Social Impact Authors: How & Why Authors Glen W Olson and Terry Lee Brussel-Rogers Are Helping To Change Our World
Glen: There is no task so small that it cannot be broken into smaller steps: There is a real danger of being overwhelmed by the tasks we have to do in this very busy and technological world we live in. The demands on our time are many and the distractions can be hard to overcome. When I learned the technique called the ten percent rule, it was enormously helpful. Whatever the task is, figure out a way to complete the first and presumably easiest ten percent of it. When you’ve done that, the next part of the task becomes blindingly easy to see and probably easier to complete.
Terry: Don’t hide who you are. Those who are worth having as friends and loved ones will accept it are not worth wasting time on. Those who want to do business with you may find out anyway and better they should know it to begin with. I thought I could separate my lifestyle from my hypnotherapy practice. I did not tell an intern who was working in my office learning my System of hypnotherapy that I was poly. When she found out, she sued me (and lost) for not telling her. Not worth the hassle for sure.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Glen W. Olson and Terry Lee Brussel-Rogers, authors of Fifty Years of Polyamory In America: A Guided Tour of a Growing Movement.
Glen Olson is an author and historian of the polyamory movement and gives presentations on the history of polyamory. He is a retired fire captain, paramedic, and a published science fiction author. His introduction to organized polyamory began in the 1970’s when he was invited to attend a workshop on open relationships at Elysium Fields in Topanga Canyon Ca.
Terry Lee Brussel-Rogers, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and director of Success Center Inc (acesuccess.com) is a fourth-generation matchmaker running Marriage Minded Introductions for forty years. She founded Live the Dream (LiveTheDream.org), a poly support and education group, in 1987. She offers Poly Relationship Coaching among many other services and has published several books and audio guided meditations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Glen: I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, in a wonderfully ethnically diverse neighborhood. I would have had an absolutely normal childhood except it was the nineteen sixties, and my best friend’s father worked in cold war aerospace, and he owned a mimeograph machine, something that was fairly unusual for the time. That meant a bunch of my 10 and 12 year old friends and I had access to a type of printing press. So of course, we put out a neighborhood newspaper! This encouraged my lifelong love of writing.
I have had several careers, including truck driver, meat cutter, and perennial college student. I trained for, and became, a paramedic working for a fire department. In that career I had several roles, including disaster preparedness educator, inspector, and captain, writing training manuals by day and my own fiction and non-fiction by night.
Terry: My father owned an advertising agency for fifty years. He was the one who started the Hula hoop craze in the 50s — Whamo’s PR man. I made my first sale when I was 11 by trading radio and tv advertising for a Raleigh bicycle. When I was 13 my Dad caught me hypnotizing the neighborhood kids after he helped me get rid of stomach aches at PE with hypnosis. He put me in the Professional Hypnosis Class at Hypnosis Motivation Institute — their youngest student ever. I graduated in May of 1969 and started my practice in June of 1969 right after my 16th birthday. At age 15, I met my best friend and co-author of Fifty Years of Polyamory in America on a school bus when I started an argument with him about a Star Trek trivia item. He has been my best friend all these years.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
Glen: When I was little my dad made up bedtime stories that he would tell me every night about two friends, Herbert the trout and Herbert the whale, who would always meet at the mouth of San Francisco harbor and go on adventures together. He would always include a little boy and since the little boy was always my age, I knew it was me going on those adventures.
In grade school, every book in the public library was an invitation to adventure. I thought exploring the world with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn was exactly what every child should do. As I grew older, my parents stressed a good education but also wanted me to develop the skills to do more than one kind of work In my several careers I have kept a foot in both camps, that of labor, working for a fire department, and academia, keeping in touch with people who were psychologists, sociologists and sexologists.
When I read Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad: Poor Dad, I found Kiyosaki’s journey, growing up with a very intelligent father who was a college professor, but was very impractical in the real world (Poor Dad), and meeting a self-taught wealthy businessman (Rich Dad) who took him under his wing and showed him how to think about all the ways to create value in the world and generate wealth while doing that, to be very profound.
Terry: Glen and I read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein before we turned 16 (six weeks apart) He was my first Water Brother and has been my best friend since 1968. We formed our own Nest of Water Kin while still in High School. We believed in the concept of polyamory long before the word was coined. Stranger in a Strange Land has been my relationship manual all my life. In 1987 I discovered the real-life Church of All Worlds based on that book. I have the oldest continuing Nest of CAW and can now perform legal marriages as a minister of that church. It was the first legally recognized neo pagan religion in the US.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Glen: When I learned about the idea of open relationships as a teenager, the idea that a person could have more than one loving relationship at a time was exciting. The books assured me there were ethical ways for three or more people to be in a relationship, and everyone benefitted. I believed at the time that if two people are in a relationship, each person is responsible for 50% of the relationship. So using new math, if three people are in a relationship, each person is only 33% responsible for the success of the relationship.
I thought that was great! However, I was a teenager and I didn’t know much about psychology or relationships. Eventually I learned that if I considered myself 100% responsible for every relationship I am in, and the other person(s) is/are also 100% responsible for the success of the relationship, everything works better. But I was really disappointed to find out my math calculation was wrong.
Terry: I advertised for a babysitter for my 4-year-old daughter in the local paper in 1977. By a miracle, it was answered by a woman who had read Stranger in a Strange Land and was actually living in an open committed relationship with her husband! We talked for more than an hour and practically had a group marriage worked out before our husbands got home. Over time we got very close. I have a very organized life and when we would try to sit down to make plans for some activities we might share together, they were not willing to make plans that way. It had to be spontaneous. Oops! I don’t live my life that way. Everything goes in my calendar. I started teaching time management to my classmates when I was 11 years old. Lesson: It takes more than shared lifestyle philosophies to make a relationship. They did introduce us to Family Synergy, however, an extremely important step along the way to a poly lifestyle, the founding of Live the Dream and the writing of our book.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
Glen: Fifty Years of Polyamory in America tells the story of two generations of people who have come of age at a time of great social change and impact. That social impact is still happening today, and we are trying to put it in perspective for people. In 1967 the Supreme Court settled once and for all that an adult of any race could marry someone of another race.
In the same year another event took place in that was destined to shake American society to its foundations and cause not just isolated splinter groups, but huge segments of the population to pay attention, to wonder, and to ultimately question their relationships with themselves and with the people they loved.
The Summer of Love was the culmination of three dominant trends happening in America at the time. The civil rights movement had been changing people’s hearts throughout the 1960s, making activism respectable.
Human Potential Movement, coming from good old American philosophical and psychological roots, had been quietly gaining momentum all decade long with the message that you can change who you are for the better. And the literary Beat culture of the 1950s, whose basic tenets included challenging your preconceptions, making a spiritual quest, and rejecting economic materialism had turned into the popular and energetic hippie movement of the 1960s. The impact of these movements echo today, and allow people more choice of the kind of lives they want to lead than ever before.
Terry: For me, Fifty Years of Polyamory in America: A Guided Tour to a Growing Movement is the culmination of a life of educating people about this lifestyle. This is the first real history book on the subject, told by the people who lived it and led it. I have been a part of that history, from Family Synergy in the 1970s through 2011, and by the founding of Live the Dream in 1987, an organization still going to this day. I am excited that our book is already being ordered by libraries and universities.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Glen: Absolutely. During the course of research for our book I met with a woman called Dee at a local coffee emporium for tea and conversation. She was a thirty-four year old nurse, originally from India who grew up in India and London. She wanted to talk about her marriage. Her parents are deeply traditional and talked her into accepting an arranged marriage at age twenty-four to a man she met only once. She had been married ten years and had one child.
“I think there is something missing in my marriage; I know there is something missing in my marriage. I learned to love my husband, and I do love him. To me, love is a thing we choose to do as much as it is an emotion.
“But lately I want more excitement in my marriage, and I want another child. My husband doesn’t want me to have another baby; he likes that we just have one.
“I don’t understand my American girlfriends,” she goes on to say. It turns out that all of her American girlfriends are giving her the same advice: Dump the husband, walk away from the marriage, and marry someone else who will give her more children. She knows there is something wrong with this advice, and she is very frustrated.
“I don’t want to give up the things I’ve got. I have a good husband; I am happy in so many ways . . . I just wish he would have an affair or something. I want him to be more adventurous and make our lives more exciting.”
On my side of the table, I’m blinking in shock. She wants her husband to have an affair to get their marriage out of the rut it is in? Wow! During these conversations, I’m rarely impelled to give advice, although I might offer information and talk about the choices other people make, but in this case I make an exception. I tell her that her American girlfriends are wrong. Her friends do not have her best interests at heart, and I think her instincts to work within her marriage, to strengthen and grow with her husband, is the right choice.
Amazingly, she takes my advice. About six months later we are having another conversation and she confides that she is deliriously back in love with her husband and life is extremely exciting for them — but wait, here is the rest of the story: Her husband was not interested in going out to find a woman to have an affair with, but after some deep and intimate conversations Dee admitted to him that she had always felt she might be bisexual and was interested in exploring that. He gave his blessing to her seeing if she wanted a female lover, and now she has a soft, cuddly woman in her life and still has the man she wanted to keep all along.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
Glen: When attending poly events, I would talk always talk with people about the way their lives were going and the challenges and triumphs they were experiencing. One thing they often said was that in the beginning of their explorations into polyamory was they felt they didn’t know what the rules were. It seemed to them that polyamory had just been invented.
They were frustrated that they had to figure everything out as they went along. Sometimes they had found one knowledgeable person or one book to read that helped them. I would always tell them about the many people that had explored poly before them and where the concepts and terminology we used came from.
I started looking for books to recommend and while there are many wonderful books out there, they were almost all written from a one person point of view, explaining how they did it. The idea for Fifty Years of Polyamory in America came about when I realized that there were no books out there telling us about the many people that have helped build this movement.
Terry: I guess on some level I believed that I would have to outgrow multiple relationships when I met the man I would marry. Shortly after graduating high school, I did meet him, a man 8 years my senior. It was he who suggested our marriage ceremony in 1972 should have wording from Stranger in a Strange Land making it clear to family, friends and all present that we believed it was possible to love and be committed to more than one significant other. In 1977, we joined Family Synergy and very shortly began assisting with education and outreach for that group.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Glen: Over the years I’ve talked with many couples about why they opened their marriages to allow other lovers or partners in. One couple stands out in my mind. They were very well matched. They owned a business together, they were very much in love, and did almost everything together. But one part of their life was very frustrating for them. It turned out that both of them were sexually submissive and it caused a lot of strife in their lives because consciously, or unconsciously, they were always pushing the other one to be sexually dominant. When they finally realized what the problem was, they experimented by giving each other permission to have an outside dominant lover. They would always arrange to have a date with the outside lover on the same night and then rush home the next morning to be together and bring all kinds of yummy energy back to their relationship. They were among the happiest couples I can ever recall meeting.
Terry: The co-founder of Family Synergy, identified as “Chayim” in our book, did a great deal to demonstrate that real, responsible adults like himself, an aerospace engineer with a wife and three children, rather than just hippies and “love children”, could live the alternative lifestyle of multiply committed relationships and group marriage. He was certainly the most significant individual I knew personally. He assisted me in reaching the point where I could share my lifestyle choices with people who might do business with me as matchmaker or hypnotherapist. The fact that he was a practicing Jew and led the first real Passover Seder I had ever attended, meant a great deal to me personally. It was at a Family Synergy annual event, and I maintain that tradition today at Live the Dream events. I believe he gave others the confidence in the morality of their choices to come out of the closet in terms of being poly and to better accept themselves as well.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Glen: The ability of people to choose where they will live, how they are going to shape their lives, what kind of work they will do, and even who they can love, has evolved in this country because people asked themselves “what kind of rights should everyone have?” The Civil Rights movement made enormous gains in securing these protections for everyone. The human Potential Movement gave us many tools to help us build the personal lives we want, and the human heart has taken us every far in the 21st century. I am very optimistic about our future, however people need to continue to make it clear to our elected representatives that these rights must stay.
Terry: The problem could be described as a continuing intolerance for people who follow alternative lifestyles, like the poly lifestyle. One thing a person can do is some personal mental housecleaning, producing the realization that your choice of life style is not the only possible moral and right one. Another is, if you are poly, sharing your lifestyle choice proudly with friends and loved ones would be a way to let them know that someone they respect and care about lives this way and is a good person. Also, if a political candidate supports Gay Marriage rights, vote for that person — we could be next.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Glen: For me Leadership is the ability to find a way for everyone on your team, or in your orbit, to succeed at the tasks they have set out to accomplish. A leader enables the people who work for them to find a way to work to their potential in achieving whatever goal the team is striving for. A leader looks out for their subordinates by staying true to the principles of honesty and fairness.
Terry: Leadership means taking personal responsibility for your own life choices which have brought you to where you are, formulating a philosophy of life you can take pride in and sharing it with others in a way which makes a positive difference in your community, your world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- There is no task so small that it cannot be broken into smaller steps: There is a real danger of being overwhelmed by the tasks we have to do in this very busy and technological world we live in. The demands on our time are many and the distractions can be hard to overcome. When I learned the technique called the ten percent rule, it was enormously helpful. Whatever the task is, figure out a way to complete the first and presumably easiest ten percent of it. When you’ve done that, the next part of the task becomes blindingly easy to see and probably easier to complete.
- Be curious, not judgmental: Approach a situation with an open mind, and say “I wonder why that happened,” or “I wonder what the person meant by that.” This helps me not to jump to conclusions about what I am seeing. In my years in Emergency Services, we would often show up at an emergency with very little information about what was going on, and we needed to gather information fast. As a trainer of paramedics, I would teach them not to arrive at an incident with any prejudgments about what they were going to find, based on other incidents they had been to, but to ask themselves “What am I seeing right here, right now.”
- Everything you accomplish today is foundation for the rest of your life: Forward momentum is beautiful, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s happening: Ever felt stuck in the mud, getting nowhere fast? I have. It helps me to sometimes ask myself where I was five years ago to help see the gains I’ve really made and by extension where I will be five years from now.
- People will not remember what you do, but they will remember how you made them feel: As a paramedic, as a captain, an author, a father, and a spouse, I have seen the truth of this over and over again. I try to remain mindful of the impact I have on people every day and strive to make it a positive one.
- Do what you love and you won’t feel like you’ve worked a day in your life: This is a great way to measure one’s happiness in a particular type of job. When I got out of school (the first time, I seem to keep going back for advanced training) I worked in several industries, including driving a truck, becoming an apprentice, and then journeyman, meatcutter. Then I found healthcare and became a paramedic and trained lay mid-wife. That became a 30 year career. Now I’m an author. Perhaps this will be my next 30 year career.
- Don’t hide who you are. Those who are worth having as friends and loved ones will accept it are not worth wasting time on. Those who want to do business with you may find out anyway and better they should know it to begin with. I thought I could separate my lifestyle from my hypnotherapy practice. I did not tell an intern who was working in my office learning my System of hypnotherapy that I was poly. When she found out, she sued me (and lost) for not telling her. Not worth the hassle for sure.
- By being open about being poly (or whatever you are, you will get the business of those who may have a special interest in working with someone like them. They will refer other appropriate clients. Everyone wins.
- While it is good to be tolerant of all races, religions, nationalities, etc. choosing a love partner requires being more discriminating. Someone who chooses to be monogamous, but is truly accepting of a poly partner having other sexual love relationships may be a good match, One who goes along with polyamory because, though jealous by nature and unwilling to change that through therapy, he or she is too much in love with the poly partner to end the relationship is NOT a good match. Best make clear that not only are you poly, but that open relationship is a nonnegotiable for you rather than something you may “get over” and end such a relationship before it starts. It took me a while to learn not to teach Poly 101 in my bedroom…
- Don’t let the rejection of those who resent your lifestyle hurt you or cause you to doubt the choices you have made in your life and relationships that you believe are right for you. I have (mostly) learned now to just move on from such rejections.
- While All men may be created equal, don’t insist that all relationships be equal. It is possible to have a Primary partner who comes first without diminishing the value of other partners — even in a group marriage. The worst relationship disaster of my life came from allowing a partner in my home who insisted on ignoring this particular life lesson. I never came closer to becoming a monogamist!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Glen: Science Fiction author and member of the “Greatest Generation” Robert Heinlein offered many wonderful quotes in his adventure books. One of my favorites is: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
This quote is right in line with the advice my father (also a member of the Greatest Generation) gave me. He said that a man needs to be able to find work in at least three different fields, because a job might go away in one field of endeavor, so he has to be competent in more than one type of work. It is a man’s obligation to take care of his family.
Terry: “All acts of Love and Pleasure are my rituals.” This quote from the Goddess which is in many rituals of Church of All Worlds helped me to accept my own healthy, robust sexuality as a blessing when I was still carrying some of what my mother had said to me as a child which made me feel it was something to be ashamed of. I take pride and joy in maintaining that blessing as a woman of 69.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Glen: I would be thrilled to have dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama, or heck, just share a cup of tea with them. I think they are among the most gracious and thoughtful people I have seen, running our country, in a long time.
Terry: I have been privileged to know so many of those I regard as Greats in polyamory and in science fiction. Though I have met her and even handed her a Live the Dream Newsletter I have not had the opportunity actually have a private meal with Diana Gabaldon. She shares polyamory in some unique ways in her Outlander series…I would love to discuss it with her in depth.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Glen: I can be reached on my author page https://glenolson.org and can also be found on Facebook and LinkedIn. It sounds kind of old fashioned, but you can also contact me through my publisher, Rowman and Littlefield.
Terry: My websites are www.livethedream.org for poly events and articles, www.acesuccess.com or www.reachforthestars.today for guided meditation audios like Intimacy Without Jealousy for Open Relationships, and Attract Your Special Someones.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Our pleasure, we will be happy to talk with you again, anytime. Thank you!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Authors Glen W Olson and Terry Lee Brussel-Rogers Are Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.