Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Child's Life Without Television

(Continuing from last week's posting)

I've long considered myself fortunate to have spent my formative years without television.  First, it didn't exist.  Then, buying a set was beyond our budget.  And rather than having programmed images and stale interpretations set before our daughter (or us, for that matter), my husband and I chose to keep television out of our house, as well.  We did not try to coerce her out of watching it at friends' houses.  But we always felt there were more important things to do, even if that was sitting and gazing out a window.

As children back in the '40s and '50s, my brother and I felt there was more to fill each day than there was time.  Daydreaming reverie, of course, was still an honorable pastime.  As well, we swam in a nearby creek with its yellow-green scummy boulders.  We nibbled our rabbits' food-pellets from an open barrel in the garage.  We played 78 RPM records or got out our John Thompson's First and Second Grade music books to practice the piano.  My brother read the children's classics, many illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.  I wrote poems and studied ballet with Madame Katrina who wore her hair up off the back of her neck.  We went down to the wharf (we lived in Santa Barbara) and fished or roller-skated along the beach-walk.  We played Robin Hood with bow and arrow, built forts in the bushes behind the house, or, butterfly net in hand, collected Lepidoptera.  At one point, I rode my bicycle ten times around the block, no hands.

Boy Scout sharpening his knife.

That's how children grew up then.  Until one day everything changed.  For the society we were, what had seemed a cradle of boundless space became confined to half-hour segments.  Where the experience of life itself had stirred us and helped make us wise, we were asked to hand over reality to a fictional substitute.  What we had accepted as ours without price--ritual, play, celebration, fantasy, discussion, leisure--we gave away only to have it restructured and sold back to us.  What had given little cause for concern became potential dark corners for real or imagined fear.  Where we had celebrated function, we became addicted to dysfunction.  What we had once mulled over, we were now asked to evaluate at flash-point speed so that we could accelerate our absorption of crises, enabling us to go on to the next and the next and the next, dulling our senses, disconnecting us from ourselves, exhausting our sweet, fragile selves into a weariness of boredom, isolation, cynicism, and malaise.  When visiting relatives, we now sat in their darkened room watching stilted figures performing the raucous and slapstick.

Perhaps this disconnect/disconnection would enable us to re-connect later with a broader plug.  But it's no state secret what appeared in the early '50s that changed us completely.  Those of us born early enough to have escaped its brain-altering influence from the verbal to the visual and those of us financially disadvantaged enough never to have had it enter our house, surely have more in common with earlier generations than with the very one that followed ours.

So what did we come away with?  Without the daily bombardment of info-junk, we could look at our present and at our future as worthy times, times in which to do the necessary work and play in order to turn us into those ready to go out in the world and make our mark.  We were not brow-beaten by info-litter or an entertainment mentality or disastrously clownish and truly stupid politics, or quite so much greed and hubris.  Of course, we had things still to learn, attitudes still to hone.  But somehow things then felt a bit better (for many of us, at any rate) than they came to feel.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

We Lucky Few

Our street, 1940

I'd been thinking of writing about this subject for some time.  But when I recently found myself watching a special on Peter, Paul and Mary's 50th Anniversary, I asked myself, how is it that my generation has been called The Silent Generation?  We who were born between the 1929 crash and the end of World War Two.  Between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom.  During all of the '30s and half of the '40s.  And all of us, well before television came in.

Silent, indeed!  Were Peter, Paul, and Mary silent?   Martin Luther King?  Gloria Steinem?  The Chicago 7, the Freedom Riders, the anti-war protestors?  And in more recent years, Bill Moyers?

I take it we were called The Silent Generation because we didn't make a fuss, at least early on. But I also take it that looking out onto the world we were born into--the Depression, War, Holocaust--we may have asked what we'd gotten ourselves into.  In Europe, certainly, we children would have all experienced war or else been sent off to a foster home in some foreign country.  Maybe we were called Silent because, after all of that, everyone needed some time in which to catch their breath.

But then after a bit of sleuthing, I found another name for us in a book called The Lucky Few by a demographer, Elwood Carlson.  We were "few" because there weren't that many of us due to those hard times we were born into.  We were the first generation smaller than the one before or after.

And we were "lucky" because, according to Carlson, we were/are the healthiest, best educated, and wealthiest generation.  That was because our place in history enabled us to generally serve during peacetime, to find jobs without great difficulty, and to experience what he called "the last, and perhaps fullest, exemplar of the traditional family" (p. xix).  We were also able "to take advantage of the longest economic boom in the nation's history" (p. 23).  Even in old age, in our retirement, he says we're not doing too badly.

From my perspective, I think we started out as idealists.  I do believe we still thought that our government had everyone's best interests at heart.  We also felt that we were the ones Kennedy was talking to in his 1960 inaugural address. Certainly, we were the first to go out into the world as Peace Corps volunteers.  To walk on the moon.  And as Peter Yarrow pointed out in that already-mentioned special, we wanted to join together to bring about the greater good.  Though the times, they were a-changin', it was a philosophy which highlighted our early years.

In no particular order, here are a few of the Lucky Few/Silent Generation:  Edward Kennedy, Calvin Klein, Bob Dylan, Garrison Keillor, Joan Baez, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, Elvis Presley, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Neil Armstrong, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Sean Connery, Dan Rather, Joseph Biden, Sandra Day O'Conner, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Maximilian Schell, Ted Turner, Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Russell Means, Warren Buffet, John Updike, Susan Sontag, Ralph Nadar, Shirley MacLaine, Zubin Mehta, Carl Sagan, Woody Allen.

For anyone wanting to read more, click here   (This link shifts the dates a bit--from 1925-1942.)

Next week's posting will be about growing up without TV.  (Stay tuned!)

(A reminder:  all photos in all postings of this blog are copyrighted and should not be reproduced without my permission.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Birthday Month

Around these parts, anyway, (Northeastern U.S.) this time of year is a tad difficult for making plans.  Those polar vortexes invade.  Or yet another nor'easter storm.  Your driveway is iced.  The town hasn't yet sanded your street.  Or plowed it.  You don't want to commit to going out anywhere or to even having people come in if you're going to do a slippy-slidey down the street or only be able to offer them a snowbank-on-a-hill in which to park.  Then, too, you have to be sure your front walk isn't icy.  And if you don't have a garage (I do) you have to get out there and dig your car out of whatever blizzard has just passed.

So ... not a super time weather-wise for birthdays.  Of course, this time of year, fireplaces are cozy if you have one (I don't).  And mugs of hot chocolate.  And gatherings indoors when it's all blizzardy outdoors can be charming.  We used to play cards.  And congregate around the piano.  But even more all-encompassing than the weather, this month gets swallowed up with ... ta dah:  The Holidays!  Hoop-la galore.  Craft open studios.  Book sales.  Church bazaars.  Choir concerts.  Social gatherings.  In other words, the works.

It seems amusing, then, that December also seems to be the birthday month, at least by my reckoning.  Without even doing any research, I can come up with nineteen people I know (including myself) with December birthdays.  I don't know nineteen people who have October or July or March birthdays.  In fact at one time, we celebrated four birthdays plus Christmas in the space of one month.  We always felt that we'd done splendidly--not making anyone feel left out--but, in the end, we admitted to a degree of exhaustion.

However you play it, a salute to December birthdays!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

As the Land Lies

I recently read a book by an Anglo-Irish writer who referred to "the lie of the land."

"Yes!," I thought to myself.  "That makes a whole lot more sense than speaking of 'the lay of the land.'"  The land doesn't lay, it simply lies there doing its thing.  If it, or the rest of us, were chickens, then we could speak of the land laying.  But of course, we're not and it isn't.  So, I looked it up and found that the Brits tend to speak of the lie of the land; we Americans refer to the lay of the land.

As confirmation, when recently re-reading Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, Kidnapped, I found this:  "When we must pass an open place, quickness was not all, but a swift judgment not only of the lie of the whole country, but of the solidity of every stone ....." etc.

Okay, I'll leave that there.  But ... I've spoken of this lie/lay grammatical problem before in other usage ... and maybe it's time to speak of it again.  "Lie" means "rest."  "Lay" means "put" or "place" and takes an object unless you're a chicken.

(In the following sentences objects are underlined.) 
  • You lie down.  (You don't lay down.)
  • You tell your dog, "Fido, lie down!"
  • A chiropractor has you lie on the table.
  • You lay your pet armadillo out in the arroyo.
  • A hen lays. ("An egg" is assumed.)
  • Now I lay myself down to sleep.
  • Now I lie down to sleep (which is how the above sentence would be written if you deleted "myself").
  • Let sleeping dogs lie.
It's really quite easy.  But I'm afraid even our teachers have forgotten.  And grammar doesn't seem to be considered a bottom line enough subject to be included in curricula any longer.

P.S.  Also noted recently:
  • Being in the throws of something
  • Do to the fact
  • Pouring over a book
 Well, no.  Let's try:
  • Being in the throes of something
  • Due to the fact
  • Poring over a book 
Finally, I recently heard George W. Bush being asked about his friendship with Tony Blair.  This was his answer in part:  "Laura and I spent a lot of time with he and Cherie."  Ooooooooo.  So, class, who can see the problem here?

You wouldn't say that they spent a lot of time with he.  But rather with him.  So adding "Cherie" doesn't change "him" to "he." 

Pass it on.