Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Surfwise? Surfdumb? Serfdom?

“Your parents would have said, you can go to school because it’s safe, but don’t go swimming with sharks ‘cause it’s dangerous. Our parents said, well you can go swimming with sharks but you’re not going to school ‘cause that's just dangerous.”

Yesterday dawned rainy and remained that way for its duration. A sort of soft, silent, ever present dripping from the sky. I am catching a cold and feeling tired, as is Babou, so we decided it would be a perfect movie night. My husband got one more to his tune and I got one more to my tune.

But the one my husband chose turned out to be the more interesting and actually had me up for most of the night thinking. It is the first time I have ever seen anything close to the way I grew up.

The movie, "Surfwise," is a film about Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz and his legendary surf family. Paskowitz left a successful medical practice, after the failure of his second marriage, to find himself and develop his own philosophy of life.

This was during a moment in time rife with finding yourself and with the pursuit of individual happiness--post world war II America. The time of the Bohemian and the Bon Vivant, of Jack Kerouac and the birth of the Aquarian Age. A moment ripe with opportunity for alternative lifestyles.

Paskowitz married a like-minded woman and they set about making babies with alarming speed and making their home in vehicles. They end up with nine children and living in a 24 foot trailer. They move from place to place, camping and making do; the father believing in living in a survival state at all times.

Paskowitz believes that we have lost our essential animal nature, our grace, and develops a philosophy that he believes will return himself and others to their natural state of "superior health." Animals are not educated, they have to fight for their food every day, they don't stay put and collect "things." So money was taboo as was stability as well as education.

Although Paskowitz was a Stanford educated doctor.

The fallout from this upbringing is then recorded as each child, as an adult, talks about the experience. All of them have been crippled by it in varying degrees. It is as though their experience growing up was so intense that it has overpowered the rest of their lives. Their father did not prepare them to live in the mainstream, if he had his way they would all still be living in that 24 foot trailer.

One son's dream was to become a doctor. Upon seeing a counselor and realizing he was 10 years behind scholastically, he abandoned that dream. One son has nothing but animosity for his father, all of them battled merging with the main. All of them are successful. Most of them are artists.

My father was very similar to this man; similar in age, similar in the full embrace of the Bon Vivant and Bohemian lifestyle. He also came out of failed marriages wanting to escape while believing that family was the only thing that mattered.

We were brought up without any formal education, moving about a lot, and living in a VW bus for just a bit too long. He was also charismatic and used his charms to create an aura of sort of spiritual reverence. People loved my dad, thought he was so cool to be living this life in which you don't worry about money or possessions, that art and family is all. That one should be content to watch the grass grow. That one should never leave home or become part of the insanity of society.

I think both Doc Paskowitz and my father felt they were giving their children something no other children were given, the freedom to explore and learn naturally. But I also think that in essence they used their children for their own self-serving ends--wanting to escape society; create a family in which they "rule."

I think in trying to escape and be free they only succeeded in imprisoning themselves and their families with just an alternate set of rules. They imprisoned their children in self created dictatorships knowing the best way to keep loyalty is to keep the environment controlled and not to allow education. In reality there was no freedom, for the family or for the father.

Doc Paskowitz says in the movie that he wanted his children to know the difference between education and knowledge--he wanted them to have knowledge. But he trapped them in that you can only know the difference between the two if you are educated.

Everyone grows up in different ways, but some are more extreme than others and this just makes you who you are meant to be. I do not regret the way I grew up because I do not regret who I am today. But I think there is a way to be a free thinker and to let your children be free thinkers without shunning society.

That is my philosophy.


Becca said...

Got here form your sister's blog. i so want to see this movie now!

Anonymous said...

Here via Mary Alice. I find myself wanting to watch the film. These ideas you present beg me to consider more of the implications of lifestyle choices. As my husband & I choose to live on less, even while living in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, I wonder what our children will someday think of us.

Jo said...

Hi kcinnova...I think living on less is a wonderful way to live, it is just the extremes that are bothersome...to get excited about being down to your last dime is not fun!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Wow, this is really fascinating. I never heard of this guy, but the idea of shunning it all to the extreme seems dangerous when there are so many children involved. I'm trying to expose my kids to both elements of fringe and mainstream so they can navigate both--but so difficult. You are dead on when you explain how the one way is as limiting as the other.

Mary Alice said...

Okay, I've watched it now. As I said in my blog today about it....Ho.LEE.Sheet.Man.

Your title...is brilliant.

JCK said...

Jo, I didn't know you had come back to your blog. I missed your posts. So glad to see you back.

I want to see this documentary. It must have been so powerful to have it resonate so fully.

Happy New Year!