Thirty years ago I was a girl of 19. I thought I was from a second-rate generation. The generation before me had the Beatles, and the flower children, and Woodstock, and war protests. What did my generation have? Big hair (but not as big as the 60s!), John Travolta, disco, and a few offensive things like Kiss and Alice Cooper. One thing was for sure: we knew what life was about. It was about music, and summer, and friends, and meaningful relationships.
I'm sick today and lying in bed with my Itunes playing. I'm listening to the one Joni Mitchell album I still have access to, Blue. I own quite a few of her albums, and Dan Fogelberg's, my two favorites from my teen years. The vinyl discs are in a crumbling cardboard box in my parents' basement. The last time I looked in the box, years ago, a whole stack of the LPs were warped. I couldn't bear to look further, so I sealed the box and put them away. But throw them away? Never! It would be like carving out a part of my heart.
Because I miss those days when beautiful music was made with one voice and one scratchy guitar -- enduring music with eternal lyrics and haunting harmonies. When we got up from saggy couches where we were talking, to walk across the shag carpet, to flip the album, balancing its edges in our palms, waiting for the scratchy needle to begin running its laps. Our stereos were huge and took up more space than our clothing when we moved to a new apartment in the back of a VW bug.
I miss heating up food in a dented saucepan on the stovetop because nobody had a microwave. Driving with the windows down because the air conditioning didn't work, but he smells and feels of the outdoors on your face were exhilarating. We spent more time outside in the sun. When's the last time you saw a lithe sixteen year old girl and her two friends, lying in a side yard on bath towels for a tan?
I'm not griping really. My generation was addicted to T.V.; our children are addicted to a different screen. I no longer have T.V. in my house, so maybe someday they'll tire of their addiction too. It's just ... I think life was more tangible then. Our bodies, our senses, interacted more with our world -- the physical world. I think we were more sweaty and dirty and hairy and messy back then. It took longer to do things, and longer to clean them up. Our family went to a restaurant once a year when I was a girl. I remember when the first pizza parlor opened in our city, Mississippi's capital. Food was at home, and the process of buying it, carrying it, cooking it, eating it, and cleaning up afterward, required lots of time and human interaction.
My husband was praising the internet a moment ago; it produced for him a schematic of his outboard engine, with all the parts drawn clearly and spread out. He can repair it himself. Thirty years ago, he would have asked for help from a dad or brother or uncle or neighbor or hardware store guy or stranger on the street. Plenty has been said about the isolation that this technology brings, along with its ease. But what I miss is the messy time-consuming nature of life. A time when Adam would have walked around our small town, hauling his outboard in the back of a pickup truck, consulting with buddies and strangers who all had wisdom to impart, sharing a Coke, hearing somebody's life story, telling them his. Getting his hands and nails dirty, his ears worn out, wasting unwasted time. This can still happen, oh yes. But it's not the norm. Thirty years ago, it was the only way. Now it's our distant past.
Does anybody else miss those days?
My mother's not on the computer at all. She giggles that she has neighbors who get her things on their computers when she's desperate. I told her yesterday that she has many extra hours in her day because she's kept herself computer-free. When my eyes are on this laptop screen, they are captives. My mind is captive; it must focus on the content of the screen. We enslave our brains all day long. Doesn't it feel lovely to close the computer, cast your eyes up to the ceiling and let your mind drift? Rather like cutting off the outboard and letting the sailboat sit silently in the lapping water, wandering. Or pulling the VW bug off the side of the two-lane road and waste unwasted time gazing across a newly-plowed field with nothing and everything in your mind. Everything. Did you ever, when you were young, open the door, step out of the car into the field, and walk? Walk to the tree line, stare at the dirt clods, take off your shoes, sit with your back against a tree, ruminate on the dirt around you -- that you will one day be dirt. That the dirt under you is full of generations of the dead. Did you ever tenderly clutch a handful of last fall's leaves and help them toward their decay?
I am missing a slower, richer, more physical world. It's comforting to know that it's still out there, waiting. I just need to close my laptop.