DAVID KRONEMYER: O Kathryn! My Kathryn! We both were in the Independent Study program at Point Loma High School. She graduated a year ahead of me and went off to Berkeley. This in and of itself not surprising, as most of our group (including me) migrated there after high school; many of those who started elsewhere soon realized the error of their ways, and transferred. We began a desultory correspondence. Keep in mind this was back in the day when letters were the primary means of written communication. I believe I still have most of them in a box somewhere. Gradually this became more involved, more frequent, more granular, more evocative. She wrote of various romantic disasters she’d had, I of Joyce, Melville, Dostoyevsky, guitars and the ocean. Somehow I managed to graduate from high school in two years and got enough AP credits to enter Berkeley a year ahead (I still have dreams about the missing year). By that summer we were starting to move in parallel. We would go to the park, tell each other stories, look into each other’s eyes, exchange kisses.
One day we walked south down Torrey Pines Beach, hand in hand. I took a picture every 10 yards, then organized the colored slides in a progression, so it looked like you were gliding down the beach. At the large rock at the end, I turned west to face the sun, still taking pictures as it set over the horizon. There was an annoying gap between slides; later, I got dissolves and more projectors, which made the transitions much smoother. Now of course that technology has vanished. We would put songs and albums together in favored sequences such as “Children of the Future” (Steve Miller), “Rock-n-Roll Woman” (Buffalo Springfield) and “Lydia Purple” (the Collectors). Gradually “Sounds of Silence” didn’t sound that great anymore, replaced by “Crystal Ship” by the Doors.
At the time I had a Martin D28 (I later sold it and got a D45). I used D’Addario light strings; now, for some considerable time, I have preferred La Bella phosphor bronze medium to heavy. Using heavy gauge finger picks, you can grab the strings with talons, like a bird attacking its prey. With a wound B string for extra tension. I ordered 100 of them from the factory, and still have a modest supply. I sat on the Sunset Cliffs. At the time, I was playing with a high level of proficiency – way better than I am, now. I could hear the sound transmit from the strings, through the body of the instrument, carom around inside, and then explode from it with a vibrating roar.
That fall we both were in Berkeley and became a couple. While there were some mild flirtations, none of us really paired off in high school. So she really was my first love. We lead a marvelous, mystical, mythical, magical, musical life. While it was a time of public turmoil at Berkeley, we never were that political; rather, far more metaphysical. She gravitated towards biochemistry, I to philosophy. This was a natural progression from my background interests. In a way, I approached Berkeley backwards, taking a lot of upper division courses, before I really knew what I was talking about, so I always was in over my head. But then I had to loop back and take the prerequisites, which by that point were completely boring. I worked part-time and over the summers at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, where I got plenty radiated. I played a lot of guitar. I got involved with logic and set theory, and became friends with a wild, crazy mathematician named Anthony P. Morse. I basically took over his office in Evans Hall.
I can remember walking down Telegraph Avenue, hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time; then across campus, Roxy Music swirling through my head. A grey afternoon, fall in the air. Our tastes were eclectic; we would alternate Pink Floyd with Bach’s Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas, Muhal Richard Abrams and John Coltrane, Schonberg-Berg-Webern. My most plangent sensory modality is music. It’s impossible for me to listen to the Jefferson Airplane, for example, without being sensually bombarded. It’s as good as stepping into a time machine and traveling back in time. A thousand impressions, a thousand ideas, any one of which can get triggered almost whimsically, any time, any day, any place.
Gradually I became enmeshed in her phenomenological world. What was it like in there? An intriguing combination of being very smart, plus what I now would characterize as labile affect, swinging dramatically and unpredictably from ecstatic high to desperate low. Because of this range of variability – a high standard deviation – the highs were incredibly high, but the lows were extremely low. I was up-regulated in the frontal lobe department, and down-regulated in the limbic system; this probably was one of the reasons why I was attracted to her. It all was most intriguing and motivated, at least for me, a vibrant curiosity about life and love. Within our small circle of friends, members of the junior existentialist club all, we lead an extremely refined, hyper-intellectualized life. But gradually it seemed as though she became less and less emotionally stable. It was like watching someone disintegrate before my eyes. I started experiencing side-effects. I never knew what the day was going to be like. Because I loved her, I tracked her too closely and became over-engaged. I said to myself: just stay on the horse, don’t let yourself get bucked off.
I have some advice for anybody in a similar position. Under no circumstances read the work of Soren Kierkegaard. “What’s a defining relationship?” she guilelessly asked me. “Do we have one?”
I freely acknowledge my contribution to this chaos; I was changing, too, in weird and unpredictable ways. More than merely complicit, I also was provoking, instigating. What happened to us was not all her fault. A 1978 album by the Dutch progressive rock band Kayak had a song with lyrics that went something like “although there’s still a lot you’re owing me, you can keep the change” – the word “change” suggesting not only coinage, but also a process of evolution, random movement through time. Of course she wouldn’t even know who Kayak was, so the thought was all mine. She wouldn’t know what I liked in the ’80s, or the ’90s, or the ’00s. Or what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I was reading, what I was doing. I seem to remember a brief encounter – I can’t put my finger on exactly when – she said she was listening to Bruce Springsteen, which I thought was incredibly revanchist.
As it turns out my son also went to Berkeley. Each time I visited him the town had mysteriously shrunk in size (of course I was the one imagining it larger than life). It was redolent with memories and associations. We drove by the place where she and I used to live on Oxford St. on the edge of Berkeley’s north side – it looked as though it hadn’t changed a bit. And then, my advisor, John Searle, still is there. I said to Andrew, “Why don’t we stop by, and see if he’s in?” We made our way to his office – I remembered exactly where it was – and knocked on the door. To my astonishment, he popped out and greeted us. I introduced ourselves, saying: “It was long ago, but you were my advisor when I was here, and I just wanted to stop by and say hi, and prove to my son that you actually exist, that you are whom you purport to be, and that everything I have told him about you, is true.” He said that, hundreds of students later, he remembered who I was – manifestly false, but very nice for him to say.
Like the song by the Incredible String Band, our break-up was as hard as it was inevitable. She went to Stanford, I to USC (the lights of Los Angeles beckoning in the distance). She told me I pretty much was a fungible commodity in her life, I could have been anybody else, we just happened to be together for a period of time. This was disheartening and invalidating because it seemed to transform the necessity I felt about our relationship into simple contingency. In a way what she said was true, but it was unpleasant to have it pointed out so explicitly. And then I was depressed for about a year.
Let me put it this way. So many people, you ask them what they want out of life, they say something like “to be happy.” But this is a static, eschatological, teleological outcome. As a destination, it also has the distressing property that the closer you get to it, the more it recedes. So, imagine you’re the captain of a large ship, let’s make it a galleon with sails, cannons and a crew of a hundred. You’re headed towards an island off in the distance. Your tattered nautical chart says it’s called “happiness.” But then you turn around and all of a sudden the entire crew has turned into ghosts. Frightening ones. What do you do? Hide from them? Turn around? Panic? I say, make friends with them. Co-opt them, harness their negative energy. After all, it’s pure energy, its valence as +/- doesn’t really matter, it’s just your attitude about it, which could be anything, their powers of thought insertion don’t hold a candle to your powers of thought projection. (But then, what do you do when you sight sea monsters ahead?)
I no longer care if I’m depressed or elated, as long as getting there is interesting. If you’re depressed, really feel the experience of depression; revel in it; enjoy every minute of it; because intense feeling is precious and irreplaceable. Hope is a lot more than merely the absence of despair.
Now I think of Kathryn as some kind of a sorceress, she wove me into her web. The more I struggled to escape, the more ensnared I became. She deployed cosmic weaponry, crystal balls and Tarot cards, and I became mesmerized by her. I turned into the theater in which she was enacting the drama of her life; but also both an actor and a critic in the balcony at the same time. She was crazier than me and it became exhausting (though she does look kind of normal in this picture). Notwithstanding, I am very grateful to her for the paradigm experiences we had, resulting in mental schematics I still deploy to the present day. Disconcertingly, I often find myself asking … what would Kathryn think about this? What would she do?