The SLU Interview with Peter Plymton Smith
This interview with Philip Gounis took place at Saint Louis University in July,1981.It was conducted by Peter Plymton Smith during his research for his book,Your Hidden Credentials:The Value of Personal Learning Outside College,Acropolis Books,Ltd. 1986
Smith: Where I would really like to start,just…and it will help me identify things;to just have you do a sort of name and a short biography,you know,as you put name,rank,serial number,who you are,where you have been,what you have done and just in a short form,what you are doing now.
Gounis: I’m thirty-three years old,married with three children.My work has been published in poetry periodicals and small presses.I’ve done some record reviews.I’ve done radio broadcasting at Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University,ed.)I have lectured in elementary and high schools in the area.Read my poetry on KWMU,FM radio.I have also tutored at Florissant Valley Community College for the English Department.
Also since I was fifteen years old,I have worked at a variety of blue collar jobs,which included driving a tractor trailer truck,working as a shipping and receiving clerk,a lot of delivery work and some inside sales and telephone work too.
Smith:All the while you were doing all these other things like writing,etc.?
Gounis:Yes.Right.All this was going on at the same time.
Smith:Were you going to college or just working then?
Gounis:My academic background is somewhat unique.I graduated from high school;having gone to McBride High School here in Saint Louis.It was a parochial non co-educational school which was established as a major learning institution -college preparatory curriculum.I left there after two years.At fifteen I was not interested in formal education -I was interested in having a good time(laughs).It was a special opportunity to have a high quality education that was relatively inexpensive and being foolhardy,naive and goofy as kids sometime are at fifteen – I blew it.Looking back…I wanted to have fun,I didn’t want to be…I felt stifled in the classroom.
Now,at thirty three years old having had some experiences in the academic realm and with children of my own,I think probably I should have taken advantage of the quality formal education back then.But instead I transferred to a regular public high school contrary to the advice and wishes of my parents.With the extra credits that I had acquired at McBride High School,I only needed to attend the public school for half days my last two years.It was all that my beleaguered parents could do to keep me in school anyways…
Gounis:And yet,when I think back I have always had a love of books and a love of knowledge.
Smith:That’s clear I think.Gee,all the things that you spend your time doing.
Gounis:Here’s the irony of ironies.I would skip school and go to the library and read-that’s the truth! (laughs) That points up some kind of flaw somewhere.I don’t know who or what in the educational system to fault for that.I guess that some of the fault was in my own self in being undisciplined in that kind of school environment.When I look back at myself at sixteen or seventeen years old and think of myself skipping classes,feeling again as I said,stifled or repressed or whatever in that school atmosphere…but I would go to the library not the pool hall or just hang out and waste my time;I wanted knowledge.I would seek out knowledge on my own.
Smith:And you got married in there sometime.
Gounis:Yes,right after high school.
Smith:All the way through up into the present you have described two tracks-parallel tracks.
Gounis:That right.The very practical track of having to put food on the table.This was all in a working class economic social structure.It wasn’t like I would inherit any money and just sit back and write poetry and paint and do what I wanted to do.I was on my own; I had to support myself and my family since I was nineteen years old.So consequently,I drove a truck.I worked in a warehouse.I was a shipping and receiving clerk…whatever,and always reading.I continued to take an interest in politics and all art forms too.And I tried to associate with people that did likewise…
Smith (pauses) I’m going to make notes as you go along because I want to mark a place in this…so just keep going.
Gounis:…yeah,definitely two parallel tracks all the time.One very practical money,dollars and cents track of supporting myself and my family and the other of fulfilling this creative need – something that I couldn’t put on the back burner even if I wanted to.
If you have talked to people that write or do create…that is a drive.It is just like hunger or sex or any drive;and it needs to be fulfilled.So you write or you play an instrument or you do both or you dance…whatever.The artist needs to do this.It has to be fulfilled.
Smith:We have a funny quirk in our family tree.I have an uncle who is thirty six whose a writer.And I understand that he goes through tremendous torque when he feels creative.He really can’t do anything else.He’s been published and won some prizes.He’s not in the middle of his field or anything,but when he sees something he needs to create.Everything else barely exists.He barely keeps his job going and he gets ulcers and terrible things happen to him while he plays that drive out that he has to play out.
Gounis: You see, something happens with this kind of existence.You have to associate and work with a lot of people who never even pick up a book.I mean,if you are working in a warehouse or loading trucks;the people that you work with are not educators and poets,and so…although if you can latch on to somebody…this is an interesting element,an angle,to this whole work environment…If you latch onto another person that is creative at all, you have a bond right there;because so many people that work an eight to five job,or work a blue collar job…you can see from…I work with young people and older people where they settle into this rut.Maybe that creative spark was there at one time but it has been slowly and definitively put out over a period of time.Just survival becomes the main goal.And maybe they’ll have a little kind of creative urge but it’s not encouraged.
Smith:Sure as hell not on the job!
Gounis:Yeah,not on the job for sure.
Smith:I was just talking to a guy who was recounting being harassed on the job because he went to school.
Smith:He had been there ten years and everybody knew him.He went to Vietnam,came back and went through all that re-entry stuff.And then…he knows all these guys,drinks beer with them and he comes here to go to school and they put the blocks to him.
Gounis:Yeah.You see,something is happening where a lot of people who you work with in that environment,in fact feel threatened.
Gounis:That is just something that people don’t realize unless they are in that kind of environment,like this fellow you were just talking about.He had to experience it first hand.I don’t mean to say that there is any kind of overt persecution of people that are trying to develop themselves creatively;but there is prejudice there.
Smith:It creates the kind of thing-it’s an attitude,an environmental thing-similar as if you put a woman in a work place that is predominantly male.
Smith: People might not overtly say,”Look at the broad”,you know,but they are going to just make ostracism as a climatic thing.They will close them out.
Gounis:Yeah,that can happen.
Smith:Okay.Now let me…I need to create a an image,a metaphor…I am looking at this flat prairie and I need to create some bushes around…Could you tell me or…just describe how you think.How do you spend your time?Take whatever unit of time that is appropriate…
Smith:…a day, a week, a month. What are the major ways that you spend your time?
Gounis:Okay.Now is a unique time for me.As of the end of May of this year,I went from working a full-time eight to five job as a warehouse/deliveryman and tutoring at the junior college (that position runs out every Spring)…I am laid off for the summer;they cut back on staff;but I was also laid off from my day job.So, I went from working two jobs to no job.
And so,here I was with my family and all those financial responsibilities,but no income.What I found out was that I had to re-evaluate everything.What am I going to do now?
It’s interesting.When I tell people over say fifty years old who have lived through the Great Depression;they get a look of panic in their face,almost as if I told them that I have a terminal illness.They’re scared for me.On the other hand,some younger people ,some friends of mine,have this attitude that this could be a positive time for me.And I have that attitude too,because I have invested so much time and effort into being creative and into developing that part of me.I’m thirty three years old and I felt that maybe what was happening was…my schedule was opening up more and now I didn’t have to work a day job.So I thought,this can be a time for me to develop myself even more creatively.
Smith:So that affects the way that you’re spending your time?
Gounis:Yes;and so this has been about six weeks now.Recently this disc jockey job at this lounge came through.And this is an interesting job.I don’t get to play a lot of music that I really appreciate or that I like;it’s mostly pop music,some disco,some country,some straight ahead rock ‘n roll.But it’s still kind of interesting to be in a bar every night,to interact with these people…and also to be lifted out of the eight to five rut of working the monotony and tedium of the warehouse job.So I feel more alive,somewhat liberated…
Smith:You’re making money,at least to…
Gounis:Yeah,I’m doing alright;I don’t have bill collectors calling.But I’m really in a state of indecision now because I do have a lot of applications pending now.Some are for general labor jobs.And I question should I go right back to doing that kind of work again.That could make it hard for me to find the time to write.
Smith:So you are doing some writing now too?
Gounis:Yeah.Quite a bit and developing some other ideas.Working with some drawings that an artist did for me a few years ago for an unpublished manuscript.One of the drawings did appear in Image magazine alongside some of my poems.I looked at those drawings the other day and they triggered something in me…And so I thought,well.I’m going to work up some ideas with these drawings,some poems.Maybe I can have them printed as poetry cards,something that somebody could tack on their wall.I find that with this extra time I want to find a way to make money outside of the eight to five routine.
Smith:You want to create something that you like.
Gounis:Right,that’s it. And I think that now might be the opportunity to do it,this summer.So this is an interesting time for me.
Smith:There are going to be some redundancies.It’s not just because my questions are redundant,but also the things that are important to you are going to come up again in some questions and I just hope you will play it through and sort of respond to the questions as we go because they are going to seem sort of redundant and you’re going think,”Gee,I think I’ve said these words before.”And there will be times when I may try to push you into what I meant by the question,so that we don’t get the same recitation each time.
What kinds of things do you think about?I don’t know any other way to put it.What kinds of things…let’s assume that you had a sit down lawn mower and you’re mowing the lawn,you know,so that puts you doing something where all that you have to do is steer the thing and keep going around…whatever it is,what kinds of things do you find yourself thinking about?
Gounis:Yeah.Okay.I have to back track here a little bit to give you some perspective on this.About 1972…I had always been interested books and I was always writing,but I wasn’t a public person.I wasn’t being published.I was attempting to get things published,but I wasn’t really really out front aggressively doing so…but then I had this experience…are you familiar with Ram Dass or Richard Albert?Have you ever read the book Be Here Now?
Smith:No I haven’t.
Gounis:There is a parallel here…sometimes ‘ordinary’ people draw parallels with people in the media spotlight.They can identify with them…
Anyways,Richard Alpert was at Harvard with Timothy Leary when they started using psilocybin…
Gounis: Does it start to ring a bell?Alpert and Leary got kicked out of Harvard for giving psilocybin to undergraduates…
Gounis:As Alpert tells it; he was wealthy;his father owned a railroad in Massachusetts.He had a Cessna airplane.He was dating fashion models.He had prominent academic credentials,lots of money.He had everything,but was doing LSD and was unhappy.
So,about 1966 he went to India because he had nothing else to do.He met this guru in India who was just this little old man in a blanket in Nepal…to make a long story short;this little old man read Alpert’s mind.He told Alpert,”You were out last night under the stars.You were thinking about your mother”-this is all in broken English because he is an uneducated Indian-“She died from cancer of the spleen and you are just kind of wandering around India-right?”
And Alpert just lost it,you know,he thought,”What’s going on here? Who is this guy ?Is he CIA or what? How’d this little old man get all this information?”Alpert broke down,he cried.He said that he felt that he was home.In response to this dramatic experience,Alpert began to study Hindu and Yoga disciplines and diet and meditation.He was given a Hindu name,Baba Ram Dass,which means servant of God.When he came back to America,Richard Alpert lectured as Baba Ram Dass.
So the reason that I bring this all up is because in the autumn of 1972 I heard a lecture by Ram Dass;and a short time before that I had had a very profound experience with peyote.And a short time after the Ram Dass lecture,I had an experience with a clairvoyant.These incidents made me reassess everything that I had learned in a linear Western way.Before this time,’ego’ was just a term in a psychology textbook.After these experiences I understood ‘ego’ as a vehicle for life on this planet.
Gounis:And so I re-evaluated all that I had been doing.I felt as if I had been playing an ego game.What I had been doing was trying to elevate ‘Philip Gounis’.And I had been doing this in my relationship with my wife and my associates.Trying to be “Top Dog”.In my circle of friends it didn’t necessarily mean having a Cessna,but it maybe meant having the best pot plants.(laughs)Being ‘hip’.
Smith:One step ahead.
Gounis:There are all kinds of status…I realized that it was all bullshit;that the way that I had been thinking was jive.It was a painful realization.I hit the bottom.I thought well,now I can just end it all or I can get my head together and really start to make some contribution.So what am I going to do?Now here I am.
It was a dark time.Nixon was President of the United States then,the oil crisis was happening.A definite malaise abounded nationally and for me personally.I felt very isolated.I felt alienated from my wife.I couldn’t relate to her.As fate would have it a lot of my buddies had been drafted or had moved away.I had been laid off.So I decided that the only way that I was going to feel better about myself or about anything was to really give to others and make a real contribution.
I had to take stock of myself.I had always been interested in writing and in reading books.I thought that maybe I could give something in that area.In the meantime I had to pay the bills.I was behind financially so I took a blue collar job that was offered to me.I also was reading a lot of Alan Watts and Ram Dass at that time…a lot about Eastern philosophy.
Smith: Did those events that you spoke about(the peyote and the clairvoyant)-just so I have it in perspective-did that instill in you-that may not be the right term-but a religious connection for you? And it stayed with you?
Gounis:The concept of God isn’t foreign to me.I was brought up in a Catholic home.I left the Catholic Church when I was sixteen because I just thought that it was false.It wasn’t doing the job for me.I went through a period of what I would call ‘agnosticism’;but the religious experience wasn’t completely foreign to me.But the kind of “religious” experience that I had in 1972 was.
Smith:Yeah,okay…all this leads up to today.When you have free time,what do you think about?
Gounis:Okay,that’s why I said that I had to go back.It’s a long story but it builds up to now(1981),okay?So that all happened in 1973.Then in 1974 I went to work for the Post Office.Bills were paid.I had time to do more writing and so forth.Made pretty good money,not what Dave Winfield made,but…(laughs)
Smith:He’s not real anyway.
Gounis:So it gave me more mental freedom to write and to think,”Well now I can do more.”I can actually pursue getting published or whatever.Also I took part in poetry readings on a radio station in Gaslight Square called KDNA.Then in the Fall of 1975 I enrolled in a Communications Course at Lindenwood College in Saint Charles.I was working nights at the Post Office with the intent of getting on the radio.I felt that I could make a contribution,that I could do something there.I got in what was called a Communications Lab which was hands-on experience with the Lindenwood College radio station KCLC doing radio board engineering and production.Later I dropped the course because I was able to get a program slot.
Smith:You just wanted to get in there.
Gounis:Yeah,and the station management was very open to my proposal.I said to them,”How about some blues music? All that you’re playing is Top Forty music.People come to Saint Louis and look to Saint Louis like they do New Orleans-for blues.”
Gounis: “Blues and jazz-but it’s not even on the radio.Give me an hour.”So they gave me an hour on Wednesday night and it grew to three hours.And I could have done more,but because of my schedule-my family,my two other jobs-I could only do three hours a week.But it grew from one hour a week to three.I did the blues show for four years.I also hosted another program where local poets and musicians did their own thing live.I did that for a year and I also filled in on a jazz program sometimes.I loved it.I love radio.
Smith:It’s a wonderful media.
Gounis:It is and it has so much potential.Peter,if I turned on the radio now and I hear the garbage on there,I think what a waste.And that is one of my pet peeves,waste.Whether it be food,whether it be air,whether it be energy.Why waste potential.You can edify people while you entertain them.
Smith:Teach them something.
Gounis:Yes,instead-well, I’ll go on and on about it and I don’t want to-but we all know what the idea of consumerism is and what is happening in this culture commercially.
Smith: Yeah,commercialism,I would argue,is a weak excuse for lack of quality.People will,I am convinced,will pay for high quality things and it doesn’t have to cost any more than the crap that we get.It’s just that the people producing it are too lazy or too unimaginative or too hierarchical or too something.And they continually downgrade the intelligence of the people who are listening to their production.People learn to settle for less.
Smith:It’s just awful.(pauses)Let me just push you to a new-unless you’ve got more…
Gounis:I just want to say this one more thing;that is the idea that the “religious” experience in 1973 wasn’t just an experience like maybe an automobile accident,that though it may be traumatic,it is something that you can forget about once your leg or whatever heals.
Now I’ll jump from 1976 having gotten into radio and publishing a bit to my situation now(July 1981,ed.).Laid off from my day job,off for the summer from the Junior College,no paychecks.
Not to go off on another tangent but to make a point…I have this good friend who is a very religious person who has been through a lot.His mother committed suicide,he ran through the drug thing,he has been in prison.But he is a very positive person;he’s attending Antioch College right now.He has been an inspiration to me.
He told me about a class that he was in explaining medieval poetry.At some point during a lecture,the instructor nonchalantly said,”…of course at that time people believed in God”.My friend spoke up,just blurted out,”Some people still do”.(laughs) That’s the type of person my friend is.He has traveled the world over.And he told me that sometimes he will be out on the road and not know if he is going to eat or not for lack of money.But he told me,”I just put myself in God’s hands”.And I thought,”Man that’s a very child like kind of attitude to have about deity”;yet it is the only way to connect with what Ram Dass talked about.It’s more than a biblical concept.If you can’t connect with a real entity and a real force,then just forget it.
This same friend had recently written some very explicit and provocative poetry about his personal beliefs.I was reading it and I said to him,”You know you have to take responsibility for this”.Then we talked about the responsibility of the artist.You either truly believe in what you do or then it’s false.
Smith: Putting yourself in God’s hands doesn’t mean that you don’t take responsibility.You don’t lie down and say,”Do it for me”.
Gounis: Not at all.
Smith:Because then it won’t happen.To the extent that it is child like in its innocence,not child like in a helpless way.
Gounis:That’s right and…
Smith:I mean…and it’s the same thing with taking responsibility for anything that you do.These are facets of the same thing.
Gounis:Yes.There is always that duality that you have to recognize.I have control over my life,on the other hand there is a greater power.I have a narrow tunnel vision of possibilities.If I think that I have all the answers;it’s just me doing that ego thing.It’s all jive,bullshit illusions and I’m not going to be trapped in that again.I have outgrown that.And a lot of times I think on that kind of…
Smith:You honestly reflect on this a lot?On the relationship between what you do for work,what you do for your own fulfillment,who cares for you and how you care for yourself?I mean,these are major life kind of questions?
Gounis:That’s right.And if I’m say, cutting the grass like I was this morning,that’s the kinds of things that I’m thinking about.
Gounis:Yeah.And I’ll tell you another thing that I think about.My children are an incredible inspiration and stimulus for me.My oldest daughter will be twelve in September and she might just as well be going on fourteen.She is running through a whole lot of adolescent attitude and tantrums and so forth.I can remember my older brother going through these stages when we were kids or I would be more concerned.Then I have a middle daughter who is going into the second grade,she’ll be eight. And then a little boy who will be six in August.
I don’t want to sound like I have an axe to grind,but I’ve had to work with a lot of people that are close minded,that are racists,that are dead end in their attitudes.And if you are not that type of person yourself and you have to work with those kinds of people day in and day out,you see them slowly decay.They don’t read a book.They don’t relax their parameters of belief;but then I come home and see my children-it’s the difference between night and day.
Gounis:If I didn’t have those kids with that kind of input,I’d be missing just a large input of positive energy in my life.
Smith:How would you,you know,right now- a lot has happened in the last two months-obviously,even with that;how would you describe yourself to another person?Imagine a situation where you know pretty well…just put yourself in as two”Philips” for a minute and somebody is going to move in next door to you.Some guy comes over the fence and says,”Who is this guy,Gounis? What’s he like? What kind of person is he?I am going to have to live next door and I want to go over and meet him,but can you give me any clues? What kind of guy is he?
Gounis:Okay.As far as putting it in that context.I would say that for the most part that I have a tolerance but not an enthusiasm for traditional middle class values.I keep my own yard nice,but it is not perfectly trimmed.I want my kids to go to a good school.That’s important to me.I want them to have opportunities.Those are mostly the middle class values that I adhere to.I believe in keeping your property up.It is ridiculous to invest in property and not keep it up.And I believe in simple things like a good school for your children and a good home environment.
Racism makes for a toxic environment.At this lounge that I’m working at now,I see a lot of racism.I see it as a poison,a real poison.It’s almost a poison that can make men physically ill.I have seen grown men cry because of it.I can remember an incident when I was sixteen-a black man kept out of a meeting where I worked.
Gounis:It was just racism.And I heard of it all the time in those blue collar jobs.
Smith:Is it mostly white people at the lounge where you work?
Gounis:Yes.Predominantly white.In fact the owner,the guy that I work for has told me outright that he discourages black business because he so close to a black neighborhood.I know that he doesn’t want it to become a predominantly black bar.On the radio I was able to play mainly blues.I have worked a lot with black artists.Racism is a sickness.It’s repugnant.I wonder where it comes from.
Gounis:Yeah, that’s part of it but…I’m getting off of the subject-but in regards to values…
Smith:Yeah,what else would you tip this neighbor off to?
Gounis:Another kind of value thing is with drugs.My daughter is at that age where it is in the schools and she knows that I have indulged,so now I have totally sworn off.In fact it is a thing that my friends kid me about.If we are at a party or something and they pass me a joint I decline.So they kid me about it.
Smith: Do they have kids?
Gounis:Yeah.In fact we have had discussions about that.I tell them that in the area of drugs that you can do what you want,but I’m not doing it.My daughter is at an impressionable age.When she looks at me and asks me;I want to be able to truthfully say,”No,I don’t use drugs”.So I’m not doing them.That’s where that stands.
Gounis:So, I have those kind of values.
Smith:I understand that.
Smith:I’m even having a hard time drinking beer these days.My kids come in and-
Gounis:It’s funny that I have never thought about alcohol that way,because I think that they associate that from commercials and so forth with a working man.(laughs)But drugs are associated with what my daughter calls “burn outs”.A Charles Manson type of person.A kid that gets low grades and is in trouble a lot.I don’t want anything to do with that.I really feel that a joint at a party is pretty harmless to me but…
Smith:At her age…
Gounis:Yeah,there’s a big difference.I don’t want her at her age to have anything to do with drugs.
Smith:Can you look back fifteen years to say age eighteen and say that that’s the way that you have always been? If the answer is yes,then I have one set of questions.If the answer is no,then I have another set.I am just interested in whether that is the current you.
Gounis:Yeah,okay.My interest in art,poetry and so forth goes back as far as I can remember,which is my mother reading Mark Twain to me.He came from around here-all that background,you know.Then Robert Frost passing the woods on a snowy night-all that stuff in grade school.And it’s a thing that gives me energy,that I want to impart on my kids and I think that I’ve always had it.I’ve always had it.
When I was working a lot of those blue collar jobs,working ten or eleven hours and coming home exhausted-no,I didn’t sit down and write poetry.I could maybe go months without writing anything,but if I heard say Norman Mailer’s name mentioned, I was interested.
Gounis:It’s always been in me.The opinions about racism and commercialism and so forth- I might sound self-righteous,but I have seen the culture get more corrupt and lean that way.I lean in the opposite direction.And I resist more and more,going along with the crowd and so forth.And again with my children,I don’t want them to grow up in a world-that hustling world of,”Take a pill,instead of working it through,take a pill for what troubles you”.I can see that there is going to be a lot of struggle to not have that kind of world but…
Gounis:Yes,my values have become more entrenched.But see if you like blues music and you are seventeen years old,well where do you go to hear it?-black bars.And how can you be racist in that environment?So those views have been with me a long time.
I can remember the time in 1967 when my brother went into the Marines.I was already to go too;and it was only in the ensuing year that I listened to what Dr. Benjamin Spock and other peace advocates were saying.And I became influenced by it just like I was later influenced by Ram Dass.So I am a part of all that and I was influenced by all that in a lot of ways.On one hand I can identify with millions of people in their early thirties;and on the other hand I feel like I have had an experience separate from those with an academic background.I never stormed a university in the sixties although I might have sympathized with those people at that time.
Gounis:Yeah,see,but instead I was earning a paycheck because I felt that I had to.So I had the objectivity on it.I can remember talk of SDS (Students For a Democratic Society) infiltrating the Teamsters organization and I laughed.Because I knew, I worked with those guys.
Smith:It will never happen.
Gounis:It will never happen.I remember that.It was a joke to me.So I had that type of objectivity that when I picked up Rolling Stone magazine in 1968 and read about the activity at the Democratic Convention,I thought,you people are kidding yourselves.I could see the futility.I mean it’s great if your dad is bankrolling you,you can do a sit-in at the university.I guess that I would have been there too,but in reality I had to put food on the table and provide clothing and housing.And also educate myself and then make a contribution.
Smith:Let me put a construction on all that and see if it makes any sense.I hear what you are saying that in effect,the person that you were when you were seventeen has gotten stronger.There have been some changes,you know,but you can trace your present values as enduring and they have been with you.And out of the past came a commitment not just to work,but to be involved with radio,be involved with poetry and writing explicitly and try to make some time,no matter how hard it was,to be thinking about these things even if you didn’t have much time.And always to remind yourself of their importance.
Smith:And now you have a situation where you are saying,”Who is Philip Gounis? How am I now(1981) going to make the best use of this present situation?What doesn’t look like an opportunity,make into an opportunity.
Smith:It’s similar to what happened to you in 1973;you could have given up.
Gounis:That’s right.That’s important that I haven’t changed in that way.
Three things that I want to rattle off real quickly before I forget.You see, I was looking for this extra time that I have now,but I wasn’t looking to be without a paycheck.I didn’t imagine that,okay?
Smith:Yeah,who would want to be without a paycheck?
Gounis:Yeah,two other things.I am thinking about values changing and so forth.In the last fifteen years I would say that my attitude toward women in general has evolved a lot.I feel that’s a reflection of the culture changing.
Smith:It’s changing for a lot of people.Not enough yet.How about Sandra Day O’ Conner being nominated for the Supreme Court? What did that do for you? Even if she is a conservative,I was excited.
Gounis:See,I don’t want to like Ronald Reagan,yet when he does something like that I think,”Not bad Ronnie”!(laughs)This is the guy that dropped the tear gas on the kids protesting in Berkley and I don’t want to like this character at all,but…
Smith:He just did something that no other president ever did.Every president in the last twenty years,every guy that has run for the presidency has promised to do that and now one of them has and yesterday people were saying that he would never do it,but he did it.It’s the power of action.That’s it.I happen to be a progressive Republican and I am in big trouble in my own party right now because of Reagan and all.I ‘m not in good standing.That’s alright it all passes,you know.I don’t want to like him either but I have to make sense of what he does.
Anyways,listen here’s what I want to do. I want you to really zero in on the last year.What I want to do is I want to see if I can get you to call up some learning,you know,to remember some learning.I want to get at some of the more mundane things in life because they’re important too.You talked about major life changes and I need that,but I also want to see what else there is.Okay?
Smith:If you can think,and just go back to last June,a year ago June.Can you think of any major events that occurred in your life,of events of any kind,that triggered a slightly different way of thinking about yourself or about the world?Can you think of any events that have done that?
Gounis:Okay.this is stretching the time from a year to about fifteen months.But in March 1980 after we bought this house,I figured that -I remember we bought it at thirteen percent interest and that seemed high then…
Smith:It was high then.
Gounis:And if you can get thirteen percent now-good luck.So,we bought the house and I had been doing the radio program for four years and I felt that,well,I wasn’t making money for it.It wasn’t a salaried position.I loved doing it,but I felt that had to devote more time to either being with my family or making money,because of the present economic climate.
Smith:And you had this thing on your mind called ‘mortgage’.
Gounis:Yeah.That was in March 1980,so I dropped the radio show.Also I started doing less with some of the small presses in town.Because I thought unless there is some dollars and cents involved- I continued to write,see I don’t shut that off even if it just piles up on my desk.That doesn’t shut off.
Gounis:I felt that I should either spend that time with my kids or making money.I hated to be constrained like that,but I felt that the economic climate was such.My kids were getting to that age where they needed more time with me and I needed more money too.
Smith:So the event which changed you and which changed the rules for you,was acquiring the house.It put additional financial responsibilities on you.And were there other things?There doesn’t have to be,but were there other things?
Gounis:Well, I would say buying the house.And with the constant economic doom and gloom in the newspapers everyday;things didn’t look like they were going to get any better very soon.With three children,you get serious about the future.About five years down the road.Ten years.Driving down the road you might start to weigh the economic cost of doing even that.In your mind you start to split hairs.What can you afford to do with your time if it has only an aesthetic reward?
Smith:I understand that.
Gounis: See,in a way it was contrary to my nature to think like that.I’m an impractical,idealistic romantic.But the mortgage payment is real.The economic index is real.I don’t know how biased it is one way or another,but it seems real (pauses) and the unemployment line. I would just say the whole economic climate affected me.
Smith:Okay.Let me use some different words.Scrub ‘events’ and that was an event.Now think in terms of last year or fifteen months.I’m not religious about time,but I want it to be sort of recent.Can you think of any task or challenges or situations that you faced?I think of an event as something that you create.But a task or a situation might not be of your own creation.Something that confronts you and you have to learn a new skill or learn how to do something or learn something.Gain knowledge or learn a new attitude in order to deal with it.Can you think of a situation like that?
Gounis:Yes.I felt a lot like the tutoring experience at Florissant Valley Community College has been just like that.I can get a challenge there.
Gounis:Without much college background I have people coming to me needing remedial training which I can usually handle;and yet every once in awhile I get thrown a curve.Then I go right to the reference book with them.It might be grammar or even poetry interpretation.
Gounis:And I can think of another entirely different situation.I have a good friend who was teaching in the Missouri Arts in The Schools Program.When he went to my daughter’s school he invited me over.It was the same week that the school’s faculty had invited me there to talk to the students about my experience in radio.I really loved that.I talked to several classes and when my friend talked to some other classes about poetry I was able to sit in on those.So I was able to observe an academic approach to teaching the structure of poetry.
Gounis:Yes.that knowledge and that approach,a kind of nuts and bolts approach to building a structure with art,with a creation that doesn’t just fly out of your head.It starts with an idea.What are going to write about? What are we going to write about in school? Let’s write about it.It was a kind of approach which I didn’t have before.I knew that I could write,but I didn’t really know how to teach another person to do it.
Smith:You just go in there and use your wits.When you are tutoring somebody and you are taking what they show you and working with them.You give it back to them.
Gounis:Yes,that’s what happens.
Smith:Think of the last year in terms of print media.Can you think of a situation where you said,”I need to learn more about it and as a result I’m going to research more about it”?
Gounis:Yes,Okay.For me, some important writing in the last year has been that of Carl Jung on synchronicity.
Gounis:I had a very striking experience that I was curious about;and a friend pointed me towards the writings of Carl Jung for insight.
Smith:Can I ask you what that experience was? I’m really interested in what motivates people.
Gounis:To explain it I want to reference a movie.Did you see Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories”?
Smith:No I didn’t.
Gounis:There is a scene towards the very end of the film where the main character experiences a sensation of time suspended and feeling all powerful and invincible in that moment. I had a similar experience.Without benefit of any chemical or substance,just an ordinary afternoon at my home with my kids-I had a similar experience.Somewhat fleeting but it left a profound enough of an impression that I wanted to read what Jung had to say about such things.
Smith:Have you learned anything in the last year or sought to learn anything from either a medical person,a lawyer, a therapist,a CPA or any kind of specialist?
Gounis:Well,about fifteen months ago I was involved in a law suit and I had an ongoing rapport with my lawyer.And I learned some kinds of legal technicalities there about things involved-what’s allowed.Also the attorney that did my income taxes this year told me what exemptions were allowed.
Smith:What you could and couldn’t deduct?
Gounis:Yeah,on my tax return,that was a learning experience.
Smith:Have you learned anything from documentaries or courses on television or radio or theater?Have you seen something that spurred you to want to learn more about that subject?
Gounis:There was a program that dealt with the concept of time on public television,with Dudley Moore.I would say that there were several programs on public television this past year that I felt were enlightening or educational.I remember an interview that Dick Cavett did with Stanley Elkin the novelist living in Saint Louis,that I enjoyed.Also another interview that Cavett did with Allen Ginsberg.
Smith: Is there a subject that you have deliberately sought to learn more about by seeking out certain individuals that you felt that you could learn from?
Gounis:It seems to me that what happens is that I acquire and assimilate facts and almost instantaneously absorb them.I almost forget the act of acquisition and the source.I guess that I retain them but then almost instantly assimilate them into some kind of action or into my writing.
Like right now I’m not that familiar with the music of Bob Marley,but I’ve been hearing so much about him lately.People talking to me about him and how significant he is.So I’m going to find out more about him and his music and try to introduce it to “my audience” at the deejay gig that I do.
Smith: And where will that take you?
Gounis:I don’t know where it will take me yet.At first it will take me to the library to find some of his records.Then I’ll play them at the lounge.
Smith:So,the next thing that I’m going to ask you is what do you think that you know now that you didn’t know before? If I was observing your behavior with your children and with others,what would be different then say a year or two years ago?
Gounis:You see the changes from two years ago would be so subtle or tiny that it would be hard to document them.
Smith:When you were going about this business of learning more about your interaction with your children and other people;what did you learn from reading about Carl Jung and synchronicity?
Gounis: It all gave me a wider perspective on getting beyond my own ego.That’s been helpful in the writing lab working with students,being more tolerant,maybe moving beyond a student’s uncooperative attitude.
In my own writing,I would ask myself how important something was just because it happened to me.Is it really significant?Is it going to be significant to someone else? Or maybe I should be writing about something else.Basic questions.Is this going to give anybody any kind of positive objective look at reality?Or is it just poetic masturbation?
Smith:After reading Jung what did you think that you knew that you didn’t before taking the book out?
Gounis:Jung reinforced in me the idea that – in experiences of clairvoyance and synchronicity- people can glimpse several time frames at once instead of just one sequence after another.
Smith:The final thing is to think in terms of consequences.We have covered a lot in terms of major life changes and all sorts of learning.How have the people around you been affected by your learning,by the changes in you?
Gounis:Learning and thereby growing can create stress in your own social circles.It can if you have grown out of that circle.At one time maybe you had a very strong connection.But you’ve changed and they haven’t;it can create stress.
Smith: That can be a real inhibition to growing in your own right.
Gounis:Yes,but I wouldn’t let that happen.And in the positive area you get into new situations and encounter new people by exploring and developing your own creativity.