Intrinsic Drive®

Thrills and Enchantments with Small Farmer's Journal Founder Lynn R. Miller

March 27, 2024 Phil Wharton - Wharton Health Season 5 Episode 5
Thrills and Enchantments with Small Farmer's Journal Founder Lynn R. Miller
Intrinsic Drive®
More Info
Intrinsic Drive®
Thrills and Enchantments with Small Farmer's Journal Founder Lynn R. Miller
Mar 27, 2024 Season 5 Episode 5
Phil Wharton - Wharton Health

Lynn R. Miller is a painter, farmer, horseman, and writer. Odd jobs ranging from commercial fisherman, logger, sawyer, farmer, workhorse teamster, lecturer, and cattle rancher, supported him through college. Over the past 40 years, Lynn has become a world-renowned authority in the fields of alternative farming and animal powered agriculture. 

In 1976, with the encouragement of his father to “grow a crop of literature” to assist the fledgling small farmer, he founded the Small Farmer’s Journal, an international agrarian quarterly which functions to this day as a cornerstone empowering a worldwide readership. For Small Farmer's Journal's  entire 48 year history Lynn has manually stewarded this living alternative preservationist publication, now in it’s 188th edition. 

We learn of Lynn’s early enchantment with painting, followed by a self-described “genetic memory”, leading him to follow a manual transmission life integrating his passions rooted in “shared work”, and restorative land cultivation. 

Mr. Miller is author to over twenty books (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), including the best-selling, Workhorse Handbook, now in its second edition, and his current release Roots in a Lovely Filth, He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Ranch and Reata, and Western Horseman.

 Lynn has lectured across North America and keynote speaker for farm conferences, and universities. He was awarded the Steward of Sustainable Agriculture, at the 1999 Eco Farm Conference, The Garfield Award for The Preservation of Rural Technologies, Award for Distinguished Service from the Missouri House of Representatives, and the Utne Reader Award for Environmental Reporting. 

His artworks are in private and public collections across the country. It’s my pleasure, privilege, and honor to welcome my friend Lynn R. Miller to this episode of Intrinsic Drive®.

Intrinsic Drive® is produced by Ellen Strickler and Phil Wharton and Andrew Hollingworth  is sound editor and engineer.

Photo Credit: Kristi Gilman-Miller

Show Notes Transcript

Lynn R. Miller is a painter, farmer, horseman, and writer. Odd jobs ranging from commercial fisherman, logger, sawyer, farmer, workhorse teamster, lecturer, and cattle rancher, supported him through college. Over the past 40 years, Lynn has become a world-renowned authority in the fields of alternative farming and animal powered agriculture. 

In 1976, with the encouragement of his father to “grow a crop of literature” to assist the fledgling small farmer, he founded the Small Farmer’s Journal, an international agrarian quarterly which functions to this day as a cornerstone empowering a worldwide readership. For Small Farmer's Journal's  entire 48 year history Lynn has manually stewarded this living alternative preservationist publication, now in it’s 188th edition. 

We learn of Lynn’s early enchantment with painting, followed by a self-described “genetic memory”, leading him to follow a manual transmission life integrating his passions rooted in “shared work”, and restorative land cultivation. 

Mr. Miller is author to over twenty books (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), including the best-selling, Workhorse Handbook, now in its second edition, and his current release Roots in a Lovely Filth, He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Ranch and Reata, and Western Horseman.

 Lynn has lectured across North America and keynote speaker for farm conferences, and universities. He was awarded the Steward of Sustainable Agriculture, at the 1999 Eco Farm Conference, The Garfield Award for The Preservation of Rural Technologies, Award for Distinguished Service from the Missouri House of Representatives, and the Utne Reader Award for Environmental Reporting. 

His artworks are in private and public collections across the country. It’s my pleasure, privilege, and honor to welcome my friend Lynn R. Miller to this episode of Intrinsic Drive®.

Intrinsic Drive® is produced by Ellen Strickler and Phil Wharton and Andrew Hollingworth  is sound editor and engineer.

Photo Credit: Kristi Gilman-Miller

Phil Wharton  (00:00:00):

What was the genesis for you? What was the inciting moment of your journey?

Lynn Miller  (00:00:05):

I was told that I was two when I rolled down the concrete steps from the second to the bottom floor of the apartment building over the store in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and broke my neck and my collarbone.

Phil Wharton  (00:00:28):

Oh, wow.

Lynn Miller  (00:00:32):

I was told that also, I was told that after that I never stopped crying, so I was pretty much labeled because we had not the diagnostics we have now as a difficult child, and I think that set me on a bit of an edge, and when I learned how to balance myself on that edge, I went from there.

Phil Wharton  (00:01:09):

And then what about?

Lynn Miller  (00:01:11):

There's nothing special in that film I see in your eyes. You have a moment that gave you an edge.

Phil Wharton  (00:01:20):

No, absolutely. And I think, what about the art? When was the discovery of the art coming? How old or early were those moments sort of before? Were there anything before Tom Gnapp that sparked something in you or was that the moment your first art teacher?

Lynn Miller  (00:01:43):

No, Tom Gnapp was was my geometry teacher.

Phil Wharton  (00:01:46):

He was a geometry teacher. Wow, okay.

Lynn Miller  (00:01:49):

The one that gave me, he set the stage and there's an anecdote behind it, but he set the stage for me to want to see what wasn't visible, to take pieces like a geometric equation and be able to literally inside my brain see the missing side of that shape. But before that, as I was growing up, my father was an artist and he was a writer and a farm boy from Wisconsin, and he left at 18 and took a bus ride on a dare. Basically, he saw an ad in a magazine, and he went to 1938, to Burbank and demonstrated his drawing skill for Walt Disney who was hiring for animators.

Phil Wharton  (00:03:01):

Got it.

Lynn Miller  (00:03:02):

He spent every penny he had to make that trip. Disney said, you did a remarkable job, but you took too long. We need people that can do it faster. My father left the building and there was no alternative. He thought he was going to get the job, and he was walking in a daze between two parked cars. Again, this is 1938, and he was in Burbank, and somebody ran into him. It turned out that it was a long touring car top down, and the driver was a famous actor who jumped out and went to my dad, who was getting up off the pavement and apologized profusely and said, are you okay? I'll take you to the hospital. What can I do? My dad said, no, I'm fine. He said, no, no, I want to help you. And he said, well, the only way you can help me is find me a job. And he gave my dad, and that was William Powell?

Phil Wharton  (00:04:22):

That was William Powell? Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:04:25):

Here's my business card on the back of what he said called this number.

Phil Wharton  (00:04:29):


Lynn Miller  (00:04:30):

My dad did, and he got a job as the bodyguard for Daryl Zanuck.

Phil Wharton  (00:04:36):

Okay so that was how he got the Daryl Zanuck bodyguard okay, I didn't realize how that happened. Okay.

Lynn Miller  (00:04:42):

And that was 1938. My dad was in that employ, tells fascinating stories. This was very early Hollywood tells fascinating stories about that, but he didn't enjoy the company, and when there was a big push on for enlistment, we weren't in the war yet.

Phil Wharton  (00:05:15):


Lynn Miller  (00:05:16):

My dad enlisted in the Marines.

Phil Wharton  (00:05:18):

In the Marines.

Lynn Miller  (00:05:19):

He was six foot four, and if you look at early photos of my father and early photos of John Wayne, they looked the same.

Phil Wharton  (00:05:29):

Wow. Okay.

Lynn Miller  (00:05:33):

My dad went on rapidly, went up the ranks in the Marines until he became First Sergeant, and then the war effort was taking shape. And then there are stories, I think I've shared some of those with you already, Phil.

Phil Wharton  (00:05:53):

He joined the Carson's Raiders, is that correct?

Lynn Miller  (00:05:56):

Yeah. Carson's Raiders in the South Pacific. You worked. His partner who was with the Navy was Henry Fonda. In Pearl Harbor they were in charge of keeping the different armed forces guys from fighting each other.

Phil Wharton  (00:06:15):

So in the disciplinary department.

Lynn Miller  (00:06:17):

And my father was served under Jimmy Roosevelt, the president's son. So whenever she would come to Hawaii, he was Eleanor Roosevelt's chauffeur and bodyguard as a marine.


None of that's important except, and none of that was anything my father told me. These are stories I got over a lifetime from other people who were part and parcel of that. My father was a war hero many times, decorated, and again, he never ever spoke of the war, but what he did talk about endlessly was with three subjects, one art, the second was writing, and the third was his love of the Pacific and his dream of what he thought he might be able to do someday in sailing from island to island, hauling freight that never came to pass. But all of those things had an impression on me because my father from, I can't remember when. He didn't encourage my creativity. He was always very supportive of my interest in drawing and painting on the cover of my second or third novel, the Brown Dwarf. There's a painting I did when I was 13.

Phil Wharton  (00:08:03):

Wow thirteen.

Lynn Miller  (00:08:04):

I've been painting ever since then. My loves at that time very quickly became what I attribute to genetic memory, some notion of what farming should be, and I'm sure my father informed that.

Phil Wharton  (00:08:28):

Growing up on a general farm, you said that was sort the idyllic way you wanted to get back to.

Lynn Miller  (00:08:34):

Yeah, that was something that was a dream for me, and I didn't know if it could ever be manifest at that point when I was nine, ten, twelve, thirteen years old, but it was always there. The drawing of painting was always there, but I had a capacity for public speaking, for acting, for music. I played a couple of instruments. I sang in everything from barbershop quartets to folk trios to, "My Fair Lady", the whole gamut. And that was in my teenage years, I was given the commission to do a fresco in the courtyard of the library for San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara of the Assassination of Julius Caesar to commemorate Shakespeare's birthday. And that was tremendously successful, and it garnered for me two things, of which one was a Bank of America Art Award, and the second was a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute, which I took advantage of. But going back to your question for for me, I know it may have sound a little bit facetious, but I think that there must've been trauma in those very early years, and maybe it was that fall in my neck, but something that set me on a path of self-reliance.

Phil Wharton  (00:10:28):


Lynn Miller  (00:10:30):

That I don't have any memory of anybody coming to my aid when I was in pain, which I would imagine might've stirred an earliest memory, but I just figured I needed to take care of myself. And along with that was I guess the sense that I was the one that was going to have to give me permission. I was the one who was going to decide what path I was going to take. I'm sure that what set me soaring early on was the fact that my father was so supportive.

Phil Wharton  (00:11:20):

That's right. But at the same time, there was a troubled moment, I think your sophomore year in high school before you met Tom the geometry teacher where you said, look, I was a troublemaker. I didn't really want to be here and didn't have direction yet, and I had the Do Wop haircut, and the Marlboros rolled up in the sleeve of the t-shirt, and he saw a light in you. He saw that light in you that could see things differently.

Lynn Miller  (00:12:03):

Yes, I think so. Though I had in my makeup this vision of a life in the arts and a vision of a life farming, I never had that for writing at all. It was the farming and the painting that really interested me. I can't even remember the first time that relatives started to tell me that when they asked a young precocious member of the family, so what do you want to be when you grow up and you say, I want to be a farmer? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You need to think about this now. You could be anything. I remember a relative telling me a line that resonated for me almost like a dope slap when I watched The Graduate, because he was telling me all kinds of new things in chemistry.

Phil Wharton  (00:13:11):

Right. Plastics, man, plastics.

Lynn Miller  (00:13:14):

I don't even know plastics were around back in the early fifties, but I guess it was, what was that? That stuff that looked?

Phil Wharton  (00:13:25):

The vinyl or

Lynn Miller  (00:13:27):

The clear hard bone, like stuff that they used for knobs? Bake alike or whatever that was?

Phil Wharton  (00:13:34):

Okay. I don't remember the name of that now, but I know I can picture it.

Lynn Miller  (00:13:38):

That doesn't matter, but excuse me.

Phil Wharton  (00:13:42):

Bless you.

Lynn Miller  (00:13:45):

Or they would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, I'm going to be a painter. Oh, now you need to think about that real careful, because

Phil Wharton  (00:13:56):

The best you can get is a teaching position on that one. Right?

Lynn Miller  (00:14:00):

Such a smart kid. You could do anything thing. I hate to see you go down that path. And I think that was part of the environment that had me feeling like, well, you combine that self-reliance, speaking of with this notion that the things that thrilled me, the enchantments that came of my vision of a farm or my vision of being an artist, those were being violated by people who were saying, no, that's ridiculous. You can't do that. There would be a big mistake for you. You take that, and what resulted was a kind of amped up rebelliousness the heck with it. That wasn't going to happen. I remember

Phil Wharton  (00:15:05):

Who gave them permission not to give me permission. You said to me last week, I think that was really beautiful. It's like this questioning coming from probably the self-reliance as having to figure it out as a young child with a brokenness there from the accident.

Lynn Miller  (00:15:23):

And when my neck healed, I learned only recently in the last 15 years, apparently something happened to the vertebrae in the neck because it.


Did whatever it did in the healing process without any assistance. So if I turn my head left, I could see my hand right now, head left, something pinches in a nerve and I can't see on that side, so I couldn't look back.

Phil Wharton  (00:16:07):

Right. That's really good.

Lynn Miller  (00:16:09):

I made that as a choice.

Phil Wharton  (00:16:10):


Lynn Miller  (00:16:13):

No reason I can't look back.

Phil Wharton  (00:16:15):

That's right. That makes total sense for you. There's a bigger reason.

Lynn Miller  (00:16:22):

So when I was ten, eleven, twelve, I believed I was smarter than everybody but my father and at the age of thirteen, not to tell too much about myself, but I went out the bedroom window and traveled 90 miles, convinced I was going to start my life on my own. At the age of thirteen.

Phil Wharton  (00:17:02):

At thirteen.

Lynn Miller  (00:17:08):

I was caught, if that's the right word.

Phil Wharton  (00:17:12):


Lynn Miller  (00:17:15):

I was turned in and caught and brought back. It was a devastating experience for my father, which had a profound effect on me, not so much of my mom. She figured that she had a lot of kids, and if she had one less, it would've probably made things easier. But when I got back, because I had been branded as difficult, my father suggested something to me. I was thirteen years old. He loaned me his set of oil paints and some canvas boards. He said, pack your bag. You're moving out to the travel trailer in the backyard. I moved into the travel trailer to live alone. I was going to have to take care of myself for a while, and he suggested that I paint and I did. I went at it and it was astounding.

Phil Wharton  (00:18:32):

What an amazing gift.

Lynn Miller  (00:18:35):

The experience was astounding. But Phil, forgive me, I'm not sure we're going in the direction you want to go, because I'll grant you that I had some very forgive the word magical solutions to problems in my life, some that I created and some that were gifts. I don't know what, in the chemistry of all of that has always come back. Anytime I'm trying to evaluate my life, trying to look back, I'm saying to myself, no, this is garbage. I mean, nothing that I care about is about the story of me.

Phil Wharton  (00:19:50):

I understand.

Lynn Miller  (00:19:54):

And I know that that seems a bit paradoxical because I do believe there might be some small value in hearing a person, an old man, talk about how chosen process has worked so well to get things done, to keep going. I think I shared with you before that. I had these enchantments or thrills for me. That opened me up early on that dreamscape of a farm.

Phil Wharton  (00:20:49):


Lynn Miller  (00:20:51):

This notion long before I had any idea of art history, that the life of an artist could be supreme. Those things were enchantments, they were thrills that they opened me up to myself, and I've held onto those not always to gain, not always to prosper. In fact, seldom to gain, seldom to prosper in a traditional sense. And there's something about all of that that has made it so easy for me to have a clear view at all times of why I do what I do.

Speaker 3 (00:21:59):


Lynn Miller  (00:22:00):

Why I would stick with this notion of a small scale handmade farming. I mean, that's not an abstract philosophical notion for me. It's part of my chemistry and also part of my chemistry is what I allow as part of the fabric of my motivation, my own twisted sense of what humility might mean, my abiding appreciation. And I know this sounds like a double positive of gratitude and that sense that I do have the choice. I'm making the choices as I go.

Phil Wharton  (00:23:12):

Yes, very much.

Lynn Miller  (00:23:14):

And we think about choice. Another way of thinking about that is deliberation, but what I'm thinking is not so much deliberation as a kind of deliverance, and what I mean by that is that if you think about sports analogies, I realize that 90% of my life has been lived in a kind of zone.

Phil Wharton  (00:23:43):


Lynn Miller  (00:23:45):

And that I'm not worried about the shots I miss.

Phil Wharton  (00:23:51):

That's right.

Lynn Miller  (00:23:52):

I'm not worried that my path was blocked here momentarily,

Phil Wharton  (00:23:57):

And the freedom to take all those shots and all the different experiences that you would call odd jobs, not really, that led you to this very moment. I mean, imagine commercial fishing, the artificial insemination, being able to manage all these different types of farms, understanding what you didn't want to do, which wasn't. So, there's such a beauty. That's where the alchemy of not being able to turn left?

Lynn Miller  (00:24:36):

Yes. Left.

Phil Wharton  (00:24:37):

Left because of the cervical vertabrae fusion or whatever happened in that moment, and that compression of shutting down the visual. So you see that there's a real process here. I think you're coming into with that. You said to me, it was so beautiful last week, I realized that what I'd been able to do was take what thrilled me when I was very young and protect that in an envelope of determination.

Lynn Miller  (00:25:10):

Yes. Yep. Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. And listening to you read those words back to me, read my words back to me, I think, okay, I've never done an interview like this, and so I'm thinking that I need to try to be responsible. I'm holding back on all the jokes that come to mind. What I'm also thinking to myself is, okay, I don't need to have somebody say, I just heard this guy and he said, I could do whatever I want to do. I just need to do it. I want to hazard against the simplistic, because it comes back to this thing that happened to me again, because I was hanging onto those things that I loved, and I was doing them every chance I got. I was mastering the elements of those processes.

Phil Wharton  (00:26:39):


Lynn Miller  (00:26:40):

With the painting. Every once in a while, I would touch on acrylics and I would push 'em away, because for me, the egg tempra, the watercolor, the gouache, and the oil paint was, it was pure alchemy in the best sense of the word, because you're taking these elements and finding ways to blend them together to create an illusion that's absolutely real.

Phil Wharton  (00:27:30):

Yeah. That grasshopper you sent me, I think was egg tempra and the vividness of that color of that little guy just feel like he was going to jump right at me. I was like, whoa. When I looked at it, I was like, Hey, wait a minute. I backed off of the screen for a minute.

Lynn Miller  (00:27:48):

Yeah, I did those kathydid paintings for my daughter and her husband have a vineyard, Domaine Pouillion, and I did labels for their wine bottles that were.

Phil Wharton  (00:27:59):

Oh neat.

Lynn Miller  (00:28:00):

The Katydid's yeah. But for me, very early in the process of painting, I discovered that what held me was what I wanted to be about.

Phil Wharton  (00:28:22):

That's right.

Lynn Miller  (00:28:24):

Okay. So if I'm looking at an image by another artist and it holds me, why did it hold me? So if I looked at the paintings of Fra Angelico from the Middle Ages, and I'm seeing things there that his paintings are magnificent, but they're also puzzles because they're these black and darkened shapes within the Christian iconography that almost look like redactions in the past. They're always balanced. They're always where they belong. They always make perfect sense visually until you sit down and look at them and say, what is that? Why did he do that? And when you do that, his geniuses, he makes it so you can't do that long enough to stop you. Every time you look at his painting, it's different every time, to me was a definition of capturing not only light, but life. I said, then what does it take to do that? Early in the process, because I thought I was pretty smart. I figured, okay, I'm going to learn this. I'm just going to keep doing these things at paying close attention, keeping track of what I'm doing, and I'll figure it out and I'll come up with a formula.


And that was shooting myself in the foot 42 times. There is no formula for that. And if you were to find the formula, then all of a sudden you have entered a world of eternal yawn.

Phil Wharton  (00:30:24):

Right. That's right. You lost the curiosity.

Lynn Miller  (00:30:29):

Oh, yeah. That was cool. And for me, I couldn't have sustained a lifetime of painting if it was an eternal yawn. I have to be surprised.

Phil Wharton  (00:30:47):

That's right.

Lynn Miller  (00:30:47):

I have to sit down with something I've done whenever it might've been like the painting that I shared with you that Katydid take it, however you will. But when I look at that painting, it works because I look at that painting and I say, every time I do, holy smokes, I did that. But how did I do that?

Phil Wharton  (00:31:18):

Right. Right.

Lynn Miller  (00:31:22):

Now, to sustain a lifetime of creative effort and have that there creates a dimension that's a problem. And what I mean by that is that I don't like to sell my work.

Phil Wharton  (00:31:44):

Yeah. Talking about that.

Lynn Miller  (00:31:45):

And that doesn't do me any good that way. But I've sold a lot of work, and I've sold work in Europe and in Asia and all across the US and some in museums and so forth. But I worry about them. I do my children, and that's a cliche. I know, but it is very real for me. I'm saying, okay, what's to stop that person from getting tired of this painting and taking it to recycling?

Phil Wharton  (00:32:22):


Lynn Miller  (00:32:32):

 Anyway, I've gotten carried away here.

Phil Wharton  (00:32:34):

No, no, this is good. So is this when, okay, so now thirteen, it's in the trailer. The painting beginnings really a beautiful way to move into discipline there because it's like, okay, instead of you're grounded, you're actually launching. And then is Tom Gnapp comes maybe the next year or the year and a half later? Fourteen, Fifteen?

Lynn Miller  (00:33:09):

Yeah. thirteen, fourteen. Because

Phil Wharton  (00:33:11):

You're a sophomore?

Lynn Miller  (00:33:13):


Phil Wharton  (00:33:13):

At that point

Lynn Miller  (00:33:15):

At high school in Fullerton, California

Phil Wharton  (00:33:17):

Before the move to Santa Barbara.

Lynn Miller  (00:33:19):

Yes. And I wrote a short story for an English teacher in high school as a freshman, and I wrote the story, and that Monday, he started the class by saying, I'm going to read something to all of you. And he read my story and I was just embarrassed and proud. And then he said, the young man who wrote this claims to have written this story knows as I do that he didn't. And I stood up and I said, I wrote that story. And he said, no, you didn't. And I said, then who did? And he said, I don't know, but you didn't write it. And I said, why didn't I write it? And he said, because you're a wise ass.

Phil Wharton  (00:34:30):



So they had really earmarked you into that role of being the greaser or whatever, because of your look.

Lynn Miller  (00:34:41):

I'm sure I affirmed his assessment after that. I failed all my classes. I cut school frequently. I had older friends who had hot rods, and we went surfing and did whatever we were going to do. And that summer, I had to do a makeup class in geometry. And Tom Gnapp was the teacher.

Phil Wharton  (00:35:17):

That is where he comes in.

Lynn Miller  (00:35:21):

And he had an enormous effect on me. And I shared that story with you before. I don't know.

Phil Wharton  (00:35:31):

You did.

Lynn Miller  (00:35:32):

Yeah. I don't need to do it again for me, but whatever you would like to hear, I'm perfectly willing to talk about it but.

Phil Wharton  (00:35:50):

Well, didn't he teach you how to see things in a different way in terms of your art, really?

Lynn Miller  (00:35:55):

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Phil Wharton  (00:35:57):

Noticing, taking the time to see things from another perspective.

Lynn Miller  (00:36:03):

He did, but he transitioned me from the rebellious notion of self-reliance and allowed that the cement would dry around my difficult social sense. I think I mentioned to you that anecdotally that in that class, along with a young lady, we aced every test, and he gave both of us a plus. And because I had been a juvenile delinquent of some repute, I was called to the dean's office along with my teacher, Mr. Gnapp, and in the dean's office, he had said to me, we both know what this is about. And he was pointing to my report card, and he said, you're not going to get away with this. And I was vulnerable because I was so happy with that grade, because I felt for whatever the extenuating circumstances were, I had earned it. And that had an adventure that I knew was going to stay with me for a lifetime. That process of being able to see what's not there inside the discipline of geometry, then I made the mistake of asking the dean to explain to me what he was talking about. What do you mean? And he said, the only way he said, Tom Gnapp is the best teacher we've ever had, and the only way that you could have gotten A plus in that class is if you had intimidated him in some way. I'm going to find out what that way was. And he sent me out in the hall and called Tom into his office, and I sat in the chair in the hallway just confused and just feeling like there's just no way to beat the system. No way make any of this work. And Tom came out and he put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, you'll never know how sorry I am.


When I got my report card, it was an A instead of an A plus.

Phil Wharton  (00:38:56):

Instead of an A plus. Yeah. Yeah. And I think the reward for every week for being the top marks in class was sitting next to Tom Gnapp was, and your motivation also was there was Candy Ford, the most beautiful girl in class, and you wanted to sit next to Candy. So there was that. There was two things happening as another motif of your life of these.

Lynn Miller  (00:39:25):

Yeah. You're just trying to trick me into admitting I'm human.

Phil Wharton  (00:39:28):


Lynn Miller  (00:39:33):

Yes. Yes. And I'm sure that if, I can't imagine there be any chance that she would ever hear this, but for me, she was never Candy Ford. She was Yum Yum Putt Putt.

Phil Wharton  (00:39:48):

Yum Yum Putt Putt, great name. A great name, never to be seen again, but put you on this path. And then you all moved shortly after to Santa Barbara to San Marco High School, and that's where you won the Bank of America Award for the Fresco, and then also, of course, the scholarship to the art school. And then, so now you're kind of rising in your craft here in the ascent. Are there other mentors and teachers that are coming in at this time, like Diane Sorenson and leading to Ken Kesey and those kind of things in the writing, which you didn't expect to be a writer, but here it was. There was other things also coming.

Lynn Miller  (00:40:37):

I learned all through my growing up, I had this assessment that it was ridiculous for people to be nervous about talking to a stranger or to a group, because if you stand up and in front of a group of people to talk, they're the ones that have to be nervous.

Phil Wharton  (00:41:09):

Wow. Okay. Turned it around.

Lynn Miller  (00:41:12):

And I didn't turn it around so much as I knew this to be true, because in a literal sense, you have the microphone, but in another sense, it's like how sharing experience of watching somebody screw up on stage or bear their soul on stage or do poorly on stage or sing off key on stage or fall down trying to do some dance step on stage. I guess I identified early on that if you're sitting in a group and you're one of those people seeing that, oh my gosh, do you feel vulnerable while you're watching somebody else do that? It makes you feel like, oh, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Phil Wharton  (00:42:16):

Yeah You feel for them. There's that yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:42:19):

And then I don't know if it was my cleverness or whatever, but I understood that was what gave me power beyond what most people ever have a chance to realize. I can give you an example of that,

Phil Wharton  (00:42:42):

Please. Yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:42:46):

I was doing the keynote address at the Echo Farm Conference in Asilomar California, maybe 20 years ago. I got an award at that time then. And there were 2000 people in the audience, Elliot Coleman, a friend and somebody who's written extensively on alternative farming and gardening, and past international president of the Organic Farmers Association. He and I had gotten together and we were comparing notes about this, that, and the other thing. He said, what are you going to talk about in your keynote? Come on, just tell me. I want to know whether or not I'm going to come. I said, you better come. And he said, why? He said. Because I want to demonstrate something to you. I know a secret. And that was enough. Elliot was there, and I had to walk up the stairs on the wing of the stage after being introduced and then walk across to the microphone. And


I had in my hand a whole fist full of four by five cards that I scribbled a whole bunch of notes on. They weren't notes for my presentation. They were notes that I just had with me in my briefcase that things I wanted to try to remember about this, that, or the other thing. And I had been involved in panel discussions and other presentations at the conference, and as I'm walking up the stairs, I deliberately, I trip on the step and go down on one knee and drop all the cards onto the stage.

Phil Wharton  (00:44:39):

Oh, wow.

Lynn Miller  (00:44:42):

And then smiling and apologizing. I pick up the cards one at a time, I pick 'em up and I put 'em all together, and I walk up to the microphone and I said, I'm not going to waste your time by organizing all these cards. And I set 'em aside, and then I proceeded to say what I wanted to say in much the same tone and manner as we're talking right now, anecdotes, maybe a couple of jokes that came to mind, whatever, and talk all the way through it. But I knew the very second I put the cards down that every single eyeball was glued on me because I had dropped the cards and I had set the stage for something to go very wrong. The discovery of that didn't come to me. I think it was a couple of years before that. My wife, Kristi told me, she said, when you get up and are speaking and you're reading something you've read, it's good. It's fine. But gosh, if you just went up there and just start talking, just talk all of this stuff, just talk, let it come to you. She said, that's what I think everybody wants to hear.

Phil Wharton  (00:46:26):

That's right.

Lynn Miller  (00:46:28):

Well, I took that one step further and it was perverse, it was a trick.

Phil Wharton  (00:46:35):

But maybe those are things you learned from early theater at San Marcos High School, and the Glass Menagerie, and things like that where you, a bit of improv there and realizing to let go and just become yourself again.

Lynn Miller  (00:46:52):

I had, Mr. Frainer was my drama teacher, and Mr. Durr was my speech teacher. And I had these classes in high school, partly because I enjoyed it, but partly because I had an advisor who was steering me in directions he thought my talents seemed to point to. And in my speech class, Mr. Durr, after the first week of my just getting up in front of the class, impromptu on a appointment, he made me the MC for the entire year, for the high school.

Phil Wharton  (00:47:32):

For all the announcements you said last week, right? Yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:47:35):

So I'm in front of the student body, and that's a tough crowd.

Phil Wharton  (00:47:42):

That's one of the toughest crowds, I would say.

Lynn Miller  (00:47:46):

But they knew me and I knew them. And so to Mr. Durr's eternal credit, he knew number one, that there was no teacher that was going to be able to do the best job to MC student assemblies.

Phil Wharton  (00:48:10):

Right. That makes sense. Yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:48:12):

Number two, that if there was a student that could survive it, the lesson value would be immense. And I thrived on it. I absolutely thrived on it.

Phil Wharton  (00:48:24):

Lynn, take me to some of the drives in your life. I know you've mentioned some of them, but what urged you forward during this period? What were some of the external internal forces working at this point in your life now? Let's kind of go maybe away from high school into coming out of art school.

Lynn Miller  (00:48:47):

Well, while I was at the San Francisco Art Institute, which was a phenomenal experience. I mean, just staggering, unbelievable. And to be in San Francisco from 1965 to 1970. I mean my first residence. My father took me to San Francisco and dropped me off, and I'd made arrangements a long distance. And I rented an attic in a four story Victorian mansion at 1901 Page Street, which was a block from the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Phil Wharton  (00:49:29):

Right at the Haight. Wow.

Lynn Miller  (00:49:30):

At the time was a Russian enclave.

Phil Wharton  (00:49:35):


Lynn Miller  (00:49:36):


Phil Wharton  (00:49:37):


Lynn Miller  (00:49:39):

And I remember when I say enclave, my sense of that is pretty all consuming. For example, I would walk one block to a Russian cafe, and the only reason I knew it was a cafe was I could see through the curtained windows that there were tables in there and people were sitting at them, the signage, everything was in Russian.

Phil Wharton  (00:50:09):

Oh my gosh.

Lynn Miller  (00:50:11):

And I went in there the first time, and a large maternalesque woman came up to me and looked at me with a question mark on her face. She knew that I didn't know any Russian. I didn't even have to say anything. And I said, with my hands, I said, can I sit here? I want to eat something. And so she motioned the chair, and I sat down, and I think I remember having to show her that I had a dollar bill. I had to have some money. And we went through that in pantomime. And then she brought me back four or five plates, soup and some kind of cabbage, anything. All these dishes were completely foreign to me, and I ate them, and it was incredible. And I thought, okay. And I pushed the dollar bill toward her, and she put a quarter on the table. It was my change. And I got up and I smiled my thank you's and left. I had eaten everything. The next time I went back, she rushed to the door, put her arm around my shoulder, and led me to a table.

Phil Wharton  (00:51:42):

Oh my gosh.

Lynn Miller  (00:51:44):

For probably a couple of months. And occasionally I would say things that she didn't understand, or whoever was serving me didn't understand. And they would say things I wouldn't understand, but it didn't matter. It was just wonderful.

Phil Wharton  (00:52:07):

Sounds magical.

Lynn Miller  (00:52:08):

And then something started to happen, and I was there, and I don't understand it. I didn't know what it meant. I mean, I had come to San Francisco with Tony Lama boots, but that was because what I believed in what that was, me. And I had come up to the city, and I guess I realized I was out of place, but it didn't make any difference because it was a uniform.

Phil Wharton  (00:52:50):

And you had that genetic memory too, for you. It was, yeah. It was in your DNA.

Lynn Miller  (00:53:00):

After, I think it was one or two months, three months, I went to that restaurant and it was gone. It was empty. The building was empty.

Phil Wharton  (00:53:14):

 It was gone.

Lynn Miller  (00:53:15):

There were moving trucks and so forth, and people were leaving. They were leaving. It was an evacuation. They were leaving. And it seemed like it was overnight that all of this other stuff started happening. The craziness started to happen. And it was like, at the time, I don't think anyone was using the word, maybe they were, but this was the reverse of gentrification. There was an element moving into the Haight-Ashbury that this protected Russian enclave didn't know how to deal with or to be with or whatever. And they found someplace else to go. I don't even know where they went. They moved across town wherever they found another place to go.

Phil Wharton  (00:54:11):

Just an exodus. Yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:54:15):

And I used the word enclave instead of ghetto, because for the Russian community, it wasn't a ghetto. It was, how do you say it? It was like, I understand what diaspora means, but this was as if a dozen families said, until we have found where we're supposed to be, let's be who we are here. And my time in that attic was relatively short-lived only because it was expensive by the standards of the day. And I ended up with an opportunity to move into a building that was at the foot of the Bay Bridge in the industrial section of the San Francisco south of Market Street, where I was working in a lady shoe shop. And I got a five room railroad flat on the fourth floor of this building that still had gaslight, althought I didn't use it. It's one of the buildings that said, survived the earthquake.

Phil Wharton  (00:56:00):

Oh my gosh.

Lynn Miller  (00:56:01):

1904 or six or whenever that was.

Phil Wharton  (00:56:03):

Yeah. Yeah. There was the one then. Yeah.

Lynn Miller  (00:56:06):

And it smelled of rotting garbage and urine, and tobacco, and alcohol, but it was seventy five for that five room, and I didn't have to pay it because I agreed to manage the building. And the building was populated by poets and painters and artists. I had made friends with a black photographer at the Art Institute, Harrison Branch, who had come from Harvard to get his advance, his degree. And he was studying Walker Evans, and doing a thesis on Walker Evans. And we became fast friends. Still are. He now heads up the, I think he's retired now, but he headed it up the photography department at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Phil Wharton  (00:57:14):

Oh my gosh. Wow.

Lynn Miller  (00:57:15):

Harris and I shared that apartment. And that was..

Phil Wharton  (00:57:23):

You had a garden there, right? Is that where you had a garden in the city? You had an organic garden.

Lynn Miller  (00:57:27):

This was rooftop, and this was learning to live and to value the most intense poverty imaginable. For example, below me, Max Gimlet and Barbara Gimlet, Barbara Gersenblatt husband and wife, had a flat below me. And she was a English professor, steeped in Jewish traditions and literature. And Max was a painter from New Zealand. And he took me under his wing. He was a mentor of sorts for me at the time, but Barbara did too, without realizing it. She would ask me on Thursdays whether or not I had time and strength to help her. And what she did is she went down the alleys at a certain time at night behind the restaurants because she knew they would be throwing out food, and she wanted to be at the door when the stuff came out and high grade stuff before it went into the dumpsters or the trash. She needed somebody pulling a wagon who could get that stuff and take it back. And then in exchange for that, she would feed me.

Phil Wharton  (00:59:09):


Lynn Miller  (00:59:10):

Get a meal or two out of it. And I remember the first time that Barbara had gotten, I had snagged for her half empty bag of rubbery carrots that were starting to go bad, and the same quantity of onions and some hardened raisins that had just dried out, and other stuff. But I remember those three ingredients because when we went back, she had me peel and grate the carrots, high grating out the rot, and then chop up the onions, getting rid of all what was rotten, and just using the good stuff while she was soaking the onion, the raisins in something. And she would fry all of that together.

Phil Wharton  (01:00:08):

Fry it. Wow.

Lynn Miller  (01:00:10):

She fried the onions, the carrots, and the raisins together with some herbs and spices. And it reminded me of the Russian enclave. And I had friends who, when they learned about the Thursday sojourns to pick up the garbage. So we had food who, tried to talk to me about how terrible it was my poverty, and I couldn't understand what they were talking about because there was nothing poor about this.

Phil Wharton  (01:00:58):

That's right.

Lynn Miller  (01:01:01):

There was an artistry to the thrift that elevated it beyond.

Phil Wharton  (01:01:13):

That makes sense.

Lynn Miller  (01:01:14):

And it also, I know now as an old man, that was one of the evidences of how it is that the best of human scale escapes most people in our contemporary society.

Phil Wharton  (01:01:32):

A really great example of manual transmission there. Yeah. Really great example of...

Lynn Miller  (01:01:45):

Yeah. But I had completely forgotten about that till you asked me about what was happening there. I also remember that I, I was doing a painting that was six feet tall.

Phil Wharton  (01:02:02):

While you were there.

Lynn Miller  (01:02:04):

One of the people, there was a portrait of Michael Ratcliffe, a poet who lived on the second floor. And when I say poet, I mean this man was, I mean, he was everything about him. Even the room after he left, reinforced that he was a poet. Everything.

Phil Wharton  (01:02:31):

Resonance, still there. Residuals.

Lynn Miller  (01:02:46):

I was beneath all of that and a witness. And one day I heard somebody scream and I went downstairs, and the door to his flat was open, and he was in the bathtub in a pool of blood. Dead. He committed suicide.

Phil Wharton  (01:03:12):

Oh my gosh. So sorry.

Lynn Miller  (01:03:15):

And then

Phil Wharton  (01:03:17):

That's tough.

Lynn Miller  (01:03:20):

 We weren't, he had made a profound impression on me, but we weren't necessarily close at that time. I had decided shortly after that, by shortly, I mean a few months I guess I had rented along with a girlfriend. I had rented a small house in Mill Valley that had an acre of ground. It was across the Golden Gate Bridge, some distance. And I had bought for $500 that I had managed, I don't even remember how I'd gotten it up. An old 1950 Chevrolet pickup. And I was moving our possession, my possessions and hers from her place. And mine from mine across the bridge. And in the back of the truck, I had tied standing up with rope, that portrait of Michael Radcliffe. And I knew about the winds and all that. And I'd done a really good job of securing it. I thought I had, and I was going across the bridge at dawn, and it was not as much traffic as usual. And I was alone at the time of the truck. And I was about halfway across when I looked in the mirror and I saw a couple of the ropes had broken, and the wind had captured


That six foot tall, stretched canvas, like a sail. And it broke the rest of the ropes, and it went up and through the trestle, and it hovered in the air. And I stopped on the bridge in traffic traffic. And that Michael hovered in the air behind him was Alcatraz.


And he didn't snap that in the middle. So it became a butterfly of a painting that slowly went down into the bay and disappeared.

Phil Wharton  (01:05:38):

Oh my gosh. What an image. That's incredible.

Lynn Miller  (01:05:51):

Mill Valley for me became my first garden and first poultry.

Phil Wharton  (01:05:57):

Okay. Right there. Okay. What it would've been to be in Marin County in those days. I mean, it must've been beautiful.

Lynn Miller  (01:06:03):

Yeah. Richard Shaw was my ceramics professor. He lived up on Tiberon, drove his model A touring car in San Francisco to do the ceramics. And I had a minor in ceramics there and worked on low fire ceramics because of his influence. And there were a lot of connective tissues, a lot of mentors, just an awful lot of stuff. And all of that is ahead of what you were asking about previously. After that experience, I went, took a year off from school and went to Mendocino.

Phil Wharton  (01:06:51):

Okay. That's when you went to Mendocino, is that the commercial fishing job?

Lynn Miller  (01:06:55):

And had a summer of commercial fishing that was brought to a close when I crippled my hand temporarily. But I returned to San Francisco and to the college, finished my degree, and I got a place at 48th and Irving, which is a block from the ocean. And it was a beautiful old house, had a big yard in which I had a big garden. And I was...

Phil Wharton  (01:07:27):

Garden again too.

Lynn Miller  (01:07:28):

Searching organic growing. At that time, I had my studio in the basement and next door to me, there was a woman who could have been one of those waitresses at the Russian enclave. Her name was Tina Pushkin.

Phil Wharton  (01:07:50):

Tina Pushkin.

Lynn Miller  (01:07:51):

And she spoke perfect English. And she was a character, my goodness. Great big woman who even when she didn't wear an apron, looked like she was wearing an apron.

Phil Wharton  (01:08:05):

Got it.

Lynn Miller  (01:08:06):

She was a delight. And it was a, can I borrow a cup of sugar kind of thing back and forth until we got to know other well enough. And at one occasion, she asked me to help her with something. I went in her house next door, very heavy drapes, lots of candles, lots of Russian Orthodox iconography and all of that. And she needed help with her grandmother who was bedridden. And I remember looking at these pictures and they looked so important. And she explained to me that her grandmother had been a ballerina and had danced for the Czar.

Phil Wharton  (01:09:01):

No way.

Lynn Miller  (01:09:03):

And they lived next door. I've forgotten about that. Yeah.

Phil Wharton  (01:09:13):

Wow. What an experience to be with them. And then from there, was it close to that time when you took the job as a bartender?

Lynn Miller  (01:09:25):

That time yes.