Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, and serendipity

OK, I did it. I managed to find another of those tasks that sucks up time without a real movement forward, so I’m still, I suppose, procrastinating. But I started in trying to tidy things up in a few places and found myself falling down the rabbit hole of free association once again.

Our house has a “library,” a necessity when you have thousands (not an exaggeration–my current estimate is about 5,000, I quit counting a thousand or so ago) books. But more accurately, it has multiple libraries.

The main library room has most of the fiction, all of Ben’s strange collection of medical, legal, and historical stuff, a ton of biography, and a couple of encyclopedias (children: this is what the world’s collection of knowledge used to be kept in before Wikipedia). The videos, most of the CDs, and even some cassette tapes are filed in what is called (for unknown reasons) “the African gun room,” a separate room off the main library that was originally intended (by Ben) to be a third spare bedroom before we realized how silly that was for a household of two dozens of miles from anywhere.

But my little “office,” originally our daughter’s bedroom here (she is now grown and on her own although she still, I think, prefers her old room to our more sumptuous guest suite when she comes to visit), has its own “library.” These are my books. They are a collection of “high” literary fiction, poetry, literary criticism, cultural and sociological studies, religious studies, and dozens of dictionaries. It also houses needlework and gardening books (the cookbooks are in a separate set of shelves in the kitchen) and my collection of audio and video lectures from The Teaching Company on topics as diverse as Nietzsche, Toqueville, quantum physics, astronomy, geology, and the origins of language.

OK, I hear the question: “You promised to talk about Kesey, Leary, and serendipity, and here you are rambling on about your bookshelves. What gives?”

The procrastinating task I found myself involved in today was trying to determine what on the bookshelves in my office could be dispensed with. This isn’t as stupid a task as it sounds, because the edges of the stairway from the kitchen to our bedroom are lined with books waiting to be put away. If the house caught fire with things as they are now, we’d probably both break our necks just trying to get downstairs in the dark, and the fire problem would be moot.

So I’m sorting away and I come across an old (2002) edition of Tin House, a literary magazine to which I used to subscribe. I start to put it in the reject pile when a cover headline catches my eye: “Ken Kesey’s Last Interview.”

This wouldn’t be so remarkable except that within the last two weeks my friend Carla told me how pleased she was that the interview she did with Ken Kesey, his last, was to be included in this publication’s anniversary anthology. I opened the magazine up, and sure enough, here’s Ken Kesey talking to Carla P****.  This comes out of the reject pile immediately. . .

In her interview, Kesey quotes the I Ching: “The best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.” Amen.

Kesey is one of my heroes, a kind and gentle person who was capable of great love. He recognized the dangers of the milieu in which he was dealing and did what he could to ameliorate them. I don’t feel the same way about Timothy Leary, who seemed to believe that the hazards of drug experimentation were what would separate the weak from the strong, and the weak be damned.

If there is any confusion at this point about how I feel about drugs, let me clear things up once and for all: I’m “agin” them, sort of. Here’s what I mean by that.

I’ve said elsewhere that marijuana is not for me. I realized that about 30 years ago when I woke up on a Monday morning realizing that the effects of the pot I had smoked on Saturday night were still present in my brain. I didn’t like that.

I have since watched two friends self-destruct on that “friendly” drug, men whose brains I greatly admired who lost the ability to reason when smoking. They ultimately lost it altogether.

There are NO friendly drugs. Alcohol does damage to your body. I accept this, and I try to balance the pleasure and the damage. Cigarettes help destroy your health. I’ve finally reached the point where the negatives aren’t worth the positives, and so I’m struggling with that addiction. Even lowly aspirin has both positive and negative effects.

But to those who would say “Cannabis is good, it promotes good health,” I can only answer, “Sorry, but in my experience it just isn’t true.” All drugs modify the way we perceive the world. So does an over-reliance on technology. So does buying into the current corporate/governmental mantra of “We know what is best for you.”

As a poet, my first job is to see things clearly. My second job is to try to communicate that vision to those who want to listen.

So listen up, guys. Pay attention to what the world around you is saying. If you have to escape, escape, but don’t try to justify it on the basis of “this is good for me.” It just isn’t true. Ken Kesey knew that; Timothy Leary didn’t.


9 Responses to “Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, and serendipity”

  1. MoskerVenice Says:

    [Following an earlier post] I hope you now realize that since you’ve quit smoking that you actually can come to Los Angeles. [The city does have a supermodel cigarette exemption but alas, you’re too short]

    Keep fighting the good fight. Any other comments will go private.

    [A man too short–(take your own cheap shot)–for sperm banks]

  2. mklekacz Says:


    Dave, I’ve always believed it was the size of a man’s heart that counts, and you’re one of my favorites.

    Alas, I’m too old to need a sperm donor. . .But I still don’t want to come to LA.

  3. whig Says:


    I’m visiting family in Pittsburgh this week, and I don’t know if I will have time for a substantive detailed reply, but a few comments need to be made.

    Kesey and Leary were advocates for LSD. Cannabis is not an experimental drug, it is an herb that has been used by humans since before history began. It has at least as long a record of safety as alcohol has of causing death and disease.

    You may not appreciate the effects of cannabis, and prefer other drugs. If you prefer poison, I won’t object, and alcohol prohibition was tried with very bad results.

    Apart from your own bias, there is no evidence you offer against cannabis apart from feeling some after effects (something rather more common and unpleasant with alcohol than cannabis, as well) and two friends who you say “lost the ability to reason” when they used cannabis and “ultimately lost it altogether.”

    Did your friends use other drugs besides cannabis?

    By what objective measure do you say they were unable to reason?

    How did they “lose it” and what does that mean?

    I find your own claim highly unreasonable. But by all means, keep believing what you want, despite all facts to the contrary.

  4. whig Says:

    I will ask you to provide some documentation, some proof of medical harm due to cannabis.

    I would be happy to supply same in regards to alcohol, tobacco or even aspirin.

    Your drugs of choice are harmful.

  5. mklekacz Says:

    Whig, the point I’m trying to get to is that ALL drugs are harmful. I’m not going to wave competing studies here. Frankly, the topic is starting to bore me.

    Enjoy your visit with your family, and don’t worry about responding. As you’ve pointed out, my choices are mine and yours are yours. You don’t have to defend yours, and I’m not going to defend mine.

  6. whig Says:

    You’re simply wrong, however. I don’t mean to be rude to you, but you aren’t correct, and you insist on maintaining your unreasonable position without facts while accusing others of lacking an ability to reason.

  7. whig Says:

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Cannabis is not only not harmful to health, it is positively a food.

  8. Eco Green Says:

    Politicians are 10 years behind the times when it comes to hemp use. People have been fighting for a long time against marijuana and pot prohibition with some movement going on now. Still too slow for those caught up in the jail system for possessing a little weed. Our freedoms have been trampled on by folks who know nothing about how beautiful cannabis can be for someones life, if one learns how to grow cannabis. Keep up the good work.

  9. Marianne Says:

    Eco Green, despite my anti-drug comments earlier, I am all in favor of legalizing the growing and use of marijuana, with or without a medical certificate. I just don’t personally by the “it’s harmless” argument.

    I am also in favor of offering addicts of heroin and other opiates all the drugs they want at government-sponsored centers. I think that would do away with most of the crime and violence currently associated with illegal drugs (and free up a lot more prison space for folks who really deserve it and from whom society needs to be protected.

    Somewhere this week (maybe the Sunday NYT) I read an article on a school in Michigan (I think–somewhere in the Midwest) that is teaching people how to grow pot correctly. Interesting piece.

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