Anyone else feeling déjà vu with a hangover?

Not too long ago, the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s looked like ancient history, especially from our grandkids’ perspective.

Not so now.

Here we are again, with a paranoid tyrant in the White House, a nation divided, police gone rogue, civil rights denied, and frustration erupting in protests. Only this time, the situation looks worse, much worse, than it did then, even before we add climate change and the environment to the mix.

We had more community connections, for one thing. And there were more voices of reason, for another. In what we saw as the Revolution of Peace & Love, the gloom and doom before us was often counterbalanced by experiences of joy and unity, often via its outpouring of vivid music in public festivals and rallies. I don’t see that now. Too many people are simply isolated, and the Covid restrictions aren’t helping.

The closest rallying cry for the American dream I’m sensing is BLM. Think about that and how many middle-class, suburban lawns where its signs are sprouting on lawns and in windows.

In retrospect, as I’ve long argued, there was no standard-issue hippie and no creed to subscribe to. Some were outright apolitical, while for others, peace and social justice activism were paramount.

Once again, activism is high on the agenda, across all generations.

My novel Daffodil Uprising: the making of a hippie describes the transformation as it happened, more or less, fifty years ago on a college campus in Indiana and likely elsewhere. Not all of it was hippiedelic, not by a long shot. Things were generally grim.

A neighbor reading the book said some of the scenes regarding the school’s administration and its disregard for the students sound like those his daughter is complaining about at a prestigious university in Greater Boston. Some things never change, or won’t if we fail to nurture a culture of vigilance. Frankly, we got lazy in the intervening years, or at least distracted.

All I can say is that I expect the next month to be one of the most important in our nation’s history. Wise elders, seasoned over time, are needed in the fray. How many of us are willing and ready to stand up?

The making of a hippie

Sandals on men

When you see sandals on an American man, thank a beatnik.

In the 1950s, it would have been nearly unthinkable for a man to dress that comfortably.

Really, we were that uptight.

Now?

They’re everywhere.

At least in summer.

Remember, where I live, we get snow – lots of it, some years.

Can’t blame a beatnik for that.

How would you define this audience?

These days, writers are advised to know their audience.

Not what they feel they need to express, mind you, but who they might connect with to sell the story.

It’s always bothered me. Sounds too much like pandering.

Still, with news stories back when I was a newspaper editor, we could begin by the places where they lived. Where they worked or sent their kids to school, too. Voted. Paid their taxes. And then work out from there. You could never go wrong with pictures of dogs or children.

Advertisers think in terms of demographics. They might want something like unmarried females age 22½ and then look for a radio station whose programming hits that market.

But books? It gets trickier.

When it comes to my novels, maybe I can define it this way:

  1. New adults trying to get their act together and want inspiration.
  2. People curious about the hippie era and want to be amused by it.
  3. People who were part of a counterculture and want perspective.

This still isn’t quite not where I’d like to be but maybe coming closer.

In fact, Cassia in my novel What’s Left seems to speak for those I hope she can reach out to.

What advice would you have?

Requiem for hippie

In revising the novel that has been recast as Daffodil Uprising, I began grieving. It wasn’t the feeling I had expected. This was supposed to be a celebration of a remarkable time in world history. Some things really did change as a result.

Not all of them for the better, alas. And many of the lessons arising from Vietnam, especially, still haven’t been learned in realms of political power. And while much of the environment has been cleaned up, the global climate is still headed for disaster.

Repeatedly, I felt this was a requiem.

Part of that must have been a consequence of my long effort of drafting and revising What’s Left, which picks up on the central character a generation later. Or, more accurately, his daughter, Cassia.

But moving on with his story, in what’s now released as Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I’m feeling wounded. Not by the novels, mind you – I think you’ll find them entertaining, enlightening, and delightful. No, the wounds are from, well, all kinds of losses, many of them my own fault.

I have heard that in the retreat from the outburst of the Quaker movement in the radical uprisings of mid-1600s Britain, many of them had a something of a shellshock look for years after. They had come so close to truly revolutionary societal change and lost that to the Restoration. Well, some of those ideals did come to flower in the American Revolution – the Bill of Rights, especially – but even there, we’ll still falling short.

As the liturgical chanters sing out in accompaniment to prayers in Christian Orthodox worship, Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.

Yes, mercy. And hope. And grant us peace.

About that floating three-day weekend

In giving Kenzie that three-day weekend once every four weeks in the new novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I was leaning on a work schedule I had on a newspaper out in Ohio. I sure wish I had it when I was living Upstate New York and assigned to a typical split week like his in the story. It was brutal.

Of course, in this round of revision, I was looking ahead to his experiences in my new Subway Visions. He would now have a chunk of time to head off to the Big Apple and return home.

As I reflect on my own forays into the city and its mass-transit tunnels, I think I made as many trips during my time in Ohio as I had in a similar period when I was living only four or five hours away from the metropolis. In other words, Kenzie gets in a lot more time on the underground tracks than I ever had.

Living an hour north of Boston, as I do now, I can admit to spending far more time on its subway system that I had in New York’s. And I’ve also relied on the systems of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington in the years since I drafted the original Subway Hitchhikers.

Have you ever had a special twist in a work schedule that had an impact like this?   

It helps when a writer finally comprehends more behind the story

Because of What’s Left, I had a clearer sense of Kenzie’s youth when it came to the revisions that led to Daffodil Uprising than I did back when I published the earlier version.

It’s surprising what a few more years of perspective can add, especially when you now have someone like Cassia sitting beside you.

Is there a personal event you’ve come to understand quite differently now?

 

When it comes to viewing the world, real photography will always stand out

To call me visually oriented would be an understatement.

For most of my life, I’ve viewed the world through imaginary frames and lenses.

I had four years of art training in high school and when recently reviewing many of those pieces was impressed by their high quality. I seriously considered continuing on into college and a career beyond but realized the struggles of making a living that would follow. And so I veered into journalism, where I applied many of those skills in designing newspaper pages, photo essays, and cropping pictures. Thousands and thousands of them.

It also led to a love of typefaces and calligraphy and book design.

Maybe I haven’t strayed that far.

I’ve also worked with some of the best photojournalists in the field and known a number of outstanding artists. I even married one.

On a more mundane level, I sometimes shift into cartoon mode and begin seeing people as whimsical drawings. Or I ponder how they would photograph. (No, I’m not staring at you the way you think I am, sorry if it’s making you uncomfortable.)

Well, for that matter, I did meet some famous cartoonists when I was working for the newspaper syndicate and selling their work to our clients.

Continue reading “When it comes to viewing the world, real photography will always stand out”

Past loves in the mirror of fiction

Reworking the novels that now stand as Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks also had me elbows-deep in some unfinished emotional detritus left in my personal past.

I feel I’ve pretty well examined and released the baggage from my larger intimate relationships – the failed marriage and a subsequent broken engagement, especially.

The novels, though, started churning up unanticipated buried feelings elsewhere.

Anger at my first lover, for one. I had long suffered disappointment, guilt, and depression after we shattered apart, and then let her fade into what I thought was oblivion. But, as I’m told, feelings are what they are – you can’t control them. As I relived my college years, I realized how much of my own leftward change came about because of her. Moreover, in the ensuing decades, I’ve never had another partner who could so sensitively respond to what I was writing at the time and suggest changes. Still, I can now see how she never could have been the wife I’ve needed, no matter how intense our passion or, like Kenzie with his Liz, how shallow my understanding of her or even her self-centeredness or my own.

The anger, though, still hit as a shock. It just wasn’t something I had ever felt permitted to admit. You’re not allowed to feel that toward the one you love, not according to my upbringing or code of conduct. Now, however, I could come up with a list of offenses, as well as moments when I should have confronted her actions or even broken off, if I had only possessed enough backbone.

Another set of emotions swirled up around the character now known as Shoshanna. While Kenzie is quite smitten by her, he’s never able to make much sense of her romantic history, at least as she presents it. Like him, I’ve always tried to put a positive spin on events, and like him, I’ve always been a sucker for the promise of talent. Over the years, though, I’ve also learned about the long-lasting impact of abuse – physical, verbal, or sexual – as well as similar harm from an alcoholic parent. As I revised, I found myself – intuitively, it seems – connecting that dynamic to her past. I started weeping. It didn’t have to be true in regards to the original inspiration for the story, but it certainly advanced the character and her motivations. No, I wept for what such buried damage had done to women I’ve loved, to myself, and to my relationships. Too often, the bruises remained out of sight, out of the possibility of awareness, taboo. But no longer.

Judith, meanwhile, took the reality of violence much further, into kink. I was once dropped by a lover after her ex-boyfriend showed up in town and they went out. She simply vanished for the night, from my perspective. As she said afterward, when she told him about us, he hit her – beat her, actually, in her words – and she felt better. She insisted the manhandling absolved her guilt, as if she had anything to be guilty about. I was appalled and confused. I really knew very little about her, by her own choice. A decade later, another lover had a similar connection to physical aggression, and my non-violent nature doomed any future to our initial attraction. It had been presented as a fault on my end, by the way, a matter of shame or weakness. And she had been so exciting. Shall we say I was left feeling quite conflicted?

Revising my fictional character, though, allowed me to scrutinize this forbidden zone, no matter how troubling. I was also seeing how much further my first lover had wanted to explore than I was ready to venture. She really had no sense of her own vulnerability – or ours. In the end, she had me seeing how not everyone in the hippie world was really Peace & Love oriented or even satisfied with Flower Power romance.

As Kenzie was reminded, not everyone wanted marriage or even a soul mate.

It’s an insight that still jars me, looking back on my zig-zag journey to here and all that I missed out on along the way.

So here we are, all the same.

 

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?