Monday, July 16, 2007

Breaking the spell

My Mom and Paul used to be pretty negative about some of my interests when I was a teenager. They didn't think much of science fiction and fantasy. I should really spend time on activities of better quality.

Somehow through my travels and college and all my friends as an adult, my world did expand. I still treasure some of the books, but they represent one of a million possible interests. Now, a book has to be really good. It's not enough that it's "the kind of stuff I love."

And now, I live with Wil. Wil likes fantasy and video games and Japanese-animated TV shows to pretty much the exclusion of anything else. I think fantasy is still amusing in small doses, but the "I am a devout follower" attitude Wil sometimes displays is... icky. We were at Target the other day, and he fairly snapped to attention when an ad for Harry Potter came on the TVs for sale. Good God, you don't have to swear your undying devotion. It's not like you hadn't heard Harry Potter was coming out.

Luther seems to pretty much hate it, too. From saying Japanimation "sucks" to Wil's face, to outright dismissing the fantasy and the games, he's pretty clear: "Real" things are better, and "fantasy" is not "real." If Wil had many interests, I think it would be fine. But the be-all-and-end-all thing is unacceptable.

The other night, Luther's channel-surfing landed us on C-Span, for a speech Garrison Keillor was giving to a library association. It was a really good speech. Garrison was talking about the magic refuge of a library in the face of all the horrors of his youth, and that magic extended to all kinds of books, and I thought about how great it would be if Wil developed a passion for something like reading in a library. Normally I can't stand how Garrison Keillor talks, but this particular speech was so good, it was casting a kind of spell. It wasn't just me; Wil made some responsive noises. He was actually listening.

Then I made a big mistake. I got up to see if I could coax the cat inside. When I came back in, Wil was putting his shoes on to go try to get the cat. He'd stopped watching. I'd broken the spell. I insisted we stay on C-Span, hoping Wil would sit back down. But after he came back inside, he went and got his laptop computer.

Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in front of the TV. But I'm beginning to think laptops should be banned in front of the TV. Do one thing or the other. You cannot do both, and there is something... rude about pretending. It's like the old headphone thing. I don't know you can hear me, and I assume you're not listening to me or don't find me interesting enough to put the headphones down. It's rude. And I'm just as guilty of this, with the computer and the TV.

In Wil's case, he is patently not watching TV. With shows he actually likes and used to watch constantly... he turns them on, but he's not looking at the TV, and he's not listening to the TV sound. And the other night, he was no longer listening to Garrison Keillor's speech. He was playing a game or looking at his favorite web sites.

And I'm torn. (If nothing else, one must consider the irony of being frustrated that a kid is not watching the TV.)

I know that I learned a lot from my interest in sci-fi as a teenager. I met a lot of people, and I gradually broke out of my shell while leaning on the safety of limited challenges. "Limited challenges" says it all. You didn't have to try hard to be accepted among - I'm sorry, but sci-fi and fantasy fandom isn't exactly brain surgery. It didn't take long for me to figure out that I could do better, but it was easy. It was safe.

So I say to myself, "it can't be bad that Wil has interests. Encourage him to pursue them, and he'll meet people, make friends, and learn. And then he'll move on, just like I did."

But it's so frustrating. It turns out, when you live with a young person, you want to share things that you think have value. And the blank stare, the dutiful "okay," and the completely false "I'm going to go to bed now" [I'm going downstairs to watch shows I like and play games that interest me] are all so disappointing.

And now I'm faced with a new problem. I'm only just turning 40, and I am honestly beginning to dislike "all these newfangled gizmos and technologies."

The laptop in front of the TV is a prime example. Wil doesn't ever have to really pay attention to anything that isn't in his interest area. We can watch a TV show, and he can "be with us" but enjoy his own interests. Now if he reads the news at all, he accesses it by using his Wii video game - and the stories are so obviously already filtered for what a Wii audience will likely find of interest. In the past few days, I've been pleased to discover that Wil is playing one of his video games while on the phone with a friend. I was thrilled that he actually was socializing. And this evening, I heard the name of his friend - and unless I completely misunderstood, it's his cousin in North Carolina.

The cell phone makes it possible for him to have a playmate without going out and making new friends. He doesn't even have to use the internet and make computer friends! He can just use the old friends that were given to him by family.

These technologies were supposed to bring us together. They were supposed to make things easier. And they are, they are! But... they also make it increasingly easy for a kid to completely surround himself with his safe zone.

So... I'm not sorry I had the fun I had, when I was younger. And I know that I learned some wonderful things and read some great books that Mom and Paul would still never consider reading. And maybe if Wil comes with us to Florida, where there are nutty things like sci-fi and fantasy conventions that he could go to, he'll stretch a little and see a bit of the world. But I have to say, I have a newfound understanding of the challenge this stuff represents.

I broke one spell the other night, clumsily. The Garrison Keillor speech was cool, and I broke it. But Garrison was also talking about running away to a safe zone. Hiding among the books. I'd like to see the larger spell broken, now.

Thank goodness it's Luther's problem and not mine, eh?


diane said...

So I like totally just typed an opus in response to your post and it vanished. Argh. It went something like this...

You are SO old! You're right though. People under 20 (I'm assuming Wil is a teen) live very different day-to-day lives than we used to. For one thing, they socialize in completely different ways that rely on social sites, apps, and cell phones. They're pretty much in constant contact. You think he's playing a game? He's probably in a real-time fantasy with a bunch of friends. They're probably "hangin' out at the mall" right there in front of your tv.

As far as the fantasy thing goes, nope, kids don't read. For that matter, neither do adults. And when they do, it's fantasy or sci-fi where they can escape into a parallel world to fly, fight, conquer, strategize, and a thousand other things that teach them to work thru the weird lives they live. That's good, isn't it? Isn't that real?

And you can tell Luther that Anime rules.

Didn't you just hate it when your parents took an interest in your stuff? Ick!

bekbek said...

Hahaha I am sorry about your opus, but oh man, you are SO wrong! I mean, I'm pretty sure you're absolutely right... about other households.

Here, Luther and I are the ones in constant contact, mostly by email. He gets to work and sends me an email. I get up and send him an email. Throughout the day, we chat. When we're both home we still tend to send each other things by email. I send Wil an email, he "hasn't got it yet," and then it turns out he hasn't checked his email in two weeks.

As for real-time fantasy, no, if anybody in the house does that, again, it's me. I go into Second Life upon occasion, update my silly facebook; Luther plays on Myspace a lot; Wil plays a non-internet computer game while on the cell phone with his cousin, plays video games in his room, and watches TV.

You're right that it's all different from when we were the under-20s, though. None of us now go out to play.

As for Anime - I used to love it! But I remember more than the mouths moving! Surely there's better stuff out there?!