The Balancing Act of Me
Elizabeth has written a lovely post about finding balance, and I’ve just finished reading How to Climb the Eiffel Tower, which I love—right from the title.
This guest post is about my Keep This Quiet! memoir series and one of its main themes, relationships. When I was in my middle twenties, I adventurously set out to work at Random House in New York City. That set the stage for meeting three dynamic, outspoken males, whom the first volume of my memoir is named for: Keep This Quiet! My Relationship with Hunter S Thompson, Milton Klonsky, and Jan Mensaert.
What brings all the varied material together in this four-volume memoir? Me, of course. When I started writing it in 2005, I rejected the idea of focusing entirely on Hunter Thompson, which might have made commercial sense, as he was quite well known as the flamboyant founder of Gonzo Journalism. And I had copy edited his first book, Hell’s Angels. I had all the related letters. Besides, I had permission to reprint them. But in the larger sense, I knew that wasn’t the deeper story. Why was I so affected by three powerful men at the same time? Not all in a romantic relationship at the same time. But I met them in a tightly packed period, as if a whirlwind had passed through in the middle 1960s. All three were writers, highly creative, and as my semi-romantic mentor, Milton Klonsky, would tell me, “I’m not one way in love and another way in everything else.” No, creative people would be a handful. The relationships would be challenging.
So I had a novelistic story. How to tell it? I was lucky enough to have a gifted woman friend who pressed me—insisted I put in passages, give details, that a reader would want to know. Forget that I was in the story. Tell it as I would a novel. And I knew she was right. This required distance and my novelist hat. I had to keep the pact with the reader, let the reader inside. As poet, Blake scholar, and NYC magazine contributor Milton Klonsky had also told me colorfully, “Denude yourself. I can dream as well as anyone.” So I was to tell the truth as I knew it.
Early on, I realized that I knew things about these three writers no one else did: part of their legacy was in my hands. With Jan Mensaert and Milton Klonsky, I could reveal more of their biography. With Hunter, I could print his own words (in letters) as the young struggling author involved with his first book publisher—a missing chapter in his biography.
What was also happening was that they were firming me up. Looking back, I could tell why I had chosen strong men to interact with in New York. I didn’t know it then, but the independent life style, the individuality of each, no matter how they expressed it, modeled a way to get over my fear of being different (publicly). Or rather, the knowledge that I was “different,” which of course everybody is. But I was introverted, insecure, and at a very young age had wanted to please everybody. I was the opposite of a rebel. But that wasn’t true!
To counteract this placid me, I had an author self right from age seven, who objected to my persona and by the time I was in my twenties in New York City made it my task to find counterculture-author models. They were all over Greenwich Village. They were under every stone. But I also found an impactful male, Jan Mensaert, a Belgian poet—who became part of the trio of Keep This Quiet!—way over in Casablanca. Waiting to start my first real job, at Random House, I took a quick European trip (thanks to my parents, who yielded to my insistence) and—this was the rebel me—set out alone to parts unknown, beginning in Paris but including Morocco.
Though the surface level was adventure and bohemianism, underneath I was learning how to be strong as a female. And how to find my voice.
By Keep THIS Quiet Too!—still keeping strong ties with these three men, each one in a different way—I was married to Jan Mensaert, living in Morocco. The culture shock would have finished me perhaps, but I had known what to expect. I wanted to experience as much as possible. And everything—from living with a sparkling, unrealistic, flamboyant, self-destructive poet and author to cutting up parsley stems or rolling kif seeds off a board (for his cigarettes) or cooking on charcoal—was teaching me about life. Emotions as well. Dazzled at first, I outgrew this relationship. But I would never say I didn’t learn from it, grow and become ready for the Next Chapters.
When I left Jan Mensaert in Morocco, my mentor, Milton Klonsky had just died. And this introduced me to deep questions about the afterlife. What happens when we die? Is he really guiding me? Am I imagining it? Do spirit guides exist? These questions that pelleted me in 1981, led me to sign up at the C. G. Jung Institute Zurich, where I unexpectedly had my first initiations. Here I became exposed to Jung’s concepts of archetypes, symbolic images, the collective unconscious, the shadow and animus/anima (the animus was my inner male energy). And the Self. But I would (now) call myself still asleep then. I was not at all yet ready for the integration of such energy that takes decades (for most if not all people). I had to shake loose of consensus thinking and take the risk that my own experience might be primary, right or wrong. It was mine.
By undergoing all that, I was finally ready to find out what I thought. What am I? Questions like that. And this is covered in Keep This Quiet! IV: More Initiations. The story takes place mostly in Tienen, Belgium, with trips to the US. But for ten years most of the time I was going inside, increasing my understanding of energy, of who a human being is, learning about Eastern traditions, how they intersected with Western, studying the light body, having a computer that had a certain amount of independence when I pushed the print button. What it printed was often not exactly what was on the computer screen. I used these as illustrations in my books. I felt the energy as the computer poured out these “PK” (psychokinesis) samples. These four books climb a ladder and also they reach outward horizontally, because new people come in. New protagonists in what Jung called our “personal myth,” something we all have.
If Keep This Quiet! and the first half of Keep THIS Quiet Too! take place down on the ground—stories of relationships—by Keep This Quiet!: Initiations, I am on a high trapeze, and by Keep This Quiet! IV: More Initiations in a way the dust has settled. The location is much finer, more subtle—beyond where some readers of the early two books would normally want to go. But I hope they will. Because though I am taking the long look, everybody has such a story—a spectrum they cover. To do both—reach into our transpersonality and incarnate into our particular bodies—was the task I found myself in. It travels through four memoirs in true stories.
When you read any of these books, you will be plunged into their setting, their mind set. Each is “real” in its setting. It is lived. Alive in that surroundings. It is not just passing through. Each book is convinced of its reality. So I start out as a “femme fatale,” I’m later told. But as I grew older, I learned more about this inner self. Other influences come in . . . Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, quantum physics. And by the fourth book, I have a wonderful guide in the Hindu master Dhyanyogi-ji.
Every story in the memoir adds to The Balance Act of Me. Just like the Balance Act of You. Now I love that Balance Act. I know that nothing can take me away from me. Sounds obvious. But it can take forever to find that out. I’m glad to have found it out in time to enjoy it.
Visit me at http://www.margaretharrell.com
About the Author
Margaret A. Harrell is a three-time fellow of MacDowell Colony, currently authoring the Keep This Quiet! memoir series published by Saeculum University Press, starting with Keep This Quiet! My Relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, Milton Klonsky, and Jan Mensaert (2011). She is finishing up Keep This Quiet! IV. Also, she works as a free-lance editor, teaches light body meditation studies, and is a cloud photographer. She graduated from Duke University (honors and distinction in history) and Columbia University (contemporary British and American literature), has studied at the C. G. Jung Institute Zurich, and has been trained in a variety of energy work. After living in Morocco, Switzerland, and Belgium, she returned to the U.S. to Raleigh, North Carolina, to live in 2001.