It Was Fifty Years Ago Today:
Excerpts from My Journal in 1968
My American River Trilogy, Tributaries, Currents, and Confluence, is set primarily in Northern California during the decade of the 1960s. In that turbulent decade, one year in particular stands out as “The Year That Shaped a Generation” (Time Magazine, Special Edition). Lance Morrow writes in the Time 1968 introduction, “Nineteen-sixty-eight was tragedy and horrific entertainment: deaths of heroes, uprisings, suppressions, the end of dreams, blood in the streets of Chicago and Paris and Saigon, and at last, at Christmastime, man for the first time floating around the moon.” (Time Magazine, Special Edition, 1968, 2018, p.4)
In January, 1968, I was living in Athens, Ohio. I was a full-time graduate student at Ohio University, working on my Masters degree in American Cultural and Intellectual History. I had been awarded a graduate assistantship in the history department, so I served as the leader of undergraduate history student’s discussion sections, and assisted Professors John Cady and Richard Doolen with chores such as grading exams and ordering books for the university library. My husband, John, was an Instructor in Art at the university. I had a three-year-old son. I was twenty-four years old. How do I recall these details from fifty years ago? I wrote them all down. IN MY JOURNAL
I’ve been obsessive about documenting my experiences and feelings. Over the past sixty-five years I’ve kept three categories of journals: travel journals, dream journals, and what I like to call “pilgrimage journals,” the on-going story of my life: experiences, insights, and reactions.
My earliest journal entry dates from May, 1953. I was ten years old and I began keeping what I called my “scribble-in book.” One of the first entries was a description of a camping trip to the Sierra high country, pretty much a travel journal. I was impressed with all the trout we caught. I concluded my entry with “Those trout were really good!”
I have often framed my journal entries in “letter form.” Early on, I wrote to an imaginary friend named “Liz.” Later I began writing to my grandfather. Not my physical grandfather, but my “spiritual grandfather,” the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. I tried to explain to him what I was doing with my “allotted time.” For a while after she passed away, I addressed my journal entries to my mom. But that was a little dicey. I wasn’t sure that she wanted to hear EVERYTHING. So I went back to my grandfather.
When I drag out my journals and read them, I’m amazed at all the history I’ve “lived through”—relationships and family issues, births and baptisms, marriages and funerals, winning and losing, but also the “bigger picture:” wars and peace accords, elections and assassinations, moon walks and massacres, campaigns and riots, protests and speeches. All those “Where were you when. . .” moments over the past sixty years. I can go to my journals and I can tell you exactly where I was and what I thought about [X] as I lived it. Memories, dreams, events, goals, reflections, insights, people and places, exhilaration and angst, dismay and delight. It’s all there— in my JOURNAL.
During the year 2018, I plan to share with you excerpts from my journal from the year 1968. Month by month, I want to compare the events and experiences of one life, mine, with the larger picture of a world that was rapidly changing, a year of events that rocked the very foundations of of society and culture. It was a year filled with the tragedy of loss (Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, over 16,500 combat troops in Viet Nam) but also with the beginnings of new hope (the women’s movement, the environmental movement, Apollo 8s orbiting the moon). If there was profound disillusionment, there was also a new determination to grow, to put aside illusions, and face reality without abandoning hope.
So, what was I doing in January, 1968? Making lists. On January 3, I wrote the following:
The Amida Buddha Appearing Over the Horizon
The Glittering Universe
The Expanding Universe
The Contracting Universe
Excerpts from other January entries:
Can’t quite believe that it’s now survival instead of salvation. I’ve been reading Kazantzakis, and I think perhaps simplification is part of the way. I must simplify my life. There is an artistry to life that I intend to discover, the making an art of it. If I am prudent with expenditures, I should have a budget surplus. Why not use it in the cause of “art”? For example, why not fly to Mexico for Christmas? Or have a great champagne for breakfast? Or buy six great books and five groovy records? I want to go to Crete. And Cornwall. And Trieste. Simplify the “little wants” in order to get the “big wants.” I can do that, can’t I?
For the first time in many moons, I write with really positive things to report. Finally, after all this churning and crunching about, I got my studio set up! I have two canvases stretched and primed. I have plenty of paint ready to go. I need now only brushes and another light and I’m set. It’s been twenty months since I’ve had a paint brush in my hand. How on earth have I survived?
And on the world scene?
North Korean patrol boats capture the USS Pueblo, a US Navy intelligence gathering vessel and its 83-man crew on charges of violating the communist country’s twelve-mile territorial limit. This crisis would dog the US foreign policy team for 11 months, with the crew of the Pueblo finally gaining freedom on December 22.
At half-past midnight on Wednesday morning the North Vietnamese launch the Tet offensive at Nha Trang. Nearly 70,000 North Vietnamese troops will take part in this broad action, taking the battle from the jungles to the cities. The offensive will carry on for weeks and is seen as a major turning point for the American attitude toward the war. At 2:45 that morning the US embassy in Saigon is invaded and held until 9:15AM. Clark Clifford, newly appointed Secretary of Defense called Tet “a turning point in the war. It’s size and scope made mockery of what the American military had told the public about the war, and devastated Administration credibility” (Clifford, p. 473).