Tally: An Intuitive Life, is the story of an elderly Bohemian artist, Paul Johnston (PJ), and his relationship with two young poets: Erin Yes and Rogue. PJ lived in Greenwich Village, NYC, most of his adult life. This book is a chronicle of his life, and these friendships in his last years, taken from his letters and writings, and audiotapes he and I did together.
The name Tally comes from an early conversation in the book, when the poet Rogue first introduces Erin Yes to PJ. In PJ’s garret Rogue and Erin see the remains of a rich life: books, film, artwork, theater and dance flyers, photography, music, and photos of family and friends. Rogue says to her: “I’m drawn to old age because I want to know how it all adds up, or doesn’t add up in the end.”
In the beginning, Erin simply wants to help an old man whose sight and hearing are failing. She becomes intrigued by some of his ideas: how an intuitive program is built up in childhood, how we deal with guilt and innocence, what leads to amiability and hostility, and how we can adjust our “intuitive self-guidance.” Rather than rationalize or justify our motivations and actions, he believed we had the ability to honestly (that is, without defensiveness or righteousness) evaluate our intent, behavior and its consequences, and make a change that is positive and remain, or renew, ourselves as innocent, amiable human beings.
With Erin’s help PJ publishes some of his writing and hosts parties in his artist’s loft. He tells her that they are “together in amiable affection.” As PJ struggles with illness and old age, Erin becomes ever more deeply involved in the often difficult, but also rewarding, friendship with this eccentric Old Man.
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I began writing when I was about eleven or twelve after a free-writing excerise in my sixth-grade class. I was hooked, although I didn’t know it at the time, or take it seriously. My interests were varied: I thought I might be a lawyer or a pilot. Later I became interested in psychology and graduated from Rutgers-Newark with a B.A. in that subject. Almost immediately, though, I abandoned that field and started publishing a community-based “paper” (usually mimeographed) on the arts, environment and other topics submitted by the writers. After that I moved to New York City and began working as a volunteer in the theater and poetry program at a midtown church. In short, at that point, all was lost! My life took on its rambling course, with six years at the arts programs, and then another dozen or so in community work. PJ would approve of my avoiding the “corruption” of the conformist world, but he also understood the hardships of such a life. I do not regret my choices, and knowing PJ was one of them.