never really liked Peggy Lee. It wasn’t the hair and jewelled
headband, though I always did think it made her look exceptionally
cheesy and desperate. It was her song “Is That All There Is?”
What a downer of a song.
I was in sixth-grade when it wafted out WGY airwaves every
morning, while my mother—widowed, beautiful, in love with
someone she could never have—served me prune juice and Freihofer’s
that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friend, then let’s keep dancing.”
Could you have faced the day with a smile after prune juice
and Peggy Lee?
I spent the next 30 years trying to outwit that damn song.
But sometimes, on my bleaker days, it seems to get it just
I haven’t published a book. I haven’t found my soulmate. I
can’t even do a headstand unless I am within 12 inches of
the wall—talk about separation anxiety.
that’s all there is, my friend, then let’s keep dancing.”
It’s on days or nights like these that I get an image of myself
with a a rhinestone headband and a platinum rinse leaning
into some nameless lush on a darkened dance floor. Dancing
out of time. It’s pathetic.
Plus, it’s also a little over the top for a Lutheran pastor
who lives in Niskayuna, shops at Hannaford and regularly carts
her two daughters to Girl Scouts, hair appointments and artsy-fartsy
entertainments. I am about as squeaky-clean as it gets. No
jewelled headbands (although my hairdresser—God bless her—keeps
assuring me I’m a hot tamale. At least for a femme
of the cloth).
But that aside, I know I’m not alone in trying to outwit “Is
That All There Is?”
It’s as though the collective project of people around my
age—the decades of the fabled Baby Boomers—is to demythologize
lives we burdened with unrealistic expectations. And to somehow
be OK, or even more than OK, with our reduced existential
We grew up in an era that reintroduced the morality of rebellion
against repression: Elder Boomers lived through McCarthyism
and the civil rights era. Middle Boomers got a plateful with
the Vietnam war, the pill, the assassinations of Martin Luthur
King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Kent State and Roe v. Wade.
Tail-end Boomers like me hung out in bongwater-scented dorm
rooms, reading Mircea Eliade as we fed our munchies and waited
for transcendence, while Miles Davis blew blue in the background.
After college we may have worked in co-ops or Montessori Schools.
We may have gone on to art school or hitchhiked through Europe.
We may have flirted with Hinduism, sent our résumés round
the not-for-profit circuit or found a way to stay somnolent
off the wages of our girlfriend or boyfriend.
But eventually many of us started having kids. Or we realized,
not without some reluctance, how pathetic we would look as
gray-haired, financially insolvent, girlfriend-freeloading
dreamers. That worked for a few 19th-century German poets.
And for more than a handful of visual artists and musicians
of decades past. But unfortunately (or fortuitously, if we
are honest with ourselves about the degree to which we live
as a nation of financial privilege), those of us raised in
the Catalog Era still nurse at the teats of the capitalist
And on the more personal level, we spawn and we care. We work
and we are driven. We love and we cleave. All these silly
clichés still apply. And so we end up—where?
Well, it seems that those of us who haven’t sold out to the
inebriating screens of television and the computer end up
reading books like The Care of the Soul or How to
Want What You Have. Or, having read A Path With a Heart,
in which the author, Jack Kornfield, talks about finding
the inner path to self-awareness, we open his new book with
hope and relief. In After the Ecstasy, the Laundry,
he describes the filtered illlumination available to us in
caring for aged parents, loving our spouses, raising our children
and pruning the errant impulses of predictable and expected
Maybe this is simply the way to put flesh on the bones of
“A Love Supreme.”
Or maybe I am just making do, still trying to outwit Peggy
Lee and her nightclub angst. Nancy Drew meets Veronica
As to the question of where we end up as adults, a friend
of mine says we end up on Procrustes’ bed. This was the bed
to which, in Greek mythology, the sleeper must tailor his
or her proportions. It was the bed that defined its sleeper,
whether that definition was to cramp or give ample room.
He may be right, but I have always disagreed with him about
I have always chafed at Procrustes’ bed every bit as much
as I have chafed at Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?”
Maybe I was simply born too old for bitterness.
And if that is the case, I believe I am really and truly blessed.
Because what else, for God’s sake, do we have than all there
is? What kiss, what face, what sound, what word, what taste
will be more dear to us than the one we have experienced thus
We are always cusping on the ultimate. Each moment may be
the last moment—and how fast and loose we play with such basic
Promises of nirvana or heaven or ecstasy aside (after all,
where are our frontline reporters?), there is nothing to come
that we can be more certain of than what is now.
This becomes our great excuse either for irresponsibility—“Hey,
man, live in the moment, man”—or our profoundest
reason for a selfless, but paradoxically fulfilling, path
I want to believe that Peggy Lee died happy. Or at least with
her roots showing.
But more than that, I want to believe I won’t die bitter and
pissed, blinded to the secret wonder of all there is.
can contact Jo Page at email@example.com.