“Hey Dad, why don’t you think about taking some courses at Kent State. You are a senior citizen so you could take them free. You would meet some people and you might just like it.” So said my daughter Carrie who is also a Professor at Kent. Yeah, but I’ll be far older than anyone else in that classroom, I thought! How will that go? Well, OK, I’m not exactly filling my days with wondrous activities and I haven’t managed to make many new and profound friends this past year. So why not; what is the worst that could happen, I said naively.
So I thought about it, and thought some more about it. What would be useful to me, something I might enjoy? Maybe I would meet some people and possibly even find someone to develop a meaningful relationship with. Then again, maybe the rest of the class would see me as a relic, grandpa intruding in their world. Oh, I could think of many courses that would fill the bill but maybe I’d like to take a course that I never got to take when I was young and in college. I always thought I would like to take creative writing. I was good at it and English was one of those courses that seemed to come naturally and easily. But Viet Nam intervened and after I got out of the service a different pathway beckoned. On the other hand I’ve been a creative writer for twenty five years. It might be nice to actually learn about what I’ve been doing all this time.
Carrie took me down to the adult services building in Kent (what a confusing maze—I would have never found it by myself) and I signed up for creative writing. She had done some investigating and we decided that one or two of the teachers might be better suited to me than the others. My class would meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:45 PM and I could have dinner with her and her husband afterwards. Not a bad plan since the late afternoons are unquestionably my most lonely hours.
I showed up at the assigned time the first week and so began my adventure. There were 16 other students mostly ranging in age from 18-21. There was also a graduate student who was a bit older, maybe 23, and me at 68. About half the students were male, half were female. During that first week the rules and expectations were laid down. The class was divided into 4 groups and alternately we would be expected to write poetry and stories and receive critiques from the other students on an ongoing basis. After the first critique session I became very nervous at what I saw, which was, basically people tearing into one another with little rhyme or reason. It is far too easy, at this novice level, or even at sophisticated levels, to slip into finding fault, denouncement, attacking, lambasting, pillorying—this to edify your own ego—build yourself up at the great expense of others. I felt compelled to give a little presentation about creativity and how non-objective criticism could quickly stifle the creative process. As with most creative processes what you see is the inner self projected into your works be it art work, woodwork, literature. Another way of stating that is, what is actually produced is personal biographical information, the playing out of one’s inner fears, expectations, and conflicts. From years of conducting therapy I know that this is not something to casually criticize. For the most part my “sermon” seemed to work. Of course there are always a couple people in a group that cannot seem to grasp things and seem to blindly go on gratifying their own ego at the expense of others.
By the fourth week what I seemed to notice was an ever increasing amount of sexual content in the creative work as well as an abundance of “F***” this, “F***” that, “F***” words all over the place. I suppose that when you get comfortable within a group, social limits and inhibitions loosen. I guess that this is all well and expected, if not ideally acceptable. I pointed out that in a majority of social contexts this is not acceptable word content and could not be printed in, for example, newspapers and most magazines. But silly me, archaic me, old man me. I am informed that, in their world–this modern world– this does not seem to be the case. To say that I was pretty much overwhelmingly castigated for my opinion is perhaps an understatement. I guess it is now perfectly OK for males and females to talk like that anywhere in their world.
In my world though, the one that I have to live in day to day, there isn’t room for “F” this or “F” that. We don’t talk to one another or communicate like that. It is certainly not a part of my day to day vocabulary.
Then I reflect back to when I was 21 years old—their age– and in the Navy. There were crewmates my age directing and landing F4B Phantoms, Intruders, Skyhawks, nuclear bombers, and Elmer Fudds (Radar Planes) on a pitching aircraft carrier deck in the Tonkin Gulf, carrying out life and death tasks of all-out war. One wrong decision and you’ve put a 6 million dollar aircraft in the drink and killed a pilot. We were also dealing with the aftermath of when an arresting gear cable snaps and cuts guys in half. Yes, we were also dealing with when a plane hits the deck too hard and comes apart on the landing deck and there are ten other planes in the air running out of fuel waiting to land on that deck. Sure we swore; we used the “F” word all the time and worse. But just like these kids in this classroom our minds were also thinking about developing intimacy versus isolation in addition to dealing with the horrible tasks at hand. So why my repulsion at hearing the casual and incessant use of the “F” word all the time now by these young people?
All I can think of is the Ecclesiastic Proverb To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven……… These have been my words to live by all my life. (No I am not a Bible Thumper and am not terribly religious). To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Perhaps this class is not the time or the purpose, or the season for the “F” word or pornography.
No amount of feedback seemed to make much difference to the class. If there were any supporters, they were loudly overshadowed and intimidated by the vocal majority. I was thoroughly trounced. So apparently it is OK and sanctioned to talk like a sailor or a teamster on the docks. Pornography is apparently OK to produce in class. Decorum…… What is that? Unfortunately for these kids they don’t seem to have a grasp of the real world, not a clue. Luckily it is not hitting them in the face like it was for us on the flight deck. Their university life is really a wildly unreal, coddled representation of what they will shortly have to face in life.
Ironically, now I feel that I don’t want them to read any of my works—which have for 25 years been published in hundreds of media—because I know that my writing reveals me. From now on to them, all that you see….is not me!
So hey Grandpa, shut up. You’re a frog trying to ride a bicycle. You’re the entertainment!
This ongoing column is dedicated to those of us—post 60’ers– after “the sinking”. If you identify with it, please step into the lifeboat and take a seat. This is the ongoing saga of coping with the post 6o and single again dilemma. I am open to ideas, feedback, and information that maybe helpful to all of us. You can reach me at tel: 330-562-9801 or e-mail me at Skipstaxidermy@yahoo.com