Yay! I got my first Covid vaccination!

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I got the phone call asking if I wanted to move my appointment for my first Covid shot up from April 23 to February 12. I didn’t mind that the call came just a day before, when I was 311 miles away. I was overjoyed.

Besides, I had already planned to be back in Dover that day, I just had to be sure I got an early start and didn’t get delayed by weather or the like.

Better yet, it would eliminate the complications of one more trip later, likely after we’d sold the house.

Mine was the Moderna vaccine, and it went very smoothly. Yes, my shoulder was pretty painful that night, at least when I rolled over, as well as the next day. As for achiness, much could be blamed on all the packing and cleaning and a few runs to the city recycling center we were already doing. We’ll see how the second shot goes, though I am bracing myself.

The idea of being out from under that cloud by the beginning of April rather than early June is exhilarating. Here we’ve been under what one Friend who lives beside a lake in Connecticut calls Covid cabin fever, and I’ve been pretty much hunkered down through most of the duration, apart from the month-and-a-half I was a Census enumerator.

Still, there’s so much we don’t yet know. How long is it good for? What continuing precautions should we take? When will we all be able to move out and about freely, if ever?

How about you? Had the vaccination? Which one? How did it go?

High hippie by degrees – nobody fully fit the stereotype

By the end of ’68, the counterculture phenomenon was metastasizing from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and nearby Berkeley into pockets across most of the country and even Europe. As August of ’69 proved, it was sufficiently established in the East to draw together the unanticipated throng at Woodstock.

Much of the transplanted activity existed at the fringes of college campuses, as I experienced in Bloomington, Indiana, and later Binghamton, New York. For me, growing up in Ohio, I would have rather attended hip, beat Antioch in Yellow Springs, but the finances were way out of our consideration. So a state school was my destination, and at the time, Indiana as an out-of-state student was nearly as reasonable as in-state for me in Ohio. And a bit later, to my surprise, how yesterday Antioch began to appear once I was near the East Coast.

The searing experiences shape what I describe in Daffodil Uprising and then Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. And as I continue to repeat, hippies came in all varieties – and still do. There was no standard-issue, card-carrying member, but each was one to some degree or another. Nobody completely fit the hippie image.

As someone who became addicted at the onset of adolescence to classical, opera, and folk music, I was already passionate about an alternative to commercial entertainment, which was what rock at the time really was. I was one who lamented deeply when Bob Dylan went electric. Sold out, so it seemed. I had the long hair and blue jeans and bell bottoms. I was against the war, tried a few hallucinations, loved sex when I could get it, which wasn’t often.

And then I encountered yoga, which led me to give up meat, alcohol and drugs, and sex for the life I detail in Yoga Bootcamp – and yet, curiously, this was when I felt the most hippie in all of my awareness.

Yes, variables of place

A major influence on my work has been an awareness of the variables of place. When I lived in the ashram, my yoga teacher returned from her first trip to India and described with wonder her sensation that each locale there felt different – to the extent that each village or region had its own god or gods to embody its distinct character or, as she put it, vibration.

Fifty years later, having lived and worked in eight states, I can say that’s true in America, too, even though we’ve muddied much of the indigenous awareness. I’m especially convinced that people in deeply prayerful states do somehow leave an imprint on a place.

That sensation has unexpectedly led me to Quaker meetinghouses and burial grounds or arisen in the midst of conversation in old houses of worship.

How have you felt special locales?

I’ve engaged much of our world from a daily newspaper perspective

Let me express my own everlasting gratitude for Glenn Thompson and his eye for talent, in my case after my letter to the editor and then his offer of an internship, later followed by a full summer. In a seemingly casual interview, he urged me to keep a personal journal, which I actually have. And then came the job offer. Without him (and so many others), my life would have taken a different direction. Gee, indirectly he even led to my first lover. (Look for Mitch in Daffodil Uprising, who’d been a copy boy I met thanks to Glenn’s support. Mitch was the catalyst to the crucial introduction. That dimension, in itself, could be a novel.)

Glenn was the editor-in-chief of the morning newspaper in Dayton, Ohio, and in his own way, a visionary. Behind the scenes, he even brought together the first university I attended, Wright State. And also, through him, I became a professional journalist, even while still in college. Another long story.

The paperback cover …

And he asked questions no one had prodded me with before. How would I change the world? What issues could I raise and address? At first, I was speechless. We were so green, and within a year, everything would look different. The biggest item on the agenda was the Establishment, not even its war in ‘Nam. Civil rights issues were a distant second.

The next summer I was a hundred miles up the road from Woodstock, working for a publisher who totally ignored me and editors who kept their heads down. But a new direction was taking shape for me.

Alas, as I’m also seeing, mine are steps youth today cannot follow. The pathways simply no longer exist, to the larger society’s impoverishment.

As I describe in my novel Hometown News, American journalism has long been based on a precarious business model. News itself is a byproduct of trying to attract customers for advertisers, and many publishers considered news gathering mostly as a costly nuisance. Successful newspapers were defined mostly by their obscene profits, and the pay levels for reporters and editors were often at the bottom of pay scales for professionals. As a priest reminded me before my first marriage, we might as well have been bound by vows of poverty. Oh, yes, and some of the highest quality papers – the kind I aspired to – were fighting for their very survival. We can now add to the toll of the role of the Internet.

So it’s all in flux now.

… and the back cover.

Still, newspapers show up in the majority of my novels, though in Nearly Canaan the field turned from journalism into non-profit organizations where the long, odd hours, public service, and stress nevertheless remained.

As I look back on my own years of being on the management track in a shrinking business, I see how I started out a hot-shot who thought the New York Herald Tribune in its last years was the best newspaper ever – led by an editor who later admitted in a letter to me he seemed to have become a specialist in trying to recover dying papers. Even then, I would have loved to have worked for him.

Despite my own honors, I had some crucial near misses. For one, I wound up in the final 24 for a dozen summer internships at the Washington Post but failed to make the final cut. The next summer, the Wall Street Journal was laying off staff rather than hiring, so their interest evaporated. Ten years later, something similar happened with timing for a high-level spot at the Detroit Free Press. And so my career veered away from the big cities where I had dreamed of living and from the big time, maybe for the best for me personally and ultimately professionally.

Somehow, this also has me thinking back to the lost hippie wannabes at the corner of Third and Main in Dayton during the summer of ’68. Theirs was a story I had hoped to write, but I couldn’t ask the right questions, I was too green myself. But, more honestly, maybe I just wasn’t cold-hearted enough to cut through to the real hurt and relate it without concern for the consequences.

Why I keep returning to counterculture particulars

I wish there were a better label than “hippie” to apply to the counterculture explosion that swept the world in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Contrary to popular assumptions, there was no standard-issue hippie, male or female. Not everyone did pot or ventured into acid and beyond, nor did everyone participate in a protest march or have long hair or have sex every night or at least on the weekend. We all came in various degrees of separation from general society yet, somehow, we also recognized a kinship with each other.

The paperback cover …

“Are you sure you were a hippie,” my wife sometimes asks. So what if I didn’t like rock? Many of my friends had been at Woodstock just down the highway from the milieu I describe in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. No, we didn’t recite a credo, you dig what I mean?

The only other flash in history I can see similar to this was the mid-1600s in England, with its World Turned Upside Down before the restoration of the monarchy – stresses that would fester until the American Revolution a century later. What we shared was a vision of a more just, equal, and caring society. We didn’t have standard-issue, card-carrying members. Alas, we didn’t have elders or cohesive discipline, either. And the breakdown that followed can’t be blamed entirely on a youth movement crossing over into the dreaded age 30. (Oh, how I’d love to be back there, if only I wouldn’t have to figure out how to survive in the current economy.)

Tom Wolfe, author of “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” pointedly asked why there wasn’t the big hippie novel, overlooking a few notable entries like Gurney Norman’s “Divine Right’s Trip.” The problem, as I see it, is that the scope of the events was too big and too fuzzy to be encapsulated in a single volume. You had the activist side, from civil rights and draft resistance to pacifism, feminism, and the environment, for starters. Add to that sexual revolution. And then drug use, abuse, and visions, as well as new spiritual teachings and practices. All before we even get to the music and its scene. How could you possibly wrap all of that, plus more, into a single volume?

… and the back cover.

Believe me, I’ve tried with my own Daffodil Uprising and its companion “Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.” Hate to admit there’s so much more that could be added to the, uh, pot. Make that “pan.”

By the way, I think there are worthy nominations in each of the subcategories I’ve just mentioned. I’d love to hear more.

Frankly, I think we, as a nation, have been in a state of denial about the era, with its tension between the war in ‘Nam and the Establishment supporting it, on one side, and the opposition on multiple grounds, on the other. Those rifts in the soul of the nation have never been adequately examined and addressed from either side, much less healed. We could start with the MIA-POW myth, for one, or the ways we might have failed to answer our kids’ questions about pot use, for another. They are definitely exploding in our face now.

Meanwhile, Cassia, in What’s Left, has come along to try to make her own way out of the debris.

And so I humbly or brashly offer my own novels for discussion.

Care to share in my field notes from a lifetime’s zigzag trip?

Writing has been a means for me to investigate the question, “Who am I,” and of recollecting fragments, especially those that might eventually coalesce into a larger perspective. Unlike many adults, I have few vivid childhood memories, but what I am piecing together is often troubling. I grew up in Ohio in a mainstream Protestant tradition, became an Eagle scout, loved chemistry, hiked and camped, that sort of thing. I can blame becoming a hippie on my first lover, and thank her, too, for pointing my life in an unanticipated direction even after she flew ever so far away.

In the years since, I’ve followed a zigzag journey that’s been rich in many ways excepting money. Let’s just say it’s been off-beat.

Now retired from a career in daily newspaper journalism, I’ve married for the second time, live in a historic mill town in the seacoast region of New Hampshire, and am an active Quaker. It’s a full plate. What I didn’t expect was how much of my own “contemporary” fiction is now history – so much has changed so quickly in my own lifetime.

It’s hardly the end of the story, though. Not if we can help it.