Twelve One Page Autobiographies

ONE

I was born in 1945 to a bookworm war bride and a Navy radio operator two months before the US dropped The Bomb on Hiroshima. Whenever my father had shore leave he would hit the jazz joints in Manhattan. When I was five years old we moved from Oregon to Menlo Park, California after Daddy was accepted into the Stanford Graduate Creative Writing Program. Daddy was working on a novel called Friend From Harlem about a black piano player he met during the war named Ken Bright. The book was never published. In 1958 the subject was deemed “too ahead of its time” since it dealt with race relations. As the protagonist watches mixed couples on the dance floor he “…was suddenly struck by one of the alcoholic revelations that seem so profound and startling at the same time. All you have to do is get people together, then the barriers of class and race just disappear…” Nevertheless, the story goes on to say that it “would be too difficult” for the musician to marry the protagonist’s white sister and for them to ever be happy. Maybe my father was being both naïve and cruelly realistic and I am too romantic. I’ve always believed in going for it. I grew up to the sounds of Daddy pounding the keys of his Smith Corona, Jelly Roll Morton records on the turntable and ice cubes clinking in my parents’ highballs. My mother wore shiny black high heels and cats-eye glasses. To support us she worked at Stanford Research Institute translating technical Russian for the Rand Corporation. Daddy took care of me before and after grade school and worked on his novel. Or listened to music and drank.

 

TWO

My father wrote me a letter with this to say about my birth:

Dear B,

I won’t forget that day. I knew you were about to arrive on the scene, quite soon. I asked for the day off. I can’t remember the precise language but the Chief said, in essence, something like, “Screw you. Stand at attention.”

So I did something I rarely did: I put on my ribbons and battle stars.

When the Admiral passed me, he said, “Where were you?”

“Torch, Flame, Overload.” I replied. “Furthermore, my daughter was born this morning and I’d like to get the fuck out of here and see how she and my wife are doing.”

The Admiral said, “Give this man a pass.”

The Chief said, “Yes, Sir!”

So I saw you and your mother at Wesley Memorial, saw that you were both OK and then took Barbara Sullivan out on the town, spent a lot of money and got drunk.

 

THREE

I was born with a heart murmur that later mysteriously disappeared. When I was three months old— not long after the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki-- we moved from Chicago to Lake Oswego, Oregon to be near my father’s parents, Harry and Olga and his sister, Muriel. My mother’s beloved father Leo, had died years before and her mother Edith, who had become a fanatic Jehovah’s Witness, died two years prior. When drunk, my mother would accuse me of being her mother’s reincarnation returning to torment her. When I was six we went to a therapist because we couldn’t get along. We each took turns talking with Dr. Stillwell who looked like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. My mother would storm down the sidewalk to the car where my father and I were waiting, shrieking, “What is the meaning of you telling her I yell at you?” Years later, a Jungian helped my mother let go of the futile task of trying to control me while I dove into Zen Buddhism. In 1969, while I was at Tassajara Zen Monastery, I received a letter from her telling me that my father, a firm agnostic, had wept when they visited Ryoan-ji, the raked sand gardens in Kyoto where he had “…seen the face of God.” My mother often claimed to be a Druid. She bought a five foot swath of red silk and she would dance around a campfire in the back yard when she’d had way too much to drink. As a child I was mortified but now I know she was a dakini and the red scarf was a kata or offering scarf; she was simply, unknowingly, supplicating the Tibetan deity, Vajrayogini. My mother’s red scarf now sits on my eclectic Buddhist shine.

 

FOUR

I was born into the Atomic Age when the sudden extinction of all life on the planet at the hands of humans first became an actual possibility. In grade school we huddled under our desks for protection against a Russian nuclear attack. When I was 15 I fell under the bemused tutelage of Ira Sanperl, one of the founders, along with Joan Baez, of the Institute for Non-Violence. I went on Bertrand Russell-type Ban-the-Bomb marches against SRI where both of my parents worked. I wore a black and white peace button. I was in marches against the Vietnam War. Although I was also, on occasion, a teenage model working the runways at Joseph Magnin’s, by day I was a suburban high school student. At night I became a baby beatnik. I hung around the coffee houses and Kepler’s Bookstore with the pacifists, folk musicians, flamenco guitarists and the Marlon Brando motorcycle poets. I listened to Lenny Bruce and jazz L.P.s with my parents. I dressed up to look over 21 and my father and I went to the City to hear Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk. I went to art school in San Francisco instead of college. Beginning in 1963 and for several years thereafter I would drop out of painting class to go to the Jazz Workshop with Tony Williams, Miles Davis’ drummer whenever they came to town. When Tony’s first album came out with a track named for me, B’s Tune to the Wizard I said, “Who’s that?” and he replied with a big grin, “Miles.” When I called my parents from the Monterey Jazz Festival and said, “Guess where I am?” I thought they would be thrilled. Instead, they said, “Young lady, you get yourself back to school this very minute.”

 

FIVE

I was born at Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago at 10:05 AM within months of the end of World War II. Since my mother is long since dead I can’t ask her if it was a difficult birth or if she had a local or a general. I suspect she was probably out cold. Holotropic Breath Work maintains that one’s birth is a template for one’s life, a theory I almost believe but it doesn’t square with Buddhism. When LSD became a Schedule One / illegal drug, Stan Grof developed the holotropic protocol of hyperventilating to simulate a psychedelic trip. My mother claimed she was born tense. Several times a day she took handfuls of pills from the yellow plastic prescription vials kept in the basket on the kitchen table: tranquilizers, uppers, hormones, sleep aids, thyroid boosters washed down in grapefruit juice. Laced with gin. Malboro and Salem Menthol butts overflowed her ashtrays. Aside from a fondness for dark chocolate and before I quit drinking completely, a good Malbec, my own addictions tend to be less substantive, more behavioral. I came of age and hit the ‘60s sexual revolution running. I got to fully explore the singular Post-Pill / Pre-AIDS window in history and indulge my lust. At that time I didn’t consider fidelity to be a virtue. There are one or two lovers from that era whose names escape me. Or maybe I never knew them. But free love didn’t mean you gave it away; it meant you were deliciously free from fear.

 

SIX

In all likelihood I was born addicted to alcohol and nicotine. My mother smoked and drank while she was pregnant with me and with my younger brother. He died within three days of his birth from a hole in his heart undoubtedly caused by her three packs of Camels a day. Despite my parents’ unhealthy habits, they believed in and worshipped the science of modern medicine. Doctors were their priesthood. In the early seventies I demanded their GP, Dr. Lobel, tell me when in hell was he going to get them to quit drinking? As members of California’s Kaiser Permanente HMO system my parents could get any treatment for $1 per visit so they went in for more tests and procedures than I thought necessary. In rebellion I turned to macrobiotics, then straight vegetarianism. I went on two month-long carrot juice fasts in my mid-twenties. When my second husband and I bought a house in Boulder, Colorado we got catastrophic health insurance to protect our investment. I paid my premiums for 25 years and never once used the policy. I will gratefully use AMA state-of-the-art treatments for broken bones, cataract surgery or a life-threatening, emergency but I’ve relied happily on acupuncture and Chinese herbs for decades. And for 30 years I’ve taken spirulina daily to counter balance that Malbec. Now I’m juicing medical cannabis as a hedge against the ravages of aging. Green is good.

 

SEVEN

Three months after I was born we left Chicago to live near Portland, Oregon where my parents had both gone to Reed College, my mother on a full scholarship. My childhood was spent in the rain under tall Douglas firs in a house we called The Green Shutters. My father and his friend John Othus painted the interior while drinking and John wrote FUCK YOU in large brush strokes on a wall. Even after it was painted over, the lettering could still be seen when the light was right. In 1950 we moved to Stanford Student Housing and the Peninsula was still mostly apricot orchards and farmland. San Francisco was a sparkling white jewel of a city. At least once a month my father drove us up El Camino Real in our green DeSoto so my parents could go to jazz clubs or visit their old Reed friends like Joe Trimble. Joe was a gay, back then called queer, bohemian living in North Beach. I would pour over his collection of art books while the adults drank and played records. Then I would fall asleep in a pile of coats. The week after I graduated from high school in 1963 I got an apartment near The Art Institute. I moved across the Bay in 1970 to join the Berkeley Zen Commune then a year later relocated to the Sierra Foothills. I was magnetized to live near my, still to this day, primary poetry and ecology logician, Gary Snyder. When Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums came out, I fell in love with Japhy Ryder as I had at age 14, with Dean Moriarity from On The Road. When I was 15. I rode down El Camino Real with Neal Cassidy at the wheel driving 100 miles an hour. He was clearly a drug fiend maniac so I jumped out of the car at a stoplight and walked all the way home.

 

EIGHT

I was born in Chicago in 1945 and now it’s 2015 so OMG that suddenly makes me 70 years old. My Aunt Muriel was a fashion executive who ran California’s Joseph Magnin stores and she enrolled me in modeling children’s clothes, later she had me pose in newspaper and magazine ads for teens. I never took modeling seriously. When I was 17 I did a campaign for Oral B toothbrushes. My father was in New York and he went to see Duke Ellington play. Daddy asked him for his autograph but all he had to write on was the back of a magazine cover with the recently published ad. Now I have the unlikely artifact of a picture of myself signed by The Duke. Meanwhile, I was in love with a bearded 19 year-old folk singer who later grew up to become Jerry Garcia. Back then he was an impoverished troubadour who spent all his time practicing the guitar or the banjo. I gave him my modeling money for Pall Malls, gas, food, coffee or rent. I gave him my acoustic Mexican guitar. I bought him the 12 string he wanted. Jerry turned me on to Kenneth Patchen, The San Francisco Art Institute and even to Buddhism. Almost thirty years later he told me we invented each other. Despite our torrid teenage love affair I was more into jazz than bluegrass. After I graduated high school I left for abstract expressionism in The Big City. Who would have thought back then, in 1963, that Jerry would become world famous much less that we get back together for a while 28 years later? In 1990 he read my book of poetry, The Life You Ordered Has Arrived and thought the poem I had dedicated to my Vajrayana Buddhist teacher was for him. He wrote my publisher to say he’d always loved me and still did. I turned my lovely, Boulder Buddhist life upside down to run off with my high school sweetheart.

 

NINE

According to my birth certificate, I was born in Chicago but I never fully experienced the city because my parents moved to Oregon when I was three months old. Mostly what I know are all the blues songs that begin with “I was born in Chicago in...” During the summer heat wave of 1984 my second husband drove us through Chicago on a Saturday night under a full moon en route to his parents’ summer home on the lake. Speeding cars wove in and out of the humid 12-lane freeway. I was so frightened I started crying. In 1993 I flew out of Chicago during a blizzard after Jerry and I broke up again, this time forever. We were staying in a four-room suite on the 10th floor of the Ritz Carleton Tower while he played a series of shows with the Dead. We had gone to the museums that day and he had shown me how the natural history displays of bones are cleaned by an insect called the death watch beetle that removes all vestigial traces of flesh. When we got back to the room after the show I told him that he should know that I knew that he was using again but that that was OK because I loved him. I just didn’t want any secrets between us, especially since we were going to be married soon. He replied, completely closed off from behind an impenetrable steel wall, that he thought that “it was time for me to go now.” The next day he and the band left for New York and I flew back to Colorado. All I still know about Chicago is that that’s where I came into this incarnation, my heart was broken into pieces there and that there are several exquisite paintings of haystacks by Monet at the Chicago Art Institute.

 

TEN

I was born to a brilliant, articulate mother who could do the New York Times Sunday crossword in pen in less than an hour and a gregarious, politically polemic, music-loving father. They were both enamored with the Jazz Age mystique of being sophisticated, liberal and literary. Somehow that mandated a glass of alcohol in one hand and a cigarette in the other. During The Cold War they each had top-secret security clearances and knew more nefarious government data than they would have liked. Perhaps that gave them an excuse to drink. They both died, my mother at 64, my father at 70 in the mid-eighties. They left me their library, their record collection of jazz and classical music and a tiny inheritance. I stretched it as far as I could but I treated myself to painting the Boulder house inside and out. I got two canaries, named them Annie and Dickey after them. I went to the MFA program at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institue, traveled back and forth to Mexico a lot and moved to Taos before their money ran out. I often feel visited by my parents’ presence. They are dressed up as if for a special event. Daddy is in his charcoal shantung suit he had tailored in Hong Kong and he’s jingling the change in his pockets. Mommy is in her brown JM knit suit with the scarf she got in Addis Ababa. I see them sitting in the patio outside their room at the Aristos Hotel in San Miguel de Allende. They’re drinking Bohemia and reading the New Yorker. I wave hello and then they are walking next to me in the Instituto’s garden full of riotous bougainvillea. They say things like, “You know, B, we are so damned proud of you.” They are each holding one of my hands. My father squeezes my left one nervously but firmly with his square tipped fingers and my mother grasps the right one with her urgent clench. I can actually feel the arthritic knobs on her knuckles.

 

ELEVEN

I was born in early Gemini and my chart says I am poised on the cusp of a Sagittarius and Scorpio full moon with Leo rising and that my life is riddled with Pluto. I’ve never been much interested in astrology and I’ve often put my boat out against the tide. My daughter, Esme, is also a Gemini, born 42 years ago. I was set to deliver her in an experimental study in San Francisco for acupuncture anesthesia but she was breach so I had a Cesarean. Esme contracted viral meningitis from the hospital and was suspended between life and death for two excruciating weeks. Despite the hospital’s official ICU visiting policy and the zipper of stitches up my abdomen, I breastfed her every four hours. When the doctor told me that mother’s milk probably saved her life and that she would “play the violin again”, I fell to the floor, sobbing in relief. I didn’t let her out of my sight for a year. I kept her swaddled to my body. It took a long time for me to be convinced that she was a happy, healthy baby, unscathed by the ordeal of her birth. I once had a Tarot reading and was told, “Your cards are just beautiful.” A clairvoyant told me I would travel and be a nomad, but with style. She nicknamed me Gypsy Deluxe and that became my email address when I fled to San Miguel in 1994 after the engagement to Jerry had fallen apart nine months before. Fortunately, Esme was already living there, teaching English, fluent in Spanish, fully acclimated with a Mexican boyfriend, at only 19 years old.

 

TWELVE

I’ve been reborn many times, most thoroughly by becoming a student of the great Tibetan Buddhist, crazy wisdom coyote, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. For 17 years I observed him demonstrate non-dual, co-emergent wisdom and to this day I marvel at his genius for understanding Western neurosis. Since 1998 I’ve been monogamous with my third husband, an outdoors adventurer / raconteur who provides me with the support to organically farm three acres in Northern New Mexico where I host permaculture courses. Sadly, he claims to be too Canadian to enjoy jazz and he always forgets what NTHE means. I remind him it stands for Near Term Human Extinction which will surely be the outcome of exponentially vectoring factors like runaway climate change, Arctic methane release and peak oil that all bode poorly for Industrial Civilization. Despite the future’s dim prognosis and in accordance with the marching orders I’ve received from entheogenic plant spirits, I keep goats and chickens, tend bees and consider myself an agrarian anarchist activist. I sometimes weep with despair and want nothing more than my mommy and my daddy. Four and a half years ago I was present at my grandson’s natural childbirth. I ache for him to grow up experiencing the mind- blowing extravaganza of the west’s vast wilderness and the ever-shifting mandala of interdependence. I want him to be able to listen to Miles and Jerry, but especially to Louis Armstrong and Beethoven, whose 78s my father bought the day I was born. “This kid is going to know music.” he said and that’s something I want for you, too, darling boy: to celebrate the feast of having a precious human birth on a jeweled blue planet spinning in empty space.

All work protected by copyright © 2017 by Brigid Meier