Derelict Days

Derelict Days in the Northwest

This was written just prior to my departure, in the late summer of 1990, on the journey to Britain and Europe that was later chronicled in the book, Innocence Abroad, which can be found on the site. I had been long out of touch with many friends, and the purpose of Derelict Days was to bring them up to date on my life. The title, a whimsical comment on the nature of my lifestyle after leaving the mainstream, also references the almost dedicated lack of direction, during my first five years in the Seattle area. I was consciously moving in the flow of a provident Universe, and this catch-up letter nicely tells the tale. The links in the text are all to explanatory footnotes.

This is for old times' sake. It's for all the years we were in touch - the many or few of you whom I can still reach with postage. It's for those who remember Black Bart and sometimes wonder... "What ever happened to him, anyway?" And it's for those who have occasionally wondered what ever happened to me, Irv Thomas.

Black Bart, of course, doesn't exist any longer - not either in publication form nor as the persona who once possessed me, his alter-ego and latter-day revivalist. The years since those times when he and I shared a voice have brought changes that have thrust me beyond that thoroughly retreative and crusty rejection of modern American life that Black Bart so marvelously personified. To be sure, as long as I live the things I got from our affiliation will inform everything I ever do, every piece of writing I ever write. In fact, it's in that recognition that I make this effort to establish contact again, to let you know how my own trail has fared since the day I laid old Bart back in his grave (so to speak).

It would probably be more true to say that he slowly faded away, for even though I made a strong effort to leave him behind, he'd keep surfacing in one way or another, prompting my moves or my reactions to things - as well he should, for we had become pretty symbiotic, if not actually (as some seemed to think) synonymous. I wasn't trying to do away with him, but to see how I might move beyond him - but not by abandoning anything I learned from him. He was too good a guide, too fine and trustworthy a companion. And I'm sure you'll recognize him in a good deal of what I'm about to relate.

The last Black Bart publication was in 1983, as I recall, but his aura remained, in a kind of twilight of uncertainty for about two years, with one or two newsletters concerning "the further adventures of..." that you may recall. The last of these was a report on the magnificent roadtrip I made in the summer of `85, hitch-hiking around the country without a ghost of certainty as to where I would manage to find a winter's shelter. Yes, it was Le Grand Experiment, to see how Provident the Universe would actually prove to be, for a near-penniless singer of its praises. I called it my Summer of Infinite Presence, remember?

If memory serves, there was another and later post-Bart letter to friends who had remained in touch, sent during the deep winter of January `87 when I was in the most miserable throes of a transition unforeseen; so you may already have more information than I shall begin this telling with. But the tale properly starts back there in the midyear fluidity of `85. Exactly five years ago. I had returned to California to attend the first annual Gathering of Earthstewards, an affiliation I somehow gravitated toward because of my respect for, and longtime friendship with, Danaan Parry. I had no idea of the marvelous consequences that would unfold from that occasion.


A winter's lodging had already been promised in Santa Barbara, on California's warm southern coast, so I took advantage of the move that Danaan and Earthstewards were making to the northwest, in order to spend a few yet-warm months on Puget Sound and reconnect with a woman I had met the year before at Rajneeshpuram, that place of ill-repute in north-central Oregon, where I had spent a few fascinating summer weeks. A gypsy life may have its problems, but the boredom of being tied down is not one of them. I offered to help with an issue of the Earthstewards Journal, in exchange for temporary shelter. It all fell nicely into place, and at the last moment I even scored a free ride north, practically to their doorstep.

The weeks passed enjoyably on the Sound, without remarkable happening, right up to the eve of my intended late-October return to California. I was all set to leave, piggy-backing on a ride going south, when I got last-minute word that the hospitality in Santa Barbara would fall far short of a winter's extent. I had to make an almost instant choice between stranding myself down south or remaining stranded right where I was.

For some reason, it seemed to make more sense to hang in with an existing unknown than head for a new one. Never mind that northern winters are more severe, and that my network of friends was far more substantial in California. I could number the people I knew in the Seattle area, at that time, on one hand's worth of fingers. But the weather was still seductively nice in Seattle. And so was Madelynn's proximity. Besides which, this last-minute development, giving me no time to think anything through, could be taken as a pretty clear signal to hang-in. Anyway, I could surely stay a little longer, and something else might happen.

What did happen was a crazy conjunction of oddments: Driving one of the Earthsteward vehicles, one day while Danaan & Diana were both out of town, I got tagged for lack of a current California registration! - which developed into a situation of unbelievable complexity that added up to someone having to pay a $112 fine unless I stayed around to contest it in court - although my welcome as a house guest was wearing perilously thin.

To compound it further came the great November snowfall of `85, laying out a solid blanket of foot-deep white that was to last for two weeks - and put a complete closure on any remaining thoughts about being yet able to hitch-hike back to California. I hadn't sufficient funds for any other kind of departure - nor anywhere in particular to go, even if I had. Somehow or other, I was going to have to find my winter's lodging in the northwest.


I picked up the scent of a trail from a poster on the wall in a foodstamp office - a poster first seen, actually, on the very day that I'd gotten the citation. It was a call for "mature women" to work as live-in caretakers for the disabled and elderly. What the hell, I figured - why not a mature man?

The trail took me through several inter-related social service agencies, each one recommending me to the next, and the last one suggesting that I go consult the Co-op bulletin boards. It had begun to feel like I was being shuttled along in a brush-off conspiracy, but...there it was, at the end of the line, a posted notice from a rather remarkable young woman incapacitated by multiple-sclerosis, who needed a weekend assistant caretaker. This, I thought, would be perfect; it would give me the wherewithal for the rental of a modest room somewhere in town, and who could complain about two days a week, of responsibility.

But the easy scenario was not to be; it was only the sweet nectar of the flytrap. By the time our connection was made, Jean needed a fulltime attendant - not two, nor even five days a week, but six, at 24 hours each! I tried to back off, but her persuasive powers found a ready partner in the insistent urging of my own desperate situation. She offered live-in room and board, the free use of a van, and a salary of $600/month - a virtual goldmine to one who had spurned wage-labor for 14 years! In one sudden catapult I'd be home free.

No, not exactly free. Can you just imagine the carefree easy-rider that was me, being suddenly flipped into total responsibility? My innocent freedom of such long attainment was going, in one simple step, from all to nothing-at-all. That California New Age talk about the earth suddenly doing a pole-flip had come true!


The reason Jean was remarkable was that she proved to be a kind of "psychic vortex," around whom all manner of connections seemed to happen - though she was entirely unaware of this magical capacity and mostly given to wrestling with the miseries of her own fate - but then, aren't we all? Although I stayed with her only the five excruciating months of that winter, I met people coming through her household who were to weave in and out of my future developments right up to this very day. Jean, herself, would be a resource for me at critical later stages of this transition, not leastwise for the ever-ready use of her van as a 'moving facility,' as I house-hopped from one northwest residence to another, over the succeeding several years.

But that winter was surely my Northwest (Rite of) Passage . . . my come-uppance from a principled resistance to the world of work, into the pragmatic, survivor-focused opportunism that was necessary for what would follow.

When it came to its end, a funny set of typically early-year happenings induced me to rent a nearby room and pursue that ever-reviving fantasy of writing a book on my enlightening adventures. I'm always alert to the directional signals that pop into my world around early February, and it came this time as an invitation from a friend in Santa Cruz, who had achieved board-member status on a small foundation that granted minimalist funding to obscure but worthy projects . . . an invitation from her to submit a proposal if I had any good use for a couple thousand dollars.

I thought of the perennial book project, of course, and formulated a proposal on it. The proposal didn't get anywhere, as it later turned out; but having turned my focus toward such a possibility, I soon realized that I already had the funds for it, in the money socked away while I was taking care of Jean!

Things seem, always, to work that way for me, nowadays. Everything is part of a Grand Weave, and the events of that February-time (of every year) invariably seem to translate into a pattern of activity, whether by some inherent design (as I truly believe), or simply because I take them as such and pursue their possibilities. I think that things happening at this time of year have a peculiarly heightened potency. But it is only one instance of the many sorts of 'signals' that alert me to something going on in the weave of my life.

Consider, for instance, what happened on the way to my next residence. There was a small but fascinating ad in a local paper for living quarters available to "writer, artist, or scholar living on poverty level." It had only a postbox address, so I sent a response and waited...and waited. Meanwhile, I discovered first-class quarters - but (for me) expensive - just a block away from Jean's. I took an option on it but continued to wait for the other to materialize, in the form of some response. I waited several weeks, and finally thought I'd better go claim the more expensive one. It was an upstairs room, with a superb view of the snow-crested Olympics, in the household of a new young family - an ideal spot for a writing project to take shape. It even offered the use of a computer, in an adjoining upstairs room!

Merely minutes after I returned from putting a sizable down-payment on the new quarters - and after those weeks of futile patience - a call came from the old fellow who had placed the earlier ad! It was such a clearly indisputable signal: the tight conjunction of events - yet there being no question as to the temporal priority of my sudden impulse to claim the closer residence - that I knew I had to go meet the fellow, and see what it was all about.

Jim was a crusty old iconoclast in his 80's, an inner-city recluse who had simply pondered my response for a long time before deciding to call me. He had a full upstairs flat vacant, and was more interested to see it go to the "right" person, than in whatever income it should bring him. But it would need quite a bit of refurbishing before it could be conducive to a writing mood, and I wasn't sorry for the way things worked out. Jim and I became friends, however, despite the fact that I had contracted elsewhere for shelter, and the fruit of this friendship would become evident in due course.


I proceeded, after a short visit to California, to invest myself in the writing project. I still had no clear intention of remaining in Seattle, but I had no better place to be, or to do this thing, and I could count on a minimum of distraction in this environment where I still knew so few people. I tried, also, to find part-time employment, to alleviate the rental drain on my savings, but nothing came of it. From any practical perspective, it would seem to have been a rather indulgent waste of a hard-gained nest-egg, but I was "living by the signals" and was sure something worthwhile would come of it.

Sometime in early July, about the time that summer's intensity begins to build in earnest, I sent a long, completed chapter off to a publisher who had already expresssed some interest in it. My writing energy went with it, and so I hied myself on a week-long bike and ferry jaunt to a jazz festival in the San Juans - mainly to while away the waiting time. On the return bikeride, I came down through Whidbey Island for the first time, and thought its shoreline town of Langley was simply the most perfect out-of-the-way locale I had ever seen. I was instantly struck by a wish to live there...sometime, somehow.

Waiting for me on my return was a gentle but depressing rejection from the publisher. My summer had busted, and the one thing clear to me, now, was that the book had to go on "hold." I had perhaps two careful months of funds still left, and would then once more be on the rocks of insolvency unless something were done in a hurry to prevent it. It was then that a rather strange possession took hold of me. I had seen Whidbey, felt its clear, strong pull, and realized that there were many relatively inexpensive cabins available there, God, I would get myself back into the world of computer programming, that I had left so long ago, and it should not take me long to Make It Happen! It was a moment of wild irrationality, in several respects, but it powered a short, intensive, and equally absurd job-search, which kind of served as a bridge to what came next.

Right in the classic deep-summer moment of early August, the time when either crisis or development characteristically reaches a peak in my world, I received a letter from a longtime friend - one of the recently uprooted Rajneeshpuram devotees, from the year-earlier fiasco there - who was in Arkansas, slowly putting together a new stake for herself. She wanted to come out west again, and proposed that I find some suitable locale and quarters for us to set up winter housekeeping together. I knew, of course, exactly where to go.

It fell into place with such clean precision, in fact, that there was not the least doubt of it being a properly ordained course of action. There is a community of New Age people just a few miles from Langley, who call themselves the Chinook Learning Center. Joining into a weekend work-party of theirs, I put out the word that I was looking for a Whidbey place to rent, and fell right into the almost immediate availability of an isolated five-room house spectacularly situated on a bluff overlooking the ferry route in nearby Clinton - a dream of a place, and at an affordable price of rental.

Affordable, that is, for Priya, my partner in this venture - for I was just about bottoming out, by the time we actually moved into the place in October. Even Priya's funds were getting shallow, by the time our winter prep of household equipment and foodstuffs was in place. But I had perfect faith that I'd secure some kind of employment, the way things had been coming together for us.


It didn't exactly happen that way. Priya did all right, setting up a catering service out of our kitchen. But I lurched through November and December from one promising opening to another, nothing ever materializing. It was almost uncanny, the way each one kept me hanging on the vision of actual employment, diminishing my energy for the further search. Bits of temporary work kept me feebly within sight of financial sufficiency, but never quite close enough to it, and by January the tension was beginning to rise, between Priya and me.

I had turned to the town of Everett, across the ferryboat run from Clinton, in hopes of better prospects, and in the course of my job-seeking there I discovered an agency called Operation Improvement which administered a federal program to provide job-training for the disadvantaged - like high-school dropouts. Being a slightly older, and slightly other sort of dropout, I nevertheless talked my way into it and took their comprehensive test, hoping to qualify for a word-processing class. That test was taken in November, the year's archetypal seeding time, and I made an impossible score of 100% on their nine-part, 3-hour exam - which may have surprised me more than them. It was another strong path signal.

But it merely put me on a waiting-list, and time dragged on into January with nothing happening there - possibly another good sign, since the winter nurturance of a seedling is always hidden from sight. On the gross plane of day-to-day events, however, it was simply discouraging. They operated in a seasonal pattern, at Operation Improvement, entrained to the academic quarter-system, and nevermind anyone in desperate need of work. Meanwhile, the temper between me and Priya was going from sour to bitter, and it was becoming clear to me that I just wasn't going to hack it on Whidbey. I extended my search all the way into Seattle, an impossible stretch for a car-less commute but a threshold for disconnecting from Whidbey and Priya. I scored some irregular telephone-survey work in the city, but it wasn't enough to finance any such move.

Right in the midst of all these shifting energy patterns, in late January, the call from Operation Improvement came through: It was time, at last, for assignment to classes. On the face of it, it would simply compound my problems by cutting into my job availability time, but my hope was to qualify myself more reliably for employment. Word-processing seemed the most congenial possibility and the quickest to achieve. It was a bit of a setback, then, to discover that there were no word-processing courses available, this season - which was rather strange, because they had access to all of the region's community and private vocational colleges. But Victoria, my interviewer, looked over everything available and could offer me nothing more inspiring than a course in ordinary data-entry work, way out on the east side of Seattle, which I would not take.

Then Victoria took a long look at that incredible test score and decided that she somehow had to salvage me. She said that if I could find any course of study, anywhere in the greater Seattle area, that would work for me (vocationally), and if it could be completed in under a year and for less than $1000 in tuition and supplies, they would call it a special personal program and fund me to it!


It was a wide-open carte blanche. I immediately scouted out the community college scene, basically in search of word-processing, and then I stumbled across something of much more value to me - something that I had no idea was out there.

A rather elegant community college, nestled nicely among tall fir greenery just north of the Seattle city limits, offered a three-semester program called Visual Communications Technology - a fancy name for the printing and publishing trade, which included the recent development called Desktop Publishing! I signed-in for the spring quarter, to begin in about six weeks. From a companion state-funded program administered by the Everett Senior Center, I was awarded a small personal stipend that provided almost enough for me to get by on...if I could just hang-in for the six-week gap before any of these benefits would begin.

Living on nothing was something I practically had a degree in, by this time. But I had to leave Whidbey to Priya. I moved back to Seattle, now, relying on the friendship I'd established with old Jim, who put me up in his still vacant upstairs quarters for nothing more than the cost of utilities. Daily spending money came in from the intermittent telephone survey work. I had to borrow busfare now and then, and I still owed Priya $150 - but I was in amazingly high spirits right through that narrow passage, for the signal-beam was as clear and steady as one could ask. And there was no detour this time; right with springtime, in March, the schooling began.

Jim's place was only a stopgap shelter. It was poorly located for my daily commute, and hardly comfortable enough to think of as home, although it was a blessing immeasurable for that brief period of desperate transitional need, available as if by some grand plan that had long ago been laid out. Indeed, what lay ahead of me, in the progression of summer, could hardly have been imagined.

My old benefactor, Jean, had found, by this time, a strong-willed caretaker named Michael King, one of the most amazing persons I have encountered on my northwest sojourn, and shortly after I started to school he located a new place for them to live, on the northern edge of town - practically within walking range of the college! They not only had an extra room there, but Michael would welcome an occasional day or evening of caretaking relief; and so we worked out an arrangement between us that was equitable all the way around. I'd have a free room, in exchange for a modest amount of service to Jean - for which Michael provided me a small slice of his own salary that would bring me, at last, to a sustaining level of income.

My classes all revolved around publishing technology, a strictly vocational program, in the surround of youngsters aiming for the world of career - a world I had long ago abandoned. It was a rather absurd situation. I was like some ghost of another time, graybeard and all, in their midst - as they were like ghosts of another time, in mine! Thankfully, a few other oldsters were on campus, to keep me in some degree of reality-orientation.

I used the opportunity to refresh my old computer familiarity, and probably jarred some instructors' preconceptions by my "precocious" grasp of it. But most useful of all, in my perspective, was the course in Pagemaker, the desktop publishing process, for it gave me a tool I could really work with. Before I knew it, I even had a commissioned job to put it to work on, assisting a friend with a 72-page booklet, which eventually (after a year of part-time labors) earned me $1200. This also, as it turned out, cleared me for an early departure from the obligation to complete the vocational program - that is, it fulfilled the proof-of-employment requirement, by the time I discovered that I had "other academic fish to fry." `


Being in the college milieu now, it gradually dawned on me that the name of the game is educational grants & loans and such - the financial-aid largesse that was practically unknown when I was a kid (except for the GI Bill, which I missed out on).

Well, why not? I was set for spring, summer, and fall quarters - and why not go for an added financial boost in that last quarter, for which there was still time to submit a Financial Aid Form? So I sent one in - noting, in all innocence, that I was only requesting funds for the fall quarter, the last quarter that I was authorized to attend. And no loans, I specified; only grant money or work-study funds would be acceptable.

But the federal government does nothing by halfway measures. It was a bright June day, clearly recalled, when I got home from school and opened the letter of award - and was so stunned by it that I took it very lightly. I kind of laughed, and said to Michael, "Hey, they want to give me nearly $7000!" The award was for the entire 1987-88 school year, and it consisted of several kinds of grants including free tuition and work-study. No loans.

As I say, I was stunned. For two full days I went around thinking, "It's really too bad I can't make use of this." I was fixated on the obligation to complete the program I had begun. Finally, I began figuring out how I could make use of it.

By falltime, I had fully reshaped my program. The vocational one was brought to closure - properly satisfied by the afore-noted fulfillment of is conditions. For work-study, my newly-gained computer expertise was sufficient to put me back to work with Earthstewards, editing their now bi-monthly Newsletter at an exceedingly handsome rate of pay (subsidized, of course, from federal funds). And I now had a much more appealing range of curriculum choice - early literature, short story writing, art, etc. - and had begun to loosen up and really enjoy the experience.

My friend, Rachel, says I began blossoming as a person on campus. She was one of the other oldsters there, and had seen me from the start of it. In fact, I began connecting with the much younger folks around me, a wonderfully rejuvenating experience. I hadn't realized, until the effects of that year and since, how aging had slowly encrusted me with a shell of inability to relate to much younger folks. The eventual mark of this refreshing attainment came early the following year, when I actually established an ongoing friendship with a bus-stop acquaintance who wasn't even in school with me - an uncommonly attractive woman in her middle twenties!

By the start of `88, I was knocking at the door of the University of Washington. It had become apparent that there just wasn't enough for me, in either breadth or depth, at Shoreline Community College. As long as I had the funds, I wanted the richness of the university - if those funds were transferable. I went to find out...and the Universe handed me one of the most incredible affirmation signals of this entire northwest passage.

I waited in line, in the university's Financial Aid office, for one of three interviewers who were processing counter inquiries. My turn took me to a young woman who looked at me rather oddly and inquired if I had ever been in Everett. I looked closely at her, and it was Victoria! - the very same Victoria who had encouraged me, a full year before, at Operation Improvement, to go out and find a program that would serve my needs.

Such things are only the stuff of film-scripts, too implausible for reality! How can one possibly doubt, or feel the least shade of anxiety about a path graced with such affirmation? So I put the transfer into the works - never thinking for one moment that it might not materialize. Yet, in doing so, I set in motion the one piece of bad business that could topple my whole crazy structure.


When I had registered at Shoreline, I saw no reason to labor over the application for a full, detailed record of prior schooling, which had included some long-ago efforts to get back on the track of my abandoned education: two brief periods at a San Francisco community college, the most recent of them 27 years back. It seemed of no account for a strictly vocational pursuit. But now that it appeared I was actually going to resume that old path toward a degree, I needed to resurrect all those old credits to gain myself the proper university footing. Among other things, they provided me with the barely met requirement of a foreign language - Spanish. (Actually, my Spanish fell a bit short, but close enough to gain me a waiver for the fractional insufficiency.)

But there was a ghost lurking in those old records that I'd all but forgotten about - a college loan that had never been paid back! I got word of it two months before the spring quarter was to begin - word that my entire financial-aid process had been stopped dead in its tracks, until something is done to clean the slate. It meant, of course, that my whole financial picture was suddenly frozen. I had to marvel that this had not happened to my earlier application for financial-aid, for the purely lazy reason that I simply hadn't bothered to mention that earlier schooling.

I didn't even remember the amount of the took me several weeks and a phone call to Washington D.C. to find that out. It was an $800 original figure, now increased by interest to $1420. I pleaded that it was impossible to pay that off at once, that I needed some time for it. (As if I hadn't already had 27 years!) But the woman I was speaking with made me a deal: she said they'd forgive the interest if I could come up with the $800 principal, and I unhesitantly agreed to it. I had that much left, of funds that the government had already given me!

The ordeal, however, was not yet over. There was still the matter of getting a clearance to the University in time for the upcoming quarter. I waited...and waited. I was on the phone to D.C. a half dozen times, to no avail. My angel, Victoria, warned me that I could find myself stuck with a tuition bill that Financial Aid would not cover (like another $800), if the clearance didn't arrive in another couple weeks...and when Victoria speaks, I listen! She was advising me to back-off and remain at Shoreline for another quarter, where my financial-aid was still good.

As it turned out, she was right on target. But I was so intent on getting into the U, that quarter, that I applied her advice in a different way. I registered at both schools! I had free tuition at Shoreline, and the $950 Pell Grant (from Shoreline) paid my way into the UW. I took 22 credits, altogether, weaving the time in such a way that I could manage the logistics of it...whew. Talk about gluttony for punishment! (My spirit is fine, but I'm not always sure about my sanity.)


That summer of `88 was the only break I took for myself - an AMTRAK visit to friends in California and Arizona. After that, it was a straight two-year haul, right up to its recent completion and my Bachelor's degree in the Comparative History of Ideas. It doesn't need to be detailed, except for a few standout things that marked the all-too-swift passage of it - mainly in the nature of fantasy fulfillments that happened to come my way.

The most thoroughly rewarding of them was becoming a weekly by-lined columnist, complete with inset photo, on the student-run University Daily. It gave me sudden visibility on a campus that had otherwise a tendency to make me feel entirely unseen. Over the course of some forty columns, I said my piece on a lot of things, and even established a bit of a following - primarily among other older students and among the faculty who knew me. It lifted a generally great university experience to the level of a truly special one.

The next fantasy fulfillment kind of backfired on me. I had wished, for a long time, that I could learn to read ancient Greek. It's the etymological key to our culture's view of knowledge and reality, with many concepts illuminated by their lexical roots in that language. But the fantasy completely ignores the difficulty I've always had with grammar - and Greek grammar is a bear! The opportunity finally came my way and I took a crack at it. I let myself in for an intensified course: two quarters' worth in the span of one summer, that had me doubled over in agony before I was half through the nine weeks of it. I'm not sure how I survived. I am sure that it was pure charity, from a prof who admired my article-writing, that allowed me a barely passing grade, which gained me an Honors status at Baccalaureate time.

It did turn out to be of value to me in the development of my Thesis, an optional project that occupied an increasing amount of my last year's time, and the entire final quarter of it. In a way, that was a bit of a fantasy fulfillment, too, for I have wanted the chance to do a real study of the subject that has intrigued me for more than fifteen years: the influence of the seasons (as an archetypal cycle form) on consciousness and reality. I wanted to find what has been perceived of it in other cultures, both historic and ethnographic. It resulted in a 145-page investigative report that earned me a 4.0 grade - yet, it seemed like I had only skimmed the surface of the subject. It was satisfying, frustrating and exhausting. And I hope, still, that I shall oneday return to it and take it further.

I would never have finished it had it not been for the Mac computer I bought near the close of my schooling. What a blessing! - and another mark of my turnaround of recent years, for I had at one time banished computers forever from my world (or banished myself from theirs). But once I turned toward desktop publishing I knew I must eventually have one, and I was able to get it at a university discount...paid cash for it, along with an Imagewriter and a Jasmine 40-meg hard disk. Yes, the old dropout paid cash for a brand new personal computer - thanks to Social Security funds that started coming in for me during my final year.

But it's merely the last piece of frosting on a cake of, now, many layers. No, not the last; I will get to that in a moment. The academic trip has come to completion. One B.A. is quite enough for me, I haven't got time for anything more. Remember: I wasn't looking for it in the first place; this all evolved from the innocent search for a word-processing course, in the outflow of being flat-broke on Whidbey Island.

In that sense, it's been another kind of graduation, of possibly much deeper significance than whatever is represented by a B.A. It's as if I've completed a "finishing school," here in the northwest - a culmination of many years at the study of learning how to let life lead me, instead of exulting in any ability to take charge of it, which is today's common mode. Just the other day, as I was bringing the details of this tale to their finish, a friend asked me what advantage there is, in letting the fortune of indicative events call the turn of one's path, as opposed to shaping it for one's self. I had already acknowledged to her my conviction that either method can shape a viable reality.

My answer was that the path indicated by Providence is, by its very definition, an easier one. But that, alone, is not sufficient reason for taking it, for there is hardly anything wrong with choosing a path of greater challenge and demand. There is a more profound reason, however. We are damned, in this age of all possibilities, with a failure of faith. Nobody really believes, anymore, that there is such a thing as Providence, in any form that can be trusted to do as much for you as you would do for yourself...or even to look out for you! We seem to have to "look out for ourselves." The ordinary caution of looking both ways when crossing a street has been lifted out of its proper context and applied to the vast array of life's unknowns, with the force of a compelling common-sense requirement: be careful and purposeful, lest you allow something undesirable in life to "run you down."

So we live in a constant morass of insecurity - for to be always apprehensive is to be ever insecure. We insure ourselves to the hilt (or feel at constant risk if we can't); we agenda our lives to the day and hour, to keep the unexpected at bay; we commit ourselves to a future before it can even be seen. We live entirely unnatural lives in the firm belief that prudence dictates wisely. Yes, Prudence is the big `P' of our lives, not Providence. And to this extent, we are poorer by far than our material wealth would ever lead us to think, for we live not in the idyllic grace of nature's world, but in an isolating fear that passes for "common sense."

Here I am - a total material "failure" - stumbling along life's path without any idea of where it will next take me; yet, in as profound a state of ongoing security, and freedom from anxiety, as ever in my life. I am, moreover, about to embark - rather blindly - on the next indicated stage. In a sense, it's going to be a "graduate school" experience, though not in any formal sense. I'm simply following signals, knowing by their manner of occurrence that where they lead must be right for me. Witness my understanding of the cues:

In the season of the year when sprouting happens (that is, around early February) . . . and directly proceeding from the recently ended stage ("directly" because it is something for which I qualify by having been a fulltime student) . . . I learned of a work-exchange program with Britain (i.e., the prompt crossed my path, I wasn't chasing it). The final touch is that the arrangements fell easily into place; there were no resistances to overcome.

So...for the modest price of a passport ($42), a one-way plane ticket ($299), and $96 to join the program, I'll be off and away to six months of residency in England, starting in September, with the 'blue card' privilege of holding a job there, for that length of time.

I have no idea where, at what, or even if I'll obtain a job for that brief period, but the auspices are right, and I'm willing to trust the situation. My funding, as it is shaping up, will be about $2500, plus the $391 monthly stipend from Social Security. Not much on which to predicate a year or more abroad, but that's exactly what I'm envisioning - six months in Britain, and another six 'at large' on the continent, and maybe longer - the first such journey I have ever essayed.

These midsummer weeks are a fantastic jumble of preparation, coupled with a sense of incredible freedom. I'm doing my best to refrain from an agenda, meaning to let it shape itself. I am ready for this 'graduate course'!

And we come, thus, to the end of my account - a long but hopefully enjoyable and informative one, and at the very least an overdue re-connection with most of you, for which I've been too long derelict.

Take carel, write when you can - you'll get a response sooner or later - and...

Heed the signals!




Return to the main Staging area (to go elsewhere within the site)

Send response


What follows are the footnotes referenced in the above text, if you have not already checked them out.


"..possessed me" No, Black Bart was not a channeled entity. Since this will now be read by many who do not understand those remarks in the opening paragraphs and may have no idea who 'he' is, I should note that this was the name of an irregular alternative journal published by me in the 1970s. It was named for an old California outlaw. If, when you finish this tale, you want a brief account of those earlier years that led up to the Derelict Days, you'll find a summary in Ripening Seasons #16.

"..brush-off conspiracy" Since I hadn't sought work in 14 years, I was totally unprepared for the resistance to hiring older people, a factor that was to dog me for the next few years. But as you'll see, it was just as well I never realized it, for it's no real obstacle when Providence enters the picture, and I didn't need any element of gratuitous insecurity.
"..some grand plan" In actual fact, there was a certain 'weave' of circumstance going on, here, of which I was not even aware. It was not poverty alone that qualified me for the Operation Improvement program. There was also a geographic factor . . . but it was so tricky as to boggle the mind: It was a county-based program, which did not include Seattle, so it was necessary for me to be gone from there. Yet, Whidbey Island was also outside of the county range...but an exception was granted because I could not reach the equivalent Island program (thirty miles to the north) without a car, while Everett was located just a ferryboat ride away from me. The Everett program had access to Seattle schools, and the Island program did not. So in the end, my island residence provided the education that precisely met my needs, and served no other purpose at all.
"..Michael King" is a lifelong traveler of the spiritual path, with incredible dedication to his vision. Our common service to Jean's care established an ongoing friendship that continues to this day.
"..some forty columns" The best of these will soon be available on this site.
"..obtain a job" As a matter of fact, I never did obtain a wage-paying job, there. That's part of what makes the tale of that London winter, and the exciting European summer that followed, so interesting. For it really did demonstrate the reliability of a Providential path. You'll find the tale in the first few chapters of Innocence Abroad.

That's all, Folks!!