Old Movie Time Machine

Last night I visited the 1980s and watched St. Elmo’s Fire. I didn’t see it when it came out in 1985 because I was too cool for Hollywood movies. I only saw arty-farty films.

The movie jiggled my memory, taking me back to what I was doing. I was in my early 30s, new to San Diego (where I had not wanted to move), in the throes of making a marriage work, building a career and contending with stepsons. I remembered lots of flights to Montana to visit my mom and aunts, trips to the beach with the boys in late summer afternoons, students — lots of students, competition and confusion with colleagues. I had some of those clothes, a very pretty and very feminine black wool suit that I never had any reason to wear in Southern California. High-waisted jeans with the cuffs rolled in a certain, unique, 80s way. Shoulder pads in T-shirts.

But overall, the decade is a blank, except for a few memorable moments, it is like one of those dreams that consumes you in your sleep but which you can barely remember when you awaken. Of the 1980s I mostly remember the ends of stories. The marriage didn’t work out. I didn’t get a career out of all my effort. Music. My first dog. My VW van. Discovering a place to hike.

I remember writing my magnum opus about Pearl S. Buck (and listening to Springsteen sing “I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book”), having a typewriter that had a memory, borrowing my neighbor’s Macintosh and seeing how it helpful it was in contending with the vast amount of information my research had yielded. I remember arguments with the spouse over things, seldom getting my way, for example, when we bought a computer it was an Amiga, not a Mac. There was the huge argument about staying where we were — in a beautiful, large, urban apartment — or pursuing my ex’s midlife imperative of buying a house. We bought the house; a former crack house in the “barrio.” Ultimately, he lived there five years and I lived there seventeen. It provided the financial foundation for the rest of my life, and my years there are among the most intriguing and happiest memories I have. From my experiences in the 80s, I learned that we really are not the “masters of our fate.” Stuff happens. The best we can do is go hiking. 🙂

Pearl Buck sits in a box in my garage. 400 pages (double-spaced) about the history of Chinese fiction in the 20th century and Pearl Buck’s relation to it. The spouse has another spouse and lives on the east coast. I did not get a full-time job at that school (for the best). When the 90s came the shit really did hit the fan and that decade is palpable, even twenty years later.

Watching the film last night, I saw the point — the kids had all reached that moment in life described by one of my students long ago as the moment when a person realizes he’s “…not The Highlander.” That moment in my life was forty years ago and just as turbulent as that experienced by Rob Lowe et. al. What I didn’t know in my early-twenties turmoil is that I would reach a point like that over and over in life. It seems humans often reach a moment when they realize they are not the person they were and they have to adjust to living with someone else, themselves, but someone else. I’m there now. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Old Movie Time Machine

  1. The 80s are the years I was in Israel and these days, it seems more like a dream than something real. For me, that “age” was 35. Suddenly, I realized I was grown up. My mother told me to calm down, I’d get over it. Basically, I did. Now, I look at 35 and think: I WAS SO YOUNG!

    • Yep. The thirties are a lot younger than we realize when we’re in them. Somehow, I thought I should be in control of my life by then — it seems all the 30 somethings around me thought the same. I now see how my 30-something friends have the same (rather desperate) idea. Now I think it’s just a function of — maybe — biology? The realization that things are more complicated than we thought? The awareness that we don’t have control over the world? I don’t know. Most of the female humans I knew were having “biological clock” angst at the time. I wasn’t, but my mom was on my behalf… So strange. That’s a time in my life I’d like to live over with the awareness I have now.

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