Friday, November 15, 2013

Ruminating on the Age of Lost Innocence

Like millions of people - well, females - I have one eye on the calendar waiting for November 22 so I can stand in really long lines and go see Catching Fire.  The difference from me and the others is that I'm probably on average three decades older than most of them, but let's just say I'm young at heart and let it go at that, shall we?  Personally, I "caught fire" if you will on the series after a dear friend of mine gave me a copy of The Hunger Games to read on the plane back to Pittsburgh after I had been in Austin for business.  I'm a slow reader because I have to visualize everything, and if I don't like the scene I create in my head, I'll re-read it and try again (a real bitch when reading A Song of Fire and Ice, trust me, because it's so richly detailed and it's easy to lose subtle plot points in the search to picture horrific scenes of torture, rape and battle), but in this case I, if you'll pardon the pun, devoured it.  I don't think I finished it on the plane, but I made a serious dent, and it was only days before I was trolling book stores for the other two of the series.  If anything, I read those faster.  I could not put them down.  But they are brutal reads.  The last one in particular made me feel like I had taken a serious punch to the gut.  I was emotionally, almost physically, spent as I closed it for the last time and I remember thinking, "That's meant for young adults?!"  There are some things that clue you in to that fact:  the author skims over tedious details, like a trial, that tweens wouldn't have the patience for, and then there is the love triangle that focuses more on the awakening of our innate sexuality and the confusing emotions that come along with it rather than actual sex.  But in terms of painting a bleak canvas of a savage and cruel existence, she doesn't pull any punches because her core audience is too young for a driver's license.  That got me to thinking about the other "young adult" series I've read both when I was actually young versus what has come out lately and I've concluded that there was a shift somewhere along the way in what we think we should expose our kids to, and currently it is that the world can be an ugly place and we might as well get our kids ready for that fact early.

Take the Harry Potter series v. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit for instance.  In the beginning little Harry Potter was facing adventure that had a tinge of danger like all the other series I had ever read, but it was still pretty light and fun stuff.  Boy, that changed by the end, didn't it?  Tell me true, did you cry when Dumbledore died?  If you didn't, then you're made of stouter stuff than me.  I sobbed.  I originally theorized that, as time went on, J. K. Rowling's own children got older and her writing got better, so the themes of the books developed with what her own children could emotionally handle and she could write, but maybe it was more than that.  So, looking at the The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, the biggies of fantasy literature in my young days, to compare the battles and the danger those heroes face one realizes it's all relatively tame.  As a matter of fact, when I re-read The Hobbit last year to get ready for the film, I was surprised by how glossed over the Battle of Five Armies was.  There was some sadness involved of course, but it was certainly not taken out and explored to the dark depths that Suzanne Collins did in her series.  Narnia for its part went through some tough times, but there was always a happy ending that involved mercy and goodness, and when creatures "died" they either came back to life or wandered off with Aslan.

If you want to trot out The Lord of the Rings to refute all this, let me remind you that it was not a children's series, we were just precocious children who read them anyway.  And really, think about how even that, as dark as that theme was, doesn't hold a candle to all the blood and gore we're rolling around now when we pick up a George R. R. Martin book.  Now, if you want to make the case that we were expected to use our imaginations more than we expect of our own children, that is a sustainable debate.  But the fact of the matter is, I still maintain that authors didn't spell out the world was an ugly place and heroes have to survive it somehow and make peace with that fact as best they can.  They put ugly things in it and then let the heroes defeat them.  In the end, I think that's the biggest difference.

But, here's the question I'm really asking.  Why?  What changed?

It's not a post 9-11 reaction.  Or maybe it is.  But, the world is no more evil of a place than it was when I was growing up.  Think about it.  My parents lived during the time the planet saw arguably the greatest evil ever unleashed in the Third Reich.  Fifty million people died during World War II, six million of them just because of their religion or sexual orientation.  And they didn't die pretty, easy deaths - not there is such a thing.  The world doesn't get any uglier than the global conflicts of the 20th century.  Then follow that up with the Cold War, and I was born into a time when we could not deny that life could be hard, unfair and tainted by true evil.  Yet, my parents sheltered me from all of that, as did many parents, and made me feel I lived in a secure world where, if I kept true and worked hard, all things would be alright.  My dad in particular certainly knew that wasn't necessarily true, but somehow seemed intent to shelter my childhood from that.  Did he do me a disservice that we're correcting in our own children?  Or did he give me, as best as he knew how, a happy childhood knowing that I would learn the hard lessons of life soon enough, so I should be allowed time to feel secure in the message I got from my books that right was might, not the other way around.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Six-Time Champion Elephant in the Room

Memories of better sports days
Okay, I'm back to the sports posts that aren't really about sports.  But I figured many of you are sort of wondering what my reaction to the Steelers worst season in half a century is, and in particular wondering how I'm handling the most points put up on them in their 81 year history by a team I absolutely hate.  Well.  I'll tell you.  I'm not happy about it.

But, really, it's not as catastrophic as I thought it would be.  There are a few reasons for that:  the Penguins are doing well (last night being an exception - they were killed by the Rangers, but that's the way it goes in hockey sometimes and the season is a long one, so a bad game here or there just doesn't ruin one's outlook).  Then there is truth to the concept that misery loves company.  It's easier to survive a down period like this in one sense while surrounded by others who are equally as shocked and dismayed, as opposed to having to deal with the teasing and chiding of Cowboys fans.  Of course, as I've said before, Steelers fans practice tough love with their team, so there is the aspect of having to deal with their complaining and armchair quarterbacking.  I've come to learn it's just part of the culture here to speak openly and frankly.  Someone from the outside would call it speaking without thinking maybe.  But, people here are just completely earnest and expect you to have the same thick skin they have adopted all their lives.  If they think you're a dumb ass, they'll tell you.  To your face.  Deal with it.  So there is a lot of that going on and everyone from Todd Haley to Ben Roethlisberger's wife seems to fall into the dumb ass category and share some responsibility for the current predicament depending upon whom you talk to, and I don't always, or even often, agree with it, but there is the sense that we're all going through it, not just the team.  Because one thing I will say:  they truly do bleed Black and Gold here.  And I didn't dilute that any of course; my blood runs as thick as any native.

There seem to be two schools of thought however:  the group who are mad and more intent on finding blame and gritching about it, to the group who are desperately trying to show that they remain loyal to the team, win or lose.  I fall into the latter category, intent on draping myself head to toe in black and gold whenever I'm out and about and still hanging out all my trappings every Sunday so that anyone driving down the street will know that a REALLY BIG STEELERS FAN lives here.  But, no matter what camp you're residing in, you're just sort of shell shocked.  There's really no other way to put it.  And there's no other way to be.  I mean there are reasons for the slide.  Back when I was writing the sports blog, I covered them in a couple of posts:  they've been playing shell games with the salary cap for years for one thing.  But, just like happens when you're carrying your personal finances on credit, the bill comes due eventually.  And then there's just the parity in the league thing where we've been on the top of the pile for a long time and eventually the pile just shifts.  For everyone but the damn Patriots, it would seem.  Yet, even though it was our time to languish a bit, no one - and I do mean no one - saw this coming.    I could not have imagined it, I can tell you.  And even if I could have, I couldn't have imagined that I could have survived it.  I need the team and their success, I would have told you.

But, here's the thing.  I do hate it.  I hate it for myself, I hate for all of the team, most of whom are good people who work hard.  I hate it for Coach Tomlin.  I hate it for the Rooney family.  And I hate it for all the fans.  Yet, I'm surviving.  The sun comes up.  I laugh about other things.  I cry about other things on occasion.  I walk the dogs twice a day.  I struggle to keep the leaves raked up.  A battle I'm losing by the way.  I work, I watch TV, I try to read when I can (still trying to get Arya away from Harrenhal), and I fit some sleep in there.  Just like I would if the Steelers were 6-2 instead of 2-6.  And I'm doing all of it with a relative calm.  Turns out, I don't need the Steelers to be my happiness.  I have more control of that myself than I knew.  They don't need to be my prop to shield me from grief or hardship.  Maybe I did need them in that first couple of seasons after Kelsey died and when my mom was sliding, but now I don't really.  And I don't know if I could have ever realized that if the Steelers hadn't taken a one way dive off a very steep cliff.  So maybe I ought to be grateful that I know I have that strength now.  But maybe I won't go so far as to say I'm happy to have learned the lesson this way.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Life Goes On

There is a rhythm that is returning to my life alone.  As much as there can be with dogs in the house anyway.  That routine that I talk so much about is more or less back, just a little different than it used to be, but I'm getting settled in to it and, for me, that is the key to being able to accept it.  I even had an interesting sensation last Saturday that I hadn't felt in a really long time:  I was completely free to do what I wanted with no one wondering where I was or waiting for me to get home.  Marissa was at her boyfriend's, the day was nice enough that the dogs could stay outside and be comfortable.  So, I was completely left to my own devices.  I could go where I wanted or do what I wanted for as long as I wanted.  What did I do?  I went Christmas shopping, got my oil changed and went grocery shopping.  Whoo-hoo, party animal!  But, despite the rather boring agenda, it was almost exhilarating in its own odd way to just be able to wander around for as long as I felt like it.

Later, as I sat at home and watched what I wanted (hockey), I began to fret a little.  Could it be that I would get so comfortable - or at least used to - living alone that it will derail us when my husband comes home in a couple of years?

I tried to research it.  I am a lazy researcher really, so when I didn't find just a plethora of data immediately, I got bored with it and gave it up.  But I did find a study done by Rand Corporation that proved out that the longer military personnel are deployed, the higher their divorce rate becomes.  I doubt anyone is reacting in shock over that little bit of news, but there was nothing but conjecture about why.  PTSD probably plays a role - how could it not, but one article I read speculated that people just grow apart.  But what does that mean?  Their interests change, their friends change and they get into different rhythms that don't gel any longer?  Makes sense.  But why is it that grown children can move away and get friends and have experiences their parents don't, yet still have a deep and meaningful relationship with their parents?  Maybe it's because they aren't living together.  Maybe that proximity just makes all the difference.  Like two now strangers trying to come back together.

I mean, for all of your readers who are married, think how interesting the first year of marriage was:  trying to mesh two different people's habits and routines.  There is the sorting out of what's mine, what's yours and now it's all ours.  Learning to remember to call if you're going to be late so the spouse doesn't worry.  Learning not to be upset when the spouse forgets to call.  Learning how to share the television schedule and not be jealous when the husband wants a poker night or the wife wants a Girl's Night Out.  And that's all when you're freshly in love, young and energetic and coming off a period of dating where, odds are, you were together.

Therefore, it stands to reason that after a period of time apart we all tend to go back to the coping skills we had as singles.  We get used to singular control of the remote control.  We get used to running around on a Saturday doing whatever it is we want to.  And we figure out how to cope with all those stressors that at first we thought would be our un-doing after our spouse was gone:  keeping up with the untold amounts of falling leaves, figuring out how to turn the outside faucet off for the winter, and simply being alone and lonely.  So once that life becomes comfortable, the spouse returns and shakes it all up again.  For both of them.  That's got to be a challenge.  It doesn't take an expensive study to tell you that a lot of couples can't handle that many major life-changing events.  The question is going to be whether we can.  But, that's for later.  For now, I've still got some sorting out of how my life will look and be in the meantime, and I've got to let go of worry over about things I can't control right now.  Leave it to me to overthink a pleasant Saturday afternoon.  For now, I hope for more of those, and I promise myself to just enjoy them with no guilt attached.  Because life goes on.