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Sunday, August 07, 2011

All memories are sad

Although this blog often publishes non-political pieces on the weekends, things rarely get very personal around here. This post will be different. I may not even hit the "Publish Post" button when I'm done. But sometimes, words start buzzing around your cranium and you just gotta write them down.

Just about everyone in my ladyfriend's family loves a certain animated show which appeals to both adults and children. I won't name it. About a week ago, I looked up the history of the show and discovered that one of the two creators is someone I knew fairly well back when I was thirteen.

His name is John. (At least, that's his name in this post.) I had forgotten all about him -- just as he has no doubt forgotten me. That fact now seems astonishing, since my younger brother and John were the best of friends. In fact, my brother practically lived at his apartment throughout much of 1972.

That became a huge problem.

John's mother was an archetypical free spirit -- an attractive, fair-haired hippie named Denny who didn't worry much about bread (or money, as you younguns would call it) because her father was a famous jazz bandleader who had made it big.

(A great guy, he was. Had the most amazing stereo system I had ever seen -- loudspeakers the size of billboards, built right into the wall.)

Denny was sweet and funny, and all of the kids in the neighborhood gravitated toward her. I both liked her and couldn't stand her.

When it came to raising kids, she had a strict no-strictness policy. Some of you may recall the song lyric: "Like a beautiful child, growing up free and wild..." Such was her philosophy of parenting. No rules, no punishments, no curfew, no criticism of any kind, no saying "no" to...well, to anything. If the boys had told her they wanted to try heroin, she probably would have said: "Okay, I'll see what I can score."

Her parenting approach did not arise from laziness or hedonism. She really believed in total freedom -- an idealized, reified, romanticized capital-F Freedom. In her opinion, discipline created all of the world's problems. The word of sin is Restriction. That's how Nixon became Nixon, y'know: His parents told him what to do.

Well, her kids would turn out different. They would be confident. Magical. Naturally brilliant. Free.

In Denny's world, there was a new project nearly every day -- some place to go, some grand scheme to fulfill, some adventure to live. Denny was Mary Poppins: There was always an amazing outing or someone cool to meet. There was fun.

For some unfathomable reason, Denny always tried to include me in these adventures, even though John was my brother's friend (not mine) and even though that woman had zero reason to like me. Maybe she fixated on me precisely because I was the only young person in the neighborhood who did not view her as the Coolest Mom Ever.

In fact, there were times when I loathed her, despite all the wonderful things she did for my brother and for me.

You must understand one thing: It was hardly my fault that I knew everything. I was, after all, thirteen. And if there was one fact of which I was certain, it was this: Denny's ethos of total freedom was a cosmic mistake.

The proof: John's brother.

(What the hell was the kid's name? I want to say Michael. Well, let's call him Michael in this essay.)

Michael was blonde, maybe five-ish. If you had seen him, you would compare him to an angel in a painting by Raphael. He was also the single brattiest kid ever to assail the planet.

The Cloverdale Monster had better manners. He said whatever he liked, however harmful or insulting, because his mom had taught him to be free and confident and outgoing and unrestricted and wild and free free free. If he wanted your food, he'd grab it. If you told him no, he'd scream like a banshee until Denny made sure that he got his way.

He was, in short, pure Id. And he was awful. Even when I had him on my shoulders to watch the fireworks at Disneyland, I couldn't help thinking: "God, what a terrible kid."

John was a good guy. Michael was Boy Satan.

And every day, every freaking day, there was that urge to tell Denny: "This is all your fault. You're raising this child all wrong. Your Freedom Philosophy is a proven loser."

She sensed my disapproving attitude. No doubt she wondered how a thirteen year old could get so uptight.

Come to think of it, that may be the reason she kept inviting me to those outings: She wanted to prove that her Freedom Philosophy was right. She wanted to score a conversion.

What she never comprehended was this: I came to loathe Denny not out of an aversion to the Hippie lifestyle, but because she had discredited that ethos. Her impossible younger son proved that hippie-ness was a failed experiment. Total Freedom produced human beasts.

For me, that one blonde brat killed the spirit of the 60s. That kid, and Charles Manson.

But even though Denny was annoying and infuriating, I also liked her. I'll always be grateful to her for inviting my asshole self to tag along on her extended family's various outings.

On one occasion, we made a trip to the Colorado river. John, my brother and I went innertubing down some very wild and picturesque tributaries, far from any other human being -- and totally unsupervised by adults. An unforgettable experience. Dangerous? Hell, yeah. No sane parent nowadays would allow his or her children to undergo such an excursion unattended. But Denny felt that supervision would have restricted our capital-F Freedom. (I think John may have acquired his nickname on that occasion.)

Denny had divorced her husband because he did not share her Freedom Ethos. There was an ugly custody dispute. I can't recall the details.

She was so caught up in her own Dennyness that she never quite realized that most of the other parents in our apartment building -- especially my mom -- had come to despise her. All of the neighboring kids made no secret of the fact that they preferred living the restriction-free, every-day-an-adventure Denny lifestyle to living at home. When my brother finally, reluctantly, returned home at the end of the day, he would be rude and sullen and insulting. My mom wasn't big on rules herself, but she did insist on having a few -- and once a kid had experienced life with Denny, he would make no secret of his preference for having no rules whatsoever. Just fun fun fun, each and every day.

One day, Denny moved away. I guess she finally understood that she had alienated too many people. In retrospect, I admire her persistence in standing up for her beliefs, even if I still cannot share those beliefs. She stood for something.

Is she is still alive? Dunno. Her father passed away in 2001.

God only knows what happened to Michael. Maybe he ended up in prison. Or maybe he's working as a henchman to Lloyd Blankfein. I will always consider him the Brat Who Killed the 60s.

His brother John, of course, is best-known for his animated show about two ten-year-old boys who come up with amazing new projects and adventures each and every day, despite the furious disapproval of an uptight 13-year-old sibling.

And the point of this reminiscence?

Maybe it's time to admit that my 13 year-old self might have been wrong to blame Denny. The brattiest kid I know now has a very conservative father. Maybe brattiness has nothing to do with the Freedom-vs-Discipline scale. Maybe our personality patterns are imprinted at birth -- at the moment of conception. Maybe we are who we are, for good or for evil, and no parenting strategy can change genetic destiny.

That's a depressing thought.

This narrative has another point: My brother and I had forgotten all about John, even though my brother was once practically a member of John's family. All of those ancient tape recordings were tossed into the deepest sub-basement of memory. At the age of thirteen, all experience seems incredibly vivid and intense -- yet as decades pass, we become alienated from our own history, like the Alzheimer's patient who talks to his own children as if they were strangers. In the end, we have no friends, no family, no loved ones. We are alone.

That, too, is a depressing thought.

This narrative has a final point. My 13-year-old self embarrasses me. I close my eyes and there he is -- and the sight is horrifying.

True, that young man had some admirable characteristics: He had creativity, self-assurance, a buoyancy which often segued into a sort of ecstasy. It would be nice, once again, to feel that all things were possible. Oh that magic feeling...oh, where'd it go?

Only in later years did the truth become clear: I was no world-conquering genius, just a solipsistic juvenile creep with some (but not enough) drawing ability. In a way, I was a bigger monster than Michael was. I certainly had no right to judge that kid. Or Denny. Or anyone else.

One longs to apologize to the ghosts of long ago, but one never can.

That is the most depressing thought of all.

All memories are sad. Even the happy memories are sad -- because they are only memories.
You've touched on something I've been feeling for some time Joe...

That "All memories are sad. Even the happy memories are sad--because they are only memories."

Thank you!
"Maybe we are who we are, for good or for evil, and no parenting strategy can change genetic destiny."

I came to that conclusion. I now recognize that all a parent can do is love and give opportunities to the children. It's up to each child to figure out what to do with the opportunities and his/her life.
"Maybe our personality patterns are imprinted at birth -- at the moment of conception."

No way! Given the right encouragement and guidance, the bratty kid could have learnt not to take other people's food.

How come 99.9% of 'people' brought up waited on by servants turn into adults who are selfish scum who swish past others as though they're not human beings? I can't swish past anyone like that. What's wrong with free-free-free is it's about me-me-me.

The hippy upsurge couldn't get to grips with the free development of each being the condition for the free development of all. It had massive potential to do so. Why didn't it? The ideology of the Cold War was one reason. So was the official US ideology of individualism. Abbie Hoffman used the five-pointed red star but still wanted to build a a stars-and-stripe shirt. Pathetic non-critique of commerce, brand, and other people's passivity. I don't argue that celebrities should have been more sussed (God forbid!), but such confusions were of the time.

Had they been gone beyond, we wouldn't be in this shit now.

b (trying and miserably failing to come up with any intense memories from age 0-15)
b, you may be right. The problem with the counterculture ethos was that '60s hedonism segued into '70s narcissism which segued, inevitably, into '80s greed. And thus the hippie kids grew up to become monstrously hyperbolic versions of everything the counterculture had once opposed.

The "free spirit" parents of that age believed that guilt and shame were dirty words. This was a mistake. We shouldn't feel ashamed of shame or guilty about guilt. I've long felt that those two emotions were as useful as all the others.

Without shame we grow up to be shameless. Without guilt we grow up to be guilt-free. Not "guilt-free" in the sense of "perpetually innocent," but in the sense of "Fuck you; I'll do whatever I please and I don't care what you think about me."

If little Michael had understood the concepts of guilt and shame, he would not have grabbed other people's food.

And if little Lloyd Blankfein possessed a more keenly developed sense of guilt and shame...
That hippi thing was a monstrous (in)human experiment and You, in the tender age of thirteen
have resisted it.
In the very center of the beast, You have survived.
Thanks to Your genes and thanks to residues of age-old traditions of resistance, however confused and distorted.
Why are You not PROUD of THAT ?
What You need to see is, that You are MANY.
How could I be so sure?
-By You telling your story I am confirmed in my story : It's a antagonistic to Your's to the extreme.
You are confirming my hope, that one could survive the most monstrous attack on
human nature (which I never had to experience, other than as a semi-conscious onlooker)
And that in turn gives me strenght in the daily struggle NOW.
Good experience.
Keep on !
I enjoyed reading that - thank you!
I didn't experience those American-style 60s in the UK - we heard about your version, read about it, heard songs about it, but for most of my own generation, outside of Carnaby Street, London, life proceeded on much as usual.

""Maybe our personality patterns are imprinted at birth." Even though I'm interested in astrology I don't believe this is totally true. We have a kind of blueprint, based on the cycles of time/space marked by posittion of planets etc. and we have genes/DNA inherited from our family bloodline. There's a whole vast range of potentialities springing from the combination of these, and from the background into which we emerge.

blah blah blah....

Anyway, Joseph - anytime you feel like writing more memories - we'll be all eyes! :-)
The Hindus--who don't sugarcoat things--maintain that consciousness itself is a form of suffering. It's not just memories--the whole consciousness thing is sad! That's why most of the paths to enlightenment in Hinduism involve "destroying the mind"--a markedly non-Western view of things.

As for the end of hippiedom, I don't think it came about through some flaw in hippy philosphy, or from massive sell-out by children of the 60s.

It came about because a very different cohort came of age in the 80s. These people disagreed with the Flower Children on just about everything--except possibly the righteousness of rock n roll. They were the Roundheads to the hippies' Cavaliers, and there were more of them than there were hippies. The 60s ended because of demography.
Inhuman is not a word (even with parentheses). And if you think that the hippies were all Jimi Hendrix and acid, then you're an imbecile. Ever heard of a guy called Steve Jobs? Stewart Brand? (Y'all tea baggers gotta love Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, no?) What about Mitch Kapor (Lotus123)? As anybody in Nashville who does anything of value what they think of "Farm Babies" and you will hear the most amazing stories about brilliant adults who were all infants on The Farm (the oldest hippie commune on the planet. And the birthplace of contemporary midwifery, and the first personal Geiger-counters).

The Hippies were for freedom, sure (and too bad they didn't add self-restraint to their educational platform for the kids), but more than that, they were the ones who said; "Ask not what your country can do for you. Do it yourself," (something all the tea bag dittoeheads ought to understand, though can hardly pass muster)

If you ask me, the most '(in)human experiment' was and is Levitown. That is the saddest thing to happen to America and why an idiot like Bachman might now become president.
So now do we call you "Candace"?

Very moving little story, I too can't stand the insufferable little snot I was at 13, but I do believe that's what 13 is for. I also think that's the age where we begin to become judgemental of parenting.

Case in point, the Spawn has a 13 year old friend, and when she's at my house, all she can do is tell me how much better I am than her mom. I make brownies, buffalo chips, and scalloped potatoes from scratch, we are always play fighting and horseplaying, we throw insults at each other.

She tells me she wishes her mom were more like me, and that breaks my heart for her mom. Because I remember how I felt at 13, disapproving of my mother, and how it broke her heart.

As far as Michael, I think Denny can be partly to blame. Behavior is part nature, and so the nurture must be adapted for that, parenting is not a one size fits all scenario. It seems like Denny was a good fit for John, perhaps she should have let Michael go with his dad. That's what my sister decided to do, when she divorced and she realized the enormous gulf between herself and her youngest son, and I will say that all their lives are better for it. You can't be all things to all people, and it's a tragedy just to try.
Thank you for this essay.

Echoing Red Dragon, your "All memories are sad" comment really speaks to me.

"that '60s hedonism segued into '70s narcissism which segued, inevitably, into '80s greed" - yeah, I recognize this too, even though my self-identity is in substantial part that of an aging hippie. Another observation - a disproportionate number of the most creative and thoughtful people I know were raised by hippie parents, or schooled in hippie schools.

Regarding "Maybe we are who we are, for good or for evil, and no parenting strategy can change genetic destiny" - worth viewing this video (featuring psychopathy researcher James Fallon):
Angry Hippie : 1:36 PM
"the oldest hippie commune on the planet" ->
(Dis)appropriating the real things
is what is the most disgusting aspect of the american personality.(maybe, not including some non-alienated Red-Indians)
From top to bottom, or reverse :
You people are so self assured, that it was You, who invented the water, or at least are the ones, who baptised it.
Your Governors securely relie on Your willingnness to agree on that myth, whenever they offer it to You.-Creating a basic common secret agreement, that may under NO circumstances be questioned. Tabu.
Free people are a bad thing in the rest of the world. They are utterly good, when they are in THE states.
Only They may get that label and and only then what is good becomes good and is ripe for export.
Your governors knew about movements in Germany as early as in the 19-twenties which were the forerunners of what they concocted as THE hippy"movement".
Those were : "anarchist", socialists, "lefties".(echoing earlier tendencies..)
The Nazies killed them.(mostly, but not the memory) with -at least support of Your oppressors.
Then, when they thought it usefull to sack the anti-vietnam movement, they used that -albeit castrated and well supervised- natural human desire for freedom and injected it in USA. The rest of the world-Youth tried to follow.Partially forgetting their own traditions. Cultural Imperialism.Like is beeing done, right now using facebook, etc..
The short term is :Alienation, to (ab)use the good for the bad.
Sometimes the victims, these puppets, get out of control and get (back) a life of their own.(negation of negation)
Then things happen: John Lennon, Jimmi Hendrix, Morrisson, Manson..You name them.Suppose, You are better at THAT.
Permanent controlled demolition of human nature "evoluting".
Of course, this cannot and will not go on forever.
My son loves the phineas, I dig the ferb.

Today is it. Make it how you like, but don't f123ing complain if you didn't even try because you're stuck on sh&t that you can't fix.

Well, unless that's how you want to spend today.

Proverbial 'you', royal 'we', etc.
Poignant story.

Children react differently to the same form of parenting. Ms. D's parenting style seems to have worked well for John, perhaps not so well with Michael. If she were perfect (and who among us is?), she would have realized that her natural style was not working with Michael and adjusted. But he may have improved along the way.

Sounds like you were a sensible kid. Maybe she thought you would be a good role model for Michael. Maybe she just liked you.

djimm: Sensible? I was awful. And I wish I could apologize to Denny, because I was damned ungrateful to her. But I don't even know if she is alive.

Regrets? I've had a few...
(w)ho (a)re you? Rolland freaking (B)arthes? So we "Americans" Invented Water (FWIW I'm a Canadian)? And b\ecause I have some sense of Pride in Hippiedom History, I am a revisionist tool of "The Governors"? Really?

Whatever fuels your hubris (and probably your awful poetic style) stinks like shit--- you think "american" hippies didn't know about the libertines? we knew damn well about John Wilmot and the Marquis (neither were hip)... we knew about William Morris and John Ruskin (what was that, 100 years before your anarchists? and so blow it out your ass already). We know that stuff... idiots like Anon4:40 (who can't even come up with a name ffs) can't list anything these folks have done (Anon553 you quote me about The Farm before... you know anyone who has made and marketed their own Geiger counters?? And yes The Farm is oldest RUNNING (still running) hippie commune (and no a kibbutz won't count). It's a hell of a lot older than Freetown Christiania, and infinitely more productive and not drug addeled (so cram that up your eurohole)

Though I will assume, Anon4:40 (who can't even come up with a name ffs), that you aren't even European. Too ignorant. You are pretending to be Eurotrash but you're not. No respectable European would talk about "anarchist" socialists, lefties" being the euro equivalent to the hippies (they would talk about Daniel Cohn- Bendit, May68, Goddard's La Chinoise) not some americano boogeyman terms taken from the mouth or O'Reilly.

You're not european Anon553-- you're out there in Montana maybe... definitely talking Kaczynskian, with a(n)(un)settling (st(yle th(a)t m(a)kes (no) se(n)se t(o) an(y)one e)l(se (but you). i.e. Crazy Land. Pop. 1
... says it ALL : Angry Hippie : 2:24 AM
"Really" ...
"1904, Mühsam withdrew from Neue Gemeinschaft and relocated temporarily to an artists commune in Ascona, Switzerland where vegetarianism was mixed with communism and socialism.
... and no, I'm not an anarchist

(sorry, Josef, for causing trouble on Your compund, un-intentionally)
PS:Cohn Bendit, I knew him really, caps up.
Exasperating as they are, I miss free spirits. They are not possible any more in an era of crowdsourced oppression. Nowadays you make one parenting mistake and you're answering to the courts, CPS, the viewership of the Today Show, the readers of a thousand websites and the Twittersphere.
Most 13 year olds judge adults a bit too harshly. But you could recognize the damage being done (inadvertently) to Michael. That shows some good sense and I am not sure most 13 year olds would have noticed or made the connection.

These days if you wanted to find Denny to say "thanks for including me on the outings" (if she is among the living) it would probably not be that hard. If she is not still around or can't be found, you can always pay it forward. From what you describe about her, she might like that.

Great comments about shame and guilt. They can be healthy.

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