Preface – Voices From the Edge
“You’re going to have to explain what these people are doing in a book together,” said a close friend, looking at me with loving sternness. “What do they have in common, anyway?” On the surface, there does seem to be the need to justify why an ex-porn star and a Catholic priest are rubbing shoulders (or anything else, for that matter) in a collection of interviews, not to mention a chemist, a musician, and an archaeologist. But it seems to me that in this world of on-going cultural meiosis, it is far more necessary to justify similarity than to justify diversity. Loving the alien– or, at the very least, accepting the alien– is not just an amusing psychological pastime anymore; it’s a survival imperative.
Exclusivity breaks down communication– between neighbors, between cultures, between races, between countries– so that the farmer pollutes the upstream river, giving no thought to the farmer downstream. When we define ourselves as something more than merely a product of a culture, race, sex, or religious group, we realize how our separateness has limited us, and we begin to work on what Jean Houston refers to as the “orchestration of our many selves.” Appreciation of diversity keeps us supple, stops our minds from crusting over, and allows us to keep reinventing ourselves.
Everyone in this book is used to being judged. Snobbery lurks in the most unlikely places, even in the most decent and open of minds. If you look down your nose you will see only your feet. But to look out and across the apparent barriers that separate you from the Other (a homeless drunk gives you directions to your hotel; a toddler corrects you about the number of Jupiter’s moons) is like coming up for air and taking a gulp of the mystery once more. You take a second look– except this time, you look a little harder.
Step into a virtual reality scenario and imagine that this book is actually the stage for an exotic and eclectic cocktail party. The interior decoration is an odd mix of the titilating bizarre, the no-hold-barred holy, and the tongue-in-cheek academic. Nothing seems to match, but nothing clashes. The guests are an animated and effervescent bunch, their eyes twinkling with inner stars. Laughter of all shapes and sizes fills the room. You feel curiously at home.
Over in the corner, spiritual teacher Ram Dass and VR pioneer Jaron Lanier seem to be having a heated but friendly discussion on the virtues and dangers of technological highs. Fakir Musafar, decorated in nipple-rings, tattoos and nose-quills, is at the snack table with archeologist Marija Gimbutas, exchanging insights into the Western mortification of the body. In the kitchen, musician Jerry Garcia and radio host Elizabeth Gips are involved in a conversation ostensibly about rye bread, but stick a Babel-fish in your ear and you hear they’re really discussing the ever-expanding mystery of the universe. And out on the porch, chemist Alexander Shulgin and ecologist John Robbin s are pondering the alchemical potentials of the human body. Is this a great party or what?
We chose to interview the people who move us– move us to wonder, to contemplation, to inspiration, to action. They are all works in progress, receiving at least as much as they transmit, their commentaries barometer readings of the weather changes at large in this wild and woolly world of ours. Ritual love-making, sticking spears in your skin, listening to music, sitting with your eyes closed, taking drugs, hooking your brain up to a machine– the methods of raising the curtains of consciousness vary, but to get hung up on the validity (or invalidity) of any one is to miss the boat to spiritual independence. There are so many ways to get high, but once you’re up there, everyone gets to share the view– the view of a dynamic universe within which we are all engaged in the most interactive process imaginable.
As you meander through the pages of this book, you begin to sense an ambiance, a link between these seemingly disparate individuals: a common ground of unfettered creativity, deep compassion, personal courage, childlike curiosity and more than a standard dose of chutzpah. It is that common ground from which these interviews grew, and upon which we hope, a few forbidden fruits will fall.
Rebecca McClen Novick