During this era of pandemic illness and isolation we have had a chance to get back to the basics a bit. We’ve gone out far less, eaten more at home, and families are spending more time together than perhaps they ever have. It takes getting used to because we have become a culture of constantly being on the move, tied to our electronic devices, and not really paying attention to what is taking place around us.
I’ve long been a consumer of words in all forms. Recently a friend wrote, ” A time when people took time to meet on a sidewalk in town, a front porch or a park and sit a spell. To slow down, disconnect from the world and have a conversation. A real conversation that had substance and no filler. One that made you think about the world and your place in it or at least opened your thoughts up a bit.” His words are in reference to the purposeful choice of old-time names for his dogs. Never did I have an inkling, when we were teenagers, that this individual would think so deeply and our thoughts would connect on this level. I’m sure he never had an inkling I was capable of philosophic thought. That’s the beauty of maturity and wisdom. Decades pass and people see each other for who they really are.
At any rate, his words got me thinking. I think far too much, but I enjoy it. Thinking and writing are as natural as breathing to me. Just as my breathing has been compromised recently by severe anemia, so have my thought and writing processes. Thanks to this friend’s words, my process is again sputtering to life.
I’ve always loved to read. I mean, I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to lose myself in a good book or short story. Though I read poetry and studied it for my degree in English, I never imagined I would ever write it. I have, and I do. It’s mostly for my own consumption at this point. Maybe someday I will publish a volume. Stranger things have happened.
Though I have never considered myself to be a huge Science Fiction fan, I’ve read a fair amount throughout my life. I studied some in high school, and college. Then fate allowed me to teach an elective in high school about sci fi. In order to teach most effectively, and this is my own theory, I felt I needed to find sci fi that I enjoyed reading in order to convey that positive attitude to the students. Over the years, I used several short stories in the sci fi elective.
One of them leapt to mind in light of “A time when people took time to meet….” It’s called “The Third Level,” is written by Jack Finney, and first appeared in print in Collier’s magazine in 1950. It was a nice story to teach because it is fairly brief in length but is rich with meaning and irony. The basic premise is a man finds another level at Grand Central Station one day on his way home from work. The train takes him back to the 1894 version of his hometown. He returns to the present time but yearns for simpler times and is determined to make his way back to 1894 once again. I won’t say much beyond that. The story is available online.
Finney builds on a theme of wanting an escape from living in more complex times. Is it good? Is it bad? Were earlier times better? It’s not for me to say. Read the story and draw your own conclusions. Science fiction grew largely out of the uneasiness of post- World War II America. The decade of the 1950s was host to the fear of people unfamiliar to us (xenophobia), fear of the Cold War, etc. The sci fi stories, novels, and films played on those fears and illuminated them in various ways. Jack Finney wrote a novel in the early 1950s called Body Snatchers. It became the basis for the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The idea of pods replacing people as emotionless beings is a thin shot at Communism being a bad thing because people would all be the same. Again. this is a simplistic view. If you’d taken my course, you would have had further discussion and study.
I do miss talking about literature, I really do. But thankfully I have memories. And I just love the thought of former classmates who are probably surprised that I’m capable of this type of thought. Just shows that it isn’t good to judge a book by its cover. While we can’t go back to the way things once were, Jay Gatsby never learned that lesson, we can find ways to simplify and take some time to appreciate what really surrounds and sustains us.