All posts by Michael Jewel Haley

One of These Days: December 2014

December 2014

Memory is a strange and mysterious thing. The neurological pathways that lead to ancient data sectors seem to benefit from their long-established well-worn histories, unencumbered by the mis-markings and potholes that usually characterize the recently paved roads that lead to newly constructed storage centers. If prompted, The Man From Central Valley could easily recall his family’s phone number (275-1673) from the 1970’s. Yet tonight, 40’s years hence and a world away, in a city he’d called home for the last 37 years, he couldn’t remember the name of a lovely woman he’d met at a holiday party only a few hours earlier. Nor could he recall exactly what he had gone looking for when he’d sprung from his bed shortly before midnight in search of a keepsake or document or some such artifact from his youth. It seemed important enough to sacrifice sleep for, but now that he’d been distracted by an unexpected find, the subject of his initial pursuit eluded him completely.

The small dime store diary he held in his hand inspired an involuntary gasp when he’d first spied it buried amid the high school-era flotsam and jetsam stored in an old oak chest: athletic letters, plaques, report cards (3.67 GPA), get well cards (a baseball injury that required surgery) – all evidence of a young life lived just inside the margins of a socially acceptable high school narrative. This modest journal, sporting a 1975 date, had held many secrets. Though, judging by the torn strap on the latch, these secrets had already been compromised at some point in the 40 years that followed their documentation. How long had it been since he’d read its contents? Again, no recollection. He cracked it open in eager anticipation, and spent the next two plus hours reviewing his fifteenth year of existence.

He finally retired to his bed as the downtown bars purged their drunken coeds, but given the street-level revelry and the jumble of memories whisked back into the present, any notion of sleep was folly. His mind was abuzz with ideas. His creative impulse – prodded into action in recent years and manifesting itself in visual mediums – was to share his find. Broadly. Wouldn’t it be interesting to post these (mostly) innocent 40 year-old entries on social media? he wondered. If nothing else, they might be worth a few laughs. Further nocturnal consideration deepened his focus. With the 40-year anniversary of the diary looming within weeks, it felt like a fortuitous opportunity to examine the past while comparing and contrasting with the present. He admonished himself: “What an outsized, narcissistic ego I must possess! Who in the world might possibly find this life worthy of public examination? Where is the value beyond my own ego gratification?”

The only answer that made any sense…the only answer that he felt validated the worth of such an enterprise, was this: to embrace truth. Truth would beget understanding. Understanding would beget healing. And that is not nothing.

Ultimately, he decided he would allow his creative impulse permission to wade tentatively into the deep waters of his family’s past, aware of the possibility that, with each successive step, lurked the ever-increasing likelihood of sliding into the potentially deeper and murkier waters of the present.

He would proceed. Without a life jacket. One step at a time. Gentle at first, conscious of his footing. But moving forward. Always forward.

One of These Days – Dec 31

Finally, tomorrow – 40 years after it was written: a day-by-day exploration of the recently discovered time capsule – the diary written during my freshman year of high school in 1975, in combination with additional recollections from my adventurous childhood. Check my Facebook page each day over the next four months for the complete story.

“One Of These Days”

Central Valley, California – My sleepy little hometown seven miles north of Redding. Population, roughly 3,000 in 1975. Now incorporated as the City of Shasta Lake.
Central Valley Intermediate (CVI) – where all the 7th and 8th-graders attended school in my hometown. All references in the diary to “the school” refer specifically to CVI, which was a block away from my home and where I attended school during the two years preceding the writing of the diary.
Redding, California – The largest city and County Seat of Shasta County.
Nova High School – The Freshman high school in Redding, California where all of Shasta County’s 9th-grade students attended in 1975.

Mike Haley: Your naïvely optimistic 14-year old diarist.
Debbie Stone: Doe-eyed 13-year old neighborhood beauty. Principal focus of my romantic yearnings in the winter of 1975.
Connie Stone: Debbie’s younger sister.
Joan Beaver: Debbie’s neighbor, best friend, and 8th-grade classmate at CVI.
Julie Beaver: Joan’s older sister and my classmate at Nova High School.
Mike Mickelson: My neighborhood baseball buddy, classmate at Nova, and for a time, my best friend and brother.
Jay Mickelson: Mike’s younger brother and “the girls” classmate at CVI.
Herb Williams: Neighborhood friend and baseball buddy.
Danny Williams: Herbie’s older brother.
Kenny Tittle: My best friend, grades 6-9.
Russ Genger: The first friend I made after moving to northern California in 1965.
Jewell Haley: My father
Hank & Carole Bauer: My foster parents.
Gale Reierson: Teacher and friend at Nova High School.
Dennis Mickelson & Judy Mickelson: Mike & Jay’s parents
Judy: My kid sister
Patrick: my kid brother
Gary: My foster-brother
Ann Mills: My social worker
Judge Richard B. Eaton: He threw me a lifeline.
Michael Jewel Haley: Your weary, grizzled, 54-year old narrator.

One of These Days

The Diary Project aka “One Of These Days”

A few final notes on this project before it debuts on my Facebook page on New Years Day:

What was originally intended as a simple re-printing of the diary I rediscovered a few weeks ago has evolved into something a bit more involved. It is now my intention to include additional recollections covering the years 1963 thru 1978, resulting in a full memoir of my childhood. Each daily post will include entries for both, and while it may be confusing at first, the narrative structure will become self-evident as time passes.

Finally, I am making a commitment to myself, and to you, to see this project thru to its proper end. What this means is 120 days of writing, each and every day without a miss, until the memoir is complete. Discipline has always been my toughest obstacle in previous literary attempts, but I’m thinking that the very nature of the diary format, as well as my public proclamation of intent, will drive me to completion by the end of April. Many of these recollections will be tough to share, and will require me to access places that have been closed to both the public and to myself for some time. Others may simply be tedious and boring and childish (especially the early weeks of the 1975 diary), but chief among my commitments here is to tell the unvarnished truth, however embarrassing (mostly to myself) it might be. I expect to gain something of value from the process. I hope you do too.

Michael Jewel Haley
San Jose
December 30, 2014

The Diary Project


“Beware thoughts that come in the night.”

William Least Heat Moon opened BLUE HIGHWAYS, his autobiographical road trip chronicle, with that admonishment in 1982. Those words have kept me out of all sorts of trouble over the years. A countless number of dubious ideas that bubbled to the surface after lights out have often suffered under the perspective offered by the light of day.

I’ve spent the past four days and nights ruminating over the relative merits of what may yet be another hare-brained idea, but in this case it’s beginning to feel like my nocturnal creativity is poised to win the day. Which is another way of me telling all of you who have often encouraged me to undertake an autobiographical writing project of my own that you are about to get what you’ve asked for.

Last week’s discovery of the diary I kept 40 years ago in the early months of 1975 was just the creative trigger I needed to give form and context to an autographical undertaking. This is my idea: Beginning on January 1st, 2015, each day I will publish the diary entry from that same day in 1975. I will publish the entries exactly as they were recorded, complete with spelling and syntax errors. Not one word will be changed, omitted, or edited in any way. At the end of each entry, I will offer some present-day commentary for the purpose of providing historical context. My hope is that at the end of the project, the diary and commentary, taken collectively, will offer a fairly comprehensive picture of my early life and, perhaps, give some insight to my creative existence.

I have started the process of sharing my idea with those individuals who make an appearance in these pages. I want to offer a complete, unabridged, warts-and-all story of a critical time in my teenage life, and to that end I am seeking permission from those who are still alive to use their real names and stories. Many of them are on Facebook, and I want to be sensitive to their privacy concerns. So far, I have received 100% support from those contacted. For the most part, the only person in serious danger of embarrassment would be me, and I’m totally okay with this possibility.

More on this as we draw closer to New Year’s Day…

Film Review: “Last Days in Vietnam”

I am happy to report that I am now reviewing films for Barbary Coast News – Serving San Francisco’s Waterfront neighborhoods.  My first review is for the documentary “Last Days in Vietnam”,  Rory Kennedy’s examination of the fall of Saigon in 1975. I hope my take on the film is fair and honors those involved in the events depicted.

Read my review here.



“O” Street Gallery Exhibit

Mark your October calendars now!

I am honored to be participating in a special Grand Opening event on Friday, Oct 17th that will showcase work from Shasta County artists at the new “O” Street Gallery located at 1261 Oregon Street in downtown Redding. Gallery curator Shelly Shively has assembled a jaw-dropping array of talented artists who will be on hand to display an eclectic mix of visual creations. I will be showing 12 pieces that illustrate various encaustic techniques.

The program will also include food, drinks, and live music. Check my Events page for additional details, or call Kate Barker at (530) 242-1524.

I hope to see you there on Opening Night.

John McHargue: A Man in Full

If Hollywood had made a Vince Lombardi biopic during my high school years, our varsity football coach, John McHargue, would have been perfectly cast in the title role of the iconic Green Bay Packers coach. Not only did he physically embody Lombardi’s solidly built military bearing, but he also reflected his tough, demanding, and disciplined manner as well. You could, as the old joke goes, set your watch to his haircut. He was an impressive, intimidating man.

In the 1970’s, Central Valley High School, in the small town of Shasta Lake in rural Northern California, enjoyed a run of success under McHargue, as he elevated the program to respectability for the first time in the school’s history. I didn’t play football, so I missed out on the opportunity to personally share in the success of his teams. But he wasn’t just a football coach. John McHargue also happened to be the best high school teacher I ever had. He taught in the English department, and his Advanced English elective – Cowboys & Outlaws – was one of the most popular and exclusive classes on campus, and it allowed him to indulge another of his passions – The Old West. My sophomore English class followed his Cowboys & Outlaws class, and if one was lucky enough to arrive in the classroom before the board was erased, you could marvel at his color-coded chalk depictions of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Lewis & Clark’s journey and other historic moments. As you might imagine, he was every bit as demanding in the classroom as he was on the gridiron, and equally passionate about Shakespeare as he was about football X’s and O’s. I recall an occasion when our class was reading Romeo and Juliet, each student – on cue from our spirited mentor – picking up where the previous classmate left off. If the reading I gave didn’t meet his standards, he would stop me immediately and, from memory, conclude my passage with zeal rarely seen outside the Globe Theatre. “THAT” he would bellow “is how you read Shakespeare!”

Common to most high school environments, social engagements at our school tended towards easily identifiable traits. There were the “jocks” and the “nerds” – or “theater geeks” as some called them. Since I played baseball, most of my teammates and jock friends considered me one of them, but I also had many non-jock friends who preferred to follow their bliss in band or theater groups. I freely traversed both worlds (my diplomatic skills were developed in utero) and, to this day, still enjoy the friendships from those days. John McHargue was my adult validation that there was nothing uncool about being different from others in my peer group. Simultaneous possession of a blazing fastball and theatrical skills, I was learning, were not mutually exclusive talents.

There were, I suspect, many dimensions to McHargue that were invisible to most of us. For years after I graduated from high school and moved away from my hometown, I often lamented the fact that I never took the opportunity to personally thank him for his influence in my life. I never went to college, but the seeds that led to a passion for knowledge and a lifetime of learning, were sown in his class. He made me understand the value of personal responsibility and a good work ethic.

Fourteen years later, in November of 1992, I returned home to spend Thanksgiving with family. While driving through the old neighborhood, I saw Coach McHargue out for an evening stroll with his wife Nancy. (Yes, even the students who were not football players called him “Coach”). I jumped out of my car and introduced myself and my companions. He flashed a smile. Holy shit, I had forgotten his smile! He could be charming, I now remembered. Then my words all came out in a rush. I told him: “Coach, I’ve been telling people about you for years, about how you were so passionate about words and art and the truth and how you would stop me mid-sentence to demonstrate how Shakespeare was supposed to be rendered.” I went on and on, reciting the same story you are now familiar with, and how this moment felt like a scene in a movie of my own life, and how thankful I was that I had been given a 2nd chance to express to him how much he had meant to me. Then something happened that brought me up short. Coach McHargue had stopped me in my tracks again, but not with a roar. With tears streaming down his ruddy cheeks he nodded his head humbly and said – his voice barely above a whisper, “Thank you. Thank you, young man. It was a pleasure.”

If I recall correctly, he told me he had retired recently, and he and his wife would soon be moving to Oregon to enjoy their retirement on the ski slopes. I never saw the man again, and I’m ashamed to say I have no idea where he might be now or even if he’s still with us. But he’ll always be with me. He was one of the great ones.

John McHargue.  A man in full.

I’ll Never Be Confused with Pauline Kael

I’ve accepted an offer to join the staff at aNewsCafe. I’ll be writing a monthly film review column. I’m looking forward to taking the modest little intellectual exercise I used to do for fun on Facebook and using it to contribute professionally to Doni Chamberlain’s vision of advancing aNewsCafe as Northern California’s premier online news magazine. My first review is already up on the site. Feel free to leave comments. I look forward to sharing some give and take with the north state’s film lovers.