I am leaving tomorrow morning for a short New Year's retreat on the North Shore. A friend of mine goes every year and she told me about it. My mom and my boyfriend ended up paying for it as a gift to me, because I've been under a lot of stress lately and they both thought I needed it.
My mom insisted that I go even though my uncle, her brother, passed away last night after a long hard fight with cancer. The rest of my family is en route to Nebraska for the funeral and I hope I didn't make a mistake, not going with them.
My uncle was funny and weird and crazy and everyone's favorite. He was my dad's best friend, they were in the Marines together in the late 60s. He introduced my parents to each other. He used to write absurd, rambling letters that read like Tom Robbins books. I found one last night and read it because I couldn't sleep. I laughed and cried at the same time.
There is so much sadness in the air here in New Orleans as 2010 draws to a close. Eight people died in a warehouse fire the other night, as they burned a fire in a barrel, trying to keep warm. Apparently they were friends of the person I mentioned in my last post. A friend on Facebook linked to this great blog post about the incident. When I lived in the Quarter I was often harassed by "gutterpunks" and sometimes I responded (verbally) with hostility as well. It was tough for me, especially as a "keep to yourself" New Englander, to deal with the constant requests for money, food, and attention as I was just trying to walk down the street. But it is important to remember that everyone is an individual, no matter what they dress like, and they are not all rude. And even the ones who are...they are still young. I am rude sometimes, too.
I've been thinking about what it means to be counterculture. In some ways I feel I fit that label, but in other ways my life is very comfortable and "normal." I always loved the stories my dad and my uncle would tell about their younger days - road trips, hitchhiking, drugs, jail, and the mostly unmentioned shadow over it all - the Vietnam war. I never lived on the edge like they did, like the "gutterpunks" or "travelers" of today do. The risks I've taken have mostly been in the artistic realm - I fear too much for my physical safety to take other kinds of risks. But I think about the longing for freedom, for adventure, and that makes sense to me. More sense than most of what goes on in this thing we call society.