Men, Prayer, Politics, Horses, Detroit
Authors Note: An edited version of this piece has now been published by HuffPost @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-kotting/generation-gap_b_4632543.html
I have not confessed it till now, but here goes: I am a card-carrying female of the dazed and confused generation, that generation sandwiched between the ‘Hell No, We won’t Go!’ generation and the ‘Me!, Me!, Me!’ generation. All three of these predate the current generation of gadget carrying pavlovians-with-a-purpose, whom I affectionately refer to as PWPs.
They did make a movie about mine, not an award winning documentary by any means, but a decent representation, now cult status. We are the ones who came of age in the late 1970’s, that cultural pause between street pounding protests over body bags and the decades of blind material ambition, the late 1980’s and roaring 1990’s. As a generation sans purpose, we languished in the back-wash filled tide pools of the generations we were tossed between.
As my peers and I matured, most gravitated toward one cultural riptide or the other. Some, no doubt occasionally of chemically altered mind, went the way of the residual radicals, taking up worthy causes whose movements had matured while others fell Humpty Dumpty style to the other side of the fence, jumping on the gilded bus in pursuit of wealth, status and the easy money that began to flow as market bubbles grew and grew. Mixed into this bong-o-confusion was the ever present echo of the feminist movement in full bloom that informed my impressionable young mind that I could do ANYTHING I wanted and that as a woman, the world was my oyster, bras optional. Being born with the adventure gene, I kept my bra on and went both ways at once.
I have spent vast years of my 5 decades oscillating between wanting to do blotter, wanting to raise hell by whatever means necessary and wanting a new payment book and the 24 shiny cylinders that go with it, preferably parked at night in a zip code avidly prospected by individuals whose offices contain lots of dark wood; between wanting to cast the first stone of the Revolution and wanting to grab a few in the clubhouse after a set.
True to feminist dazed and confused form, I have dated Wall Street bankers and leftist ex-pats. At the far end of one of life’s pendulum swings, I married a graduate of Antioch College who majored in community organizing and took over the campus, literally. He bought ink by the barrel, contracted a printing press and kicked some serious backside with it. One of my fondest memories is watching the security agents pupils dilate as my former husbands FBI file filled her screen in the International Departures line at an airport filled with loose chickens from the local village. She let us through.
I have sent Dear John letters to heirs of industrial fortunes. I have placed ‘puts’ and ‘calls’ with great success, survived on raw root vegetables and driven home after hitting a one-hit, once, thankful I lived on a peninsula and could get home by repeating the mantra: “keep the shore to the left, keep the shore to the left…”. I have owned three homes at one time, all magazine ready. I have slept in my truck, with my dog and my cat, thankful for a roof. I have shoveled horse manure for a living and collected interest and dividend checks for a living. I have hosted 150 people in formal attire for a sit down reception in my living room. I have launched rescue efforts that beat the Red Cross and FEMA to the scene of the disaster.
I have been the only woman at the conference room table surrounded by pinstripes with cigars, doing their damnedest to take me seriously. I have kneaded bread with a bakers hat on at 3 in the morning. I have restored mansions, raised barns and built a dug-out. My nude figure is published internationally and it is not porn, it is art and no, I did not accept payment. I have slopped pigs and traded pork bellies, with a license. I have owned horses with more frequent flyer miles than the average American. I have traveled coast to coast, selling off gold jewelry for diesel, one pawn shop at a time. I have mastered an art form and failed at a few others. When my feminist mentors told me I could do anything, I believed them, and I still do.
Now, into the fifth feminist decade of the dazed and confused path, living the life of the generation nobody ever asked anything of nor expected anything from, I have learned a few simple things: Dignity is a grace and is to be protected. Dress for the weather and the work, not the smart phone camera. My job is to go to bed tired and wake up before the sun rises and my dogs bladder hits the full mark. I have learned that 3 homes are a prison and that 288 square feet is a palace. I have learned I can whip up a gourmet meal on a hot plate and make a killer Martini in a mason jar. I can hold my own with intellects, activists, traders or the tractor repairmen after-hours with four-foot drifts against the barn doors. Experience, and the story that inevitably goes with it, has given me a short list of things I need to survive somewhat gracefully most anywhere: a marine toilet, a bucket hot water heater, a blush compact, black mascara, a 36″ crowbar, a bar of Kirks Castile, a blow up mattress and a worn copy of The Soul of the Apostolate. (Note that Smart Phone did not make the list)
I have learned not to hunger for wealth for it comes with a price I am not willing to pay, nor titles nor social circles, nor material reflections that might define who I am to a world that wonders. I love nothing more than to spend an evening alone with me, my books and I. I have learned to love my calluses and my ability to call a market; I have learned its ok to own a fine collection of Ferragamos; that Gucci hangs well on me and I shouldn’t hesitate to wear it, however, my Goodwill-sourced chore boots smell like horse manure 24/7 and my barn coat stands rather than hangs at days end. I have learned to trust my own ideas. I have learned that if it starts, stops and turns both ways, it is road ready. I have learned that a passport is not a ticket to the world and that my mind and pen are; that masculine european accents do not equate to intelligence nor sexual prowess and that exotic is rarely erotic.
I have learned to open my mouth and hit the streets when justice calls. I have learned to walk away after the first sentence, in obedience to my own moral compass. I have learned that if I plant it, there’s a good chance it will grow. I have learned that exhaustion from giving is far better than exhaustion from taking. I have learned that what doesn’t kill you, fills your pen. I have learned that if you don’t use it, you do lose it. I have learned that the advice of a good writer that you don’t know in real life often trumps that of a good friend that you do.
Through all this I have come to one conclusion: what was once referred to as ‘dazed and confused’ becomes, over time, ‘carved and present’. The generational and gender pressures within which I have lived have led me through an arduous, challenging and ultimately joyful exploration of life as a woman that I would not trade for love, nor money. I owe this in part to the women who came before me, the ones who told me I could and dared me to try. I have learned to keep my manicure fresh, to explore, to let go, to dive in, to live small and keep my hard-earned generation carved-and-present card at the ready.
To be continued, of course….
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