As I sit in a middle coach seat on Sun Country, an airline of whose existence I was unaware until last month when high holiday fares compelled me to take a risk, I am giddy about my fifth Christmastime trip to New York since emerging from my decade-long emotional coma.
People in CA, even close friends, ask me what I "do" in the city. This perplexes me; I live in three places and New York is one of them. It's not a vacation at this point. It's home. I'm injured, but even without dance class, I can't see everyone I want to in two weeks. My love affair with New York is a blog in itself, but ultimately it comes to this: New York is the only city I know where being and doing converge, where walking the streets is an activity in itself.
Remarkably, my life in New York didn't exist before 2010. I have no close friends from K to 12 or college (though I recently reconnected with a great girl I went to school with for 10 years in LA). Obviously, I made no friends at that personal and professional disaster that was graduate school at UC Santa Barbara. While I owe my apartment in the city to a family friend and ex-colleague of Dad's, I owe much of my life in the Tri-State area to Facebook.
Since the fall of 2010, I've made friends in whose houses I stay and with whose children I have bonded. I have never experienced the love, laughter and community I do now. Some in my inner circle are peers, but most of my closest friends are Baby Boomers; this is hardly a shock as a second marriage baby with (half-)siblings 11 and 18 years my senior.
This Christmas trip marks three years as a part-time Upper East Sider. In that time, I've made a life for myself in the city unrelated to Facebook. Every ten blocks or so is a mini-neighborhood and I feel rooted in mine, nodding and smiling at people I eat by and walk near regularly. It's the friendliest place I've lived. And I've met people in the cabaret, dance and theater communities whose shows I attend at venues like the Laurie Beechman Theater and Metropolitan room.
Santa Barbara is an excruciatingly difficult place to make friends. West Los Angeles falls somewhere between my two other residences, but in LA, aside from shows at the Geffen Playhouse and Hollywood Improv, I mostly spend time with my parents.
But while it is fair to say that Facebook and the Internet gave me a second chance at life -- both socially and professionally -- I react with sadness when I read articles about teens and young people addicted to social media, unable to imagine a world before video games and websites. This is apart from the very real problem of cyber-bullying (the topic of Disconnected, an excellent but grim film starring Jason Bateman).
As one who came of age during the Reagan years, I think 2013 is a dreadful time to be a child or teen. Aside from the demoralizing and inhumane college application process -- a subject for another day (or book) -- teens today are glued to their smart phones, which I think diminishes intimacy instead of promoting it.
While I live a transparent and decidedly exteriorized life, I cultivated my interiority for decades and read many books (you know, those rectangular things you get at libraries or bookstores and hold in your hand). I joined Facebook at 38 and started my Victorian Chick blog at 39, when I was a fully formed entity psychically strong enough not to be engulfed by the external onslaught.
Sadly, most (though certainly not all) of today's teens are cultural voids. They haven't a clue who Ava Gardner, Glenn Miller or Rodgers and Hammerstein were. They have no concept of film before 1995 and haven't heard of movies like Out of Africa, On Golden Pond, Terms of Endearment, and Absence of Malice -- all of which I saw in elementary school with my mom on our special mommy/daughter Saturday movie days. For years, Blockbuster has regarded any film before 1995 a "classic" along the lines of the black-and-white films screened on TCM.
I realize I'm an old 41. I grew up listening to Boston, Van Halen, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Court and Spark came out when I was two but I knew the words by seven due to a rocker big sister.
But when I see my boyfriend's 4th grade son, an extremely precocious and high IQ little boy in whose life I play a role, I realize that if not for his cultured, physician grandparents born and raised in Brooklyn and Queens, who truly do their best to combat the high and pop culture ignorance of today's young people, the lad might never acquire knowledge of all my parents imparted to me. One can live a meaningful and prosperous life without knowing who Wendy Wasserstein is and not having seen Gone with the Wind and Brideshead Revisited won't kill you, but I believe life is simply better when you have a clue about the performing arts.
When my father dies, I will have a repository of memories about his onscreen loves, including Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Maureen O'Hara, and Julie Andrews, as well as his classical music preferences and prejudices. He worships Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, and Schubert but has no use for the Russians. I will remember his view -- which I share -- that Anna Karenina was a miserable broad (though better than Madame Bovary), and that if she'd killed herself sooner, she'd have spared all a lot of trouble.
If today's youth spent less time on Facebook and more time with our cultural treasures, the classless Kardashians would be obscure housewives instead of household names. When Nora Ephron became ill, she said she wouldn't miss the Kardashians or all the illness in the world. When your life invites parallels to terminal diseases, you know you've gone astray. Of course, if there were no market for a show about those undistinguished women, America would be free of their pernicious influence.
Mom saves me the Sunday book reviews and culture sections of the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. I have an admittedly adorable and cool mom, an intensely private woman and historic figure in government law who graduated from Hollywood High in the late 1950s, along with Mike Farrell, Yvette Mimieux, Sally Kellerman, Louise Sorel and Chris Robinson. But a love of the arts binds one generation to another, providing a cohesiveness essential to society.
Mom was a theater girl who dreamt of a career in acting. She is the daughter of an immigrant playwright and journalist from the UK and a mother raised in Mexico who painted, wrote, and translated for the studios. My grandmother roomed with Myrna Loy, Mom's godmother until she was about two. But unlike my St. Augustine classmates such as Shana Goldberg-Meehan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Abbie Schiller, Chris Levinson, Jennifer Stander, and Maya Rudolph -- girls with industry parents who actually made a great living in Hollywood -- Mom's creative parents weren't big earners. Still, Mom was immersed in the arts both as participant and consumer.
I fear that when most of today's teens begin to breed, their children won't know anything about anything. Think Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, who marvels that John Ashton and Judge Reinhold don't know coffee grounds often conceal the scent of cocaine: "You guys don't know nothin' about nothin!"
And I think this is partly the fault of the Internet, which should increase access to information, but ironically has the reverse effect. How long does it take to read Wikipedia and IMDB so you can at least fake knowledge at a cocktail party? Lack of cultural knowledge is no longer viewed as a deficiency for which one must compensate.
Facebook is a godsend for Baby Boomers out of the workforce or stay-at-home moms, particularly in small cities or towns, but it's a liability for young people. Still, Facebook saved my life. When you emerge from a catastrophic depression at 36 with a dead career in a city with a population of 220,000 which feels like 85,000, how else can you meet people all over America from different religious, political, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds?
So with the holiday season upon us, my heart is full of gratitude for my rebirth and second chance at life through blogging and Facebook, but I think the future is bleak for today's kids and teens. Even if America manages to solve its political and economic mess, particularly the ever-widening chasm between haves and have nots, we are breeding a generation of philistines. I agree with Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting that we have lost our "cultural middle class" (New York Times, 11/30/2013), but I'm far less hopeful than Gutting that anything can be done to restore it.