A couple of off-line conversations about the inspirational power of music and of SF (science/speculative fiction) have gotten me to dig up this old Facebook piece and to share it here. See bottom for details.
I dedicate it to Little Rinpoche.
1. My best friend in kindergarten used to mix up mind and matter; he would say “It doesn’t mind” and “I don’t matter.” Somehow that’s stuck with me. I think he was on to something.
2. My first radio was in the shape of a little soccer ball and played a very tinny version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” when my cousin and I turned it on for the first time. We danced to it until it broke.
3. I joined the Columbia Music Club in seventh grade and promptly ordered some Black Sabbath albums. The name sounded cool. My intuition was right: I loved ‘em, and would go around playing (electric) mouth guitar in middle school.
4. I was a plump little kid until I went to boarding school in Rome for a year at age 12. While there (my parents hoped I would grow up to be a Ukrainian Catholic priest), I got good at foosball and billiards and got turned on to Jethro Tull and Amon Duul II. I was a sucker for dramatic electric guitar openings and unusual chord changes. “Sitting on a park bench/Eyeing little girls with bad intent/Aqualung.” Some days we walked in the fields outside the city and wondered about the used condoms; other days we went into town and saw graffiti saying “Fuori Americani!” I was glad to be Canadian.
5. I played George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in high school. George the humanities professor at a college in New England. (Hey, there’s absolutely nothing else we have in common, and don’t try to invite yourself over for dinner to find out.)
6. My belly button collects lint. The lint collects in the shower and stops up the drain.
7. As a kid, I used to collect sports cards and play Strat-O-Matic tabletop football with my brothers. We would listen to records and make up our own hit parade charts. Some days we would pretend to be the church priest and give mock sermons from a pulpit. Later, when we were altar boys during extra long services we would sometimes take off to shoot pool during the sermons. My favorite preacher was the one who’d scare you into thinking people are really being bad; not individual people, but all of us. His conviction kept me awake at night.
8. The church was down the street from the Queen Street mental health center, and sometimes we would get interesting visitors dropping in for Sunday service. One of them, old baba Kateryna who was a regular, once brought a bottle of shampoo with her that she threw up to the priest who gave those sermons. He was bald.
9. My healthiest summer was spent bent over weeding onions on a farm outside Toronto. Going to the bathroom never felt better than that summer.
10. I used to ride the subway to get to school, a Catholic boy’s school in downtown Toronto. (I had lots of subway dreams then, a whole genre of them, with the underground transit system always seeming to grow new tentacles into previously-unknown parts of the city.) The priests and teachers told us to get off at Queen Street station when coming to school, not at the Dundas station, and we knew it was because of the strip clubs and the hippies selling “Guerrilla” magazine at Dundas. On special days we went, wide-eyed, to Dundas.
11. I spent my 7th and 8th grade summers reading Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and Samuel Delany’s “Dhalgren” at our extended-family cottage in a ramshackle Ukrainian “country club” called Poltava. Our cabin was called Brody, after the town where my grandfather had been a priest. Later I found out the town was more than half Jewish at the time and I decided I might have descended from that other half. Reading Delany warped me for life (in a great way).
12. Other formative intellectual experiences: walking with my dad and his friend down a country lane at night as the Apollo astronauts were walking on the moon, and realizing the bizarre vertigo of it all; reading William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” in high school and realizing what was at the end of the fork; reading/breathing Gurdjieff as an undergrad (while trying to “self-remember”); listening to Javanese gamelan music and “Trout Mask Replica” over headphones at the music library in an altered state (I’ll leave the details to your imagination, but I had never realized time could be so different until I heard those gamelans); and attending John Livingston’s Environmental Thought class in grad school. I loved John; his mind seemed on fire, contagiously.
13. My longest-lasting band was called Vapniaky (Ukrainian for Limestones, or Fogies). We played Slavic-roots avant-garage psychedelic folk thrash and recorded a cassette that had a couple of chart hits in Lviv, in western Ukraine. Fave concert was the “Stop the City” benefit barn-fest we played outside Kitchener-Waterloo one summer. It was so good none of us remembers any details; a big, beautiful blur.
14. Playing electric guitar with my improv friends used to trigger my kundalini energy, though I didn’t know what it was at the time. Tai chi practice calmed it down to an enjoyably ripply, tingly thing.
15. I have been told by several people that they heard my doctoral dissertation was over a thousand pages long. One estimate put it closer to 2000. (Apparently it was used as an example of what academe can do to someone if they’re not careful: “don’t get carried away like Adrian did; look what happened to him…”) In actual fact, it was (drumroll…) all of four hundred and sixty-three pages long, plus appendices and bibliography.
16. My favourite festivals are/were Burning Man, Starwood, Glastonbury, and Sheshory.
17. My wildest spiritual experience took place with a wannabe shaman in the steppes of southern Ukraine, and with a concoction of his he called “soma” (the milk of the gods, in the Vedas). I’ll spare you the details, but if I was L. Ron Hubbard I would have started a religion from the experience.
18. In 1990 I accompanied Greenpeace International chairman David McTaggart on a semi-secretive mission to the Chernobyl “zone.” He had me translate as he got blind-Scottish-drunk and got our Ukrainian secret service tag-along even drunker, to fish out some information from the hapless bastard. By the end of it they were great friends, vodka-swilling bosom buddies (for a night).
19. I used to do the graveyard shift at York University’s Electronic Music Studio, and another at the old folks’ home where I worked for years, photocopying library books and reading them half the night. I wouldn’t be able to do either anymore.
20. I conducted a Ukrainian choir for years. One year we were taken to the Middle East by a Mother-of-God loving monk-benefactor to sing for world peace. We chanted in a 4th (?) century monastery in the desert, communed with Egyptian gods in the pyramids, and floated on the Dead Sea. Some of our molecules are still there, floating.
21. Driving into Vermont from Canada on my first re-entry into the U.S. after getting my Green Card, the border official smiled at me (as much as a border official can smile). “Welcome home,” he said. I didn’t know what to say. Home, huh. It felt nice, and tingly. And just a little perplexing.
22. After having my backpack stolen from the Warsaw train station in 1988, I spent 14 hours on a milk-run train that stopped everywhere and got so full I could barely stand. There were no seats available, and I saw at least four people scrunched together in the bathroom at one point. When I arrived for the first time in my Carpathian mountain hilltop village destination I felt I had really arrived home, and I slept and slept.
23. I love wandering in foreign cities under double moons (cf. Dhalgren, above).
24. I love mixing kefir and muesli and granola and nuts and berries. If I believed in reincarnation I would think I might have been a Caucasian sheep herder in a past life.
25. I love the ocean. It’s where I come from and where I’ll always return. Kind of like that wormhole outside time in the very first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. See you all there.
Post-amble: The idea with these is that once you’re tagged, you’re supposed to share 25 things about yourself. I was tagged on Facebook a long time ago and wrote these in response. There’s little to be embarrassed about here, I figure (and only the barest hint of poetic license in a few spots), so there you have them…