Sunday, March 20, 2005

Head 'em Off at the Past

As I continue to blog, I've come to realize something about the form. It's really all about weaving information, memories and connections, into a unique pattern that reflects the life or interests of the blogger. Ultimately, new strands must be drawn in, and this search for strands, for me, has become a recall of memories of the past. After all, memory is like a song in search of a refrain. Or so I thought.

I've been sending out notes to old friends. "Check out my blog," I write, hopefully, then ask: "What do you remember of those strange days when we always had something to say, when we were too fascinated with life to have anything to do with boring people? Recall some of the routine magic we conjured up, the fatal errors we survived, the intentional deaths we took in stride."

So far, no one has taken me up on the offer.

A couple of old friends are too caught up in present day realities to dwell upon the past. A note from one of the pivotal figures of the "olden days" wrote me the following:

"What we did in the 60s and 70s..... I don't remember.  The parts I do remember would probably sound more like a confession...the other areas would not be believed.  I have a hard time believing them, sometimes...."

I guess it is a lot to ask, for people to distill the most sensation-drenched period of their lives into an anecdote or two, but I'm puzzled by the reluctance of some to revisit the past. So this entry is simply another invitation. What was a defining experience for you when you were still young enough to be defined by experiences?

1 comment:

Rick Broussard said...

When we lived on our family "hobby farm" in DeFuniak Springs, my dad, who ran the county guidance clinic, would often bring home patients he had befriended, or ones who just needed a little normalcy in their lives. But life on our farm was not normal in any of the common senses of the word. It was a hive of weird kids who were my friends and sometimes even weirder adults who belonged to my parents social circle. My mother cooked huge elaborate meals and baked bread, drinking wine in the early evenings until she was typically soused by the time food was ready. My dad spent his days at the farm on elaborate, often quixotic building projects and would usually fall asleep by 9 or 10, leaving my friends and my siblings to operate under the tipsy leadership of Mom.

In one of his productive flurries of activity, Dad had engineered a pond on a small creek a ways from the house and then built a large shelter from native trees and cedar shingles. My friends and I spent lots of idle hours under that shelter or swimming in the pond, but sometimes we'd also undertake our own projects that demonstrated a sort of frivolous initiative, a hazy reflection of dad’s ambitions. Once such effort was the building of a "witches’ cradle" -- a primitive sensory deprivation device that I had read about in some book. According to the book, early pioneers of mind expansion had used these contraptions to disassociate the mind to its surroundings and to allow astral voyages and telepathic exercises. The idea fit neatly with the research that had been done by psycho-explorer John Lilly in the 60s when his sensory deprivation experiments kicked off the fads of floating in dark tanks of saline and attempting to communicate with dolphins. Our witches’ cradle was a metal frame, scavenged from a lawn furniture chaise lounge, suspended from one of the beams of the shelter by a chain. The chain was positioned and the whole cradle balanced in such a way that, once you stood on a board wedged in one end, and leaned back on a verticle plank, the cradle’s movements were subtle and omnidirectional. There was no sense of swinging, it was more like hovering over the ground. If you donned a blindfold, the effect was disorienting. We’d go down at night, build a fire by the pond and take turns in the cradle, attempting to free our perceptions from the prison of gravity and dimensionality, so that our minds would drift off like conscious balloons. Mostly we’d just get bored, or we’d notice through the undeprived sense of smell, that someone by the fire had lit up a joint.

One day Dad brought home a young patient of his, a quiet boy about 9 or 10 years old. Dad told us he needed to be away from his home for awhile and he thought a day at the farm might be good for him. The kid gravitated to me and my peers, so we were careful with our language and our substances and entertained him as best we could, even inviting him down to the pond in the evening to help us build a fire. We sat around on blocks and log ends and poked the fire as the sky dimmed. The boy was curious and noticed the witches cradle right away. When he asked what it was, I spared him the metaphysical background and simply explained that it was a device that allowed you to travel with your mind.

Where can you go? He asked.

Anywhere you can imagine, I explained.

He wanted to try it, so we hitched him in and gave him the blindfold. We assumed he start laughing or try to make the thing swing, but he leaned back and swayed there so silently that we eventually forgot he was with us. When one of my friends pulled out a dube, I was sufficiently aware to send him off into the woods to light it up. We chuckled quietly at how seriously the little guy seemed to be taking the cradle. We didn’t want to interfere with whatever he was experiencing, but secretly we were a bit jealous. He was staying in there much longer than any of us had ever managed.

When the kid finally asked us to help him out, we were curious about what had been going on in his mind: But we were so impressed – he’d been standing there for more than half an hour – that no one wanted to bug him about it. We just asked him were he’d gone, and he just said, “Away.”

Dad had to get him home that night, so we walked him back up to the house and didn’t think much about it until the next day. We thought he might be coming home with Dad again so we asked where he was. Dad mentioned that he’d been accepted into social services. His parents were having a hard time having him around the house, Dad explained. A few days earlier, the boy and his brother had been sitting in their father’s pick-up truck, waiting while the father was in the store. Bored, they began exploring the cab and in the truck’s glove compartment and found a pistol. The kid that Dad brought home had found the gun and then found the courage to pick it up. Toying with the power of his act, he pointed it jokingly at his brother, In the excitement of his pretense, he pulled the trigger. The killing of one son by another had created a huge unhealing wound in the family.

Then we told Dad about the night before, and the brief answer the boy had given to our inquiry.

Looking back, it was a word that spoke volumes.