Aurora, Beatles, Biofeedback, Chicago, Child Abuse, Dave Blair, Enlightenment, G K Chesterton, Harvest, Margaret Chittenden, May Day, Meditation, Memoir, Neil Gaiman, Neil Young, Transcendental Meditation
Memoir Mondays are a flash back to the past to examine my writerly roots. People, places and events that shaped me and influence my world and how I write about it.
The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.
So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
I have a spiritual nature. I always have as far back as I can remember. Not surprising then that I never abandoned my creative self.
Writers are used to being viewed as a little different. My confessions here are not of the shocking sort, but of the explorations of things that I believe everyone experiences as some time in their lives if not in the form of daily visitations from a socially acceptable muse.
Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.~Margaret Chittenden
So many times I feel that what I create or see in my inner mind’s eye is not from me. I feel that I am only a steward of the experience. Only a witness to its birth. As if some surreal layer exists between the thought realm and what we know as concrete, that very borderland is where religions and science at their highest point toward. Its potency is so dangerous we are warned from an early age, do not go further for there be dragons.
Comfort in the dragon’s lair
For my 10th birthday, I received a bouquet of flowers from my parents sent to my 5th grade home room. I remember it more vividly than perhaps any bouquet I received since. Firsts are often that way. My birthday falls on May Day and these flowers were arranged around a Maypole with brightly colored ribbons securing them in place.
I also received a newfangled Panasonic tape deck complete with a set of cassette tapes. This was cutting-edge technology of the day. My parents wisely didn’t pick out the musical selection but left that to my spiritual and artistic mentor, Dave Blair.
Dave was one of my mother’s seniors that year. I had known Dave since he was a freshman because his sister had been in Mom’s classes ahead of him. By the time I was 10, we had discussed poetry, politics and philosophy widely. He had his own band, Dave Blair’s Blues Band which had some success playing in Chicago with the likes of Steve Goodman and John Prine. It is because of Dave that Neil Young’s Harvest ended up in birthday wrapping for me that year.
It is also because of Dave that I got my birthday wish. I had read that there would be a Transcendental Meditation course given in Aurora. I believe that the cost was prohibitive for a working class budget in 1971. But for kids under a certain age it was only $1 per year. I spent my $10 worth of birthday money on a mantra…just like the Beatles.
We sat through the lecture, my mother, Dave and I. Learned that our minds were like the ocean or a lake or a pond. In any case, there was a body of water with turbulent waves on top and bubbles of thoughts coming up from the depths, but we should ignore all of that to get to a place of stillness. We did that through a mantra that was uniquely our own. Part of the rules were that we were not to reveal our special soul vibration to anyone else. I was later to be told that all the kids under a certain age got the same easy to do combo of syllables. Yep, that’s me, spiritualist and cynic in the same breath even at aged 10.
My turn came to perch on a bar stool and receive my ticket to nirvana. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is the same thing Grams had me do every afternoon when she’d sit down to tat.” It was no wonder that the Sanskrit sing song would morph into her hum of Amazing Grace before I’d come dutifully back to the Sanskrit. Before I was even comfortably getting into the groove, we were told to open our eyes and describe our experiences.
Everyone else was all jittery and fidgety, but I was blissed out as if I could smell the Clorox that punctuated the warm sweet smell of my grandmother’s cotton shift. This was like sweet tea and a light breeze to me, yet everyone else looked as if they’d just finished hiking up a mountain. Whatever this was, I definitely had a talent for it. When it was my turn to tell what I experienced, I stammered apologetically that he had woken us up before the good part. I was still in the black hole not yet coming up on the other side. When the instructors heard that, they gasped that I was already enlightened. At which point, I turned to David on the stool next to me and said in all seriousness, “Oh Dave, if this is enlightenment, we’re ALL in trouble.”
Some four decades later
As Inigo Montoya might say, “Enlightenment, I do not think it means what you think it means.” To the left is a biofeedback read out. Because of a series of circumstances including the imminent death of my birth mother, I was sent to a stress management session. The clinician started talking to me as I steadily went off her charts. I was just getting started. The doctor looked at me and asked, “Who taught you to meditate?” Skills. What can I say? Same with chopsticks. Can’t remember learning; only remember first teaching others.
The real question is what does it mean?
That to me is the importance of memoir. It is to look again with new eyes and more context to make sense of the story arc of our own lives. Not to punish or incriminate those who wronged us or to pretend that we are perfection itself, but to take a hold of what we truly know and stare down those dragons of fear and doubt and create a future with more intention and more compassion.
We all rewrite our histories over and over again as long as we live. This is far from a disingenuous act; it has the potential to get us closer to the truth. I can pat my 10-year old self on the back for not drinking the Kool-Aid of self-grandeur at that moment (other memories have me not so self-aware), but what is really at issue here? How did I acquire such unusual skills? Isn’t it fascinating that my parents’ over-the-top (for them and those times) celebration of my birthday coincided with our move from the school district? I learned later, decades later that my teachers, neighbors and healthcare providers had started to file reports of abuse and neglect to Child and Family Services which was a rare thing back in the days of a man’s home being his castle. Could my skills come from abuse? Are they a coping mechanism? Maybe so. But regardless their attribution, they have turned into a creative toolbox for me.
Over on the right-hand column is a new feature. I added a donation button. I will write more on this in bits and pieces. I did this for several reasons. But I did this specifically today because I am giving folks a chance to donate to fund a self-constructed 10 day meditation retreat. Suggested donation: $1. More on this later. Now tell me of your secret skills. Your aha moments. Your unexpected mentors.