Tyler's Advice

Denver author 'Edward Bear' looks at our
spiritual journeys

By Cate Terwilliger
Denver Post Staff Writer

July 16, 2000 - If Denver author Marty Slattery had picked his conversations more carefully, he'd be rich and famous today. Instead of talking with Tyler, the prosaic sage in Slattery's two slender books on life, love and struggle, he might have gone straight to the top, the approach taken by another writer at about the same time.

Neale Donald Walsch's "Conversations With God" made a splash with New Agers in 1995 and spawned not only rapid-fire sequels but a virtual industry of related retreats and products. One-time journalist Walsch had discovered not only God, but fame and a lucrative livelihood.

 Cate Terwilliger - former Denver Post Staff Writer
Cate Terwilliger

That same year, Slattery, who writes under the pen name of Edward Bear, self-published "The Dark Night of Recovery: Conversations From the Bottom of the Bottle." He didn't get around to releasing a sequel, "The Seven Deadly Needs," until a few months ago. The second book is published by Health Communications, Inc., which also re-published "Dark Night" last year.

Written in plain, accessible language with a price tag of $10 each, the books are sheer, mere mortal.

"I'm not even talking to angels: I'm way down on the chain of being," Slattery says with a laugh. "Somebody once said, 'If you're getting messages from God, check the handwriting: It might be your own.'"

Slattery's books are written as dialogues involving Tyler, a crusty yet gentle teacher who has tasted of life's dregs - largely through a bottle - and tries to help fellow travelers as they, too, struggle along the long road to recovery.

The tone is colloquial and often humorous; the content speaks to spiritual crises broader than those precipitated by booze or drugs. In "Dark Night," Tyler helps Bob, a discouraged lawyer with a troubled marriage, deepen his understanding of the Twelve Steps popularized by Alcoholic Anonymous.

Although Bob has been sober for five years, he's stuck between the active destructiveness of his drinking days and a truly meaningful life. He's "hit bottom sober," in Tyler's words, and now must find his way up and out.

The alternative, the older man says, "is to stop growing and join those who linger in that gray limbo of semi-recovery, not drinking or using or feeding their other addictions, but not really living, either, dispensing Advice and Tough Love to defenseless newcomers, glumly counting birthdays as if the sheer number might guarantee a certain amount of happiness."

Limbo not always apparent

Few people acknowledge that "gray limbo," which can arrive long after achieving sobriety or some other milestone. Even in the recovery movement, Slattery says, "the coin of the realm is, 'I'm doing OK."

Yet the plateau "is a normal part of the spiritual journey, and it doesn't have to be (just) in recovery," Slattery says. "A lot of people get on a spiritual path, and you get to a certain point and kind of hit the wall. You get to a part that's really dark and you want to turn back. You've got to go to the next stage, which often includes some awful, barren, dark times."

"The Seven Deadly Needs" continues the dialogue, though this time Tyler dispenses his unique blend of philosophy, spirituality, mysticism, pop culture and Winnie-the-Pooh - one of Slattery's spiritual heroes, hence the pen name - directly to the narrator/author.

Although the books aren't widely known, they're highly regarded by the small audience they've found to date. Reader-reviewers on Amazon.com uniformly laud "Dark Night" as surprisingly helpful and realistic.

Early reviews of "The Seven Deadly Needs" are equally positive. One Seattle reader praised its "subtle power," and declared that "once you have read it, healthier ways of dealing with your life start to sneak in."

The books are born of tough experience. Slattery's hard-drinking father died of cirrhosis of the liver when his son was in his early 20s - an experience, along with many others, the author transposes onto Tyler.

Varied background

As a young man, Slattery played minor-league baseball, fought in the Korean War and attended half a dozen colleges, studying philosophy but never earning a degree. He worked briefly as a bartender - "until they found out I was drinking more than I was selling" - but worked mostly in construction and day labor.

Much of his wages went for booze and speed, but Slattery didn't consider ending his drinking and drugging until his life bottomed out. He was scarcely 30.

"Hitting bottom is important," he says. "You have to get to the point where you decide you're willing to do anything. Alcohol wasn't making life better; it was making life possible."

As he was becoming sober, Slattery parlayed a correspondence course in electronics engineering into a job at Hewlett-Packard; that was the beginning of a 30-year-career from which he recently retired. Over the years, he also fathered six children and mentored many more as a baseball coach, a position he continues today for a Westminster youth league.

Tried hand at fiction

Slattery wrote, too, generating short fiction and, in 1990, "Diamonds Are Trumps," a novel about a former minor-leaguer who tries to make a comeback "when he's kind of trashed his life."

"I always wanted to write." Slattery says. "I wrote three novels and a play when I was still drinking. When I got sober, I sat in front of a fireplace and burned everything I'd ever written. It was a part of a past I wanted to bury."

He concedes he occasionally regrets that decision, but Slattery's not short on new ideas. He's mulling a book based on his longtime experience as a volunteer at the Hospice of St. John in Lakewood, where he pushes "the cocktail cart" that delivers pain medication to the dying.

And, he's hard at work on a third book in the Tyler series, "The Seven Deadly Fears."

"I had no idea when I wrote the first one that there would be a second book, or a third one," he says, "although I always thought I'd like to teach. Maybe in some strange way, I've finally arrived at that spot."

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