Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection


As I said at the time …

Whatever I have stirred up here seems to be in its right season – for me, at least. I had no intention of delving into this before the holidays, but a free moment here, a delay on something else there, and an extended Indian summer that allowed me to spend more time in the barn loft than would normally be the case, got the ball rolling. And it’s been unlocking a lot of buried emotions, with a flood of relief and even stretches of deep grieving, in some vague healthy release.

A few days after dispatching the big letter, I read ahead through a few more journals and stopped dead in my tracks as I noticed a very brief entry at the ashram of an event four years earlier, of studying with my rat lab partner at her off-campus apartment. I clearly misinterpreted her invitation, in which I would have lost my virginity two years earlier than I did – and then I wondered why she gave me the cold shoulder two days later! As I finally connected the dots, I realized how little I knew of her, other than she was beautiful, and wondered just what we’d said or done that would have brought her to invite me at all. From the little I’ve learned since, she was two years ahead of me, but only one grade level – having lost a year somehow between high school graduation and her first year of college, in which she was elected secretary of the freshman class. So was this the “older woman” you’ve suggested? I think her father was a university vice president in her hometown, but no positive connection appears. Again, a flood of “what-ifs” – making me see myself empowered where I’d previously seen only poverty/disempowerment/victimhood.

What it’s really done is open up a “pain button” of the sort I found so crucial when I was undergoing therapy – here, I have a point where much of the denial (or, as my wife would say, my obliviousness) can be pushed away. Or as a note reminds me in writing/revising, “Steer into the pain,” rather than trying to evade it. And, as I’ve mentioned, somehow, I find myself grieving, deeply, without knowing quite why, but that it’s good. Grieving as much for me and the lost years and my failures as anything – admitting, at last, a lot of the smokiness into the picture, when I’d sought only brilliance and sharp light. And yet, through it all, there’s a sense of inevitability in landing here.

And then, a week after that big insight, I was at a Saturday afternoon wine tasting downtown, where the conversation was bouncing around – M’s gay Puerto Rican friend who works there, described his table of candles in the sunlight in a way that made me joke that it sounded like something in the first act of La Boheme, even if it would have made lousy poetry, and then one of the women tasting said, “This might date me, but I grew up in New York, and my mother took me to the Met for Pavarotti’s debut in Boheme,” and I then told about the sensation he’d made in less than a week on the Bloomington campus, “So I guess that dates me,” and the woman’s female companion then asked when I was at IU, and she responded, “That’s when I was there.” Turns out we’d known each other and even gone to a few movies or concerts together. No sparks, though, and at last I know why. We met via the ride board that first semester I was there – she was trying to get to Antioch College, while I was going home for the weekend. So! She lives here in Dover, of all places, and claims to be a published poet. Not that she really remembered me, nor have I been able to find any of her work online. Still, sometime after the holidays, we’re hoping to sit down together, swap poems and conversation.

Maybe it’s true, we learn from our mistakes. At least sometimes.

I’m also trying to remember now: when you came with me to Ohio that time, did we go on to Bloomington together? And did we stay with the Ostroms? So much blurs! The AP photos of Lin in Stockholm are amazing – she was radiant, wearing a Third World batik dress while everyone else is in formals or ties and tails. Absolutely perfect. And some of the photos of her husband, Vince, at the IU sendoff are marvelous – at 90, he’s too frail to travel, but his delight in her is infectious … just in case you remember them.

Couldn’t help but reopen the hippie farm novella, either, despite the fact I ought to be doing other things before Christmas here, but I am finding this new perspective gives me a marvelous new color in the palette, however richly dark it proves. Much of the story flows better than I’d remembered, which is a relief, too.

So did you ever consider yourself a “hippie chick”? The much bigger question asks just what was it, precisely, that hit the country – and us – and why can’t anyone seem to admit its impact or potential? As well as what’s been lost.

What interests me ultimately is transforming events now, which means building on some past. One of the things I love about R, by the way, is that she can be a hard-nosed liberal. For that matter, M gets so upset with young activists who have no sense of what it takes to get things done, who prefer instead just to look cool or trendy. She’s quite the organizer.

There’s also a curious twist to the date we met, September 17. It’s the same date, utterly by fluke, R and I married, 29 years later. And the final piece on the program, Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata, was on the turntable the first time C and I had sex. Coincidences they may be, they’re also the sorts of leaps I could never create as a writer. Make of it what you will.

Well, I am looking forward to a big rambling letter from you after the holidays. Hope you have some fun with it, too. Who knows what you’ll turn up.

Stay well, indeed.


As I discovered at the time … coming off two days of jury duty. More emotionally demanding and exhausting than I would have suspected.

Also, more Quaker dimensions, beginning with my use of affirmation, rather than swearing to an oath, as well as listening intently to the quiet minority.

Getting other jury members to open up personal sides was worth it. A heating-and-cooling guy from a far corner of the county was a real hoot: 61, a scarf that made me think he was gay … turned out to be a biker married 31 years. Also thought he’d be the one pushing for not-guilty findings; instead, he was the last one to back off the second conviction and probably swayed the holdouts to go for the conviction on the first.

At lunch: “Maybe I should go over and visit some of my buddies across the street.” The retirement home? “No, they’re too young for that. The House of Corrections.” Mostly failure to meet child support payments. “How are they supposed to pay up if they’re incarcerated?” Good point.

If you’re called, remember. You won’t know what to expect.


Three hundred sunny days a year in a fertile land may seem like Paradise.

But it’s surrounded on three sides by desert.

As Kate explains this in my novel Peel:


A rare drizzle gave the evening an unusually intimate mood. Actually, it could rain like this all month and the precipitation probably wouldn’t add up to more than a half an inch. In our valley, rain was generally just a nuisance.


Peel 1For a free copy of my newest novel, click here.



Long a staple of the Friday-night Public Broadcasting lineup, Wall $treet Week’s Louis Rukeyser was noted as a master of puns. Or should that be groanster? Or even monster?

So in his presence for lunch one day, I piped up. “You know there are no good puns, only bad ones and worse. So who do you look down to for inspiration?”

He took it in good stride, knowing the sneer puns often earn, and replied calmly that when he was growing up, one of his father’s best friends was Random House cofounder Bennett Cerf – and young Louis gobbled up all of the literary publisher’s pun-filled volumes. I think he said he memorized 14 books in all. Not a bad foundation, for starters, and probably better than the jokes at the end of each month’s issue of Boys’ Life magazine.

Toward the end of his career, Rukeyser increasingly resembled the man on America’s one-dollar bills, an image he no doubt curried with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. Get a shtick in life, you might as well run with it. And how!

He was also an early example of the multimedia celebrity, something I detested in my role as a newspaper editor. I saw enough examples of television or radio personalities who tried their hand at simultaneously writing regular columns for print media, and our side of the equation was obviously the one being slighted. Let’s be frank. Anybody in the spotlight has only so much first-rate material to go around.

(That makes me recall a second-rate Boston newspaper columnist who took on TV features too, and pretty soon you couldn’t understand his content unless you’d seen the show he was amplifying. And then he was unmasked as a disgrace.)

Still, Rukeyser was candid about what we now call a “platform.” His career started as a reporter the Baltimore Sun, and he maintained a newspaper column throughout his run. “It established my credibility,” he said, back in the days when print carried clout.

The TV series, he added, gave him exposure and fame.

But the money came largely from his in-person appearances as a convention speaker. Everybody, after all, knew who he was – and that he could make the “dismal science” of economics and finance a lively, even humorous, topic.

Not every editor, I should note, bought into the argument that his fame as a public television celebrity would translate into newspaper readership. I still share their conclusion.

And then we had Andy Rooney.


Sometimes graffiti can be an improvement.

Sometimes graffiti can be an improvement.


The office scene became tense and testy in my final days there. The publisher’s accusations about the workers versus managers only worsened the situation. In another setting, it had been the journalists’ winning awards at the expense of the readers, as if our public couldn’t respond to quality. In either case, we in the trenches could counter that management was not doing its job of equipping us for the tasks at hand.

I soon found it harder and harder to do my job. Especially once our staffing had been cut beyond the bone.


For a look at a fictionalized version of the newspaper industry, try my novel, Hometown News.



When I think of essential tools, I’ve already mentioned the wheelbarrow and loppers. We could add the Cuisinart in the kitchen. Well, you get the picture.

But let’s not overlook the hammock.

She protested when she unwrapped the hammock we’d landed for her birthday.

Still, it went to the Smoking Garden, set parallel to the barn. And her resistance wore down, bit by bit, till one afternoon she fell asleep in it. She never, I should add, takes a nap. Ahem.

I’d say a hammock is an important garden tool, or thinking tool, even if it has no handles. You can work out a lot of problems there.

At the moment, it’s in pieces, stored in the top of the barn. Like so much else, waiting for warming and thawing.


Certain select artists seem to elicit a universal reaction from the public. It’s meant as a compliment, except that it somehow short-circuits itself. For example, a certain select actress is so good at getting into the character she’s portraying – and getting so far away from the way we know she normally looks or speaks – that audience members find themselves saying, “I can’t believe that’s Meryl Streep!”

We can name others, of course. Dustin Hoffman has long earned similar kudos.

Of course, it is intended as the ultimate accolade for a theatrical professional to be so incredibly flexible and insightful, in contrast to the TV or movie star who plays only himself. Think of John Wayne, for instance, who was always John Wayne, no matter the name he was given in the latest round.

The dilemma, of course, is that Meryl and Dustin are still being viewed through two separate perspectives that keep them from being completely merged into the character. We begin viewing their impeccable technique, then, at the cost of being thoroughly enmeshed in the story that’s unfolding. In effect, we become aware of being voyeurs.

I suspect something similar can occur in any of the arts. Classical music, for instance, is too frequently measured on the technical brilliance of a soloist or ensemble at the expense of the emotional and intellectual content of the work being performed. Add your own names for visual arts, literature, pop music, dance, and so on.

For now, we’ll simply call it the Meryl Streep Syndrome.

And, oh my, how really good she is at it.

Care to name others worthy of consideration?


Not all geese fly south to winter anymore ...

Not all geese fly south to winter anymore …


now that I’d pruned the lilacs
(there are better times, I’ll learn)

I wondered where to put the prayer flags
as well as a hummingbird feeder

 poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson


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