Saturday, May 31, 2008


As with the first letter, the felt-tip pen drawing was on the front side of the envelope. It was addressed on the back side of the envelope and had this return address:

P.F.C. R.N.
(His social security number)
Co. A. 159th ASV. BN
101st ABN. DIV.
A.P.O. SF. 96383

I found this about Company A, 159th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion, where RTN served as a helicopter mechanic.

We were 19 years old when RTN was drafted in the spring of 1969. I was working and living at home with my parents and two sisters and spending as much time as possible on the weekends at the coast with him, short of staying overnight with him in the room he rented in Montara. I had dropped out of college at University of California at Irvine after six quarters, having realized that all I wanted to do was to be with RTN. Studying art and English literature seemed pointless when I had no intention of being a teacher, which was my parents' goal for me. Because I was so shy and lacking in self-confidence, I couldn't begin to imagine standing in front of a classroom and teaching anything. I had no college goal and very little confidence in myself as an artist after my experience as an art student. What I wanted to do was to move back to Northern California, live with RTN and get a job -- any job where I could be "invisible." Besides, I had decided that I couldn't continue to accept money from my father for any kind of schooling while living with RTN, which was what I saw as our next step. My plan had been to get a job so I could support myself. I had a vague dream of being an artist while holding a job and living with RTN.

Without much trouble, I had found a job in a small company in Burlingame, operating an injection molding machine that produced radio knobs. Even in 1969, the commute from Redwood City to Burlingame on Highway 101 involved bumper-to-bumper traffic. On the radio I would frequently hear John Lennon (scroll down for clip of Instant Karma) singing:

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon youre gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin to do
Its up to you, yeah you

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin at fools like me
Who in the hell dyou think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Evryone come on

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Evryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When youre evrywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

As I try to tell this story as I remember it, difficult memories are surfacing. That is good. I want to remember the whole story.

What I just remembered is that RTN was making a living at that time by dealing hard drugs, had used IV amphetamines and had aspired to be a Hell's Angel, having seen the movie, "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando. His friends were drug addicts. Profoundly naive, I was unable to see just who it was that I loved more than I loved myself. Like the young woman in "The Wild One," I wanted someone to take me away from the small life I thought I was living. In the movie, though, the young woman sees through "Johnny," confronts him and goes on with her life. He respects her for that and choses to continue his life as an "outlaw."

Unlike her, I didn't confront RTN at that level until August of 2002. He had been honest with me during the months of his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and subsequent remission of that cancer. His friends, he had told me, were practicing junkies and alcoholics. He had referred to himself as an "outlaw, especially if I have to be." I called him in Modesto where he was living with his elderly parents, several of his brothers, his sister-in-law, a nephew and a niece. After my first few words, telling him I had something serious to talk about, he hung up on me after saying, "Goodbye Amanda." I was both devastated and relieved. We did need to say goodbye to each other. We weren't going to live happily ever after, as I had always imagined. It had taken me 36 years to accept that. Two months later, I received this letter:

Dearest Amanda,

Although you may choose not to know me these days . . . . .
Thank you for popping your head up and saying hello in so many wonderful ways. You have done well my friend. You have also grown some very deep roots, as I have. I really can't ever see myself ever leaving N. California for any length of time. Anyway, we all have things to do. I'd like to thank you for all your love. Please, take all my love and get on with your life.

Love Always,

*If things are okay or if things are not well* please call me. xox R. (this line was inserted later with a different pen)

P.S. This letter needs no response. If I ever meet up to your standards, I'll let you know. By! xoxox R.

("Woman Trying To Remember What She Is Trying To Forget," drawn in chalk pastel by AM, in the early 1980s)

Friday, May 30, 2008

JAN 16 1970

One December winter afternoon in the month before RTN was to leave for Vietnam for what would be almost a year, we drove south from Miramar to Pigeon Point Lighthouse, north of Santa Cruz. Instead of walking on the bluffs, we sat in my secondhand 1965 VW Bug and looked out at the ocean. To my surprise and dismay, RTN quietly said, "I'm not expecting you to wait for me. I'm going to be gone for a long time." To that I said in protest, "There's nothing in the world I want to do more than wait for you."

In my memory, he was relieved to know that I would wait. When I think back on that moment, though, it has occurred to me that he was attempting to break up with me. It had never occurred to me that our relationship would not continue while he was in Vietnam. We made a pact that we would write each other every day that he was gone. That idea was his.

Above are both sides of the first letter I received from him. Unlike the letters that followed, it has a stamp. The nearly 365 letters that followed were marked "Free" where a stamp would have been.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


The reproduction doesn't do justice to this drawing done by RTN while he was in Vietnam. Still, you get the idea.

"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm,
waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like
worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their
songs never cease."

John Muir (1838-1914)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Do your work, then step back -- the only path to serenity.

Today's quote from my Zen Calendar is from the Tao Te Ching.

This pencil drawing was made during the year when I was 17 years old, having met RTN on the beach at Half Moon Bay, California, on December 14, 1966. RTN was a surfer and a high school drop-out. He was the third-born son in a family of 10 children. His older brother, the second-born son, was serving in the Army in Thailand. His youngest siblings were fraternal twin boys. RTN's arm was in a cast when I met him. He had broken it in a fall off a bridge near where we met. I was a shy young woman with extremely low esteem who had never had a boyfriend and who was sending out college applications with a desire to study art and literature. I was in the early stages of a serious eating disorder, the oldest of three daughters in a family that appeared from the outside to be stable.

We both liked to draw. We both liked Bob Dylan. We both loved the ocean. We became friends. We discovered that we had been born within 24 hours of each other. I was the "older" one. We walked along the beach together, talked and laughed. I would borrow my parents' car and drive from Redwood City to Miramar Beach in hopes of finding him walking on the beach, which was not far from where his family lived. We didn't "date," but I drove to the ocean on as many weekends as I could during the winter and spring of my senior year in high school.

As part of a commitment made in 1966 to drawing something every day, I made the above drawing from a photo of Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. It doesn't look like Dennis Wilson, nor does it look like RTN did then, but there was a resemblance which spoke of someone who had experienced something that haunted him.

The drawing has been with me since 1967. Sometime in December of 1983 during a heavy rainstorm, water from the roof of my studio space began to seep onto the drawing, which was thumb-tacked to the wall of my studio. I was horrified to see that the water had stained my drawing. Not a good sign. The drawing was part of what little was left of my connection to RTN. Then, on December 28, 1983, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys drowned. I hoped that RTN was still alive. We were 34 years old and had been apart for twelve years because he had hit me in one of the rages that he experienced after returning from Vietnam. I couldn't live with the fear of his violence or with his increasingly destructive drug and alcohol abuse, but I didn't stop loving him.

In those early years, I once asked him why he had been attracted to me. He said, "Because you are an artist."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brian Willson: Satyagraha

After reading a post by robin andrea at Dharma Bums, I found this short video. Thanks so much to robin andrea for directing my attention to Gandhi, satyagraha and Brian Willson.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Flowers drawn by RTN while in Vietnam in 1970.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Little Nash Rambler


1961 Nash Metropolitan

This morning as I was waiting for a traffic light to change, a tan and white Nash Metropolitan crossed the intersection. I laughed out loud in delight because that was one of the used cars RTN had during the early years of our friendship. He painted colorful designs (much like those of his I will soon be posting) on the hood of his car. I don't remember the last time I saw a Metropolitan in Bellingham.

This afternoon, I remembered a set of "dream words" from RTN, from a few weeks ago, which puzzled me but make perfect sense now. What I heard in the dream was:


I thought that was odd and funny, and it reminded me of RTN's sense of humor, but I hadn't made the connection between those dream words and a song from the 1960s about a Nash Rambler and a Cadillac. Although the YouTube video doesn't show a Nash Metropolitan, I believe that the song was written with the Metropolitan in mind.

RTN and I used to start laughing about something and be unable to stop. I'd love to laugh like that again. Seeing that Metropolitan today brought that back to me. My heart is beginning to heal.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bob Dylan - Just Like A Woman

If you have the time, listen through to the end for the harmonica solo.


Today is Bob Dylan's 67th birthday. I believe that my mother's favorite Bob Dylan song was "Ring Them Bells."

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they're deep and they're wide
And the world's on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the bride.

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man's son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf,
Ring them bells for all of us who are left,
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,

Ring them bells St. Catherine
From the top of the room,
Ring them from the fortress
For the lilies that bloom.
Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they're breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong.

Copyright © 1989 Special Rider Music

My old friend, RTN, who also listened to Bob Dylan from early on, was in many ways like my mother in that he struggled with anger through most of his adult life. He, like my mother, was a user of amphetamines and Oxycodone, although mostly illegally. He once told me that he was "a veteran of the anger wars." In the year before my mother died, she told me that she was tired of being angry. Until I was 45 years old, I didn't identify myself as an angry person, but I was frequently hungry. I used food to take the edge off any anger that surfaced. Right after RTN died on April 20, I felt numb. As the days go by, I am feeling the anger that is a part of grief. Bob Dylan spoke for many of us when he wrote about "tears of rage, tears of grief."

I don't miss their anger, but I do miss my mother and my old friend. That's my mother in 1920. Her father had returned from World War I in 1919, having served as a doctor.

They say prayer has the power to heal
So pray for me, mother
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell
I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others
But oh, mother, things ain't going well
(from "Ain't Talkin'" -- Bob Dylan, 2006)

Friday, May 23, 2008


I found this at wood s lot.

40 years ago.


Although I was praised by my mother for my drawing of a horse when I was five years old, she was enraged when I showed her this when I was six years old, not long after the second of my two younger sisters was born. My mother was overwhelmed, trying to take care of three young daughters. My father was often away on business, was experiencing setbacks in his career and had had a spinal fusion as well as having had his gallbladder removed. It was a difficult time in their marriage to say the least.

My recollection is that she screamed at me for using up an entire box of stars. Additionally, I had cut out magazine images of a woman in bed alone during the day, images that resembled my mother, who suffered from narcolepsy and severe migraine headaches. In 1954, my mother began taking prescription Dexedrine, which may well have contributed to her hair-trigger rages. She took oxycodone for her headaches.

My sisters and I learned early to avoid her anger by being quiet during her frequent naps and attacks of migraine headaches. Until my mother died, I never understood her anger. It frightened and bewildered me. After her death when I was 45 years old, I began to experience my own anger for the first time and understand how much she suffered from her anger. She didn't want to be an angry mother. Angry or not, my mother saved my collage/drawing.

In 1955, Walt Disney first released "Lady and the Tramp" to the movie theaters. At 6 years old, I could think of nothing that would bring me more happiness than to be a sweet dog like Lady and be loved by a handsome dog like Tramp. My mother wasn't happy. I did everything within my power to avoid her anger but I failed. I didn't want to grow up to be like my mother. I never played games about growing up, getting married and having children. Although my family wasn't Catholic, I had a friend who was Catholic and who had a nun doll. I asked for a nun doll for Christmas but was given a very sad-looking bride doll who appeared to be only a child.

I escaped by way of the colorful world of Walt Disney movies, through books with illustrations, in my love of animals and in the freedom I had to wander alone in the fascinating California oil field/desert environment where we lived at that time. My mother instilled me with a fear of anger, but she also provided me with escapes from that fear that she, too, must have experienced.

My mother was a Sweet Lady who suffered in ways that I didn't understand as a child. Before marrying my father, she had married a "Handsome Tramp." That marriage, one I didn't know about until I was 17 years old, ended within a year.

Each time I tell this story, I learn more about my mother, my life as a child and the part that art played in our lives. Her dream from childhood was to be a writer. I don't know if she was able to write at all when my sisters and I were very young, but by the time I was in grade school, I remember that she was writing short stories and encouraging me to write poems and stories, as well as to draw.

As I do this thinking back again, my desire is to remain aware of my creative and holy ground in the present.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

If Not For You - Dylan/Harrison Duet


For the benefit of those new to my blog, and I hope for older readers, I'm going to do a re-run of my retrospective, now a 42-year retrospective. Last time around, that process resulted in new paintings, drawings and insight into my older work.

My fate as an artist was sealed with the above drawing which I made when I was 5 years old and for which I was praised. I am grateful to my mother, who was an accomplished horseback rider, for saving this orange, purple and red-violet horse. I wonder why I chose the color blue for the number 5.

This time, I am including the drawings and paintings of my old friend, RTN, making this a two-person retrospective, given that he has been the inspiration, in one way or another, for all my art work. In a letter from the VA Hospital, he wrote that he was proud of me for my art work and hoped I would continue my work as an artist.

Last week, I finally was able to go to the photo lab in downtown Bellingham so I could order some prints of my old friend and his art work to send to his sister. As I was standing at the counter trying to explain my project, I heard Bob Dylan singing. I stopped talking to listen to him sing. When I tried to talk again, I couldn't because I started crying. The young woman clerk was playing Bob Dylan's album, "New Morning," which is what I listened while my old friend was in Vietnam and what we listened to during the short time we lived together in 1971. The clerk was playing the ALBUM (!) on a turntable and handed the album cover to me. More than a coincidence. How else could that happen? "New Morning" is a great album. Ends with a beautiful song to God called "Father of Night." The song that made me start to cry is "If Not For You."

Now it's "New Morning In The North Country."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008


Oboe is still asleep at 5:30 a.m., but I've just finished reading the recently published A FREEWHEELIN' TIME: A MEMOIR OF GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE SIXTIES, by Suze Rotolo.

"Time heals, after all -- although the clock that marks that kind of time has no hands." (Suze Rotolo, p. 299)

I'm grateful to Suze Rotolo for her graceful ability to look back from that clearly creative place where she continues to thrive, deeply rooted in the present.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility -- James Thurber

I need to take time out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


(Drawn in 2005, using a computer track pad, by Old Girl Of The North Country)

Friday, May 9, 2008


I believe that my old friend and I spent a night on the beach shown in this woodblock print soon after he returned from Vietnam on December 8, 1970. We had driven from the small cottage we rented for $110 a month in the hills of Redwood City. Late in the day, near sunset, after parking the car on a turnout on the coast highway, we walked across the headlands and made our way down to the beach. Of course, this was illegal. We were on private land, but it was getting dark, and we decided to sleep at the bottom of the cliffs, in a safe place above the tide line. My old friend and I gathered driftwood, and he built a fire in the sand in a sheltered niche. As the smoke rose, we heard a shriek. When we looked up, there was an owl in the sky. It didn't seem like an auspicious sign. I felt as if we were in a Robinson Jeffers' poem. The night was cold and windy. We didn't sleep well. In the morning, we walked back up to the road where a highway patrolman was waiting for us. He asked us what we were doing on the headlands. He pointed out that we had been walking on private property but didn't cite us for trespassing.

No artist comes closer to my experience and vision of California than Tom Killion, whose woodblock print is shown above.

Many thanks to wood s lot for his link to POETS ON THE PEAKS: SNYDER, MUIR, KEROUAC, WHALEN

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Last night in my dreams, my old friend said, "Understand."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Joan Baez - Gracias A La Vida

Gracias A La Vida

Bob Dylan - Let it be - Joan Baez

Joan Baez - Farewell Angelina

The machine guns are roaring
The puppets heave rocks
The fiends nail time bombs
To the hands of the clocks
("Farewell Angelina," Bob Dylan, 1965)

BOB DYLAN - Farewell Angelina

Just a table standing empty
At the edge of the sea
(from "Farewell Angelina," Bob Dylan, 1965)

Listening to Bob Dylan this early a.m.

Bob Dylan - Boots of Spanish Leather - Helsinki live

Bob's 2003 version, if you have the time.

Boots of Spanish Leather - Nanci Griffith

Listen all the way through, if you have the time.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Oh, I'm sailin' away my own true love,
I'm sailin' away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the sea,
From the place that I'll be landing?
(Boots of Spanish Leather, Bob Dylan, 1964)

My old friend painted this sometime in the 1970s. I believe that he painted it while he was an art student in the first few years after he returned from Vietnam.

I had another one-word dream last night. This time my old friend, who died on April 20, said, "Shore."

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Does anyone know what kind of bird this is?

"When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up
thy head!"

-- William Blake

Friday, May 2, 2008


Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
-- William James, psychologist and writer (1842-1910)

Thursday, May 1, 2008


My heart says that Michelle Obama is a woman whose words can be trusted. She refers to herself as "the cynic in the family."

"Are we the way we are because of the way things were or are things the way they are because of the way we were?"

My old friend's mother posed this question to me in 2001, a few years before she died.