“They won’t get you at first. But whatever is stirring inside of you, one day it will be self-evident.”
— Milton Glaser
My story in a word: pain. The rest is detail.
I hate telling it. I hate drawing attention to myself and much prefer to speak through my work. But as Scott Tayler said, “We survive our pain by having the strength to tell others about it.”
My earliest childhood memories are of accompanying my father to synagogue on the Sabbath. I loved the Hebrew songs and had most of the Siddur, the prayer book, memorized by the time I was five.
My family was highly respected. Judges, senators, police commissioners, famous psychiatrists and psychologists on Oprah and Phil Donahue, professors at Harvard and Yale, even a world-renowned art dealer who regaled us with stories about Salvador Dalí. Everywhere I went, people told me how “lucky” I was to be a part of this family.
We were Levites and often called to read from the Torah. But when we arrived home, my father turned from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hide. He commanded me to pull up my shirt and lie on my back as he whipped my bare stomach. Again and again, he whipped it, until it was literally blood red and I struggled to breathe.
For years, I was treated for insomnia, stomach disorders, and respiratory ailments. I reached out for help but no one in the community would listen. The family was just too “respected.”
My mom divorced him. I ran away many times, changed my name, and joined the Army.
I was always entranced by our Rabbi’s sermons. He was a fiery speaker who loved the prophets — those lone voices who bravely stood up to power, who wrestled with the angels, and who reminded us, through the most sublime poetry, that we humans are capable of so much better.
This became a pattern, repeated for five decades — work that challenged authority, peered into the future, and sought purpose in the pain.
In my teens, my work was featured on the front pages of hundreds of newspapers — including The Wall Street Journal — for exposing how the casinos in Atlantic City were allowing underage teens to gamble.
In my twenties, my work was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. It predicted, 25 years ahead of its time, that pornographers would create detailed dossiers of the sexual fantasies of each user, and then use the latest technologies to create personalized addiction loops. The study was hailed as a landmark by Catherine MacKinnon, but because it was 1995, I became the first-ever victim of Internet bullying and cancel culture. See The New York Times account here.
In my thirties, I retreated into the mountains of Tyrol and Matsumoto. I went deep into many traditions of yoga and did my ATTC with Pralahda. I lived in many countries and ashrams and walked in the way of Zen, Buddha, and Christ.
In my forties, I contracted a seemingly lethal combination of toxic mold poisoning and lyme disease. I was frequently in urgent care and four times in the hospital, bouncing from doctor to doctor. I’ll never forget the whites in their eyes, the stone cold look of death on their faces as they reviewed my medical reports and told me there was nothing more they could do.
I was still in my forties when I wrote my will and prepared to die.
As a last ditch effort, a team of holistic doctors gave me over 400 infusions, transfusions, and experimental treatments that left me incapacitated for days. Miraculously, I recovered — but not just at a physical level. Something shifted inside. A lifetime of pain vanished. I felt the love that Thomas Merton felt as he walked along fourth and Walnut.
The (inner)Net was born from this Thomas Merton moment. No one understands it yet. But I have learned to see the beauty, and poetry, of the journey. The (inner)Net is a kind of Ithaka; as Cavafy says—
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years.
My greatest teacher was a graphic designer named Milton Glaser. People speak of his accomplishments — the logo, the Bob Dylan portrait, so many other iconic works. But I was more touched by the man than the work, by his heart, by his awareness of the power of the arts to transform culture and consciousness.
One day Milton and I were walking in Greenwich Village, discussing the role of the icon in our modern world. I was sharing my vision for a new iconography, and also, how I felt so alone in my vision. He must have sensed that something was stirring, because without any prompting, he said, “Martin, they won’t get you at first. But whatever is stirring inside of you, one day it will be self-evident.”
I have no idea how he knew, but he knew — that one day this new iconography would be self-evident.