Recently Cathy Nickum has contributed two pieces to Rainshadow about her feelings and thoughts on the death of David Crosby and the ideals he and his music had represented for her and her times. Cathy and I were contemporaries on Bainbridge Island in the 90’s when she published (on paper!) a journal, The Busy Bee, directed at the women around her. She inspired me to write then and to write now.
I’ve been thinking my own thoughts about generations and the times in which anyone lives their life. I was born in 1944 and am seven years older than Cathy which makes me a War Baby instead of a Boomer, in the jargon. I graduated from high school in 1961 in a world now described, by most, as the American 50’s. When I graduated from college in 1965, I was still trying to model my life on All-I-Had-Ever-Known but picked up rumblings of a different point of view. I chose a boyfriend ten years older than I for his devastatingly attractive Beatnik or Bohemian qualities: artsy lives, marijuana, looser morals, a darker, more exciting world. Soon I realized that people just younger than I were creating a similar, but perhaps more joyful style. I stopped and made a sharp left turn.
I welcomed the dropping away of old restrictions on customs of all sorts: appearance, prejudices, religion, mind-altering substances, living arrangements and politics. It was a new world, and I was young. Only now have I grasped that cultures and institutions move through cycles of youth, middle age, and decline. I just managed to catch the bus as our culture was heading into a new cycle; it was a wonderful time to be young.
Like Cathy, I believe that some very good things came out of all that idealism and innocence. I wouldn’t want to live without the greater tolerance for human variety in all its forms that exists much more broadly now. Nor would I want to miss the strides in creativity and artforms. Remember when Yellow Submarine was a revelation in animation? How about dancing to Motown? And getting rid of girdles, nylons and ironing?
Our Jefferson County is the oldest, demographically, in the state and right up there for the nation. Many of us lucky ones are hiding out here. We hold dear, and work at carrying on, things we learned then, treasured then, and enjoyed then. However, holding in memory, as I do, mid-century America as well as all I have learned of my ancestors who migrated in earlier centuries, and walked with their covered wagons a thousand miles to be pioneers of the American West, I feel other generational strivings, changes, and values. I do muse about how we evolved into our present times, and I think of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
My mid-life crisis led me to Jungian thought and the notion of the shadow – the unclaimed, rejected, shamed parts of ourselves, the parts that hide themselves from all we hold with pride and sometimes hubris. The shadow is not optional, we all have one. Our culture has one. Being human means, we live with a complex brain that fires us to loving, nurturing, striving, altruism, and doing “good”: our conscious lives. The same brain harbors and hides our unwanted impulses: jealousy, meanness, escape, greed, snobbery, violence, addiction. We do not escape them, even when we are only willing to see them in others.
Our time, which began in a burst of youth, freedom, merriment, exploration and growth passed on to its inevitable middle-age with the shadow appearing in horrors of war, riots, and assassinations on a grand scale, Also, the more ordinary pain of the maturing adult human being: failure, self-hate, compulsion, divorce, rivalry, dishonesty and worse. Dr. Jung said that “The task of the mature personality is to live in the tension of the opposites”.
So, in my chastened, more humble, elderly self, I look for complexity and balance, when it can be had. I see an ever-turning wheel of opportunity and oppression grinding us all exceedingly fine. I marvel that I have come round to another era of growing rigidity, of absolutisms, of purity of thought and speech. Where my color must be red or blue as well as black or white and choices made for me accordingly. Where we try desperately to control messy human nature with enlightenment and education, or political correctness and fussy laws. I see my era transiting from youth, through middle age, to infirmity and dementia with maybe just a pinch of wisdom to show for it.
A number of years ago a close friend told me that, in our wider circle, I was thought of as either a Hippie or a Republican. I couldn’t be more proud.
Photo by AT&T / Bell Labs
Sweet summary of our shriveling squad. Thanks Ann!
Thank you for your comments and insights, Ann.
A 1941 War Baby here. I was 4 years old on the day of the first Nuclear Explosion. I became part of the Love Generation the day JFK was shot.
“The last great exploration on Earth is to survive on Earth.” Robert Swann
“In the darkest of times, it is easiest to imagine another world.” Kate Raworth
War becomes perpetual when used as a rationale for peace,” Norman Solomon.
“Peace becomes perpetual when used as a rationale for survival.” Yours truly.
The Pollution Profiteers still try to bury us, yet don’t grok that we are seeds.
“The future is now, it is just not evenly distributed.” Federico Pistono
That is our calling as I see it.
Thanks for a lovely and thoughtful piece, Ann. I see you neither as hippie nor Republican, but as a fellow traveler and a good listener, trying to make sense of it all.
Well done; I can relate!!
Wonderful essay. Thank you. Reminds me of Whitman:
“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)“
Thank you for the Whitman quote, I am flattered.