My mother often jokes that I was born an old man. She tells me I never babbled as a baby but simply started speaking. Full words, then sentences, then paragraphs. She recalls walking into the living room one day to find me reading the paper–I was three years old.
I remember that moment, incidentally. Sesame Street and The Electric Company had enabled me to sound out simple words. I decided that morning to have a look at a few of the longer words in the paper, so it wasn’t exactly what it looked like to my mother.
Plus that morning’s editorial about going off the gold standard was facile and patronizing.
My mother did have a point, though. I always related well to grown-ups, and I recall fondue parties with Herb Alpert or Sergio Mendes playing on the stereo. I was always sent up to my room so as to be out of the way. I felt so cheated, as if I had been born decades too late.
In my twenties, I fell in love with classic film, and though I fully understood that what I watched was contrived and stylized, the images reflected sensibilities from a time I wished I could have been present for.
I was born in 1968, a tipping point for our society. The counter-culture was taking hold throughout Western civilization–the anti-war movement in the States, the student demonstrations and the cinematic Nouvelle Vague in France. All of this was necessary in order to break free of societal conventions that were holding humanity hostage.
But not all conventions are bad. We need a framework of some kind to guide us in our lives. So much changed so quickly, and I remember feeling confused in trying to figure out how to behave and make my way socially as a child. If we had perhaps adapted our customs based on our gains in civil rights, feminism, gay rights, anti-colonialism, and other priorities, then the 1970’s would not have looked like a garish, hedonistic orgy of clashing colors.
But, then again, we might not have had Led Zeppelin, Elton John, and Abba.
Still, for years I took it personally that I was born in that particular year, a stark dividing line between what I could never experience and what I could never escape.
Recently, I have moved beyond that mode of thinking. But below are two poems I wrote some time ago that reflect how I felt.
It pleases me to see that we have learned
It’s wrong to block a woman from a job.
Our country has done right now to have spurned
The notion of night justice by a mob.
God smiles to know we’ve come to understand
Our worship of Him takes on many forms.
We do well, too, to scorn the false demand
Of life so cruelly bound by long held norms.
The Planners’ Draft six decades since begun
To clear away Convention’s cramped confines
Has yielded forth a landscape bathed in sun
And hills where souls trace fancied, free designs.
But how this sweet utopia’s a mess:
The way we walk, speak, drive, write, eat, and dress!
The timing of my birth has rendered me
The party guest, who, errant on the roads,
Hit traffic once he tried to right his way,
Arriving now to find the guests are drunk,
Or loud, or tired, somehow not the clean,
Polite, adults they were just hours ago.
Around the room, half-empty, greasy plates
Couch cold hors d’oeuvres now limp amidst what’s left
Of cocktails sipped and absently set down.
Some brown beer bottles, emptied of their charge,
Appear to mingle shyly with them, too.
I know but few of my host’s friends, but not
So well that I recall their names. And so
I’m not so thrilled I came, but then again,
I have no place to be or go but here.
Cover photo courtesy of the Texas Observer.
I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.