Off the Grid

by wjw on November 15, 2007

I used to hang out with a shockingly talented group of people.

(Not that I don’t now, of course.)

But over the years people move or fade away or just lose touch. In the old days that would pretty much be that, but nowadays there’s Google to help you keep up with the old gang.

Every so often, motivated by nostalgia and curiosity, I’ll type in some names and learn a few things.

So the girl who played viola is now a woman who plays viola for a symphony. Cool.

The talented actress and disk jockey is now a comedian and disk jockey who’s won a G.L.A.A.D. award. Nifty.

The student of Greek and Latin is now a professor of Greek and Latin. Excellent!

The artist who was a militant crusader for abstraction is now a landscape painter. The reason? She couldn’t sell the abstracts. (The part of me that is a commercial writer giggled a bit.)

One astoundingly talented writer is a colonel and a military linguist. Which is all very well, but what about the stories? I want to read more.

I encountered one bit of sad news. The charismatic actor, who last I heard was a dramaturge at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, dropped dead in a parking lot of a heart attack at the age of 50. (I’d guess too much bourbon, too many Luckies.) He had morphed into a journalism professor, of all things.

(My last conversation with him was pretty funny. I had just started publishing the sea-adventure books, and the Guthrie was doing a production of Billy Budd. He called me and began the conversation: “So what the fuck is a foretopman, anyway?”)

But it has to be said that most of my old friends have just dropped out of sight completely, at least as far as the internet is concerned. (Some had common names, though, so I suppose that it’s possible they were hit number 75,181 out of 1,890,552.) But since so many of them were both talented and creative, sufficiently so that I was often intimidated by their abilities, that’s a terrible shame.

I would like to read their stories, enjoy their poetry, view their plays— and apparently I never will. And I’m inclined to wonder why their creative abilities never flourished, and mine did.

Was it fear? (I wasn’t brave, I was just dogged. Or arrogant, take your pick.) Too many adult responsibilities too young? (I married late, never had kids.) Lack of any clear idea of how to proceed? (I had no idea, either, but found the path after blundering around in the jungle for a few years.)

Do y’all Google old friends? What have you discovered?

Synova November 16, 2007 at 1:43 am

I actually wrote a post on the theory that being a writer takes just a little bit of arrogance. Not a lot, understand, (though a lot doesn’t seem to be a writing disability, just a social one,) but just enough to answer, “Just who do you think you are to believe YOU have ideas good enough and can write well enough that anyone will read YOUR book when there are so many others? Huh?”

So I’ve been working on that.

What I likely need to put a bit more effort into is the “dogged” part. 🙂

I did Google an old friend who I remember mainly because when we knew each other in college he expressed his theory of spouse selection to me. Essentially it was to know that one morning you’d wake up sicker than a dog with an unlovely person who was in a crabby mood and not feel loving at all and to pick someone who you’d want to be married to on that morning.

I hardly remembered his name but I managed to Google and find him and found out he’d done the things he planned to do and, also, that he’d been married for 20 years.

I thought that was cool.

Tarl Neustaedter November 16, 2007 at 7:15 pm

Unlike you, my peers were never people who regarded themselves as tremendously talented or the next generation of movers and shakers. And true to expectations, none of them have become so.

With my name, I’m easy to track down and some of my college buddies have occasionally dropped me an email to let me know what’s going on. But most of my high-school friends I’d never heard from.

A number of years back I made a determined effort to track down a dozen or so people I had lost track of but had once had strong connections to. It was rather depressing. Several of them are doing O.K., but a startling number came to bad ends.

Three of them are known dead (two cancers and a car accident). Another became a homeless wino and disappeared, probably died under a bridge one winter. Two are barely making ends meet, doing work on the level of manual labor and have no idea how they are going to survive as they get old (we’re talking people around age 50). I found no traces of any of the political firebrands I knew.

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