Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Remembrances of Things So Fuckin' Past I Can't Stand It

in recent months i have been following the fan page of a marvelous and not-well-enough-known actor named Lex Medlin, who has had a starring role on the summer TV dramady, Drop Dead Diva.  The failure, or refusal, of the show's network, Lifetime to announce whether or not Diva will be picked up for a fifth season, has kept me and many others glued to Medlin's fan page, and he (or the persona he creates for us) seems a charming man, grateful and responsive to his fans.  this, as more than one of my online friends), has noted, adds a personal touch to our determination to see the show renewed.  It's a different cause than most of those i've fought for over my life, but a cause nonetheless.

anyway, on his page today, the question of his age came up, and someone posted a response: he was born in 1969, she said.  this is enough to make any old person feel...like an old person.  but it was the year itself that  jumped out at me, in all its ambivalent glory.  while this nearly middle-aged man was being born,  much was going on in the world i inhabited, the world that still inspires so much mythologizing, so much righteous glory, so much nostalgia. enough that for a moment, i felt thrown back into it.

there was all the personal stuff, of course--the stuff a burgeoning new movement  insisted was political-- stuff that differed in meaning and intensity for each of us.  me, i was a sexy young thing in my 20s, still flaunting miniskirts and see-through blouses, trying vainly to be a proper sexual revolutionary ("I want to be promiscuous," i had exclaimed earnestly and, god help me, out loud, to at least one friend).  the problem was that you really couldn't be a good sexual revolutionary and a romantic at the same time, and the romantic in me kept winning out. "but he loves me,'' one inner voice would whine while another would snap back, ''no he doesn't, idiot,'' and the latter voice was always right. but it was an honest ambition, and i have much fondness for the silly young woman, not so many years broken out of the tethers of 1950s catholic high school, and a certain respect for the ideal of liberating sexuality, though in after years my parameters for 'liberated' expanded a lot.  but we were, even the male lefties who exploited the ideal so freely, sincere.  and it was the right era: the birth control pill had recently emerged and if you swore to the doctor you were engaged and wanted it so your wedding night would be perfect, you could get it pretty easily.  abortion was still illegal, but if you had middle-class assets, you could get a fairly safe one, maybe. all sexually transmitted diseases we knew of could be taken care of by antibiotics.   (we weren't quite as good on class issues as we had been on civil rights and anti-war awareness).  so the sexual revolution was at once liberating and exploitative.  a few years later, a wonderful book called Combat in the Erogenous Zone, by Ingrid Bengis, would appear, speaking the part of the truth we had tried not hear.  My own contribution was my second paid article in a boston-area ''alternative''' weekly.  i had wanted to call it 'fucked by the sexual revolution,'' but my editors called it something else, i don't remember what, and it got a fair amount of attention.

but back to 1969.  the civil rights movement had exploded into the fiercely and briefly beautiful phenomenon of Black Power.  I kept a picture of kathleen cleaver, huge afro and tiny skirt, waving a rifle at invisible white men, on my wall at work (that's a real wall; cyberspace was a long way away).  the anti-war movement was continuing, but with no clear success.  i had hardly earned the right to be burned out, since i did little work besides march on the picket lines and marches to...[name city, town,  or geographical area]. and even then, i had missed the greatest of the marches, because who knew it would become the March on Washington of Martin Luther King's great speech?  still i had become cynicized and hopeless. i knew we would not overcome, that at best we would make a few relatively important changes.

then there was one action whose spacious significance i wouldn't realize until much later, but that still sparked my hope in the revolutionary soul.  in a small, apparently insignificant gay bar in Greenwich Village, the police had come in to do their usual shakedown, and suddenly the largely drag-queen customers had had enough, and spontaneously began fighting back.  sadly, there were no tv cameras or, i think, even still cameras around for what we would soon understand to be one of america's most important  moments, when the juncture between political and personal became for an evening utterly seamless.  The Stonewall Bar is still there, and i often pass it, but have never gone in.  yet i can never walk by it without a pause, and that deep feeling that some cathedrals have given me, and the partially destroyed temple to Athena in a little town near Avignon--of something so sacred i can't quite wrap my mind around it except to experience the awe and move on.

and finally, for my own personal history, the blossoming of the New Wave of feminism hit me in that year.  it was the beginning of the rich era of feminist publications, and the strange always distrustful alliance between the younger, college age activists, and the older NOW and betty friedan types.  i distrusted the movement at first, uttering those million-times spoken words 'i don't need to be liberated; i've liberated myself.'  and then fell in love with the movement that for many years was, and perhaps still is, the core of my life.  for a while, i believed again. no other movement had saved humanity from itself, but this one went to the core of oppression, this one would do it.

it didn't. we made our own gains, slipping in the mud along the way, losing, winning, losing. like all movements we have been invaded by consumer culture, and small gains have been mistaken for large ones. Gay liberation became same-sex marriage; feminism became hilary clinton and glass ceilings.   like many of us, i have been blessed with the opportunity to incorporate my hopes into my work, into writing and teaching.  and i have seen a small glimmer of  new hope in the Occupation (yes, folks, it's still there.  it's about rewriting the rules, it was never about camping out forever in cold parks).  it's had its own ugliness, bringing all the baggage that ever comes with any movement, and truthfully i think it's too late for us anyway: plundered world resources,  climate change, and the propensity to war declared or undeclared by the forces of greed and power will do us in whoever fights whatever.

and then, on a bad day personally and politically for me, the chance appearance of those numbers on  a fan page, a place i run to for escape, not glory, jumps at me and through me.  1969.  like a confused but somehow sustained mantra that will not be ignored.  and i feel the words, exultant once again--yes, we shall overcome! the words, the feeling fade away, and i'm just another tired lefty whose work is  mostly done.  but they leave me a little stronger.

mr medlin, actor, and all of you born in 1969--whatever your convictions or passions, you were born in a holy year. i salute you all.

2 comments:

Jim Lehmer said...

I want to respond but am at work and can't take the time, but just wanted you to know I appreciated this from a lot of different levels and do want to write about it. I just don't know when and if I'll get a chance.

Tom Schott said...

Karen, this article is inspiring me to do my own 1969 nostalgia piece. I was in the Air Force at the time . . . I remember it well.