Why I keep returning to counterculture particulars

I wish there were a better label than “hippie” to apply to the counterculture explosion that swept the world in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Contrary to popular assumptions, there was no standard-issue hippie, male or female. Not everyone did pot or ventured into acid and beyond, nor did everyone participate in a protest march or have long hair or have sex every night or at least on the weekend. We all came in various degrees of separation from general society yet, somehow, we also recognized a kinship with each other.

The paperback cover …

“Are you sure you were a hippie,” my wife sometimes asks. So what if I didn’t like rock? Many of my friends had been at Woodstock just down the highway from the milieu I describe in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks. No, we didn’t recite a credo, you dig what I mean?

The only other flash in history I can see similar to this was the mid-1600s in England, with its World Turned Upside Down before the restoration of the monarchy – stresses that would fester until the American Revolution a century later. What we shared was a vision of a more just, equal, and caring society. We didn’t have standard-issue, card-carrying members. Alas, we didn’t have elders or cohesive discipline, either. And the breakdown that followed can’t be blamed entirely on a youth movement crossing over into the dreaded age 30. (Oh, how I’d love to be back there, if only I wouldn’t have to figure out how to survive in the current economy.)

Tom Wolfe, author of “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” pointedly asked why there wasn’t the big hippie novel, overlooking a few notable entries like Gurney Norman’s “Divine Right’s Trip.” The problem, as I see it, is that the scope of the events was too big and too fuzzy to be encapsulated in a single volume. You had the activist side, from civil rights and draft resistance to pacifism, feminism, and the environment, for starters. Add to that sexual revolution. And then drug use, abuse, and visions, as well as new spiritual teachings and practices. All before we even get to the music and its scene. How could you possibly wrap all of that, plus more, into a single volume?

… and the back cover.

Believe me, I’ve tried with my own Daffodil Uprising and its companion “Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.” Hate to admit there’s so much more that could be added to the, uh, pot. Make that “pan.”

By the way, I think there are worthy nominations in each of the subcategories I’ve just mentioned. I’d love to hear more.

Frankly, I think we, as a nation, have been in a state of denial about the era, with its tension between the war in ‘Nam and the Establishment supporting it, on one side, and the opposition on multiple grounds, on the other. Those rifts in the soul of the nation have never been adequately examined and addressed from either side, much less healed. We could start with the MIA-POW myth, for one, or the ways we might have failed to answer our kids’ questions about pot use, for another. They are definitely exploding in our face now.

Meanwhile, Cassia, in What’s Left, has come along to try to make her own way out of the debris.

And so I humbly or brashly offer my own novels for discussion.

Care to share in my field notes from a lifetime’s zigzag trip?

Writing has been a means for me to investigate the question, “Who am I,” and of recollecting fragments, especially those that might eventually coalesce into a larger perspective. Unlike many adults, I have few vivid childhood memories, but what I am piecing together is often troubling. I grew up in Ohio in a mainstream Protestant tradition, became an Eagle scout, loved chemistry, hiked and camped, that sort of thing. I can blame becoming a hippie on my first lover, and thank her, too, for pointing my life in an unanticipated direction even after she flew ever so far away.

In the years since, I’ve followed a zigzag journey that’s been rich in many ways excepting money. Let’s just say it’s been off-beat.

Now retired from a career in daily newspaper journalism, I’ve married for the second time, live in a historic mill town in the seacoast region of New Hampshire, and am an active Quaker. It’s a full plate. What I didn’t expect was how much of my own “contemporary” fiction is now history – so much has changed so quickly in my own lifetime.

It’s hardly the end of the story, though. Not if we can help it.