So what are these posts about…?
From time to time I tell myself that I’m going to sit down each day and write about the various and sundry inputs that pass through my life and record some of the random rot that goes on from day to day. In general, I don’t expect this to be especially interesting to anyone else unless they have a hidden streak of curiosity or voyeurism but both of those things represent a large proportion of what the blogging world is about, so mayhaps I err in my assertion.
As anyone who’s read this blog for a while will note, I have spent the past several months reading very current publications. Thanks to GoodReads and publishing houses who are eager for readers to talk (and write about) their latest, I’ve had no shortage of books piled up on my shelves… and my desk… and the floor… and other people’s desks, shelves and floors. It’s been gratifying, to an extent, to have anyone give a hoot about what I had to say about a book and it has satisfied my material urges quite nicely. There’s nothing quite like having things just show up in the mail seemingly at random. However, as I was moving some stuff about the apartment in preparation for actual furniture to arrive, I happened upon the pile of books I was working on before the glut of new material started showing up about a year ago. This was chock full of booksale finds, old editions of classic literature and lots of very deep non-fiction titles. In a fit of nostalgia I pushed aside the new and shiny and sat down with an old copy of one of Ray Bradbury’s short story collections and I can’t help but feel the proverbial worm has turned and the fad of new and flashy has passed.
Looking back on my history a bit, there was a time when I refused to read anything less than 100 years old. The reasoning went somewhat along the lines that if people still bother to read it after 100 years then it MUST be worthwhile. I don’t think I’m ever likely to go quite to that extent again, I have revived my appreciation for the old musty, dusty and trusty.
In general, when I think of Bradbury, I tend to lump him in with the pulp sci-fi writers from the 50s with their robots and rocket ships but this is a misconception drawn from my failure to read him often enough. It takes all of about 10 pages to realize that Bradbury isn’t writing about technology at all really. He’s writing about people (and societies) and the way they change as their world changes and becomes more technological. That’s a much deeper and potent conversation to have than anything you might get from the average sci-fi writer of the period. In particular, three stories from the first quarter of the book struck me today as relevant to us today. It should be noted that anything I write below will be a complete and utter spoiler so consider yourself warned.
In ‘The Pedestrian’ the year is 2052 and a man is out for a stroll. He walks through neighborhood after neighborhood and meets no one. The streets are quite as a morgue, the entire population tucked up in their houses watching the television as he makes his way along. Finally, the police, or what little is left of the police force since everyone is so well behave, find him and arrest him for his non-conformity, assuming that if he’s out on the street then he must be guilty of something. The world today, while not descended quite to this situation, seems well on its way. Children no longer play outside; they sit on the sofa and play video games. What will the world be like in another 40 years when those children grow up to all be adults who are sitting on their sofas doing whatever people will do with their time?
‘The Flying Machine’ is set in China in 400 A.D. and reads more like an Aesop’s Fable than a modern short story. The story begins as Emperor Yuan awakes to find a man flying over the countryside in a suit of his own making. The man’s clever invention gives him the power of the birds and invokes considerable envy from the Emperor. Fortunately (or unfortunately as you choose to see it), the Emperor sees that no good will come of this and orders the man and his suit destroyed before the populace can learn of the invention and do insane with greed to all own one. One can see easily the historical backdrop of the story as mankind develops newer and more effective bombs to blow himself out of existence throughout the 50s. Times haven’t changed much since, sadly.
Lastly, we have the story titled simply, ‘The Murderer’. The time is, from Bradbury’s perspective, the not-so-distant future. I would argue that in many ways Bradbury’s prophesied time has come. The protagonist in our story is a typical man of his times. Everywhere he goes he is treated to music and advertising. His house talks to him each time he comes in the door to make sure he takes off his muddy shoes. His wrist radio keeps him in touch with his wife and friends every few minutes tracking their every movement from their progress on the way home to what they had for dinner. His world is one of simply too much connectedness in which there is nary a moment of quiet to be had. Finally, in a fit of pique he begins to take his vengeance and win back his freedom. He stomps on his radio; pours ice cream into his car stereo, pummels the computers in his home…. until he’s carted off by the police as a deviant. All this brought to mind our current world. We are now so connected that I know what people have for dinner despite the fact that I haven’t seen them in 20 years. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and a million other services, I feel like I have some connection to people that in reality… I don’t. Some of them tell me every day about what they did that day yet I wouldn’t recognize them if they walked straight past me on the street. After this I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone and haven’t looked back since. There’s a place for connectedness but it really has to be on one’s own terms and at a time of one’s choosing.
Now, of course, in a fit of irony, I will go on about what I had for dinner last night. Before the play, we journeyed to “The Chatham Tap” on Mass Avenue and had the most marvelous artichoke and spinach pizza in the known universe. I’ve heard it said that “artichokes will substitute for any meat” but I am increasingly convinced of the truth of this. It is my hope that the artichoke remains unpopular, however, so that more are left for me. It would be regretable if they should ever reach $20/pound. I might fritter away my entire salary on these delectable and under appreciated vegetables.
Teeny Tiny Theatres
After the delightful ‘chokes, we took ourselves to Theatre on the Square. I’ve been a fairly consistent visitor there for a while and it never ceases to amaze me that such places exist. As a rather shy person, I tend to worship anyone who can get in front of a crowd and speak confidently. Because of this, it’s rather giddy to go see a play that is so close to your seat that you have to keep your feet under your seat for fear of tripping the actors. It also makes me happy to go somewhere that the LGBT community is embraced and welcomed with such open arms. This is Indiana so it’s far from a given that people are going to accept such differences. It’s nice to know there’s an island of openness and sanity even in the heart of the Midwest.
OK, that’s it. That’s what made me think on May the 25th. Any feedback or commentary is, as always, appreciated.