I don't watch "Mad Men." (I couldn't even make it through the first episode. I thought it was boring, not to mention that all the cigarette smoke gave my phantosmia fits.)
Elisabeth Donnelly does watch "Mad Men." And she wrote about it on the back page of The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Donnelly couldn't understand why her mother, who had experienced the early 1960s first-hand, found the show "painful."
Flash forward to Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker last week. Gopnik talked about something he named the "Golden Forty-Year Rule," which suggests that the prime site for nostalgia is the forty-to-fifty-year period prior to the present time. During the 1940s, the aughts were the bee's knees. The 70s were in love with the 30s. Following that pattern, it comes as no surprise that culturally we're smitten with the 1960s.
Gopnik has a interesting theory on the reasons behind his rule, mostly having to do with who it is that actually controls the creation of pop culture. And then he leaps forward to four decades hence and considers how the 2010s will look when viewed through the lens of the forty-year future.
For the 1960s, Donnelly is that future. But confronted with a TV show and the first-person reflections of her own mother, Donnelly tips toward the media view. She's a reluctant believer in the realities of that era as expressed by someone who lived through the time.
All this leaping forward and looking back had me thinking this week: No one owns the final word on what a decade was really like. Even the past five minutes can be questioned: ask anyone who's witnessed a traffic accident what it was that actually happened. The future will collect the bits and pieces we leave behind and create the narrative as it will. All we can do is toss and scatter the best of ourselves, then settle back with our remotes and hope we'll be able to enjoy the show.
As I arrived home from my walk this morning, I watched a starling* struggle an earthworm from the grass in front of my house. A pull, some tug and stretch, another long pull and then thwiiing. The worm was yanked free, and the bird flew off, wiggly cargo like a slick moustache dangling from its beak.
Ah, spring. Each dewy morning a clamor of miracle and horror: the baby starlings will eat; one snap, and the earthworm's work is abruptly done.
I'm content, mostly, to let the drama play out: natural order and all that. Plus the fact that some things are just too hard to think about.
Until we're made to think about them. Such as happened last year around this time, when several seasons of chronic refusal to deal with the starlings nesting in the attic eaves forced me to play a role in a very unnatural order.
It started with the scritching sounds on the roof. Followed by a metallic thunk-clang near the bathroom vent. Soon thereafter, skitter and scramble in the attic and finally, a sound like an erratic drill outside the window. I had no choice but to look. And there was the squirrel. Looking back at me through the escape hole he was chewing through the eave.
For the starlings, whose babies' peeps I could hear just above a closet ceiling, I'd managed to invent a tidy narrative. For the squirrel chewing so obviously through the house, I couldn't afford the sentiment of story. So phone calls were made. Questions were asked. More phone calls were made. And at last arrived two trucks with two men, several ladders, many cages and an assortment of bait. An inspection was conducted: gaps in the rooflines were allowing access for the squirrels. As for those starlings: they hadn't been nesting in the eaves; they were inside the attic itself. They all had to go. A plan was laid out. And executed.
The details don't much matter now. The squirrels are gone. The starlings and their fledglings are gone.This morning's bird carried its worm to someone else's roof. And here I sit, still re-imagining the narrative. Surely the trapped squirrels were released from the cages into some faraway, unnamed woods. Surely those babies had already fledged by the time the swaddling wads of twigs and straw were extracted from the recesses. Surely next time I'll pick up the phone, make the right call in the safety of the off-season. Surely, surely.
*SOME NOTES ON STARLINGS:
Just the Facts, Ma'am . . .
They're not from around here!
What's Not to Love? A Murmuration of Starlings:
*This is exactly the sort of stupid thing I'm capable of, but that's another blog for another time.
Nancy Carol Moody
I'm a poet and a letter-writer. Yup, that kind. The kind who uses pens and paper and actual stamps. The kind who will leave the house with nothing on the agenda but to get to the mailbox before the scheduled pick-up time. The kind who understands that technology is a wondrous thing, but nothing quite beats finding a real letter with a real stamp on it amid the credit card solicitations, pizza coupons and seminar catalogs.