1971, I was twenty eight, returning to England from a year's post-doctoral work
in Toronto. Karin was eight months pregnant, so we couldn't fly. We came by boat.
On the ship I met a middle-aged Jewish intellectual from Toronto who had emigrated
to in Israel to live out a spiritual mission. He was a Kabalist and a bit of a
"guru". This was a bleak time for me spiritually, just groping, slipping
and sliding out of the black spiritual night, and the Kabalistic insisted, with
great urgency, that I should bless my children - place a hand on sleeping Jessi,
and then a hand on Karin's womb, and bless them - and that I should ask my father
and my mother for their blessing. It was important!
mother found it awkward to give her blessing (not that she doesn't love and bless
me, she just doesn't believe in this spiritual nonsense). The blessing had to
be coaxed out of her. Ted found it the most natural of things to bless... and
to help, and to rescue.
much of the time I went to Ted for a helping hand. I think about a meeting I had
with my cousin Paul Jay. Paul was encouraging me to write this biography. He spoke
of the tape recordings he had urged Ted to make towards writing an autobiograph
that Paul's nephew, Beni, had transcribed. Paul had Beni's transcriptions on his
hard disc. He booted up the computer, went to the document and did a "search"
on the name "Norman". The first three references he came up with were,
"Norman's in a funk again" and "Normie's depressed", "Norman's
so sad about..." I was shamed realizing that I brought him so much of my
despair. (I was going to say so little joy, but I think I brought him quite a
lot of joy. He was so full of love for us, his family. And I know that he admired
me, except for the lack of confidence, and the lack happiness genes,...) Anyway,
with this theme at the back of my mind I had noted how often Ted refers to his
own depression in his notes. Yet I remember him, for the most part, full of energy.
Why did Ted speak so often
about depression? Because it
was fashionable in the psychotherapy universe he had encamped in? Because, because
he was often depressed? The rescue cycle he and I engaged in might have served
us both in that I got his attention and got to deal with my problems rather than
There is a
story I need to tell about Joan and Susan. Joan was a woman of my age. She was
another of the ex-lovers that Ted pushed in my direction to try and tease me away
from my second wife, Teresa. Joan and I, though, simply developed a close professional
interaction. Joan was a psychotherapist. She started coming to see me as a patient
and brought her whole family, and she referred many of her friends and clients
to me. She herself came regularly as a patient primarily to do deep psychological
work. For a while I was her primary therapist.
story I want to tell concerns a patient of hers whom she referred to me, an artist
called Susan who was deeply disturbed and very ill. We managed to produce a "miracle"
the day before her scheduled surgery. Naturally I became very excited about the
work I was doing with Susan, but I also became fascinated with her. She was intelligent,
vivacious... And I found myself telling her that I found her attractive. "That's
not a problem if it's only a little bit, is it?" Susan speculated. I was
silent. And of course it was a problem. The shit hit the fan when Susan discussed
this transgression of professional boundaries with her therapist, Joan. Joan was
outraged. I had betrayed her and she told the world. I was devastated.
few weeks later Ted returned to Toronto from wintering in LA. I picked him up
from the airport. Had I seen Joan? Ted asked. "Not lately," I answered.
"I'll tell you about it tomorrow."
next day, round at his flat I told Ted the story in detail. I was rather defensive
about the incident and when Ted questioned me about several aspects my response
was a little defensive, belligerent. I felt a embarrassed, then, not only about
the incident itself, but more so about my current unpleasantness in this conversation
with Ted. Having finished relating the story and having discussed it in some depth
- "My therapist says (this and that)" - we reached a still point. Beyond
the still point I went over to Ted and sat beside him. I lay down and rested my
head in my father's lap. Bosom of Abraham.
a moment Ted said, "I have something to tell you." He paused. "I
find you attractive."
I rolled out of his
lap, off the couch, to the floor.
How do I remember my father? Many of my memories are of him "rescuing"
me. Not in my childhood. In my childhood Ted was a remote but romantic figure.
He had a warmth with his charisma, so catching his attention was rewarding, but
it was hard for me to hold his attention. The only "rescue" in childhood
that I remember was not pleasant. When I was seven some boys had stole my school
cap and threw it into a tree. Ted dragged me out with him to retrieve it, and
confront the bullies. I felt shamed.
was a rescue in Childhood. And it set the pattern. When I was five Ted was driven
out of the States and went back up to Montreal. We were to join him at a more
leisurely pace, staying some months in Boston with Kate's family while he got
settled. While in Boston I developed pneumonia. Ted came down across the border
and snuck into Boston to see me.
There were many rescues to follow: a car crash... In 1970 our old Land Rover
totaled. Ted hastened to my hospital bedside.
years later I was playing Don Quixote in western Ireland - off to found a commune
while my private life was falling apart. Ted flew to see us. Again it felt like
rescue, though there was no immediate fruit, just counseling and emotional support
(and always, while Ted was alive, the promise of financial support should it be
needed). Some months later, tail between my legs, I returned to Brighton.
Several years after this, I had been living for
two years in Val Collett's not-quite-a-commune in Brighton, renting a room, and
after a run-in with her lover, Big Mike, I found (precipitously) that I had outstayed
my welcome. So out I tumbled. I stayed a few days at Sue Gibson's next door. I
found myself in a manic high.
A day or two
after that crunch, Ted drove down to Brighton. I was slightly out of my head -
a manic episode. Ted came down to visit and we drove together passed London and
part of the way to Lincolnshire. I was going to drive to New Holland to see Karin
and the children. I remember again an atmosphere of "rescue"; a feeling
like being home, being safe, with Daddy. Where did we part that time? Somewhere
along the road towards Lincoln I drop him at a train station. He took the train
to London and left me with his car.
five hundred pounds" (A lot of money in those days.). "It's not what
we'd want, you and I, that money should make such a difference, but it buys space
and time and a little security."
Decades later I was speaking to Ted of Mad Mary. Mary wandered in to the Chiropractic
Colleges clinic when I was an intern. Being older, more "mature" then
my young classmates, the clinicians assigned me this bizarre and problematic patient.
Mary was a classical paranoid schizophrenic (and, as it happened, a classical
exemplary of Freudian theory, but that's another story). I was telling Ted that
I had this feeling that, if one could arrange total unconditional support for
Mary, she might recover. (Shades of Sadie in I've Seen You Cut Lemons) "If
she had that support - but it would have to appear to be unconditional and unlimited
if she had a safe environment she might perhaps be able to make
It might take three weeks or so and she would need to have support
available night and day by a team... "
interrupted. "Is she rich?"
I mentioned earlier a time in 1973 when I had returned from Ireland to Brighton...
that my first wife, Karin, had given up on me and was about to kick me out. Ted
came down to visit. We walked through a church yard - old paving stones worn on
the urban hill above our house. Skeleton trees on a gray day.
remind me of that fourteen year old," he said. "I think you are stuck.
Stuck there at Sandy House with your suitcase, your face fallen, shocked at my
betrayal, that you can't come to live with me. I see that shock still in your
I knew this "analytical insight"
was intended as a rescue, a life line, but I didn't know what to do with it.
Just being with Daddy, with Ted often felt like rescue. Recall Stanley Mann's
observation that the fullness of his attention could make you feel like you were
the center of the world.
In 1974 I became involved with Teresa - for 19 years, many of them married to
her. In the last ten years or so Teresa and I were viciously unsupportive of one
another. Put-down artists. It was miserable. Even before that, though, Ted took
a dislike to Teresa as my partner and he openly campaigned against the marriage.
In later years he would dangled his girlfriends and ex-girlfriends in front of
me, though the one time, the one weekend this nearly came to fruition he changed
his mind mid-stream and back-pedaled hard to hold on to the young lady in question.
In 1985 Ted had a quadruple bypass. The surgery
was performed in LA at Cedars Sinai. We spoke on the phone just before the operation.
"I want you to know, you don't have to stay with Teresa," Ted said.
My God, I thought. He's telling me this as his is "last words"
to me. He's expecting that he is going to die!
survived. Ten years. If he'd eaten better, taken care of himself, he might have
"I'd rather die then eat
another bowl of Beiler's soup!" he said.
Tied into this all this "rescuing", was Ted's encouragement of my writing:
cause words can be powerful; because writer are the leaders of the open-minded
soul; because... because.
Ah! How could I not remember the big, BIG rescue?
I got stuck, mired down while working on my Ph.D. I'd done two and a half years
of research, and it was time to analyze the work: to write it up. I sat down on
the living room floor, sober. I looked at the data... and looked at the data,
a thousand baby chick calls. My God! I was stuck. This would be 1968.
to the rescue. Me in a tizzy, in despair. He offered to help me, though perhaps
he knew it would cost him grief. He offered to edit my thesis.
I knew it would be an agony, but... I needed help. I accepted his offer, and it
was, indeed, agony. Perhaps because he didn't quite understand what the work was
about, Ted would challenge in an aggressive (defensive) manner everything from
"if"s and "but"s and commas to major concepts. "What's
this!" he'd demand, often in an irritated voice or an intimidating manner.
We fought over minutia.
Bless him for hanging
It took me two (agonizing) years to
write up the thesis, to become his son the doctor.
There were other collaborations: none as difficult.
I came back from a year's post-doctoral work in Canada, (2)
I moped around the British Isles. Karin had a small inheritance. I thought we
should buy land and buildings as a basis for a commune - this was the early nineteen
seventies. However, Karin had been injured badly in the car crash - that's why
we came back to England, to be near her family - and this in turn was one of the
major reasons why I dropped out of academia. Meanwhile the marriage unwound. Well,
I was a hopeless case - too little and too late. Eventually Karin left me, booted
me out. That spawned a few poems and a very lost young man.
down from London with Ted to Brighton he asked what I was going to do with my
life? Had I thought of writing?
I have a story to tell?
Then, or later, Ted
explained that the story is the thing. "Narrative," said Ted, "narrative
drives the story. Everything else is decoration. Look at Dos Passos. He can't
write, but the stories are compelling. Drama: drama comes out of conflict. And
there has to be character development. And we have to care about the protagonist.
Otherwise why watch? why read?"
asked, did I have a story?
I thought a moment:
and told Ted the story of "The
it," he said. "Try writing it as a television play."
raised my eyebrows. "Just get it out, down on paper," he advised. "If
you can't find the right words, write anything. Just get as near as you can to
your meaning, what you want to say, anyway you can. You can always edit. Just
put it down."
Ted response to any crisis included
the maxim, "Take notes!"
seven drafts of Symptoms. Ted critiqued each draft and sent me away to rework
them, not quite endlessly. The seventh draft he greeted with some enthusiasm.
Unfortunately it wasn't a commercially viable piece, at least, not as a television
drama in the 70s and 80s. It was autobiographical, and dopey - hashish and acid
played an inextricable role in the unfolding of the story, and dope (unless its
cocaine dealers in an action film "biting the dust") was not a marketable
proposition. So I got a learning experience.
will be published," Ted often assured me. "You will be published, I
promise." (I wonder if posting my stuff on the internet counts as publishing?)
Shortly after this Ted went to Canada for the
filming of "Lies My Father Told Me". He negotiated a book deal with
the New American Library and asked me if I would I like to take a stab at the
was a problem, Ted said. He wanted the book written in the first person, but there
were scenes that the protagonist, the boy Davie, didn't witness.
problem," I said. I was reading Donlevy who switched person, third to first,
The first draft took three weeks.
(It's a short book.) The rewrite took two weeks. Ted loved my novelization. Indeed,
while it was in print, it was used extensively as a text in English Lit. classes
in Canadian High Schools. (4)
Other collaborations were not unpleasant, but not particularly successful. Often,
possibly, it was just "make work" that Ted was giving me with some hope
that it might help him with his projects. I worked on "Bethune
in the seventies, on "Love is a Long Shot", the TV version (though Ted
didn't like or use my treatment), and I worked with him on several versions of
his incomplete autobiography. And Ted tried to help me with my novel, Pipedreams.
(5) This was again in the nineteen seventies
- the decade I took off to learn to write. "Pipedreams" was a hippie
fairy tale written, then, in somewhat stilted language - but funny. There was
certainly something somewhere there, so Ted felt. (I myself at that time felt
that it was a work of a promising genius.) But it needed something more, said
Ted. It needed another level, another catch. "For instance, at the start
of the book, page one," Ted said, "Chris Pasha (my protagonist) might
be wakened by a voice telling him "Chris Pasha, you are the Messiah!"
And he has to wrestle with this... Yes, it's a good opening. Try it. Use it."
A few days later, though, Ted phoned
me to say that he was writing a short story, "When My Uncle Benny was the
Messiah". Was it alright if he used the theme he'd given me? I didn't feel
I could refuse (but it echoed of standing there in Sandy House at 14 years old
In my teens I was fascinated
with Ted and my image of him was full of romance. As I became an adult, slowly,
he became a friend. Later, with my continuing pot smoking, marijuana became a
minor barrier between us. Sometime in the early nineteen nineties Ted found he
was avoiding me and realized, he said, that he found it uncomfortable to be round
me when I was stoned (which was very often between 1966 and 1993). He said I was
out of contact when I was stoned: that I would roll my eyes (I would often look
at the ceiling while "thinking"). He said that this reminded him of
his crazy father.
Ted smoked pot briefly in
1967, 68 - possibly a Georgia Brown thing (Georgia was the "hip" friend)
and he "tripped" once with R.D. Laing. Ted said that the acid trip taught
him nothing. He found himself reliving the tank accident in Spain, flying through
the air and falling, and crying, "Where is the woman with the red hair?"
He didn't need lysergic acid to relive his traumas. He said that everything that
he found on psychedelics he had access to just by closing his eyes. His relationship
to Laing and his associate, Leon Redler and David Cooper, was sometimes enthusiastic
and later ambivalent or cool. He met them through helping to sponsor the "Philadelphia
Association" and Kingsley Hall, a house for psychotics, for Sadie: an environment
where crazies could work through their madness - an experiment towards which Ted
became embittered. Some crazy in the house was persecuting Sadie. Why wasn't she
protected? Locked out of the house, nude, without her clothes. When Ted would
go round to visit, the "attendant", the young man who was supposed to
be looking after things, was always stoned. (That would be my friend-to-be, Mike
Bear. (6) Mike Bear told a story about how
Sadie took all his Bear's girl friend's, Marge's, cloths, put them in the bath
tub and shat on them. "She was commenting on the way I was treating Margie,"
said Bear. In those later years when Bear was like a sick brother to me, Ted was
very leery of Bear and the fast and loose way be played with my phone bill, myself,
and my family. Later again in the Napa Valley, Bear gave me a detached telephone
receiver to give to Ted - so he could have it with him always. In his coffin,
Julie and I joked. This was a little before the advent of cordless and cellular
phones - another world, just a short while ago.)
Tangent: In a restaurant
in little India, Toronto, late nineteen eighties, Ted and I speaking, of dope
- a favorite theme for Ted, how dope betrayed me - though he never really pressured,
just coaxed... I was saying that I thought that one of the reasons I smoked pot
was to suppress dreaming. I found that when I smoked I had less awareness of my
dreams.(7) " ...To suppress my dreams..."
I said. Ted picked this up. " "To suppress my dreams"." He
quoted raising his bushy eyebrows. "Perhaps both meanings are intended here."
(Ted was enquiring whether I thought I might be using pot as an excuse for not
pursuing my dreams.)
Ted had a series of dreams in the fall/winter of
1992 that made a deep impression on me, at least. He told me he had had several
dreams in which he was flying, or floating, "And I've never had flying dreams
before." And he had a dream in which he was at the top of a large building,
a skyscraper. He climbed down the outside of the building, and walked away from
it into a field. And felt peaceful.
a wonderful dream," I said of this leasving-the-body dream. When he went
down to LA a short while later for the winter I thought that I might not see him
Ted often told
me that if he died I was not to worry on his behalf. He was ready to go. He had
had a good life.
Mordecai Richler, who of course
is one of the world's première put down artists, diminished Ted's work
and told Jack McClelland that Ted's masterpiece was his life itself. The partisan
son in me retorts, "Willie.." was a masterpiece, "Lies
was wonderful, "Secret
" had the scope of Lear the critics said
Judgements, judgements. Am I judging my father? To think, almost, is to judge.
I judge me. I judge my father. There was a time when I judged that he was too
narrowly focused. Too much the writer wedded to his typewriter and his scripts,
and the telephone.
The second time I dropped
acid, in 1968, some words went through my head I wanted to save. They went through
my head and seemed to vanish, till I sat at the typewriter and watched the words
reappear as I typed. And having watched the words reappear, I then watched the
typewriter. It was numinous. It looked as it had in early childhood. That's fuller
and richer and realer, a 3D starkness. The typewriter: the family totem.
In the last two years, as Ted's health deteriorated, as he had less stamina for
work, less energy to fascinate young women, he began to lose the will to live
- and left us.
How do I remember Ted in those last years? Ted resting, lying in the bed, the
bed strewn with books, papers, newspapers. Perhaps the television is on. There's
the fragrence of his talcum powder, his cologne. Perhaps he's on the phone. Business
deals, or Julie. He'd talk to Julie every day. And I'd massage his feet.
bed, books, words, concepts. Or walking down the hall, he'd throw in a soft shoe
shuffle and the Chaplin quotation: "It's love love love love love love love."