31 December 2011


The great life-changing events of one's life are, I think, seldom obvious at the time.  The first of our amateur encounter groups was a cardinal point - a 'hinge' - in my life.

Tom and I had gone tramping that day up the (incredibly beautiful) Wa'ahila Ridge Trail.  We had rather to rush back in time to go to the first of our encounter groups.  We looked rather grubby, in an outdoorsy sort of way.  Tom, in particular, looked like Tarzan.  We made it to the church in time - shirtless?? - where we were divided into small groups, sitting on the floor in circles, facing one another.

Whilst it is true that I was seeking enlightenment, self-knowledge, some sort of escape from the world I knew, it is, nevertheless, that I - as, perhaps, most of the males there - was also definitely interested in meeting girls.

And, it may be, the girls there were interested in meeting boys.

Or perhaps not.  I will let Susan take over at this point:

By the time I met John, I had been living in Honolulu for a few years and wondering what I would be doing next.  Would I stay there or return to the Mainland?  I wasn't sure where I would go, if I did return.
My parent's marriage had broken up by that time.  It still wasn't clear if their living situation was permanent but there was quite a distance between them.  My father lived in Seattle and my mother was in Los Angeles.  I do know that they did meet at least once in San Francisco.
In 1969, I was twenty-three and very unsure of myself in many ways.  In 1967 I had left my family for an "OE" (Overseas Experience) to Hawaii and had navigated many changes since but I had given little serious thought to how I was going to spend the years following.  I have often wondered if my family had been the kind who actually gave thought to these questions, where I might have ended up.
Didn't matter, because in October, 1969  I was living in a real dump of an apartment in a really fabulous location in Waikiki.
The location was on Diamond Head almost next door to the Outrigger Canoe Club.  There was only one house in front of the apartment and the beach - and the rent was cheap.  The only drawback was my roommate, Katie McDowall.  Katie couldn't help the fact that she was beautiful but rather an air head.  I never knew what to expect from her.  She was full of unlimited ideas for doing all sorts of things.
One day, while reading the Honolulu Advertiser, she announced that she had read there would be "encounter groups" held at the Unitarian Church that coming weekend.  Yes, I had heard about these groups - who hadn't in our age group?
It didn't take long to decide to attend and just see what would happen.  Mainly we were much more interested in maybe meeting guys more than anything else.
Thus unplanned are the major events of our lives.

Katie was tall, dark, and rather glamorous in appearance.  Tom was tall, blonde, and ... you get the picture.  That they would pair off - in the event, they did not - seemed likely.

Susan was neither tall nor short; was thin; and wore glasses with octagonal frames.  Perhaps it was the spectacles that made the difference.

Susan will, I trust, forgive me for the facts that, not only was she in the place of second-choice to Katie - but that when I asked her, after the group session, to a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert, it was with a pair of tickets that I had bought to take another girl (a fellow University student) - who had, in the event, turned me down.


In 1969, I had no idea who Betty Friedan was.  I was, and still am, about as a-political as they come - and in 1969, with my world having fallen about my ears, I was, if possible, less interested than ever in such matters as Women's Liberation.

It was not the name of the person who would run an encounter group at the Unitarian Church in Honolulu that interested me.  I think that, at the time, anything that seemed to point a direction away from where I was would have been attractive.

I note, from that Wikipedia article linked above, that in September, 1969 that Unitarian Church "...made national headlines when it offered refuge to U.S. servicemen protesting the war in Vietnam...", so I suppose it was politically active, so that hosting an encounter group run by Betty Friedan fits in well.  (I also note that, according to that same article, that church was "... where President Obama attended Sunday School during his youth."  As he was born in August, 1961 and would have been eight in October, 1969, I seem to have brushed the sleeve of greatness - but that's another story :-)).

It may have been Tom Bratt, again, who told me about the week-end with Betty Friedan.  For it was to be a week-end retreat.  We would spend two nights in sleeping bags (or whatever) sleeping in the church hall.  I don't recall how much it cost, but I don't imagine it would have been cheap - with Ms Friedan, and meals, to pay for.

I went.  I was, in fact, bowled over by the experience.  If I were to summarise the ethos of the thing, I suppose the following few points might be made:
  • fear is often bad
  • the body is good
  • openness between persons is good
With these points, few would differ.  Others more questionable are:
  • man is inherently moral - only fear or closedness makes him bad
  • all desires are good when embraced by all parties involved
  • openness will always have good effects
Whether I have correctly interpreted the ideas behind these groups, these are the ideas I inferred from them.  We did various activities:
  • blind walk - blindfolded, you were led around by a partner - to teach you trust and to allay your fears
  • blind fall - blindfolded, you let yourself fall backwards, to be caught by your partner
  • expressing your emotions about persons - sitting in a circle, you tell how others make you feel
These and similar activities have become so orthodox today as to have passed from radical newness through truisms to pieties to be rebelled against - but for me at the time they were radical, seemed to promise a revelation, a genuine enlightenment.

The retreat finished some time on Sunday.  Was it the next week-end that a meeting was called for those participants who wished to engage in a series of such 'encounters?'  I think it must have been then - it was certainly a decision made soon, and enthusiastically.  We - we may have been 20 or 30 people, I think - determined to meet weekly, indefinitely, at the Church, for our own amateur group meetings.  It is clear to me that these became important to me.  I continued to attend them from their beginning until sometime in, perhaps, April, 1970.

I suppose the first of these group meetings happened the following week-end (if they were on week-ends - may have been evening meetings).  Notices advertising the meetings were widely-enough distributed that the attention of several persons was drawn to them - amongst them Susan.

24 December 2011


I have never been hungry - I mean, not really I-must-eat-or-I'm-in-trouble hungry and certainly not where-will-my-next-meal-come-from hungry.  In September 1969, therefore, although I appeared to face the end of any sort of academic life, and had no job - and were Edna and I divorced by now?  Did I have child support and alimony duties? - but in any case, in September 1969 I was 28 and had, perhaps, still the unquestioned assurance that nothing really bad could happen to me.  This, it may be, explains why I have no recollection of worry about jobs.

Or perhaps it is just that the passage of 42 years, and the fact that I did get paid work fairly soon, have driven any worry out.

It may have been Tom Bratt who introduced me to Airic - if that is how his name was spelt.  Airic was - oh, perhaps 50?  People of 28 are not good at judging the age of old people - that is, anyone older than about 40.  Airic's name, in any case, was not the name he had been given by his parents.  It was the name of someone he had been in a previous life.  Airic was a Scientologist.  He was also the owner of a small fleet of taxi cabs, driving under the badge of Charley's Taxi.  Tom was a close friend from Yap Peace Corps.  He had been a trainee in Moloka'i in the 1966 group I had worked with.  Now he was living in Honolulu, sharing dope with me - and driving for Airic.  Airic and his wife took care of a number of young drivers like me and Tom - I say 'took care of' rather than simply 'hired' because that was the genuine feeling one had.  Many of us were in one sort of trouble or another.  Airic was no fool.  He would not have drivers working for him who could not do the work - but he taught us the ropes, helped us when we were in temporary difficulties, had us around to his house for meals.  I have given thanks for Airic often enough since then.

Airic taught me the things I needed to know about taxi-driving.  He shored up my shaky lack of self-confidence.  He told me the critical things I needed to know to pass the State of Hawai'i examination for taxi drivers.  When I had passed, he went out with me for my first couple of runs.  Then ... I was on my own.

I had lived in Honolulu since June, 1966.  I knew the city well, I thought.  I discovered that I knew my way to the University; to the supermarket; to the houses of friends.  I had never been to any of the places tourists want to go to.  I had never, in fact, been in most of Honolulu.

The very first solo fare I got was an elderly Japanese couple, with not much English, picked up at the Ala Moana shopping centre, who wanted to go to ... well, I certainly don't remember where they wanted to go, but at the time, I had not the slightest idea how to get there - even once I worked out from their pronunciation what the name of the street actually was.

Thankfully, they sat in the back - and I had my map book secreted on my lap.  I got there, somehow.  It was a fairly stressful trip for me - and I think they realised that I was less than confident.

I suppose I started driving in mid-September, and drove until sometime in January, 1970.  By the time I quit, I was a confident driver.  I knew where many things were.  I knew how to coax the despatcher into helping me find the places I didn't know.  I was no longer embarrassed to say that I didn't know where a place was.  Nevertheless, I did not like taxi driving.  I drove a twelve-hour shift - mine was 6AM to 6PM - which, with preparation of the cab before 6AM and cleaning it up afterwards, and getting to and from work, amounted almost to fourteen hours a day.  The money was not unreasonable.  Half the listed fare went to Airic, but all the tips - which, in Honolulu in 1969, tended to be fairly substantial - I kept.  I was, I think, completely innocent of any thought of income tax.  So the money would have been not unreasonable, except that I spent most of what did not actually pay the rent and buy food on marijuana and LSD.

And the job was very boring - except on those rare but not non-existent occasions when it was terrifyingly stressful (such as the time I was driving a man who, I think, was looking for his wife, in order to kill her - I managed to abandon him at one point when he was searching around some house - and I did not worry about my fare).

All in all, though, I am glad of my taxi-driving experience.  Airic was good to us all.  He made me sufficiently interested in Scientology that I thought of doing something about it - could not, of course, so long as I was using drugs, and anyway, could not have afforded the fees - and, even more, motivated me to find enough about it to know that it was not at all either a safe or a reasonable sort of practice.  And, best of all, Scientology eventually became the vehicle by which I came to Jesus Christ - but that is a later part of the story.

Well before that part of the story, I encountered a remarkable woman.  Her name was Betty Friedan.

17 December 2011


Tharngan did, indeed, have a boat, but when Waqyaan went to borrow it, Tharngan wasn't around.  Ah, well, he won't mind, thought Waqyaan.  So we took it and went out, did some fishing outside the reef (which was fun, although more demanding for me - deeper water and annoying small sharks trying to steal your fish).  We came back in and Waqyaan went to return the boat - and came back angry and with a bruise on the side of his face.

Tharngan had slapped his younger brother across the face for taking his boat without permission.  I emphasise the 'younger' in that phrase.  English has one word for 'brother;' Yapese kin terms distinguish older from younger brother.  Tethiig is 'my younger brother;' ironically, 'my older brother' is nganniiq.  The distinction is important.

But so, I imagine, is that distinction important most places.  Waqyaan's reaction was rather different from what I expected.  He did not think it was improper for his older brother to chastise him.  He seemed to think, first, that it had been extreme; and, importantly for my own future, that he, Waqyaan, would act the same towards his younger brother.

Why, I wonder, was this incident so exceedingly upsetting to me?  For it seemed to turn my world upside down.

For reasons that surely have more to do with my own frame of mind at the time than anything connected with Yapese culture, this experience amounted to a kind of conversion for me.  I had, I am sure, made a kind of idol of Yap.  The unspoilt native culture, without western hang-ups and uptightness, a people who are naturally in harmony with nature and with one another - and Waqyaan's experience had shattered the idol.

It had shattered it, not only because all was not sweetness and light amongst Yapese, but because I perceived - correctly, I am sure - that it was not western influence that had bruised Waqyaan's face.  It was traditional Yapese culture.

It will not help for me to remind myself that cultures may well produce systems that meet their very real needs.  It will not help, either, to say that I may simply have been wrong about what was going on between the two brothers.  I have called my change of outlook a 'conversion' and by that I mean a major change in me, triggered by objectively inadequate external events.  The causes of conversion are seldom sufficiently accounted for by pointing to externals.

This happened in late summer - perhaps mid- to late-August - and I was, in any case, scheduled to return to Honolulu in early September.  My return was hastened by an accident that would have been minor anywhere but Yap.

Yapese buildings are built on top of platforms of stone and coral skeletons.  One day I was stepping up onto the platform of the house where we ate, and slipped, skinning my left shin.

In Yap, one should not leave wounds open to the air.  Perhaps things are different today, but at the time, going to the toilet did not involve nice sanitary flushing arrangements and drains leading to sewerage purification plants.  I immediately cleaned the spot, applied anti-bacterial ointment, and bandaged it.  No problem.

Three or four days later, it had scabbed over and I took the bandages off.

Oops!  Lots of flies gathering around this one spot on my shin!  Bad sign.  Bacitracin and bandages, please!

Within a few days, I not only had a very bad infection in the spot, it had gone systemic.  My temperature was about 39 degrees, as I recall (102F for those of you still living in the 18th Century).  Blood poisoning a serious possibility.  An urgent flight was arranged for me to Honolulu.  I hobbled out to the 'plane on crutches, in fair agony.

On the flight, I recall thinking - feverishly, of course, but not, on that account, unreasonably - about my experience with Waqyaan.  I thought about what the difference between Yap and ... well, and 'us' ... was.  What did 'we' have that the Yapese did not have - or did not appear to me to have, given the inner nature of my experience.

I concluded that the difference was the Western ideal of love - an ideal, certainly, rather than, in any but the sketchiest sense, a reality.  Nonetheless, I decided that we in the West believed, even though we seldom acted in conformity with that belief, that it was somehow the case that love ought to characterise the relationship between people.

I had returned to being a Western man.

I arrived in Honolulu and immediately was seen by a doctor - who told me that he thought he could save my leg.  This was sobering.  He did - but it took six months of repeated packing of the ulcerated wound with antibiotic-soaked sponges.

I did not enrol as a student for the fall semester, 1969, and nor did I have any work tutoring at the University.  I was now unemployed.

10 December 2011


It came as a dream come true to me when, in perhaps March or April of 1969, I was offered a contract to work in Yap over the summer to be in charge of the linguistic aspects of the Peace Corps training programme, to be conducted there in Yap.  I had worked full-time on the Yapese language for three years.  I knew much about the language, but was very much aware that my understanding of its structure was imperfect - and I had almost no practical command of Yapese.

This last fact may surprise non-linguists.  Actually to use a language is a skill, not simply a body of knowledge.  As well might one assume that a deep understanding of the physics, mathematics, and psychology of western music is sufficient to enable one to play the piano.

Thus I was excited simply as a linguist at the prospect of living and working in a speech community for a language which I had so intensely studied - and, indeed, this experience gave me the beginnings of the ability to speak Yapese, and enabled me to correct some basic errors in my interpretation of the grammar of the language (and which are propagated in my book).

All of which had very little to do with the emotions with which I greeted the possibility of going to Yap.

There is no doubt that western men are infected with the myth of the noble savage, and I am no exception.  This is not enough to explain the emotions I felt at the thought of going to Yap.

I said, in a previous post, that I had given up hope.  This is not true, of course.  My use of LSD was itself a part of what has to have been a search - a search outside, as I have put it - outside of the world of matter and energy - and, indeed, of thought and reason.

Yap also was outside.  The life I imagined the Yapese to live was as different as the life of dwellers on another planet.  And, after all, I was not very happy in Honolulu now.  I knew that my studies had pretty much gone down the drain.  I spent much of my time going from LSD trip to LSD trip - with marijuana in between - and was, perhaps, getting a bit bored.

When, therefore, I left Honolulu on the first leg of the flight to Yap, I had, it may be, the attitude of a man being transported to Heaven on the wings of angels.

Honolulu to Guam on the 727.  Two nights in the Micronesia Hotel (which may not exist any longer - a web search doesn't find it - and, as Susan will testify from her memory of the night we spent there in 1973, it was a dump - and to me, at the time, sheer heaven), then onto the DC6 for Yap.

Looking down from the aeroplane on my first trip to Yap is an experience I will not forget.  I felt that a new life was beginning for me.

The training site was in Gagil ...

Perhaps I should say that one puzzling fact about living in Yap - puzzling, I mean, to those who have never lived there - is that it is much larger on the inside than on the outside.

Yap Island - which is really four islands inside an encircling reef, with narrow channels between them - is roughly a fairly squat triangle, with the base roughly 25 Km in length, and the 'altitude' (straight line from the peak of the triangle to the base) about 10Km long.  According to Wikipedia, its land area is about 100Km2 - so it is quite a lot smaller than the city of Auckland.

Yet I have never been in most of Yap.  And, although travel within Yap is - or was - not as handy as in, say, Auckland or Honolulu, there are roads and there are automobiles.

But I would never just get into a car and drive someplace in Yap.  I don't know that anyone ever explained this to me, but the fact is that in Yap in 1969 - and, for what I know, still today - there is not, except for in 'Kolonia' itself, the concept of public land.  If I had some reason to go to a particular village, it would be well understood.  The local chief would know who I was and why I was there.

So I will mention places in Yap that may give the impression of great distances apart - and, psychologically, they were.

Training was in Gagil.  I think - though I am not sure of the accuracy of my memory - that training was in Gachpar, at the school.  I lived, however, in Wanyaan with Waqyaan, brother of Tharngan.  I wore Yapese clothes - loincloths - three, layered, as an adult male - with - well, without a lot of words to describe them, I won't make much sense.  A picture is worth a thousand words (Susan is concerned you might think this is a photo of me; it is not.  I have one somewhere, but this is just off the web):
I chewed betel nut (no marijuana or LSD in Yap - at least not then :-)).  I lived pretty much like a Yapese.  Worked at the training programme.  Sometimes Waqyaan and I slept in the school, but mostly we slept in his brother's house.

We went (spear-)fishing pretty regularly.  This was almost always simply mask-and-snorkel work inside the reef.  We had no trouble getting fish, of course - but ... Waqyaan told me of the fish outside the reef.  For that, however, we would need a raft or a boat.  Tharngan, his older brother, had a boat.  No doubt we could borrow it.

03 December 2011

Mr Tambourine Man

I don't know exactly when I first started to use LSD - in reality, I started first with mescaline, and I do remember that.  My fellow graduate student Barry, who lived, with his wife and their two (I think) children, in the breathtakingly beautiful suburb of Lanikai - invited me to his house one evening in March and I took mescaline there.

Did he give it to me?  I don't think so.  I think he only tolerated my using it there.

Within - what? days? a couple of weeks at the most - I was taking LSD regularly.

I do not know what to say about LSD, even now.  It is a very dangerous drug.  Some have died as a result of its use - many by suicide.  It is often cited as a recreational drug.  I suppose that depends on how you define 'recreation.'

For me, it was not recreation.  It was desperation.  Although I could not have expressed it in this way at the time, the fact is that the natural world had failed me.  I was trying to break out.

"Mr Tambourine Man" is an apt title for this post.  Dylan's song became my literal theme song.  I messed about, very badly, with the guitar, and that was my favourite song.  The chorus:
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you.
is where I was at.

I took LSD several times a week.  By this time I had a motorcycle for transport.  My favourite way of taking 'acid' was to take the drug and drive over to that same Lanikai suburb, to spend the night sitting on the beach, waiting for the sun to rise.  I was 'not sleepy' and there was definitely 'no place I [was] going to.'

I was still an enrolled graduate student, and must have done some work.  I managed to turn two (I now recall, though in an earlier post I said 'one') of those four 'incomplete' grades to passing marks - the other two became F's.  I was, nevertheless, really only drifting.  I took LSD often and went to campus, attending lectures - well, small seminars, really, as I was now officially a PhD candidate.  My fellows knew what was up with me.  I made no attempt to conceal it.  Indeed, I was deeply touched when, in early 1970, I told my dearest friend Greg Trifonovitch that I had become a Christian, he exclaimed - somewhat paradoxically :-) - "What?!  That's impossible!!  My adult Sunday School class has been praying for you for two years!"  May God bless you, Greg and Bev, for that, and for all that you have done for Susan and me over the many years since then.

During these two or three months, from sometime in March until the end of May, 1969, I went through a kind of pantheist view of life.  If I had remained there, I suppose I might have become a conventional 'hippie' - but I found that I could not, somehow, accept pantheism.  I had brooded on the oneness of reality, those dawns at Lanikai.  I recall very clearly the night that I knew that I would be dishonest if I accepted pantheism.

I had taken LSD and stayed, for a change, in my apartment in Young Street.  During the course of the 'trip' I began exclaiming - not out loud, for Mrs. Bell's sake :-) - "I Am!"  I had not got that from the Bible.  I knew nothing of the Bible.  I had got it from Heinlein's great - and poisonous - novel "Stranger in a Strange Land."

I knew I was failing in my academic career.  I remember saying to myself that I was the cosmos - I was all - and that both succeeding and failing were my - I should say 'My' - choice.  I was free to embrace both.

And yet... in my deepest being I knew that there was a fundamental problem: I preferred to succeed and not to fail.  In theory, I ought to have been able to embrace both alternatives.  In reality, I knew that I was not willing to do so.  Pantheism failed me.

It must, nonetheless, have seemed to my teachers and supervisors - I was still working for PALI on Yapese - that I was not yet a total loss.  It was at their instigation that I was employed during the summer of 1969.  I was sent to Yap to manage the Yapese language side of training Peace Corps Volunteers on-site.