The Inspirer

8 Oct

Perry Sloan moved to New York City in the spring of 1916, locating in a brick row house that now contained apartments. It was in the center of Greenwich Village creative life, on Patchen Place, a cul-de-sac off of Tenth Street, between Greenwich Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

What was Perry’s profession or vocation? He was never specific about that. He told his landlord and neighbors, when they asked him, that he was a writer-scholar interested in human psychology, particularly that of persons in writing and the fine arts. That was why he had come to the City and found himself a place in this quarter and neighborhood.

Perry quickly made friends and received invitations to social gatherings where artists, bohemians, and radicals were present.

What was he involved in or engaged with? He was never too exact or specific on that. “I am an explorer,” the newcomer would enigmatically answer such queries. “My goal is to absorb and soak up all I can,” he joked, without revealing very much.

Only after he had settled in to a small degree did a few chosen individuals learn of a rare, unusual gift that Perry possessed.

Morton Thomas had been a newspaper and magazine editor, then a novelist, playwright, and a poet. He earned his living in 1916 as a literary critic, though still writing original works in his free time. His flat was located on short Minetta Lane, between McDougal Street and Sixth Street.

This literary lion of the Village took a liking to Perry the first time he was introduced to him at an informal display of realist paintings of New York City.

“We must get together sometime and have a long discussion about your understanding of the personalities in this sector of our City,” said Thomas to the mostly undefined stranger. “I would like to hear your analysis of the intellectual types to be found down here in this part of Manhattan.”

The second encounter of the two occurred at a crowded cocktail party with a large number of poets of both sexes present.

Morton Thomas seemed always to be surrounded by dozens of young, aspiring writers. He recognized Perry and remembered his previous short conversation with him.

“Come and see me one of these nights,” suggested the writer with several publications to his name. “I am greatly interested in your ideas about how a metropolitan environment molds individuals.”

Perry chose a day the following week to drop in at Minetta Lane, where he found Morton at home alone, reading several literary magazines.

The tall, gaunt writer led his guest into his book-lined parlor that served as his study and library. Perry took a big easy-chair while Morton sat down behind his cluttered working desk. The latter began to describe what he was engaged in.

“I spend most of my time reading recent publications and composing reviews and critiques of them. Many publishers send me submissions that they want me to evaluate for them in terms of literary merit. But I would prefer to be involved in a novel or play of some importance to me. It is not easy to labor in so may desperate fields, I must confess.

“My fear is that I am spreading myself too thin. No one can hope to perform in everything. My creative gifts are suffering insufficiency and continual weakening. I have no doubt of that.”

Perry studied the middle-aged writer with his sharp sky-blue eyes.

“I find what you say deeply interesting, because I have studied problems of creative inspiration in many areas and under different conditions. Feel free to tell me more about what is happening to you.”

The older man spoke as if from a distance. “It is not a thing that I have discussed with anyone down here in the Village. The matter is personal and could turn out to be embarrassing. How can I describe or define it? I sometimes feel as if my old potential is gone, completely lost and disappeared forever. Why should it be that way? What have I done wrong to put me into a bottomless hole like this?”

Perry suddenly grinned. “There is a path out of creative depression and the loss of productivity, Morton. I think that I have a way out of that quagmire and can help people like you return to positive work again.”

The face of the writer seemed to come to life. “What do you mean? Is there a method that can be used to release what has dried up or been blocked by doubt or despair?” He gave his visitor an anxious look.

Perry serenely smiled with confidence. “I have spent several years studying and mastering the art and science of hypnotism, and gone far beyond what typical practitioners can accomplish. My skills now transcend former limits so that I am able to teach others the method called auto-hypnosis. This is mesmeric trance applied and controlled by the subject alone. If a person wishes to liberate the inner self’s powers and gifts, then self-hypnosis is the way to achieve that goal. It is not easy to learn and apply, but I have witnessed a number of successful applications in those I have helped.”

The two men stared intently at each other. It was Morton who broke the silence. “Please tell me more. I am fascinated by what you are revealing to me.”

Edda Barrow was a young writer and illustrator for the “Brooklyn Eagle” who lived on MacDougal Alley in the Village. A thin, shapely redhead, she also wrote plays, poems, and short stories when not earning a living as a freelance journalist. Theater reviews, features, and interviews under her by-line had appeared in several New York newspapers. But in recent months she appeared to have turned fallow.

The bohemian-mannered feminist came one evening to a bookstore on Eighth Street where the local intellectual elite liked to gather on any appropriate occasion. It was a crowded, noisy poetry reading by a recently published local resident. After a short presentation, an informal party broke out among the attendees. Edda found herself talking with her close acquaintance, Morton Thomas.

“I have started to outline a new novel,” said the latter in a bubbly tone. “And I am close to having an introductory chapter nearly finished. A friend aided me in breaking the dark freeze I was in. The ice melted and I now enjoy a new burst of flowing words. His effect on me was marvelous. It is hard to believe that the answer would be so easy to discover and apply.”

Edda laughed and grinned. “Who is this amazing miracle-worker who cures people of writer’s block?” she inquired with curiosity.

Morton gazed around the crowded bookstore for several seconds. “There he is, over by the front door. His name is Perry Sloan, and I call him my doctor of inspiration. Let’s go over, and I’ll introduce you two to each other, Edda.”

She followed him on a zig-zagging path across to where the newcomer to the Village stood by himself, observing the behavior of anonymous bohemians.

“I want to introduce you to someone you will find interesting, Perry,” said Morton, going on to name each of the pair of strangers to each other, then leaving them to themselves.

Edda felt a pressure from the sky-blue eyes of the handsome young man on her. She began to question him.

“You are a friend of Morton?”

“I only met him recently, because I am a very new resident in New York. But we have become quite familiar with each other. You see, I am a sort of psychologist and was able to help him out. Morton was suffering a dry spell in his literary work and what I did for him was an important ingredient in mobilizing his psyche for greater creativity. That is what he claims has happened, for he is writing once again, with renewed spirit and energy.

“That is my specialty: placing artistic persons back into action through harnessing hidden mental powers in them.”

“I don’t understand,” admitted Edda with embarrassed confusion.

Perry lowered his voice. “I know how to teach someone how to vivify and use buried capacities deep in the mind. It is hard to explain, but perhaps I can see you at another time and describe how it is done.

“Would you like to find out what I am able to accomplish through my advanced knowledge of how the human mind operates in the arts, Miss?”

Edda smiled excitedly. “Yes, of course I would. You see, I have myself suffered periodic lapses and stoppages in my writing work. I can see that Morton has new enthusiasm and is creating once again. I certainly want to know how all this was done in his case. It would in itself be a promising subject to write a feature about.

“When can we see each other and delve into your wonderful method of psychological invigoration, Perry?”

The two agreed to see each other the next morning in Washington Square Park.

The pair found each other and started talking on a bench near the south end of the park.

“In order to instruct a person in the art of self-hypnosis, it is first necessary to place the student into a mesmeric trance by direct hypnosis. So, in the case of Morton Thomas I had the preliminary task of hypnotizing him into a condition appropriate for acquiring the skill of self-induction into a state of enchantment. In that condition, all a person’s natural instincts and intuitions can be harnessed and concentrated upon moving one back into that state, over and over again, whenever one feels the need for it.

“Do you think you are ready to begin the process? I can place you in hypnotic trance right here, at this very moment, Edda.”

“Yes, go ahead with it at once, Perry,” she excitedly told him, looking into his clear, crystal blue eyes. “I am ready for whatever happens in that particular condition.”

He slowly raised his right arm, gently waving his hand before her dark brown eyes.

Only when Perry was certain she had passed out of normal, everyday consciousness did he begin to reveal to her the nature of hypnotic, mesmeric thought processes.

Edda became another example of renewed, restored and strengthened creative power.

“I have decided to compose a three-act play based on my experiences here in the Village,” she informed the man who had rescued her from the empty ennui that had captured and weakened her in recent days.

Edda became a second witness of Perry’s miraculous ability to transform depression and desperation into their opposites. “I am going to tell everyone I know what you have done for me,” she said to the one who had taught her a method of self-therapy that produced immediate recovery of previous utilized talents.

It was Edda who brought a painter into the circle of Perry’s pupils in the arcane art of self-hypnosis.

Max Good was a New York-born and educated artist who had from an early age drawn the metropolitan landscape in realistic detail.

The highlight of his career, so far, had been inclusion in the radical Armory Exhibition of 1913, along with the pioneering members of the so-called “Ashcan School” of modernists. It was as a newspaper illustrator that Max earned an irregular, discontinuous income of sorts. He became an expert at depiction of New York life in the new Twentieth Century. The hustle and bustle of the metropolis was his favorite subject in the productive years before 1916. His paintings of slum fires, election rallies, Broadway crowds, and Greenwich Village were the basis of his reputation. But he had now fallen into a period of painful infertility.

“I know a way for you to break out and return to how you once painted, Max,” said Edda, on a special visit to the man’s flat on Thompson Street.

“Nothing can save me from myself,” replied the large, muscular man who looked much younger than his thirty-eight years. “I have fallen too far down and doubt that I can ever rise back to where I was just a couple of years ago. My days of worthwhile work are past, gone forever.”

Edda continued with heartfelt pleas to Max Good. At last, he felt that he had to relent, if only to make her happy. “I have very little hope for myself left within me,” he groaned as she left his tiny apartment.

Perry agreed to meet with and apply his method to the painter who had once had a reputation as an innovative pioneer in urban realism.

“What I can show you is how to release yourself from the fog of inertia that paralyzes your talents,” promised the hypnotist. “I will only be your guide, though, the one who starts your mind moving forward. The actual leap into creative action will be a result of your own initiative. All that I can give you is knowledge of the method and make it available to you.”

Max accepted the offer and decided that they would start the instructions under hypnotic influence that evening, in his own apartment.

Only Perry and the subject of his treatment, Max Good, were present.

Their session went smoothly, the artist cooperating with all the guidance that he received from the stranger.

“It may take you a little while to feel strong enough to take up your brushes once again, Max. Be patient, and the talents that you exercised in the past will return to you with fresh force and momentum, I assure you.”

It took only a day and a half for this prediction to come true.

“I had a sudden inspiration befall me,” Max told his friend, Edda. “As if struck by a bolt of lightning, I wanted to paint the Hudson River waterfront, the docks and the ships and the longshoremen. So, I took an old empty canvass, my paints and my brushes, and started to work again. It was amazingly easy to do.”

Edda smiled, for she had good news to report back to Perry.

Max felt like a reborn person. He had to make up for lost time and started to work on three paintings simultaneously, all of the visions of the modern metropolis in its technological ugliness.

As Edda made visits to his apartment, he displaced a previously unseen aspect of himself to her, his soaring pride and ambitiousness.

“I am going to set the art world of 1916 on fire, my dear,” he gloated to her. “My new work will draw the attention of critics, the public, and private buyers. I am sure of that.”

Max increasingly elevated his own role in his recovery and renaissance, while decreasing the importance of Perry Sloan.

“It was my own inner spirit that brought about my recovery more than any other factor,” he declared with a laugh. “Perry was only a tool that I applied, but my own will was the vital factor in all of this.”

As days passed, Max continued to minimize the part that Perry had played. “That fellow claims that he showed me the way to changing my saddened mood and attitude. But I know the truth: I did it by myself, on my own. It would have happened if I had been alone and had never met him at all.

“I was the author and creator of the transformation that made me once again what I had been a few years ago. Perry was really not too important.”

Max not only made this argument for himself, but also told Edda and Morton that they were essentially their own shapers and restorers.

“Do not accept all that Perry claims that he did for us. It was our own ability to lift up our spirits through self-direction and personal choices that did the trick. If rescuing occurred, it was something each of us did for ourselves, on our own. He only helped facilitate the whole thing.”

As Max grew more convinced of his view of Perry as an imaginary savior, he avoided him as much as possible. He boasted of his new productivity and ignored any contribution made by the new man in the Village.

It was not long before Morton Thomas conceived a theory that explained what had happened to the three recovered individuals.

“It was not at all a matter of self-hypnosis. We only use that term because Perry told us that was the cause of what happened to us. We saved ourselves, convincing ourselves that we were capable of renewed creativity. It was not at all any kind of mesmerizing of our own minds, but a very simple self-indoctrination into doing what we did.

“Perry fooled and deceived us, taking credit for what we ourselves accomplished. Yes, he hypnotized each of us. But all that he wanted was to convince us that he could teach us how to carry out self-hypnosis.

“Perry was able, for a short time, to make us believe that he had trained us in an effective method of transforming ourselves. He is a skilled, pleasant liar, that is his greatest ability.”

Perry went to the book store on Eighth Street one evening to attend a poetry reading and party centered about a recently published young man from rural New England. He was surprised to see Morton, Max, and Edda there, nearly tied to each other like a group. They had not been together as a group for a considerable time.

Perry said hello and asked each of them how they were doing.

First Morton, then Edda, replied that they were fine, that their creative powers were advancing at an incredible speed.

“And how are you doing after what we have all gone through?” inquired Edda, concentrating upon his face and eyes.

“The ranks of those with an interest grows greater with each passing day,” chuckled Perry. “There are people here tonight who are candidates for what the three of you experienced with me. My hope is that we succeed in recruiting one of them into our corps of self-hypnotics. It would be a feat of enormous value to win over more of the artistic elite here in the Village.”

“A person must take great care in talking about such things,” said Max with his face reddening. “No one has the right to make any unreasonable or unsubstantiated claims that could be described as boastful. There is nothing as important for all of us as being rational and realistic.” He glared with indignation at Perry.

The latter picked up the clear challenge addressed at him by the painter.

“But since all three of you are enjoying the benefits that came from self-hypnosis, it would be wholly justified for each of you to be open about who hypnotized you in preparation for becoming a self-hypnotizer.” He stared back at Max with fury in his light blue eyes.

It was now the turn of Edda to take up the thread of argument.

“You must not treat us as if we were your puppets or robots, Perry. What came about within each of us was primarily our own handiwork. Whether or not you attempt to mesmerize us had any importance in the process, we were the ones who carried out the revival of our talents.

“You should not claim to be the motivator for all the results that we have had. I did what was necessary on my own, as did each of us.

“We are thankful to you for your assistance. But do not forget this vital point: it was assistance, only that. Do not exaggerate you role in our lives, please.”

Perry gazed at each of the three in turn, not saying a word.

Three pairs of eyes focused upon him.

In a second, Perry whirled about, making for the door of the book store.

Morton, Edda, and Max exchanged looks of bewilderment, then quickly separated to different areas inside the store.

There appeared to be nothing for them to say to each other about Perry Sloan and what he said he had done to them.

In the following days, they were surprised to learn from acquaintances that Perry had left Greenwich Village. He had told no one where he intended to move or do there.


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