Neville’s Concise Guide To Using The Law

This excerpt is from Neville Goddard’s lecture “Creating One New Man Instead of the Two” (11 April 1969). At this point in his life, Neville was lecturing almost exclusively on what he called “the Promise”– a series of mystical experiences that resulted in his awakening and knowing of himself as God, as paralleled in scripture– to the extent that, when he recognized several audience members whom he had not seen at his lectures in several years, he seemed almost apologetic. “They haven’t heard anything like this,” he said of The Promise, “and so you will tolerate me for a moment to go back and pick them up where we left them off. I left them with the law, not the Promise. For their sake, it is the same thing, only raised to a higher level.” It’s an excellent brief summary of the law in Neville’s own words.

This lecture transcript is included in the book of 1969 lectures entitled The Return of Glory, edited by Natalie Bernet.


“For those who only knew the law, let me now pick it up for you; just the law.

“The law is very simple. There are infinite numbers of states, infinite numbers—the state of health, the state of sickness; the state of wealth, the state of poverty; the state of being known, the state of being unknown. They are only states. You’re always in a state. Every moment of time you are only in a state. The state to which you most often return constitutes your dwelling place. So we all have one state that we feel more at home in that state, and so we return to it moment after moment. That constitutes our dwelling place.

“But if it is not a pleasant state in which to live, we can always get out of it. But we remain in the state and try to get out of it through external means, and that is not what we teach. You don’t get out of it by trying to pull wires from the outside, manipulating things on the outside. You get out of these states simply by a mental adjustment within yourself. As you fell into the present state either deliberately or unwittingly—chances are you did it unwittingly—so you are in a state and you are the life of that state and the state becomes alive and grows like a tree and bears the fruit of that tree. But you don’t like the fruit that you are bearing—it may be the fruit of poverty, may be the fruit of distress, the fruit of all kinds of unlovely things. Well now, how do I detach myself from this unlovely harvest that I’m harvesting all the time?

“I do it by simply an adjustment in my own wonderful human Imagination. I ask myself what do I want instead of what I seem to have. When I name it, I ask myself, how would I see the world if things were as I desired them to be? How would I see them; what would the feeling be like if it were true? When I know exactly what the feeling would be like were it true, I try to catch that feeling. And to aid the feeling I imagine that I’m seeing people that I know well and I allow them to see me as they would see me if what I am feeling were true. I let them see me in my Imagination and when the whole thing is adjusted in my mind’s eye so that they see me as I would see them and it now produces in me the feeling I desire, then I sleep. I fall asleep in that assumption. That assumption is a state, that’s all that it is, it’s a state. Now, let me make that state as natural as I made the former state that I did not like. If I find myself returning to this new state constantly, all of a sudden it becomes natural. As going home tonight, it will seem natural to me to go home and undress and sleep in my familiar bed.

“If tonight I went to some other place, no matter how glorious it is, beautifully furnished and everything at my command, it wouldn’t seem natural. When I leave here to go to San Francisco or New York and go into those lovely hotels, certainly, I pay much more money in these hotels than I pay in rent where I live, but it’s not as comfortable and not as natural. So you go to a hotel and you pay twenty-two, twenty-three dollars a day. Well, I don’t pay that sort of money in my rent, but it doesn’t compare to my natural state where I am. I feel so natural when I go home tonight and just get into my bed, get into my place. Well now, you must make this state just as natural. At first it seems unnatural like buying a new suit or buying a hat: it doesn’t seem natural. So you walk down the street and no one knows you, but you have a new hat, and you really believe that every one who passes by is looking at your hat, that they can see a new hat, and they don’t care whether you are living or not. But you are aware of the fact that it is new and until it becomes an old hat in your mind’s eye you are conscious of the fact that you are wearing a new hat. Well, you’re conscious of the fact that you are wearing a new state until you make it natural. So the state to which you most constantly return constitutes your place of home. I call it your home.

“Now, most of us have this great weakness. We know what we want or we think we know what we want, and we construct it in our mind’s eye, but we never occupy it. We never move into it and make it natural. I call that perpetual construction, deferred occupancy. We don’t occupy it. I can have a lovely place where I think one day I am going to go, but I keep on postponing the day, postponing the day, and I don’t occupy it. ‘I wish so-and-so were’ and I name it. But if I wish so-and-so were as I would like them to be, that’s the state from which I view them. Well, I’ve had the state, I’ve built it, I’ve constructed it, but I don’t occupy it. Perpetual construction, all day long I have the state. ‘If she were only’ and I name it, but I don’t go into the state and view her from that state; I don’t occupy the state. So she remains in my mind’s eye in the unlovely state in which I see her.

“Now that’s the world in which we live. There are only states, an infinite number of states. You can’t think of a thing that you could not reduce to a state, but the life of the state is the individual when he occupies it, because his Imagination gives life to the state. You can’t give life to it from without, because God’s name is I AM. God’s name is not ‘you are’ or ‘they are;’ his eternal name is I AM– that’s the light of the world, that’s the life of the world. So, if I would make a state alive, I must be in it. So I can say I am here. If you are here, what are you seeing? Well, I am seeing her and she is lovely. Things are just as I’ve always desired them to be for her. So that’s how I’m seeing her right now: I’m in the state.

“Now make that state natural. Sleep in that state for her sake and then you’ll make that state and incorporate it into your own lovely state so that whenever you think of her you’re thinking of her from that state. You can take everyone, one after the other, and make it a natural thing for them until finally when you discuss them or refer to them or think of them, it is always from that state. Others may not see them in that light. It doesn’t really matter what they think. I’m quite sure if I took some survey concerning what people think of me in my small world, no two would agree. Some would say, well, he’s a charlatan, why, he’s a deceiver; others would say I think he’s the nearest thing to God that I’ve ever seen. You have all kinds. What a range, from the devil to God, and all about the same person based upon the state in which you are when you’re called upon to define me. And so, you define me based upon your state.

“So, everyone in this world could be what he would like to be if he knows this principle and applies it. We are the operant power; it doesn’t operate itself. I may know it from A to Z, but knowing it is one thing and doing it is another. Can I really do it? Well, I can do it– then do it. Don’t say knowledge is enough. Knowing it will not do it. I am the operant power…

“…Apply the law. Don’t for one second fail to do it, because while we are in the world of Caesar, we must master this principle and live knowing there are only states. There is no such thing as a good man or a bad man. He’s in a good state as he conceives it and the other one is in a bad state as he conceives it, but the occupant of the state is really God. And so as (William) Blake said in his Visions of the Last Judgment: ‘From this you will perceive I do not consider anyone either good or evil, just or unjust, but simply to be those who unknowingly fell into states.‘ They fell into states, identified themselves with the state, and then they were pronounced by others to be good or to be evil. They are only in states.

“So tonight, if you are unemployed or you find it difficult to get promotion in your present employment, or you are in need, remember all the solutions of your present state are still states. I hope I have made clear how you move into a state. You move into a state by knowing how you would see the world if things were as you desire them to be, and then you begin to see them in your mind’s eye as though it were true. And then you sleep in that assumption just as though it is true. That assumption, though at the moment is denied by your reason and your senses, if you persist in it and make it natural, will harden into fact.”


This was originally published as a short story in Green Mountain Trading Post and then the story collection What’s With Her?, and I later incorporated it into my novel You Don’t Think She Is. Ordering info for these books is at the bottom of this page. –mhs


Scott Perry was one of those kids who was easy to miss when we were little. He was just on the fringe of our neighborhood, and he’d show up at an occasional pick-up ballgame; I knew him to say “Hi” at school, but really, I barely noticed him up until sixth grade. That was when he grew… and as he grew, my best friend, Margo LeDoux, started to take an interest in him. If I’d had any sort of non-best-friend interest in Margo myself, her suddenly smiling and saying “Hi” all quiet and shy to him as they passed in the hallway might have made me really, really jealous.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t interested.

Through elementary school, Scott had been little, stick-thin and wiry, but in sixth grade, he started to get tall, and the summer between the end of sixth grade and the beginning of seventh, he finished. When we came back to school in late August 1972, he was six-four. Not a mature six-four, mind you –he was gangly and a little gawky, like a baby giraffe– but he was a good-looking kid with that sad look that breaks 13-year-old hearts: thin lips, deep, dark eyes, a long face, and (as Margo said to her friend Christy Kelly one day after school), “Scotty’s Mom’s a Dental Hygienist, so not only does he have dreamy eyes, but straight white teeth and minty-fresh breath!”

Scott also had Beatle Hair: a mop of reddish-brown hair which he swept in an informal part to the left, and which he always seemed to be fighting… first with his fingers, then with a comb, and finally with a backwards jerk of his head… which worked almost as well as a comb most of the time.

     Margo’d noticed Scott and Scott definitely had his Dreamy Eyes on Margo, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about this, but, like most boys, Scott saw Margo and me together and kept his distance. But that didn’t mean he didn’t look…

One of the first times he looked was Friday of the second week of the school year. I left gym class and met Margo at the caf, and while I snagged our seats, she got in the ala carte line to get her lunch. I started into my Lebanon Bologna With Cooper Sharp On White and watched as she slowly made her way up to the single cashier: sixth in line… fifth… fourth…

     And there, almost directly across from her, in the hot meal line, was Scott Perry, paralleling her forward movement: fourth… third… second…

     The two of them met at the cashier’s (why they had only one cashier was beyond me) and Scott, being a gentleman, nodded to Margo to step up in front of him and pay for her food first. As the cashier rung up Margo’s meal and Scott stood there waiting, he checked out my best friend as slyly as he could…

     …and as he did, that shock of brown hair slipped lower and lower and lower… down his forehead, over his eyebrows, down into his eyes.

He couldn’t brush it back with his fingers: his hands were full of tray. So he did what he’d been doing lately: he tried to flip his hair back out of his eyes with a jerk of his head…

     …only what he flipped was his tray. The hot meal of the day (Turkey in gravy with Mash Potatos and Savory stuffing, Butter succotash and Apple Sauce) leapt up onto the front of his tan cableknit sweater. Scott’s silverware clattered to the concrete cafeteria floor, and his opened carton of milk spilled down onto the cashier.

Silence for a second, and then laughter from the few people who’d seen the whole thing, including me… and Margo, who stifled herself and stepped toward Scott to help. When their eyes met, he was so horrified that he dropped his tray on the floor and ran out of the caf to the boys’ room.

“God, Bri,” Margo said when she sat down across from me, “did you see that?”

“Yeah,” I chuckled as I took my milk off her tray. “Pretty funny, huh?”

“I guess,” Margo said. She took a bite of her sandwich, her long honey blonde bangs falling in her eyes. “Do you think he saw me laugh at him?” she said as she chewed.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Margo sighed. “God, I feel like such a jerk.” She took a sip of her milk and I ate the last bite of my sandwich. I felt like I was being watched.



“Could you please run to the bathroom and check on him?”

I laughed. “Check on him?”

“Brian, I feel bad.” She reached across and touched my bare arm. I noticed the red delicious polish on her fingernails. “Come on, Bri,” she said. “You know him. Please?”

“I don’t really know him, Margo…”

Margo just took a bite of her sandwich and looked at me, big-eyed.


I took a swig of milk and pushed my chair out.

Margo sat up. “Thanks, Bri!” she said as I got up from my seat.

I maneuvered my way through my classmates, down the narrow aisle between the crowded tables, taking note of the time (11:05. Why did we eat lunch so early?), and then stepped out to the boys’ room in the lobby right outside the cafeteria and stuck my head in the door.

“Scott?” I said.

Echo… echo… echo…

I opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside. The sound of the door shutting behind me echoed off the tile walls and floors as I scanned the stalls…

No feet visible. And the window was shut, so he hadn’t climbed out. Maybe he went to the office, or the nurse, but he wasn’t in that bathroom.

I opened the door to go back out to the caf, and as I did, I heard the distinct sound of a sneeze from one of the stalls…

…but I just let the door shut behind me and fought my way back down the aisle to take my seat across from Margo.

“Well?” she said, straightening up a little.

I sat down and opened my baggie of carrot sticks, and looked straight at the wall behind Margo.

“I didn’t see anybody in there.”


“Flip!” is available in two different books:

It was a chapter in my novel You Don’t Think She Is, which is available in print, Kindle edition, or as a PDF e-book; click on the highlighted text for product page links or click here for complete ordering info, including ISBN info for ordering from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.

It was also included in my short story collection What’s With Her? , originally published in print by New Plains Press, and available as a Kindle book here. A new print edition will be issued in autumn 2022 along with a PDF version.

The making of a TWINS comic: from idea to finished panel

A few weeks ago, on Facebook, someone reposted a screenshot of a tweet from politician Lauren Boebert, apparently in response to an alleged incident where school-aged children were taken to a “drag bar.”

A Facebook friend of mine who worked for a while in the adult entertainment biz (he didn’t “do porn” but worked in the business) posted this in response, and asked “Maybe THIS was what she meant:”

Immediately I realized that Boebert’s utterly clueless double entendre would be great fodder for a TWINS comic. I wasn’t sure exactly what form it would take, but part of the basis of the humor I use in those panels is the contrast between Rebecca’s clueless boldness and Christy’s clueless naivete. So I knew that Rebecca shouting out “TAKE ME TO CHURCH” and Christy misunderstanding it was the basis for a gag. I just had to create the comic itself…

… unfortunately, as writer Edward Abbey pointed out, the problem with being a writer is that one must actually sit down (or stand up) and WRITE. It wasn’t enough to have the idea; I had to flesh it out.

But another thing I learned as an MFA student and have applied repeatedly is the phrase “trust the process.” I knew I had something, but I needed to let it sit for a bit until it germinated.

Yesterday, after a few weeks, I finally sat down to create the comic.

My comics are digitally altered Bitstrips/Bitmoji comics superimposed onto photo backdrops, so the first thing I always do is find a photo backdrop for the drawings. I originally thought “OK, so Christy is in the kitchen; she’s either having coffee with a friend and telling that friend how she’s so happy that her sister is finally getting ‘straightened out’ because the night before she heard Rebecca with her date screaming out ‘TAKE ME TO CHURCH, BABY!’ OR she’s sitting there alone having coffee or tea and she hears Rebecca crying out those words from the bedroom-the couch in the living room-the basement- wherever she and her lover are ‘going to church.'”

I settled on the second approach. More direct and more comic potential, I decided.

So Christy was going to be in the kitchen late at night having a cup of tea, overhearing her sister screwing… so… I needed a photo backdrop of a kitchen. Fortunately, in a couple previous comics, I’d shown “their” kitchen in a couple different versions, so I had a kitchen photo saved in my REBECCA PORNSTRIPS folder already…

Next, the characters. I have a folder of several hundred different “Christy and Rebecca” poses that I digitally alter. Aside from altering the clothing or the outfits, I make changes to their bodies as well. “Christy” is pretty close to the bitstrips originals, but I make Rebecca’s boobs bigger, and bleach her hair so that it’s even more “blonde,” and darken her tan so that it’s tanning bed/spray tan brown, and add purple mascara, and, finally, put her in clothing that, for anyone dwelling outside of a strip club or a People Of Walmart video, would be embarrassingly revealing.

Here’s a side by side of an original Bitstrips and an altered “Rebecca” pornstrips pose.

But for this comic, there was no Rebecca; just Christy… so no need to perform cartoon breast augmentation, spray tanning, hair bleaching, etc.

Christy is easy: I browsed the original unaltered Bitstrips emojis and found one pose that I liked, and one expression that I kind of liked…

… and I combined the facial expressions so that Christy had the “listening with curiosity” expression that I wanted, and then changed the bikini to a nightgown…

I’ve superimposed the drawing on a blue backdrop here for contrast, but the Bitstrips/Bitmoji originals are PNG files, which, whatever that means technically, means that when I alter and manipulate them digitally, if I save them in PNG, the drawings are on a blank background. They can therefore be copied and pasted onto another photo. That’s how I “make” these comics.

So I superimposed “Christy with cup of tea in nightgown” onto the kitchen backdrop photo that I’d selected, and…

So Christy’s listening to (or inadvertently overhearing) something… what is she hearing? Rebecca, of course. This is one of the few TWINS comics where Rebecca doesn’t appear directly in the panel. So… insert a comic balloon…

Of course, just like with Lauren Boebert not getting that “taking someone to church” can mean not only literally going to church, but making your lover cum wildly, the gag here is not just what Rebecca is crying out from the bedroom above; it’s what Christy thinks she’s actually saying. So the next step was to write a caption…

…and if you want to see the finished version of this comic with that caption, I’m sorry. It’s going to be in the next issue of my ‘zine METANOIA, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who reads my ‘zine. If you want to get a copy of the ‘zine (usually a two- or four-page newsletter, actually), it’s PRINT ONLY. I’ll be happy to send you the issue via US Mail if you send me return postage or a self-addressed stamped envelope (Max Shenk; Hotel Coolidge rm 138; 39 South Main Street; White River Junction, VT 05001) OR donate to my ko-fi page.

Anyway, that’s how I make the comic sausage.

And maybe THAT turn of phrase is another TWINS comic.

Mark Twain: “General Washington’s Negro Body-Servant”

This is one of my favorite pieces by Mark Twain. I’m trying to track down its publication history and will add it to this post when I find it. It’s often presented online as a “short story,” but in the work itself Twain states that he compiled the material “from authentic sources,” actual newspaper clippings. Twain worked at newspapers early in his career, so it’s likely that he gathered clippings from various papers through the years. My guess is that this piece was first published sometime in the 1870s, but, again, I’m not sure. When I find original publication information, I’ll add it to the bottom of the piece.

A Biographical Sketch

The stirring part of this celebrated colored man’s life properly began
with his death–that is to say, the notable features of his biography
began with the first time he died. He had been little heard of up
to that time, but since then we have never ceased to hear of him;
we have never ceased to hear of him at stated, unfailing intervals.
His was a most remarkable career, and I have thought that its history
would make a valuable addition to our biographical literature.
Therefore, I have carefully collated the materials for such a work,
from authentic sources, and here present them to the public. I have
rigidly excluded from these pages everything of a doubtful character,
with the object in view of introducing my work into the schools
for the instruction of the youth of my country.

The name of the famous body-servant of General Washington was George.
After serving his illustrious master faithfully for half a century,
and enjoying throughout his long term his high regard and confidence,
it became his sorrowful duty at last to lay that beloved master
to rest in his peaceful grave by the Potomac. Ten years afterward–
in 1809–full of years and honors, he died himself, mourned by all
who knew him. The Boston GAZETTE of that date thus refers to
the event:

George, the favorite body-servant of the lamented Washington,
died in Richmond, Va., last Tuesday, at the ripe age of 95 years.
His intellect was unimpaired, and his memory tenacious, up to
within a few minutes of his decease. He was present at the second
installation of Washington as President, and also at his funeral,
and distinctly remembered all the prominent incidents connected with
those noted events.

From this period we hear no more of the favorite body-servant of
General Washington until May, 1825, at which time he died again.
A Philadelphia paper thus speaks of the sad occurrence:

At Macon, Ga., last week, a colored man named George, who was the
favorite body-servant of General Washington, died at the advanced
age of 95 years. Up to within a few hours of his dissolution he
was in full possession of all his faculties, and could distinctly
recollect the second installation of Washington, his death
and burial, the surrender of Cornwallis, the battle of Trenton,
the griefs and hardships of Valley Forge, etc. Deceased was
followed to the grave by the entire population of Macon.

On the Fourth of July, 1830, and also of 1834 and 1836, the subject
of this sketch was exhibited in great state upon the rostrum
of the orator of the day, and in November of 1840 he died again.
The St. Louis REPUBLICAN of the 25th of that month spoke as follows:


“George, once the favorite body-servant of General Washington,
died yesterday at the house of Mr. John Leavenworth in this city,
at the venerable age of 95 years. He was in the full possession
of his faculties up to the hour of his death, and distinctly
recollected the first and second installations and death of
President Washington, the surrender of Cornwallis, the battles
of Trenton and Monmouth, the sufferings of the patriot army at
Valley Forge, the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence,
the speech of Patrick Henry in the Virginia House of Delegates,
and many other old-time reminiscences of stirring interest.
Few white men die lamented as was this aged negro. The funeral
was very largely attended.”

During the next ten or eleven years the subject of this sketch
appeared at intervals at Fourth-of-July celebrations in various
parts of the country, and was exhibited upon the rostrum with
flattering success. But in the fall of 1855 he died again.
The California papers thus speak of the event:


Died, at Dutch Flat, on the 7th of March, George (once the confidential
body-servant of General Washington), at the great age of 95 years.
His memory, which did not fail him till the last, was a wonderful
storehouse of interesting reminiscences. He could distinctly recollect
the first and second installations and death of President Washington,
the surrender of Cornwallis, the battles of Trenton and Monmouth,
and Bunker Hill, the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence,
and Braddock’s defeat. George was greatly respected in Dutch Flat,
and it is estimated that there were 10,000 people present at
his funeral.

The last time the subject of this sketch died was in June, 1864; and until
we learn the contrary, it is just to presume that he died permanently
this time. The Michigan papers thus refer to the sorrowful event:


George, a colored man, and once the favorite body-servant of
George Washington, died in Detroit last week, at the patriarchal age
of 95 years. To the moment of his death his intellect was unclouded,
and he could distinctly remember the first and second installations
and death of Washington, the surrender of Cornwallis, the battles
of Trenton and Monmouth, and Bunker Hill, the proclamation of the
Declaration of Independence, Braddock’s defeat, the throwing over
of the tea in Boston harbor, and the landing of the Pilgrims.
He died greatly respected, and was followed to the grave by a vast
concourse of people.

The faithful old servant is gone! We shall never see him more until
he turns up again. He has closed his long and splendid career
of dissolution, for the present, and sleeps peacefully, as only they sleep
who have earned their rest. He was in all respects a remarkable man.
He held his age better than any celebrity that has figured in history;
and the longer he lived the stronger and longer his memory grew.
If he lives to die again, he will distinctly recollect the discovery
of America.

The above r’esum’e of his biography I believe to be substantially
correct, although it is possible that he may have died once or twice
in obscure places where the event failed of newspaper notoriety.
One fault I find in all the notices of his death I have quoted,
and this ought to be correct. In them he uniformly and impartially
died at the age of 95. This could not have been. He might have
done that once, or maybe twice, but he could not have continued
it indefinitely. Allowing that when he first died, he died at
the age of 95, he was 151 years old when he died last, in 1864.
But his age did not keep pace with his recollections. When he died
the last time, he distinctly remembered the landing of the Pilgrims,
which took place in 1620. He must have been about twenty years
old when he witnessed that event, wherefore it is safe to assert
that the body-servant of General Washington was in the neighborhood
of two hundred and sixty or seventy years old when he departed this
life finally.

Having waited a proper length of time, to see if the subject of his
sketch had gone from us reliably and irrevocably, I now publish his
biography with confidence, and respectfully offer it to a mourning nation.

P.S.–I see by the papers that this infamous old fraud has just
died again, in Arkansas. This makes six times that he is known
to have died, and always in a new place. The death of Washington’s
body-servant has ceased to be a novelty; its charm is gone;
the people are tired of it; let it cease. This well-meaning
but misguided negro has now put six different communities to the
expense of burying him in state, and has swindled tens of thousands
of people into following him to the grave under the delusion that
a select and peculiar distinction was being conferred upon them.
Let him stay buried for good now; and let that newspaper suffer
the severest censure that shall ever, in all the future time,
publish to the world that General Washington’s favorite colored
body-servant has died again.

Bushwackers and “heroes of Gettysburg”

On the weekend of the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I am posting this article from issue #28 of my ‘zine METANOIA.

One of my favorite Gettysburg historians, Tim Smith, has been all over my YouTube suggestion queue lately, which doesn’t bother me; I’m always happy to watch any video in which Smith displays his unique mix of battle expertise and his dry, irreverent sense of humor. Smith, a historian at the Adams County (PA) Historical Society, delves deeply into battle topics that other historians often only treat on the surface, if at all. Two recent in-depth video interviews showed him at his best, fascinating and funny, discussing two of his pet topics: the early days of the Gettysburg campaign in Adams County, and civilian battle celebrity John Burns.

The interview about the early days of the campaign revealed a potential family connection to me. While the battle itself began on July 1, the Confederates had already come into Pennsylvania two weeks before, making mischief from Chambersburg east to Caledonia (where they raided Thaddeus Stevens’ ironworks).

On June 23, in Cashtown (about eight miles west of Gettysburg) a company of rebel cavalry chased a group of local militia into the woods. At the same time, in a Cashtown hotel, a local named Henry Hahn drunkenly announced “I’m going to shoot myself a rebel.” When the Confederate cavalry rode through, Hahn made good on his promise and shot and killed a cavalryman named Eli Amick, who was the first soldier killed in Adams County during the campaign. Hahn became known as “the bushwhacker.”

Far from feeling like a hero, Hahn went into hiding in the local woods for the next ten days (by military law, the Rebels could have executed him), and reportedly regretted this incident for the rest of his life. He still has descendants in Adams County, and the possible connection I found is in his last name, which is the same as my grandmother’s maiden name. I don’t know if there was any connection between the Adams County Hahns and the Hahns who settled in western Pennsylvania, but I’ll still investigate it sometime.

And if it’s not the same Hahn, maybe I can just do what Smith says John Burns did routinely: make up a story that sounds good.

Smith’s other interview was a discussion of his book John Burns: “The Hero of Gettysburg,” quotation marks employed because, according to Smith, that was how Burns referred to himself. It’s a fun book which explodes all of the mythology surrounding Burns, integrating newly-discovered primary source material from a pair of unfinished Burns bios by other authors, including first-hand accounts of townspeople and soldiers.

Burns was, to put it kindly, an unreliable source, especially concerning his own exploits. While he claimed to be a veteran of the War of 1812, Smith says that not only can that not be proven, but, in fact, it can easily be disproven by looking at muster rolls of units which fought where Burns claimed to have served, rolls on which his name is conspicuously absent. Aside from several terms as town constable, he drifted from job to job and was, if we are to trust contemporary accounts from other Gettysburg residents, seen as a humorless man and something of a local joke, if not an annoyance.

But Burns had one moment of glory, and that was on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863), when, at age 69, he grabbed his musket and went out to the field to join the fighting as a civilian volunteer, where he was wounded in action.

That Burns was wounded is beyond dispute; how many times he was wounded is unknown because he was never given a medical exam. (His pension was awarded by a special act of Congress, which didn’t require an exam.)

This gave Burns license to create (and re-create) his own truth: Smith says in varying accounts after the battle, including those of Burns himself, it was claimed that Burns had been hit by Rebel fire one time, two times, three times, four times, five times, and seven times.

“So we know for certain,” Smith said, “that Burns was not wounded six times.”

So locally notorious was Burns and his ever-shifting story that where Bret Harte opened his famous 1864 poem, “John Burns of Gettysburg,” with the following lines…

Have you heard the story that gossips tell
Of John Burns of Gettysburg? – No! Ah, well:
Brief is the glory that hero earns.
Briefer the story of poor John Burns
He was the fellow who won renown
The only man who didn’t back down
When the rebels rode through his native town…

…a Gettyburg resident named Henry Minnigh (himself a former captain in the 1st PA Reserves) wrote and printed a flier of a poem entitled “A Necessary Revisal,” which he distributed at the dedication of a Gettysburg memorial to Burns in 1903. The opening lines read…

Yes, we have heard the story gossips tell,
Of John Burns of Gettysburg. Ah, well!
Among the people here ‘tis a conviction,
Half the tale is fact, the other half is fiction…

“It is a rare treat,” Smith wrote, “when we are able to actually confirm an aspect of the Burns legend,” and legend and fact seem to have converged in Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 1, 1863: Burns tried to get his neighbors to get their weapons and go join in the first day’s battle on the nearby field, but they refused (“the only man who didn’t back down”); he grabbed his musket and went out to the portion of the field now known as Reynolds Woods (so named because Union General John Reynolds was killed there); he tried to latch onto a Pennsylvania unit, but they basically told the old man to go back home, but Burns persisted and eventually fought alongside the 7th Wisconsin regiment (the famous “Iron Brigade”), where he received his wound(s).

Shortly after he was shot, the Confederates took that part of the field; Burns, who, like Hahn, could have been executed by the Rebels for bushwhacking, hid his gun and ammo and pleaded with the Confederate doctors to treat him, which they did, but they left him on the field near where he fell. When night came, Burns crawled about a quarter mile to a house on the edge of town (the Riggs house, across from Robert E. Lee’s headquarters), where he lay on a cellar door overnight.

According to Smith, while he was lying wounded on the field, Burns described his house in town to a member of the 7th Wisconsin, and asked the soldier to tell his wife to come get him. The soldier balked at first, but later when he passed Burns’ house, he decided to stop and knock on the door. Burns’ wife Barbara answered and the soldier relayed her husband’s message.

Mrs. Burns’ reply?

“I told him not to go out there.”

Brief, indeed, was the glory that hero earned.

Book: Smith, Timothy H. John Burns: “The Hero of Gettysburg.” Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 2000. ISBN 1-57747-060-5

Youtube video interviews with Smith about…
“the Bushwhacker:”
John Burns:

METANOIA is a semi-monthly print-only ‘zine. To get a copy of the latest issue, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
Max Shenk
Hotel Coolidge, rm 138
39 S Main St
White River Jct, VT, 05001
email for info.

(Loss of) Commanding Presence

Of all of the fanboy nonsense I’ve read concerning the new season of Star Trek: Picard (of which episode five just aired, or dropped, or whatever you call it), the most fanboyishly nonsensical was from a Facebook commenter who complained that he realized that lead actor Patrick Stewart has aged, “but he no longer seems to have a commanding presence.”

Star Trek: Picard – Patrick Stewart (R) as a 90-something Jean Luc Picard is even more bewildered than ever by the machinations of his nemesis Q (John DeLancie, L).

I replied that, correct me if I’m wrong, but… isn’t one of the main themes of Picard that the title character has aged and no longer feels (or appears to those around him) that he has a “commanding presence”??

Five episodes into the second season, one thing that I love about Star Trek: Picard, which was true in its first season and is true thus far in this season as well, is Patrick Stewart’s performance in the title role. For you who haven’t watched the series, Picard has aged 30+ years since last we saw him onscreen in the Star Trek movies.

I’m trying to think of another elderly fictional character who has been depicted so realistically and played so well by the actor.

One thing I’ve always loved about Star Trek is that it never shied away from the topic of aging. The two best– to me– Trek movies featuring the original cast were the second one (The Wrath of Khan) where Kirk has to come to terms with his aging (think of Kirk grudgingly putting on fucking READING GLASSES so he can clearly see a navigator’s display panel while his nemesis Khan waits arrogantly on the comlink), and the last one (The Undiscovered Country) where all of the other characters are dealing with it as well (Spock’s beautiful line: “Might it be that you and I have grown so inflexible in our old age that we have outlived our usefulness?”).

Pop culture and pop entertainment is produced and consumed by and geared to the young. That’s because traditionally the young have the money and time to consume it. When elderly characters appear, they’re often a diversion, comic relief, etc. I don’t see a lot of pop entertainment where an elderly protagonist is the star attraction.

Stewart’s performance as a 90-something-year-old Picard resonates with the sort of bewilderment-about-self (“how did I get this old”) that anyone who’s dealt with someone in their 70s or 80s or older will recognize instantly.

The supporting cast seems to have gelled as well, but it’s the series’ title character that makes it worth watching.

If that’s not “commanding presence,” I don’t know what is.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Kirk (William Shatner, L) curses his reading glasses while Spock (Leonard Nimoy, center) and Saavik (Kirstie Alley, R) watch…

Inspiration all around…

One of the writing mysteries that non-writers wonder about is “where do writers get their ideas?”

I can’t speak for EVERY writer, but usually the fiction I write is grounded in something that actually happened. I seldom write about it verbatim, but usually something I’ve experienced is the kernel for a story: I live through something, and then I think “How would (my character or characters) react to this?”

This afternoon is a perfect example. I was at the thrift shop and there was only one register of four open, and I was second person in a line that was maybe five people long. When a second register opened, I turned to my left to see that a pair of women had hopped the line to the front. I said “The line is behind me.” One of the women said “They said they’d help us next” and I said “well, there’s a long line of people who have been waiting longer than you have.”

And the other woman said “WHY DON’T YOU WORRY ABOUT YOU?”

I felt stupified, didn’t know what to say to that, but at that point yet another register opened, and I was next in line, so I stepped up as they muttered to themselves.

As soon as I left the thrift shop, first I thought of all the things I would have LIKED to have said to those two women… but then the next thing I thought was “How would this have played out with one of my characters… say… Maura?” My 39 year old mom of two living in Stowe. I started parsing it through: “OK… the thrift shops near Stowe aren’t big enough to have multiple registers, so WHERE would it play out? Kinney Drug has the ‘one line waiting for the next available cashier’ system… so… she would be at Kinney Drug… now… how would her having the kids with her (an 11 year old girl and a six year old boy) have affected her reaction? How would it have played out with not just her, but the kids there, watching this woman jump into the front of the line out of nowhere and giving HER (Maura) crap for pointing it out?”

So that’s where the “Facebook Flash Fiction” piece in the two screenshots below came from.

The first screenshot is pretty much “as it happened,” right up to WHY DON’T YOU WORRY ABOUT YOU? and the second is where I took the story in imagination given the characters.

What I’ll DO with it is another question entirely (that’s always the question with these “Facebook Flash Fiction” pieces). It’ll probably end up as a vignette in a longer work, or, if nothing else, in an issue of METANOIA (where I feature a handful of new “flash fiction” pieces every issue).

Anyway… this is just an example of where THIS writer gets ideas… 😉


What is METANOIA, and why haven’t you asked me to send you a copy?

The picture above, as they used to say at print newspapers, is my “morgue”: all back issues of my print only ‘zine METANOIA.

I’ve had contact with a couple people who, when I asked if they wanted me to send it to them every couple weeks, seemed to balk, for whatever reason. These aren’t strangers; they’re people whom I consider friends, and yet they seemed hesitant– scared?– to just say “Yeah, send me a copy,” as if NEXT I’d be pestering them for payment, or expecting FEEDBACK of some kind, or they wanted me to send them a link (read again: PRINT ONLY. NO ONLINE!!) or who knows what else… 


This is usually a single page or two pages, two columns, front and back.

So what is it?

The title of this is METANOIA; it means “a radical transformation.” I like the word and I try to embody it in my life and as a writer, so that’s the title I gave it.

I do it for these reasons:

* I am a writer, and writers write.

* Writing, though, is not just putting words on paper or screen. It’s honing a piece, editing it, getting it published, and connecting with readers.

* I’d reached a point, a few years back, where I was writing in my journal and online (mainly through my characters) but not PUBLISHING. 

* I also didn’t like that online writing was ephemeral, too easily ignored.

* I also love getting physical mail: letters, magazines, packages, cards, postcards. I like to hold a piece of paper in my hand that someone thought enough of to send me.

* I also know and have “met” via social media a lot of like-minded people who have given me of themselves in every way imaginable, and I wanted to give them something back. And “gold or silver I cannot offer thee, but that which I have, I will give you freely.” (Or something like that. 😉 ) And as a writer, what I have to give is my writing.

* With all this in mind, two years ago this week, as the first wave of the pandemic hit, I decided to publish this ‘zine.

It would be a writing discipline– I would write, finish, edit, and publish new writing every couple weeks and PUT IT OUT THERE for readers.

It would be print only– that way it wouldn’t get lost in the online weeds of links and blogs and websites– and I would mail those physical copies to people who expressed an interest in me or my writing, or vice versa. 

I didn’t stick strictly to the “every two weeks” schedule the past year or so, as health issues overtook me, but I’m back on that schedule. Issue 31 came out last week; issue 32 will come out NEXT week.

People have paid for it and that is appreciated and it helps me cover the necessary expenses of postage, paper, envelopes, toner, and stuff like this website, but if you want to read it and can’t pay or don’t want to, you’re under NO OBLIGATION to pay.

It’s not a burden on me. It is MY PLEASURE to create this and share it with you.

If you like ME and what I post on social media and on this website, or liked my books, or like my radio show, you will like METANOIA. Each issue contains, generally, an article on something that interests me, a metaphysical article of some kind, fiction pieces from my ongoing character fiction project on social media, a cartoon (yes, I draw that, too; see my posts on The Twins for samples), and whatever quotes I can fit in to fill space.

The topics these past two years have ranged from… let’s see… my uncle Ed, metaphysical lessons in STAR TREK, online shopping, Thoreau’s journal as his TRUE literary magnum opus, John Burns (the “hero of Gettysburg”), the Beatles’ LET IT BE remaster, 60s misogyny in the “good old days,” character development in M*A*S*H, dealing with “Writer’s block,” Penn State football, the silliness of record collecting, how online interactions can sometimes destroy friendships, parenting, French and American cultural norms and faux pas, my process of learning to play a seeming impossible song on the piano, PEANUTS and Charles Schulz and “canon” in story, the lives of blue jays, why I hate the phone, along with the writers and thinkers who stoke me: Neville Goddard, Krishnamurti, Thomas Merton, Henry Miller, Jacques Tati, Orson Welles, and Thoreau (did I mention Thoreau? He is my favorite and appears frequently, even if it’s just a quote).

The metaphysical stuff simply reflects my ongoing life work of reconciling the spiritual with the world. Isn’t that what most of us are trying to do?

Anything in that incomplete topic list that interests you?


It’s print only.

If you’d like to read a copy, here’s the complicated, convoluted process:

Send me your snail mail address and I will send you the latest issue.

That’s all.

If you want a back issue and saw a topic in the list above that interests you, mention that and I’ll send it along. If you want to go random, pick a number between 1 and 31 and I’ll send that back issue.

You are under no obligation to PAY or BUY anything. If you want to subscribe formally (several people have), it’s a buck an issue in the USA. If you want to donate via my ko-fi page, great. If you want to send stamps (as a couple people have), great.

If not any of the above, great.

You’re not even required to READ IT. One of the most bizarre exchanges I’ve had was with someone whom I’d quoted liberally in an issue, and I messaged him telling him and asking if he’d like a copy, since he was quoted in it, and if so just send me his snail mail address and I’d pop it in the mailbox for him. After five or six messages, he didn’t seem to get that I just wanted to give him this. Further, the tone of his replies made me feel like he saw this as ONE MORE ADDED OBLIGATION IN HIS ALREADY BUSY LIFE.

No. This is a gift, from me to you.

If you’re interested, email me ( or use the submit comment feature on this website, or, if you want to pay, you can either get a subscription by becoming a monthy donor or buy back issues.

That’s all there is to it. Honestly.

As my buddy Skip Heller said once about giving away his music on MP3s, a musician’s job is to make music, and a listener’s job is to listen.

As a writer, my job is to write. The reader’s job is to read.

Become a reader of METANOIA!

Hey, Jay! Hey, Red!

This article was originally published in issue 22 of my print-only ‘zine Metanoia.

From my current living space, I don’t see a lot of birds, or at least I don’t see the number of birds that I used to see when I lived in (relatively) rural Vermont and could put up feeders, or take a walk in the woods by just stepping out the back door. This has led me to satisfy my birding interests virtually via Youtube, specifically on two channels: the first hosted by a Newfoundland woman named Lesley the Bird Nerd, who produces beautiful informational videos; and the second a live bird feeder cam hosted by a user named B.A. Birdwatcher; that cam livestreams from (ironically, since I grew up less than 30 miles from there, lived there briefly, and consider it one of my favorite places in the world) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The videos on these two channels have both stoked and fed my interest. Lesley’s channel is mainly informational– four-to-ten-minute-long videos about the the birds she sees– and from it, I’ve not only been tipped off to behavior I might have missed otherwise; I’ve also had a few misconceptions shattered.

For instance, it’s the start of spring, and I’ve already overheard one conversation this year from someone who was excitedly reporting that they’d “seen their first robin.” Uhhh, sorry: as I learned from one of Lesley’s videos, robins are mostly non-migratory. They’re drawn to the suburbs, it’s believed, because the closely-trimmed lawns make it easier for them to find worms and other food, and in winter, those feeding spots being mostly unavailable, they retreat to the woods. They’re still local, in other words; they’re just off in the woods feeding instead of on our lawns.

Lesley’s favorite birds are blue jays, and she’s at least passed on her love of them to me. Watching her videos, I’ve learned more about jays than I have from any book or live observation. Both her videos and the live “feeder cam” have reminded me that I learn best through a combination of facts and observation. Some of the things she’s learned by watching blue jays for almost 30 years are:

  • Blue jays are monogamous. They don’t necessarily always “mate for life” (Lesley has observed some nasty blue jay breakups, with spurned former mates being driven away from their territory), but they do pair up, and several of the mated pairs she’s observed have been together five or more winters.
  • Blue jays eat paint chips. It doesn’t hurt them; this, Lesley says, is an apparently instinctive attempt to get calcium in their diet, which they naturally get from eggshells. It’s fascinating to me that a bird would know to eat calcium-laden paint chips to supplement its diet.
  • Blue jays, like most birds, have different calls and sounds and body language, all of them communicative of different messages. For example, jays do a bobbing movement accompanied by what she calls “the squeaky gate” call, which is a sign of dominance or aggression: this is my limb/ my tree/ my feeder/ my mate, so go away NOW. I’d never noticed this call before, but now when I hear it, I know I’ve heard it before, and it’s unmistakable.
  • Blue jays can mimic other birds, sometimes strategically. Lesley reports that several times, she’s heard what sounds like a sharp-shinned hawk calling from the trees above her feeder, which, of course, caused the smaller birds at the feeder to scatter for cover… all except the jays. (Insert hmmmmmm…here.) She scanned the trees with her binoculars, expecting to find a hawk, but instead found that the source of the call was…a blue jay. The jay had learned to mimic a sharp-shinned hawk’s call; the threat of an assumed nearby predatory bird sent the smaller birds flying away from the feeder, which meant that the blue jay and his jay friends now had the feeder all to themselves.

Learning these things about jays and other birds, I find I can sit for hours watching the “feeder cam,” and I notice all birds’ interactions in a new way.

Cardinals seem to dominate this feeder– maybe not surprising: it’s a tray feeder filled mostly with sunflower seeds, which cardinals love. While I can easily tell a male cardinal (bright red) from a female cardinal (duller brownish red), it’s impossible for me to distinguish between different males or females (even with 1080px streaming video, there’s only so much detail you can discern). However, the birds’ behavior tells me that there are, indeed, different cardinal groups and pairings. There are males who sit alone at the feeder, cracking open and eating sunflower seeds one at a time. (They’re not swallowing them and storing them in their crops for later, like some bigger birds do. I once watched a jay at this feeder pack 37 shelled peanuts and uncracked sunflower seeds into his crop before taking one last peanut in his beak and flying off!) At least one of these solitary cardinals chases off other males who attempt to come down and share the feeder. There are also (apparently) mated pairs who come down, and, again, when another cardinal tries to come in and partake, one of the perched birds chases the other cardinal off, sometimes before it can even land. There is also at least one pair of male cardinals who come in to feed together, sometimes with a lone female. Are these family or siblings from a previous year?

Watching these videos has not only rekindled my interest in birding, but has made me place “living in or near the woods, where I can observe birds in their natural habitats and also have a back yard bird feeder” at the top of my list of “criteria for next home.”

Metanoia is my biweekly print-only ‘zine, usually two, sometimes four, pages.

To receive the latest issue of it, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to
Max Shenk
39 South Main St, rm 138
White River Junction, VT 05001

You can go to my shop at, where you can get either a subscription or back issues. Or both!

“The Twins Turn 21” – ebook collection of adult comics

The first e-book of my TWINS comics, The Twins Turn 21, is a 61-page collection of full-color uncensored adult comics, some of them published originally in tamer black and white versions in my ‘zine Metanoia, and some of them never before published. It’s a full-color PDF e-book, readable on any device without loss of formatting.

Click here to see some sample comics!

THE TWINS TURN 21 will be available for purchase again in spring 2023.