John Jamison came from the West end of Beardstown, Illinois, the part of town filled with towboat families, fishing families, and other questionable sorts. His father’s side of the family were the towboaters, and most males in the family were, and still are river rats, meaning that John is the exception, which is pointed out at all of the occasional family get-togethers and reunions. John’s mother came from a railroading family in the middle of Beardstown, and it is worth noting that towboaters and railroaders in Beardstown were fully committed enemies. Both of John’s grandfathers were fishermen, but that didn’t help. One used a fly rod and tied his own flies, and the other occasionally used dynamite. Full family gatherings were rare, but interesting.
John describes growing up as “something like you read in Tom Sawyer, except for the cave.” John spent most of his time doing things that were normal in Beardstown at the time, and that today would result in someone calling the SWAT team. His grandmother on his mother’s side said he was “a good boy”, and his grandmother on his father’s side said he was “that boy over there, I think.” John was shy until February 10, 1964. That was the day after the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. John missed the show, but got to school Monday morning and heard all of the girls talking about the “guys with the guitars”. John immediately found an old guitar and even took a few lessons. It led to creating several rock bands during high school, playing coffee houses in college, and finds him still picking and strumming what are now called “classics”. He never did make it to the Ed Sullivan Show and never did have girls screaming about him, but he did spend two years in High School playing his guitar at the Beardstown Bowl and the Country Club alongside an old guy with a Hammond Organ he carried around in the back of his pick-up truck.
During High School, John met a girl who had just moved to Beardstown. They didn’t know each other’s names, but they somehow ended up teasing and wrestling each other at the Beardstown Swimming Pool a few times. Her name was Pat. John and Pat are celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary this December. They married after starting college, and the wedding originally planned for June was moved up to December. During the wedding, the little old ladies in the back pews were counting the months, eager to explain why the wedding had to be sped-up. And, yes, their daughter was born eight years later, much to the frustration of those little, blue-haired ladies.
John went to college to become a Chemist. Since getting his first chemistry set in grade school John’s mom had told everyone in Beardstown that he was going to become a famous chemist and buy her a house in Hawaii. John’s Chemistry career lasted until the first exam in his Freshman Chemistry class. He had already begun to question his goal after every one of his lab experiments had gone awry, but that first exam sealed the deal. Beginning the second semester, John began is major in Speech, and English, and Public Speaking, and Drama. He graduated with a self-created quadruple major that the next year was announced as something now called a “Communications” degree.
Going back to the Beardstown Swimming Pool, it turned out that the girl John met was the daughter of Beardstown’s new United Methodist Minister. John’s family was Methodist but had only met the minister one time in the seventh grade when John was in the hospital with pneumonia and the minister came to visit him. The family did attend church occasionally, but most of John’s early memories are about carving arks out of soap and being forced to wear a frilly white robe with a red bow on it to sing in some choir one Easter Morning. After meeting the minister’s daughter, John’s attendance patterns changed. After getting to know Pat’s family and learning more about the church, one day just before high school graduation John mentioned to Pat’s dad that he might even consider becoming a pastor someday. The phone call came one evening during John’s second semester, after the Chemistry discovery. The call was from a church leader who asked, “John, are you still considering becoming a pastor?” John said, yes, since ‘considering’ was pretty flexible.” The caller then said, “That’s great. I have a church for you. Can you come home this weekend to interview?”
That Friday evening, two weeks before John’s 19th birthday, he sat in a car in Milton, Illinois, as the District Superintendent prepared him for the interview to become the student pastor of four small churches. The only advice John remembers is, “Always be careful around the first people who invite you out to lunch. They want something.” John still considers this advice to have been more helpful than ninety percent of what he would later get from three years of seminary. John spent the next twenty-five years as a pastor, preacher, storyteller, and counselor. The early family training seemed to have given him specific skills in listening and counseling, again using story to help people adjust to the sometimes horrendous changes they faced in their lives. John found himself spending much of his time with those dealing with grief, and those individuals and families dealing with death and dying. John found that when all other words have lost their meaning, the power of story is still very real. John began to understand that those people who saw themselves as “learners”, had the ability to go through some very difficult and painful experiences, and yet find ways to redefine and recreate their lives to move forward. Those who saw themselves as the “learn-ed”, those who did not know how to learn, usually became mired in the pain and were not able to create a new life. After twenty-five years, John decided it was important for him to change careers and see if he could do more to help people become “learners”. John left his church ministry and went back to school to become a
Junior High school teacher.
During John’s second week in his new graduate program at Quincy University, he was asked to attend a meeting with the schools’ provost, two deans, and several faculty. John came to the meeting and sat listening to a room filled with tension and argument, as the leaders of the school struggled with some of the changes taking place at the school. There was so much new technology, a more demanding student body, and a growing number of students who were “gamers”. Faculty were complaining about “those kids who won’t read, won’t talk in class, but then go back to their dormitories and play those GAMES all night and all weekend!”. The faculty demanded that games be banned from the dorms and that other new pressures be added. The deans suggested that the faculty learn how to do things “a bit differently” than they have done before. John came to the realization that he was, again, sitting in a counseling session, this one with a bunch of “learned” people who were experiencing the pain that came with normal change. John does not remember anything he might have said during the meeting, but shortly afterward he found he had been hired as the newly created “Director of Academic Computing”, with the one job of “helping us figure out how to change.” John told stories in that role for three years, and then told them for several years at Western Illinois University, and then Colorado Mountain College, and then DeVry University, and finally the human services organization called The Ounce of Prevention. Through those years, John used story to ease the pain of change, to heal bruised egos, to spark new ideas, and to create a new approach to designing teaching and learning activities called “TranceFormational Learning”. Around 2008, John and Pat decided to create their own company, ImagiLearning, Inc., and use TranceFormational Learning and storytelling to help as many others as possible. Their list of clients includes major associations, P-12, two, and four-year schools, corporations, and others.
At age sixty-five, John decided to take the power of story and share it in yet another direction, leading to his first novel called Disruption. Based on stories from years ago in Beardstown, Disruption led to the second book, Distraction, and is now fueling the creation of the third book, Disconnection. John’s adult fiction, suspense-thrillers are just stories, but as he has found for more than fifty years now, they are stories that lead to something more.
At age sixty-six, John added his first book for young readers and listeners, called I Can’t Paint My Dog! That was followed with Meet the Skwerdlock and I Saw the Skwerdlock, with several more currently in the works. John’s children’s books are also “just good stories”, but he also hopes they will offer young readers and listeners and escape from the stresses and pressures they face, and just give them an excuse to laugh, to imagine, and to dream of something really, really, big!
Today, John writes and speaks, and still consults with the occasional client through ImagiLearning. John smiles when he hears the frequent comment, “Wow, you’ve done a lot of different things!”. Coming from his “interesting” family, young John spent much of his time simply trying to figure out what the heck was going on and know when a “story” had become a “lie”. He heard river stories, and railroad stories, and fishing stories, and began to discover that many of life’s greatest challenges could be better understood by telling a good story. For sixty years or so, he’s just been a storyteller wearing different uniforms.