ADMITTING THE DARKER SIDES OF HIPPIE

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years pondering the hippie movement. The nation has stubbornly maintained a state of denial regarding those years – and the consequences for public policy have been toxic. The hippie side, especially, has been portrayed as an unrealistic stereotype. Nobody, but nobody, really looked or acted like that.

My wife – who came along after the flowering of the movement and grew up in the Deep South, far from its vitality – contends that the hippie label itself now means “loser.” I’d like to disagree, but when I look around at those who outwardly fit the image, I usually have to agree. Even trying to come up with a suitable synonym can be elusive. Bikers most look the role but hardly embody the light-hearted essence or its underlying desperation.

In revising my novels set in the period, I’ve finally more fully acknowledged the darker facets of the era. Some hippies were violent, contrary to peace. There was anger, contrary to love. There were freeloaders and bums and betrayals. As for bad drug trips or destructive addiction? In the end, so much feels like a string of broken promise. We had so much potential and came much closer to achieving the dream than we might have imagined, only to see it slip from our hands.

An America of Walmart and Fox is nothing like the healthy alternative of community and equality we anticipated. Politics and the power of global conglomerates has been responsible for much of the loss – I’ll save those rants for later.

The dream, though, doesn’t need to die. In fact, its essence may be more essential now than ever before. Having my character Cassia look at it from today feels quite relevant. I hope so.

That said, I’ve changed the name of the series of novels from Hippie Trails to Freakin’ Free Spirits, which I feel is more accurate regarding the individuals inhabiting the stories.

Let me know what you think.

Daffodil Uprising

My new novel reflects much of my revised thinking, as related a generation later.

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OH, THE LIFE LOOKED SO BEAUTIFUL

“Sister Act,” a profile of the German twins Gisela Getty and Jutta Winkelmann in the May 2018 issue of Vanity Fair, reminds me of another disturbing side of the hippie era. The two celebrity “cosmic flower children” are portrayed as the antithesis of the poor underage runaways-turned-beggars who populated Haight-Ashbury a few years earlier, desperate for a better life than they’d had growing up.

No, these two had access to anything – and anyone – they wanted. They were already the Jet Set, slumming for fun during the day and partying with the rich-and-famous at night. Or the other way around, depending.

The photos made their stylish life look so beautiful. Much more so than the rundown places where most of us were living or the clothing we wore.

Their biggest leap into the spotlight came when Gisela, then 24, became engaged to marry oil-fortune heir J. Paul Getty III, age 17, shortly before he was kidnapped and held for ransom – and had his right ear severed and mailed away as proof during a five-month ordeal. His abduction itself may have been prompted by his own wayward wanderings and musings. They did marry after his release, though it had its problems leading to divorce.

So just what upsets me so in the article by Mark Rozzo?

I think of social activist Saul Alinsky’s revulsion at the yippies and the like, perceiving that their actions actually harmed efforts for political and economic justice.

Over the years since, too few dreamers have stepped up to do the nitty-gritty daily labor toward these ends – a protest march is superficial in contrast to serving on a board or writing to officials or work on campaigns for office.

The article also has me recalling an op-ed piece in the New York Times in the early ’70s that noted six types of hippies – and a huge gap in the middle of the range. In the upper categories were altruistic social reformers, artists and poets, spiritual practitioners – the ones I celebrate. In the lower categories, though, were misfits who had little ambition and few abilities. Ultimately, the two extremes had little in common.

Rozzo’s depicted counterculture is self-indulgent, narcissistic, rife with drugs and promiscuity, and celebrity connections like actor Dennis Hopper and his machine guns. This is the Revolution of Peace & Love? Or its spoiled countercurrent?

What a waste, I mutter. What a waste.

What did they contribute to the common good? What was their vision for a better world? They had so much to begin with, they could have supported so much.

The very tempting beauty they embodied winds up feeling hollow, even venomous.

Pipe dreams, then. There’s so much we lost that still haunts me.

THIS MATTER OF BRANDING AND SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

The Mixmaster is back.

When my first novel was published, back in 1990, I was described as “a mixmaster of ideas, images, jokes, philosophy, and nonsense that defies categorization” – as well as “very eclectic and ebullient.”

I’m realizing how much that still fits, and so I’m returning to it as a core of what some might call branding.

As one longtime friend recently described me, I’m “an eclectic human being with a funky sense of humor and a large perspective.”

That’s what I like to do as a writer and thinker – toss a wide range of colorful things together and concoct fresh and exciting connections.

So if that’s what I do and, as I hope, do well, that leads to a new label: Mixmaster Supreme.

Now, where are the frozen strawberries?

Remember, the drink is shaken, not stirred. As for the emotions? Let’s go for both. 

LIVING IN MULBERRY ROW

As writers, most of us start with particulars we’ve known and try our best to abstract them – that is, make them more universal.

The dorm quad I now call Mulberry Row in my novel Daffodil Uprising is loosely based on one where I lived, though there was none of the clandestine financial intrigue I create to symbolize the old-boy network and its manipulative contortions. No, when I lived there, it was all simply a tad dowdy.

The dining hall, too, was far from the gloriously remodeled Annenberg Hall in Harvard’s great Memorial Hall – everyone who peeks in seems to utter something about Hogwarts – but it had its own low-key potential.

When I drafted the earlier novel, I had no idea what was about to happen in reality. The quad has since been renovated and refocused. From this distance, it all looks pretty exciting, actually.

I’ll assume the fictional benefactor Mildred Chouthonian would be proud.

My room was at the corner of the building at the right, in the center of this photo.

 

The dining hall looks much more modest all these years later, but it’s definitely been spiffed up.

THOSE MISSIONARIES DON’T REALLY KNOW US

Recently, we got a white packet in the Quaker meeting post office box. The label was addressed to our Inner Light Preacher and came from the Columbus Missionary Society in Ohio.

We do get some weird mass mailings.

One mailing list has us as the Religious Order of Friends, which sounds to me like a monastery. Officially, Quakers are the Religious Society of Friends, quite active in the wider world.

Pieces targeted to the Proprietor or the Chief Purchasing Agent always amuse me. Nobody owns us but God, for one thing, and even that can get unruly.

And then, like many other Quaker congregations, we have no paid staff, much less a pastor. Vocal messages arising during our hour of mostly silent worship each week are kept short and delivered without notes or, we hope, earlier intention.

Preaching? I’ve been accused of crossing the line, but we never have anything like what this is addressed to. Homiletics are out of the question.

Oh, yes, while many consider a doctrine of Inner Light to be a distinctly Quaker teaching, it was originally Inward Light, with a much different emphasis than is given today. To see my take on that, look at my pamphlet, Revolutionary Light.

So this envelope was a first.

Inside was a 53-page booklet titled Holiness (be filled with God) Or Hell (or spend eternity in Hell) by William Baxter Godbey, and inside that were three more. I decided to Google this guy, only to discover he was a Wesleyan evangelist who lived from 1833 to 1920. No wonder his text had such an old-fashioned ring!

One of the others was a 1741 sermon by Jonathan Edwards, and a third was by abolitionist and pioneering revivalist Charles G. Finney.

I can’t find anything about the missionary group online, but they did put some money into this mailing. What was their intent? The works simply don’t speak to us today, apart from some fundamentalist Christians. For the most part, Friends (to use the more formal name of Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends, based on John 15:14-15) have moved far beyond the confines of these arguments. I look at the writings as historical curiosities but am not moved by their legalistic thrust.

In short, I’m left baffled.

The cover letter, by the way, was signed merely, “Love, A Brother.” And since there was no return address, only a Zip code, I can’t exactly ask him, either.

I START MY MORNING WITH SPANISH

For the past two years, a daily online language class has opened my day. The practice began shortly after the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, where repeated happenstances with our guests from Cuba had me realizing how much of my high school Spanish I’d forgotten.

Well, a lot of my recall also got tangled up in my college French, but that’s another story.

A conversation with my elder daughter, the linguist, convinced me to try a free online refresher course via Duolingo, which some of you probably know of. The high school text I’d carried since 1964 soon went into the trash – it was terribly dated.

So I rise, usually before dawn, brew some full-bodied, fair-trade Cuban-style coffee beans we get at Costco (they’re like espresso but better), and head off to my laptop in the attic for a half-hour of language learning. Let’s say that at that hour, I make a number of stupid mistakes. I’m still groggy.

A few months ago, the powers-that-be behind the free course decided to alter a few things. It’s inevitable when it comes to anything computer, isn’t it? So instead of seeing something like “You are 67% proficient in Spanish” on the home page, they were taking a different tack. Most startling was that my Crown Level had decreased significantly. Look, that was something that would occur if I missed a few days of practice, but I had been faithful. I felt robbed.

That’s when I started thinking about some of the motivating factors the Duolingo brain trust applies.

The first is something they call Lingots – kind of like Monopoly game cash you can hoard, like me, or spend on things like commentary or idioms. If you do 10 uninterrupted days of study, you’re awarded Lingots – one point when you hit the first 10 days, two more at 20, three at 30, and so on. You can also wager some of yours for other accomplishments. Look, it’s stupid but highly addictive, especially when you reach 150 straight days. That’s 15 Lingots, hombre.

The Crowns, meanwhile, are part of a “learning tree” Duolingo has for advancing. When you start a language, you begin by clicking on a little button labeled “basics,” do the required number of lessons within it, and it soon turns color. You earn a Lingot or two and move on to the next, maybe “articles” or “vocabulary.” Eventually, all of them – 30 to 50, maybe? – change color and you go back to raise each of them to the next level.

Or from that point you can simply do a random set of practice questions. Oh, but that option doesn’t win you a lot of Lingots.

What I really want at the moment is to hit a thousand in my account. Hoard them, in fact. Es muy loco, verdad, but it keeps me going.

And then I move on to the latest manuscript in progress or check up here at WordPress. Both in American English.

TIME TO BLOW THE DUST OFF A FEW STACKS

As my wife and I started listing what’s keeping us busy these days, we were both surprised to find that one thing – one important thing – was missing.

What we both realized is that regular reading … as in books … had been pressed out of our schedules.

Instead, we’ve been doing bits and pieces of reading online. It’s just not the same as luxuriating in a deep volume.

How about you?