Even though I spent two thirds of my life there, it seems an ancient and remote place
In the novel I’m writing now, my main character is reflecting back on the central event that underlies the story, the suicide of her husband. In the second half of the book she is speaking directly to the reader, and the writer, which was a little startling when it started happening. Which is one of the reasons writing fiction is so fascinating. But, I digress. When she starts talking about her past she muses that maybe reincarnation is not life after death but something we do multiple times in our life. The reinvention of who we are, often involuntarily.
I was a twentieth century man. Was. Many of my contemporaries seem to cling to that but I remember wanting to shake it off when we made the turn, to leave that life behind as a mostly fond memory. Actually a pretty vast memory, but one which seems like a long story read long ago. Which it is. In 1999 I was there with Prince (in my mind) when he celebrated the end and the beginning, though I know that technically 2001 was the beginning of this 100.
Now, 19 years in, I am thoroughly of this time and both loving it and realizing that no matter how dire things look now, they looked equally dire during the Vietnam war, Watergate, and after 9/11. Though climate change, which I’ve been following since that past century when the science was becoming obvious (yes, it was there, much of it funded by fossil fuel companies, who immediately buried their findings), does seem to be a far worse problem, likely eclipsing the World Wars of the past because it will not end, ever.
Despite that gloomy scenario, I find many things about these times to be refreshing. I love my ability to access information and find my addiction to it a little problematic. A few years ago I worked with a young developer who emphatically pronounced her dislike for the outdoors, declaring it dirty. She seemed to me, at the time, to be a completely 21st century creature, though in hindsight I think she was socially troubled by a world without a screen in front of it. Diseased with a very modern ailment.
But I’m in many ways a different creature than I was in that past century. I’m a weight room gym rat, which was something I had nothing but disdain for back then. I’m a techie to some degree, which is no surprise because my gen invented an awful lot of it and went through the painful steps of trying to work with it before it was ready for primetime. But I love that I’m writing this on a tiny Macbook that weighs less than 3lbs and has a wicked sharp screen. My first Mac laptop was a boat anchor.
Many things are different. The first time I went to NYC, with my bandmates in 1978, the interior of the subway cars were covered with graffiti, you could not speak or make eye contact with your fellow riders, and Soho at night was empty and a little terrifying, but oh so alluring. I fell in love with that dark city. Though this century brought the mixed bag of light and money to Gotham, I still love it. It is my second home.
I wrote six nationally published books in the 1990s. They were strictly money-making ventures, how-to stuff. So, technically I was a professional writer. But I didn’t really know anything about writing back then. It was finally finishing a novel a few years ago, after numerous attempts over the years, that made me understand a little about my chosen profession. Technically I am a B2B digital marketing professional but the core of that is communication. Writing. It took me forty years in that old time to get to where I could see who I might be, so don’t lose hope if you’re searching!
Muscle cars and turntables. All things are born again…
I read today that sales of vinyl records have surpassed CDs. Both formats seem hopelessly archaic to me. My music ‘system’ used to be a big receiver, CD player, subwoofer and speakers. I gave that all away recently after storing it for years. Now my system is an Alexa hockey puck and two tiny powered studio monitor speakers that sound great. I don’t own any stored music, no CDs or records, and I love that. I still have books but prefer not to buy print these days. I still love the library but it seems to be searching for its place and role in this time.
I am told that we should not write about personal experience here. By some Medium pundit. But experience tells stories of things you may share or are likely to never experience yourself. Medium is itself a very 21st century thing. It used to take months for an article or opinion piece you wrote to see the light of day. Now it is instantaneous. Obviously, this means there is a lot of chaff with the kernels only here and there. I don’t envy the much maligned and somewhat mythological curators. I’ve done enough editing to know how much bad writing there is in the world, though I love anyone pursuing this business. But the ability to write, publish and get feedback instantaneously seems a miracle of this century. Don’t take it for granted!
The long view
During the twentieth century, the long view kind of ended at the end of the century. And in the last twenty years of that century, things seemed to stall. We didn’t go back to the moon and we were nowhere near the vision of Kubrick’s 2001. We made psychedelics so illegal that all research effectively ended in 1972, despite over 1000 peer-reviewed studies that found most to be physical harmless and potentially capable of great value in helping with depression, addiction, and PTSD. Only in the past few years is that research being taken up again, often by those young scientists whose work was interrupted 45 years ago. They are no longer young. And a lot value was lost during those 45 years.
It is the power of hindsight that helps us to see the arc of this fertile yet frustrating time. Now that we’re well into the twenty-first century, we are advancing like crazy technologically, but we’re still avoiding the hard stuff, like saving the planet. Instead billionaires talk about leaving it. We have been in a continuous state of war in the middle east since the turn of the century, to the point where it has lost reality for those of us here who don’t see the effects unless we happen to be poor and find military service offers an escape.
I can rant on and on. Even as I write this stuff I feel optimistic because we’re very good at getting up and dusting ourselves off and keeping at it. But the inability of our ‘leaders’ to acknowledge facts, facts that are incredibly bad, seems a major affliction of these times, one that has to change. Will it? It won’t be my generation that fixes our mess.