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.