Clippings: Boats against the current

One of my favorite movie quotations is from “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” when the Kid (played by Kris Kristofferson!) says “Times change, but I don’t.”
Of course, he says this shortly before he dies.
I have always wanted to say that about myself. Maybe it had to do with being young in the turbulent 1960s and ’70s when it seemed people my age were changing identities more often than their jeans. Everything seemed to be falling apart.
As a young man I lived through a time of what I certainly thought was revolutionary change — Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the dramatic events that attended it, the Women’s Movement, the Generation Gap.
In those crazy times, many of us were searching for ways of thinking, values, principles, habits, lifestyles, that were universal. We were searching for something timeless, ridiculously perhaps (hippies!), but earnestly.
Amid the chaos of the Vietnam War era, I wanted to be steady, reliable, unchanging: what you saw is what you got, walk the walk, and all that. I would not be buffeted by whimsy, fashion, or fad.
Change was flighty, untrustworthy. Not-change was good, sought after, a value. Stability, dependability, consistency — all good. Don’t think twice, it’s all right.
Maybe that’s why I maintained a love of baseball — its immutability. It’s still the same game our fathers and grandfathers played and loved. That’s the problem with baseball now, it seems — mostly grandfathers, like me, love it.
I loved sports, beyond baseball — all sports. In my games, sportsmanship was a high value. Trash talk, flamboyance, individualism was eschewed. Loyalty, humility, industry, effort, teamwork were celebrated: “tough kid,” “hard worker” were descriptions we all aspired to. Losing built character, we were taught, and we believed it.
Failure was part of the process.
Growing up, the credo in our family was always, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.“ We were Yankees, from Maine, and Swedes on my dad’s side, Nordic reserve compounded.
When I did something well, I knew my dad was pleased, but he usually said to me, “Make sure your hat size doesn’t change.” I never was going to have a “big head” as long as he was around.
I was trained growing up to resist change for change’s sake, to be slow to embrace risk, to be uncomfortable with uncertainty.
That’s the identity I hoped to bring to my work in Student Affairs at Middlebury College. I wanted to be someone students and colleagues could count on for help and support. Solid. Present. Dependable.
One of my favorite mentors and colleagues at Middlebury, former Middlebury Union High School Principal and Latin teacher Frank Kelley, had a favorite saying, “Festina Lente,” which he translated as “Make haste slowly,” a helpful position when voices are raised and all hell is breaking loose.
John McCardell, president of Middlebury from 1992-2004 and a big-time agent of change at the college, declared once at a public forum, “sometimes the appearance of change is as good as change itself.”
I took him to task for that, objecting strongly to the suggestion that mere appearances were a measure of quality, or vitality, in an institution. McCardell tried to tell us the times they were a-changing and forced change on us, some of us kicking and screaming. He was right.
Now, older than I ever imagined I’d be, I live in this world of constant change. “Upgrade” is the catchphrase. Use it for a while, throw it out, and get a new one, a faster one, faster, and faster. We drown in our waste.
As soon as I get used to something new, especially something technological, I get word of an upgrade, and I am thrust into a purgatory of doubt and anxiety: oh no, how does it work?
We live in our computers and our computers fit in our pockets and can be used as phones too, and cameras, and maps to get us here and there. Our phone is a radio and a TV too, and a music box. Boredom is a thing of the past, that’s the promise and the goal.
We are constantly available, on notice, privacy is an abstraction. So few, it seems, read a book for pleasure now, nobody young anyway. It’s “binge-watching” TV, whole seasons of shows, back to back. Binge-ing on TV! Hour after hour.
I’m told even Facebook is passé now. Maybe Instagram too. We’re all a-Twitter.
Pandora or Spotify?
What are your five favorite podcasts?
I worry that I’m livin’ in the wrong century, dangling man, aware of my anachronisticy, but not that confident about my iconoclasm and unwilling to assert it without insecurity.
I do want to live in this world. I don’t want to be an old fogey, disposable. I want to be known for . . . no, I would like to possess a wisdom borne of experience. Is that possible? Who wants to hear my wisdom?
Are there no eternal verities? Where is it that we want to go? What is it that truly lasts these days?
Technological change, the ever-new ways of communicating and exchanging information today, produce feelings of dislocation, and nostalgia, in old-timers like me. Goodness, I still read a newspaper every day, hard copy, like my dad.
We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past (thanks F. Scott — wish I had said that).
So . . .
Have at it, young uns. Your turn!
We’re here if you need us, about where we’ve always been.

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