Spider and Jeanne Robinson are two renowned minds, twin jewel authors in the crown of the High Authority of World Science Fiction. So intertwined are they that they might as well be one person. They even share a single email address; address the one, and you can just as well expect the other to reply.
Spider Robinson is famous as the punning audacious peer of Douglas Adams and heir apparent to ’60’s sci-fi great Robert Heinlein. He has won a plethora of awards since he began writing professionally in 1972, and 24 of his 29 books are still in print, in 10 languages.
Spider is also the literary progenitor of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, which is to fictional bars what The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is to, well, restaurants. He is presently finishing work on Variable Star, a collaborative effort between Robinson and Heinlein, courtesy of the Robert Heinlein estate picking him to complete an outline found recently in the Heinlein archives.
Spider is no stranger to the world of marijuana. Many of his characters are tokers, he was a celebrity judge at the 2001 High Times Cannabis Cup, and he has written multiple articles for the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s national newspapers, calling for rational pot laws. He also wrote the introduction to Stephen Gaskin’s 1999 book, Amazing Dope Tales.
Jeanne Robinson is the more subtly physical of the two Robinsons, no doubt owing to a lifetime of dance. She is the rhythm to Spider’s melody. (The male Robinson is a noted guitarist, and when he performed recently as an invited guest with guitar legend Amos Garrett at the Vancouver Island Music Festival, Jeanne took the stage for a round of tender duets between wife and husband.)
The female Robinson is a Boston-born writer, former dancer, modern dance choreographer, teacher of dance and the Alexander Technique, and lay-ordained Buddhist monk (Soto Zen lineage). She was also Artistic Director of Halifax’s Nova Dance Theatre during its eight-year history.
Together, the Robinsons collaborated on the classic 1976 novel Stardance, and on its sequels, Starseed and Starmind. Stardance created the concept of zero-gravity dance, and won Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Furthermore, Jeanne was on NASA’s short list for a space shuttle seat, to try out zero-G dance, until the Challenger tragedy ended the Civilians in Space program.
To quote Spider Robinson’s website: “Spider and Jeanne met in the woods of Nova Scotia in the early 1970’s and have lived for the last 16 years in British Columbia, where they raise and exhibit hopes.” Cannabis Culture spoke to them at their home on BC’s rural Bowen Island.
CC: You two are amazingly happily telepathic!
J: Well, it’s because we have been together for 30 years.
S: 30 good ones, where we wanted to spend time with each other. You can spend 30 years together, and not have seen any of each other’s shoulder blades.
J: Well, we’ve learned a lot of secrets, we’ve learned a lot of ways to make it work. For me, I’m a gypsy, and Spider likes to stay at home, and it works wonderfully. You can put the kid in his lap, and go out in the world and have a career.
S: I stayed at home and did the dishes, you know, and had fun with the kid…
J: Yeah, and I went out to the dance studio. It’s just that great. One of the things that I’ve done every year since I’ve stopped dancing is to go to the Zen monastery.
All Buddhists do the same thing: sit. All Buddhists meditate. Buddha said make these teachings work in your own hometown, in your own culture, in your own community. That’s why there are over 150 different flavors, but ultimately it’s all the same. It’s just sitting. We’re just sitting with our breaths, and we’re just sitting.
S: Here’s the thing I love about Buddhism. As far as I can tell (I have examined history), I haven’t ever found a Buddhist holy war. Buddha apparently never told people everything will be fine if you’ll go kill those infidels in the next valley, the way that Jehovah and Allah and all them other cats seem to do. Buddhists don’t do that, they don’t fight over Buddhism.
If you get a Buddhist really pissed off like back during the Vietnam war, if you really enrage the Buddhist, he sets himself on fire. For a religion, that’s pretty civilized, man. And they’re careful to do it downwind of anything flammable, so that they don’t start a fire.
I like that. A religion that peaceful that they’ve never found a reason to slaughter the heathens or the infidels. Give me some of that.
J: The hippies grabbed on to it. I was living with Stephen Gaskin on The Farm in Tennessee. 1,000 acres, 650 people, every Friday you got given a quarter of an ounce, and so on.
It was a spiritual commune ? I’m from the ’60’s, we did communes ? but this was a spiritual commune. In other words, live by the precepts of ethical behavior and conduct, and I was like, ‘Huh? What’s that?’ It was a very awakening moment.
Stephen wrote books that were in the Hippie language of the ’60’s. He was an English professor at San Francisco University. He knew Suzuki Roshi and was his student as well, but none of us knew that. It was hidden in his books. He never said this was Buddhism at all, ever.
S: Here’s one of Stephen’s sayings: He used to say that there’s really only one church, and that your membership button is your bellybutton. He said, religions only look different if you get them retail, but if you go to the wholesaler, you’re going to find out that they all get it from the same distributor anyway.
CC: Some individuals and groups are really committed to conflict.
S: It’s a constant money-maker.
J: This is the scary bit for me. I saw Stephen in Amsterdam a couple of years ago ? we were all Cannabis Cup judges ? he got us the gig ’cause we’re all friends. I said, ‘How many are we?’ and he said, ‘We’re fewer now,’ and that really broke my heart.
CC: What about cannabis? Many of your most famous characters smoke grass.
S: Some do, yes. And some don’t.
CC: And they are not crazy or mad or bad people.
S: They’re mostly like the folks I know.
J: Well, Steven Gaskin, he had kids that were already grown, and he was saying things like just tell your kids to stand clear until they’re 18. Basically, you talk about your biochemistry, your biology, you give them some science and some rational reasons for why it’s a good idea to hold off experimenting until you’re 18, when your body and mind are pretty much aware enough on how to manage.
S: Your brain is still growing at that time. You don’t want to go fucking with that.
J: Right. And so we told our daughter to wait.
S: It’s one of the most unfortunate things in life that you are frequently most tempted to take drugs at times that are not the best times for you to be taking drugs. An adolescent says, ‘Whoa! Give something, give me a needle, a pill or a smoke, I need medicine, this hurts.’ But that’s about the time that you don’t need it, when you got to go through it, you’ve got to do that growing, and not go monkeying with the brain chemistry at that time.
J: And the other thing, we were never into anything other than marijuana. Whatever you want to call it, hard drugs. We were old enough to go through the ’80’s. We were offered these drugs, but we never did them.
S: I tried cocaine a few times, just enough to know I had. People pay money for this? It makes you uptight, impotent, constipated, and you pay a fortune for it.
J: I never tried it.
S: In the ’60’s. Let’s put it this way. I haven’t tried it in over 25 years, maybe 30.
J: We all had a taste. But we generally knew the chemist. Or you’d know that you weren’t getting something off the street. Or you knew that it was something like MDMA that wasn’t as hard as LSD, something gentle. Or if you wanted to do something, you might do a mushroom. There was a lot of consciousness about it.
S: When I did that stuff, it happened that I knew for a fact this was laboratory pure, and after I didn’t have that reliable source I kind of lost interest. I think even if I had access to the best LSD in the world, I don’t want to do no more. I took that class.
J: Yeah, we took that class.
S: There’s a very therapeutic value to having somebody smack you in the forehead with a hammer. That’s the whole idea behind shock therapy. They noticed if you smack someone in the head with a hammer, he gets lucid for a while. And they thought, maybe there is a way to do that without actually breaking his skull, and they came up with shock therapy.
LSD was a similar kind of thing. It’s an elephant gun to the consciousness, and it’s very instructive. But you don’t want to keep doing that for the rest of your life, man! Nobody wants to keep running their head into a wall. That’s a sign of malfunction.
J: You have to study yourself and come back to it. The only person that can live your life is one’s self. You have to study yourself to know yourself. To get on with your life. To follow your bliss.
CC: Why are people against marijuana?
S: Remember the moment in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, where Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars, he just doesn’t understand people, or anything about them. Nothing that humans do makes any sense to him, he can’t ‘grok’ because their behavior is insane. And then he’s at the zoo, and he’s looking at the monkey cage.
And while he’s brooding over this, he sees this monkey pick up a peanut that somebody threw, and a bigger monkey comes along and beats the shit out of the smaller monkey and steals the peanut and runs away. And the monkey sits there for awhile, and then he goes and finds a smaller monkey and beats the shit out him.
And all of a sudden, the Martian gets it. Everybody who feels screwed looks around for somebody smaller and screws him. ‘Oh! I get it! Now everything about human endeavor makes sense!’ If you just opt out of that fucking game, you know? ‘They took my peanut… cool!’
J: Being against anything, what it means is that you are hitting the wall. What you need to do is face the wall until it becomes a door. Let it open up into something sweet.
? Spider and Jeanne Robinson: www.spiderrobinson.com