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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/27/14

Saga of a dropout doper

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At the age of 15 I decided I was going to be a writer. I loved books, and writing them seemed to be the greatest thing in the world to do. Now after eight books it still does.


But at first I had a terrible time writing. My thoughts were all jumbled up. I couldn't concentrate. I did poorly in school because I couldn't hold my mind on the assignments. I was too caught up in my psychological stress and subconscious conflicts to be able to really write or study.


I started smoking marijuana, thinking I could blast my way through all my blocks with that. But it made them worse. When I was high I thought I was being very creative, but the next day when I read what I'd written, it was drivel. Eventually I flunked out of the University of Colorado, but I figured who needs college -- I want to be a bohemian artist. So I moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and wrote, painted, and drummed, but mostly got high. New York had many more kinds of dope than Boulder, and I tried them all, hoping for that creative breakthrough. But finally I realized I needed to get out of that whole scene if I ever wanted to do any good writing.


The war on Vietnam was just beginning, and the military draft was after me. I'd been reading a lot of writers whose first books were war novels, so I figured I would make a 180-degree change from my current scene. I joined the Special Forces to write a war novel. I was probably high when I got this idea, because it wasn't a very good idea. During our search and destroy operations in Vietnam, I kept telling myself, "I'm just here gathering material for a novel." But our deeds have consequences that affect us and others regardless of why we do them. I'm still dealing with the repercussions from my involvement, and writing and peace activism have become my way of atoning for that.


I got back from the war in 1967 and moved to Marin County north of San Francisco to write the book. But by then all sorts of new fun dope was around, and I found myself slipping back into that scene. I was also suffering from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, which gave me combat flashbacks and self-destructive depressions. The result was I still couldn't write.


My best friend from Special Forces, Keith Parker, had started doing Transcendental Meditation and said it made his mind clear and calm. I tried it and found he was right. When I meditated, I sat with eyes closed and thought a mantra, a sound without meaning that took my mind to quieter, finer levels and eventually beyond all mental activity to deep silence. Subjectively, TM was like diving down through an inner ocean into a realm of serenity. Objectively, it is a physiological state of deep rest that enables the nervous system to repair itself and heal stresses that are blocking it. In this expanded consciousness I could access my subconscious mind and resolve my psychological conflicts. They weren't trapping my mental energy anymore. The war was in the past, not raging now in my head. My internal pressure began to be relieved. I didn't need to get high. I was in touch with my creativity. I could concentrate and follow a line of thought. And most of all I could write.


I made good progress on the novel, and a sample of it got me accepted into the creative writing program at Columbia University. I went back to college and back to New York, but this time I made the Dean's List and no drugs. The novel, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award.


I later wrote a novel about the current war. Summer Snow is set now as an American warrior falls in love with a woman in Central Asian who has him initiated into Transcendental Meditation. Through meditating he learns that higher consciousness is more effective than violence, but his new insights put him into conflict with his military mentality. Here are two two short selections from the book:


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William T. Hathaway is an award-winning novelist and an emeritus Fulbright professor of creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher (more...)

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