Ever dream of leaving home as a teen, headed for California and freedom? It’s 1971 in Connecticut, and sixteen-year-old Sharon’s parents think that, because she’s a girl, she should become a clerical office worker after high school and live at home until she marries and has a family. But Sharon wants to join the hippies and be part of the changing society, so she leaves home and heads out. Upon arriving in California, Sharon is thrown into an adult world for which she is unprepared, and she embarks on a precarious journey amid the 1970s counterculture. On her various adventures across the country and while living on a commune, with friends and lovers filtering in and out of her life, she realizes she must learn quickly in order to survive—as well as figure out a way to reconcile her developing spirituality with her Catholic upbringing. It’s a story of belonging, independence, of surviving against the odds. Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose as Janis Joplin sang?
In addition to being an author, Sharon Dukett has previously been a cocktail waitress, computer programmer, project manager, and deputy director in state government. In her debut memoir, No Rules, Sharon writes about her journey of awakening to feminism and her own strength during an early 1970s counterculture journey. She writes a blog and is working on a novel. No Rules, is published by She Writes Press and is available June 2, 2020 at your favorite indie bookseller or wherever books are sold.Leave a comment for radio show guests
Have you ever stopped to think about yourself and your story? If someone were to write your memoir what would it say? We all seek some level of authenticity but have trouble removing the labels and finding our whole story. Welcome to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. In this program we’ll explore diverse stories on identity to help determine what is truly yours. Now here is your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In everyone. Today we’re time traveling back to 1971 California where we’ll learn how the author Sharon Dukett survived sex, drugs and rock and roll and live to tell the story in her new book No Rules. It’s a memoir worth reading. Congratulations Sharon Dukett and welcome.
Sharon: Hello Diane. Nice to be here today.
Diane: Great. It’s great to have you with us. You’ve taken us back in the magic bus and it’s quite an arc that you have drawn from being hippie nomad to computer programmer. I’m going to give listeners a bit of biographical information but I will mention I couldn’t help but notice that everything, the waitressing and the computer programming are treated democratically as though each experience contributes richly to your life and this book really took me back. Today, we will be transported by it.
Sharon Dukett has been a computer programmer, deputy director in state government, cocktail waitress and project manager, project management professional certified no less. She has designed and embroidered handmade clothing. She travels extensively using loyalty points and avoiding tourist traps. When she is home she and her husband live in central Connecticut in a house he built that overlooks the Connecticut River, the house where they raised their family. When not writing or blogging she is reading, skiing, biking, golfing, spending time with family and friends creating clutter and committing to more activities than she probably should.
Everyone can relate to this Sharon. She loves reading memoir from a variety of backgrounds to learn how others feel, experience life and deal with their struggles. No Rules is her debut memoir. Do we think there’s going to be a sequel Sharon?
Sharon: Not in the near future. I’m actually working on a novel right now and that novel is focused on climate change.
Diane: Very good. Very good. Okay, well that’s a much, much needed story. I wanted to go back to No Rules, this very strong and powerful memoir. Just your bio is that’s not all. The container of this book is the time when you took off with your older sister Anne when you were 16 years old. You headed out to California together to see what you could see. The language of the book is spare and we feel present in every scene. About No Rules to give listeners a bit of background.
It’s 1971 in Connecticut where Sharon and her sister lived. The 16 year old Sharon’s parents think that because she’s a girl she should become a clerical office worker after high school and live at home until she marries and has a family but Sharon wants to join the hippies and be part of the changing society. She leaves home and heads to California. Upon arriving there Sharon is thrown into an adult world for which she is unprepared. She embarks on a precarious journey through the counter culture of the 1970s. On her various adventures across the country and while living on a commune with friends and lovers filtering in and out of her life she realizes she must quickly learn in order to survive.
Sharon, talk about a great credential for a job application proving yourself and the proving grounds of survival out there must have been huge to your sense of self efficacy. You survived on little money or nothing seemingly for how many months were you were you gone.
Sharon: Well there was the period of time when I was with my older sister. Initially she had some savings and we lived on that at first. Then she was able to collect unemployment and so we lived on her unemployment and food stamps which I don’t know if I mentioned that in the book.
Diane: You did.
Sharon: Then later on I did have a job. My first job was in Boston working at the Stop and Shop on a cash register so I made a little bit of money there. Then after that I just sort of lived off of that and whatever else came my way but in between I had moved home and had some other jobs sort of little part-time jobs here and there.
Diane: Then you made your way to California, a place you’d always wanted to see.
Sharon: Initially I had gone to California with Pauline and that was kind of a fantasy in our minds having grown up in Connecticut and everything you see on television especially back in the 60s when I was a child California was definitely this mecca of you know gidget and surfing and the Beach Boys and all that and Hollywood. It just seemed like this amazing place.
Diane: It was a mecca absolutely. Surfers and the beach boys and the romanticism of it was incredible. Then you did survive together. For how many months were you there in California then you and Anne together?
Sharon: At that point in time we arrived in the middle of January and I left I think in the middle of May. She stayed a few months longer. It was really a short period of time but there was a lot of adventures that went into that short period of time because I think when you’re living by yourself and I think people can people can kind of relate to this especially now because we’ve all been in this quarantine period. To most of us it seems like it’s forever like how long has it been since this didn’t happen. If you think of that in terms of being young, being 16 years old and in a new place that period of my life had so much that went on in this short period of time that it seemed like there was no world before that at the time that I was living it and every day something new happened.
Diane: There was a lot going on and the other part where I resonated with the idea of the pandemic and the way we’re living now in an alternative universe is when you were talking about hitchhiking. This is something really another thing that’s inconceivable now is the amount of hitchhiking that you all did but you talk about being a wanderer or a nomad with your sister. Then when you took off to Canada and other places across the country. You talk about the destination not being obviously the journey is the point but also you were sort of saying “Fellow travelers understood this that the present moment was everything. The destination yep, you might get there and but it was the how and the why and the way that was kind of important.”
I think that that focusing and slowing down time was also meaningful to me when you were talking about those passages but I do have to think that it may not have been an eternity but for a young girl 16 years old to be out on her own with her sister it must have developed a sense, an inert sense of self-worth. It may not have come out exactly at that time but you knew you could survive after that.
Sharon: I did. I did indeed. I also learned, part of what I learned was just how much I didn’t know in small ways. For example I hadn’t really done a lot of cooking at home. My mother always did most of the cooking and I might have helped out with some things here and there but I wasn’t much about cooking. I had to learn all of those kinds of things from the beginning. There’s one scene where I’m in the kitchen with a woman who’s older than me who’s very adept at this. I’m feeling absolutely incompetent so there was things like that that I realized that I needed to know a lot more about even more so than just the big things like getting a job and all that kind of stuff. Just the little everyday survival things that people do as an adult.
Diane: Providing for yourself in so many ways. It’s so familiar to me this part of your story because the roles of the mom who your mom was at home she did the cooking. It brings back so much for me in this book. There really was no room. She was the person in that role but you were not really to start acquiring skills about that kind of nourishing yourself and your parents, your childhood with your parents and you talk about this I think very even-handedly in the book. There’s a very well-balanced perspective about your parents, their hardship from their Irish history which was very difficult and impoverished and struggling as were many immigrants but they imposed a very rigorous, stern set of rules on you and your sister partly because of their fears of doom.
This is something common to many of us who had that first generation of parents. I wonder now that we know that you’ve already raised your family I just wondered how do you, how do we not transmit the anxiety of the previous generation to the next? How did that work for you in terms of your consciousness?
Sharon: Well, I think that for me I mean I probably did transmit some of that anxiety in a different way. There were times when I actually thought to myself that my children were disadvantaged because they did grow up poor therefore they did learn as much as I did about how to get by with nothing but they’ve had moments in their life when they’ve had to do that as adults. Some of that has changed but that is one thing that I didn’t realize at the time was the strength that my parents had taught me is how to live on virtually nothing and still be fine. That was actually a positive thing that came out of that that I would have never recognized as being a positive thing at the time.
The other thing that I didn’t realize until later in life was constantly talked about World War II. They talked about it at the dinner table. It always came up about things and that was really the one common thing that they shared between the two of them because my father was from America. My mother was from England and they met during the war. I look back now and I say to myself geez, when I was born it had only been six years since World War II.
That’s not very long. No wonder that was so deeply ingrained in their conscience. In fact the Korean War was going on and other than the Cold War so you had all these activities and political things happening to them that were very much a part of how they viewed the world. The atomic bomb and I’m sure you remember going to school where people you had to duck and cover under your desk and that kind of thing because somebody might drop the bomb. We sort of lived with that.
Diane: I think it’s just you talk about your parents’ fears and especially your mother’s. You talk about what and this is a quote so that people can get a feel for the language of the book. “What my mother knew was fear, a creeping pervasive kind of fear that reaches out the dark edges of your soul in ways I didn’t understand. When the airport near us began having night flights. Planes occasionally flew over our house on a landing approach low enough so we could hear the engines roaring overhead. I was startled from my sleep one night when I heard her screaming from my bed. I ran into my parents’ room and found mommy sitting up with wide terrified eyes. My father holding her closely. She thought it was the Germans he explained. She thought it was a bombing raid and she hadn’t heard the air raid signal.” you say, “I climbed up next to them and hugged her too. When she came out of her dazed she seemed embarrassed. Those darn planes they scared me. I’m sorry I woke you. She cuddled me in her arms reassuring me that everything was all right before rising to take me back to my room and tuck me into the bed.”
There I also feel the tenderness. I know your mom was from the UK, from England but there are further ancestors I think that were from Ireland. Do I have that correct?
Sharon: Yes, my mother’s father was from Ireland.
Diane: Yes but this all this whole idea that you could be living in the suburbs of Connecticut and think it was the Germans with having an air raid. Of course trauma lives with us that way. It’s cellular and it will come back as a kind of a visitation. I just wondered…
Sharon: That was another thing that I came to realize probably even just somewhat recently with all the knowledge now about PTSD. My mother had PTSD and I never knew that as a child and some of the odd things that she did got upset about like she hated the fourth of July. She hated the sound of fireworks. I mean she just freaked out over fireworks and now that all makes sense to me that I understand so much more about PTSD than of course nobody talked about it back then.
Diane: She was experiencing a kind of trigger and who knew. It is really worthwhile that we’ve done the exploring that we have. I just wondered if her fears in the few minutes that we have, we have a couple of minutes until we take a commercial break. We’re here with Sharon Dukett, author of No Rules a fascinating memoir. I wondered Sharon did these fears that you were osmosing somehow help you shape yourself into being determined to become fearless.
Sharon: Yes, definitely because I would look around me. She would tell me the things that I shouldn’t do because this might happen or that might happen. There’s a lot of talk in the book about swimming. Yet, I could look around to other people who were swimming and they didn’t drown and they didn’t get sick from going in somebody’s pool and none of these bad things happened. Instead of getting to enjoy life as a child doing many of the things that other children were doing I had to live with restrictions based on her fears. As a result of that I just felt strongly that I didn’t want to have to do that anymore. I was going to throw up all of that and just go out and find life.
Diane: Find life and let life find you. It was kind of emancipation. We are going to come back from a commercial break and we’re going to hear more about the trip. Believe me, this is more than just a physical trip. It’s the acid trips that you took. Very fascinating in the book to hear about those. To hear also how you rejected the point of view of your parents which was you could have a career or a family but not both. You have to choose. Just like when you were told you couldn’t go into the swimming pool of your dear friend at the time I think you made your own decision about those kinds of restrictions. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In with Sharon Dukett.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Sharon Dukett who’s written a very cool memoir called No Rules. She took off from home at age 16 with her older sister Anne. They headed for California eventually where they established a hippie lifestyle, friends and boyfriends drifting in and out, drugs drifting in and out. This was upon a certain critical pivot Sharon that you made when you learned for example from your parents in no uncertain terms. I’ll just quote this from No Rules. They said to you, “If you want to have a career you can’t get married and have a family too. You can’t do both. You have to choose. Your mother nodded her head for emphasis and if you aren’t going to get married then you shouldn’t be thinking about boys. She glared at you now. There’s no point in dating if you’re going to be a career girl. It’s a lonely life if that’s what you want.”
I mean how scary is that. I think it was a little too late. The horse was out of the barn. Boys were very interested in you. You were interested in boys and your father of course who’d been sitting in the same room chimed in and said “Yes, we won’t be able to support you. You’ll need to have a job. Even if we could pay for college what would you live on?” Those are daunting words. No wonder you got up and went out the door at a certain point.
Sharon: Yes, I couldn’t see what I had to gain by just staying where I was and continuing on doing the same thing that I was doing because this was apparently where my life was leading if I was to follow their rules as it were and continue on this prescribed trail of my life. With that bleak future in mind there wasn’t much to keep continuing for. That became the impetus for looking for something else.
Diane: Yep, there wasn’t anything to look forward to given those very arbitrary kind of binary choices which we now know can be woven together in so many ways. I wondered from that kind of background thinking how did it shape your feminism. I mean there are several, there’s a couple of passages in your blog where you talk about feminism. Do you describe yourself as a feminist?
Sharon: I do. I definitely describe myself as a feminist. One of the things that I think in particular that I learned as I did a lot of reading around that time period later on was that I realized that so much of my mother’s unhappiness came from the restrictions that were on her life. I felt had she gone out and had a job she might have been much happier because she would talk a lot about when she was in the army because my mother was in the army in England during World War II and she kind of described it at times as the best years of her life.
I came to believe that the reason she felt that way that she was doing something important and fulfilling, something that really gave her a sense of accomplishment. She had all of those things. That was why after going from that to the life in the suburbs where she had no car, where she was at home all the time, where she saw no people it was very depressing for her. I felt that that was something that women were expected to do at that time in the 50s and the 60s.
Diane: Without even a thought of what they were giving up. I mean working is the best kept secret I think. It’s the thing that really balances you out and can help define you as a person. She also played piano and there were not necessarily outlets for this where she was going to experience any reward. It was a rather narrow focus. Here’s your parents talking about you. You had a kind of a boyfriend, a kind of a sort of tentative boyfriend when you were at home with Eddie. Your parents had managed to limit your time with him but all that had done was make you like him more.
You write, “I suppose they were trying to save my virginity but there’s always time for sex no matter how little time there is. They should have let me spend every minute of every day with him so I got to know him better. That would have ended it.” here I just hear this wonderful wry voice of yours, a very knowing voice. Even to absorb the question of what was there to look forward to and to act upon it. You put layers and layers of clothes on yourself one day. You grabbed a bag. You put your clothes and belongings in it. You looked around your room and bade goodbye and you walked out to the door saying goodbye to your mom as if you were going off to school and took off.
You met up with Anne and the boyfriend and you three took off. Here’s to you for that. Just somehow, the struggle it really it’s something you can identify with but I think many people. You dedicate the book to Anne, your sister because you say she gave you her freedom.
Sharon: And she did.
Diane: She did and it’s lovely. It has come full circle. Freedom is that really funny word. Of course there’s Janice Joplin freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose but it’s more complex. Jonathan Franzen delved into it in his book Freedom where he comically and tragically captures the burdens of freedoms, the thrills of teenage lust and the shaken compromises as we go on but basically in No Rules it’s you find freedom and then because there’s so many concerns of safety and survival it almost becomes the freedom of
not being free anymore at a certain point.
Your daily life was kind of chaotic. You were tripping a lot and I thought wow this is really interesting. You didn’t hesitate to drop acid and then you became a computer programmer. Part of me was back on like Steven Jobs saying the most important thing he did in college was to drop acid. Then he went into information technologies. He said it freed his mind. It led him to be able to think out the box, outside the box and beyond the horizon. I wonder if you feel as though that mind expansion was healthy in that way for you.
Sharon: Actually in a lot of ways yes. I mean I wouldn’t necessarily attribute it to dropping acid. I mean that was just one part of all of it but I do think that experiencing a whole different way of learning about life definitely made me think outside the box as it were. That’s very much something that was useful to me in my career as a computer programmer and later as a manager of web technology projects and so forth because I’ve always found that it’s much easier for me to come up with innovative ideas or alternative ideas to kind of how a lot of people are thinking because I think that’s because they’ve been taught a certain way whereas for me a lot of it was self-taught.
That’s why people who do well in that field have this different perspective because you’re really to be innovative and to be creative you can’t just follow the rules as it were that everyone else has done or you’re just going to keep recreating the same thing.
Diane: You could wave the cover of your book No Rules and then it’s a spark. It really dislodges a lot of sameness. I think being autodidactic, learning for yourself you integrate it a lot more fully. I think that that’s, to me it sounds very true. There was another dimension at the end of your trip to Canada. You also had a kind of spiritual awakening. I also want to just mention here in the traveling part of it there’s also this lasting value that you have on traveling experiencing different cultures. I wonder this kind of jars you out of your that kind of rut of thinking that we can get into.
You’ve managed to keep that as part of your life which I found that interesting because it obviously has a value. Let’s take you now to you’re in Canada. There’s another man with you. These epochs that you had were also bracketed by different boyfriends which was also very interesting but you’re in Canada and you connect very deeply with nature. You have this kind of spiritual awakening. You were elapsed, you were raised as a catholic. You had a fair amount of skepticism about the church. You talk about this kind of connection that you felt and I can’t help but go back to what Young said Latin for espiritus. You use the same word for the highest religious experience that you do for spirits. Also that it takes either real religious insight or the protective wall of human community to overtake that.
You banded together with some hippies. You were banding together when you stayed at various youth hostels. Then you started to feel a connection with nature. I wondered if you felt as though all along you were looking for some kind of spiritual connection.
Sharon: That definitely became more of a need during this 1972. I was 17 at that point when I did this cross-country, cross-Canada journey. Also earlier there were some other travels that got me thinking about religion, about spirituality, about God and all that of course is in the book but yet there was something that didn’t quite fit right with me. While I had always liked the outdoors I had not had much experience with actually getting way out into the wilderness. This was something that Ernie, who I was traveling with had done before and kind of dragged me along into the woods camping and trying all these new things that I hadn’t done.
That was such a beautiful way to experience, the point where this happens was in British Columbia we were somewhere in Banff National Park along a river. Then I was just wandering through the forest and looking up and looking around me and it was just the most amazing thing. Even now I think anyone walking into that kind of environment you can’t help but be awed by your surroundings. For me being the first time I had ever been in that kind of environment and also after spending a number of days traveling through Canada where there’s lots of wilderness even when you’re out in the prairie provinces where you don’t have forests you still have miles and miles of nothingness. Of course this was back in the 70s. I don’t know if that’s changed. I haven’t been across Canada since but I’m guessing there’s still quite a lot of that.
Diane: You weren’t traveling in a luxurious RV either. You were exposed. You were really one with nature. You were hitchhiking. How are you getting around?
Sharon: We were hitchhiking and we had a pup tent, a couple of sleeping bags and that was it. I truly could write a book just on that trip because we had so many interesting experiences with our rides and so forth. In my original first draft I did write about many of them but that was just way too long so a lot of that had to go. I just kept some of the important highlights but in particular being there in British Columbia in the wilderness was just such an amazing experience for me. That’s where I really felt that Mother Nature and the spirituality of the mother being of the earth and all that kind of thing. That really hit me a lot and that’s when I realized that I felt that need to connect to nature more.
That has stayed with me in many ways. I mean I live in a fairly ordinary house now and so forth. I’m not living in the forest but I have a very strong feeling like I mentioned before about writing about climate change. I mean to me protecting the planet and nature and all of that is such an important thing. That has stayed with me all of my life.
Diane: It really is important Sharon. We’re here talking with Sharon Dukett, the author of the memoir No Rules. It’s out very soon June 2nd and really it’s such an adventure just to read it. I think that this value of nature and feeling is that we need to preserve it and coming from that experience is a very rich one. There’s a oneness that you feel with nature. Woody Allen famously said I feel too with nature. I mean he just didn’t get it comes to light that he didn’t get a lot of things but in any case you did feel a oneness. You I think felt a oneness also when you were participating in well not just smoking pot but tripping with someone was like an act of intimacy. You would drop acid and you would go on trip together. That’s so interesting to me because there again not just the hitchhiking which is unfathomable in our world now but the dropping acid because it was casually like somebody might hand you a blotter of acid.
A couple years ago actually at my daughter’s wedding in Brooklyn or my stepdaughter’s wedding there was a guest who was out partying afterwards and hit a bar in Brooklyn. The bartender passed him a blotter of acid and he put it on his tongue. One of our family just opened the guy’s mouth and pulled it out. Are you crazy? I mean you don’t know anymore what you’re getting. It still happens.
Sharon: You didn’t know that either but I’d be much more afraid today. I don’t know if this person had ever tried acid before but if he hadn’t he certainly had no idea what he was about to get into.
Diane: You had on your strong girl pants when you did what you did and I think it’s interesting what you just alluded to about mother, mother earth and the mother, the mothership of it and our need to protect it. There was this robust identity that was starting to be emergent in you but you first had to kind of bottom out and I think we have a moment left until we need to break again for a commercial but you had some experiences that were pretty close. There was a near rape and I wondered after a while if that was testing you just a bit too much and whether or not you feel as though you lived under a lucky star.
Sharon: I definitely feel like a lot of things that I survived had a lot to do with luck. It could have gone so much worse in a lot of ways. All the times I hitchhiked I really never ran into anything severe, serious. There were times I got out of cars because I got a bad feeling about the driver or something or didn’t get into cars. There were times I didn’t get into cars. Not a lot though. In general most people were very kind and some people were a little crazy but a lot of times especially in the Canada trip we often found that people just wanted company. They were driving 800 miles someplace and they would want to be able to talk to somebody.
Diane: The fun part is for the readers of No Rules is that we get to go along on these adventures. It’s great that you had intuition guiding you. It is a form of protection and it is an inner voice. I think that when we we’re going to take a commercial break now but when we come back speaking with Sharon Dukett, author of No Rules. We’re going to understand what kind of rules there actually were, what kind of codes of behavior there actually were in the hippie environment and where this all led. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In.
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Diane: Hello everyone. Welcome back and we’re here with Sharon Dukett whose memoir No Rules is a sensational insider look at hippie culture during the early 1970s when Sharon was an adventurer with her sister hitchhiking, communing, enjoying a freewheeling lifestyle and also being very responsible for their own survival. There was a code of behavior to this lifestyle. There was not the endorsement of the establishment. There was a lot of mistrust of the material world and worldly wealth. There was a kind of a nomadic existence.
Sharon, we were kind of talking about the trust that people had at that time in terms of hitchhiking, in terms of dropping acid. I thought maybe you know this this episode could be called instead of Dropping In Dropping Acid because it was really well handled in the book too. People can come along vicariously for this ride which was at times scary which was other times invigorating. I wondered this whole non-material world it’s so hard to articulate and you did a great job of it in No Rules.
I was transported back because I hadn’t really put words to this for such a long time but here’s your quote about in No Rules the kind of code of ethics that there was. “A belief that by relinquishing material belongings you became a better person.” this apparently connected you with the vast universal consciousness where we all became one. At 12 you had read books about saints aching inside for strength to be as good as them and capable of devoting yourself in faith to faith. In Joe, who you were with at the time you sensed that same devotion and if I didn’t agree with him then I must be at fault.
I really I love being transported back into this mindset. I wondered if now you believed or has your philosophy evolved that it’s necessary for spiritual enlightenment to disavow the material world?
Sharon: I don’t think that’s true but you certainly it can’t rule your life. If material wealth becomes the most important thing to you it’s going to be difficult for you to focus on things beyond that. I think you see that around us a lot today. I notice it when I travel significantly where I go to other countries. Even a country that people think is very much similar to the US you take a country like France. I was in southern France a few years ago staying in this village there, in a small village. There were no stores nearby. There was like one small department store in town and then there was a market that came through once a week. You really had to drive away to get to any significant stores. It’s hard for me to imagine any place in the United States where you don’t have just stores and stores and stores. Certain places like Florida and in Southern California.
Almost anywhere you go to areas where there’s just miles and miles of strip malls. On television and everywhere there’s always this culture of buy, buy, buy. The American economy, we need to do that to keep the American economy going and being strong but in other places that whole buy mentality doesn’t necessarily exist. I think that because of that we have a little bit of a distorted view of life in the US because we’re constantly barraged with the expectation of accumulating wealth and then taking that money and spending it because our economy depends on that. It does and there’s nothing wrong with I’m not against having a strong economy or people working or any of that. I mean I’m fine with all of that and I think that’s a great thing but at the same time it almost seems like it’s maybe a bit overdone.
Diane: It’s skewed. It’s out of balance and it leads directly back into climate change because obviously with this rampant consumerism we have to deforest parts of the world in order to meet our needs for new furniture, new things. It’s all of a piece. I think that the discrepancies that we experience in terms of wealth and our caring about one another are also pollutants that emerge from this kind of individual desire to consume.
I think that when you were so it’s the balance is what you’re saying in terms of spirituality and the connection to the consumer world. I get that. You did you did reach a point when all of this oneness that you were experiencing both in nature which I can appreciate and through artificial substances like acid and pot and other drugs but everything was oneness in the hippie culture you experienced including being with one another. In one passage you’re talking about where Joe insisted we sleep on the floor in the living room right outside of where Nancy slept with her daughter in a double bed behind a curtain. Rob slept on the other end of the living room couch. No one asked what I thought and I felt unworthy of offering an opinion. I was extremely uncomfortable and barely spoke throughout our stay. I wished I could disappear.
I mean here I get the antecedence of your depression, a kind of a bottoming out, a shriving if you will of kind of emerging from this identity that you’ve taken on and coming into a sense that your own presence wasn’t really mattering. You were despondent from a lack of rootedness and a kind of homelessness even that kind of disenfranchisement and lack of again ability to define a future. It’s ironic because you escaped just that very dysphoria but now you’re on the alternative end of it.
At one point you thought of ending your life. You actually contemplated suicide. You thought about jumping into traffic but then you didn’t want to make someone else’s life miserable who hit you. You thought about jumping from the youth hostel roof but what if you decided otherwise in midair. I mean to me this is all just great stuff that you’re so human and candid. You didn’t act on this impulse but you did come to a point where you changed. You’d had enough of life on the road and how did that feel for you to start to shed that skin?
Sharon: Well what happened first right around that same time I guess I came to the realization that I wasn’t afraid anymore. I wasn’t afraid to die. First I was looking at death as something that was going to save me from more pain and more trouble and more confusion and all that kind of thing because I felt as though I had experienced everything that life had to offer at 16.
I think that’s probably a common way that young people feel at times but then what I came to realize is that I wasn’t afraid to die and in fact because I wasn’t afraid to die what was there to be afraid of because fear and death is really the ultimate fear that humans experience for the most part. I mean I’m sure there’s thing’s worse than death but by having that experience it kind of freed me to consider other things that I could do. One of those things was to go home and not feel controlled anymore because I didn’t have to buy into all of that fear and anxiety and all the rest of it.
Diane: You could actually be viable as a person and stand up for yourself even in that environment. You did go back to school. It’s kind of a miraculous arc this whole journey that takes place in a container of a very short period of time relatively speaking in this book No Rules: A Memoir that’s so worthwhile. I wanted to just refer here to a poet David Whyte who many of you know because this passage where you go home reminds me of this poem that he has the Old Interior Angel. He says one day the hero sits down, afraid to take another step and the old interior angel limps slowly in with her no nonsense compassion and her old secret and goes ahead. Namaste, she says and you follow.
It’s just really interesting to me where now you’re going to go back home. You’re built up more as yourself. You’re consolidated more as a person who has survived and you have less fear. To me this is just a beautiful thing that you evolved into this. You have now developed a certain inner power that you didn’t have before. I think that this inner journey is part, very much part of this book. You also were saved in a certain way by a book you were still carrying around with you in your knapsack. The book that Ed had given you in Venice, California from his collection of hippie culture. It was Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. You write that you dove into its passages immersing yourself in the magic of the story.
“My depression waned as I daydreamed that some kind of utopia was out there that someone might have created a loving, spiritual community and that perhaps if you could find it there was something new for you to consider and maybe you hadn’t exhausted all of the world’s possibilities.” as the all-knowing 16, 17 year old you realized maybe you didn’t know about everything. As you started this conversation with us you learned what you didn’t know and that was amazing commentary as well.
Do you think that reading and being more or less saved by a book was a driver to becoming an author? When did you start wanting to write this story?
Sharon: I started to write, I had already been writing particularly poetry when I was younger. I was interested in writing for years. In fact my sixth grade teacher asked us what our goal was and mine was to write a book. It took me a while to accomplish that.
Diane: Yes but you did it. I’m going to rudely interrupt you first by thanking you so much. Our conversation has come to an end but there’s such an appreciation here of nature, of native cultures. We are going to have to get back to the garden. This beautiful book No Rules: A Memoir by Sharon Dukett. You can find her on www.sharondukette.com. She has Facebook Sharon Dukett Author and she’s on Instagram Sharon Dukett. Twitter as well travelsED. Take care everyone and thank you Sharon Dukett for being with us. It’s been a joy. Till next week everyone stay safe and thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.