The Real World

28 February 2001

I don't watch MTV, so if you're looking for a review here, maybe you should look somewhere else. No, the Real World I'm concerned about is the one everybody talks about and nobody lives in.

I'm convinced that this is both true and important, so I'm going to say it again: everybody talks about the Real World. Nobody lives in it. Because the Real World, frankly, is a pretty crappy place. It's an excuse for just about any nasty treatment of other human beings you want to think about, especially if the other human being is under the age of about thirty: "Welcome to the Real World, kid!"

This Real World is where I work an unfulfilling job in an office filled with dullards. I must wear make-up and use hairspray in this Real World. All bills are perpetually due in the Real World. In the Real World, I will never sell any fiction. Circular logic holds everywhere in this Real World, and all insults must be taken without complaint, because that's what the Real World is.

(Unless, of course, it's an insult that's "not okay." Why is it okay to insult somebody based upon their philosophy but not based upon their religion? I just feel like I need Ed around, because nobody else is as good at proclaiming, "That's stupid." quite so categorically as he. But I digress.)

Sorry, but I just don't buy into this Real World. I don't think it exists anywhere outside the minds of the people who are yammering at me about it. Some of them hate it, and some of them seem to take it as a point of pride that they live there. Bully for them. (Ooh, how often do I get to say that? Bully for them! You should try it. It's fun.) Nobody seems to love the Real World. How odd.

But you can see why they'd want to keep telling us about it. After all, they've got a lot invested in this Real World. Most of it is through the school system. (Warning: one of the things I can rant endlessly about is the American public school system.) It starts with the little preparations. In kindergarten, they warn you that things will be different next year, when you are a first grader. They will be much harder. All work and no play. All day classes. Things will get tough then. You should thank them for making things "tough" now. But then you go through the rest of the grades, each of them promising that the next one will be the true challenge.

For me, it started in junior high: "When you get out in the Real World...." That clause was always followed by something pointless. "When you get out in the Real World, do you think your boss will let you go back to your locker to get your two-page report on Incan religion?" (They always had lovely mixed metaphors.)

In fact, it seemed that teachers were forever trying to justify their jobs in terms of the Real World. When we got out into the Real World, we would be darned glad that we knew trigonometric identities. (I think that as a former nuclear physicist, I am probably the only person in my Algebra-Trigonometry class who found those identities useful.) By extension, our lives as children were Not Real. We were Not People. Not Important. And what we did did not matter.

Oh, yeah. Video and role-playing games are the biggest problem with kids in our culture. Throw in some movies with sex in them. Definitely. That's what's wrong.

It's not that we tell them that their lives are going to suck, and then ask them to thank us for it. It's not that we tell them that their actions are totally unimportant. It's not that we act like learning is a chore and their dreary reality is the only gauge for whether information is important. It's not that we tell them they have no chance of doing anything important.

Definitely not that.

Every time I get the chance, I tell people who are younger than me that this Real World thing is bullshit. That it does get better. That they don't have to live that way. That life is not like high school. I guess this is another chance. But it goes deeper than that.

The assumption behind this Real World is that being miserable is more real than being happy. That following beaten tracks is more real than striking out on our own. That those who get out of it all, who make our own places in the world, are "out of touch." Well, don't buy it. We're just in touch with a better side of reality. I don't reject The Real World. I reject the portrayal of it as unmitigated hell.

Whew. And while I'm on a minor rant, I'm going to switch gears but keep going....

I read in the paper yesterday morning that the Taliban is ordering the destruction of some huge fifth-century statues of the Buddha, carved into the sides of mountains. And I was struck with a brief fury.

Then I laughed at myself. It's the Taliban. It's not like they've been going around passing out lollipops and smiley-face stickers prior to this. I'm not surprised that I disapprove of their behavior. In fact, I'm surprised that this even registered on my disapproval scale. But it did, and I stopped laughing.

Of course it's more important to take care of the human beings (including but not limited to the female human beings) who are suffering under the Taliban's rule. Of course it is. But that doesn't make the preservation of art any less important. These statues are really neat, and really old. They're not eternal, but they've made a better stab at it than any of us. And they can't stick up for themselves, not even ineffectually. Their artist--their human if ever they had one--is centuries gone. And now his work will be, too. That's worth a little fury.

In happier news, I'm coming up on 2000 words today on my Novel. It's over 100 pages now, and I can write on it easily right now. In fact, I had to make myself sit down and focus on this entry in order not to do more novel work instead. That's a really good feeling. Also, I did some work on "Dreamer's Night," making the conflict a little clearer, since it was all internal. And I worked on "Cousins," though I don't have a title for it that isn't lame. I hate titles so much. Fortress of Thorns didn't get a title until after it was read by several people, and I sat around the living room bugging Mark and Tim with title possibilities, most of which were lame. Now I'm itchy to get a title on the Novel, which is totally premature, but it feels kind of like our Swedish family who called their daughter "Baby Girl" for a year after her birth. This thing is well on its way to becoming what it's going to be. I feel like calling it by a random label is somehow disrespectful.

It's an inanimate object. It'll cope.

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