Journal

The Angel of Santa Monica

by | Feb 14, 2017 | Books

Back in September I began a series of stories expressing my gratitude to people I knew only briefly but who in retrospect had a tremendous influence on my life. Today I write about a third, whom I met only once and whose name I never knew.
My encounter with him was wholly unexpected and even to this day seems uncanny. After he left I hardly knew what had hit me, but as his words reverberated through me, my lifelong habit of note-taking kicked in, and I wrote down what he said. So though it has now been many years, I do not write solely from memory. I have his words right in the margins of the pages I was working on at the time.

It was rather long ago, when the traffic on the 405 Freeway in LA was still bearable. Sometimes when the kids were in school I would drive down to Santa Monica to sit at the beach and write. Something about the air, the sound of the ocean, the view, made it very conducive to creative work for me. It sounds incongruous—I love the beach but I’ve never been a great fan of sand or sun. So instead I would take my notebook and fountain pen to one of the lovely gazebos that dotted the grassy area a little set back from the actual beach. There I found benches to sit on, shade, and though people came and went, enough solitude that I was able to go into my own world and write.

I was working on a medieval verse fairytale. It was a story for young adult readers, but though I hadn’t planned it that way, I knew it was also becoming a spiritual allegory for adults as well. It wasn’t the first I had done, and I already had notes for future stories. I was never sure exactly where these stories came from, only that the characters spoke to me, almost through me, and I had to tell their tales. I did not doubt the words that were coming, but I was concerned about what I would eventually do with the book. My late agent had not been a fan of the verse form of storytelling—she proclaimed it too out of sync with the modern world. I knew that I was telling ancient tales in the ancient way, and that I had to continue, but I had no idea how I would bring this work out into the world, or when. And that caused me no small amount of concern.

Such was my inner state that day I sat in the gazebo in Santa Monica, and so began probably the most inexplicable encounter I have ever had.

First there was the man in the wheelchair. He had long hair in dreadlocks. Another man wheeled him up into the gazebo. They were obviously good friends and were carrying on a lively conversation. They were speaking in what pop culture called “jive” at the time. When I was studying linguistics they would have called this a colloquial dialect of English. I didn’t understand a good part of what they said, which was fine with me—I was trying to write, not eavesdrop. They glanced at me a few times but otherwise ignored me. Then came the man with the boom box. For those of you too young to remember, a boom box was a device about the size of two shoeboxes that could fit comfortably wedged on a man’s shoulder. It got its name from the fact that it had big speakers out of which music from the radio or compact disks boomed. Later on, as history will record, this device was replaced by a thin slice of glass and metal that fit into the palm of the hand and could play virtually any music ever recorded. But I digress. This was the 90’s and the boom box ruled.

The man with the boom box on his shoulder was playing very loud music indeed, and dancing as he walked. He also had dreadlocks and came bounding into the gazebo, greeting the other too men with exuberant high-fives. They all seemed to know each other well and carried on their conversation in jive accompanied by the loud music. They continued to ignore me and I had no trouble concentrating on my work. I should explain that for many people, noise or tumult in the background is not necessarily a deterrent to focused work, if the tumult is “out there” and doesn’t involve the writer. In fact, it may actually be an aid for concentration for some people. This explains, by the way, why so many people seem to be able to work for hours in Starbucks, oblivious of all the shouting about Venti half-calf no whip Macchiatos.

So there I was with my fountain pen and notebook, writing verse after verse of my medieval story, with the very modern music and fairly incomprehensible conversation not twelve feet away. It was a beautiful sunny day. I was happy to be writing. And then the man in the wheel chair and his companion left. Only the boom box guy remained, sitting all the way on the other side of the gazebo. He turned off the music. My head was down, bent over my notebook.

“What are you writing?” came a voice which could have come from your average college professor. I looked up, around. Had he said that? Was he talking to me? As if he’d read my mind he said, “Yes, I’m talking to you. I’m asking what it is you’re writing.” His voice was gentle, polite, inquiring.

“Oh,” I said, “I’m writing a medieval verse fairytale.”

“What’s it about?” he asked.

“Uh… well, it’s about a kingdom that’s cursed and the aging king who is determined to undo the curse before he dies.” I figured he’d lose interest and I would go back to work. But that’s not what happened.

“Read me some of it,” he said.

Now I was really bewildered. “You want me to read some of my work?” I rather foolishly repeated. “But… it’s poetry!” Why would he want to hear this?

“Yes, I know it’s poetry. Pick a section and just read. Go ahead,” he motioned with his hand.

I had actually been working on the climactic scene. I was getting near the end. The story had taken on a life of its own and had a mystical quality I had not consciously planned. So I went back a fistful of pages and started reading. I looked up after the first page and he said to keep going. Every time I stopped he would tell me to keep reading. He had his eyes closed and a soft smile on his face. I read right up to where I had finished writing so far, at least fifteen pages in all.

And then he opened his eyes and spoke, and the whole episode became positively otherworldly.

“You know exactly what you’re doing,” he said, “and you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do. You just keep going.” I must have looked stunned. How on earth could he know I’d been having doubts?

But he wasn’t finished. “You’ve hit the bulls-eye,” he went on. “The way your words flow. Your voice. You are not a neophyte. This is sophisticated. You hit the nail on the head. You are self-confident. You know yourself. I could fall asleep listening to this.”

His words brought tears to my eyes. Who was he? Could I dare believe him? No one had ever said such things to me before. I could barely speak. “Thank you,” I managed. “Thank you for your beautiful words.”

“You just keep going,” he repeated. Then he stood, picked up his boom box, gave a little wave, and was gone.

I never saw him again.

I do not know who he was. We had not exchanged names. There was no email to exchange. But as the weeks became months, and then years, I was very glad I had written his words down. They sustained me as I finished the manuscript, not knowing how I would bring it out into the world. They are part of what sustained me as family circumstances had me putting aside my fairytales and beginning to write healing sonnets and eventually to develop my own intuitive process of drawing and writing poetry for self-transformation. The book about that process, entitled The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry®—Seven Steps to Your Personal Gold, will be published in June 2017. It will be my third book published by Alcabal Press®, the publishing company I founded. Those words spoken in a gazebo at the beach helped to give me the confidence and strength to do so, and to keep going, to keep writing what I knew I needed to write.

And what, you might ask, ever became of the medieval verse fairytale about the kingdom cursed? It is actually alive and well and sitting on my desk right now. I am polishing it up a bit, illustrating it and preparing it for publication. It will be my fourth book for Alcabal Press®, coming in the near future.

I long ago stopped thinking of that man in the gazebo as “the guy with the boom box.” Instead I have always thought of him as “the angel from Santa Monica.” He came and he went, never to appear again, at least to me. Yet his words never left me. I did thank him at the time, but I could hardly process his words then, let alone comprehend how much they would mean to me. I don’t know that I’ve always “hit the bull’s eye” and I certainly don’t think I always know exactly what I’m doing. But I want to thank him now, again, almost two decades later, for the extraordinary things he said.

I want to thank him for making a profound difference in my life. And I would like him to know, whoever he was, wherever he is, that I did keep going. And I will never stop.

My encounter with him was wholly unexpected and even to this day seems uncanny. After he left I hardly knew what had hit me, but as his words reverberated through me, my lifelong habit of note-taking kicked in, and I wrote down what he said. So though it has now been many years, I do not write solely from memory. I have his words right in the margins of the pages I was working on at the time.

It was rather long ago, when the traffic on the 405 Freeway in LA was still bearable. Sometimes when the kids were in school I would drive down to Santa Monica to sit at the beach and write. Something about the air, the sound of the ocean, the view, made it very conducive to creative work for me. It sounds incongruous—I love the beach but I’ve never been a great fan of sand or sun. So instead I would take my notebook and fountain pen to one of the lovely gazebos that dotted the grassy area a little set back from the actual beach. There I found benches to sit on, shade, and though people came and went, enough solitude that I was able to go into my own world and write.

I was working on a medieval verse fairytale. It was a story for young adult readers, but though I hadn’t planned it that way, I knew it was also becoming a spiritual allegory for adults as well. It wasn’t the first I had done, and I already had notes for future stories. I was never sure exactly where these stories came from, only that the characters spoke to me, almost through me, and I had to tell their tales. I did not doubt the words that were coming, but I was concerned about what I would eventually do with the book. My late agent had not been a fan of the verse form of storytelling—she proclaimed it too out of sync with the modern world. I knew that I was telling ancient tales in the ancient way, and that I had to continue, but I had no idea how I would bring this work out into the world, or when. And that caused me no small amount of concern.

Such was my inner state that day I sat in the gazebo in Santa Monica, and so began probably the most inexplicable encounter I have ever had.

First there was the man in the wheelchair. He had long hair in dreadlocks. Another man wheeled him up into the gazebo. They were obviously good friends and were carrying on a lively conversation. They were speaking in what pop culture called “jive” at the time. When I was studying linguistics they would have called this a colloquial dialect of English. I didn’t understand a good part of what they said, which was fine with me—I was trying to write, not eavesdrop. They glanced at me a few times but otherwise ignored me. Then came the man with the boom box. For those of you too young to remember, a boom box was a device about the size of two shoeboxes that could fit comfortably wedged on a man’s shoulder. It got its name from the fact that it had big speakers out of which music from the radio or compact disks boomed. Later on, as history will record, this device was replaced by a thin slice of glass and metal that fit into the palm of the hand and could play virtually any music ever recorded. But I digress. This was the 90’s and the boom box ruled.

The man with the boom box on his shoulder was playing very loud music indeed, and dancing as he walked. He also had dreadlocks and came bounding into the gazebo, greeting the other too men with exuberant high-fives. They all seemed to know each other well and carried on their conversation in jive accompanied by the loud music. They continued to ignore me and I had no trouble concentrating on my work. I should explain that for many people, noise or tumult in the background is not necessarily a deterrent to focused work, if the tumult is “out there” and doesn’t involve the writer. In fact, it may actually be an aid for concentration for some people. This explains, by the way, why so many people seem to be able to work for hours in Starbucks, oblivious of all the shouting about Venti half-calf no whip Macchiatos.

So there I was with my fountain pen and notebook, writing verse after verse of my medieval story, with the very modern music and fairly incomprehensible conversation not twelve feet away. It was a beautiful sunny day. I was happy to be writing. And then the man in the wheel chair and his companion left. Only the boom box guy remained, sitting all the way on the other side of the gazebo. He turned off the music. My head was down, bent over my notebook.

“What are you writing?” came a voice which could have come from your average college professor. I looked up, around. Had he said that? Was he talking to me? As if he’d read my mind he said, “Yes, I’m talking to you. I’m asking what it is you’re writing.” His voice was gentle, polite, inquiring.

“Oh,” I said, “I’m writing a medieval verse fairytale.”

“What’s it about?” he asked.

“Uh… well, it’s about a kingdom that’s cursed and the aging king who is determined to undo the curse before he dies.” I figured he’d lose interest and I would go back to work. But that’s not what happened.

“Read me some of it,” he said.

Now I was really bewildered. “You want me to read some of my work?” I rather foolishly repeated. “But… it’s poetry!” Why would he want to hear this?

“Yes, I know it’s poetry. Pick a section and just read. Go ahead,” he motioned with his hand.

I had actually been working on the climactic scene. I was getting near the end. The story had taken on a life of its own and had a mystical quality I had not consciously planned. So I went back a fistful of pages and started reading. I looked up after the first page and he said to keep going. Every time I stopped he would tell me to keep reading. He had his eyes closed and a soft smile on his face. I read right up to where I had finished writing so far, at least fifteen pages in all.

And then he opened his eyes and spoke, and the whole episode became positively otherworldly.

“You know exactly what you’re doing,” he said, “and you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do. You just keep going.” I must have looked stunned. How on earth could he know I’d been having doubts?

But he wasn’t finished. “You’ve hit the bulls-eye,” he went on. “The way your words flow. Your voice. You are not a neophyte. This is sophisticated. You hit the nail on the head. You are self-confident. You know yourself. I could fall asleep listening to this.”

His words brought tears to my eyes. Who was he? Could I dare believe him? No one had ever said such things to me before. I could barely speak. “Thank you,” I managed. “Thank you for your beautiful words.”

“You just keep going,” he repeated. Then he stood, picked up his boom box, gave a little wave, and was gone.

I never saw him again.

I do not know who he was. We had not exchanged names. There was no email to exchange. But as the weeks became months, and then years, I was very glad I had written his words down. They sustained me as I finished the manuscript, not knowing how I would bring it out into the world. They are part of what sustained me as family circumstances had me putting aside my fairytales and beginning to write healing sonnets and eventually to develop my own intuitive process of drawing and writing poetry for self-transformation. The book about that process, entitled The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry®—Seven Steps to Your Personal Gold, will be published in June 2017. It will be my third book published by Alcabal Press®, the publishing company I founded. Those words spoken in a gazebo at the beach helped to give me the confidence and strength to do so, and to keep going, to keep writing what I knew I needed to write.

And what, you might ask, ever became of the medieval verse fairytale about the kingdom cursed? It is actually alive and well and sitting on my desk right now. I am polishing it up a bit, illustrating it and preparing it for publication. It will be my fourth book for Alcabal Press®, coming in the near future.

I long ago stopped thinking of that man in the gazebo as “the guy with the boom box.” Instead I have always thought of him as “the angel from Santa Monica.” He came and he went, never to appear again, at least to me. Yet his words never left me. I did thank him at the time, but I could hardly process his words then, let alone comprehend how much they would mean to me. I don’t know that I’ve always “hit the bull’s eye” and I certainly don’t think I always know exactly what I’m doing. But I want to thank him now, again, almost two decades later, for the extraordinary things he said.

I want to thank him for making a profound difference in my life. And I would like him to know, whoever he was, wherever he is, that I did keep going. And I will never stop.

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