Marie C. a library marketing extraordinaire. Follow her @cambridgelib.
James R. Flynn’s chapter on Youth and Age in Are We Getting Smarter? not only addresses the generational differences in speech between parents and teens, but also tackles the differences in analytical thinking between the elderly and their grandchildren. In his Wall Street Journal essay, Flynn states that “Modern people do so well on [IQ] tests because we are new and peculiar. We are the first of our species to live in a world dominated by categories, hypotheticals, nonverbal symbols, and visual images that paint alternative realities. We have evolved to deal with a world that would have been alien to previous generations.” The idea of bright taxes, “that is, the higher level of intelligence the less favorable the comparison between the elderly and their 17-year-old contemporaries” (112) definitely comes into play here. The technological and creative barriers that allow for such categories, particularly “the visual images that paint alternative realities,” between young people and their elders affects the way they think and interact.
I’m 24 and I live with my 79 year old nana. She is an intelligent and resilient person who is looked up to by everyone in the family, especially the girls. For how smart, logical, and efficient she is, though, she’s awfully literal. And I mean she’s literally the most literal person I’ve ever known, like she can’t even suspend her disbelief long enough to watch Harry Potter—“You CAN’T run through a brick wall to get onto a train!” It’s become something of a running joke with my cousins and me—what weird thing can we say to Nana now? How will she react? What will she do if we start a which-grandchild-do-you-favor contest?—and Flynn’s assessment totally makes sense.
She was born during the Great Depression, and to say that she had a different childhood than me would be a gross understatement. She grew up in New York City surrounded by Italian immigrants, I grew up in a small rural town surrounded by WASPs; she never learned how to ride a bike, I once skinned the whole left side of my body after tipping my bike over in a deep puddle; she got married and started a family right after high school, I went to college to pursue my dreams. Neither life is better than the other, just different. Though he discusses Americans who lived before 1910 in The Wall Street Journal, Flynn’s statement that “their minds were focused on ownership, the useful, the beneficial and the harmful” certainly applies to my nana. She sometimes seems to be consumed by the use of, the need for, and the benefit of any given thing—from granola bars to my Kindle Fire to cell phones to a new pair of shoes. Everything in her world must be functional, practical, long-lasting, and a return on your investment.
I tend to be more imaginative than practical. It’s evident in my need to someday move to Ireland, the way I float from dreams of obtaining a PhD in literature to an MFA in fiction to international yoga teacher certification. All of these things seem totally doable in my mind, with a little bit of work and creative thinking. In hers, it’s a matter of dollars and sense, but her practicality extends beyond life plans.
When I was in college, I found my great-grandmother’s (her mother’s) autograph book from her senior year of high school in 1920. I used this autograph book in my fiction workshop’s semester-long project. The main character, Christina Ferrera (my great-grandmother’s actual name), found herself in a similar situation as me. A young woman on the brink of “real life”—she has to decide, rather definitively, what’s to come next. Christina is inspired to follow her dreams of becoming an artist rather than settling down into marriage by Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I gave the story to my nana for Christmas. She loved it, except for the fact that the fictional Christina didn’t follow the same course as the real Christina. Because of the economy, the real Christina had to get a job.
Though it’s been two years since I’ve given her that story, it’s still a point of contention between the two of us. She can’t get past the idea that I used Christina’s real name while I can’t explain fully enough that the Christina Ferrera of “Autographs” is not the Christina Ferrera of real life. This just goes to show what distinguishes her generation from mine: We can think more creatively, opening up our imaginations to fictional characters, absurd cinematic and literary storylines, the complexities of poetry, and the visionary aspects of abstract art. It’s not anything to be upset about; it’s not anything to fight over, these are just our differences.