Crossing Paths: Swain Wolfe (1939-2021)

Swain Wolfe

March 21, 2022

A year and a week ago a dear friend of mine, Swain Wolfe, decided he’d had enough of being on this earth and removed himself. From what I understand he kind of botched the job. He’d drunk a bottle of hard booze, taken sufficient painkiller pills, for which he’d had ready access, and “gone to sleep.” Apparently though it wasn’t the Long Sleep he’d been looking for, and he woke up, surely in a stupor of drugs and alcohol, and realized this wasn’t death. He went and got the pistol he had in the house and put his brain on the kitchen ceiling.


I can’t say I hadn’t in some ways seen it coming, as he’d pretty directly told me that when time came, he was ready to take himself out of our little game here. I believed him, though as he’d promised his mother on her deathbed that he’d care for his much younger sister, Carolyn, who had Down’s Syndrome, rather than allow her to be institutionalized, I was sure he wouldn’t do so while she was alive. She died in autumn, 2017, three and a half years before he chose to leave.

I’d known Swain a long time, since 1971, when on an impulsive instinct I moved with my partner of the time, Elayne Ketchum, and her daughter, Erinn, then just 3 and some, from rural Oregon, in the forests near Cottage Grove at the south end of the Willamette Valley, to Montana. Elayne and I said we were tired of “sunshine hippies” and wanted something a lot harder. So we moved way north. Enroute we passed through Missoula, with a tip from someone on the filmmaker’s grapevine, that we should drop in on a filmmaker there, who also had a 16mm lab. That was Swain, and his company Bitterroot Films. We took the advice, and were warmly greeted, and doubtless shared some beers and talk. While there another man visited, from up near Kalispell, and told us of an abandoned cabin he knew of, which we might be able to move into. He passed along the name of a woman we should ask, one Mrs. Gillespie. Heading north, we checked it out, got an OK, and indeed did move in: no electricity, no running water, and when we moved in, no floor. Elayne and I were rank amateurs at rural life, but after living there 5 years, we had a big garden, chickens, rabbits and goats, and a lot of real wonderful hard life lessons under our belts.

Left to right: my father, Elayne, myself, Erinn, in our cottage outside Kalispell

While there we’d visit Missoula, 130 miles to the south, once in a long while – 2 or 3 times a year, dropping in on Swain each time. We slowly became friends, and he loaned me his old PC 16mm camera to shoot parts of my first feature film, Speaking Directly. I don’t quite recall but probably he also processed some of the film for me, too.


Swain’s bread and butter back then was shooting the local High School and the University of Montana’s football games, for training purposes. He also made documentaries about ecological things, long before it became fashionable. His films were not very good (which he admitted later), being rather heavy-handed and didactic, and visually mundane, but several sold well in the educational market back then, and he zipped around in the film world looking dapper (and screwing his way around – he told me lots of stories of that).

Speaking Directly,1972

In the 5 years we lived in the Mission Valley, Swain never came up to visit us. We moved from Kalispell in 1975, or maybe it was 76, going to Southern California, where Elayne came from. And I thought to take a stab at Hwd.

In 1977 I decided to make a film rooted in a mix of my prison experiences, and the time I’d lived in Montana – tapping on the many things I’d learned. Working with Tom Blair, whom I’d met in Kalispell, and came from South Dakota. Tom was the theater department of the local community college there, and we’d get together to have beers, tell stories, and smoke really bad Montana home-grown. Luckily I never saw one of his productions, or saw him act up there (or anywhere), which I suspect might have turned me off working with him.


Going to Missoula to scout things out, Swain said he’d loan me his camera again, and that his little lab crew could help out if I wanted. When time came Michael helped record sound and do some gofer work. I rounded up some actors for the film at the drama department at U of Montana, and went back to LA, where I got one more person lined up, Jessica St. John, whom I met while making a little drug deal; it just happened she came from Missoula and was headed there to see family. In June I went back to Missoula to rendezvous with Tom, and the others. Last Chants for a Slow Dance was shot in a week, in part in Swain’s house.

Last Chants for a Slow Dance, in Swain’s bathroom.

Not for the only time, his memory and mine don’t coincide on things around Last Chants or other matters. In offering his camera, I think Swain also intended to do camera for me – for which I was not really open, but I did let him do the first shot, where both of us rode on the hood of an old pickup, no straps or safety measures at all, going 30 mph or so, on a real highway. I’d told Tom, who was driving, that whatever he did, he needed to do it slowly – accelerating or stopping – as Swain and I were subject to the laws of physics and we’d go wherever momentum dictated. For the shot I told Swain I wanted only a few short pans, and no zooms. While shooting I saw him do a zoom and decided for sure I didn’t want him shooting anymore. We survived the shot. Came the next take, in his bathroom with an argument between fictional husband-wife, I told him I’d shoot it. He got quietly pissed, and left town. I have never seen a camera operator with a zoom able to keep their hands off of it. I shot the rest of the film.


Swain’s version, told to me a few times in the decades since, was that Tom arrived, he’d sussed him out as a quasi-psycho, and promptly left because of that. I know that wasn’t true, as he did do that first shot, and my version is that he was angry that he wasn’t going to shoot film, and left town to go simmer or whatever he did. We wrapped the film in a week, and I returned to LA where I had it processed and jumped into editing, having promised a non-existent film in May to the Edinburgh Film Festival which was at the end of August. They’d invited it sight unseen, before a frame had been shot.

After, when the film had gone to the festival, gotten a handful of nice reviews, including an article in Sight & Sound, and all that – all for $3000, Swain decided a few years later, to make a feature himself. My guess is that he did that prompted by having seen me make a feature under his nose, with his equipment on almost nothing. He told me about his film a bit before, and one thing he planned was to shoot the bad guy (who he told me a few years back was some more or less famous right-wing government guy who’d done some dirty work for Reagan) always with this very long telephoto lens, actually more a telescope. I thought this was not wise on a few accounts – like how do you direct a guy a football field away? Or how do you cut to the totally flattened hyper-telephoto stuff to the other 16mm stuff? Terrible cinematic idea. But Swain went ahead, shot his film, and it was awful. Truly awful – stiff bad acting, klutzy story, really really bad. And the terrible hyper-tele shots flat as a pancake. I know I looked at it, but don’t remember if I gave him any ideas of how to salvage it (I doubt I did as I saw no way for that), or just told him to let it go as a loss. But he couldn’t let go and spent a decade trying to edit his way to something passable, which he never did. $100,000 worth of messing with it. Down the drain.

Deep inside I think he sort of blamed me, and for a few decades he was always kind of prickly with me, like I’d booted him from shooting Last Chants, and that somehow I had made him do his terrible film, and it was all my fault. He never said that, but I think he felt it. I also felt he was a bit jealous as my career, what there was of it, blossomed. For a good while he had a hard time saying my films were any good.

All water long under the bridge now. In his later years he admitted he’d made terrible films, and he liked mine a lot. And the prickliness he showed – he called himself an irascible old bastard and mean guy and seems to have had precious few friends – was just him, not aimed at me at all. I guess we could say I had been my usual Taurus-self in this regard and stuck through it, whatever. To my observation it seemed I was the last friend he had, who put up with him. The others all seemed to drift away.


Sometime in the last decade he gave me that awful telephoto lens. I messed with it – soft, drop-off on edges, a POS.

Little vignettes:


Swain, living right on the North Fork of the Clark River, had a canoe, though it seemed he seldom used it. I recall, I think at my request, going out on the river with him, nearby. At some point, don’t recall why, we went to shore and I got out to do something. He had been in the front, and I watched as he paddled not reversing himself, the back of the canoe wig-wagging back and forth and he seeming puzzled. I had always thought Swain – a big guy – was physically clumsy, but this suggested he really just didn’t understand some things. I kept my mouth shut in the instance.

Laurie’s garden in Swain’s backyard.

Another time Swain decided to make a film about hang-gliding as the mountain behind UM back then was a regular launching place for them, and often in good weather one would see them circling over the campus. I saw some of his footage – really pedestrian (especially if one had seen, as I had, footage from existing films on hang-gliders). As it happened, in order to pursue this, he decided to take lessons and take wing himself. Apparently, early on, he took a little nasty take-off crash, and came to think better of it. I recalled his lack of intuition in the canoe and thought to myself, yep, not a clue about these things. I am thankful he stopped before he really hurt himself. He did finish his film, a really bad piece.

After making Last Chants I ended spending some time in Europe and far away from Montana, but in 1982 I returned to the USA, and in 1983 or so I returned to Montana to shoot a film with Tom Blair and Roxanne Rogers, in Ronan, up in the Mission Valley, on the Blackfoot reservation. And again spent time with Swain, who processed the film stock for me, though the film blew up into a failure. Our connection deepened. On one visit to Missoula around that time, Swain went to Butte, a city I’d driven by at least 20 times but never gone into, to get some free 16mm processing machines from the local TV outfit, which was switching to video. I went with him to help, and got a non-Interstate glimpse of Butte – and was hooked.


Returning from another stay in Europe I’d decided to make a film about unemployed people, and chose to do so in Butte, which certainly had that in spades as the mines had closed. And I liked its run-down miner town looks – the looming head-frames, turn-of-the-century downtown, derelict abandoned mines. In this case I’d bought my own camera, a CP Gismo, and didn’t need his, but again we spent time together, our binds deepening. The film was Bell Diamond, named after one of the old mines and its head-frame.

Around this time, in the late 80’s, Swain asked me to take a look at a manuscript for a book he’d written. I don’t know why, as I had no cred in terms of writing, though I did myself write a fair bit, for myself. While I probably would normally have turned it down, and though at the time I’d long since not been much of a reader, especially of fiction, I said yes. And I read it and liked it. He asked if I had any suggestions for him. He’d written it in first person/present tense. As it was a once-upon-a-time kind of fable, I recall telling him to put it in past tense. He recalled me saying put it in third person. In any event he did both. I probably did suggest both. Sometime later, after he self-published, it had subsequently been picked up by a real publisher and officially printed in 1993, and had apparently done OK. I figured if he’d lucked out maybe he’d made 50K or so. Sometime in the last decade he told me it’d been translated in 17 languages or so, and he’d made half a million bucks from it !!! I jokingly asked him for my cut. None of his other books, of which he wrote four, did anywhere near so well.

Apparently somewhat flush, he told me a handful or more of years before he committed suicide, that he had gotten hooked on playing the market, thinking he had figured it out, and he played – his lady friend Laurie described it as “obsessively” – until they finally cleaned his clock and he admitted they played him, not the other way, and he’d stopped. I was surprised he’d do something like that, but… well people are full of secrets you’d never suspect they had.

After having made Bell Diamond, Butte became one of my homes – a place where I had friends, a place I could stay, and a place I liked. I returned recurrently, and being near to Missoula, I’d see Swain more often. I stayed either in my van in his parking place, or in Laurie’s live-in painting studio he’d built for her across the yard. Usually if I stayed overnight I’d whip up a dinner for them.

I recall one of the last times going with Swain out to the Costco store to pick up some things for myself, and to cook. He was clearly labored in crossing the parking lot, his artificial hip having changed his gait. Twice his hip had popped out, leaving him squirming on the floor in excruciating pain. Once he’d fallen down the stairway to his basement writing lair. As we were checking out I recall us bantering with the clerk that we were going back home and change each other’s Depends. All in good humor, but it was closer to the truth than perhaps we imagined.

In 2017 I went to spend the summer in Butte, staying at my friend Marshall Gaddis’ place up in Walkerville. As later I would be headed to the West Coast, I sent Swain a note that I’d be dropping by to see him on the way. He wrote me this:

July 7, 2017

Hi Jon,

I appreciate your offer to visit on your cross country tour. However, I  am in pain and it affects the way I think and behave. It would be better for both of us if you did not visit. Visitors frustrate me and I end up making things uncomfortable for everyone. I waited to write until I was  thinking clearly, otherwise it would have been a nasty bit of nonsense  and you don’t need that.

I’ve been writing, as you know, and that’s been going reasonably well, so  I’ll keep at it for a while. Writing tends to get me out of my body and  lets me ignore the facts of my life.

I wish you luck and money on your travels through Great Again America.  Never has it shone so brightly. But wait a while and they’ll touch off the nukes. Then: an even Greater and Brightly Land this will be.

  Love,
  Swain

A week before I was going to go I wrote and asked again and in an email he wrote simply:

I contacted Laurie, who sort of lives with him, and asked to know more, and said that at least I would like to see her as she was my friend as well. She said to meet her at the Butterfly Herbs Cafe on Higgins Street in downtown Missoula. And I did. I waited a bit, and finally she arrived, and behind her, walking slowly 10 steps behind, was Swain, who for some time seemed grudgingly there. I imagine Laurie had pressed him on the matter. And then, after ten or so minutes, he then loosened up over his tea and for two hours regaled me with stories.  He is a writer and a story-teller and I am happy to listen.   Afterward, as we went back to his place I offered to go get some stout, which I knew he liked, and he said yes. By the time I arrived to his house he’d already gone to bed, knocking himself out with pain-killers. But I’m glad he found in himself the willingness to see me. I tried to tell him how much it, and he, meant to me.  I left in the morning not seeing him again as I needed to get off to the coast, and I knew he was a very late riser. As I drove off I understood I’d probably never see him again. Nor, as it happened did I ever hear from him again, as he closed himself fully off to the outside world.

One of Swain’s backyard assemblages

Preparing to write this, I went back over past years of correspondence which Swain and I had over the years, as far back as 2006, though I know we had had much before then. Maybe his email changed. Reading underlined the depth of our friendship, and brought tears to my eyes.

When Swain died, I was informed a bit belatedly, by an odd route. Checking with friends in Missoula some weeks later, no one knew. The Missoulian, the local paper, published a terse obituary notice on March 26, and then published a full one on April 17, 2021. I read it and found it a bit odd, sending it to a friend there who had not seen it. He wrote me back saying it was quite a wonderful obit. As my curiosity was aroused and the obituary listed no author, I poked around – and it was something Swain had written as a promo piece for something. No wonder it was so glowing !!

I loved him and I miss him.

Solstice of the Soul

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sol·stice  (slsts, sl-, sôl-)

n.

1. Either of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs about June 21, when the sun is in the zenith at the tropic of Cancer; the winter solstice occurs about December 21, when the sun is over the tropic of Capricorn. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest.

2. A highest point or culmination.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin slstitium : sl, sun; see swel- in Indo-European roots + -stitium, a stoppage; see st- in Indo-European roots.]

Encroaching on 70 circumnavigations of our nearest star, it is “natural” that life imposes certain modes of thinking, and feeling, for better and worse. The passing of years brings an accumulation of one’s own history, the threads which make up a life – events, relationships, joys, disappointments, tragedies. All the hum drum stuff of our daily lives is added up, measured out in a bloom of liver spots, shrinking flesh and wrinkling skin, aching joints and diminishing mobility. We see it in our friends and family, and, perhaps reluctantly, in ourselves. In a constant shift of perspective, life alters its terms within us. The gaping length of single spin around the sun, which in youth seemed endless and found one eagerly looking forward to imagined rewards of the coming year, now seems all too brief. Contemplations of “the next” are limned with a silent “if.” It all makes a perfect sense, and philosophers and poets have long since mined the realm to seeming exhaustion. One would think we collectively all understood.

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 roman man crpdRoman bust

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On some levels the human experience is collective, and we are able to store up the knowledge of our shared experiences in mechanical and intellectual ways, so that this experience is drastically changed through time.   150 years ago messages in the advanced world were sent by Morse code, and before that carried in letters by horseback or ship, while today vast volumes of digitalized information are sent in tsunami proportions at the speed of light. Likewise myriad advances in medical technology have turned once-fatal matters into mere annoyances. Thanks to these shared and cumulative realities, our lives are radically different (at least those in the so-called advanced countries, or those who are “rich”). And yet, as the old hymn goes, “you gotta cross that river for yourself.”  As that crossing approaches many markers point the way: friends and family begin to die, your own body shape-shifts, its asymmetries becoming more pronounced, and in little or large descending plateaus, your physical functions deteriorate.    And, at least to my observations, the kernel of your “self” solidifies.   Most of the people I know – and I presume it applies as well to myself – are essentially the same, psychologically, as they were 40 years ago:  those given to anger remain angry, those closed off from wider experiences are more closed off; those eager to learn and experiment continue to do so.  This observation inclines me to accept the Greek sense of Fate – that we are born and can do only what that original gift allows (these days it would be measured in genetic components, slivers of DNA intertwined such that one is a composite of mother and father).   I can point to the tooth of mine which is exactly as my father’s was, or the drooping eyelid that replicates that of my mother – and on down the genetic gifts or curses of each strain of my own DNA.  I see the same in my acquaintances.   Whether, in turn, one becomes more forgiving of the quirks of those friends, or whether one crosses them out of one’s life, doubtless marks one’s own in-stamped nature.

.boxer compositeGreco-Roman bronze sculpture of pugilist

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In the past few years, in my own life, death has visited directly within my family, and more generally among acquaintances and friends.  Last December my father died, aged 98.  It caused scarcely a quiver in me, thanks to a near life-long alienation from him.   At a very young age – perhaps 9 or 10, I’d already checked him out of my life as best my circumstances permitted.  At the time I didn’t really seem to know why, though much much later I was told that he’d whipped me with some regularity – which he owned up to in a letter I demanded he write after my mother’s death, some 27 years ago.  That, along with almost all memories of my childhood were totally expunged from my mind, and even with that knowledge I cannot remember it at all today.  And yet, this year, I did imagine and shoot a new film, Coming to Terms, which in its manner is about a father dying and so, perhaps, in the manner of art, I absorbed this event and creatively transmuted it.

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FATHER IN HAWAII 97 YRS OLDcrpHarry Frederick Jost at 98, 2011Wilhelm Leibl

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Sensed far more closely and personally, in the last years, were other deaths which though in some senses far more distant, seemed to have touched me inwardly far more deeply.   Though it is not as if death had not visited before to leave its mark.  While in prison, in 1966, I received, sent by a friend, a black framed newspaper notice announcing the death of a young woman, Kathy Handler.  She’d been briefly a lover before I went in.  It was said she committed suicide, though other rumors had her having taken acid and going for a misguided swim in a cold Lake Michigan.  (And recently I learned that the friend who had sent the notice, who had been in an early film of mine, had died some time ago –  Laura Volkerding, by name.) Whatever the truth, my response – under the sway of reading a lot of Kierkegaard, Heidegger and other philosophers in my “free time” in prison, and having felt vaguely responsible – was to write a text which on leaving prison a year later became the film Traps, my first foray into sound.   The film is a rather devastating one, certainly it is weighted with deaths – not only that of Kathy, but in the tone of the times: those of the Vietnam war, the penumbra of violence which encompassed the era, and led shortly afterward to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and more locally, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, murdered by the Chicago police.

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TRAPS COLLAGETraps, frame grabsTRAPS17KierkegaardTRAPS19HeideggerTRAPS20JPEDCesare Pavese, notebooksRobert F Kennedy lies in a pool of blood after being shot in 1968Robert Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968

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In 1978, another death left a mark, again with a sense of guilt.  The former partner of a close friend of mine had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where we shared an apartment.  She later moved to San Francisco, and in 1978 I had a brief pass through The City for a screening.  I had meant to contact her and see if she would come to the screening – she was in the film world –  which I thought she might like, and also to see her.  In the rush of life I had forgotten to call her, and did my screening, and the next day left.  As I sat down in the plane, and opened the San Francisco Chronicle and leafed through it, my eye caught an item which was titled something like “Masseuse hit in crosswalk” or something like that.  In glancing the name caught my eye – it was my friend.  The time was the same period when she would have been coming to, or at, my screening.  She was dead. For years I have carried with me a consciousness that in some strange, indirect, irrational manner I may have caused her death simply by having forgotten to contact her.

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brendaBrenda Bierbrodt, 1945 – 1987, picture from HS yearbook_L.Ehrlich2010_2674Myself and Brenda, 1968  –  Photo © Linn Ehrlich

Some time later, in 1983, aged 70, my mother died of pancreatic cancer.  My father, who in my view had, in his manner, coerced her into participating in his post-Army evangelical fundamentalism, had tried “laying on of hands” and “talking in tongues” and belatedly had taken her to the military hospital in Niceville, Florida, where “exploratory surgery” revealed a terminal cancer.   In a phone call to me in San Francisco he said she had “a year of quality living” and they would go on a world cruise.  Then he put her on the phone, and I immediately heard the rattle of death in her voice and set off in my VW van, driving straight through as fast as I could, and arriving two days late.  So much for a year of quality living.  She was dead and shortly after my arrival, after a shower and shave, I went to her funeral services with the fundamentalists singing her praises, and a teenaged proslyetizer coming up trying for a conversion in this presumed moment of vulnerability.  I politely suggested he fuck off.  The rattle of death had become something familiar during my stint in 1978 caring for Nick Ray in New York, where I’d been asked to help him make a final film, but was cast instead as nurse-caretaker and cigarette run-boy.   He was riddled with cancer, and the toilet was often red with the blood he coughed up.

The eighties was the decade of the AIDS epidemic, and being in the arts world, gays were a given.  Many, including some of my friends, died.

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790px-Schadow_Grabmal_Alexander_2Grave marker, illegitimate son of Kaiser Friederick Wilhelms II, Berlin

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In 1987, I think it was, I met Jon A. English, in process of looking for someone to write some music for my film Bell Diamond.  He did that film, a very modest bit of composing, as the film needed, and along the way we became friends, and as time passed, he did the music for a number of my other films – Plain Talk & Common Sense, Rembrandt Laughing (in which he also played a lead role), All the Vermeers in New York, Frameup, and Uno a te, uno a me, e uno a Raffaele.   He was wonderful to collaborate with, and a wonderful person – and it didn’t hurt at all that he was a great musician and composer.  And we became very good friends.  Sadly, as the years passed by, his health slid down, step at a time, the consequence of an early diagnosis for Hodgkins disease decades before.  He was “treated” then, in the 70’s, at a very early stage of the “cure” for this, and way over-blasted with radiation.   In turn the areas that had been hit, were drastically aged, and his neck, esophagus and the whole upper area of his torso deteriorated as time passed, and periodically he’d be hospitalized, dropping to a lower plateau each time.   Asking him to work with me became a balancing act of gauging if it would be too much for him, versus knowing that his creative soul liked nothing more than to do music.  He died in 1996, at the age of 54, while I was living in Italy.  There were some people of my acquaintance whom I would have readily shifted places with him.

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english crpdJon A. English, 1942-1997

A year and a half ago, a long ago girlfriend from 1964, Laya (Firestone) Seghi, – with whom I have stayed in touch since, and very infrequently seen – wrote me a lovely letter describing a trip she’d taken with her husband, Tom, to see and meet family in Israel, where her mother lives, and in the mountains of northern Italy, near Venice, from where his family originally emigrated.   It had been a wonderful journey, and her description, elegant and simple, had a kind of unselfconscious literary quality which made the story she told all the more wonderful.  Reading it simply made me feel good – for me, and for them.   I recall being genuinely joyful on reading it.  Not long afterward I wrote expressing my happiness about their trip and lives, but also including word that in my own life things had taken a turn and my wife Marcella had decided she should go on her own way.  It wasn’t what I wanted, but at the same time I thought Marcella should do what she felt was best for her, and if severing our paths was it, then it was OK with me.  She was half my age, and I could understand only too well.   A few weeks later I received another letter, which as the previous one, had a literary simplicity and directness which marked it, but told a very different story, though written with the same disarming clarity.

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_L.Ehrlich2010_2679xLaya, in film Leah, 1967, fotos © Linn Ehrlich

On returning home to Miami, following their trip, a nephew of Tom’s was getting married in Chicago, and they went north for the occasion.  There, for the first time, he showed her the home he’d grown up in, in the Italian-American Bridgeport neighborhood – which happened to be adjacent to where I’d gone to college at IIT, and where I had lived a year and a half.  His home was now lived in by Mexicans, who welcomed them in, happy to know a little of the history of the house.  And they visited his brother’s grave in a nearby cemetery.   That evening at the wedding party, they danced, and following on the heels of their joyous journey to Israel and Italy, and their 40 years together, she thought, as she wrote, “I am truly happy.”   And in the same moment her husband had a heart attack and died, literally, in her arms.  Needless to say, she’s had a difficult time since – having to put into hard practice the things she does as a living as a psychological counselor.

And then, as if that were not enough, this past August, her sister, a long-ago rather famous early radical feminist, Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex), whose own life had taken a hard turn, and who was a friend of mine back in 1964 – the reason I met Laya was her sister was my flat-mate’s girlfriend at the time – died in New York City, apparently of a heart attack.  Laya, being close (as much that Shulamith allowed in her later years) to her sister, and being the family in the USA, became the person to deal with the aftermath, which included a memorial service attended by many feminists of Shulamith’s period, and those after.  [I will in a later posting publish the comments made at the memorial, as I think it is instructive, in many ways, of the tenor of those times.]

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Shulamith FirestoneShulamith Firestone, 1945-2012

When I returned to the US this past March, it was in some parts consciously to visit friends and family, in a kind of “last hurrah” –  to see, perhaps for a last time, those people still living, who were my friends in life.  I’ve seen a few already and hope to see them again – Linn and Marilyn and Peter in Chicago, Bruce in Minneapolis, Marshall in Butte, Terri in Livingston, Swain and Kristi in Missoula, and just today, Ron and Mary Lou here in Portland.  And as I anticipate traveling a lot in the US in the coming year, I expect and hope to see them all again.  We – all more or less in the same time-wise peer bracket – are aware, whether said or unsaid, that any visit could be the last.  As time brings its curtain over us, I think for those of us for whom the Fates accorded us the space, we’ve become closer, more forgiving and understanding of each other.  And in a manner not accounted for in the casual “love you”-speak which affects us casually, we have learned, in a very real sense, where love animates our relations, and, however obscure and difficult to pin down in a clinical sense, how much we have meant to one another.

As a person habitually transient, living in places scattered across the globe, for periods of a year here, 3 or 5 there, I have very consciously kept in touch with those people in my life who in that ineffable manner which over the years shows itself, left a deep implant.  I know well enough that probably, in most cases, had I not kept the lines open, dropped by this decade or that, that these thin threads would have been lost.  Such is the life which I chose or was given.

And, as life is capricious, and neither announces its beginning or end to us, to all those whose lives have crossed mine, in ways deep, however inarticulately we were able to express it, should my life end tomorrow, or yours, here’s thanks for having known and shared our brief time on this planet we are so busy violating.  I am a hard-core atheist and we won’t be meeting anywhere “else” some other time, so it is best to say it while here.  Love to you each, and I am glad our paths crossed on this brief journey.

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MoonPhases

Kurt, la famiglia Rebosio, Laya, Bill, Errol, Linn, Peter, Dennis, Marilyn, Susannah, Ron and Mary Lou, Elayne and Erinn, Barbara, Swain,  Robina, Bob, Roger, Tom, Marshall, Roxanne, Alicia and Morrie, Rick and Julie, Martin, Claudia, Alenka, Jon, Dan, Terri, Hal, Jolly and Bob, Michael, Jane, Steve, Kate, Lynda, Eugenia, Edoardo, Anna, Erling, Nancy and Howard, Hilary and Stuart, Clara, and Brad and Miki and children, and Joel, Rui, Jean, Steve and Todd, Jane and Mark, Marcella, and many others known briefly in passing or lost to memory.  And then there are a few people I suppose I’d prefer not to have met, left out knowingly.      

sun-3

In 3.5 billion years, our Sun will have boiled away all the water on earth, some billions of years after life became impossible on this planet. In 6 billion years it will become a red giant, and then collapse.  8 billion years from now it will be “dead,” an Earth sized diamond with the mass of a star. This is a white dwarf, and it will still be hot enough to shine with thermal radiation. But it will no longer generate solar fusion, and so it will slowly cool down until it becomes the same temperature as the rest of the Universe; just a few degrees above absolute zero. This will take about a trillion years to happen.  The Sun’s death will be complete.