Tag Archives: peers

Redefining My Peer Group

When you think about it, what does a jury of one’s peers really mean? Legally, I suppose it means that because all individuals are theoretically equal under the law, one’s peers in a litigious sense means other equally theoretical equals.

A peer might be anyone who shares with me age, gender, ethnicity, race, education, geography, nationality or religion, in some combination. But considering any of these factors in isolation does not make sense to me. This does not seem to be the basis by which I identify my peers on a daily basis. For example I do not consider all men to be my peers, nor all southerners, nor all people who did not quite graduate from college? Not on a typical day.

For me, a peer is a fellow traveler. Not someone on the same path as I am, nor someone who has been where I’ve been, but someone who has been faced with the same kinds of dilemmas, made similar choices, and lived with the consequences of those choices in order to a achieve a similar goal. That means that in order to decide who my peer group is, I have got to get the order of the questions right. Often, we ask “who is going with me?” before we ask “where am I going?” As a result, whether or not the traveling companion is suitable, advantageous or even compatible for the journey cannot be in any way intelligently determined.

Who are my peers, then?

People who have lived in more than one state. People who have been divorced. People who read books daily. Curious people. People who vote their conscience and intelligence and not the party line. People who believe that life and death can be defined as energy borrowed, energy returned. People who feel that art, beauty, kindness, compassion and doubt are essential elements of human existence. People willing to get their hands dirty. People who recognize that all ethical systems are based on the principle Thou Before I and actually, where possible, live according to that standard. People who believe that love is not ownership. People who seek commonalities, rather than differences. People who seek beyond institutionalized anything (schools, churches, governments) in order to discover how Universal Truth becomes Personal Truth. People who see beyond all of these Aristotaliarian compartmentalizations. People who know there is no such thing as prehistory, who draw outside the lines, who accept personal responsibility for who they are, where they are, and how they got there, who believe that a meritocritous egalitarian society is not only possible, but achievable, one person at a time.

If my life were on trial, I would insist that 12 such individuals be found to weigh my fate.

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I subscribe to several poetry journals.
I do not find kindred spirits there,
only other wandering souls who seek
no connection with the poetry I find
pulsing under the surface of the world
that has a natural rhythm, that breathes
its own cadence, that does not merely wish
to impress with some artistic notion
of importance.

I have been a musician my entire life.
Playing jazz, classical, bluegrass, country, punk,
rockabilly, metal, goth … and combinations of them all,
I find too often that the emphasis
is on the next gig, the money machine
that seems to feed on other genres too
and leave bitter, isolated writers of songs like me
wondering why anyone would consider
themselves a professional (meaning for the money)
versus an amateur (because they love doing it);
and an attitude that seems antithetical to the expression
that music is the universal language.
There are more partisan barriers in music
than between the left and right wings of government.

I belong to a number of pagan organizations;
and there are too few members of those groups
who understand what it means to harvest anything,
yet subscribe to some version of mumbo jumbo
that insists they have a harvest festival,
that fail to hear the voices of trees and plants
and somehow still feel that human beings,
as opposed to other forms of energy,
have a right, nay responsibility, to focus energy
for their specific purposes.

I have been a liberal since I first took a political stand.

And I have been a vocal American.

And somehow, today, when the voices of victory are raised
by those who appear to believe that America is right
by virtue of them affirming it is so
(and in the absence of any factual evidence to back it up),
I realize as I have said before,
that the lesson Napoleon failed to learn from Elba was this:

All men are islands.
Some are just in better climates.

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Have the best minds of my generation been destroyed by madness?

From Ann Charters’ introduction to The Portable Beat Reader:

Earlier in the history of American literature, the novelist Henry James acknowledged in his biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne that “the best things come, as a general thing, from the talents that are members of a group; every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation.” As a facet of our country’s cultural history, clusters have been an outstanding feature of our literature. They can be a group of writers joined by a common geographical location who share philosophical sympathies, such as the cluster of transcendentalist writers in Concord, Massachusetts, in the mid-nineteenth century — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. More often, given the sheer physical size of the United States, the writers share a temporal rather than a spatial proximity along with their lieratary aesthetic, for example the local-color realists Sarah Orne Jewett, Lafcadio Hearn, and Kate Chopin, all born between 1849 and 1851, or the experimental modernist poets born in the decade between 1879 and 1888 — William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Hilda Dolittle, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

I have often found myself in groups like those described above, usually geographical rather than temporal. Which leads me to wonder: of those writers that are of my generation — the lost years between Baby Boom and Generation X, those who arrived in this incarnation between, say, 1962 and 1968 (with myself smack in the middle at 1965), of those who potentially would have gone to high school together, what are the commonalities? the aesthetics? the influences and, since it is almost forty years since that time, the descendants, if any? In looking across the Internet, which some could say serves as an artificial sense of connectivity, since the barrier of geography has been eliminated, and the notion of “age” is muddled and clouded, particularly given the large degree of anonymity and lack of personal information about those who come in contact with each other, but to me serves as both a surrogate “coffeehouse” and pipeline for correspondence, the writers of my generation who have achieved any sense of notoriety (as determined by whether I am familiar with their work, at best an extremely subjective criterion) seem to be:

Quentin Tarantino (1963), JK Rowling (1965), Poppy Z. Brite (1967)

Whereas the writers who DIED within that time seem to be of a much greater number (and societal impact, I think):

William Faulker, e.e. cummings, Herman Hesse (1962), Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, Jean Cocteau, C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley (1963), Flannery O’Connor, TH White, Ian Fleming (1964), W. Somerset Maugham, T.S. Eliot (1965), Andre Breton (1966), Langston Hughes, Carl Sanburg (1967), John Steinbeck, Neal Cassady (1968)

Of course, I’m sure there are countless others … Henry Rollins (although maybe born 1961, I can’t remember), for one. Chuck Palahniuk (1961, too, and perhaps in many ways the reincarnation of Hemingway, who died that year), for another. But unless I’m missing something, it looks like American literature died while we were being born, and not too many of us picked up the torch. Of course, that could be due to the fact that less than 10% of the current population of the United States reads books on a daily basis. But I think it’s something more — like the progression of population magazines mirrors our evolution from the fifties – Look (1950s) to Life (1960s) to People (1970s) to Us (1980s) to Self (1990s), I feel that there is a sense of disenfranchisement from ourselves, from our own. So many of my peers, agewise, seem to be caught up either in decades we barely experienced (the 60s), struggled through as children (the 70s), barely survived (the 80s), and would like to forget (the 90s). And where does that leave us now? We are not Boomers, so the likelihood of our relating to the power-struggles there is small. And we are not Xers – so there is something missing there for us, too. Our angst is primarily self-directed, self-aggrandizing, and self-generated. We are the ones who can remember Nixon lied to America, and the ones who are still young enough to do something about it.

So my question is this: where are my peers, where is the “cluster” to which I belong? I know I have been searching for it my whole life, and for the most part, have been sadly disappointed.

If you’re out there — speak to me. We surely have something to say to each other.

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