What Is Bohemian? It’s Not Hippie.
There is a distinct difference between these two terms. What is bohemian? Well, it’s certainly not hippie. Growing up in the 70’s in the Bay Area wasn’t what most people think of when they are waiting for my answer to “where are you from?” They to a one kind of lean back and raise their eyebrows, and I know what they’re thinking. Sausalito is ex-pen-sive. “No no,” I say, I didn’t live in the wealthy part of town.
No. My group was a loose collective of upper middle class drop-outs who seceded from their parents’ way of life (think 1950’s) to descend on an at the time undeveloped beach on Richardson Bay sometime during the 1960s. (There is a film about this actually, called The Last Free Ride by Saul Rouda.) These counterculture freaks salvaged driftwood and built houseboats to live on. They took drugs, partied until the police showed up to pull the plug, and had a bunch of rugrats. I was one of the latter.
My parents and their friends were the real deal. They were hippies. While Alan Watts was writing his magic on the side of Mount Tamelpais, my dad picked up a hitchhiker on his way to the Filmore. This woman later took the stage, and my dad realized he’d been sitting in a car next to Janis Joplin. The band he played piano for opened for the Grateful Dead a few times. It was the free-est time there ever was.
But my parents’ complete lack of boundaries (and attention) nudged me into a more ordered way of living. I studied writing, art, and design. Once in college a coed called me a “hippie chick” for burning incense, and I felt the need to define myself. “I’m a bohemian,” I said, defiant. It was the truth. And the difference mattered because I’d seen my parents swing from the rigid rules of their parents to the complete lack of rules of their friend group.
When I grew up, I was more into intellectualism. My paternal grandfather and I met only once, near his 90th birthday; but we wrote many letters back and forth when I was still high school. I learned from talking with him in person that he had been a writer in New York City for three decades. “That makes sense,” I thought.
Apparently taking after my grandparents more than my free-wheeling parents, I was a prolific writer from the start. Filling journals, getting A’s on school essays, writing was a way to organize my thoughts. And I had a lot of those. I liked to own a lot of house plants, because a room felt naked without green living things. I did burn incense sometimes, to set a mood. Smell is closely tied to memory, and I particularly liked Purple Haze. I owned a cat much of the time. Collected small glass bottles. Tended a garden. Wore drapey things and liked to dress up.
I learned how to sew when I was seven. A gay man living in one of the rooms on a large ship permanently moored in Sausalito, Hershel mercifully got me laughing when I sewed straight through my ring finger and back again. With his tutelage (and great sense of humor) I made a red velvet, white fringed heart pillow for my mother. I would come to think of a sewing machine like I did a drill and writing, as a necessary tool for life.
What is bohemian though? What did I mean when I told that coed what for? The dictionary I consulted for this article said to be a bohemian is to be pretty much everything I turned out to embody as a person: nonconformist, free spirit, offbeat, alternative, irregular, unorthodox, avant-garde, writer, artist, informal and unconventional social habits. A friend once compared me to another woman she knew, “With her I have to be careful what shoes I put on, with you I don’t have to wear shoes.”
This is the first time I’ve actually looked up the definition. But it doesn’t surprise me to match almost perfectly with what is bohemian, according to the official dictionary definition.