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My Odyssey Through the Underground Press
excerpt: pp. 390-392

Moving to the Future

Michael Kindman

... Candy and I decided that the time had come; we were done with East Lansing and had to leave. Now. But where should we go? We considered northern California, where the back-to-the-land movement was picking up momentum and we might find some commune to join. But someone (was it Will and Larry? or was it some of our young advisees?) was interested in taking that trip with us, but only after winter quarter was over. We decided to kill the few weeks until that would occur by traveling to Boston, where that interesting underground paper, Avatar, came from, and see who those folks were. We were gone the next morning, having made minimal apologies and arrangements. Will and Larry left, too, heading for New York. Candy and I found ourselves hitchhiking with suitcases through what turned out to be a substantial blizzard, across southern Ontario and upstate New York, finally to Boston, where we showed up at the Avatar office late one afternoon. It felt to us like a great, magical adventure.
In those days, people showing up unexpectedly from halfway across the country didn't raise a lot of eyebrows. But our tale of having published our own paper in Michigan did make us relatively interesting drop-ins. We quickly took in the scene around us and saw both that we could learn plenty about this urban version of our kind of newspapering and that we could offer them plenty in terms of skills and enthusiasm. But who were these people? How did it happen that their paper looked so different from all the others and affected us so differently?

Did Anyone Write These Words?

I knew that, in reading issues of Avatar as they had arrived in East Lansing over the months, feelings had been stirred in me that no other underground papers and, Lord knew, nothing else either had stirred. Besides dealing with the usual range of underground paper subjects - the drug culture, the Vietnam War and domestic resistance to it, ongoing changes in sexual mores, organizing in the black community to fight racism, all presented in a cool, New Englandy kind of way that I liked - Avatar also possessed qualities that seemed absent from the other papers. There were introspective writings, private journals of people obviously struggling to improve themselves, excerpted and made into examples for all of us. There were homilies on how to live in this complex age we were experiencing. There were astrology lessons, both theory and practical applications. There was advice of the most sweeping and the most personal kind from this Mel Lyman person, who seemed to be everywhere in the paper, and lots of different kinds of reactions to his writing from others. Sometimes, reading Avatar, especially reading Mel Lyman, I felt that the words had always existed somewhere, that no person could have written them, or that I had written them myself and forgotten. It was eerie.
Mel's first column, "To All Who Would Know" gives a taste of his hypnotic style, and his way of stating his truths in language that allowed space for absolutely no compromise:
To those of you who are unfamiliar with me let me introduce myself by saying that I am not a man, not a personality, not a tormented struggling individual. I am all those things but much much more. I am the truth and I speak the truth. I do not express ideas, opinions, personal views. I speak truth. My understanding is tinged by no prejudice, no unconscious motivation, no confusion. I speak clearly, simply, openly and I speak only to reveal, to teach, to guide. I have no delusions about what I am, who I am, why I am. I have no pride to contend with, no hopes, no fears. In all humility I tell you that I am the greatest man in the world and it doesn't trouble me in the least. I write here because I know that somewhere out in the jungle of the world there will be a few ears that can hear. The rest of you might just as well pass right now and write me off as an egomaniac, a madman, a self centered schmuck because I am going to attack everything you believe in, everything you cling to, I am going to shed light on your dark truths, I'm going to show you things as they REALLY ARE and not how you would like them to be....
Something about this drew me in and caused me to start reevaluating everything I believed. I could see that other people who wrote for Avatar were also going through their own changes and reevaluations; some of the articles attempted to convey the spirit and the feeling of these changes. Others appeared to be personal journal entries by Mel and others that illustrated a kind of sensitivity and open-heartedness I found fascinating.
Here and there in Avatar were short poems, mysterious and moving, otherworldly poems, unsigned and unexplained except for the line, "from the box poems."
Every issue included numerous letters to Mel and his answers. Clearly, he was having an active dialogue with his readers, whose reactions in many cases resembled mine. Above the heading of the "Letters to Mel" section in one issue, was a short poem, presumably by Mel:
We are here to become compassionate creatures
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
I am totally responsible for all the ills of mankind
I understand, and I will do all I can to help forever ....
I feel all the pain in the world in my heart AS my heart
All this and much much more is contained in the word compassion
We are here to become compassion
How are YOU doing
All in all, Avatar made different use of the newspaper medium than anything we had seen or experienced. The results were compelling. And now Candy and I had arrived on the scene of the creation, or so we believed. It looked pretty much like a newspaper office to us, filled with the kind of people we were used to hanging around with. Where was the mystery part?

The Magic Sweeps Us Up

We were invited by a young couple working at the office to spend our first night, or longer, in their apartment on "The Hill." Where? It seemed that many, but not all, of the people working on Avatar also lived together in a commune elsewhere in town, on a hill in the mostly black neighborhood of Roxbury, where some of them owned houses and others rented apartments, and all of them took a lot of their guidance from Mel Lyman, the person whose energy so dominated Avatar. If you wanted to understand what was happening with Avatar, we learned, you had to get to know Mel Lyman and Fort Hill. We were game. A few days later, after spending time hanging out at the of office and checking out people's living spaces in the evening, we didn't feel we knew any more about what made Avatar and Fort Hill run, but we were intrigued by the thought of staying on and becoming part of it all. Wayne Hansen, one of the two listed co-editors of Avatar, was offering me a position as his assistant and encouraging us to move to Boston.
Candy and I decided to consult the I Ching, the Chinese oracle we were learning about from our hosts: "Work on what has been spoiled/Has supreme success./It furthers one to cross the great water./Before the starting point, three days./After the starting point, three days."
The translator's interpretive note was hard to ignore:
What has been spoiled through man's fault can be made good again through man's work....Work toward improving conditions promises well, because it accords with the possibilities of the time. We must not recoil from work and danger-symbolized by crossing of the great water-but must take hold energetically....Decisiveness and energy must take the place of the inertia and indifference that have led to decay, in order that the ending may be followed by a new beginning.
Something magical was afoot here; we felt like the decision was being made for us. We stayed three more days, as the I Ching seemed to be instructing us to do, getting to know more of the people involved in both Avatar and Fort Hill (some people seemed loyal to both and others seemed loyal to just one or the other; very complicated) and learning the rudiments of astrology, which all of them seemed to use as their chosen language when talking about people or the unfolding of events.
We traveled by bus from Boston to New York, where I pulled some money out of the bank to buy a used station wagon and we visited Will and Larry, who were setting themselves up in a small crafts shop in Greenwich Village. Then we drove on to Michigan, where we collected our goods and our cats and, as it turned out, a young boyfriend of ours who had been one of our psychology advisees. We gave the apartment away to some friends, terminated our jobs, and, incredibly, registered for ten units of independent study in psychology and social science during spring quarter, intending to write papers about our experiences in Boston. We said our goodbyes. I put a big box in storage in the basement of a collective house occupied by several of our friends. In the box was the entire documentary record of my years in college (my State News clipping file, class notes, and term papers) as well as my high school yearbook and a treasured collection of several hundred 45- and 78-rpm records; I never saw it again. Then we were off to Fort Hill, Roxbury, Boston, for who knew what adventures? It was early March 1968.


2. A Little Piece of History in the Front Yard pp. 392-394

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