Friday, July 20, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society: Disposable Relationships

Perhaps no institution has suffered more at the hands of a disposable society like marriage. This is what fascinates me in this theme—is there a more ritualistic event in our lives than a wedding? Graduations & proms come close, but follow trends. Weddings do too, I guess, but the elements that make a wedding unique are timeless. Giving away the bride, the vows, the pinchably cute kids stumbling down the aisle hardly ever doing what they’re supposed to and of course "you may now kiss the bride." Those things never change.

Sadly, this topic hit home recently when I received an email from a college friend. Just last fall, Jen and I attended his wedding. He was one of the last remaining bachelors among my circle of friends and we were all happy for him. He and his bride seemed to go well together and both seemed genuinely happy. She laughed at his jokes. He looked after her sweetly. The email stated that they were getting a divorce—that they were better off as a dating couple than a married couple. It took the wind out of me. Even though they hadn’t known each other for long before they got married, they seemed to be a good match. I was so sad for him, even hearing his assurances that he was doing alright, that his professional life is going well and that he is surrounding himself with friends and family. A short marriage still has profound effects on one’s life.

I also think of so many people who have skipped the ceremony and chosen to live as a couple without the ritual of a wedding. It seems like they are hedging their bets somehow. If it doesn’t work out, at least it doesn’t mean a divorce, as if the pain of that relationship being lost would be lessened by virtue of that fact.

I heard someone on the radio the other day advocating that marriages should be considered 5-year renewable contracts. He'd been married 3 times for decent lengths of time: 9 years, 15 years and 10 years and claimed that instead of having 3 failed marriages, he'd had 3 very successful marriages that didn't last a lifetime.

How do weddings survive in the era of 50/50 marriage survival rates? I'm not asking the question "why does anyone bother to get married anymore?" I'm not questioning the instution of marriage. I firmly believe in int. It just seems amazing that the dream and the ideal seem to have changed so little while the reality has fallen apart. Clearly, it's not just a quaint tip of the cap to some nearly forgotten past. It's not just a way to collect expensive presents from longtime family friends. The question I guess I'm posing is: how has the ritual remained so substantially intact when the attitudes toward marriage have shifted so much? Is it false hope? Is it peer pressure? Is it good enough for one day but people aren't willing to do the heavy lifting to stick it out? What gives?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stuck in your Head

Taking a short break from the Rituals series to bring you this song that will stick in your head until explodes. Enjoy Tay Zonday's Chocolate Rain!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society

A theme keeps emerging in a couple of recent experiences and it has me thinking, enough to have me blogging, a modern day miracle. It’s this thing about the disposable society in which we live—not that exciting frankly and lots can be said about the way technology and poor workmanship on products and our obsession with having something new have collaborated to create this lack of appreciation for things that last. However, it’s not just the throwaway nature of our world that has me thinking, it is the enduring nature of certain rituals and traditions that I’ve seen lately and I’m fascinated by how they survive this powerful trend.

So here’s where it all started. Perhaps, no single item has pushed the disposable trend more than cell phones. What other product since the industrial revolution has come with an expected lifespan of 2 years? I’ve had shoes that lasted twice that long. And I wore them every day thanks to Dr. Martin, but I digress. My phone that I’ve had for just about 2 years started to bug out on me. It’s a smart phone and all of the smart characteristics still worked. My calendar was working fine. My contacts were intact. I could search the web in my hand with ease. Only problem was that I couldn’t talk to people on the phone when they called me. I would press talk and they the caller and I could not hear each other at all. I tend to put up with problems like this longer than anyone should, primarily due to my fear that fixing the problem will cost me money. At long last, though, after more than a week of not being able to pick up my phone, except with my headset, I took it to Sprint.

If 2 years is the lifespan of a phone, than 30 minutes is the magic time limit in which any problem can be diagnosed and fixed or so they told me. In the end it took me 90 minutes, a total of 3 trips to Sprint and I had me a brand reconditioned phone. In other words, somebody else gave this one back to Sprint and they cleaned it up so it looked new and then sent it back out to some customer who was already having problems with his phone…me. The phone actually picked up and it looked new. Happily I synched it with my computer so all my data was back. I was good to go. Called Jen to tell her and she asked me why I was in a tunnel. Called another friend later on and he asked why I was banging pots and pans or constantly dropping my phone. It didn’t work any better. In the end, what I got was the latest version of my phone with new features for free. It is reconditioned of course.

All that to say that I was amazed that this gadget that some tech heads waited months for, that some engineers spent a long time creating, that software engineers spent countless sleepless nights developing is commonly regarded as disposable after 2 years. I know I’ll annoy Phil and the other appleseeds by mentioning the iPhone and all of its glitches so I won’t.

Here’s the thing. All of this happened in the same week that I went to Old Orchard Beach, the ultimate ritual of my childhood and countless others. My parents own a cottage there, which is where we stayed. My daughters slept in the room my brother and I had shared for 3 weeks every August until we were 14. I refer to Old Orchard as the land that time forgot quite a bit. The ocean and the beach never seem to change. Institutions at the Pier like Pier Fries and Lisa’s Pizza have been around for decades. Beachwear stores come and go by different names always peddling the same low quality gaudy clothing. It’s timeless in its tackiness, but it’s endearing that way too. Hard to explain to people who didn’t know this beach as the one anchor in their lives while they moved around the country every 3 or 4 years growing up. While there, I took this picture of Sydney riding the same motorcycles my brother and I rode 30 years ago. And I don’t mean the same type of motorcycle kiddie ride. I don’t mean they had something like this. These are the very ones we rode and I would guess they sit within 20 yards of where they were when I was growing up.

Summer is undoubtedly a time when these rituals hold sway, perhaps like no other season. People drive new cars to old places with the same goal in mind—relaxation, togetherness, marking time in safe and comfortable ways—the way life should be as Maine’s license plates once proclaimed. But it feels a bit random. There is no system other than marketing machines and peer pressure that say I should need a new phone in 2 years. Nor is there a system that says that a children’s ride with cartoonishly wide motorcycles spinning in the same circle should endure year after year. But they do. I find myself asking what saves Hogan’s and Dy-No-Mite from being discarded in our brave new world. And what happens to town like this when Rite Aid rolls in? What is lost when the new paves over the old? And how long can it last? This year on the beach, a guy built 4 story luxury condos next to the Pier. But he can’t sell them. I must admit I find some justice in that.

More to come.