Our power went out the other day. I used the unexpected day off to read a book. A whole book! Love it when that happens. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like lately. It was Tibetan Peach Pie, Tom Robbins’ autobiography that was published last year. Interesting that such a reclusive guy would even write an autobiography. It’s a great book, as quirk-riddled and funny as his fiction, though arguably without the dark counterpoints that make his voice so distinctive. You can’t have light without darkness, but apparently you don’t have to air out all your darkness in a public forum. It’s fine, it worked out. The book is awesome.
I started reading Robbins in college, beginning with Jitterbug Perfume. Between it and Another Roadside Attraction and the obligatory eighteen-year-old-liberal-arts-student impulse to take a whackton of religion classes, I spent about a year and a half having insufferable stoned spiritual conversations with everyone who would sit still for five minutes. I’ve found that he’s one of those few fiction writers who provokes in-depth contemplation. Which turns into a vortex of quacking and comparing mysticisms when more than one of his fans are in a room together. Oddly, there aren’t that many of us. I’ve only ever run into a handful of folks who have read his stuff and even fewer who have read all of it. He’s only written nine books, not counting this newest one, and his certainly isn’t a household name. Maybe that close examination of the icky but necessary parts of life makes him an acquired taste. (Also, there’s lots of sexy time in his work. Lots. In sweaty, squishy detail. You’ve been warned.)
In my head I associate Robbins’ books with that weird college time, and maybe that contributes to some kind of bias when I go on and on about how amazing they are. Greatness by proximity. The fuzzy warmth of nostalgia (and a bad memory, and a lot of hangovers). Remember when your mind used to get blown all the time? Seems like there’s a certain age (which is probably slightly different for everyone) when there’s a rapid expansion of both interest and intellect, somewhere between your attention beginning to focus outward and your personality beginning to calcify. I’m sure there’s something to that effect in the technical psychobabble definition of adolescence. But my question is, do you remember what that felt like? Can you point to facts or experiences as clear demarcations in your timeline – before thing X vs after thing X – and describe exactly how those thing X’s changed you?
I’m not necessarily talking about huge events or universal rites of passage here. Obviously our lives are different after trauma or upheaval. No one is the same following the birth of a child or the death of a loved one or even one of those “where were you when…?” moments of social or political turmoil. What I’m talking about are those personal enlightenments which are often small or cumulative. Something you learned that altered your worldview just enough to change your mind about something important (your parents are just people). Something you did that made you confident or brave enough to do everything bold that came after (hitchhiking across the country). Or something you experienced that made you see every little thing in a new way (LSD, LSD, and then some more LSD). For me, and probably for many of you, a lot of these moments were directly connected to art. That first album that you played and repeat and identified with every word, no matter how absurd. Or that first poet who opened up the world for you, made you see how to turn image into word and back into image again. That first book or painting or movie that made you think “Holy shit! You can do that?” More importantly, the one that made you say “That can be done. I can do that. I’m going to do that. My way.”
Which is not to say that Tom Robbins alone changed my life, obviously, he was part of the soup, the perception gumbo. But he absolutely shook some shit loose. Without question. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas is written in the second person, for fuck’s sake. (“You can do that?” “No, I can’t. But it can be done. What else can be done?”) This new book gives some great insight into all the old ones. It’s always interesting to see what shook loose the minds of those we admire, and that all admirable minds require having been shaken. I will admit to missing that constant mind blowing a little bit. It’s tempting to say that it’s because the ratio of things you know to things you don’t know changes as you age, but personally I’m humbled and thrilled at the vasty depths of things I have left to learn. Then, I suppose the next thing on the list would be the sandpaper of adult routine grinding off the edges of our experience, dulling our senses and preventing mind blowage via numbing tedium, if I may mix my metaphors. And that certainly plays a part, but I don’t think I can count grownupedness or a boring job as excuses in my own day-to-day. I don’t go to a 9-to-5 anymore and my childishness is both one of my worst and one of my best qualities. Next, I would perhaps contend that this is a numbers game. Maybe I’ve just absorbed so many books/movies/etc that it takes something truly outstanding to blow my mind. I’ve actually said that before about fiction, blaming the sheer volume of mediocre books that all sort of run together in my memory. In retrospect, that argument seems like a cop-out. I think I’ve lost something. Some connection between brain and feelings. The mind blowy gene seems to have shut down. I have cancer of the perception. My third eye is painted over.
How do I fix that?