My Odyssey Through the Underground Press
excerpt: pp. 399-402
Waiting for the RevolutionI was not the only one struggling to make sense of these subtleties. Numbers of people around Avatar were considering whether or not to move to the Hill; people were examining their own lifestyle choices and were looking at the demands Mel was making on the people close to him and at the implied possibility of becoming closer to Mel if they could adapt their lives to these demands. And there was all this talk in the air of the Second American Revolution, a sense that history was moving faster and faster, that we were right on the verge of becoming active agents in one of the big historical changes, and that there wasn't time to dawdle with these little personal decisions.
Wayne wrote an article for the front page of the news section of Avatar Number 22, entitled "Gospel of the Good News." In laying out the page, we set an excerpt from the middle of the article in large, bold type, almost a headline itself, above a picture of Mel deep in conversation with Owen de Long, one of his close friends, a former Harvard doctoral student in international relations with connections to the Kennedy family political establishment. Owen was Fort Hill's candidate for president "in about ten years," Jessie would say.
Wayne's headlined excerpt read,Men are coming, great men who are among us now, who will unite the extremes in to an unshakable structure, unshakable not because of its suppression of the will of the people, but because of its perfect expression of that will. And from the present bewilderment, anger and chaos a true will must arise to replace that shadow of will, that vacant greed which is now called the will of the people by the clumsy dwarves who stumble where graceful giants ought to stride.He writes about his experience working for Avatar and for Mel Lyman, being besieged by offers of help and advice, but only really appreciating the contribution of those who immediately recognize the need and go right to work, without fancy talk or good ideas about how the work could be done better. He talks further about the need to sacrifice one's personal vision in preparation to do the larger work demanded by the needs of history. He makes comparisons to the time of the original American Revolution, "when a few men, who most felt the need for independence from the nation which held the great force of this nation in check, took those first steps to risk that necessary separation," and created the format for the rest of the population to follow.[I]n our time, our revolution shall differ only in that it is a subtler thing, for the need is of a deeper nature, but its fulfillment shall be manifest outwardly at every level, in lifestyle, in politics, in science and in art. Men are coming, great men who are among us now....He compares the struggle to that going on in the black community at that time, and among young whites and politicians who recognize that change is inevitable and necessary. He predicts a season of political polarization and the pre-eminence of the likes of Nixon and Reagan, even though Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy could do more to unite the country if it was ready for that. "Among politicians, Robert Kennedy is the Avatar, " which means "the bridge between heaven and earth.. .pure spirit manifested in everyday reality. " And this, "if you'll allow me, brings us right back home." With Mel no longer playing an active role on producing Avatar,Avatar will not be less Mel Lyman. No, there will be more Mel Lyman in every issue, whether by that name or not, for there is no separation between us from where you stand. God is not dead, my friend, just now more uncreated.He concludes optimistically with a clear statement of Fort Hill's recommended moral stance:The greatest change humanity has ever known is upon us. Each of us must give up what we have to further that change. Evaluate your thing in that light, check it genuinely, and see what falls away and what remains. Bring what remains to us, and together we shall recreate the world.
A Season of RiotsHelping Wayne put together this front page and the rest of Issue 22, I experienced a clarity and sense of purpose that cut through a lot of the confusion I had been feeling. I felt envious of Wayne, who clearly had been living close enough to the source of all this inspiration to be able, himself, to express some of its values in terms that I found inspiring and meaningful. And change certainly was coming quickly. The "Good News" issue of Avatar was dated March 29-April 11. While it was still on the streets, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. I was in the Avatar office working on layout for the next issue when the radio announced the news. Cities across the country exploded with rage and unleashed racial tension. In Boston, a mayor named Kevin White and an incomparably popular black entertainer named James Brown (I was struck by the coincidence of their names matching their roles in the political drama) collaborated brilliantly to keep community tempers in check by canceling a live concert Brown was to perform and televising it instead Boston, well known as a racially polarized city, rode out the season of riots unscathed.
On the front page of the next Avatar we featured an essay Wayne had written - two days before King was shot - on the impending and inevitable social upheaval in America, under an oversized picture of a political demonstration on Boston Common, and alongside a headlined quote from Lyndon Johnson, of all people, who had just announced he would not run for president again: "We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked 100 years or more. It is time to write the next chapter." Wayne's essay discusses the tendency of society to offer diversions to the mass of the population, meaningless rivalries and preoccupations that keep people from confronting the deeper internal questions, all based in people's own desire to avoid what is real. He concludes,They will not wake up until all they have is gone. The choice today is simple, give it all up today, or have it all taken away tomorrow, there's little difference, it feels the same either way, he who tries to hang on until tomorrow is just putting off the inevitable.This rather Calvinist message drew the connection between the steamrolling events in the world at large and the emerging philosophy of Fort Hill. Wayne seemed to be saying it was time to give up the hedonism and self-indulgence that had characterized the flowering of the hippie culture, in favor of a more purposeful and self-aware participation in the reshaping of history. I took this idea seriously, though rather innocently. It seemed to give meaning to the path Candy and I had chosen, by contrast to the aimlessness of our last days in East Lansing and of our arrival in Boston. It put the struggle for relentless self-improvement that seemed so central at Fort Hill into a context that made sense to me, joining it with the political struggle with which I had so long identified. And, it gave Candy and me a new belief to share. This would come in handy soon, as the pressure mounted on all the Fort Hill hangers-on to make a choice.
Yes, go out there and hang out in the street for an afternoon, look at the faces, if you can stand it. Then go home and look at yourself. Where do you stand in the midst of all this and what difference do you make? Precious little, I'll wager. Better get to work on yourself, my friend, become a tool of what's happening, it's willingly today or like it or not tomorrow. Nobody gets left out, there's not a way out of this one. We're all up against the same wall, and the poison gas we've been making all this time has now completely filled the air in this little room, and in a moment we shall all have to breathe.
Incorporating as MelThe magazine section of issue Number 22 had featured the "United Illuminating Charter," a document created and handwritten by Eben Given and signed by him and 11 other mainstays of the Hill, declaring formally their solidarity with Mel and his purposes. This was accompanied, behind the scenes, by legal incorporation into several interlocking companies, to promote the community's media work, to hold the real estate, et cetera. (The name "United Illuminating" was borrowed from the power plant in New Haven, Connecticut, whose big red neon sign, "United Illuminating Company" lit up the highway on the route between Boston and New York.) Eben's charter reads:Dear Friends,The charter includes a horoscope for the moment of signing, high noon of the spring equinox, with the sun high in the sky in Aries and the moon in Capricorn. Not coincidentally, Mel's chart also had the sun in Aries and the moon in Capricorn.
I have written a charter that includes and defines everything I know. I have lived a thousand years in a day and a night, talked with you all, been still, slept, gotten up again and written - knowing through the sharpest pains of my own inadequacy and limitation - the greatest that I have ever known in all my life - that what must finally be written and signed by all of us today, can only be written as my first picture of Mel could only have been drawn - when the last resources of my own separate talent had been exhausted - when I had seen so deeply, and suffered so deeply that there was finally nothing left of me to draw WITH. And the picture came.
It is not my own private pain. I suffer it as each of you has suffered it and will continue and must continue to suffer it. It is the pain of being consumed, of having every last vestige of separateness between that which we have felt and come to know more deeply than all else, which is incarnated forever, for all of us in Mel which is our heart, burned away that we may be free that HE may finally be freed. It is the pain of being born.
Today we simply incorporate ourselves as Mel Lyman. The definition rests with all that we can attest together as the larger embodiment - through us to all men - of the purpose and the practice of one pure man. Today is our birthday - March 21st, 1968.
The same issue included a lengthy transcript of a conversation between Mel, David Gude, Jim Kweskin, and Joey Goldfarb, a far-ranging conversation that occupied four pages of the magazine, under the heading "The Structure of Structure." In it, Mel elucidates for the others his way of keeping his behavior present in the moment, always feeling where the energy is attempting to move and always ready to drop whatever prior notions he may have had in order to respond to the immediacy of the emerging situation. This idea, later summarized by Ram Dass in the phrase "Be here now," was rather novel in 1968, and Mel engages in some mind-warp on the other three in order to get them to understand it. He goes on to relate this to the purpose of the Fort Hill community as he experienced it, contrasting the community to the general population, who did not yet know how to respond to Mel's way of reflecting back to them their own limitations:[L]iving amongst men is like cosmic asthma, it's hard to breathe, and I want to BREATHE. So I have to expand the structure of man, the mind.
...There just is NOT ENOUGH LIFE on the planet EARTH for me. And I don't have any other choice, I've got to LIVE here.
...[T]he world is a dead shell on the outside and a volcano on the INSIDE. I want all that feeling OUT, I want it all AROUND me, I want it so thick I can SWIM in it, I like it THAT STRONG. Now for most people that is sheer agony, for ME it's joy. It CANNOT GET too strong. And the more structures I break down the more life there IS. That's what most people are AFRAID of, to have their structures broken down, because it HURTS. Breaking down structures is PAIN, but there is no other way to make room for more life, and I FEEL that pain, more than ANYBODY, because I am capable of so MUCH life, I KNOW that life, I FEEL it, it is ME, so I feel the limitations more than anybody does, which is why I'm gonna DO something about it, I don't have any choice.
... [A]lready I've cleared a LITTLE space, I've broken down the structures of the people on the hill, almost to the point of being comfortable. I'll never STOP doing it, because I can't IMAGINE too much life.
Along with Wayne's two articles on the front pages of Avatar Numbers 22 and 23, this conversation gave still more urgency and meaning to the challenge to become part of the community, as quickly and fullheartedly as possible. We certainly didn't want to be left out of the opportunity to travel with Mel as he brought more life to Planet Earth. But I, at least, had misgivings. Mel liked to speak of his people as his creation, who in turn served as his mind and his hands, the mechanism to bring his message to the world. I didn't really know what would be involved in becoming part of his creation.
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