Friday, March 26, 2010

Everything in its Place

A number of years ago, a book came out called Everything in its Place, written by Marc Summers, a man who most people my age will remember as the host of the popular Nickelodeon game-show Double Dare. What a great show! Every day, I could see two teams compete in some of the messiest, most disgusting things imaginable. Sometimes they had to search through giant pancakes dripping with butter and syrup, or dive into a tank full of slime and swim across to the other side. And Summers, my hero, was never afraid to get right in there with them, diving into the slime right along side them or letting contestants throw eggs at him. I always said he was a 10-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old body, and I loved him for it.

In the early nineties, Summers confessed to being obsessive-compulsive, thus the title of his book. Turns out that as soon as the cameras stopped rolling, he'd peel off his clothes and jump right in the shower, trying desperately to get the filth off himself. His condition forced him to strive for excellence, but it also made every day on the set hell for him. He's not a 10-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old body after all. Watching him, though, was always great for me, and the truth is, I miss it.

I miss a lot of things about those days. Everything seemed simpler then. I got up every morning and drank a cup of hot chocolate before school while I sat in front of the heater vent. I walked to school in the crisp morning air and spent a day studying hard with a group of people who I was proud to call my friends. After school, I'd go hang out with one of them, and we'd whack a soccer ball around the backyard with sticks or play Metroid on my NES. We'd watch shows like Double Dare and marvel at this man, more than three times our age, who could connect so well with the younger generation, and we longed to be contestants on the show.

We talked about who we were going to dress up as for Halloween, and what we wanted for Christmas. When that season ended, we discussed what great plans we had for the summer, usually something involving water parks and staying up late watching TV while eating junk food. We devised methods of spending as little time as possible on homework while still getting it done, and ways to make our parents let us stay out for an extra hour.

Maybe it's just nostalgia talking, but things seemed simpler then. Better, too. No complications. I knew who my friends were, I knew what I'd be doing the next day, and I knew what I wanted the whole rest of my life to look like. Just like the title of Summers's book, everything was in its place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Time Before Computers

I'm not a person who's nostalgic for a time before computers, and I doubt I ever will be. Our first family computer was a 1985 128K Macintosh, and boy, the things it could do! Graphics, word processing, you name it. We even had this neat printer for it that worked like a typewriter, only you'd type everything up on the computer, hit "print" when you were done, and that little printer sounded like a hundred secretaries from hell just typing away. Good stuff.

It's funny how distant the world without computers seems. I've recently been feasting myself on episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It ended production only thirty-three years ago. In that show, they had no computers in their office, no home computers, and no video game systems. What did they do for fun? Well, they went out. They talked to each other. They played board games and busied themselves with hobbies. Mary never seemed at a loss for activity in that show, and she does it all without the help of a computer. Fascinating.

I've used a typewriter before, and believe me, it's got nothing on the ol' word processor. Sure, there's something satisfying about listening to the keys hit the page, but let me tell you, I'd much rather be able to cut and paste, use the spell check, and move text around before I print off the final product. Computers have vastly improved the life of a writer.

But I sometimes think that maybe we spend a little too much time at our computers. It's a cliche, I know, but it's one that I think merits another look. In one way, computers have brought us closer together. Look, I'm blogging, something that Mary Tyler Moore in her glory days probably couldn't even have imagined. It's a great and wonderful thing. But I like going to coffee shops and talking with real people, and seeing my family. I like spending time outdoors. I like going swimming or hiking. I love a good read, and I love spending hours down in the discount room at Sam Weller's Bookstore, looking at all the used paperbacks I can buy for only a dollar, with the smell of dust and old paper lingering in my nostrils.

So when you finish reading my blog, it might not hurt to call a friend and go for a bike ride. Cook a nice meal for your mother, or get back to work on that old project car that's sitting in your garage. Have a get-together with your family, or go running in the park. Let's use our computers to expand our lives, not to limit them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Week That Time Forgot

Ah, Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome. What is it, you ask? People afflicted with this bothersome condition have an internal clock that's set on about a 26-hour period, instead of 24. Left to their own devices, these people will simply stay up later and later every night, until they finally go all the way around the clock. Good times, huh?

Well, not so much. I myself have struggled with this for some time now, and as is often the case, I've allowed my schedule to get messed up again. You see, with a regimented routine of light therapy, melatonin, and the strictest of schedules, I can stay on a 24-hour cycle. Work seems to interfere with that, but I kept it together for a couple of months this time (the longest I ever managed was about a year, back when I was in school). So I have to flip my schedule around, and that means staying up two hours later every day until I'm back to normal. That means that for about a week, I'm essentially on an opposite schedule from the rest of the universe.

Truth be told, there's not a lot to do when one is up all hours of the night. That, and I keep wanting nothing more than to go to bed. I spent most of last week feasting myself on old episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and playing Megaman X: Command Mission, an infuriating RPG whose real title ought to be Final Fantasy: Megaman Edition. It's the perfect companion for after-hours entertainment.

After being awake all night, sleeping all day, not seeing my friends, not really even reading or writing, I feel like this week is lost somehow. If someone asks me what I did this week, the answer is literally "nothing". I didn't meet any interesting new people, I don't have any great books I can recommend, and certainly, I didn't make money (I took a hiatus from work for this). The world went right on without me, but I feel like I've been living in a cave. This probably won't be the last lost week in my life, either.

But it's worth it. Now I'm almost back to normal again, and I can wake up every morning and read for an hour, and go swimming, or go hang out at a coffee shop somewhere. I can spend time with my friends, and perhaps most of all, I can get back to my writing. It's truly a wonderful thing. So yes, I had to lose a week, gone from my life forever. It's like a down payment though, on something far more valuable than a car or a home. It's a down payment on time, time I can now spend doing what I love.