A Berkeley Girl Looks Back

Photo of Paris 1968 by Serge Hambourg.

Fifty years ago this month, the May Revolution began in Paris and spread throughout France. The population of France was just over 50 million, and 10 million workers went out on strike. Imagine if today, out of 327 million Americans, 65 million or one-fifth, did the same! The “Events of May,” as they are called, were an attempt to depose a president, to change a political system, to improve an educational system, and to bring French cultural and social norms forward from the 19th century and into the modern world. The goals of the French were numerous and varied, some achieved, some not, and it was over by the end of June. But it was most certainly a “real” revolution, the one I witnessed at 21 years old, and depicted in my novel, The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968.

As if an alarm clock went off in the minds of my friends and fans, on May 3, 2018 and in days following, I began to receive numerous emails with attached articles and commentary about the anniversary. Two articles even arrived by snail mail, cut neatly out of the newspaper. Perhaps my recent email blast about upcoming dates of Bay Area book events triggered the onslaught. Here is, in part, what I wrote in my email, which captures my emotions in looking so far back:

 “[In 1968}, the May Revolution rocking the streets of Paris intrigued and inspired students gathering on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley and around the world. Hope peaked for new freedom, social justice, and peace in that pivotal year. The Berkeley Girl books tell the compelling story of how young lovers struggled to understand one another and a world in which the old values were turned upside down…  Fifty years! …When I left Los Angeles in 1968 for Paris, to study French and soak up art and culture, I had little idea that I would be bringing all the pressures of the anti-War movement from my beloved Berkeley campus across the sea. I remember painting the image of a hot air balloon, floating over the planet to my safe haven in the City of Light. Then the Revolution broke out.”

Thank you, dear friends, for all of those articles, because they helped me to think deeply about  the May Revolution—what it meant for us then, how the world has changed, and what it says to us today.

Gilles Caron’s image of military and police power unleashed on student protestors.

Some of those articles proclaimed the Revolution worse than a failure. The immediate political goal was to oust the World War II hero and President Charles De Gaulle, a right-wing, aging leader who had taken control of the media. When the old “Generale” unleashed the French army to quell student demonstrations, peaceful protests and teach-ins became a revolution. For the first time in modern history, the middle class, working class and intellectuals joined forces in fury. Where was the morality in injuring, perhaps murdering, those bright French children?

The students and their adult compatriots were not discouraged. They answered violence with violence. Street battles, destruction of private property, hospitalizations and imprisonments, a million citizens marching through the city, and the nationwide strikes followed, bringing the French economy and the city of Paris to a standstill.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that today, with unregulated, corporate arms sales, and a social and mass media that did not exist in the 1960s, we have a far more dangerous situation. There were more violent revolutions in France before, not to mention in Russia and British colonies worldwide! But in Paris, as in America, the euphoric college students in the Western, capitalistic “democracy” expected to win without the kind of struggle they encountered. Today we have seen that “revolution” brings all levels of both good and evil outcomes. Protests where people gather in city squares to demand their rights can lead to the deposing of unpopular, dictatorial leaders (Egypt), but not necessarily with results that make everyone happy. And protests where people march for their rights can lead to the kind of viciousness that tears apart an ancient and venerable nation, and destroys the lives of millions (Syria).

In 1968, even though the political Revolution failed, the French people gained in large part what they had sought: adoption of the social and cultural values and norms of the modern world. In that sense, it was a success. Up until that time, France was stuck in the 19th century. Have you ever read Henry James’ The American, written in the 1870s? France was a patriarchal and hierarchical society. Morality was less about human decency and compassion than about the rules and repressions mandated by the family, the Papa, and the Generale. Protestors wanted freedom of speech, assembly, the press, and religion, in the broadest sense, not to mention sexual freedom and women’s and gay rights. They wanted to open up the discussion. Most telling, when students returned to classes, it was not to tedious lectures and remorseless exams. They were permitted to ask questions and dispute ideas as never before. France completely changed after 1968, never to turn back, no matter who held the political reigns. In The Berkeley Girl, the exhilaration, fear, disappointment and determination all bubble to the surface for one American student and her new French friends.

Here is one of my favorite NY Times articles, from May 5, 2018, in which that social and cultural revolution is described: “May 1968: A Month of Revolution Pushed France Into the Modern World” by Alissa J. Rubin.

Perhaps the cultural and social changes in France are best described by another Times article, penned in 2008. In “May 1968 – a watershed in French life” (April 29, 2008), Steven Erlanger points out, “France was where the protests of the baby-boom generation came closest to a real political revolution…a revulsion against stifling social rules of class, education and sexual behavior… He calls France a “straight-laced country where the birth-control pill had been authorized for sale only the year before.” He also quotes Alain Geismar, a young professor and protest leader whose involvement I follow in The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968. Geismar said that “French society in May 1968…was completely blocked… A conservative recreation of pre-World War II society, it had been shaken by the Algerian war and the baby boom, its schools badly overcrowded.”

When De Gaulle exiled student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit as an “undesirable,” many protestors marched with signs that read, “We are all undesirable,” an action encouraged by this poster.

Here is another favorite, based on my lifelong attraction to visual images. This article about a current exhibition in Paris – if you happen to be there this month – is called “Printing a Revolution: The Posters of Paris ’68.” During the major strikes and student uprisings, the École des Beaux-Arts turned itself into a workshop for revolutionary messages. No social media then! But these powerful images have stood the test of time.

By June, 1968, with the end of the Revolution in France, the cobbled streets were paved over, the students headed home for the summer, and I, too, left Paris. I was still in Europe during the horrendous violence inflicted upon students at the Chicago Democratic Convention. I heard a first-hand account from a friend. I always wondered if in America, the powers opposed to freedom of expression, especially if it were against the “regime’s” Vietnam War, had learned their tactics and justified their morality by keeping close watch on Charles De Gaulle.

Posted in 1968, current-events, literature, Protests today and in 1968, Reading groups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What the “Women’s March” is all about in 2018

I’ll get right to it. There is a connection between the upcoming Women’s March and most other issues now faced in America: abuse of power. We have a lot to march against on Saturday, January 20. From the spate of sexual harassment revelations, to the denigration of women, blacks, LBGT, Muslims, Puerto Ricans, and countless others, and about every other attempt of the Trump administration to rob, lie and obfuscate, all amount to the same thing: flagrant abuse of power. As does the president’s wily lesson on how to get away with his offensives against democracy. We have much more to march against than we ever dreamed we would 12 months ago when we marched on January 21, 2017. Much more to march for, too – positive change and the votes that will get us there.

Jay and I attended our 19th annual San Mateo County Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration on Monday, Jan. 15th. Here, a girl in pink, anticipating the Women’s March next weekend!

Not to weaken the women’s plight itself, nor of the millions of #MeToo struggles and sufferings, revealed recently and ongoing throughout history and around the world. The burgeoning number of sexual harassment cases and revelations of criminal abuse against girls and women is staggering.

So is it more a vibration in the atmosphere than an irony that my new book, The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London, focuses on one young woman’s awakening to the causes and issues surrounding the then newly-revived 1960s feminist movement? The second-wave feminist movement [see inset, below] is where I picked up Janet Magill’s story in this sequel to The Berkeley Girl, Paris 1968. By reading her journey, I hope that you, both men and women, will be struck by the rightness of the cause she and her new British friend Lenore Phillips are out on the streets to support. You may learn surprising ways that women have been second-class citizens, even in enlightened nations in Europe and the Americas. Upon realizing how far we have come – and given the work that is left to be done and the attitudes to be dismantled! – you may be inspired to march with us this coming Saturday, January 20. Not just for women, but for all oppressed peoples, and under our current president, that is a broad majority!

This past year, sexual harassment and abuse revelations have grown exponentially, until today we have what may end up being termed the “fifth and final wave feminism.” Yes, I am hopeful. I do believe, given the courageous revelations of sexual harassment and the obvious enabling of misogyny by our president and so many others in respected, responsible positions of power, that we are entering this fifth wave. Perhaps this wave will wash over America to at last carry away the sting of knowing so many men condone “locker room” talk, violence against and denigration of half the population of the world.

But no matter what your gender or cause, it is useful to acknowledge that the rush of police brutality cases sparking the Black Lives Matter movement, the attack at Charlottesville, and many of the president’s unilateral actions and threatening tweets are the result of people abusing whatever power they have, at whatever level, to hurt and abuse those less powerful. The transfer of wealth from the 99% to the 1% is a kind of abuse of power, too, especially since the president is enriched by nearly every action he takes against the American people and democracy. These include extensive, under-reported actions to strip the environmental movement’s effectiveness, and to undermine government protections and the agencies provided for that purpose.

2017 Women’s March, January 21, San Francisco Civic Center.

2017 Women’s March, Jay and I with friends Mary F. Burns and Stu Gardiner.

I am proud to know shining examples of men who have never indulged in “locker room talk,” let alone harassed a woman, and who will march with us on January 20. At the rally, to a greater extent than last year, we will hear about voting and running for office, and why we need to be motivated to work for change in the 2018 elections. One reason is because of the overarching issue today, related to but not restricted to women’s issues: the abuse of power. 

Sign up, buy a ticket, make our numbers count!

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Janet Magill in The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London had to “reinvent” herself as she grew to understand more of life, love and the world. Learning about the trajectory of the feminist “movement” is an opportunity for you to do the same. Below is a summary of the “waves” of the feminist movement, with emphasis on the U.S. I thought some readers might appreciate this description, below, but please skip it if you know the history already!

British women march for equal pay in London, 1968 – and Janet joins them.

First-wave feminism during the 19th and early 20th century focused on legal issues, primarily on gaining women’s suffrage (the right to vote). Second-wave feminism began in the early 1960s in the U.S., but many, like Janet Magill and my young self, too, did not fully engage until the end of the decade. Into the 70s, women struggled for equal rights, equal voice, equal pay, and equal control over their bodies and fates. The second-wave lasted until the 1980s, when a third-wave feminism evolved and lasted throughout the 1990s. This wave brought diversity to the movement, arising partially as a response to the perceived failures of and backlash against previous feminist initiatives. This wave brought in women of many ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and cultural backgrounds. The fourth-wave feminism began around 2008 with academics intensifying study of women’s issues, and is a movement that combines politics, psychology and spirituality in an overarching vision of change.  See above, for my hopes for the fifth and final wave!*

*This section is my paraphrasing from various online sources.

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My Other Life – Explaining my Unexpected List of New Year’s Resolutions

Elise’s nonfiction book – a recent result of “my other life”

It occurred to me after I received such a lovely response from my New Year’s Resolutions post, that many of my novel-and-blog readers might be confused!

I wrote: “Lots of New Years Resolutions, beginning with attending the Women’s March, then getting more actively involved in the 2018 election. Also, turn my genealogy research toward my father’s branch, write fiction based on my mother’s branch, teach a “writing family history” workshop, and best of all, visit our kids and grandkids!”

Wait! you think. Doesn’t Elise write about the 1960s? Isn’t that her “shtick”?

It’s true that my two Berkeley Girl books and several of my published short stories are set in the late 1960s. My intent is to define the cultural changes that were taking place all over the world in the late 1960s as I experienced them. Some of this – of course – spills over into my motivation for attending the Women’s March on Jan. 20 at San Francisco Civic Center and becoming more actively involved in the 2018 election on behalf of the Democrats.

So what is this about “genealogy”? What has that got to do with the main theme of my work?

The answer is that for the past four years, genealogy has been a fascination and a calling. It is work in addition to and separate from the 60s theme, yet also based on historical research. Beginning with the tales my parents and grandparents told, and interviews I conducted with relatives in the late 1970s, I now have access through the Internet to dig for the truth behind the family lore of all those years ago. The results have been both serendipitous and thrilling.

2016 visit to my great-grandfather’s Atchison County, Kansas farm, the deed found in the Latter Day Saints microfilms’ collection.

Using many different online sources, including Ancestry, Jewish Genealogy, Geni and FamilySearch (Latter Day Saints), I learned truths and exposed myths, and in the process gained the friendship and corroboration of many “new” cousins, all over the world.

My intent has always been to follow up my research by selecting “characters” from among my ancestors and to write a literary historical novel telling their stories. However – when I write the fiction, I am liable to stray from the exact truth once again, simply for the sake of a good story! What to do? I don’t want to confuse my three grandchildren, who will take my fiction for fact.

So, in preparation for this long-term goal, I have written a nonfiction book to get down the facts as I have discovered them, before I “stray.” This book, From the Pale of Settlement to the American Midwest, contains my findings for my mother’s side of the family, the Kantors and Greenbergs. The actual book was designed and produced by my talented friend, author Mary F. Burns. This family history is not available on Amazon, only through me. Going back to around 1800, it is specifically focused on my genealogical journey, my ancestors and relations, and not meant to be of general interest. So far, it has been distributed to over 90 relations and a few historical libraries and organizations, which were immensely helpful as well.

I planned to do a workshop on “Writing Your Family History” for the California Writers’ Club “Think Tank” in January. This has been cancelled so as not to conflict with the Women’s March. Now I am “resolved” to find another opportunity to share with my fellow-authors how to go about this formidable and somewhat miraculous journey. If workshop attendees are interested, I will make the book available to them.

This coming year, it is time to turn to research on my father’s side of the family. And writing the fiction based on the Kantors and Greenbergs? That moves forward as well.

Genealogy co-exists nicely alongside getting the word out about my two novels on the 1960s: The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968 and its sequel, The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London, A Novella and Other Stories of the 60s. If you haven’t picked up a copy of the sequel, please read it in print or on Kindle. It is also available free as an e-book from your local library service – and please don’t forget to leave your impressions and opinions as a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Thanks for all your comments on Facebook, and all the best to you in 2018!

Posted in 1968, Family history, literature | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

How The Berkeley Girl series isn’t “chick lit” – stories for men, too?

I’m aware and concerned that very few men will want to read a book entitled “The Berkeley Girl.” And why should they? How can you, who are my female readers from three generations, place it into the hands of the men you know without enduring derisive comments in return? And more to the point, what’s in this novel for them?

In writing a novel set in the late 1960s, I had to include at least one male protagonist, and several other strong male characters. Janet Magill suffered, okay, but wasn’t it the guys who had to battle their demons and the demons in power? They were the ones who feared and fled the draft, or succumbed to it and went to fight in that bloody war. They were the ones who returned with nightmares or injuries, or not at all.

Vietnam Commencement, 1968 at UC Berkeley, a scene depicted in The Berkeley Girl, In Paris 1968.

So, when I wrote The Berkeley Girl, a novel about a college-aged couple struggling with issues of growing up and forming their values in an atmosphere of war, politics and contention, the guys and their plight were front and center. My first priority was to counter the stereotype of hippie radicals. The character of Aaron Becker stands against the assumption today that most Berkeley students in 1968 had ragged, dirty hair and hurled themselves in front of the campus police on a regular basis.

Photo is a random page from the UC Berkeley 1968 yearbook – an accurate depiction of “who we were”!

The vast majority of Cal students did not fit that hippie stereotype, not the close friends nor even the politically involved acquaintances I recall from my Berkeley days – incidentally, 1965-1969. Then as now, I saw this mythical Cal 60s student-rebel-hippie as the invention of the media seeking a titillating enemy.

My character Aaron Becker focused on his studies. His appearance was neat and clean, as was his little cottage, especially when his girlfriend Janet was due for a visit. He had impressed his science professors enough to garner a laboratory job and graduate school recommendations, and he looked forward to a career in scientific research, in which he had every confidence.

Cal co-eds like Janet in 1968, in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. Styles changed only after that year, after the students’ frustrated efforts to end the war.

In fact, confidence is how one might describe him most generally – smart, acerbic, cynical and somewhat self-interested. However, Aaron’s self-interest faded away when he was trying to care for and protect Janet. Janet was not radical in the beginning either. But one objective in writing this novel was to reveal a transformation in the character of Janet Magill, contrasting her with Aaron.

Joe (not his real name, but a real person nonetheless), was a stranger to me when I received his email with his thanks for this novel about Janet and Aaron. Joe graduated from Cal and served in Vietnam as an officer. He then returned to live in Berkeley. Joe was not like Senator John Kerry, one of many Vietnam vets who openly opposed the war. Inner conflicts had dogged Joe ever since his service, until he found his way to my book through Cal connections. His email let me know that it was specifically through the character of Aaron Becker that he began to understand his untenable situation. The fictional Aaron, bright, contemplative and conflicted about the war, helped Joe come to terms with his indecisiveness and inertia.

I first called my novel about Janet and Aaron A Time to Cast Away Stones (2012, Sand Hill Review Press) from the Pete Seeger lyric. The cover was an archival photo taken during the French student rebellion in May 1968, the event which captures Janet’s loyalty in the story. This historical revolution began with students, but eventually involved many sectors of French society. But looking at the photo, most people under 50 thought it was taken during World War II! Like in Berkeley, those European rebels were complicated people, and not easily stereotyped as “60s.”

For less confusion about the topic and setting, and to attract younger readers, my publisher re-imagined my title and cover in 2016 as The Berkeley Girl, in Paris, 1968. A clear path to the plot, but not to the characters, nor to the lived-through and historically accurate, well-researched nature of the novel.

The result was predictable: it did bring in younger generations interested in learning about the “real” era, but my audience of men had vanished.

My follow-up book, The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London, A Novella and Other Stories of the ‘60s, contains a sequel to The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968, along with three other stories. Not surprisingly, there are as many male protagonists as female in this trio of tales, all set in the late 1960s. These three shorter pieces contain a variety of settings, situations and characters. You can turn to “Why I wrote The Berkeley Girl…,” my blog from Sept. 22, for more about these stories.

Any reader of literary fiction should find value in the four separate pieces, which together bring to life the full spectrum of people coping with generational, artistic, economic, and political conflicts during the late sixties.

Please place this collection in the hands of the men you know, maybe as gift, and see if they don’t thank you. If you are a guy on my email blast list, especially if you have already read and enjoyed A Time to Cast Away Stones (aka The Berkeley Girl, In Paris, 1968), get your copy of Rendezvous on Amazon, also available at Barnes & Noble. You can always take it to your favorite coffee place with a brown paper cover on it – well, on second thought, please don’t.

 

 

Posted in 1968, 60s stereotypes, activism today, anti-war protest, literature for men, novels for men, Uncategorized, Vietnam War veterans, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What I did on my summer vacation (in October)

In October, Jay and I set out on a long-planned New England vacation, which turned out to be a delightful adventure. We flew east, rented a car, and drove through the countryside of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and upstate New York. Our goals were to enjoy the fall foliage and to tour the homes of literary and artistic giants of the 19th century. As it turned out, the Maine hikes and brilliant forests connected integrally with those homes in an unexpected way.

Why did I set out to tour eleven New England houses? As a writer and art historian, I have always been fascinated by the lives of writers and artists of the past, and understanding their trades, have admired all the more their struggles and successes. A few years ago, I read The Flowering of New England by Van Wyck Brooks. This was an intellectual history about the first Americans to separate themselves from European influences and to create a genuine, American philosophy and literature.

I also read two books about poet Emily Dickinson, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books:  The Life of Emily Dickinson by Alfred Habegger, and separately, Maid as Muse, How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life by San Franciscan Aife Murray.

All of these books and the lure of the fabled fall foliage set our course.

A shout out to the fabulous tour guides of New England! We toured the homes of: Henry David Thoreau; Amos Bronson Alcott and his daughter, Louisa May Alcott; Emily Dickinson, and her family dwellings; Mark Twain; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Edith Wharton; Thomas Cole; and Fredrick Church. Others we visited, but did not tour, were homes of: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Alcott’s neighbor). All of the landscapes, architecture, interior design, and  gardens were worth visiting, though not all  have been discussed in the space of this blog.

Outside Mt. Blue State Park, Maine

Hiking a Maine trail

Our first state was Maine, where we drove as far north as Moosehead Lake, hiking and observing that the trees in the vast tracts of forest were short compared to those in California, but extended in their vibrant mid-season array across plains, hills and mountains as far as the eye could see.

Hudson, NY – “Main St. USA”

By the time we arrived further south, avoiding Boston, we noted that the leaves were still turning, and that to our surprise, there is much less development than we expected across the farms, resort areas, and forests of Western Massachusetts and the Hudson River Valley. We enjoyed staying in and exploring the small towns, which had preserved their “Main St.” character.

 

 

Jay showing the scale of Thoreau’s clever house, Walden Pond

Walden Pond

Outside Concord, MA, we circled Walden Pond, and saw a replica of the tiny house Henry David Thoreau built for himself, welcoming visitors and not at all the hermit he is made out to be. His visitors, and the people he saw when he hiked the mile and a half to Concord, included friends who became the “Transcendentalists.” This mid-19th century group, among many others,  included Ralph Waldo Emerson and educators Bronson Alcott (father of Little Women’s Luisa May) and Margaret Fuller.

The Alcott’s Orchard House, Concord, MA

The Transcendentalists were a literary, political, philosophical and educational movement which, like the concurrent Romantic Movement in painting, celebrated our intuition and inner imaginations, with inspiration from natural beauty. It rejected industrialization, organized religion, materialism, social convention and the trend toward veneration of science and empiricism.

To be clear, I admire scientists, and respect their findings, but I can also respect many Transcendentalist views. This was a religious philosophy, with both God and nature at its center. Their ideas were revolutionary, but quickly disseminated through public speaking and literary projects. Its adherents also founded schools and made changes in public schools. Most were active abolitionists and supported women’s education and suffrage.

Dickinson’s Homestead, upper right corner window where she wrote, Amherst, MA

In Amherst, I toured Homestead and Evergreens, homes of Emily Dickinson and of her brother and his wife, William Austin and Susan Dickinson, across the lawn. I took the self-guided tour through the garden Emily tended, natural imagery finding its way into her poems. Frederick Law Olmstead, famed landscape architect of NY Central Park, advised Emily’s brother on the design of his house and Amherst College.

Olmstead’s work also found its way onto the landscape at our final stops in upstate New York. These were at the homes of painters Thomas Cole, founder of the first distinctively American art movement, and Fredrick Church, Cole’s most successful protégé. There, we could see that their Hudson River Valley school evoked and reflected our entire journey, from the natural bounty of Maine through the stewardship of nature in both Concord and Amherst.

Landscape tour hike around Fredrick Church’s 300 acre property. View of the Hudson River Valley he painted, with one of many maple park benches by Olmstead. Olana State Park, NY.

Picnic on an Olmstead bench.

Thomas Cole’s parlor with view of the Hudson River. Note his paintings adorning the walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I gain from viewing these historic homes, gardens, landscapes, artifacts and artworks? Besides fulfilling a dream, I was able to feel – not just observe and learn – but feel how these creative souls lived, struggled, supported one another, failed and succeeded. And isn’t this what Transcendentalism was all about? To look at the cloud formations outside my window, and not to calculate and analyze  their significance, but instead, to be aware of the emotions they bring to me, and how my relationship to them places me in nature and increases my humanness.

Perhaps we might benefit by accepting a lesson from New England’s mid-century thinkers. As on all vacations, I began to slow down, but on this particular road trip, I experienced a greater sympathy with and protectiveness for our natural world, and for all people, throughout history and today.

P.S. to my readers: What summer (or fall, winter, spring!) vacation taught you something you did not expect or had never thought about before? Where would you send me and Jay on our next adventure?!?

Posted in Arts and society, literature | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Why I wrote The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London – and other Stories of the ‘60s

Symbol of the worldwide struggle for women’s rights.

Note to readers: If your Bay Area book club, service group or other organization is looking for a speaker and discussion, I’d be happy to present about my books, the late 1960s, current events or any other related topics of interest! I’m available in November, December and in 2018. Please contact me at: elisefmiller68 at gmail dot com.

I’d like be able to say that I wrote my newest book, published by Sand Hill Review Press this September, in response to my utter distress at Donald Trump’s lewd comments about assaulting women, made to Bobby Bush of Access Hollywood and on view for all to hear and see during the run up to the 2016 election.

Truth is, no. The writing, editing and publishing process is a long one. I began this novella in 2015, before Trump was more than an annoying reality TV personality, always out for attention and self-aggrandizement.

Here I am back when my first novel was released, 2012!

When I finished my first novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones (2012), I swore I was “over” the ‘60s! I had wanted to research and understand the era in which I came of age, and to fathom my own feelings and decisions in the late 1960s. I left Berkeley to study in Paris in spring, 1968, albeit under different circumstances than Janet Magill, and I returned to UC Berkeley to graduate in June, 1969. Years later, with titillating and ever-celebratory stereotypes from those years of my youth taking over the mainstream media, I knew that my memories did not match those images and explanations.

So, I buckled down to study my own era. And then I had many satisfactory answers and a novel I felt good putting out into the world. I was done, wasn’t I?

When readers began to ask me “What happened to Janet Magill and Aaron Becker after Paris? Did they ‘get it on’?” – I had no reply! The answer began to gnaw at my brain. About the same time that Tory Hartmann of Sand Hill Review Press decided to give “Stones” a facelift—re-released as The Berkeley Girl, In Paris 1968 in September 2016, I made an amazing discovery.

Ford machinists strike for re-classification and equal pay, June, 1968.

London experienced an historical protest and strike the very week that the fictional Janet left Paris and went to meet Aaron across the Channel. The Ford Motor machinists’ strike for reclassification and equal pay for women is what set me up for Janet’s journey as a woman and a fighter for equal rights. This was something that my protagonist knew nothing about in Berkeley or Paris, and would have learned about only upon arrival in London! I was convinced she would want to sink her teeth into this cause.

Baroness Barbara Castle, the British Labour Party politician who supported the strikers.

So although it wasn’t the presidential misogyny which prompted my plot and the quirky British characters in The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London, the American president’s blatant disrespect for women, and the willingness of so many Americans to ignore it, confirmed my decision to make the feminist cause – needed now as much as ever – a theme in this novella-length sequel.

Aaron’s draft dilemma and Vietnam War protest, along with Aaron and Janet’s future together, are, of course, still the major themes. Never fear, dear readers, you will find out if they made a go of their romance! But my own relationship to the feminism of the late 60s and early 70s played into some of feelings, opinions and reactions of my characters.

Peter Coyote at his 60s Commune.

As I was writing the sequel, other unexplored aspects of my own ‘60s experiences flooded my consciousness and awareness. A visit to a cousin in the Haight Ashbury in 1969 became “Jazz Reflections,” in which a middle aged man looks back on his college love affair and questions the decisions he made. Memories of my own struggles with my loving mother sparked “The Wedding of My Dreams.” And out of my recent genealogy studies and a fascination with Peter Coyote’s autobiographical Sleeping Where I Fall, came “The View from Pond Hill Farm,” a story of a boy’s mixing with clashes between hippie communes and Midwest family farms in the burgeoning civil rights era.

This story collection and its look back at the late 1960s resonate today. Please write with your questions and comments, and I will respond! I hope the book will make people think deeply about all of our divisions and about our common humanity as well.

 

Posted in activism today, Sources for published works, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Confessions from the Summer of Love

OTHER people having a blast in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park during the summer of 1967.

During the Summer of Love I was in Berkeley—not in San Francisco. Recently, listening to a PBS special on the Beatles’ masterpiece, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” brought me back, as only music can do.*  The Beatles and their production team spent months in a studio, away from the adoring, frenetic crowds, creating something that had never been heard before, and that plays over and over in the mind.

That summer, I was certainly aware of what was going on across the San Francisco Bay. But ensconced as I was within a particular, private zone in the summer of 1967, I deliberately ignored the promising news that our generation over in the Haight was ushering in a better world. I had no car, my roommates were from the City and had no desire to go “home,” and the hordes of teenagers who greeted me with palms upraised for a handout every time I exited my apartment made the promised encounter with nirvana seem less appealing.

But those are just excuses. It was the “zone” that kept me in place. What kind of zone am I talking about?

During spring quarter, my roommate’s sister was in Israel before and during the Six-Day War, while my brother was off fighting in Vietnam. We developed a ritual: listen to the news, then sit on the sofa with mugs of warm milk and honey and try to recuperate. Summer classes could not come too soon. One was a painting class related to my art history major. I spent hours outdoors, sketching those ancient olive trees, twisted into enchantment, that sprung up around campus like wise old souls. And painting a building like South Hall, the elder dean of campus structures, also brought me comfort.

Art class version of twisted olive trees on campus.

South Hall, 1967

The real South Hall.

 

 

 

 

 

When I wasn’t clinging to the past, I painted a flotilla of hot air balloons, vivid orange and cyan blue, bright enough to stand out against a summer sky. I imagined myself drifting in my own basket over the Atlantic on my way to Paris, Eiffel Tower in view. For that was why I was at Cal for summer quarter: so I could leave for Paris with my other roommate the following spring. The spring and summer quarters of 1968, we would escape to the City of Light.

My painting has disappeared, so I offer you this lovely dream.

That was my zone. Painting, dreaming, listening to music, reading all the books I considered to be the must-read great literature that would surely teach me about life without my having to actually live it. And trying to absorb the tremendous shocks of world events, both the dogged disaster of the immoral war in which my brother was still embroiled, and the surprise and the relief that I then felt about the outcome of the Six-Day War.

 

Meanwhile, I listened to the Beatles’ new album incessantly, memorized the words, shared it with friends, walked about by day and dreamed by night to those tunes.

St. Pepper introduced me to details of Hindu culture, and I read Siddhartha, deciding that well (huff!), of course an old man can reject life (and sex!) to find inner peace. Fine for him to say…

St. Pepper enhanced my appreciation of sounds that were not only electronic, but electric, inspired, a harbinger of inventiveness to come.

And St. Pepper awakened me to the courage that would be required if I ever wanted to be any kind of an “artist” myself, revealing personal moments and emotions, childhood memories, the convergence of public events and private heartbreak, and the simple “answer” to world peace: the ability to explore and accept reality from multiple viewpoints.

During the Summer of Love, instead of being spurred to action, I was immobilized by events. Other students coped by opening themselves up to politics and protest, or meditation and spirituality. But in the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Cal, the arts were my protective “zone.”

And here’s my point: I bought the Beatles’ album, appreciated it, but until I heard the PBS special this week, I did not know why it was so impactful nor why I was so attracted to it.

Thirty years later, I knew what I had felt about war, politics, sex, race, religion and the arts that college summer, and felt keenly that I had stayed in my zone. But I did not know why. Then I began to research what happened behind the scenes, cultural changes and political upheavals, and thought deeply about my identity and anguish, and about how I did and did not fit into the San Francisco love-fest scene.

In 2012, I found Sand Hill Review Press and launched A Time to Cast Away Stones, which was fated, in 2016, to become The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968. This fall, The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London and Other Stories from the 1960s will be published. This book continues to draw on more of those memories—of the stirring challenges of Eastern spirituality and feminism, and how we conjured love, another sort of balm, in those years of dislocation and anxiety.

*You may want to re-visit my blog onMusic Stirs Public Movements and Special Private Moments,” (https://elisefrancesmiller.com/2016/09/23/music-stirs-public-movements-and-special-private-moments/music blog).

 

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