[sixties-l] Re: Sandra Flowers' poignant post

From: BrentLance@aol.com
Date: Wed May 31 2000 - 13:48:10 CUT

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    The issues you so profoundly summarize in your post have been on my mind for
    a long time -- another Zeitgeist? Below I'm pasting a short essay that
    grapples with mid-life dissonance. I'm not sure if it addresses all the
    issues you raise, but I was once fortunate to convince the editors of
    Writer's Digest of its veracity.

    Baby Boomers at Mid-life: Coming of Age Revisited
    When a middle-aged individual struggles with aging, it is called an identity
    crisis. When a generation struggles with the same fact of life, it is called
    a Zeitgeist a shared feeling for an era, a spirit of the times.
    As the leading edge of the baby boom the so-called Sixties generation
    passes into mid-life, millions must struggle with the dissonance between the
    idealism of youth and the nihilism of middle age. The iconoclasts who spawned
    the youth culture of the Sixties and Seventies look backward from the
    beginning of a new millennium to reincarnate flickering vestiges of youth.
    Rock singer and boomer John Mellencamp laments, "It's a lonely proposition
    when you realize that there's less days in front of the horse than riding in
    the back of this cart."
    The first wave of the baby-boom generation is on the threshold of a major
    values shift, a bellwether social trend, the outward appearance of which
    could seem like a mass mid-life crisis. For some anguished boomers, the
    crisis may rekindle the most immature and frivolous moments of adolescence.
    Most will be more subdued. But because of the imposing size of the population
    of older boomers and their historically significant impact upon the national
    agenda, this Zeitgeist could explode into social and political upheaval
    reminiscent of the Sixties. In the words of Dennis Hopper's cynical hippie
    character from the movie, Flashback, "the next decade will make the Sixties
    seem like the Fifties."
    The first wave of the baby boom came of age at a volatile point in history.
    As a member of that wave those boomers born between 1945 and 1954 I was
    13 when Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev and US President John F. Kennedy
    locked horns over the Cuban missile crisis, 14 when Lee Harvey Oswald shot
    and killed Kennedy in Dallas, 18 when the streets of Chicago became a war
    zone during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, 20 when the war
    casualties in Vietnam peaked, 21 when 300 civilians were massacred by US
    troops in the Vietnam hamlet of My Lai, and 24 when President Richard Nixon
    resigned in disgrace for a political espionage cover-up called Watergate.

    As German psychologist Karl Mannheim observed, social upheaval during the
    impressionable years of adolescence could foment and congeal a generation.
    Just as the lessons of depression-era economic deprivation live on with the
    children of the Twenties, the Sixties generation carries with it an indelible
    sense of intra-generational connectivity, a psychological ball and chain
    which was attached during those impressionable years when effusive societal
    change was the norm. But shared volatile experiences of a generation are both
    weights and magnets.
    The coming-of-age period of our lives the fragile years which fell roughly
    between San Francisco's Summer of Love in 1967 and the end of the US
    involvement in the Vietnam War during January 1975 are a haunting
    attraction to those who find disenchantment in their contemporary lives.
    Careers in crisis, mid-life economic shortcomings, unsatisfying marriages,
    waning physical prowess, and widespread boredom can foster musing daydreams
    about Vietnam protest marches, backpacking sojourns to Europe, bare-butt
    swimming parties, LSD mind trips, first love affairs, and Woodstock. (Hello
    drugs, sex and rock 'n roll.) The quest to return to more vigorous and vital
    times of life can become unrelenting to people who find their middle years
    empty of meaning or value and short of expectation. Quixotic adolescent
    memories become idealized. "The days of our youth are the days of our glory,"
    wrote Lord Byron.
    In his book Baby Boomers, author Paul C. Light exploded many myths about the
    generation, including the false belief that my generation retains one
    distinctive identity, but he also revealed several salient, overarching
    Today, many older boomers' lives fall short of the ebullient expectations we
    held during the Age of Aquarius. A sizable segment of the generation is
    financially unable to pursue the American Dream, which has traditionally been
    defined as a home, financial security and quality education for children. We
    have been forced to accept job market overcrowding, downsizing, and career
    ladder lassitude as a fact of life. Many older boomers feel politically
    alienated when confronted by the juggernaut of two political parties, now
    converging to become two sides of the same coin. And these themes form to
    reveal the face of disenchantment, an omnipresent undercurrent of
    disfranchisement. Today's economic realities in contrast with the
    idealistic expectations of thirty years ago are precursors to restless
    stirring, the renaissance of experimentation, values conflicts, erratic
    behavior, role playing, depressive moods, grief reactions, and profound
    anxiety states.
    Coincidentally, these psychological struggles are also hallmarks of
    adolescence. Just as the new teen-ager reluctantly lets go of the idealized
    aspects of early childhood, the inner battles of middle-aged adults are
    reflective of persistent efforts to relinquish the past but to never fully
    let it go.
    That the generation is recalcitrant when it comes to discarding the tangible
    metaphors of our youth has been widely documented. The health food and
    vitamin craze of the early Seventies led to the jogging and fitness craze of
    the early Eighties, and the Nineties demonstrated robust sales of age-masking
    cosmetics and plastic surgery. Oldies radio formats once the domain of
    Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra have transformed into audio museums for
    vintage rock n'roll artists such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield.
    Contemporary women's fashion designers have resurrected miniskirts and
    platform shoes, and middle-aged men are more frequently seen with shaggy
    silver mop-tops and salt & pepper beards. A succession of movies, from The
    Big Chill to Oliver Stone's The Doors, pay homage to an era that just won't
    die in the hearts of middle-aged men and women.
    Some pundits attribute our generational obsessions with the symbols of the
    Sixties as simply pedestrian nostalgia. It is true that every generation
    likes to return to its time of arrogant naivete, to relive those deep and
    persistent moments when they captured a full view of the world and gained a
    sense of control over destiny. But nostalgia is not pedestrian when viewed as
    a method of coping. Nostalgia, though mere expressions of fantasy, can make a
    positive contribution to later adult life. Louise J. Kaplan, Ph.D., author of
    Adolescence: The Farewell To Childhood, said it succinctly: "Nostalgia
    softens grief. It takes the sting out of the sense of loss. Grief empties the
    soul. Nostalgia replenishes." Our nostalgic memories ignite passion, affirm
    evolving priorities, incite new learning, revive visionary gleam, and enhance
    wisdom. They represent the universal yearning for a better life.
    Perhaps my generation, like all generations, outwardly pays tribute to the
    past as a method of adjustment to present and future realities. But perhaps,
    for the Sixties generation, there is also a deeper, hidden agenda driving the
    urge to return.
    William Wordsworth looked upon youth as a time of fresh vision. He wrote,
    "There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream the earth and every common
    sight, to me did seem appareled in celestial light, the glory and freshness
    of a dream." If the impetuous youth of the Sixties is rediscovering that
    beauty is truth and truth is beauty, then it is truth which endures as an
    indelible caricature and perpetual quest of the generation.
    Annie Gottlieb, a lucid writer about the Sixties generation, observed, "If
    there is one theme that runs like a red thread through the fabric of our
    generation, it is an obsession with the truth: finding the truth, telling the
    truth, not lying to oneself, or others, honesty, authenticity, integrity."
    It is hard for me to deny that the vanguard of the baby boom is coming of age
    again in middle age. Too many people I know are searching for nostalgia,
    freeing long buried dreams, coming to terms with failures, flailing
    consumption as meaningless materialism, creating more congruent personal and
    work lives, and setting new fulfillment goals beyond wealth. And we look back
    pensively, considering the gaps between our dreams and our realities.
    One consequence of a return to adolescence is anguish. Coming of age a
    second time means a painful coming to terms with the past and exorcising
    the tenacious demons which spawned our youthful idealism. Coming of age begs
    us to renew our disdain over lingering social injustice. It forces us to take
    an accounting of our progress in building ethnic harmony. It raises the
    specter of environmental pollution and our personal responsibilities to
    protect the natural world. It's all about unfinished agendas. But coming of
    age, while tumultuous, can also be a harbinger of a more satisfying future.
    Once again, it means honoring the nobler ideals of world peace, economic
    equality, egalitarian civil rights, human potential, and spiritual
    enlightenment. It means sharing a new, perhaps revitalized generational
    Zeitgeist that tenacious obsession with the perfectibility of the human
    condition. The stuff of truth
    Copyright 1991, 2000 Brent Green

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