Modern Times and The Knucklehead

I’m not supposed to be blogging.

Blogging is for kids. Blogging is what millennials do. It’s the preferred mode of self-expression for college students. Blogging is not for grown-ups.

Blogging is impermanent, insubstantial. Here and gone without a trace. Vaporless. Real writing leaves residue; wastebaskets filled with crumpled first drafts and false starts, nubs of pencils worn down with the industry of real writing. Eraser shavings and coffee rings. That’s real writing.

Blogging is vanity. It thrives on the internet because the internet nourishes the insecure and the self-important. Can’t get anyone to listen to you in real life? On the internet, you have authority. Blogging is for people who think they know better than you, and are finally getting the chance to say so.

I shouldn’t be blogging.

What I ought to be doing is keeping a diary. Sitting down every evening with paper and ink and committing to longhand the thoughts and activities of my day. That’s what worked for previous generations. That’s what grown-ups do. Diaries are tactile, permanent. Real.

The generations who came before us left lots of physical artifacts. Letters, journals. Photograph albums.

Knucks and I kept photo albums. They ran out sometime when he was ten, because that’s roughly when the film ran out. After that, everything went digital. Sure, I could have kept them up, but never seemed to get around to printing the pictures to keep up with them. We did keep up a sort of baseball album. We have a big coffee-table book on ballparks, and every time we knocked one off the list, we’d staple into the book a ticket stub with the final score scrawled on the back, and a picture of us at that park. But that was about it.

Once, we tried scrapbooking. That was after the Las Vegas/Grand Canyon trip, when we filled a small scrapbook with photos, brochures, and ticket stubs. Handwritten captions on little slips of paper. Neither of us is very crafty or artistic, so the result may have earned a C- from the parenting magazines. We discovered it was much more fun to just throw everything loose into a photo album and let it all fall onto your lap in a heap when you opened it. Surprise!

What’s replaced photo albums? Facebook. Isn’t that sad?

What would my grandparents have thought? My parents, for that matter? Facebook?! Are you kidding me? Blogging? Is that even a word?

Yeah, it’s all pretty pathetic. What will The Knucklehead have of mine to pass onto future generations? Nothing like the riches left to me.

Except that I don’t have those riches. It turns out that my ancestors were sort of slackers. No leather-bound journals filled with flowery prose. Almost no letters. A few Bibles. Some typed sermons. But anything I have on paper increasingly needs to be handled with great care. And the photographs? Fading before my eyes. And since film and developing were expensive (or my depression-era parents too cautious to waste resources on), photographs were rare, formal, and staged. Looking through albums of my family gives no sense of daily life, of the mood or personality of those pictured.

Don’t get me wrong, Knucks and I treasure these artifacts, as scarce as they are. But paper, it turns out, is impermanent. The internet is not. This blog, my Facebook page, will exist after I do. They will not fade with time or overuse. They won’t get lost. They won’t burn up in a fire, or mildew in humidity. They’re accessible at any time, from anywhere.

And as far as the content goes, well, I could have used a little more TMI from generations past. If I could sit down with my father right now, it wouldn’t be to engage in deep conversation. I know how the man voted, I know what his religious inclinations were. I know the official bio. I want to know the stuff that didn’t get passed down.

The year my father turned 15, King Kong hit theaters. What did he think of that? Was he dying to go see it with his buddies? Did he have buddies? What about all those great Warner Brothers gangster movies, and Universal monster movies making the rounds at the time – did they hold any attraction for him? Was he following baseball during the summer of ’41 when DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games and Ted Williams hit .406 for the season? What connection, if any, did he have to popular culture as he grew up? What songs made him turn up the radio? Which popular figures passed him off? Who did he think was hot?

None of that is available to me. It’s all available to The Knucklehead, and to knuckleheads to come. It’s silliness, 95% of it, sure, but silliness is what I crave from the people in my past. I have pictures of my mother seated next to my father, with one of us kids her lap, because that was the required pose. Knucks, on the other hand, has a picture of My Bride on the roof with a leaf blower cleaning the gutters, because that idea was awesome. I have pictures of my father in an army uniform, or his clergy robes. The Knucklehead has a picture of me in the living room wearing Cookie Monster pajama bottoms and a Planet Terror T-shirt with the caption, “Who I’m wearing for the Oscar broadcast.”

There’s important stuff online, too. Like this blog. What I might have done 30 years ago with paper and pen, I now do at the keyboard.

People in the past had more traditional medium available to them. That doesn’t mean they took advantage of it. They got caught up in their daily lives, just like we do. We have more options available to us. I’m not fussy about how people document their lives. I’m delighted we have more ways to do it.

I have no idea if this blog, or my social media thumbprint, will be accessible a hundred years from now. I like to think it’ll be available. I like the idea of my descendants knowing I stood for marriage equality at this point in history. I like that they’ll know I thought Bobby Valentine was a bad fit for the Red Sox from the start. That I got all excited when I found out a new Wes Anderson movie was coming out. I think the important stuff (like this blog) and the goofy stuff (like most of the Facebook feed) define me better than either could do separately. I like to think they’ll get a feel of what I was like as a person. I like to think that will help them to know me better. So that they can know themselves.

I like to think my usefulness might outlive me that way.

So maybe blogging isn’t so bad after all. Maybe the kids are onto something. Or maybe we can help each other put whatever technology is in front of us to good use.

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2 Responses to Modern Times and The Knucklehead

  1. Times Diary says:

    A very rich and healthy article after a long time. Loved it.

    • Thank you for reading, and for your comment. I’ve never heard my writing described as “rich and healthy”; I’m humbled by that and will try to live up to it. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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