You are Sixteen Going on Seventeen – Baby, It’s Time to Think

I haven’t posted for a month, and I am disappointed with myself. May was incredibly busy: work was overwhelming, and I was invited and attended a variety of graduations and commencements –  both high school and college.

I spent some delightful time with 16 and 17-year-olds, and heard their perspectives. These teenagers are pretty grounded. Practical are they, and fairly realistic. Yes, there is the occasional delusional one. They are facing major rites of passage: getting into college, leaving home for the first time, and trying to afford college. We had numerous conversations about all this, and I am appalled at what it costs to go to college in this country. And, there’s no guarantee that you come out knowing any more than when you entered.

Three of the kids were in the midst of taking their SATs, and they showed me the “new” SAT “book.” A revelation. There are no grammar or vocabulary sections as in the past, just endless, grindingly dull reading passages that are more an endurance test than any measure of…whatever this is supposed to measure. I read a few and there were questions that I wondered, and am still wondering, what in the name of God does this measure? I couldn’t find any scholarly or intellectual connection. I’m reaching the conclusion that it’s preparation – education be damned – to turn unsuspecting young people into industry fodder. Drones. If you can get through the test, probably take it numerous times, and if you don’t crack – you go to college and then get a job working for The Man where you spend the next many years paying off loans.

I also noticed a fair amount of propaganda in some of the SAT passages. I read one on fracking that implied that it’s a good thing, that there isn’t evidence yet to connect it to earthquakes in areas where they were never earthquakes, or with tap water that comes out in flames or dark brown. It’s all great! Another was on big pharma and GMOs and how much good they do. Jesus! These sweet kids receive these messages, and how are they to know there may be another point of view? Aside that this is all crap –  it isn’t even well-written mind control. There is one nod to literature: the first passage. That’s it! From what I can tell it is usually 19th Century: Dickens, Stevenson, Trollope, Shelley…none of whom these kids know.

I found all this unutterably discouraging and felt sincerely sorry for our future leaders. Plus they live in the suburbs which I am beginning to think is not as wonderful as one would think. It’s too sheltered and sanitized. How does one acquire any life skills? I am so grateful to my parents and our upbringing: we saw the world, we lived in it, and the thirst and love for knowledge was for knowledge’s sake. I see more and more how rare our experience was and how fortunate.

Okay, so not everyone gets to have that. Well, I would pick one of these kids who demonstrates a little gumption, and hand them a pile of money (how I would have the money is not a detail in this fantasy), say nearly a quarter of a million dollars, which is what I imagine the average cost would be for four years including travel, room and board, etc. I would put the pile of money into his/her hands and say, “Here, go travel the world, have meetings with remarkable people, have adventures, shed your middle class morality, spend time in Paris, Hong Kong, a brothel in Tangiers, kayak down a Tibetan gorge. Live!”

And then come back and question authority. Now that is an education.

“You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, you’re on the brink…”

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

Lyrics from The Sound of Music, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

 

Another Country

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” so begins the opening of L.P. Hartley’s wonderful book The Go-Between. d3d75b8ed2d3b44ee2db94e86d2cd808A friend of mine often quotes this line to me when we start to dwell too long in the past. The season is gradually changing, the official end of summer was four days ago, the nights are chilly. Time is flowing and a number of friends are traveling right now: Spain, Germany, Denmark, Amsterdam, and Sicily — foreign countries. The transitory nature of summer to fall and friends traveling sends me back to my past, my foreign country. Sicily for me is a memory of a time when we did things differently, my family, and so did I. I went to Sicily as a teenager and it was the most enchanting trip of all. Everything was ripe, the season, me, the confluence of sensibilities and the beauty of the place. I fell in love with this magical island. My great-grandmother (more on her in another post) was a remarkable person and exceedingly well traveled. She urged me to go and where to stay.

I landed in Taormina which now is well known, less so then, and I stayed in a hotel that was at the foot of the ancient Greek amphitheater, and had an unobstructed view of the town below and Mount Etna in all her glory. It was a hotel that had been there a long time and had been owned by the same family for generations. It had a 19th Century quality to it — even with the mod cons — and the garden, which was all overgrown and lush and mysterious was a realized vision of a Romantic era poet. When I arrived I was led into my hotel room which faced the garden, the sea, and Etna. I was being shown in by a sweet housemaid, an older lady, who was more than likely born and raised and lived in this impossibly beautiful place her whole life. Even so, when she opened the French doors onto the terrace and all the splendor, and she heard me gasp, she smiled knowingly and said, “Come un sogno” — it’s like a dream. Indeed. I loved that she, who probably did this many times a day for many years, still enjoyed people’s reaction and was so proud of her town.

Goethe spent time in Sicily and wrote some wonderful poems about the island — it certainly seems he was completely taken with it too. I remember the word “bewitching” was an adjective he used. And it was certainly that. Beguiling too. On my trip there, which was quite a long one, I had my official coup de foudre, the lighting bolt of love at first sight. It was wonderful. I think you have to be very young to enjoy that feeling to the bone. You get all tingling and thrilled and every nerve end seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork My young man was tall, handsome, intense, sexy and brooding — all the things that are wildly attractive to young girls. He was marvelous and funny too and I was totally enthralled. I’ve never forgotten him all these years, and I think of him more often than more serious or longer lasting relationships — maybe just because it was that brilliant flash of light.

The day I left he was angry, perhaps the only way to part. We both knew that probably we would never see each other again. Maybe not, we haven’t yet! I wonder if he married, what career he settled on, if he has children, did he stay or move on to a bigger city where there is more advancement. I’ll never know, I suppose. I like to think he stayed, it’s worth staying there. Imagine living in a place that is so beautiful it can bring you to tears? I don’t think he remembers me, I was just another girl passing through, and it doesn’t really matter. I remember him. And, I am grateful to him for being my lighting bolt, and for that foreign country where people do things differently. I can visit, briefly, as an itinerant, stopping for just a moment and then departing. For we all must leave, return to the present, and let the past rest and recede into the fine dust and ash that it is, and that we all one day shall be.

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

N.b., L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between was a film starring the incomparable Julie Christie, and much missed Alan Bates (pictured above), with the screenplay written by the famous playwright Harold Pinter. The supporting cast is stellar too. Hartley’s other well-known novel The Hireling is also worth reading, and it too was made into a film with Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles who are dark, sexy, neurotic and amazing. Read both, see both. You won’t be disappointed.