The notebooks of von Meier

“Ashes to ashes, shed to shed.” So go the notebooks of Von Meier. For over 40 years my friend Kurt von Meier kept a daily notebook. A compulsive documentarian, he stored his filled notebooks in file boxes, and as they accumulated, placed the boxes in a shed in his backyard. When he died in 2011 the thought of his notebooks becoming land-fill or shredded for recycling distressed me, so I carefully repacked them in new boxes and dutifully moved them into the shed in my backyard.

Von Meier was what we call a “polymath,” a person with such extraordinary powers of recall and memory that he was capable of instantaneously quoting passages from a book while recalling its page number. His language skills were prodigious, as were his skills in higher mathematics. He bought and read books like nobody I’ve known; his house became filled with stacks of books piled in every corner, under furniture, and out onto the floor. From time to time he would cull thorough them, offer them to friends, and pack the rest in boxes for storage in the already over-stuffed shed and garage. And by and large, he’d read them all.

I met von Meier in 1970 when he and some friends opened the well-before-its-time Diamond Sutra restaurant in Noe Valley. Though I found him confusing and nearly impossible to understand at that time, I was drawn to him, and it was the beginning of a 40-year friendship. More than that, von Meier became an important teacher in my life, and due to his crazy-wisdom and generosity I am in large part who I am today.

His notebooks contain his daily thoughts and reflections, as well as notes about his cardiology appointments and who came to visit. With a mind as vast and filled as his, a virtual filing cabinet with the capacity to cross-reference and correlate all the information it contained, his notebooks remain its last vestige. I’ve thumbed through them, of course, and many span periods of my own life and its intersection with his. Yet, how does one begin to work with the accumulation of 40 years of thought and creativity?

I contacted the university at which he taught Art History for 30 years, but without a catalog of content they could not accept the notebooks. Cataloging the content of the notebooks of von Meier is huge amount of work all by itself; a noble task of great reward but one that might require a lifetime of its own. Each page of each notebook is just the jumping-off point for a curious scholar’s interest in understanding the mind of a genius. It’s been done with Einstein’s notebooks, and Virginia Woolfe’s and Hemingway’s. But who will do it for von Meier? I’m afraid I am one of the last who knew him well enough to understand the ebb and flow of his mind and its great wealth of heartfelt wisdom.

So for now, the notebooks sit safe and dry, all 15 boxes of them. If I live another 20 years, perhaps I will have time to read each one, catalog the content and find a way to preserve them. If not, I hope they find a safe, dry place to rest and gather meaning in the shed of someone else who might appreciate them. If not, I suppose that’s alright. One of von Meier’s favorite expressions was, after all, “ah, well.”