I met T-- at her home, and in the morning hours of a hot late June day, we sat in the shade of huge oaks which towered over her deck
I was aware that [my parents] were different because they were artistic. When I would compare them to my friends’ parents, I felt I was different, because I was exposed to creative things. They were first fine artists, and then used that ability to have jobs in society. My mother sold a lot of her stuff to an arts center. They were both very capable artists. They took us to dance -- you know, Balinese dancing, exotic stuff, not just going to Swan Lake or something. I knew this was different. I don’t know how this was conveyed to me, other than seeing what my friends and their parents did. And the art work hanging in the halls. A naked woman in the hallway, and I could relate to it as a piece of art, and my friends tittered over it. I was above that. I felt different, but I felt very good about it. Their lifestyle affected how I think.
[In high school] I was on the edge of the hippie movement. I was a folk singer with my boyfriend, and I listened to Joan Baez. I was an unusual dresser, you know, I wore textured hose, weird stuff, you know, a man’s watch, radical, pierced ears. I was going that way already. My mother brought that in to me too, to see things differently, to see that clothing is an extensive of art, jewelry, and what you do with your hair.
[My family] didn’t specifically talk about social issues. My brother was drafted, but we never talked about any of those issues. My parents voted for Nixon, for gods sake. We always accused my father of being a racist. He wasn’t overt at all. I think that’s a lot of his upbringing, the age he is. He said stuff sometimes, and when we became cognizant, my sister and I, we’d say ‘Dad!’ and he’d say, ‘well, I’m a racist, I can’t help it.’
My first year in college, I had one foot in what was happening, and I got high for the first time. People I met there allowed me to expand on those feelings in an acceptable way. Coming into to contact with people who were more aware than me. I had been cocooned in suburbia. We went to protests in Washington DC about the Vietnam War - we went to the Pentagon. When I went to this protest, it was half social, in a way. I wasn’t fully committed. I certainly believed in peace, and I couldn’t ‘get it’ why anyone was fighting, I still can’t get it. But I was still just’ in the crowd.’ Most of my focus was centered on the war. I was aware of women’s issues, but it didn’t grab me. I’ve always been very comfortable. I grew up with no blacks in the school, probably none in the community at the time -- it’s very different now. So I didn’t have interaction. It was always a rarified situation, and I think that carried over into college. I think I was still in that comfortable cocoon, of seeing things out there, but it wasn’t affecting me personally yet. So it wasn’t really catching my brain.
Defining my direction has been one of my problems. I go with the flow. After college, I went to Pittsburgh and worked. We smoked pot, listened to music, you know, that lifestyle -- I used to call it ‘weekend hippies’ -- and I was living a subsistence life, a ratty apartment. I was working for a newspaper in production work, layout. I had studied that at school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor or any of that. Even when I had graduated with a degree in merchandising, it meant nothing to me. I was never so radical overtly that I wanted to drop out -- I did say, after I adjusted from living at school to being in Pittsburgh for about a year or two, I decided -- I visited my sister who was going to school at the Univ of Missouri in journalism, and I really enjoyed the pace there, it was slowed down from the east coast. A different head set. Plus, she was in the hippie thing, she had dropped out -- working at this alternative restaurant, working at a radio show. I wanted to get into her culture, I liked that. I liked the whole scene. So I moved to Missouri. And then I didn’t work, I did nothing. We got stuff out of dumpsters. We grew food. We lived a low key, group lifestyle. By the end of summer, I had run through what I had saved, so I became a model at the university, which is what my sister had been doing, modeling in the art department. I’d been in the other side, been there drawing nude models, so I said, yeah, it paid pretty good -- $2.50 an hour -- but that was minimum wage. But it was better than going mainstream. That’s what I did for years and years.
I didn’t have a real job until ‘76 -- and then I worked for the Grapevine, which was an alternative newspaper. Still not a ‘real’ job. I didn’t have full time work until ‘89.
Now my husband was a carpenter, so we had two incomes, so we had a decent lifestyle. I could back down from this [current] lifestyle so quick it would make my husband’s head spin. No problem. I don’t need all this -- the air conditioning, three cars -- you know. I don’t think my choices were conscious -- I always see myself as floating along, not making an effort to change my lifestyle, but I guess that is a choice. I wasn’t interested. It wasn’t like ‘I think that’s wrong so I’m not going to do it.’ It’s like, ‘who needs it?’ I just wasn’t interested in all that [material] stuff. I didn’t participate. I think a lot of that came out of my parents. It’s a family joke, but we were recycling long before it was thought to be chic. I pissed and moaned about washing out plastic bags and washing aluminum pans, but my parents had been through the Depression, and they passed that on to us, even tho we were in the 50s, and it was land ‘o plenty. We were frugal. Reuse. That filtered down into -- well, that car still runs, I don’t need anew car. This dress still fits. I knew what was happening out there, but I had this small insular world of friends around me and I wasn’t participating in that for many many years. I probably would be living like that -- and even now I’m contemplating getting out of the ‘rat race.’ Everything has been an evolution.
At the Grapevine, I was the art department, you know, put together all the ads, and even sold some, even though I loathed that. It was a little extra money to do that. I did Dickson Street, so half the time we’d be in the back room, there, you know, and that worked, and I’d pick up aluminum cans as I walked down the street. One of the people who came to be editor there was C. C--, and we became friends, and when he left, he started a business with his brother, called C, C-- and Asso., an advertising agency, and after a few years, they needed somebody else to do some paste-up work, so C asked if I wanted to work parttime. I started at five hours a week in 1982, and it just grew and I learned, until it evolved into a ‘real’ job, a position with a title of graphic artist, and the money started to come in, which was nice, and we could do things with the house, so finally, they got big enough, and they said, look, we need a fulltime person, do you want to be that person? By that time, S-- [my husband] had bought the store and he had his nose to the grindstone. No more three month vacations for us. We weren’t going anywhere. Why did I need all this time, then. You can only do so much with the garden and the house before you get a little wiggy, so I said sure, and went full time. I like the work, I like the people, you know, it’s not been very painful at all. Even now, I have my own niche. I defined my job position there. I’m not an art director, nor did I ever want to be. I feel now that I couldn’t be an art director. That’s fine with me. I was never motivated to be in that kind of position. I just wanted to be a little worker bee, and I liked it. Little projects, small goals, go on to the next step. I’m not saying that’s not worth the same as being an art director -- this business of pay variance because of your title and my title, I’m worth that much. But I don’t care enough to get my nose bent out of shape about it. I make a good wage, I’ve got good benefits, it’s great. I think I’m doing great, even tho some people say, you’re living on what? But it’s combined with my husband’s income, which makes it comfortable. Because it’s the kind of work atmosphere where I don’t have to act straight, I can wear whatever I want, I don’t have to act grown up. God, I’m fifty and I’m still waiting to feel grown up.
I do feel out of touch when I see kids and listen to their music, but I’m supposed to be. I’m not supposed to be 18. And they amuse me. S-- says, ‘these kids’ -- and I say, ‘god, you sound like your mother.’ I say thank goodness we don’t have children because if my kid wanted to shave his head and dye it purple, that’d be fine with me. You know, if everything else is going ok, who cares if his head is purple. I have no children, and I find that alters one’s perception of everything. I’m still ‘27' -- there’s nothing showing me, tangibly, like a human being growing up in front of you -- like when I see other peoples’ kids, it’s like when did this happen? I don’t see time passing, so here I am.
I have a sense of progress [on social issues], although sometimes I think things will never be right. Yes, we’ve made a difference, but it’s not done. It will never be done, unless we evolve somehow. But we’ve really made a difference. But maybe I should be more involved. I don’t know why I think that. I see my world and say, this is how it is, because that’s how it is without any effort, and I’m not putting in any effort. But then I fluctuate between thinking it’s good and that it’s bad, that I am doing something, or I’m not doing enough. It depends on my mood, how I perceive things. Really, all you have to do is look around and make comparisons -- still we’re grumbling about everything. I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have utopia, and then I have to say, yes that’s true, and then I have to set that aside so I can deal with daily life, not keep beating myself up, like why did that person throw that in the trash?! Then I have to say, calm down, reining myself in, which makes me depressed, that everybody isn’t embracing all these wonderful things that they could be doing to make our society a perfect world, which it could be. We’ve got it all. We’re smart enough. It’s just that people are not conscious.
Then I look at what I’m doing, and I say ADVERTISING? I hate advertising. I hate consuming. What am I doing? Why am I not spending -- I mean, I know I’m a good worker, dedicated, loyal, -- why am I not putting this toward something else -- please. But I’m very comfortable, so I have this internal war. I do what I can. I’ve started a recycling project at the office, raising their consciousness, making them recycle, tracking down resources, getting us involved in the city recycling programs. I do that, and I think that’s good, but it’s such a tiny bit. But then I keep telling myself that it’s valuable.
I went through this big thing, I call it my mid-life crisis, when I kept saying, what am I doing with this job? I should go work for the humane society -- something -- I felt like my abilities were not being spent in the right quarter. But then I throw my money at things, because my job gives me money, so I give money. It’s not a lot, but $20 here, and $20 there, and then you’re on the mailing list, and everybody is writing you. I send money to all these nature things -- Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Newton County Wildlife -- environmental stuff -- and women’s issues -- I donate to Choice, out of LR, and the humane society, I mean, all these issues -- and it’s heartfelt. In most instances, I feel I can give money and make a difference. And I volunteer, like picking up trash with the local environmental group, and plan to volunteer at the new gardens that are developing, so I do like the hands-on stuff, too, although I don’t do as much as I would like. And I pay attention to community issues. I vote on small issues as well as presidential elections. I am a good citizen, even when people aren’t watching. I should give myself that credit. But I’m always pushing, like ‘I could do more, I could do more.’
Sometimes I feel like I’ve pushed the limits at work, pulling people’s sleeves. I’ve sent memos, I’ve gone through their trash -- and about other things. I put Habitat for Humanity info on the bulletin board, you know, things that are going on. I don’t want to get in their faces. Every now and then I’ll come through with a petition. If you become a pain in the ass to somebody, they won’t listen to you and they may even get their nose out of kilter about whatever it is you’re talking about. So I’m not pushy in seeking out people. If something happens that I can say something, then I’ll add it into the conversation. I’m increasing their level of awareness as painlessly as I can. I want to hit people over the head, don’t get me wrong -- ‘you idiot!!’ I feel like if I can be an example, maybe someone will notice that. People have said to me -- oh, you’re so calm, so relaxed all the time, they admire that. Even when I doubt myself and think I’m taking the easy way out, they think I’m making an intelligent choice. Because they’re all on antacids and going out of their minds.
What the alternatives were when I was coming out of school, I don’t think we were as hit over the head with making a living and worrying about old age, about retirement. I mean, these kids are worried about their retirement when they get out of college. It’s like, whoa, I feel so sorry for them. I have co-workers who are in their 30s who say, god, I’m so sorry I missed all the drugs and being laid back -- I got out of college and went right to work and here I am. And they miss out. They feel they’ve been put on the treadmill, and now they’re wondering, what am I doing here? They are very driven, and I feel they are missing so much by not having goof-off time. If I have a chance, I recommend if someone if coming out of high school and they don’t know what they want, they should take some time, go to Europe, hitchhike around Europe -- why go and spend daddy’s money getting drunk on weekends? Go out there and spend some time with yourself. I am so disgusted with all of that, that the system belittled who and what we were, and pushed this 30s generation into this kind of life. I’m not worried about our generation. I know us. We’ll get whatever damn thing we want. We’re not afraid to make things happen. Now we’ve made our loop. Now we’re going to reflect and have our lifestyle, what we want, what we want from the government. I’m counting on the go-getters among us to make things happen, and I’ll support them.
I had hopes, like when Clinton got in, but now, it’s BILL! Maybe people reach a point and then it’s like a trap. And then they won’t be any good to us. I don’t keep up on everything that’s going on -- but some of the things that have disappointed me with this administration are like mass transit, seriously addressing waste disposal on a national level -- I mean, just get behind some of this stuff. Really concern yourself with environment, and not all this posturing and meanwhile we’re selling timber for a dime an acre or whatever the hell we’re doing. I mean, I’m like trivial pursuit. I know a little about everything but feel very inadequate discussing issues, but he’s not really taking the bully pulpit. Environmental issues, human rights issues -- I want these addressed. But I understand that politics is a horrible web, and here you come very idealistic into it, and just get ground under the heel. I always admired Bumpers not running for President, because he was up front, said he could get a lot more done right here in the Senate -- and he could! If you’re President, everybody is watching and you have to make everybody happy. And old Bill is trying to make everybody happy, and he’s gotten distracted. And there’s all this other horseshit, which is like -- oh my god.
Our generation makes a difference when it really matters. I have to keep being hopeful. I can’t give up. When I really get low, I have to just back off. I can go to the grand scale, and say we’re just a blip on the screen. Or else I come down to my little world -- in between, it’s a no man’s land. I try to stay out of the middle, which is why I don’t feel really knowledgeable, just enough to go off emotionally on whatever it is and do what I can. That’s all I can do, affecting my immediate periphery in some small way. I hope everybody else is making their small circle, and then all the circles will connect. It is happening.