Saturday, September 24, 2011

TV is Getting Dirty (and I'm getting to be an old fogey)

Soaps are coming to an end. ABC even cancelled All My Children. In its place, a cooking show.

I suppose it's a little silly to feel a bittersweet twinge at the thought. I've never really been in to soaps, never really watched them, not the daytime ones anyway. It wasn't out of snobbery or anything; I was into other things. That didn't mean I was ignorant of them. In one of my early jobs post-college, a producer for the studio where I worked was obsessed with Days of Our Lives, and that's what the lunch room TV was tuned to, end. of. discussion. Layne was this brilliant producer, organized and charismatic, who had gorgeous girl next door looks and a tomboy personality. We had so much fun at that job, the young crew of us. Inside jokes, tons of creative and diverse work, and a really neat end result. I kind of knew at the time it was a good gig, but only now, twenty years later, do I really know how amazing and blessed that time was. It's fun to remember. Those soaps, they make me remember. Days of Our Lives, that one in particular, the theme song comes on and I'm back in the lunchroom arguing over the merits of crackers versus bread, while Layne's eyes crinkle and she wins the argument because that's how it worked there and then. But later we will leave little packets of crackers all over her office, and she'll shriek and laugh and give us the point but then will tell us to clean it up.

It was fun.

There was always a lot of fun around -- and made of -- soap operas. Haven't they been part of our lives? (Punny ha ha.)

Don't we all think of Ridge and Thorn as male soap opera character's names? Don't we joke about someone's mother's sister's husband's cousin who came back from the dead, twice, and a coma, once, only to choke on a fish bone at her 10th wedding? Don't we all use "soap opera" as a common adverb and adjective?

It's really about the end of a way of life, and taste in entertainment.

It's good and bad.

Maybe it's hitting me more because of other losses. Maybe it's my age, and the way time and change has seemed to speed up. It feels as if there is not constant any longer, except--as the saying goes--death and taxes. The point of that is really that certain good or comforting touchpoints are dynamic, not static.

In some corner of my mind, it was comforting to know that Susan Lucci as Erica Kane was still on TV doing the same thing on the same show as ten years, twenty years ago and beyond.

On the one hand, I'm keeping up with the times just fine. I know social media! I have the new Facebook! I have an iPhone! I know how to connect a bluetooth! I'm digital, connected, modernized, and up-to-date. I wear polish on my toe nails that is a color off the red or pink color wheel. I've gone to Mermaid! And Midnight! I'm modern!

On the other hand, I feel what I can't help but call fogeyness creep in. What do you mean iPhone 5, what's wrong with this 3 that I got about 10 seconds ago? What do you mean iPad, what's wrong with this phone or my laptop? Books on electronic devices? Does it come with a "smell the new pages" app? New big chain stores? Forget you, I'm sticking to as many local mom and pop as I can.Upgrade my appliances? No way. I bought this house because it still had a dial A/C control; I hate computer panel controls on appliances. They're designed to break after 9.8 years.

Once upon a time things were designed to last a lifetime: houses, appliances, cars, jobs, communities, families...and now a five year plan is long term.

We used to gauge time on a life line. Now we are in what I call tech time, where two years is long and old. We're off slow paced baseball minutes and in to hockey minutes, dizzy speed. My eyes can barely follow the action.

And I'm becoming reluctant to even try to keep up -- why should I?

Me? I'll schedule in lazy Sunday afternoons where we just sit on the back patio and watch the kids play. Remember kid time? When a week felt like forever? I want to feel time drag again.

Watching the kids, though, reminds me why we live in a neighborhood stuck in 1968 and why it feels so precious: kids running the neighborhood is also a passing way of life. I'm not at all ashamed that my daughter is in late elementary school and is struggling to type on a computer. I'm not worried that she's better at climbing trees than fooling with technology. It doesn't bother her, either, or at least not enough to change her ways. I want her to remember simple days and time that drags. I want her to have a time to look back on, a feeling she can pull up and experience in memory, of when Saturday felt like an age, and you could run 100 different lifetimes of games and play within it. I want her to have that, especially when time feels too short to fit in all that needs doing.

I want her to have something that lasts, and I'd love to provide a touchstone for her to bring it all back, like coming to the home she grew up in. The way you can smell vanilla and sugar and remember your grandmother baking pie crust leftover popovers for you.

That's unlikely, though.

So while I'd like to turn around and find one thing still there tomorrow that was here today--something other than death and taxes--that's unlikely too. It really is the intangibles, in the end. It's just nice to have those tangibles, like a soap opera, to remind us. I'll hear the theme of Days of Our Lives and remember Layne, that job, and that time vividly. So long as that show was on, I could turn it on, see the same characters, and in some way, it felt as if that time was still there. It kept it real.

But that time ended, and so are soaps. Time doesn't drag anymore, but it does seem to drag me these days.

So I tell myself, as I'm dragged: Live life at your own pace. Pay attention to what's wonderful now. Quit missing here for trying to figure out where there is going to be. What matters is this minute, not just what's hot tomorrow. Enjoy this moment, log it into memory, without always planning and worrying for the next thing.

At least sometimes.

Bye soaps, and thanks for all the fun and funny you provided. Without you, TV will be a little dirtier, and we'll archive one more tradition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A sense of place

My mother lives in Bastrop. For years my family trekked to Bastrop for vacations and holidays. For years we walked along the Colorado River, either enjoying the Christmas displays or just the pretty scenery. For years we visited her little church and got to know the congregation, her friends. For years we hiked the woods behind her house, and bird watched in the pine trees in her front yard. For years we ate at local hotspots such as Maxine's and got dessert from the soda fountain at the drug store. For years we fell in love with this adorable and quaint little town, whose main downtown street was preserved through the Texas Main Street program, a program my husband learned about back in college and that we admired greatly.

For the last week, we've watched Bastrop burn:
BASTROP, Texas -- The massive wildfire is now 70 percent contained. Tuesday morning, firefighters cleared areas for more residents to return home.

Police removed the barricades at 10 a.m. for the neighborhoods of ColoVista South, Wilderness Ridge, Harmon Road, Cottletown Road, Bastrop State Park, Beuscher State Park and Park Road 1C South.

Inside many of those areas, the ground is burned completely. If feet don't crunch, they sink. The dirt across Bastrop is now like fine sand. Pine trees that once stood full and tall are now bare and charred.
34,000 acres, over $200 million in damages, over 1400 homes, 2 people…gone. One of those homes? My mother's house, the one where we built so many happy memories -- my daughter's second birthday, hurricane evacuations, cousins playing and doing punk hairdos with spray in hair color, our dog casing the yard for errant squirrels while waiting for a hike, Easter egg hunts with plenty of spots to hide eggs under pine needles, sitting on the deck reading, Mother's Day photos framed on my wall taken on the patio, a series of ranunculus photos that were among the first photos I ever sold, maneuvering backwards down her curvy long drive, the feeling of home and holiday we had each time we saw the big white mailbox at the end of her drive that signaled the end of our journey and time for family and fun.

She wasn't living there at the time. She'd leased her home to another family, so it was that couple who lost all their things, a lifetime of photos and music albums the first they named as lost. But we lost that house, that place.

Don't worry, people said, your mother has her other house and she can always rebuild, it's just things.

Oh no, it's not just things, it's a place. It's a place lost, a neighborhood lost, a community lost. Things, yes, they can be replaced, but a place cannot.

Odds are whatever is rebuilt next door will not be the green-trimmed log cabin where two elderly sisters lived, nor will it include their brave, exquisite little garden working to survive under such a canopy of pine trees that dripped daily spiky threats on the fragile flowers.

A canopy of trees now gone, land laid flat and bare for years and years now.

Quirky Tahitian Village, a strange Polynesian paradise themed neighborhood with homes of local stone and brick incongruously resting on streets named Mauna Kea Lane that wind and curve and rise and fall in the hilly country. Gone.

The Spanish hacienda, with full stucco wall around it, that sat arrogantly in a verdant lot surrounded by towering trees rather than dusky mountains and sand. Gone.

"Will they rebuild, do you think?" an older man at a local donation center asked me on Saturday.

Such a question. So many just assume. They think, with sympathy and good-intention, that the phoenix of this small, tight-knit community will rise from the ashes.

"I don't know," I said, truthfully. "My mother won't. A lot of her neighbors were elderly, a lot didn't have insurance. I just don't know. I imagine a lot of people will, if they can. I think a lot will decide this is it, a sign, or something, and they'll move somewhere else, maybe to a retirement home or nearer to kids."

He nodded, "I thought so. Yeah, I thought so. It's too bad, to lose their place."

I nodded too, my eyes stinging, a hot hole in my upper chest. He understood. I understood. It's gone. It will never be the same. The biggest loss of all is the place.

Please donate to American Red Cross, who has been such a help and savior for so many in Bastrop, and beyond. They helped in places of fire, flood, hurricane and storm. All at the same time. Thank you.