My Oblate Story, Part 2
Thanks for the comments on the first part of this…such things aren’t easy to talk about, since part of the way people like my family keep power is to make people like me question their perceptions of the situation. You start to wonder if it’s just you, and you’re stretching things out of proportion, but that’s part of their game. Promise the rest of the story isn’t so bad.
When we first set eyes on The San Joaquin
Was like a friend we always knew
The gates swing open so far and wide even God could drive through
We worked the crops from dawn to dust shared along the way
I never will forget it until my dying days
We were Bakersfield bound and the California dream
Down the road lay the promised lands our fields had all turned green
We were Bakersfield bound like so many gone before
Just to cross our River Jordan and reach the other shore (Chris Hillman, “Bakersfield Bound”)
So when I stepped off the plane at LAX to start at CalArts, it did feel like I’d reached the Promised Land. There couldn’t have been a better fit for me than CalArts, and I realize a lot of it is looking back at it through rose-colored glasses. It’s not that there weren’t troubles–there were. A lot of months I’d be living off of $60 a month for groceries. I ate a lot of beans and rice. CalArts is a performing arts school, and as such it’s a completely different environment from an academic one. It’s rigorous, but in a completely different way, and nothing in my schooling had prepared me for it. While things are loose and laid back, it’s also fiercely competitive.
But things came easily. Pieces I wrote seemed to flow. I had a group of people around me, who were just like me. (Most of them I’m still friends with, and we still keep in touch.) A lot of writers on Benedictine life describe how one’s life should be an extension of the Eucharist, and that, like everything else came easily. My life seemed to be bathed in the same glow I’d see reflected off of the mountains at sunset. The relationship I had with teachers was deeper than a meeting of minds. I’ve written about Lucky a bit here. I was the most regular with respect to the Divine Office than I’ve ever been, not to mention other observances that go along with being Catholic.
It didn’t really matter that I couldn’t find a regular Oblate group who’d take me, since my days in California were numbered (I was planning from the get-go) to go off to grad school. Plus none of the groups met near me, and the monastery nearby insisted on group contact. (It’s their program, they’re free to establish whatever parameters they see fit. They’re a good group of guys.) I had my community, and they encouraged my contemplative nature, even if they didn’t belong to my particular faith.
It was at CalArts that I discovered Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (ahem), Aldous Huxley, et al, who seemed to speak about being a contemplative within the lay world better than some traditional spiritual writers did. I learned about Balinese music, and the sky seemed to be the limit. (I didn’t get into computer music until UW. There I was strictly instrumental.)
When it was time for me to move on to UW, I didn’t want to go. But there was also the danger: many CalArts graduates found they were unable to go anywhere else, and chose to live close by, never really growing. It’s a pull I still feel, and I still have a habit of trying to describe where I am in terms of how unlike CalArts it is.
Next time: Seattle.