Monday, September 24, 2012

The more things change, the more they actually DON'T stay the same

JAN BROGAN - We often talk about how great things used to be, and how today's rude drivers, bad manners, cell phones, etc. annoy us. 

It's not that I can't complain with best of 'em, it's that every once in a while it's a good idea to take deep breath and put it all in perspective. One thing I've learned in historical research, especially when I was looking back at the 1970s, is that some things actually improve and we don't notice  We all have a tendency take the improvements for granted and whine about what's not up to par.

 I  hear a lot of people today complain about young kids in the workforce. They can't write complete sentences. Their spelling is atrocious. They can't take criticism because they have been praised all their lives.

But I've been working on a writing project, interviewing eighteen people under thirty. What I've been struck by is their dedication. What I've also noticed in this group,  and in my kid's graduating classes, a lot of young people have a strong sense of "giving back" and doing something worthwhile for the world. All the emphasis on community service in high school and college - that I thought was a lot of resume padding - actually had an effect. These kids are willing to work for very little money to take jobs in really rough places to try to make them better.

In my generation, a lot of people talked about saving the world, but in this generation, a lot people are actually making sacrifices to try to do it.

So that's the one thing I've noticed is getting better today, (that and the ready availability of really good coffee) So how about you, what's the ONE thing you notice is improving?

HALLIE EPHRON: So Jan goes right to charity and good works. Where does my mind go? Food! Oh, gosh, I can remember when eggplant was considered a delicacy in the supermarket, along with soppressata and fava beans. And the only breads you could get were "brown" or "white." Now, if anything, there are too many choices. Vive la global economy! Not to mention local farms.

And remember when you had to watch where you stepped on city streets? I never thought people would scoop their poop, but they do. Or not smoke. Remember when the minute the lights went out in the movie theater someone lit up? And how men in the work place used to think it was fine to say the most embarrassing things to women. And you not only had to deal with telephone calls from people selling you something you didn't want, they came to the door! Yes, some things have changed for the better.

RHYS BOWEN: I will blend both Hallie and Jan's comments and say that we are more aware that we live on a fragile planet and have to husband resources. Until recently the earth was seen as a big candy store from which we could take what we wanted. Now we're recycling, conserving and going back to local farming. All good things. As is the whole world speaking English, making travel so easy.

Smaller good changes? Women not having to sit under a hair dryer in rollers, no more recipes that include cool whip, jello or cream of mushroom soup.

LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, you're right about conserving resources. It wasn't too long ago that bringing in a reusable bag to the grocery store was considered the territory of a nut job. Now everyone has cloth bags--hurray!

But Hallie's right about food, as usual. Farmer's markets everywhere...and no one would consider serving slimy chop suey out of a can, the way my mom did. Do you remember that stuff? The only thing edible was the crunchy noodles that you sprinkled on top.

And although I know some people love old cars, I have to say new cars have improved a lot--more comfortable, safer, better mileage...I wouldn't go back to my old Dodge Dart!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I agree with all of the above (except I am terrible at actually remembering to take my reusable bags into the supermarket...) but Rhys's comments about sitting under hairdryers in rollers cracked me up. I would add, having come of age in the era of the blow-dryer, that I think flat irons for women's hair are a great boon to civilization. I used to iron my hair straight on the ironing board!

And I second no-more-chow-mein from a can, and at least fewer recipes calling for Cool Whip or Cream of Mushroom Soup.

But one of the changes I'm most grateful for in my lifetime is the ban on smoking in public places. Oh my gosh, especially traveling in the UK, where often there was no place to eat other than the local pub. You walked into a pall of smoke. Your eyes stung, your throat hurt, and then you couldn't get the smell out of your hair or your clothes... I consider Smoke Free a huge leap forward for mankind.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Absolutely agree with Debs on smoke-free. I grew up with 3 smokers - it's no wonder I love the outdoors, I started going out on my own at age 8! I would add nutrition labeling on food. I don't know what I did before that...I had a little calorie booklet that I bought at the market. And I can't resist the mention of technology. I've driven over 20 hours in the last 8 days and I don't know what I would have done without the GPS.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah, you don't have to get up to change the channel on TV? And you can watch whatever you want, whenever your want? Fine, maybe easier TV is not the one thing.  ATMs? On-line banking? I just read an article saying that deaths from traffic accidents have decreased--because cars are so much safer. Oh--sunscreen!
JAN BROGAN - See, life isn't so bad, after all. Tell us  Reds, what is the one thing you notice is getting better?


  1. Oh, so many things . . . I agree about so much of what you’ve mentioned: our awareness of the fragility of the planet [remember “Captain Planet” cartoons?] . . . the reusable bags [always used around here, and not just in the grocery store --- although I must say I do remember getting cloth bags with the grocery store’s name on them in California in the 1980s --- the harbinger of things to come, I suppose] . . . the smoke-free environments . . . .

    I’m sorry technology has made it so easy for folks to carry their telephones around [but in an emergency, at least you’re not stuck on the side of the road somewhere, hoping someone will come along to help you], but today’s technology is certainly something to take note of . . . , Computers have evolved from desk top monsters to tablets we can carry around in our tote bags and the Internet has changed everything from the way we connect with each other to the way we conduct research. The eReader has changed the way we sometimes read, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t think the electronic media will ever completely replace a real, hold-in-your-hand book.

    [On the negative side, though, there is the captcha . . . maybe the third try will be the charm???]

  2. Can I be the only one here who wrote their first novel on a typewriter? Now that was act of love, a true belief in art. Pencils, editing, and then typing the whole thing AGAIN. Writing and editing are so easy today, everybody's writing novels. :-)

    Oh, something else definitely more important to me: My Grandfather died of prostate cancer in his 60s. I took a blood test and had the cancer removed early.

  3. Oh, Jack --- the agony of typing a Master's thesis on a manual typewriter. . . I'd totally forgotten about that! The research and the writing were a piece of cake compared to getting that required formatting just right. And the agony of “make a mistake, start the page over again” . . . oh, yeah, definitely tucked that memory away!

  4. Hairdryers! Yuck! And, this will show my age, garters! I'm glad those are gone! I remember life BEFORE pantyhose. LOL

    I second everything already mentioned. I'll add that one of the positive changes has been in transportation and the (relatively) inexpensive way to get anywhere in the world. It has shrunk the globe and travel to foreign lands expands our knowledge of other cultures and people. I got on an airplane for the first time as a high school senior and the flight from Portland, ME to NYC was very expensive so it was an extravagance for my parents. When I was a child my favorite book was RICHARD HALIBURTON'S COMPLETE BOOK OF MARVELS. I read about interesting places all over the world. Now we can fly to any of those sites at the drop of a hat. And I've been lucky enough to check a few of them off my bucket list.

    Great discussion! And the fact that we're all connected electronically is a major advancement.

  5. I hate the omnipresent clod blathering away on his cell (esp when they put in their earbuds and have NO IDEA how loud they're talking.) I leaned over to a fellow passenger on Amtrak the other day after he'd hung up his call and confided, "You should've broken up with her."

    BUT remember when you had wander around at the airport looking for the person you were supposed to pick up. Find the "Courtesy Desk" and get them to page the person to the "white courtesy phone." Are there still white courtesy phones?

  6. Prius hybrid! With careful driving I regularly get mpgs in the high 50s. A fabulous invention and a nice ride.

    But then it leads to further annoyance with people who leave their TANKS, I mean, SUVs idling. Why, people, why? Just turn it off.

  7. Marianne, can't believe you mentioned the Halliburton book. My husband told me how much he loved that book so I found a copy of that, and of Halliburton's Glorious Adventure. They are wonderful books!

  8. Thanks, ladies, for these inspiring words! You should condense them into a sign and put it up all over! We get so bogged down with our petty irritations often, like when the TV doesn't respond in a minisecond, or the paper is 1 hour late at the front door! Thelma in Manhattan

  9. Rosemary, I'm so excited to learn of someone else who loved that book! I traveled and learned so much between its covers. My second favorite book was a very large world atlas with a page for almost every country that I'd mark with my choices for visiting. (Killed me to write in a book but it was important.) Later, I'd mark it with the places I actually visited.

    I still have those books. I'll never get rid of them.

  10. My vote goes to the Internet, which brings us wonderful things like Google and Google Maps. Maybe that means I don't *get* to take as many research trips for my writing, but it also means I don't *have* to fly to Atlanta to figure out where there's an ice cream store my protagonist could have gone to.

    The Internet also makes it possible for us to promote and communicate like this. I can't imagine being a new author from a small press (as I am) and trying to reach readers across the country before the Interwebz. That's the revolution in my lifetime.

  11. Jack,
    I remember my first newspaper job where we worked on typewriters. At my next, larger paper, (The Worcester Telegram) learning word processing was daunting. Or seemed daunting. Until I realized that when I wrote on the word processor - I stopped swearing.

    There were no white out corrections. A mistake no longer took up time. Word processing system were the best things that ever happened to writers!!

    Tammy, I'm with you on google maps! I recently was out running at a hiking reservation and got lost I - whipped out my google maps - never thinking it would work because there weren't actual roads - but between my Iphone compass and Google Maps, I found the right direction

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  13. Joan,
    I wrote my first screenplay on a typewriters - with all those margin formats - it was hell!!

    Marianne, I'm with you on travel. I'm not sure I think pantyhose was an advancement though.

    Edith, I've got Prius-envy !

  14. My first thought was food and my second, cars. In my 1960s childhood in Montana, fresh fruit in the winter was oranges, apples (red and yellow delicious), and bananas, which I thought were brown. Rarely, grapefruit. During Feburary "Hawaiian Days," we ate pineapple, papaya, and mango every day.

    And cars! My dad was a traveling salesman and put 60,000 or more on in a year and traded in his giant Buicks every year because they were worn out. The interstate system. Seat belts, air bags, child restraints, anti-lock brakes, affordable 4 wheel and all-wheel drive. ...

  15. Well, I'm probably dating myself here, but desktop publishing software is fabulous. I used to do cut-and-paste layout of typed and typeset copy--with all its frustrations. I remember when PageMaker came out. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

    And the spread of computers to the poorest families among us through the schools and public libraries. This aspect is so great it needs to be extended even further.

    And Jan, I have to second your comments about the new younger generation. The millennials are, I believe, what my own generation, the baby boomers intended and wanted to be, but never really were.

    Medical advances are the greatest, though. In the 1950s, a diagnosis of lupus came with a five-year life span (max)--and most of that would be spent in a wheelchair or completely bedridden. Now, I can expect to live a normal lifespan and might not end up in a wheelchair at all if I'm lucky.

  16. Email is better than fax is better than telex is better than telegram is better than morse code is better than smoke signals!

  17. I learned to type on an IBM Selectric. I've said since that I don't think I'd ever have finished a novel if I'd had to do it on a typewriter.

    So much we take for granted so quickly...

  18. Linda,
    I think it was all the drugs that sidetracked our generation. I distinctly remember one college guy talking all night about everything he was going to do for the world. He wound up being a drug dealer (like a MAJOR trafficker) and I wrote about him in Final Copy.

    I second your nomination of fruit. I have sad news, though. My husband does a lot of energy research and there are people saying that the days of exotic fruits and other luxuries all over the globe are numbered because of the rising price of fuel. That this will be window of time - a blip when it was feasible.

    Sounds a little doomsday, but just in case -- enjoy those mangos now!

  19. I'd have to say the Internet in general. Without it, I'd be that isolated weirdo who likes to write stories. I've "met" and connected with so many wonderful people through blogs, email groups, Facebook, etc.

    I told my daughter the other day that she has more information at her fingertips at 12 than I had at 24. So many hours spent in libraries researching with encyclopedias that were almost out of date before they were printed. Now to also teach her that you can't believe everything on the Internet!

  20. Linda, I hear you on the medical front. I've got MS and that was definitely a "diagnose and good-bye" disease (think of Annette Funicello). Now if I'm lucky there are therapies that will keep me out of a wheelchair - and maybe even a cure some day.

  21. I don't know what soppressata is! What is it?

    When I learned to type in high school around 1988 we had big, black electric typewriters. A year later I took a word processing block and we learned WordPerfect. Years later I didn't like having to learn Microsoft Word but it's okay now. I still have an electronic typewriter that I practiced my typing on when I first learned to type. Yeah, typing on a computer is great and you don't have a lot of margin difficulty.

    I do love the internet and as I don't own a computer, I love the fact that I can access it at the library. Three cheers for that!

    I think I also did typing on an I.B.M. Selectric (like Deb). We still had them in the law office even into this new century, but we used them for typing up forms and sometimes envelopes.

    I never used to recycle but then we got the cans from the city that we have to use so now we recycle. A lot goes in there: pop cans, cat food cans, and plastic trays from frozen meals.

    I like the ban on smoking. I only worked at one place that allowed smoking: a telemarketer job in the early '90's and people smoked there and I left with my clothes smelling of smoke. I only worked there a few days because we didn't get paid, not even minimum wage, if we didn't make a sale (garbage bags or a goose welcome mat was what the person got if they made a donation). It might've been for a worthy cause (paralyzed veterans?) but I can't remember.

    There's also no smoking at bingo at festivals and I love that. It does cut the attendance down some, but there's a better chance for me to win!

    I don't use those cloth bags at the grocery store but I have some. Small items would get lost in them or maybe fall out. Heavyweight canvas bags would be better.

  22. I agree with a lot of what you all mentioned. For me, the best thing is the ability to "chat" with all kinds of wonderful people which is really great. A gift to me.

  23. So many things are improved (24 hour health clinics that aren't the ER, for one), but quite selfishly, one thing I think is great is movies at home.

    We will go to the theater once in a while, but the joy of watching a movie when I want to, and some of my favorites at that (Lion in Winter at my fingertips!), well, I think that's fabulous.

  24. To Jill Fletcher's "email is better than better than smoke signals" I'd add, "texting is better than email."
    I actually used a cream of mushroom soup recipe yesterday. I was so happy to find a crockpot recipe that said to dump dry macaroni, soup, chicken and onions together in the pot and cook on low 6-8 hours. Only one pot to wash. I checked after 2 hours and found chicken imbedded in lumps of library paste. (Do librarians use library paste today?)
    Jan, think what a boon those increasing fuel prices are to local growers. And I know a farmer in north Florida who is growing tropicals in his hoop house. There must be many others who are experimenting with ways to grow fruits from different climates.
    I don't know what soppressata is either, Michelle.

  25. Michelle and skipperhammond:
    Soppressata is an Italian dry salami.

  26. I didn't know what soppressato was either, so THANK YOU JOAN!!

    Skipperhammond, My husband actually told me that after I had read Barbara Kingsolvers book on the eat-local movement. He said not to worry, eating local would be coming back SOON. I try really hard not to buy anything imported that I can get local.

    Fran - I write about health issues and think a lot about the healthcare issue - and am convinced those 24-clinics are key to healthcare reform.

    Michelle, Lil and Mary, although I probably couldn't live without the Internet, I have mixed feelings about it. Probably because it destroyed the newspaper business (I'm a journalist). And probably because my last book (Teaser) investigative the dark side and I spent an afternoon with an undercover detective and really experienced the DARK side.

  27. We used to get oranges and tangerines in our Christmas stockings -- that is how rare fresh fruit was "when I was a girl."

    I took a "portable" typewriter to college, and was thrilled to have it. Now, I do all of my writing on a MacBook Pro -- vive la difference!

    I have happily said goodbye to: girdles, makeup, Jim Crow laws, polio, and many other things from the good old days.

  28. Oh, gosh, polio. And leprosy--now both rare, thank goodness. As well as German measles, mumps, and chicken pox, all of which we all got as a routine. Scarlet fever used to be fairly common, too, but I have not heard of anyone having that illness in 40 years, at least.

    I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and hated, hated, hated typing, and barely passed with a 35wpm. Once the computer came along I realized I could type pretty fast, since I didn't have to worry about the mistakes.

    Digital TV is wonderful; no more rolling pictures. And with nothing more than an antenna it is possible to get dozens of channels that we never knew existed.

    Count me as one who now prefers to read on an electronic device (Nook Tablet, in my case) because it is so much easier to hold or to prop up for my pre-arthritic hands. I'd like to maintain my mobility as long as possible, but I also want to read as much per day as possible, too. The Nook does not require "gorilla grip" to hold the book open.

    And Facebook, like other social media, is amazing. I am now in contact with my best friend from eighth grade, someone I had not really talked to since 1965, and family members we rarely see. Skype is another pretty cool invention; I just wish my far-away daughter would use it so I can see my grandson more often.

  29. Insulin pens that let you dial the dosage instead of needles and bottles are a wonderful invention. So is the Delete button.

  30. Probably the most important thing I forgot to post--no more coat hangers! When I was young, abortion was illegal, and every year women died terrible deaths from self-abortions and back-alley abortionists. I remember there was a place in Junction City, KS, home of Ft. Riley, where you could have your ears pierced and get an abortion at the same time.

    Also, until the 1980s, it was still legal for a husband to forcibly rape his wife, even his estranged wife, in MO and some other states. Marriage was a complete defense against rape charges. And laws against domestic violence and shelters for women and their children hardly existed until recent decades.

    Final example: in many towns you'd see signs at the city limits, saying "N*****s, don't let the sun set on you in this town" and even during the Vietnam War, our Latino vets came home to parks in places with signs that read, "No dogs or Mexicans on the grass."

    All of these advances in human rights for women and minorities may be under fire now, but they exist when they didn't before. Our children wouldn't believe such things could have existed in their country.

  31. Darlene,
    Those insulin pens sound pretty amazing.

    Linda, we do tend to take those advances for granted...until we start looking at other countries. Then we have to thank God how far we have come.

    Karen, I'm with you on the digital books - they are so much easier on my eyes.

    Denise Ann - It's amazing to think we ever had Jim Crow laws, how bad things were as late as the 70s.


  32. I don't have to sleep with a head full of rollers anymore. Just was the hair, a quick blowdry, and then hit it with a curling iron.

    Computers instead of typewriters and White Out.

    Clothes that don't have to be ironed.

  33. ...sleeping in rollers..holy cow!!!
    I remember the orange juice can...

  34. Seatbelts! I remember back when seatbelts were considered to be an option when one was purchasing a car, and only the wealthy could afford that option. I always resent it when I am on a train and there's no seatbelt. Maybe they will be standard equipment on trains someday, as they are on planes and cars, and some buses. Seatbelts DO save lives!

    No Smoking laws! I love them! When smoking was still allowed in the workplace, I had one sinus infection after another after another. My doctor told me that I am allergic to cigarette smoke and used to admonish me for not asking coworkers not to smoke around me. I tried it,unsuccessfully,and finally stopped asking unless I was really miserable. Smokers would be insulted if you asked them not to smoke around you. Now I have a sinus infection maybe once every two or three years. It's hard to imagine that there was once a time when I was constantly sick.

    I can't afford to be snobbish about e-readers. Between arthritis and problems with my neck and back,it is especially painful to hold LARGE books. Thanks to my Kindle,there is less physical pain in my life. I bless the person who invented these devices! I still buy books but now I have an option if the hardcover or paperback version is in the 600 page neighborhood. Even shorter books are sometimes a problem. I have choices now, as I said, and I am so grateful.

    Although I rarely bring my own bags to the supermarket, it's because my condo complex requires trash to be disposed of in plastic bags. Instead of buying the trash bags, I recycle the ones from the stores.

    I am one of those who had to learn typing on a manual typewriter. I hated it and showed up in the principal's office about once every two weeks, begging to be allowed to drop the course. She eventually gave in. Both of my parents had hated typing in high school and didn't care if I never learned to type. My principal was shocked that parents of a GIRL didn't mind if she didn't know how to type. So, I salute both computers (SO much easier to use) AND enlightened attitudes about what girls should learn how to do!

    Deb Romano
    Taking time to reread my reply has cost me my easy capcha! Oh,well...

  35. Well,I see that rereading my reply did not help me to spell my name correctly! I DID say that I hated typing!! Now you know why...

    Deb ROMANO

  36. 25 years ago my type of breast cancer would have been a death sentence. Now, Her2 positive is just another form, and I get to live.

    I also have to wonder about when people say things like computers etc keep us from getting to know others and the ability to converse is getting lost. You mean to tell me that people who settled farms/land etc., when it was just a man, his wife, and their children for 40 miles; they had scintillating conversations about politics, religion, the arts, etc? I think computers do a much better job of keeping people IN communication with others...and what is the difference between getting to know someone via the internet and pen pals? At least now you stand a chance of finding out if your pen pal has a criminal background!

  37. Lora,
    I LOVE THAT line about computers. (at least you can check your pen pals criminal backgroundP Can I steal it? And I'm do glad medicine has advanced for you and all the breast cancer, and any cancer survivors out there.

    Deb, I salute your parents.

    Pat, I need to adopt your attitude. I find myself resenting the blow dry. Probably because I never slept in rollers.



  38. Although Ro,

    I did sleep in the orange juice can. I used to wrap my hair around my head and the orange juice can was on top, so it actually wasn't that uncomfortable.

    Must have looked a sight to.