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the Wanderling

Barbara Back, closest to Maugham of all his women friends, was frequently called upon to play the part of hostess, her brassy blond elegance, her love of gossip, and especially her expertise at the bridge table much admired by Maugham: presenting her with one of his novels, he inscribed it, "For Barbara, because she never calls on his diamonds to the Queen, from her appreciative partner the author." Barbara came often to the Mauresque, usually on her own, as her flamboyant and far from faithful husband, Ivor Back, was rarely able to accompany her; this suited Maugham, who liked to have Barbara to himself. She for her part knew exactly how to handle him, with a combination of mischief and respect; he loved her earthiness and her guttersnipe humor, and he relied on her long chatty letters to provide him with all the most indiscreet gossip of the town. "Your letters are a boon and a blessing," he told her. "They bring a whiff of London down to the Riviera."

The above paragraph regarding Barbara Back is from the book "The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham" (2009) by Selina Hastings and pretty much sums her up, at least for our interests here.

There is no definitive biography on Barbara Back. She becomes rather elusive in history the more you delve into her background. Her high mark was for being the closest overall confidant and female personage to the highest stature most financially successful authors of the 20th century, William Somerset Maugham. For well over three decades, and the most important three decades of his life at that, Back was there ensuring what should happen did happen while making sure what shouldn't happen, didn't. If something did go akilter when it shouldn't have she made sure it was erased or disappeared. It is because of that strong force in Maugham's life that anything she did, major or minor, carried with it a certain amount of importance,

It was during the period of time that The Razor's Edge was being written, published, and made into a movie that her importance was on ascendency. Maugham was in America and she kept Maugham's importance on the forefront during the war and carried through for him to his estate and parties on the Rivera after the war.

After The Razor's Edge was published an almost cottage industry grew up surrounding who Larry Darrell, the main character in Maugham's book, was in real life. Since the rise of the internet there has been a continuing stream of controversy, especially for some, regarding the person I call my mentor and any position of credibility I've given him relative to being the person Maugham used for Larry Darrell.

People go on-and-on as to who that person or role model was, smoke screening, overlooking, or discounting anything I have to say regardless of proof, while individually parading a plethora of other possible candidates. The "others" usually narrow down to three, depending on who is either championing them or parroting already out there material. Once selecting one to champion, regardless of the strength of the others, seldom do they include either of the other two. The three most oft mentioned are Christopher Isherwood, Ronald Nixon, and Guy Hague. Although all three are mentioned one way or the other in connection with Darrell by Wikipedia for example, none of them individually or in a composite hold up in a thorough investigation. Who I offer, my mentor, is overlooked. He is not a role model or composite in either case, but a complete stand alone individual, in his entirety start to finish, no composite necessary.


RONALD NIXON-------------------GUY HAGUE

Why is the suggestion of my mentor not taken seriously? Two reasons. One because I'm not anybody and two, because who I offer up is not anybody.(see)

True, I have my supporters, but what upsets the others, not so much the regular folk, but mostly the literati, self appointed or otherwise, and sometimes the Maharshi in-crowd and Wiki editors, is that Larry Darrell could have ended up being a nobody. They go through the book page by page, word by word searching for any little scrap or crumb to compare with their own suggestion, of which whom they've done the same thing with their own champion, to throw in your face, yet in the process turn a blind eye to anything or everything that might weaken or totally discount their case no matter how blatant or obvious Maugham may or may not have presented it.

All anyone with any amount of acumen has to do --- layperson, fan, critic, or intelligentsia alike --- is just sit down and read what Maugham has to say and the whole thing becomes clear. It would defeat his purpose and overall thesis if Darrell was in real life a major personage of sorts. In the very beginning on the very first page of the novel Maugham writes "The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be." Then, after the whole novel unfolds, all the trials and tribulations and all the adventures and misadventures are over, in the closing pages of the book Maugham solidifies his whole thesis and writes of Darrell and his Awakened state, presenting to reader and critic alike, the following:

He has no desire for fame. To become anything of a public figure would be deeply distasteful to him; and so it may be that he is satisfied to lead his chosen life and be no more than just himself. He is too modest to set himself up as an example to others; but it may be he thinks that a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like moths to a candle, will be brought in time to share his own glowing belief that ultimate satisfaction can only be found in the life of the spirit, and that by himself following with selflessness and renunciation the path of perfection he will serve as well as if he wrote books or addressed multitudes." (see)

And now, the Barbara in the title. There seems to be an inordinate amount of Barbara's in my life, with at least five carrying a significant amount of influence that I've brought them up in my online works. Three I mention by their full names and two I leave anonymous. The two left anonymous Barbara's are relatives and why I'm reluctant to offer their identification.

The two anonymous Barbara's are mentioned at least three times in separate instances, just not by first or last names. One of the left anonymous Barbara's was somewhat older than me having been out of high school several years when somewhere along the way after becoming a regular user of soft drugs she moved to hard stuff. She was just about to reach age 22 when she overdosed on heroin and died. Several years later the second of the two anonymous Barbara's showed up. She was quite a few years younger than me and still in high school. The Christmas vacation six months prior to the June she was to graduate she was riding in a car with three of her teenage friends when the car crashed. She, along with the other three were killed, pronounced dead at the scene. She was 17. I don't think any of the others were any older, at least not by much.

If you have ever read what I have written about the notorious if not infamous 1940's onetime top Hollywood madam Brenda Allen, you would have run into the fact that just before high school I had a crush on a certain young blonde named Barbara Elizabeth "Betty" Allen that was at the time the girlfriend of a guy in the 11th or 12th grade nicknamed "Blackie." I mention he and his buddies pulled me aside one day and threw me up against the wall making it clear that the girl was HIS girl and to stay away from her. I also said I learned really fast never to have designs on the girlfriend of a guy who had a nickname, especially so if it was something like "Blackie."

Now we come to the Barbara we are concerned with that is directly connected to the Barbara in the title. That Barbara would be one Barbara Lynn "Bobbie" Brown. The two of us were in the same grade and attended the same high school at the same time. I mention her extensively in what I wrote about my high school chums, linked below. She is mentioned together with her best friend and fellow classmate that married the son of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, as well as the international sculptor Mowry Baden and the renown comedy team. the Smothers Brothers. All of us attended the same high school at the same time together and all of us graduated from there. As with all of the other just mentioned fellow students and for the same reasons, Barbara Lynn "Bobbie" Brown and I didn't hang out or travel in the same circles, she being way out of my league Palos Verdes type. We did however, know each other well enough and she was nice enough and strong enough in who she was that she wouldn't we pulled down by any association, that we could have conversations together.

One day in Caesar Hernandez's art class, and I don't remember why, she said to me, "Fie on you!" followed by my name after the word "you." Of course I didn't know what Fie meant, guessing she was using it in her own politeness to call me an asshole --- or possibly putting a curse on me. Soon as I could I found out Fie meant for the most part, disgust. Just thinking in my high school mind that this practically a goddess viewed me with disgust sent me into a tailspin.

The same years all of this was going down, what was known as the Beat movement began inching its way onto the scene. Like it had been since it became a movement it was on the peripheral of society with Allen Ginsburg the most well known Beat personality. For sure, the movement had no presence on campus except for maybe me and possibly a small gaggle of others. In an attempt to make myself standout and be somebody, my last two years I adopted more and more being Beat as my shtick, the results being me becoming even more peripheral than the Beat movement was in real life. In other words, it didn't get me any chicks.

However, in the deep distraught of my tailspin, nursing my semi-faux Beat persona like any good semi-faux Beat persona poet should, I turned to a semi-faux Beat poem. Very few people ever saw it and I know Barbara Lynn Bobbie Brown never did, but I have to present if here only because it carries the punchline to all of this, otherwise I would spare you from my then teenage attempt at what I thought was heavy Beat poetry. One person who I shared it was a same age regular that hung out around the Insomniac coffee house in Hermosa Beach that for some reason didn't go to high school, said it was like reading a poem written by someone in the third grade. I told him it was more like it was being interpreted by a person with a third grade brain.

A flowering beauty,
setting sun red hair,
stands before me,
beyond compare.
Fie on you,
in a shocking way
she said to me,
my saddest day.
Ask of her
I did so bold,
and said to me
she so told:
Begone with you,
there's much you lack
but most for me
you have no tact.
For now I pine
my Barbara back.

And there it is, Barbara back.

Actually, third grade mind or not, the poem was written after a direct cue from one of the early works of Allen Ginsberg that he had created three years before titled Green Valentine Blues. Ginsberg's poem Wichita Vortex Sutra, the poem I'm most generally associated with, hadn't been written yet, being still ten years into the future.


During that three-year-before period we are talking about here, the house next door went up for sale and purchased by a single older man in what was then an otherwise family oriented beach community. To most of us the man seemed somewhat weird. He walked everywhere and was almost always barefoot. Everyday, weather permitting, he wore the same simple clothes. If warm, a black tee shirt; if cold, a bulky knit navy blue turtleneck sweater with dark pants and a wide belt, topped with a dark blue Greek fisherman's cap, which he always tipped most graciously each day toward my grandmother as he returned from his routine early morning walks. During those days I owned a 1940's wooden Ford station wagon that I spent an Inordinate amount of time trying to restore it back to or beyond it's original condition. The following is found at the source so cited:

"One morning I parked my car in the driveway in order to work on the wood for the umpteenth trillionth time when I noticed the man next door had stopped to look at the wagon. In a mellow, almost Shakespearean voice he told me how beautiful he thought the wood was and how he admired my endeavors to keep it so. He asked if it would be all right to touch the wood and as I nodded in approval, he ran his fingers softly over the surface in such a strange and exacting manner that he and the wood seemed as one. No racehorse trainer could have stroked or curried a prize thoroughbred in a more loving way. When we made eye contact for the first time I was set aback, almost stunned, by the overwhelming calmness and serenity that seemed to abide in his presence. Never had I experienced anything like it. He thanked me, smiled, and tipping his hat, nodded slightly and strode off.

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"Several days passed when one day just after sunrise the man next door appeared on our back porch and asked my grandmother if he might speak with me. He told me several rooms in his house were paneled in floor-to-ceiling knotty pine he intended to refinish and wondered if he might hire me to help him with the job,"


The man so mentioned above became my spiritual mentor. His house, not unlike the forestry retreat high in the mountains of India where he attained his spiritual Awakening was almost completely devoid of furniture and fixtures such as lamps and tables and a few bare necessities. Except for a meditation mat or rug there was truly no furniture in the living room although he did have a few books on the floor along one of the walls. Several times out of curiosity, and usually when I was alone in the room, I thumbed through those books. Among the mostly published type books was a matched set of four or five leather bound books about an inch thick or so that originally had blank pages. Those books were filled page after page with hand written notes and sketches almost like on of those codexes or manuscripts by Leonardo Da Vinci. The volumes appeared similar to a journal and compiled as though the author may have been planning to write a book, or as the case may be, the original notes for one.

Even though I thumbed through the four or five leather bound books on occasion I never really studied them or read them for any length of time because of not wanting to get caught. Only once in all the time I knew my mentor did he pull any of them out and share the contents with me, and then it was only a small portion of one of the volumes. It all came about one day because of a movie poster we saw in a comic book store regarding one of my favorite movies, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Although it had been released a year before I even started high school, all the way home I went on and on about it with nothing but disinterest shown by my mentor. I figured flying saucers wasn't his bag, but when we got back to his place, without saying a word, he started going through a couple of the leather bound volumes until he found the specific one he was looking for, turning to the specific page he wanted. The page referenced his travels in Tibet and the Himalayas prior to meeting the Maharshi, showing me an entry with a small drawing and the date and time: "AM August 1927." I remember the entry well because a few days later I went back and copied it word for word with a ballpoint pen on the inside-back of my belt --- and saw it there many times for years afterwards. The entry read:

"Coming in just above the horizon arcing out of the north, a huge circular object, shiny like polished metal. Not an aeroplane. No wings, no sound. Very fast."

The flying high-speed shiny metal object not an airplane is discussed elsewhere. What is important here is my mentor going through his leather bound books. When he was turning the pages looking for a certain passage an envelope fell to the floor. As he kept searching I picked up the envelope, but instead of taking it when I handed it to him he continued his search. The envelope was addressed to him to another address and postmarked many years before. The return address was from a Barbara Back, who up to that time I never heard of. When I questioned him it was the passage in the book he was concerned with. Eventually, when he did finally take the envelope he briefly scanned the contents then put it back between the pages then placed the leather bound book back with the rest.

On the second page of the Mentor I discuss an older lady friend of my mentor that used to drive down from Sierra Madre on occasion to see him who I call the dowager. The dowager and my mentor went way back. I don't know how they met specifically, but she seemed to know a lot about him. One day when she was visiting and with my mentor out of earshot I told her about the envelope with a return address from Barbara Back hoping she might enlighten me as to who Barbara Back was. The dowager, although not exactly dumbfounded, didn't say anything. However, several weeks later when I took my mentor to see her she quietly slipped the same Barbara Back envelope into my hands, an envelope she had apparently purloined in some fashion, asking me to sneak it back to where it belonged with as much stealth as possible. Making sure my mentor didn't see I had the letter in my possession per her request or for me that I was complicit in any of it, the second I got a chance I stashed the letter in the glove compartment of my car. Then, back home and waiting for the right chance to put it back and not to get caught, over time, one thing led to the next and I simply forgot it.

If my mentor wasn't acquainted with Maugham at the level as I have indicated throughout my works, traveling with or in the same circles, bumping into Maugham's in-crowd group, and/or other such things, there isn't much of a chance Barbara Back would have reason to be corresponding with him by letter let alone knowing him enough in the first place to do so. So too, if she spent an inordinate amount of time or any at all corresponding or meeting with any of the other potential Larry Darrell candidates I'm not aware of it. While it is true I would have no reason to be privy to such information, when my mentor met with Maugham at Lake Tahoe right after World War II to discuss a possible sequel as reported by the dowager, none of the others to my knowledge were there or consulted. Considering a certain high level of existence for each of them in their own way it is unlikely any meeting would have gone unnoticed or not surfaced.

After the passage of some time, in one of those slap your forehead with the palm of you hand moments, I discovered the envelope in the glove compartment. When I went to put it back in one of the leather bound volumes all of the books including the leather bound volumes had been moved. No matter where I searched or thought they might be I wasn't able to find them. Apparently the letter was never missed, at least it was never mentioned to me nor should there had been a reason to, and I still have the letter to this day. At the moment, because of other Barbara Back related letters in their collection, my Back letter is in safe keeping, secreted away in a sealed and addressed manila envelope destined anonymously one day for the Harry Ransom Center's W. Somerset Maugham Collection, University of Texas at Austin and of which should easily be able to confirm it's authenticity.(see)

As for the poem, a high school friend and I etched it on to the surface of two small granite slabs and took them up to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and threw them off the top edge, the etched slabs falling straight down to the Dome's talus slope on the bottom of the valley floor 4,700 feet below. As far as I know the etched slabs are still there.(see)

The portrait of Barbara Back at the top of the page was done by Sir Gerald Festus Kelly. Originally self taught, Kelly later studied in Paris hobnobbing with artists of the day such as Degas, Sickert and Sargent. He was a life long friend of William Somerset Maugham having painted his portrait at least eighteen times, with the most famous titled "The Jester" on view in the Tate Gallery, one of two paintings of Maugham on view at the Tate. Maugham's favorite of the eighteen by Kelly was said to be "A Glass of Sherry in the Studio, Portrait of W. Somerset Maugham" painted during 1932-37 period and last sold for over $127,000 U.S. dollars. That painting, shown below, has in the background just above Maugham's right arm, Kelly's world famous portraiture of the Burmese lady of royalty Princess Saw Ohn Yung. To see a graphic of The Jester painting plus additional information on Kelly and Maugham click Maugham's portrait below.

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Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.








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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS





The following is found in several places of my works, but most notedly so in "THE WANDERLING: Taking Him With A Grain Of Salt" as so linked below:

"Nobody knows who I am because I'm not anybody. I make no claim to being a teacher, guru, holy man, or sage. I don't sell, market, promote or teach classes, seminars or Satsangs. My pages are all free, there are no subscriptions or sign ins. I don't hawk or sell anything. There are no advertisements. No books. No ballcaps, T-shirts, or ballpoint pens. I don't ask for, solicit, or accept donations. My meager Zen dropping are available to all who may be so interested."



Painted in July 1911 at the artist's studio. There were thirty to forty sittings. This was the third of many portraits of Somerset Maugham painted by Kelly. The first was painted not long after the two had became friends was destroyed, The second were painted in 1907, In an 80th birthday tribute to Somerset Maugham (Sunday Times, 24 January 1954) Kelly wrote: "I first met Somerset Maugham in the garden of a villa which his elder brother had taken for the summer at Meudon (a municipality in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, France). I was struck by the fact that his whole face was just one color - very pale - and that his eyes were like little pieces of brown velvet I thought he looked very distinguished."(source)

In the preface to the 1956 edition of "The Magician," a novel which deals with artists, Maugham outlines his reason for his move to Paris sometime around 1904, then goes on to say:

"A few months before this, I had been fortunate enough to make friends with a young painter who had a studio in the Rue Campagne Premiere. His name was Gerald Kelly. He had had an upbringing unusual for a painter, for he had been to Eton and to Cambridge. He was highly talented, abundantly loquacious, and immensely enthusiastic. It was he who first made me acquainted with the Impressionists, whose pictures had recently been accepted by the Luxembourg. To my shame, I must admit that I could not make head or tail of them."




Starting around the end of my sophomore into my junior year in high school, up until but mostly after graduation, and not really knowing a whole lot about it, I became more and more attracted to the small pockets of the Beat Generation movement bleeding down from the national level that began to grow up around the South Bay where I lived. I started hanging out at the Iconoclast Coffee House just a few steps east up the hill from El Paseo and the Horseshoe Pier on Wall Street in Redondo Beach and/or the Insomniac on Pier Avenue just across the street from Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach hoping, like I've said in one of the paragraphs above, to be or at least think I was "cool" and possibly even absorb or learn some of the movement trends.

Although I attempted to write a few Beat poems while still in high school, only one has proved the test of time and that's the one in the above main text written as an ode to my aforementioned fellow classmate Barbara Lynn "Bobbi" Brown, and based on a 1953 poem by Allen Ginsberg titled Green Valentine Blues. As it has turned out the poem has become more of an ode to the author W. Somerset Maugham's closest female friend and confidant, Barbara Back than any Barbara I knew in high school.

Not long after composing the poem I was visiting a friend when I noticed he had two nearly identical same size flat surface small granite slabs sitting on a shelf in his garage doing no more than catching dust. He said he found them when he hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite a few years before. Other than the fact that he just liked them, with no real reason of what he was going to do with either of the slabs, he brought them home. Since then, other than what they had been doing, sitting on the shelf in the garage collecting dust, that was about it.

I told him I had written a poem recently and thought it should be carved into stone. So that's what we did. After promising to fix up the older brother of a friend of mine who worked for an outfit that finished tombstones and such with the sister of another friend of mine, he ground and polished one surface of both slabs. Then, over a period of several nights, using a hand held high speed Dremel grinding tool and both stone slabs because of the poem's 18 lines, we engraved or etched as the case may be, the poem onto the slabs. Then he and I drove up to Yosemite and retracing his steps, climbed to the top of Half Dome. When we reached a point along the top where we could, after practicing for weeks as a discus thrower, we threw the slabs out over the edge with the two poem etched slabs falling straight down onto the Dome's talus slope on the valley floor some 4,700 feet below. To my knowledge both of the etched slabs are still there.



When it comes to possible role models for Larry Darrell in Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge two people rise to the top, Guy Hague and Ronald Nixon. Hague is delt with quite extensively elsewhere leaving us, for those who may be so interested, Nixon to discuss.

Nixon is often confused with my mentor because of a number of similarities, especially the early years. Although my mentor and Nixon knew each other because they flew together during World War I they were two widely separate people. Nixon's nationality, life before the war, and his years relative to India after the war are just too different to reconcile.

During the four years I was in high school the president of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Just as I was graduating Eisenhower ran for a second term and won. Both times his vice presidential running mate was Richard Nixon. Just before the start of my junior year I met my mentor, with the following junior year then my senior year paralleling the last two years of the first Eisenhower-Nixon administration. Those two years, and especially the last was filled with an ever continuous onslaught of Eisenhower-Nixon re-election hoopla.

My mentor never expressed himself politically one way or the other. However, one day when we were walking together he saw a newspaper headline related to Richard Nixon and out of the blue told me that during the war he flew with a man named Nixon. Since it was always hard to get anything out of him about the war I pressed him on it.

He told me the man was named Ronald Nixon. They were both fairly young to be aviators, with my mentor the youngest of the two 16 when he joined age 17 by the time they began flying with Nixon one year older. They had similar experiences in the war, ending with similar yet different outcomes, both involving India.

My mentor was an American and had never been to college, Nixon was British and right after the war ended he entered one of the colleges of Cambridge University, studying English literature and philosophy. During that period my mentor traveled and learned on his own throughout Europe and into Asia, with both he and Nixon eventually ending up in India.

Nixon graduated in 1921 and after going to India was offered and accepted a lecturer position teaching literature at the University of Lucknow, located in northern India, eventually taking a high paying professorship at Banaras Hindu University, In 1925 my mentor arrived in Bombay by ship. Not long after seeing the city sights and visiting the Caves of Elephanta he took a train third-class to Benares. He used Benares as a home base, operating in and around the general area for about six months. I know he went to Japur on the way to see the Hemis Manuscripts and Lucknow. In Benares he was able to see his former flying buddy on regular occasion, then well established as a professor at the university while seeking an ever deepening spiritual awareness.

In 1928, Sri Yashoda Mai, the wife of the university vice-chancellor, initiated Nixon into the Gaudiya Vaishnavite, a religious movement within Vaishnavism, one of the main Hindu schools of thought, after which he adopted Krishna Prem as his monastic name. Two years later, in 1930, Sri Yashoda Mai and Krishna Prem founded an ashram at Mirtola, near Almora, in north-central India.

Two years earlier, in i928, after traveling throughout India and Asia my mentor showed up at the ashram of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai south India. Two years later, in the fall of 1930, he experienced Absolute Awakening at the same level as the ancient classical masters.

There is nothing anywhere that indicates Maugham ever met, knew, or knew of Ronald Nixon other than the possibilities of my mentor mentioning him. If you remember Nixion joined the military at age 16 or 17 only to return after the war and attend college which straightforward thereafter he immediately left for India never to leave. People continue to go on-and-on about Darrell but always forget the obvious that Maugham himself said in connection to him:

"The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature."

W. Somerset Maugham, THE RAZOR'S EDGE

In 1948, twenty years after my mentor first visited Sri Ramana, Krishna Prem, aka Ronald Nixon, traveled to his ashram in Tiruvannamalai to meet with the Bhagavan. That meeting is fully recorded in "FACE TO FACE WITH SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: Enchanting and Uplifting Reminiscences of 202 Persons" Number 117, accessible by clicking HERE. When the page comes up scroll down one half page to Number 117.