A BIT MORE ON HIPPIE LIT

One of my lingering questions wonders why the intensity of the hippie experience didn’t flower more fully in fiction.

Yes, I know hippies were considered “laid back” and “mellow,” but that’s only part of the picture. A lot of what we felt was indeed incredible and new. Yet while the music of the era gives both lyrics and a soundtrack to the late ’60s and early ’70s, the literary parallel runs thin. Most of the prose is in the non-fiction side of the aisle – memoir, especially, and sociology – works like Barry Miles’ Hippie. Within that flourished a range of small publishing operations, such as Straight Arrow Books and Ten-Speed Press.

But novels are another matter.

As I’ve already noted, Richard Brautigan and Gurney Norman (Divine Right’s Trip) did give wondrous voice to the action. Add to that Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, and we’re soon at the fringe. Thomas Pyncheon’s Vineland, Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love, and Jan Kerouac’s Baby Driver get nods. I’d add Edward Abbey, Tom Robbins, and John Nichols to the list. And then?

Well, there’s always my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle at Smashwords.com. All four volumes.

As Michael Wards, author of Bitch, a novel about Berkeley 1968-73, commented on an earlier post here, “Today I don’t think 20-year-olds would believe their grandparents were capable of anything that actually happened then.”

That, I suppose, is the entire point. We came so close to a real revolution across the social and economic spectrum. That vision needs to be kept alive and rekindled. Especially in the face of today’s repressive regime.

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A CLUTCH OF MAPS

One of my favorite passages in all of poetry comes from Howard McCord’s “Longjaunes His Periplus”:

A chest of maps
is a greater legacy
than a case of whisky.

Followed by:

My father left me both.

Like my younger one, I’ve always been fond of maps. My bedroom wall was lined with tacked-up National Geographic charts, which tended to sag in our humid summers.

I was reminded of this the other morning when I was looking for a Boston street map, just in case I lost my bearings. Yes, I could have gone to the maps at Yahoo or Google. Even looked for the satellite views and all of the scary ability to snoop that goes with it. I couldn’t, though, use a GPS, neo-Luddite that I partly remain.

So I opened the drawer and here’s what I found (I won’t give you the years, though many are from the early ’80s):

  • Connecticut.
  • Pennsylvania (Exxon).
  • Seacoast (New Hampshire).
  • Idaho.
  • New Jersey.
  • Sierra Club USA.
  • Pennsylvania (official).
  • AAA USA.
  • Long Island/New York City.
  • Saugus Iron Works.
  • Maine.
  • Historic Bath.
  • Delaware.
  • Audubon Flyways.
  • Walking Tours of Bath.
  • Strafford County.
  • Dover (0ne of a half-dozen varieties).
  • Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Has a great stand of mountain laurel overlooking the Merrimack River.
  • University of New Hampshire campus.
  • Museums of Boston.
  • Gonic Trails.
  • Doctors Without Borders global view (two copies).
  • Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
  • Paul Revere House in Boston.
  • Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Vermont.
  • New Hampshire (one of several varieties).
  • National Geographic the Making of New England and another of Canada.
  • North Cascades.
  • Mount Rainier, including trails.
  • New York City subways (two versions, three maps).
  • Brunswick and neighboring Maine.
  • National Geographic Endangered Earth.
  • Virginia.
  • White Mountains trail guides.
  • Mount Agamenticus.
  • Lamprey River.
  • Pawtuckaway State Park.
  • Trumbull County, Ohio.
  • Baltimore (two versions).
  • Britain and Ireland.
  • Mohegan Island.
  • Historic New England properties.
  • Maryland.
  • Lake Champlain Ferries.
  • Maine State Ferry Service.
  • Ipswich, Massachusetts.
  • Portsmouth-Exeter-Hampton etc.
  • York (Maine) Water District trails.
  • Minute Man National Monument, a series of sites in Massachusetts …
They even take me places I haven't yet been, as well as back to some old favorites. All without leaving the house.
They even take me places I haven’t yet been, as well as back to some old favorites. All without leaving the house.

And that’s before we get to the drawer of topographical maps, especially those from my Cascades years. Or the books and atlases. Or the genealogical maps, Guilford County, especially in those files.

Oh, the memories! And you want to tell me they’re obsolete? Fat chance!

A WRITER’S IDENTITY

“You’re more of a poet,” one of my favorite authors mentioned over coffee.

Huh? I had, after all, found publishers for two of my novels but none of my collections of poetry. So what if both novels were out of print, right?

Back in high school, when the writing bug hit me, I envisioned successfully working in fiction, poetry, theater, and journalism – successfully and famously, at that. That was way back before I discovered the reality of just how specialized each field can be, even before we get into the micro-subcategories, or how much rarified knowledge is required to navigate them professionally. Or how much competition there is across the board.

A first I felt my friend’s comment as a gentle reproach. There is always so much more to master, after all, as I tell myself after encountering another moving example of fine craftsmanship and deep insight.

As I returned to his comment, though, I picked up on another angle, the one that reflects a particular author’s sensibilities. He has me realizing that my basic outlook is as a poet, and that I carry that over into my novels.

Recently, another friend and I were discussing what we’d been reading, and he brought up Jim Harrison’s novels. He’d just finished seven in sequence. “He’s also a fine poet,” I said. But now, as I return to my bookshelves, I see an argument that Harrison is a novelist first, an outlook he carries over into the poems.

This is not to say that a writer has to be pigeonholed or can’t move among forms. After all, I could present a long list of fine poets whose essays I treasure. Many of them, as I noted in the Talking Money series at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog, address the decidedly down-to-earth issues of income, budgeting, labor, possessions, time, wealth, and community.

Detailing what would place a writer in the poet category or else in the novelist line could provide an interesting roundtable discussion all its own. We’ll leave that for another time.

I will, however, suggest it arises in a state of mind – of seeing the world and of relating to those around us. And, I will add, I find myself far from writing or revising poetry when I’m working on a novel, simply because the fiction generates or relies upon another state of mind, even if the prose that results has poetic qualities.

 

ONE MORE APOLOGIA

The Author regrets the number of gimmicks necessary in telling this story. It would be much easier if he merely told you that Duck was a Leo, Miso an Aries, and Luma a lowly Aquarian. Some readers, however, would be angered by such generalizations. Besides, there wouldn’t be much story left.

The Author would rather be telling a realistic, socially relevant muckraker dealing in human misery and raw political force than to relate a few fairy tales for adults, but one cannot always control destiny. This is the story that emerged; you may either accept it or stop reading.

The Author had hoped that Rolling Stone might first publish the work serially, the way The New Yorker launched J.D. Salinger earlier. Writing puts one in curious time warps. As he writes this, the Author knows he will look back on it someday, possibly even to see his dreams fulfilled. As he retypes it, a decade after its first draft, many things have already changed. He once envisioned Straight Arrow Books embossed on his book; now he wouldn’t let them touch it.

100_9848As he looks back, he sees that once thinly veiled events are now totally fictionalized as the abstractions have far outrun the prompting.

Past/present/future all within the fantasy of this moment of keyboarding. An old man in a baggy gray coat and black shoes and black slacks and old-man baggy hat walks down the street; as he smokes a pipe, the phantom becomes the Author in 50 years. Except that now, in the lapse of decades, the Author would not touch a pipe or cigar, either.

These things move one page at a clip.

~*~

To learn more about my novels, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

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THE NOVELIST STRIKES ANOTHER POSE

100_9850Dear Reader:  Are you aware that this is a social protest novel? Have you delineated the symbolism running through construction? Can you guess the antecedent novels that most influenced the Author in his quest of the Muse? What form will his next opus assume? Will he learn from his mistakes? Does he even perceive them? Will he renounce writing? Who will turn this into his next movie? What music will be selected to amplify it?

Please clip and mail to the Author. Your comments are always appreciated.

Thank you.

The Author.

~*~

To learn more about my novels, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

DREAM ON

The Author indulges in megalomania, perchance?

~*~

What we have here is quite amazing. What Jnana has done to subways and, for that matter, rail transportation in general parallels what Melville did more than a century earlier to whales. (Both, we might add, are dying species.) Perhaps, more fittingly, what Brautigan did for trout fishing. Except that this work is more like a rock’n’roll or War and Peace containing a surrealistic focus. It’s hardly a slender volume of whimsy. It moves forward in strobic flashes a series of fantastic snapshots detail piled upon detail through its hundreds of vignette chapters, progressing through dwelling places more and more removed from society in general reflecting the pilgrim’s increasingly antisocial frame of mind, even as he becomes increasingly social within ever smaller communities until the reader finds himself in a bizarre farmhouse somewhere in New England.

100_9916

Then, when the anticipation of subways from the title becomes unbearable, Jnana drops his reader into the heart of the work, a journey that occupies all too little of the volume; he engineers a conceptual art that even Cristo would envy. In the end, this is an encyclopedia of the Sixties and Seventies a pilgrimage many began and few completed. Remarkably, Jnana pulls it off with few, if any references, to the standard landmarks of the times: the litany of the Dallas and Memphis assassinations, LBJ or Nixon, Agnew or Clean Gene McCarthy. This is an inward journey, friend. If you wondered what happened to Hitchhiking in America, expect some answers.

~*~

Well, that’s how it looked briefly, before I broke the story out into the four novels of my Hippie Trails series. Meanwhile, please pardon my inflated self-esteem from the past. It was all too nice while it lasted … and reality set in.

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OLD REFLECTIONS ON AN EXPERIENCE OF DRAFTING

A voice I had not anticipated arose. Simpler than the one I struggled with when the third-person voice was involved. Would I do it over in a past tense? Perhaps. An electric typewriter would have helped in that revision. No computers yet. Because of office pressures, my vocabulary shrank. The Tibetan episodes moved further away, into a superstructure like a super ego. Grapevines of Italianate opera buffo bounced on the set a more defined time structure mounted in my mind as five years were compressed into two episodes, one of college and one in the East.

Not quite Brautigan and not quite Pyncheon, plus an admiration for Burroughs and Borges.

How does it seem now, a year after the last drafting? Some very weak points, some very fine moments. All of the above like a frustrated epoch. How many more revisions remain?

When a dear friend mentioned Paleolithic something or other, I asked her what “paleo” meant (I liked the sound of the word). She said “prehistoric.” Since I was going into a prehistory of sorts, a prehistory I had turned to during the previous three years a return perhaps to what my old scoutmaster had introduced to me, the original nature (and how easily, in our confused, complicated ways of living, we slip away!), I thought of calling the novel Paleowriting One.

The “novel” or whatever this extended writing be, began to take on its own form. First, the bookends of Tibet and Subways, with the story of Miso Minstrel sandwiched between. Then they took to their own chambers, most of the names changed, and we entered a second set of caverns under our cities.

While visiting the Ostroms in Indiana, I opened a book on cave drawings the Paleolithic periods and read of the sexual structuring of cave art, with its Tantric comprehension at work: the entryways and depths of the cave are marked by a predominance of male symbols, with male/female chambers in the middle – and despite the thousands of markings, the male and female are equal in number. Unknown is why they were drawn or how they were used.

Ultimately, I do not understand “why” I write or how the reader will “use” this. I simply do it and share it, for whatever reason.

~*~

To learn more about my novel, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

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