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An Interview with Jim Gilkeson

Born and raised in Kansas, Jim Gilkeson studied languages in college in the 1960s, was a brother in an order of mystics, which took him to Europe. After leaving the order in the early 1980s, he studied energy healing with teachers in Germany and Denmark. Jim returned to the US, he worked for many years in Northern California at a hot springs retreat center. He and his partner, Diane Tegtmeier, live in Ashland, Oregon.

Gilkeson is the author of three books, A Pilgrim in Your Body: Energy Healing and Spiritual Process, Energy Healing: A Pathway to Inner Growth, and most recently Three Lost Worlds.  You can find more at his website.

Ed Battistella: I’m enjoying reading about your life. What are the Three Lost Words of your title?

Jim Gilkeson: Thank you, Ed. Your introduction makes me suddenly aware that all my books have long titles! The full title of this most recent one is Three Lost Worlds: A Memoir of Life Among Mystics, Healers, and Life-Artists.

It’s my story of “running off with the circus” in my early twenties, (a lot of us did that, of course), ending up under vows in a semi-monastic order of Christian mystics, in an apprenticeship in energy healing in northern Europe and, finally, working on the health services staff at a clothing-optional hot springs retreat center in Northern California. Those are the “three lost worlds,” because none of them exist anymore.

EB: How was writing a memoir different from the other books you’ve written?

JG: The first two books were my gloss on the art and craft of energy healing, and I wrote them mainly with my students in massage schools in mind. I was encouraged by the publisher of my first book to sprinkle a few stories in with the instruction, and that turned out one a good way to connect with the reader.

The memoir, on the other hand, is all story. I had to develop an eye for the narrative arcs in my own life. I would write and let my memory speak, and suddenly I would be sitting there with pieces of my life all over the page. It was then a process of assembling those fragments of my life into something whole. In a funny way, writing memoir strikes me as a form of digestion.

EB: Your earlier books were about energy healing. Can you unpack that for our readers? You described it as a “world of self-ordained practitioners.”

JG: Energy healing is a broad category of practices that use the human energy field therapeutically. Many people have heard of Polarity Therapy and Reiki, and those would be examples. Classes on various forms of energy healing are now standard fare in schools of massage and bodywork, but it hasn’t always been like that.

When I talk about “self-ordained practitioners” in my book, it harks back to a time before the proliferation of massage schools and standards and regulations for professional bodywork. At that time, a person who became proficient and confident in their skills in energy healing would just declare themselves ready and hang out their shingle.

In my case, I learned energy healing from my former wife and her teacher, Bob Moore, and these energy practices struck me as an adjunct to my meditation practice. At the time, it was all about meditation and spiritual growth. I knew nothing about hands-on healing practices. By and by, I had training in various forms of therapeutic bodywork. As I got more sure of what I was doing, I began blending energy healing with other bodywork disciplines.

EB: In Three Lost Worlds, you describe the years you spent with a group called The Holy Order of MANS in San Francisco in the 1970s. You mentioned that some people would describe it as a cult, but it didn’t seem that way to you.  How so?

JG: The cult question is an interesting one. The Holy Order of MANS was one of a myriad of “new age” spiritual groups that formed on the West Coast in the 1960s and ‘70s. What made it different from most of the spiritual movements back then was that it had strong elements of western Christian monasticism and roots in mystic traditions like those of the Rosicrucians.

I devote part of a chapter in Three Lost Worlds to the question of whether the Order was a cult or not. It’s a hairball and, to me, there’s no clearcut answer. The Order certainly had cultish features. We wore clothes that identified us, and there was a uniformity in the Order’s teachings and self-image, but you could also say the same things about Catholic monastic orders and the US military.

I was a member of the Order at the time of the Jonestown mass suicide in the late 1970s. There was a lot about that in the press and a huge uptick in general concern about cults. It was a pretty fraught issue. The Order did a lot to distance itself from all that. I remember at the time the director of the Order making a scholarly distinction between a “cult” and a “sect.” I think most people in the Order saw themselves in the latter category.

Here’s a weird thing: not long after all this, the Order made a, for me, baffling swerve from being a “new age” spiritual enclave to joining the Orthodox Church. This was in the early 1980s. In the process, of course, they had to renounce their “heretical” beliefs in reincarnation and other esoteric teachings. I left the Order in 1983, before all this took effect. Cult or not, I was glad to move on from the Order.

EB: I enjoyed hearing about Harbin Hot Springs, where I went once years ago.  What was that experience like?

JG: Like going into the Order and my apprenticeship in energy healing, it was a big turning point in my life to become part of the Harbin community. Harbin Hot Springs was the home of of Watsu, a form of aquatic bodywork. My partner Diane was a Watsu therapist at Harbin, and I came on board as a bodywork therapist at Harbin Health Services in 2001.

As with the Order, Harbin had its own quirky outside-the-mainstream culture, which I adapted to. Of course, people make a big deal out of the “clothing-optional” aspect of Harbin culture. It’s a sure-fire conversation piece with people who don’t live in that environment, but you get used to it quickly. Being on the bodywork staff and in and out of the pools all the time, you get used to being around a lot of naked people.

Harbin attracted colorful, interesting, creative people from all over the world, so I got to learn my craft on all kinds of bodies and people you don’t run into in Wichita. For me, Harbin was the place where I hit my stride in hands-on healing work. That’s where I developed my own hybrid of massage, craniosacral work, and energy healing and began to teach it.

When Harbin burned down in the wildfires of 2015, it was a huge loss. Workplace, community, it all went up in smoke. Our little cabin outside of Middletown didn’t burn, but we had to evacuate and, in many ways, start over. It’s what got us to Ashland.

EB: What’s next for you?  More books?

JG: I am finishing up a collection of short pieces, mostly from vignettes that were edited out of the memoir. The working title is Stopping the World on Kansas Highway 4.

In addition, I have a practice here in Ashland—craniosacral and subtle energy therapy, and I teach energy healing in a couple of massage schools.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

JG: Thank you, Ed. It’s been a pleasure.


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Summer Reading 2022

It’s back to school time! But there’s still time to report on my summer reading. In no particular order, with my mini-comments:

The Critic– by Peter May Who would kill a wine critic? Who wouldn’t?

The Call by P D Viner You’ll never answer you phone at night again.

Every Cloak Rolled in Blood by James Lee Burke America’s best novelist (and an eighty-year old protagonist)

The Lunar Housewife by Caroline Woods 1950 noir (Russians, CIA spies, a woman trying to get a break in publishing, and cameos by Hemingway and Baldwin.)

Cultish by Amanda Montell The language of cults; I learned about thought-terminating clichés.

Bad Actors by Mick Herron The latest in the Slough House series featuring; the outsiders prevail again. A great ensemble series anchored by the Jackson Lamb. Imagine Falstaff as a MI5 spy…

Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon A splendidly dystopian romp, with an affable mercenary in the lead.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill Lots of layers but I guessed the killer too soon.

Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War by Robert Gellately Still working on this one, but it’s relevant to today’s Russia

The Three Language of Politics by Arnold Kling It turned up in my mailbox but turned out to have some interesting stuff on framing—progressive, conservative and libertarian.

Secret Identity by Alex Segura If you grew up reading comics this one’s for you. Carmen Valdez  tries to break into the comics industry with a “The Lethal Lynx,” but her front man winds up dead.

Secret Identity

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams A comic thriller not for everyone, but just right for linguists.

Wiley’s Lament & Wiley’s Shuffle by Lono Waiwaiole Set in the seamy side of Portland, Wiley and Leon are tough guys doing good in a bad world.

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong An oldie but goody featuring corrupt high cadre offspring in post-Tiananmen China

The Constitution of Knowledge by Jonathan Rauch On my list for the fall.

The Geography of Words (by Danko Sipka), The Babel Lexicon of Language (a glossary by BABEL’s editors), and Writing a War of Words (by Lynda Mugglestone) I reviewed these for CHOICE

What did you read this summer?


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The Disappearing Act-cent, a guest post by Weather Lenczewski

Weather Lenczewski  is a junior in the Honors College at SOU. She is a Sociology and Anthropology major with a History minor. She hails from Woodstock, Illinois, but currently resides in the Rogue Valley.




The Disappearing Act-cent

In 2020, I packed almost everything I owned into three suitcases and moved all the way across the country for college. I’m sure going off to college is weird and scary for everyone, but it was especially scary for me. I lived in my hometown for 15 years; in the same house for 15 years. Almost all of my conscious memories occurred in the 15 years that I lived in that house. I moved almost 2,000 miles away from my home, my friends, my family, and my cat. I missed everything about my home. The people, my house, the Dunkin Donuts… I didn’t originally want to leave the state. My parents wanted to move to California. It’s too hot for me in California. I needed seasons, at least two or three, instead of the perpetual summer of Southern California. I had never been to Oregon. It had pretty trees and temperatures below 80, so it seemed like a fine choice. I was going to be living alone and attending college all in a new state. Quite scary, indeed.

A common question you’re asked in college is: “where are you from?” My college is in Oregon, so most people respond “Oh, I’m from Bend, Oregon,” or “I’m from Sacramento.” I’m always excited to tell people where I’m from, and also nervous to tell people where I’m from because when people ask me where I’m from, I lie. I lie and say: “Oh, I’m from Chicago.” I’m not from Chicago. I was raised in a small town about an hour and a half away from Chicago. My town is barely considered a part of the suburbs of Chicago. If, anything my house was closer to Wisconsin than Chicago. Yet, when people ask me where I’m from, I say Chicago. Why do I say that I’m from Chicago? Maybe it’s because no one has ever heard of Wonder Lake, Illinois. Maybe it’s because I like it when people’s faces light up when I say Chicago. It’s a big, exciting city. I’m sure my face lights up when I talk about it too.

I wish I could say that I am from Chicago and not be lying. I can barely say that I’m from the Chicagoland area. Sure, I love Portillo’s, watch the bears, and take the L, but I’m not really a Chicagoan. I say pop and gym shoes, but I don’t sound like a Chicagoan. My mom does. She says “Can I get you a baaax?” or “We’re having haht dahgs for dinner.” When I tell people in Oregon that I’m from Chicago they say: “Wow, I never would’ve guessed! You don’t have an accent at all!” Which, hurts a little inside. I wonder why my mom, who sounds like she’s from Chicago, has an accent, but I don’t. I was raised by her, shouldn’t I sound like her?

Apparently, this isn’t just my experience. The Chicago accent seems to be disappearing. Gone are the classic blue-collar Chicagoans taking their dahg on a wak and instead people who have lived in Chicago their whole lives are starting to sound more and more like…me. The “Chicago Accent” is turning into more of a “Chicago Dialect” it seems. That’s what inspired me to look into the disappearance of the Chicago accent. The generational shift in accents, from my great-grandma to my grandma, to my mom, to me. We all sound different and I wondered why.

What differentiates the Chicago accent from the New York or Boston accent? Many people believe they all sound similar, but are they all actually the same? The New Chicago Accent is actually the result of an interesting phonological happening. The Chicago accent has its roots in the Inland North Dialect, also referred to as the Great Lakes dialect. While the dialect was originally referred to as “Standard Midwestern,” it became Inland North when the region experienced the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, which is what switched the Classic Chicago accent to the New Chicago accent.

The Northern Cities Vowel Shift features a specific chain shift that occurs in 6 stages (Inland Northern American English). The first stage is the raising and tensing of the “short a” so that cat sounds more like “cay-at (Northern Cities Vowel Shift).” The second stage is the shift in the “short o” or “broad a,” like in the words hot or father. This vowel changes to sound more of an “ah” sound, like the Boston accent’s “cahr” or “pahrk.” This vowel change I notice in my own accent. Instead of calling my mom, I call my “mahm.” I don’t notice the “short a” change as much as the “short a/broad o” change, though it’s likely more potent in downtown Chicago. I associate the “short a” change with Boston more than Chicago, but that might just be my experience.

The next stage backs and lowers the “short e” sound (Northern Cities Vowel Shift). The “short e” like the e in bet or egg, turns into more of an “ae” sound, turning words like egg into “aegg.” I catch myself doing this one a lot, which is funny because I used to pick on my mom when she said she was going to make me an “aegg sandwich.” I can’t tell if I was repressing my pronunciation of egg, so my accent has changed over time. The next shift is the “short u” sound. The vowel shift changes the u in bus, so that instead of being pronounced like bus, it’s pronounced like “boss (Northern Cities Vowel Shift).” The next shift is with the “short i” vowel, which can be heard in the word bit or knit (Northern Cities Vowel Shift). This “short i” shifts to sound like a “short e,” like in ten. This is sometimes referred to as a “pin-pen merger.” I don’t hear either of these two in my accent. I have heard some of my family members have the “short i” shift in their accents, but the “short u” shift is less familiar to me.

The last stage doesn’t occur in the Inland North Dialect, but it does happen in the neighboring “Upper Midwest’ dialect (Northern Cities Vowel Shift). The shift in the “aw” vowel, like in the word stalk, shifted to sound more like the vowel in the work stock. This vowel shift, often called the cot-caught merger is common among Canadian and Upper Midwest dialects. I’ve heard this vowel shift a lot in the accents of people from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Every summer we’d go up to Minnesota for a camping trip and a lot of the locals will say they “cot a fish and are going to sleep on their cot.” I can recognize that my family and most people that I know do not pronounce cot and caught the same way.

The vowel shift still seems prominent in the Chicago accent. Based on my personal experience, people around my age still have shifted vowels. It’s more obvious in my mom’s accent than in my friends’ accents, but I can’t say that that is due to a generational divide or just where in the Chicagoland area each of them grew up. Depending on the location, someone’s accent might not feature all six stages of the vowel shift. Some accents, like mine, only have a few, while other accents may feature all of them. This makes it hard to pinpoint what exactly qualifies as a disappearing Chicago accent and what is just a naturally occurring difference in accent. It also makes it hard to pinpoint exactly where the Chicago accent changes from the classic “Da Bears” Chicago accent to the more modern “Haht Dahg and Pahp” Chicago accent, or if the two are different at all.

Is the Chicago accent disappearing? Well, yes and no.

The “Classic” Chicago accent is definitely disappearing, but it seems to have been trickling down the generational line as it goes. The Chicagoland Language Project looked at the change in the prominence of the “Classic” Chicago accent in older generations versus younger generations (McClelland, 2021b). Annette D’Onforio, a linguist at Northwestern University, and Sharese King, a linguist at the University of Chicago, found that the Northern Cities Vowel Shift has become less prominent among younger generations (McClelland, 2021b). The older generations and working-class citizens retained the accent. Their theory is that the younger generation views the Chicago accent as a piece of Chicago’s history of “white-flight” neighborhoods and retaining that accent would be playing into that history. While I doubt that that’s the only reason for the accent’s disappearance, I do think that it’s interesting to consider, especially since Chicago is now one of the most diverse cities in America. The younger generations increased contact with people of different races, ethnicities, and accents would probably affect their accents, so I think this D’Onforio and King do make a solid point here. I do think it’s important to look at the disappearance of the accent among older generations too, though, and to do that we have to look at the history of the Chicago accent.

The “Classic” Chicago accent’s history begins with immigrants from the East Coast coming to Chicago and settling near the Great Lakes, hence the Great Lakes dialect (McClelland, 2021a). The dialect brought by these East coasters is what turned into the Northern Cities vowel shift (McClelland, 2021a). Irish immigrants also had a large influence on the Chicago accent. A large population of Chicago was Irish and a lot of their accent and dialect can still be heard today. For example, our plural of you, “youse”, comes from Irish immigrants (McClelland, 2021a). The “original” Chicago accent has close ties with the Irish and with the working class. The Chicago accent is that of the blue-collar, working-class of Chicago. It’s theorized that one reason the Chicago accent may be disappearing is the influx of white-collar, high-rise workers. When the children of blue-collar workers went off to college, they lost their “dem, dere, does,” pronunciation and adopted “educated,” business speech. The gentrification of Chicago and its new label of “Second City” has made it a hot spot for finance and business, which shifted the population, and accent, from a mostly blue-collar to a mostly white-collar one.

Another theory is that the people of Chicago have become aware of their accents and are proactively changing the way that they speak. After the famous SNL skit “Bill Swerski’s Superfans,” it’s possible that Chicagoans became embarrassed of their accent after it was publicly mocked on television (McClelland, 2021a). This would be unfortunate. While the Chicago accent has never been considered the sexiest accent, I would hate to see it go away.

America is built on diversity. We’re diverse in race, culture, food, and accents. It’s cool that just by hearing someone speak you can tell if they’re from New Jersey or Beverly Hills. I especially think the Chicago accent is cool. It has a deep history in Irish and Polish steel workers and represents the working class of Chicago that made the city what it is today. Every field trip, birthday, or day out I’ve had in Chicago feels exciting, and being a part of the culture of Chicago is something that means a lot to me. My great-grandparents moved here from Greece and Poland to start a new life. They adopted the working-class accent, working in restaurants and factories, and passed it down to my grandparents, who gave it to my parents. My parents moved us to the suburbs, but even on the outskirts of Chicago, you feel like a Chicagoan. I’m not from Chicago, I’m from Wonder Lake, Illinois, but I’m a Chicagoan. I don’t sound like a true Chicagoan, but I do sound like a new Chicagoan. Even though I don’t bet on da bears, I do call my mahm and call Chi-CAH-go home.


Inland Northern American English. Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2022, from

McClelland, E. (2021a, August 18). The disappearing Chicago accent is layered with local history. Chicago Reader. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from

McClelland, E. (2021b, May 27). Why the classic Chicago accent is disappearing. Chicago Magazine. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from

Northern Cities Vowel Shift. Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2022, from


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