An 80’s Tale

80’s nostalgia is all the rage.

I look at the things I see and read, and I don’t see the life I had.  I grew up in the 80’s.  My life wasn’t like the kids on “Stranger Things”

My parents didn’t get involved with the counterculture in the 60’s and 70’s.  Most of my relatives didn’t either.

My parents never let me play outside of my own yard.

My parents never let me go walking all over the neighborhood in the early 80’s, or riding my bike anywhere alone until I was about 15 and could drive myself anyway (albeit, on a learner’s permit).

I wasn’t even supposed to close the door on my outdoor playhouse.  I couldn’t walk in the woods next door.  I couldn’t walk to my Uncle’s next door without telling my mother where I was going and why.

When I turned about 12 or 13, I started getting invited to things like parties and little dates and the kind of stuff middle-school kids tend to do to act grown.  Parties with boys present were a hard sell for my parents.  I went to some, vetted to have responsible parents present, but for the most part, the answer was no.  I didn’t get to go where the other kids went.  I begged and occasionally got a reprieve.  I had to have five levels of justification to go to a different church youth group (Methodist instead of Baptist.)

At this point, some people will say, “But you probably didn’t get into as much trouble as those other kids.”

And that isn’t true.  I just fought harder for the gasps of air that I had.  In reality, I missed out on key socialization that I should have gotten earlier on.  I was always very independent, but I wonder how my life would be different, and possibly better now if I had been allowed to flex that independence by being allowed to … walk outside the yard.

There were no rock and roll albums in our house, and the most dangerous country songs was probably an Alabama album.  Most of what my parents listened to when I was a child were Ronnie Milsap, the Statler Brothers, and the Oak Ridge Boys.  When I was old enough to have records of my own to mix in with records about children’s characters, I had to play them on my parent’s record player.  I had a handful of 45’s.  I was about 5 or 6 when I got my first, but they had to be ultra-clean.  No bad words.  No blatant sexual allusions (my parents don’t really register metaphors and symbolism well, so I did get away with some things).  No references to drugs except in the “don’t use them” type of statement.

I did most of my music at other kids houses.

Every kid I knew was getting whatever album they wanted, no matter the content.  They had their own record players.  They had the life you see in “Stranger Things.”

I couldn’t watch most of the most popular shows because they were “filthy”.   My mother had a tough time with anyone in any movie or TV show saying “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” She didn’t even like anyone to say the word “stupid.”  She monitored everything that came, was viewed, or was listened to in our house.

My brother and I got a tape player and a set of Disney cassettes one year for Christmas.  The standard type that held one tape and was black and silver and had a handle on the end.

That tape player was fun.  It let me record my voice. I had a few blank tapes I could record over and play with.  I was desperate for something that would let me listen to whatever I wanted.

Mostly, I did what I wanted to do at other people’s houses.  Watched the movies I wanted to watch. Listened to the current hits.  I remember learning the words to “Beat It” in the woods outside the playground at school.

We didn’t have cable.  Music videos were a precious magical delight to me.

The salvation of my life was Soul Train.  I would watch these people dance without a care.  Sometimes hear something modern before my mother heard something she didn’t like and change the channel.  I would also watch PBS’ Austin City limits occasionally when I could.  The second one was harder.  Came on when my father was in charge of the TV.  From time to time, an artist came on, and my father would say that he “Couldn’t stand” whoever it was and he would flip the channel.  That could mean anything from saying the individual had lyrics he found to be offensive to his sensibilities, or that the individual had displayed politics or said things he despised.  Willie Nelson’s long hair was never on TV for longer than five seconds.

Or, better yet- a mention that my grandfather or some other relative had hated (or did hate) that person—for whatever reason- and the channel was changed.  A Johnny Cash album in my car now will still cause my father to remark every time that his mother didn’t like him as if it was an important matter to my musical taste.

I was not allowed to play Dungeons & Dragons.  I had a few older cousins who played it, but their parents were the aunts and uncles that we weren’t fully encouraged to interact with.  With them, my mother had a social unease because they didn’t attend church regularly and allowed such things in their home.  They also kept beer in the house.  Although my father did drink beer, my mother never kept it in the house.  He could drink beer and other such things elsewhere.  My mother called it all “beer” no matter what variety of alcohol it was.   She never drank.  I don’t know that she has ever drank in her life.  She also has never smoked or done any drugs.  At all.  Such things, to her, are shocking and things to get a bit wide-eyed about.

My father did make homemade muscadine wine once, but he kept it hid in his shed, away from my mother, mixed in with other reused coke bottles full of oil and grease.

My mother didn’t like the men who were famous at the time.  If she ever found anyone famous truly handsome, she never indicated it in any way.  She didn’t watch most soap operas and always changed the channel when a sex scene came on. After a while, she didn’t watch them at all.  She would never get truly wrapped up in the adult conversations – only half paying attention to whatever was on TV.  When it comes to comedies, she laughed at bits that weren’t the actual punchline.

Very little got through the filter.  Either my mother thought it was bad language or too much sex or my father just didn’t like it, or the actor or singer was wrong in some way.

I fought and did my own thing as much as I could.

I had older relatives that were my parents’ age.  They may not have been as uptight as my parents, but certainly managed to go through the 60’s and 70’s without any of their core opinions being affected.  Some were uptight golf republicans—not religious, but still to this day, dress as if it is 1982.   Easy snobbery and dull, mostly unfeeling lives concerned with financial gain alone—they can’t get past the yuppie 80’s stage of their lives.

I wanted to be normal.  Badly.  I wanted to be able to drive my bike all over the place.  I wanted to be the kids who could go play as they wanted to.  I was sometimes able to sneak away and pretend at normal.  I made a point to get the jokes.

Cultural norms were that- norms. Not absolutes.  The extremities of my personal restrictions in my home were fairly unusual in the larger world, but in evangelical homes at the time, were actually par for the course.

Emotionally speaking, I feel my parents didn’t have enough of their own being worked out when they decided to marry and have children.  They never had the chance either.  And I am always working a little more on the ongoing process of life discoveries because of my upbringing.

Either I find a new movie that everyone else saw in 1987 or I find new depth in something forgotten. I listen to music from my childhood that was never played in my home and revel in its richness, no matter who is singing, or what the genre might be. I dive in. I let music engulf me.  I dance with wild abandon and relish in my body’s shakes and rolls and stops.

I am always finding something, even small things, that crack open the door a little bit more.

I still reach out for my normal.   ‘


Rambling about Escapism

Is our culture too invested in escapism?

We have TV everywhere and Netflix and video games and phones.

We are connected all the time.

We can have 650 “Friends” on Facebook and never have met any of them at all in real life.

We binge watch whole seasons of shows on weekends.

We have IMAX theaters where were can fully immerse ourselves in the story.  I remember my first experience with IMAX.  I was in Texas and it was this history film somewhere near the Alamo.  I wasn’t at all sure what I thought about it.  I’m still not sure.

Are we leaving reality behind too much?  Are we escaping so much that we fail to face the blunt force trauma of our own reality?

Do we need to unplug and relish the harshness of life’s cruel bends and clearly face them and solve them, or let them beat us down if that is what Fate has determined must happen?

In all the connectivity, do we grow?  Do we grow in the ways we should grow?  Do we absorb too much the tied-up-in-a-bow tropes and predictable storylines, expecting one day, that things will just “work out” for us, without applying any elbow grease?

Do we live in a world in our head that is almost reality- but not quite, because reality can suck and we don’t want to be there?  Do we let our problems sit, unsolved, unaddressed, un-felt?

Are we stopping ourselves from accepting uncomfortable truths about the lives we live and instead zoning out into something we find pleasant in order to hide?  Do we use these things to abdicate our own responsibility for our choices?

Is it fair to ourselves to hide from a rude or harsh thing that fate has dealt us, if indeed that is the case?  It is better to fall in and embrace the darkness of that fate, rather than create for ourselves a distraction?

I’ve found myself pointlessly watching “The Golden Girls” of late.  While I do laugh occasionally, I sit and wonder to myself at the plotlines.  Am I to believe that women in this age bracket are having relationship and friendship problems that a 14-year-old could clear up for them?  Or even a person much younger?

So why keep watching?  Is there a point?

Why do we watch things just to watch them?  Just to have the noise in the house, the pretend familiarity and warmth?  The illusion of people that are ultimately always safe and who never could actually do any harm to us?

None of us knows how to live a life.  Some of us flounder around trying.  Always attempting to figure it out.  Some people really try.  Some people never seem to care much, and come into this world sitting on a stump with a motionless face and go out the same way.  TV never seems to help much.  Unless you happen to run into some situation involving a comic misunderstanding with characters who only have a few dimensions.

That is where TV also gets us:

We think of people incorrectly, and people portray themselves almost as caricatures. Only a list of qualities based on stock roles.  We lose our complexity.  We fail to see the complexity in others.  We sell ourselves short on experiences and possibilities because of what we believe is fitting for us and who we determine we are.   We define ourselves by music preference and subculture and religion (sometimes as all three at once—as I mentioned in the previous post, everyone I meet thinks that because I am white I am also Christian, Republican, and listen to country music a lot.)

Some people may only be three things.  Maybe they aren’t multi-dimensional.  But maybe it’s because they never gave themselves the chance to be, creating walls of what must be, walls that would never let them change the dial from the country music station to the college amateur DJ hour.

Some of us fools do reach up and twist the knob.

Some of us do eventually turn off the TV and listen to the quiet and cry about our lives and thank our lucky stars for the good things while wondering still why we got passed over for some, and know that living our best lives means we may not ever have everything, but we give it a damn good try as much as we can.  Some of us do hit every station in the market.  Read books on the gods of every religion, and try dancing to alien beats. Some of us grab different wine bottles every time we are in the store just to see how different they taste.  We try the funny-looking appetizers and new fusion cuisine just to give it a shot.  We go to a restaurant without anyone having recommended it to us or looking up reviews, because, if it’s awful, at least we’ll have a story to tell.

Some of us fools allow ourselves to feel out of step with our surroundings.  To feel the discomfort. To realize that some things were our fault, but some things were dumb luck and out of our control.  That trope that hurts the most—the inability to make the magic-30-minute-resolution happen because you did the right things.

At the end, we, the oddballs, drink our totally random wine, sit outside on the steps and hope that maybe somehow, we are gaining wisdom in all our folly.   That we will have enough of wisdom to really feel different one day, but perhaps, that is an illusion too.

The fictional idea I find affects me the most is the “getting it right” idea.  The idea that we will cross a finish line and not make any further bad choices, mistakes, never have a thought come out of our mouth holding the wrong words… that we will somehow one day get everything right.  Our job will never disappear and our stock picks will only go up and we won’t forget we left something in the oven ever again.   Our skin cream will be affordable and eliminate pimples and wrinkles, all our plants will bloom and we will eat a proper diet and somehow extend the daylight hours in a manner that allows us to do it all and tie each day up neat and complete.

Even though I know is absurd, it affects me.  Something about the idea managed to wriggle its way into my brain, past all the TV and movie absurdities about love and heroics and success. This is the part that got through. Getting my choices right.  Staying on top of everything.  Although I know that no one keeps all the plates in the air all the time… I still think sometimes…. That if I could… I would break through to something else.

But there is nothing else.  This is my life.  And I’m living it.  This is it.  All there is.

None of us has the faintest clue what we are doing.