REGARDING ANCIENT HISTORY SOME OF THE LIVING MAY REMEMBER

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

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.

Continue reading “REGARDING ANCIENT HISTORY SOME OF THE LIVING MAY REMEMBER”

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.

MOVING ON FROM BLUE JEANS

Over the past few years, there’s been an unanticipated shift in the way I dress, one that’s not entirely related to retirement. One of the lessons I carry from the hippie experience is an awareness that clothing should be comfortable, rather than conforming to the marketplace – and, if possible, it should express some degree of style.

As someone who never fit into the half of the bell curve the clothing manufacturers targeted, I’d always had difficulty dressing to general expectations. Back-to-school shopping was always a terror, one abetted by our family’s financial tight outlook, and one result was my pants were always way too short on my tall, skinny frame. You can imagine my delight discovering during my college years that Levis were actually available in my size. It was heavenly, even if radical at the time. I remember breaking unvoiced rules in attending classical concerts in my denim, even while wearing a necktie. Fortunately, the shift prevailed and later, when I discovered Quaker meeting for worship, came an expectation of dressing humbly rather than for pretentious show. Viva denim!

Moving to New Hampshire, I was delighted to learn that the San Francisco-based Levi Strauss relied on denim produced in the water-powered Amoskeag mills in Manchester, where I lived. So the product linked the continent, New England to California Bay Area, with cotton from the Deep South, and back.

As prices rose, my brand-name loyalty evaporated, even at the outlet store in nearby Maine, but some alternative sources still satisfied. And then they all started tinkering with the fit and gone was that feeling of comfort. Well, all except my Amish jeans – no zipper or belt but a pair of braces (suspenders, if you will) – which seem indestructible. Mine are going on 20 years, I reckon, and just starting to show real wear. The braces, though, can be a pain, as can going to the john when I’m also wearing a sweater.

For everyday usage, I’ve now drifted into variations of khaki or olive cargo pants. I really like all the pockets, along with the fit.

This has been accompanied by a shift from the oxford shirts I always wore to the office. From my first copydesk job, I’d learned to wear my wallet in my shirt pocket rather than sitting on it and throwing my back out of alignment – and so my shirts always had to have that pocket, which never, ever had a plastic liner like nerdy engineers include. Well, with the new pants, I could place my wallet in the other front pocket comfortably and that, in turn, allowed me to move on into turtlenecks for daily wear.

Turtlenecks are simply more flexible – no need for undershirts, I don’t even have to take them off at bedtime, for that matter, and they’re warm, even in our cold house. Yes, they also go with the sweaters I used to wear with those shirts.

I am surprised by my reaction looking at men my age or older who are still going about in blue jeans. They’re appearing somehow, uh, inappropriate.

FINE PRINT CRITICISM

You know that reaction after reading a page that leaves you with a sensation of missing something. A treatise about poetry or art or theology, especially?

If you’re like me and largely autodidactic, you no doubt feel yourself an outsider. So I write from the fringe, in more ways than one. Reading some reviews and critiques, I soon wonder: Am I simply inattentive? Clueless? Ignorant? Is it that such subtlety, speaking only to the highly initiated, will never accept my own efforts? Or is it that I prefer what is simple, direct, grounded in experience and place, over what is convoluted and cloaked – even in form? Without falling into cliche or triteness?

Or am I the one, despite myself, who becomes convoluted and cloaked? How do we reach higher, anyway, in this thing called art, while striving to stay true … to whatever?

How does originality run through it all? And life?

By the way, just who are the critics writing for? Even when we ourselves turn critic.

PICKING THE RIGHT, RIPE WILD BERRIES

I keep thinking about the stories children are taught, especially here in America. Carol Bly once wrote of the Scandinavian tales the descendants in Minnesota never heard, unlike the mass-media mishmash they were served. I’m left wondering if Ohio ever had anything like Kokopelli or Coyote from Native American lore and wisdom. I can keep hoping.

The fact is, most Americans are estranged from their roots. We don’t even know where we live, not really.

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse, we rarely know how to select the healthy wild berries. Leave it at that.

As for the hornpipe? It’s a Celtic dance, faster and more complicated than a jig – or gigue, if you insist. But I also like the vision of a pipe carved from a horn and played.

Care to join me for a dance?

Kokopelli 1~*~

For your own copy, click here.

 

LIKE A SALMON

Much of the time, the character of Jaya in Promise seems to be swimming upstream. Against the current. Toward higher and higher goals.

Sometimes, she just might wonder if it’s all worth it. Or what her alternatives are.

But she continues, just like the migrating salmon in the Katonkah Valley where she finally settles. Maybe it’s just a natural impulse, after all. Her legacy will be what it is.

Promise

~*~

For your own copy, click here.

 

WITH GRATITUDE FOR THE INSPIRATION

You know the disclaimer, “Any resemblance of the characters to real people living or dead …” Something along the lines of purely unintentional.

But let’s be frank. The fiction is that you can create a character without having someone real in front of you, somewhere in your past or present. No, you need flesh and blood somewhere. Anything else would be a caricature.

It’s a special problem when you’re composing in a semi-autobiographical vein. You’re trying to be true to the dictum, Write about what you know. The details, especially.

(Oh? What, then, makes it fiction? Other than changing a few dates?)

Admittedly, the personalities work best when you take your inspiration and abstract it, so that a real individual would no longer recognize himself or herself – or those who were no way involved will imagine they, themselves, were.

And, by way of further confession, I’ll note that my most recent outings have led me to new characters lacking immediate introductions for me – but I’ll know them when I meet them if I haven’t already come across them here and there in pieces.

But back to the argument at hand.

I have one character, Nita, who runs through four of my five Hippie Trails novels and is a major character in the new one I’m writing, set years later. She was inspired by impressions I had of a friend’s girlfriend – or more accurately, mostly his impressions conveyed to me at the time – as I sat down to draft a half-dozen years or so later. She becomes a catalyst for much that happens around her.

In reality, we all drifted away.

And then, a few years ago, I met her again.

Nothing like I’d remembered. Or the idealized character in my fiction, now infused with another two or three people I’ve met. The lines blur.

I can say this person never did X, Y, or Z, unlike the character. Or that these two worked together on a controversial project or became known for certain accomplishments. In fact, she doesn’t resemble the other one at all, not anymore, if she ever did.

Still, it’s an eerie feeling. Something other than deja vu. Something still spurring gratitude for the inspiration.

For more on the series, click here.

~*~

TRIPLE PLAY

Any writer tackling a large work such as a novel or screenplay will need to consider the matter of structure. The easiest way out, of course, is to follow a conventional model.

In fiction that might mean 60,000 words, more or less, spread out over 20 to 24 chapters, typically in a straight chronological order, past tense. For the film, something that would come in a little under two hours. To that you’d add pacing, points of conflict, resolution, number of main characters, and so on.

Sometimes, though, you find that’s not the best way to organize your material.

For example, in its revisions, Promise emerged with three sections, each set in a different locale – Prairie Depot, the Ozarks, and finally the Katonkah Valley. Each one, as it turns out, can be viewed as a novella held together by the central couple, Erik and Jaya.

I didn’t intend it this way. The original version had five sections, for one thing, which I came to feel were simply too unwieldy. The cuts provided what I feel gives a better balance.

Let me also admit to a fondness for shorter novels. Novels, mind you, not simply novellas, no matter how much I enjoy them, as well. Maybe it’s a reflection of my typically crowded schedule.

Still, both short stories and novellas stand as kinds of orphans in today’s literary scene. They should be more popular than they are. An occasional solution, one I’ve enjoyed reading, runs a central character through a set of short stories to culminate in a volume of novel length. It’s a tricky strategy, though, and hard to pull off.

Maybe that’s one more reason I feel a special satisfaction with Promise.

Hope you do, too.

Promise~*~

For your own copy, click here.

THE INVISIBLE FACTOR

In the buildup of national elections, once again a major influence remains the elephant in the room. I’m referring to the legacy – make that plural, legacies – of the hippie outburst, especially in contrast to those on the Vietnam war side of the divide.

The wounds and tensions haven’t gone away. Just look at the continuing proliferation of POW-MIA black flags across the landscape, on one side.

For the other, the lines are much more hazy yet festering. As I’ve been arguing, hippies came – and still come – in all varieties and degrees, and likely nobody ever fit what’s become the media stereotype. With the end of the military draft, the movement lost a crucial motivating force and focusing definition.

Complicating the situation was the distancing many youths on the antiwar side felt when it came to politics. With its support of the military at the time, liberal politics were tainted with outdated Cold War ideologies like those of the conservative side. For hippies, radical was the label of honor. And the Democratic Party base of the left was splintered as its youthful potential allies had nowhere to turn or direct their forces in the political arena.

The horror meant going from a hawkish LBJ administration to one of Richard Nixon.

Fast-forward now to the present American landscape. Gone are the grandparents and parents of many of the now senior baby boomers – the core of the hippie movement versus the older generations. Yet political candidates still tiptoe around many of the reality issues, beginning with marijuana and other illicit substances, as if they’re too hot to touch. Let’s get real. Want to talk about litmus tests?

As we look at candidates, ask where each stands on a scale of continuing issues from the hippie stream. I find it enlightening.

  • Peace and social justice activism.
  • Sexual equality … including abortion rights.
  • Racial equality.
  • Environmental and ecological issues, including the outdoors.
  • Educational alternatives and opportunities.
  • Sustainable economics and fair trade.
  • Spirituality and radical religion.
  • Fitness along the lines of yoga, bicycling, kayaking, hiking.
  • Organic and natural foods.
  • Marijuana reform.
  • Arts and crafts.
  • Community as common wealth, including health care.
  • Labor as a matter of respect and a livable income.

Well, we have Bernie running straight true to the cause. Hillary, more cautiously so. But on the right? Let me suggest being wary of anyone in the pro-war camp who hasn’t served. Period. As for other life experiences?

~*~

All of this returns me to my Hippie Trails series of novels. I’d love for you to come along. Just click here.