All the hits of the 50s the 70s and Today

Note: I wrote this article on Monday after mulling it over for a few weeks. After completing it, I learned that Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace had passed away that same day. Here is his obituary. Thank you for the gift of your book, Mr. Pirsig.

World War 2 had a massive impact on America. It’s been called the war to give war a good name. For us, it certainly worked out nicely. On the negative side, there were a lot of deaths. On the positive side, it gave us a model for how to be organized and mobilized. It gave us an economic boost right when we didn’t even know how to have an economy (aka The Depression.)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of war. This is just me talking about the after-effects.

After the Great Depression, when none of the ideas were working, the war effort gave us a model. The prosperity of the 1950s was a lot about people agreeing to the new way of doing and being.

These new expectations worked! Look how much better off we are!

Until they didn’t. And in the 1960s the fissures became cracks and society started to pull apart. I watched the TV Show Mad Men and marveled at how separate people had become even from themselves.

But in the 1970s the cracks had been mapped. The word “antidisestablishmentarianism” came back into vogue.

As I child walking through the Eureka Library in Humboldt county, I found collected volumes of Doonesbury cartoons and felt how the many well-meaning characters in that comic had their points of view so different from each other, and how they were trying to reach out and make connections.
Real life was not quite as benign as a comic strip.

In the 2000s, I walked into a used bookstore in Pomona. I was exploring my new neighborhood, and had hear how Pomona had once been a brilliant downtown. But industry had moved on, and like the city of Detroit, Pomona was a shell of itself.

I went up to the clerk and asked him for a suggestion. He was delighted to be asked, and after a short conversation, he placed a pink paperback in my hands: “you will like this one.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance published in 1974

It was a book of philosophy. A paperback and a blue-collar title, this was not the way things were done. He wrote a narrative style that was perfect for the 1970 decade of recategorization. He was writing about something very basic: taking a motorcycle trip with your son to try to rebuild a relationship.

And the reason the relationship was broken? The narrator had had a nervous breakdown (as they were quaintly called then) because of an existential crisis.

He had taught science, and then realized that the scientific method was not scientific.

Let’s review. The scientific method goes like this: Take a hypothesis, set up an experiment to test the hypothesis, then observe the result.

Then come up with a new hypothesis and do it again.

The problem is, creating a hypothesis is not a scientific, logical process. Coming up with a hypothesis is gloriously human, non-scientific and illogical.

The system did not allow for glorious humanness. And yet it relied upon it, exploiting it really.
Yes. The system after the war was broken. And in the 1970s, it was undeniable.

I was talking with a co-worker. We had some manual labor to do, and so we made small talk. Until it got bigger. What did you study in college? What did you like best?

He has family ties in Thailand, and revealed that he was an ordained Buddhist monk.
“I really liked studying philosophy.”

Oh, I know just the book for you.

And as I was looking for my beloved copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I realized something.

My 20-something coworker is at another cracking of the system. Right here, right now, it’s happening again. We thought we had it figured out AGAIN. Here’s the thing that works. Don’t mess with it!

Until the fissures in the financial system and the social norms turns to cracks and it split.

Whatever we thought was so awesome in the 90s cracked in the 2000s and we are aware in the 2010s the borders of the new map of broken.

Just as the pieces that used to fit in the 50s, the 2010s are begging reinterpretation.

What is our new glorious humanness?


Everyday Rebirth

It was Easter last Sunday. This is still Easter week, so we can go around celebrating. I know we have enough Easter candy to last at least a month in our house.

Easter is many things, but it’s also about being with family. The holiday traditions that we enjoyed as kids, and that I get to prepare for my own child.

We all went to church. And my child was not at all pleased with how long church was taking. She made all kinds of noise, and when I asked her not to stop, but to whisper, she gave me a narrow eyed glare.

She wanted to do the egg hunt.

Foolish parents that we are, we did not do the egg hunt before church. It was not an egg hunt at all, really. We hid candy, because we didn’t want to have cheap plastics items bouncing around the house. We preferred consumable goods.

It was pretty great to be with my family, even though she was being a little pill. Veronica was excited about finding her candy, and very generous with sharing.

Chris and me like the peanut butter ones. She doesn’t.

It works nicely.

The thing about Easter is supposed to celebrate the birth part of the cycle of life. Eggs and baby bunnies and chickens.

But don’t forget the Christian story, which is more directly about death and rebirth.

The thing about Easter with family is that there is a range of ages. Some people are a lot further along the spectrum of life, so as to be closer to death.

And even though my daughter, as the youngest, was the focus of the holiday. Egg hunt for HER. New dress for HER.

It’s important for us to remember to celebrate the oldest, too. I miss Chris’s grandmother from our celebration. She was a dear woman, and she is not with us.

Her version of rebirth is not resurrection. It is us.

Veronica, who put on the pink bunny ears and complained both that the eggs were hidden too easy and then too hard, is grandmother’s rebirth.

It’s pretty good to be all together, and remember our traditions and who we are. We belong with each other. And that helps me remember that I also belong in the other less familiar parts of my life.

Brighter Than Anything

It was a weekend morning in my apartment in Sunnyvale, nearly 20 years ago. I was listening to A Prairie Home Companion at home. Garrison Keillor introduced a musician, who said “I am going to play a song for you. I was thinking of playing something else, but I changed my mind. This song is called Western Highway.”

He started playing, and when he sang I stopped whatever I was doing. This song:

I am a driver on a Western Highway
From the mountains to the sea
And there’s a song on the western highway
That’s saying I will be free

The sky is fading to the color of the valley
Dust of angels and dust of dreams
City lights will shine until tomorrow
And I will not be here

But your light is brighter
Than anything I’ve ever seen
I hear your voice on every station
Singing out of your dream

Here I am on the road again
The song began
And then in the end
I was standing by
I was standing by the sea

By the roadside the trees are shimmering
Black and silver in the cold night air
Under the moon the song is singing
Saying I will meet you there

And your light is brighter
Than anything I’ve ever seen
I hear your voice on every station
Singing out of your dream

Here I am on the road again
The Song began and then in the end
I was standing by
I was standing by the sea.

As soon as it was over I needed to hear it again. Why hadn’t I listened to the name of the artist?

I heard it later. Jerry O’bourne.

I searched online for him. Nowhere. The website for the show wasn’t updated until the next day, and then I finally found the correct spelling. Gerry  O’Beirne.

I used Yahoo to find the album and bought it off of CD baby. It took weeks to arrive.

And I listened to it again. And again.

Always and forever, the voice and the light in this was my own. The light of whatever it is my highest self is pulling me towards is so bright I am blinded. I cannot hear the song without weeping for nameless ambition of my highest hopes. I’m so in love with who I want to become.

Years later I moved to Los Angeles, and the line “dust of angels, dust of dreams” made perfect sense. At the peak of the Angels Crest highway, looking down on the city with its stories I know the color of the dust of dreams.

And how every station plays the song of the dream.

Their dream.

My Dream.

The Dream.

So Bright.



Poor Judge

I started this new eating plan. You could call it a diet, but I’m tired of that word. This plan calls for lots of veggies and whole unprocessed foods like grains and beans. As I was reading it and deciding to try it (again), in the fine print I saw that it recommends only eating three meals a day. The theory was, if you I am full of good nutritious food three times a day, my body will adjust and I won’t need snacks.

I started this eating plan in February. I was concerned about this no-snacking clause, so I ate huge portions of spinach lentils and kasha. I forced myself to finish, feeling sympathy for my daughter who I have often forced to “eat three more bites.”

It only took a couple days and I was experiencing the sensation of being truly full and satisfied after a meal. This was new. How had this feeling been so rare?

So a couple weeks ago I twisted my ankle. That threw me off the groove of preparing my food for the week. I went back to old habits of waiting to feel hungry to eat, then having a small amount of something (not usually spinach). I would be briefly satisfied and then feel hungry again rather quickly. Then I would repeat the pattern, eat a small something, and be hungry again.

I now know there is another way of sustaining myself. After my experience of stuffing myself to satisfaction three times a day, this way of eating—which had been my habit for years—was totally annoying.

It took me a week to realize it. My wounded ankle probably distracted me, but that is still a long time. Look at this! I am a terrible judge of my hungry. How come I underestimate the true depth of what it’s going to take to fuel me?

Instantly I realized that I do this with most things in my life. I underestimate the amount of effort it is could to take to do any creative project. I mean, anything that requires thought and orifinality.

And if I don’t put enough resources—time, energy, attention—into these creative projects, they are not nearly as satisfying as they could be.

Maybe I am scared of them. Like I am scared of food. The stories of what food is supposed to mean to me as an American woman makes me want to pretend I eat very little. And the creative projects that pull me—like hunger—are similar. I can hardly face what might be required of me to do these.

So I kind of hide from myself how much it’s REALLY going to take. Lord knows, if I had realized it was going to take 12 years to write The Russian American School of Tomorrow, I might have given up. But then again, I didn’t know how beautiful it was going to be.

I am already going back to the huge meals eating plan. I am not really sure what to do with the realization of how poor a judge of size of meal and projects I am. I suspect I will do better on anything with a full stomach.