at feet my life would be so much enhanced, and I believe it.  A dog
is a fine creature.  
Years ago John Steinbeck wrote a book about traveling America with his dog, Charley, in a camper, a sort of early
version of a book like Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon.  Moon, whose given name was Trogodon, got fired
from his job as an instructor in the English Department at the University of Missouri.  His wife dumped him.  He had
a Volkswagen Camper and a credit card and a typewriter and he got in the camper and toured America and wrote
the book, Blue Highways.  He then tried to sell the book, but could not.  22 publishers turned him down.  Then—this
was the late 60s, I think—he somehow became inspired to change his name to Least Heat Moon, which, being a
fraction Indian, was his name as an Indian…I guess.  And then he sent the book off again to a 23rd publisher and it
was snapped up and published.  
It became a national bestseller and he lived happily ever after.
My new book, Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More or Less Happily for the Rest of Your Life, has sold 27
copies, I believe.  They have all been sold at the workshops we’ve recently done in Marysville, KS, Beatrice, NE,
Lincoln, NE and Prior Lake, MN.  So if we sell 4 per workshop and do 1,000 workshops, we will have sold 4,000
books…not bad, ten bucks a book (a bargain of course), = $40,000.  In the old days a man could live well on that
much money.
Years ago, more than 50 years ago, my dear father on a rainy morning like this, just after paying his taxes, said to
me that “I only made 97,000 dollars last year.  Some of the other doctors made over a hundred.”  He was quite
wistful, a wistfulness I cannot say that I shared, earning as I was then something like eleven cents an hour as a
sailor in the U. S. Navy.  The sad thing really was that he, himself, measured his worth in money terms, but what a
fine man he was, what a fine doctor, what a fine father!  
The persistence of memory…as I’m writing, my hostess walks quietly past, the only sound the squeaking of her
shoes.  I remember being in the Navy sleeping in the shore barracks in Brooklyn, New York, winter, 1958, and
hearing such a sound and thinking it was the Bo’sun’s Mate on watch walking, and then realizing it was a man
bunking nearby grinding his teeth in his sleep.  He was a nice kid we called Pepe,  from Springfield, Mass.

September 7, 2014

I have written probably more about the Navy than I actually lived it.  I wasn’t even in four full years of active duty.  I
was signed up with something called “Minority Cruise,” which was for people under 18, and I was to be discharged
the day before I attained “majority,” which I did not know then, meant the day before I was 21.  I served a total
(active duty) of 3 years, 5 months, and 27 days.   Here’s another clip from those active years:
The Navy scared me this way: worship rigidity & authority or you’ll be shot. Be safe  keep a tight asshole  don’t smile
during inspection  follow the letter of the law because if you do what it says they can never get you even if they
decide you’re drunk. Example: one of the moments I had in the Navy stands out, seems to comprise & explain a lot of
my experience then. That was a moment in boot camp at Great Lakes. I was assigned the job of “policing” an area
in front of my barracks, i.e., picking up bits of trash from the lawn. I picked up the trash but instead of hauling it
away I threw it under the barracks ,  a naval version of the maid sweeping dirt under the carpet. I was doing this
when some bo’sun’s mate spied me & came running over.

“What are you doing, sailor?” His tone wasn’t conversational.
“I’m policing the area, sir.”
“When you police the area you throw the shit under the barracks?”
“I don’t know sir. I guess so, sir.”
“Don’t you know any better?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know whether to throw trash under the barracks or not?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know a goddamned thing, do you?”
And in complete disgust he stalked off.

So I learned then and there that ignorance was in some way an excuse.  If you were willing to put yourself forward
as a complete boob, and I was, then you could get away with some things.  This was one of the many things I
learned in the Navy that I’d have to unlearn later on.  
It’s Sunday morning and I’m up v-e-r-y early and working my tail off to finish stuff I should have finished a week
ago.  At the stroke of 10 or before, we have to get in the car and go.  Going first to Lincoln, Nebraska, where this
afternoon we’ll do a workshop at The Walt Library, and thence north to Minnesota and Wisconsin in the coming
week.  We’ll be back home on the 15th, late.  The big workshop is to be the one in Wauwatosa, a big suburb of
Milwaukee that the locals call Tosa.   

I have by now done memoir writing workshops at every kind of venue: libraries, museums, banks, police stations,
fire stations, recreation centers, schools, colleges, restaurants, hospitals, retirement communities, senior centers,
coffeehouses, city halls, private homes…and even on streetcorners.  I believe that I started the first Reminiscence
Writing Workshop in the world (nothing like modesty—why not say universe?) in 1976.  I started doing them shortly
after my wife and I started LifeStory Magazine  in 1992, first one at the Latin American Center (LULAC) in Topeka,
Kansas.  (547 words.)

Sat., Sep. 6, 2014

This is from a book I'm working on about my time in the Navy, which I'm calling White Hat:

July 20, 1955, a Wednesday morning, and my father is putting me on a train for Kansas City.  It’s around 7 o’clock,
very sunny, “it’s going to be a hot one,” as we say to one another out here, and I see my father in a pin stripe dark
gray (a few years later we would call it charcoal gray) suit, dressed to go to his medical office and see patients, or
stop by the hospital and see the one or two patients he might have there; he says, probably, semi-ironically, Boy,
don’t take any wooden nickels, or Keep your nose clean.  We stood there at the little station, the old baggage man
pulling the big steel-wheeled wagon up to the tracks to take off whatever's on this train coming west from Denver.  I
see the red brick pavement. I see the sign that lists incoming trains and the one I’m getting on says OT.  I see a few
other people standing around, waiting to get on the train coming now into the station, the only train, a few others
maybe waiting to greet somebody getting off, or a few other passengers like me headed into Kansas City.  
Dad and I probably shook hands.  You can be sure we did not hug, not that we didn’t care about one another, but
that in 1955 men didn’t hug.  
I was really not a man but a boy of 17 and a half, almost to the day.  I’m tall and skinny: 6 feet nearly, and I weigh
about 130.  I have some acne, I wear glasses: I’m gangly.  I’m not athletic but I’m built like one, I’m built like my
father, who was a champion athlete in high school and teacher’s college before he went to medical school.  I have
my father’s build but I did not have much in the way of his habits.  I was well on my way to being a dissolute youth,
running away from home at 15 and then coming back but refusing to go to high school for a full year, then going
and finishing up and starting college even, at Kansas State College in my hometown, running up to the campus
everyday in summer school for a couple of months until it was clear to one and all that I wasn’t serious about
college anymore than I was about high school: I spent my evenings “out,” mostly in Aggieville drinking at Kite’s,
then maybe the next morning frantically doing my assignment in French I (taught, inexplicably, by a Spaniard
named Senor Ramirez) and glancing at the chapter in my general psych course.  If I was taking a third course,
which seems likely, 9 hours then being a full load for the summer, I don’t remember it.  I was of course a beginning

Fri., September 5, 2014

My head is in a swirl.  All kinds of stuff is going on in my life.  Where we live, here at 3591 Letter Rock Road,
Manhattan, Kansas, once known merely as Rural Route 3, Manhattan, Kansas, a little farm southeast of town eight
miles…we are moving.  I came here in 1971 and June came here in 1973 and we got married under the four cedar
trees in our front yard…and had children and lived since that time.  Now we are olde.  

But we’re not really moving moving.  Get it?  We’re going to keep this place, go on the road for a year doing
workshops, lease out the place and spend a lot of time in and around Seattle/Tacoma Washington visiting our kids
and grandkids there---and working, doing workshops in memoir writing.  We have done a number of workshops in
that area over the years, including two at the downtown central public library in Seattle.  
It is so difficult when you olde to decide what to do, especially if you’re lifelong undecideds like us.  What do you
think we ought to do, hon?  I don’t know.  What do you think?  What do I think about what you think?  I don’t know
what you think….and, as the King said, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  Things are decided and then, next day, they
are undecided.  Here’s what we’re going to do…we think.  

We want to continue of course the idea of the LifeStory Institute as a physical entity.  But this coming year we’re
going to focus on building the virtual LifeStory Institute, online and in your town.   Our theory is we’ll work our tails
off (the said same tails that are already dragging) for a year, bond with our kids and grandkids  in the great
Northwest, and then come back here next fall to visit and invest some time and money into The LifeStory Institute in
the Woods.  How about that musical group in England or wherever, I can’t think of the name just now…we’ll be like
that.  People will come and stay a couple of weeks and walk in the woods and write their memmies and then go back
to (say) 785638 East South Street, Apartment 1,578 in Tomkinsville, Staten Island, New York, New York, thus
fortified by life here.  And we will be fortified by them.  
Now that I’ve finished the book I call Narrative Journaling: 28 Days to Writing More or Less Happily for the Rest of
Your Life,  I can start a new book.  It’s called Living It Up, Living It Down, LIULID for short, and I started on it
September 1.

I have already from years ago about 65K words.  Actually, I just looked, it is 66,338 words.  That’s book length right
there.  With a few photographs, and of course I’d want to put in a lot, I have a big thick memoir.  All I have to do is
roll it out, look at it, reshape and edit it…and sell it for $20 a copy.  Want to buy an advance copy, discounted to
(say) $18?  What a deal, right?  Yes, I accept credit cards, and I promise delivery before Christmas. ###

Thu., September 4, 2014

Okay, September 4, here I come!  I am up and at ‘em and with the help of God and another cup of coffee, I’m ready
for bear!
Actually, I have nothing against bears and have no desire to hunt them, scare them out of their dens or, above all,
to mess with their cubs in any way.  I wish them all the best!  It’s just a metaphor, right?  Bear with me…ha ha ha.  
Thomas Wolfe would trudge the streets of Brooklyn at dawn as he walked with his laundry basket filled with pages
of his day’s writing from his Brooklyn apartment over to the office of Scribner’s in Manhattan, and he would chant, I
wrote ten thousand words today…I wrote ten thousand words today.  

God bless old Tom, who unfortunately died at 38 of tuberculosis contracting from a man on board a steamer, a
stranger who offered Tom a swig from his bottle, and Tom, being an old Southern boy who couldn’t say no, took a
swig, caught the TB, and died.  Just 38.
We left Beatrice about 4.  It was hot.  I was dead tired.  June was willing to drive the 110 mile drive home.  I had
driven up in the morning.  We stopped at a nice big grocery and I got us some stuff—a huge bag of cheddar cheese
flavored potato chips, a thing of milk for me, a big bottle of Pepsi for June, and an Almond Joy candy bar, milk
chocolate, not the dark chocolate.  And so we pointed the car south and slid down the map.  I ate.  I helped feed
June potato chip by potato chip.  I slept.  June focused.  I woke up.  Was that Marysville? I asked her, as we left a
town.  I think she said yes but in all honesty I didn’t hear her answer, I went right back to sleep.  I did the same thing
at Waterville, and again outside Manhattan, and then we were in Dillon’s parking lot and June was going in to get a
scrip.  People everywhere.  I put my head back and slept more.  When she came back she had some ice cream and I
ate a huge portion of it with a plastic spoon right out of the box.

And then we were home.  We talked a few minutes in the car sitting in the driveway, I don’t remember what about.   
We went wearily inside.  I’ll get the rest of the stuff later, I said.  And we went inside and went to bed.  I was so
tired.  That tired.  I was happy.  We had done our best at two workshops and we had done some good.  We had
spread the Word to more than twenty people.  They knew now about summary and scene.  They knew now the
importance of writing every day.  We had spread the word.  The Word of course is the Word of writing, to take the
time in your life to write things down…
Now in the cool of the very early morning, just 4 am, I am here again, quietly clicking the keys and writing.  I love to
write.   I live to write.  I write to live.  Words, words, words.    

Wed., September 3, 2014

In 1978 I wrote this 36 years ago,

And I do admit to a very strong desire to produce something tangible that would reflect the accumulated,
convoluted, time and experience and perception-shaped form of my own mind.  It is almost a duty--to leave a
footprint behind, a fossil by which what I was, what I thought, what I felt, may be known.  

Okay,  a little pretentious.  But true enough, right?  What would the world be if everyone got up in the morning and
spent the first hour of the day doing this…?  Well, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  Maybe it’s better than everyone
getting up in the morning and loading their pistol so as to shoot their neighbor.  

The kid at the checkout at Dillons was labeled Adam.  He sacked up my half gallon of butter pecan ice cream and
handed it to me.  “Have a nice day,” he said, and looked directly at me and smiled.  He was a squirt of a kid, just 15
or 16 at the oldest, but he seemed to really mean it.  I smiled back, looked directly at him, and thanked him.  “You
too,” I said.

This is the simplest of human exchanges.  I find it reassuring.  Working alone all day, often seeing only my wife for a
brief time in the morning and in the evening, it is my outside contact with the world.  Adam:  good name.

I was in high school so long ago it seems only to exist as a movie I once saw.  
I actually in high school worked for a movie theater chain.  There were three theaters in Manhattan (Kansas) where
I grew up, The Campus, The State, and The Co-ed.  There were also two drive ins as part of that chain but I never
worked at those.  I was a ticket-taker.  I took the ticket and smiled and said Thank you.  Yes, just like young Adam, I
took their ticket, looked directly at them and smiled, and said, Thank you.  I’m sure I didn’t say Have a nice day. We
didn’t have that concept then.  Maybe I said, Enjoy the movie, or something like that.  But even that was a little off-
The first time I heard anybody say Have a nice day was in Tucson, Arizona, about 1973.  My wife had left me and
taken the children and I was pretty upset.  I drove down to Tucson to see old friends and they lived in a communal
situation and they were having their phone disconnected for non-payment of the bills.  The phone company man
came and smiled and said hello and explained why he was there to those of us who were awake.  He went about his
business removing the phone, tucked it under his arm and left with a little wave:  Have a nice day!

That time, too, seems like an old movie.  My life is made up of old movies.  

And that’s my footprint on the sands of time for today.  (505 words.)
Tue., September 2, 2014

Fifty years ago, let’s see…mmm…I was 26, it was September 2, 1964.  I squint and look into my dusty ancient anti-
crystal ball.  Most of my future is behind me, after all.  

I was living in Lawrence, Kansas.  I had in June graduated, finally, nine years after I first matriculated into a
university.  I probably had just started as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas.  I was pretty excited about
Yesterday I got up.  Surely I got up.  I drank some coffee.  Surely I drank some coffee.   I wrote in my Journal.  I
posted something on the Net.  I took my meds.  I peed.   I drank more coffee.  Somewhere in there June got up.  

Oh, I remember.  The power was off.   Oh, yeah.  We drove to town just to see some lights. We went to Dillons and
walked around.  I think I bought a peach and ate it.  It wasn’t bad.  Usually peaches in the stores are too hard and
crisp like an apple, and not therefore what I want in a peach.  I want a peach I can bite into with just my lips.  I want
one that’s juicy, so juicy I have to hold a napkin under my chin, or lean forward as I’m walking along.  I know why
Prufrock said, Do I dare, do I dare  to eat a peach?  I’ll wear my trousers rolled and walk upon the beach.  
Sooner or later you’re going to run out of things to say, or rather you’re going to think you have.  Then you’re going
to self-parody, as I am doing now.  You’re going to hate the sound of your own voice.  So you’re going to do stuff like
ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! And glare at
your computer screen—as I am doing now.  

Do not succumb to the usual advice and get up and go for a walk.  No. Write 500 words and then go for a walk,
sure.  But write those 500.  
That’s only one word.  Someone asked the great William Stafford what he did when he was blocked from writing.  “I
just lower my standards,” he said, “and keep on writing.”  

And so I type on.  

My father came home from the office and ate lunch.  He wasn’t talkative.  In fact he wasn’t in a good mood.  He
listened to me grumbling about something…stupid.  He took a couple of puffs from a cigarette he’d picked from the
ashtray that morning, and put it out.  He walked up and down, went to the bathroom, came out, glared at me, and
said, Some of us have to get back to work, and left.  
I got the message.  
It’s six thirty and more, but it’s still dark.  How can that be?  When I was a boy we’d get up at 4 and walk the railroad
tracks hunting wild asparagus to sell to the ladies of the town for enough money to hitch-hike to Platteville and
shoot a game or two of pool at Mike’s.  It was broad daylight at 4, wasn’t it?  What has happened to the universe?  Is
this global darkening?  [519 words]

Mon., September 1, 2014

Good morning, I guess. I mean, where I am, here in eastern Kansas, electricity is hard to come by. Actually I'm sitting
at a cafe in town using their electricity.

This is the first day of the 9th LifeStory Journalong.

I went to a meeting in town. It really was a dark and stormy night. Everyone kept looking out the windows and
several had their IPhones on the table watching the progress of the storm. At 830 the meeting adjourned and I ran
to my car to get in. It was raining very, very hard. I shook myself off, started the car, and drove home, about 12 or so
miles, from the west side of town to the east side, then across the bridge of the Kansas River, then on the highway
and then on the turnoff to the Deep Creek Road. It took me half an hour. I had to go slow because of all the huge
puddles. Last thing I wanted was to have an accident and have to walk home in this rainstorm. When I did get home
it was pitch dark. I thought I had a flashlight in the glove compartment but I didn't. Then I remembered that I'd used
it a couple of days before and left it by the door, inside the house. I got out and guided myself in, making good use of
the flashes of lightning to see where I was going. June was awake in bed. She is recovering from rotator cuff
surgery Friday. Her arm is in a sling and she is in considerable discomfort and sometimes pain.

We sat in the dark, talking. The power had been off a couple of hours, June said. I had plenty of work to do, I said,
and no there was no electricity. I was pissed off, really, and anymore it's okay to say that in polite company, I
suppose.   don't mean that you, gentle reader, are not polite company. I am sure you are. You're probably the politest
company I've had all week. I only mean that anymore we don't make such distinctions. In fact I'm discovering that
almost everything I learned about how to get along in the world has changed. Men used to open the door for women.
Now they don't, or they might, or the woman might open it for the man. This is just normal change. I'm not lamenting
the good old days. I didn't really think they were very good, anyway. I'm just saying that it is sometimes confusing to
know what the score is.I guess the score is and has always been 0 to 0.

When I started LifeStory years ago I had in mind--among other models--the Metropolitan Diary that appeared several
times a week in the New York Times. Remember that? I was a quarter page or so of sketches from everyday New
York life, submitted to the paper by readers. They were little snapshots, you might say, of life in the big city, often
amusing but not always. I loved reading that, though I did not then and do not now live in NYC or even any big city.
The idea was that these sketches, taken together, would give a more or less accurate account of the experience of
living in New York City. The same could be done with Wamego, Kansas or LA or, in fact, the entire world.

We could call it World Diary. I imagine there is such a thing now on the Net. There certainly ought to be. Because
among other changes, we are now One World. Old Wendell Wilkie had it about right. (I'm not able to count the
words this morning because I'm not writing this in Word--where there is a word counting feature-- but I'm guessing I
have something more than 500, so I'm stopping.)
                          DAY TWENTY-EIGHT OF THE 10th JOURNALONG!  The 11th will start on Nov. 1
(Saturday)...meantime look for my posts on Facebook, the LifeStory page.  

Hello!  I am Charley Kempthorne and this is my website, my means of reaching out to you and all the wide world.  I am a writer and a writing coach.  
Mainly I help people by encouraging and enabling them to write regularly--daily if at all possible.  Please join me in writing 500+ words this morning
about whatever is on your mind.  You do yours at home and I'll do mine right here.  We support one another by writing together.  If you'd like to
share some or all of what you've written, send it to me via email,