The annoying neighbor drops a flyer in the hallway. She’s been glimpsed before; a tiny, pretty girl who stomps up and down her apartment at two in the morning. When I see her at her show, the noise reports are explained—she wears huge platforms. This puts me on notice. Short women who want to be taller do interesting work. (We mid-sized types are lazier.)
Her show is The Farm; a twenty-minute documentary short that will grow into a feature with the funds from parties like this one. In the early seventies, a convoy of 50 hippie buses left San Francisco for Tennessee, where they bought a few thousand acres and established a commune called The Farm. Rena, it turns out, grew up on The Farm with her sister. Her parents were founders, along with Steven Gaskin, self-styled spiritual leader of the community. Rena has exclusive access to the founders and to the Farm kids, born and brought up there, and it’s a dream subject.
The savvy hippies made their myth from the start. There’s washed-out footage from the bus journey, interviews from the first days, filmed talks by Gaskin. Boys play earnest music. Soft hippie chicks dance, and the ones with glasses all manage to look like Hillary Clinton at Yale Law School. I give thanks for LASIK.
We see them cutting their first crop, sorghum. I snorted my drink through my nose at their efforts. I remember the grace of my grandparents, born small-f farmers, quietly turning turf or baling hay. They moved no more than was needed. These frenetic hippies flailed and sweated in the Tennessee sun. Most looked like they wished they were still cracking college books.
The interviews with Farm kids, grown up now, are affecting. Several were in the audience for the showing. They looked proud; they whooped at familiar faces onscreen. Before the movie, I bought Spritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin from the bookstand by the door. In The American Way of Birth, Jessica Mitford credits Gaskin with reviving American midwifery; I didn’t know she’d learned her craft delivering all the Farm kids. The girl who sold me the book pointed out the pictures of baby Rena and her sister. I found out later that she herself was the daughter of the demented, loveable Italian featured heavily in the film. He still lives there.
Not all the kids in the movie managed so well. One young woman, wearing the difficult short bangs and dark red lipstick of a downtown artiste, choked as she described the ‘four-marriage’ Steven Gaskin had forced on her mother. She and her husband were ‘married’ to another couple, of whom the man became her biological father.
‘The four-marriage was the Farm ideal, you know? Because it was to help you get beyond ego. Because you had to be egoless if you had to share your partner. But it was always weird for the kids from a four-marriage.’
I want to know more about the commune movement, especially now that I’m reading veteran stories from Vietnam. My parents wore the threads of the hippies and were, if anything, more beautiful than these California kids. But they followed the European path, where self-discovery came through service, and went to teach in a bush village in Zambia around the same time. That Irish generation had nothing like the American self-consciousness about changing the world, and they lacked the Boomers prodigious entitlement. We are on a thirty-year lag; mine is the baby boom generation in Ireland, and we have many of our US forebears’ traits. We lack a sense of demographics; we think the country booms and opens up because we are so much smarter and worthier than our parents.
For me, American boomers are embodied by Clinton. Enormously gifted, born into huge generational privileges of peace and prosperity. Fussing endlessly now about their legacy, wanting us to agree that the Sixties changed the world more than World War One or the French Revolution. I like them, but I wish they had more teach us. Maybe when Rena finishes her movie, I’ll find out they do.