14 November 2011


I've had cause over the past couple of months to think about my past more than usual.

On the personal / mortality side of things: one aunt died. Another has been diagnosed with what is possibly her terminal illness. It was the seventh anniversary of my mother's death. For the first time in my life I spent a week in the hospital due to something that could have killed me.

There aren't a whole lot of pictures of me from my first nine years of life. That's because November 7 this year was the 50th anniversary of my family's house burning down in a wildfire that gave us little time to evacuate, much less take much of anything with us. The only thing other than memories that I have left from the years before the fire is this:It's the cooled puddle of a silver or steel or some kind of vase that melted in the house and that my mom scraped up from the ashes when we were allowed to go back and sift among the smoldering ruins.

Then there's the personal / political side of things. Occupy Wall Street makes me think back to the days when I was a student radical in the '60s and '70s. I've been watching the new History Channel show "Vietnam in HD." Growing up when I did - a teenager in the late 1960s, eligible to be drafted in 1970 when kids just like me were being drafted in large numbers and sent to die in Vietnam - did a lot to make me the person I am today.

I went to a book launch party not so long ago for an anthology of short stories called "Send My Love And A Molotov Cocktail," edited by my pal Gary Phillips. One of the contributors, John A. Imani, had written a story set during antiwar demonstrations at UCLA in 1972. I'd also been at those demonstrations.

The launch was held at The Southern California Library, "...a people's library, dedicated to documenting and preserving the histories of communities in struggle for justice..." I poked around in the library's archives, just looking at the labels on the boxes of collected materials. There were a number of collections that were familiar to me, that possibly even hold leaflets or newsletters or posters or articles that I wrote, edited, distributed or hand cranked the mimeograph machines to help print.

I have my own collection of printed materials from those days. I plan to go through them and see if the library wants any of them. And I've got a collection of "buttons" that I hadn't looked at in many years until I just now took this picture of some of them:It pleased me to think that some part of my past might be preserved in that collection, that I may have contributed in some very small way to the historical record. And I do recall those days fondly, though I think of them as neither the good old or bad old days, just as days like any other - a mix of good, bad and mostly just getting by.

I like to think that I lack nostalgia, that in my mind the good days are still ahead of me, that the next book I write is going to be my best, that I get handsomer and more desirable with age - okay, well, maybe that one not so much, there's only so much self-deception that even I can muster.

Nostalgia is almost always made up of convenient lies and selective truths. It is good to remember the past - ideally with all its blemishes, failures, ugliness, beauty and triumphs acknowledged - but it is seldom of any use to dwell in it.

If you're reading this and hoping that I'm somehow going to wrap it up in a way that makes sense of it, that has something significant to impart, sorry you are S.O.L. The only lessons I've learned from any reflecting I've done on my past, the past of others or the past in general are that there is nothing whatsoever that can be done about it and that you can't let it get in the way of trying to do things better in the future.

Oh yeah, and that the future is pretty much out of your control, too, but you can't let that stop you from trying.

I guess I just talked myself into getting back to work on the next book.

1 comment:

Lisa Gale Garrigues said...

Ah yes. I remember those days...