I take my seat at the table, a wooden one outdoors. Birds chirp and sing. In the distance, a neighbor mows his lawn. I picture a church with flapping wings, but with eyes reopened I spy a pair of cardinals. With these and the branches of a bush beside which I sit, I share a moment after a long day of work. Work, that is, for a system, an institution, a miserly master — so that, whether long or short, each day feels like a sentence served.
One of capitalism’s most effective tactics of late is its placement of knowledge workers into permanent states of emergency and precarity. Each day churns up a new threat, a new outrage, a new lame letter from the university president, lackey of the university’s racist alums and trustees, many of whom remember fondly the days when they used to pose with confederate flags hung proudly in front of their fraternities. I defend myself by meeting with workers and comrades, groups of us planning and strategizing over tacos. We who operate in the Undercommons. Somehow in the midst of this, I also find time to practice radical loving kindness: watching, hoping, reading cookbooks, cooking. As a character notes in a recent episode of High Maintenance, “Life is funny — bees make honey.”
Hippie modernism reimagined progress as a great social loosening, a relaxation of former tensions and animosities in favor of joyful, wondrous being. An allowance for work to coincide with play. In consequence, when studying hippie modernist literature, one is immediately drawn to make comparison with the present. How do work and play relate in our lives today? What do we think we know about the hippies? What, if anything, do the terms “hippie” and “modernism” already signify in popular consciousness? Hippies are in some quarters remembered wistfully, in other quarters disdained. Suffice to say, stereotypes abound. Yet we can come to know ourselves better — our potentials, our hopes, our fears — through study of this as-yet poorly understood chapter in our recent collective memory. Let’s consult the evidence, and see what we learn from it. What was Chester Anderson’s conception of the situation in “Hippies in Haight-Ashbury,” a memo he distributed throughout the San Francisco neighborhood with his Diggers-affiliated group the Communication Company, or “com/co” for short? He interprets hippies as individuals exercising their right, held up as a basic principle of American society, to think and act in any manner they choose, so long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others. Anderson requests aid from members of the community: free housing as opposed to violent mass arrests. He ends with the prophecy, “This is an extremely serious responsibility. These students are in the process of shaping attitudes toward society, police and our governmental system. They are bound to be deeply impressed by what they SEE here, good or bad. They are watching the world today; they will be running the world tomorrow.” Anderson’s broadside hints at a Close Encounters of the Third Kind scenario: the teenage head as homo superior, led westward by Chariots of the Gods, Ghost Riders in the Sky. Look for resonances, associations, correspondences.
I think my talents are being wasted on tasks to which I’m ill-suited. Trigger mechanisms release pent-up energy. I stress constantly about work and finances. “One misstep and game over,” I tell myself. But then I smoke and walk through my neighborhood and find joy amid simple things: birdsong, observation of budding trees, conversations with friends. “Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle,” Leary once said. “Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence.” People in my neighborhood are out relaxing on their porches, their time late in the afternoon and early in the evening theirs to use as they please, not just as it pleases capital. As bad as it’s gotten, I can still glimpse seeds all around me, particularly on weekends, of futures worth fighting for: utopias robust enough to house gatherings and partings, innumerable adjacent paths of solitude and community.
I fell asleep the other night listening to a “past life regression” CD plucked from a bin at Goodwill. I woke up afterwards feeling a mild sense of confusion, but otherwise remembered nothing from the experience. What if I’ve been brainwashed, I worried. Had Dick Sutphen, the founder of Valley of the Sun recordings, succeeded in hypnotizing me?
Although the experience wasn’t the “ultimate altered state of consciousness” that the CD had promised, it did weird me out a bit—especially when my post-hypnosis buzz morphed into a raging headache. As I allowed for time to pass, however, this, too, vanished without a trace. I find myself instead in a new scenario, one where I trudge alone through the streets of my neighborhood, shaking off stress, exhausted from a full day’s work. I amuse myself by observing houses, assessing them as expressions of class. One wonders: How much of one’s facade is really ‘chosen’ in this society? For me, housing is paid into simply as a kind of happenstance. Trapped at all points in my life a mere renter. Always and forever, under another’s roof. To compensate, I listen to “Tree Vision” by Rambutan and stare into the depths of a mirror-night, reflected on the surface of a puddle.
An assortment of tasks, given a spin, directs force toward its center. Bound together thus, like a top or a Tasmanian Devil, these tasks are made harmless, the rooms they occupy cleared for better acts of enjoyment. Luck having turned for once in my favor, a turn for which I shall remain eternally grateful, I now possess the opportunity to teach three sections of a literature course of my choosing. What shall I choose? Given how wary I am of loading myself too heavily with work, I’ll most likely just opt for some variant of my present course. There will be time enough to experiment next spring.
Eyes closed while listening to Grand Ulena’s Gateway to Dignity, I imagine a pair of animated graffiti high tops stepping frenetically across a generic late-80s-videogame-graphic brick wall. Perhaps what I have in mind here is Ghetto Blaster, a computer game I played on my Commodore 64 when I was a kid. Minds orient themselves otherwise than toward disaster.
I sense my heart beating as I listen to Overscan’s “The Narrows.”
My mind’s eye cycles through a sequence of images. Time stolen for sensation rather than narrative progression. An octopus swims in a giant underground tank. Beams of sunlight pierce the rafters of an abandoned factory. By conjuration, I acquaint myself with Andrew Weil’s The Natural Mind. The subjective universe continues its slow, bit-by-bit expansion. Marijuana lets me use time to step back from the Agora, the marketplace — the business of everyday life under capitalism. I scatter into platters, platelets, matter: shrinking man, dissolving into panpsychic, object-oriented bliss. I can move up and out, release myself of gravity, transform into a thought bubble floating in a world of sound, as in 15 Corners of the World, a documentary about Polish electronic music composer Eugeniusz Rudnik. Teaching, on certain days, with the right students and under the proper conditions, needn’t be a burden. We’re like electric ants in that regard. We can change three-dimensional reality by reprogramming ourselves internally. It’s a matter of explaining three dimensions in two-dimensional terms.