Thursday, August 17, 2006

The World Passed Me By, By Such A Margin, I'm Ahead Again

Over at the Ambivablog, I've been described as the place "where nostalgia makes love to the future." I don't really know the proprietor of Ambivablog, although I've been reading her page for a while. I'm grateful for the attention of course, but that's not the part we're going to talk about. I get "attention" from people that e-mail me and tell me to "die in a fire" over some perceived, if not to say totally imaginary, slight. The purpose of writing is to make your thoughts available to strangers - and to ensure you have milk, if your list is handy when you're in the market. But the corollary to making your thoughts available to strangers is having strangers understand what you're driving at. That's rarer, and piquant when it rears its head.

Well, assessments like Amba's are double edged swords. Nostalgia is fun, but it risks being a navel-gazing affair. If I were nineteen years old, and a guy that was nineteen with twenty-nine years experience at being nineteen told me that Weezer sucked but Bachman Turner Overdrive was like Mozart and Elvis and Free Beer, I'd tell him to shove it. And the old fellow would say the same to his elders about Perry Como. Nostalgia is a church where no one converts and the parishioners slowly die off. But Amba gave me more credit than that. I appreciate it, because she's correct in her assessment. It doesn't stop there for me.

I like things, often, that are anachronisms. Traditions are interesting, serve useful purposes, and have a tendency to breed such anachronisms. You can never improve on a wooden baseball bat. It's not possible, because to tinker with it is to destroy it. The clink an aluminum bat makes when you hit the ball has no oompah. It's got no anima. It's got no whatsis. The meaning in the thing is lost. Why not use a mortar or a bazooka and be done with it? To suggest that children should eschew aluminum bats for the traditional wood meets with blank stares or acrimony now. "Do you know what a wooden bat costs, and how many we'd break?" is flung at you by persons who think such handwaving arithmetic is dispositive to those of us that can't help but notice their children are wearing $200.00 sneakers.

Yes, I know. That wooden bat would seem...precious, wouldn't it?

And yet if I bought a baseball bat tomorrow, I'd buy one of those magnificent dyed and lacquered maple affairs that have come into popularity recently. An old fashioned Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger is made from Ash. Ash is a stringy, dense, heavy, stiff wood that has a long and storied history of being made into axe handles.

An axe handle. A plow handle. An adze. A grub hoe. Think of the iconic status of the baulk of wood itself before it becomes that same utilitarian thing fashioned to bring the joy of the physical test to the user and the audience alike.

But someone said: Maple. Lighter, but harder. Smooth. Chastely grained, not the big roping sawtooth whorls of the Ash. They made a bat from Maple and said: I've made it better but I did not destroy the meaning of the thing.

A handful of people, who you and I will never meet -- and trust me, we're not them --will bring change to things so profoundly that something useful or amusing will be entirely superseded. You're wasting your time-maybe, but our time-certainly, if you're telling us you're going invent the Next. Big. Thing. There's never any talk in it.

Don't interfere if you've got nothing but ideas on how things should be "different." "Different" is not the operative and essential part of "good." It's as likely to be good's enemy as not. Don't make it worse, if you can make it as good. Generally, that just takes a certain amount of effort, and a little judgement.

Make it better, without destroying the meaning of the thing. If you can.


XWL said...

You get hate mail?

I say far more incendiary things, and so far no hate mail.

I must be doing something wrong.

I'm amazed at times, by the lengths folks go to be offended. Sometimes the effort put in finding offense is astonishing.

I like what Frank Zappa said about nostalgia, "It is not necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paper work, and the other is nostalgia."

Those are my thoughts regarding your post, disjointed, but not disconnected (referring to my thoughts, not your post).

I used that Zappa quote as a jumping off point for an essay regarding some short stories by Flannery O' Connor (she happens to be my favorite short story writer).

SippicanCottage said...

xwl- One of the interesting things about Frank Zappa is that his music never really amounted to anything. He had an interesting intellect, and had this kind of telescope that worked backwards-it made him far away- and gave him a kind of bemused, intelligent worldview. He's said many things that were insightful and pithily delivered. He had a way of expressing things he had obviously thought a great deal about in an offhand manner.

My problem with Frank was that it manifested itself with an air of superiority over everybody and everything. To this day I have a term for people that think "everybody is a jerk but me:" Frank Zappa disease.

All great parody requires a certain amount of affection for the subject, or it turns to bile. I can see true dislike for too much in Frank's stuff.

Your observation about hate mail seems to embody the idea that I'm too pleasant to receive any. You're very kind.

But there are no guts that are too pleasant to be hated in this world, are there? And I acknowledge that I have said many things in public places that drew attention to myself, have thrown a few elbows, and cranks are the wages for such behavior.

My brother is visiting from Venice. I told him I have a friend in ...Santa Monica.

XWL said...

I don't disagree with you about Zappa. He was snotty (but smart), and with that nose, that's just way too much snot.

But the idea that either beauracracy or remininscing will bring everything grinding to a halt has appeal, and rings true.

The looming disaster that is Europe, and the menace that is Islamist Extremism were birthed in large part from paper work and nostalgia.

(Europe's love of paper work, some Muslims' nostalgiac dream of returning to a ill remembered domineering caliphate)

The point of my essay on O'Connor was the corrosive effect of nostalgia for a misremembered South had on the souls of some Southerners, and how these false memories continued to corrupt (it's not too hard to draw a parallel between the post-reconstruction, pre-civil rights era South, and current Islam).

(and I like the concept of 'blog-friend' or just friend, right back at you buddy)

SippicanCottage said...

Yeah, xwl- I agree that Frank's assessment is very prescient.

I like looking at the past with the same eye as the present.

I often see a nostalgia for a past that didn't exist, which is more worrying to me than anything that smacks of people reminiscing about the good old days in a nursing home, which is pretty lame in itself.

The period of time I've written about the most, with perhaps the greatest affection, was the worst fifteen years of my life. I'd rather die than go back there. Lots of people want to send us back there --and further..