My Present Best Friends
This piece was originally part of 2013: Raising the Earth to the Next Vibration, but once my website was created, I decided that it made more sense to remove it from the book and place it here.
This whole thing started as a game between Lindy and me to name our ten best friends (not including each other). I kept going. It is far from an official list: many people are missing either because I have lost touch with them or because they play some other role more significant than friend. In many cases it’s close call: friend whom I have internalized as such and count on, a buddy with whom I hang out, or a teacher or professional colleague, or a transient or infrequent enthusiasm?
These rubrics strike me after the fact: Best friends are emotional more than intellectual, that is, hanging out rather than engaging by opinions and ideas. I get tired of talk-talk-talk on the implied assumption that we are holding up the universe together. Plus many of my closest friends I either didn’t like or actively disliked at our first meeting or impression, apparently a good omen for creative interaction and depth.
Ron Sieh: My one-time martial-arts teacher, Ron is always on a heart level, even when he’s trying hard not to be; he innately deepens you as he demands, “What’s happening; what do you feel, right now?” Blue collar, simple, direct, he is wise from decades of training and practice. He carries a spiritual prerogative without any casual authoritative trappings. Nothing is wasted with him; he transmits dharma and authenticity, even over a beer, even when talking pop culture or nuts and bolts, jobs or relationships. He is an intense guy but also a trickster and tease and as light as the cloud hands of t’ai chi ch’uan.
Paul Pitchford: I don’t see him much these days, but during the seventies he initiated me into t’ai chi, meditation, and diet. His lessons and their terms resonate forever, making me who I am. He shows up, and we go for a walk, two aging ex-hippies. Everything we say scrapes bottom of what we are, where we have been, and how we come to know each other. We don’t have an easy camaraderie, but each item of it is a big whale or a wave with deep roots, and I use those metaphors because they come in cosmic and wide-angled packages. As well as the High Priest of Diet, Food, and Chi, Paul will forever be the Pocatello kid, a romantic hippie falling for floozies, a Zen pledgemaster and countercultural mallrat, and a persnickety gadfly. That’s why I adore the guy. Much more than if he were some sort of American lama. I mean, he’s the one who threw out all our aluminum cookware one day in the late eighties because he thought that we’d be too attached to it to do it ourselves. He is also the one who observed that a bee stinging my finger picked exactly the acupuncture point that he would have worked on.
Chuck Stein: We became friends in 1959 at Horace Mann and have stayed in metaphysical dialogue since, though I am ever the romantic and he is ever the intellectual and, sorry, artiste—that way from the beginning. He helped me get my writing and occult practice started—immeasurable bonuses of early friendship. Chuck is a peripheral baseball and hoops fan, a radical politico as well as a poet, a philosopher, and committed Buddhist: sort of the core recipe. We also rub each other the wrong way. For his taste I am too wrought up all of the time, and to me he is wrought up only sometimes but, when he is, wow! Over fifty years we have learned how not to elicit those cranky sides of each other, how to pass calmly at sea in a breeze, leaving treasures in each other’s boats.
Philip Wohlstetter: We were best friends from kindergarten through sixth grade, then lost touch until our mid-fifties when Phil read my writing about our childhood antics. He is the most umcompromising political-literary friend that I have, alert to Marx, New Cinema, international fiction, the nature of money and neo-colonialism, yet with plenty of old Park Avenue pomp left. He is prone to late-night monologues and diatribes about the state of America or the world, always with a fresh angle on things but ever relentless. Still a bit bossy in the way he was in grade school when our subjects were baseball cards and the Hardy Boys, he is now good-humored and self-reflective about his non-stop insistent enthusiasms. He is not much interested in the psychospiritual side of things, but so what?
Kathy Glass: With her I have carried out an ontological Platonic romance over the last twenty-plus years. She is a hippie wild-girl and a tough old Indian warrior, a wide-eyed Southern Baptist ingénue at the same time as a timeless Shiva mage. In her I feel my own alternate existence; that is, if I had not been shackled with my particular limitations and family traumas and if I had been born a woman. Our dialogue is incessant and unconditional—R the male cosmos-seeker, K the street-smart sybil chick. It’s a cliché, but she seems like someone from another lifetime; she also tends to restore courage like good medicine. She is a palpable herbal and physical presence. Her voice and smile transform a room.
Robert Simmons: He manages to keep bringing things back to a core transparency, finding ways that we can chart a course through our potential disagreements. He trusts me and has faith in me plus the generosity and courage to say so, even when we both know I am wrong or grumpy and dull. He yearns to cultivate transparency, both ways. He is generous by practice rather than instinct, as he is determined to remake the world as love.
Rob Brezsny: He was de facto my main student at Goddard in 1972 and we have been friends ever since. Rob teaches and transmits magic, abandonment, commitment to the anima, devotion to the muse, instantaneous pop divination always. He insists upon loosening tarot and telekinetic knots and turning things upside-down. Rock musician, astrologer, novelist, and performance artist, he dispatches a very high energy all the time. He wrote “Sex Magic for Shortstops and Second Basemen” for my original baseball anthology in the late seventies, and he invented pronoia: how the universe is conspiring to shower us with blessings. Like all good friends he sees me, always has, and allows himself to be seen by me, always has.
Eugene Alexander: Therapists don’t count as friends, but I’ll make an exception here. Gene always finds where I am emotionally and reveals layers of my life that I have lost. He is the solid buddy, push-hands and spaarring partner, empathic male guide that I never got to have during adolescence. Maybe he can’t do it for every client, but we also just hang out, share life notes and, when necessary, commiserate. He has proven to me that we all have the same bodies and hearts and, even when we get in each other’s way and piss each other off, we still love.
Ahad Cobb: I rarely see him anymore, but I have experienced him at heart since he showed up at our house in Maine in 1970 as Frank Zero, a wandering hippie poet. Equal parts sacred-slang minion and Vedic astrologer, he shares his path openly and always reestablishes a sincere bond, no matter how much time passes between occasions. Like once we passed in the airport and were instantly on a karmic level, third eye to third eye.
Mary Stark: She has been my most conscientious and inspired reader, and she puts so much care, concern, and fuss into my work and me that, though we have only met twice, I could not consider her anything other than a long-time and loyal friend. She is now my literary executor.
Robert Phoenix: A physically huge cosmic clearing station—part gonzo journalist, part street tarot-reader, part fantasy-football fan-jock—Robert receives and transmits baseball and basketball trivia too at the same level as memos from the Pleiadian Star System and conspiracy theories about 9/11. He embraces life and intelligence with the reckless enthusiasm of a guy who doesn’t mind falling. He is relentlessly good-humored, resilient, and hopeful, even though he never met an apocalyptic fantasy he couldn’t entertain, from contrails to Oklahoma City to Mars. He has the most uncannily cheerful way of calling a spade and spade. I met him in the late nineties when he lived in our Ninth Street warehouse with his dog Cosmo—an otherwise-homeless employee of Mondo 2000, one of our renters. I knew right away that he was one of the good guys in this world. Since then he has become a father and a householder of sorts, but he is always a pilgrim and grail quester. Check out his regular podcasts.
Cybèle Tomlinson: I used to joke that Cybèle was the kind of girl I thought I was looking for when I found Lindy—the arty sixties prototype: yoga master, bodyworker, poet, musician, Diamond Heart practitioner—only she wasn’t born yet, though her mother Claire, also my friend, was playing piano at the Village Vanguard then. Cybèle comes from a lineage of Ivy League philosophers and mathematicians, but she is herself pure mute presence, like a hummingbird vibrating too fast to see. Now that she has a husband and young sons—married to a Jain from India who is more American than she is—I don’t go for long walks or practice Breema with her anymore. But the time when we did so in the early nineties is timeless. When we run into each other at the Farmer’s Market, we summon our whole history in a glance. On the rare occasions that we get to talk, we can still confide, and I instantly remember our innate rapport and what understanding another human and transparency feel like.
Alex Grey: I see him once or twice a year at best, but the connection of spirit and dharma is always there in a spirit of gentleness, mutual appreciation, and intentional compassion. It is a friendship whose greeting voice is an appreciative exchange of mutual respect. Alex has mastered between a dead-serious and gleefully playful presence at the same time.
Patricia Fox: She’s my yoga teacher, so she transmits a consciousness and care for my body; she bears the intention of the ashram with her everywhere, enfolding her spiritual presence into hikes and social events while being just a regular old girl too, and a bit of a silly, compulsive one at that. She makes a wonderful combo with her partner Charles Rasmussen, an abstract expressionist painter, whose presence is as spacious as his native Oregon sky and as wryly evocative as the ceaseless off-primary colors he juxtaposes in his acrylics. Last Halloween in Bass Harbor she dressed as a showgirl and he and his brother enacted a chainsaw massacre. They teased Lindy and me for coming costume-less. Now that’s a yoga teacher and a painter! (For the long version, see The Bardo of Waking Life, pp. 384-386.)
Paul Schroeder: “We’re doing ‘slow’ now,” he says, “everything slow. Slow is the new fast.” He is a polymath intelligence, an unerring observer, and a locator of presence in landscape. Like me he is married to a Hough: Mazie is a stalwart New England blend of intelligence and sweetness even as her lineage-sharer my wife, Lindy, is a Colorado version of the same. Paul and Mazie house-sat for us in the early eighties in Berkeley, then disappeared for twenty-plus years until we met them again at the 2006 Bangor Folk Festival. After attending a “Somalians in Maine” presentation, Lindy began a conversation with the moderator. Paul, overhearing, called out, “I think you guys already know each other. Mazie Hough, that’s Lindy Hough.”
Robert Sardello: The kid from Trinidad, Colorado, was an unknown friend for decades before I met him and, since then, we have been catching up. He is a collector of lost esoterica, a secular priest, a penetrating witness, and a guide into the emotional tones of the mysteries. If you wonder about psychic authenticity, sacred commerce, mortuary priorities, love and the soul–all big big topics–he is your guy. He is a reliable confidante on life passages and high vibrations, and that can be said of few people.
Andrew Lugg: I didn’t see him and Lynne for almost forty years and barely communicated with them during that time, but everything was still in place, exactly as I had left it in Ann Arbor, 1969, when we picked up in Quebec City, only mellower and more prized for its calm durability. He is a cool thinker, a Wittgensteinian philosophy, of great warmth and humor. A walk with him never departs from matters of aesthetics or epistemology, but he is unerringly funny, even daffy at times. Watching some ridiculous teen behavior in Quebec, he declares, “This is plain embarrassing.” I say, “Andrew, they gotta be doing something.” He says, “Yes, but does it have to be that?” I also credit him with the great comment, upon our getting reacquainted and me (wrongly) assuming he would be interested in the fact that I wrote cosmology and embryology books in the interim: “I am always intrigued by the fact that, whereas people like you are very interested in science, it does virtually nothing for me. I figure things have to work some way, and I could care less which way they do.”
Elizabeth Beringer: I don’t see her as much since she moved to San Diego, but she is reliable and present, even in absence, someone who will always have a serious, dharmic response to anything without being liturgical. She is the rare person who, in the worst crisis will be available, truly, with not only experienced compassion but the sort of proper advice that almost no one else will know how to locate or speak from the heart. She is a soul who doesn’t back down, yet is human to the core. She may not be my closest active friend, but she is the one whom you would want in a foxhole, existential or other.
Paul Weiss: I identify with him, engage in mutual assistance with him, and learn from him. The head of Whole Health Center in Bar Harbor and my chi gung teacher, Mr. Cloudy Hands Becoming Swimming Dragon is a playful Taoist master, a contactful, restless seeker, and, as he puts it, “just another shmuck.” He teaches about the lightest, most smiling “energy” classes I could imagine. And he gets my writing well enough to wonder, “Why isn’t everyone else saying what you are.” Now that’s someone on my wavelength!
Amini Peller: She carries a great teaching and has that special combination of spontaneous insight and the uncompromising courage to use it as necessary. She passed on the “craniosacral pulse” to me, a true gift, and she showed me the colored landscapes of the auras. When I lost hope, twice, she had the magic words; in 1992, placing the most explicit and intentional mudra on me and speaking in precise cadence: “It is wonderful, to see someone, evolving.” She is also a true changeling, a figure of utter transformation, and one of the few natural shamans I have met.
Terry Leach: It’s not often that one’s favorite Major League ball-player becomes a friend, but Terry exclaims with pleasure and delight every time I call him out of the blue, so he’s a friend all right. Often our conversation is about this or that detail involving the fate of his memoir that I published. We also have a rare meeting at a bar or beach in Florida. He asked me recently on my cell, as I stood at a red light, what I was doing and I told him that I was studying at the Berkeley Psychic Institute, adding with slight defensiveness, “Well, you have to do something with your time.” His graceful response: “My wife knows what to do with my time: mow the lawn, cut that branch, move the furniture.”
We all need buddies like Terry, however we come by them. He also has lots of commonsense lessons for me, just the way he did for those minor leaguers on the endless bus trips between small towns. He instinctively mentors. He knows how to coax the best out of another human being, and he does it with modesty and gentility. He never took the Major Leagues all that seriously. Now that he’s moving furniture, it’s more teamwork, new friends.
Dave Insley: We’ve only seen each twice; it’s his music that connects. I know a soul-mate and buddy when I see one, even across the honky-tonk “Careless Smoker” divide. With Dave it’s just pure mutual recognition that can’t be refined. I haven’t heard him play for a few years now, but one of these days I’ll get myself to Austin and take a seat at a bar. We’ll talk between sets or afterwards. He gets what Lindy’s about too—silent recognition.
Suzanne Taylor: She’s my aunt, and relatives absolutely don’t get to be on this list, but she’s only my stepmother’s brother’s former wife, so she makes it on obliquity. A generous and gracious host of her own spiritual salon, she’s a genuine elder, an indomitable psychic and political seeker who has made up a lot of ground in later years. I’ve seen her, as she’s seen me, grow and change over the better part of a lifetime. Now she’s queen of the crop circles, and she’s unflappable at it. Now matter how often she loses her cool, she returns to a reasonable position. I have learned that I can rely on her to be sane, even at her craziest and to look out for me and my kids, always, even when her own brood is in disrepair. She’s the best sort of cheerleader because she doesn’t take shit and is also consistent and fair. As a blogger, she’s the esoteric Ariana Huffington.
Jerry MacDonald: He was our boarder at my father’s house, playing the role of Terry Leach for me early—the laid-back buddy. A former semi-pro ballplayer and high-school history teacher, he has always projected a core joy, marred only by his superstitious Catholicism, such as getting downright nasty in support of George W. Bush, with everyone in the family except me. We hit a lot of fungos on the Grossinger Hotel baseball field in the sixties during my teenage years when he provided the humor, ease, and sympathy of a gracious soul who rolled with the punches and knew how to toss a modest punchline back. In fact, “Jerry MacDonald” is my generic term for “nice guy.”
Anne-Marie Molnar: It helps to be seen, especially when you are in disguise to yourself and think you are someone else. That doesn’t go away, though Anne-Marie and I have gotten together only a few times since the seventies. We operate naturally at a level of meta-perception, seeing through the secular world and its forms and noting to each other the subtle colors, essences, seasonal nuances, and other auras. I see her as a kind of aerier Gaston Bachelard from The Poetics of Space, rarely missing the interior of a thing. Yet she’s also a Jersey girl who can do great Frankie Valli imitations.
Elliott Spiker: I don’t know this Maine near neighbor and retired USGS geologist all that well, but I love hiking and bike-riding with him, or Lindy and me with him and Karel, and he is a natural and wise channel of service, he always lends a willing hand. (Sadly, after soon I wrote this piece, Karel took ill suddenly and passed. Elliott’s community spirit and dignity shone and modeled life and death for all of us through the ordeal.)
Dusty Dowse: We would have shunned each other as classmates at Amherst and probably did, me at hippie Phi Psi, him at party-central Psi U. But now he’s my big brother, a droll hiking or sitting-around companion, a superb practical teacher (whether of tying a fishing line, baking bread, Internet transfer of songs, or cell biology) and a source of boundless pop-culture and political static, though we disagree on just about everything epistemological (remember, he’s a mainstream microbiologist). Dusty may be the life of the party, but he is capable of the most sobering drop-in tour de force. Check out (below) Stu Johnson and also p. xxxv of my book Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings. Very little slips by him, and he’s great to be with.
Stu Johnson: I can’t name the whole Class of 1966 at Amherst, though I feel a bond with the group as such and its individuals, a bond that grows over the years. At different reunions I end up throwing in with different new friends: Dave Culverwell, Stu, James Dittmar, Bruce Leopold, Al Leisinger, Paul Dimond, et al. I have made more of a connection with each of them now than when we were students at Amherst. I see Stu only at our class reunions every five or ten years, and we would have avoided each other as undergraduates too—but we have a mysterious bond and share an unconscious wavelength of shadow selves. Or maybe it is that mystical connection for both of us with everyone in the class, no matter how removed from extant interests and lifestyle—he is my stand-in here for that. BTW Stu is a Defense Department military analyst, proof enough that college years do make bonds that last the whole life through. Or as Dusty toasted the last living member at the 25th Reunion, “Don’t be scared, buddy. We’re all with you!”
Wendell Seavey: Since we met on the wharf in Bernard, Maine, in 1969 we have powerfully shaped each other’s lives. He is the legendary mate you’d want next to you in battle or on a boat in the turbulent North Atlantic. A lifetime fisherman and laborer, he is the bloke who summoned Lindy and me back to Maine in 1996. His deep embodiment in a spiritualist and psychic context and as a working-class warrior at the same time helps make the world safe for its inhabitants through all its spheres, those common men and women who are turning the Great Ship around.
Mark Ouimet: We almost lost our friendship when he quit our publishing company for the corporate world after committing to us long-term, but he is a friend again—buoyant, funny, restless, touching, evasive, a bit of a con artist, but he can’t help that. Possessed of a signature energy and pure intelligence, he is a charmer, a force of nature, and the consummate salesman. A “Jerry MacDonald” type, he has evident depth and caring and, though you might at times wonder who the real Mark is, you never question that, when and if you found that guy, his charisma and charm would be grounded in a honest heart. (The time that my stepmother Bunny came to a Publishers Group West party in New York before a BEA, Mark was alert enough to call her “the most elegant woman in the room.” Which reminds me: he notices and tracks who we all are (salesman!), and it actually delights him.
Michael Wagner: It’s mostly nonverbal, as he’s my bodywork teacher and craniosacral therapist. Once upon a time we studied together; now I’m his client. He knows me by touch; I know him by touch; and we both learn each other’s subtle energy and pass sacred advice that way. I have watched him transmute himself from a hardass sniper into a gentle angelic shaman. During my treatments he likes to hand me a short mantra to meditate on. The most recent one was: “You made it!” He is a true spirit guide and a friend at the same time.
Frank Lowen: Frank’s a bodyworker too, and we see each other rarely, but I enjoy his sheer presence, his hip physics-and-consciousness rap. He’s sweet, he’s innocent to a fault, and he’s committed to service and teaching—fun to be with and always apt with a universe-cutting insight or gesture. I think in a past life he was a saint who chose to be reborn as a healer and innovator, a gate-keeper of the inner organs. He sometimes seems too wide-eyed and trusting to exist in this world, especially in such a sophisticated role, but the gods must have seen fit to let him through. He’s the one who pointed out to me once that there are people who have mastered the art of being able to change anything in the universe but, guess what? No one who acquires that skill ever uses it.
John Hunt: A former motocross racer and pro bowler, he is a curious guy who seeks intimacy openly and yet always seems to be working on disaster in one form or another—which makes him accessible. He is an authentic nut and eccentric, as he views life with a kind of cynical detachment and spiritual fever at the same time. I met John originally as a publisher of spiritual audios, and we collaborated in various ways throughout his whole career, none more quirky than getting Johnny Cash to read Kahlil Gibran for a CD. John is also one of those humans who preferred cats to children to the degree that he cultivated a shockingly large menagerie and knew every one by habit and personality.
David Ulansey: All I have to do to find him these days is to stop at Café Gratitude on one of my walks to or from work. He sits there on the stuffed couch and chairs with his computer and cell, charming a new coterie of young ladies. He is cosmic rage contained in humility and shame. Querulous, apocalyptic, and recreationally depressed, David is the friend who is on the side of the angels, though in a way that makes the angels ever weep. He adopts the most maddening positions on crucial topics but then is almost always on the point of tears—the depth of his rage in crisis with the depth of his empathy and the profundity of his cosmic intimation. David was one of the first subscribers to Io in the early seventies, and that’s how I know him.
Michael Palmer: Whenever we got together (back in the day—it used to be every few months, now it is totally dormant)—we had wide-ranging, intellectual, artistic conversations for an hour or two. An eavesdropper at a nearby table in a San Francisco café once thanked us for a “rare intelligent dialogue” as we rose to leave. It was a warm, unpretentious post-graduate discussion of the universe, from poetics to politics to community narrative, as I always felt myself trying to rise to Michael’s high aesthetics, discrete, philosophy, and Eurocentric views. We share tangled roots in midtown Manhattan, and we played some ball together on Berkeley fields; we took in a bunch of games at Candlestick in the same eighties. But Michael’s a recluse, a man of carefully measured words and tones, sort of an elitist. I am maybe too kitsch, even corny, for his taste, so we don’t get together anymore, though we live around the same Bay. Yet over a lifetime he is a really great friend, particularly in the sense that different lives parallel and support each other silently. It’s good to know he’s still there, and I hope he feels the same about me.
David Wilk: He was just a kid when we met, but then so was I, except that I had already started a family and he was still an undergraduate at Yale. He became a surrogate younger brother. Those six years of difference mean nothing now, and he has raised his own family of kids. We shared a vintage gestalt of poetry, publishing, anthropology, counterculture, used cars, pop culture, New York sports teams, and Jewish family connections from the prior generation. We named him (ex post facto) our son’s godfather because he and Robin got along so well among leggos and matchbox vehicles and highways (1971: Lindy and I were 26, David was 20, Robin was 2). David and I interviewed Gary Snyder together for Io/12 (BTW David’s own magazine then was called Truck). He and I then walked the hills of Plainfield, Vermont, in October, 1973, trying to dial in the Mets faintly so as to hear if they won the division in a rainout-rescheduled game against the Cubs the day after the season ended. We were present in the car (Lindy and Ed Dorn too) when Robert Creeley went bonkers and pretended to try to cause an accident while I was driving. Then we were out of touch for most of thirty years. He showed up in 2005 at my brother Jon’s memorial service and helped me with the Tibetan Book of the Dead and scattering the ashes, following Jon’s suicide in Westport, Connecticut, near where David lives. We may have taken different paths, but the basic landscape didn’t change.
Michael Brownstein: We could have met in 1965 or 1975 or 1985, and I don’t know why we didn’t—it took till 2005. In the meantime our lives shadowed each other’s through New York intellectual, political, and artistic milieus. We always knew of each other’s existences, though by mild caricature rather than as people. We finally connected through our parallel spiritual, mystical, and ontological quests. We share a subtle, almost Proustian metaphysical nostalgia and the faint coloring of a past-life connection, which is probably this life (too), telegraphed psychically back and forth, despite our almost opposite paths through the same territories. Michael is pretty tough in an old SDS/St. Marks/ayahuasca-initiate poetry sense, and I am, by comparison, innocent and sheltered. We share an outrage/rage about the way in which the world is fucked up, but Michael’s is a more realized and functional anger. We have drifted apart recently because I am super-psychological in my analysis of personal conflicts, and he is super-Buddhist in trying to detach and make them go away. Problems arose, and our different approaches didn’t exactly make us closer afterward. We all get diaphanous as we age in such different ways.
Gordon Dale: Occasionally one meets a person with whom, despite all their cultural and historical differences, they gracefully pick up a subtle dialogue as though they had been talking all along. This émigré from Winnipeg who lives just over the hill from me outside Berkeley ended up in Northern California by a series of accidents, the main one being marital. His gentle but droll banter evokes other lands and other times, as he approaches the world with a uniquely odd-angled wonder and a callow drop of satire. He is selling nothing, which may seem de rigeur but is not these days. To find someone who is simply there, not selling at all, is a gift.
Miha Mazzini: Part wild-man, part philosopher, part raconteur, Miha brings an Old World Balkan charm and emotional precision to his interactions. Generosity of spirit arises in him naturally and, though he is not a naïve man (in fact we Americans are the naïve ones), he maintains a refreshingly stubborn innocence and enters into personal matters with a demanding purity. He keeps his eye on the ball and the ball in play. Occasionally he teases or challenges me, calls me on stuff I customarily ride roughshod over, in part because he is coming from a different culture, a more nuanced, more serious etiquette. He is continually sincere and enthusiastic and very funny and smart. Plus, for a wild-man, he is gentle and kind. I try to remember that, in our interactions he is always speaking my language; I don’t get to know him in his home voice (Slovenian). [See my 2006 Europe Travel Journal for adventures with Miha in and around Ljubljana.]
Cecil Brown: I have to catch Cecil at the 120-miles-per-hour clip at which he’s generally moving, and then I have to match his energy. He’s always brainstorming, inventing, stirring up, synergizing, breathing creative energy over a new or refurbished insight or mission. Or, if he’s down, I need to find a way commiserate without making matters worse or becoming his gloom’s target. He’s an artist, an original hiphop innovator; he’s also an old-fashioned intellectual who got a late start in the old South: North Carolina plantation lineage. He’s an absolute genius at the nuances of, for lack of a better trope, black-white relations, so I am made more conscious always, in a good way, of my intrinsic racism and have to witness myself at it without self-conscious witnessing because it’s usually the “self-conscious” part that’s the problem. Cecil’s the one who invented “nigger” as a positive self-identifier (and I helped republish his sixties novel The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger). He’s also a man of the hour—it’s good to have a friend who reads and participates in these troubled times with a deep compass.
Andrew Harvey: Being friends with Andrew is like being friends with a galaxy or befriending another dimension on Facebook. Everything spews out from Andrew elegantly and eloquently, bursting with divine passion and neurotic, visionary enthusiasm, while he is always trying to express love in its elemental form: innate Buddha being. It’s a roller-coaster; it’s redemption and celebration, as Andrew supplies huge amounts of energy. He is the kind of angel who provides spiritual food to live on, especially in such dark, mysterious times. He puts his heart on the pulse of the universe, and he works to cultivate the compassion and training to transmit and transfer it, in daily discourse and in tonglen practice. He gives me the equivalent of a contact high—a contact epiphany—along with a contact terror of this insane world in which we are both alive. We feuded in the late nineties but then did a truth and reconciliation excercise to reclaim our friendship and banter. Fasten your seat belts, as the dumb mantra goes, when you make touch with Andrew; he is a street lama and romantic pilgrim.
Harvey Bialy: Our connection exists only at the deepest and most serious level. At every other level we tend to get on each other’s nerves and end up spatting or feuding (see the Mexico trip on this website). Over forty-five years of knowing each other well, we have spent very little time in actual contact or communication, by choice. Yet we are innately linked. Harvey provides karmic friendship, whatever that means. To me it means severity; blind, even reckless bravado in the face of a magical, often-antipathetic cosmos; unflinching transparency; but (also) neurotic acting out, to the fullest and always. We meet at that particular bend at which each person is an asshole (to the other), but we are in the rough together, and the whole sober stage and setting is invisible to just about everyone else. By now it is literally a discourse on the super-highway of life and death. Harvey is a fixed point; it won’t change; it has to be there; it won’t go away. Friendship is that too.
Samuel Bartos: Sam Lipskin at Amherst, this Muktananda-devoted pianist and back-and-forth changeling, both insider exhibitionist artist and outsider hadji in exile, has always been in my life; he is like the Sam who accompanied Frodo, only in our case through the perils of American culture. Now, in his sixties like, he has gone back to school to become a progressive lawyer. I get frustrated with Sam for long periods, but his loyalty to what we shared so long ago is irreplaceable. I love the fact that he is enthusiastic about the law, but it also brings out the blowhard and bully in him in a way that the piano and Hinduism didn’t. Those were always his mute grace.
Ed Mondazzi: The old values with this guy: loyalty, generosity, heart of gold, soul, shirt off his back. How about, “Why should you rent a car? I’ll drive you (three hours to New York), I’m not doing anything much right now.” Inventive to the point of ingenious, hilarious in the process, Ed is first-generation Connecticut Italian. You can read more about him in Chapter Fifteen of the publishing history on this website. Hanging out with Ed and Sonya in Windsor is a high point of our life.
Paul Auster: We were friends at a remove in Berkeley during the mid-seventies, before Paul became a noted novelist, back when he was a translator and poet, married to his first wife. We played some ball together, talked sports and stayed in touch for a few years. I visited him in the Hudson Valley during transitional years for both of us. Eventually we moved to Berkeley, and he ended up in Brooklyn. Then we dropped out of touch until I began reading his fiction, really liked it, and renewed our connection after a lapse of some ten or so years. The real friendship has arisen another twenty years later, in our sixties,, as we have the same sports deconstruction, intellectual curiosity, and sense of irony and wonder, though otherwise, our interests and orientations could be more different. At least one annual dinner with Paul and Siri has become essential for feeling in touch with not only the life of the mind but the reckless and hopeful spirit behind all art and knowledge.
Roy “Skip” Rappaport: Mentor, apologist, and confidante, he saw Lindy and me through children, academic and marital crises, and our major life milestones. A sometimes cranky ally, he modeled adult behavior, intellectual integrity, and emotional vulnerability. An honest broker, my thesis advisor in the Michigan anthro department, Skip never bought my alchemy, shamanic Dreamtime, the Face on Mars, or Buddhist epistemology, but he was always in there, fighting it out, providing aid, generosity, and commitment. He was the honorary father who sponsored my male-clan membership and the first to demand mainstream excellence from me in a way I could respect and understand.
Bob Bagwell: He was my best friend in Vermont and always provided a heart-felt greeting, an amiably combative dialogue, and concern for me and my family.
Richard Handel: He was the embodiment of generosity and goofy wisdom, and he made the community on Mount Desert.
Old Friends with Whom I Have Reconnected Recently
Virginia Stangeland: We dated for a couple of months during sophomore year of college (1964), talked poetry, friendship, and life as deeply as we knew how to then. As I found out upon reconnecting more than forty years later, she went on to the Peace Corps, boatbuilding, Rajneesh, Tibetan Buddhism, and the Diamond Heart way, a path of service and suffering that confirmed why I found her interesting in the first place, in the months just past adolescence, in chrysalis. Her actual destiny was in no way foreshadowed exoterically by a pretty Smith co-ed from Milwaukee.
Eileen Shukofsky: We hung out together in Chicago in the mid-seventies when I was in town to read at the Poetry Festival. Our link was about outsider art, improv, and unlived lives then. I could not have foreseen that she would become a theologian and Catholic pastor in Brooklyn.
(Thanks for both of these reconnects to AnonymusPi, the freelance Internet sleuth who finds the unfindable as as well as those who are looking for the unfindable—and her only charge is to pay the favor forward to someone else.)
Jeff Tripp: He was the wild man of Phi Psi when I met him in 1963 in college; he breathed radical art and politics: Waiting for Godot (he produced Beckett’s play and starred in it as Pozzo, took it off-Broadway during the summer), Stan Brakhage (Jeff brought him to Amherst to stay at Phi Psi and show his experimental films), Bob Dylan (in fact, I had not heard Dylan’s songs before Tripp began playing them so often improvisationally on his guitar that I assumed he was writing them). The wild man dropped out of college to act, homestead, and romance in the Amherst area and then he disappeared. I thought that he had gone somewhere into the catacombs of the underground, but when I found him forty years later, he was a retired music-business mogul, Right-of-center civic leader, basketball coach, and as much a judgmental moralist as any delegate to a Republican convention. Jeff was always a consummate actor—he could play the hippie and he could play the patrician thug, each for decades, and with equal skill. See him throughout the Amherst section of my book New Moon.
Pat and Sue Biggam: Lindy and I shared a Lamaze class with them in Vermont as both of our daughters were born in the mid-seventies, and now we visit on the other side of our lives as the parents of grown children: they still in Vermont, we from that other coast.
Norman Bloom: Vermont’s Beaver Pond Meditation film-maker, Norman was a bear of a guy from mystical Jewish New York whom I hung out with during the seventies and stayed in touch with for a while afterward. He resurfaced outside Middlebury in 2005, a bit mournful and hangdog (and maybe bitter) but otherwise unharmed by the loss of our countercultural era.
Andy Shapiro and Carolyn Smithson: They were my first t’ai-chi instructors in Vermont in 1974, but they were much more than that. Time with these guys was a delightful free form and ceaseless improvisational push-hands, on any hillside or among the furniture and wood-stoves of crowded cabins. They were always getting off on the hard stuff, as they liked to put it. They left Vermont for parts unknown, purportedly Rhode Island, but I found them back in the Montpelier area with a grown daughter, just like that, in 2006. She wasn’t born and they weren’t married or formally together at the previous meeting a few decades before.
John Brady: A fellow writer, he was a bellhop when I was the mail clerk at my father’s hotel in 1963. Not long ago Lindy and I burned the midnight oil with him at his home in Newburyport, Mass. He was always the consummate journalistic pro, Sinatra fan, Grossinger’s Hotel story-teller. Lindy enjoys the late wines and chats with him more than I do these days, in fact more than I ever did.
Carson Eoyang: A fellow traveler in the seventh grade on the subway to Horace Mann, he dropped out for financial reasons and went to Bronx High School of Science. No contact since.
Jeffrey Schneider: Same story, I think.
Nelson Richardson: He started Io with Lindy and me at Amherst in 1964 and continued as editor-at-large and friend for a while. He introduced us to surrealism, pop art, minimalism, angels, and Christian mysticism. I think he went into advertising in New York; if true, a strange outcome for a former monk with Thomas Merton at Gethsemani.
Gary Monheit: He was a waiter when I was the mail clerk (1963). I last saw him playing guitar at a club in Cripple Creek, Colorado (1965). I found someone probably him online as a surgeon in Alabama, but he didn’t respond to any queries.
Greg Dropkin: He was a good enough friend during college to drive with Lindy and me to our wedding in 1966, but this son of NASA scientists, genius musician, mathematician, and fierce nerd left the country over the Vietnam-era draft and disappeared. I understand that he has been in Liverpool for decades and that radical politics and the street won out over topology, Navaho symbolism, and the contemplative life.
Mitchell Miller: He was Lindy’s and my closest friend during the summer we lived in Aspen (1965), and he remained our best friend for another three years. We visited him in Yellow Springs where the three of us walked and talked on the railroad tracks, of which I still have an 8 mm. film, him a tall curly-haired, bespectacled icon of the Dylan/McLuhan era (in fact, he introduced us to The Gutenberg Galaxy). We drove him and his girlfriend Joanna Uribe to Colorado in 1967 and later that summer shared Lindy’s family cabin in Central City with them for a week. They both vanished into underground SDS politics in the late sixties, though I caught a brief glimpse of each of them separately and separate of each other as entirely different people years later. The Mitchell and Joanna that we knew were entirely gone.
Welton Smith: We played metaphysical games and goofed and teased across aesthetic lines during a long-ago sixties summer and then continued to exchange poems and observations for a few years afterward. He is one of the secret lynchpins of early Io. He was a tragic, comic figure back then and a romantic, mysterious trickster. I don’t remember how or when we lost touch. One rarely does: a missed address change, the movements into different lives….
Roy Whang (or Wong or Wang): A Korean guy, fellow graduate student in Ann Arbor in 1966, he wanted to do fieldwork in North Korea but dropped out of the program and disappeared.
Abdisalam Y. Mohammed: He was a Sufi student from Somalia in my Ibn Arabi Sufi course at Goddard in 1973. Who knows where the dark Somalian winds blew him?