Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Unveiling of a Wounded Heart & Soul

At a C.G. Jung gathering in Monterey, California in 1997, 'by chance' I met Joseph Pagano - a young man of 80 years at that time. I'd had an interest in Jung and Archetypal symbolism, although at the time of this gathering, I had no previous experience with depth psychology. I'd spent many years in a therapist's office, for fifty bucks an hour, venting my anger and frustrations brought on by the pressures of a demanding sales career. I also did my fair share of pissin' and moanin' about a failed marriage and a few love affairs, you know, the whole 'woe is me,' life's victim sort of thing. In reflection, fifty bucks an hour once a week was cheap, a wise investment. It provided a place for me to vent my rage and other negative feelings and not have to bring them out onto my clients or friends. These many hours were also preparing me for something I had no intention of entertaining - leaving my place in the world as victim behind.

I had taken a break from the selling world and rented a studio apartment on the Monterey Peninsula for a month. There was an ad in a local paper about the Jung Society gathering on Friday evenings. Aside from ordering coffee or a meal at a restaurant, I'd been alone, pretty much in silence for a week, so I phoned to learn about the Jung gathering. Joseph answered the phone and after a brief visit, he said he'd hold a seat for me that evening. I showed up, met a few people and listened to the presentation, and did the same for the following next three Friday evenings. On my fourth visit, I told Joseph that I'd be returning to work and probably wouldn't see him again. He then mentioned something to me about working on my dreams. "Oh, my dreams will take care of themselves," I told Joseph. He then handed me his card with his office and home phone number, telling me to call anytime.

I then returned to my old selling life in the Central San Joaquin Valley. A few months passed. I was reading James Joyce's Dubliners and The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man at the time. It was shortly after Saint Patrick's Day and the book was on a discount stand in Barnes & Noble. I'd read The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and was now reading a few of the stories in Dubliners and I'll never forget: it hit me while sitting in my truck, in the drive through line at the In and Out Burger - I'm not creating anything! I pulled Joseph's card from my wallet and phoned his office, but there was no answer. Then I called his house. After a short exchange of pleasantries, I explained, "Joseph, I'm reading James Joyce's The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and . . . well, I'm not creating anything."

"Come over and let's talk about it," Joseph suggested. But I didn't go, not right away, that is. A few more months passed and then a close friend who I'd gone to high school with died. I'd actually worked on his family's ranch and we shared an old farmhouse together when we were in our early twenties. The dope and booze finally caught up with Charles and at 35, he was dead. I attended the funeral service for Charles, and about a week or two later, I decided to visit Monterey and to attend a Friday evening Jung gathering. The event ran late that night and finally I told Joseph that I really had hoped to visit with him, but that I had to go because I was staying with friends.

"Come back tomorrow morning," Joseph suggested.

"Tomorrow's Saturday," I answered.

"Yes it is. I'll be here."

"What time?"

"Oh, I don't care, nine or ten, you pick."

Ten the next morning it was. I can't say for certain, as that was nearly 11 years ago, but I most likely brought my morning cup of coffee along. We visited for a while. I told him how I'd once been a drunk, had gone through all that rehab stuff, told him about my lost loves and all the other existential pains that come along with life.

On I went for a while and then once there was a break from my rhetoric, Joseph said, "Well, perhaps some day you'll come to a place where you'll be able to accept your life for what it is?" Then he asked if I recalled any recent dreams.

"Yeah, I was a cowboy boot, sitting in a wheel chair, and one of my clients was pushing me around. I think his kids were with him."

"What do you make of that dream?" Joseph asked.

"I'm tired of being the victim, and I'm tired of being pushed around. These boots were made for walking, goddammit, and that's just what they're gonna do . . ."

I met Joseph or visited with him on the phone quite often over then next few years. We worked on my dreams, I'd tell them to him and then he'd ask me what they meant. He never told me. Sometimes he'd hint, but most often Joseph let socratic wisdom guide the way.

Occasionally, if the dreams stopped, Joseph would suggest that I paint, said I didn't need to be a painter to paint, said it was just another way of communing with the psyche, communing with one's soul. He said it was a way of priming the pump when the flow of psychic energy had been put on hold. I went out and bought a starter kit with few tubes of acrylic paints and a brush or two. Sometimes I'd tear open a brown paper bag and use that for a canvass, sometimes it was just an old piece of cardboard, sometimes it was actually a canvass, that is if I found them on sale. Anyway, when the dreams stopped, Joseph would say to paint, and sometimes he'd suggest that I paint a dream image, meditate on the feeling from a dream and just paint, so I did.

Over time, I plan to post these paintings to my blog, along with some writing about my thoughts and feelings that accompany these images. In no way am I suggesting that these images are worthy of commercial artistic recognition - if anything, it would be quite the opposite. However, primitive and crude as they may appear, as is the case with my writing at times, these renderings are still a reflection of my soul, perhaps the evolution or the unveiling of the many layers of one man's soul.

Mel Mathews, is the author of several novels, including the Malcolm Clay Trilogy: LeRoi ISBN 9781926715339 Menopause Man-Unplugged ISBN 9781926715360, & SamSara ISBN 9780977607624 (Fisher King Press). His books are available from your local bookstore, a host of on-line booksellers, or you can order them directly from his website at:


Anonymous said...

Joe Pagano is my Uncle. I remember he had an office in Manhattan many years ago.

He co-wrote a book with the then crossword world champion and New York Times columnist, Will Weng.

He must be around 93 now.

Mel Mathews said...

Joe just turned 94 on Feb. 5, had dinner with your uncle and his family, and your uncle Anthony, too. Unless Anthony is your father!