I have lived in Bend, Oregon, for over three years, and I am very happy here. There are plenty of cultural events that I participate in and enjoy, and I have been doing things that are expanding my awareness of myself and making life meaningful. However, this isn’t Berkeley! I am so lucky that I lived my adult years there, and even if I wasn’t particularly successful there it was the right place for me to have lived. Without any particular effort on my part I was dwelling within the major cultural foment of the late 20th century, from 1960 through 2011. Dead center! A strange thing about that was that it all seemed like normal life, things were just the way they ought to be. Of course I sat next to a Nobel Laureate during a 4th of July, of course I try to one-up another one’s life stories at a lunch table, of course I go to a lecture with only half a dozen people attending, and talk with another person who almost certainly will get one this year. That is just normal living, isn’t it?
Then there was the radical stuff I sat beside, too. Just people talking, but those people did things that I helped them formulate, but didn’t really participate in. Founding a radical newspaper, suggesting ideas for getting their political things to work, and then them doing it. Founding world-famous organizations was just a thing we did, why not, wouldn’t you? Just do it! There were innumerable things like that. Not every day of course, because really big things don’t come around every day, but often. It was just there, and I was there, they were there, we were there, and it wasn’t exactly fun, it was just what we were doing. We all knew we were doing things that would be remembered, and yet it was mostly the negative newsworthy stuff that gets reported and remembered and idolized, but it wasn’t like that, it was just people doing what seemed like a good idea at the time. That was a sometimes joke that has been converted into a statement of foolishness. The media was on the side of law and order and money so they supported the House UnAmerican Committee, even thought it was obviously the most unAmerican institution around, so we challenged it. A handful of people at first, but it brought down that destroyer of personal freedom. Joe McCarthy was another of that ilk, who was abusing legitimate power for the sake of the greater good. But suppressing free speech is the short road to destroying a country. Without free speech the flexibility of a people is lost, and a rigid mind is soon lost because it isn’t responding well to problems.
I could go on, but I wanted to relate the freedoms of Berkeley to those here in Bend. Bend is wonderful and the people are very friendly, and they do stand up for causes with protest parades, but it is mild, and everyone treats everyone else with respect. Perhaps that’s the difference. People here are too nice to get anything really unusual to happen. Unless you consider a lot of public art as unusual. Here we commission more public sculptures in a year than Berkeley had done in half a century. Bend concentrates its energy and money on making things nicer here and now rather than in the abstract for the whole world and the future.
Now that I am officially geriatric it is probably better to be in a quieter community. Here the unusual people come and give a lecture and leave, but I do go and talk to them; it’s a breath of the air of the world.