The Beltane Celebration
Every minute of every day brings its own insight, its own poetry. There’s no part of life that isn’t wonderful…
with Arlen Riley Wilson
Arlen Riley Wilson is one of the wisest and most magical people that I’ve ever known. In her youth she wrote for several radio dramas, and acted as production assistant on two Broadway plays. She became active in the anti-war movement in the 1960s, as well as the early stages of the Feminist movement. Her poetry has been published in several magazines, and she is working on a novel. Arlen is also the mother of four children, and has been married to philosopher-writer Robert Anton Wilson for over 40 years.
This interview was conducted on January 14, 1999 at Arlen’s home in Capitola, California. At 73, after four major strokes, Arlen remains cheerful and in love with life. When I asked her how she was doing she replied “really well”, and I could tell by the look on her face that she meant what she said. Even lying in bed, with most of her body paralyzed, she radiated a sense of humor, and continued to do everything she could to make the people around her feel at home. During the course of this interview Arlen made me laugh many times. She also inspired me to rethink some of what I had taken for granted, and reminded me about the incredible wonder of being alive.
David: Let’s start with an easy question first. What have you learned from your life?
Arlen: Ha, ha, ha. (laughter, followed by long silence) What I have learned is that life is an unqualified good, and living should be unqualified and unmodified. You’re never more appreciative of life then when it threatens to be taken away at any moment. I had numerous experiences like that, and after each one I wake up. It was as if I’d been asleep. It’s a real kick, and I’m just delighted to still be here.
But the secret of a well-balanced life is to appreciate everything, or at least as much as you can. Many people fall into imbalance and disharmony. There’s no doubt about it, having enough money is a unqualified good. But if you decide that having a lot of money is the only good thing then you’re in big bad trouble. Then you forget to look at nature, and you forget to look at your friend’s faces. You forget to enjoy animals, and you just forget too much. So the thing is to spread the appreciation around.
David: What were you like as a child?
Arlen: Oh, I was like horrible, rebellious, always doing what I wasn’t supposed to do. I was climbing trees, and never cared whether my clothes got dirty. I guess I was a tomboy. But I don’t regret it.
David: You sound like my kind of girl.
Arlen: (laughter) I also had boyfriends, or friends who were boys. I liked boys. I thought they were curious, interesting and entertaining. I didn’t understand all the differences yet. But I thought it interesting, all my life, to study the differences, and find new learning there.
David: Tell me about the novel that you’re writing.
Arlen: It’s called The Beltane Celebration. Beltane is an ancient word for a European fertility holiday. The novel is a spoof on the New Age. It’s about some of the old pagans who live over in Marin County. They think that they’re the ultimate in sophistication. Well, they’re not. To learn more you’re going to have to shell out for the book.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after biological death?
Arlen: Oh, it goes on in some way or other. I had one after death experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.
David: Could you tell me about it?
Arlen: I went right from one hospital to another, only the second one was heavenly. The doctors, nurses, aids, and everybody there were all spiritual beings– which just really means that you could see through them, almost, not quite. The head nurse was a big honcho angel nurse. I said, “What’s your name?” She said, “My name is Susan, and I don’t want any Sue, or Susie, or Suzanne, or any trash like that.” I said, “okay.” She said, “I think people should be called by their right names. So please call me Susan.” I said, “Okay, you made your point.”
David: Did anything else happen?
Arlen: I said, “Who are the male entities that I see?” And Susan said, “Well, those are manly angels– and there are some you know. They’re to make everybody feel more comfortable here. I personally don’t feel comfortable if there aren’t both men and women present. I know a lot of men and women who don’t either. So we decided to have some distributed around for decoration at least. And here we are.”
David: What’s your perspective on the word God?
Arlen: God is a quintessential of all I have ever known of goodness in this life, and all I ever hope yet to know in this life. Therefore it covers a huge territory– because it’s here, and yet it’s everything that isn’t here yet. I find that conception satisfies me. It has nothing to do with punishment, and nothing to do with anything except what I said. If people don’t know what I mean by goodness, think back over your life, when you experienced some, and you’ll get the feeling. That’s it.
David: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned from your illness?
Arlen: What I learned from my illness is what I’ve learned from my non-illness, which is that life is incredibly wonderful. Every minute of every day brings its own insight, its own poetry. There’s no part of life that isn’t wonderful. That seems pretty trite, but that’s the way that I feel.
David: Could you talk a little bit about what it’s been like being married to Bob?
Arlen: It’s been a trip. He has opened me up to many things that I wasn’t aware of before, and vice versa. We make a good team. We’re very different, but we’re also very much alike. I think that lays a foundation for good communication. I’m happy that I married him. I haven’t regretted it, except for the briefest seconds, when he just can’t lie. This man just doesn’t lie, and flubs when he tries. He can’t do it.
If I ask him to say I’m not in when the phone rings, he can’t do it convincingly. He hates to be put in a position where he’s supposed to be dishonest. So I guess I’ve become more truthful since knowing him. I’m not saying he’s a saint, or has never lied, but it’s so rare. Usually, when he tries to do it, his eyes bug out, his face gets red, and he can not, absolutely can not, dissimulate with cool and calm.
David: What do you think lies in store for the future evolution of humanity?
Arlen: Well, we’re obviously part of one organism. And, I mean, we better start copping to that, and enjoying it. We’re supposed to remain aware of it on some level in our daily meditations, just a nod of acquiescence. As humanity draws closer together I don’t want to see each component part lose their individuality. I love differences and diversity. If we lose that– to hell with it!
David: What do you think are some of the differences between men and women?
Arlen: Well, men have to show that they’re better than other men, and women have to show that their men are better than other women’s men. This suits me fine. I think that to quarrel with the way things are is a basically a waste of energy. I see certain things in the differences between men and women as primal, and I’m not going to argue with them.
The fact that men are more visual, and women are more auditory, is fine with me. I have no quarrel with that. Men’s voices have always been the thing that reaches out to me. I get uncomfortable when I only hear the voice of one gender. They have to be together. That’s why I love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When the male and female voices combine it’s an epiphany.
David: What have you learned from your psychedelic experiences?
Arlen: They lurk in the shadows of my consciousness. I’m glad I had them, and I’m glad I don’t run after them anymore. One of the things I’ve noticed is that they often seem to make communication easier between people who have had those experiences, than between people who have not. We share a similar frame of reference.
David: What type of spirituality do you practice?
Arlen: I try my luck at meditation everyday, but it’s not always blissful or successful. I get as much from a certain kind of music, like Beethoven’s. I can get every shade of mystical experience from that. I also like Deepok Chopra, because he’s so understandable and ordinary in his speech.
David: What’s been the secret to how you’ve managed to keep a sense of humor your whole life?
Arlen: By not trying to block it all the time, in the interest of being taken seriously. I know that sometimes if I joke people just click the switch right off, they don’t want to hear anything else. Well, it’s their loss.
David: Why do you think it is that people tend to take life so seriously?
Arlen: Because they think they are life. They think that they’re most of it, and that the world’s mostly their little soap-opera. This is especially true for adolescents and people in their early twenties. They tend to feel that way. There’s nothing else worth thinking about except the twenty-five feet that surrounds you. And as long as you’ve got such narrow view, you’re not going to have a good sense of humor– because that demands perspective.
David: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed in this interview that you’d like to add to it?
Arlen: I’d like to see a world with more artistic and creatively flowing civilizations, but this is tremendously difficult at present. I knew a lot of painters and other artists in New York years ago. Many of them lived on very little. I knew one first-rate painter who lived on something like $1.36 a day, that he had from a minor stock investment twenty years before. I’m not suggesting that you rush madly to start fasting, but we should be aware that we could live on a fraction of what we consume.