Friday, August 25, 2006

How to Have a Great Time with Newspapers and Crayons

Years ago, my parents insisted upon going to Block Island for two weeks every summer. This eleven-square-mile island off the coast of Rhode Island is a favorite day trip for Southern New Englanders because of its beaches, its rural roads, and its generally pastoral landscape. However, as you can probably assume, this does translate to absolute boredom for the average teenager with only a few precious weeks of freedom we call "summer vacation" on his or her hands. My first trip over was when I was fifteen, and I made absolutely sure I brought with me all of the books that high school teachers heartlessly impose upon their students for the holiday. The one advantage was that Block Island, especially after the last ferry left, taking the rest of the day trippers with it, was a quiet and safe place, so my parents didn't have a problem allowing myself and my siblings free reign to walk or bike around the island as we liked.

Passing the time was made easier by the visitation of friends from the "mainland." Lindsay joined me for at least a day or two every year, and every year, we came up with a different way to pass the time.

The first year, we were staying in a house on the far side of the island--meaning in a place away from the harbors and therefore, most of the temporary crowds. One night during her visit, we were sitting in the living room on the upper floor with a television that got two channels if we held the antennae at odd angles--and one of them, of course, was public access and had gone off the air promptly at 8pm. What we did have was the reminents of the several-times-read-over newspaper acquired that morning from one of two markets and a set of art supplies that my mother purchased for my little sister and some of her buddies, all of whom were fast asleep in a bedroom down the hall. Given the limitations put upon our options, we started "amending" the newspapers. Our inspiration was a baseball cap Lindsay always wore--the "cool and in" logo at the time was "No Fear", and she, with a little help from a seam ripper, had transformed it into "No Ear." We applied this strategy to the sections of the paper we still had in tact, changing headlines, ads, pictures, and parts of stories to create entirely new versions. Lindsay made the business section more interesting with its lists of stock prices while I created a "Where's Jack Reed?" storyline that extended throughout the local pages (Jack Reed, at the time, being our Congressional Representative).

This, of course, could only be done when all of the adults had enough of the papers. During the day, we had to find other amusements. One of the things it seemed that a lot of the other, similarly trapped kids on the island did was sell lemonade. We saw the occasional stand on the road, and we figured that it couldn't hurt to try the same thing. The only problem was our location--we were a long way from the majority of the tourists, but if we gave it a shot, it couldn't hurt. At one of the local markets, we purchased the necessary lemonade mix and Lindsay thought it may be worth it to try to add a trail mix in. It made our purchase more expensive, which was something my mother noticed right away.

We set ourselves up at the end of the driveway to the house. My brother also joined in, walking a little ways up the road for anticipatory advertisement as our human billboard. Instead of languishing, in fact, the business thrived. Our being outside of the usual realm of business competition put our stop into the "only refreshment for miles" category, and the more hard-core island bikers took that into account when they spotted our table. Within about an hour, my brother was proudly able to present my mother with full reimbursement for our supplies. We even had a bunch of lost New Yorkers stop and buy nearly everything we had on the table, giving us a personal check in return.

Two years later, we were put in a similar environment, but this time at least, in a better house. We were closer to town than before, and therefore, our competition was up. After a day of selling, Lindsay and I were sitting in the living room, again looking over the newspaper. This time, we alighted upon the personals section. As you would expect, we skimmed through column after column of "Looking for Mr. Right", "Daydreamer", and "Could Be For You" titles over run of the mill personal descriptions. Who doesn't like walks on the beach, or nice dinners, or a good conversationalist? Not surprisingly, they mostly all said the same thing, save one. The title was "Ugly, Ugly, Ugly" and was written by a guy who described himself as lazy, boring, unambitious, and "looking for a model type lady." We found this so amusing that we started to come up with personals ad titles ourselves, including "No More Nuns" and "Squirrel Eater." It was very similar to the time we found Lindsay's mother's thank you cards for Christmas gifts. You could have found all of the items she was expressing gratitude for in the local Job Lot--and I'll be willing to bet that 90% of it came from there. Lindsay and I made a list of the gifts and then composed our own, more frank thank you notes for our own personal amusement. We actually transcribed one of them inside a card in reference to a potholder we referred to as "the third prettiest" of the combined lot of already owned potholders and Christmas gifts of the same variety.

It is clear to me that people don't sit down and use their creative abilities much anymore. I mean, what's the point? We have game systems that give us three dimensional worlds to explore, TV shows with near-to-real special effects, and the Internet showing us how many other people had the same idea we did....before we did. If you go to a bookstore, the "best selling authors" save a few, are on the "Da Vinci Code" Level--great thriller stories with one and two syllable words--the description entirely sacrificed for the action and pace of the story. Gone are the days anyone will sit through a two-page paragraph painting the image of the English countryside in your head a la Henry James in "Portrait of a Lady." On the subject of painters--where there was once a time when there were "great masters," the death knell of those days sounded simultaneously with the end of Picasso's life. Music? Heh, try younger and younger looking make-up caked and provocatively dressed children shaking booty for three minutes to a techno beat that could have been entirely produced by a synthesizer. Do I doubt that there are artists out there in all these fields, and more? Absolutely not. What I do doubt is society's ability to appreciate them as they deserve to be appreciated for a long-term contribution made with driven effort.

So go ahead people. Pick up a paint brush, pick up a pencil, put your hands in position on an instrument and see what comes of it. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy those aspects of the media that we like--the exciting TV shows and movies, the fast paced music, or computer generated versions of art. What it does mean is that however enjoyable those things are, we need more in our lives or else we run the risk of becoming as two dimentional as some of those media. And, there hasn't been one memorable person, either in our own lives or in society as a whole, who ever fell into a two-dimensional category. Maybe this is the key to transforming that lack of potential into being memorable.


Chris G. said...

i was going to cite this to add to the imagery, but then the creativity of that gesture overturned the embedded counterpoint...luckily spacestation hobo skeletons dancing away the moontide anticipated this very post, making said donut tasting irrelevant.

ellesappelle said...

You make me feel quite nostalgic for those days when you were forced away on holiday and kicked up a stink about it and complained about how boring it was... but were subsequently forced to be creative. Definitely made for the most interesting and memorable holidays I can remember. It was best of all when you brought a friend with you and you played great 'childish' games that you made into hugely complicated civilisations. We used to have a bach (New Zealandese for holiday home) at a bay about an hour from my town where I spent hours with the little girl down the road making houses in the long grass and climbing on the cliffs without our parents' permission and riding bikes down the steep hill and sitting on the stone 'thrones' at what we called The Point and bouncing on the big fir tree branches... It all sounds so idyllic now. I spend my holidays in cafes and museums, which is nice. But not exactly memorable.

Matt said...

You just brought me back to reading Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'urbervilles" on summer vacation. (There was a lot of time for reading in northern New England.)

Anonymous said...

Ahh the days before the technology world invaded the playground. Its a shame really, the lack of reading this generation coming up has endured. It will hurt them in the long run. I live in a small rural area on Maryland and one of the things that I notice about our IT Kids is that they more often than not, are not skeptical as my genreation is or generations before me. They seem ready to accept the status quo if they get another hour or two with the Playstation 2.

What happens to the imagination when its only creative views are from worlds created in a alternative universe inside a tv screen? Used to be the knock on kids was they watched to much tv. Now they watch to much tv and play to many games, and not to mention online time. Where is time for games of tag or catch? What happened to tree forts and water ballon fights? I found it really shocking when i was out west and people didn't believe fireflys didn't exist. I dont know, just ranting here, but its sad that there is not more hands on outdoor action inn kids lives.

I like how people across the pond refer to vacation as holiday. Just one of the many differences that make me laugh...

Ravenbajan said...

Your post made me think about my own summers past. I miss those childhood summers!

Very true point. People need to turn off the TV's more often and use their minds to do things instead.

steve said...

very well writtennn..even though it was pretty was good....

"Angeldust" said...

Dear slskeyon you said it.

What I most admire is your ability to pinpoint the lack of spontaneous "thought and creativity" as of serious concern of our times.

I was as smart as you at your age... :) ahhhh

~~~~~~~~~~~~ >> *

“I like the colors, though, and maybe the less "defined" a picture is, the more it expresses about the painter.”

I certainly would like to know what you are thinking…. Hmm.
Meaning… flexibility?

Love and joy to you

anonymous jones said...

Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog. We were all so wretchedly bored as kids weren't we? But we learnt to entertain ourselves. I don't think art and creativity died with Picasso, though. Rolf rules!

captain corky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
captain corky said...

I drove past a kid who was climbing a tree the other day. I can't remember the last time I saw something that magnificent, in a long time. I wanted to pull the car over and watch him. It definitely brought an absurdly big smile to my face.

booda baby said...

What a super duper good post!

Matt said...

Yeah, when I was a kid at age four in 1979 we didn't have playstation and i had to climb trees and my mom said i was a little monkey. those were the days!!!!

cassidy said...

spot on. i worry about my generation and those to come and our ability to appreciate creativity.

thanks for visiting my blog. seems we have some of the same notions.

also, in your more recent post, i saw a mention of ray lamontagne. i have just discovered him. delightful artist, isn't he?

okay, there is a loose collection of comments.