Monday, July 26, 2010

My Tribute to John Callahan

I hope you will forgive me if I ramble a bit (again) here. First, I want to say, "It's not my fault." I know that the last several of these blogs have, at the very least, mentioned death, if not specifically been about it, but I can't help that John died. Or could I? If it is all a projection of 'my' consciousness, as some non-dualists would tell you, then perhaps it IS my fault. (I'm hoping to include a photo of John I took, but currently having trouble getting the damn blogger upload photo widget to work again. If it's there, you'll see it.)

My relationship with John was a little different. Of course I had heard of him, and knew of his cartoons, but didn't really realize how world famous the guy actually was. In my case, he would sort of chase me down (not much of a match considering his wheelchair). He rolled up and down the streets of NW Portland, living in that area, and often frequented New Renaissance bookstore. Katie, who worked there at the time, mentioned to me that he had purchased my book on consciousness - In This Moment - so one day while in New Ren, he was pointed out to me and I introduced myself. It was the beginning of a different type of relationship. You see, what I knew of John was mostly his interest in the Absolute, his experiences thereof, and his own frustrations and sorrows that arose from his feelings of confinement, not only to his chair, but to his mind. He once asked if Barnashram was 'wheelchair friendly', and we had to admit it wasn't. (After all, it is a country farm. These days, I don't even dare wander around myself on it without a cane.)

(Okay, I got the upload pictures to work. Here's one he did of me the same day I took the photo of him above.)

After our initial meeting, I would often run into John down in NW, and we would talk - in New Ren, at Starbucks, out on the street, wherever. Sometimes, just me standing there, and him in his chair (which as Francine Rose so aptly put, "He was a magician at making it disappear. Or he could play it like a Stradivarius." (

Since my only relation to him was in relation to the 'teachings', I have no idea how he was with others. Perhaps he was totally open with everyone. I suspect he was to some extent. I mean, when you're sitting as a quadriplegic and have exposed yourself in your art and music, how much more is there to hide. But he would speak of his own pain - mental, emotional and physical. He was often depressed and depressing, but his words were very real! He would say what I'm sure many of the others who come to visit me won't say, or what he may not have said to all others, for fear of showing their true selves - their 'vulnerable' side. Often, he would speak of his love for beautiful young women (not much of a secret, it turns out) and of course, the frustration that comes with that. But more often, it was just about the general pain - existence - and how to transcend or accept or surrender into that - something that on occasion he did have much success at.

I will confess here. He once called me during one of his many brief (or extended) stays at a hospital, and left me a voicemail asking to come see him. I don't remember exactly what happened. I think he neglected to say which hospital he was in, and by the time I found out, he was out. But I did apologize to him later.

So, perhaps what I can best say about John that others might not be saying, was that he was a true seeker of the Real. One of the 'blessings' of limitations is a true desire to seek what is beyond all limitations. From my calculations, he had spent some 38 or so years in that wheelchair, longer than many of the readers here have even been alive. That gives you a lot of time to think about things. Interestingly enough though, I don't think we ever spoke about death!

John, I will miss you, and while it's true that "He won't get far on foot", perhaps he will get a bit further on the wings of an angel. Love You!


  1. My one an only encounter with John was in 1999 when I was asked to cover the Portland Creative Conference. The theme that year was Lend Us Your Brain; We'll Do the Rest.

    John was one of the headline presenters. Here's a brief excerpt from the event recap:

    John Callahan, author and cartoonist, dubbed as "rude, crude, tasteless and appalling" by his closest friends, brought new depths to the meaning of political incorrectness by showing some hilariously perverted examples of his work along side his favorite letters from the insulted and highly offended.

    A friend, now living in Europe, used to be a caretaker for John. I just wrote him with the sad news and he replied with this:

    "I had an amazing time taking care of john...he will be missed here and welcomed with great love in the next stage."

  2. Thanks for passing on the news, Aja. Sad to hear Callahan's passed away. I've been missing his comics here in the Bay. I just found this video of his that is really sweet.

  3. I've read this so many times now Aja - you captured him perfectly. Thanks for infusing these memories and thoughts of John back into my soul.