Youth

NO PRANCING FOR ME

I went to the doctor today. I made a list of the things I needed to talk about, among them trying to get some Prednisone or something to make me able to actually enjoy my vacation in Maine in October. I just want a week off of the whole pain and misery thing. I checked with my cardiologist and he seemed to think a week of Prednisone would be fine, at least for my heart.

I know Prednisone is evil and will — with prolonged use — melt my bones. But really, I’m not asking for a long-term run. Just a week. One lousy week of living without pain.

Dr. Marc Jacobs filterHe said (really, no kidding, he said this), “I don’t want you prancing around like a 20-year old, hiking all over Maine.”

Prancing? Like a 20-year-old? When I was 20, I was wrapped in plaster from my rib cage to my knees following a spinal fusion and laminectomy. I can’t remember ever doing any prancing even when I was a kid. But hey, he doesn’t know me yet. If we had a longer relationship, he would realize what an absurd statement that is.

Not only am I not doing any prancing, but we’re sharing our vacation with our best friends. He will be one month past knee replacement surgery. She’s almost as arthritic as me and she is way past prancing. Garry is in better shape, but he’s not bouncing around either.

I pointed out I was unlikely to take up bungee jumping or mountain climbing, but the doc was convinced I would do something stupid and potentially damaging to what we humorously call my body.

“You’re 67 years old. You’re recovering from massive and extremely serious surgery. That’s reality. You aren’t healed yet.”

“When,” I asked, “Is yet?”

“Six months.”

“Six months,” I repeated. And I sighed.

I should be used to it. Maybe I am, but I don’t like it. Not at all. I just wanted a week off. One week, so I could walk, take pictures. Enjoy myself and not be in pain. Go out, find a moose unaware, take great wildlife pictures. In the wild, not in a zoo. But no. I have to be sensible. Bah.

I’ll deal with it. But I really wanted that week. One week without the pain. I guess it is too much to ask.

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Daily Prompt: Money Can’t Buy It

I don’t envy much. I’ve never needed the best house, the fastest car. Fashion doesn’t tempt me and success for me has always meant having enough. Spare would be nice, but enough will do.

Buds

I don’t need popularity. A really good friend and some companionable other acquaintances is more than sufficient.

But you, over there? Yes, you. The youngster, with your flexible body and the spring in your step. I bet you can sleep a whole night without having to take “something for the pain.” I bet you still have all your original parts too. That must be really nice. A spine that isn’t encrusted by calcification. A digestive system that will handle whatever you throw into it … and at your age, probably that’s all sorts of weird stuff. I hope you get over that soon. Stomachs are important. They don’t stay tolerant forever.

And feet! Oh, how glorious! You can run, jump, walk. And your eyes are clear and lovely. You can focus your camera too.How delightful. I remember when I could do that.

It’s not real envy, I guess. That would imply I think you’ve got something I might want to take from you and make my own. Which isn’t true. You are young and healthy. Your beauty is your vitality and the joy I see you take in the simple acts of daily life. To say I envy that is true — in a way — but more as if I’d like to turn back my clock. I would give anything short of life itself for a single day of being completely healthy and pain-free. I would carry that memory with me for the rest of my life. I’d treasure it.

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I hope you treasure what you have. I didn’t realize how much it could change. I never expected to be what I am now. In my imagined future, I was just as you are now, but maybe with a little gray in my hair. Otherwise, I’d be perhaps a bit slower. But still me.

So that’s it. I want just a day as I was to remember how it feels to walk with a spring in my step, eat an ice-cream, run across the grass, ride a horse.

Treasure what you have, young woman. It’s worth more than gold. If it goes away, no earthly treasure can buy it back. Take care of yourself. Hoard your riches. You’ll need them on the long road ahead.

Daily Prompt: Flip Flop – Life is Fair? Not.

With shock and grief, I hear the wailing of betrayed youth. They have made the Big Discovery. Life is unfair. Work hard, perform brilliantly yet wind up bruised and forgotten. Then again, you might find yourself famous, rich and covered with honors. It’s not cause and effect, though people like to think so … until the economy, their health or other people betray them.

The younger me knew — with 100% certainty – that work, talent, ambition and determination were magic ingredients.The older me learned you can do everything right, follow all the rules and it still doesn’t work out. Oops.

bankruptcy

I did it all. Good work. Diligence. Smile; have a positive attitude. Be creative. Give it your all. I did okay, but while I worked hard and put in overtime, I watched the suck ups, second-raters, and those who worked cheaper if not better, move up. While I came in early and stayed late, they went to meetings and took long lunches. I wonder if I’d gone to more meetings, would that have changed the outcome? Somehow, I doubt it. I try not to let it sour me. It’s out of my hands. I’m a passenger on this bus, not the driver.

Former belief: Play by The Rules, give it your all. You are bound to “make it.”

Current belief: Do the best you can and hope for a bit of luck to bring it together. If not, enjoy life. It’s the only one you’ve got.

We tell our kids if they do it right they will get that pot of gold. We don’t tell them work sucks. That 75% of their bosses will be morons who know less than they do and have less talent. But in a way, we were right. They will earn a reward, but it’s the satisfaction of knowing they did the best of which they were capable. It’s the one reward everyone can count on.

We have to try. If we succeed and for a while get a piece of the good stuff, enough to feel it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s great. For some, it never happens. Bad luck? Wrong attitude? Poor economy? Not enough talent? All of the aforementioned? Trying may not be sufficient: you need talent and luck too. And good timing. Sometimes, you need a better agent.

I no longer believe in inevitable triumph. There’s always a chance and it’s fantastic when the magic works. But for me, fatalism has replaced optimism. The finest achievement is living up to ones best self. If this turns into worldly success, great. If not, this is the only achievement no one take away. You can’t control the world, but you control yourself.

Life’s a roller coaster. You’re up, your down. Screaming, crying, laughing … you go where the rails take you. Life will surprise you. It will give you moments of unimagined joy, then drop you into a pit to claw your way out. Rejoice when times are good. Cope with the darkness. And always try to be your best self.

 

Taming the Techno Beast

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts focusing on how civilization is disintegrating because of technology. The loss of privacy, clearly because of websites like Facebook. The prevalence of moronic rumors on the Internet that for incomprehensible reasons, people actually take seriously. And of course, the loss of language and relationship skills by young people who communicate entirely by texting in code that no one over the age of 18 can decipher not to mention the pernicious effects of electronic books replacing paper and ink. And finally, my personal favorite, the paranoid belief that mobile phones are scrambling everyone’s’ brains and are probably responsible for the epidemic of worldwide stupidity.

I’m not convinced we had any privacy to lose. If you weren’t a recluse living in a cave, then you lived amidst people. In towns, villages and cities. In tribes, settlements and family groups. In metropolitan areas, we form villages within the larger population. We call them neighborhoods. You don’t come from New York or Boston.

You come from Park Slope or Southie, Roxbury or Astoria. As long as we live in and around other people, they know all about us. They know a lot more than we wish they did. You sneeze and your neighbors say a collective “gesundheit.” Have a fight with your spouse and everyone knows every detail the following morning. Gossip is the meat and potatoes of human relationships. Call it networking or whatever you like: we talk about each other all the time. Privacy is an illusion.

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The big difference is you can use your own computer to tell total strangers everywhere in the world all your personal business. But that’s your own choice. It’s entirely voluntary, but millions of people do it every day. I suspect — on the whole — we care a lot less about privacy than we say we do. Sure, we want to protect our bank accounts and credit cards from being stolen, but otherwise? How much do you really care who knows what’s going on in your life?

We are herd animals. We are nosy. We gossip. Knowing your neighbors’ business doesn’t require technology,  just eyes and ears. For broadcast purposes,  a mouth works as well any other device.

One of the more common assumptions about technology is that this stuff is more important to young people than older folks. Older people are supposed to resist new technology, to be stuck in our ways and refuse to move on.

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I recall thinking along the same lines when I was young and stupid. Young people underestimate their elders. Maybe it helps them gain the courage to face uncertain futures, but as one of those Old People, I find it annoying.

People my age have not rejected technology. Au contraire, we embrace it with enormous enthusiasm. Technology has impacted us more than any other age group. Computers give us access to the world, let us to remain actively in touch with scattered friends and family. It helps us know what people are thinking. Digital cameras with auto-focus compensate for aging eyes. Miniaturization makes more powerful hearing aids so that people who would be condemned to silence can remain part of the world. Pacemakers prolong life; instrumented surgeries provide solutions to what used to be insoluble medical problems and lets us keep active into very old age. Technology has saved us not only from early death, but from losing touch.

We can watch movies whenever we want, the old ones from childhood and the new ones just out of theaters. We can view them in comfort on huge screens as good as the movies, but with better sound and cheaper snacks … plus a convenient “pause” button if you need to hit the bathroom or kitchen.

Virtually every one of us has a cell phone, uses electronic calendars as well as a wide range of applications to do everything from post-processing photographs and balancing our bank accounts,  to cooking meals.

My generation consumes technology voraciously, hungrily.

Unlike the kids, we don’t take it for granted. We didn’t always have it. We remember the old days and despite all those nostalgic postings on the web, most of us are glad we don’t live there anymore.

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We can’t all repair a computer, but neither can the kids. They know how to use them … my granddaughter was using a computer when she was three … but she has no idea how a computer works and would be hard put to explain the difference between the operating system and an application. Most of her friends are equally ignorant. They are on top of the world when things work but  if anything goes wrong, suddenly Granny transforms to Computer Guru.

For teenagers and young adults, technology is no miracle. They don’t need to understand it. They feel about computers the way we felt about electricity: we didn’t need to know how it worked. We just put the plug in the socket and turn on the lights.

There is a down side to technology as there’s a down side to everything. An hour’s power outage and we are lost. Dependence is not what worries me. I’m no survivalist. Without modern technology, I wouldn’t make it through a week.

I worry that young folks are not learning how to talk to each other and will have a hard time forming relationships. Not that we did all so well ourselves, but at least we talked to each other.

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The ubiquitous availability of social networking gives kids the illusion of having lots of friends … yet many of them have no real friends … not the kind of friends you can depend on and who will hang on through a lifetime.

I don’t want anyone to give up their electronic goodies … but it would be nice if there were more direct communication, human to human. I have watched groups of teens sit around in a room, but instead of talking, they send texts to one another. Good relationships need a more touchy-feely approach.

All of us have gotten a bit lazy about relationships. We send an email when we should pick up the phone. We pick up the phone when we should make a visit. There’s nothing electronic that can replace a hug.

Yet I believe civilization will endure. Stupid people were always stupid. They always will be. Those who believe nonsensical Internet rumors without bothering to learn the truth would never have been truth-seekers anyhow. Before we had Internet rumors, we had plenty of regular rumors. They didn’t travel quite as fast as they do on the Internet, but they got the job done. The problem isn’t computers; it’s people.

I don’t get why people have a problem with electronic books. As far as I am concerned, reading is good no matter what form the words take. For me, electronic books are a dream come true. I will always love the smell and feel of paper and ink, but I am glad to not need more space for books. I’m love my Kindle. Nobody had to slay a tree for the book I’m reading.

I  will always love bookstores, the feel and weight a book, the smell of ink on paper, the gentle crack of the spine when you open a new one, but I only buy special books, first editions, reference books.

The good old days weren’t that terrific. There were good things, but plenty of bad stuff. Ugly stuff. Institutionalized racism, a gap between classes far worse than today. Real oppression of women, so if you think we don’t get a fair shake now, you would never have survived growing up in the 1950s. Help wanted ads in newspapers were divided by sex; we had to wear skirts to school, even in the dead of winter.

Today, our houses are heated better. Basic household goods are relatively inexpensive. Wal-Mart sells cheap underwear. Don’t knock it: I hate spending money on underwear!

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If you want an education, you can get one … no matter what your color or ethnicity. The  legal barriers to individual development have been lowered. The world and the people in it are imperfect; there’s more than enough hate to go around and we’ll never see the end of war, but at least the law is changed. That is not a small thing. Human beings are good at hating. Laws can change the rules, but not human nature.

I wish the quality of entertainment was better and I wish they taught grammar in schools, yet I was never taught grammar and I’m reasonably literate. Those who love words will learn to use them by reading, listening and absorbing the music of language.

Language will continue to evolve but it has always been a moving target. It’s not changing because of computers. We don’t talk as they did in Olde England and future generations won’t talk — or write — like us.

The basic nature of humans hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have a savagery embedded in our DNA.  I doubt anything will erase it. Will we evolve to the point where we are truly civilized and the hidden beast is gone? I doubt it. I believe we would lose our humanity along with our bestiality. It is our never-ending battle to tame our baser instincts that defines civilization.

That, and having a really fast Internet connection.

Life hurts

My granddaughter and many of her friends are having big problems in high school. Their problems are identical to those of my generation but this generation is even more clueless than we were. They have no idea how to cope. They are like those monkeys raised with wire mothers, at a loss to relate to other monkeys. 

They don’t know the difference between a real friend and a casual acquaintance. The glib labeling from social media is, for them, the real deal … until they discover it’s not.

Becoming a misfit in high school is easy. If you are different, you are going to have social problems. How large these problems loom is a function of the vulnerability of the individual.

In the “good old days” when I was growing up, rumors and lies spread no faster than however long it took to pass the word from person to person. Today, with the click of a mouse on a Facebook page or mobile phone, the same meanness, backbiting and gossip that has always been with us can be distributed instantly to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. It’s the same stuff, but it gets around faster.

Schools can’t deal with the problem. It’s too amorphous. They can’t control the Internet, text messages, and social media sites. It’s so easy to pick on someone. It doesn’t even have to be intentional.

A moment of pique, thoughtlessness, a casual reference, ordinary gossip can do an enormous amount of damage to a fragile adolescent ego. The electronic world is as real to them … maybe even more real … than traditional relationships. I’m not sure they understand there is a difference.

I’ve watched the dynamics of this first generation of young people for whom cell phones and computers are as ordinary as electricity was for us. I’ve watched them sit together in groups preferring to text each other rather than talk. I’ve wondered how in the world they would ever learn how to have a real relationship, to make the kind of friends that last a lifetime.

The answer is that they haven’t learned. They are lost.

They are starting to pay the price of hiding behind electronic communication. They have used it as a substitute for face time, conversation, of really being with other people.

Shy kids have had no motivation to get over it. They can’t handle even the simplest conversation. They don’t get it that people can be two-faced, dishonest, and just mean and that it isn’t personal. People are what they are. We older people could help if they let us, but we’re fossils, stupid old people suggesting they talk to each other, spend time together, that you can’t become “best friends for life” by exchanging emails.

They’ve relied on words alone, out of context of the rest of the package: facial expression and body language.  They have never learned to “read” people. They can’t see when someone is lying.

Growing up is hard. Being a teenager is rough. It was as true 50 years ago as today, but we never had the choice of hiding behind a computer.

A lot of young people have had only minimal contact with other kids. There are a lot of forces at work, not only the hyper-availability of technology but also the fearfulness parents, the limited availability of free time, the overly structured lives kids have. They can’t just hang out. They aren’t encouraged to do stuff  independently.

If my generation suffered from unwillingness to discipline our kids, this generation of parents not only doesn’t discipline kids, they smother and over-protect them from life itself. They label everything as bullying. They do not encourage their offspring to face problems and assure them they can handle it, that you don’t get emotional strength by avoiding life. Instead they buy into the endless psychobabble and make their kids feel even more helpless.

I’m not surprised at the problems. Despite my son and daughter-in-law’s contention that kids are meaner than they were, I don’t agree. Kid, people, are no different than they ever were.  The difference is that parents are afraid to let their kids work out their problems. They don’t let them grow up. Sometimes, I think they don’t really want them to grow up, as if they want them to stay permanently dependent and childish. They have no idea how much they will regret it.

It’s natural to want to protect your children from hurt, but you shouldn’t protect them from life.

Life hurts. Life is also wonderful, rich, rewarding, exciting. But never pain-free.

There’s no turning back from technology. Nor would most of us want to dump our computers and cell phones. There does need to be a better balance. Technology won’t produce relationships. Exchanging words is not bonding. Sending texts and emails can’t establish closeness.

It’s a tall order convincing teenagers that emotional pain is part of growing up. Nothing but experience will help toughen them up so they can function in the world.

No one gets a pass from pain. Money won’t buy it. Private schools won’t keep life away. There’s only one way to become a survivor — experience. These kids need to get out and live. Put the cell phones away and talk to each other. Get involved. Let life happen to them, be swept away by events and emotions. Learn that feelings are manageable … with practice.

They aren’t getting the message. Maybe if they read it on Facebook?

 

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