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Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and the CIA

31 Jul

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It’s widely acknowledged that the Beat Generation writers experimented with drugs, which influenced both the content and style of their writing. I’ve written before about how Allen Ginsberg’s drug use shaped his writing when he had a vision while reading William Blake, forever guiding his poetry.

But dear old Allen Ginsberg was also leery of America’s hand in the drug trade.

Let me backtrack a moment. In 1960 Allen Ginsberg became friends with Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary was an American psychologist born on October 22, 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts—meaning he’d been born near Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes a little after Huncke was born and a little before Kerouac and Holmes were born. At Harvard University—which William S. Burroughs also attended—Leary conducted experiments involving psychedelic drugs for the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

The friendship between Ginsberg and Leary led to the psychedelic revolution, with Leary popularizing the phrase:

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”

Timothy Leary invoked Socrates when he said:

“Question authority”

The irony of this, though, is that Leary didn’t drop out or subvert authority. Much like the way the CIA funded abstract expressionism, Leary was doing research at an ever-prestigious Ivy League college which consisted of experimenting on prisoners (see the Concord Prison Experiment). This isn’t all that different than in the 1950s when the CIA launched Project MKULTRA, which administered LSD to unwitting participants as a means toward experimenting with mind control. In fact, prior to meeting Leary, in 1959 Ginsberg participated in experimental studies of LSD at Stanford University, which it turned out were administered by psychologists working for the CIA to develop mind-control drugs. Leary also began experimenting on writers.

Peter Conners’ book White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, published by City Lights in 2010, alleges that Leary used Ginsberg to further publicize his studies. Here’s the marketing copy for the book from City Lights:

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous — or infamous — and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his experiments at the Harvard Psilocybin Project to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. Ginsberg, fresh from his first experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico, was eager to promote the spiritual possibilities of psychedelic use. Thus, “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation.

White Hand Society weaves a fascinating and entertaining tale of the life, times and friendship of these two larger-than-life figures and the incredible impact their relationship had on America. Peter Conners has gathered hundreds of pages of letters, documents, studies, FBI files, and other primary resources that shed new light on their relationship, and a veritable who’s who of artists and cultural figures appear along the way, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Thelonious Monk, Willem de Kooning, and Barney Rosset. The story of the “psychedelic partnership” of two of the most famous, charismatic and controversial members of America’s counterculture brings together a multitude of major figures from politics, the arts, and the intersection of intellectual life and outlaw culture in a way that sheds new light on the dawn of the 1960s.

Years later, 1967 to be exact, this conversation between Leary and Ginsberg took place about “dropping out”:

Ginsberg: For instance, you haven’t dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you’ve dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival…

Leary: Well, I’m dropped out of that.

Ginsberg: But you’re not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven’t dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven’t dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it. And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can’t drop out, like DROP OUT, ’cause you haven’t.

The year after that, Ginsberg penned an article called “Remarks on Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy” for The Village Voice, in which he suggested the American government was trying to silence Leary:

Timothy Leary quit public life to write a book in Mexico some years ago, but he was searched by Agents of Government as he went to cross borders, arrested for possession of some herb, and thus forced to interrupt his writing, return to public action, and defend his person from attack by the State. So he traveled to academies and lectured to the young, & thus he paid large legal fees required by the State & thus maintained an Ashram of fellow seekers well known in Millbrook. Agents of Government raided and repeated abused the utopia, whereupon Dr. Leary was obliged to be Dr. Leary and lecture more to raise money for his family of imprisoned friends. Agents of Government concluded this phase of prosecution with a piece of Socratic irony so blatantly echoing an old Greek injustice that the vulgar rhetoric of a Tyrannous State would need only be quoted to be recognized, were it not for the fact that these States are by now so plagued with Tyrannously inspired chaos and public communication so flooded with images of State Atrocity from the alleys of Saigon to the parks of Chicago that official public conscience here now, as memorably in Russia and Germany, is shocked, dumbed & amnesiac.

Ginsberg grew to become leery of the government’s hand in drugs. Researching, Ginsberg became convinced that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking. Ginsberg’s poem “CIA Dope Calypso” uses the following refrain:

Supported by the CIA

Wikipedia gives a quick summary of Ginsberg’s conspiracy theory that the CIA profited off of drugs:

Through his own drug use, and the drug use of his friends and associates, Ginsberg became more and more preoccupied with the American government’s relationship to drug use within and outside the nation. He worked closely with Alfred W. McCoy who was writing The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia which tracked the history of the American government’s involvement in illegal opium dealing around the world. This would affirm Ginsberg’s suspicions that the government and the CIA were involved in drug trafficking. In addition to working with McCoy, Ginsberg personally confronted Richard Helms, the director of the CIA in the 1970s, but he was simply brushed off as being “full of beans”. Allen wrote many essays and articles, researching and compiling evidence of CIA’s involvement, but it would take ten years, and the publication of McCoy’s book in 1972, before anyone took him seriously. In 1978 Allen received a note from the chief editor of the New York Times, apologizing for not taking his allegations seriously so many years previous.[83]

Despite our notions of how counter-cultural drug use is its history is steeped in academia and politics. Even so-called counter-cultural writers theorize the government is behind drug trafficking.

Of course there are others who’d suggest that it was Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg who were conspiring to change the world.

 

The Quotable Greek: Think for Yourself

28 Jul

“To find yourself,

think for yourself.”

~ Socrates

 

“Think for yourself.” Hear that?

Welcome to Conspiracy Theory Week!

The Starving Artist Eats Watermelon Feta Salad

24 Jun

Yesterday I shared that summer was all about karpouzi at my house.

The other Sunday, after church, I had my friend Sandra over for brunch and wanted to make something special. I decided to try my hand at a watermelon-feta salad. This isn’t something I ever grew up eating, but when I attended the GABBY Awards a few years ago, one of the passed meze they served at Ellis Island before the ceremony was cubed watermelon with feta speared with a toothpick. Since then I’ve seen delicious recipes for it watermelon and feta salads. I decided to make my own version, topped with an exquisite dark chocolate vinaigrette my friend Rori gave me as a housewarming gift.

Lomogram_2014-06-08_04-34-41-PMHere’s my super-easy, super-quick recipe:

  • Cut watermelon into chunks
  • Cut Feta cheese into chunks
  • Mix the watermelon and feta in a bowl and top with pistachio meat (meaning pistachios out of their shell)
  • Drizzle dark chocolate vinegar over the salad
  • Serve!

See how easy that is?! You can prep ahead by cutting the watermelon and the feta into chunks the night before, but I recommend waiting until you’re about to serve guests to mix the ingredients together so that they retain their individual flavors and so the nuts don’t get soggy.

The ingredients are, admittedly, a bit on the pricier side, but when you make it yourself you save a lot of money. This is part of a new series I’m doing called “The Starving Artist.” I used to do posts called “Tasty Tuesday,” but I’m switching it up a little now to focus on budget-friendly recipes for writers. You might also like these feta-inspired appetizers:

I’m looking to get more fruit in my diet this summer. If you have any unique watermelon recipes, please share them in the comments below!

 

It’s All Karpouzi to Me

23 Jun

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That’s me as a kid eating karpouzi!

Last week I wrote about Feta burgers and how my family used to BBQ all summer long. Our BBQs weren’t complete without karpouzi—watermelon—at the end of the meal, so this week is all about watermelon!!

Now I may have grown up in a mono-lingual household, only speaking English, but there were a few words that for whatever reason (probably because my mom knew them) we always said in Greek—to the point that it felt more natural to say them in Greek than in English. “Karpouzi” was one of those words. Even when I went off to college, that’s the word I used, and my friends picked it up and used it too—just as I picked up words like “haole” and “okole” from my Hawai’ian friends and learned “hella” from my Bay Area friends. Funny how even when you live in one country your entire life, and even when your friends are American, regionalisms and ethnic identities can influence your language.

Tomorrow I’ll share one of my favorite recipes for karpouzi!

In the meantime, I’d be curious to know if any of you switch in and out between languages or if you’ve picked up words from a language that isn’t your own mother tongue?

 

 

The Starving Artist Eats Burgers on the BBQ

17 Jun

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Summertime was all about BBQing when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey. (So much so that it even found its way into my memoir!) We spent many humid nights outside under a canopy of green leaves and stars, swatting away mosquitoes, as we ate food from the BBQ. Most of the year, my family didn’t eat dinner altogether too often because my father worked long hours and got home late—and because he didn’t eat the same “American” foods that the rest of us ate. In the summer, when it was too hot to turn on the oven, he’d fire up the grill.

Now maybe it’s a regionalism, but I recently BBQed with someone not from the TriState area and discovered that “BBQ” to them meant something entirely different. BBQ to them is its own separate category of food. It’s a big deal. An art. What I call “BBQ,” they think is just basic “grilling.” To my ears, grilled anything sounds like something off a health-food menu. As in, you order grilled chicken when you’re on a diet, even though what you really want to eat is fried chicken.

But grilling doesn’t have to be equated with flavorless meat topped with zero-calorie iceberg lettuce. Nope, we made stuffed burgers. We stuffed it with Fontina cheese and mushrooms and onions and peppers and so much deliciousness. Or at least it looked delicious to me. As a vegetarian, I made due with veggie burgers luxuriously slathered in Stubbs BBQ sauce. My skinny little soy burgers weren’t nearly as exciting as the juicy stuffed burger. Sigh.

I just came across a recipe for a Feta-Stuffed BLT Burger, and my Greek American heart skipped a beat. I may not be able to eat it as a vegetarian, but for all you Greek cheese-loving carnivores out there I thought I’d pass it along: Feta-Stuffed BLT Burger recipe. And for those of us who abstain from meat, I’ll offer this alternative Greek vegetarian burger recipe:

  • BBQ your favorite veggie burger (I like Boca burgers) per the directions on the box
  • Grill some onions
  • Lightly grill a piece of pita bread
  • Once everything is grilled, place the veggie burger in the pocket of the pita
  • Stuff the pita with the BBQed onions
  • Also stuff the pita with a salad of feta, tomatoes, and cucumbers soaked in olive oil and oregano

Eat and enjoy!

This is part of a new series I’m doing called “The Starving Artist.” I used to do posts called “Tasty Tuesday,” but I’m switching it up a little now to focus on budget-friendly recipes for writers.

I’m always on the hunt for vegetarian-friendly Greek foods for the BBQ, so if you have any suggestions please post them in the comments section.

Also, did you know Greeks have a whole holiday devoted to BBQed meat?

If you’re not a meat-eater, you might also like this Greek vegetarian BBQ idea.

 

I’m Reading from My Memoir at The Penny Farthing

29 May

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I’m super excited to share with you that I’m reading this upcoming Monday, June 2, 2014, with one of my favorite groups and venues!

That’s right — I’m reading at Beyond the Mic, a C3 Storytellers event, hosted at The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy), right here in New York City.

The C3 Storytellers have been supportive of my writing for awhile now. The first time I read with them back in 2012, one of the other poets literally made up a poem on the spot about my memoir. You can read it here. Then the next time I read with them, I read from the Kerouac biography I was coauthoring that hadn’t yet come out. C3 Storytellers’ and The Penny Farthing’s support earned them a place in the acknowledgments of Burning Furiously Beautiful. Needless to say, I’m grateful for welcoming groups like C3 Storytellers and artist-friendly venues like The Penny Farthing.

I’ll be reading a different section from my memoir-in-progress again this time around. I’m just one of many people who will be sharing work. I’ve always been very inspired by the other artists as well so you’ll be in for a treat hearing them. Doors open at 7pm. The event is free, though there’s usually a basket for donations (no, they don’t go to me); and you can purchase food and drinks. I’d love to see you there!

* * *

My memoir is still a work in progress, but you can purchase the Kerouac biography here.

* * *

Check out the appearance section on my website for other upcoming readings and workshops. I love giving back and encouraging other writers, and I co-lead a free writing workshop once a month through Redeemer (the next one is June 23). If you’re interested in having me give a reading or writing workshop, contact me at snikolop {@} alumna.scrippscollege.edu.

 

 

How Antonin Artaud Came to Influence the Beats

24 Apr

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SDAntonin Artaud had great fashion sense.

Bronx-born writer Carl Solomon joined the United States Maritime Service in 1944 and traveled overseas to Paris, where he was encountered Surrealism and Dadaism. When he came back to the US, he voluntarily admitted himself to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital as Dadaist expression of being beat, being conquered, being overpowered. There, he received shock therapy instead of the lobotomy he requested. He wrote about the experience in Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient.

At the psychiatric hospital, Solomon met Allen Ginsberg. (You can read about how Ginsberg ended up there in Burning Furiously Beautiful.) He introduced the young poet to the poetry of Antonin Artaud, a French poet of Greek ancestry (his parents were from Smyrna) whom he had seen give a screaming poetry reading in Paris. Artaud had written the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), and produced Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci in 1935. The year after that, he went to Mexico, living with the native Tarahumara people and experimenting with peyote, before Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs would pack their bags for Mexico. Another year passed and Artaud was found penniless in Ireland, where he was arrested and deported. Back in France, he was sent to various psychiatric hospitals, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. Notably, in his earlier years, Artaud had spent time in a sanatorium, where he read none other than Arthur Rimbaud.

Solomon wrote Report from the Asylum with Artaud in mind, while Ginsberg wrote “Howl” with both Artaud and Solomon in mind.

Once again, I could not find any of his poems in public-domain English translation. So, here’s a quote I found interesting and relevant from Artaud’s prose piece The Theater and Its Double:

“I cannot conceive any work of art as having a separate existence from life itself.”

You can read one of his poems, “Jardin Noir,” here.

*4/24/14: The subject’s name was originally misspelled and has now been corrected. Thanks to my reader for pointing that out!

Victory Hellas!

25 Mar

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Happy Greek Independence Day!

Find out about Agia Lavra, the church where the revolution began, in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

And read my previous post on the history of March 25 being Greek Independence Day here.

White Trash Uncut: The Resource Magazine Interview with Christopher Makos

20 Mar

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Around the same time that Jack Kerouac packed his rucksack and went on the road, Christopher Makos was born into a Greek American family in Kerouac’s hometown. In the June 2013 issue of That’s, Ned Kelly reported:

Christopher Makos was born in 1948 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of pioneering Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac; a heritage he was oblivious of in his youth. “Growing up in Lowell, I wasn’t aware of anything, except how to leave,” he says. “How to grow up fast and figure out how to leave.”

Sounds pretty Beat to me!

Makos went on to live in California and then, after high school, moved to New York and, later, Paris. It was there that he became an apprentice to the esteemed Man Ray. Back in New York City, he photographed the scene on the Lower East Side—Beat writer William S. Burroughs, the Ramones, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Debbie Harry are just a few of the icons who ended up in his book White Trash. Though it was the ’70s by this point, it’s got it’s Beat Generation connections. (If you’re interested in reading up more on this, I’d recommend Victor Bockris’ Beat Punks.)

Makos became friends with Andy Warhol, who called him the “most modern photographer in America.”

The latest incarnation of this seminal punk photography book, White Trash Uncut, is coming out in May 2014 (published by Glitterati Incorporated), and Resource Magazine’s Aria Isberto caught up with the Greek-American photographer to talk about the underground scene, what it takes to get published, and what kind of camera he uses. You can read it here.

Interested in my writing for Resource Magazine? Check out:::

Read more of my Lowell posts here. Among my favorites are:::

Read about other Greek Americans I’ve written about on my blog. Here’s a few selections:::

Which Greek American do you want to see me write about next?!

Clean Monday

3 Mar

Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

~Isaiah 1: 13-17

In the Greek Orthodox faith today is Καθαρά Δευτέρα — Clean Monday. Clean Monday is to Greek Orthodox believers what Ash Wednesday is to Catholic believers. It’s the start of Great Lent. Well, technically it begins at sunset the Sunday before.

Lent is thought of as a time of abstaining. We fast from meat and dairy. But it is more than that. It is also a time of taking on new, better habits. Today we not only wash ourselves from our past wrongdoings, but we work on behalf of those who need a helping hand.