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Flower Baby Blues

Half a century after The Summer of Love, the children of the counterculture emerge with their childhood stories.


One afternoon in 1976, a thin girl, six years old, stands in the corridors of The French American Bilingual School in San Francisco as the clock rings for the day. She sees the throng of little girls in navy blue skirts, knee-high socks and finely crafted braids being welcomed by their families. Her own hair is helplessly attached with a rubber band (kitchen type).
The math teacher has given the students a home assignment: They have been asked to notice different shapes and shapes in their local communities. The girl observes the family squares and triangles quietly, at a distance. She notes: “Dad and I are just two points. One line. Not even a form. "
The scene is taken from American Alysia Abbott's memoirs of growing up with her father, the influential homo poet Steve Abbott, in the counter-cultural Haight / Ashbury district of the 70 and 80 centuries. The title Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father plays on the Bohemian fantasy world with "floating boundaries" in which father and daughter lived – the absolute antithesis to both Steve Abbott's own upbringing in a strictly Catholic home and Alysia's school day among diplomatic and upper class children (Sofia Coppola now makes movie based on the book, ed.).

"How is it to be back? ”I ask the author at a cafe in Cole Valley, a small backyard oasis right next to her childhood tumult – the epicenter of the hippie movement and The Summer of Love. "Everything has changed now," Alysia replies: "The Haight looks like an amusement park," she notes dryly.
No, there is not much left of the progressive and creative environment that lived and worked just outside Alysia's childhood home at 1666 Page Street. The gentrification and entry of young tech professionals with high Silicon Valley salaries is wooing ordinary people. "But the country's best burrito and park are still there, and I love getting there," she says, referring to Golden Gate Park, where she and her father used to hide under cypress and eucalyptus trees when she was little.

As kids, we were a little too gay for the squalid world, and a little too squeamish for the sleazy.

Steve Abbott and Alysia's mother Barbara met in 1968, at the same time as the student uprising spread from the streets of Paris to the rest of the world. The two became known in the organization Students for a Democratic Society. The '68s spearheaded a social, cultural, and political revolution that fundamentally changed the Western world. The peace movement and a more liberal gender and sexuality culture left their mark on the political United States. The Summer of Love, which took place the year before Steve and Barbara met, has stood as a strong symbol of this, with Love-Ins, beat poetry, hashish and LSD. But many perished. Also the mother of Alysia, who lost her life in a car accident in 1973, only 27 years old. Then Alysia was two.

In Fairyland describes the author a childhood in a contrasting environment, with beautiful views and inclusive love between people of the same sex, but also with a destructive drug abuse and a occasionally absent father. Parallel to the personal is the political history writing: The values ​​that emerged in the wake of the flower children, gay and peace activists and, not least, the women's movement, come under strong pressure from the pastel revolution of the yuppies in the 80s. At the same time, the AIDS epidemic is announcing its arrival, leaving an environment of needy, mortally ill people without access to good medicines and health rights. Steve Abbott died of the disease in 1992, just 48 years old. Alysia was an orphan before she turned 22.
Casualties of the revolution – the "civil loss of the revolution" – is how Alysia Abbott describes these deaths today. The words fall on a book event under the auspices of the California Historical Society in San Francisco, which has put the spotlight on the flower children – The Children of Love. 50 years have passed since the legendary summer where nearly 100 people pilgrimaged the city. Some found an inclusive community, perhaps even a deeper sense of meaning; others ended up living on the street in a puddle of decay and bad trips. The New York Times reported in May 000 that as many as four people were admitted to the psychiatric ward daily due to intoxicating psychoses. It might have been awareness raising for the flower children themselves, but the flower children were often harmed by physically and emotionally absent parents and by being reduced to extras in an adult world that also consisted of deaths, drinking, baptism and depression.
The moderator asks Alysia and two other writers, Clane Hayward and Joshua Safran, whether they feel the bitterness of having grown up with these incarnations of Peter Pan – adults who do not want to become adults – as caregivers. But even though Alysia was bullied by the upper-class French-American braids and grew up in a messy, dirty home where clipped snorting pipes were still to be found, she maintains a generous twist: "I never doubted Dad was in love with me. My parents were loving, and acted the way they did based on the vision of a better society. ”Abbott believes one should make an effort to understand what the parent generation was trying to achieve.

I think you, as a human being, can benefit from softening. Bitterness can feel harsh.

The book brings us a bit closer to how this can be done. The author has made a meticulous effort to piece together a portrait, not only of his father and his upbringing, but of the entire American community, and especially the environment around Haight / Ashbury and the gay district of Castro. Her father's leftover diaries, poetry and letters are her source material, as well as interviews with family and friends – and history books. Particularly interesting is reading about his father's attempts to reconcile his political involvement and the search for a life partner to create a life for himself and his daughter at a time when gay single fathers did not have role models. We get to know a man who in many ways fails his daughter, but who also learns from his mistakes and tries to do good again. He looks for adult women whose daughter can spend time with, so that she does not need to be a mother figure; he ensures that she gets a proper education, and dedicates poems and comics to her. Steve Abbott may not understand much about what hygiene advice to give a teenage girl who suddenly starts sweating, but he gives Alysia the best room in the apartment, the one with a balcony. When Alysia requests more solitude, he invites her to a restaurant once a week.
The book's strongest card is Alysia's own memories of how the adult world faded from the perspective of the child, and later the youth:
Even though I was not gay, I knew that "gay" also applied to me because of my dad. And during my first years at French American […], I learned that homosexuality was a) disgusting and b) out of my control. The disgusting was not something you did; it was something that just happened to you, or something you were born into. So, when I found a spider's nest in my playhouse out in the backyard early that spring after many months of neglect, I did not think, 'Hmm, Daddy should take this in. the house for the winter. I have to ask him to wash it. " I thought, "This house is disgusting, because it's mine and I'm disgusting." […] I did not meet other children of gay parents until I was an adult. And between these "gay kids," as some have chosen to call us, I have felt a strong bond, especially around the
dignified feeling – something that resembled loneliness, but which was closer to isolation. In the first decades after Stonewall, our families had no way of connecting or finding out who we were and where we belonged. […] We saw no one like our parents in books or on television. And therefore we saw ourselves as outside society, cut off from "the normal". As kids, we were in a state of worry, a little too gay for the straight world, and a little too straight for the queer one. "
In trying to emulate normality, Alysia often had to hide who she was and where she came from. She did not tell anyone about her father's sexual orientation and substance abuse. She struggled to separate herself from him: "I didn't know where Dad's crimes ended and where my own began."

Back in Cole Valley I ask the author if it was difficult to forgive her parents when she, as a child, suffered so much loss and experienced losing them so early. Abbott replies that she believes that as a human being she can be served to soften, that bitterness can feel harsh. At the same time, she maintains that it is important not to forget – in particular, the small everyday stories of family life must be incorporated into a larger narrative of what society was like: “I want people to care about these values, and know what happened here in San Francisco. Unfortunately, some people do not know their history. Sharing this can remind them of where we come from and give them a perspective on where we are now. ”
In this way, we can understand all the testimonies that these days come from the children of the counterculture, not only as family sagas, but also as history writing on an overall level. About that time. Those people. Those fights. That love.

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