Tuesday, May 4

My Life in Orange - Tim Guest

Tim Guest's mother left him when he was four, flying to India and becoming a disciple of controversial mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Now Ma Pram Visma, she returned when Tim was six, moving with Tim and her partner Sujan to a Rajneeshi commune in Suffolk. Commune members wore only colours of the sun (clothes dyed pink, orange, red or maroon) and surrendered themselves to a life of inner exploration, Eastern mysticism, therapies designed to challenge themselves, and sexual liberation. Though he enjoyed some of the life, including nearly unfettered freedom, and a world of other children, Tim's preexisting feelings of insecurity and lack of groundedness were exacerbated by the move. And this state grew as, over the following years he and his mother moved from the commune in Suffolk to others in India, Germany and the US, interspersed with holidays visiting his father in America.
Equal parts an autobiographical journey and a history of the Rajneesh movement, My Life in Orange has great potential. Unfortunately I found myself irritated by both the style, which is neither chronological nor ordered, and the tone. Tim was 29 when My Life was published, and revisiting his childhood clearly caused a number of emotional ghosts to resurface, so that much of the book is written from the perspective of a child rather than of an adult looking back. For me, this meant that the text is imbued with a self-pitying neediness I found grating and intrusive.
Perhaps, had the whole work been consistent with this aspect I'd have engaged with it better, though the work as a whole is significantly leaden, but Tim alternates between recalling these lived experiences with detail about the movement and the way it was perceived at the time, and now. Often these elements are poorly introduced, so there's frequently little or no context, and I suspect he assumed a more intimate knowledge of the movement than the average reader has. This resulted in a somewhat chaotic text that increased my sense of detachment, with sentences and sections that seem wholly random:
I didn't know Viruchana's real name then; I still don't know it now" for instance.
That said, the writing is on occasion amusing and evocative, and I suspect less personal books would be far better crafted and involving. I quite liked, for example, the reactions of his mother's friends to her new life:
The Marxists thought co-opting Eastern philosophy was intellectual imperialism. The feminists were outraged that her consciousness had fallen so low that she was carrying a picture of a man around her neck. Her therapist acquaintances warned she was projecting her primary love object in an unconscious bonding with an omnipotent fantasy and that was bound to end in catastrophic negative counter-transference. Her hippie friends thought it was a hassle to have to dye so many clothes.

I completed reading My Life in Orange, though, because I find fringe movements and religion very interesting. It is evident that Tim was profoundly affected by both the disintegration of his parent's marriage and the lack of consistent and attentive parenting. I was sorry to see, when I googled him while writing this review (something I rarely do) that he died of a morphine overdose last year, aged thirty-four. It seems unlikely the two are unconnected. I also learned that he wrote a book about the online world Second Life, and if I find it I'll see how it compares. - Alex

No comments: