Author Claire Hoffman on Surviving Childhood in a Transcendental Meditation Community

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When Claire Hoffman was in kindergarten, her family moved from New York City to a Transcendental Meditation community in the Iowa cornfields. There, her mother explained, she would learn to levitate.

Hoffman’s fascinating and heartbreaking memoir, Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood, recounts her life coming of age in a spiritual community in the shadow of famed guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Her story has a particular resonance with me because I also grew up in a cult-ish spiritual group under the watchful eye of a charismatic guru.

On the podcast, we compare notes on our unusual upbringings – the selflessness and the selfishness, the promise and the danger, and the complex feelings many children of spiritual communities have to work through as they mature.

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Transcript

Jon: Well hello, everyone. Welcome back to Write About Now. I'm your host, Jonathan Small, and thank you for joining me on the show today.

 

My guest is Claire Hoffman, whose fascinating and beautiful memoir, Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood, recounts her experience growing up in a meditation community in the 1980s and ’90s under the guidance of the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

 

Claire: Maharishi had had two gigantic golden dome-shaped buildings there that held 5,000 to 10,000 people each, and people would get together twice a day for the program of meditating and flying together.

 

Jon: I was absolutely riveted by Claire's book, and not only because it's a truly great read, but because we share many of the same experiences growing up and in our early adulthood.

 

Now, I haven't talked about this publicly too much, but I also grew up in a spiritual community, or a “spirited” community, as our teacher/guru Kenneth G. Mills liked to say.

 

Like Claire, I was in and out of this group – mostly out in my adult years. But the philosophy and the experiences and the encounter with Mr. Mills and with the group dynamics has had a profound influence on who I am today, both in a good way and also not such a good way. Meanwhile, the rest of my family remained pretty devoted to the teaching and to the teacher until he passed away in 2004.

 

I think one of the reasons I don't speak a lot about Mr. Mills and “the Unfoldment” or “the brotherhood” or “the work,” as people in the group like to call the teaching, and the reason I haven't written anything about it – here I am, a writer who's written hundreds of stories, and I have never once written about the Unfoldment or Mr. Mills or my experience – is because I have such conflicted feelings about it.

 

I think that really comes out in this interview. I'm still trying to wrap my head around both the negative and the positive impact of communities or cults, gurus, teachers, whatever you want to call them, spiritual movements.

 

But I think I found a kindred spirit in Claire. As you will see, she has really thought deeply about her own experience in transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and she's so articulate about it, both in her writing and in this interview.

 

So I hope this interview is as interesting to you as it was for me. I have no idea. I have no idea whether you’re going to like this. To me, it was sort of like a therapy session, to be honest. I have never spoken to anyone who has grown up in a spiritual group outside of my own, so just to have that connection was pretty unbelievable.

 

And the fact that our careers are so parallel in many ways. She's a journalist; I'm a journalist. She's written for a lot of the same publications I've written for. We've lived in the same part of LA, and we both lived in New York, and we have both struggled with our experiences growing up in spiritual communities.

 

But there is one big difference: she has written a book about this and really gone deep, and I am just beginning now to scratch the surface.

 

Claire Hoffman, welcome to Write About Now.

 

Claire: Hi.

 

Jon: I'd love to hear almost your elevator pitch or the short version of what TM is. How would you explain it to people?

 

Claire: Well, it definitely evolved. I wonder if the elevator pitch for it in the 1980s would be the same as it is now. I think now the elevator pitch is that it's a mantra-based meditation that you don't necessarily have to believe in anything to practice. It involves sitting quietly for 20 minutes, preferably twice a day, and repeating a mantra, and it has a host of health benefits when you practice it regularly. I think that's how people pitch it. [laughs] I don’t usually pitch it.

 

Jon: Yeah, I’m sure you don't pitch it.

 

Claire: I think that’s the pitch.

 

Jon: It's interesting to summarize it, because when I'm asked to summarize the work that I grew up with, it's harder for me because it doesn't really have a very defined practice. So thank you for sharing that.

 

When you were growing up, tell us a little bit about what was happening and what is happening in Iowa. How did Iowa become the central spot of Transcendental Meditation in America?

 

Reporter: In the most unlikely of places, in the small town of Fairfield, Iowa, this is the key to higher learning. Welcome to the Maharishi School and Maharishi University. Remember Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? Well, here students practice his technique of transcendental meditation, or TM for short.

 

Claire: The Transcendental Meditation movement was this big popular thing in the 1960s and into the ’70s.

 

Reporter: Far from the noise and pace of city life, in the cool, clear air of Rishikesh, North India, Pathe News reports from the meditation retreat of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the man who, through Transcendental Meditation, is currently bringing peace of mind to the Beatles.

 

Claire: The founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, had wanted to start a university. They found a bankrupt university in the middle of Iowa, which I believe that Maharishi saw as prophetically correct because it was in the middle of America, but it was this tiny college that had been written up in magazines in the ’60s as the place where all the dropouts went. It was Parsons College. It was a big party school.

 

But Maharishi and his followers bought it in the mid-70s and turned it into Maharishi International University, which later became Maharishi University of Management. He in the early ’80s put out a call to his “followers,” who were spread all over the country and the world, and said “come to this little town and meditate together.”

 

He had a whole scientific mathematical formula about how everyone meditating together in one place would create world peace.

 

Maharishi: And the beauty will be that peace, true peace achieved through these means. No one will feel defeated. That is the beauty because it’s nourishing.

 

Claire: So that was Iowa.

 

Jon: Tell me a little bit about the circumstances that led your mom to move you and your brother out to Fairfield, Iowa in the ’80s.

 

Claire: My parents had met at a Transcendental Meditation retreat in the ’70s, and my dad even then was battling alcoholism.

 

We were living in New York City, and he kind of was fading out from our lives, like not coming home and drinking, doing coke. He was an aspiring playwright/housepainter and was just really struggling and basically leaving my mom – and ultimately he did. He left us with like $50 on the kitchen table one weekend. My mom was like, “what do I do?”

 

For her the most positive, “home” feeling probably, experiences of her life were with the movement. So we bumped around a little bit, but ultimately decided to go to Iowa with all her friends from the movement in the ’70s. Everybody was going there. It was as good of a decision as any, I guess.

 

Jon: That era, that generation that your mom is in – and I think your mom is similar generation to my parents – that was the thing then. I mean, I know that the Beatles kind of popularized it in the ’60s, but I feel like there was a lot of people searching, and that was like – I don’t know if it was the cool thing to do, but a lot of young people were looking for teachers and groups.

 

So I think in the context, people have to understand – that might not be so much of a thing now, but that was definitely a thing back then.

 

Claire: Yeah. I think there was this idea that you could kind of create your own world. It's definitely a continuation of the back-to-the-land movement more in the ’70s, but the TM movement was not – I feel like there's a shorthand that people always say, like “because you were raised by hippies,” and I say that sometimes – but the truth is they were all wearing suits and ties and taking business plans.

 

Jon: Because it's still the ’80s, right? It’s still Wall Street, right? [laughs]

 

Claire: [laughs] Yeah. They just want a golden BMW.

 

Jon: Right. Same people, different era. But I think it also explains why your mom might have made that decision back then. Not that – maybe she would’ve made the same exact decision if she was faced with those circumstances in 2019. But she moved you and your younger brother out there. You were how old at that point?

 

Claire: I was six.

 

Jon: You were six. So you didn't have too much choice in the matter. But in a way, it really saved her life, right? I mean, I don't know what she would have done. So it was very much of a positive thing. At first.

 

Claire: Yeah. It kind of depends on what you think a life should be, I guess. It wasn't a decision that was great for her career. She’d gone to grad school for fabric design at FIT, and there were no great work opportunities for her there in Iowa. She immediately had to start working minimum wage service jobs because there was nothing.

 

So in that sense, that may not have been – I think she spent a lot of years doing jobs that she was probably overqualified for, but so do a lot of people.

 

Jon: Right, you just never know.

 

Claire: Yeah. It's hard to say that was a good decision or a bad decision. She's been meditating three to four hours a day since the late ’60s. [laughs]

 

Jon: Wow.

 

Claire: In that sense, that’s a lifestyle choice. It was definitely an easier place to raise two kids as a single mom in this little town with a lot of built-in community as opposed to the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

 

Jon: You write so vividly and so beautifully about the experience. It’s sort of seeing it through the eyes of a kid because you have to remember what that might have been like.

 

What was life like – this is in your earlier life, because life changes. You grew up there, so everything changes. But what it was like? What are your earliest memories of life like, living there?

 

Claire: Kind of a mix. I think there was a part of it where – especially, I have a six-year-old now. I think you're very sensitive and aware of your surroundings, but also still in this semi-dream-like kid world.

 

For me, when I think about it, it's almost bifurcated like that. On one hand, I think I was very worried about my mom and worried about money and wondering where my dad was. The pictures of my brother and I at that time, we were super skinny. I think we were just totally sad. It was pretty traumatic.

 

On the other hand, it was the magic of kids. It was like “whee!” There’s snow, and we get to play outside, and there's all these other kids here, and there's these big celebrations where everyone is so happy and we can be wild and free in a way that we never got to be in Manhattan.

 

Jon: There was always this thing that your mom would tell you, that she was going there to learn to fly, that of course as a six-year-old is very – of course you're going to believe that, right? I mean, why wouldn't you? Your mother is telling you that she's going to learn to fly.

 

Tell us about that. There were these places where that practice was happening, and you would look at them in a sort of magical way when you were younger.

 

Claire: Yeah. Part of what broke TM off from being this big pop culture 1960s, ’70s thing was that in the late ’70s Maharishi introduced what he called the Sidhi technique or technique, which he said gave people special abilities, including the ability to levitate. It's a practice that you do over about an hour and a half or almost two hour period, or even longer. People saw it as life-changing.

 

Reporter: This is what the great sage calls Yogic Flying. You've been into this business for how long?

 

Interviewee: About 20 years. Before that I taught school and I had a business, and then I went into the TM.

 

Reporter: And now you believe you can fly.

 

Interviewee: I believe I can hop. [laughs] But what I believe is that if people do this in a group, that world peace will be the immediate consequence.

 

Claire: When we moved there, that was what my mom wanted to do. Maharishi had had two gigantic golden dome-shaped buildings there that held 5,000 to 10,000 people each. One was for women and one was for men, and people would get together twice a day for the program of meditating and flying together. They called them the Flying Halls.

 

Life there was totally organized around flying. That was – I don't know. It's like, if Children of God was organized around sex, TM at that time was totally organized around flying. [laughs] You know what I mean? That was the thing.

 

Jon: So there were some people who were the fliers and some that were learning to be, and that was what everybody was aspiring to do?

 

Claire: Yeah. The course was very expensive; it was thousands and thousands of dollars to learn. It took my mom a while before there was enough money for her to learn to fly. There was this real craving to be a part of it.

 

And then everybody gets this mantra. As a kid, I didn't really know that anybody was not flying. I just imagined it as like Peter Pan world inside there. It was very secretive. They wouldn’t do it in front of other non-fliers.

 

Jon: When you get a little bit older you go to school, and there is a school that's on the property, but there's also a public school.

 

There's a lot of you going back and forth between the school when your mom can afford it or when somebody is helping her out, like a boyfriend or something, and then when she doesn't have the money and you have to go to the public school. There’s this total tension between – I guess they call you guys “the gurus” – and the local, the towny people. That must have been really tough, growing up in that kind of environment.

 

Claire: Yeah. I joke now that that sort of red state/blue state dynamic was my childhood. [laughs] It was only like five blocks apart, and it got violent. Kids were beating the shit out of each other, breaking car windows, slashing tires.

 

Jon: It was violent on both ends, or was it like the red staters would come after the blue, or were both equally responsible for causing trouble?

 

Claire: They called the meditators “roos,” like short for guru. So they called them ’roos. Also like a kangaroo, because it's like “you're not levitating, you're jumping,” which is a whole other conversation. Anyway, we were the ’roos and they were the townies. The ’roos were more the liberal, educated, dare I say kind of a snowflake-y mentality.

 

But every once in a while, as I got older, kids my age got really into – there was a karate dojo and a lot of them took karate and got really good fighting. So then when a ’roo fought back, they would end up putting somebody in the hospital. It was like trained ninjas. [laughs] That’s probably not funny. I don’t know why I’m laughing.

 

Jon: It's not funny, but it makes me laugh too. You mentioned the dojo, and I remember you saying in the book that the dojo was where people would go and hang out and smoke.

 

You were raised in this thing – this is the thing when kids are raised in a group or an organization, a movement or something like that, where there's a lot of rules about things that the guru has dictated that you can and can't do, what you can and can't eat, how you dress. There's always going to be that rebellious spirit in children, and teenagers especially.

 

So there was this place where you guys would hang out, like? The ’roos – not the ’roos, but the people – the children. I don't know what you called – you probably had a word for what you were called. The children of…

 

Claire: No, we called ourselves ’roos.

 

Jon: That’s cool. You embraced it. You just embraced it. [laughs] So you guys would hang out there and hook up, do drugs.

 

Claire: Oh yeah.

 

Jon: It’s interesting. They let you guys do that, or they sort of turned a blind eye?

 

Claire: I think they were almost on another planet in a lot of ways. They were, as I said, meditating all the time. I should say part of TM is no alcohol, no drugs. My mom didn't drink coffee. Not that that's part of it.

 

Jon: We had a no garlic rule, and I remember you wrote that there was no garlic. Maharishi didn't like garlic.

 

Claire: Yes. A lot of people felt like the garlic would affect your ability to attain a higher consciousness or something. Onions too. I want to repeat the words, but I don't even know what they mean, some of the stuff that we would say. We used to say these random Sanskrit words to describe that stuff.

 

But no, we were really, really wild. I think I probably had to pull my punches a little bit in the book. I feel like I have yet to meet anybody else who had such a wild high school experience.

 

Jon: Yeah, and you would think that it might be the opposite. You were raised in this enlightened, utopian society, and yet you're partying harder than you probably ever would in any other circumstance.

 

It's just interesting to me that a lot of times spiritual groups, they're all about breaking belief systems. Like, “oh, you've got to get out of this belief system.” Part of being enlightened is that you don't follow the belief systems of the educational system or whatever.  And yet they create their own kind of systems, right?

 

Claire: Right.

 

Jon: I always found that a real contradiction that I couldn't quite figure out. Like, the idea that there's one higher belief system that's OK, that belief system is OK because it's higher – I don't know. I just feel like you can't have it both ways. You can't say you can't follow belief systems and have a belief system, like a very, very rigid one where people are militant about it.

 

Claire: Yeah. People love belief, and they can't help themselves. The idea that some people have beliefs and others don't is absurd too. We all have ideas about the world that shape our reality.

 

I think that there’s often this idea with people who grow up in a “normal” household with a normal religious belief or a non-secular household, that they are immune to this, but – I'll give you an example. This quietly blew my mind the other day. I went to a meditation class here in Costa Rica, a non-secular meditation class held by a writer who has written a bestselling book on non-secular meditation.

 

I haven't gone to a lot of stuff like that, actually, just because I’ve meditated – I’ve done TM for so long, I've done some Zen classes. But this was a group of people who probably all paid $40 or $50, and they're in a resort-like atmosphere. Everybody probably imagines themselves as skeptical, people interested in just calming their mind.

 

Within like 30 minutes – it was shocking. The guy threw out a few prompts. There was no philosophical grounding to them. People were weeping, crying, talking about their parents. I feel like people underestimate how you create a space and call it sacred or transcendent in the most basic way, and people will meet you 100%. You know what I mean?

 

Jon: That is amazing. That is such a good observation. I've always wondered, in the group that I was with, was it – I mean, obviously the teacher was very charismatic and had a lot of valuable things to say, but how much was it just in the power of people wanting to believe it so badly that there was some power in that?

 

Claire: Yeah. You and I emailed about Holy Hell, right?

 

Jon: Yes. I love that movie.

 

Claire: People need to see that one.

 

Jon: It's a documentary. You can find it on Netflix. Documentary by Will Allen.

 

Will Allen: My name is Will Allen. I started making movies when I was 13. I went to film school, and three weeks after graduating, my sister introduced me to her spiritual teacher and my whole life took a different path.

 

Claire: It’s such a fantastic documentary. I feel like people who watch it are divided into two groups. There are people like you and I who grew up in something “similar” and then people who didn’t, and the people who didn't say, “God, isn’t it crazy what people will believe?”

 

That's not what I think. I think this is amazing to see how powerful these experiences are these people have. I see people with a lot more agency. So of course for you, Dr. Mills, I imagine he was very charismatic. But what's interesting to me is what people were doing with him. I think they are more interesting.

 

Jon: It's true, because you project – really, I guess what a spiritual teacher is supposed to do is supposed to show you what you have within yourself.

 

But what happens, I think, often in these types of situations with these types of groups with teachers is that the philosophy and the teaching is positive or valuable, but then the teacher – when they start personalizing it and it starts to become more about the teacher than about the teaching, that's when I feel like you fall into some trouble.

 

If Maharishi can just up and say, “Hey, I want everybody to go and move from” – they were in Amsterdam, I think you said, and they all had to move to Iowa, or “I'm going to have you go here and you do this and you do this, and you have to give me this much money” and all that kind of stuff. That's when it starts to get a little dicey because then you don't have your own agency. You're giving your power away.

 

Claire: I agree, but I think it's so often less top-down and more of a swirly symbiosis, and sometimes almost parasitic.

 

You think about L. Ron Hubbard dying in hiding with his fingernails five inches long, and his followers out back painting the fence white over and over because it's not white enough. So often these people kind of lose their minds. Maharishi definitely became extremely isolated by the end. People would come to see him from across the world and he would be on the phone with them from upstairs.

 

Jon: Oh my God.

 

Claire: It's that Wizard of Oz-y kind of separation that happens. It's certainly something I've thought about, like what is it like to have all these people looking to you with such hunger and appetite? Obviously there's the power of that. That’s with fame too, where it's like, oh, how amazing to have all these people cheering or screaming your name.

 

Jon: Oohing and aahing at everything you say.

 

Claire: Yeah. Obviously there's a kind of person who loves that. But inevitably it seems to really screw people up. So I really see it as like a symbiotic relationship, and it’s kind of parasitic both ways too.

 

Jon: Yeah, it's not just the fault of the teacher. But I think it's a really good point. People always say, “How could you join a cult?”

 

Again, both you and I did not – as a child, you're brought into it. You say “I didn't choose this,” and I was always told, “Yes, you did. Unconsciously you chose this. You chose this in another lifetime to be here.” So I would always get that answer if I said “I didn't choose to be here; my parents brought me into this.” [laughs] I don't know if you ever got that one, but I got that a few times.

 

Claire: Oh yeah. It’s a multi-lifetime decision. [laughs]

 

Jon: Yeah, this is your scroll of your karma that you're even here at all.

 

But the fact is that people join those things because they end up getting into this community that they feel is positive. They end up becoming friends with all the people in the community. My parents’ social life was completely wrapped up in the group, and that was their friend set. So it became more than just following this teaching. It was what made them feel good.

 

It was basically like if they joined their church or whatever, their synagogue – I'm Jewish – and had a community, except there was a very charismatic leader and there was a lot of rules, and you really had to devote a lot of time and – I want to talk about this – a lot of money to it.

 

Money seems to play a part in both of our upbringings and teachings. “The teachings,” I don't even know how to refer to it, but the groups that we belonged to. How do you think about that today?

 

The fact that your mom had to scrape together money just to – here she is, giving up everything to be in Iowa, and she has to scrape together money just to take these classes and then to get you guys into the school that's on campus. What was the philosophy behind that? What was the justification for that by the Maharishi, and then what do you think about it now, looking back on it as an adult?

 

Claire: The justification was Americans, in order to understand value, have to pay for it. We as Americans wouldn’t appreciate this Indian knowledge unless it was really expensive. That was the justification.

 

I felt like – and I say this in the book – like my mom was on this kind of hamster wheel. We lived in Utopia Park, which was a meditator-only trailer park which the TM organization owned and were our landlords. We went to the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, which was very expensive for us. It was a private school and private school price in the middle of Iowa.

 

There were all these herbs and supplements that were constantly coming out that you needed to have. There were new courses. The people in the community who were able to see Maharishi, who was living in India and then Europe during this time when I was growing up, the people who got access to him were only the donors.

 

Jon: Wealthy.

 

Claire: Yeah, the wealthy. Even in reporting for that book, I found out that there was even stranger stuff happening, for example, with the Maharishi school, where donors would go to see Maharishi and they'd end up having, based on their interests, some conversation about science.

 

Then that person would be sent back and say, “Hey, you guys have to redo the whole curriculum. All the kids are actually only going to do 10 minutes of this science because they all need to start studying holistic medicine” or something, based on the interest of a follower who loves crystals or something. It became kind of helter-skelter. That’s a terrible use of the term “helter-skelter,” but… [laughs]

 

Jon: No, I know what you mean. Yeah, not helter-skelter. [laughs]

 

Claire: Not helter-skelter.

 

Jon: But what’s interesting is that in some ways you're taught – at least, I was taught that we worship money. Money has become our god. And yet it was money that got you things that you wanted within the group. Usually the people that were the most successful did have the most access to the guru.

 

Was it the same thing in your teaching? Like in one way you're taught Americans value money,  but in another way he's probably saying, “but don't let money rule your thoughts.”

 

Claire: Interesting. Yeah, that's an interesting question. I feel like it was success. As I said when we were talking at the beginning, I watched a couple of the videos from your community, and I felt this resonance of that 1980s success thing which just made me giggle with joy. [laughs] I love it. I love seeing it in a different incarnation, like two degrees’ difference or something.

 

Jon: Did everybody in TM have to wear suits and like long gowns?

 

Claire: Yeah.

 

Jon: Yeah, okay. Similar.

 

Claire: They had the same makeup artist and hair person, apparently. It looked the same. [laughs]

 

Jon: Exactly the same.

 

Claire: Maybe the colors were a little different.

 

Jon: No jeans.

 

Claire: Yeah, no jeans. Maharishi didn't like dark colors, so everybody was wearing light pinks and golds and pastels. But generally it was that same kind of aesthetic.

 

But in answer to the money question, I feel like success – at least my memory as a child of it was that success was seen as proof of evolving consciousness. I talked about this in the book, but he had this term “200% of life, 100% material success and 100% spiritual success.” I would hear adults saying that all the time like, “Oh wow, he’s really living 200%.” It was like, oh, I guess I'm spiritually less-than, and that's why I'm monetarily less-than.

 

Jon: That's a tricky one, because it really is 100%, and there’s a reason it’s 100%, because if you give all your money to a spiritual thing, you’re not going to have 100% success in the world. [laughs]

 

Maybe I’m being blasphemous here because maybe yes, you’ll find success, because I never did that. I never gave all my money, I never tithed the appropriate amount and all that stuff that you were supposed to do.

 

So yeah, money was definitely always at a premium, and people didn't have a lot of money in the group. My parents did. That was always an interesting dynamic for me. I did not grow up – one part of our differences is that my family had money, so in some ways you were treated a little bit differently, I felt.

 

What's interesting – we should point this out – is that you never met Maharishi. Of course, I met – and he stayed at my home many times – I met Mr. Mills quite a bit, but you had never met Maharishi. What was that like? Everybody is following the dictates of this person that you've never met. What was your impression of him early on? You probably thought he was l sort of a Wizard of Oz type figure?

 

Claire: Or more like Santa/Jesus. I think later I saw the Wizard of Oz thing, but I think at the beginning for me, I thought that he knew what I was thinking, that he was aware of me. I felt connected to him.

 

I was surprised, just to skip ahead – he died I think in 2008, and I remember watching his funeral. They did a webcast. I was watching it in the middle of the night in LA – it was in India. You just keep realizing how much of you is enmeshed in these things. For me watching it, it really brought to my awareness how much he had shaped my life.

 

It’s almost down to my sense of self. I started meditating when I was three years old, so my idea of what consciousness is, the voice in my head, my awareness, my experiences of silence, my idea about what the world is, all of his philosophy was baked in there so early and so consistently.

 

From there, my parents met at a TM retreat. My best friends still, some of them, are people I've known since I was five or six, and all their parents met on TM retreats. Something like that, I feel like it’s almost only like religion. Actually, as you can for so many things, you could use Trump as an example.

 

Jon: I always think of him all the time in this context, yes.

 

Claire: [laughs] Yeah, we all think about him. He has totally permeated our consciousness. My six-year-old who doesn't understand government at all because I'm a terrible parent, she totally has an idea of Trump. I actually try not to talk about him that much with them, but they all – he's an orange militant in their minds. He’s an ever-present character.

 

Jon: Also the way people follow him so blindly. He's never wrong, first of all, ever. That's very familiar to me. It's you that's wrong.

 

Claire: It's very impressive to me, as a person who has studied religion. You don't see in politics people doing that very much, where they operate without shame and they can just assert truths. It's very impressive.

 

Jon: To say stuff that isn't really true or can't factually be backed up with such confidence that people just fall for it.

 

All right, I want to get back to your story because your story is so amazing. You go through, definitely, bouts of seeing the value and then seeing the things that are not valuable about it or that are wrong with it. But I think one of the major moments in the book is when you finally get to see a demonstration of people doing the flying.

 

Claire: There was some point in the late ’80s where Maharishi decided that he would show the world people flying. He did it in a strange, highly choreographed PR way. He flew these people to Washington D.C. and set up a Flying Hall near the Capitol because their levitating was going to change government.

 

In Fairfield they had set up these blocks of foam which were inside the dome, and they got the best fliers – which were all men – to do these demonstrations or to have races, which is just surreal. Flying competitions.

 

Jon: It’s like Harry Potter.

 

Claire: Yeah, just totally weird. I saw it, and it was like, oh man, that’s why my mom is gone all the time? It was pretty awkward-looking. I describe it as like a frog-hop, like if you sat Indian style and frog-hopped. It's kind of silly-looking.

 

Disillusionment for me came in these waves, and that was certainly a piece of it. Like, oh wow, that's not that magical or impressive. The Sidhi technique, which is what it's called, is supposed to mean superpowers. As a kid, your idea of superpower is superpower. So it was like, oh that’s just a weird, kind of embarrassing thing to see.

 

Jon: How did you deal with that? Like you said, Mahadrishi, your mother, these were all very important figures in your life, and the thing that they talk about that's so special is not a real thing. How did you deal with that? How did you put that together?

 

Claire: I almost have to say here that my husband and I still kind of argue about flying. [laughs] If you're like, “how did you strip the illusion away?”, I'm not sure the illusion is totally gone. There’s still pieces of it that I see as abnormal or sacred.

 

I think I saw that it was embarrassing and awkward; I didn't think “Oh, this is a hoax and this is a huckster.” I thought, “This is weird and not divine-feeling, but there must be something here. It means all these different things.”

 

As you know from the book, I ended up going and taking the flying course after I had my first daughter, so when I say I was disillusioned, I wasn’t obviously that disillusioned. [laughs]

 

Jon: One of the things that I think people have trouble wrapping their heads around who haven't maybe had the experience of growing up the way we did – and actually, I didn't even really realize this until much later, when I did some therapy – you can believe some of the stuff, but just because you believe some of the stuff doesn't mean you believe everything hook, line, and sinker.

 

I think it was said to us when I was in the group that it's not a buffet. You're not like “I’ll take a little bit of this and I'll take a little bit of that.” You have believe absolutely in this. It's an absolute teaching. We used to call it an absolute teaching, that it's the absolute truth. Everything said was the absolute truth.

 

It took me very many years to understand that there can be value in it and you can get a lot of wonderful things from it. It doesn't mean you have to think everything was great about it. So I can see why you could have seen – maybe there was something silly about it in some ways, and embarrassing, like you said, but also there's something a little bit sacred about it to you and that's OK.

 

Your husband will never understand. My wife will never understand any of this. I don't know if you have a similar thought, but it was a revelation for me to realize that I could like some of it but it didn't mean I had to like everything.

 

Claire: Maybe I have no choice but to think this, but I think there's a gift in it in the sense that it forces you to see life as nuanced and filtered and ideas as surprising and unsuspected.

 

I will never underestimate the power of belief to shape experience. It's so powerful, and everybody is experiencing it. Growing up in something that maybe was a little more absurd forces you to have to look back at it and be like, oh wow, that was crazy.

 

But I also have had experiences, and I think I'm a logical, rational person. I tend to be slightly paranoid and adverse to danger. Not paranoid, but very – I'm a parent. I’m a pretty grounded person, I think is what I'm saying. And yet I know that I have had some really unexplainable experiences through these “absurd” techniques.

 

Jon: Right. You ended up leaving. You ended up becoming a very successful reporter. You ended up rejecting a lot of it, right? Talk about that part of your life. It's always interesting to hear how people were raised in one thing and it seemed like you were maybe on a path to be doing something completely different than what you ended up doing.

 

Claire: I think I felt this thing – I would say my point of view when I was a teenager and in my early twenties was that all these people that I'd grown up with were completely solipsistic, self-obsessed, completely consumed by elevating their own consciousness and totally disinterested in the world around them. That would’ve been what I would’ve said then. I'm not saying I disagree with that idea now either, but that would’ve been my criticism.

 

Jon: Yeah. I wish I had come to that conclusion a little bit earlier. But that is very interesting, because sometimes I feel like spiritual people are the most selfish people you will ever meet, even though it's under the guise of oneness and world peace and all that stuff.

 

Claire: Yeah. Nobody’s outside helping their neighbor shovel a little snow or checking at the local hospital. There was not a lot of engagement with the world. We didn't have a TV. We listened to NPR a little bit, but mostly the news was seen as something that would stress you out and lower your state of consciousness.

 

So I think for me, I was just really interested in other people and other things and learning about how other people thought about stuff. I wanted to be engaged.

 

Jon: But that wasn't encouraged, right? In your upbringing and in the movement, it wasn't encouraged for you to go outside the movement to find those things. You were supposed to find all that stuff within the movement, through your devotion to the teaching?

 

Claire: Kind of. It’s interesting because I feel like I remember going back in my early twenties, when I started to work at Rolling Stone, and I remember that being like I was proof of concept. I have a friend who I grew up with who's an artist, who’s successful, and I have a friend who's a cellist, and when adults would talk to us back then, they would be like “Oh look, see? It's proof that the work works.”

 

Jon: Right, because you came back. Had you not come back, you would’ve been the cautionary tale, like “this is what happens.”

 

Claire: Yeah, but we were just back visiting our parents. But it was like, “Oh, look at you out in the world.” I feel like I saw some of this in the Mr. Mills thing; I’d be curious if you had this – we took a lot of leadership classes. We were going to lead the world into an enlightened generation.

 

Jon: Yeah. But here's the thing, here's the contradiction. I was in a much smaller group than you were in, so it probably had a little bit of a different group dynamic, but you were never encouraged to leave the group. When I wanted to go to college, I got some resistance for that. When I got my first job instead of moving up to Canada to be closer to Mr. Mills, to work in New York was not looked favorably upon. And that was true with most of the students. Your devotion, that was the practice.

 

And yet, like we were saying before, the people who were closest to Mr. Mills, the people who we held in the highest regard and esteem were usually people who were very successful in the world that were close to him. So there was this total catch-22 where in order to be in his good graces, you had to be very successful. That was something that he really admired.

 

But at the same time you weren't really allowed to be successful because that would be being selfish. [laughs] You couldn't be 200%. You couldn't be successful in the world and also be close to the guru. There was no way. How could I do a job, how could I be good at my job if I had to – we had to drive up to Canada nine hours from New York every weekend.

 

People would get in a car at 4:00 in the afternoon and drive overnight to Toronto. It was a nine hour trip from New York, and arrive in the morning just in time for a Star-Scape Singers rehearsal, and then maybe get a nap in. Then see Dr. Mills maybe that night and then hear him speak on Sunday morning and then get back in the car and go back to New York. That was what people did for years, and that's how people knew each other so well and became so close. I did it a few times, but not like they did it.

 

Anyway, this is not about me; it's about you. But I think it's an interesting thing. It resonates with me that you were looked upon by people in the group as being like “wow, look at this really successful person” because you went out and had success in the world. I think that's interesting.

 

Claire: Yeah, but I feel like a lot of the qualities that worked for me as a reporter were qualities that they didn't like back home.

 

In school I remember, once I probably hit puberty, I would start asking questions. I was just a big question-asker. It’s not a particular gift, but I was. And I was kind of sarcastic, and I was always being corrected that the way I was seeing things, there was a more positive way of seeing things. Like, why are you always so negative? Which I just see as a genetic inheritance, probably.

 

Certainly in a community that's all about pursuing 24-hour bliss, nobody really liked having that around. I wasn't anybody's favorite. But then when I left, those qualities I think were really helpful for me in journalism or academia. Those are good qualities to have.

 

Jon: One thing I wanted to bring up because it's always been a sore spot with me, and you brought it up too, is this idea of being very insular and selfish, these groups can be. There's not a lot of community service oftentimes, but the service to the community is to their own community. There is a tremendous amount of community service, but to their own community.

 

But one thing that I found really interesting in your book was that you talk about a time when Maharishi called together like 3,000 people to meditate to change the world. There was this belief that if enough people generated their positive energy or whatever was at work there to a certain place in the world or to the problems of the world, they could solve the world.

 

That's the way you could explain away what I'm talking about now. “You don't give to the community” – “Oh yes we do. We do 3,000 people getting together to help promote world peace.” I know that he took credit or said partly the falling of the Berlin Wall was the result of this mass meditation that you guys did. What do you think about that now, looking back?

 

Claire: I think a lot of things. I think that the followers, the adherents of Maharishi’s teachings were helping the world in the way that they most believed, which was through meditation.

 

This is almost comical to an outsider, but they would have these groups – it's actually not that comical because lots of religions do this, but – I can't remember what it was called. It was like the 108ers or something like that, and they would go around to conflict zones and meditate.

 

I remember a friend of my mom’s telling me, “I spent a lot of time in El Salvador. We were just in a hotel the whole time. We were just meditating there.” But they certainly felt a lot of purpose.

 

Jon: Right. The intentions are good.

 

Claire: The intentions are good, and look, they weren't bringing in guns, so maybe in the long-tailed history, maybe going there to meditate in a hotel was a perfectly fine thing to do. I don't know.

 

It is interesting; I am, like everyone else, getting older, so my ideas about these things are evolving. Probably if you had talked to me a decade ago, my criticism of so much of the movement would’ve been much sharper. I think now that I'm older, I feel this sympathy and almost a murkiness. I'm not sure I know the answers anymore.

 

Even in that example, I feel like now as a person who tries to do good in the world, you see how much good goes wrong. Straightforward good often is problematic too. So absurd, silly levitating in a conflict zone I guess doesn't seem as bad to me. [laughs] Is that too mushy of an answer?

 

Jon: No, I think it's a good answer. I think it depends on – look, I think both of the groups that we were raised in were very positive and were very well-meaning and had aspirations that were well-intentioned.

 

I just think what ends up happening is, like you said, when you get a bunch of people that believe a certain thing, it becomes dogmatic. Crazy group dynamics start to happen. I don't know if this example of having utopia on Earth really ever is possible. I think we try as humans to do it, but I think just by the nature of who we are as human beings – it always starts off with this great intention and very positive vibe, but then something goes a little bit screwy along the way. That's just my feeling.

 

Claire: Yeah. I think that's right. I think as far as I've gotten on the matter is that the problem in some ways is the ambition/self-loathing that leads people to find a guru or find God. I feel like I'm saying something political here, but what I mean is that it's almost the decision that we are not perfect. It's almost like the original sin idea.

 

As soon as I say “I don't like myself. I wish I was more like Maharishi. How can I be like Maharishi? Oh, he's going to teach me a course and I'm going to try and have a consciousness more like his because he's perfect and I'm not” – I feel like it's that space of elevating some people above us and worshipping them.

 

But even I think with concepts of God, not even an actual human, like a god on Earth, but even concepts of God can create these ideas of “I as a human am less-than” or “I will go to hell” or “this behavior means this.” So much of that is about an idea of ourselves as flawed. I feel like that's the seed, this idea of flawedness and a sense of self that needs to be corrected, that leads people down this path.

 

I have this argument with my husband, who grew up Jewish. Not a lot of religion in the home. Almost the opposite of what I grew up with. But he loves self-improvement, like pick up the airport books, or we’ll go to one yoga class and he’ll be like “I'm going to do yoga forever!” He’s naturally fit, but is always like “Do I like more fit?” I’m always like, “Stop. This is the problem.”

 

But it’s not like I have the answer, because of course I want to be better. I took a swimming class this morning. I don't think I'm the perfect swimmer, and I think my swimming teacher is a much better swimmer than me, so I look to him to teach me. How do you actually act on that knowledge? I don’t know. I have no idea.

 

Jon: I think that’s so well-put. I guess the problem happens when you give all your power away to somebody else and you say, “How should I be different? Tell me what I should do.” Nobody can tell you what to do.

 

My therapist was constantly telling me, “You always want me to tell you what to do,” and I think a lot of that has to do with the way I was raised, because that was kind of, a little bit, the model. Somebody would tell me what to do.

 

But anyway, so you become a successful journalist. There's one really interesting moment in the book where you have an interview with David Lynch, the director, and he's really into TM.

 

David Lynch: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi teaches a technique called Transcendental Meditation that's a simple, easy, effortless technique, yet supremely profound, that allows any human being to dive within, experiencing subtler levels of mind and intellect and transcend and experience this ocean of pure consciousness.

 

Jon: At that time in your life you're really not that into it and having a lot of doubts about it. I'm imagining you were in your twenties or thirties around this time?

 

Claire: Yeah, it's tricky because in some ways as a journalist what you want to do is establish commonality. I certainly said, “Hey, I'm from Fairfield. I went to the Maharishi school. I have my Sidhis.” I think that gave a certain comfort.

 

But then I didn't want to be – I mean, there’s a part of being a journalist where you're always a wolf in sheep's clothing, but I didn't want to be dishonest with him. But I also didn't know – I think David is a really complicated guy, to state the obvious. [laughs]

 

I'm so curious about how he sees things and how he makes it work. Part of it is he never lived in the TM/Maharishi-worshipping world of Iowa in the 1980s. He learned in LA, and it was just something he did privately.

 

Jon: Right, it’s a different experience.

 

Claire: Yeah. When he was connecting with Maharishi, he was doing it as a celebrity. I don't think he ever lived in my world. I think there's parts of our worlds that overlap, and I’ve certainly not lived in his.

 

We had a conversation, some of which is in the book, about doubt that was really interesting and pretty profound. I feel lucky to have had it. But he definitely was like, “Hey, I sense that you're a doubter. I feel your doubt.” We talked about it, and his thing was like, “Well, when I’m in doubt I go back and look at what Maharishi says about X, Y, and Z.” I was like, that that doesn't work for me. I can't…

 

Jon: And that's important. Just because it works for somebody else, doesn't mean that it necessarily works for you. It's not a one-thing-cures-all.

 

Claire: Yeah.

 

Jon: Why did you end up writing this incredible memoir? By the way, you guys have got to read this memoir. It's the greatest book. I’ve recommended it to like 20 people. [laughs] So hopefully I’ve helped.

 

Claire: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

 

Jon: Sure. I think it's so interesting. So why did you end up deciding to write it now? And why should I write mine? No, I’m just kidding. You go first. Why did you write it? [laughs]

 

Claire: [laughs] Are those the same question or two different questions?

 

Jon: It's probably sort of the same, but I want to know why you wrote it.

 

Claire: The short, pithy answer is I couldn't not write it. I tried. I kept stopping and starting. I think I started a version of that book a decade before I finished it, and that version was an investigation into Maharishi and his money and the business of TM – which is certainly a valid topic that interests me.

 

But by the time I was ready to write it, I was much more interested in a lot of the ideas that we're talking about now. I’d gotten into this – and there's people I grew up with who are angry at me because they were waiting and wanting a hit job. I've done hit jobs as a journalist, so I think people thought that's what this book was going to be, and they think I failed. And I hear that.

 

On the other hand, my mom or other people feel like it was cruel and I had an agenda and I was disrespectful.

 

So first of all, you have to really want to write a book for yourself because you can't make everybody happy. Certainly with a memoir, you can't make everyone happy. [laughs]

 

Jon: We sort of talked about that before we started rolling. I think you treat your mother in a very respectful way and she comes across as complicated, but I understand a lot of the decisions she made. So I don't think it was a hit job on her by any means. Did you run it by her before you wrote it or before you published it? How did you get her to sign off, or did it matter if she signed off or not?

 

Claire: It was going to final copy in December; I gave it to her in say April. My mom knew that I was working on the book. My mom has this cool part of her that certainly made her a great parent to me. She had this certain – even though there was lots of hands-on stuff, there was also this element of like, “Wow, you're this weird kid. Do your thing.” It's definitely something I'm trying to replicate as a parent.

 

So even when I was reporting that book, there was a part of her that was like, “Wow, huh. You're really interested in these questions about X, Y, and Z or this history.” She was interested, and she wasn't like “don’t.” My mom was interested to a degree.

 

But in terms of the actual book, if it was going to final copy in December, I feel like my mom – I gave it to her in April and she didn't read it until October, which was really hard. It took her a long time to get to it. She was reading other books. [laughs]

 

Jon: Right. [laughs] I wonder why she was putting this one off. No, I get it. Your brother, too. Is your brother okay with it?

 

Claire: I was scared that my brother wouldn't like it, because actually some of the stuff my mom didn’t like, she felt like it made it sound like my brother and I had fought a lot – which we did. But my brother felt like it was what he remembered. In a lot of ways he has a better memory than me, so that meant a lot to me.

 

Jon: Did you ever ask him, “Did I get this right?” Because your memory is so good, and I've always wondered with memoirs how much license you have to – I don't know. Obviously we can't remember in vivid detail all those details from when we were kids, so how do you know what's – I'm not saying you're lying, but that you're maybe, I don't know, amplifying something?

 

Claire: I tried to triangulate. It's not like I could write a continuous history of my childhood. It’s probably actually only like 20 scenes or moments. I really tried to report the book. I interviewed the people in my life. I went back and watched all these old videos. The TM movement recorded everything. I went through old school curriculum. I interviewed teachers and administrators.

 

I really did try and corroborate it. But then, there's some of that stuff – your memories are your memories. There's five or six moments that I can think of that are in that book, and those memories are like yesterday to me. They were really powerful.

 

Jon: The unicorn story?

 

Claire: The unicorn. [laughs]

 

Jon: That was an incredible story.

 

Claire: By the way, that is actually my favorite part of the book. There was a point when I was talking to the book designer and I was like, “What if we did the goat with a unicorn horn?” because to me that is everything.

 

Jon: We should tell people really quickly that story. So you go to I guess a fair or a carnival in Iowa, and the guy says that there's a unicorn, and you really, really want to see it. You really, really believe in unicorns. Like many little girls, you’re obsessed with unicorns; my little girl is completely obsessed with unicorns. Tell us what happens.

 

Claire: Yeah, I was obsessed with it. I’d seen this flyer. It was just a local county fair, and I just remember walking into this tent. It’s sort of, in my memory, like a David Lynch movie, by the way. [laughs] The lighting, there’s like a single spotlight.

 

And it’s not a unicorn. It's like a goat with one kind of deformed horn on top. It was crushing, and it was definitely pre-disillusionment. It was like, oh God, wait, what? People are lying and making things up?

 

Jon: It was hard for you to understand that.

 

Claire: Yeah, it was hard. By the way, for something like that, I went back and found out that this was a thing happening in the ’80s. There was a traveling circus that would do these grafts onto goats and horses. [laughs]

 

Jon: Oh my God, poor things. [laughs] Jesus.

 

Claire: I checked it out. They really were touring.

 

Jon: It’s great that you’re a reporter and did this book, because you really corroborate and go back. That's good for me to know, so if I were ever to write a book, I would have to go back and check things. Because my memory is not great.

 

You brought up this thing about how your mother raised you to be a free spirit in a way. I was interested to see that you introduced your daughter to TM. Was that an easy decision for you? Because obviously you have mixed feelings about it in your own life.

 

Claire: Yeah. The stuff is in there and it's deep, and I think – there was a point when I was 20 where I probably didn't think I could marry somebody who hadn't grown up the way I had or wasn’t a meditator.

 

With my kids, I felt like – because I've now had both of them learn – it's really hard for me to force them to do it. Obviously I actually don't force them to do it, and thus they almost never do it. But I felt like – it’s kind of getting past that idea of for me, that experience of my awareness and my consciousness is so integral to who I am.

 

I was saying I went to this meditation class the other day and people were talking about when they close their eyes, all the stuff that's happening, and that is not the case for me. I close my eyes and kind of go nowhere now.

 

I want that ability for my kids, to not feel like they are their thoughts. I think that was one of the biggest gifts for me with all of this. My awareness and my consciousness feels like something besides the kind of ticker tape that's running through my head. It just felt wrong not to pass that on to them.

 

Jon: Again, you take the things that were valuable, and maybe the other things you won't pass on to them. I've often thought – because my kids are a little bit older than your kids, 13 and 12. What if all of a sudden my son came home one day and was like, “I found this incredible teacher, and I'm going to go to India and study with him,” what would my reaction be? [laughs]

 

Claire: What would it be? I want to know.

 

Jon: I would say, be very careful of people who claim to know the absolute truth. Take from him what you can, but don't follow blindly. Ask questions.

 

That's one thing I like about Judaism. There's a lot of question-asking – even though I can't say I was raised a Jew. People always say, “What religion were you?” I’m like, well, I was the Unfoldment. Basically I was the Mr. Mills religion, because that is the complete foundation of all my spiritual beliefs, many of which I still believe.

 

But there's something I don't think is healthy about following a teacher, like one person, and devoting your entire life to that one person. I just feel like when you elevate somebody – like you said, elevate them beyond yourself – I don't know. I don't think that's a healthy dynamic. So I wouldn't love it, but I would also probably think it's my karma.

 

Claire: Yeah.

 

Jon: I still have a weird superstition about it. Even doing this interview – again, this is like being a kid. I was so scared in my life to say anything bad about Mr. Mills or about the group because I was afraid something horrible would befall me, which sounds crazy, but there were examples in the group of people who had done bad things and horrible things happened to them. It's nuts. I forgot where I was going with that, though.

 

Claire: All that stuff is so hardwired. I do say stuff to my kids all the time, like “If you guys go into a classroom and somebody is standing on an elevated platform, beware.” [laughs]

 

Jon: Yeah, that’s so true. If they’re on an elevated platform in a chair with flowers around it, be very, very aware.

 

Claire: If they are wearing a special thing on their head, if they have a special seat. Yeah, those are warning signs.

 

Jon: Yeah, if it’s a special seat that nobody else has, like a very comfortable seat, and they have food and nobody else has food. That would be the case at the Star-Scape Singers rehearsals at our house. Mr. Mills would have this plate of incredible food, and we'd all be sitting there for hours on our butts, watching them rehearse, and no food. Occasionally grapes would be passed around.

 

It was just that feeling of always being incredibly uncomfortable, like physically uncomfortable. I have a really bad back anyway. Yeah, just fighting off the sleep.

 

Claire: I think that stuff is like stranger danger. No vans, no candy, nobody telling you they have a puppy, but also, nobody who tells you they know the secret to life. [laughs] I don’t know.

 

Jon: Yeah, if somebody tells you that they have the secret to life, I would be a little bit suspicious of that.

 

Oh, another thing that seems to be a common thing is like “you are hearing something that nobody else ever heard before and you're only hearing this now because you have incarnated and been privileged, almost like a chosen person to be able to be here.” I think most cults have that as a common recipe, and I would be careful of that.

 

Claire: Yeah. No being chosen.

 

Jon: Yeah, no chosen people thing. Can’t do that.

 

All right, Claire I’ll let you go. This has been an hour and a half. You’ve been so amazing. I kind of wish you still lived in LA; I would take you out for dinner and pick your brain about writing a memoir.

 

Claire: I know.

 

Jon: OK, last bit of advice. How would you recommend somebody like me start – or anybody; I'm sure a lot of people listening to this would want to write a memoir or have thought about writing a memoir. How did you start?

 

Claire: That’s a good question. That’s a great question because it's making me think about other things.

 

For me I think it started with the history. I felt so interested in this moment in time that my mom had been a part of and what that community had been. So I went back and researched. They had this big course the year that we moved to Iowa, so just going back and piecing together that story, like the larger, public-facing part of that story, and then also my story inside of it. I feel like it kind of started like that for me.

 

Jon: Was it almost like an essay for you? Like almost like an article for you at first, and then it became something more?

 

Claire: Yeah. I was always kind of like nibbling at the sides of it. I don't feel like I am an instructional way to do it because it took me forever. I kept stopping it and deciding I wasn't going to do it.

 

But I also think there are too many memoirs, and I'm not even that big of a fan of memoirs, although I think there are great ones. I was always asking myself, is this worth it? Should I do this? Even as a journalist, writing in the first person and writing about myself and my life, I have a lot of resistance to that. It feels self-indulgent.

 

And I tend to not actually be a person who likes to tell people a lot of stuff about myself. I'm kind of private.

 

Jon: Thank you. Thank you for being open in this conversation.

 

Claire: [laughs] Yeah. Well, I love this stuff. I think this is so interesting, and I love finding people who grew up with something like this because it's such a funny world.

 

Jon: Me too. You don't meet a lot of them, but it seems to me they're coming out of the woodwork now. All of the sudden there's all these – I harbored this secret for so long and now I’m like, wow, maybe people are interested in this?

 

But what happens to me is I feel like your story is more interesting than mine, so I'm like, oh God – I didn't have a Holy Hell kind of guru. I mean, it didn't turn out that he was in a porn movie, which was one of the most incredible revelations to that movie. But there's not a shocking revelation like that.

 

Your thing – I don't know, there were so many – you went so deep. Your experience was a little bit more profound than mine. But anyway, maybe I'm just being hard on myself.

 

Claire: You are. What I would do – and this is advice I should take on my own – what I do from time to time, and I should do more, is I write it and it's like “here's this thing I'm writing that no one will ever see.” Maybe it turns into fiction someday. I feel like write it for yourself, and you can always mask and change things later on. I would just keep writing about it, because it is fascinating.

 

Jon: How’s your book doing? Is it doing well? Is it a bestseller?

 

Claire: It's doing fine. It came out two years ago.

 

Jon: Right. I first heard you on Terry Gross, which must have been a good thing for you.

 

Claire: Yeah, it got a lot of good PR. I have a friend who's trying to turn it into a TV show.

 

Jon: Awesome.

 

Claire: I'll be honest, though – this is what I was saying about my memoir advice – I really enjoy doing this; I almost hate talking about it now, which is totally weird. Part of it was because my mom didn't love it. Once it was out and it had its way in the world, I didn't want – I also don't like doing PR stuff.

 

Jon: Thank you for doing this.

 

Claire: No, it was a total pleasure. It didn't feel like PR. It felt like a conversation. But I just found myself not wanting to – I didn’t want to commercialize it, which is a fucked-up thing because that’s what a book is. [laughs]

 

Jon: Yeah, that’s what it is.

 

Claire: I'm excited; I'm working on something else now that has absolutely nothing to do with me, and it feels wonderful.

 

Jon: Is it nonfiction?

 

Claire: It is, yeah. It's nonfiction. It's a historical biography of somebody who’s been dead forever, so it’s great.

 

Jon: That’s so cool. I can't wait to read that. Tell me when you can start talking about that one. I want to hear about that. That's cool. Anyway, you're awesome.

 

Claire: Likewise. Let’s stay in touch.

 

Jon: Let’s stay in touch. Especially if you come back to LA – please come. I owe you a dinner.

 

Claire: Thank you so much.

 

Jon: Thank you so much. Take care.

 

Claire: See you later.

 

Jon: Bye.

 

Ella: Thank you for listening to Write About Now, hosted by my dad, Jonathan Small. Do you like what you heard? Please subscribe to his podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you may find podcasts. Or you can go to his website, writeaboutnowmedia.com, and listen there. This is Ella, reminding you to…

 

Jon and Ella: Do the write thing!

 

And say, children, what does it all mean?

Jonathan Small