The Literal Metaphor of Sickness

I’ve written about Lenore Skenazy before. She is one of my mom’s favorite writers and so she likes to share the articles with me. Skenazy has a another piece about her usual topic, helicopter parents and their captive children. Today’s column, in the local newspaper (The Gazette), has the title “The irony of overprotection” (you can find it on the Creators website or from the GazetteXtra). She begins with a metaphor. In studying how leukemia is contracted, scientist Mel Greaves found that two conditions were required. The first is a genetic susceptibility, which exists only in a certain number of kids, although far from uncommon. But that alone isn’t sufficient without the second factor.

There has to be an underdeveloped or compromised immune system. And sadly this also has become far from uncommon. Further evidence of the hygiene hypothesis keeps accumulating (should be called the hygiene theory at this point). Basically, it is only by being exposed to germs that a child’s immune system experiences healthy stress that activates the immune system into normal development. Without this, many are left plagued by ongoing sickness, allergies, and autoimmune conditions for the rest of their lives.

Parents have not only protected their children from the larger dangers and infinite risks of normal childhood: skinned knees from roughhousing, broken limbs from falling from trees, hurt feelings from bullies, trauma from child molesters, murder from the roving bands of psychotic kidnappers who will sell your children on the black market, etc. Beyond such everyday fears, parents have also protected their kids from minor infections, with endless application of anti-bacterial products and cocooning them in sterile spaces that have been liberally doused with chemicals that kill all known microbial life forms. That is not a good thing for the consequences are dire.

This is where the metaphor kicks in. Skenazy writes:

The long-term effects? Regarding leukemia, “when such a baby is eventually exposed to common infections, his or her unprimed immune system reacts in a grossly abnormal way,” says Greaves. “It overreacts and triggers chronic inflammation.”

Regarding plain old emotional resilience, what we might call “psychological inflammation” occurs when kids overreact to an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation because they have been so sheltered from these. They feel unsafe, when actually they are only unprepared, because they haven’t been allowed the chance to develop a tolerance for some fears and frustrations. That means a minor issue can be enough to set a kid off — something we are seeing at college, where young people are at last on their own. There has been a surge in mental health issues on campuses.

It’s no surprise that anxiety would be spiking in an era when kids have had less chance to deal with minor risks from childhood on up.

There is only a minor detail of disagreement I’d throw out. There is nothing metaphorical about this. Because of an antiseptic world and other causes (leaky gut, high-carb diet, sugar addiction, food additives, chemical exposure, etc), the immune systems of so many modern Americans are so dysfunctional and overreactive that it wreaks havoc on the body. Chronic inflammation has been directly linked to or otherwise associated with about every major health issue you can think of.

This includes, by the way, neurocognitive conditions such as depression and anxiety, but much worse as well. Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, etc also often involve inflammation. When inflammation gets into the brain, gut-brain axis, and/or nervous system, major problems follow with a diversity of symptoms that can be severe and life threatening, but they can also be problematic on a social and psychological level as well. This new generation of children are literally being brain damaged, psychologically maimed, and left in a fragile state. For many of them, their bodies and minds are not fully prepared to deal with the real world with normal healthy responses. It is hard to manage the stresses of life when one is in a constant state of low-grade sickness that permanently sets the immune system on high, when even the most minor risks could endanger one’s well being.

The least of our worries is the fact that diseases like type 2 diabetes, what used to be called adult onset diabetes because it was unknown among children, is now increasing among children. Sure, adult illnesses will find their way earlier and earlier into young adulthood and childhood and the diseases of the elderly will hit people in middle age or younger. This will be a health crisis that could bankrupt and cripple our society. But worse than that is the human cost of sickness and pain, struggle and suffering. We are forcing this fate onto the young generations. That is cruel beyond comprehension. We can barely imagine what this will mean across the entire society when it finally erupts as a crisis.

We’ve done this out of ignorant good intentions of wanting to protect our children from anything that could touch them. It makes us feel better that we have created a bubble world of innocence where children won’t have to learn from the mistakes and failures, harms and difficulties we experienced in growing up. So instead, we’ve created something far worse for them.

Conscious Dreaming, Conscious Self

Children’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness
by David Foulkes

dreaming as we normally understand it–active stories in which the dreamer is an actor–appears relatively late in childhood. This true dreaming begins between the ages of 7 and 9. He argues that this late development of dreaming suggests an equally late development of waking reflective self-awareness.

What Little Kids See When They Dream
from Happiest Baby

Understandably, dreams can confuse small kids. Pre-schoolers often think their dreams are magically placed in their heads by someone else, or by God. […] Are you wondering what your kids are doing in their dreams? Good question, but the answer is…nothing! The “character of the self” hasn’t even made an appearance yet! […] Generally around age 8, children appear as central characters in their dreams. Dream narratives become more complex and longer. Not only do kids participate in the action as it unfolds, they also have thoughts and feelings within the dream.

What Do Babies Dream About?
by Natalie Wolchover, Live Science

According to research by Foulkes and his colleagues, even children at the ripe old age of 4 or 5 typically describe dreams that are static and plain, with no characters that move or act, few emotions and no memories.

Vivid dreams with structured narratives set in at age 7 or 8, around the same time children develop a clear understanding of their own identity. Researchers think self-awareness is necessary for the insertion of the self into dreams. In fact, the amount of self-knowledge a child possesses — her understanding that she would be the same person even if she had a different name, for instance, and that she is the same person as she was when she was a baby — strongly correlates with the vibrancy and amount of plot structure in that child’s dreams.

Dreaming and Narration
by Richard Walsh, LHN

The notion of the dream as itself narrative appears to conflate perceptual consciousness of the “facts” of the dream with reflective consciousness about the dream.5

In the Freudian model, the dream gives expression to prior, unconscious dream thoughts (Freud [1900] 1953). From a neurobiological perspective, however, there is no further regression of meaning, because dreams arise from the activation of the forebrain by periodic neuronal activity in the brain stem (Hobson & McCarley 1977). Such brain activity during sleep may be random or part of some adaptive process associated with that of sleep itself; the inception of dream mentation is just a by-product in this account. All the remarkable coherence of dreams is attributed to the mind’s subsequent cognitive efforts of synthesis, drawing upon the narrative sense-making capacities of waking life (Hobson 2002). Cognitive models of dreaming have more to say about the functioning of such sense-making processes, however. They too regard narrativizing as integral to the formation of dreams, but note that this should not be taken for granted; our storytelling capabilities develop in the course of childhood, and this development correlates with the development of children’s dreams (Foulkes 1999). Narrative logic, here, is not a given; instead, cognitive accounts foreground the creativity of dreams—their status, that is, not just as narratives but as fictions. Such approaches conceive the motive forces of dreaming as continuous with those of waking thought, whether the emphasis falls upon imaginative world-making (States 2003) or on the articulation of emotion (Hartmann 2010b).

Science: Julian Jaynes
by Josh Ronsen, monk mink pink punk

The most interesting, to me, paper concerned Agamemnon’s dream in the Iliad, how this dream mirrors the structure of the Bicameral Mind and how it differs from our dreams. In Bicameral dreams, and Jaynes admits there are not that many dreams from this time period to analyze, the dreamer is never anywhere other than his sleeping area, and the dream is always a direct message from a god/angel. Jacob’s “ladder” dream from the Jewish Bible fits in here as well. Compare this with our dreams, which can take place anywhere within the limits of our imagination, just as our consciousness can be projected throughout those same limits.

Bicameral Dream question
from Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum

Jaynes believes modern dreams are consciousness operating in sleep. We see elements of waking consciousness in dreams such as an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space. In cases where the dreamer simply experiences a visitation from a spirit or god issuing a command while asleep in his own bed, this aspect of consciousness is absent — i.e., the person does not see themselves as an actor in their dreams. So dreams do not “prove” but rather provide further evidence for a different pre-conscious mentality. We see these types of visitation dreams in ancient civilizations, pre-literate societies, and in children. As children develop consciousness, we see consciousness expand in their dreams.

“Primitive Mentality” by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl & Jaynes’ Theory
from Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum

In Chapter 3, Levy-Bruhl discusses the prophetic nature of dreams among tribal people.

“To the primitive mind, as we know, the seen and the unseen worlds form but one, and there is therefore uninterrupted communication between what we call obvious reality and the mystic powers. Nowhere perhaps is this more directly and completely brought about than in dreams, in which man passes from the one world to the other without being aware of it. Such is in fact the ordinary idea of the dream to primitive peoples. The ‘soul’ leaves its tenement for the time being. It frequently goes very far away; it communes with spirits or with ghosts. At the moment of awakening it returns to take its place in the body once more. … At other times, it is the spirits of the dead, or even other powers, which come and visit the soul in sleep” (pgs. 98–99).

This immediately calls to mind E.R. Dodds’ discussion of the prophetic nature of dreams among the ancient Greeks. Dreams in ancient Greece, unlike modern, conscious dreams, often took the form of a visitation by a god or spirit that issued some form of command. […]

There seems to be strong evidence for the very different nature of what we might call “bicameral dreams” vs. “conscious dreams.” For those interested in this subject, I highly recommend reading Levy-Bruhl’s entire chapter on dreams along with Dodds.

More on the commanding nature of primitive people’s dreams:

“It frequently happens that when all the missionary’s efforts to induce a native to change his faith have proved ineffectual, a dream suddenly determines him to take the step, especially if the dream is repeated several times. For example, among the Basutos, ‘what plays the chief part in the conversion of the Mosuto? … The paramount role is played by the dream. … To make him definitely decide, there must be something out of the common, a Divine intervention (as he regards it) which strikes his imagination. … If you ask a heathen who has heard the Gospel, when he will be converted, he will answer in the most matter-of-course way: ‘When God speaks to me'” (p. 110).

“In Central Africa, dreams have similar meanings. To give but one example: “The Azande of the Upper Congo believe that during the night the dead make their wishes known to the living. Dreams are quite authentic to them, and they are convinced that when they see a dead relative in a dream they really have a conversation with his ghost, and in its course he gives advice, expresses satisfaction or displeasure, and states his aspirations and desires” (pgs. 111–112).

“‘The Iroquois,’ says another Jesuit priest, ‘have, strictly speaking, but one divinity, which is the dream; they submit to it and follow all its orders most implicitly.’ … It is not simply a question of advice, hints, friendly suggestions, official warnings conveyed by dreams; it is nearly always definite orders, and nothing can prevent the Indian from obeying them” (p. 113).

“The Greeks and the Irrational” by E.R. Dodds
from Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum

Chapter 4 describes the nature of dreams in ancient Greeks and how dreams changes as culture [or consciousness] changes. Dodds describes what Jaynes would probably refer to as “bicameral dreams” — dreams that consist of a visitation and the communication of some type of message or command.

“Ancient literature is full of these ‘godsent’ dreams in which a single dream-figure presents itself, as in Homer, to the sleeper, and gives him prophecy, advice, or warning” (p. 107).

“Such dreams played an important part in the life of other ancient peoples, as they do in that of many races to-day. Most of the dreams recorded in Assyrian, Hittite, and ancient Egyptian literature are ‘divine dreams’ in which a god appears and delivers a plain message to the sleeper, sometimes predicting the future, sometimes demanding cult” (pgs. 108-109).

On the frequency of hallucinations and visions:

“As I have mentioned self-induced visions in connection with the Asclepius cult, I may add a couple of general remarks on waking visions or hallucinations. It is likely that these were commoner in former times than they are to-day, since they seem to be relatively frequent among primitives; and even with us they are less rare than is often supposed. They have in general the same origin and psychological structure as dreams, and like dreams they tend to reflect traditional culture-patterns. Among the Greeks, by far the commonest type is the apparition of a god or the hearing of a diving voice which commands or forbids the performance of certain acts. This type figures, under the name of ‘spectaculum,’ in Chalcidius’ classification of dreams and visions; his example is the daemonion of Socrates. When all allowance has been made for the influence of literary tradition in creating a stereotyped form, we should probably conclude that experiences of this kind had once been fairly frequent, and still occurred occasionally in historical times” (pgs. 116-117).

Consciousness and Dreams
by Marcel Kuijsten, Julian Jaynes Society

The study of dreams in ancient civilizations and pre-literate societies demonstrate that dreams can be used as an indication of the level of consciousness in a given culture. Similarly, children’s dreams provide evidence that dreams can be used as an indication of the level of consciousness in a developing child. In Children’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness (2002), child psychologist and dream expert David Foulkes challenges the popular misconception that dreaming is “a given” in human experience. In a section on the development of consciousness in children that sounds surprisingly reminiscent of Jaynes, Foulkes writes: “I hypothesize that dreaming is simply the operation of consciousness in sleep … that consciousness develops, and that it does so more slowly and later than is generally believed” (Foulkes, 2002).

According to Foulkes, the nature and content of children’s dreams changes dramatically over time. For example, during the preschool years, “dreams are brief and infrequent; they focus on body states; their imagery is static.” Dreams slowly transform to those experienced in adulthood between the ages of 5 and 9:

First, dream reports become longer, but not more frequent, and now describe social interaction and the kind of movement that suggests kinematic rather than static imaging; still lacking, however, is active participation in dream events by the dreamer herself or himself. Next, dream reports become more frequent as well as longer and narratively more complex, and active self-participation becomes a general possibility, along with, for the first time, the reliable attribution to the self of feelings and thoughts occurring in the dream in response to dream events (Foulkes, 2002).

The dreamer does not regularly appear as an active participant in his or her dreams — according to Jaynes, one of the hallmarks of conscious dreams — until between the ages of 7 and 9. Conscious dreams, therefore, seem to be infrequent until some time after the child has developed consciousness in waking life.

The content of dreams provide another method to gauge the level of consciousness in a given culture or individual. If language had no effect on consciousness — or if consciousness developed far back in our evolutionary past and has remained unchanged since — we would expect dreams to remain unchanged both throughout recorded history and throughout an individual’s development. Instead, dreams reflect developmental stages in mentality from preconscious to conscious, brought about by changes both culturally as well as in the linguistic sophistication of the dreamer.

Dreams in bicameral cultures lack consciousness — an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space, and mimic the waking experience of receiving behavioral commands from gods. In contrast, the dreams of conscious individuals reflect conscious narratization during sleep.

Marbles are for Fishbowls

In movies portraying kids from earlier last century, it’s not uncommon for there to be a scene of a game of marbles. It’s such an iconic image.

Yet that was my childhood back in the mid-1980s, when I was in elementary school. I remember playing marbles on the school playground. What a strange game is marbles.

That was back when low-tech was cool. But high-tech quickly took hold. Even as my childhood self played old school games, there was a simple computer and Atari system back at home, presaging the future.

On a related note, I was showing my nephew a hacky sack trick, specifically what is known as the Flying Burrito. Now there is another ancient game from the waning days of the 20th century.

My nephew had little interest in my antics. But he did get me to participate in a a different activity from the marble-era of my childhood. He was using his toy trucks to excavate a hole in the yard. If he only had some GI Joe figurines (any figures will do), we could have had a real good time.

I did notice something interesting from a couple of years ago. This same nephew of mine was having a birthday. As he opened his presents, I couldn’t help noticing that all the toys came from my childhood: Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Legos, etc.

But no marbles. These days, marbles are for fishbowls.

The Puritan and the Prurient

There is an article at New Republic by Ira Wells: Forgetting Lolita: How Nabokov’s Victim Became an American Fantasy. It’s a reasonably thoughtful piece. And it’s an important topic. But something about this kind of writing seems strange. Let me try to briefly explain.

We live in a Puritan society. Oddly or not, prurient is the shadow of Puritanism. We are obsessed with sexuality. Even our obsession with innocence is sexualized. The article has a tinge of the prurient about it. Something about it comes off as the author fantasizing about other people’s fantasies. That is how it seems to me, for some reason.

There is a connection between Protestantism and the idealization of childhood. In traditional cultures of the past, the moment a boy or girl was capable of having sex, they had sex. And the moment they had sex, they likely not too long later had children. There wasn’t this notion that young people should wait to have careers or even get married.

You still see more of this attitude in Catholic countries. Southern Europe was more influenced by the Catholic Church and the Mediterranean culture it embodied. Unsurprisingly, Catholic countries have lower sexual ages of consent. It’s expected that people have sex, get pregnant, and then hopefully are married. There is no Protestant concept of most people resisting the sin of sexuality.

Protestant societies seem much more repressed about sexuality. And repression leads to sexual deviancy. That is even a problem for Catholic priests, the only Catholics expected to fully repress their sexuality. This relates to the weird genre of virginity porn, the fantasizing about young people not having sex. A popular example is the Twilight series. It was written by a Mormon and it should be noted that Mormons originally came from Puritan country, i.e., New England.

This was the culture that Vladimir Nabokov was writing about in Lolita. The novel is an anthropological study. It’s not just about sexuality of dirty old men. The entire society is implicated.

* * *

America America’s Lollipop Licking Tease:
The Eroticization of the Female Child in 1930s Film
by Susan Jennings Lantz

James Kincaid, in Child Loving, would agree. His argument states that myths about childhood innocence and concurrent vulnerability arose historically as we created a separate identity for children. This stoked a “quasi-erotic” love of children as innocents, and a hatred of those who act out of eroticism. In both Child Loving and Erotic Innocence, he discusses, at great length, the ways in which production of the monster known as the pedophile in many ways allows not only the Victorians, but members of our contemporary culture, to define ourselves. We reject pedophiliac monstrous activity with such automatic indignation that, as a group, the indignation begins to feel like pleasure. We open up a space for societal glee when we hear a convicted child molester has committed suicide, and we pretty much allow an approved ideological space for murderers in prison to torture, rape, and murder convicted child molesters. Kincaid asserts that by insisting that children are innocent, pure, and asexual, we have created a “subversive echo” that presents the child as experienced, corrupt, and erotic. We have set the trope of the innocent child to be fetishized, and the object of forbidden desire in popular culture. “What we think of as “the child” has been assembled in reference to desire, built up in erotic manufactories, and . . . we have been laboring ever since, for at least two centuries, both to deny that horrible and lovely product to maintain it” (Child
Loving 4).

Rose, Wullschlager, and Kincaid all agree that during a time when Victorian and Edwardian England was celebrating the innocence and purity of children in fiction and art, avgreat disparity was occurring at the same time. While children from the upper classes were glorified for their innocence, children from the lower classes were exploited for theirs. On one end of the spectrum were upper middle class Victorian children depicted spinning hoops and sailing toy boats in Kensington Gardens, attending Eton, and frolicking in Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh, Kanga, and Piglet. In the middle of the spectrum were the children working in factories, as apprentice domestic servants, chimney sweeps, or selling matches and flowers. At the other end of the spectrum of the era were the children sold into sexual slavery.

In 1885, English editor and rights activist W.T. Stead purchased a thirteen-year-old girl from her mother with the understanding that his intentions were to procure her “Maiden Tribute.” Instead of raping the child, he wrote a series of articles for his paper The Pall Mall showing how easy it was to purchase a child sex slave which brought the issue to the public eye. His series was wildly popular and has been credited for changing legislation in regards to the legal age of consensual sex for children (Polhemus).

Across the sea in America things were similar. Poor children worked in factories and in coal mines, and really poor children were ripe for sexual exploitation, while the children of wealthier families were more protected and glorified. This glorification, on both sides of the Atlantic, began to lead to sentimentalized views of childhood in media and the popular press. The era after the American Civil War produced much art that evoked nostalgia of childhood. Artists such as Winslow Homer and Mark Twain glorified the world of the average child in their works to great aplomb. Children were no longer considered to be inherently evil, as the Puritans had suggested, and were no longer expendable in bloody wars. They were a treasure.

To Grow Up Fast

There are many questions that should be asked and answered. For example:

Why does it suck so much to be forced to miss having a childhood in order to grow up fast?

And related to it:

Why are people who grow up in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods different than those who have coddled childhoods? Why do those living in violent, war-torn communities struggle so much? Why is it so hard for those without freedom, opportunity, and resources to live up to their full potential?

Why do desperate people act desperately? Why do isolated, stressed people become addicts? Why do unhealthy conditions create unhealthy people? Why does poisoning children lead to dysfunction and violence?

Many, many questions. But the most important question of all: Why do the privileged and comfortable so rarely ask these questions?

* * *

Young Mice, Like Children, Can Grow Up Too Fast
by Alison Gopnik, WSJ

In the new experiment, published in 2015 in the same journal, the researchers looked at how the young mice reacted to early stress. Some of the mice were separated from their mothers for 60 or 180 minutes a day, although the youngsters were kept warm and fed just like the other mice. Mice normally get all their care from their mother, so even this brief separation is very stressful.

The stressed mice actually developed more quickly than the secure mice. As adolescents they looked more like adults: They were less exploratory and flexible, and not as good at reversal learning. It seemed that they grew up too fast. And they were distinctive in another way. They were more likely to drink large quantities of ethanol—thus, more vulnerable to the mouse equivalent of alcoholism.

These results fit with an emerging evolutionary approach to early stress. Childhood is a kind of luxury, for mice as well as men, a protected period in which animals can learn, experiment and explore, while caregivers look after their immediate needs.

Early stress may act as a signal to animals that this special period is not a luxury that they can afford—they are in a world where they can’t rely on care. Animals may then adopt a “live fast, die young” strategy, racing to achieve enough adult competence to survive and reproduce, even at the cost of less flexibility, fewer opportunities for learning and more vulnerability to alcohol.

This may be as true for human children as it is for mouse pups. Early life stress is associated with earlier puberty, and a 2013 study by Nim Tottenham and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that children who spent their early years in orphanages prematurely developed adultlike circuitry in the parts of the brain that govern fear and anxiety.

The Stuff of Childhood

I like to run and walk in the forest and I like to draw.
When I grow up I want to be a runner, forest ranger, or an artist.

Those are words from my young childhood,from 2nd grade. I still like those same things. Then again, right before those words, I also said that, “I like pizza.” But apparently I was self-aware enough at the time to realize I didn’t want a pizza-related career.

Besides, I wrote elsewhere that I wanted to work in the Sears Tower. I can’t say that fits my present aspirations and lifestyle, although being employed as a parking ramp cashier is closer to the Sears Tower than to the rest. Maybe I need to rethink the Sears Tower option.

* * *

My mom was clearing out old paperwork. She had multiple folders of various official documents giving glimpses of my life, from birth to high school graduation. Most of it is boring stuff, including grade reports. But there were a few interesting things mixed in.

My birth certificate shows that Dr. Suk W. Lee brought me into this world. He was my mom’s doctor during her pregnancy. He jokingly gets credit for why I had epicanthic eye folds as an infant. My eyes were quite squinty to an extreme degree and remained that way into early elementary school. Along with my blonde hair, I assume that would be my northern European ancestry.

Along with some other papers and cards, I found a newspaper clipping. It shows the dismissals for the hospital. It lists my mother and I, but what is interesting is that my mother is referred to as Mrs. Daniel C. Steele. This is what makes genealogical research so difficult. In centuries past, most women went through their entire lives without ever having their name stated on an official document.

It was still very much a man’s world, even in the ’70s. To emphasize this point, I wrote in Kindergarten (obviously with some assistance) that, “My father works. He works at the office,” along with a picture of a smoke-belching factory (a massive sun overhead, a symbol of power); but on the next page, I write that, “My mother works. She sweeps the floor,” and the accompanying picture is of her as the stereotypical smiling housewife. In reality, my mom was a speech pathologist who had been working outside of the house for years. I feel I should apologize to my mom (I did end up seeking her out in order to apologize about my childhood stereotyping of her. And guess what? She was sweeping the floor. Ha!). She did all the housework, cooked all the meals, and took care of us kids while she held down a full time job. Feminism back then meant a women could do it all, quite literally.

Mothers are the best. Civilization would collapse without them.

On a different note, another thing that caught my attention was my baptism record. Four months after my birth, my parents decided to get me (along with my older brothers) baptized and Christened. It was done at the United Church of Religious Science, the church based on Ernest Holmes’ The Science of Mind. It was the first church my parents attended as a married couple. They began attending a year before my birth and following a period of non-religiosity and, on my father’s part, agnosticism.

I was surprised that such a New Agey church did baptisms and Christenings. Anyway, it is nice having a certificate proving that my mortal soul has been safeguarded with proper Christian ritual, not that damnation is a part of New Thought theology.

Some of the more enjoyable things to look back on are old writings. There is a collection of stories from third grade. It includes one of my stories and that of my classmates. The story of mine was about a guy named Vick with a space ship who gets captured by the evil magician Zork, but his lazer comes in handy in making an escape. My best friend at the time, Andy Armens, wrote a micro-story that amused me:

“A train came out of a tunnel and tried to go over a bridge. The bridge broke. The train fell into Dead Man’s River. They went down a waterfall and got killed.”

I noticed something about many of the stories. They involved fear of one sort or another and often taking action in response to the source of fear—being or feeling threatened by, being killed or hurt by, being attacked by or fighting with, being captured by or escaping from ghosts, monsters, bad men, robbers, evil magicians, or unfortunate events. Just last year, I came across a recent collection of stories from the same local elementary school. Quite a few of the stories had the same focus on fear. I guess that is a fairly uncertain and helpless stage of life, when kids are just beginning to learn to take care of themselves. Stories, like art work, gives children a safe outlet for their fears.

I remember one story I wrote at around that age. It was about a future dystopian world. There had been some catastrophe and the biosphere was destroyed. People were then living in enclosed cities for protection. I didn’t find a copy of that story in the papers, but it would be nice to see it now. That was the Cold War fears seeping into my childhood psyche. It obviously impacted me for life. Some of my first essays written for school were on topics such as ocean pollution and overpopulation. That is a heavy load to put on the mind at such a young age.

* * *

What interests me the most are the official school documents. And there are lots of them. They bring back some painful memories.

The worst year of my mildly troubled youth was in 7th grade, having begun when at the transformative age of twelve. I did not transition well from elementary school to middle school. It was traumatic, in quiet desperation kind of way. I utterly despised school, except for art class. I did gain my love of reading fiction that year and spent a fair amount of time in the library, one of the few happy places while at school. I almost flunked out of 7th grade. I would have been held back, if we hadn’t moved. On a report card from that year, my grades were mostly Cs and Ds–it states that:

“NEEDS TO LISTEN MORE CAREFULLY AND FOLLOW DIRECTIONS
IS TOO EASILY DISTRACTED
SHOWING IMPROVEMENT
HOMEWORK IS FREQUENTLY LATE OR NEVER HANDED IN
IS ENJOYABLE TO HAVE IN CLASS
SHOWS CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION”

My difficulties began much earlier than that, which I discussed in some detail in a previous post (Aspergers and Chunking). Even after getting speech therapy, my learning disability dogged me for the rest of my education.

Looking back at the years of school records, I noticed some patterns of observations. I was described as getting along well with others, makes friends, cooperative, willing to participate, tries hard, creative, imaginative, thoughtful, requiring ‘thinking time’, slow (even neat, conscientious, and perfectionist), hard time understanding or following directions (needing directions repeated or looking to other students to understand), inconsistent in turning in homework, disorganized, easily distracted, etc. Basically, I often tried hard to fit in and do what was expected of me, but I wasn’t always successful.

I had a disorganized mind, and I simply did not learn and work in a normal fashion. I still have a disorganized mind of sorts—sprawling and unfocused and, of course, easily distracted. My mind runs around in circles and takes extended byways to get to what is sought, if it ever gets there. I’m a slow thinker and slow reader… or rather I’m inefficient. Why do something simply when it can be made complicated and convoluted? Straight lines of thought and simple, direct statements are boring.

Much of this had to do with language skills. I was late in learning to read. It was partly word retrieval, but it seems there was more to it than that. I apparently had difficulty in making complete sentences and clear phrasing, overusing interjections, understanding pronouns and tenses, formulating questions, and other similar issues. In 6th grade, my teacher wrote:

“Ben has good literal comprehension, but at times misses points which lead to deeper understanding in stories. he has some difficulty relating ideas from the real world to the context of a story.”

I’m not entirely sure what that meant. I did find some other clues. From a 2nd grade speech/language form, there were several important details noted:

  • “Ben continues to have some problems with re-grouping in math and makes number reversals. he also has problems with sequencing which have hindered him in math. (What number comes before or after another number, etc.) Sequencing in stories is also difficult for Ben.”
  • “Ben is stronger visually than auditorially.”
  • “Weaknesses: . . . Language dev.[elopment] lag hinders ability to use context clues”

Interestingly, I noticed even a comment about visual perception difficulties. I really don’t know what that could be, as I’ve always been visually adept. It is the one area where I’ve always excelled. When tested in the first grade, my visual problem-solving was at a 12th grade level.

One thing that came up is visual cues were challenging for me in relation to any verbal task, and the challenge is that all of education is verbal. Both listening and reading were problematic for me. Language wasn’t easily connected to other aspects of my thinking and life, even such simple things as recalling a friend’s name. It wasn’t just word recall, but also information recall and making sense of it in any verbal context (e.g., being asked a question).

There was a particularly interesting psychological interpretive report. It was done because of my 7th grade problems.

The psychologist pointed out that my IQ was 102 on the Stanford-Binet intelligence test when it was given to me in 1st grade. That is only average, but she doesn’t mention the breakdown of the test between fluid and crystallized intelligence (i.e., between problem-solving and book learning). That was probably the same test that showed me with problem-solving skills at a 12th grade level. So, considering that my IQ was average, the book learning part must have been extremely low.

She adds that, “It was thought that he had difficulties primarily in transferring information from one modality to another in expressive areas.” Problem-solving, as long as it was non-verbal/expressive, wouldn’t involve that particular difficulty.

In another section about my 7th grade abilities and behavior, the psychologist made some useful observations:

“At this time Ben is functioning intellectually in the average range of intelligence, but there is significant discrepancies between his verbal task, just at the average range, and his work on performance tasks, which is in the gifted range. When Ben works on activities that do not involve interaction with people, he can be extremely productive. He does not use trial and error, but figures out exactly what has to be done, and then does it. In verbal tasks he gives minimal interaction. There seems to be a word retrieval problem, which has been noted in the past, and he would make comments such as, “I don’t know how to state it.” Also noted in verbal tasks that he sometimes missed directions, and then would ask to have them repeated.”

A lot of that resonates with me. I’ve always had social issues that go along with verbal issues. I often felt stupid and, worse, that there was something wrong with me. There was a disconnect between my potential ability to do something and the actual results of my trying to do it. I developed a massive deficiency in confidence and, along with depression, began to develop social anxiety or something like it. I just couldn’t deal with the pressure and the constant sense of failure and inadequacy. It plain sucked. I hated school and I hated myself. I’ve never gotten over that feeling.

There was one thing that I think the psychologist got wrong and, in talking about it, my mom agrees about this. The psychologist concludes that, my younger self’s “problems are related to a history of learning difficulties and a present style of covert resistance to pressure. That is, Ben does not ever exert open defiance or resistance, but instead gives minimal responses whenever possible. He is never actively uncooperative, but the feeling he communicates is very definitely that he does not like being pressured.”

That misses the point. I was feeling frustrated and hopeless, a lost cause and a failure. I had a low self-concept, thought of myself as unpopular and weak, was painfully shy and carried a debilitating sense of shame. I lacked social skills to the point of being socially oblivious, probably somehow related to my learning disability. I didn’t understand people or the world, much less how I was supposed to deal with all my educational problems. No one else seemed to understand me either or knew how to actually help me. Anything I did or didn’t do would be wrong and so what was the point. I was on the verge of developing a permanent state of learned helplessness. It is almost certain that I already had depression at the time, although I wouldn’t be diagnosed until college.

The psychologists response was to have perceived me as having been uncooperative. That probably wasn’t a helpful conclusion.

* * *

While reading such reports, it gets me thinking about early childhood. Mixed in with official documents, there were some photographs of my young self. I was a happy little kid.

One thing I was always good at was art. In the quote at the the beginning of this piece, I stated that among other possibilities I dreamed of growing up to become an artist. Later on, I would even win a scholarship for an art degree. But I don’t think my parents considered that practical and so I went into a botany major and was predictably overwhelmed by science and math classes.

No guidance counselor should have ever allowed me to take that major without voicing some serious concern. The only class I ever had to repeat was a chemistry class. That should have been a sign of problems. But all anyone had to do was ask me. I hated science classes, partly because how they were taught and how I learned. My troubles with learning disability would be magnified a thousandfold in college, and yet no one thought to offer me extra help. I was simply thrown into the deep end with the assumption that I’d just start swimming. Instead, depression fell on me like a ton of bricks.

* * *

It feels like for my whole life I was always being set up for failure. I have this basic sense of being out of sync with the rest of humanity. I’m a seriously dysfunctional person, but I hide it well. That is all that society cares about is as long as you can manage to hide your problems and not make them public concerns. Struggle and fail in isolation. Don’t make yourself a nuisance. It’s all your fault and there is no one else to blame. Feel ashamed, but suppress it and pretend your normal.

What is frustrating about all of this isn’t just my personal problems and the unhappy moments of my past. My personal issues are rather insignificant in the big scheme of things. Our entire society is dysfunctional to the point of self-destructiveness, some might even say sociopathy. We humans have a collective learning disability in that we are incapable of learning from our past mistakes, much less grasp our collective failings in the present moment. My granddad gave my infant self a framed copy of The New York Times’ front page for the date of my birth. The events reported were rather mundane, pretty much the same old crap we are still dealing with—mostly an obsession with such things as politics and troublesome socialists and civil rights activists, healthcare and education, crime and drugs, international conflict and the Middle East.

I just turned 40 years old. That feels like a new era of my life. I guess I’m old now, but it occurs to me that I’m now at the age my dad was when I entered first grade. Back then, my dad was hitting the high point of his career in the private sector and, although his prospects were bright, he had a midlife crisis. He was wise enough to wait to get well into adulthood before having such a crisis. As for me, I started my crisis in childhood and worked from there.

Mine was a generation with many problems. I had good company. As I’ve pointed out a number of times, this partly had to do with lead toxicity, possibly related to my own learning disability. It was also the entire shifting of society and economy, pollutants just being one small part. We don’t choose the world we are born into. I was my parents’ last child because of the fears at the time about overpopulation and the overtaxing of the environment.

When we are young, we dream of the future. This is usually expressed in personal terms. Teachers and other adults will ask us what we like to do and what we want to be when we grow up. But it doesn’t take long for the larger world to impinge on the developing mind and to shape the emerging individual. Each new generation grows up with a shared set of dreams and fears, opportunities and problems. It is what we inherit and what we carry forward through the rest of our lives, traces of it passing onto the following generations.

What will the kids of today find in the boxes of childhood stuff when they reach adulthood and then middle age? What will they make of the world that made them into who they are? How will they see those of us who helped create the world they were born into and inherited?

* * *

With those questions in mind, it occurred to me how so many of my generational peers are at the age of being ‘young’ parents. Both of my brothers have kids, one of whom is just starting school. I have a number of cousins and friends with kids as well, all at school age, many still in elementary school.

I see the issues they are dealing with, both the parents and the kids. There are, of course, various issues involved, as growing up is always a challenge—issues of: learning, development, behavior, etc. In some cases, the parents are struggling. It’s a tough position to be in as a parent, not always knowing how to best help your child and no doubt making mistakes in the process. Also, like in the past, school officials aren’t always helpful, considering the limits of funding, resources, and time.

What kind of childhood do kids have these days? What memories are they forming? It does seem like a strange time to be a kid.

One thought I had was how the world is becoming more impersonal. This is seen in education, where bureaucracy has taken over. I noticed the shift happening even in the records across my own grade school education. The early forms were often filled out by hand and contained personal observations made by teachers, school psychologists, etc. But later records were almost entirely type written and often obviously computer-generated, all personal aspects eliminated.

It also makes me wonder what will get saved. My mom apparently saved almost everything and there was plenty to be saved. All work was done on physical paper. Computers simply weren’t used when I was in grade school, even though they were around. We had computers at home, but they ultimately were just fancy typewriters.

When I was growing up, my mom made photo albums for the family and for each of us boys. But neither of my sister-in-laws makes photo albums for their kids. Most of the photographs remain on the computer, at best maybe getting posted on Facebook. Will those photos just get lost over the decades? Where will Facebook and all those pictures be when my nieces and nephew turn 40 years old? Will people go back to some archived Facebook to explore their childhoods and reminisce?

Many have noted how much childhood has changed in recent generations. It makes one wonder how the remembering of childhood will also change.

 

Freedom to Play and Child Development

What is the role of play for child development? Play seems so insignificant or even potentially dangerous for our goal-oriented, safety-minded society. But research seems to point to the complete opposite conclusion and the larger implications need to be taken seriously:

“On the basis of such research, Sandseter[1] wrote, in a 2011 article in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, “We may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.” She wrote this as if it were a prediction for the future, but I’ve reviewed data—in Free to Learn and elsewhere[5]–indicating that this future is here already and has been for awhile.

“Briefly, the evidence is this. Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways. Over the same 60 years we have also witnessed a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.

“Look back at that list of six categories of risky play. In the 1950s, even young children regularly played in all of these ways, and adults expected and permitted such play (even if they weren’t always happy about it). Now parents who allowed such play would likely be accused of negligence, by their neighbors if not by state authorities.”

Generations at the Age of Twelve

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
~ Stand by Me, movie based on Stephen King’s novella The Body

Nothing that happens after we are twelve matters very much.
~ J.M. Barrie, Margaret Ogilvy

Twelve is the magical dividing line, we all know that. I don’t care what grown-ups say, but that’s when your childhood comes to an end.
~ Peter Pohl, Johnny, My Friend

“Well,” you will tell yourself, “it lasted until he was twelve; they grow up and resent our care for them, they form their own ideas, and think ours old-fashioned. It is natural. But oh, to have that little boy again, whom I used to throw up to the sky, his face laughing down into mine.”
~ A.A. Milne, Its Too Late Now

Let me continue with my thoughts about generational change and conflict which was itself a continuation of my thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. This is one of those topics that gets caught in my craw.

I had two basic thoughts in response to what I’ve already written.

First, I was considering what it is that form’s a generation’s worldview. It is a confluence of events. There are cycles that seem to endlessly repeat (or, if not precise cycles, history does rhyme to an impressive degree). Still, no generation is ever the same as what came before. There is a unique moment in time, an era of childhood, a beginning point that forever shapes the collective mindset of an entire generation (at least within a single country and, increasingly so, within the larger world during this new era of globalized mass media).

Second, I was considering the present older generation and why it is so easy to see them as stalling progress. The situation we find ourselves in is somewhere between a stalemate and outright dysfunction. As a society, we can’t seem to resolve the simplest of issues, much less move forward in a productive fashion. This becomes increasingly relevant as my generation and the next takes on the reigns of power.

The first thought leads into the second.

So, about the first thought.

As I explained with the KKK post, it isn’t as if the members of the KKK (the ‘Klansmen’) were evil incarnate. Most of them were normal people doing normal things. The Second KKK in the 1920s was mostly a civic organization. Yes, it was a racist civic organization, but so were many others. Back then, especially among older whites, you would have been outside the norm to not have been racist.

Klansmen probably wouldn’t even have thought of themselves as racists. Most people don’t define themselves in terms of negatives. Racism was just the cultural background they were born into. It was the world of their childhood.

Childhood is that time of key formative experiences. It creates what we consider normal and acceptable. It is what we look back upon often with fondness and sometimes with righteousness. Even if our childhoods were bad, it is easy for people to not understand why younger generations should have easier childhoods that will make them soft and weak. Whatever the case, we don’t tend to be very objective and neutral about our childhoods.

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

“a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, based upon Bradbury’s childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. [ . . . ] The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesterday.”

Bradbury would only have been 8 years old in 1928, but the fictionalized boy was 12. That is a mythical number of a complete cycle such as 12 months. In the child’s world, life revolves around summer. The end of summer in the novel is symbolic of the end of childhood with the last moment of childhood at age twelve. That last moment of childhood is the end of one period of life and the beginning of another, the ending of elementary school and the halfway point of primary education, halfway point on the way to full adulthood.

Many stories focus on this magical time of life, this point of transition. Stand by Me begins with the voiceover, “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” Like Dandelion Wine, this is a story about the ending of childhood and the emergence of adult awareness which is most poignantly made known through death. 12 and Holding is yet another story about the dual themes of age 12 and death.

Maybe one can tell a lot about an individual or a generation in considering what the world was like when they were twelve.

For example, Reagan was twelve in 1923. That is that same quiet period as the setting of Dandelion Wine. It was the 1920s, a carefree time following the end of WWI and before the beginning of the Great Depression at the end of that decade. I’m sure Bradbury used 1928 as signifying that innocent moment prior to 1929. The whole country was innocent. WWI would have seemed like an anomaly and anyway it was a war far away that never had much directly to do with the United States, especially for a child who would have had no memory of it at all. WWII and the Cold War were a long way off in the future.

Both Reagan and Bradbury remember childhoods during the 1920s in small towns in Illinois. Reagan considered that to be a formative period of his life. His home at age twelve supposedly is the only house he mentions in any of his books. The 1920s was a time of peace and optimism. Magnified by the memories of a pleasant childhood, Reagan carried that sensibility into his adulthood. And it was that sunny optimism that made him so popular.

Reagan spent his childhood going to school. Many of the Lost Generation, instead of schooling, spent their childhoods working whatever jobs they could find. Unlike Reagan and his cohort, the Lost Generation had less of a childhood to reminisce about. Spending age twelve in a factory or a mine would give you a different worldview for the rest of your life. The Lost Generation was unique in this way. Even the generation before them didn’t have this experience for, in their childhoods, they didn’t know mass urbanization and mass industrialization. So, neither the generation before nor the generation following could understand what the Lost Generation had lived.

Similarly, although to less extremes, Generation X had a relatively difficult childhood and young adulthood.

At age 12, the Cold War was still going on and the oppressive Cold War culture (e.g., comic book codes). As I’ve often pointed out, GenXers childhood was unique in many ways. We were the most aborted generation ever and so a small generation between two large generations. In childhood going on into young adulthood, my generation experienced high rates of poverty, child abuse, homicide, suicide and unemployment. When we were young, society stopped being oriented toward and accommodating of children. Restaurants became less welcoming of young families and less tolerant of the antics of children. Very little entertainment was made for kids and plenty of entertainment was made about evil and possessed children, rebellious and violent teens, and nihilistic and self-destructive young adults.

When most Americans were experiencing economic good times, there were two specific demographics that were hit hard in the last decades of the 20th century: GenXers and blacks. Both demographics experienced high rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration. If you were a GenX black, it would have felt like the whole world was against you for everyone would have seen you as nothing but a gangsta and a drug dealer. The GenX black was the ultimate scapegoat of our society.

At age 12, GenXers saw a cynical age of greed, oppression and ignorance. That is what many in my generation came to expect as normal, just the way the world is. As a small generation, it didn’t feel like there was much we could do about it. Many of my generation embraced this worldview and so we became the generation with the highest support of Reagan. Cynical realpolitik and Wall Street greed seemed to be the name of the game. We put a very different spin on Reagan’s optimism, though, for we were better able to see through it. Optimism simply meant survival of the fittest and fuck the downtrodden. A not very nice ideal, but nice ideals were for wimpy flower children of the ’60s. That is what we learned from Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

That is the sad result of my generation. We played the game that was presented us, but not all of us wanted to play that game. The only other choice was to drop out entirely or at least psychologically. The advantage my generation has had is that many of us always knew it was bullshit. We never swallowed the lies to as great an extent as the older generation. Reagan actually believed what he said, an actor who became the role he played: first a cowboy, then a corporate spokesperson, and then a politician. His optimism was self-delusion. My generation at least had the sense to realize that there were alternative viewpoints.

Still, it will require a more demanding vision of the generation following mine to have a chance in hell of challenging the 20th century status quo that now bleeds into this new century.  GenXers are too mired in the Boomer worldview that has dominated our entire lives, especially for older GenXers. We are more a generation of doomsaying prophets than inspiring visionaries. The main thing my generation can do is to starkly portray and grimly explain the reasons we got here. I’m part of a generation of clowns for only clowns can speak the truth, not that speaking the truth is a requirement of being a clown.

In my second to last post (of which this post is a continuation), I somewhat simplistically implied that it was Boomers were mucking up the work. To be fair, as explained above, older GenXers are also to blame. Some would even see older GenXers as part of the older generation now ruling politics, rather than as being of the same generation as younger GenXers:

“If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early 40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.”

That fits some of my experience. All of history is continuous. Disruptions are perceived which depends on the experience of those perceiving. If generations exist, it is because they share a common perception of historical events. Simply sharing the same historical period would not be enough.

However you dice the generations, the older demographic dominating politics has been creating dysfunction. I think we can all agree on that much.

So, why are the older folk mucking up the works?

It’s not just that there was a baby boom. No doubt we are experiencing the slow digestion of the elephant in the python, but there is more to it. An elephant, of course, is a difficult thing for a python to digest. More importantly, why does the elephant keep struggling so much in the process? The elephant in question obviously doesn’t want to be digested and is far from giving up the ghost.

This older generation isn’t simply in the way of progress. More specifically, this older generation is resisting progress and reacting to it, fighting it tooth and nail. They’d rather shut down the government than have an honest discussion about our collective problems. It isn’t even as if they are genuinely against government as government grew bigger under their watch than ever before.

There is a lot going on with that generation. They were a more monocultural and whiter demographic. As I’ve pointed out before, they were born at the lowest point of immigration in the 20th century and I’m not sure when it had last been that low. The conflict they grew up with wasn’t between natives and immigrants but between American whites and American blacks, especially between whites from the Northern states and blacks from the Southern states. Still, even between whites and blacks, there was a sense that the country was progressing to some extent, even though less quickly for blacks.

This generation couldn’t understand what followed nor sympathize with those who were negatively impacted. This is why many older blacks also came to support tough on crime laws and the War on Drugs, despite the fact that blacks were being harmed by it and black communities were being destroyed because of it. These older people remembered a world that no longer was and they couldn’t understand why it couldn’t remain that way. They had to blame someone. The young were one useful target, young blacks being one of the best targets of all. This is why someone like Bill Cosby can say idiotic things about poor black people.

It’s also a class thing. The economic divide didn’t just grow between whites and blacks. It also grew within the races. The middle and upper class blacks found themselves disconnected from the experience of most blacks. You would think not being accepted into mainstream white society would make older and well off blacks sympathetic to the plight of young blacks, but apparently that often isn’t the case. The power of a generational worldview can be even greater than the solidarity of race, especially for blacks who never were the exemplaries of solidarity as were the Germans, Irish and Italians.

The younger generation in general and minorities in particular, who have been hit hardest by mass incarceration, don’t receive much sympathy. Their lives have been destroyed. In response, their families and communities offer them nothing but shame. The Civil Rights movement was never good about helping the worst off among blacks.

As mass incarceration continues, a new generation is growing up either incarcerated or with the fear of incarceration. Even if not incarceration, society is offering them little to hope for. GenXers were at that magical age of twelve when all this began. Millennials at age twelve saw it continuing. Now a new generation will be coming to that age in a few years and likely it isn’t going to end anytime soon. The event of 9/11 was simply used as justification for more of the same and worse still. We will have several generations who knew nothing but a police state ever increasing in its oppression.

When will a new generation come along who will be able to fondly remember the age of 12 as a time of peace and optimism?

Dandelion Wine
by Ray Bradbury

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At nigh, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now . . .

“Boy, whispered Douglas.

A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. He would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted ice-house door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen. […]

Summer 1928 began.

Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison

Ruth felt a chill. She’d always believed that her father wanted to die. “I wish I could count on your faith as far as my son was concerned. But I think I’d be a really foolish woman if I did that. You saw your own father die, just like I did; you saw him killed. Do you think he wanted to die?”

“I swaw Papa shot. Blown off a fence five feet into the air. I saw him wiggling on the ground, but not only did I not see him die, I seen him since he was shot.”

“Pilate. You all buried him yourselves.” Ruth spoke as if she were talking to a child.

“Macon did.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“Macon seen him too. After he buried him, after he was blown off that fence. We both seen him. I see him still. He’s helpful to me, real helpful. Tells me things I need to know.”

“What things?”

“All kinds of things. It’s a good feelin to know he’s around. I telll you he’s a person I can always rely on. I tell yo somethin else. He’s the only one. I was cut off rom people early. You can’t know what that was like. After my papa was blown off that fence, me and Macon wandered around for a few days until we a fallin out and I went off on my own. I was about twelve, I think. When I cut out by myself, I headed for Virginia. I thought I remembered that was where my papa had people. Or my mother did. Seemed to me like I remembered somebody sayin that. I don’t remember my mother because she died before I was born.”

Before you were born? How could she . . . ?”

“She died and the next minute I was born. But she was dead by the time I drew air. I never saw her face. I don’t even know what her name was. But I do remember thinkin she come from Virginia. Anyways, that’s where I struck out for. I looked around for somebody to take me in, give me a little work for a while so I could earn some money to get on down there. I walked for seven days before I found a place with a preacher’s family. A nice place except they made me wear shoes. They sent me to school, though. A one-room place, where everybody sat. I was twelve, but since this was my first school I had to sit over there with the little bitty children. I didn’t mind it too much; matter of fact, I liked a lot of it. I loved the geography part. Learning about that made me want to read. And the teacher tickled at how much I liked geography. She let me have the book and I took it home with me to look at. But then the preacher started pattin on me. I was so dumb I didn’t know enough to stop him. But his wife caught him at it, thumbin my breasts, and put me out. I took my geography book off with me. I could of stayed in that town cause they was plenty of colored people to take me in. In them days, anybody too old to work kept the children. Grown folks worked and left their kids in other people’s houses. But him being the preacher and all like that, I figured I ought to make tracks. I was broke as a haint cause the place didn’t carry no wages. Just room and board. So I took my geography book and a rock I picked up for a souvenir and lit out. […]”

Pilate sucked a peach stone and her face was dark and still with the memory of how she was “cut off” so early from other people.

Becoming a Free Thinker and a Scientist
by Albert Einstein

When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in that chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.

As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came – though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents – to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment-an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections.

It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the “merely personal,” from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.

Black Boy
by Richard Wright
(began writing at age 12)

At the age of twelve, before I had had one full year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.

At the age of twelve I had an attitude toward life that was to endure, that was to make me seek those areas of living that would keep it alive, that was to make me skeptical of everything while seeking everything, tolerant of all and yet critical. The spirit I had caught gave me insight into the suffering of others, made me gravitate toward those whose feelings were like my own, made me sit for hours while others told me of their lives, made me strangely tender and cruel, violent and peaceful.

It made me want to drive coldly to the heart of every question  and lay it open to the core of suffering I knew I would find there.  It made me love burrowing into psychology, into realistic and  naturalistic fiction and art, into those whirlpools of politics that  had the power to claim the whole of men’s souls. It directed my loyalties to the side of men in rebellion; it made me love talk  that sought answers to questions that could help nobody, that  could only keep alive in me that enthralling sense of wonder and  awe in the face of the drama of human feeling which is hidden by the external drama of life.

Dreams from My Father
by Barack Obama

When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose – the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds. And if I were to explain that no, the tragedy is not mine, or at least not mine alone, it is yours, sons and daughters of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island, it is yours, children of Africa, it is the tragedy of both my wife’s six-year-old cousin and his white first grade classmates, so that you need not guess at what troubles me, it’s on the nightly news for all to see, and that if we could acknowledge at least that much then the tragic cycle begins to break down…well, I suspect that I sound incurably naive, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns. Or worse, I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself.

The Magical Age of Twelve
by Lynley Stace

Read enough children’s books and you’ll realise something magical happens after age twelve. It’s even embedded in the English language, in which thirteen marks the beginning of the teen years. Twelve is the final age of innocence. In JudeoChristian terms, 12 is the final year in which you can get away with things. Next comes ‘the age of accountability’.

Twelve As The Age Of Initiation

Amazingly many children’s novels portray characters of eleven or twelve. I do not think this is a coincidence. This is the age of initiation in many archaic cultures, and although this connotation has been lost in Western society, some remnants may be left in the authors’ imagination. Children in The Giver are assigned their jobs, and therewith their place in society, at the age of twelve. Here is what another character says about this age: “Twelve is the magical dividing line, we all know that. I don’t care what grown-ups say, but that’s when your childhood comes to an end” (Johnny My Friend, 89). Formally, of course, after twelve you are a “teenager”, not a child.

— from The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva

Tally watched the last few uglies make their way inside, gawky and nervous, unkempt and uncoordinated. Twelve was definitely the turning point, when you changed from a cute littlie into an oversize, under-educated ugly.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (page 77)

Twelve As The Age Of In-between

Sometimes the protagonist starts off eleven then turns twelve. Sometimes the protagonist is twelve and turns thirteen.

Onkeli portrays a child of around 11 to 13 who is confused by many things. Researchers consider this age group to fall into an in-between area: there aren’t enough appealing activities on offer for kids of this age, who are treated as an awkward bunch both at home and at school.

– Kreetta Onkeli: Poika joka menetti muistinsa [The boy who lost his memory]

Twelve As The Age Of Fertility

It seems no accdident that the daughter figures in [feminist] nested narratives are girls who are either twelve years old or close to it. In The Mixed-Up Files, Claudia is one month shy of being twelve; Arilla turns twelve in the beginning of the framing tale of Arilla Sun Down. One of the stories that Georgina [of The Borning Room by Paul Fleischman] tells about herself occurs the summer she is twelve; it is the story of how she has learned form her grandfather’s stories that all living things are spiritual. That these girls learn about the power of narrativity while they are on the brink of physical fertility creates a textrual conjoining of artistry and maternity. As their bodies become capable of housing new life, their narratives become capable of housing new stories.

— Roberta Seelinger Trites, Waking Sleeping Beauty

What Do You Remember Best About Being 12?
by Katherine Schulten

This Is a 12-Year-Old Brain on Peer Pressure
by Corey Turner

If adolescence has a poster child, it’s a teenager. In a car. Smoking, drinking, and driving badly while also, somehow, having sex in the back seat. But changes in the brain that lead to the famously bad choices of adolescence don’t start at 16 or 17 years old. They start around 11 or 12, at the beginning of puberty.

This is the dirty little secret of adolescence: The cloudy judgment and risky behavior may not last a year or two. Try a decade.

Being 12: The Most Awkward, Essential Year of Our Lives
by Arun Venugopal

For a lot of American adults, age 12 is probably just one more moment in the extended blur that is adolescence, located smack dab in the middle of those forgettable middle school years.

We’re here to argue that 12 is in fact pretty special, especially if you’re a New Yorker. This is the moment when many students are commuting to school alone, navigating the city by themselves. At school, they’re juggling assignments and expectations, preparing for high school. Their minds are expanding dramatically, their bodies are beginning to morph. Social life is getting messy.

“It’s difficult because you’re learning all these responsibilities for the first time,” said Noah Shippey, a 12-year-old at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School. “And none of this has really happened before. Adults, they do that all the time and it’s easy because they’ve done it a lot. But we’re just starting.”

Middle School: A ‘Hot Mess’ of Distractions
by Beth Fertig

Seasoned middle school teachers and principals know what they’re up against. Their students are bombarded by physical and psychological changes. The same child can show up dedicated and hard-working one day, silly and difficult the next.

But if you grab their attention, educators told WNYC, there’s a chance to make a difference with long-term benefits.

“In the spectrum of adolescent development, 12 is really when you start to have the changeover,” said Derick Spaulding, the principal of Emolior Academy in the South Bronx. “They come in with a set of ideas, but a set of ideas that are amendable and moldable to a degree.”

Opinion: Seventh Grade Matters. A Lot.
by Carmen Farina

Walk into a middle school and it may feel like you’ve stepped into a foreign land, a world where young people are self-consumed, where a minor situation to an adult feels huge and devastating to a student trying to find her bearings at school and in the larger world.

Remember what it was like? Adapting to new ways of learning in subject-specific classrooms, feeling self-conscious about physical changes. Peers and friendships rose in importance. Parental relationships were tested.

It hasn’t changed much. As an educator and parent, I’ve come to see these years, in particular grade seven, as a watershed moment for youth development well deserving of our attention, best thinking and planning.

According to John Lounsbury, dean emeritus of the John H. Lounsbury School of Education at Georgia College and former editor of the Association for Middle Level Education, these are the most important years for the individual and, as an extension, for society.

“These are the years when youngsters crystallize their beliefs about themselves and firm up their self-concepts, their philosophies of life and their values – the things that are the ultimate determinants of behavior,” he wrote earlier this year.

Time to Ban Middle School?
by Anna north

The sheer unpleasantness of middle school has become something of a cliché; “middle school dance” now stands as a shorthand for any socially awkward experience. And yet, for many of us, middle school is terrible, a time when childhood is sort of over but even the mixed blessings of adolescence have yet to fully present themselves. Now experts are beginning to propose a solution to the problem of middle school: abolish it.

At Pacific Standard, Dana Goldstein argues that middle school students are not, in fact, so consumed with meanness and hormones that it is impossible to teach them anything:

“It isn’t that middle school kids are hopeless, just that middle schools are poorly designed to meet the needs of the students within them, a condition psychologists call a person-environment mismatch. The good news is that researchers already know what might work better.”

The Truth About Age Twelve
from Waldorf Publications

The age of twelve is remarkable. As childhood comes to its end, the twelve-year-old can feel accomplishment and mastery of many skills in jump rope, running, reading, arithmetic, high jumping, memorization, writing, logic, and reasoning. Just as the sense of mastery peaks, the child’s body begins to change. Though the first changes are invisible, the child feels them with a growing sense of alarm at what the changes might be.

For the following three to five years, the developing youth experiences the same rapid growth experienced by infants. Never again will the developing human being have to manage so much growth in a concentrated time. The child begins to experience expansion and hair growth in unusual places, changes in the voice and, most importantly, changes in thinking and reactions.

There is a dawning of the capacity of judgment in the child at age twelve. Suddenly the child can evaluate, contrast ideas and experiences, and think about things in a new and discerning ways. This new capacity needs exercise and children can be brilliant arguers at this age, It is difficult to win an argument with a twelve year old. Relentless energy and indefatigable focus are possible at this age as at no other.

The child has much to manage with all this growth. It is frightening to see the changes and wrangle with them. After experiencing the mastery of a few months before, the growing preteen often feels betrayed by the adults on which he or she has depended. They cannot believe that they are changing and so they think that their grown-ups must have changed and this can make them angry or mistrustful.

After all, a boy’s voice box grows up to seven times its original size and a girl’s three times its original size. This constitutes only one major change in a child’s development at age twelve. With this growth comes the power of procreation, the capacity to create new life. Though emotionally the proper use of this is not possible, the very presence of this ultimate potency to invent life brings to the young human being for the first time, and inevitably, dark thoughts of death.

The Planes of Development – Maria Montessori
from Ratner Montessori School

Dr. Montessori outlines four consecutive planes of development from birth to maturity; each plane spanning approximately six years. At each plane of development children and young people display intellectual powers, social orientations and creative potential unique to that stage. Each plane is characterized by the way children in that plane learn, building on the achievements of the plane before and preparing for the one to follow. The timing and nature of the transition between planes vary from individual to individual.

  • The second plane of development is the period from approximately six to twelve years. The developmental focus of this period is intellectual independence hand in hand with the development of ethics and social responsibility. During this stage, children become conceptual explorers. They use reasoning, abstract thought and imagination to explore and develop their understanding of the world.
  • The third plane of development is from the age of twelve to eighteen and young people become humanistic explorers seeking to understand their place in society and to contribute to society. They have a huge capacity for creative expression and their style of learning becomes more practical and experiential; an approach they use to explore previously introduced concepts in more depth and in real-life context.

Children in the Early 17th century: Child Care
from Plimoth Plantation

Child (6/7 to 12/14)

Age was viewed as multiples of six in the case of girls, and seven for boys. While there was no definitive break in a girl’s life at six, a boy was usually “breeched” about the age of seven. At this time he was no longer dressed in a child’s gown or skirts, but given small versions of adult male clothing. He was also likely to spend much less time at home with his mother, and more out with the men working. If a child did not go to school, s/he usually entered the work force by ten to twelve, although poor children might be placed in service at a younger age.

A girl was legally at the age of discretion at the age of twelve, and a boy at fourteen. They could wed at these ages, although that was very rare. A boy could inherit a copyhold lease at fourteen, as well. Twelve or thirteen had been the common age of confirmation in the Church of England until 1604, when reformers pushed the age to sixteen.

Youth (12/14 to 18/21)

Children in the early 17th century, if they weren’t in school, had commonly joined the work force by now. Some boys and more frequently, girls, would remain at home and work alongside their parents. For a boy who was to learn a craft, this would be the period in which he started his apprenticeship. […] For those not apprenticed, the majority would become servants.

As Jewish boys became men at age 12, Jesus became godman at that same age.

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

Luke 2:40-2:49 (see commentary on Luke 2:42)

Bar and Bat Mitzvah
from Jews For Jesus

The fact that the age of twelve is specifically noted may suggest that it was a transition age even in the first-century, though any evidence comes from the later period of the Talmud. At least, twelve could be considered an age when a young man evidenced wisdom and piety. Josephus (Antiquities X.4.1) says of King Amon:

And when he was twelve years old, he gave demonstrations of his religious and righteous behavior; for he brought the people to a sober way of living, and exhorted them to leave off the opinion they had of their idols, because they were not gods, but to worship their own God. And by repeating on the actions of his progenitors, he prudently corrected what they did wrong, like a very elderly man, and like one abundantly able to understand what was fit to be done …

Josephus likewise speaks of Samuel (Antiquities V.10.4):

Now when Samuel was twelve years old, he began to prophesy: and once when he was asleep, God called to him by his name; …

Luke may then be pointing to Jesus’ wisdom and special relationship to God by mentioning his age. Certainly Luke intends his readers to share the amazement that this twelve-year-old was engaging in a religious discussion beyond his years.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

when twelve years old—At this age every Jewish boy was styled “a son of the law,” being put under a course of instruction and trained to fasting and attendance on public worship, besides being set to learn a trade. At this age accordingly our Lord is taken up for the first time to Jerusalem, at the passover season, the chief of the three annual festivals

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

42. when he was twelve years old] No single word breaks the silence of the Gospels respecting the childhood of Jesus from the return to Nazareth till this time. We infer indeed from scattered hints in Scripture that He “began to do” His work before He “began to teach,” and being “tempted in all points like as we are” won the victory from His earliest years, alike over positive and negative temptations. (Hebrews 5:8. See Ullmann, Sinlessness of Jesus, E. Tr. p. 140.) Up to this time He had grown as other children grow, only in a childhood of stainless and sinless beauty—“as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, and as lilies by the waters,” Sir 39:13-14. This incident of His ‘confirmation,’ as in modern language we might call it, is “the solitary flowret out of the wonderful enclosed garden of the thirty years, plucked precisely there where the swollen bud at a distinctive crisis bursts into flower.” Stier, Words of Jesus, i. 18.

This silence of the Evangelists is a proof of their simple faithfulness, and is in striking contrast with the blaze of foolish and dishonouring miracles with which the Apocryphal Gospels degrade the Divine Boyhood. See my Life of Christ, 1. 58–66. Meanwhile we are permitted to see (i) That our Lord never attended the schools of the Rabbis (Mark 6:2; John 6:42; John 7:15), and therefore that His teaching was absolutely original, and that He would therefore be regarded by the Rabbis as a ‘man of the people,’ or ‘unlearned person.’ (See Acts 4:13; T. B. Berachôth, f. 47. 2; Sir 38:24 fg.) (ii) That He had learnt to write (John 8:6). (iii) That He was acquainted not only with Aramaic, but with Hebrew, Greek, and perhaps Latin (Life of Christ, i. 91); and (iv) That he had been deeply impressed by the lessons of nature (id. i. 93).

twelve years old] Up to this age a Jewish boy was called ‘little,’ afterwards he was called ‘grown up,’ and became a ‘Son of the Law,’ or ‘Son of the Precepts.’ At this age he was presented on the Sabbath called the ‘Sabbath of Phylacteries’ in the Synagogue, and began to wear the phylacteries with which his father presented him. According to the Jews twelve was the age at which Moses left the house of Pharaoh’s daughter, and Samuel was called, and Solomon gave his judgment, and Josiah carried out his reform. (Jos. Antt. ii. 9. 6, v. 10. 4.)

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

And when he was twelve years old,…. Not that he was now, , “a son of the commandment”, (r) to use the Jewish phrase; or now came under the yoke of the law; or was obliged to the duties of adult church membership, as is asserted by some; nor particularly to go to Jerusalem to make his appearance at the feast of the passover, or any other feast: for according to the maxims of the Jews, persons were not obliged to the duties of the law, or subject to the penalties of it in case of non-performance, until they were, a female, at the age of twelve years, and one day, and a male, at the age of thirteen years, and one day; but then they used to train up their children, and inure them to religious exercises before: as for instance, though they were not obliged to fast on the day of atonement, until they were at the age before mentioned; yet, they used them to it two or three year’s before, as they were able to endure it: a son of nine, or ten years old, they train him up by hours; they make him fast so many hours; and one of eleven, or “twelve years old”, they make him fast a whole day: but then this was not law, but custom; and which they observed, that they might be used to the commandments (s), and be expert in them, and ready to perform them when required. It is said, (t) that “there was a good custom in Jerusalem to make their little sons and daughters fast on a fast day; the son of a year, till the very day he is “twelve years old”, when he fasts the whole day; and after that they carry him, and bring him before every ancient man, that he may bless him, and confirm him, and pray over him, that he may be worthy in the law, and in good works; and: every one that is greater than he in the city, he stands up from his place, and goes before him, and bows to him, to pray for him: and this is to learn him, that they are beautiful, and their works beautiful and acceptable to God; and they did not use to leave their little children behind them, but brought them to the synagogues, , “that they might be ready in the commandments”.

That they might be inured to them, and expert in them, when they were under obligation to them; for they were not properly under the law, until they were arrived to the age above mentioned; nor were they reckoned adult church members till then, nor then neither, unless worthy persons: for so it is said (u),

“he that is worthy, at thirteen years of age, is called , “a son of the congregation of Israel”;

that is, a member of the church. When therefore Joseph and Mary took Jesus along with them, at this age,

when they went up to Jerusalem, after the custom of the feast of the passover, it shows their religious regard to him; and may be an instruction to parents, to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, after their example,

(r) Aben Ezra in Genesis 17.14. (s) Misn. Yoma, c. 8. sect. 4. & Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 82. 1. Maimon. Hilch. Shebitat Asur, c. 2. sect. 10, 11. (t) Massechet Sopherim, c. 18. sect. 5. (u) Zohar in Exod. fol. 39. 4.

Sense of Place, of Home, of Community… or lack thereof

As I work as a cashier, I always have plenty of time to read and there are often newspapers available. Otherwise, I’d be mostly ignorant of old media. There is something quite relaxing about reading a paper. Anyways, the pleasure of physical reading material isn’t the point of this post. I just wanted to give credit to the dying old media.

The real reason for this post is an article I came across in the Wall Street Journal:

The Homeward Bound American
By Jennifer Graham

[taste.graham]

That article is about the data from recently published research:

Residential Mobility, Well-being, and Mortality
By Shigehiro Oishi and Ulrich Schimmack

The research is about moving and the impact it has on children (family being a topic that has been on my mind recently: Conservative & Liberal Families: Observations & Comparison). I guess it does relate to old media and to the world that once was. It may be hard to believe that there was a time when moving was uncommon. Once upon a time, every town probably had at least one if not several newspapers offering local perspectives on everything. Could you imagine reading the same newspaper your whole life which was reported by and which reported on the same local people you knew your entire life?

In the United States, though, the stable community has always been more of an ideal than a reality. We are, of course, the land of immigrants, the land of a people constantly moving Westward. At this point, it might be in our very genetics. All the people with homebody genetics stayed in their homelands while their restless family members ventured to the New World. Those who weren’t given a choice in making this ocean trip, such as slaves and refugees, often had their entire culture destroyed and their connection to their homeland lost. Americans are a rootless people, whether by choice or not (which I’ve written about before: Homelessness and Civilization; in that post, I point out the Christian theology of homelessness).

It took Americans to create something like the internet which has challenged old media and traditional communities. Even the media Americans create tend towards rootlessness. A lot of good things have come out of this American attitude of embracing innovation, of embracing the new. It’s easy for us to rationalize our national character as being a great thing. Americans idealize optimism, but optimism can’t deny reality. No matter how willing we are to move (with about half the population moving in their lifetime), the above linked research shows that it doesn’t necessarily lead to healthy results. I intuitively felt this to be true, but until now I haven’t had hard data to support my intuition.

My thoughts on the matter are influenced by my own personal experience. I’m an American and I think I’m a fairly typical American in many ways. I moved around some while growing up. By the 8th grade, I had lived in 4 states. The place I spent my high school years in was a large city and so it wasn’t conducive to developing a sense of home and community. I actually ended up longing for the previous town we had lived in because I had many friends there and it was a small town with more of a stable community. In the different schools I went to, there was always a core group of kids who had known each other their entire lives. I could see the immense difference between them and I. This may have been made even more clear because I spent my early years in the Midwest before having moved to South Carolina. Along with the sense of having loss my home and my friends, I experienced some major culture shock. The entire time I lived there, South Carolina never felt like home. My brothers and I moved back to the Midwest as soon as we had an opportunity. I suspect this somewhat transitory childhood has had long-term impact on myself and my brothers.

Let me first point out some of the results of the research. Here is from a Science Daily article about the same research:

Moving Repeatedly in Childhood Linked With Poorer Quality-of-Life Years Later, Study Finds

The researchers found that the more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being at the time they were surveyed, even when controlling for age, gender and education level. The research also showed that those who moved frequently as children had fewer quality social relationships as adults.

The researchers also looked to see if different personality types — extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism — affected frequent movers’ well-being. Among introverts, the more moves participants reported as children, the worse off they were as adults. This was in direct contrast to the findings among extraverts. “Moving a lot makes it difficult for people to maintain long-term close relationships,” said Oishi. “This might not be a serious problem for outgoing people who can make friends quickly and easily. Less outgoing people have a harder time making new friends.”

The findings showed neurotic people who moved frequently reported less life satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being than people who did not move as much and people who were not neurotic. Neuroticism was defined for this study as being moody, nervous and high strung. However, the number and quality of neurotic people’s relationships had no effect on their well-being, no matter how often they had moved as children. In the article, Oishi speculates this may be because neurotic people have more negative reactions to stressful life events in general.

The researchers also looked at mortality rates among the participants and found that people who moved often as children were more likely to die before the second wave of the study. They controlled for age, gender and race. “We can speculate that moving often creates more stress and stress has been shown to have an ill effect on people’s health,” Oishi said. “But we need more research on this link before we can conclude that moving often in childhood can, in fact, be dangerous to your health in the long-term.”

My brothers and I all have some predispositions toward such things as introversion, depression and anxiety. I don’t think any of us deal with stress all that well. Of course, I can’t know how we would’ve turned out if we hadn’t moved around so much. The only comparison I can make is with my parents. Unlike their children, they had relatively stable childhoods at least in terms of growing up in a stable communities (I know my mom even lived in the same house while growing up, the house that her father built). The difference is that they chose to move after they had become adults and their relatively stable childhoods seemed to have provided an internal sense of stability that allowed them to adapt well to moving to new places. If they hadn’t wanted to move or decided they didn’t like their first move, they could’ve chosen not to move away from their home or they could’ve chosen to immediately move back to their home community. As children, my brothers and I had no such choice because our parents chose for us.

I’m of mixed opinion. I don’t know how much parents can be blamed, especially in the past. Much of this research is recent and so people didn’t used to know about it. On the other hand, my parents knew stability and have always stated a belief in family values. So, why didn’t it occur to them that a stable home and community might be an integral part of family values? To generalize beyond just my parents, why do conservatives (and other Americans as well) idealize the nuclear family as an isolated entity with extended family and community simply being nice things to have around if convenient? Part of me wants to pick on the conservatives because they particularly seem obsessed with the 1950s sitcom ideal of the suburban nuclear family. But to be honest I have to admit that this warped view of family cuts across ideological lines.

At the same time, Americans are obsessed with the idea of community maybe for the very reason we lack a traditional sense of community. I’ve heard Europeans note that Americans are very social in that we constantly like starting and joining groups. In the Midwest, there is even a popular type of group whose sole purpose is to welcome new people to the community. Over all, Midwesterners have more of a real sense of community because early farming communities were so isolated. Midwestern pioneers, quite differently than Southerners, were highly dependent on their neighbors for survival. My observation is that Southerners tend to base their sense of community on their sense of family rather than the other way around. As a general rule, beyond mere formalities, Southerners (in particular middle to upper class Southerners) aren’t very friendly with their neighbors. For example, when a Midwesterner invites you over for coffee they genuinely mean it, but when a Southerner invites you over for coffee it may just be a formality.

As for myself, I internalized from a young age the Midwestern sense of community and neighborliness. It’s not that I live up to it in my personal behavior, but it does form what feels normal to me. Because of this, my disjointed and rootless sense of the world somehow feels wrong. It seems to me the world shouldn’t be this way… and yet it’s the way my world feels. I’m not as close to my family as I wish I were, but I feel that a disconnection has formed in my family that can’t be bridged. One of my brothers became married and had kids. He ended moving away to a nearby town, but he is busy and is incapable of disentangling himself from his wife and children. My other brother has moved around following his career. He essentially has become like my dad in not settling down. Part of him values family and part of him likes the distance moving around provides. None of us in our family get along perfectly well and I think we all value distance to some extent, but I can’t help wondering if it could have been different. If our parents hadn’t sacrificed family and community for career (we were latchkey kids with both parents working), would our family have been much closer than it is now?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. It’s too late now. My parents made their decisions and the time lost can’t be made up. They had been down South for a couple of decades and only recently moved back to the Midwest. My brothers were at one time all living in the same town as I am now living in, but that hasn’t been the case for a number of years. The brother that has been moving around quite a bit did for a time move back to the area before moving away again just as my parents were moving into town. Even though my parents used to live here and used to have many friends here, they’ve been away too long and my dad in particular left behind the community he felt a part of in South Carolina. When you spend so much time apart in different communities and in entirely different regions of the world, you lose the basic daily experiences on which personal relationships are built. The people my parents know generally aren’t the same people I know. In chasing money and career, why didn’t my parents consider the clear possibility that it would undermine our entire family? People always think there is time later on to develop personal relationships, but then after retirement one realizes that some things once lost can’t be regained.

It pisses me off. I always wanted a family I could rely upon, but on an emotional level (which isn’t rational) I don’t have a sense of trust towards my parents. I don’t fundamentally believe they would necessarily be there for me if things ever went wrong. I understand it isn’t entirely rational. My parents do value family and they are caring people. It’s just that I have this very basic sense of disconnection. I’ve lived in this town longer than anywhere else and I love this town. It’s my home. Still, I don’t feel entirely connected to even this place, to the community that I’m surrounded by. My sense of place is always in the past, in the memories of my childhood in this place. It’s hard to explain. When I moved away after 7th grade, I spent years going over and over my memories of this place. Once I returned, everything had already begun to change. So, my sense of place is only loosely connected to the place itself. My suspicion is that it would be different for someone who lived in the same place their whole life because the place would have changed as they changed. One’s personal changes would be grounded in the changes in one’s sense of place. Once you move away, you can never come home again. So, it’s more than a desire for a stable sense of family. It’s a desire for a stable sense of community, a stable sense of place, a stable sense of personal reality. My whole life I’ve wanted to fit in, wanted to feel like I was accepted, like I belonged. Instead, I feel broken.

Of course, I’m not special. Everyone grows up and everyone loses their childhood, but it seems particularly traumatic for those who have moved around, most particularly if they have certain personality traits. Even so, this sense of malaise seems to be a common factor of modern civilization. From my studies, it’s my understanding that indigenous tribal people don’t share this sense of malaise… not until they’re introduced to modern civilization. We moderns are extremely disconnected from the world around us. Even the person who has never moved is unlikely to have a deep sense of place as was once common when all humans were indigenous.

I noticed the above research was mentioned in an article in The New York Times (Does Moving a Child Create Adult Baggage? By Pamela Paul) which led me to another article:

The Roots of White Anxiety
By Ross Douthat

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

The reason I mention this article is because rural areas represent the last communities that have maintained some semblance of stability, although it’s eroding quickly. These poor, rural whites maintain their communities and their poverty by not moving much. That is what the author of this article didn’t fully comprehend but which some readers made note of in the comments:

dc wrote: “The issue is class, not race, not political affiliation, and certainly not religion.”

Yes, class AND culture… the two being inseparable.

Poor rural people (of any race or religion) are less willing to sacrifice family and community for social advancement in terms of education and career. They’re less willing to play the moving game. But, in a society that doesn’t value the rural culture, such stable cultures aren’t likely to represent the best of society. Loss of family farms and the decline of small towns has caused rural communities to become impoverished and so they have tons of social problems, but these communities once were relatively good places to live and to raise a family… and they still are in some ways. The article does make a point that whites have reason to be worried, paranoid even, about the undermining of this traditional rural culture. Still, no one in particular is to blame. What America is becoming is an almost entirely inevitable result of how America began. It’s noble that these rural folk self-impose (consciously or not) an isolated sense of community. They choose to homeschool their kids and send them to state schools or community colleges. By doing this, they maintain their family ties.

My parents, on the other hand, were willing to make sacrifices that many rural people are unwilling to make and because of it my parents have been more successful in their careers. My parents apparently weren’t contented to just be working class or to otherwise limit their careers to one specific community.

It makes me wonder about the future, my personal future and the future of society. I don’t feel optimistic about my own family and community. My depression and introversion combine in such a way that I lead a fairly isolated life. What really saddens me is that I’m far from unusual. Are people like me merely a sign of what our society is becoming? What is the future of communities and families? As a society, will we ever again collectively value community more than career, family more than success? Will we ever stop building ugly, soul-destroying suburban neighborhoods? Will the warped ideal of the nuclear family ever be brought back into alignment with concrete realities of the world we live in? Is there any hope for modern people to regain the sense of place without which “home” becomes a mere abstraction?

Paranormal Commentary and Strange Videos

Some interesting things I came across.

 

Facts, Fraud and Fairytales.
John Rimmer

From MUFOB New Series 9.

If however we consider fiction, hoax, and real experience as different parts of a spectrum of experience, a new set of patterns begins to emerge.

 

Invizikids: Imaginary Childhood Friends.
Mike Hallowell

From Magonia 93, September 2006.

What fascinates me more than anything else is that, despite the universal prevalence of the NCC phenomenon, it has attracted very little attention. Studies available on the Internet are almost all governed by the “psychological” approach, that NCCs are the product of the mind of a lonely child. 

People are normally disturbed by the idea that their house may be haunted, and yet they accept without the slightest reticence the notion that their child may be talking to an invisible entity. Is this because they don’t believe that their child’s “imaginary” friend really exists, or because they sense that the phenomenon, whatever its nature, is essentially harmless?

They say that “an only child is a lonely child”. Maybe, just maybe, there aren’t so many lonely children around as we’ve hitherto imagined.

 

Civilization – Marco Brambilla

From the Daily Grail blog.

This is a beautiful and evocative montage – comprised of over 400 video clips it takes elevator passengers on a trip from hell to heaven. See how many movie clips you can spot, but don’t let it distract you from the overall beauty of the piece.

 

Trance Captured on Video

From the Neuroanthropology blog.

A great discussion on the Medical Anthropology listserve focused on good films for trance. I’ve provided the list below, complete with links to the films, extra notes in brackets, and some YouTube clips.