Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Being a Hippie Meant To Me

And what it means to me now

Now that I am getting old I get an opportunity to review my past. This is the privilege of age and I think it’s perfectly A-OK unless one then begins to live in the past. The present is not over with after all and there is a future and it certainly could be a stellar future (and present) if one simply puts everything one has into it. But a little walk down memory lane is good now and then especially when the memories are pleasant, entertaining and in general nice.
My years being what is now known as a “hippie” actually began when I was 12 years old. The Beatles invaded America and took over my life. Up until then I think I was destined to be a mid-western farm girl with an art avocation. The Beatles opened up a whole international world I knew nothing about but then became passionately interested in. Eventually the Beatles and other well known bands started experimenting with drugs and then everybody and his uncle started “letting their hair down”. Literally.
I jumped on this bandwagon but I was terribly poor at it. There was an older guy in my home town that was all too happy to supply me and my high school girl friends with marijuana. We’d get in my Harold and Maude-mobile (a red convertible VW bug) and drive out to a country road, smoke a joint and then marvel at the lightening bugs. Later on I compared my experience of being “high” with not being “high” and found that I wasn’t high at all. The bugs were just the same. It was a let down but, oh well, we were just caught up in the moment and were willing to invest it with any profound meaning our pea brains could come up with.
Well, high school graduation came and went and I found myself in Hawaii living with my mother’s sister and her family while I went to the University of Hawaii. Batik, madras, tie dye, incense and long hair ruled the day for a certain group of causasians. It hadn’t caught on with the surfer or the asian yet. I stayed away from drugs all that time but I lived about as free as I could. Hawaii was a sensual explosion and I allowed myself to open up to different cultures and the boys of those cultures. We had fun. No one expected anything from anybody except to be loving and easy. The only thing that I regret from this era was not going to Woodstock. A boy I met in Hawaii was from New York and later on when I came back to Iowa he wrote me and said would I like to come to this music festival in upstate New York. It was in Woodstock he said. But I didn’t have any money and I didn’t like him all that much so I passed on the opportunity. Later on they made history but I was not part of it.
When I went to the University of Iowa everything broke wide open. I was an art student and you know, of course, art students come out of the womb ready to try anything and believe anything. The first year my dorm room mate would sneak out at night and come back bloody claiming to have been beaten up by the cops. Students were rioting in the streets over the war in Vietnam and she had to be in on it. There was one time we fabricated a story about being journalists so we could go over and have a face to face meeting with Biff Rose who later faded into obscurity. I can’t even remember what songs he sang. John Denver came to the Student Union before he was famous. Judy Collins. Keith Jarrett. Paul McCartney went out on his own. Everyone was just starting. Some were starting and then going no where.
A girl in my dorm came down to the cafeteria line one day without a bra and caused a scene. The next time she came she was wearing the bra on the outside of her t- shirt. She had been told she had to wear one. So... this is possible? Well, what the heck. I want to be free, too. I remember the first time I went out in public braless feeling very self conscious. I had been in some kind of a “bustenhalter” since I was 12 and looking forward to having some boobs of my own. I didn’t need a bra at 12. They were called “training bras” then. No, really. They were. Looking back I can’t believe everyone bought into that absurdity. I guess it made sense since as babies we wore “training pants” before moving on to underpants. But what were we training for in those bras? It wasn’t a time for much reflection I guess. Maybe we burned our bras because we were protesting the absurdity of holding those body parts up in the air to try to fool men into thinking we had the shapes of adolescents. Maybe we were just tired of the pretense. We found out that guys didn’t care. But they did like girls who were free.
Anyway the next thing we knew was that there was a call for people to come down to the freeway to stop traffic and call attention to the fact that having a war in Viet Nam was all wrong. Some of us were getting drafted and killed and what for? The government had been lying to the people since time immemorial but now with television and other media it was getting hard to do so. So I went. That was my one and only foray into protesting. It went well and no one got run over and I guess the point was made. But it wasn’t really my thing. Not politics. Living a natural, home-made life was my statement and I was really getting into it. I loved anything associated with back-to-the-land.
By that time the hippie culture was in full swing. We ate organic. We started food co-ops and we practiced free love. My favorite song was “Love the One You’re With” by Crosby Stills Nash & Young. We lived out in the country in a converted church like Alice’s Restaurant and we had goats, made our own yogurt in jars and baked our own bread Tassajara style. Everyone played the guitar and sang freedom songs. I smoked some pot but not much. I always had very poor paying jobs and besides I found that I could have as much fun without drugs. I didn’t need to be stoned or drunk.
All my friends lived in old houses out in the country and drove power wagons because their dirt lanes were impassable in wet weather. I have no idea how they could afford any of these things. No one had any money or so it seemed. One guy who we all called “Baseball” lived in a converted chicken house. I thought he looked like Robert Plant and so did all the other ladies. Eventually he got married to a beautiful woman and they ran a soup kitchen. I still can recall how wonderful the homemade bread and pumpkin soup smelled when we went it there.
What started moving me out of the hippie lifestyle was Transcendental Meditation. It was sanctioned by the Beatles who had gone to India to be with the Maharishi. So given my history of Beatlemania it’s no stretch to say that this was right up my alley. Of course the fact that this beautiful creature named Paul was doing it helped tremendously. I had met him at a “Centering” class that was held off campus at U of Ia and we tried all sorts of different activities to raise consciousness. One was meditation. The guy who led the class was this brilliant and courageous guy who called himself David Sundance to signify his allegiance to the plight of the Native American. Did we leave no stone unturned? During demonstrations this David would walk around town dressed up as the grim reaper. Honestly, we were a crazy bunch and we had good intentions.
TM opened the world up in ways I had not thought possible. First and foremost it explained my experience of making art for the first time in my life. My experience in meditation was completely and exactly the same as my experience when I was “in the groove” of artistic expression. I went somewhere and time stood still. I had never thought of my experience of making art as transcendent but it was true and it was pretty remarkable.
So I began to follow the Maharishi. For the next 10 years I pretty much lived and breathed TM. Being clean cut was important to being a teacher of TM because the Movement was trying to capture the attention of mainstream America. So away went the bell bottom jeans and home made shirts. It was still ok for girls to have long hair but the boys had to cut theirs. All of this fit me like a glove. It was a natural extension to hippie life because it was still counter culture to be sure. We still had a free love ethic. We still ate organic, mostly vegetarian, as before and lived “naturally” in natural fibers. We didn’t drive cars for the most part. We were still mostly poor.
When I look back on these years I can say it was mostly just so nice. Of course there were romantic disasters, broken hearts and tough financial times. But the freedom we gave ourselves and eventually left behind is something I will always miss. We allowed ourselves every thought and every action. Mostly within reason, rarely not. We wanted to experience everything we could experience. We tried to be moral and ethical for the most part although I’m sure many of us weren’t from time to time. To live honestly was our intention. We wanted to live truthfully and sanely and naturally. We didn’t want society to shackle us with unnecessary stifling ideas and expectations.
Now many of us have moved on from that time. Pretty much all of us as a matter of fact. But I know that the “hippie” sensibility is still with society. Nothing exactly like that time had ever happened in the world before. Maybe nothing like it will ever happen again. My hope is that whatever is to come will exceed that time in love, understanding and compassion for all the nations, animals and people alike.


  1. I really like this. I was born too late to really get into the hippie lifestyle, although I really wanted to be old enough. Where I lived (SW MI), you just didn't get too many hippies. We're mostly farm stock, hardworking and honest.

    Harold and Maude is one of my all time favorite classics. I know that may sound strange, but back then, I just thought it was the best.

    1. Thanks for your positive comments Jules. I could write a novel about my experiences back then. The space of a short bog is not enough. Most hippies including me hit a reality wall when we started having families and a sort of practicality took over. Yet that sensibility is still here and informs everything we now do. I can tell from your words that you have that sensibility and at the risk of sounding like an anachronism I say "Right On!".