What Would It Be Like To Be A Kid Today?

    What would it be like to be a kid today? Is the world scarier now than when I was growing up? Are the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers any smarter than that famous generation that made such a fuss and expected the whole world to watch? The 1960s radicals wanted a revolution, the sociologists predicted a social transformation, the spiritual gurus promised a New Age, and scientists extrapolated an array of futures from doom to bloom. Youth from the past two generations have been quiet – when will there be another noisy generation that demands the whole world change for them? The Iraq War feels like 1967 Vietnam – will the 2008 election be 1968 Chicago? Global warming should make the kids of today hate us – when will they get angry? When does the new revolution start? My fellow baby boomers, we are the establishment this time around – should we trust anyone under thirty?

    I began first grade in 1957 just before Sputnik and finished high school just before Neil Armstrong took his stroll on the Moon in 1969. My generation grew up with our parents playing with atomic bombs and going apeshit paranoid over the Russkies. We grew up in three bedrooms/one bath/single carport Leave It to Beaver homes. Our parents told us to go to school, study hard and we’d live in four bedrooms/two bath/two-car garage homes of their fantasies! We replied to their dreams by turning on, tuning in and dropping out. We expected the future to be a combination of a Thomas Jefferson/Henry David Thoreau Utopia and Star Trek – but one that didn’t take a lot of work to build.

    After our tantrums we picked ourselves up, went out and became our parents, bought even bigger homes and cars than our parents imagined. It takes a big SUV to carry a fat-ass baby boomer but we bought them rationalizing that big trucks protects little kids. We didn’t just want our kids to finish high school, we wanted them to go to Harvard and become rich. And we went apeshit over any hint of hoods selling drugs anywhere near our children. No turning in for them. And we were damn sure they wouldn’t drop out.    

    My mother and father grew up in the roaring 1920s, my mother in roarless rural Mississippi, my father in sleepy tropical Miami. They went to high school in the 1930s and then got jobs expecting prosperity to be just around the corner. Instead they got Germany, Italy and Japan wanting to rule the world. My parent’s generation had schools that taught the basics with everyone dreaming Horatio Alger, Jr stories, hoping to learn enough to get a good job with a company that would last a lifetime. High tech entertainment was a radio and dreams came in black and white visions imported from Hollywood. They didn’t want much, just economic security and freedom from Fascism. I think my father was caught up in the romance of airplanes because the joined the Army-Air Corps. I don’t know if he read science fiction but he grew up during the golden age of science fiction pulps. The drug of choice and rebellion for my parent’s generation was alcohol. My mother’s first husband had been a bootlegger.

    My parent’s parents grew up before the automobile and the airplane. My father’s mother became a teacher in a one-room school house. My mother’s mother braved convention when her father shipped her off to Little Rock at the turn of the century to attend secretarial school. She went to work in the big metropolis of Memphis in 1901. I never knew my grandfathers or their dreams. My mother’s father was farmer, and my dad’s dad grew up in rural Nebraska before moving to Miami in the 1920s. I’m sure the transformation from farm life to city life that most of the country was going through was full of excitement and promise. I’m not sure if either of them had twelve years of schooling. I figure they were dazzled by the transformation of the horse into the car, and the bird into the plane but I sure wished I knew what their dreams of the future were like. I assume the drug of choice for this generation was booze, before Prohibition. I know my grandfather, like my father, died a drunk.

    So what are kids today like? What kind of official and unofficial education are they getting? If you listen to the news the school system is in crisis. When I was a teenager I expected the future to be as exciting as science fiction. What can the kids of today expect when all they hear is gloomy forecasts of global warming? I loved growing up in the 1960s because the times were so exciting, although full of turmoil. Present times are shaping up to be just as extreme and challenging.

    I’ve worked at a university for thirty years now, and I haven’t seen anything like the 1960s again. Social and political apathy has reigned over student populations since the Vietnam War. Did ending the draft, enacting civil rights laws, illuminating the injustices done to minorities, women and gays, and strengthening EPA buy off recent generations? In many ways the Iraq war is almost identical to the Vietnam War – so why aren’t today’s kids outraged? Global warming is the ethical crisis of our times but young people haven’t tried to make it their issue. Why? Do they not understand that it’s the great challenges that define a generation?

    Maybe they are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, but they are shouting out virtual windows and we can’t hear them. When I watch MTV, the youth appear to be trying to define themselves by decadence and money. If I could show MTV to the Puritans or folks from the Great Depression and tell them this is the future of America I think it would have blown their minds and they would have given the country back to the Indians. I know my generation who smoked pot, bragged of free love, grew their crew-cut hair long and refused to go to war, scared the hell out of our parent’s generation.

    My dad called me queer because I had long hair – called me a commie pinko because I was against the war – and called me a hoodlum because I smoked pot. He called me all those names in rage and anger, but I think mostly because my actions scared him. The violence of the current generation scares me, with the school shootings, boy gangs, girl gangs, and attacks on teachers. First person shooter games just make me wonder about today’s kids like my father wondered about me. Beyond their violent lives their indifference to the future freightens me more.

    But that is the TV view of things. Up close the kids of today don’t seem much different from when I was a kid. They tend to have less hair, take fewer drugs but like booze more, seem greedier, and love tattoos and body art. The girls wear skimpier clothes with uncomfortable underwear that shows because they have cleavage in both front and rear. On the whole I’d say they are equally self-absorbed as my generation and equally focused on sexual bonding. I am always disappointed when I talk to them because they have no interest in big issues, no interest in exciting topics like space travel or scientific discoveries, and have zip to say about the future. It truly is a Be Here Now generation.

    The Slashdot crowd are different – they do think about the future and scientific discovery, but then I was a computer geek long before they were, so I identify with them. Maybe modern kids feel they should be seen and not heard. I do see a lot to envy about kids today, especially the Internet and computers, but most kids just use the technology and aren’t cutting edge techno-evangelicals.

    Back in the 1970s when my friends were deciding whether or not to have children some of them said no because they felt the world was too awful and getting worse. Has it actually gotten worse? There were bumps along the way, but this world and time doesn’t suck despite its many pitfalls – in fact I see a lot about growing up now to be jealous. I also assume that kids growing up today find the future scary, but are they pessimistic about having kids themselves? I’ve never heard one say so.

    Of course, in kidworld you don’t see all the horrors of the world; you see the world close-up, immediate, and the things that make you laugh or cry are right next too you – family, friends, pets, schools, games, books, movies, televisions, computers. My parents had lots of great memories about growing up in the depression. I grew up with an alchoholic father that dragged us around the county forcing me and my sister to attend more than a dozen schools and yet I was still happy for the most part. Last night on the news I saw a piece about the lull in fighting in Bagdad and families were out playing in the parks.

    If you study history close enough you’ll find that every generation had their end-of-the-world doomsayers and every generation will have people who will want to get off the genetic train to the future. However, I want to ask: What’s unique about this generation? Sure, Ecclesiastes tells us there is nothing new under the sun, but I don’t think that’s true. Growing up today means being plugged into a world-wide digital nervous system – and that is new! And after hundreds of generations of Chicken Littles screaming the sky is falling there’s always a chance that one generation of soothsayers are going to get it right, and maybe the sky will fall, or a small piece of it. Personally, I think we’re going to adapt and survive global warming but it will take considerably longer and be more disruptive than the world wars of the twentienth century.

    This is going to sound weird but as a kid I rated television as the most important part of my life. I know family is supposed to come first, but when I grew up adults still believed in the old “kids should be seen and not heard” philosophy. And unlike today where kids and parents often interact as friends my parents were very distant. Oh, they loved and provided for me and my sister, and made us behave and learn right from wrong, but they didn’t play with us. Modern kids seem to spend more time with their parents, often as buddies and it’s no wonder that so many want to keep living with their parents late into their twenties.

    The main difference between my childhood and growing up today is the amount of adult supervision kids get. My little sister and I became latch-key kids when I was nine and I loved that. But even before that, as young as first grade I got to walk to school by myself. When we moved to New Jersey when I was in third grade Becky and I got to play in the woods alone or with other kids, and we ventured far and wide. Today’s kids don’t get that kind of freedom. I don’t think our world was safer, but parents back then felt that kids should go outside and play and they didn’t need constant adult supervision. In this regards, as a kid, I’d vote for my past times. If I was a parent I’d vote for modern times as being better.

    Regarding television, I’d vote for modern times because of the hundreds of channels, the high definition big screens, and because of the numerous chances of seeing shows with naked women. When I was little we had three television stations to watch. The screens were so small, and the black and white images were so bad, that even when they showed girls in bikinis it wasn’t that arousing. I pitied my poor father who grew up with radio and the girls just had sexy voices.

    I’d also vote for growing up in modern times when I think about the television shows the kids get to watch today. Modern kids may love Nick at Nite and TVLand featuring shows from my past but 1967 Batman blows chunks compared to 2006 Heroes and Planet Earth in HD is lightyears beyond Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The most exciting shows of the 1960s for me were the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space flights. Yet seeing the Earth from space on Discovery HD puts modern kids in a whole new visual dimension of wonder and awe. Modern television is just far more sophisticated as entertainment and many magnitudes better in education.

    I work in a College of Education, so I have a tiny idea about modern classroom life. I’ve sometimes visited our campus school to help them with their computers. My office is near a textbook depository and I flip through them sometimes. I also know a number of teachers. The news is both good and bad. The quality of education various widely from school to school, and from state to state. Growing up I saw a lot of schools in a lot of states. My guess is the quality of education is better today, but there are more problems with discipline and violence, so it may have been more fun to attend school back in my times. I’ve met a lot of people from my generation who says the worse times of their lives were when they were going to school. I think those people would hate now.

    When it comes to toys modern times beats the past hands down. Tinker Toys are nothing compared to Mindstorm Robots. Comparing a Gameboy to a plastic box with a BB is just silly. If you could take a Toys R’ Us catalog back to 1963 all the kids would have wanted to move to the future.

    You know what would really make me vote for growing up in the past? Music. AM radio from 1961-1969 just flat-out out-performs all music before and since. I know that’s probably a prejudice of my times. The kids of today do not having anything close to a Bob Dylan, much less bands like the Beatles or the Bryds. Modern pop music has zero social impact, except for some hip-hoppers and Goth song writers, they don’t even try. Modern music seems to be exclusively hedonistic – but that may my take at seeing the videos that go with it.

    I envy the kids today, living with hundreds of television channels, the Internet, iPods, Gameboys, Xboxes and cellphones. Their lives are more technologically exciting than the science fiction I used to read. John Brunner pegged the bad parts of our time in his 1969 novel Stand on Zanzibar but he missed all the fun and exciting stuff. Science fiction never imagined the video games or the World Wide Web and it especially never predicted the naked girls on HBO and the Internet – when I was in eighth grade finding an issue of National Geographic in the school library during study hall with a photo of a topless old women made me famous with all the other boys for the rest of the day. I bet my dad was envious of my generation because we had Playboy magazines – an item I couldn’t afford until after I started working as a bagboy unless we stole them – yeah, in those younger horny years all we had to make do with were the bra and panty ads in the Sears catalogs. Boys today have no idea how lucky they are. Today, any boy with access to Google can see whole vistas of feminine forms.

    I’ve been thinking and talking about this topic with my friends for a couple weeks now. I think the consensus is we had it better in our day and we wouldn’t want to trade lives with the current generation. Our biggest concerns are with the schools and education. I know my parents were impressed with the limited technology of our baby-boomer schools but feared the violence of our times. I think they felt they got a better basic education in their day, and they felt they were more moral. Besides global warming, education is probably the second direst crisis of modern times. And both are issues that the Bush administration likes to ignore.

    There was a very common phrase from the 1960s that’s mostly forgotten today – “the generation gap.” I think the most positive thing I see about the current generation is they communicate more with their parents and parents try to communicate more with them. My father died when I was nineteen and he was forty-nine. I never tried to communicate with him and he never tried to communicate with me. I was too young to understand and he was too much of a drunk and too afraid of what I might say. I know he tried a few times in odd ways. When his long-haired boy started going out on dates with girls he expressed himself by giving me his drinking money and car. Before he died he tried to apologize for his lack of communication skills.

    I think the biggest difference between growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and today would be difference in the relationship I would have with my father. I’m pretty sure we would have talked more if we both grew up in modern times. Who knows maybe he would have taken better care of himself – quit smoking, drank less, and exercised – things they didn’t nag about in his day. I don’t think the generation gap would have been as wide today – and I’d like to think the chasm between us would have been narrow enough so we could have heard each other.

“The Star Pit” – The Limits of Limitations

        Time was 1967 at Miami-Killian Senior High.  Sitting at the freak table in the cafeteria during home room, while listening to complex improvised percussions of the black guys at their table pounding out Afro-identity-rhythms with their hands, elbows and feet, I read a small digest pulp magazine called Worlds of Tomorrow.  I tried to concentrate on the story I was reading, “The Star Pit,” while the kid next to me was lecturing our table about his amazing discovery of shooting drops of heroin.  He normally shot speed but he and his buddies had a dry period and decided to experiment.  Although I wasn’t as dumb as this kid, I wasn’t beyond using chemicals to gain altitude, but what I really wanted was to be an astronaut and fly aboard a Gemini space capsule atop a Titan II rocket.

        “The Star Pit,” a novella by Samuel R. Delany, is one of my all-time favorite science fiction stories that I’ve reread every few years since 1967.  It is thrilling, inventive and most of all philosophical – and it has a theme that I never tire of contemplating.  It’s about barriers.  I like the think of an aquarium full of fish as an analogy to this story.  Some fish living in a tank swim around and accept their limited world, but there are always other fish that constantly patrol the glass looking for a way past the barriers.  As human we don’t bump into glass walls, but we’re all confined by invisible barriers.

When I first read “The Star Pit,” I did not know anything about the author.  I later learned Delany was black, gay and very young, about 23, when he wrote “The Star Pit.”  While I was in homeroom, Delany, nine years older than I, was already a big success in the science fiction world.  By then he had already published five novels, including a trilogy.  He grew up in Harlem, attended the Bronx High School of Science, married the poet Marilyn Hacker and started publishing novels by age 19.  These are all clues to understanding this beautiful story.   I could only imagine the ambitions that fueled Delany to write this story.  It is also important to understand what was happening in the world of 1965-1967, the most important being the space race and the Vietnam War, but New York in the sixties was something special too.

        If you can imagine a black, gay kid from Harlem wanting to be an astronaut with The Right Stuff, or even one of the guys who writes science fiction in 1965, you can begin to understand some of the barriers I am talking about.  It goes deeper than that.  All of Delany’s early work has reoccurring themes about being young and artistic – and especially about being original and always meeting other artists who where younger, more original and more artistic.  My guess was Delany was a prodigy who achieved much too much success too early and hit lots of walls.  I also expected he had lots of emotional trouble growing up.

        We all want success when we’re young and few achieve their dreams.  Most people settle down to accept life, swimming in the middle and never make a run at the glass anymore.  Others continue to bash their heads, or like me, who constantly linger near the barrier thinking, “Jeez, how am I going to escape?”  It’s now forty years later and I know I’m not going to be an astronaut.  Like Dirty Harry said, a man must know his limitations, but if you test them enough you begin to wonder if the barrier will give just a little bit.

        Living with confined desires changes your ambitions to adapt to the barriers.  The conventional wisdom says if a person is going to be creative, they’re going to succeed when they are young.  You might win a Nobel Prize when you’re old, but it’s for work your brain did when it was young.  Most of our limits are related to brain function, genes and the health of our bodies.  We know death is the ultimate barrier to ambition and that the odds are if we haven’t achieved success by thirty it won’t be at all, but some people refuse to ever throw in the towel despite all facts to the contrary.

        I know I’ll never get to the Moon or Mars, but it doesn’t mean I couldn’t write a sci-fi book about such adventures.  Or is that being unrealistic?  Even when you compromise you never know what the real limitations are.  Take for instance a very tiny experiment I conducted.  Scientists have discovered that the brain can still grow new neural pathways much later in life than previously thought and suggest that it’s never too late to learn new tricks.  I decided to teach myself chess as a test.  I didn’t get very far.

        Like the Ratlit in “The Star Pit” who resents the Golden, those humans that can travel to other galaxies, I resent the young who can take up chess so easily while I butt my head against the 8×8 board.  I wasn’t expecting to be a grandmaster, but had the lowly ambition of just beating the computer at the easiest level.  I can’t even do that.  Even now I like to pretend I could still succeed if I would only apply myself and study hard thirty minutes a day for a couple years.  However, failing is teaching me something.  I’m learning that there are a whole host of barriers that keep me back from succeeding, even at my unambitious ambition.  Just to succeed at this tiny chess problem I suffer:

·         Limits of concentration

·         Limits of memory

·         Limits of effort

·         Limits of perception

·         Limits of logic

·         Limits of pattern recognition

·         Limits of age

·         Limits of ambition

·         Limits of language

·         Limits of knowledge

·         Limits of talent

·         Limits of skills

·         Limits of health

·         Limits of vitality

·         Limits of analysis

·         Limits of organization

·         Limits of intellect

·         Limits of overcoming limits

·         Limits of time

        That’s a lot of limits – and there are probably a lot more that I haven’t noticed since I’m so limited at observing my limits.  I can’t just say I’m bad at chess because poor chess playing is only a symptom of my real disease.  I could whine that I’m getting old, but I’m sure there are plenty of people decades older than me that can take up chess and beat the computer.

        The real research question here is whether or not I can do anything about my limitations.  Can I exercise my power of concentration and beat that limitation?  If I studied chess books and improved my skills and knowledge about the game, might I push back some barriers?  Yet, there are other barriers that keep me from doing that: energy, time, health, effort, etc.  So why?  Why don’t I just go swim in the middle of the aquarium and just watch television like the other fish?  Why, I wonder myself.

        You can read “The Star Pit” in Delany’s collection, aye, and gomorrah and other stories.  Every evening writing this blog I pound against the barrier that keeps me from expressing in words the things that I see and think.  “The Star Pit” haunts me with its frail characters fighting their hurricane force ambitions.  I have no idea if the story will succeed with you like it has succeeded with me.  It begins:

            Two glass panes with dirt between and little tunnels from cell to cell: when I was a kid I had an ant colony.           

            But once some of our four-to-six-year-olds built an ecologarium, with six-foot plastic panels and grooved aluminum bars to hold corners and top down.  They put it out on the sand.

An ancient radio presentation of “The Star Pit” can be found here on MP3.

Guaranteed Classics – Music Just For You (To Buy)

If you searched the net you can find plenty of writers riled up over The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s The Definitive 200 list of CDs they want you to own. Since I’m a list maker myself, see The Classics of Science Fiction, I like to think about preparing a good list. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has essentially prepared a list of CDs that is based on sales from recent decades, rather than compiling a list based on artistic merit that I think most readers expected it to be. Of course, we could assume that hordes of buying fans represent good taste and the list does represent the best 200 albums any music lover should own. Maybe it’s like school where they make you read books that are good for you. The trouble is they recommend music from several musical genres that doesn’t necessarily match any single music lover’s taste.

Any list of all time great albums that leaves out Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan can’t be much of a list. (Supply your own missing album to make this paragraph more meaningful.) That’s my all-time favorite album, so I’d expect it to be on the list – it wasn’t. Do I have no taste in music? When I assembled the Classics of Science Fiction list I realized I couldn’t just tell people what I thought were the best science fiction books. I had to come up with a system that represented authority of opinion.

The Rolling Stone Greatest 500 Albums of All Time list is more to my taste, but then Blonde on Blonde was #9. Increasing the number of bests also helps to hit everyone’s favorite. However, the Rolling Stone list just feels more genuine to me. There is a lot of overlap with the R&R Hall of Fame list, especially near the top. You can spot the impact of sales on both lists by looking at the RIAA of Gold & Platinum Top 100 albums or Wikipedia’s List of Best-Selling Albums Worldwide. Studying these two lists shows how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made up their list. Every album I went “Huh!” over with great puzzlement and head scratching sold enough CDs to wallpaper Florida.

If I was going to make a list, I’d do something like what Time did for their All-Time 100 Albums. First, I would not rank albums. That should stop a lot of fights. Second, I would arrange the list going back in time, year by year, and list alphabetically what I determined through careful research were the best albums for each year. I would do what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did and put in muliple genres – but I’d add even more genres including World, Folk, Classical, and others they left out. This would be a massive job and one I’ll probably never work on, but I wish someone else would. Like the R&R HoF listers, I’d use sales figures but I’d also use critical reviews, awards, fan polls, books on music history and the test of time to figure out what albums really were the best for each year. I’m sure there are books that have done this, and maybe even web sites.

Metacritic has done something like this for the years back to 2000, but the list I want needs to go back through the 1920s, and maybe earlier to cover the entire history of pop music and the history of albums.

Now that I have Rhapsody Music, and can listen to almost any album I desire at the touch of a mouse for $9.95 a month, I’ll take these lists and explore what all the fuss is about. Hopefully, I’ll find some albums that I’ve never listened that’ll blow me away. Just because I lived through all those years since the 1950s doesn’t mean I got to hear all the best albums. And it really is exciting to discover great artists you totally missed.

Time Travel

Looking at photos is time traveling. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – I think that’s underestimating the value of a photo. I’m the kid in the cowboy hat and my sister is dressed as a cowgirl. I had just turned seven. Before looking at this photo I could not have told you anything about Christmas 1958. Seeing this photo is triggering all kinds of memories. However, this photo has more details than any of my memories. I don’t know about people with photographic/mnemonic memories, but my memories are vague hazy affairs – more words than images. For example, I vaguely remember getting those cowboy outfits for Christmas. I remember playing quickdraw with my sister. I remember one time she invented a move that blew me away. We went to draw and she dropped to the floor and shot looking up. I thought at the time what a brilliant move for a girl. What a brilliant move for anyone thinking about it now. On TV cowboys always stood up to shoot at each other. What a radical idea to make yourself small and hard to shoot. Maybe it was a bit cowardly looking in terms of gunfighting ethics, but who cares, you’re trying to kill the other guy and stay alive.

See, that memory is really all words. I remember the gunfight took place across the street where a girlfriend of my sister lived. I can’t remember her name or what she looked like – I didn’t remember her at all until I recalled this memory. And I just remembered something else. The doors on our houses opened out, and that girl taught us how to break in by sliding a thin blade between the door and jam and forcing the curved end lock bolt to spring back. Pretty cool for little kids – and we went around the neighborhood trying it on on different doors. I don’t think we met any grown-ups. They might have been around but they obviously fear not from our gang of five to seven year olds.

That memory is also words – and words inspired by a photograph. If I wanted to I could study the photo above and conjure up even more details and incidents – all adding up to a lot more than a thousand words.

What I’m fascinated by is the clarity of the photo in terms of representing reality. Memories are dark cloudy things compared to this photo. Recording reality is one of my favorite topics. High definition video is the ultimate tool for recreating reality. Imagine if we were all given tiny HD cameras that we wore our whole life. Then anytime we wanted we could check back on any event in time. How would that change the world? Video has sound and that really adds more than one dimension to capturing reality. If only that photo above was a video and the camera man had taken time to interview us four kids. I have no memory of who took that photo. I have no memory of what I was thinking at that moment. This was before I read books, magazines or newspapers, so my sense of the world was rather limited. I watched a lot of TV, especially cartoons and kid shows.

If I had had a blog back then I’d probably be comparing Zorro and Paladin, from Have Gun Will Travel, or philosophising about which show had the cooler parents, Donna Reed, Ozzie and Harriet, Danny Thomas or Leave it to Beaver by comparing which kids got to have the most fun. I didn’t watch the news so my blog wouldn’t have had any comments about politics, world affairs or even the beginning of the space race which captured my attention in 1961.

TV was my life at age seven – I mean I don’t remember much about second grade, other than I had a crush on my teacher, Miss Huling. I even pretended to not print my letters correctly so she’d keep me after class for extra lessons. For the most part I lived in kidland. My father was in the Air Force and spent most of his time away from home. I don’t remember what my mother did. Sometimes she worked and we had baby sitters. I have very few memories of either parents from that time – most of my memories deal with the kids in the photo above – from kidland. That house and neighborhood was the key site of my childhood.

You see, the more time I spend with this photo, the more things I can dredge up from 1958. In the creative non-fiction writing class I took a couple years ago, my teacher Kristen Iversen told me that when you start working with writing memoirs you can train yourself to recover lost memories. They are there, you just have to find the links to snag them. Photos are one key for that. Another is books. I use The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network TV Shows to find clues to my early days. Since television was the dominant source of external information for a seven year old in 1958, it’s a vital tool. To a lesser extent information about current events of the time may trigger a memory. I usually start with Wikipedia’s Year listing. The only 1958 clue here is the reference to the F-104 Starfighter, my favorite jet plane as a kid, however I doubt if I knew about this plane at age seven, the year it was introduced, but it’s possible I had seen it on TV. They used to close out TV at night showing a F-104, if memory serves me correctly, and reading a poem about a pilot touching the face of god. I’d love to see that film clip now. Maybe it would trigger additional memories.

As a kid growing up in the middle of the twentieth century I was obsessed with science fiction. I really wanted to travel in space and time. Most people who dream of time travel dream of jumping to historical times and meeting up with famous people. I think I would rather go back and visit myself and ask, “Why the hell are you wasting so much goddamn time watching TV. Do something to give us better memories for the future.”

 

 

1,001 Photos

I’ve started the daunting task of converting our family photos to digital. My wife and I have boxes of photos – our photos, and the photos we’ve inherited from our parents. Plus my wife was an amateur photographer for awhile and she has hundreds more photos that aren’t related to family history. If I converted them all, I’d have a hobby that would keep me busy for the next couple years. How many photos do you really need to document a life? Since digital cameras came on the scene, I’ve noticed at holidays and parties more people snapping shots to record the events.

Our niece Hillary had a birthday Saturday night with three photographers. I wonder if she will have those photos when she gets old and what she will think about them. The difference between film and digital photos is quantity. The old film photos are rare treasures. Maybe more photos were taken, and all the poor shots were thrown away over the years, but it seems like digital cameras let people take more photos by several magnitudes. Now-a-days, My Photos folder has thousands of shots, and converting the film and slides will only add to the giant digital pile. How many photos are really needed to document a life?

I have damn few photos of my life before thirty. I wish I had more. I didn’t own a camera until I was sixteen, and then I took pictures of other people. My parents had an ancient Kodak from before I was born that was used ocassionally. I often sit and think about people I knew and places I lived and wished I had a photo to help my memory. This has gotten me to think about how I wished I had documented my life. If I had one photo a week of my family and friends for my life I’d have about 3,000 photos. That’s probably too many. I don’t even have one a year of myself, which would be just 55 photos. If I had taken one a month to chronicle my life, I’d have 660 photos. That still might be too many, but I’m not sure. I think I would have liked four photos a year of myself, either alone or with family and friends just to document how we’ve all aged, and show how fashions have changed. That would be 220 photos. That’s not a bad number.

That doesn’t really cover all the people I’d like to have photos of. I’d like a photo of all my teachers, and at least group class shots of all my classesmates. Then there are the non-people photos. I would like to have had a photo of every house I lived in, and a photo of each room, and the yard and surrounding neighborhood. I’d like photos of all my schools, and photos of the classrooms. Things are adding up here. Then there are the vacations, school trips, clubs, weddings, funerals, and other special events.

Chronicling a life is adding up to a lot of photos. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a photo repository we could all share? You login and list when and where you lived and what schools you went to and then it would tell you if it had any photos of those times and places. Take for instance the photo above. That’s Patty on the left, and my sister Becky on the right, and my friend Michael Kevin Ralph from April, 1959. It was taken in the subdivision called Lake Forest, near Hollywood, Florida. Maybe Mike and Patty would like to see that photo now. Maybe their parents took photos with me and my sister in them.

Who knows how many photos are out there that would help my memory. I sure would give a lot to see photos taken of me and my classmates in our classrooms. The twelve years from grade one to grade twelve were the longest twelve years of my life, the most memorable, and the most forgotten. I have no photos of any of my teachers – not a one. I can’t remember what they looked like, except for Mrs. Travis, my twelth grade English teacher. I have a vague memory of her – but that’s because I once had a photograph of her, but it’s long lost. I only have one photograph of all my fellow students – and that’s because we’ve remained friends all these years and I have photos of him taken many years after he left school.

If you are young and reading this, my advice is to take your digital camera with you and take photos of all these things because one day you’ll become old like me and wish you had images to prompt your memory. I don’t know why, but school days are very memorable and very forgetable. Try as I might, I can’t remember any whole day. I can’t even remember a portion of a day, from my school days. All I remember are tiny events. I don’t know how people write memoirs.

I’ve taken classes in creative non-fiction that deal with writing memoirs and I’m amazed at what some people claim to remember. It’s not practical to remember everything, but I’d love to remember a few whole days – days that told a good story. I wish they had had blogs when I was growing up and I wish that on a few special days I would have chronicled with words and photographs what I did for twenty-four hours.

For instance, my dad took me and my friends Connell and George to see the Apollo 8 launch. That would have been a good day to have documented. I think when I get really old I’d like a book with 1,001 photos of my life. Too many to look at in one sitting, but enough that I could grasp the big picture of it all.

Super Men and Mighty Mice

During the Ozzie and Harriet years, when I was seven and people called me Jimmy, my sister Becky and our best friends Mikey and Patty, would beg old tattered terrycloth towels from our moms and pretend to be George Reeves. We’d tie those old faded pastel rags around our necks, stretch out our arms, hands flat, fingers pointing forward, tilt our heads down and run like Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, occasionally jumping with all our might, with the hopes of getting airborne like Superman, or at least Mighty Mouse. And when we were burnt out and our little bodies too tired to try any more, we’d go to sleep at night and have flying dreams.

My sister and I moved around a lot while growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but wherever we lived it was Kidland, either as part of a mob of kids running up and down the middle of our suburban streets, or in packs roaming the woods, or scattered in hordes over the vast plains of school playgrounds. Kidland was great. It was great because there were no adults. It was beyond fantastic because we were all fueled by our imaginations. Television rocket-fueled our little minds, jazzing our kiddie dramas and kicking those dreams into orbit.

A few years down the timeline, during the black-and-white Beverly Hillbillies era, we could be seen in backyards playing astronauts pretending we were Alan Shepard or John Glenn with cheap white plastic helmets on our heads. After that most of my efforts to fly were in my head and inspired by the philosophy of science fiction, especially the grand master, Robert A. Heinlein. Then the I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched magic charmed us. We all desperately wanted the skills of being able to twitch our noses and make wishes come true with the flourish of a TV sound effect. Can anyone doubt why in the epic times of The Monkees, Star Trek and The Time Tunnel we turned in our terry cloth capes for grooving with micrograms? Later on into the 1970s, after growing up with Archie Bunker, we became disciples of Carlos Castaneda, studying the ancient wisdom of the New Age, or wishing for rides with little green guys of the third kind. And don’t forget our cousins the Jesus Freaks, Hari Krishnas and Moonies who chanted about the transformation of Earth into Heaven.

Is it too much to say that the Baby Boomers wanted transcendence? Why weren’t boomer guys satisfied with putting on our Brooks Brothers and dancing the nine-to-five? Why weren’t our sisters, the boomer gals, so unsatisfied with wearing stockings and bras and staying at home to be queens for a day every day with Donna Reid?

There is always reality. Meridith Grey cannot fly or make McDreamy disappear with a twitch of her nose, even though she has a nose that reminds me of Samatha. And are the post-boomer generations any different from the boomers? Hiro is our kind of guy. During Christmas I listened to my nephew, an Iraqi vet, talk fondly of the golden age of television cartoons, waxing nostalgic with his brothers over favorite episodes of The Transformers. I kept my mouth shut and just listened, but I was thinking, no way man, The Flintstones and Jetsons were the golden age of cartoons. Yet, it didn’t go unnoticed that the next generation wanted to fly too.

Mighty Mouse

Saving digital files forever

Will all your music, audio books, photos, movies, creative writing, diaries, blogs, email, web pages, business records, and other digital files be usuable and available in fifty years? I have a few files that I first created on my Commodore 64 back in the early 1980s converted to text files and saved in My Documents. I have some digital photos that are over ten years old. I haven’t been very careful with my MP3 files, and have thrown many of them out. I’ve even lost or misplaced some iTunes and Rhapsody songs that I’ve bought. Mostly, my My Documents folder grows and grows, becoming a giant trunk of junk that I move forward with every new computer. I’ve even started backing it up to an external USB drive – but if thieves stole both my computer and external drive it would all be gone. My wife’s computer is just as junky, plus she buys a lot of online games and if her machine died we’d be hurting for a lot of missing serial numbers.

Until we started scanning in old photos and slides I didn’t worry much about protecting my files. Some of the photos we are scanning are from the 1920s. We’re now in the business of protecting family memories that are 85 years old. I’m thinking of converting some of my record and CD collection that goes back to the 1950s. I’ve even been collecting old audio book tapes and converting them to digital to listen to on my iPod. All this stuff may not represent a lot of money, but it does represent a lot of time.

The only solution I’ve imagined so far is to copy files to my work computer. I’ve already started bringing work files home as a precaution. But it’s not very convenient at all.

I bought a program called Second Copy that automatically copies my hard disk files to my external USB drive. It has a FTP function in the new version 7.0 that I’ve been meaning to try. I’ve wondered about setting up a FTP server at work as a target for my home files. I haven’t asked my boss what he thinks of that, but I’m willing to offer setting up a FTP server at home to send my work files to. I need to research finding a secure FTP program that would run in background on my two machines.

This isn’t a solution for most people, although many people do work with computers and it could become a fairly common solution. There are probably all kinds of legal issues to deal with. Another possibility is making reciprocal deals with friends and family. The trouble with that solution is most people don’t have static IP addresses or even computers with unchanging domain names from a DHCP pool. I do know people play online games so there is a solution for computer to computer communication. I’ll have to research that.

I just did a Google search and discovered a company Mozy.com that promises unlimited online backups for $54.95 a year, or $4.95 a month. That may be far more convenient than messing with FTP servers – if I could trust Mozy. What I really want is a data bank – a bank for my data files that is as trustworthy as my regular bank is for money. I think I’ll clean up my My Documents folder and sign up with Mozy. I’m not sure how long it will take to transfer 60 gigabytes to them, or if they are really sincere about promising unlimited storage.