iPoding through life


The evening jazz show on the French CBC radio station filled the van as I drove back from St. Andrews through the rain and fog. The kids were in the van with me. I glanced over at the oldest boy between the wiper beats and flashing headlights of oncoming cars and smiled. I like driving in the rain. I like jazz, too.

I looked over at him again, and this time I could make out the trademark white line and earbud in his ear, so I reached over, took it from his ear and put it up to mine. It was an upbeat techno rock—totally at odds with my jazz on the radio. Funny. I knew that in the back seat his older sister was listening to her own iPod, and I wondered how different her song—and her mood—was from our two different versions up front.

Earlier in the day she’d handed me her earbud to listen. It was the Rolling Stones. I was a bit surprised that she had them on her iPod. Then she asked if they’d done a lot of drugs over the years because they looked pretty bad, and if I’d ever been to one of their concerts. ‘Yes’ to both questions. It was the first time in a couple of years that our musical interests had overlapped. Nice.

It got me thinking about how our life-pods keep us insulated. We grow up in our own generation with our own music and fashion. My father is still very stuck in his own musical past. To him the Big Band era of the 40s is the absolute finest, the pinnacle.

Hairstyles are like that, too. At some point our hairstyles get ‘locked in’ and stay that way for the rest of our lives. I’ve written about this before. Walking into a Tim Horton’s you can recognize the ducktail guys from the 1950s and the old hippies with wispy grey ponytails. Mullets have pretty much disappeared, but you can still find the odd one. In a few years we’ll be able to date the short hair combed forward and flipped up at the front—and the buzzcuts and shaved baldies, too.

Women’s hairstyles must be like that I think, although I don’t recognize the history of women’s styles as much. I get lost somewhere between backcombing in the early 60s and the big hair of the 80s. Except for the current do with the short cut at the back and the long Afghan dog-ears at the front. Or the other one with the comb over across the eyebrows. Those two I’ll be able to date as mid- to late-2000s.

Some sage, I’ve forgotten who, once advised that one should follow the crowd by adopting the fashion of the day, but to stand alone on matters of personal character. I hate to think that most of us do it backwards as we age—resisting the new fashion of the day but following the herd on pretty much everything else. Personally, I’m now old enough that fashion doesn’t matter that much—as long as I don’t embarrass myself by looking like a total anachronism. But I’m now a whole lot more willing to stand up and stand out for what I believe in. And maybe that’s a matter of age too, but I kind of doubt it. I think that the willingness to stand up comes from the certainty that one has nothing to lose. Nobody gets out of here alive. We’re gonna die anyway, so we may as well take a chance.

There’s an aching nostalgia that comes from looking back at the wake left by our life-pod. Nothing is worse than listening to old songs. With each verse, memories of lost friends, first loves and heartbreaks and summers on the beach come flooding back. At first these memories are warm, then the realization of distance and time creeps in, and soon enough there’s that old emptiness, and finally the coldness of the grave clutching at our heart.

As the years pile onto our life-pod like miles on the odometer, our losses also pile up. That makes falling into nostalgia particularly dangerous. It makes us remember how much has been lost. Maybe we actually decide to die when we get too tired of losing.

Sitting here, I’m recollecting my own ghosts, friends—once close friends—I haven’t seen in years. A girl who taught me to waterski. The boyfriend she met at university, who became my friend and stayed a friend even after they split up. A writer I knew back home who I met again out here, and who’s gone away again. My first best friend as a kid, a diabetic at age 7, who grew up to be a snooker champion. Dozens and dozens of people—maybe hundreds. Every one now only a memory buried somewhere in my neural circuits.

It’s too lonely thinking these kinds of thoughts. But that’s the way of it—iPoding through life. Each of us is listening to our own tune. And sometimes that tune can be a sad and lonely one.

But sometimes not. This afternoon as I was renovating the new office (still) and listening to some folk singer on the Prairie Home Companion and trying to keep the kids entertained while I worked, a friend dropped by to see how I was making out. He asked if my kids wanted to hang out at his place with his boy. Sure, okay. Later, after a couple of hours messing with two-by-fours and drywall, I went over to pick up the kids and ended up watching the end of the hockey game and having a beer with him. It’s nice when the insulating iPod earbuds come off and people start listening to the same song together. While we watched the game our kids hung out around a firepit in his backyard, huddled together in the rain—exploding unopened popcans in the fire.
Had we known I think the two of us would have gone to explode popcans, too.

There’s no moral in any of this. There are times when it’s good to be inside our own life-pod and other times when it’s good to be with other people. Yes, I resent gadgets—cell phones, iPods, alarm wristwatches, whatever—creeping up my body. But all that stuff can disappear pretty quickly when real people get together to play.

Life may be short, but it’s also very, very good.


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