Carrying pictures

What experience and cultural input helped paint the picture you carry of the way the world is supposed to be? Was it something you read, or heard about from others? Was it an image from film or TV? Or the story in a romantic pop song? As it was for me, the picture probably did not emerge from a sense of the way things really are.

For many of us so-called baby-boomers, we got our pictures from the TV of the 1950s and 60s. The clean streets, happy homes and white picket fences of the Andersons, the Cleavers or the Stones were so placid and dreamily wonderful; who wouldn’t want lives like theirs? We grew up expecting the good life to look like it did to Wally and the Beav. As fictional characters written into fairytale existences, of course, they couldn’t say anything to real life; and could offer even less toward understanding the world we actually lived in. Expecting our lives to evolve to match thepictures on those small screens, we might as well have grown up expecting no problem to last more than eighteen minutes. Or a laugh track. Life is not black and white.

Often, many of the ideas and expectations of the world come to us through our families, from the pictures carried by previous generations. In many cases that means expectations that are not only unrealistic, but also, by now, long outdated. These might include benign visions of a pastoral and perfect world of open doors and universally friendly neighbors–seen through a hazy filter of memory. A filter that eliminates unpleasant realities such as disease, isolation and war. Those were the good old days…before we had the awareness and technology that today keep us healthier, safer and living easier.

Sometimes, seen through that same hazy lens, people may remember their golden times in ways that are less ultimately less positive. They may have seen the world as better before the realities of economy, race, gender, or sexual identity clouded their horizon. For those folks, the issue isn’t about the picture of the future they expected, but rather a snapshot of a non-existent past that they wish to recapture. And when the world won’t deliver on these impossible promises, it must be someone’s fault.

In the end, it’s all the same thing. We carry pictures of things that never were or could never be. We all spend time hoping for things that can’t happen, or pining for lost days that we never truly possessed.

How many of us are navigating the very real modern world by way of these impossible dreams? How many of us are struggling with near superhuman effort to hang on to ideas as real as smoke, while the actual world crumbles around us? How many of us are being pummeled by realities we never saw coming because we were busy staring into the sun?

Time to wake up and see where we really are. Time to create a picture of a world we can actually achieve.

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2 Responses to Carrying pictures

  1. Gary John Reynolds says:

    Very nice, Bri. Most of the people I know had their world-view formed from a combination of 1960s TV family sitcoms, the Catholic Church and very specific Midwestern notions of modesty and fair play. Jim Gaffigan’s humor is VERY much all about Midwestern notions of modesty and fair play, that’s why, as a Greek chorus, he employs that tsk-tsking Midwestern judgmentalism, commenting on his behavior.

    My wife, born in Europe and raised in New England, learned English from watching American TV and attending Catholic Mass here.

    We are both surprised how much we share, in terms of our expectations of human behavior, even though we were born on different continents to very different families. All thanks to TV sitcoms and Archie comic books.

    We’re also amazed at how often our shared expectations about human behavior are completely wrong: in other words, we both get screwed a lot.

    Not that ’60s TV and the Catholic Church taught us the wrong things. As we got older, we both didn’t “adjust our TV” as they say on Outer Limits.

    Thanks for not reversing type on a dark background. And which stretch of Pulaski Road IS that pictured in your masthead?

  2. Gary, thanks for checking out the blog–and for getting it. I appreciate you sharing your insight, and further thoughts. Culture, religion, local mores and the beliefs and attitudes of our families shape us all. Much of it is as unconscious as the passing of genetic material, some of it is taught. As you point out, no one tells us to adjust our sets when our instinct set no longer works. But life is a work in progress and learning, adapting and perserverance is also wired into us. There’s always hope–even on the bleakest of days.

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