One of my favorite lines from a movie is when Annette Benning’s character in AMERICAN BEAUTY screams at her daughter who has grown up in affluence and is seemingly what most of us might consider “spoiled”: “when I was your age I lived in a duplex!”
The line is funny and heart wrenching, because despite this movie family’s affluence, they are all miserable.
Similar feelings seeped up as I forced my husband to watch REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. My husband does not much like any movie made after about 1974 or so. I think he only agree to watch that one because I had just had my second baby and it was a way to spend time together and the week before we’d decided to throw a birthday party for me one week after my c section and despite smiles during the party, that was perhaps an ill planned idea, as washing wine glasses and high ball glasses and cheese plates isn’t really something you delight in as incision pain runs up and down your sides.
I loved REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, as Kate Winslet probably can do no wrong in my eyes, but I must admit my husband and I sat there a little, well, annoyed. And that is the point, to be watching this young, beautiful couple living the dreamy 50’s American dream in Connecticut fumble around being unhappy despite having so much to be not unhappy about.
I think it is safe to say that we would not mind living in Annette Benning’s old duplex. That we would not mind the PTA or the Rotary.
Right now I am in the midst of planning a Black History Month event for the Historical Society in our hometown. It is supposed to match the theme of the year for the society, which is: A day in the life of____________. In devising the program with my mother, one thing we agreed upon that was an integral part of a certain brand of African American middle class life oh so long ago was being on committees, belonging to associations and groups and societies. And when talking to my husband, he has agreed life was similar in his own family. His mother and father belonged to things.
This is something that is a little bit foreign to us.
Because to be part of these groups that meet, say, every Wednesday at eight or every other Saturday at three, you must say to yourself, yes, these are people I can meet with every Wednesday and every Saturday, and you must also agree with yourself that you would like to convene with these people in person, for a cause for which you you’re willing to get a sitter to be able meet with people in person.
And herein lies one critical issue: in person. Not online. In a room where you can actually see and hear and feel another person next to you, where you know how that person actually pronounces her last name, or if he uses the paper cups provided for his coffee or brings his own mug from home that has his college insignia on it because he wants everyone to know he did, indeed, go to college. And while I guess you can put your college affiliation on your Facebook profile, it’s decidedly different to see a forty year old sip Maxwell House from home in a thermal mug that reads Brown in crumbling letters on the side.
Yesterday I read an article that talked about creativity and technology. Its premise was not revolutionary—primarily that the same things happen in our brains when he hunt and gather for an idea as when we hunt and gather for say, the best price on the Ashton Kutcher camera that we really want and really deserve because our one years old got so much baby slobber in the one we already own that one day the flash on it putted out now it is only good for sitting in the everything drawer in the kitchen, screen smeared with something sticky that said one year old spread over it once you realized it was rendered useless. And that by spending oh, say, the equivalent of days searching for Mr. Kutcher’s camera, we are wasting our creative processes on technology in a way that only those of us who have comparison shopped on Overtock then Target then Amazon then oh what the hell I am broke anyway Walmart know about all too well.
But what it got me thinking about was letters, those hallmarks of a good, safe, middle class well made play. At the heart of many a good story is some sort of article of documentation. That someone wrote. Not a link. Not a cut and paste job.
And what that got me thinking of was how much time we spend click click clicking. Not revolutionary either but what that got me thinking of was how this program I am to be giving in February really does belong in the brochure for a historical society. How Thursday at eight and Saturday at three are now often spent click click clicking, as opposed to smelling the soap waft towards you from three seats down at a meeting you got a sitter special to attend. And even if you do make that meeting, if you smell that soap, you are probably using an app to tell you what kind it is, where to get it, and how to buy it for yourself at a store you can get to with a GPS. When you could ask in person. Instead.
Because although a duplex seems painfully un American as a life’s goal (unless it’s a condo, then maybe), there is kinship in it, there is another family, another group of people who might like to meet on Saturdays at three, on the other side of the wall, instead of the other side of the cul-de-sac.
And maybe you’d like each other’s soap.