A middle-aged white man and woman stand smiling with their arms around each other. Three young children, in 1970s-era clothing stand in front of them. They're all leaning against a big rusted truck.
Marty Glass and Carol Van Sant, with their three children, Katy, Megan, and Will, on the day they left Oakland for Southern Humboldt County. Credit: Courtesy of Loren Glass

Marty Glass, longtime resident of Southern Humboldt County and the Bay Area, died peacefully and painlessly on Nov. 17 at his home in Oakland, of natural causes. He was 84.

Marty is survived by his wife and companion Carol Van Sant, his sister Marilyn Rudenstein, his children Loren, Julie, Katy, Megan, and Will, and his grandchildren Tessa, Alex, Violet, Summer, Lyla, Santiago, Julian, Nora, Becca, Isabel, Mollie, Rowan, and Flora, all of whom mourn his passing and celebrate his life.

Marty was a writer, and some years ago he drafted a brief biography entitled “‘Marty Glass,’ His Biography, Written by Himself in His Own Hand.” His family has determined that an excerpt of this document, lightly revised into the past tense by his first son Loren, can appropriately serve as his obituary. He chose to put his name in quotes in order to distinguish between his mortal self, which has passed, and his immortal soul, which is imperishable.  

‘Marty Glass,’ His Biography, Written by Himself in His Own Hand

“Marty Glass” was born, so he was subsequently informed, on Jan. 27, 1938, in New York City, the Big Apple. He was raised and educated there, moved with vague but eager anticipation to the Bay Area in 1969 and, in 1983, fallen among back-to-the-lander hippies, moved 200 miles north to Humboldt County where he lived for 30 years with his second wife, Carol, in an owner-built home two miles up a dirt road beyond the power and water lines. He had five children—two with his first wife, Ruth, and three with Carol—who he loved with all his heart and who teased him with fearless and familiar skill, all competent, level-headed and earning money. Raising children turned out to be the major occupation and dedication of his earthly life. 

“Marty” had been a college teacher of English in New York and Oakland, always an hourly worker, a missile fabricator in San Leandro, a warehouseman, a packer in a printing plant, helped prevent and mop up oil spills in the Bay, occasionally pulling boom underneath the pier at 2 a.m. where giant wharf rats were rumored to be waiting to pounce, worked nine years as a janitor at Oakland public schools where he edited the union newsletter called the Clean Sweep, and for 15 years was an instructional assistant at Redway Elementary School in Southern Humboldt County, 12 years in the second grade and three years in the sixth. He always regarded the presence of children and his great love for them to be essential to the balance of his life. 

Close-up photo of a man around his sixties, smiling in tinted glasses with a white beard.
Marty Glass Credit: Courtesy of Loren Glass

“Marty” was also a jazz piano player, playing at parties and various gatherings with his friends. During “Music Weekend,” always in August, old friends would drive up from the Bay Area, or fly in from Atlanta or Wales, pitch their tents in the meadow, and sing, play instruments, and enter the annual Horseshoe Tournament where “Marty” had usually added a fresh 600 pounds of sand to the pitch and reinforced the backstop. “Marty” played horseshoes poorly but with great style and verve; to his genuine but unwarranted surprise, he never won the trophy. 

“Marty” was a deadly serious practitioner of the religion of Hinduism. His spiritual practice was his real life, as, in his confirmed opinion and in the Great Consensus we ignore or doubt to our eternal peril, Spirit is the only Reality. He used to rise at 5 a.m., trudge on icy ground or in pouring rain, by flashlight, down to the ancient rickety chicken coop in which he built a shrine and which was amusedly referred to as “Marty’s Cell,” as the old precarious outhouse nearby was with similar amusement referred to as the “monk’s dump.” There he would meditate. In the winter months, after visiting the outhouse—he was regular—he washed in ice water and wore a “muff” made from sweater sleeves in which he would thrust his hands to keep them warm enough to manipulate the beads of his mala. There, by candlelight, he experienced fairly inevitable bliss. “Marty” felt his meditation was rewarded; but, skillfully evasive, aware of the danger and mindful of the necessary respect, he never explained of what the reward consisted. His practice continued to be central and intense—although he knew full well that “a Path there is, but no one who treads it; Nirvana there is, but no one who attains it.”  He was, as we all are, a figure of speech. But with very real responsibilities.

“Marty” always thought of himself as a guy who could write good. He won the Columbia University Poetry Prize, where he earned his MA in English, two years running. He spent a very great amount of time, throughout his life, reading and compiling a world-class bibliography, studying English prose as it was engaged by the masters. He was a “veteran of the sixties”—wasn’t that a time!—where “it was borne in upon him with the force of a demonstration no prejudice could resist nor sophistry dissemble” that Lenin, and very, very many others of widely varying stature and intelligence, were gravely misinformed in their indestructible conviction that “the revolution is the truth.” He learned, from direct experience, that there were no workers: only people. Undismayed by the veiled accusations of petit-bourgeois individualism, with humble gratitude that he had somehow been enabled to penetrate the rhetoric, with malice toward none and charity for all, he left the organization and pursued a Truth he had no doubt existed somewhere, passing rapidly through a vague “humanism” to a spiritual exploration culminating in a moment on a sunny afternoon in the backyard of the house in Oakland where he would spend the last years of his life, when he looked up from the Upanishads, and said to himself something like, “This is clearly and with no possibility of doubt the Truth,” and calmly continued reading, the search ended once and for all, and his life forever changed. 

But all along, “Marty” remembered the sixties! Democracy, the oppressed and deceived, the people! The enormous bibliography he was accumulating, both sacred and secular, imposed a responsibility to pass on what he had received to those without the inclination or determination to duplicate such an effort. Having cultivated a determined apprenticeship to English prose, his task appeared clear and inescapable. His first book, The Sandstone Papers, was published in 1986 by Threshold Books. Eastern Light in Western Eyes was completed in 1990, and in 1994, Yuga: An Anatomy of Our Fate, in which his goal and hope, among other intentions, was to carry the traditionalist legacy, sufficiently inaccessible to nearly everyone in the world, tainted by a punitive and elitist hauteur, to its wider, more down-to-earth implications, and to a wider, more down-to-earth audience. “Marty” was a very down-to-earth regular kind of guy. His speech was peppered with pungencies of the vernacular; he was frequently accused, in his humorous commentary, of “always going too far.” 

 “Marty” kept his spiritual practice and his writer’s calling deep in the background of his life. He knew this was the right way. His devotion was to his family and friends, they came first, to most of whom his religious practice was irrelevant if known at all and his writing some sort of private fantasy for which he made no claims untinged with irony. From the typewriter to the piano keyboard, from the exhausted bleary appraisal of the text, the resigned confession that this has to be the final draft, no point in wrestling with it anymore, can’t make it any better, to the delightful elusive mysteries of the chord changes and the improvised line to the simple joy of the 12-bar blues. Wine and song with his friends and family, lugging sacks of steer manure in the vineyard, struggling doggedly in the classroom to make clear the connections between fractions, decimals, and percents. He would like to have published under a pen name but was discouraged, probably rightly. 

And all of this, of course, his life and the world in which it was lived, and your life and your world, may we someday know to be a divine Dream, the Dream we love, the unsurpassable Dream, manifestation, according to the famous hadith, of the “hidden treasure” who “wanted to be known,” and created to that end alone the world we love. 

If you wish to make a contribution in Marty’s memory, he gave annually to:

Editor’s Note: Countless remarkable lives are lived in Oakland. At The Oaklandside, you’ll start to see more obituaries like this one, written by community members to honor their loved ones. Soon, we’ll make it easy for readers to get in touch with us about sharing a remembrance. Hats off to our sister site Berkeleyside, which has provided this valuable service in Berkeley for 10 years.