Last week, after 2 years, 48 weeks, and approximately 150 articles written since I helped to open this amazing website, I went into my first medicine ceremony to pray specifically for the future of Reality Sandwich. Most of the ceremony I saw two things: childhood memories of listening to National Public Radio in northern Minnesota, and then all of the blessings I've received since this project started. When I got home, despite a tight budget and my load of student debt, I committed to contributing $10 a month, and then I wrote this blog entry about what RS means to me.
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Recently, in the San Francisco Airport, I was talking to my fiancé about a chapter from my upcoming book. The particular chapter I was discussing, entitled, "On the Banks of Lake Wobegon" recounts my childhood memories of NPR and, in particular, Garrison Keilor's "A Prairie Home Companion." Growing up in northern Minnesota, just an hour or so down the road from the fictional town of "Lake Wobegon," it was impossible to avoid the popular radio program. The jokes and tall-tales about scandanavian, Protestantism didn't just poke fun at a local culture, they created one. Growing up I felt deeply "Minnesotan" even though I had been born in Kentucky and my parents were from Michigan.
Given the other-worldly nature of my ayahuasca adventures over the past five years, and my life since the start of Reality Sandwich, including the synchronistic way in which my book itself found a publisher, I shouldn't have been surprised when none other than Garrison Keilor walked off the airplane and into the lounge. There he was. He stood above me and my fiancé like a giant. Looking around like he had never seen the inside of an airport before. With two different colored socks and a pair of red, goofy-looking sneakers.
"Hell-oooooooo" he said, like an imaginary creature from The Never Ending Story. Like he had been expecting me.
"I was just talking about you," I said.
He stared at me.
"I-I-wrote a book about you."
"You did? Hmmm." He looked like a trout wearing spectacles.
"Well. Not about you. There's a chapter in my book about Prairie Home Companion."
"Well that's nice. Good for you, young man. Who's publishing it?"
"Ahh. The Human Potential people. What's it called?"
"Fishers of Men."
"A biblical book?"
"Not really. Hey, Garrison. Can I ask you a quick question?"
"Do you remember me? I mean. Like five years ago, the very week I started writing my book, you came and visited my grad school. I asked you how to write about the dark-side of small towns in Minnesota. You told me a story about how the mayor of my hometown was a republican his whole life. Then you said he became a democrat in his last year, and he died before he could vote. You said everything has two sides to it. Do you remember that?"
"I do remember that," he said.
"Well, that's how I wrote about Minnesota in my book. And I was just now telling my fiancé about it. And here you walk out the door of the airplane."
"Hmmm," he looked as if he was trying to finish a sodoku puzzle in his head. "Well, that is really something special. What is the name of your book again? I'll look out for it."* * *
These kinds of exchanges have become rather common for me. I'm tempted to say they don't surprise me anymore, but that's not true. Maybe the best descriptors are words like "awe" and "amazement." I'm amazed by the novelty and the synchronicities. In one second they make everything new. I'm not sure that's an exaggeration, either. They might truly make everything new. In one instant. And there was a time in my life where these things weren't happening to me at all. Or if they were, I wasn't conscious enough to recognize or be impressed by them. Everything felt old and broken down. I was depressed, addicted, arrogant, and afraid. Thing is, I can't name when, exactly, things changed. Instead I have a long list of transformational moments, events, and times like the one with Garrison Keilor in the airport. Here's a shortened version of my list:
- 1. Taking mushrooms on family land in Michigan. I thought they were just another drug. Like getting drunk, smoking a joint, getting laid, or going to a party. Something you did because you just didn't give a "cuss." Not so true. Within several hours I was having an intensely personal and private psycho-therapy session in my closet. All because I couldn't stop staring at one of my father's bottles of cologne. At the end of the trip, my lid having been flipped open, one of my friends discovers on my father's bookshelf, Breaking Open the Head, a journalistic odyssey into psychedelic culture.
- 2. I read Breaking Open the Head and encounter the word "ayahuasca" for the first time.
- 3. After more psychedelic trips, losing weight, and getting sober (all because of insights gleamed from psychedelics) I am reading everything I can about shamanism and alternative spirituality. I book a trip to the Amazon.
- 4. After 3 ayahuasca ceremonies in the middle of the jungle, I feel literally born again. The world, my inner life, and the cosmos itself has become real to me.
- 5. When I return home I consider writing my graduate thesis about my experiences in Peru. The week I started my book, Garrison Keilor arrived at my school to speak, and I asked him how to write about the shadow-side of rural Minnesota (where I had grown up).
- 6. My thesis on ayahuasca wins an award at my graduate school and earns me a teaching fellowship to a MFA program.
- 7. While in my MFA program, and several more trips to Peru later, I receive a vision during a ceremony that I should contact Daniel Pinchbeck about his magazine project, "Evolver." He writes back and tells me about Reality Sandwich. Several months later, I am one of the first news bloggers for the website.
- 8. During another vision in Peru I receive the inspiration to rewrite my book and title it Fishers of Men. Back in the United States one of the staffers at RS, Jonathan Phillips, asks me to share my transformational story at the Ayahuasca Monologues, in New York City. I meet Alex and Daniel and Ken and the whole crew.
- 9. The day after the monologues I fly to South America to cover a shamanic conference for Reality Sandwich. While in the jungle, I meet a psychiatrist from New York. Before our last ceremony together, I share with him my desire to move to NYC after completing my MFA. I want to be near the RS crowd. I want a spiritual community. There is nothing near my grad school in Atlanta. During the ceremony he turns to me and says, "I think I know of a job for you in New York."
- 10. Several months later I've taken the job and am living in New York City and working as a social worker with schizophrenic adults. I've found a local shamanic circle. Meantime, Evolver Atlanta starts producing awesome events with lots of people showing up.
- 11. Three rewrites of my book and approximately 40 ceremonies later, and a year to the day of the monologues, acting as my literary agent, Reality Sandwich sells my book to Tarcher/Penguin.
- 12. Next year, almost four years to the day RS began, I will marry my soul mate (who I met in New York through yet another synchronistic encounter).
There are so many other wonderful moments since my journey at RS began, I can't recount them all. This web magazine has molded me in the same way that Garrison Keilor and Lake Wobegon shaped me as a kid and as an adult writer. For me, it's been so much more than just an intellectual way of looking at my culture or the collective unconscious or the cosmos. It's been so much more than good reading material. Reality Sandwich has been this larger than life collection of stories, riddles, humor, and tall-tales that have shaped most of my twenties. It's been like family. Like discovering a hometown again.
Of course I still dislike nearly every story RS publishes on aliens, conspiracy theories, or polyamory. I will always loathe and secretly despise people who have nothing to post but negativity after some writer wrote a heart-felt story. I will always spend way too long looking to see how many people have commented on my posts in particular, and I will always wonder if "things are being done correctly" or if the site is "in line with the medicine" or some other self-righteous catch phrase I use when I'm feeling cynical. But at the end of the day, I will always love this web magazine. I want this web magazine, and this cultural movement, to grow and flourish and be totally awesome. I suspect that I'm not alone, either.
I suspect that many other personal stories and mind-boggling connections exist because of these daily sandwiches. So when I heard that we needed 2,000 members as soon as possible, or we would shut down, I went into an ayahuasca ceremony praying for Reality Sandwich's future.
How can I help?
And that's how I connected my story about Garrison Keilor in the airport, and my childhood near Lake Wobegon, to Reality Sandwich's membership drive.
In one vision, for example, I saw myself walking the Sunday afternoon streets of my neighborhood in Cambridge, Minnesota. Knocking on people's doors and asking the question, "Will you pledge a quarter per book that I read for the MS read-a-thon?" I still like to think that what made me the top fund-raiser at my school was that I never really cared that much about what prize I got to pick depending on what bracket of money I collected. I was more concerned with proving to everybody that I could read 50 books in two months at the age of ten.
In Keilor's Lake Wobegon, the tagline reads, "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." The mythological Minnesotans of the community were eager to give money to a kid like me. Just like my folks always donated money to PBS and NPR, quite proudly. They would say, "If we don't support PBS and NPR those God-awful networks will brain-wash us. We need education, not materialism!"
I know the comparison might be silly or nostalgic, but I like to think of Reality Sandwich and Evolver as something like an Astral, or Spiritual, Home Companion. A Cosmic Public Radio. We create healthy culture by mythologizing it. Even as it's happening. And more than realizing some ultimate "goal," or winning some "prize," we earn a bigger family and a sense of self-respect that is endearingly "too big for its britches."
So, if you can afford to donate, please help! And if you absolutely can't afford anything right now, but still make use of this website, then include Reality Sandwich in your thoughts, prayers or meditations. Ask that RS be guided by the light into whatever future best serves humanity and our entire planet. Ask that our project find sustenance enough to continue moving forward. Ask that our project remain transparent as we do all of this work.
And keep your eyes open. This website creates magical moments! You never know when a mythical creature will enter the airport lounge you're sitting in, or when the next piece of your evolution will unfold, quite unexpectedly!
(If you feel moved, please take a moment and post a story below about how RS has changed your life...)