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« Clean Sweep at Powell's | Main | Elsewhere »

July 31, 2007

Reunions 1: Long Ago or Ever-Present?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The reason for my uncharacteristic silence over the last few days: I was in Western New York State, attending the 35th reunion of the public high school class I'd have graduated with had I not been sent off to attend a boarding school. So, the first of a few brief postings prompted by my 35th.

Inevitable and overwhelming initial reponse: Good lord, where did all the years go?

The funny thing, though, is that -- although childhood and school happened so long ago -- it all feels closer than yesterday.

I didn't expect this to be the case, to be honest. As a kid, I imagined that older people experience past events as very distant things. And to some extent that is in fact what revisiting the past is like. Seeing the old neighborhoods and friends once again, I sometimes feel as though it all happened in a different lifetime. At other times, I even feel as though the events of my long-ago past happened to someone else entirely; they feel less like something I possess and more like stories a friend once told me.

But there are many more moments when these events feel more real than today. Revisiting my past, time seems first to compress, then to dissolve entirely. It's as though at some point I got off a train that was chugging forward, and ever since have inhabited a loop-the-loopy, 4-dimensional continuum in which I'm forever stumbling across unexpected yet familiar versions of my life.

When did this shift occur? In my late 40s, maybe? In any case, when I revisit the old haunts and rekindle the old friendships, 1964 and 1972 don't feel like ships that I passed long ago and that are now tiny dots disappearing over a distant horizon. Instead they feel like fullscale fellow creatures who share space with the current me in an eternal here and now.

This is part of what I found great about a few movies made by old men, by the way: Luis Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire," John Huston's "The Dead," and Robert Altman's final movie "A Prairie Home Companion." Different as these films are, they all convey something of what the experience of living as an older person is like. In the Altman particularly, everything exists on the same plane. Linear time and conventional categories have lost their dictatorial powers. Fantasies, art, memories, the present, and history all mingle in the same consciousness-space. (I blogged about "A Prairie Home Companion" here.)

Is this development a consequence of the organic brain deteriorating with age? Of what happens to perception when your mental RAM has maxed out? Or is this everything-shares-the-same-stage thing simply how life starts to look when some perspective on the whole mess has been attained?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at July 31, 2007




Comments

And my 50th reunion is a'cummin' up early in September ... Blowhards readers had better be braced for a nostalgia tsunami.

As for the time compression or whatever, I think the thing with memories is that we access them almost instantaneously -- no friction of time: a 40 year-old memory doesn't take 40 years to retrieve.

I had lunch Saturday with the classmate who I worked with on the reunion book project and it would have been no big trick to have flipped back and forth between his present appearance as I was seeing it and the remembered image of his face from 50 years ago.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on July 31, 2007 8:38 PM



You would think it would be the other way around, but, for the most part, the old (or older) are much less nostalgic than the young, much more in the moment, less time haunted than their juniors. And less sentimental. Much less sentimental. On the downside they're also a bunch of easily irritated mean old cusses. Why this should be so I don't know. It just is. Which is another aspect of age. Everything just is. And that's okay. Change the world? Hah.

Posted by: ricpic on July 31, 2007 10:18 PM



Michael - Although one of my dearest friends is a person that I have known since junior high school, for the most part I lack the nostalgia gene. I have never attended a school reunion, and once blew off someone I knew peripherally who asked, "didn't we go to school together?" On the other hand, I am sometimes wistful when I think that I won't be around to see how the world 100 years from now turns out.

That said, you might want to read, attend a performance of, or get the audio book for Beckett's droll and insightful play, "Krapp's Last Tape." It is actually not nearly as glum as this brief description from amazon.com:

"In 'Krapp's Last Tape', our protagonist Krapp, now in his late 60s, plays back tapes that he has recorded on previous birthdays. Every year this task becomes a more and more onerous one, and every year he is more and more embarassed by "that stupid b**tard I took myself for thirty years ago". The pain of reconstructing the past is a pain that Beckett uses to dolourous effect throughout his prose and dramatic works and its use is particularly powerful here. Although this play is in fact a monologue, it would appear to take the form of a conversation between a past and present Krapp....."

Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time in America" may resonate with what you mean when you write: "Fantasies, art, memories, the present, and history all co-mingle in the same consciousness-space."

On the other hand, Ingmar Bergman, who recently died and whose films I embraced long before I learned that he was supposed to be a "great artiste" saw time and memory as sometimes a scourge ("Cries and Whispers") and sometimes a great comfort ("Fanny and Alexander"), and usually an unreliable witness with respect to who we are, or who we thought we might turn out to be.

Posted by: Alec on August 1, 2007 12:28 AM



*rick: it's called wisdom. We can see things through now, the rose-colored fog of sentimentality can't camouflage the world anymore.

Posted by: Tat on August 1, 2007 6:53 AM



Were you surprised at the appearances of your classmates? I've never been to a high school or college reunion, but supposedly many people find them disconcerting because in their minds they picture their classmates as they looked then, not as they look now, and seeing the differences can be quite disturbing.

On a somewhat related note, I'm still in a state of mild shock after having watched Cal Ripken's Hall of Fame induction speech the other day. He's about the same age as men, yet looked like an out-of-shape old man. If he, as one of the greatest athletes of all times, has aged about as well as sushi, what does that mean for me?

Posted by: Peter on August 1, 2007 9:16 AM



Oh dear. I know exactly what you mean, I've felt that way about time since... um, hard to tell...

But perhaps it is a special insight into the truth that it doesn't really exist, as scientists are now proving?

http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/in-no-time

I prefer that idea to the idea that one has gone nuts, anyway!

Posted by: Alice Bachini-Smith on August 1, 2007 9:50 AM



Part of the oddity of a reunion is not a matter of our age now, but a matter of the intensity with which we had been together; for most of us, it's unique to schooling. For years I was with much the same bunch of classmates. We sat in a room for a 40 minute "period" of Latin. Then we gathered our stuff, walked to another classroom and sat down for 40 minutes of French. And so the week passed, eight periods per day, for about 40 weeks per year, for six years in a row. I had known part of the class for seven years of "primary" school before that, and for a year or two of "nursery school" earlier. We had also seen each other in the debating club, the drama club, on the rugby pitch, the cricket ground, in the cubs, in the "pictures" (movies), swimming in the river in the summer, on the beach.... I'll tell you one thing about a reunion, though. It's easier to talk to the pretty girls.

Posted by: dearieme on August 1, 2007 10:24 AM



Mostly I'm anti-nostalgic; I seem to actively avoid things like reunions.

However...since I became a father again at the age of 47, and especially since I turned 50, I've found myself living in two worlds, which is more than bit disconcerting. In one of them I'm a fairly rational businessman, adult, father. In the other one I'm still in my very early childhood, with all the intensity of emotion that goes along with that era. I can only conclude that having a young son triggered some kind of identification process, or hooked up some wires that had been disconnected for many decades. I am disconcertingly in touch with my "inner child."

Thanks for bringing this up. It's something that isn't easy to discuss in everyday life; occasionally it makes me feel like I'm losing my mind, or suffering post-traumatic stress.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 1, 2007 12:08 PM



I'll never forget the shock of running into the girl I had my first crush on a few years ago and finding her plump and matronly.

BTW the best literary description of this phenonmenon comes at the end of Proust's Time Regained, where the narrator encounters all his childhood friends at a party. If you don't have time to read the whole of the Search, just skip to the last volume.

Posted by: Thursday on August 1, 2007 8:36 PM



I went to a college reunion a few years ago, the first since I left college in the mid-eighties. Initially, it was a shock, since I had only seen a handful of these people at all in the intervening years (and those were mostly good friends who I have seen a lot). But once I adjusted, and heard voices, and actually visited, I am amazed more at how LITTLE people changed over the years, rather than by how much. A lot of conversations, the humor--even the topics---could just as easily have been going on in 1983 or 1984. And then of course there is the "you mean it isn't 1984 anymore?" time warp disorientation. And finally the tendancy of people to behave like they perpetually remain the age they were when they originally knew each other. By that I mean---get college friends together on campus for awhile, and people are drinking and dancing like they were still in college, picking the same music from the juke box. Get co-workers together who knew each other in their thirties, and they are talking about their employer just like it was then. I can only imagine what a junior high reunion would end up being like. Except the boys and girls would congregate on opposite sides of the room, and the girls would spend a lot of time fussing over each other's nail polish, even if the "girls" are now 60.

Posted by: annette on August 2, 2007 11:40 AM






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