Today I’m going to tell the story of how I met John.
Kate’s told the story in brief before so it might be familiar to some of you. To some others, it might have familiar elements (“Omg, is he really talking to me?” “Am I crazy??” etc.).
It was way back in 1990. Many of our other spirit friends were still alive. I was 13 and just coming out of Grade 8, or going into Grade 9. It was a pretty dismal time. I was in this bohemian-redux, proto-goth gloom. I spent the whole summer in black turtlenecks. I had systematically alienated the small group of friends that I had. One girl, I stuck gum in her hair and I don’t remember why. Another girl, I told her that she “didn’t need to go to church just because her family does” because there “probably isn’t a God”. One time a kid invited me to a party and I just looked at her deadpan and told her to “grow up”. And so, me and my only friend Jen would sit by the fence and make fun of people playing dodge ball and we’d talk about music. If you can imagine a version of the movie High Fidelity cast with preteen girls, it was kind of like that. We were hated.
I was in Catholic school. In Catholic school, in Grade 8 you do this thing called “Confirmation”, which is where you basically go up in front of everyone in church and say, “Okay, I’m an adult now and I’m making a conscious choice to be part of the church”. Except, you know, I was pretty shrewd kid and I couldn’t help noticing that at no point had anyone actually asked me if I wanted to do that. Meaning, they would take class time to prepare us via my passive participation, schedule me in for workshops, etc. I was panicking. I asked my parents, “Do I have to do this??”, and they said no. Thank God. Or… whoever.
In the meantime I went to Religion class because it was still happening, but that was ok because it would all be over soon. (Or so I thought). It was ok. One day we discussed prayer. She described it as a conversation that you would have with Heaven. You can just talk about questions that you have, or problems that you’re having. She said that things might come to you in unexpected ways and maybe it’s not obvious that you’re getting help but that things will just get easier — you’ll get a solution to a problem, or you’ll find that thing you’ve lost. She said that you can talk to anyone in Heaven, and they’ll hear you. Like your grandparents.
In retrospect I don’t even know why I did it. I guess even I had to admit I had problems. And questions. I didn’t believe in any religious figures, and I never knew my grandparents. I was like, “I’m going to talk to John”. (pause) “If he’s in Heaven. If there is a Heaven… he said there might not be…?”
Why John? I don’t know. I looked up to him. And I could relate to him. I heard this story about how he was kicked out of school and sent to art school. I wished someone would kick me out too, but there was nowhere to go. So I would just blow off my homework and draw pictures. I drew 3 portraits of John that year and they hung in my parents’ living room until I was 20. Some people in my family thought that my sister-in-law had drawn them, who is 15 years older than me so they were really pretty good for a 13 year old. (“For anyone“, I’m hearing. Well, thanks). I’m not sure where they are now; probably in a cupboard or something.
Anyway the photo I drew (one of them) is the photo I used for this entry. I guess I always identified more with John as this polarizing personality, rather than as the peace-loving unifier of humanity; the guy who got kicked out of art school, pissed people off by comparing himself to Jesus, and got himself placed on Nixon’s list of political enemies. Which is ok, I mean, I he’s all those things; that’s why he resonates with so many people. “My” John wore a pompadour, and looked askance across my family’s living room.
It was probably God that clinched it. The song, I mean — “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”. You know. Then he goes through a laundry list of heroes and discarded belief systems that failed to bring any lasting meaning to his life. I was like, “Okay. This guy gets it”. So I asked him something and — he answered.
Well, I didn’t expect that. Not really. Not at all actually, not words, I thought it would be like… signs, maybe? Like something would happen later on? But I got those too; I started hearing his songs everywhere. Seeing his face. And of course you think, “No, he’s not actually popping up more, I’m just noticing it”, but I realize now that, yes, this is what he does. Or I’d try to rationalize it and go, “Oh well, I could guess what he would say about this or that, I’m a writer, I could imagine dialogue”. But I knew that no, I wouldn’t say these thing. I wouldn’t come out with this stuff, this is the perspective of a mind with more maturity and experience than I had. Then the next questions become, “Well, I know it isn’t me, but do I know it’s really John?”, and “If it is John… where is he?”. Both unanswerable questions.
I made it through Grade 8 unconfirmed and summer came. One day my mom took me down to the Catholic high school, to go uniform shopping. What?? Oh. No.
“I don’t want to go here! I didn’t get confirmed. I don’t like Catholic school. I hate these kids. I’m done”.
She’s like, “Oh, well just give it a try and if you don’t like it, you can switch schools”. Oh okay. Well, thanks for hearing me, and acknowledging my feelings. My friend’s sister had been feeding me stories about hazings at that school; kids being forced to push Life Savers up the 5 flights of marble stairs with their noses. I had a lot of enemies in my graduating class, and in the class that had graduated the year before. I had phantom stomach pains. I thought I was going to throw up. I got an upper GI that summer. Fuck.
One day I asked John about God. He basically just told me we’re all God, our hearts and minds are God. I didn’t really get that. I thought he meant, “We all made God up”.
Anyway I might have been asking because it was an assignment I had — Grade 9 Religion class, my teacher Mrs. Kolz told us all to draw “what we think God looks like”. I had no fuckin’ idea how to do the assignment. I would have simply not done it but a) it was a drawing assignment, so I kind of wanted to, and b) I was pretty sure I could do it in such a way that it would piss her off, and I was up to that challenge. So I filled my page with outlines of people and I gave them little cartoon hearts, and little cartoon brains, and I coloured their hearts and brains in pink, and I included my explanation that “our hearts and minds are God”. I got a passing but poor-ish grade on it and her comment in red ink said, “This is called semantics — playing with words”. Success!
After spirituality, my next biggest problem was school. Essentially not really wanting to be there, not getting much out of it, and this weight of expectation about what I’m going to do after high school. It starts in Grade 9; you’re supposed to choose courses with your post-secondary in mind. They already have you doing aptitude tests. I asked John what he thought about university and he said something like, “It’s a great way to become an expert in other people’s ideas”. Well, that sounded like a total waste of time to me. What if other people’s idea’s are wrong? They often are. (I ended up going anyway).
Well, I’m not really sure how to end this, I stopped talking to him for a long time after that. The weight of those unanswered questions maybe got to me — “Is it him?” and “Where is he?”. I learned about the Collective Unconscious — is he part of that? Unconscious? Or is he still him — a consciousness? Couldn’t this just be anyone? Any consciousness? This may have been when I started to wonder if I was crazy. And I refused to talk about it with anyone, even my only friend Jen. Who would probably not have batted an eye about it because she was at least as “crazy” as I was.
Well, I’m not really sure how to wrap this up; it’s sort of an ongoing story and all those unanswered questions I had when I was 13 remain unanswered. But I’m okay with it now, I’m not really sure there are definite answers to be had. Where the “am I crazy?” question used to eat me up inside, now I just think all truth is relative. When Kate started talking to John (and I started talking to him again) he said, “Thank God you’ve lightened up!” 20 years on, I have mellowed out. A lot. (Who hasn’t?).
And I’m glad I know some more “crazy” people now.