06 July 2011

Lucille Ball and Brenda Starr’s Love Child: Interview with Jessica Maxwell

Ahoy, me Gobsmacked Crew!

Jess Maxwell
            Yer in fer a treat. On May 27th, Jessica Maxwell, author of the wildly successful Roll Around Heaven: An All-True Accidental Spiritual Adventure (phew!), sat down with me at Bella Vita Spa in Salem, Oregon, to answer a few questions. Instead of the usual interview—ar-ha-ha!—me pirate’s playful nature needed a playground. Seein’ twas still me birthday week, and Jess was treatin’ me to a pedicure, why not ha’ our brilliant nail technicians (who know Jessica and RAH) ask the questions? (Aye, captains love ta leave the work to the crew!)
            So wi’out further ado, here be the interview!

            Elena Leo, Jessica’s Bella Vita nail technician.
            Elana Leo:  How old were you when you decided to be a writer?

            Jessica:  A good question, because until I was sixteen I wanted to be a doctor. I always wanted to heal people. But when they were handing out math brain cells, I got back into the poetry line, and I didn’t get any math brain cells.
            So at sixteen, I knew I couldn’t do medicine, and I said to myself, I’m good at English, was even in honors English. Plus, I’m a redhead. I can be either Brenda Starr or Lucille Ball.
            Brenda was more appealing because she had all these exotic assignments all over the world. Plus, she had Basil St. John, this tall boyfriend who always showed up wherever she was, and he wore an eye patch, which I found intriguing. She had these fabulous clothes, and I thought what a great job! I ended up doing all this without the Basil part.
            Now, Lucille Ball was not a part I counted on. I had assignments for serious stories. The first one was on the LA sewer system, and I wanted to do an environmental story. But when I arrived, it’s Girl Scout day and only Girl Scouts could tour the sewer system. So I pretended to be in one of the troops. While I was on one of their tours, I noticed the workers at the sewer had big fancy rings. I said to one of them, “Man, they must pay you well,” and he said, “Oh, no. It’s finders keepers.”
            Then I interviewed the supervisor of the LA sewer system. I sat down with him and interviewed him very seriously. After, I asked, “Okay, what is your name?”
            He said, “Arthur F. Sewer.”
            I laughed, and he didn’t. “Is that your real name?”
            He nodded. 
            “How do you spell that?”
            See? I tried to do a serious story and ended up with outrageous comedy. I was Lucy from then on.

            Michelle Moore, me Bella Vita nail technician asks her question.
            Michelle: What flower do you most identify with?

            Jessica: I adore flowers. And old Indian master Swami Satchidananda once said, “Flowers are God smiling at you.” And I thought that was so neat because you look at a flower, and it’s so beautiful and happy, even in the middle of yuck!
            What flower do I identify with? For some reason I love violets. When I lived in France my junior year of college every February-March is violet season, and they have little bouquets of violets. I actually have a little bouquet of faux violets I pin on my dresses all the time. I think they’re just so … so French! I love lilac time, too. I love cherry blossoms. What I love about flowers is they represent blooming again, every year, and if you think about it, it’s amazing we can count on spring bringing us again so much hope. I mean, what if flowers never bloomed again? In terms of a spiritual symbol, the lotus flower is the symbol of what the Eastern people call enlightenment. I don’t know if you know this, but the lotus floats on top of water, and its roots go down like jelly fish into the mud. So it gets its nourishment from the mud of life and then blooms forth on the surface. I think that’s perfect. Our feet are in the mud. Life’s messy, yet we can still bloom. So I love that. I have a lotus on my keychain.
            The other thing that comes to mind about flowers is my dad. He was born in Honolulu and lived in New Zealand, and any South Pacific flower—the pikake, gardenia, tiare—their beautiful fragrance, it’s like you’re smelling heaven right here on earth.
            I was on assignment and remember getting off the plane in Tahiti. They have tiare flowers planted everywhere. It’s very smart. And it’s not sickly sweet. They say the masters produce a fragrance, and that’s wild. All in all, I associate flowers with the highest, deepest level of awareness that we can attain on this planet here and now.

            I, as Gobsmacked Captain, could not be left out of the interview. I’ve known me shipmate Jessica for years, know the quest she was accidentally dropped into, and ha’ seen the results. She might write for all the big mags—National Geographic, Esquire, Audubon, Forbes, Gourmet, Outside, Town & Country  to name a few—but her True North is not of this earth, at least not that we know of. Being a witness to these adventures, I had one burning question.

            Captain Val:  Of all the questions in all the interviews you’ve done, what question have you not been asked that you would have liked to answer?

            Jessica:  (a long pause; a faraway look in the eye; husky low voice)
            What no one has asked me and what I have not volunteered is what I’m going to do in the next book. I’m going to write about what I really know—what I really know—because I don’t go around talking about it because it is so out there, or in there, and it’s not about me; it’s what we know, we’re always dancing around, even with the concept of enlightenment or samsara. The reason that I know what I know is that I live and I experience it, but I don’t talk about it. It’s so profound. And I don’t mean I have any big secret. I mean these trappings we give to the real stuff is the best we can do.
            It’s like when you’re writing. You have your idea and who the characters are, but what is their story? We call it inspiration, this unbelievable knowingness that comes through, and you write and write, and somehow a paragraph happens, the best you’ve written in years, and it glows. What is it, Val, really? We’ve tried to put words to it, but if you say “I’m channeling,” well …
            The words that come close are tainted by religious history, which makes intelligent people throw the baby out with the baptismal water. And what I’ve really come to understand didn’t come like a lightening strike.
Lama Karma
            What’s interesting is watching how people respond to my workshops. I’m giving them information, and we have a wonderful time, but certain people get that it’s literally coming through me, and it’s like transference. Like I say to them, “I’m the spiritual FedEx girl and don’t crown the messenger.” It’s a very interesting situation to be in because I instinctively know what people can take and not take, what you can offer and what you can’t because you don’t even talk about it. What you’re offering is something deeper but you don’t even talk about that because it comes with it.
            The closest I have found to a description of what that is I found in this book Glen, Randy’s* husband, gave me on Tibetan mysticism. How they understand the sound of chanting is bringing you and your mind to this place of peace—and that’s hackneyed too—but it’s literally medicine for your soul. Even that’s not it. But it’s starting to describe the undercurrents that are at work. A baby monk will be taught a chant, and the energy of the sounds, the rhythms and the cadence, will take the monk to this place.
            The first time I “got” it was when Lama Karma on New Years was chanting and I listened and was taken to a place where I understood the design within the chanting.

            Back to me, the Captain. I can tell no more o’ this interview because Pirate Maxwell asked me to keep the rest confidential so it is saved for her next book.
            But I ha’ to throw in me pieces o’ eight. Me thinks what she’s sayin’ is like when sailors thought the world flat and they’d fall off the end of the earth if they went too far. That’s where we be in the spiritual realm. We’re just waitin’ to find out the earth is round, and we’re spinnin’, and we can’t fall off because the design is so freakin’ awesome. And, nay, I be non religious, just a spiritual pirate spoutin’ similes.

            Ah, but I must ask one last question of Jess. Can’t resist.
            Captain Val:  What is your dream?
            Jessica: To have a farmhouse in the beautiful Paro Valley of Bhutan.

            So for ye on a spiritual sail, bon voyage!

            And “Stay tunaed,” as Miss Maxwell is fond o’ sayin’. The Gobsmacked is headed for adventure! With a private peek at me month at Vermont Studio Center and a frightenin’ tale of me run-in wi’ a tsunami. Shiver me timbers!
            Until then, I remain your
            Captain Val

*Randy is Jessica’s best friend.

Adventures at a Writer’s Residency: Captain Val Goes to Vermont Studio Center
Runnin’ for Me Life:  Tsunami!
More News & Confirmed Gossip from the Writing World

And … an unusual interview with cartoonist Jan Eliot of “Stone Soup