Friday
Jun042004

« Rockwell's World »

Yes folks, I did a little digging around in the old server stats files, and I know there are at least 80 of you with unique IP addresses who visit this site. So why don’t you leave some comments once in a while?

Actually, I am going to start a new website as a subdomain of TAPKAE.com (I have so damned much server space it’s silly) that I hope will be a sort of magazine type site. I want it to collect some essays from people on the topic of American Life today, but with a certain personal connection. I thought about having a bulletin board but that invites controversy, and I just want to gather some clear, well thought out statements on what it is to live here now, with all this stuff going on, or reflections based on that sort of theme. My own blogs here are sort of a template, but these are often stream of consciousness (not that that is a bad thing).

A friend of mine was telling me about media overkill, and his recoiling from it after a few years. I got that way on the net too. Too much of everything. So we talked about the business of having to shut it all off and claim some quiet, or some sense of self. Kelli and I often talk about how hard it is to look forward to being/having a family when our parents were not even good models for how to do that, and more and more where we look, it gets harder and harder to find something of a cohesive family unit. Or maybe any other conversations I have with old people I work for will lead to talk about how things just don’t seem right somehow, not for them, and not for me. It is an odd thing that the world some of these old people created out of their dreams have become the nightmares for my generation, and those gasp! younger than me. Of course, most people don’t know how bad things are.

Today on my local PBS radio station, there was a show about child psychology. This doc named Barry Brazelton was talking about the United States being the most unfriendly to children of the nations of the so-called civilized world. Yup. The world’s sole superpower and moral beacon for all nations (cough!) is really lacking in its ability to take care of the kiddies. Oh, it might be that the streets are dangerous, or that the day care places are poor substitutes for mom and dad, or that schools are turning into shooting ranges, or that kids are expected to become 21 by the age of 12. There are a lot of things. But seriously, that is a huge statement from a dude I believe is a well known figure in his field. And what if he was only 50% right?

And it isn’t any better for the elderly. I can tell you that personally. What is it about this country? We make the kids and the grandparents into second class citizens. We put the kids in the care of low paid , babysitters, nannies, day cares and schools, and put the old people out to pasture at senior centers and nursing homes. When did this country become so fucking rich that it didn’t need the family to be a viable core unit of society? And what is rich about a society that throws out the hope of the future AND the wisdom of the past? See, this is where I think we diverge from other nations. Our wealth has really done a lot to destroy us. It may not even be greed, though I won’t rule that out. It might just be the need to keep up. I’ve been on a parade against rampant capitalism, or rampant anything that destroys people. Over here, our drive for individuality has wrecked us. It causes us to move from town to town, state to state, often leaving parents and grandparents behind, and in turn, deconstructing the proven benefits of multigenerational living. Independence, our most prized possession, has turned on us. We are independent in our cars, independent with our iPods blasting music in our ears, or on the cell phones in banks and grocery stores while innocent people get annoyed at the one sided conversation, independent from our neighbors in our little suburban shangri-las. Everything we do seems to separate us from ourselves, our roots. We don’t want anyone to tell us how we should live our lives.

But many of us don’t even know what to do to make our lives rich. It is a lost art. I feel often enough that the only thing that made me see the world as I do is my grandmother, and the only thing that makes me burn with a desire to take this message somewhere is the fact that I was foolish enough to not cherish her as much as I wanted, for the false pride I had in my 20s, that put distance between us. But some mark was left early enough on for me to entertain the idea that things were different when she was my age, even though the stories I had to tell and the stories she had to tell were so different. I don’t mean to simply wax nostalgic. Not everything was as Norman Rockwell portrayed it, but then again, almost nothing now is even remotely like Rockwell portrayed. I have a book of his work that I inherited from my grandmother, and once upon a time I thought it was old fashioned, and embraced whole heartedly the norms of my day, while not realizing that there was something to be said for a way of life that had gone on for years.

More and more, I find myself pining for something more like that Rockwell world. Not that I expect it to be like that. But really, something must be wrong when I find myself avoiding eye contact with some tough looking dudes, black or white, Latino or Samoan. The fear that anything resembling a stare could be construed as grounds for some sort of attack is something that bugs me, and even though I know better than to think that way, I still do. I don’t flash my lights for people who drive without their lights on, having heard that it could be bait for a gang related drive by shooting. I don’t know. Rockwell’s painting are quaint by today’s standards, but what is so bad about that? In the world of fear in which we live, what is the harm in reflecting on a time and place that maybe was different, even if only in this one regard? In Rockwell’s America, you could leave the doors unlocked. Today, I have a roommate that is so racked with fear that he actually SCREWS the windows and doors shut (not with my permission, mind you). Seriously, is that a happier, safer country? Is that progress? The fact that my ex girlfriend has a loser husband bugs the hell out of me because she did nothing to deserve it. She only wanted a piece of white picket fence America. But she got three kids and a loser husband who is so lost. So so lost. He can’t even hack a McJob. It is a far cry from the days when a company would hire anyone who came through the door with the will to work. Now you can be like Kelli; well- or over-qualified, and can’t even get a $10/hr. job in a field as important as the social services. She and I pick up the slack for the baby boomer age people who have scattered from their parents in their quest for money, success, fame, whatever arbitrary measure of worth we use at the moment. I’m the one that has to talk to these old people.

My time serving grandparents has taught me one thing: Norman Rockwell’s world was not entirely fabricated.

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