I am routinely upbraided by two well-intentioned groups of people for my less-than-flattering assessment of literary skills and habits of people today. My opinion is that as readers we are lazy, complacently accepting generally poor-quality material, and rushed by ill-formulated priorities into preferring sound-bite presentations over substantive reads. Supporting my detractors’ arguments is the fact I consider the crux of the “problem” distills into simply reduced intelligence, or at least an unwillingness to apply existing intelligence. Intelligence in danger of entering atrophy if not a vegetative state.
One group who would take me to task is composed of my own generation, or people just either side of the number of years that define this crotchety old ‘bastid.’ They allow as youth, who they assume to be my target population, can be excused for lack of experience. In fact, those very youths demand they not be excused for any reason, that their standards be accepted as legitimate in situ, as-is, unmodified, extolled and revered without adjustment or counterbalance. When they cannot understand something they correctly consider non-confrontational, they consider it my fault they do not understand. I suppose that’s fair.
What really rankles this first group is that I have the temerity to include (to their logic) a disproportionate number of them in the deficient category. That comes first because many, if not most of them, certainly the ones failing to “understand” why I consider them so, want desperately to be considered part of the youth movement. They break their necks, fingers, and cellphone pads assimilating every emoji, acronym, and silly turn of phrase to be cool, hip, with-it, and in-the-know. When, they aren’t, can’t be, and even the youth don’t want them to be. Second, well, many of them are, um, deficient. Because, I suspect that’s easier than working to understand.
The other group suggesting I make unfair demands is the youth. Don’t get me wrong. There are many, many sharp younger people out there. I learn something from them every day, but I do not try to become part of that youth. That, I consider an insult to me and to them. I think with any success in doing that, we’d lose two valuable outlooks. Outside general exceptions, youth’s preference is for written work less than one-hundred words, rife with emoji and half-assed abbreviations, preferably with pictures supplanting most text without regard to the image’s relevance to subject matter. Okay. I can accept all that. It’s chapter MMXX of one of the longest-running stories.
Now. Many folks just don’t get me, what I have to say, the way I say it, and often as not, what they perceive are my politics, religion, and underwear size. None of that is important except understanding what I say. Not agreeing. Certainly not converting. Just understanding. So as not to run off reporting me as the one mentally deficient. It’s my hope I misread that as a matter of intelligence. Cause comes down to many things, but I’m going to allow (hope) it’s not a matter of real intelligence, that my perception ultimately reduces to the LCD: context.
Context here is that interpretation of life in an instant, your instant, my instant, anyone’s instant, is defined, appraised, bought-and-sold based on context: what has taken place up to the point of examination. Youth considers that they are experiencing things I never have and never will experience. Aw, shit. I mean, even the old gaffs lined up against me disallow that argument. Okay, then, it’s that those same experiences are different. Well, hell yeah. We now are left with a problem of meaning lost in interpretation or in the fact there is no translation at all. Again, that’s perceived my fault. It’s not.
I’ve had my heart broken, young people. Many times. There are different heartbreaks. None other than painful. Surely, I’ll have my heart broken again, but likely not in the way you are experiencing now. Next-up heartbreak for me focuses on profound empathy for others’ suffering romantic heartbreak. Sons, daughters, and other youth. I will feel my own, different heartbreak when I lose more of my friends, family. That will continue. It will eventually taper-off as at some point there will be no one left to lose, the last-man-standing concept. Happens to us all as time marches inexorably on.
I’ve had experiences you, young and older folk, have not. Yet. You will. Mostly. You’ve had experiences I have not and will not. I’ve never given birth, never performed open-heart surgery, never gave an enema to a walrus. Maybe you have. You make allowances and I’ll make allowances. If you ever saw brains leak irreplaceably from a man’s skull, if you’ve been splashed with blood that moments later, its warmth cooled away by wind or time, becomes a viscous, ferrous stink, you know unpleasant. I’ll grant you some of you have seen what would turn my stomach. If you share that in your writing, fine; I can take it, or if not, walk away. For the sake of context, you can’t hold my experience against me. Nor I yours.
Now this part is my fault. I’m not going to apologize, and it won’t change. If you recognize it, you’ll know when to laugh, when to be righteously pissed, and when to dismiss that I’m full of shit. An old guy, I speak (write) using hyperbole, with liberal doses of snide, caustic, irony, cynical, facetious, and humor to make points. All based on my context.
Have you been keeping-up older folks? Good, I know we’re something over five-hundred words, but we’ll be done soon. Maybe we’ll have a picture at the end.
Here’s the deal: your context lays smartly down right over mine. There are a few wrinkles, a few sticky-outie edges but on the whole it’s a pretty fair match. If that offends you, lay my context over yours. I don’t care. Do it your way.
I know what I like. I know what I don’t like. That sounds stupidly simple and redundant. It’s not. One is not simply the antithesis of the other. In the middle there’s a huge chunk of no-man’s land falling into “Meh” territory. What I find beautiful is the overlap of my defined territories and yours. Context marks those territories sometimes, blurs boundaries other times.
Point is, if I tell you that’s “some shit,” you have to put it in or keep it in context. On the one hand “Hey look at that! She pulled-it off! That’s some shit!” is completely different from, “The story he gave was some pile of shit.” Context. Which means: you have to build your own context without destroying mine; you have to identify proper context; you have to allow legitimacy of different contexts; and you can’t get all pissy when your context feels violated.
Finally, realize compared to others you might just be (momentarily) stupid, ignorant, uneducated, or unsophisticated. Happens to me all the time: compared to others, I’m sorely in need of sharpening, daily. Pour a second cup of coffee or another cola. Get the damned dictionary. Or open a new window. (Another window, you see, older people…)
You try. I’ll try.
I lied about the picture.