Life in a Procrustean Bed by Walter Simon

One of the great joys of my life was hearing Gilbert and Sullivan performed by the Doily Cart ensemble from London; and as prologue offer the lines from Iolanthe’s Nightmare song:

 When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache, and sleep is tabooed by anxiety, I imagine you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety. 

Those who know me have noticed I look in, more than out.  I do not know what to say in exact terms, but think…  “It’s impossible to perfectly inhabit another person’s experience.” (Molly Worthen on Empathy NYT 2020.) I fail to assess the value of my life, leave the task to those who survive me!

However, my work reflects others, principles I find attractive, if not heroic. I think it difficult to be public, and my unexpected career happened without plan or reason.  

Because my nature seems eccentric to those who do not know me, it was easier for me to seek privacy, and frankly spoken never hope to rise above my middleclass goals, and blue-collar roots.  It’s what I am.

Creativity, a constant in my character, emanates from an amazingly simple thought process.  Though granted I do look in too much, once in a while take a peek at what’s real, and what is not. Stark reality scares me!

To dare introspection: I assume we are what we feel. I wish to be remembered as an essayist and poet. However, I have asked my biographer, who inherits the archive, an animator from Portland, Oregon, to turn me into a cartoon, when requiems fade.  That’s the kind of life I’ve lived, leaping from one weird boxed frame to the other.  

What is known: I have spent most of my life interacting in other people’s lives as performer, media grunt, documenter, and essay writer.

What you can trust in me is a sense of humor exploiting ironic twists. My close friends are performers and musicians. I’m cautious of intellectuals.           

I embrace Thomas Merton: often thought I should be a monk, away from the contradictions and foibles we encounter through life experience; and fantasized living in a cave, which seems not so normal for a kid born in Newark, New Jersey, a neighborhood of  tenant-housed immigrants.

During low moments in my writing career, I learned the meaning of the Greyhound Bus and sleeping on friend’s couches, but recently discovered no fulfillment in a stereotypic cave like room. I accept, indeed value inside plumbing and electricity. 

I’m studied in phonetics, kinesics, and aspects of social anthropology, have worked in children’s theater, know stage craft, aspects of Native and First Nation sovereignty, assorted American  poets, able to report on value systems and the social condition.   

My early insights came from elderly Jewish men with Russian accents, who grew up on dirt floors, somewhere off-the-edge of 1917, in the Ukraine, those who got out before the Soviet purge, also survivors of WW II German death camps. Lessons held  in my frame of reference. 

A simple person stands before you.  The roadmap to this state-of- mind is mostly inspired by,  as mentioned Thomas Merton, also include George Fox, E.B. White, Lao Tzu, Pope John XXIII, as well Korsevitzky, an early linguist. Lest I forget James Baldwin for soul, and Zane Grey for sentiment. I am a pacifist, a direct result of  my experience as a Korean War veteran. 

At the age of 14 was caught-up in serious media focus, given I was shot,  a street fight… front page material!  By age 15 the embedded trauma put me on the street, eventually the road to Maine and from Maine to California, working first on lobster boats and kitchens, as a pot washer, along the way, learned a trade –recipe by recipe.                   

In Berkeley age 17, by 1952 and road weary, hit a dead-end, so I enlisted in the Army –a reasonable step: food, dry roof, a chance for a high school diploma, and college opportunities. Unread, learned soon after enlistment, the Korean War was an existential threat.

As a great gift, while in the service, along came a kind gesture, a graduate from Haverford, a Quaker Friend, taught me to read with proficiency and write a simple sentence. In process owe gratitude to Carnegie libraries, indeed  interesting years followed, ones of  learning.    

 Events became more positive and eventually a high school (GED) diploma from Tombstone Union High School, a real achievement! I thrill to mention it

My readings in general include Greek playwrights ,   including Aristophanes,  progressed through Marlow and Shakespeare, to poets as Frost, Blake, the Browning’s’, Shaw. Also,  Sandburg for phrasing, Edna St. Vincent Millay for cadence, Dylan Thomas for a Welsh flow, and favor sentimental adventure chronicled by  Zane Grey.  I include the exotic Vachel  Lindsay, once a Spokane resident.

Lindsay, from Springfield, Illinois,  housed about two years at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane in the early-twenties, the guest of  Ben Keizer, a Spokane  attorney, a managing director of the Marshall Plan active in feeding the hungry following World War II in Europe. Ben’s daughter Carolyn, with ample exposure to Lindsay’s long vowels,  and his exquisite children poems, became a major poet, teaching in her later years at the University of California in Berkeley.  My writings on Lindsay and Carolyn Keizer were placed in Spokane Library archives in 1981.

 In passing, I know the desperate meaning of street riots; and equally the joy of surviving.  For personal insight, I am not capable of killing, though in ironic contradiction have griped a fly swatter in my impassioned hand on warm country days.  

Accept my interest in Quaker teaching, a justification which made me active through the ‘sixties, in association with American Friends Service Committee.

As to the journey, I’ve performed from the age of 9, mostly puppets which proved a career from the age of twenty working through King Feature and Paramount Properties,  voice overs, and theatre shows, two tours included, as a Popeye voice with puppets. Seeger’s cartoon creation was enjoying a renaissance from 1959, working out of New York City.  Yes, I play with dolls!

After two years on tour, took the money and went to a 2-year professional school in Boston, Leland Powers, and learned through phonetics to drop the Jersey accent, and developed a mid-western commercial voice, as well the technical and legal aspects of broadcasting.

By 1960 back in New York City, worked a few shows, some marionette, also technical work at Shakespeare in the Park –first season.  At that time, married a bright young lady with academic interest who was attending Rutgers as a freshman. 

A call from CBS, New York, got me a job in Seattle at KIRO TV, writing promotional copy, but transferred into marketing products in supermarkets. To exaggerate the point:  I’ve sold a million candy bars to unsuspecting children. Dentists liked me; mothers did not.  Maia maxima culpa.

By 1962 held a voice and management position for the Heritage Network, 7-stations on the West Coast, operating from Bellingham, Washington.

Along came the World’s Fair in 1962, and I became their public voice for 6-months, as an adjunct assignment.  My voice has been coast-to-coast, working local feeds out-of-Seattle, including the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Was the voice of Public Television in Western Washington for 5-years.     

By 1967, my marriage dissolved, as the wife, now holding a PhD, went off to teach  Political Science at a Canadian University. Got the feeling I was an inconvenience. C’est la vie, mon Cherie

With enough money in the bank in my early thirties  I started at the University of Washington, supplementing, on income from PBS, and university radio, plus TV studio work, and commercial stage make-up –a development at the dawn of digital broadcasting. 

Out of college with post graduate work behind me, now studied in Anthropology and Archeology, with extra research at Columbia University, was hired at KING TV, NBC… Seattle, where I better learned TV production and script formats. This led to nighttime talk radio, an explosive venture, for it seemed the more I antagonized listeners, the better the ratings. Survived anonymous threats

As a promotional writer and commercial voice the ride lasted through a series of public events finally hitting my career peak writing on science at the Pacific Science Center. This job was earned, as the result of my personal interest re-constructing even toed mammals. Don’t ask! (artiodactyls)

At the Pacific Science Center my writing caught the interest and imagination of  colleagues working the wire services.  By 1975 my images were being published around the world, newspaper stories of leaping rats and tight-lipped mollusks, also illusions of-the-eye.  More than I would dare expect, leading to a conclusion I had too much influence, but lacked conscience. Commercial work has a way of rotting the soul.    

Big offers came in during that time, but now, middle aged,  understanding my gift, staggered by some of it, I had to make a choice between taking corporate bucks, or surviving as an independent. In simple terms, take the money, do the job, is for me, the same thing as saying, “Crawl in bed with dogs, and you are bound to get fleas!” .

My decision was to travel the northwest to polish my writing style. Gain insight. Hence from 1976 learned to interview and archive.     

By 1981, I stopped by KPBX FM, Spokane and was given a modest scholarship through Etna Life Insurance, a one year learning experience, though I confused a few listeners, annoyed some, I was writing poetry, frosting on the cake, such gave me money to travel backroads interviewing and broadcasting the interests of those I met along the way in Western Washington.

I appreciated that period in my life the most. The program was titled In Praise of People and produced 48-half-hour shows  over a years’ period.  It built confidence and polished technique.

During that time, I wrote my first volume of poetry in a Newport barn, my home for a year.  I now have volumes collected from the last 45-odd years.

This followed by a series of readings across the USA, sometimes Canada. The rest of my life has been easy by comparison. Mostly I covered Native American and First Nation sovereignty, the Inland Waterway, also the Gulf of St. Lawrence where I reported  the collapse of the cod industry off Nova Scotia, some work published in 4-languages.

Have dual citizenship, sustain residence in Montreal. I’ve learned to never let achievement and honors go to my head, understanding I’m only as good as my next job.   

 In this regard, I anchor myself to the earth on Quaker thought.  It’s how I balance that incessant voice in my mind, reflecting on childhood nightmares and the present chaos of American divisions, stimulated by unethical demagogues who exploit hopes, expectations, and violate constitutional protections.

My one great love of twenty odd years Martha Iuster had a stroke in 2016.  It remains too sensitive a story to tell.  We lived in Montana juxtaposing the Bob Marshall Wilderness, our neighbors were bears and later on our rural farm on the edge of Eugene, Oregon.  I live in her memory; learned from this dear woman the profound value of love. She remains an indelible figure in my life.

In summary, I’m a flag-salutin’ American who is grateful for all that has been offered and find myself mostly at peace in this role.

 As to family, thankfully my son, who prefers to be Canadian,  prospers as member of a well-funded non-profit foundation focused on neurotechnology, supported by the Canadian Government, in Montreal. 

To sum my life’s journey, along the way have skipped over puddles, but stumbled into a few potholes.  When asked, and it seems to happen frequently, how to define myself, simply offer my name.

I accept Quaker values to guide my life. Paraphrasing this morning, I’ve explained my meandered life’s journey, and report I’m pleased to know I’ve outlived my critics.

What have I learned?  Choose worthy goals, never act with bad actors, not ever exploit the vulnerable, be generous, that the tongue is the deadly enemy of the throat, if your puppets talk to you, get out of the business, most important you can’t eat awards, silence has many meanings, and one significant last thought–I embrace three powerful cravings in this world:  love, knowledge and a good corned beef sandwich!

            Be at peace Friends. Pacum en terrace. (Pope John XXIII)

This message was given to Spokane Friends Meeting by Walter Simon on Sunday, September 13, 2020.

This entry was posted in Messages, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.