Friday, September 23, 2011

A New Literary Analysis of Rip Van Winkle

Now that Phase I of the Van Winkle Project has ended--avoiding the news--I'm in the midst of Phase II. In this effort I'm  somewhat like my literary inspiration, Rip Van Winkle.

Since 12 months was long enough for me to forget all the details of Washington Irving's account, I combed the house until I found my nice little copy of Three Tales with its handsome, vintage illustrations.

I wanted to read  the ending again and make sure I had it right in my memory.

I especially wanted to revisit how Rip deals with a flood of new information (America had become an independent nation during his sleep) and how he spends his days once he's newly awakened.

It turns out that Rip wakes to a sort of personal paradise.

As I read the full account I learned that twenty years is sleeping and aging and being completley out of it brings with certan advantages.

Because Rip is old no one expects him to contribute.

In addition, his nagging wife has burst a blood vessel and died years ago. She will never again critique his behavior or nag, nag, nag.

For the first time ever, Rip can truly be himself unimpeded and enjoy life as never before.

Set Free
Have I arrived at a "happy age" like Rip Van Winkle? Well, our cases are both similar and different. I have no nagging wife. Rather than wishing her away, I am proud of the fact that my wife has been with me this entire time. She endured my project heroically, even during those early days in May when she was dieing to tell me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

What I realize, though, is that I did have another version of a nagging wife living with me. For decades. A nagger par excellence. This other wife of mine has a name.

The news.

You see, one can read this little story as something of a parable. It breaks down like this:

There's something that bothers a person greatly in life. It hounds them. Then one day a wonderful thing happens. They accidentally escape it in an unexpected way (in Rip's case a magic nap). When they come back to their old life everything is new and better. All it takes is TIME.

Let's give this gradual de-toxing phenonomenon a name: The Rip Van Winkle Effect (RVWE)

How the RVWE Works For Me
Compared to before, my life now seems largely quiet and peaceful. The news doesn't have the hold on me that it once did.

I don't hear that nagging voice saying, "Check online and see what's happened in the last hour," or "You've got to watch the evening news every night, every minute of it" or "Read the newspaper as soon as you bring it in in the morning."

Nag, nag, nag.

And I used to obey. I was afraid I'd miss something I needed to know. But I realize the truth now. It wasn't about need. It was habit.

My news habit seems to have been burst its own blood vessel and gone away.

I realize, of course, that bad habits can return. In stressful times ex-smokers scrounge a butt and light up. Yesterday, habit returning, I said, "Hey!" to someone in the hallway after vowing weeks ago that such a low-grade greeting would never cross my lips again [See: Andy Rooney's Eyebrows: A Mini-Rant]

I'm hoping for the best this time. That I can model myself on Rip.

I especially like the bit where we're told he makes friends "among the rising generation." Whenever I have hope for the future, it almost never comes from anything I read or hear in the news. It comes from the young people, especially my students.

What else can I learn from the Rip Van Winkle Effect? That eventually all things pass. What I wring my hands over today at some point will simply be history and have an end date placed on it.
  • The bad economy
  • Global terrorism
  • Mideast unrest
  • Famines in Africa
  • Assorted annoying people, both public and private
  • Unfortunate musical styles and fashions

Yes, I may actually outlive the popularity of Justin Beiber, Snooki, and too many movies based on comic book heroes! However, I'm not naive. I know what any intelligent person is thinking. My list of "wish-it-weren't-so's" will be replaced by new ones. No matter how long one waits, true paradise never arrives.

Though it's no solution to try to sleep through all the bad stuff, I now believe it might not be a bad idea to take more short news naps than the nagging voice in one's head says is socially acceptable. Accrue some RVWE.  If upon waking the bad news hasn't gone away, at least it will be more distant.

It seems to have worked for me.

LAST THING: In case anyone is wondering, I don't plan to neglect the other aspect of the ending of Rip Van Winkle:

"It was some time before he...could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor."

For the foreseeable future this blog will be my "bench at the inn door." I'll lounge here and idly chat and share my reactions to old news. Not that anyone cares. I'm just an old guy who is behind the times.

Still, I figure if I'm going to live on the same planet as everyone else it might be a good idea to at least get back into "the regular track of gossip." Next time someone says "Super Committee" or "Michelle Bachmann" I'd like to know what they're talking about. - A.H.


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