I’ve never been one for sentimentality or its fraternal twin, nostalgia. I’m a firm believer that the good old days were never all that good.
Boomers tend to remember Davy Crockett hats, “Leave it to Beaver,” and how well-scrubbed and obedient children (allegedly) were in the 1950s while forgetting how their entire generation suffered through constant fear of being nuked to a crisp (“Duck and cover,” as if that would help anybody).
Eighties kids no doubt miss big hair, big metal, and MTV “when it was the real thing” while glossing over the AIDS epidemic.
Children of the seventies? Well, can anybody really get sentimental about disco? But some manage, despite the fact that the seventies were also the decade of stagflation, gas shortages, Richard Nixon, the endless Vietnam war, and a burgeoning drug crisis.
And of course none of this fuzzy sentimentality is new with us. Once when I was youngish I saw an ad for a dance party directed at members of the so-called “greatest generation” — the poor souls who grew up under the Great Depression, then got sent off to world war or stayed at home and horded bacon grease, tinfoil, sugar, gasoline, and ration cards. The ad invited them to “return to the carefree days of the 1940s.” Huh?
Nope, there were no good old days. When we look closely there’s always a very large, diseased fly swimming in even the sweetest ointment time has to offer.
That said, there are little rituals of the past, small things that bonded families and communities together, that might have been worth preserving.
Off the top of my head, some of those bonding rituals included:
- The 19th-century Chautauquas that brought communities together in intellectual exploration.
- The town bands and bandstands that brought neighbors out for picnics on sultry summer evenings.
- Family gatherings around radios — radios that conveyed gripping stories and news-from-the-source as well as live and recorded music for all. (Whose loss even the unsentimental musicians of Queen mourned in the 1980s as they watched MTV and commercial music radio become the new reality.)
- Company picnics.
- Front porches and evening strolls.
In short, connections. Connections with real people at slow speed.
One of these little rituals of connection was reading the Sunday newspaper. Sunday newspapers were so big and came in so many pieces (opinion, lifestyle, front page, funny papers, children’s pages, arts, local news & features) that reading them solo never seemed quite right.
Couples traded sections of the Sunday paper as they nestled in bed or in front of a fire. Old men shared sections in urban coffee houses or around pot-bellied stoves in creaky rural stores. Housewives clipped articles and discussed them with their friends during the week. Parents got first dibs, then passed everything onward to children. Library patrons came in on Monday and scattered shared newspaper sections to the winds.
Sunday newspaper sections adorned college cafeterias and common areas. They scattered across tables in company break rooms. They got shoved into crannies at train depots, were read by bored telephone operators, and generally got shredded from use before ending up in a fireplace or as fishwrap. Then next Sunday’s paper would come around and the cycle would begin all over again. The Sunday papers were everywhere, and everywhere they were, they were shared. And shared slowly.
Now, I am under no illusions that the content of those Sunday papers was superior to what we get on the Internet.
The Internet contains the whole world, if we care to find it, while the Sunday (and Monday and Tuesday et al.) paper contained only what a handful of mucky-mucks and their minions thought we should know.
Sure, newspaper articles tended to have more details than the average brief and incomprehensible “news” article offered by Fox or the longer but not-even-in-the-real-world writings of today’s online Atlantic or Vox. But the details were usually just as howlingly inaccurate and even more carefully managed to deceive or misdirect the masses.
News aside, though, all those other very slowly shared sections, from lifestyle to the funnies, gave us little rituals to connect with our loved ones, our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends, and even casual acquaintances at the bus stop.
Quality of the contents notwithstanding, that was worth something. Something very different than posting a URL on Twitter or even texting a newslink to a friend.
Which brings me to The Epoch Times.
Not the gently conservative and ardently anti-communist version you can read online. But the actual, physical, multi-section, printed-on-newsprint newspaper you can have sent to your actual, physical mailbox once a week. It probably won’t come on Sunday, but whenever it arrives it’s worth saving until one of those lazy dazy days.
Last year you may have gotten a free copy or two as a promotion. I did. A newspaper? I thought. Somebody’s actually trying to sell a physical newspaper in this day and age?
The “somebody” in case you’re interested, is the Falun Gong (I have since learned). But to my surprise I was charmed with the enterprise, and with the paper itself. Besides news and opinion, it covered arts and culture, well-being and longevity, spirituality, advances in science, feelgood stories, and not-so-feelgood stories. They even have a page dedicated to analyzing a particular (always representational) work of art and why that artwork matters.
I’d have subscribed, but at $39 for 13 issues (and slightly more now), it was a bit rich for my hermit-blogger budget.
Then two weeks ago, on a freezing Sunday morning, Rhett and I were sitting in cozy chairs in front of a blazing fire, drinking hot buttered rums and staring at our computers. We turned to each other and said, “This doesn’t feel right, does it? Didn’t it feel more healthy back in the day we’d have been sharing paper pages and talking about what we were reading?”
I told him about those paper copies of The Epoch Times. He subscribed, and shortly thereafter the first one arrived in our mailbox.
We saved that copy for the next Sunday, traded sections in bed, started working the sudokus and crossword puzzles, and you know, it did feel better. Much better than staring at screens — which we still do, but not so much on those beautiful Sundays.
Only one thing: I’d forgotten how clunky those giant paper pages are to hold and fold. Yegads. What a nuisance. But otherwise … yeah, it was nice.
Now, I’m sure there are still newspapers out there that do offer an experience similar to what the bold souls of The Epoch Times are trying to do by introducing a new newspaper at a time of dying print. Surely the biggies — the NYT and suchlike — still provide lazy Sunday delights. But who wants to support the NYT or most other traditional “big” papers these days?
I’m not advertising The Epoch Times, which may not be to your taste. And required disclaimer: I have no financial interest here. The WSJ or Christian Science Monitor— now a weekly magazine rather than a daily paper — might give you a similar experience. (And the CSM, like TET, is the work of a religious fringe while rigorously not shoving dogma into readers’ eyeballs.)
But I do think TET is a good paper for people tired of relentless journalistic “wokeness” and weary of glowing screens. With its back-section emphasis on deeper (non-denominational) spiritual, physical, and cultural joys, I find — for the first time in years — that I’m feeling calmer and more focused instead of more frazzled and screen-blinded while reading the news. And that calmness passes between the two of us as we share that classic experience.
It is a truly lovely, refreshing, and healthy feeling.
So maybe The Epoch Times isn’t for you. Maybe reading classic books to each other or having your own domestic Chautauqua or simply conversing is all you need.
But if you’ve been feeling as if you need to free yourself from screaming screens, and relentless demands to pay attention to the NOW (but find yourself drawn back to them over and over, having nothing else to focus on during quiet times) I really can recommend either The Epoch Times or some other physical, intellectual means of low-pressure sharing that’s right there when you need it.
Pleasant, slow sharing with those you love, or even those you value and want to connect with in a deeper way.
BTW the title of this post is taken from a number in Rogers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song that, looking back on it for the first time in decades, contains as much political incorrectness as any eight minutes I’ve ever seen on film.