As I leave the small hotel dining room just after 7am having assembled what is now my usual choice of goodies to take to my den and consume like some introverted pack rat, I hear the two other guests who were there when I arrived making observations on modern classrooms.
“All those computers and cell phones and gadgets. None of that when we were kids.”
“Nope, just the letters on the board….” etc etc, their voices fading as I head off down the hall. I wander along in my Kiwi jandals, flip-flopping sounds that comfort me with thoughts of home, reading the labels of my breakfast goodies as my IWP companions slumber on into Sunday in the rooms on either side of me in the long hall.
“Upstate Farms Raspberry Non-Fat Yoghurt”, “Otis Spunkmeyer’s Wild Blueberry Muffins” – holy Toledo! What great found poems! Always an inveterate cereal packet reader at breakfast (anything to read is better than nothing, except maybe Mein Kampf),I reach my door and enter. Home safe.
Writers can be pretty introverted and I’m somewhere on that spectrum, as well as being addicted to words. Like those guys bemoaning technological tsunamis that discomfort their world – men of my generation, I guess – I was schooled in a world of blackboards and chalk, world maps of the (former) British Empire (pink), wooden desks and yes, even dip pens and white ceramic ink wells that you graduated to once you had mastered pencils. Primitive, but what did we know or care: we were just there. Now, I’m an iPhone user with a blog and a worldwide connection to everything that ever was, via the internet.
Its been a sea change for sure, but I embrace it: I take what I can and leave the rest. I have no nostalgia for chalk and I’m ready to be replaced as a cultural event, a postwar baby. Its tempting to moan and grizzle about what kids have today – a different world, as my co-breakfasters observed. They were also getting into the need for better coaching tactics for the local college football team, which I suspect meant more to them than chalk words on dusty classroom walls from the 1950s.
To me, it’s all about words and writing and the movement from orality to literacy. Kids in the first decade of the 21st century have certainly entered a different world in terms of technology and they’re being changed by that in ways we can’t imagine, towards a world we will not enter.
Like us, they will be present in this world in a way that kids are: they have less to remember and less to forget, so they can be more here and now. Cell phone addiction and computerised technologies make changes to that present moment possible, but they are still here, still human, still more like us than not. I wish them well and I’m content.
I just wonder, did Mr and Mrs Spunkmeyer really stop and think what kind of poem they were writing when they named little Otis? Language acquisition in childhood confers the strangest of gifts upon us all, that’s for sure. My mother wanted to call me “Jay” – but my father objected – “Jay! That’s a bird’s name!”. Mother was obviously the poet of the two.
Ngahere School, 1957. I’m second from left in the second row; my brother Eric is in the row above me, to the right of the guy directly behind me.