Stages

The Last One

It’s hard to say goodbye, but this is my last column for the San Diego Troubadour.

I’ve been graced with this space since June 2007. I’m beyond grateful.

Co-founder, editor, and publisher of the Troubadour, Liz Abbott, has been the kindest, most supportive partner throughout these 12 and a half long years, 152 columns, and 160,000 words. That’s a lot of support. I can never thank her enough for trusting me with this space.

But what I’ll miss most is the connection that’s been forged with so many of you. I’ve loved all the correspondence and conversations we’ve had about this column through the years—about creativity, about art, about spirituality—and the way we walked together awhile and saw things through each other’s eyes. Words have a way of doing tha—of bringing people into confluence.

My first memory as a writer was back in third or fourth grade. Our teacher had us write little one page stories and then read them aloud. When I stood up and read my story the room shifted. A strange silence, focused intensity, which I’d never experienced anything like that before. No one ever paid any attention to me. I was the invisible kid.

I only remember one of the stories I wrote—it was about a cow who learned to ride a motorcycle. She rode it to the top of the Matterhorn in Disneyland. Yeah, I know… what? But those kids ate it up. Their applause did something—it rearranged my DNA. For a shy, reserved kid who didn’t play sports or crack jokes or do anything to stand out, suddenly something I made mattered. A door was opening.

Mark Harriman lived across the street. We both loved Mad magazine, so we created our own version. Film parodies, cartoons, jokes, political stuff. We drew it with pencils and colored pens and held it together with paper clips, tape, and staples. This was before computers or copier machines even, so we only had one handmade copy of each edition. But it wasn’t the product we were after, it was the process. Our writing sessions were cool-water oases in a desert of suburban banality. We finally felt alive, like something mattered. Something blissful was bubbling up from the ground beneath our feet.

The first two books I ever bought with my own money—lawn mowing money—were Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Charles Bukowski’s Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame. Poetry was electrifying. How could mere words do that—elicit such power? I began writing my own lonely adolescent poetry. Free verse stuff, just imagery really, slivers and facets of moments. It felt like a magic trick, shining light on the shimmering threads of the ordinary world. Who knew that by simply paying attention the transcendent revealed itself so readily. Poetry, like any writing, is the art of paying attention, then rendering what you see in sentences and paragraphs that bridge others into the wonderment. It was intoxicating.

By now I was writing songs, too. Ah, the awful, derivative songs of 13 year olds. You can’t help but copy your favorite artists. All art begins as theft. And what life experience do you have to write about anyway? The bully in third period? The fact that Cammie Ramelli doesn’t know you exist? That day you lost your retainer in the cafeteria? After a while you realize that even if you try to copy Neil Young and Jackson Browne you can’t because you’re not them—it can’t help but sound different coming through your voice, your mind, and your hands. You can’t help but be yourself. Art is not something you do—it’s something you are.

And, all through high school you keep reading, reading, reading. Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Issac Asimov, J. R. R. Tolkien, Khalil Gibran, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Peter Matthiessen, Arthur C. Clarke, Edward Abbey, Thomas Merton, Harper Lee, Robert Heinlien, H. P. Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway, and a hundred others. To be a writer you must be a voracious reader. Reading reveals the myriad ways language can be shaped to evoke an unending stream of experience. When you hold a book in your hands you hold proof that words send tendrils down into your soul and into the core of the earth where all the other soul-threads meet. Words reach farther than the farthest reaches of space. Words are gods that create, destroy, and resurrect. Learning the craft of writing was a calling worth my time. I’m still not very good at it— a rank amateur really. I don’t know the rules of grammar very well (that’s why there are editors). I feel my way through more than know the way. But I never tire of stumbling along, chasing the light.

Another chapter in my life as a writer was letter writing. When a good friend Tim Forsell moved away after high school to pursue life as a mountain climber—first Colorado, and then Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley, and beyond—we started exchanging letters. Long hand-written letters. He’d share his alpine adventures, and I’d share vignettes of life on the coast. Small stories, scenes, ideas. This went on for years. I have boxes full of these letters. If you want to be a writer, write.

As a philosophy grad student I faced another threshold—writing my master’s thesis on Ralph Waldo Emerson. I had written many academic papers by then, but this was different. It was over a hundred pages. It took a year. It damn near killed me. But I got it done.

Then I started writing Christmas letters. This was back in the days when many of us were still sending out Christmas cards. A few people included a family newsletter, but mine was a little different. We didn’t have kids to talk about or many travels to share, so I turned them into philosophical reflections and vignettes of life moments that seemed emblematic of the deeper significance of the holidays. This went on for over ten years.

That’s when my brother-in-law Michael Krewitsky, owner of Pro Sound and Music, asked me to write a column for their monthly company newsletter—my first real writing job. The newsletter eventually ended, but the seeds were sown.

I wrote a few features for a brand new music magazine called the San Diego Troubadour. I kept asking for a column. Liz eventually said yes. Stages: Philosophy, Art, Culture, and Music was born.
I kept branching out. I wrote a book, The Seven Stone Path: An Everyday Journey to Wisdom (coming soon), and I began writing for national magazines like Unity Magazine and Science of Mind. (My column in Unity Magazine will go on.)

So why end this column? It isn’t a question that lends itself to easy answers. It’s a body of work I’m very proud of. Having that 1,200-word deadline every four weeks for twelve and a half years was a labor of love that made me a better writer. And for that I am forever grateful.

Looking back over all of this affirms me in my belief that if you answer the call and follow your bliss and simply show up and do what you love every day, year after year, it carves a path, a true path, a path with heart. And that is a path I will continue walking until I can’t walk anymore.

Nearly all of these archived columns and more can be found on the Troubadour website and on Peter Bolland’s blog “Thinking Through.” www.peterbolland.blogspot.com. Sign up on Bolland’s mailing list at www.peterbolland.com

We at the Troubadour appreciate your years of contributions, Peter, and wish you all the best in your next endeavor!

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