Awash in dangerous nostalgia

When an author’s novels are set in the world of his childhood, the nostalgia of those old days might come out of the woodwork and turn his writing into melodrama. That’s the last thing I want.

St.-John Perse

One of my favorite poets, St.-John Perse, wrote in “To Celebrate a Childhood,” (which most of today’s critics would consider overly dramatic), “Other than childhood, what is there in those days that is not here today?”

Wikipedia Graphic

Depending on how you see the question, the answer can be either “everything” or “very little.” I have this paradoxical view of my own childhood in the Florida Panhandle. Every once in a while, somebody posts a photograph of an old appliance on Facebook and asks “who knows what this is?” My generation knows; younger people seldom know.

Pork Chop Gang

The same is true with the news that was common during my childhood years: themes and practices, and people that I often reference in my books such as “Wop Salad” and Florida’s notorious “Pork Chop Gang.” (I feel no nostalgia for these two things, by the way.)

My nostalgia arises when I think of Boy Scout camping trips, all the hours spent sailing, scuba diving, and water skiing down at the coast, delivering telegrams and newspapers, and exploring the panhandle’s backroads–many not paved–in my old car. And, too, I recall old friends, many of whom taught me how to love the panhandle–something I thought I would never do. (As a California native, I was always considered an outsider.)

KKK

If I learned anything scary in those days (except during the Cuban missile crisis), it was to fear the KKK because they were everywhere, and I wonder now–as I did then–how many family friends and acquaintances were members.  I’m surprised we never had a cross burnt in our front yard because my folks were liberal, we went to a liberal church, and people we knew well had experienced the wrath of the Klan. (No nostalgia here, by the way.)

My novel Mountain Song and my trilogy of novels in the Florida Folk Magic series have scenes set in the Florida Panhandle. Since these novels overlap the world of my childhood, I worked hard to keep the melodrama out of them. It’s often a fight because memories ofter bring back times when one was hurt or frightened or disrespected.

Keeping melodramatic personal memories out of the stories is part of an author’s work. That’s not always easy to do because, as I think of them, I’m as pissed off now as I was then. (The Campbell motto is “Forget Not.”) But I think we have to draw a line between our personal histories and our stories when we write novels. If we don’t, the novels can easily turn into rants rather than compelling fiction.

If you write, and if you set your stories and novels into the past you experienced, do you have trouble keeping your personal feelings out of it?

Malcolm 

‘Sex and the City’ is so yesterday, but we still care, right?

“In a turn of events arguably more dramatic and interesting than anything that ever happened on their hit show, Sex and the City stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall have made their private tensions very, very public.” – Flavorwire in “The ‘Sex and the City’ Feud Just Got Very Public and Very Ugly”

While searching for real news that matters, most of us see links for those horribly tedious slide shows with titles such as “Secrets of Mayberry” and “What You Never Knew about Bewitched” and “What the Producers of Bonanza” never told you.”

Since these shows, filmed in television’s stone age, are still airing in reruns and (apparently) have large audiences who also care about the arguments, practical jokes, and other politically incorrect stuff that happened when the shows were first aired, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that cast squabbles from “Sex in the City” still make the news fourteen years after the series ended.

Is caring about these shows in 2018 a nostalgia thing? Is it a respite from the hideous real news we’re subjected to every day? While they’re mindless and filled with more ads than content, I have to admit that those darned slideshows about stars who are mostly dead by now are a very escapist–yet possibly healing–antidote to the polarized Facebook debates about current issues.

Like the comments on many news sites, Facebook “debates” seem to bring out the lunatic fringe of trash-talking know-it-alls who are proud that they have been brainwashed either by the Republicans or the Democrats and gauge the value of their responses to the number of times they use the F word, the C word, and the S word. Gosh, all this makes Opie and Andy and Aunt Bea look pretty good.

Parker – Wikipedia photo

As Flavorwire reports, “‘You are not my family,’ Kim Cattrall told former co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, via Instagram. ‘You are not my friend.'” Okay, but does airing these squabbles in public enhance your lives or your public’s lives? It sounds pretty “high school” to me.

Perhaps I should mention that I never watched “Sex and the City” because it aired on a premium channel and nothing about it tempted me to add HBO to my cable menu. Yes, we had cable in those days and, like the show, cable also is so yesterday.

Like “Seinfeld,” my impression of some “Sex and the City” cast members was that they were basing their lives on one show. So what have y’all done lately, I wanted to know. If those shows were, as Dr. Phil might say, “defining moments,” I can see why y’all can’t seem to move on into the present of 2018. I have a bit of empathy for that problem because even though the good old days really weren’t that good, some aspects of them were defining moments, even if that doesn’t include the episode where Opie shoots a bird out of a tree with his slingshot.

So, I can be nostalgic, too, but isn’t it time to move on?

–Malcolm

 

In remembrance of things past: stuff that’s gone with the wind

“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”
― Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

I miss lots of things. Some day, you will, too. You’ll tell your children and others who are forced to listen to your nostalgia about the best of what you had and how nobody cares about it any more.

In no particular order, here’s today’s remembrance of things past:

  • paregoricBeing allowed to purchase paregoric and codeine over the counter at a drug store.
  • Endive (escarole) and watercress in grocery store produce departments.
  • A smaller federal government.
  • A society that didn’t expect parents to monitor their kids’ activities 24/7 and actually allowed them to walk or ride bikes to school.
  • People who came over to dinner who talked to me around the table rather than talking and texting with people who weren’t there.
  • Family doctors who actually treated things rather than sending everyone off to see a specialist who charged a whole lot more money to tell you what you already knew.
  • Bubble gum with baseball cards.
  • endiveBaseball before it had a playoff system prior to the World Series.
  • Weddings that didn’t cost $25,000 to $50,000.
  • A dial tone.
  • Coffee in a one-pound can or sack.
  • Woolworth’s, McCrory Stores, A&P, Foremost Milk, and Grapette.
  • Neighborhoods where people didn’t own automatic weapons for whatever reasons they own them now.
  • Vent windows in cars.
  • McCroryThe Atlantic when it was called The Atlantic Monthly and published fiction and poetry rather than being a quasi-political magazine.
  • Book review sections in most major newspapers.
  • Reporters who didn’t find ways to get their personal opinions into their stories.
  • The Hardy Boys.
  • Cameras that used film.
  • Young people who didn’t expect to have (right out of college) the kinds of houses, cars and furnishings their parents took a lifetime of hard work to acquire.
  • Christmas decorations that weren’t put out before Thanksgiving and weren’t thrown out before nightfall on December 25th.
  • A restaurant entrée that included meat, several vegetable side dishes and a salad rather that a slice of nearly raw meat perched on top of sautéd greens and a swipe of colorful sauce across the plate prepared by a food stylist.
  • twistedclawcoverPlaying outside with old toys and a lot of dirt.
  • Clean rivers.
  • Multiple varieties of U.S.-grown apples.
  • Stuff in stores that wasn’t encased in hard-to-remove clear plastic.
  • Route 66.
  • Airports without TSA.
  • Seeing a movie in a theater for $1.00.
  • Buying a candy bar for 50₵
  • Having a ₵ sign on my keyboard.
  • Silver dollars and $2 bills.
  • Catalogue, Hallowe’en and Doughnut rather than Catalog, Halloween and Donut.
  • Getting a margarita without an act of Congress to have it served without ice, without goofy flavorings and with salt around the rim of the glass.
  • A wedge of lettuce with thousand island dressing with the blue plate special at the lunch counter.
  • City streets before texting.
  • Gas stations where the attendant pumped the gasoline, washed the windows, checked the oil and water, and swept the car floors with a whisk broom.
  • A Walmart-free town.

–Malcolm