Forward into the past - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Forward into the past

That was a line from a Firesign Theatre album. It is also the name of a one-day symposium on something historical or other. It’s a line that has stuck in memory, due to the continuing lack of an available brain defragmenter. Another such line is, “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?” I’ll deal with that one later.

We, the British, have a long and noble tradition of sit-com’s, the majority of which do not transfer well to other languages, countries and cultures. But then again, ask yourself this, in how many other countries was “My Mother the car” re-made in its native language? Even in countries that believe in reincarnation the number of remakes was low. Nil, even.

My apologies. I let my mind wander as Willie Nelson once said.

So, from the ruin that is my unfragmented brain comes a line from a British sit-com of yesteryear. Some teenage type was complaining that his parents were not “with it” or “up to date” enough. With apologies for the outdated jargon. The character then continued to ask, rhetorically, “Why do you live in the past Dad?” to which one of the other characters replied, “Why shouldn’t he? After all, the beer’s cheaper for one thing”. By the way, I hate rhetorical questions. Don’t you? The lower price of beer IS a good reason for living in the past, were it possible.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. And although we are continually told time only moves in a forward direction, we are nonetheless drawn backwards by our memories. We were always thinner, fitter, funnier – select and apply your own adjectives – back in the past. TV shows were funnier, politicians were trustworthy, cigarettes were harmless and cholesterol had yet to be invented.

I’ll wager a few of you even saw images of some of those thoughts, maybe even in monochrome, which is a fairly standard nostalgia inducing effect. What was the biggest winning film at this year’s Oscars? I rest my case. Largely because I can’t think of any other examples I can use to make my point.

So then. The good old days. Were they really?

Harken back to the 60’s. Yeah, good music plenty drugs and peace and love and all that, but also Vietnam, Civil Rights marches and more. What is also undeniable is that the attitudes of those years are the parents of the attitudes of the following decades.

It was Hermann Goering who said, “When I hear the word “Culture” I reach for my revolver. I only have an imaginary revolver, but I reach for it whenever I hear some brain dead space kidette hippy shrug and repeat something as asinine as, “It’s all just energy changing from one form to another.” Yes, I know. But could you be a little more specific please? Are we talking about nuclear fusion as is currently happening in the inner layers of the sun, or an interracial rape in Soweto by an AIDS infected man? Both of those and others are examples of what you have just said, and I am sure I could think of at least three others.

We have a version of this same malaise in Britain. My Father had it. Every so often he would start to complain that today wasn’t a patch on “the good old days.” “We had so much then that we don’t have now” he would intone gravely. “Yeah. Things like rickets, outdoor lavatories, tuberculosis, poverty and World War 2” we would comment, already fed up to the back teeth with this frequent chant, although still only in our early teens. Of course, now the closer I get to the age my Father was then, the more I suffer from this same disease. And it IS a disease. I am not at ease. I am dis-eased. And I am not one to diss the state of ease.

 I am already well into the stage of despair with the music of the youth of today. I mean, why can’t they make music like they used to? Like Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, you know, the Devil’s music that your great Grandparents hated. But this kind of music is directly responsible for the music of today. As are the attitudes. Evolution isn’t just an animal thing you know.

I’ll wager many of the bankers we love to think are responsible for the global crash of 2008 were children of baby-boomers raised in liberal households. In fact the more you think about it the more obvious it becomes. They were left to develop “naturally” by parents who believed virtues like honesty and compassion just came from heaven, like rain or snow, rather than being the fruits of self-discipline.

I got that last line, or at least the sense of it, from a book of Zen Bhuddist texts, from a peace entitled, “No attachment to dust.” It contains another line that resonates. “A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. They may only be guarding their wisdom carefully”. And the easiest way to hide it? Be amongst people who don’t listen. Who have forgotten that skill. Our parents and elders were not always trying to instruct us in the ways of the past, just to remind us there were other times and other ways of being. The music of today isn’t just noise, if it were nobody would listen to it. Except Stockhausen that is.

Ironic in an age of global communication that we have lost the ability to listen. But we have. That is why organisations like the Samaritans in Britain, and counselling worldwide are “enjoying” boom times. People are so desperate to be heard they are prepared to pay someone to listen to them. That never would have happened in my day. Or that of my parents, or yours. Mainly because we would have locked up those in need of being listened to, along with those who heard imaginary voices, so that some strange balance might be achieved.

Balance. Now there’s a thing. The universe has one. In that respect science and Zen are in agreement. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, merely changed from one form to another. So there is a balance to be had in life. You go deaf just as the music of your children becomes insufferable to your ears. You remember every tedious little saying that your parents drove you mad by repeating endlessly in your youth when you can’t even recall what you did yesterday, or why you are in the kitchen standing in front of an open cupboard. You begin to care less about experimentation on animals by drug companies when you have children who are ill. And things in Rwanda don’t look quite so bad when you have a mortgage to pay.

So, how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all? By being at one with the universe you are in fact everywhere at once, at the same time as not being anywhere. It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. But imagine being the child of enlightened parents and having to hear that every day. Jeez. Makes me glad I’m a sinner and a winner. In the only age I can live in. Comfortable middle age.


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