Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Was So Much Older Then, I'm Younger Than That Now

I managed to make the holiday weekend last five days, but I'm back to my life. It's been a relatively cool and soggy spring, so the recent summer-like weather caused me to spend every minute I wasn't working in my yard or moving my office lying on my porch, watching what I now know are orioles, thrushes, blue jays, blue birds, hummingbirds, and cardinals flitter around. And also to quickly consume a couple of books.

When I was 14 I read and loved Sara Davidson's Loose Change. I'm not sure why, but I was fascinated with the 60s. I'm still not sure why, but I still am. The best thing to come of it was my discovery of Joan Didion, but that's another story. In 1977 I wanted to be a writer, go to Columbia Journalism School, write for the New York Times. I may have loved the book in part because Davidson went to CJS. I may have loved it because it told a story that took place nearly entirely within my short lifetime, although I was too young to have been a part of that story. I may have loved it because it is a piece of creative nonfiction, and although I didn't know such a genre existed such works were my favorite things to read.

I was disappointed to find that I didn't love the book this time out. In my current state of mind, sometimes I really enjoy memoirs and sometimes I just find them self-serving, solipsistic. Sometimes I want to shake the author and scream, "What makes you think you're so different?" This was my reaction to Davidson.

If you've never read the book (although the jacket claims that "over a million" copies have been sold, so maybe you have read it), Davidson describes the journeys taken by her and two of her sorority sisters from Berkeley from 1961 until the mid-1970s. She switches among points of view, weaving together three memoirs in one. "Tasha" moves to New York, becomes a gallerist, gets involved with a much older man. "Susie" marries an SDS leader, has a child, leaves her husband, becomes a nomadic hippie for a while, decides to become a doctor. Sara becomes a journalist, marries poorly, travels around the country writing about the changing times.

It's all very interesting, certainly, in a time-capsule kind of way. Davidson's thesis, though, seems to be that these women, and the 60s themselves, have somehow failed. The world hasn't been changed, and everyone's moved inward. After all the struggle for freedom the ending is newfangled domesticity; after all the moves toward feminism these women continue to define themselves through their relationships with men. After all the protests everyone has gone home to roost, in other words. It was this aspect of the book that made me want to shake Davidson.

You don't have to come of age in the middle of the Free Speech Movement to be full of youthful energy and ideas. Plenty of us graduated college feeling we could make a difference, take on the world. Plenty of us woke up to find ourselves 35 and settled into a life very different than the one we imagined as 21 year-olds. Plenty of us then feel disaffected and disconnected from our youth and need to look back and evaluate. For anyone prone to self-examination the discovery that we aren't special but normal is itself normal rather than special. We get over it and move on.

The book's subtitle is "Three Women of the 1960s," but ultimately the book felt much more like the story of three women of the 1970s, reconciling their young adulthoods with the settled adulthoods of their present. I finished Loose Change wishing Davidson had revisited these women and her own past ten or twenty years later, not only to finish telling the stories of their lives but also to finish telling the stories of their acceptance of their lives. Because Sara Davidson, here's a secret: you did change the culture. The America in which I came of age was very different, and those differences are attributable to your generation's agitation for change. You just didn't know that yet, when you were 35.


Sandy said...

I love your title. And I'm going to read the book. I lived those years too; we'll see if I react differently. Thanks for the tip.

tunsie said...

I can identify with these women because u become closer to your college friends more than students in high school.I became close with lillian from queens,debbie from pittsburgh.tommy from raleigh,n.c.we don't keep in touch often but when we do get around 2 speak with one another,we find ourselves speaking 4 hours.i worry that they will get sick.i love my friends.we don't see each other in person much but we do see pictures.I don't know my high school people i have graduated with.they see me and say Don't u know me tunsie.I went 2 school with u.and i say which one.I graduated with 3 degrees after high school.but u do get closer 2 people whom u have worked harder towards your education more.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie