auto-biographical material on
Joel A. Wendt
a brief narative biography
I was born in Great Falls, Montana, December 23rd, 1940. My father (Wally) owned a small local advertising agency, that he had bought from his father, its founder. My mother (Dorothy) was a housewife. They had been college sweethearts, and started their family during the depression (my older brother Lou was born in 1935). Great Falls is a major city (in Montana), with perhaps 35,000 people living in it at the time when I was born. It is located on the Western edge of the great plains, as these begin to butt up against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I grew up in what was bascially a town of white people, mostly decendents of norther Europeans, among tree lined streets, and large lawns. I played baseball in the summers, during the day, and kick the can in the evenings. When we didn't have a game or practice, we rode our bycicles to the large local swiming pool.
When I was eleven we moved into a new home, built especially for us, an us which now included another brother (Doug), born in 1949. When I was an early adolescent, my parents left the Luthern Church (the Church of my Grandfather, Louis), becoming members of the Congregational Church, which they felt was more socially compatable in terms of the ages of the members and their children. As a freshman in high school, the local Church Youth Group, Pilgrim Fellowship, elected me President, seemingly on the whim of some older girl members. The minister was chagrined, but did not fight it. When I was a senior in high school, my classmates elected me President, after another whimsical nomination by a girl who sat near me in home room. None of the popular kids were nominated that year (class offices didn't mean much to them anymore), and I found my election embarassing, for which reason I did not tell my parents. I was basically shy and introverted, not much of an athlete, nor an academic (more dreamy in class than anything), so my parents were not surprised when they found out my secret.
One day I read an article in Boy's Life, on the newly formed United States Air Force Academy, and decided to apply. My chances were small, I was the 12th alternative, and the nomination went to the primary. However, three weeks before graduation from high school, my father received a telegram from the Secretary of the Air Force offering me an appointment, which I accepted, having promised God that I would go, if He found a way.
I spent three years at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, when my girl friend (Tina) became in a family way. The result was that in March of 1963 our first son, Marc, was born, and I was married and working for the City and County of Denver. Around this time I graduated from the University of Denver, with a B.A. in religion area (a triple minor - history, philosophy and mathematics - if memory serves), what was essentially a pre-seminary degree. I did not go on to seminary, given that during my year at DU I took a course in New Testament Studies, which was so heavily based upon historical and language analysis, that it drove from my soul the idealistic relationship to Christianity I had had in my youth.
[Following leaving the Academy, I had been assigned to a Reserve Unit at Stapleton Airport outside the City and County of Denver. This Reserve Unit was soon disbanded, by order of President Lyndon Johnson, with the result that my military obligation was completed (three year active duty at the USAF Academy, and three years reserve duty) by 1965, at which time I received an honorable discharge. Thus, when the Vietnam war esclated in the late 1960's, I was already discharged, married and had two children (see below).]
Instead of going to seminary then, I took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), scored well, and subsequently entered the School of Law at the University of Montana, in Missoula, Montana. Tina supported me during this time by working as a legal secretary and carrying and giving birth to our second child, a daughter Doren, born in September of 1966. Thus, in June of 1967 I received a J.D. degree (Juris Doctor), and Tina a PhT (putting husband through). I took LSD that year, between the end of finals and graduation day, thus beginning that strange set of experiences that ended up with an addiction to pot by the end of the 1970's (I am in recovery now for 20 years) - this is a story about which I will say more later.
Even though graduating from the Montana School of Law meant automatic membership in the Montana Bar, Tina and I returned to Denver, where we took jobs, and where I eventually took and passed the Colorado Bar. In 1968, the remains of my child-like idealism were destroyed - ML King was assasinated in April, my father died in May, RF Kennedy was assasinated in June, the Chicago police riots where in August, and by the end of September, I had left Tina, quit my job at Allstate Insurance Company, and had acquired my first job in a restaurant, washing dishes in a place called The Broker, in downtown Denver.
Tina and I divorced and then reconciled, deciding to move to California to start all over again, which we did in August of 1969. We had another child, Jennifer, in October of 1970, and subsequently remarried, and then divorced a second time. We had started out good friends, and remain good friends. We were better parents apart (except for the worst years of my addiction - '79, '80 and '81) than we had been together.
It is difficult to describe the years from 1969 to 1983. I will make an effort, but it should be understood as an almost impossible task.
Basically, I discovered another school - the School of Life. I had had a decent formal education, between the USAF Academy, Denver University, and the University of Montana School of Law. We know this Life-School in its most basic form as the so-called school of hard knocks, but the school of hard knocks is just one antechamber of the School of Life. We also all know that raising children and marriage is a school too, but many have stopped paying attention by this point, and never learn much past their adolescence. Most of us are highly formed by our twenties, and begin to resist life, trying rather to force life into what we want and need - to focus on winning and success, or on the avoidance of pain and the maximizing of pleasure.
I found another doorway.
With my second divorce from Tina, I acquired a certain need for self understanding, and the responsibility for the raising of Jennifer (who was then 2 and 1/2). Tina and I had divided the family up, except on weekends when all three were always together, and I got the youngest. So I took on the raising of a young child, and simultaneously the beginnings of what was to be a lifetime of self-education, introspection and transformation - what turned out to be the beginning phases of a school of life, as against the more formal schooling of my youth.
For example, I looked to Jennifer to teach me what it was that childhood was really about. Sure, I had parenting responsibilities, but if anyone knew about being a child, it was a child. My pragmatic psychological schooling began with Group House in Berkeley, then turned later for a time toward Buddhism, Native American Spirituality, the Magic Path of Franz Bardon, Anthroposophy and Christian Hermeticism - and that's the short list. (Ultimately I was to become a practitioner of Johnine Christianity, following on the practical elements of the Gospel of John.) Berkeley, California in those years ('60's and '70's) was an unique cultural center, and I was one of its serious students. I read politics, psychology, spirituality, history, mathematics, science - both traditional and non-traditional, and so forth. I met all manner of interesting individuals. I learned to learn in ways I couldn't before have imagined.
Everyone was my teacher, with the most important being my children. Each day was a series of lessons - practical lessons in life and in change. Fact is I screwed up as often as I learned, and the more confused I got on a certain level, the more interest I took in drugs, mostly marijuana. But even this was an education, for later in life I was to work with people who needed me to know addiction from the inside out, so in a certain way during the years 1969 - 1983 (the Berkeley years), while I was beginning to understand self education, I was also downwardly mobile on the one hand, and in the school of hard knocks on the other (addiction and all its consequences).
I once had a person, during my work at Brookside Hospital in the '90's, ask me where I had learned the practical arts of psychology. What I said was that I learned the most in the Gospels (see my essay pragmatic moral psychology, on my research website), and as well, during the year I spent working as a porno theater manager in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco . It was while working in the Tenderloin that I met the homeless, the street whores, the alcholics, the strippers and all the so-called worst of our society, and began to learn to see past the surface to the real human being. Now the psychology taught here is not just about the other, the Thou, it is mostly about one's self. It is a very practical and hard schooling in learning not to judge. Only after that does the Thou began to appear, and we can begin to understand in practice: "whatsoever ye do to the least of these my brethren, ye do so also unto me".
During the worst years of my addiction ('79' - '81'), I was stealing pot when I could, spending half my earnings on pot when I could and generally not doing a very good job (just doing the minimal) of being a parent. Marc and Doren were in adolescence and Jennifer was 8 - 11. Was I terrible, yes and no. Mostly I was just human, for I wasn't always there, something folks who are addicted to work and success also know about. My excuse for not being all there was an indulgence in a sadness at the suffering of the world. I had lost how to have fun and find joy and kept looking for escape in chemicals. Not really anything new here, as a lot of people know.
It was about this time that I meet Dawn, who I was later to marry, and who began to help me get over it. I returned occassionally to pot over the next half-dozen years, but never as regularly or intensely as '79' - '81', and in September of 1987 I had my last joint.
One last word on the addiction problem, which for me, as is true for many, has somewhat shifted its place of emphasis (those in AA know about cirgarettes and caffine) - in my case to food. I am grateful for certain small things, mostly that my addiction wasn't as destructive as some - e.g. heroin, cocaine, alchohol. And a bit of advice, besides the 12 Steps, which I will paraphrase: The problem has to do with an inner state, which we try to change by the use of an outside agency (chemicals, food, drugs etc.), but which we could change by inner effort. The work is to see when to act inwardly in the right way, and how, so that the difficult mood can be transformed before we become dependent upon an outside agency for the change. All kinds of things help this, especially the 12 Steps, but at the same time everyone needs here to go their own way.
In 1982 Dawn and I moved to the Sacramento area of California (Fair Oaks), and Adam was born there in August of that year. I then started working in the practical field of psychology, first as a counselor in group homes for emotional disturbed adolescents. I had graduated from the school of life in Berkeley, and was now back on a regular track, raising children, having jobs, but still interested in learning new things. Most of the learning about politics and social life was based upon my experiences of reading Rudolf Steiner's works on epistemology - or the science of knowledge. It was Steiner who opened my eyes to the true nature of thinking that then has lead to most of the material on my research website, and the ideas I have put forward on my campaign website.
In 1987, we moved to Concord Massachucetts, so that I could participate in The Center for American Studies at Concord. Dawn was then pregnant with Gabriella, who was born in New Hampshire, in April of 1988. The director of the Center, Stuart Weeks, and I began a long friendship, and it was he that brought Emerson to my attention. I have written about Emerson and Steiner in my essay discovering individual insight.
As the Center could not provide me with an income, I moved to New Hamsphire, and ended up by 1988, late fall, working for Brookside Hospital, a for-profit psychiatric facility, in Nashua, New Hampshire. I worked for them, as a mental health worker, for a total of about ten years, mostly on the 3rd or graveyard shift. Basically this is a position which used to called an orderly, and involves a lot of direct patient care under the immediate supervision of the nursing staff.
I worked with manic-depressives (bi-polar disorder), paranoid schizophrenics, all manner of addicts, character disorders, troubled teens and children, on the women's unit, the adult unit, the children's unit, the adolescent unit, and the chemical and alchohol dependency unit. Basically mental health workers and psychiatric nurses do a work few would consciously choose, given the risk of abuse and violence both potential and actual that flows from folks with serious mental disorders and addictive problems.
Working 3rd shift was mostly done in order to get the pay differential, which amounted over the course of a year to several thousand dollars. Unfortunately, this had an effect on the marriage, given my need to sleep when everyone else was awake, besides being gone when they were asleep. Dawn and I separated about 12 years ago, and have finally divorced in 2007. She currently lives in Sand Point, Idaho with a new man, and Gabriella (19) and Adam (24) are moving to California this fall (I am revising an old biography in September of 2007).
It was also during the '90's that I began to find more time to think and to write, and a certain kind of fruit of my many years interest in the social and the political began to appear. In the beginning, I wrote mostly within the paradigm of the anthroposophical movement, but as the decade ended I realized that they were not my true audience. Ultimately, I reconfigured the nature of my research website away from anthroposophists, and toward the general public, such that it became what it is today: Shapes in the Fire.
Basically what I have tried to do in my research is to think through, as carefully as possible, from its very foundations upward, the whole of our social existence, and in particular its poltical dimensions. I am also not a very good person to judge its utility or its place in the wider schemata of human knowledge. I believe I have made some progress for the development of our knowledge of such matters, but I suspect that given that this was done outside the academic world, I will pass on before any judgment for or against my work can be made.
As a parallel element of my biography, I have taken a kind of special interest in America, not just from being an American, but also, as someone making a study of social and political realities the Nation and People most near for me to study has been the United States. It was my work in this direction that drew me into contact with the Center for American Studies at Concord, and encouraged my interest in that aspect of anthroposophical research into the Mysteries of America.
I found, through that aspect of my education that was drawn from life and experience, that knowledge needs very much that we come to love the object which we seek to understand. So, in a certain sense I have made a special effort to be in love with all manner of things peculiarly American - Star Trek, soap operas, movies, fast food, and so forth. This has been a life long love affair, but I will spare the reader the more vivid details.
Among that which I learned to love was the Ideal that lives within and behind all that America was, is and will be. Thus, the many writings on America on my research website. One result of this lifelong interest has been that each four year presidential election cycle I have found myself in an ever increasing experience of pain, at the profound dissonance between the true nature of this Ideal and how our politicians misused and abused it. I would periodically feel the need to enter politics, and given what I felt was the freedom I needed with which to express myself, I would think about running for President. I did this in 1992 (the writings for those years were put into the three part essay: A Forgotten Resource - the American Spirit), and again in 1998 with the run up to the year 2000 election (those writings appeared mostly with regard to the Greenville Millennium Gazette).
So it came to be that when the second Bush adminstration took power through the theft of the election and then began to dismantle our constitutional government in favor of a heavy lurch toward a neo-fascist state (using our fears to get us to be less vigilant as regards our freedoms), I found that I could no longer be silent. As much as I wanted otherwise, when the completely unnecessary beating of the drums of war was added to the already reactionary addiction of these captors of the American Ideal, it was simply too much.
So once more I ran for President, while managing to remain firmly in the closet (I never got past initial steps and mostly just wore that hat of a candidate, which did have a positive effect on my political writing). This last campaign and its related essays can be found here.
My frustration with politics caused me to turn once more to work in Anthroposophy, and a certain degree of success began to unfold inwardly. Transformations of soul, that I didn't realize were happening, began to manifest, such that when living in Arizona for about 2 and a third years(after retiring on social security at age 62) I started to write a great deal. This has continued since returning in late 2005 to Fair Oaks California, after a 21 year absence. I also began to see that others more competent had the political well in hand, and for me to concentrate on my spiritual work was entirely valid. Having done that for several years now, there have been a few significant results.
Not wanting to let go of the years spend studying politics or the social, I wrote a small book: Uncommon Sense*: the Degeneration, and the Redemption, of Political Life in America. This can be read on my website for free, or one can follow a link there, and purchase a sefl-published hard copy. See http://ipwebdev.com/hermit/degeneration.html.
Having been born into the Christian Faith, and then in early mid-life (early 30's) discovered Christian Gnosis as well, I wrote a book on this confluence: the Way of the Fool: The conscious development of our human character, and the future* of Christianity - both to be bron out of the natural union of Faith and Gnosis. Also available for free with a link there to a hard copy should the reader wish it.
I have also written extensively on Anthroposophy, and I am near to finishing a book: American Anthroposophy. Its principle content can be found here, there is as yet no hard copy available.
So much for a wikipedia entry...