An Interview With Stephen Gaskin
We’re becoming so bland now, and I really pray that we get to see another burst of energy. When the sixties happened, it lifted me up and blew my mind and informed my consciousness in a way that was a million times heavier and more interesting than anything I’d experienced before. I think it did that for many people. And now, knowing that such a thing can happen, I can just sit here and wait for it — like “Yeah, here it comes again!”
Monday Night Class
Sixties icon and self-styled “nonviolent social revolutionary” Stephen Gaskin died this past July at the age of seventy-nine. Gaskin was a prominent figure on the countercultural scene in San Francisco in the late sixties and went on to found the long-running intentional community the Farm, which is still thriving in rural Tennessee.
I’d come to Las Vegas to dry out, to cook for a casino, to gamble, and to write a novel. The gambling part had turned out well, but the viciousness, shallowness, and vulgarity of the city had worn me down. I was hankering to go someplace peaceful and friendly and slow. And I was secretly, as always, praying for a metamorphosis from unpublished writer to respected author.
In my family you were allowed to take the train alone from Long Island into New York City after your twelfth birthday. Because you had reached the age of reason, you were responsible for buying your own ticket and for getting yourself to the station. I waited anxiously to turn twelve, and on that autumn afternoon I rode my bike through the woods to the train station and bought a round-trip fare. I wanted to say something wry and mature to the ticket seller, but he just shoved my ticket across the counter and turned away to abuse a colleague. I folded the ticket carefully and put it in my wallet and rode home.
Here’s part of what I love about spirit threads: words that once inflicted only pain can become a heart wound, which then becomes both guiding scar and guiding star, transforming a perceived enemy into a genuine, if accidental, teacher. “Faith can move mountains,” that seminarian in the hospital said. “If you pray for your brother hard enough, with a pure enough heart, you can save his life.” Those words taught me via pain that, as writer Anne Lamott has it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: it is certainty.”
Our mother never threatened and then hit us. It was always either/or. Plus, she struck us only when we were at home. It helped define the place. We could not have told you why she hit us at all — beatings, rash and random, born of a fury we could neither comprehend nor forecast — but we knew we were safe at Erma’s house.