He Talked Up

Sansaku: He Talked Up


We tend to reduce a story to its end, but ends are tricky. Take this three-sentence chapter. It can come at the start or the end of the story. The last line, “I love you.” But we need the first for context. “Sitting alone in a bar, the drunk walked up to her.” The symbolic sentence connects the two, “She hadn’t seen her mother in years.”

There needs to be long dramatic pauses between each of the three sentences. The fractal sentence, “I love you,” is infinitely complex. I’m still writing about Corder. You need to know, he’s been dead forty years and I’ve never known him better.

A story like this is made whole cloth, even when it comes in parts and pieces. He was torn to pieces.

Relationships, mysteriously, can exist out of time and space. They can go on, keep growing. Corder’s in his soul form now. Without him, I’m not sure I could have understood redemption, grace and forgiveness.

Corder died perfectly ripe. He was not a timberline tree like I am. He always drove fast. I like to walk.   He told me, “You know I sowed my wild oats. I just didn’t plan on a bumper crop. And, damn, my reapers are all worn out.” We laughed loud and people wondered.

People who didn’t know him, but had heard of him, sometimes called him Dallas. I loved when that happened. Denver looked like a crow and was very opportunistic. This was easy prey.

There’s a father wound in me, where I come from. I can’t see the bottom. Am I good enough? Are you good enough? I had to test him. Are you honest? He gave me the crow stare that seemed to assess how much I could handle.

When I asked about his relationship with Irma, the answer sounded like a line. “Don’t you know? No one can see into another person’s relationship. Your relationship with her isn’t mine.” I got it. Say no more. But I was grateful when he did.

Corder didn’t use an alias. He changed his name to Denver. I doubt he made it legal.   Garon wrote a homily for his church last week where he told the story of learning his birth certificate was a forgery.

It reads like a mystery and I really should tell the whole story. We all knew who did it. Corder was district attorney when he committed the crime.   I’ll always think of his escape to Tombstone as a get-away. Instead of wearing a disguise, he took it off. Hence, Denver.

His parents named him Corder after an uncle, a well-known judge. He was also a well-known drunk. What were they thinking? Corder lived up to his name. He needed to leave it behind.

The piano at the Crystal Palace was against the wall on the side opposite the bar. He had to turn around to see the crowd, which meant he often stopped in the middle of a song.

They didn’t come to hear him play, although they requested song after song. He played them, often making up the words. When someone gave him shit, he had the excuse he was looking for. Not that he needed one.

He’d played Doc Holliday in a cheesy production that’s still being shown in Tombstone and earned him the nickname, Doc.   Until I saw that film, I’d never seen him run. It was strange for me to realize, I didn’t know my father. The stories I’d grown up with, re-contextualized.

He was no longer Corder or dad, that was a past incarnation. Luckily, he remembered it well. He never talked down, always up.



I Needed Forty Years

Sansaku: I Needed Forty Years


Sansaku has been going “Unpub”, my title for the ones I write and don’t publish. I hit a windfall in the journal. I’m self-analyzing. It’s father and mother complex time. While Corder was the fiction I grew up with, I met the man named Denver when I was grown. I’d always known Irma.

I now have both beings and voices inside me. I don’t resemble or sound like either, but I am like their relationship in college. No wonder I worked in one. So, in fact, did Irma. I enrolled in Denver.

Can you imagine me entering a bar called the Cattleman’s with my most bohemian father? I couldn’t. And I couldn’t believe he motioned for an old crippled drunk to come over and sit with us. What are you doing? He bought him a beer and said, “Tell me your story.” The man did.

Irma always reminded me of the Beatitudes, she had that Christian grace. When I told Denver he looked pagan, he corrected me, “I’m a barbarian.” There’s a difference, I would learn.

Nobody guessed his background, but they all assumed he’d once been someone and something happened. I was only one who knew and with me he was non-defensive and open.   I could ask him any question and he’d answer. There was no such thing as TMI. But I had to be careful not to argue. He’d stop and look at me. “You don’t need to do that.” I’d tell him what I felt; he’d understand. He wasn’t one to punish my disclosures. No wonder I loved him. We had great fun.

He didn’t give me lots of things, but the things I have are meaningful. His gold pocket watch has a chain with keys. One is the CU seal and says student body president. He was also president of the barbs. It stands for the barbarians. He defeated the Greeks on campus. FDR was in the White House then, not Trump. Different times.

Always outspoken, outrageous, out of line, he got lots of practice, lots of feedback. He used it to improve his game. I loved to watch the performance. While I never saw him as a lawyer, I often watched him entertain. John Denver would have said, “Far out.”

Drunks like to heckle and Denver didn’t mind. They made for a better show. He was a master at this game and they had no way of knowing. He’d seen their moves many times before and had a wit and tongue he used like a sword. If you’ve read Cyrano or seen the play, you’ll remember the poetic duel. “Is that the best you can do?”

He taunted and teased the loud mouths. He couldn’t help himself and always caught a few. They’re easy to bait and he knew how to cast. He could also court a crowd and somehow had the grace to rescue the ones he stabbed before they left. That wasn’t always true.

Irma worked hard in high school and came to CU with a valedictorian’s scholarship. She came from a ranch in the southeast corner of the state and was shocked at the competition. She’d always been the best. I’m reminded of my college here in town. It’s currently out of it’s league and doesn’t know it yet and should. That’s a different story.

Corder didn’t need good grades to know he was smart. That was never the question. He wanted something else and thought he’d found it in Irma. They talked each night for hours and hours. Courtships were longer back then. Irma said, “That didn’t prevent us from steaming up the windows.” I knew how they fell in love.

They were coming of age and told each other secrets, how they felt, what they feared and dreamed. They saw what was best in each other and took delight in that. Irma said, “I’ve never enjoyed talking to anyone more.” It’s how we talked and how I talked with him. I was close to understanding. But I needed forty years.




Sansaku: Lucky


Boulder’s not the only thing that’s changed in my life over the last sixty years. It’s my memories of childhood. I must have believed in fairy tales and miracles. I didn’t think what happened would change.

To have any sort of perspective, you need at least two points of view. Now that I’ve kept my journal for more than forty years and I’m finally taking time, the reference points have separated. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve added the dreams.

It doesn’t matter if it’s music, dream recall or memory, if you keep working on it long enough, it’s going to get better. What that meant for memory once seemed obvious, no longer.

When I was twenty-two, I was reintroduced to Corder. When he stepped out of the car, my girlfriend stared and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I thought the very same thing.

My childhood stories were 3-D and vivid. This was more than a lack of perspective. Instead of a simple correction or revision to the map, I threw the old atlas away. He wasn’t in least who I thought he was. But from the eyes of a child, neither was I.

The thing about Corder, it turns out I’m more like Irma. And since he’d never stopped loving Irma, that wasn’t the problem, we were bound to get along. She said they used to talk for hours on end and that’s exactly what we did. Usually in a bar.

He didn’t drink at home, except on party occasions and then in moderation. He liked bars and I did too. I grew up with Tulagi’s and the Sink on the Hill. It’s where I learned to philosophize and bullshit, but also to woo.

My first date with Leslie had been at a 3.2 bar with her old boyfriend, my roommate, who was trying to set us up over a pitcher of beer. Now we were in the Owl and I quickly learned the old stories were wrong.

Nietzsche made a remark about religion. We can believe in virgin birth and walking on water as children, but after that, get serious. Now imagine meeting Christ or, in my case, the Devil. I didn’t need to believe in fairy tales and miracles, I had the read deal.

Is it a coincidence that I started to keep a journal that very same year? Is it a coincidence the first time I ever entered a counseling center was the year before? The cause is tangled.

Counselors ask, “What would you like to get out of this? What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish?” It’s always embarrassing to write on the intake form, “Forgot to ask.”

The first time I went to counseling and got asked the question, I had to reply, “Why don’t you go first. I have no idea.” I think I broke a rule, because she threw it back at me. I hadn’t expected that and told her. Once again, she threw it back. I didn’t come back.

I don’t think Corder normed as a child and certainly not as an adult. He’s the kind if given a personality inventory would test the tester. If asked, “Do you believe in dreams?” He’d laugh and answer, “I don’t need to believe, I know. Don’t you?” He didn’t play that game.

When it came to asking what I needed to know, he told me. I’m the one who needed help. “Aren’t you curious about your grandparents, my childhood? I don’t think you understand.”

From the picture he painted, I got the feeling he was the dad he wanted to have. Not a tombstone maker, like grandpa, but a character from Tombstone. He’d always wished he’d had a mother like Irma. And he told me, “You know, you’re very lucky.”





Two Ways of Driving

Sansaku: Two Ways of Driving


Driving with Corder was a trip. He drove fast and didn’t watch the road. When he talked, he liked to look at people, even in the back seat. Good thing he could read faces. He’d see me panic and turn just in time to make a curve. Sometimes I stomped on the floor. He laughed and stopped with just enough space to spare. He drove, I watched.

I was reminded of Corder when Garon told a story about a friend of his who was driving a presidential candidate from Montana Tech up to Helena. When they passed a van on the icy interstate, he lost control and the car slid into the barrow, banked off the far side and right back onto the road. I love what Garon’s friend said, “Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”

If the same thing had happened to Corder, and I’m sure it did, he would have waved at the van and made a good show of it. “Don’t you just love it when that happens?”

George, on the other hand, was stopped for going 19MPH on Brooks. He was looking for Ruby’s Restaurant. When the cop asked, “George, do you know why I stopped you?” George asked, “How did you know my name?” The cop was a good guy and said, “I had lots of time to look it up on the computer. You were going that slow.”

If George was a careful driver, he hated distraction and might have a fit. Coming back from Stapleton he was stressed and turned onto a one-way street. I hollered and the on-coming cars honked. He shouted back at both of us. “The damn fools are going the wrong way.” I figured he’d figure it out eventually.

Corder had the disease of the expert. He was over-confident. He rarely got a ticket and deserved them when he did. He didn’t argue.

He’d been at an all-night party and, still drunk, went looking for a bar. There weren’t any parking places and when someone pulled out behind him, he yanked it into reverse and did thirty an hour back down the street to snag it. He saw the cop who saw him.

“It’s a damn good thing you were going into that bar and not out of it, but you’re still getting a ticket for speeding in reverse. He said, “You’re right, it’s a damn good thing.” He didn’t mind the ticket one bit.

George taught me how to drive and it’s a damn good thing. I’m not like Corder in that way. The life I live looks a lot like George. I’m a stick in the mud and so is he. The image, however, is different. I’ve got my toes sticking in the mud, cool and wet, while George is more of a stick and it’s stuck. I’ll try to be nice.

When it comes to people and places, mood and weather, climate and character, there’s lots of contrasts. George came to Boulder by way of Texas and back east. Corder left Boulder for Leadville then Tombstone. He looked like the wild-wild west. If you don’t have an image, think of Billy Goat Jesus and Pan. He was born on Christmas Eve.

George was a Yankee and proud of it. I was a teenager and there’s a problem with metaphor and myth. George was not my real father, and Corder looked a lot like Robin Hood.

If George was easy to bait, Corder liked to chum. They only talked once on the phone. Corder’s oldest sister had died; he came up to Boulder for the funeral. George answered the phone and I could hear every word. I was just around the corner and still in junior high.

“Don’t call me George, “I’m Dr. Walters.” Corder calmly explained he had a similar degree. “George, would you please get Irma.” “Don’t call her Irma.” About that time, she gently took the phone from him and said, “Let me talk.” I was twenty-two the next time I saw him.





A Complex Father Complex

Sansaku: A Complex Father Complex


When I wrote that Corder was the most complex person I’d ever known, just being an absent father was enough to qualify. Added to this were all the stories I’d heard, good and otherwise, but also the dreams. I don’t mean he was more complex in a normative or relative way; it’s all about the relationship. He lived in me.

When I began teaching Jungian psychology, I was asked about complexes and didn’t like the answer I gave. It was overly academic and lacked the conviction of experience. I tried to quote Jung, “It’s an autonomous personality that’s splintered off from the whole and has a consciousness and volition of its own.” What does that mean?

It’s said that fire and fate depend upon the wood. It’s the image of the Cauldron. I’d been making up shit all my life about Corder and by the time I met him, I had a fantasy forest full of wood. I could do wonders.

I knew I had a mother complex and what it meant. I could easily regress. There was no denying that. But I never considered the impact of the father complex on my psyche. Not until I met him.

Corder was a complex person in his own right. There was universal agreement he was bull-moose crazy at times and highly evolved at others. They’d criticize and praise and then go silent. You know who, he who must not be named. Corder was taboo after George married into the family. Pure unconscious fuel.

What a pile George stepped into. A hard act to follow, he never stepped out of character. He was almost the exact opposite. While they both had doctorates and were professional musicians, that’s all they had in common.   George didn’t help my complex father complex.

Great novels have been written about small, insignificant people. George wasn’t great, but he’s a character in mine – just not the lead. He played second fiddle. My real father stole the show. The one who went underground and shunned himself. I didn’t even know.

I iterate Sansaku to achieve some complexity, I’ve been doing it with the fathers. If I could have settled on a one-story interpretation of Corder and George, it would have meant I never knew them.

George was a horrible story-teller who unfortunately didn’t know. I relied upon Irma for the juicy details. Here’s a paradox: He never talked about himself and it’s all he ever talked about.

Corder wasn’t just my revisionist history, he was the vision. I didn’t know how little I understood until I met him. I didn’t know myself. He helped wire-up the matrix.   I hear his voice, I see those eyes.

Jung describes the archetypes at the core of every complex. And while the Father Complex is less celebrated than the Mother, it’s a matter of Spirit and Soul. The masculine archetype is at the heart of the complex.

I don’t have a fucked-up father complex, as many of my straighter relatives might think. It’s just complex. Corder was the one with the troubled father complex. His dad did not resemble him. Mine did. I’ve never written about my loyal, loving grandfather.

Unlike my father, he was stable as the day. Corder had wings like Icarus and flew high, fell far. It’s my image of the artist, touched by fire.

Looking at a picture of Corder in high school. He’s wearing glasses like the ones I do. When I graduated from high school, Irma said, “You’re more like your father than you know. You have the same concentration and span of attention. He could focus for long periods of time. I didn’t know I was like him. But I was beginning to suspect.





No More Running Away

Sansaku: No More Running Away


The anniversary reminded me, Chyako would never meet Corder. She had the family’s blessings and I would meet hers in the spring, but she’d have to know Corder through me. I told her, “I’m not as smart, but I’m not as bad.” He was way too easy to one-story.

When I tell people that I was a runaway, many get the wrong idea. There were only three times, but they stand out prominent in the landscape of my soul. Symbols of tipping point moments.

I picked three times and places. I was five in Sedona and the red-rock canyons were a never-never land for me. I couldn’t wait to wander and had been told to stay at home. Corder had won a share of the Sedona Lodge in a big poker game in Prescott. I could easily digress.

I fell in love with wild things that day. I sat by a rattlesnake and watched it. Better than Disney. I heard them calling long before they found me. I wasn’t punished. I rarely was.

The second time was kindergarten. I didn’t go to school. I just kept walking up the street towards Flagstaff. We lived close to the mountain, I had a friend up there. After I’d gone to Goat Cave, I knocked on Wally’s door. His mom was surprised to see me, but didn’t think to ask. I stayed for several hours.

Irma never learned what I had done, but asked at the end of the semester, “I didn’t know you missed a day?” I lied and said I was late. Very late. She let it slide. She knew me.

I didn’t like church and decided to skip. I did this twice. The first time I hid in the clothes hamper and waited until they were gone. I still can’t believe they let me get away with it. Not even Garon stayed behind.

I took off for Chautauqua and made it a few miles on the mesa trail before I ran into some people I knew. Gardy’s mom was properly suspicious and knew for a fact I lied. I wasn’t a good liar. I would need to improve. They took me home and called my folks. “Don’t let him leave.” I didn’t get into too much trouble.   Once again, she knew.

The second time I skipped, I went but didn’t go. No more running away. I took the offering money, bought some candy downtown, then slowly walked home.   We arrived at the same time.   From then on, someone accompanied me to Sunday school.

I asked Corder about running away, but he didn’t like the word. “Don’t confuse running away with escaping. You don’t run away from prison.” He was careful with words and suggested I pay more attention. It’s why I have to be careful writing about Corder. The most complex person I’ve ever known is very easy to one-story. “What a waste. Such potential. Disappointing.” It’s the story-line I most often heard.

Corder told me, “I just defended the people nobody else would; and when I defended them well, that’s the crime they wouldn’t forgive.” It could sound like an excuse, but it wasn’t said that way. There was no rancor or blame to the voice.

“Were you very idealistic?” I asked.   “Yes,” he said, “and I tried to change the system. I fought against the current, but the damn thing wore me down. I barely escaped with my life.” He’d become an alcoholic and identified more with criminals than cops.

I asked Irma the same question. “Yes, he was idealistic, a natural leader, but he tried to change the system.” She used his words, “He fought against the current and it wore him down.”   She never cussed.

Irma saw the good in people and was pleased when I saw the good in Corder. She said, “That’s his true self.” She never poisoned the story.




The Many Words of Love

Sansaku: The Many Words of Love


I have some wicked thoughts. Our graduation ceremonies at Timberline were all about praise. Students chose a faculty member to stand behind and shower them with wisdom, praise and a few funny stories. Some were really good. I tended to cry.

Because I was the counselor and had privileged information I knew more than I probably should. It’s a boarding school. To say we knew each other well doesn’t touch the truth. I didn’t need to wear glasses.

I often wondered how some of these feral kids could make it through high school without being converted – a religious word now associated with straightening gay or lesbian kids. They’d overcome the shame that comes with being seen. They didn’t need to hide.

There’s a saying about psychological baggage, it’s much lighter when openly shared. There’s another, “Shame the devil and tell the truth.”

I imagined those students, who had trained in dream group, decided to gather at the end of the ceremony and really tell the truth. Since it’s too late to expel and they have diplomas in hand, there’s no holding back. It’s a dramatic performance and the grandparents gasp.

I could name names and they probably wouldn’t care, but I want it less specific. They all had stories. “Fact: I did acid thirty-eight times on campus this year.” Another stands up, faces the audience. “Fact: I didn’t sleep in my own cabin. I lived with my boyfriend all year.”   This goes on. “Fact: You know the graffiti in the dining room? It’s mine.”

The tension builds and then the crisis resolves. Everyone is laughing and the faculty joins in and confesses. I remember when one of the presidents at the college told me a story about flunking out his first year in college. I dropped out of graduate school after passing my comps. It all seems funny now.

In the counseling center, I taught the best students how to celebrate bad grades. There’s a reason. Erasmus said that foolishness and intimacy are connected.

“What did you learn from those thirty-eight trips? From all those nights sleeping together? What did you want to express with your art?” Of course, this rarely happens. And that’s the shame.

I’m glad I asked and I’m grateful the students trusted to tell me. Those are the stories I treasure.

Today is our anniversary. We’ve been married twenty-one years. The word derives from the Latin, the turning of a year. The universe is the turning of the one, the whole. My universe turns around Chyako and our house. Durango is home. I have so much to praise.

And since my practice is largely memory and imagination, I’m going back through all our years together. They form a wheel, a circle that rolls and carries us far and deep, by staying in the same place together.

I’ve been lucky with my mentors. The youngest child, I was blessed with a family already ahead. I learned how to listen and studied their relationships. They were all married long before I. I wondered how I would. It took me forty years to find her. Is that long or short?

The wheel we formed together, has spiraled through the years. My universe has narrowed. I’m closer to the center, to the heart. There’s an Art in heart, an Om in home. The home in the heart has a sound.

The many words of love. The lessons that we learn. Living side by side. I whisper in your ear. I know that you can hear. The many words of love. The many words of love.