Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dividing Lines

This is not an original idea, but I think it’s one worth re-examining once in a while: the fact that one’s life seems to divvy up into a series of Befores and Afters, not like a fashion make-over, but that in regard to major changes and other events, life After is never quite like life Before, and while something is often gained, inevitably something is lost: being a little girl/getting your first period; being a virgin/having sex for the first time (often with the wrong person); living at home/moving out into a place of your own; years of working for others/starting your own business; emotional insecurity/learning to like yourself; spiritual uncertainty/discovering what you believe in. The dividing lines in my life often seem visible, palpable, markers which separate That time from This time in a way that literally haunts me.

The Befores and Afters noted above are mine (though surely not mine alone). And there are many other life-altering divisions that others experience that I never have: before college/after graduation; can’t drive/get your license & first car; single/married (not to mention: married/divorced); no kids/parenthood. Etc. Sometimes we make our own lines, sometimes they’re drawn in the sand in front of us, but one way or another, they appear.

There are some dividing lines that are both personal and universal, like youth/aging/old, and life Before and After the deaths of particular family members and friends. Then there are the end of other things – special friendships, longtime homes, long-term jobs, precious items lost or stolen. Life is an endless series of beginnings and endings and difficult periods of adjustment in between, sometimes illuminating, sometimes just exhausting. For many of my generation (the now-increasingly-detested-and-resented Baby Boomers), the assassinations of the 60s, Vietnam, Woodstock, and the murder of John Lennon (which paved the way for the disenchanted, cocaine-driven, greed and glamour of the 80s) are the major dividing lines.

Nations, cultures, societies, all have profound dividing lines. Here in the USA, our major wars have been particularly deep dividing lines, especially the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. I put the Befores and Afters of World Wars I and II and the Vietnam War in the category of major cultural divisions, along with the waves of immigration from abroad in the early years of the 20th century, the Great Black Migration from South to North after both World Wars, and of course, the Great Depression. Then there are the lines between slavery & segregation/”freedom” & integration (perhaps better described as: overt racism/covert racism), social tradition/feminism, old music/new music; and drugs – life in America Before and After diverse and extensive drug use and society’s (and government’s) inappropriate, ineffectual response to it, is as bold and significant a dividing line as anything already mentioned. And as we all know, life today is extremely colored by the bloody dividing line of 9/11, an event, both real and manipulated, that literally marks the true beginning of the 21st century.

Science and technology have created huge dividing walls, not just lines: life Before and After the discovery of agriculture; centuries later, the invention of the printing press; and a few centuries more: modern medicine, including (especially) the discovery of germs and the invention of The Pill; the Industrial Revolution; The Bomb; trains, planes, automobiles, electricity, the telephone, photography, cinema, radio, television, space travel, computers, all great big lines. And now, today’s digital (revolution? abomination? okay…) New Reality. I’m probably leaving out some other biggies; you fill in the blanks.

There are, of course, many political dividing lines, from the origin of, as well as changes within, political parties, to major changes in the political process itself, including the entry of new elected players (racial minorities and women) and new voting players (racial minorities and women). The election of Barack Obama is perhaps the widest dividing line in our country’s political history.

Right now, what we’re calling a Deep Recession, but actually deserves to be called The Great Neo-Depression, is creating a whole new series of dividing lines, which can perhaps be grouped together as: rampant materialism/diminished materialism. The major sub-division is: wasteful & indifferent/green & alarmed, followed closely by: keeping up with the Joneses/focusing on what’s really important. The economic dividers are in flux, but they seem to be boiling down to: cluelessly, selfishly rich/in for a big fucking surprise; thinking you’re middle class/realizing you’re working class; and being poor/being poorer. I know that’s a simplistic summary, but I think it captures the spirit of the thing.

Last night in England, the spunky, inspiring and beautifully talented Susan Boyle came in second in the final round of Britain’s Got Talent. The winner was a dance troupe called Diversity, an interesting group of multi-racial, gender-inclusive tweens, teens and 20-somethings. Their skill is undeniable; their talent, although derivative (Bob Fosse meets Michael Jackson), is considerable. For me, the decision marked yet another significant dividing line in our fast-changing popular culture: mature, solo, shy, courageous competition/developing, collective, bold, confident display. She was very gracious in defeat; they were seemingly humble in victory.

And I am a displaced person, cut up and confused by the powerful dividing lines in my life and the myriad of Befores and Afters all around me.

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