“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”-- theme of Up series
I've been fascinated with the British documentary 7 Up film series since I saw 35 Up in 1991:
The series began in 1964 when Michael Apted asked fourteen 7 year-old British children (left) to talk about their hopes and dreams. He's returned to film them in their lives every seven years. The lasest installment is 49 Up, in 2006.
Now I too am turning 49--(today! March 5)--and I decided to put together a 7-Up collage of my own life.
So, here are photos of me at roughly seven-year intervals, annotated with some cultural and personal landmarks.
1.) Christmas 1960
My parents at my mother's family home, in southern Missouri.
My mother, 26, is seven months pregnant with me. My father, 30, is finishing his PhD in political science.
I am the product of a mixed marriage: my WASP mother was raised to be a Southern Belle; my father was born in Milwaukee, the son of Sicilian immigrants.
I always felt that they met at the crossroads of getting the hell out of the lives they'd been born into,
then kept on going, farther and farther away from each other.
The year I was born, 1961, sees John Kennedy sworn in as U.S. president, the Berlin Wall begin to go up, and Yuri Gagarin become the first human in outer space.
Other 1961 births:
George Clooney, Meg Ryan, and Barack Obama.
2) Spring 1967: 7 Up
My first-grade school photo, in Madison, Wisconsin. I am six.
I'm reading Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss, and Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
LBJ is president, Walter Cronkite reports on the Vietnam War every night; and my parents buy the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
On TV we watch Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Get Smart, and Hogan's Heroes.
My parents left their respective religious traditions behind them,
but I am deeply influenced by the philosophy of the peace and social-justice movement I see around me, growing up near the radical UW-Madison campus.
3) 1974: 14 Up
(I'm 13 here, but that's in my 14th year...)
This is the last photo of my childhood:
my mother had left the family that spring; my father spends this summer watching Watergate hearings in a darkened living room; Nixon resigns in August.
I get my first job, delivering the Wisconsin Times newspaper, and in the fall, I start a new high school where I know no one.
I watch Star Trek reruns on our black-and-white TV every day after school. See Truffaut's Day for Night and wish I could make movies.
Within two years, I will be unrecognizable as this child. After seeing Taxi Driver, I cut my hair super short and buy an army jacket.
The next year, at sixteen, I graduate from high school early and leave home, taking my Bruce Springsteen Born to Run cassette tape and a poster of Mr. Spock with me.
4, 5) 1983–1984: 21 Up
Yeah, I'm really 22, 23, but let's cheat and skip ahead a bit to when I'm happy again,
even though I'm worried the human race is going to destroy itself:
John Lennon has been murdered; Ronald Reagan [hearts] Margaret Thatcher; U.S. Marines are killed in Beirut and invade Grenada; a toxic gas leak at Bhopal, India, kills thousands of people.
Still, Lech Walesa, glasnost, and the Sony Walkman give us hope.
The photo of me smiling is taken after I've moved to Minneapolis, dropped in and out of college, quit my job as a fry cook, and biked up along Lake Superior for a couple weeks. (Little did I know that the damage I did to my knee biking up the steep hill to Duluth would still be with me as I type this.)
Then, inspired by David Bowie, I bleach my hair.
I'm living in a lesbian co-op, where we all gathered in the living room to watch Brideshead Revisted, starring Jeremy Irons (none of us had a video player yet).
Back in college again, studying Japanese culture, I type my papers on a typewriter.
Working together as janitors at the movie theater that shows Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, bink and I become close watching old movies together, and later we become lovers. (We didn't say "partners" back then--such a boring business-world word.)
In 1986, we move to Chicago, where bink gets an MFA in painting and I learn paper- and book-making.
6) 1989: 28 Up
George H. W. Bush is prez; the Soviets leave Afghanistan, a country many Americans have barely heard of; Tiananmen Square demonstrations end in violence; Berlin Wall falls.
Living for a year in New Bedford, MA-- the port Ishmael ships out of in Moby Dick--while bink teaches illustration; I spend my time after my shift as a janitor at the YW working out to the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing (1987), and for the first time in my life am in great physical shape.
In the evenings I watch the Nickolodeon TV channel and catch up on all the junk TV my parents wouldn't let me watch.
Our friend Bruce dies of AIDS,
and bink and I, with our dog Bop, return to Mpls. and move in with his partner Jim.
While bink finds ways to live as a painter, I get a job at an art college library, which uses a card catalog and rubber date stamps.
I create collages and artists books, and fill sketchbooks.
Sometime in here, we get a VCR.
7) 1996: 35 Up
Nelson Mandela has won a Nobel Peace Prize and is president of South Africa; massacre in Rwanda; Dolly the sheep is cloned; Bill Clinton reelected
Having gone back to college (this time, I typed my papers on a computer at work), I graduate with my B.A. in Classics, age thirty-five. When people ask me what I want to do with my degree, I say,
"I want to lead a life of conversation."
Mostly this means I write volumes of e-mails during my evening library shift. (Blogger dot com won't be launched for three more years, in 1999.)
Within two years, I'll be baptized in the Catholic faith, end my thirteen year relationship with bink, and begin what will be a three-year affair with O., a married man.
I love being in the church--not only because of the meatiness of the theology and the sensuality of the worship,
but because for the first time since childhood, I'm around people who talk and work for social justice and peace as a matter of course (even if the church's policies don't exactly match the talk).
8-9) 2002-2003: 42 Up
You remember: this is post-September 11, 2001:
George W. Bush is prez; the US & allies are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan; Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize; people line up at midnight to buy the new Harry Potter; Google buys Blogger.
I'd turned forty in 2001, quit the art library, walked the Camino across Spain, and broke up with the married man.
Now --top, left, photo-- I'm working part-time as sacristan (schlepper of holy knicknacks). I am vested with the power to use the holy blowtorch to light the altar candles, here in November, the month of the dead.
My mother kills herself the next month.
Second photo: At a youth hostel in New York City. I have begun to write world-geography reference books for teens, starting with Turkey.
I begin my first blog, flightless parrots, which I delete two years later, realizing with a shock that the Internet isn't kidding, if you know what I mean.
Nonetheless, I also buy my first Apple laptop.
10) 2010: 49 Up
Completing my 49th trip around the sun and feeling incredibly grateful to have left behind me the devastation of divorce, teenage-hood, suicide, adultery, the Bush dynasty, and the internal politics of the Catholic Church.
And grateful for all the wonderful, good things that remain:
writing and reading, art, film and filmmaking, music, the joy of physics, my best friend bink and other good friends, family, in the broadest sense--and, having rediscovered it a couple years earlier, Star Trek.
Having made my peace with the bright lights of the nets, I've been blogging again for a couple years, which comes pretty close to fulfilling my desire for a life of conversation.
Technorati states it is tracking more than 112 million blogs, which does not include the 72+ million Chinese blogs.
Thank you all out there, taking part in the conversation.