What 80s Babies Know About Balancing Technology

 

ob ginger thumbnailBack in November, I wrote a blog post about how much the internet has taken over our lives, and never got around to Part 2. I couldn’t figure out where to go from there—until I ran across the recent article “Why 80’s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials,” and realized that 80s babies are actually the secret weapon to figuring out this modern technology conundrum.

No, seriously. I’m becoming convinced that my generation of Millennials—the earliest Millennials, the 80s born-and-raised Millennials—are the Rosetta Stone needed to decode this mess of technology vs. real-world experience. If you’ve ever said, “I need and love technology, but I kind of miss using my legs to walk around, and I haven’t seen a human face since Christmas,” then find yourself someone who was born between 1977 and 1985.

The article that clued me into this (and which I will reference as the source of many of my ideas) has this to say about 1980s babies:

A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.

The article is a nostalgic backwards look at what it means to come of age during the technology revolution—not before, not after, but during. I belong to that group. Our childhood was analog, our adulthood is digital, and the teen years were a mix.

 

Due to our unique place on this timeline, I believe 80s babies have an intrinsic understanding of how to balance technology and the rest of life in a healthy way.

 

We may not realize we have this knowledge. We may not always live it out. But we were forged in the analog fires, toughened through the gauntlet of 90s chat rooms, and came as adults to the sandstorm of social media—our past and our instincts can, and will, tell us how to appreciate and use technology without being eaten alive by it.

So let’s review what we’ve learned, shall we?

 

80s Babies Lesson 1: The Internet Should Be An Event, Not A Lifestyle

We were the first group of kids who grew up with household computers, but still novel enough to elicit confusion and wonder.

Remember when the computer was a fun new diversion? Most families had one, and getting on the internet was a once-per-day event. You removed yourself from the main flow of household activity and went to the computer station (in my house, the dining room), listened to the dial-up screeee at you for awhile, and did your inter-netting for the day. If you had permissive parents, you might be allowed up to two hours of inter-netting, but then they really did need the phone back. If you had siblings, like my husband did, everyone got an allotment of inter-netting per week (and learned how to beg, borrow, and steal each other’s minutes).

You signed off, and then you were done.

No answering e-mail endless times. No five-hour chat session that waxed and waned with your attention span. No looking things up throughout the evening as they occurred to you. The internet was a thing you had to go to at certain times.

This made the internet feel like a hobby, or a specific tool. You fitted it into your schedule and spent the rest of the day doing other things. You knew exactly how much time you’d devoted to it.

Today, the internet is ever-present. Between computers, phones, and tablets, it’s no longer an event, but the background of life. But it’s a crappy background. Most of us can’t even begin to tally up the random minutes we spend checking it throughout the day, and we give away with both hands massive amounts of time to its hungry maw.

(Do you know how long I’ve waited to use the phrase “hungry maw” in a blog post?)

And though this has been said a lot, it bears repeating—one consequence is that you can remove yourself from the flow around you at any moment, for any length of time. Disappearing into the computer room used to be a decision, a noticeable decision that your parents or spouse or kids could hound you about. A haze of distraction about your phone or laptop that never completely dissipates is much harder to combat.

 

The 80s Instincts Kick In

So what do we do about this? Here are some humble suggestions for making the internet an event again instead of a lifestyle.

  1. Choose a time and place to use the internet at home. Keep the laptop or tablet at a desk or table. Go to that spot for internet-related tasks, then shut the computer off and leave.
  2. Maybe actually turn it off, too, as opposed to sleeping or hibernating. This recreates the sense of inconvenience we used to feel about constantly jumping on and off.
  3. Consider what internet “background noise” you can cut. I’m trying to replace Youtube videos with book reading during meals and bedtime routine. The other day, I turned on the radio instead of Netflix while I worked on my graphic novel pages. Find small things you can replace with “real-life” events.
  4. If your hobbies necessitate the computer, can you still turn off the WiFi to get them done? For instance, when writing a blog post, I could copy and paste what I need to quote from other articles, then spend some quality time with my Word Processor without Twitter peering over my shoulder every three minutes.
  5. Set boundaries for your phone. Choose a location for it to live, and leave it there. Go to that place to deal with calls and notifications, rather than carrying the phone from room to room.  (If you need to take the phone with you when going upstairs or downstairs, make one phone location for each level of the house).Make your phone space feel like a temporary work station rather than a place to settle in—this cuts the temptation to wait around for a text or idly surf the web. Remember when phones used to hang next to the kitchen doorway? Yeah. No one stood there waiting for a call, unless you were 15 and had a new boyfriend.
  6. Let notifications build up. You don’t have to check every noise your phone makes. You don’t have to sit with your finger hovering over the Facebook notification icon. Set a couple of times to check these things, and limit yourself to that. Better yet, do what I did this week and announce that you will only use your social media account for event invites and private messages.
  7. Tell close friends and loved ones to call if it’s important or time-sensitive. Tell them you won’t be responding to texts and social media as quickly, so if they need something right away, calling is best. Then you won’t have to spring at every text and babysit your social media account to keep from missing things.

These tips may be easier said than done. It may mean a lifestyle change in some areas. But we must set boundaries on how much of our lives the internet can invade. If we reach the point where the internet (rather than us) decides that it will be the background, and we have no say, then the robot takeover has already begun!

Come back on Friday (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.

Blessed Are Those Who Don’t Need No Therapy–and other things Jesus never said.

I’m not pulling punches on this one.

I was incredibly sad to see Robin Williams go this week. It’s even more terrible and tragic that his death came at his own hand. And it’s even worse that some people called him a coward, or belittled his supposed lack of willpower in powering through life. I’d like to see some of these people spend 63 years in constant mental pain and then see who’s the coward.

There’s been some talk in the Christian blogosphere (from bloggers who I won’t link to because it would only increase their traffic and reward their unloving, click bait behavior) to the effect that depression is a spiritual malady best treated with joyful thoughts, and that too much talk of brain chemistry and medical treatment is a modern distraction. Christians should, so these people say, view suicide as a conscious choice to reject all the good in this world, and the rest of us should therefore place suicide victims outside the “victim” category because it was really just their own selfish choice.


Despite all the available information about the medical side of depression, I’m upset to see so many people sharing these sentiments and going right along with them. The lack of nuance in the conversations is worrying the bejeebers out of me, and I’d like to have a chat about it with you.

Modern psychology has known for awhile now that depression is a complex animal with many factors. Life circumstance, habits of thought, brain chemicals, and physical ailments can all contribute to depression, and each might be explored as part of a treatment plan to alleviate it. As a Christ follower, I also believe that spirituality interacts with our depression. But then, as a Christ follower, I believe that all our experiences have a spiritual component to them, so this is almost as obvious as saying that the meaning of life has a spiritual component to it, or that the love for a child has a spiritual component to it. As we used to say back in the 90s, “Duh!”

Yet some people take this further, stretching the implications of this truth way too far. They get suspicious of medication and psycotherapy as real answers, stressing instead the need for God’s joy and spiritual healing as the “real” answer over and against the “false” answer of depression as a medical condition. This makes little sense to me. Saying that we should downplay the role of brain chemistry in depression just because we know a spiritual component exists is like saying that a cancer patient should downplay chemo just because we know that nutrition helps fight cancer, too.

Christians accept the role of medicine alongside faith in just about every other type of ailment, without seeing the two as being pitted against each other. Mention a serious ailment like Lukemia, AIDS, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, and most Christians will immediately say “I’ll pray for you,” indicating that faith and prayer are part of the healing. Those same people would not, however, say, “I’ll pray for you, so that means you don’t need to take your medication or follow your doctor’s orders.” Rather, they accept that faith, prayer, and modern medicine are going to work together in harmony–not competition.

It seems that some of the bloggers and nay-sayers who talk about depression are assuming that if feelings are happening inside your head, rather than outwardly on your body or organs, then those feelings can’t possibly be tied to physical processes; they’re all spiritual. And we know from science that it’s simply more complex than that. There are physical and spiritual forces at play in our brains; thus you need physical and spiritual healing to deal with it.

Next up–what’s with this insistence that enough faith and enough joy will allow or facilitate healing from depression? Isn’t that dancing at the edge of being a prosperity gospel, one in which God rewards you like a slot machine for putting in enough Faith or Joy tokens?

When I was 17, someone apparently entered my name in the Anxiety Lottery without my permission, and sadly, my number was picked. I became the lucky recipient of an obsessive worry problem that I’ll likely be managing for the rest of my life. At that young age, I didn’t understand why my feelings were so out-of-control, so I prayed about it constantly. When God didn’t heal my fears and obsessions and phobias, I began to suspect that He had rejected me. What other assumption could I make? Why wasn’t He fixing the problem?

During this time, my parents taught me something that I count among the top five pieces of life advice I have ever received. They pointed out to me that I was asking God to heal me immediately from my fears, the way one might ask God to heal a broken leg overnight or make a new job drop in your lap. Sure, they said, miracles are possible, but do we really walk around expecting God to zap our every prayer into being immediately? Doesn’t God usually work over time, in various ways, without revealing the end of the path? Why should that be different just because the problem is in our head, and not something outwardly physical? Did I expect Him to reach down and magically rearrange my brain wiring when maybe His plan involved leading me through a process of healing?

I’m not saying that’s any kind of easy answer. When your brain feels like it’s doing time in Hell’s version of Alcatraz, of course any rational person would wish for immediate healing. There is legitimate grief, anger, and confusion when emotional healing doesn’t come fast. But the point is, we mustn’t get unrealistic expectations about how God works. A person with a broken leg expects to go to physical therapy and stay off the leg for awhile and receive strength and patience from God during the healing period. A person who needs a job sends out job applications and pray that God guides them to the right place.

By the same token, it’s normal to need professional help and medication, and to take time to heal, and to feel like utter crap while doing so. It doesn’t mean you’re doing faith wrong. It doesn’t mean God rejected you. It doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time with medication while you should be sitting on your couch waiting for Joy-with-a-capital-J to show up.

For the record, my own treatment for anxiety involves a professional therapist, supportive friends and family, exercise, keeping a job outside the home, and the Holy Spirit. Should medication ever need to enter the picture, I won’t hesitate.

We also need to address this pernicious (and baffling) idea making the rounds that depression and joy cannot co-exist in the same mind, and that joy is therefore a cure for depression. I’m not sure why anyone would ever think this, but here is a good resource by a Christian woman for dispelling that myth. If you’re still unsure, ask around with people who have been depressed. I’m sure they can give you many more personal examples of joy and utter depresson coexisting. Life is nuanced. Life is gray. Get used to that.

No discussion of this subject could be complete without addressing this next point: is depression-induced suicide a refusal to see the goodness in life?

Besides being needlessly antagonistic and utterly insensitive to grieving family members left behind, this statement is just plain wrong. Taking one’s own life is not based on the refusal to see life as good. It’s based on the belief that you cannot attain life’s goodness.

When you know you should be able to enjoy things, but literally can’t–when you know loved ones care for you, but they can’t sit in your pain with you–when you see other people functioning, but can’t get yourself to function–you are painfully aware of how good life is…for everyone else. You just can’t get there yourself.

This, by the way, is why depression is so isolating. You look outside of yourself and see a happy world full of happy people. But you can’t be there with them, and they can’t come inside the depression with you. It’s not a lack of desire to see joy and have hope; it’s an inability to break down a wall that your brain created without your permission.

To say that someone who is depressed or suicidal is refusing to see life’s goodness is like saying that a slave who can’t escape a captor is refusing to know what freedom is. You may know it, you may want it, but you don’t believe you can get to it.

I mean, let’s stop and think about this for one second. One second. Who on earth would ever choose to be miserable enough to kill themselves? Who on earth would ever say, “I’m in so much pain I want to die. There’s an answer in the form of hope and happiness and joy and good things, and all of those sound lovely, but….nah. I’m too lazy. I think I’ll just painfully cut my wrists open, or strangle to death on the end of a rope, rather than regain happiness.” Who says that??

This refusal-to-see-the-good-life idea is such utter, complete, ignorant, cruel, ridiculous tripe that there aren’t enough words in the English language to criticize it, or to describe the careless stupidity one must possess to spout it in judgment two days after a beloved actor has left a grieving family behind. And that’s saying something, because do you know how vast and descriptive the English language is?

Now to the final bit. It has come to my attention that some people are playing the Personal Experience card to de-legitimize other people’s experiences. Here’s how it works. Person X says, “Depression feels insurmountable; people who kill themselves must have been in so much pain.” Person Y says, “Oh yeah? Well I’ve struggled with these issues, too, so I can say from experience that you can get out of depression with this spiritual formula.”

Well, if we’re going to play the Personal Experience card, guess what? I have one of those cards too.

Having dealt with anxiety since I was a teenager, I’ve had my fair share of bouts with depression. Here’s the interesting part: my depression is usually a byproduct of anxiety (in fact, I hesitate to even call it depression because of that, but let’s do for the sake of argument). Because it’s a product of my anxiety, my attempts to fix my anxiety by changing thoughts and changing focus usually go a long way to alleviate the depression. So in a way, I could fit the profile that many of these bloggers want everyone to believe–the profile of the depressed person who finds a way to pull herself back into joy.

Yet even I, someone who found ways to pull myself out of depressed feelings, completely affirm the reality that many cases of clinical depression are too debilitating for people to fix on their own, and cannot be solved with enough joyful thoughts, especially if they’re due to chemical imbalance. Even I, who should fit these bloggers’ categories, believe their theories about depression are complete poo.

I could use my personal experience to belittle and blame people who have a different depressive experience than I do, but I don’t. You know why? Well, first, because I’m not a jerk. But second, it’s because I recognize that my experience is very particular to me, and that I have not experienced the kind of severe, brain-chemistry based clinical depression that some people struggle with. And I would not want those other people to tell me how my anxiety-driven depression should work, or to make predictions about how to fix it. What’s useful is to learn from each other’s experiences, recognize the differences, and support each other. So let’s drop this charade that heaving dealt with “these issues” somehow gives us insight into the experience of every depressed person. Shall we?

If I sound angrier than usual, it’s because I have finally lost patience for people hurting each other. I will grieve for Robin Williams and the millions like him in the world who suffer from a silent hell, and I will not be polite when people say ignorant things about them.

In Defense of YA, and of Positivity in General


I thought I’d better say something about the infamous “Against YA” article in Slate, since, you know…I have a degree in this subject.
A few days ago, Slate contributor Ruth Graham wrote a piece in which she chided adults for reading young adult fiction. YA is alright for teens, she says, but grown-ups should be “embarrassed” if the bulk of their library consists more of YA than adult literature. She laments that about half of all YA books are purchased by readers who are above the target audience of 12- to 17-year-olds. To her, that’s a problem.

It would be hard to find any article with which I disagree more thoroughly—and not just because I happen to write the genre that she’s suggesting adults abandon. I find her argument flawed in nearly every paragraph, and feel the need to defend a genre that adults are finally beginning to wake up to.
The first thing I disagreed with was her ham-fisted usage of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars, which she simultaneously misinterprets and manipulates to suit her own argument:  

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.

Absent, of course, is any mention of what Fault In Our Stars is actually about. Props to her for finding the one detail in the book that sounds stereotypically teenage-ish and wording it in the shallowest way possible. She conveniently omits that it’s a book about a teen with cancer who struggles with the knowledge of what her death will mean to her loved ones, and can’t seem to find any meaning in what’s happening to her.
But I guess no one wonders about life and death, or worries about hurting people, or gets cancer past age 13?
It’s actually quite ironic that she uses the age 13. That’s the age I was when I watched my grandmother die of cancer. And all those questions that are central to the book—about the meaning or not-meaning of death, the messiness of death, and our struggle to live with its reality—were not resolved in my mind when my grandmother died. They were only beginning. They never truly got resolved, and they never can be, which is why the book haunts me so at age 30. Why she thinks a preteen is the only one for whom this book is appropriate is beyond me. If she figured out the answers to death at age 14, I sure wish she’d come share it with me.
She also has this to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”

I’m not sure what she counts as a “myriad” since she doesn’t explain who she polled and/or interviewed, but I don’t know anyone who would self-identify as reading YA for instant gratification. Believe me; anyone who was into Harry Potter while the series was unfinished understands the utter futility of wishing for instant gratification.
But on a serious note, I’m baffled as to why she made this claim. General YA readers truly don’t, in my experience, say that the books allow them instant gratification or are primarily about nostalgia. Most readers of YA read a book because the protagonist is interesting and the story is captivating. Isn’t that why we read anybook? Also, how does the word “pleasurable” imply escapism or nostalgia? I find many adult books “pleasurable” that are far from escapist or nostalgic, and plenty of YA, too.

But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.

I’m not even sure what she means here. She seems to imply that viewing the world from a teen perspective becomes obsolete once you gain enough life experience.
But who says? Who says that teens see life in a fundamentally different way from adults? Yes, it’s true that we (hopefully) develop a more nuanced understanding of the world past age 18. We learn to take social slights with a grain of salt, we quit stressing about pimples, we start to see our parents as people rather than decrepit caretakers. But there are many things about life that we do see accurately as teenagers. By the time I went to college, I had done much observing of life and death and hope and spirituality and social dynamics and dreams. Whatever immaturity hang-ups teens have, it doesn’t disqualify them from also knowing good and true things. In fact, sometimes I think I was wiser about certain issues—such as my work-life balance—at 17 than I am at 30.
Ironically, there’s even a scene from Fault In Our Stars that makes this very argument! (The scene in the Ann Frank House, anyone?)
Furthermore, when I’m, say, 50, should I stop reading adult literature that has 30-year-old protagonists? After all, I will have outgrown the 30-year-old perspective on life, according to Graham’s theory. Should we divide adult literature into “middle-age” and “elderly” genres and get snooty about the age groups directly below ours?

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

I take it she’s never read Hunger Games, which ends with the PTSD-riddled protagonist becoming estranged from the former lover involved in her sister’s death, and struggling to make a relationship with a man who formed a trauma-induced attachment to her.
I guess The Hanged Man is not on her shelf. It’s about a girl who comes to terms with being molested and ends the novel plotting how to save her best friend from a self-destructive fate (we never see the outcome).
Let’s assume she skipped my friend Sara Farizan’s book If You Could Be Mine, which ends on an emotionally devastating note when a character realizes she married someone she can’t love, and can’t do anything about it.
Do these books count as the “nowhere” that the ambiguity of the real world is evidenced in YA fiction?
For that matter, has Graham read any adult fiction? If emotionally “satisfying” endings that look to the future are a sign of immaturity, then we must re-categorize popular adult works like To Kill A Mockingbird, Rosie, Lord of the Rings, and Gilead, as being overly-simplistic YA. All of these have very satisfying endings and thus don’t fit her vision of the supposedly adult, supposedly real, world.
To be honest, this article got my dander up so hard because I hate when satisfaction and hope are seen as childish fantasies that one outgrows. If one seriously believes this, why would one even get up in the morning, let alone stare at a glowing monitor and type a series of symbols in hopes to create meaning and communicate with fellow creatures about the genre of meaning-making symbols they read?
You may think I’m waxing philosophical, but really. We walk around and form attachments and contribute to society because we think there is some spark of hope in what we do, some meaning, and we follow that instinct in spite of ambiguity and hardship. It’s not that kids enjoy hopeful endings because they haven’t learned better; it’s that people enjoy hopeful endings because their hearts just won’t stop yearning that direction.
Let’s finish this train wreck. Graham proves that she hasn’t actually understood Fault In Our Stars when she claims that the protagonist Hazel “finds messy, unresolved stories unacceptably annoying,” (even though Hazel is the character who constantly reminds others that the prospect of death is pointless and messy and irresolvable through platitudes). Graham gives hollow lip service to politeness by claiming that she doesn’t wish to shame anyone’s reading list (this is the blogger’s equivalent of the “No offense, but…” routine, in which yes, one actually does mean offense). She encourages adults to read about protagonists they can’t empathize with (I guess Ann Lamott will now have to be considered a YA writer, because Lamott is famous for stating in her book Bird by Bird that “I like for narrators to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I.”) And finally, she states that adults are “better” than all this satisfying YA crap.
If being an adult means going beyond hope, satisfaction, and empathy, then, my friend, I am not along for the ride. I will remain a young adult for the rest of my life, along with many of the most famous adult writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
And that’s really where the subject touches home for me. It’s not just about the lack of knowledge of the YA genre, nor the logical fallacies in her article, nor the frustration of a writer arguing about books she doesn’t understand, or even the hair-tearing at watching someone claim her insults aren’t insulting. This is also about whether adults are allowed to be hopeful—whether cynicism is the mandatory mantle of the high school graduate. She seems to think that with increased intellect and life experience comes decreased satisfaction and hope and pleasure.
Probably the best thing I can say in response to that, is this:
J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius. Really, the man was no dummy. He invented, in one lifetime, the kind of mythology that typically takes centuries to develop. He was fluent in several dead languages, and snored his way through school at Oxford, where he ended up teaching.
This extremely intelligent adult also had a very hard life. He grew up with no father and lost his mother at a young age, forever scarring him emotionally. As a teenage orphan, he was separated from the love of his life for many years due to the short-sighted decision of his legal guardian. When he later found his love and married her, they often had a difficult home life, strained even further when he went away to the horrors of World War I. He saw friends die. He lurched through middle age carrying the emotional battle scars and living what most would consider a drab and unremarkable life, lost his wife years before his own death, and finally passed away without fanfare or trumpets in the 1970s.
Yet this remarkable man, much smarter and more acquainted with the sorrows of the world than I or Ruth Graham will probably ever be, coined the term “eucatastrophe,” which means a sudden and unexpected reversal from bad circumstances into incredibly good ones. It is described as a sudden “turn” from sorrow to joy.
Tolkien once commented on how frequently we experience eucatastrophes in real life…and how infrequently in the modern novel.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About Hamill, Fisher, and Ford’s Return to Star Wars 7…


**The following is my own personal opinion. I understand and respect that many Star Wars fans disagree, as is their right.**

May the Fourth be with you!
I suppose it’s appropriate that the cast of Star Wars was revealed in time for May 4th. The timeless space adventure trilogy took the internet by storm this week when it was officially announced that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford will reprise their roles as Luke, Leia and Han, respectively, for Star Wars: Episode 7.

Now, I assume “reprise their roles” means “appear in the first movie to hand off the torch to the next set of actors.” I mean, you can’t exactly ask these guys to carry the entire weight of three more action movies, now can you?

I would like to take this moment to point out that I was the one who said, back in the 90s, “Why are they going back and making Episode 1? They should go ahead and make Episodes 7, 8, and 9 now, while the original actors still look young enough to reprise those roles.” But no one listened to me. Instead we got this:


But enough of these PTSD flashbacks. The point is, what’s going on with the franchise today, and why am I not thrilled about it?

A little history. I discovered the films when the Special Edition aroused a new wave of Star Wars interest in 1997, but I remained a die-hard long after that surge calmed down. Episodes 4, 5, and 6—the Original Trilogy—are some of my very favorite movies. No. You don’t understand. They are some of my very favorite movies, lagging only behind Lord of the Ringsand tied with To Kill a Mockingbird. I was that weird kid who always talked about Star Wars. I had computer passwords that referenced The Millenium Falcon. I wrote fan fiction about the universe. Han Solo was my strongest and longest-lived movie crush. I still refer to the films on a regular basis at the age of 30.

Understandably, friends wonder why I’m not doing back-flips about the new trilogy. Most recently, my parents (who watched my Original Trilogy obsession blossom back in ’97) asked me if I was planning to see Ep 7. They seemed surprised when I said I might not. My husband is going to prescreen it for me. If any of the original three main characters die in the film, I will likely never watch it. In fact, if anything about their story line seems even remotely disappointing, I’ll avoid it like the plague.

“But won’t your curiosity eventually get the better of you?” my parents said, extremely puzzled.

Off-and-on throughout that evening, I, too, puzzled over my own response to this topic. Why has my cautious determination to shield myself from this new trilogy been so strong?

I mean, I survived the prequels, right?

Make it stop……

Let me begin by answering a few objections that are sure to be raised. First off, no, I do not see the involvement of Disney or J.J. Abrams as any kind of guarantee that the movies will be good. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love Disney. But this…


…just doesn’t equal this…

…in my mind, at least.

And as for J.J. Abrams—okay, I admit, I found Star Trek: Into Darkness to be the most fun I’ve had watching a summer blockbuster since Pirates of the Caribbean. Heck, I’ve even compared it (very loosely) to the fun of seeing the original Star Wars for the first time.

But let’s not forget that the same man who brought us this…

Also brought us this…

“Womuwanz…..”

It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of the 2009 Star Trek movie, so Abrams’ space adventures only have a 50/50 success ratio with me so far. So, while Ep 7 might indeed be very good, it could also be disappointing, or maybe just not my personal cup of tea.

In either case, though, it won’t be as franchise-ruining as the prequels, and I survived those, so what could possibly be the harm in watching a new set?

To explain the answer to this, we have to get in the Way Back machine and take a trip to southern Illinois circa 1997.


No, not that Way Back machine! That doesn’t even have a roof! I meant this metaphorically!

Ahem. Anyway. This is me at age 13:


You may notice I don’t look particularly happy. Now, I admit, I chose this picture for dramatic effect. There are plenty of pics from that time where I’m smiling and having fun. But I chose this one because it represents  the other facet to my inner life at the time that not many people knew.

Moving from childhood to adulthood is an uncertain prospect in the best of circumstances. My entrance into puberty coincided, unfortunately, with a lot of other changes in my world, few of them good. I lost a relative, experienced a shift in dynamics in my extended family, felt the pain of a broken friendship, and moved from elementary school into the confusing and often cynical world of junior high—all within about a year’s time. I was also developing the very beginnings of what would later become an anxiety problem.

Although I had many happy and stable things in my life, I was confused by all the changes, and in danger of losing my naturally positive outlook on the world. It was a rather scary time.

It was at this shaky point in my life that I met this person, who lost his innocence and had to grow up, just like me.

And this person, who had problems but still kicked the world’s butt, and looked great doing it.

And this person, who I pretty much wanted to elope with for the next ten years.


And I watched, for the first time, the story of a hopeless little band of rebels, led by the last of a dying mystic religion, as they went up against the largest power in the universe…and won.

They won even though this happened.


And this.

And this.

And this, for crying out loud, THIS!

“Your fleet has lost. And your friends on the Endor moon will not survive.”

Heck, even the bad guy got to win.

“You were right about me…”

 The only person who lost in this story was the guy who looked like Satan with stomach flu, and I was okay with that.

You see, Star Wars was both a comforting escape and, in some weird nerd-kid, sci-fi way, a harbinger of hope. Whatever else was going on in my life—whatever disappointed me, whatever scared me, whatever just kind of sucked—I could turn to this story for triumph and hope. When I felt like things weren’t going to be okay, I could flip on the TV and know that this story, at least, turned out okay. Whenever I doubted my own strength, I had this wonderful little tale of the small besting the strong—not without cost, as though we can gloss over the hardness of life—but ultimately coming to a place of happiness and hope. My three main heroes got to live, and live well. That was what I wanted for myself.

William Wordsworth once said that happy memories can be “life and food/For future years,” shoring us up against a difficult future. I believe, for some people, this is also true of the stories we connect to. Certain stories function as a sort of buoy to get you through the tough stuff in life. You can say that it’s silly to feel that way about a sci-fi blockbuster from the 70’s, but if that’s true, I must plead silliness. I loved living the adventure for three movies, having a good ending, and being able to imagine those characters going on more-or-less happily after the end of Ep 6. The Original Trilogy was (and still is) a message of hope that also holds one last little gleam of my childhood wonder.

Now that we’re all weeping into our Kleenex, let’s come back to the original question: what could be lost to me by watching the new movies?

To be honest, I don’t like the thought of a modern screenwriter deciding “what happened” to these characters after the credits rolled in Ep 6 (understand that I’m saying this as someone who never read the books in the Extended Universe—those who did may feel totally different). I don’t like the thought that someone might get to finally decide (and canonize onscreen) how one of them dies. I’d rather be spared having to tack on tragic memories to characters that have been relief, escape, and hope for me, in their own small way, for the majority of my life. To put it shortly, I don’t want to lose the Original Trilogy’s role in my life as an uncomplicated, foundational, happy memory that helped usher in adulthood.

Interestingly, the prequels never bothered me this way; what happened before Luke, Han, and Leia could not change what happened to them in their story. It couldn’t change the happy ending of Ep 6. Tacking on afterwards, though…well, that could.

Now, of course, I’m not required to accept any new movie as part of my headcanon—not 40 years after the originals, anyway. But if I watch something happen to one of my beloved characters, can I really ever un-see it? Will some of the gleam and glimmer of my beautifully hopeful ending be buffed off by a modern screenwriter? Is the Original Trilogy valuable enough to warrant some amount of inconvenience to protect it in my brain? For me, the answer is yes.

In some ways, this brings up the larger question of reboots and sequels in general. Reboots and sequels are really popular these days, and I’ll be the first to admit that some are really fun. Heck, I want some films (like Gaslight, for instance) to be modernized and played out by today’s actors. But on the other hand, sometimes reboots begin to overshadow what came before them in the name of “modernization,” and I don’t want that to happen with this new pack of Star Wars flicks.

I don’t think this need to make a “modern version” is good 100% of the time. What would be the point of making, for instance, a new To Kill A Mockingbird? Wouldn’t it be a slap in the face to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman if a couple of modern celeb heartthrobs tried to outdo them in a new rendition of Casablanca? Wouldn’t we be falling all over ourselves with rage if someone claimed that they could repaint the Mona Lisa, rewrite War and Peace, or play beloved songs on kazoos? (Oh snap!)

Now some might say that, objectively, Star Wars as a series is not a classic film on par with Casablanca or To Kill A Mockingbird. Fine. Objectively, I’ll give you that. But it’s hardly a flash-in-the-pan, either. I am not the only person whose young life was shaped by that story. At what point does something become valuable enough as art that it needs to be left alone? Does it have to reach Mona Lisa status? Does it have to actually be Casablanca? When does something become masterful enough, leave enough of an impact on the consciousness of a generation, that it deserves the respect of standing alone and speaking for itself?

I fear that in our haste to remake, add on, and modernize everything, what we’re essentially saying is that art (and yes, I do consider movies art) loses its value once it reaches a certain age. It needs reconstructive surgery to stay attractive, or at the very least a Botox injection. And in a time of technology and over-saturation in the movie market, the “age” after which movies lose their value is shrinking rapidly. Things are going to be obsolete before they’re invented if we keep going at this rate.

I honestly feel a bit uncomfortable thinking that the next generation of kids may see new Star Wars movies and have no interest in the old—as if the old was just a relic from another generation that is easily replaced with a hot new screenwriter and better special effects. To return to a previous analogy: I love much of the art that’s been produced since the Mona Lisa, but I’d be offended if some of it purported to be the “next” Mona Lisa, or the Mona Lisa’s twin sister, or some other silly thing like that. That would deliver a very bad message to humanity about why art, stories, and self-expression are valuable. These things don’t stop being valuable when we find flashier ways to do them. They are valuable in and of themselves, because they tell a specific story that someone wanted to give us at a specific time.

I would have been more comfortable with the new Star Wars even if, say, it had been set in the far future of the same universe, with no connection to the original characters. I think touching those old characters in any form runs the risk of cheapening why the Original Trilogy was valuable, and to someone who holds that dear in her heart, this feels threatening.

But maybe you feel differently. Maybe you love the Star Wars universe for itself rather than solely for the characters, and welcome a new installment. Honestly, I am glad for you, because that’s a fun feeling! I will be more than happy to listen to you talk about all the exciting details of how the universe is being further explored and loved on by the next generation.

I just hope you’ll understand if I’m not in the theater seat next to you on opening night.