by Erik Deckers
AR Humor Writer
August 5, 2010
THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF CLEANLINESS
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- This year the dog days of August began in late June and persist as I run from one air-conditioned place to another. I pre-cool my car before getting in for the morning's drive but, today, I have the leisure to read every page in Sunday's hefty edition of The New York Times. I'm just not going out of the house while the heat index is 105 F. again.
So I read Geoff Nicholson's essay in the Times Book Review, "Drink What You Know," a play on words as he writes about drinkers and writers. It's clever; I enjoyed it and I could relate. He quoted writers from earlier times; for example, F. Scott Fitzgerald advised, "An author ought to write for the youth of his generation."
I put the paper down to give his line some thought, but Charles Osgood was on television with "Sunday Morning" and the celebration of 60 years of rock 'n roll. It featured a dozen or so bands and the original members, sounding exactly as they once did. The 75-year-olds swayed and snapped their fingers to the beat of their youth.
For the youth of their generation, J. D. Salinger wrote "Catcher in the Rye," Norman Mailer wrote "The Naked and the Dead," and I recall another coming-of-age novel, "The Outsiders," written by S. E. Hinton, who started the novel when she was 15, confirming the truism: Write about what you know.
Fitzgerald from the perspective of his generation. He was living in the era he wrote about, recording the glitter, the glamour, the gaudy and the music called jazz. (He coined the phrase that encompassed the era: The Jazz Age.) Fitzgerald was more historian than novelist. He wrote for the youth of his time, and even now they remember when they all lived parallel lives.
Until I read his line in Nicholson's essay this morning, it never occurred to me that I am not of the youth of my generation. Living one day after another does not mean you're a day older next daybreak. They do add up and now I'm 78. It doesn't mean I'm older. If you think I'm kidding myself, so what?
Fitzgerald wrote for the youth of Roaring '20s. If I separate myself from the youth rising to full stature now, well, they are so far outside my understanding there is little I can say. I could learn more from them than anything I could say to them. Showing disdain for body piercing and body art is more a reflection on me than on them. This is who they are and how they see themselves.
In spite of doing things we would never even have considered in our own youth, they are educated, mannerly and respectful. They are not rebels without a cause; they are finding themselves and like what they find. They do have peer groups; that much hasn't changed, but they are not bothered by what others might say. Frequently we would have heard, "What will people think?" Now kids say, "If you don't like it, don't look."
The youth in this century is impacted by technology, as we never were. To my mind, they all have interesting toys and I enjoy learning the technique - but even then, our phone is turned off most of the time. It's not fun anymore. The advancements are nothing short of miraculous and I won't give them back but there are things I never would have learned if all I had were the skills being taught today. To which the young can say, "So what?"
I'm laughing at myself as I reflect now on exactly what I did learn. I learned to memorize. And I can rattle off the first 16 lines of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. That's where the line "water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink," came into our common conversation. Some things are never forgotten and others are never learned.
So, if I take Fitzgerald's admonition to heart, I will write to those who were young when I was right there with them. We will laugh at our ineptitude in programming the latest gizmo, and then try to define gizmo for a young listener. "Well, it's a gadget, or anything I don't know the name of, or ... anything that has no name, like a doodad."
Luckily, I don't need to know what it's called to program the VCR (oops, already obsolete!). How could a perfectly good expression like gizmo have lost favor among the young of today?
No matter the era, writers learn to write what they know and to stop writing when they have written all they know on the subject.
And so I will.