You’ll have to forgive me, I’m on attempt one thousand, four hundred thirty three, of stopping smoking. More accurately, I’ve stopped smoking successfully a number of times—and as so many in my shoes can proclaim, “I’m a professional”—but this time I think it’s going to stick given that one, I’ve crossed the boundary of nearly a week since putting nicotine to my lips, two, I’ve not even had a patch on for nearly twenty-four hours (a sign of probable success in my experience), and three, my body has reached the point that me + smoking will most likely result in a heart attack sooner than later. Problem is, of course, and always has been, not only do I love smoking but nicotine has been the only drug, legal, prescribed, or otherwise, that is the most effective at stabilizing my seemingly otherwise unpredictable moods (an irony given that my average mood is more Vulcan/autistic in stature and gate than your regular erectus’). That and I’m going to enjoy a little Scotch as I attempt to do something more productive than sit around the house for yet another day waiting for my body to somewhat stabilize which it may never do due to the unpredictable nature of my chronic health issues which continue to be a giant question mark and largely ignored and unwanted by a medical industry not capable of helping people with long-term chronic health issues.
So I was trying to (very slowly) read a book on Buster Keaton but I couldn’t stop thinking about the latest adaptation of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. It was a book of which was part of my advanced English curriculum in the 8th grade taught by the tiny, beautiful, and somewhat out-of-place yuppie teacher Mrs. B. who once accused me of not preparing for a public rendering of the poem Jabberwocky because I floundered both from nervousness and the undulating wonkiness of the text—something I’m still not entirely happy with her for given the unwritten assumption by all my teachers that as a teacher’s kid and straight-A student I always did my best combined with the reality, of which she didn’t inquire, that I spent no less than the last 24 hours of my life practicing recitals out loud, even to friends (something that terrified me nearly as much as public speaking)—but I digress. All Quiet on the Western Front was one of those things we were “forced” to read, like The Wind In the Willows, except that while the latter had me balling myself to sleep the night I finished it, the former had me thinking, “What a dumb war.” Yes, this was back in the day when I thought history was just about memorizing names, places, and dates (and no wonder given the “advanced” classes and the “advanced” teachers focused on testing us on names, places, and dates) so the idea that real, flesh and blood, human beings would decide to kill each other because they had fifteen minutes left before a declared cease of hostilities seemed not only mad but, to quote Vizzini (see The Princess Bride), “Inconceivable”. Yes, me, barely a young teenager, thought the idea of The Forgotten War so ridiculous as not to deserve my attention or time. Okay, I get it, this character went through a bunch of shit but yo, war is stupid, and this once unequivocally so, so who cares? Where’s the story, the drama, the Indiana Jones romancing the stones?
And that’s why I think, looking back now, that that novel was something better left to high school kids. It’s not that I don’t think middle schooler’s are emotionally or intellectually ready. It’s that we are (or were at the time) taught history in a very detached way. Even if we had uncles or grandparents that fought in Vietnam, the Korean War, or WWII, as I had, there was no way for us to truly comprehend any of it given these direct connections never talked about these things and us kids, well, we were at best learning life lessons about war from critical sources such as G.I. Joe: The Great American Hero. And I’m pretty sure, looking back, that cartoon never taught me diddly squat about the social, economic, spiritual, emotional, or any other repercussions of the kind of violence depicted in this novel—nor how for the entirety of human history people in power have taken the lives of kids barely older than I was and put them in the line of fire, sometimes for nothing more tangible than national pride. I wasn’t intellectually ready to believe people could be that self-centered and stupid and it didn’t help that I was a middle class white kid growing up on a small “ranch” where things were relatively stable—even though I was highly attuned for a kid my age into the ongoing Cold War—yeah, I naively thought okay, the human race was pretty stupid for a couple of years, but we learned our lesson and moved on, why the fuck do I care about this book (flashback to previous paragraph re: Indiana Jones)?
Side note: This is the most I’ve written in a long, long while. I hope this turns into a trend but it may be a combination of Black Label, nicotine withdrawal, and absolute terror that something terrible is going to happen on my birthday.
Other thoughts? I do need to read this book again now that I have some life perspective and I’ve spent the better part of the last twenty years studying the period from 1914 to 1945, otherwise known by people who have studied it as, “the continuous multi-generational world war” (okay, I made that term up). There’s so much going on in the film that I understand so much better now given time, perspective, knowledge, age, experience. No, I’ve not served in a military, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get perspective from other experiences like loosing people you love or almost dying yourself.
You don’t need to end up in a fucking fox hole to empathize with, or gods forbid, listen to someone.
So yeah, story about dogs dying, you get that as a kid that grew up in the country. Story about seeing hundreds of your peers die in a meaningless attempt for a few powerful people to get their dick on—nah, I think you need to at least have your heart broken in high school at least once to start making some semblance of sense from that non-sense.
That and we need to start teaching our kids better and sooner on all subjects in fact-based, scientifically founded and constantly evolving curriculums.
On the eve of my 49th birthday, one idiot not smoking and not quite buzzed,
Aslynn sans Thunderbunny Meyers