A Compleat* Diary 1961- 2015

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Rows of red books titled ‘Daily Reminder’ start with 1961. Somewhere they begin to proclaim themselves ‘Standard Diary’ but without any other change. 2007 was attacked by a puppy and lost a corner. One is partly empty because it went AWOL until captured on a train by a thoughtful young woman.There are two that escaped but have never been caught. I still sometimes hope to find those two  unrepentant deserters; I remember where one left- when my attention was diverted at the Cattleman’s Restaurant near Dixon,  CA. I am reminded of this because today 2015 is missing. It went AWOL on Thursday; this is Saturday so I have been without for three days; fortunately 2015 was apprehended and will be extradited on on Monday.

1961 has  a reservation card  pasted at Jan 2, for The Chancellor, then a comfortable but modest, nicely located small old San Francisco hotel– still there I believe ; It reads:

Single – $8: 2 persons double bed – $10 : two persons twin beds $12.

That is the sort of thing that is a shock when one looks back so far. But I recall that in my small group GP practice the cost of complete OB care from diagnosis to delivery, including PAP smear and all labs was $75. On credit.1968 reports a discussion and decision to raise that inclusive fee to $95.

At Jan 28, 1961 is brochure for a conference at U C San Francisco School of Medicine titled:


It was one of several  Seymore Farber put together, arguably believing  Compleat physicians were philosopher scientists; or scientific philosophers; this one was loaded with non physicians and writers.

There is nothing written there to explain what induced me to drive alone to USF Med Center for that particular weekend symposium. A mailing perhaps. I had been practicing in Woodland only two years. I was 29. A fourth child was 8 months old. I knew no physician at UCSF School of Medicine; and to my surprise, when I arrived there  a distant uncle and his wife appeared. They were quite beloved, cloistered intellectuals and I had only met them once before; and once since. He had been an intelligence officer in Turkey during WW I and forever after shaved his head, and taught English and Art at Menlo College. I have a little book of his Omar Kayaam style poems. Maybe you can take the man out of Turkey but not Turkey out of the man. The list of speakers suggests why they there. It included:

Aldous Huxley

Arthur Koestler

Wilder Penfield

Holger Hayden

Martin D’Arcy, S.J.

I will never forget sitting in the front row of that old Medical Science Auditorium’s steep semicircle of seats while those remarkable speakers peered up from the place where dissections, and demonstrations were formerly done. The tuition, including Saturday lunch with address by Huxley: $25.

For more than a half century the diaries have saved the stuff of living for me: names, places, times, driving directions, my children’s creations, ticket stubs, news cuttings, programs, notes, letters, addresses; and the almost-legible  cursive fast-scratch of this former med student. Today an e.diary might be preferred by many: more easily search-able, link-able, and reproduction embed-able. But I relish the feel of paper, its simple, frank honesty, the substance of yellowing originals; and for searches, my standard business diary ‘monthly cash account’, at the back of each book becomes an index of topics.

Yet we live in a time when paper is as moribund as typewriters, books, or newspapers; even traditional libraries are  musty mausoleums of books and places for the homeless to escape the cold or heat or go on line. My word processor, kindle, and browser make them only curiosities like the reference collections pictured below: Will and Ariel Durant’s 14 volume History; The Britannica Series of Great Books, and a 1908 Britannica First Edition; the Harvard Great Book Series; and a shelf of reference books. .



IMG_0890 IMG_0892IMG_0889IMG_0890

They are replaced by this, a place which is better and faster more productive:IMG_0882



So I never open my old reference books now, preferring to use this  blog- Nwalmanac.wordpress.com  – as a living repository for my writing, and editing;and my kindle for reading.

Even so the diaries  hold little entries I would never find elsewhere,  never otherwise remember. For example, the diary page that is source material for the blog post called  Homar and the Alluvial Fan is about an episode where the narrator risks his life. At the top of the page is written ‘Con la muerte en el ano’.  That expression, which I had forgotten, is  so powerful, so apt, so nuanced that I have to rescued it for use in English, ‘with death in the (his) ass’ … where it becomes startling.

So the diaries, as obsolete as cursive, destined to be recycled into corrugated cardboard, paper cups or TP are still filled with little gems, treasures, quotes, stolen metaphors. For now, i treasure them, refer to them often, and still wantonly hope to catch the two deserter years.














  • See The Compleat Angler by Isaak Walton,  first published in 1653


Unearthing Old Words

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Digging up my journals for ’92 through ‘94 I look for my trips with Dad to the Bay area for The Big Games. I want to find the detail of his flight, the supper and the night at the hotel, and the early morning discovery that his suitcase is full of Saris and a program for a medical anesthesiology meeting. I need those buried words for an essay. But I cut my self on some sharp shards:

At July 6 1992 is a note from A for father’s day:

‘This will entitle the bearer to one all expenses paid weekend scuba trip in Monterey Bay… including lodging, meals, and equipment rental. Should you feel that you are too out of practice for Scuba, a replacement gift will be arranged, you wimp!! Love, XXOO, A.’

I didn’t ever go.

At October 18th 1992 I find a letter from L, age 12…

‘Dear Mommy and Daddy,

I can’t face you or tell you all this person to person, so I will have to write. I was bitterly disappointed today with my performance, but what really makes me feel terrible is that I disappointed you, my wonderful parents. You worked so hard today to make the rep class a success and it seems inconceivable to me that I could have let you down so utterly. I will try harder, because I want to return the love you give me in every way I can. I’m so sorry, mommy and daddy; please forgive me for failing you. I’m sorry. Goodnight.

Love, signed(sic) L, your daughter who will try her best.’

I had read the letter, and saved it. But there is no evidence of my hearing that child voice.

At 23 Marzo 1993 in a journal I bought in Chile, is this:


Yo le digo tío-pero no es tío mío,

I call him uncle

Lo digo pa’ joder.

But i say it to piss him off.

Yo era forastero, solitario,

I was a stranger, alone,

Un poco amargado, resentido-

Quite bitter, resentful.

Pero me trató con sencillez,

But he treated me with openness,

Con cariño como si fuera digno de respeto,

And affection as if I merited respect.

Como si no hubiera cagado muchas veces la vida mía.

As if I hadn’t fucked up my life.

Cuando no soñaba, él me alimentó con sueños suyos.

When I couldn’t dream he fed me his own,

Sueños Gonzalez, raros, bellos,

Gonzalez dreams, strange, and beautiful,

Con vitaminas de locura.

With vitamins of insanity.

Todavía  sueño con la vida más que la muerte,

I still dream of life more than death.

Puedo dar y recibir, soy sano, fuerte.

Can give, receive, am whole, strong.

Y todavía le digo tío,

And still I call him Uncle,

Porque no tengo nombre suficientemente grande,

For there’s no word great enough,

Ni profundo, ni ancho

Or deep enough or wide,

Para este hombre que le digo tío,

For this man I call Uncle,

Pero no es tío mío.

Who is no uncle of mine.

A few years later my Tío got prostate cancer and I advised no aggressive treatment; it’s still there watching quietly. Last time we spoke, eight years after a dense stroke, he was confused, but alert, diapered, and bedridden. He usually feigned good cheer, but often professed an overwhelming sadness; yet he did not recall my assurance, after the cancer diagnosis, that I would interfere personally if he ever requested it.

Disturbed diaries can speak, accuse, or shame. Mine say I have too often ignored what was significant, focusing only on what was important. They ask aloud if a child can overcome an ambitious father’s love, suggesting the grown woman might be handicapped by 12 year old child-eyes, which may see only vanity in vulgarly powerful men.

They accuse me of overlooking the innocent love of a child while focusing on self love.  They say I made promises I cannot keep. I try to defend myself, claiming each day in life is at once smaller, less significant as a part of the whole, yet greater because we learn to know ourselves, and each other.

But I doubt. Abruptly, unwilling  to risk further injury, I close ’92 and ’94, and re-inter them with their kin, at least for now; later, perhaps when I’m prepared. Digging about among old personal words should be done only with an empty stomach, a quiet mind, and a full heart.