the golden west: 1994-2002  work & days: a lifetime journal project



Section introduction

The golden west begins in mid-July of 1994. I had finished an MA in philosophy and was about to start a doctorate at Simon Fraser. In March I had turned 49. I was mid-menopause and unhappy about various men, as well as happy in ways that continue from Aphrodite's garden ­ a twenty-year connectedness in Vancouver, the community garden, the house and neighbourhood, my friend Louie.

I've put the section break between Aphrodite's garden and The golden west at the beginning of the volume in which, without knowing it at the time, I stopped being at home in Vancouver and started to be pulled toward California. The Golden West is a hotel in San Diego, it is California itself, and it is my gold rush love affair with Tom Fendler, who was in the hotel when I arrived in October of 1995 (vol 3).

There was also another sort of gold rush in this time, the work to develop a new framework in philosophy of mind that had its base at UCSD and that absorbed me for most of the ten years recorded in this section.

Thematic lines that could be cross-linked through these volumes (I haven't done this yet) include travel, dreaming, friendship with Louie, my kids, garden making, the Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver, the house at 824 E Pender, female intelligence at the university, teaching, writing papers, cognitive science, philosophy of imagining, music, film, menopause, men and maleness, working with traumatized structure (bookwork, bodywork, Joyce), learning computers, sex, friends, unstable identity, novels, writing.


My second son Rowen was born in May of 1985, so he's 9 when The Golden West begins, living on Read Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with his father Michael and stepmom Lise, and sometimes coming into town to visit. My older son Luke, born in December of 1970, is 23 and has been in Vancouver since he was 20, after having lived in London with his dad from the age of 6.

Bookwork introduction

'The book' is a short name for a processing method that has many aspects and was developed over a long time from many directions. Its more obvious parts are use of the tarot and a pendulum, felt sensing bodywork learned from Eugene Gendlin's book Focusing, an attitude to emotional clearing taken from Eva Pierrakos' Pathworks of Self Transformation, and dialogue and dreamwork techniques (and much else) learned from Gestalt therapist Joyce Frazee. The name 'bookwork' comes from my friend Louie, who called her own version of trance work 'the book' because of the way it grew out of a voice she developed in her journal. I like and have taken up this nickname for the unnamed larger self found in these ways of working because the mentality, history, practice and record of this larger self are so closely associated with the many volumes of my own journal.

Technologically the book is a safety pin on a thread and a small-size pack of Rider cards. My then-sweetie Jam Ismail had the cards from around 1977, and I started using them with her. I'm still using the same deck. In those days we used to just cut the cards and pull one. Jam also had Paul Case's The tarot, and we'd use the key at the back of the book to get card meanings. Around the time my second son Rowen was born in 1985 I got a lot of piles of tarot books from the library and did some research, but there was still a vagueness about interpretation that limited what I could do. The cards have alternative meanings and I didn't know how to decide among them. When Rowen was maybe four, Eric from the community garden lent me a book about pendulums, and I started using a safety pin on a thread, which I call 'the string', to confirm readings for individual cards. I think that was when I started using four-card sentences along with single card draws. I'd shuffle, cut four times, take the top card of each stack, and then use the string to choose among Case's meanings. By this means I could suddenly use the cards to answer almost any sort of question. I use them constantly for emotional processing, but I've also used them to talk about for instance neuroscience and the philosophy of mathematics. I've usually written down my questions and answers, either in the main body of the journal, or in a section in the back, or in separate notebooks.

I hold the string in front of me so the safety pin is more or less at solar plexus level. It says yes and no by swinging back and forth or crosswise. Yes and no are not its only responses. It says 'ask that a different way' or 'I don't like the question' by hanging motionless. It gives degrees of agreement and disagreement by speed and energy. It laughs by a sort of hopping motion. It can convey tender concern by a sweet slow hesitant quality in the beginning of its swing. If it moves diagonally or in an oval I understand it to be saying 'yes and no' or 'it depends what you mean' or 'so-so.'

I haven't particularly looked for an explanation for the way the cards and string work. What I assume is that a non-conscious larger knowledge of my body can direct my hand both to move the string and to cut the deck at the card it wants. At some non-conscious fine scale of perception my hand knows the cards. Here's an example. Rowen comes to the table when I'm talking to the book. He sees the card I have just turned over and wants to know what I'm doing. I demonstrate: I shuffle the pack, lay it face down, cut it, and show him the card I've drawn. I hadn't intended this, but I've drawn the same card, the card he'd just seen. It also happens this way sometimes when I'm asking questions. The cards will give me an answer and I'll press for more and it will give me the same card again. It's saying, I've told you already.

The obvious question is, how do I know I'm communicating with something rather than just drawing cards at random and interpreting them and the string so they'll make sense one way or another? One answer is that the yes's and no's of the string are consistent; whatever it is doesn't contradict itself. Another is that sometimes, very rarely, the cards don't make sense at all. It's easy to tell the difference.

The longer-term answer, learned over the years, is that the book has a personality that's different from mine. It will often refuse to give me the answer I want. It doesn't always know what I'm thinking; for instance it will sometimes interpret a question literally that I intend metaphorically. It will sometimes rather ponderously explain something I've already understood.

Another question is, if the book is in effect another being, how do I know to trust it? What if I'm lending myself to possession by something evil? The answer is that I find it ethically reliable. It is both tough and generous, with me and with anyone. It is lucid about my and other people's malice and folly, and it advises strong action, but I've never seen it wish harm. It's impartial and beneficent. It seems to respond from a framework that wants the best for everyone at once. It wants us sane, it wants us to hurry up and look after things properly. It also wants us relaxed and joyful.


This is the place to talk about Joyce Frazee, because my relation with the book is quite a bit like my relation with Joyce. Joyce worked as a therapist in Vancouver until she died in January of 2002. She'd had Gestalt training at Esalen but she was also a Buddhist, and her Buddhism entered her practice more strongly through the years. There were a lot of artists in her clientele because she'd once wanted to be a painter and she was visually smart. I heard of her through Jam, who was seeing her when I first knew her. Joyce was expensive, so I saw her very irregularly through the early 80s. After Rowen was born I was desperate and got more serious in my work with her, and then I saw her every two weeks for long stretches at many times between 1985 and about 2000.

I never really liked the way she looked. When I first met her she was a prettyish blue-eyed blond in her late forties, racially inimical to me somehow - or maybe it was class. She was too white and too well-dressed. Tall. She drove a red car, lived in West Vancouver with a businessman husband, and took a lot of long trips to Nepal. Her session room was full of beautiful art my money was helping her buy.

I knew her over about twenty-five years. At the end of that time she was white-haired, bony and frail, sometimes out of it, dying rapidly of Parkinson's.

She was a brilliant therapist. She was empathic, intuitive and eclectic in her methods, present, inventive and sharp. Our story is in the journal and I won't summarize it here, but I want to say that in relation to bookwork the most important thing I learned from her was trust. She was emotionally swift, transparent and accurate: she laughed, cried and blazed into sudden anger, and these gusts of feeling gave me the truth of the stories I was telling her. She was so intelligent, so alert, so experienced, so informed, and emotionally so unhidden that I could allow her to look after me when I needed to crumble. From her I learned how I needed to crumble - in what way - and the uses of crumbling. I learned to trust crumbling. While I was working with Joyce I would do homework with the book, and that improved my home-crumbling. So now the book can seem to me to have her tone: her clarity, her impatience, her lovingness and her occasional obtuseness.

Something else that needs to be said about Joyce is that she would never explain how she worked. She said she didn't know. I take this to mean that in session she was in moment-by-moment contact with her own form of the book.

I visited her in the hospital when she was dying and I took my last chance to find out how she knew what she knew. She said, I can feel what it's like to be someone. I see who anyone really is, and then I look for what stops them from being that.


When I thought of posting my journals I was not embarrassed at being public about ego miseries or sex, but I cringed at showing the bookwork. Good writers show themselves being kinky or miserable, but they don't show themselves talking to a safety pin on a thread. If they are good writers they presumably are in contact with a larger self, but they don't talk about it as such. I want to be seen as a good writer not a New Age tabloid hack, and so I thought about fictionalizing the bookwork in some way, casting it as conversations with a real person, maybe. Then I did what I do: I asked the book how to edit it. It said, show the story of the book the way it is, the story of a slow growth of honesty and coming through illusion. Okay, I said.

Philosophy introduction

[still to be written]

Editing notes

The originals of the 25 volumes of The Golden West are written in pencil, mostly in red and black Flying Eagle hardback notebooks made in China. 8x13" with ivory-colored lined paper.

My journals have been in lower case since about 1974. I have standardized capitalization in transcription.

Where quotations aren't attributed it's because I didn't record the source at the time and now can't remember. If you recognize an unacknowledged source, let me know and I'll give credit.

Always the question of whether to use quotation marks for conversation. Have decided to be inconsistent and use them only when the sense isn't clear wthout them.