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.