31 December 2011


The great life-changing events of one's life are, I think, seldom obvious at the time.  The first of our amateur encounter groups was a cardinal point - a 'hinge' - in my life.

Tom and I had gone tramping that day up the (incredibly beautiful) Wa'ahila Ridge Trail.  We had rather to rush back in time to go to the first of our encounter groups.  We looked rather grubby, in an outdoorsy sort of way.  Tom, in particular, looked like Tarzan.  We made it to the church in time - shirtless?? - where we were divided into small groups, sitting on the floor in circles, facing one another.

Whilst it is true that I was seeking enlightenment, self-knowledge, some sort of escape from the world I knew, it is, nevertheless, that I - as, perhaps, most of the males there - was also definitely interested in meeting girls.

And, it may be, the girls there were interested in meeting boys.

Or perhaps not.  I will let Susan take over at this point:

By the time I met John, I had been living in Honolulu for a few years and wondering what I would be doing next.  Would I stay there or return to the Mainland?  I wasn't sure where I would go, if I did return.
My parent's marriage had broken up by that time.  It still wasn't clear if their living situation was permanent but there was quite a distance between them.  My father lived in Seattle and my mother was in Los Angeles.  I do know that they did meet at least once in San Francisco.
In 1969, I was twenty-three and very unsure of myself in many ways.  In 1967 I had left my family for an "OE" (Overseas Experience) to Hawaii and had navigated many changes since but I had given little serious thought to how I was going to spend the years following.  I have often wondered if my family had been the kind who actually gave thought to these questions, where I might have ended up.
Didn't matter, because in October, 1969  I was living in a real dump of an apartment in a really fabulous location in Waikiki.
The location was on Diamond Head almost next door to the Outrigger Canoe Club.  There was only one house in front of the apartment and the beach - and the rent was cheap.  The only drawback was my roommate, Katie McDowall.  Katie couldn't help the fact that she was beautiful but rather an air head.  I never knew what to expect from her.  She was full of unlimited ideas for doing all sorts of things.
One day, while reading the Honolulu Advertiser, she announced that she had read there would be "encounter groups" held at the Unitarian Church that coming weekend.  Yes, I had heard about these groups - who hadn't in our age group?
It didn't take long to decide to attend and just see what would happen.  Mainly we were much more interested in maybe meeting guys more than anything else.
Thus unplanned are the major events of our lives.

Katie was tall, dark, and rather glamorous in appearance.  Tom was tall, blonde, and ... you get the picture.  That they would pair off - in the event, they did not - seemed likely.

Susan was neither tall nor short; was thin; and wore glasses with octagonal frames.  Perhaps it was the spectacles that made the difference.

Susan will, I trust, forgive me for the facts that, not only was she in the place of second-choice to Katie - but that when I asked her, after the group session, to a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert, it was with a pair of tickets that I had bought to take another girl (a fellow University student) - who had, in the event, turned me down.


In 1969, I had no idea who Betty Friedan was.  I was, and still am, about as a-political as they come - and in 1969, with my world having fallen about my ears, I was, if possible, less interested than ever in such matters as Women's Liberation.

It was not the name of the person who would run an encounter group at the Unitarian Church in Honolulu that interested me.  I think that, at the time, anything that seemed to point a direction away from where I was would have been attractive.

I note, from that Wikipedia article linked above, that in September, 1969 that Unitarian Church "...made national headlines when it offered refuge to U.S. servicemen protesting the war in Vietnam...", so I suppose it was politically active, so that hosting an encounter group run by Betty Friedan fits in well.  (I also note that, according to that same article, that church was "... where President Obama attended Sunday School during his youth."  As he was born in August, 1961 and would have been eight in October, 1969, I seem to have brushed the sleeve of greatness - but that's another story :-)).

It may have been Tom Bratt, again, who told me about the week-end with Betty Friedan.  For it was to be a week-end retreat.  We would spend two nights in sleeping bags (or whatever) sleeping in the church hall.  I don't recall how much it cost, but I don't imagine it would have been cheap - with Ms Friedan, and meals, to pay for.

I went.  I was, in fact, bowled over by the experience.  If I were to summarise the ethos of the thing, I suppose the following few points might be made:
  • fear is often bad
  • the body is good
  • openness between persons is good
With these points, few would differ.  Others more questionable are:
  • man is inherently moral - only fear or closedness makes him bad
  • all desires are good when embraced by all parties involved
  • openness will always have good effects
Whether I have correctly interpreted the ideas behind these groups, these are the ideas I inferred from them.  We did various activities:
  • blind walk - blindfolded, you were led around by a partner - to teach you trust and to allay your fears
  • blind fall - blindfolded, you let yourself fall backwards, to be caught by your partner
  • expressing your emotions about persons - sitting in a circle, you tell how others make you feel
These and similar activities have become so orthodox today as to have passed from radical newness through truisms to pieties to be rebelled against - but for me at the time they were radical, seemed to promise a revelation, a genuine enlightenment.

The retreat finished some time on Sunday.  Was it the next week-end that a meeting was called for those participants who wished to engage in a series of such 'encounters?'  I think it must have been then - it was certainly a decision made soon, and enthusiastically.  We - we may have been 20 or 30 people, I think - determined to meet weekly, indefinitely, at the Church, for our own amateur group meetings.  It is clear to me that these became important to me.  I continued to attend them from their beginning until sometime in, perhaps, April, 1970.

I suppose the first of these group meetings happened the following week-end (if they were on week-ends - may have been evening meetings).  Notices advertising the meetings were widely-enough distributed that the attention of several persons was drawn to them - amongst them Susan.

24 December 2011


I have never been hungry - I mean, not really I-must-eat-or-I'm-in-trouble hungry and certainly not where-will-my-next-meal-come-from hungry.  In September 1969, therefore, although I appeared to face the end of any sort of academic life, and had no job - and were Edna and I divorced by now?  Did I have child support and alimony duties? - but in any case, in September 1969 I was 28 and had, perhaps, still the unquestioned assurance that nothing really bad could happen to me.  This, it may be, explains why I have no recollection of worry about jobs.

Or perhaps it is just that the passage of 42 years, and the fact that I did get paid work fairly soon, have driven any worry out.

It may have been Tom Bratt who introduced me to Airic - if that is how his name was spelt.  Airic was - oh, perhaps 50?  People of 28 are not good at judging the age of old people - that is, anyone older than about 40.  Airic's name, in any case, was not the name he had been given by his parents.  It was the name of someone he had been in a previous life.  Airic was a Scientologist.  He was also the owner of a small fleet of taxi cabs, driving under the badge of Charley's Taxi.  Tom was a close friend from Yap Peace Corps.  He had been a trainee in Moloka'i in the 1966 group I had worked with.  Now he was living in Honolulu, sharing dope with me - and driving for Airic.  Airic and his wife took care of a number of young drivers like me and Tom - I say 'took care of' rather than simply 'hired' because that was the genuine feeling one had.  Many of us were in one sort of trouble or another.  Airic was no fool.  He would not have drivers working for him who could not do the work - but he taught us the ropes, helped us when we were in temporary difficulties, had us around to his house for meals.  I have given thanks for Airic often enough since then.

Airic taught me the things I needed to know about taxi-driving.  He shored up my shaky lack of self-confidence.  He told me the critical things I needed to know to pass the State of Hawai'i examination for taxi drivers.  When I had passed, he went out with me for my first couple of runs.  Then ... I was on my own.

I had lived in Honolulu since June, 1966.  I knew the city well, I thought.  I discovered that I knew my way to the University; to the supermarket; to the houses of friends.  I had never been to any of the places tourists want to go to.  I had never, in fact, been in most of Honolulu.

The very first solo fare I got was an elderly Japanese couple, with not much English, picked up at the Ala Moana shopping centre, who wanted to go to ... well, I certainly don't remember where they wanted to go, but at the time, I had not the slightest idea how to get there - even once I worked out from their pronunciation what the name of the street actually was.

Thankfully, they sat in the back - and I had my map book secreted on my lap.  I got there, somehow.  It was a fairly stressful trip for me - and I think they realised that I was less than confident.

I suppose I started driving in mid-September, and drove until sometime in January, 1970.  By the time I quit, I was a confident driver.  I knew where many things were.  I knew how to coax the despatcher into helping me find the places I didn't know.  I was no longer embarrassed to say that I didn't know where a place was.  Nevertheless, I did not like taxi driving.  I drove a twelve-hour shift - mine was 6AM to 6PM - which, with preparation of the cab before 6AM and cleaning it up afterwards, and getting to and from work, amounted almost to fourteen hours a day.  The money was not unreasonable.  Half the listed fare went to Airic, but all the tips - which, in Honolulu in 1969, tended to be fairly substantial - I kept.  I was, I think, completely innocent of any thought of income tax.  So the money would have been not unreasonable, except that I spent most of what did not actually pay the rent and buy food on marijuana and LSD.

And the job was very boring - except on those rare but not non-existent occasions when it was terrifyingly stressful (such as the time I was driving a man who, I think, was looking for his wife, in order to kill her - I managed to abandon him at one point when he was searching around some house - and I did not worry about my fare).

All in all, though, I am glad of my taxi-driving experience.  Airic was good to us all.  He made me sufficiently interested in Scientology that I thought of doing something about it - could not, of course, so long as I was using drugs, and anyway, could not have afforded the fees - and, even more, motivated me to find enough about it to know that it was not at all either a safe or a reasonable sort of practice.  And, best of all, Scientology eventually became the vehicle by which I came to Jesus Christ - but that is a later part of the story.

Well before that part of the story, I encountered a remarkable woman.  Her name was Betty Friedan.

17 December 2011


Tharngan did, indeed, have a boat, but when Waqyaan went to borrow it, Tharngan wasn't around.  Ah, well, he won't mind, thought Waqyaan.  So we took it and went out, did some fishing outside the reef (which was fun, although more demanding for me - deeper water and annoying small sharks trying to steal your fish).  We came back in and Waqyaan went to return the boat - and came back angry and with a bruise on the side of his face.

Tharngan had slapped his younger brother across the face for taking his boat without permission.  I emphasise the 'younger' in that phrase.  English has one word for 'brother;' Yapese kin terms distinguish older from younger brother.  Tethiig is 'my younger brother;' ironically, 'my older brother' is nganniiq.  The distinction is important.

But so, I imagine, is that distinction important most places.  Waqyaan's reaction was rather different from what I expected.  He did not think it was improper for his older brother to chastise him.  He seemed to think, first, that it had been extreme; and, importantly for my own future, that he, Waqyaan, would act the same towards his younger brother.

Why, I wonder, was this incident so exceedingly upsetting to me?  For it seemed to turn my world upside down.

For reasons that surely have more to do with my own frame of mind at the time than anything connected with Yapese culture, this experience amounted to a kind of conversion for me.  I had, I am sure, made a kind of idol of Yap.  The unspoilt native culture, without western hang-ups and uptightness, a people who are naturally in harmony with nature and with one another - and Waqyaan's experience had shattered the idol.

It had shattered it, not only because all was not sweetness and light amongst Yapese, but because I perceived - correctly, I am sure - that it was not western influence that had bruised Waqyaan's face.  It was traditional Yapese culture.

It will not help for me to remind myself that cultures may well produce systems that meet their very real needs.  It will not help, either, to say that I may simply have been wrong about what was going on between the two brothers.  I have called my change of outlook a 'conversion' and by that I mean a major change in me, triggered by objectively inadequate external events.  The causes of conversion are seldom sufficiently accounted for by pointing to externals.

This happened in late summer - perhaps mid- to late-August - and I was, in any case, scheduled to return to Honolulu in early September.  My return was hastened by an accident that would have been minor anywhere but Yap.

Yapese buildings are built on top of platforms of stone and coral skeletons.  One day I was stepping up onto the platform of the house where we ate, and slipped, skinning my left shin.

In Yap, one should not leave wounds open to the air.  Perhaps things are different today, but at the time, going to the toilet did not involve nice sanitary flushing arrangements and drains leading to sewerage purification plants.  I immediately cleaned the spot, applied anti-bacterial ointment, and bandaged it.  No problem.

Three or four days later, it had scabbed over and I took the bandages off.

Oops!  Lots of flies gathering around this one spot on my shin!  Bad sign.  Bacitracin and bandages, please!

Within a few days, I not only had a very bad infection in the spot, it had gone systemic.  My temperature was about 39 degrees, as I recall (102F for those of you still living in the 18th Century).  Blood poisoning a serious possibility.  An urgent flight was arranged for me to Honolulu.  I hobbled out to the 'plane on crutches, in fair agony.

On the flight, I recall thinking - feverishly, of course, but not, on that account, unreasonably - about my experience with Waqyaan.  I thought about what the difference between Yap and ... well, and 'us' ... was.  What did 'we' have that the Yapese did not have - or did not appear to me to have, given the inner nature of my experience.

I concluded that the difference was the Western ideal of love - an ideal, certainly, rather than, in any but the sketchiest sense, a reality.  Nonetheless, I decided that we in the West believed, even though we seldom acted in conformity with that belief, that it was somehow the case that love ought to characterise the relationship between people.

I had returned to being a Western man.

I arrived in Honolulu and immediately was seen by a doctor - who told me that he thought he could save my leg.  This was sobering.  He did - but it took six months of repeated packing of the ulcerated wound with antibiotic-soaked sponges.

I did not enrol as a student for the fall semester, 1969, and nor did I have any work tutoring at the University.  I was now unemployed.

10 December 2011


It came as a dream come true to me when, in perhaps March or April of 1969, I was offered a contract to work in Yap over the summer to be in charge of the linguistic aspects of the Peace Corps training programme, to be conducted there in Yap.  I had worked full-time on the Yapese language for three years.  I knew much about the language, but was very much aware that my understanding of its structure was imperfect - and I had almost no practical command of Yapese.

This last fact may surprise non-linguists.  Actually to use a language is a skill, not simply a body of knowledge.  As well might one assume that a deep understanding of the physics, mathematics, and psychology of western music is sufficient to enable one to play the piano.

Thus I was excited simply as a linguist at the prospect of living and working in a speech community for a language which I had so intensely studied - and, indeed, this experience gave me the beginnings of the ability to speak Yapese, and enabled me to correct some basic errors in my interpretation of the grammar of the language (and which are propagated in my book).

All of which had very little to do with the emotions with which I greeted the possibility of going to Yap.

There is no doubt that western men are infected with the myth of the noble savage, and I am no exception.  This is not enough to explain the emotions I felt at the thought of going to Yap.

I said, in a previous post, that I had given up hope.  This is not true, of course.  My use of LSD was itself a part of what has to have been a search - a search outside, as I have put it - outside of the world of matter and energy - and, indeed, of thought and reason.

Yap also was outside.  The life I imagined the Yapese to live was as different as the life of dwellers on another planet.  And, after all, I was not very happy in Honolulu now.  I knew that my studies had pretty much gone down the drain.  I spent much of my time going from LSD trip to LSD trip - with marijuana in between - and was, perhaps, getting a bit bored.

When, therefore, I left Honolulu on the first leg of the flight to Yap, I had, it may be, the attitude of a man being transported to Heaven on the wings of angels.

Honolulu to Guam on the 727.  Two nights in the Micronesia Hotel (which may not exist any longer - a web search doesn't find it - and, as Susan will testify from her memory of the night we spent there in 1973, it was a dump - and to me, at the time, sheer heaven), then onto the DC6 for Yap.

Looking down from the aeroplane on my first trip to Yap is an experience I will not forget.  I felt that a new life was beginning for me.

The training site was in Gagil ...

Perhaps I should say that one puzzling fact about living in Yap - puzzling, I mean, to those who have never lived there - is that it is much larger on the inside than on the outside.

Yap Island - which is really four islands inside an encircling reef, with narrow channels between them - is roughly a fairly squat triangle, with the base roughly 25 Km in length, and the 'altitude' (straight line from the peak of the triangle to the base) about 10Km long.  According to Wikipedia, its land area is about 100Km2 - so it is quite a lot smaller than the city of Auckland.

Yet I have never been in most of Yap.  And, although travel within Yap is - or was - not as handy as in, say, Auckland or Honolulu, there are roads and there are automobiles.

But I would never just get into a car and drive someplace in Yap.  I don't know that anyone ever explained this to me, but the fact is that in Yap in 1969 - and, for what I know, still today - there is not, except for in 'Kolonia' itself, the concept of public land.  If I had some reason to go to a particular village, it would be well understood.  The local chief would know who I was and why I was there.

So I will mention places in Yap that may give the impression of great distances apart - and, psychologically, they were.

Training was in Gagil.  I think - though I am not sure of the accuracy of my memory - that training was in Gachpar, at the school.  I lived, however, in Wanyaan with Waqyaan, brother of Tharngan.  I wore Yapese clothes - loincloths - three, layered, as an adult male - with - well, without a lot of words to describe them, I won't make much sense.  A picture is worth a thousand words (Susan is concerned you might think this is a photo of me; it is not.  I have one somewhere, but this is just off the web):
I chewed betel nut (no marijuana or LSD in Yap - at least not then :-)).  I lived pretty much like a Yapese.  Worked at the training programme.  Sometimes Waqyaan and I slept in the school, but mostly we slept in his brother's house.

We went (spear-)fishing pretty regularly.  This was almost always simply mask-and-snorkel work inside the reef.  We had no trouble getting fish, of course - but ... Waqyaan told me of the fish outside the reef.  For that, however, we would need a raft or a boat.  Tharngan, his older brother, had a boat.  No doubt we could borrow it.

03 December 2011

Mr Tambourine Man

I don't know exactly when I first started to use LSD - in reality, I started first with mescaline, and I do remember that.  My fellow graduate student Barry, who lived, with his wife and their two (I think) children, in the breathtakingly beautiful suburb of Lanikai - invited me to his house one evening in March and I took mescaline there.

Did he give it to me?  I don't think so.  I think he only tolerated my using it there.

Within - what? days? a couple of weeks at the most - I was taking LSD regularly.

I do not know what to say about LSD, even now.  It is a very dangerous drug.  Some have died as a result of its use - many by suicide.  It is often cited as a recreational drug.  I suppose that depends on how you define 'recreation.'

For me, it was not recreation.  It was desperation.  Although I could not have expressed it in this way at the time, the fact is that the natural world had failed me.  I was trying to break out.

"Mr Tambourine Man" is an apt title for this post.  Dylan's song became my literal theme song.  I messed about, very badly, with the guitar, and that was my favourite song.  The chorus:
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you.
is where I was at.

I took LSD several times a week.  By this time I had a motorcycle for transport.  My favourite way of taking 'acid' was to take the drug and drive over to that same Lanikai suburb, to spend the night sitting on the beach, waiting for the sun to rise.  I was 'not sleepy' and there was definitely 'no place I [was] going to.'

I was still an enrolled graduate student, and must have done some work.  I managed to turn two (I now recall, though in an earlier post I said 'one') of those four 'incomplete' grades to passing marks - the other two became F's.  I was, nevertheless, really only drifting.  I took LSD often and went to campus, attending lectures - well, small seminars, really, as I was now officially a PhD candidate.  My fellows knew what was up with me.  I made no attempt to conceal it.  Indeed, I was deeply touched when, in early 1970, I told my dearest friend Greg Trifonovitch that I had become a Christian, he exclaimed - somewhat paradoxically :-) - "What?!  That's impossible!!  My adult Sunday School class has been praying for you for two years!"  May God bless you, Greg and Bev, for that, and for all that you have done for Susan and me over the many years since then.

During these two or three months, from sometime in March until the end of May, 1969, I went through a kind of pantheist view of life.  If I had remained there, I suppose I might have become a conventional 'hippie' - but I found that I could not, somehow, accept pantheism.  I had brooded on the oneness of reality, those dawns at Lanikai.  I recall very clearly the night that I knew that I would be dishonest if I accepted pantheism.

I had taken LSD and stayed, for a change, in my apartment in Young Street.  During the course of the 'trip' I began exclaiming - not out loud, for Mrs. Bell's sake :-) - "I Am!"  I had not got that from the Bible.  I knew nothing of the Bible.  I had got it from Heinlein's great - and poisonous - novel "Stranger in a Strange Land."

I knew I was failing in my academic career.  I remember saying to myself that I was the cosmos - I was all - and that both succeeding and failing were my - I should say 'My' - choice.  I was free to embrace both.

And yet... in my deepest being I knew that there was a fundamental problem: I preferred to succeed and not to fail.  In theory, I ought to have been able to embrace both alternatives.  In reality, I knew that I was not willing to do so.  Pantheism failed me.

It must, nonetheless, have seemed to my teachers and supervisors - I was still working for PALI on Yapese - that I was not yet a total loss.  It was at their instigation that I was employed during the summer of 1969.  I was sent to Yap to manage the Yapese language side of training Peace Corps Volunteers on-site.

27 November 2011


I do not want to write this post - but must if I am to continue this series.

Around Christmas time, I think, or perhaps New Year's, of 1968-69, I became a terrorist.

Tantrums are unlovely things in 4-year-olds.  In young men of 26 - fathers of children, husbands of wives, and University post-graduate students - they are worse than unlovely; they are dangerous and must be treated as such.  I wonder, sometimes, whether terrorists are just grown men throwing a tantrum.  Do they really think they will achieve their stated goal, and, if they do, that they will then cease to be terrorists?  Or is the infliction of terror itself their aim?

I arrived at the office in Straub Clinic where Edna worked - luckily for me, a psychiatrist's office.  Was she at the front desk?  I do not remember.  Indeed, I don't remember any of the emotional build-up in myself that led to this incident.  But ... I arrived there - and began screaming.  I recall that I screamed that I would kill Edna and Kathleen, and then myself.

Was I even making demands?  Was I saying that I would do this and that unless ... unless what?  Edna returned to me?  It is difficult to imagine, impossible to conceive any possible relation based on such a transaction, deeply shaming to me, even now, 43 years later, to write about it.  But that, I know, was what I did.

Edna's boss - I wish I could remember his name - was a wise and prudent man.  Had he not been a psychiatrist, I suppose my subsequent history would have been vastly different.  I cannot imagine I would not have been arrested.

He came out of his office to see what was happening.  He spoke to me calmly, but gravely, and asked me to come into his office.  I don't think I was there very long - but he calmed me down.  He then told me that he had, of necessity, called the police, who were outside.  He said he had not liked to do that, but that I could certainly see that he could not assume that someone making the sort of threats I was making would not attempt to carry them out.

He could, he said, simply ask the police to take charge of the matter, and that would be that - but he would like to try a different approach.  Would I be willing to go out to the Kaneohe insane asylum (I could not find a link to it on the web, which leads me to think either that it is no longer there, or else that I must find some more politically correct way of referring to it) for a few days, just to cool off?  If I was willing to do that, he thought he could satisfy the police.

I said I was.  OK, go home, he told me, and a 'van would pick me up that afternoon and take me out to Kaneohe.

It is - or was - a spectacularly beautiful spot.  The buildings have the flavour of late 19th- or early 20th-century Hawai'i.  It is located in calm and peaceful spot out of town.  I arrived there, and was given a form to fill up.  The form was a form for voluntary self-admission.

I read the form.  I can say that, if I had been in any way insane before I read that paper, it cured me instantly.  It was clear from the form that the 'voluntary' aspect of this was strictly cosmetic.  The facts were:
  1. I could sign the form and be admitted.  If I did, and if I decided that I wanted to leave, the hospital could keep me for an additional five days involuntarily whilst they decided whether to make the commitment without my agreement.
  2. I could not sign the form.  In that case, they could hold me for five days whilst they talked to a judge to decide whether ...
...well, you get the idea.

"I don't know if I should sign this form.  Can I talk to the doctor?"

"Ah - Dr So-and-so is the man, but he is out right now.  He'll be back in a couple of hours.  Just hang around and he'll see you when he is back."

So I did.  Talked to a young man my own age, or a little younger.  He had been fighting with his father, so came in on a voluntary.  That had been eighteen months before.  He was still there.

I decided to go walk outside on the porch for a while, have a look at the lovely scenery.  Nice Hawai'ian orderly - weighing about 110Kg, I think - comes up behind me and gently but firmly - very firmly - takes my arm and asks me where I am going.  "Oh, just to look outside!"  "Oh, mo' betta you sit down here, wait for da doctor."

I was able - thank God! - to persuade this doctor that I was not going to cause trouble if they let me go; was not going to go screaming threats at anyone; would behave myself.  They sent me home.

Terrorism is a kind of strategy of despair, I think.  When you have almost run out of options, you scream.  Sometimes that is the end.  They put you in jail - or you carry out your threat and are dead.  But, if not - then a new sort of calm sets in.  You thought, until then, that you had given up hope.  You were wrong.  The ship is now becalmed.

20 November 2011

2117B Young Street

Mrs Bell ran 2117B Young Street.  At some point there had been a Mr Bell, but he was no longer around - not, I think, gone to his eternal reward, but booted by Mrs Bell.  Mrs Bell was a late-middle-aged Japanese lady - she was my landlady, and she lived with Cindy - her small dog - Cindy Bell, I suppose she must be called.

I don't remember moving into 2117B Young Street, but I must have done so around late October or early November in 1968.  It became my home for the next three and a half years - until Susan and I were married, the 20th of May, 1972.

It was cheap.  I don't recall how much - the figure of $110/month comes to mind, but that could be wrong.  It was, indeed, pretty heavily bug-ridden - cockroaches, to be specific.  The flat was upstairs in the rear of the building facing a kind of atrium, with other apartments facing the same little yard.  There was a bedroom on the Young Street side, a sitting room in the middle, and the kitchen opening off the sitting room.

And the bathroom and toilet were down the hall.  The shower was actually enclosed up to a little above head height - and open to the outside above that.  Well, luckily, Honolulu is warm :-)

Poor Mrs Bell!  Things were better for her after I became a Christian, in 1970 - but for the first year and a bit I think she was pretty unhappy with me.  I played loud rock music late at night, until she told me I had to use earphones.  I came and went at all hours.  I was ... pretty hard to put up with.  She was, herself, a Christian - she attended the Door of Faith Church - half an hour's walk in town on Young Street!

Because I now relied on marijuana to keep from fretting, I was attending University classes, and doing my paid work there, as well.  I attended them - but my work was a ruin.  I think I was enrolled in five classes.  By the end of the semester, I had managed to do the work for, and sit (successfully) the exam in, one of them.  The remaining four were given compassionate 'incomplete' marks - grades that I had one semester to make up (by the end of the year I had made up two of them; the remaining two became 'F' grades - Fail grades).  Still, I was officially a student.  I had some money.  I even enrolled for the spring semester of 1969.

But - marijuana or no - I was filled with emotion - emotion which I may have identified as grief, or possibly even love.  What it was, in fact, was anger.

There was some sort of free City-and-County (the whole island of O'ahu is under one government - the City and County of Honolulu) psychology clinic.  I registered there and began attending both private sessions with a man named Vic (I forget his last name), and also group sessions, for people involved in recent marriage break-ups.

Vic was a very nice guy.  I can't say I got much psychological help from him - he was, in fact, divorced himself, which mightn't be the best recommendation - but I was able both to buy marijuana from him and, on occasion, to sell to him - so it wasn't a total loss.

But I did learn something very definite from the group sessions.  I learned to recognise my emotion for what it was.  I labelled it, accurately, as anger.  And I was encouraged, as all of us in the group were, to express that anger.  We explained to one another how we felt.  We sometimes did a little play-acting at it - and there were some tears.  Perhaps the idea was that emotions are a kind of psychic energy that is dangerous if bottled up, but safe if allowed to blow off harmlessly by loud words in a group of persons with the same feelings.  Maybe they thought that doing so would make us less angry.

If this is what was expected, that was not how it worked with me.

19 November 2011


The next few days - perhaps a week - are a bit of a blur.  Edna - with Kathy?? - came over to our apartment at least once, maybe twice.  I was, I am afraid, scarcely coherent.  I talked - and made things worse.  Edna was not, so far as I can remember, angry at all - and I think she was probably afraid for her own ability to make stick what she had decided - but she was clear.  She spoke of a month's trial separation.  I do not think either of us imagined that there was a possibility of our getting back together.

Clearly she and Kathleen could not stay indefinitely in a hotel room.  I had to move out.  I moved into Mrs Yap's boarding house - nice coincidence about the lady with the Korean name :-)  Mrs Yap's was on Thurston Avenue, on the slopes of Punchbowl.  There were two choices: private room, $25/week; shared room, $15 - both including dinner (made by her and at table together) and (make-it-yourself) breakfast.  I chose the $15 option.

I was in pretty bad shape.  I had had the foundations of my intellectual world knocked out - but I had never imagined that the people in my world would not simply always be there for what I wanted, when I wanted, as I wanted.  I blush to express my arrogance so bluntly, but there is no other way to express it.  I had already enrolled as a student for the fall semester of 1968.  This included money from scholarships and fellowships, and (I believe) I had a part-time graduate assistant job at the University as well.  I had, therefore, some income - enough, at least, to pay for my room and lunches.  It was a good forty-minute walk to campus - or perhaps I took the 'bus along Wilder Avenue.  But the fact is that at first I did not spend much time going to the University.

Instead, I anaesthetised myself.  I devised techniques of putting myself to sleep, by a sort of self-hypnosis.  That managed to keep me asleep 14-16 hours a day.  For the rest of the time - since I was still officiously a student - I took out piles of light reading - Agatha Christie mysteries, mostly - and read.  I was seeking the same end as with the rock concerts: stopping thought.

My $15/week room included a roommate.  His name was John Burke and he was from New York, which was borderline exotic to me, being a Californian, and now a transplanted Hawai'ian.  Poor Burke!  He was an engineering student.  He found me a pathetic puzzle.  I told him, of course, what was going on.  One day he took pity on me and introduced me to a better anaesthetic.

Mrs Yap's house was a very large, probably late-nineteenth-century, house, with basement, ground floor, first and second floors, and attic that had also been converted into a variety of rentable spaces.  I don't know how many people lived there - a great many, I think.  One day - I don't remember exactly how it happened - Burke took me to visit a very nice Filipino girl who lived in one of the attic rooms - one of the private rooms, which was, in fact, not much larger than a walk-in wardrobe.  There he introduced me to marijuana.

The girl - who did not, herself, smoke the stuff, nevertheless allowed Burke to use her room for the purpose.  I suspect she was a nice, well-behaved Catholic girl who would never have done such a thing - but she was friendly, and tolerant - and had a room located where, Burke hoped (such worries never occurred to me), Mrs Yap would not smell the evidence of nefarious goings-on.

It also never occurred to me to think about the fact that Burke actually had to pay for his grass.  To be sure, marijuana, in those days, was relatively cheap compared to what I have heard prices are like today (I hereby affirm that I do not know from personal experience how much it costs!) - something like US$10/1 oz (30g) bag - but, when you remember that my room - with two meals - cost $15/week, you can see that it is expensive.

Burke rolled a joint for me and taught me how to smoke.  I had, in fact, once (in 1964?) been offered marijuana, by Harry Frank - my best man when Edna and I were married.  I had been terrified, took one or two puffs - just inhaling and immediately exhaling, as with tobacco cigarettes - declared myself 'stoned' and quit.

This time I did not quit.  One.  Two.  Three of Burke's marijuana cigarettes - whilst he and the girl looked on in wonderment.  I had never known such a thing.  I knew what I wanted now.

This anaesthetic did, at least, get me back to the University.  I now did not need 14 hours of sleep a day, nor to read endless mystery novels.  I am amazed, in retrospect, that (a) I never was caught by the authorities, and that (b) I managed to function sufficiently at least to keep doing my University paid work, and some of my studies.  I started going back to classes.  All my classmates knew what I was doing.  At break times I would go onto the roof of the library and smoke.  I was rarely really straight.  Of course I had to buy it - I suppose the money must have been enough.  Did I, yet, send any money to Edna and Kathleen?  I doubt it.

How long did I live in Thurston Avenue?  I don't know, but I don't think it can have been very long.  I remember Edna saying - quite understandably! - that she wanted me to get my junk - some hundreds of books, my home-built stereo (and television?  ham radio gear?) out of the apartment.

I suppose it must have been something like November when I moved to what Susan, later, referred to as the 'bug-ridden tenement' - 2117B Young Street.

06 November 2011

Severe grace

Grace, we are inclined to feel, is a feeling that can come upon us when we are unhappy and seeking the comfort that we believe will come from God when we need it.  Or, it may be, grace is that marvellous set of coincidences that helps us out in our worldly situation, just when we need it - the unexpected extra money that comes in when there is the extra unexpected bill to pay.  And it may be that bit of moral courage that we didn't think we were capable of when we are presented by the temptation that we didn't think we could resist.

And these are, indeed, actions of the grace of God.  But these are not the only ways in which God's grace comes to us.

God's grace is always that unmerited, unearned, unanticipated - and, alas, often unwanted - participation in the life of God - in the way God sees things - in the way things really are - that enables us to want what God wants, and to do what is necessary to achieve it.

And when what we actually are at the moment is something that God does not want us to be - when we are, in plain terms, very wicked - then grace is often an unmitigated horror.

God's grace is also God's judgement and God's mercy. One form of the Mass has the line, "In justice You condemned him [man], but in mercy You redeemed him." We think that mercy and justice must be in tension. I do not know if it is so. I think they may be different sides of the same coin. It is not only just that the sinner should be punished for his sin; it is merciful as well - for his sin is destroying the sinner.

In 1968 the foundations of my life were very shaky.  The not-unworthy high goal of knowledge, of science, of the pursuit of the true (if neither the good nor the beautiful), was increasingly distant from my life.  I was, more and more, living a life motivated by very low goods, indeed.

I was also less and less happy.  I had not been a very pleasant husband to Edna even before this; I became less and less so.  And as my own behaviour deteriorated, so any awareness I might have had of how things seemed to her disappeared.

I was certainly looking for relief from my state of anxiety over the meaning of life, as another change indicates.

My sister Robin is four years younger than I.  In the spring of 1968, she was in her last year at the University of Hawai'i in Honolulu, with a double major in French literature and music performing (saxophone).  In March, 1968, she invited me to go to hear something called a 'rock band.'  The word 'rock' in relationship to music had only every occurred to me in the phrase "rock and roll" - with such performers as Elvis Presley as its exponents.  Robin took me to what was then the Honolulu Civic Auditorium in Beretania Street (torn down, the Web tells me, in 1974).  I was a little scared - but interested.  I remember going into the outer foyer area, paying (I presume) first.  There were policemen standing around there.

Then we went into the auditorium proper.  There were no policemen there.  There was smoke in the air - some of it, certainly from marijuana - as well as coloured lights turning around.  I remember the last thing I thought before thought itself became impossible: "I know why they have the music so loud: it is so that you cannot think!"  Thinking had become a horror to me.  I remember telling Edna about this, and asking her if she wanted to go to one of these events with me.  She did not, she said, but didn't mind if I went.  I attended such concerts several times over the following months.

Edna and I both turned 26 in 1968. I have described some of the ways in which the underlying assumptions of my life had broken. Reading Kuhn was perhaps simply one step in that. I was no longer an adolescent in outlook. I had been married for six years. I had a wife and a child who turned 5 in August and who would soon be in school. I was approaching finishing my Master's degree and would be expected to start on my PhD - but I was no longer sure why I was doing this. Surely Edna must have been going through analogous changes and maturation - but I was deaf to any such. She was working for a psychiatrist, and was doing more than simply secretarial work. She was being trained as a psychometrician.

Sometime in the (northern hemisphere) summer of 1968 I was awarded the Master of Arts degree in linguistics.  I think that might have been in August.  One day in September - memory says it was the 2nd, our 6th anniversary, but that might be the sense of the dramatic reading back into the past a date of significance - I came home to find that Edna had, indeed, undergone some changes of her own.  She had left a letter.  She and Kathleen were at a hotel.  She would telephone me.

God's grace had been offered me.

05 November 2011


By 1967, I think, I was beginning seriously to worry about the foundations of reality and how we could know truth.

If you had mentioned such a topic to me when I was a teen-ager, I would have been both startled and puzzled - puzzled, because I would not have known what to answer; startled because it would never have occurred to me that anyone might think to ask such a question.  By 1967, things were not so simple.

I grew up with no religion, no presumed philosophical views - at least, none that I could have put into words.  Nevertheless, I suppose everyone - even a child - has presuppositions about the world.  So in a sense, I did have a religion.  My religion was science.

Did I inherit this from something in my home environment?  I suppose one could say that I did.  My father, at least, had quite sophisticated notions of physical science - physics, astronomy, chemistry - as well as a knowledge of the accompanying mathematics - and his knowledge was not theoretical only.  He was a skilled builder, electronics tinkerer - he built the only television we owned during my childhood - and optician - he made the lenses for his own optometric practice.

So perhaps I acquired my scientific religion from my father.  Yet ... I cannot think that is the whole, or even the principal, story.  My deep fascination with astronomy, particularly, started quite early - at a time when I am not aware that I knew anything of my father's world.  And neither my brother nor my sister appear to have had the same love of the physical scientific world.

As I have said in earlier posts, I was to be an astronomer.  This dream was the necessary continuation of my childhood ... well, 'interest' is too weak a word - 'obsession' would almost be closer.

At the end of two years of astronomical study, I was already beginning to stumble.  Physics, and its mathematical underpinnings, were, indeed, wondrous subjects, challenging - but, after all, what was required was enormous amounts of hard work and endless practice.

So in 1964 I changed to linguistics.  This was, perhaps, easier - at least, the mathematics was not so daunting!  It was equally fascinating, rather more satisfying, also, in a human sense.  But the feeling that, somewhere, somehow, the Truth About Things was there to be discovered.  And the conviction that there was a science - a methodical, truth-finding, system - about all of this was fundamentally unshaken.

My confidence began a little to be, if not shaken, at least to be blurred, when I began my graduate studies.  An undergraduate is told the way to do things.  He is not expected to be arguing basic theoretic stances.  He is given methods, told to get results, and is given the impression, at least, that these are the methods for doing his science.  This is as it should be, for the beginnings in any science are practical ones.

A graduate student - and it was known that I had no interest in the MA per se, except as a stepping stone to the PhD - is expected to deal with theory.

Then, probably in early 1968, I read a book.  It was a book that was all the rage at the time - Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions," published in 1962.

The book was a world-changer for many.  At least one word in the book - 'paradigm' - and its offshoots - phrases like 'paradigm change' - have become a part of the language of our time.

I had supposed that something like the Baconian method of knowing was the basis, not only of science, but of all knowledge - and unquestionable.  You observe certain facts.  You see patterns.  You infer laws.  At first you are inferring little laws.  Then someone sees patterns in the little laws and puts them together into big laws.  It is all very orderly - and hierarchical.  These first observations are the foundation.  They cannot be shaken.  They are just facts.  Once the little patterns are discerned, they, also, are facts, and cannot be shaken.  Science works by building up this pyramid, from solid bottom through equally solid intermediate layers - ultimately, as we expect, to the topmost stone.

Thomas Kuhn seemed to me - and to many - totally to destroy this.  Those facts - whether of observation or of laws - are themselves the products of our own vision.  Almost, one thought, in reading his book, there was no possible way of deciding whether this or that scientific theory was true.  Science was a social process.  Once one model became popular - say the geocentric model of the universe - it became an ideology to defend.  New observations were themselves influenced by the ideology - and were fitted in.  Difficult observations were rejected as anomalous.  The great astrophysicist Arthur Eddington referred to the problem with his famous quote: "What my net can't catch isn't fish."

And then a revolutionary comes along.  He has a 'net' of entirely different shape.  It 'catches' those difficult observations quite well - and also some, at least, of the ones the first net 'caught.'

Now the war begins.  The old guard hangs on to the old paradigm.  Columbus is said to have died believing that he had succeeded in sailing to Japan, or another part of East Asia.  Eventually the old guard dies - few are ever converted - and the revolutionary new paradigm becomes the orthodox theory - until the next revolution.  The pyramid was not a pyramid at all.  It was an arch - and someone just pulled out the keystone.  A brand new arch has been built, with a very different keystone.

This destroyed, for me, not merely the certainty of scientific progress.  Science was my religion.  I find it difficult to convey here just how devastating this experience was for me.  I remember writing, at the time, to my friend, teacher, and employer Bruce Biggs, to the effect that I didn't know what I would be thinking in the future - but that I would never again be able to take seriously the theoretical arguments that flew back and forth about linguistic theory.

I did read, around this time, another book that moved me deeply, but that had, then, no fundamental impact on me, but was destined to be of great importance later.  When I was still in high school, I had asked my mother for something to read, and she had given me a three-volume historical novel that had fascinated me.  It was Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter.  Now, in the midst of my distress at reading Kuhn, I began also to read quite a few novels.  The library had a copy of her four-volume novel The Master of Hestviken.  I was stunned by this book.  I had had almost no exposure theretofore to Christianity.  In Master I saw, for the first time, the heart of Christianity.  I recall reading the following passage:
Ingunn lay at home, in the agony of death, if she were not dead already.  It did not seem real to him, but he knew now that this sorrow of his was also as a bleeding wound upon that crucified body.  Every sin he had committed, every wound he had inflicted, on himself or others, was one of the stripes his hand had laid upon his God.
I remember reading this and weeping.  I said to myself, almost cried aloud, "Oh!  I never knew!!  This guy Jesus thought He was God - and that He was dying for the sins of everyone!!  What an astonishing conception!!"

Had this experience led farther - had I, somehow, been brought to realise not only that this is what Jesus thought, but that it is actually true - well, certainly my life would have been very different.

But no such thought occurred to me.  I did not know where to go from that point.  It had been a very emotional experience.  Nevertheless, a seed had been planted that was to bear fruit - but not yet.

From some time in 1968, I had come to feel that all my life's roots and foundations were loosening.  I did not change what I was doing.  I continued to study linguistics, to prepare for my MA, and, eventually, for the PhD.  But I knew that I was no longer sure what I was doing - and especially, what I was doing it for.

I do not think it ever occurred to me to wonder whether Edna, the same age as me, and maturing intellectually herself, was experiencing any challenges to her own life's foundations.

29 October 2011


Edna and I lived in Honolulu for those two years.  I say that to make clear that the various specific subjects I will talk about, or have talked about, during that time - working on Yapese, snorkel-and-mask spear-fishing - and, what I will write about in this post, electronics - are not our life.  This sort of thing must always be true, I suppose, in any sort of writing.  One talks about things that happen.  Things that simple are are not so easy to talk about.  Edna's and my life together was not 'specially about these activities of mine - not even about my University studies and Yapese work, large though these loom - but about life and love, especially about our daughter Kathleen, about times with friends, about going places - we went at least once to Hilo on the Big Island to visit my parents.  But, as Tolkien says somewhere in Lord of the Rings, things that are pleasant (and, as the eventual failure of our marriage implies, things that are less pleasant, if they are part of the routine of life) are quickly told and often do not form very interesting reading.  It is the extraordinary that can more readily form a tale.

Sparks.  From childhood I was drawn towards things of science and of technology.  In Oroville, when I was in 4-H, in addition to agricultural subjects - including, obviously, my rabbits - I did projects on electricity and on Morse code.  Sometime during my high school years, I built a Dynakit valve stereo amplifier.  That was, indeed, a very good piece of equipment.  Coupled with two mid-range speakers from my father's vending business - he had some jukeboxes that were part of his stable - they became my amplifier for a turntable (purchased) and an AM-FM tuner (built from a Heathkit), which I carried around and used in California (from whenever I built it - perhaps 1959? - until 1966), in Honolulu (1966-73), in Auckland (1973-76), in Yap (1976-84), and in Pukekohe (1984 until it was finally replaced with transistorised equipment, maybe about 1985 or -6).  It had a long life and did yeoman's service.

I have built many Heathkit pieces of equipment during my life.  When Edna and I lived in Poki Street, I built a television receiver, again Heathkit.  In private e-mail Edna has claimed that I never finished it.  This doubt is deeply hurtful to me :-) !  (Well, ok, maybe I didn't finish it whilst we still lived together - but I do think I did).  Whether then or later, I don't know, but I did, indeed, finish it, and Susan and I hauled it to Auckland in 1973, where I had to fiddle with its tuning to get it to work with New Zealand television signals.  Thankfully, that, at least, I did not drag to Yap - I knew there was no television broadcasting in Yap!

And anyway, I had by this time become a broadcaster myself.

Well, not literally broadcasting - unicasting is the term.  At some point - and I am pretty sure it was in Poki Street - I acquired an amateur radio operator's ('ham') licence.  One reason I am sure that this occurred at Poki Street is because I recall the gear taking over more and more of Edna's living room - much, in fact, as the fish had done in Berkeley.

Your first amateur radio licence is a 'Novice' - and, at least in 1966 or whenever I was licensed, you get a distinctive call sign - sort of like having an 'L' in your car's rear window in modern New Zealand, to broadcast to the world your shame at being a 'Learner.'  My novice call was WH6GPC.  For the Novice class you just had to be able to copy Morse at 5 words per minute, and are limited to using Morse - no voice.  When I was able to master 13 WPM, I was allowed the glory of a real call - KH6GPC.

Amateur radio was something that I stayed with continuously and with considerable dedication right through the end of my time in Honolulu, my and Susan's three years in Auckland, and our eight years in Yap.  I have been:
  • WH6GPC
  • KH6GPC
  • ZL1AMT ("Able Mable Table")
  • KC6JJ (calls in Micronesia are luxury class :-))
  • ZL1WW ("Whisky Whisky")
My interests were not really so much in the idea of long-distance communication as in both the electronic side of things - which, in the event, proved an important help in my early involvement in personal computers - and in learning the skill of Morse - the latter, I suppose, connected with linguistics.  I did, over the years, do a fair bit of radioing, and graduated from kitsets to building my own stuff from scratch - and, once, nearly killing myself in the process (800V DC is quite stimulating).

These two years, from mid-1966 through mid-1968, gave me my Master's degree.  During this same time, however, some of my reading, and some of my other experiences, were beginning to eat away at the sandy foundation my life was built on.

Stormy Weather

My father had built two yachts in his life.  He only ever bought one.  The experience this last boat gave was a little different from the first two.

Well, the first was before I was born.  I only know that I was told that he built (I think!  Now I wonder if he bought it, too.  My brother might know) a 32-foot sloop that he and my mother sailed in when they had no children.

And then they had children - three of us - so that in 1946, the year my sister Robin was born, he laid the keel of a 40-foot ketch - in our backyard - in the near-desert town of Bakersfield.  Four years later it was finished, towed to the sea, masted, and launched as Robin - and for the next four years that we lived in Bakersfield, it was our holiday home.

In 1966 I was involved with Yapese.  I was clearly going to be involved not only with the Yapese language, but with the Yapese people - and with the island of Yap.  My father had an idea.  I think he had always rather dreamt of doing some long-distance sailing.  He would buy a yacht that could sail between Hawai'i and Yap.

I don't know which year it was that he did this - perhaps 1967.  He bought a nice ketch (I think it was) - 46-foot, I think.  Peter may remember the name.  My father may by this time already have been working at a new hotel near Kawaihae, on the northwest coast of the Big Island.  He, like me and my brother Peter, suffered from spinal stenosis, and for a number of years could not farm.  So here's the plan:
  1. Buy this boat
  2. Sail it to Kawaihae, as a sort of shakedown cruise
  3. Spend some time in Kawaihae getting it into shape for long-distance travel
  4. Go!
Well, step 1. took place all right.  In Hawai'i, to sell a boat, you have to have it 'surveyed' - inspected to make sure it is seaworthy, meets regulations, and so forth.  So, naturally, this was done.  The Hokulea (I think that was its name) was surveyed as ready for ocean travel.

In the ensuing lawsuits, I believe it was found that the surveyor who did the work was in fact a fairly close personal friend of the stock broker who sold it.  I just point that out for what it's worth :-)

At a certain date, my father, mother, brother, sister (can that be right??), Iou, and I set out.  The normal way to sail from Honolulu to the Big Island would, I think, have been to sail in the channel between Lana'i and Maui.  I seem to recall my father's saying that he was a bit worried about that, not knowing the waters well, so he would sail south of Lana'i, and then around to Kawaihae.

In the event, I suppose it would have made little difference - or, if it had, it might have been preferable that we sailed that way.

Some considerable distance south of there was a significant storm.  We were not in the storm itself - but we encountered seas that were ... well, my memory is of mountain-high seas.  Scaling that down to compensate for the fear factor, I suppose the waves were three metres or so high.

Whatever they were, it was pretty bad.  Oh, well, this is a shakedown cruise.  It is just as well we hit a bit of rough, to find out if the ship can take it.

It can't.

Later, when out of the water, one found that one could put a finger into the soft rotten timbers where the ribs (probably the wrong word; I am not a yachtie) meet the bowstem.  The bow opened up.  We began to take on a lot of water.  We had better get the auxiliary diesel going and get into some harbour somewhere.  It was, I think, a Sunday.  The nearest harbour was there.

Almost everything went wrong that could.  There was a bilge pump that could run off the engine.  It ran off the drive shaft by a belt.  The belt dropped into the bilge.  There was a hand-operated bilge pump.  We all took turns.  There was a radio.  It didn't work.  I think the only person on board who didn't appear frightened out of his wits was Iou.  I have a memory of him sitting at the tiller, chewing betel nut, staring out and not looking frightened.  Perhaps he was and just didn't show it.  I was - and showed it.

We limped into Lana'i harbour.  Lana'i is pretty much a company island.  There was a dry dock there - but this was Sunday.  Would there be union issues if workman came out and did something?  I don't remember the details, but I do recall one guy who drove off some place and came back with a petrol-powered bilge pump that he put on our deck and sucked the bilge dry in what seemed like minutes.  Other young men were diving down and hammering sheet metal over the holes in the bow.

Very humiliating, but we were alive.  The rest of us flew back to Honolulu.  My father followed with the boat being towed.  It was eventually repaired and sold - and the lawsuits got him a little of his money back, mainly because his lawyer didn't charge him.  But we didn't drown.

Oh, well, if you don't drown, you can electrocute yourself.


It would, in my opinion, be unfair to say that Iou and I did not work hard during that summer of 1966 on the Yapese language lessons.  Nevertheless, I, at least, was only dimly concerned about deadlines.  Don, my boss, was not dim about them at all.  In September, 1966, some hundreds of eager new Peace Corps Volunteers were to arrive for training courses in Moloka'i  I don't recall how many of them were for Yap - maybe 50 to 60 - but the Yapese language teachers who would teach them needed some sort of language lessons.  And Iou and I had much work undone.

It is probably not the case that the development of printed materials took longer in the days before word processors - but the work certainly required a lot more labour.  A small army of workers was needed.  Iou and I planned out a lesson - working, of course, completely by instinct, since neither of us had any training in what was involved in language teaching.  I had been a student of foreign languages, and I suppose I followed the model thus presented to me.

We would write out some pages of material.  It was given to the typist.  No nice word-processors, backspace or click with a mouse to fix errors, nice fonts for phonetic symbols, click to print multiple copies.  These were typewriters.  They were the latest and greatest of typewriters, to be sure - IBM Selectric "golf ball" typewriters, with carbon-film ribbon and white-out tape for correction!  These were, as well, the days of photocopiers - fairly new at the time - so the typists didn't have to fight with carbon copies.  Nevertheless, it was a lot of work.

Don could see that Iou and I were not going to make it - so he threw us out, off-island, to Kaua'i.  The University hired a small house for us to live in.  No electricity - we wouldn't need it!  No car for us, and quite a distance from town - I guess we were near Lihue, but maybe not.  The secretary who did our typing was our contact - twice a week, I think - because her boyfriend was the pilot who regularly flew to Kaua'i.  I suppose that determined our location.

Iou and I were there for several weeks - maybe as many as six, if memory serves.  It was very boring :-)

We worked hard.  We were motivated!   We were not to be allowed to leave until the lessons were done.  I remember that we had a BB pistol.  In the evening the light of our petrol lantern drew enormous numbers of insects to the fly screen on the door.  The BB pistol did not have enough impact to pierce the screen (fortunately) - but it was a break in the boredom to shock the observers from their posts - for a minute or two.

We must have finished, because eventually we did return to Honolulu.  I began my studies as a student.  But I lived in Honolulu only part-time.  Regularly - was it every other week?? - I was flown to Moloka'i to help with the language teaching.  I don't recall details, but I think I spent one - or was it two? - nights there each time I flew over.  It was on one of these trips that we saw Judy the jaguarundi, mounted with her lips pulled back in a snarl.

I had another experience connected with Moloka'i that almost ended in disaster.

23 October 2011

New career!

If I ever had time to write that autobiography that Eddie, Johnny, and Marko have asked for, it would be called "Confessions of a Failure."

And nor do I mean anything particularly negative by that negative-sounding title.  I mean only that my life appears to have been a series of undertakings, each of which I have imagined as being something ultimate - and each of which has been, viewed purely in temporal terms, at best incomplete, and in reality a failure (my friend Alan Creak, a sometime-reader of this blog, will recall the World's Best Shortwave Receiver).

In June, 1966, accepting that my intention of being the World's Best Astronomer had not panned out, I set out to be the World's Best Yapese Linguist (choosing a sufficiently-small pond to aim at being a Big Frog in).

"[sigh!]Oh, well - ok. Where's my informant?"
That was what I asked Don, when I had accepted that I would be working on (yuck!) Yapese.

"Uh ... you'll have to go find one."

Right.  OK, I'll just go out into the street and ...

Well, Don did give me a little help.  I just try talking to students at the East-West Centre - there would be some Yapese students there.

I went to the East-West Centre and, sure enough, there were Yapese students there.  Almost immediately I found out something about Yapese young people: they were unwilling to say 'no' to me about anything.

Barbara Leeguroy was the student I talked with.  She was a student there, and, yes, she would be glad to work as my linguistic informant.  I would have to talk with ... well, someone, I have forgotten who, but someone in charge of the programme that she was there with ... about permissions.

"Mr Jensen, students on the [whatever-it-was] grant programme are not allowed to work more than 15 hours per week."  This in addition to the fact that, once the summer's full-time job creating language lessons was finished, there was to be the actual training of Peace Corps Volunteers.

I had, by this time, met a number of Yapese students at the East-West Centre.  They were all sympathetic, but they were all on the same programme, and, yes, they had known about the 15-hour-per-week restriction.

But ... hey!  one of them remembered one student whose marks had fallen below standard.  He was not going to be able to continue with his engineering studies, and was to return to Yap - oh, maybe he is already gone?

'Phone calls.  No, he hasn't left yet, but he is just packing to leave this evening.  You had better hurry over to his apartment and talk to him.

Thus a long relationship began between me, eventually also with Susan, and John Iou - one of the co-authors of the two books that he and I, with Pugram and Defeg, wrote about Yapese: "Yapese Reference Grammar" and "Yapese-English Dictionary" (apparently some hopeful person is offering copies of the former at US$60 on Amazon - if you are hot for a copy, I can do you a deal).

Iou ... I should point out here, since Yapese names will recur throughout these posts covering the next twenty years or so - that Yapese naming is not - or was not; there are signs of changes in the westernisation of Yap - structured like English.  English names have, at least, a "first name" and "last name."  The last name - well, except for politically-motivated reasons - is inherited from the father.  It is the "family name."  The first name is the person's name itself.

Yapese persons do not have family names.  What looks to us like a first name is actually a baptismal name.  So Iou's name is Iou (pronounced, by the way, like the 'Yo-'' in 'Yo-ho-ho').  I myself was always 'Jensen' - and so forth.

Iou - to get back to my story - was in fact waiting for his ride to the airport when I showed up.  We talked.  His view appeared to be, "Oh, well, I really don't want to go home without my degree.  Here's a job.  Maybe that will be fun."  Iou and I were given an office, a typewriter, one which was able to type IPA letters, and we started in to work.

And Iou became effectively a part of my and Edna's - and Kathleen's - lives.  Over the next two years, I suppose Iou was at our house at least once a week - often more.  He and I used to go fishing (mask, snorkel, and spear - not pole and line) pretty much every week-end - bringing home dead creatures that Edna was supposed to deal with

When, in August, possibly mid-July, we were banished by Don Topping to Kaua'i, not to be allowed to return to Honolulu, until we had finished the 20 (I think it was) Yapese language lessons that had to be done before teaching, I wonder whether he still thought it was fun.

16 October 2011

1712 Poki Street

It is said that persons with Alzheimer's Disease can remember things of the distant past, but are not so good at recent events.  Perhaps this means I have not (yet) come down with Alzheimer's.  I can (usually) remember what people said to me yesterday.  I am less certain of the address Edna and I lived at during the two years we were together in Honolulu - but I am pretty certain it was 1712 Poki Street.

"Only two years!" I say to myself.  We arrived in June, 1966 - and Edna and I separated in September, 1968 - so yes, two years, or a little more.

It seems longer, perhaps because it really was a formative time in my life, in so many ways - and so, I believe, it was for Edna.

For me, it was the time when I:
  • definitively thought of myself as a "Pacific person"
  • got my MA in linguistics - and, therefore, became, in some serious sense, a linguist
  • was irreversibly committed to study of the Yapese language
For Edna, if I may speak for her:
  • she was definitively set in a career in field of medicine
  • she, also, became at least strongly attached to Hawai'i - this, anyway, is the way it seems to me
And for both of us, we began the painful process of transition from late childhood to genuine adulthood.

I wish I remembered the details of our getting this apartment - I am sure Edna does.  It was a two-bedroom second storey (= American third floor) apartment.  The back had a lanai - a patio hung off the back glass sliding door.  The lady who lived in the apartment below us was Korean and cooked - every Saturday, as I recall - kimchi - a very smelly procedure!

The fish!  Yes, you may recall that I said Edna shipped, single-handedly, the tropical fish from Berkeley to Honolulu.  I had thought they all arrived without incident, but she tells me that many died in the process.  I don't recall that - but it wouldn't be surprising.  It was a fairly major operation.

Nevertheless, many did survive.  In Honolulu, of course, tropical fish have their natural climate.  Perhaps I continued to use tank heaters - I don't recall - but the fish tanks went on the lanai this time, instead of filling the (very small) living room.  That, at least, might have been progress.  Edna and I did actually talk to one guy on the far side of O'ahu - in Kaneohe, I think - who did tropical fish for a living.  I even imagined our doing the same - very unlikely of success, I may say!

Edna worked for Straub Clinic.  I may be wrong, but I think she got her job there from the very beginning, and certainly she continued working there until ... well, until we separated, at least, and, I think, until she left Honolulu many years later.  It was there that she trained as a psychology technician - the sort of person, I think, who administers and analyses psychological tests of various sorts (I am somewhat nervous of saying all this as fully expect her to respond with laughter telling me all the ways I remember it wrong - so I hereby say that I am only telling you things that I remember :-)).

I was a linguistics graduate student at the University of Hawai'i.  Rather, I was that from September, 1966, when I enrolled.  From June, 1966, when I first arrived, I was an employee of the University's "Pacific and Asian Linguistics Institute" (PALI).  It may no longer exist - at least, I could find no modern reference to it on the web.

I arrived in Honolulu alone, Edna still struggling away in California at disposing of our belongings, shipping the fish, bringing herself and Kathleen to Honolulu, and presented myself to Don Topping, who was to be my teacher, friend, eventual thesis adviser as a Phd student.

"Here I am, ready to work on a Micronesian language, sir!  I would like to volunteer to work on Marshallese, if it's all the same to you."

"Ah, well, yes, thanks, but Professor Bender is actually already working on Marshallese.  This seems appropriate since he has been working on the language for thirteen years now."

"Oh - well, ok.  How about Trukese?  Or maybe Ponapean?"

"Well, John, actually, all the other Micronesian languages have linguists assigned to them.  We want you to work on Yapese."

"Yapese??!!  But Yapese isn't even a Micronesian language!!"

"Ah - yes, that's true.  Nevertheless, Yapese is the language we need you to work on."

"[sigh!]Oh, well - ok.  Where's my informant?"

08 October 2011

Life in Berkeley

What, after all, did we do in Berkeley?  We lived there for nearly two years, after all.  I have talked about fish.  I was, of course, a full-time student at the University, and, as well, worked part-time in the language laboratory, and at computer programming.

I am ashamed to say that, again, my self-centredness comes to the fore when I say that I am only rather vaguely aware of Edna's life during those times.

She worked.  She worked hard, and, I think, in frustrating circumstances, because, rather than having a permanent job, she 'temped' - worked for agencies that supply a person here for two weeks, there for a month, somewhere else for two days - that sort of thing.

But ... she may well correct me to point out that she did get a permanent job - my ignorance of which tells you something about me.

And she was Kathleen's mother.  Kathleen was just about thirteen months old when we moved to Berkeley.  We put her into a day-baby-sitter - who almost killed her.

The woman was, I'm afraid, the sort whom your great-grandmother would have called 'slatternly.'  She was our age, I think.  She lived in a flat that was always messy.  I remember once she said she had tried to get the company that picked up the rubbish to agree to pick up her rubbish bin later in the morning - it was just intolerable that they came along making noise at ungodly hours like 7AM (or whatever it was) when people were asleep!

The accident that caused us to change baby-sitters was, I think, a consequence of her sleeping habits.  Edna dropped Kathleen off on her way to work - about 8AM, I suppose.  Well, the lady had to be up then, of course.  But I think she just went back to sleep, leaving Kathleen to play.  With whatever was lying around.  With, in this case, a US one-cent piece - a 'penny.'

13- or 14-month-old babies play with things principally by putting them into their mouths.

Thankfully, no surgery was required to dislodge the coin, and nor did she choke to death.  I assume it was lodged in her oesophagus rather than the trachea, or she would have died.  The doctor was able to remove it through her mouth.

We changed baby-sitters.  I think, but am uncertain, that the next arrangement was with a proper day-care centre rather than an individual baby-sitter.

I think it was in Berkeley that my first exposure to the world of illegal drugs happened.

To modern ears, my awareness of the world of illegal drugs must seem astonishingly naive - and so, indeed, it was.  The use of chemical means of altering consciousness is, I suppose, nearly as old as mankind - at least as old as Noah, as the Bible tells us (Genesis 9:20-21):
20And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
At various times, governments have attempted to regulate the use of such substances.  My own awareness of such matters stemmed almost exclusively from a film shown to us (twice, I think, in successive years) in high school, about the dangers of addictive drugs.  The film was not the famous 1936 "Reefer Madness" - though the date of that film shows how far back the problem goes, and how far back the fear on part of governments that 'ordinary' people might be involved.  The film I saw showed men starting with soft stuff - marijuana, I suppose, though I think that I didn't even understand that at the time - and then going on to hard stuff - heroin - followed by withdrawal symptoms.  The film was intended to frighten us.  It frightened me.

So that when my Best Man Harry Frank offered to get me to smoke 'pot' - encouraged me, I think, though I may be wrong - I had two fears:

  1. Fear of not being well thought of by him (be refusing);
  2. Fear of the drug.
The second fear was by far the stronger.  I remember getting together, then, with him - was Edna there?  I do not remember - taking one or two puffs on the joint offered to me, assuring him, nervously, that I was now 'stoned' - and finding an excuse fairly quickly to leave.

It was not until late 1968, under very different circumstance, and in very different frame of mind, that I smoked marijuana again.  That time I did not limit myself to one or two puffs.

May or June, 1966 came around.  I had passed my final exams - with very good marks, all through (better marks than I had been beginning to receive for my astronomy studies).  I had been accepted to enroll as a Master's student to study linguistics at the University of Hawai'i in Honolulu.  In my application I expressed an interest in "Micronesian languages" - I had Marshallese in mind.  Don Topping, writing to accept me as a grad student, had asked whether I would be interested in a summer job, from June through August, at $800/month - a much higher salary than I had ever earned before - to prepare language teaching materials for "a Micronesian language" to be used in instructing Peace Corps Volunteers.

"Would I??!!"  An income, a high salary, work in exactly the area I wanted to occupy myself with - I responded with alacrity, unregrettingly dropped any idea of attending my graduation ceremony, hastily dumped on Edna the responsibility of disposing of our furniture and car and of shipping our belongings - including those tropical fish - to Honolulu - and flew forthwith to Honolulu.

02 October 2011


I spent only two years as a linguistics undergraduate.  It appears odd to me now, on reflexion, that I so readily adapted to my linguistic studies.  I had, after all, been a keen amateur astronomer from about age 11 or 12, and had majored in astronomy during my first two and a half years at University.  On the other hand:
  1. Your first two years at an American University are 'breadth' years - at least so it was when I was there, and I will only speak to that.  Everyone not doing a 'professional' course (e.g. law, engineering, or medicine) does a BA.  This is by contradistinction to the situation in New Zealand where, from the first, I would have done a BSc if I studied astronomy, a BA if I studied linguistics - and my courses would mostly or perhaps all have been major subjects.  In the University of California, as an astronomy major, I had to do a certain number of units of what were called 'social sciences' and a certain number of 'humanities.'  Thus my first two years were not at all exclusively scientific subjects.
  2. I had studied languages - as opposed to linguistics - fairly extensively from high school.  Four years of high school French, two semesters of University French, two semesters of University Russian, one semester of University Spanish - all whilst I was still majoring in astronomy.
  3. As I have indicated elsewhere, one of my 'breadth' courses - which simultaneously satisfied both 3 credits of the 'social sciences' requirement and the 'humanities' requirement - was entitled "Linguistics for non-majors."
Thus I was not a linguistic greenhorn when, in 1964, I began the first of two years that would lead to my BA in linguistics.  Nevertheless, it was a fairly new subject for me.

I took to it like a duck to water.  I loved linguistics.  I was fascinated by every aspect of it.

The linguistics course at the University of California in Berkeley, despite the fact that that University was one of the most important centres of studies of American Indian languages - Ishi, of Oroville fame, had been their subject - was nevertheless strongly traditional (in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries' tradition).  The core of areal studies was Indo-European.  All linguistics students had to study Sanskrit as well as either Greek or Latin.  Historical linguistics focussed on the Indo-European language family.

So these were the special subjects I studied at the beginning.  Nevertheless, my interest was soon pointed towards the various languages of the Pacific.

The reason for this is, surely, not far to seek.  My family had moved to Hawai'i in 1963.  In 1964, Edna and I spent four months living in Hawai'i.  I was, I am sure, quite enchanted with Hawai'i - as, indeed, who wouldn't be?

So at some point between September, 1964 and June, 1966, when I was graduated, I had decided to do graduate work at the University of Hawai'i.  That point has to have been moderately early in that period.  In the spring semester, 1966 I had applied to, and been accepted at, the University of Hawai'i graduate school.  I had said that I had a special interest in Micronesian languages.

And during those two years I studied Indonesian, had taken a course in Austronesian historical linguistics, and had, as I mentioned earlier, done a fair bit of (paid) computer programming in connexion with comparative Austronesian.  I suppose it was during that course that I said I had become interested in Micronesian languages.

Nevertheless, the only actual connexion I had with a language of Micronesia - a language which is not linguistically a Micronesian language - was in helping a linguistic PhD candidate named Bob Hsu.  Bob was studying a language called Yapese.  I knew of Yapese, knew that it was rather a linguistic orphan within Micronesia, being not closely related to the other languages of the area.  I was not specially interested in it linguistically, except for an oddity in its phonology - like many of the American Indian languages, but unlike any Pacific language I had ever heard of then - or since - it had glottalised consonants, which was kind of cool.  But my interest in Micronesian languages was historical - and Yapese was not related.

I worked for the University language laboratories, however, and Bob wanted to do some word elicitation - where a native speaker pronounces words in his language and you record them - so I did this work for Bob.  I quite enjoyed it.  It had been one of my first experiences actually working with a language as a linguist.  I thought that was the end of my involvement both with Bob Hsu and with Yapese.

This was not, of course, to be the case.

24 September 2011

Bread Upon the Waters

Ecclesiastes 11 tells us:
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
I suppose my interest in computing really goes back to my last year in high school.  Our physics teacher, James Anthony Rossas - JAR - had acquired a little device with lights and switches, wired up so that you could mimic some of the operations of propositional logic by setting the switches.  You could experiment with AND, OR and NOT - which are, I suppose, all you need for computing.  You could combine propositions in this way and see the little lights come on.  I was, frankly, fascinated by the concept.

My first experience with an actual computer was with a computer at UCLA - an IBM 704, it may have been - that was given to the students to play with as the University had acquired a newer one - I think an IBM 7094.  In 1960 or 1961, my senior friend, Lowell Wood, had talked me through writing some primitive routine for it, just to see how it worked.

I must, nevertheless, have had more experience in the years between 1961 and 1964, though I do not remember where or how, because in 1964, when I returned to the University of California at Berkeley to study linguistics, I began part-time paid work in a field that is now my full-time occupation: computing.

In late 1964, when I had just started there, I applied for a job in a machine language translation project.  It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had that panned out, but it did not - because, in fact, the whole MLT project was about to be abandoned by the University.  Mechanised translation was beginning to be seen as much more difficult than was once imagined (in my opinion true translation can never be mechanised), so there soon was no project at all.

But I was hired as student help to write statistical programmes - pretty simple ones by today's standards - for a number of linguistic projects that were going on at the time.  The whole business was quite different from what we think of as computing today.

Of course the programmes were all entered into the machine on punched cards.  In 1964, I didn't even punch the cards myself.  I wrote my programmes on coding sheets - programming in Assembly language - none of your high-level languages, please, not even FORTRAN! - which were then given to keypunch operators who punched them in.  The data were all on 7-track tape - 9-track came later.  I don't know who entered the data - not me.

Output was on fanfold paper - and much of the time my output consisted in memory dumps which I would mark up in order to discover the bugs in my code.

The technical bits above - Assembly language, 7-track tape, etc - are there not (simply :-)) to make the whole thing sound technical and impressive, but because several readers of this - at least Eddie and Johnny - will find it somewhat interesting.  But I describe the whole experience because I did begin serious computing work at this time, continued it quite a lot more at the University of Hawai'i when I did my Master's degree - and in part this was responsible for our move to New Zealand.  In Yap the computing began gradually to take over - so that in 1984 my way of making a living ceased to have anything at all to do with linguistics and became computing full-time.

The small things that we do in life may, like Ecclesiastes' bread and seed, have long-term larger consequences that we cannot anticipate at the time.

My parents' move to Hawai'i in 1963 was to have similarly large consequences for me - and for others.