Saturday, February 03, 2018

So, You've had a Brain Injury. Now What?

Brain injuries are the worst. I know, because I’ve had a doozy in 2008. I don't remember much, but I know it scared the hell out of everyone I love.
I’m not the same person in many ways. Sleep, pain, balance, reasoning skills, memory, the ability to divide my attention and my patience have all taken a big hit. For me, my cognitive abilities were most affected. Sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if I were missing a leg, or paralyzed from the waist down?” At least then, people could see the challenges I face every day. No one would be asking, “Are you really disabled?”—which happens. But that’s not the case, and there is no way to know which effects are going to stick around for the long haul.
How did I deal with it? At first, not very well. I had to give up my profession as a teacher, I hibernated, I wallowed in self-pity, and I grieved for the loss of me.
I’ve sometimes wondered if those were important phases to go through, and I like to think they were. At the opposite end of that spectrum is denial. Had I chosen to lie to myself and pretend nothing was as bad as it really was, maybe I never would have ever gotten down to work.
Everyone has seen those 30 second inspirational videos of heroic patients on treadmills or in braces learning how to walk again. These are truly amazing people making progress against all odds. They are living miracles. But, in the case of a brain injury, much of that struggle is invisible. There are no physiotherapists or coaches. The work happens every moment of everyday while doing the simplest tasks. A brain injured patient is struggling alone, and it’s exhausting.
Some skills are easy to work on and a brain is plastic. It can rewire itself. It’s an important fact to know, but more importantly, it’s vital to believe. It’s my source of hope, and makes all those stories of people making amazing comebacks less like miracles and more like a possible reality. All I have to do is work hard and be patient.
I wish there were guarantees. I wish I had more control over my future. I don’t. But, in the meantime, I will keep identifying my weaknesses and finding ways to work on them. Like everyone who suffers a loss, I’m simply a new, less perfect version of me.
Maybe life is a little " a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” as Forest Gump said, but I think it's more like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Some of those snakes are hellishly evil, but I’m facing them nonetheless. And there's always the next ladder to climb.
As it turns out, a brain injured person is just like anyone else who is trying to make the most of their life.

Monday, January 22, 2018

To Kathy with Love

We begin life with only the names our parents give us. Kathy Hansen came into the world as Kathleen Ann Wallace. She began her life as a daughter, niece, cousin and granddaughter. Before long, she became a sister, friend, spouse, aunt and mother. Later still, she became a grandmother. These were her titles, but to each of us, she was so many different things. Whether she could see it or not, within her, she was all of them. In that way, she was more remarkable than any single one of us could ever have experienced. She was complex and so much more than she gave herself credit for. In that way, one might say she was humble—a trait we all strive for.
Barbara remembers a story about her when she was a toddler. While Kathy was learning to talk, she couldn’t say banana. Instead, she would call them blemoms. Barbara would look at her and enounce with care, b-a-n-a-n-a and Kathy would look up with big eyes smiling and say, blemom, for the umpteenth time. There is some consensus that when Barbara was at the hospital giving birth to Randy, Kathy stayed with grandma Van Dusen and came home saying banana correctly.
By the time Kathy was 10 and with Barbara’s guidance, she became a caregiver, housekeeper and cook. Then she added tractor driver, wood piler, root picker, bale stacker, chicken feeder and egg collector to her many roles.
Kathy was always a thoughtful philosopher of sorts, contemplating life, as well as her place in the world. Everything she read, listened to and saw, inspired her. She collected sayings, music, movies, unicorns and fairies. She even collected her own thoughts and experiences in the form of journals. Kathy had many talents and she loved everything cute. In fact, some of the puppies she raised joined her family when they were a little larger than a mouse. Through love and play, she taught her dogs wonderful tricks, proving their amazing playfulness, intelligence and individual personalities. She loved her furry friends.
When Kathy was young, Harley and Barbara bought a Honda 50 dirt bike for the kids. That bike was the center of numerous adventures. One time, Julie and Kathy were out for a ride. Julie had partially fallen off the back and instead of stopping, Kathy called out, “Hold on! Hold on!” Julie did as she was told, and as she was dragged behind, the back tire rubbing a tire mark on her belly. Fortunately, no scar resulted, other than an indelible memory that Julie will always cherish.
That was not the only accident Kathy had. When the family dog was a puppy, Kathy ran over him with the bike and broke his leg. For a month, he lived in the house in a cast Barbara plastered on him. It was because of the cast that we named him “Hop-along Cassidy”—Cassidy for short.
Kathy seemed to love music more than most people and sang karaoke whenever she had the opportunity. Her love of music was probably passed down to her from Barbara. On the family’s numerous long trips, she orchestrated the singing in the back seat of the car using a songbook of lyrics she brought along that she and her brothers and sister sang from cover to cover on each ride.
While she worked at the studio, Kevin and Laurie recognized her love of music and provided a stereo. She kept them supplied with CD’s she loved. When certain songs came on, she and Laurie would groove out until customers came in, at which point they would stop so they could look responsible. It didn’t matter where they were—when there was good music, they would dance. Even when Kathy was hurting, and knew she would pay for it with sore feet, or knees the next day, she still danced. When she would take the kids to the river, she would often open the car doors and crank the music. They would dance with their mom with no cares in the world. Music was the backdrop for fun on so many occasions. Nearly everyone who wished to share something about Kathy, made some mention of it.
Bryan wrote a song entitled “I’m Losing You” when he was about 15 and as it turned out, Kathy may have liked it more than he did. She learned it by heart and when she hadn’t seen him for a long time, she would often sing it to him.
To some degree, Kathy was a hippy. When she was younger, she made bellbottoms from old jeans by adding triangular pieces of fabric between the seam from the calf to the hem on each leg. She wore halter-tops and chokers, and listened to Fleetwood Mac and John Denver.
When Kathy was 18, she met and married Marty Hansen. At the time, he was someone she considered a kindred spirit. Although their relationship was difficult, their union resulted in two beautiful children, Tristain and Jeremy. She later met Bob Stewart and completed her family with the addition of Vanessa.
One winter, Kathy had problems with her little finger. It would swell and cause her pain and sometimes she even required antibiotics. She realized the cold weather was part of the difficulty, so she crocheted what she called a finger toque to keep it warm. Of course, it was just that—the cutest little hat—so she embellished it by adding a bow. Before the winter passed, she had made and decorated nearly thirty individual toques for her pinky. There are so many, I doubt she would have worn them all.
When a friend of the family, Walter Wigmore, lost several fingers to a snow blower, Kathy made little finger caps for him, too. Eventually, the miniature toque movement faded and she decorated a small tree by hanging them on its branches—yet another testament of her creativity.
She was a dancer, a singer, a painter, illustrator, calligrapher, crafter, writer, outdoor enthusiast, seamstress and even a mechanic at times. Professionally, she excelled at her jobs and was proud of her work regardless of what she did. Shortly after she graduated from high school, she worked as a caregiver to the elderly at the Omineca Lodge. After the kids were in school, she became a cook at the Blue Spruce restaurant. For 10 years, she worked as a photofinisher during the era of 1 hour photography at Wallace’s Photo and Frame. She was quick and efficient, often achieving feats of amazing speed when she was swamped by an influx of film.
Throughout her life, Kathy took every opportunity to learn new skills. When she got her first computer, she was unstoppable, buying drives, more computers then collecting and copying movies and music. She worked as a drywaller by mudding and painting. Amid all of this, she volunteered at Neighbourlink. People she worked with remember what a fun loving and hardworking person she was. For a while she worked for Vanderhoof Community Services driving children to see their families and later returning them. Most recently, she came full circle by combining her experience of working with the elderly and cooking by making meals for the residents of Riverside Place.
She was more than a friend in the way she sometimes helped others develop their own creativity. When Randy was in grade 5, she helped him write a poem for a school assignment. They were both proud of the final creation, and although the teacher felt the piece deserved no more than a C+, that mediocre work was the creation of a memory that has lasted for more than forty years. Who knows? Had the teacher been able to predict its significance, she may have marked it differently.
Kathy’s motherly instincts developed at an early age when Harley and Barbara entrusted her with the care of their children, including Kevin, their youngest. One of his earliest memories involved sitting on her knee while playing with a blue car he received from Santa at Kathy’s elementary school’s Christmas celebration.
Kevin’s babysitter was not the only way Kathy was involved in Kevin’s life. When he was 5, Kathy added the role of coach as well. His athletic future must have been of great importance to her, because she took it upon herself to teach Kevin an acrobatic move that shall henceforth be known as the “bunkbed dismount.” This complicated maneuver involved sliding off the top bunk headfirst. Kevin’s subsequent broken arm ended his season and terminated both, his gymnastic and Kathy’s coaching careers, simultaneously.
One of Kathy’s favourite classes was art. When she was in grade 12 and Kevin was in grade 7, she took him to her art class where Kevin made a clay version of “The Fonz” from the sitcom Happy Days. Kathy fired and painted it for him and he still has that sculpture to this day.
Julie will always think of herself as a normal little sister, because she was into everything Kathy cherished. Most of the time the two girls got along very well. They had to. They worked together preparing meals and cleaning the house as part of their daily routine. But when Kathy got old enough to wear makeup, everything changed. Whatever Kathy had, Julie also wanted and sharing a room made getting into Kathy’s belongings that much easier. From then on, continual complaints of “Mom, she won’t stay out of my makeup!” ensued.
Caring for others seemed to be a theme throughout Kathy’s life. During the winter 2006, Barbara was hit by a pickup in the intersection by the theatre. Once she was able to return home, she had terrible troubles with balance and strength. Kathy took time to be with Barbara and help her with her daily routine, which included everything from preparing meals to getting in and out of the bathtub. It was an act of love Barbara will never forget.
When Randy suffered a massive brain bleed and was finally able to leave the hospital, he required constant supervision. Kathy spent hours at his side making sure he followed the strict protocols the doctors had given him. Later, when he developed a cerebral spinal fluid leak, and was sick all the time, she was right there taking care of him, making sure he was getting his daily doses of Gatorade—one of the only beverages he was allowed to drink because of the electrolytes it contains.
Kathy was very generous, even though she had so little. Some of the gifts she put together must have taken days or months to complete. Kathy was always giving little gifts tailored to each person. Sometimes it might be a scarf, a necklace, a little pair of earrings or even Tupperware. When Megan had Alice, Kathy collected a bag of baby toys from the thrift store and washed them up for Megan and the baby.
Kathy was an amazing cook. At family gatherings, we knew she would bring the stuffing and gravy. We all really appreciated the stuffing, and of course, an added benefit was that it simplified the baking of the turkey. Until this past thanksgiving, Kathy had not shared her secret for making perfect gravy, but now we know that in order to achieve success, the flour must be cooked for exactly 12 minutes. Kathy truly was amazing. She could make even the gamiest tasting moose into a gourmet meal.
She often cooked for others as well. This spring, Kathy fed Megan’s family for two weeks after Alice was born. Krista still remembers the cookies Kathy made. When company came over, Kathy would take bags of cookies out of the freezer and put them on top of the wood stove where she warmed them up. Somehow, they were better that way. They always tasted like they were fresh out of the oven.
And if all those virtues are not enough, Kathy was a jokester, too. She seemed to have a never-ending supply of jokes and one-liners for every occasion. Every conversation at the kitchen table would remind her of a joke and she’d add to the enjoyment of family get-togethers by sharing them.
Kathy loved a great bargain. She loved good shoes and shopping, so she had the best supply of good shoes. Her feet were a little smaller than Laurie’s, so when she got a new pair, she would often have Laurie wear them for a little while to stretch them out. A couple of weeks ago, Kathy was at the studio showing Laurie how easy online shoe shopping on eBay was. Together, they ordered a pair. When the shoes came in, Kathy brought them into the studio all brushed up to look like new. It was the sort of act-of-kindness that Kathy was known for.
When Kathy was quite young, she began to cut hair for her family. Most of the time, the work she did was thoroughly appreciated, a gift everyone had probably become too complacent about over the years. It was too easy to take for granted her acts of kindness. Unfortunately, the haircuts did not always go as planned. One such incident happened for Randy during her early stages of haircutting practice. His hair was particularly curly when he was younger, so when she cut the hair over his forehead and failed to take into account what would happen when it dried, it curled into a tight line, high line on his forehead. His embarrassment at school was only comforted by the knowledge that his hair would eventually grow. Fortunately, she improved and he loved all the subsequent haircuts.
At least for Randy no blood was involved. For years, Harley was the beneficiary of her haircutting talents without incident, and it’s a good thing that quality shears are surgically sharp. For one, it makes cutting hair much easier. For another, it means that cuts usually heal quickly. On this fateful day, while she was cutting Harley’s hair, her shears slipped. Suddenly, Kathy’s mouth dropped open. In an instant, blood was everywhere. Fortunately, Barbara was close by. She recovered the piece of Harley’s ear and with Kathy’s help, they reattached it. It is important to mention that Kathy was much more upset about the incident than Harley was, and to this day, it’s almost impossible to tell that part of his ear had been chopped off at one time.
Having a hairdresser in the family was a luxury and for the hundreds and hundreds of haircuts, only a handful were ever a disappointment. It was a gift of both time and talent, and throughout all those years, she never expected payment.
Kathy enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren and Vanessa will always be grateful for time they were able to share. Both Kathy and the kids were particularly proud of the fairy garden they built last summer and except to protect all the little figurines, furniture and other paraphernalia, Kathy would have preferred to have left them out all winter long. Although, Kathy wouldn’t have had it any other way, Vanessa remembers with fondness Kathy’s support throughout her Crones illness and all those years of pain.
Although she was generous, Kathy was not always the giver. There were times in her life when she was the recipient of wonderful gifts. In the spring of 2012, Tristain decided to treat her mom to a trip to Hawaii, but they were devastated when Kathy broke her ankle just two weeks before they were scheduled to leave. At first, Tristain couldn’t figure out a way to bring her mom on the plane, but one night a solution came to her, and in the end, they were able to go. When they arrived, Tristain rented a wheelchair. The trip was a challenge, but together, they triumphed over each obstacle. They went everywhere. Tristain pushed Kathy around like she was a racecar. They jumped curbs and had a great time having fun and laughing. Kathy was even able to swim in the ocean without a problem. What made the trip most memorable was that Kathy seemed to enjoy herself in every way that Tristain had hoped she would.
There were numerous times when Kathy seemed to have all the right priorities. The year Jeremy and Krista bought their house, they had a wiener roast. Kathy came wearing little white sandals. By the time the evening was over, they were completely covered in dirt and soot. That evening she clearly cherished her time with others so much more than the clothes she wore.
When Jeremy first began dating Krista, Jeremy bought her a locket. He got together with Kathy and convinced Krista they were going to do a photo shoot. Krista went right along with the charade, unaware until later that it had been a ploy to get a photo small enough to fit in the locket.
One time, Kathy showed up at Krista’s house without warning. When Kathy suggested she bring Krista to her house as a surprise to Jeremy, Krista went along with it. It was another kind gesture Krista will never forget.
Kathy struggled with the sorts of troubles most of us will never have to deal with. It seemed she was faced with one health problem after another for her entire adult life. To make matters worse, a serious infection seemed to accompany each surgery. She was always in pain from a knee joint she needed to have replaced and a year ago, Kathy battled breast cancer. Kathy’s battles in life were often heroic.
Of Kathy’s creations, her legacy and most important accomplishments will always be her children. Throughout their individual struggles, Kathy has supported them to adulthood. Each of them, in their unique way, has become a successful, caring, adult.
Tristain’s hardworking nature has served her well throughout her life. Her perseverance has been a strength through her educational endeavours and has led her into a career she loves and is proud of. Her caring nature makes her a wonderful friend and wife to her husband Chip.
To Jeremy, she gave the freedom to explore his many interests, which have included motorcycle riding, learning to mechanic (even when he didn’t need to take things apart), building, camping, hunting and fishing. He has become a hardworking provider for his family and a loving husband and father. Jeremy has become a man of quality who is proud of Kale and Kinley. Each day he is grateful for his loving wife, Krista.
Like her mom, Vanessa is incredibly artistic. The two of them often did art and craft projects together. Because Vanessa lived in town, when Kathy needed something, Vanessa was usually the one to call. Eventually, Vanessa met Jason. Together, they had 2 beautiful girls, Claire and Alycia.

She was the one constant in Tristain, Jeremy and Vanessa’s lives. These wonderful people did not become who they are by accident, and their broken road has brought them to where they are today. The world will always have been a better place because Kathy was part of it, and we will always miss and love her.

Friday, April 04, 2014


#9 Grundpark Road began its journey as a novel. Shortly thereafter, it came available on kindle. Now you can enjoy it as an audiobook. Listen to it whenever you want. Play it for your kids. Listen to it on  a long road trip. Anyway you want, it's a great story and a fun read! Click HERE to check it out at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Who Is Charles Rodenbough Anyway?

I am Charles Rodenbough and beyond my role as husband, father, and grandfather, I suppose I can characterize myself as a writer and teacher, both capacities I have enjoyed since retiring from being a business manager. Many years ago I was aware of what I enjoyed doing but I let others convince me of my “responsibilities” and I gave up the desire to be a college professor. I don’t begrudge the choice nor do I regret what might have been. In my retirement I am getting to catch up on the avocation that I had continued even while functioning as a businessman.
History is my genre and my concentration has been associated with North Carolina. I chaired a Sesquicentennial Celebration (Madison, NC), organized Historic Districts, county chaired the National Bicentennial, Presided for the Historical Society, planned for a county museum, and all the while I read, researched, and collected for a time when I could write. When that time came, I was not starting from scratch but ready to compose from what I had assembled.
I like to structure my writing on the bare facts but I like to create beyond into the logic or lack thereof in how people, individually and collectively, accommodate to their circumstances. History writing is always interpreting the circumstances of one time or generation to another which sees through its own prism. The historian has to convey facts and situations in such a way that the reader begins to perceive in the historical moment. I have written biography, history, and historical fiction.
Most recently, I wrote a biography with my grandson that could be read and appreciated by multiple generations of readers. Stealing Andrew Jackson’s Headwas published this year by All Things That Matter Press. My wife, Jean Rodenbough, is also a published author with All Things That Matter Press.
Currently, I am involved with a project with the University of North Carolina, studying a unique common thread of slavery from Africa, through the West Indies, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and Canada over a hundred year period.

Stealing Andrew Jackson’s Head

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who Is Mark Lewandowski Anyway?

I did not go to Alaska because I wished to live deliberately; I went to make money, hopefully enough to fund a trip to Sweden. The plan was to work in a cannery for the first half of the summer, and then fly to Stockholm, hometown of Hans, a college buddy from the University of Kansas. Things didn’t work out that way. When we arrived in May salmon wasn’t running yet; jobs at the fish processing plant in Homer were scarce. By the time the jobs arrived at the end of June, Hans, his girlfriend, and her brother had given up and left Alaska. I stayed on for the rest of the summer, sometimes working 18 hour shifts “sliming” salmon for many days in a row. I never overslept, even though I didn’t need an alarm clock. Before I went to bed each night I popped some Tylenol. Like clockwork I’d wake up five hours later, once the Tylenol wore off and the pain returned to my hands. By the end of the summer things so striking before, like the bald eagles as common as crows in the Lower 48, or moose lumbering down the main street, clogging up early morning traffic, had become the norm to me.

In August I started a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Wichita State University. I arrived in Wichita in the middle of the night, about four hours before Orientation was to begin. The second story I wrote for my first workshop was called “The Slime-Line Queen.” It became the first story in my collection, Halibut Rodeo. Like all the other stories in the book, “The Slime-Line Queen” was inspired by the jobs I did, and the people I worked with at Seward Fisheries.

That was 1988. I planned on going back to Homer the following summer, but in March 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled its load into Prince William Sound, setting back the Alaskan fishing industry for years. Seward Fisheries had no immediate use for slimers. Full time residents found work scrubbing oil off of sea rocks with paper towels. I never returned to Homer. But I continued to visit places outside my comfort zone. I lived in Poland as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and in Lithuania as a Fulbright Scholar. I travel just for fun, too. My experience traveling infuses all my writing, both short stories and essays. I like to believe that I have a keen eye for “place.” In all my narratives setting plays a primary role.

Now I am an Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University, with a modest list of publications in numerous literary journals. Halibut Rodeo came out 22 years after that summer in Homer. When I think of how much time has passed, I recall a conversation I had with a single dad I worked with on the Slime-Line. He had just finished his first year of classes at the local community college:
“You know why I’m going to college?” he asked.
“So I can get a job where no one looks over your shoulder and tells you to go faster.”

I think I took his words to heart.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who Is Robert Rubenstein Anyway

I am the author of Ghost Runners, and The White Bridge, soon to be published by All Things That Matter Press—but not for everyone. A trilogy, finishing next year with a treatise on Howdy Doody and the nuclear bomb is sure to raise eyebrows, but not book sales unless you are also compelled to make sense of the time that had the greatest influence on our lives. In the White Bridge, my flapper gal reporter, Ginger Lee Smythe concludes that truth is nothing, and nothing is truth. My uncle, Jack Ruby, is given a play as a street tough in old Chicago. Buy my books because he was my uncle and I, his nephew? I don’t think so. Maybe I am lying about that, you say. Well, maybe I am.

 Most of my life anyway I was told to hide that truth—that’s why you will not see my middle name, Jack, on my books. But Uncle Jack did have a point. My first reaction when I heard Lee Oswald was shot dead was,”thank you, uncle jack, it’s good for the bastard.”

I grew up with television and learned to write history from Crusader Rabbit, Rocky and his Friends, and Fractured Fairy Tales. I believed in Dudley Do Right and Mighty Mouse. When I was three years old, I crawled onto the tenement fire escape and spread my arms to the heavens. “I want to fly like Superman,” I told my mother.

You see, now you are getting closer to why you should buy my books. I believed in fairy tales. I hid under my mother’s skirts when I saw the infamous “Bambi,” in the movie theater. I was shot dead with three – D. Hondo’s rocks that came hurdling out of the celluloid screen to put a dent in my head. I was attacked by King Kong and Godzilla. I am in therapy to this day because they shot John Lennon.

I grew dizzy in the fifties, and I have seen Nazis ever since. Every man should be required to say his prayers about what he has witnessed and what was the cost of the history he bears. I am fortunate to be entering the twilight years, a little wiser and not yet suffering from Alzheimer.

I know I was lied to, and was traumatized by the country I never left, and fought to change, though I heard voices during the hearing test and was deferred from serving our nation. I said, “boo hoo,” that I did not kill or maim anyone in Viet Nam. But I sure wish I could wear a cool hat to say I was a war protestor.

The Olympics are coming—seventy-five years since an outrage occurred. Ghost Runners is about American anti-Semitism and sports. It is about the heart that can conquer hate. It is the same thing with The White Bridge. Why should you buy me?

I am, as old as I am, representative of a new breed of writers that sell our wares by way of a small independent family of authors who are quite good and avante -garde. I have seen that the rest of our little group can pack a mean, competitive pen.

I believe my parodies are vital to the understanding of racism and history; they are, though fractured, but vital about knowing who we are, and where we are going. There is no living room conversation with smart – sets about the Olympics without Ghost Runners. There is not a complete understanding about racist America without The White Bridge. Taken together, you will be inoculated forever.

Buy me because it took me a lifetime to get to this declaration. There is sometimes a great notion as Ken Kesey said. If its warped history you seek—horror, hysterical and uproarious—I think I may be worth the price of admission. If you don’t like my books, I’ll pay you back … someday.

Can’t wait to begin the last book of the series with your support … “in a red – bricked classroom, a little five year old boy crawls under a desk filled with inkwells, trying to protect his little head from the shards of glass of the window that he was told not to view. If I were a good boy, and kissed my dog tag that would survive me, I would go to heaven, the teacher cried, when the nuclear bomb came. This is a drill now, she said, but you willbe dead very soon, anyway.”

The Boy Who Looked Through  A Crack In The Window ends my trilogy. Why should you buy my book? Because you are the future, and I would like to scare you a little—you see, I still see clearly because I have studied the past through Howdy Doody’s eyes.

Robert Rubenstein

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who is Jesse Hanson Anyway

Asked by my publisher to write a piece about who I am, for our in house blog tour, I experienced mixed feelings. It was naturally enlivening because I saw a chance to introspect and perhaps learn something about myself. Strangely, on the other hand, I felt somehow vulnerable—the private, guarded part of me felt that way. You see, I knew that the general theme of my description had to be spirituality, and speaking of one’s self as a spiritual being, a spiritual seeker, strikes me as risky business. There’s a lot of room for self-aggrandizement in any forum in which an artist speaks of himself. Having always been taught that true spirituality is for the humble...
Ironically, the flip side of the pride vs. humility issue is the fact that a great percentage of the population is entirely cynical, as regards spirituality and those people have a tendency to view people like myself, as rather self-deluded or otherwise deluded dreamers.
Nevertheless, and at the least, Jesse S. Hanson is a person who has a great deal of interest in spirituality. It is the backdrop, the undercurrent, of all my writing, and it has become my most true identity. My piece here has taken the form of a mini memoir, because it seems to be the only way to explain such an identification. I have had, through no merit of my own, the greatest fortune throughout my life, to be inspired by and to spend time in the company of certain profound beings Who have highly—I would say fully—realized their potential as human beings. I must say I am not one of them.
Truly speaking, there are so many other ways I have attempted to identify myself. I was born into a devout Lutheran family in the agricultural, sparsely populated, southeast corner of North Dakota. There, I found identity in the freedom of the open land, roaming the countryside on the backs of horses, then later as a high school wrestler, a singer and songwriter of sorts. More generally, I think I viewed myself in relation to my family, friends, and girlfriends. In the background was my loosely committed relationship with God, through Jesus.
My college years also proved to be an exercise in identity swapping. Before I could even get serious about any kind of academic pursuits, I was exposed to elements of the prevalent counter culture. Soon I saw myself as more of a Bob Dylan, Neil Young wannabe than as a student. Here my relationship with Jesus was eventually challenged, though not entirely broken. I bounced from one major to another, switched schools altogether and, by the middle of my second year, dropped out.
I went back and lived in my little hometown for a couple of years. Once there, somehow, a few young people created a kind of identity for me. I became some kind of false counter culture celebrity to a certain group. They'd come up to my apartment and we'd listen to albums, watch Star Trek and smoke pot. I was fortunate that that particular identity didn't land me in jail. Anyway, having lost all recognition of myself, after a while I got depressed and, on the advice of my family pastor, admitted myself (more like: turned myself in) into the nine-week "drug" program at the state hospital. In the admission process, I was told it was not really a "drug" program, as there were not even any junkies in North Dakota. Apparently, they called it the drug program to distinguish it and to physically separate its residents from the much larger program for alcoholics and criminals who had managed to avoid real prison. It was designed for kids, boys and girls both, who needed to get their lives back on track. Some had been busted for misdemeanors—dope dealing, shoplifting, etc.—which were often related to a variety of substance abuses—gas and glue sniffing, etc. There were a few cases of heavier type crimes, such as car theft and certain acts of violence. In any case, immediately after my admission process, I was put on a locked ward with the alcoholics and the aforementioned criminals. But it was only for a week, to make sure I was drug free and then I was brought to the slightly more liberal drug ward.
I learned a lot there: not only did I learn that the majority of the staff members were using drugs, while rehabilitating us, but I became aware of residents who got sent to prison from that floor for such crimes as smoking a joint or having a drink of contraband alcohol. I know snitching was encouraged; I don't know if it was rewarded or not. This was the also the place where I first learned about spirituality. One of the counselors, Daryl, was an initiate of a Master from India: Kirpal Singh. This kind, humble, and honest counselor began to hold "spirituality meetings" in the general activities room. These non-mandatory meetings were attended by almost all the residents (it was something to do). Interestingly the soft-spoken counselor somehow held the attention of the whole group. We were quite fascinated by this person's anecdotes concerning his remarkable Master.
At one point, a really wild character was brought onto the floor. Short and stocky, long dark wavy hair, wild eyes, and a very fierce demeanor. I admitted to the girl next to me that that fellow made me kind of nervous. "Just don't let him know it," she advised me. I heard rumors about it taking six or seven aides to subdue him in the solitary confinement area where he had just come from. Later, I became good friends with the wild man, Mark, and it turned out that he was already involved with this Kirpal Singh and was planning to get initiated at some point in the future. He said that when he was in solitary, Daryl was the only person who came to visit him. This is notable because the hospital was in Mark's hometown.
Well, we were some mixed up kids, I suppose, but we weren't crazy. That was yet to come in my life. Upon leaving the hospital, I decided to move to Seattle, Washington. Mark had an apartment there, in the University District, and offered to share it with me. In Seattle, I worked a variety of jobs to make a living as I took to my new identity as a street musician/song writer/spiritual seeker. At least I thought I was a spiritual seeker. To attempt to make a long story short, during the years I spent in Seattle, things went from good to better to worse to really bad. Eventually, after falling in with some strange company and repeatedly experiencing the schizophrenic glories of LSD I lost it. I began to hallucinate when I wasn't on the stuff. When I shut my eyes it was a non-stop scrolling of horror, like an old-time movie reel running down my field of inner vision. That lasted for a period of a week or two, I believe. I didn't sleep. I assume that exacerbated my condition. I'd been in some tight spots before, while hitchhiking, being drunk and vulnerable, etc. but I figured this might truly be my undoing.
It wasn't to be. During this time and the time leading up to it, in my desperation, I'd also taken my spiritual seeking to a new level of sincerity. I'd begun to read everything I could find about spiritual experience, including The Bible, The Bhagavad Gita, The Koran, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Varieties of Religious Experience. Modern things also—Autobiography of a Yogi, Be Here Now, The Lazy Man's guide to Enlightenment, and so forth. Most of these books frightened me further. Only Kirpal Singh's books gave me hope and encouragement. But Kirpal had left His body recently. I was stranded. One day, my friend, Mark came by; it was a long time ago now that we had lived together, but we were still friends and He was left in the lurch by Master Kirpal's passing also. There had been a magazine, published in English, for the disciples of Kirpal and it was still being printed after He left. This issue contained a very short, two or three-paragraph article, with the title, "A Possibility". It was about a man from the Rajasthan Desert of Northern India. Someone had reported that this man had shown up at Master Kirpal's funeral and when he spoke of Kirpal his eyes turned into Master Kirpal's eyes. That was the gist of it. Upon reading this little article, I felt, somehow, very moved. When I shut my eyes, no hallucinations.
That was the beginning of my identity with spirituality and it was the beginning of a long relationship with Ajaib Singh. Many more wonderful and mystifying experiences have been a part of my existence from that time forward. Mostly, these things are quite personal. The personal nature of a relationship with a God realized person makes it, for me, unsavory to speak of it openly. I've done so, very briefly, on this occasion, in the hope that some people will come to understand that my fiction is based upon reality, as I know and experience it. But my genre of choice as a writer, whether it's songs, poetry, or prose, is fiction. In fact, my perception of prose is that it is another form of poetry—that one shouldn't tell a story but that the story should unfold for the reader, as life unfolds for us without explanation or commentary. I have set myself a kind of personal mission to help expand the role of spiritual fiction in literature.
In terms of writers dealing with spirituality, my style, although contemporary— even experimental—in form, is rather old fashioned, in message. There’s a lot of fluff out there, from self-made gurus and spiritual guides, etc. My book, shows spirituality as a gift from God. In Song of George: Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man I have created a character who is the spiritual benefactor of men in a federal prison mental facility. The interesting thing is that he has no idea how he came to be selected for this service, since he himself has severe mental issues and has spent much of his life as an addict/derelict. But the idea is that the only kind of person who can reach the poor souls in this institution has to be one of them. An allegory, you see: even as the great spiritual benefactors throughout history have come as one of us, though they are in truth, much more.
Since my meeting with Ajaib, I've lived in quite a variety of locations, been through two devastating divorces, fathered children (now grown), had many occupational and artistic identities, and remarried, finally, in my fifties to the woman who is seemingly my soul mate. Master Ajaib left the body several years back and I was again devastated.  But recently I have been so fortunate as to once again come into the company of the Master, in the form of  Master Sirio Ji, of Italy, a devoted disciple of Kirpal and Ajaib.
My novel is published with All Things That Matter Press. My folk-rock band,The Primatives, for which I am the songwriter and guitarist, has two CD's: The Lovers of Kali Yuga and Primitive Spirit. I am working on a new novel and have aspirations to publish a collection of my poetry and song lyrics. I have had short works and poetry published in a few magazines, including Reach Poetry, Dawntreader, Sz Poetry, etc.

Those interested in learning more about Song of George, as well as my other work and interests, can find me on my blog at:
and on Goodreads at:

You may also contact me directly by email at:  

Thank you so much for your time,   dass, Jesse