Old Dead Hippie Manifesto

flowers and cacti near Taos, NM

Pick ’em or stick ’em, chilluns

I was never a hippie like in the movies. Probably no one was. One year long ago in Arkansas I built a shack and miracles occurred, but those had nothing to do with stereotypes or social trends. It was simply living in the woods and opening my heart to everything I loved in Nature. My parents even visited me once. They were dressed up like they were going to a cocktail party. My father even wore a tie. I figure this was something their completely insane psychiatrist put them up to—the man’s own son committed suicide not long after—and they were bleeding pain all over the ground. Pain, pain, pain. It often seemed that was the only thing their lives could generate.

After driving all day and into the night from Houston, they found a motel in Madison and prepared to execute The Plan. The next day, they put on their Establishment uniforms designed to shame me (I told you the shrink was hopeless) and showed up unannounced at Yellowhammer Farm, embarrassed, frightened, and with nothing good to say. No one admired my handiwork with logs and plastic sheeting. No one laughed as I squirted milk from Prunella the Nubian’s single teat right into their coffee cups. No one liked my beard. They hung around for less than thirty minutes and departed. You won’t be surprised to hear that when I visited them that Christmas after moving back to Austin, the bird nests I’d brought them from the Ozarks weren’t a hit. Each one was different, too, still attached to the branch where it was built. To me they were astonishing, as well as metaphors for my own abode, which neither understood. My sister liked hers, anyway, and squealed with joy. Oh Teresa, oh my pal.

Nothing I saw in high school or at the university made any sense. I couldn’t have done the “right thing” if I’d tried. I never followed a career but always went my own way, out of sync as usual and all alone, lacking only the essential connection to something greater than myself. The Stuff of which we are a part. The Mystery that enlivens life, the very stones beneath our feet. When parents love you right, you’re plugged into this, but all of them have feet of clay and most of us are damaged. This sets you up for learning. A life becomes a journey back to where we once began, if one will only take it.

Fear suppresses awareness of what you love and moving toward it. The biggest, most amazing change for me in recent years is stepping into happiness outside of family or possessions. This happens accidentally when I least expect it. It’s akin to hearing your spirit hum like a refrigerator in the background, a flash of being permanently high. This is my reward for never giving up and blowing out the candle. It’s where I want to be and live. Yet at this stage of my own expedition, I honestly don’t know what to do next, conventionally speaking. Maybe it’s time to rest a bit and let desire grow.

My wife and I have money from the dead. It isn’t much but pays the endo gods. We could buy a house in Taos if we gave most of it to the bank and took on debt again. Taos, mind you, on the verge of going back to Nature like America, and not in any way that most of us will like at first, which means we’d have to never want the money back again. (No one these days can count on any system rooted in the past, so yes, the fear phone rings.) A trivial concern at best, however, because it’s also true that one is never trapped, reality is malleable, and I was trained to aim too low. If I found a house I loved, how could that be wrong? Logic only works for things like shooting apples off of heads: don’t do that, obviously. Everything else is up for grabs. We’ll all feel mighty stupid when we’re dead and learn we only needed to imagine a better world we thought we couldn’t have.

My wife and I visited the storage unit yesterday in search of something that we didn’t find, but it was good to be there in the sun and look around: the maple desk and German antiques I hauled back from Tucson after my mother died, the gorgeous rug we still aren’t using, lamps and clothes and books we can’t enjoy because we have no place to put them. None of this is tragic, though. I merely gazed upon them and woke up a tad because they spoke to me. What else might whisper down the road? And where does passion lie?

I do know why I’m on the planet, why I’m here. It’s to notice things and be a beacon for “okay.” Beyond that is the Void, and thank you, Jesus, for the nails. Thank you to my parents, who never understood, and to a way of life that doesn’t matter. The refrigerator hums. Ich lebe immer noch. “This world’s on fire,” my friend said, and he was right.

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John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • Duncan May 4, 2014, 1:04 PM

    I’ve recently tried to make sense of my life, or rather, to try to let those around me understand where I’m at, where I’ve always been, and probably where I’m going.
    Anyway, what the heck, I don’t know why I feel I have an obligation to do so, after all, I yam what I yam!

    However, this article serves to sum up very neatly and rather eloquently what I have to date been at a loss to achieve.

    Thanks.

    • JHF May 4, 2014, 1:15 PM

      Well, I’m stunned! But you’re very welcome, obviously.

  • Rita May 4, 2014, 2:03 PM

    This reminds me of a similar tale, but it was my ex who was put through the ringer by his crazy mother. There was a Last Christmas event, when she refused to come to our house because we had an outhouse (oh the horrors! It actually burned down eventually, maybe from a lightning strike.) We had to meet them a few miles away in a parking lot to exchange presents. The kids got in the back of the station wagon and ripped paper off the boxes for about 5 minutes. Then we went home.

    Before that, and probably why she would not make that last 3 miles, she spent one two-hour visit standing in the yard getting eaten alive by ticks in chiggers, but refusing to come into our cute little farm house to de-tick herself or apply repellant.

    My ex has not spoken to her since a traumatic scene at the hospital years ago as his dad (a real saint) lay dying. She got up on the bed and pounded on his chest screaming, “No,no,no. Don’t leave me!!! The nurses couldn’t pull her off. She must be in her 90s now, but sick all her life. None of her kids will come near her.

    • JHF May 4, 2014, 2:44 PM

      I can understand the last part, actually. But I know “you had to be there,” so to speak, and then there’s all that context. Your comment cuts a little close to the bone because I’m finishing up The HELEN CHRONICLES. Not analogous, perhaps, but of a similar intensity. At the point the dispatches start, about four years before she died, I hadn’t seen my mother for five whole years, and she only lived a long day’s drive away.

  • Marti Fenton Whitedeersong May 4, 2014, 2:56 PM

    My parents wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist. I was the designated crazy one and it was to stay that way. But that enormous gap between generations still seems larger than any that went before. The cloak of habitual familiarity wore out for us. It seems that many of us ended up in places like Taos where our cultural thread bareness fit in with all the other strange costumes. I can relate to the trip to the storage. We have been rearranging a storage area and and it makes us yearn for a place that can hold all of who we are.

    • JHF May 4, 2014, 3:15 PM

      “The cloak of habitual familiarity wore out for us.” Ayup. Someone I know quoted a Jungian analyst who wrote something similar: “Feeling rootless ‘is also constellated in grown-ups when one ascribes to values other than those sanctioned by the collective.’ ”

      The only storage unit solution is a dozen Molotov cocktails. Maybe two dozen. Just can’t do it, though. If someone did it for me, I might cry a little.

  • Rita May 4, 2014, 3:02 PM

    I was always keen to read those and look forward to the new book, which I intend to buy.

    The main thing I “got” from my mother-in-law was that it was possible to be almost entirely centered on oneself. Oddly, it gave me the idea to stick a toe in that water, but without being mean about it. It liberates you to persue your life. Know what I mean?

    • JHF May 4, 2014, 3:20 PM

      Yes. But is that really what she did? 🙂

  • Rita May 4, 2014, 3:19 PM

    My grandfather once asked me if I was a hippie. I asked him what a hippie was and he said that it was someone who does not work or bathe. So I said probably not, then. I preferred “artsy” or even “bohemian” but now say “craftsperson,” when it comes up, which it still does, surprisingly, even though my craft right now is writing until I figure out what to make next.

    • JHF May 5, 2014, 12:49 AM

      I like the sound of that. Craft beats fake divinely-inspired any day.

      Of course I was a hippie. A hippie with screaming SATs and two degrees. I am a hippie. An old dead hippie! 🙂 Just not like in the movies, right? Hell, my buyer’s agent is an old hippie with a Lexus SUV. Neither of us has anything on a couple of 80-year-olds I know, however; now there are some authentic folks, living in a little house they built themselves back in the hills, today, right here. In Arkansas we worked our butts off and took baths every day, all together naked in the creek. A bar of Ivory and a towel. Old tennis shoes because flip-flops hadn’t been invented yet. No dope or sex, but not for lack of trying. Twenty-six and happier than many ages since.

  • Bob May 4, 2014, 10:19 PM

    I always wanted to be a hippie or at least a Boho. I always wanted to be a photographer but, “it would make a nice hobby but you’ll never make a living at it.” I wanted to disappear into Southern a Utah for months at a time, a la Everett Ruess or Craig Childs. I want to build and live in my own cliff dwelling.
    Fear. Fear has kept me from my dreams. Fear of ridicule, of failure, fear of the future and of the past. All I have of my dreams lies in hundreds upon hundreds of books and thousands of photographs. My dreams lie in my “stuff.” Some of my stuff is in storage. And when I want to relive a dream I can go to that storage and blow the dust off the things I never became.

    • JHF May 5, 2014, 12:18 AM

      Boy, do I know what that’s like. I had the same shit thrown at me, even as I excelled in anything to do with art. Made me feel like it was dirty. My old man was the worst. When I was in my thirties, I showed him my new Martin 12-string and said I’d decided to be a songwriter. He looked at me like I’d said I wanted to suck dicks in a geek show and walked off without saying a word. Came back ten minutes later, looking at the floor, and said, “Your mother and I just don’t want you to be disappointed…” Stupid jerk. No right to talk to friends or sons like that, but I couldn’t feel the anger then.

      You sound like you’re a lot more well-read than I am. Utah’s still full of cliffs. I know exactly what you mean, too. I wanted to do that back in MD, just take off with my sailing kayak and disappear upriver for a while. Here? My god. I could walk out the door and never be seen again. Just spending a night out on a mountain top would blow my mind, but I haven’t done that, either. Still drawing breath, though. If not this summer, when? Boho is definitely achievable, too. At least I’d read more books.

  • James Moore May 5, 2014, 8:12 AM

    Come on, big guy, you lived in a cabin in the woods in Arkansas and you brought your parents birds’ nests on limbs for presents and you weren’t a hippie? You were more hippie than all of those people I saw at the commune in Taos back in 1970 and more than the ones I hitchhiked across the country with a few times and more than…..
    Birds’ nests on limbs for presents. Too damned funny, you old non-hippie…

    • JHF May 5, 2014, 9:27 AM

      [new version] Let’s try that again: By God, you’re right! I just rediscovered an old photo from ’71, so I’m busted. (Watch for it in the next couple of posts.)

      At the time, the “movement” (back to the land, dropping out, social experimentation, etc.) was the only game in town as far as I was concerned, although ultimately limiting in its own way. I just meant that the things I loved about being there—the insights, adventures, and exploring—was what I wanted to be doing anyway, somehow or other. The hippie manual got me out there, and I was perfect for the time. Almost ended up here in ’71, did you know that?

      This bears more consideration.

  • bethie May 5, 2014, 9:11 PM

    I can’t believe you still have that storage shed full of Maryland. It’s been fourteen fucking years or so. Not judging. Just sayin.’ Reminds me I need to clear out my back room and my brain. Love you guys! xoxoxoxo

    • JHF May 5, 2014, 9:42 PM

      Bethie me dear! [big hug]

      I know. Some things are better now, but the chaos of our move has never gotten sorted out. I’m not homesick any more. Not that rooted, either. Something big is gonna happen this year, though. It’s time.

  • bethie May 6, 2014, 8:12 PM

    Thumbs up then John for this exciting year. xoxo

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