Dates are important, man. I've heard people say "History is more than just dates," but those dates are the map, the topography. History is the art of feeling What It Was, and the calendar-map is the skeleton key to the feeling.
I say this because this summer I was looking at the map of 1969 and realized something: within a month, a single month, we had the Apollo landings, the Manson murders, and Woodstock. And you can throw in Chappaquiddick for good measure. One month.
That's the Sixties in one word. Whiplash. Explosion piled on explosion, political, cultural, military, scientific, at home and around the world. No one knew where the next bolt would come from, and it seemed that things would get wilder and wilder until the whole world flew apart. Many people were waiting for just that, some in hope, some in despair, some in both.
So the decade ended.
As it turns out, the pace of events was in fact slowing down, even in the summer of '69. The explosions started to space themselves out, attaining some modicum of peace, until eventually the nation hit the calm (perhaps stagnant) pool of the mid-to-late Seventies. The whiplash started to recede into the past. Gradually at first-when I first became aware of the Sixties as a child in the 80s, the trauma was barely scabbed over. But it's been another twenty years on top of that. As of January, the Sixties will begin to shift to 50 Years Ago Today. Time flows, eroding pain, smoothing the corners of the present into the safety of the Past, where it can be contemplated without fear.
I sometimes wish I had never written this blog. In terms of my career as a writer of fiction, it was a tremendous waste of valuable time. But I still read it. Late at night, when I should be working on a story, I distract myself with hippies and India. Every time I do so, there's a little more distance between me and the writing.
It has been two years since "40 Years Ago Today." It is now 42 years since 1967. It will soon be fifty years since the Sixties, then one hundred, then five hundred, then one thousand. We look back, trying to understand, unable to look away. To use the Fitzgerald quote that closes William Manchester's "The Glory and the Dream," (the book that first taught me much about the Sixties), :"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."