Sometimes the story goes its own way

Considering his love of mountains, I am surprised that I didn’t have Kenzie heading off on mountainous trails on more of his days off work. He was certainly living close enough, if he wanted to drive a few hours each way.

Instead, it’s swimming at the secluded lake those two summers as well as riding the underground rails of Gotham one weekend of each month.

Sometimes, then, what happens all depends on the people you’re with or are meeting.

That’s how it worked for me, in a situation similar to Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

Maybe Kenzie just thought he’d get the mountaintop opportunities later? Or maybe just not quite where he planned?

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The hippie farm was real

The rundown farm that inspired Russet Ranch in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks was real, though no one else probably saw it like this. An author is allowed leeway, after all.

And yes, we did go nude swimming.

Further developments percolate into the revised stories

In the five years since the publication of my Hippie Trails novels and their transmutation into the new and improved Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle now appearing, I’ve learned a lot about the counterculture experience.

Some of it has sprung from comments you’ve made here at the Red Barn, some of it from observations I’ve received after reconnecting with others who shared in some of the experiences I recounted, and some from remarks made by others in casual conversations or online groups.

I’m thinking, too, of how much the nation has yet to learn from the experience.

Despite the emotional devastation of the ill-advised Vietnam engagement, the country went on to launch two wars in Iraq as well as the unending quagmire in Afghanistan. They’re costing us dearly, especially when politicians tell us we can’t afford health care or education – and still insist we can pay for these horrific misadventures.

On a more positive note, there’s much to reclaim in rebuilding community. Cassia’s great-grandfather’s vision of an inner-city village still resonates with me. Are there relationships akin to family we can nurture and sustain? I hope so.

As for her uncle’s guerrilla economix? Quite possibly, especially if you watch were you choose to shop.

Here, then, is to the continuing Revolution of Peace & Love. Cheers!

When the author starts choking up

One of Kenzie’s lovers in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks had long puzzled me. In the earlier versions of the story, I pretty much ran with a set of details mirroring those I had encountered in real life. I refrained from speculating on what she wasn’t telling me – or, by extension, Kenzie.

In the latest set of revisions, though, I ventured beyond that self-imposed taboo. I had learned from two other girlfriends how devastating childhood abuse could be. Yes, in this fictional case, the hypothesis fit. Not that it had to be factually true, but rather that it was a plausible possibility – that was enough for a novelist. As I fleshed out that incident and its impact, I began weeping. If only I had known more of her at the time or more of all three, would the course of our relationships gone differently? The feeling of deep loss and grieving was pervasive, all these decades later.

Likewise, as I was reworked the text that morphed into Daffodil Uprising, the focus shifted from the lighthearted face of the hippie experience to a broader comprehension of its desperation and even destructive fringes – and that sensation also had me grieving. As a deep sense of loss regarding the promise we saw on the horizon but failed to reach and fulfill washed over me, I began seeing the novel as a requiem for the hippie dream.

With Kenzie’s daughter Cassia at my side, though, I started thinking about the way dreams work. They have one foot in the past and the other in the present. And then, even when she was looking at her father’s history, she had her own generation in mind. From where I stand, their situation looks even more confusing than ours had. What can we who did change so much of society, pro and con, offer them now in continuing that vision?

These are dire times, friends. Anyone else feeling some déjà vu and unease?

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.

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.