Jung, palm-reading and anecdotes make up `Life Itself

November 6, 1994
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

John Boe is pretty sure his collection of humorous essays got published recently because the publisher was familiar with his work as an amateur Jungian.

If that sounds strange, it's no stranger than most other things that happen in the publishing industry and Boe is delighted with the end result: His first book.

It is ``Life Itself: Messiness is Next to Goddessness and Other Essays'' (Chiron Publications, $14.95). The book contains both humorous essays and literary essays on Jack London and Shakespeare. Boe says the inclusion of serious work assures him that his book won't be a best-seller, but that's OK. As long as he can write, life is good.

Boe, 50, is a lecturer in the English department at UC Davis. He lives in Berkeley where he and his wife, Judy, have three daughters - two grown and a teen-ager.

``A lot of the writing in the book came out of storytelling,'' says Boe. He's a teacher and a professional storyteller who is currently working on an essay to be contributed to a collection on psychological and Jungian approaches to teaching writing.

The final essay in his collection, called ``Life Itself,'' came from the eulogy Boe gave at his mother's funeral. Another essay, ``For Me and My Anima,'' was originally written for a radio broadcast.

He also contributes to such serious publications as ``The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal'' and ``Psychological Perspectives.''

Considering Boe's interest in Carl Jung, it's not surprising to find he included in ``Life Itself'' an interview with John Freeman, former British ambassador to the United States and India. Freeman, who taught at UCD for several years in the late '80s, interviewed Jung in the '50s for the BBC program ``Face to Face.''

Boe's interview with Freeman is interesting for the light it sheds not only on Jung (particularly his thoughts about the coming Marian Age or age of female dominance) but on the ``pleasing and agreeable'' Freeman himself.

Boe is a graduate of Amherst College. He received his Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley and decided to stay in California rather than return to the East Coast.

``I wanted to stay in California where I wouldn't be considered an oddball,'' he said. He has taught at UCD for 12 years. He says teachers of writing should also be writers. Before this book was printed he had more than 50 articles, essays, reviews, fiction pieces and poems published. He is currently the editor of UCD's ``Writing on the Edge,'' a journal on writing and teaching writing.

In 1991 he became the first at UCD to win the Academic Federation's Excellence in Teaching Award. He says that award, followed by a national award for his essay ``Messiness is Next to Goddessness,'' helped boost his career.

``The East Bay Express rejected that essay and it pissed me off,'' said Boe, laughing. ``It's hard as a writer to suffer rejection,'' he added.

``But the teaching award gave me the confidence to tell students the truth instead of trying to please them - that made me a better teacher - and the writing award gave me the confidence to keep writing.

``I like my life,'' he added. ``I don't have any huge needs and desires. I'm not going to win a Nobel Prize but I want to stay alive as a writer. I have opportunities to write for money, but I want to write about what's in my heart.''

Boe says he never lacks for things to write about but doesn't want to become the kind of essayist or columnist who exploits his family.

``If I make a fool out of me, that's fine,'' he says, ``but if I write about my family I check with them first.''

He also has many other interests he'd like to find time to pursue like painting (on mirrors picked up at garage sales) and playing the piano.

``I like all the arts,'' he says.

A copy of a painting by his sister, Margaret, who lives in New York City, decorates the front cover of ``Life Itself.''

Is Boe beginning to remind you of anyone? I asked him if he enjoys essayist Calvin Trillin as much as I do.

It turns out that Boe is a big Trillin fan. On a visit to New York he interviewed Trillin at length for piece that appeared in ``Writing on the Edge.'' He also met Trillin's wife, Alice.

``Alice, who was a former composition teacher, now has a lifetime subscription to `Writing on the Edge,' '' said Boe.

And will Boe send a copy of ``Life Itself'' to Trillin?

``I already have,'' he said.

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