Having a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be a painfully long and sad way to say good-bye. It also reaffirms the adage about laughing to keep from crying. After my mother’s memory became seriously impaired, my older sister and I never knew how much of Mom would be there when we visited her at the assisted living facility. She changed from moment to moment, which is how she lived the final months of her life, from moment to moment. Buddhists spend their whole lives trying to live in the moment. By that standard, Mom was enlightened.
My parents met in 1941 as editors at the University of California Press. To my mother’s annoyance, the press manager assigned my father a desk in her small office. The new hire—a mountain climber, tall, unpolished—irritated her not just by his personality and his invasion of her space, but by his salary. Gender equality was not yet a blip on the radar. (Radar itself, coined just the year before, was not yet a blip on the radar.) My mother had seniority, yet from his first day my father, with his Y chromosome, drew a paycheck nearly equal to hers.
If you’re reading this, you were once a child. We won’t all become parents, or get married, or live to a ripe old age, but we’ve all experienced childhood. And yet, for all its universality, it is by no means a fixed idea or immutable reality. Our very notions of childhood—the nature of the experience, what expectations and privileges attend to it, how long it lasts—these things have changed with time and circumstance, and differ across cultures.
I knew parenting would be trouble even before it began. Back when my wife, Beth, and I were just starting to think about having a child of our own, I asked my dad about baby sleep arrangements. Dad’s a psychotherapist specializing in the ways that early childhood experience shapes adults, and he has strong feelings about this stuff. Forcing babies to sleep alone, he said, ends the period (starting in the womb) in which children understand themselves to be part of a larger whole.
The nerve center of the Christian Reconstruction movement is located in the tiny Gold Rush town of Vallecito, about three hours east of San Francisco, off Highway 4. The founder of the movement, the late conservative theologian Rousas John Rushdoony ’38, C.Sing. ’39, M.A. ’40, relocated here from Los Angeles in 1975, fearing civil unrest and World War III. He believed that in the event of nuclear attack, the area’s prevailing winds would mitigate the fallout.
Wendy Northcutt has made a host of obscure people famous, and although very few lived to savor their notoriety, she anticipates one day sharing their dubious honor. It almost happened when a recent heat wave gave her the idea to “air-condition” her sweltering home: She pried up an oubliette floor grate in her hallway, intending to install a fan to suck up the basement’s cooler air. But she left to answer the phone, and hours later she strode back down the hall and obliviously stepped into the gaping hole. In the milliseconds as her body swooshed down, she thought “Oh nooooooooooo!
For those of a certain age, Sproul Plaza today seems like an analog locale on Bizarro World, the cube-shaped planet from the Superman comics where everything is backwards. In the 1960s and 1970s, of course, Sproul was a hotbed of social activism. And to an extent, that remains true: The placards are still abundant, and there are plenty of undergrads handing out flyers and advocating in earnest.
Huston Smith was at Berkeley working on his Ph.D. in 1945 when he stumbled upon the work of Gerald Heard, a British writer and philosopher—a man who would later be called “the grandfather of the New Age movement.”
The light is fading on a bitter-cold December afternoon in Berkeley, and Trevor Paglen is talking about spy satellites. Specifically, he’s explaining how hard it is to photograph them—not just because our government doesn’t want us to know they’re there but also because they’re a long way away. “You’re basically trying to shoot something the size of a car on the other side of the Earth, but actually it’s even farther,” he says, his words dissolving into a machine-gun laugh.
“Create your own future,” cried the new age tapes I chanced upon in a California bookstore a few years ago. Not far away, at the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, the Reverend Robert H. Schuller was singing his own gospel of “Possibility Thinking” with the help of books called Your Future Is Your Friend and Success Is Never Ending, Failure Is Never Final. Around him, the latest immigrants, from Vietnam, Mexico, Taiwan, were acting with their feet on those very notions.
It seems like hundreds of years and it also seems like not too much time at all,” Jerry Garcia was saying in 1976. He was reminiscing about the Summer of Love, the evanescent phenomenon that swept the Bay Area a decade before.