I read an excellent Washington Post story chronicling and interviewing the remaining living authors of the Beat Generation in their twilight years.
It’s pretty striking to learn that Beat writers are still alive and residing here in San Francisco, like discovering there are Nazi death camp survivors attending the church down the street.
It’s something special to listen into the perspectives of a bygone generation. There’s just something so sad yet so bittersweet about it, minds molded from an alien past. Especially when you look at the counterculture. The Beat poets were radical thought leaders of the time, advocating an open mind on mind-altering substances, same-sex relationships and conservation in defiance to the prevailing attitude of capitalism, materialism and war. Pariahs of their time, today they seem enlightened. What are their takes on society today, as we plough ahead in an age of unprecedented connectivity and information?
“Turn off the television set and turn off the distractions. Turn to your most intelligent friends, and begin to imagine what’s really going on. We live in a state of free information, but that’s somehow absolutely muzzled. If we can eliminate these distractions and start to feel and think together again, and let our imaginations and inspirations let go... that will bring more change than anything.” - Michael McClure
In our age, the supreme abundance of information (and disinformation) overwhelms me. I can find whatever I’m looking for on the internet, but before I know it I’ve opened up 20 new tabs and found either 20 new articles to read further or 20 new YouTube videos to catch up on. I don’t need to think for myself at this point. Deep down, I know I have a desire to contribute something to my community, but I keep telling myself there’s an endless pit of distractions I must catch up with first before I should start.
I don’t believe the younger generation is going to grow up distracted and dumbed-down. I think we’re smarter than ever before. We’ll figure out ways to manage our attention, like I’m trying to figure out mine.
“As you get older, nostalgia becomes a problem. You start to think, ‘Oh, things were better back in my day. You should’ve been here in North Beach then.’ But it’s wonderful to be alive at 20 in any era.” - Herbert Gold
It’s easy to cling to nostalgia and miss a way of life that can’t exist anymore. So it’s reassuring to hear from Herb that young people today aren’t missing out. But does his statement really hold true today? Where many young teens circulate memes of anxiety and depression, where many young adults worry about debt, housing, climate catastrophe, increasing political division?
Perhaps the open talk about depression and other mental health issues is partly a result of greater visibility and acceptance among the younger generation. Perhaps many social and economic inequalities have persisted along the same as they had a generation before us, they’ve just been more generally accepted by a wider audience now as injustices. And with their acceptance, other injustices can surface up, previously unheard but has always been there, fighting to be heard.
“To be a serious artist is to be obsessed with the craft, with the work. Both crazy and sane, both disciplined and goofily free, celibate or profligate, artists baffle themselves, their families, their societies.” - Gary Snyder
I think what holds me back from being a serious artist is the willingness to commit to the craft. I seriously don’t spend much time writing and creating. I can be crazy and goofy and bouncing-off-the-walls creative, but I still need to put in honest work to complete projects. I want to build that discipline to finish my own creative work, now that I‘m slowly beginning to find enough self-worth to believe I can do it.
Turns out it’s not so scary to be an artist. Just pay attention, participate in your surroundings, and let yourself respond to your thoughts and feelings. Keep honing in on that last part. The end result is art. ▲