A woman, younger than me, has no children and asks: “What is ’empty nest syndrome?’ What does it mean?”
I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and the handsome husband.
The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility. Isn’t that what we wanted all along?
My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the other kids. Big mistake.
She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me tons of books and if I look around, I probably still own more than half of them. These weren’t the books my friends and schoolmates read. They were grown-up literature. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.
It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives.
I doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.
Nor did I. Of course, my son and his family kept coming back. For years, I yearned for an empty nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? Or, for that matter, the thunder of big ones?
I miss the thunder more. Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of adult children more than little kids? I really enjoy having real conversations with grownups who look like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.
Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefer babies to adults. They don’t want independent children who don’t need them. Some parents urgently need to be needed.
Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time and they definitely don’t need it for their entire lives. After some point, their drive for separateness should overwhelm the need for nurturing. The drive to be independent should become dominant. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help our kids achieve adulthood because we won’t be here forever. They will need to go on without us.
An empty nest is when you don’t need to do a load of laundry every day. Where the sink isn’t always full. You can park your car where you want it.
Extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all the stuff you collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own. There’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s a time when your kids have achieved maturity. It’s when the work you did to raise them right pays off.
Adult children are great. If you still need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.
If you do it right, your kids will always love you, but not always need you.
I don’t usually do these, but — this only has three questions and the first is a doozy!
1. What was your first computer?
THE OLD DAYS
After contemplating operating systems at length, I started rethinking the whole thing and I began to wonder if operating systems will be relevant a couple of years from now. Because everything is changing.
Change is hardly new to the world of computers and technology. Change is what drives the industry. Change is how come you need to buy new software, new hardware, new operating systems. Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.
I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used special languages — COBOL and FORTRAN. Even decades later, personal computers were one step removed from a doorstop. Floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and flopped.
Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG* (*What you see is what you get).
What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.
Then … everything changed.
APPLE, WINDOWS, ANDROID AND SO MUCH MORE
First, there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but soon enough, it got better. And then better again.
There were different players and more operating systems in the beginning. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen that spit out paper.
Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!
For a while, it seemed like everything changed every day. One day, there was a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to access it. Once connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around and see what there was to see.
You could send electronic mail – email – if you had friends with computers and access to the Internet. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.
To get on the Internet, you turned on the computer and the modem. Went to the kitchen. Prepared dinner. Cooked dinner. Served dinner. Ate dinner. Cleaned up. By the time you got back, you might have managed to connect. Or not.
Then suddenly AOL popped up and I got a really fast modem, a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.
By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast and the Internet has always been the world’s biggest shopping mall.
At age three, she could run basic applications. Computers are to her as electricity is to me. It isn’t something you think about. It has always been there. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it or without WiFi, cable, and electronic cameras.
Even for me, it’s not easy to remember. My brain gets stuck in the early 1980s when I knew in my gut that computers were going to be my thing. I would never go back to the old ways. Typewriters and handwriting were dead.
During the 1990s, the rate of change slowed briefly. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a few years. High-speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it immediately. Nonetheless, everything kept getting faster. Soon, no one could remember getting on the Internet using an old, copper telephone line. If you did remember, it made your brain hurt.
Every couple of years, there is a new generation of processors. Bigger, faster hard drives. Amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off. Just when you think your socks have been knocked as far off as socks can go, there’s another “fix” and your super-fast computer is a slow-poke compared to the latest and greatest. I should know. I’m using one of them.
Meanwhile, the highway of information devolved into a chat room with ranting and a universal shopping mall. The Internet is a world unto itself.
I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast. Computers aren’t only computers, either. We have them everywhere. They are part of our cameras, our bed, our toaster oven. Our television. The car. Smartphones. GPS units. Kindles and tablets. Toilets (no kidding, really). Those mini-computers probably make “things” run better, but when they stop working, they are awfully expensive to fix.
And then again, a piece of your computer stops working and you can’t get in or out of your car because everything is locked tight. That little computer blew again.
ABOUT THE CLOUD
Same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “new” word for stuff stored on external servers.
We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped-down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives. Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?
I can see the advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instant. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade expensive applications and volumes of data. You don’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory, and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right? Or is it?
YOU MUCH DO YOU LOVE YOUR INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER?
If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky-dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG, STILL GOES WRONG
Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. Which I own.
The idea of entrusting everything from my photographs to the manuscript of my book to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by terrorists? Taken by hackers?
You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. Your financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.
Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I twitch. How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are out? What if you need a critical piece of data from a server when it’s offline?
My bank was hacked. BOA had to send me a new bank card. Land’s End and Adobe have been hacked. More than once. Equifax, Sony, Target, Marriott, Walmart, Alteryx, any number of huge credit card hacks, Facebook and of course, the American electoral system. Among many others.
I’ve been hacked because places I used were hacked and had to redo many accounts because they’d been compromised. Lots of other places over the years, places that were supposedly “unhackable” have gone down.
I know I am hackable. And there is very little I can do about it. The current methodology of trying to convince everyone on earth to memorize random passwords is absurd and it doesn’t work. No one can remember them all. I can’t even remember my user names.
If your ISP is down, you’re out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be when everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? If that doesn’t give you the cold sweats, nothing will.
You can’t totally avoid the cloud these days. I keep my audiobooks and eBooks on Amazon, and my email on Gmail because there’s no way on earth I could store all of that, even on this computer. But my personal stuff? Pictures, documents, and other important material? It lives here, at home. On personal, external hard drives.
I learned the hard way to perform regular backups. I don’t do them as often as I should, but I do them regularly. If you don’t, think about it. It’s a little late when you’ve already lost all your stuff.
2. Who would you cast as yourself in a movie of your life? This can be anyone, living or dead.
How about me? I’m pretty sure I know the lines. Okay, we’ll need someone else for my youth. Did I have a youth?
3. What are you currently reading?
And not for the first time, “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.“ but this time with Garry, too. Read by dear, dear Douglas Adams.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
🎇 🎇 🎇
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
🎇 🎇 🎇
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
🎇 🎇 🎇
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
🎇 🎇 🎇
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
So here we are, 100 years later, and it’s happening. Again. Or is that “still?”
We didn’t understand what happened last time the world decided to blow itself up — and we aren’t seeing it now. Depending on my mood, I blame it on poor education, international lack of honesty about how great nations became “great” nations. And, of course, greed.
God is dead and greed rules us. When saving a few pennies is, to a corporation, worth destroying a family’s livelihood and future, the world will continue to be a toxic muck.
So here we are again. Or, as I said — still here because maybe we never really left.
Lying to the public and each other with a determined willingly to believe the unbelievable because the lies make us feel better. Or less bad. Whichever.
Do we have to destroy ourselves before we look at our culture, our society, our world, and say “This is not the way? Let’s be better.” We need to be a lot better because there’s an awful lot to do. We better get to it.
The gardens of New England are a bit tired as we go into August. Most of my flowers are early summer flowers. They used to bloom in May and June, but recently they bloom in late June and July. Right now, it just looks awful! The Daylilies are gone, the roses are pretty, but there aren’t a lot of them.
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