Thinking of freedom, we can see it as personal expression as well as political opportunity. For some of us, that was a big dimension of the hippie movement.
The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up next month. Normally, that would mark a jubilee, some even acclaiming it as a celebration of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Alas, the dark ages we thought had passed have returned from the dead, in intensified deadliness at that.
Jubilee, by the way, is drawn from the Biblical book of Leviticus, and it’s a most radical idea. Every 50 years, all the wealth in the land is to be redistributed. The scriptural passage is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, so don’t tell me it’s not American.
One of the passages I cut before the final version of my novel What’s Left is one where she’s asking her aunt about the hippie experience:
I’ve never asked you about your own drug use.
OK? Can I say it was just enough to convince others I wasn’t a narc?
So were you really a hippie? I mean, you had such short hair!
You trying to say a hippie couldn’t have short hair? Don’t you know how radical my style was? You ever think I could conform to anything?
Well, you’ve indicated you weren’t stoned. I’m going down the list.
Have you considered the impact of the Pill? Or free love?
Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.
For the record, some of the truest hippies I’ve known weren’t promiscuous or do drugs. And some others never marched in a protest.
Still, as an image of the era, let me ask: What’s your impression of Woodstock? Have you ever been to a big, multiday festival? What’s your favorite music? How do you best express your free spirit?
- No clearly defined identity. Long hair or passing the pipe was pretty superficial, ultimately.
- No underlying unity or structure. It’s not like we had a manifesto or membership cards or even paid dues.
- And bad trips. Especially bad trips.
- No reliable leaders or prophets. And definitely no reliable followers.
- End of the military draft. Not that it was the end of the war now, was it? But it turned the heat off the burner.
- Not enough self-discipline. Even before we got to the hard stuff.
- Demands of jobs and families kicked in after all. And since many of ours weren’t like our parents’, we had to keep improvising. There weren’t many guidelines left to follow.
- The soul mate who wasn’t. Or as they say in Zen, what’s the sound of one clap handing.
- Everyone else left. Maybe with your lover.
- The Grateful Dead couldn’t carry the beat forever. Even with all these oldies still hanging on.
What would you add to the list?
- Peace and nonviolence.
- The environment.
- Racial and sexual equality.
- Yoga and spirituality.
- Nature and the outdoors.
- Alternative health.
- Vegan. Vegetarian. Natural. Farmers markets.
- Comfortable clothing.
- Music and dance.
What would you add to the list?
Yes, an author is supposed to like his protagonists – and maybe even some of the key villains, in their very devilishness – but lesser characters sometimes privately rise to the top.
Here are 10 of mine, some in upcoming volumes:
- Nita: In What’s Left and the full Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle. She’s really evolved along the way.
- Merry Sherry: Hometown News. I’m so glad the real-life Sherry who showed up later, with many of the same endearing qualities, didn’t have the same penchant for creating nicknames. We would have all been doomed.
- Wendy: In the upcoming Nearly Canaan. This pastor’s wife has qualities that really play off Jaya well. She began to write herself.
- Pastor Bob: Nearly Canaan. Changing the Roman Catholic priest in the early drafts to a flashier Fundamentalist/Evangelical preacher created someone much more, well, surprising. He has a good heart – and a great wife.
- Fran: Big Inca. Just what Bill needs.
- Rusty: Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. As he demonstrates, some in the movement had practical skills and insights. I wonder what happened in the rest of his life – and whether he ever married his lovely companion.
- Judith (rather than Tara!): Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. She’s grown much more interesting and intriguing than the young woman who inspired her, way back when. There’s even a novel you’ll probably never see, at least not under my name.
- Satyabama: Yoga Bootcamp. She has all of the wonder that embodied yoga for us.
- Surfer Girl: Hometown News. In real life, she never gave me the time of day.
- Alexandros: What’s Left. In the later revisions of the manuscript, Alex came fully into his own. Cassia was already “talking to me” and essentially writing herself, and then Alex stepped up to match. Oh, I wish my cousins had been something like him.
In the books you’ve read, who’s your favorite character?
When she begins her investigation in my new novel, What’s Left, she may think her generation’s quite different from her father’s.
But her family does run a family restaurant, and that gives her a different insight:
We can always count on someone looking for a handout at the back door. We’re happy to oblige them. And they’re happy, too – the word spreads.
Restaurants are often staffed by an underworld of their own, or so I’m told. And some of the characters aren’t that far removed from the folks looking for a handout.
I’m surprised to see how many people in my own community remain invisible, especially when your eyes look instead to “normal” society.
Have you ever gone to a “soup kitchen” or charity food pantry? Have you ever worked in one? What was your experience?
What happened to the hippies? (That is: Where did they go?)
That question seeded my newest novel, What’s Left. The book, to be candid, has grown into something much bigger, and I hope more relevant to more readers. It’s about what’s happened to Cassia, born a decade after the hippies faded into, well, wherever.