Not Quite Moving On


I once knew of a junior high school that staged a yearly graduation ceremony they called “Moving On.”  The word for what the ceremony actually was never appeared in the proceedings.  It was as though the people staging it were unaware that calling something by a different name doesn’t make it something different.   Were they afraid of stealing the high school’s thunder by using the G-word?   Were they captivated by an imagined sense of unique ingenuity?  Whatever the reason for the name change, the concept was wrong.  Their graduates were only partly moving on.

In this season of graduations (or if you prefer, of movings on), let’s reflect on what graduation is and what it isn’t.  At its heart, graduation is one of life’s pivotal moments.  It basically means concluding the work you’ve been doing and leaving the place where you’ve been doing it.  On the night of my high school graduation, a friend and I walked around our small town into the wee hours, finally ending up back on campus.  But as we sat in the football bleachers, the sprawling building – once our home turf – brooded darkly in the distance.  We knew it didn’t want us anymore.  We no longer belonged.

But what we’d learned there, the ways in which we’d changed, the experiences we’d had, the people – teachers and peers – we’d come to like and respect (and some others who’d occasionally made life as pleasurable as a three-day flu ) were all still with us.  We weren’t moving on from that.  The substance of what we’d come through – and the ways that it had affected us – wouldn’t be left behind.  In short, we do graduate from times and places, but we do not graduate from our formative moments.

And that leads to another point about graduation.  We didn’t realize all that formative stuff was formative when it was happening.  It’s like realizing that life is made up of seconds, but not understanding that every second is taking us somewhere.  To another point in life.  The little things:  that comment by a teacher or a parent or a friend, that seemingly insignificant decision or that encounter we thought would never matter in the long run somehow turn out to shape us.

So if you’re a participant in this graduating season, think not about what you’re leaving, but rather of what you’re taking with you.  Yes, we must never stand still.  We must continue to grow, to progress, hopefully to improve.  To move on.  But as we do, let us continue to be informed by those little places within us where we are still each of the ages we were when the hammer and chisel of experience performed their finest work.  We are not, after all, the sum of what will be, but rather, of what has been.


Spare Him the Sight!

charlie chaplin

What is a skeptical malt ball for if not to express skepticism?  With this truth in mind, let us proceed to an evaluation of the modern movie theater.  In days of old, people went to the movies to. . .well, to see movies.  There were giants then.  Citizen Kane, The Ten Commandments, Spartacus.  These and other films were populated by actors and actresses who were as larger than life as the titles in which they appeared.  On the twenty-fifth anniversary of MGM, studio boss Louis B. Mayer gathered his galaxy of stars around him for a photo op.  He had just one thing to say: “More stars than there are in heaven.”

The theaters where the movies appeared were big too.  They were palaces filled with glistening and elaborate ornamentation.  One such palace featured a rotunda ceiling in which Reela, the goddess of cinema, soared heavenward with an unraveling movie.  These weren’t multiplexes.  One theater featured one movie.  Sometimes they ran double features.  And no matter how elaborate the theater, the seats were of basic design.  Often adorned in red velvet, but basic.  The refreshments consisted of popcorn and candy.

That’s the scene Charlie Chaplin looked out on from those bygone movie screens.  When he started in pictures, people sat on benches, and the only sound was a piano player in the back corner.  So the basic theater seat was considered a plush advancement. The basic theater seat lasted for generations.  Dictators and hair styles came and went, but the theater seat stayed put.

Movie Palace

Then something happened.  Someone got the bright idea that people might go to the movies for something other than movies.  It seemed as counter-intuitive as asking a girl for a date while belching, but a new era was apparently dawning. Today’s movie theaters have as much glamour as the average hospital.  They consist of hallways where hapless people wander in search of the door under a sign matching the name on their ticket.  These tickets must be bought “online” in advance.  If you show up trying to buy a ticket the old fashioned way, you sit with your face pressed against the screen. If you get in at all.

The seats are now three times the size of classic seating, which explains why every show sells out so quickly.  They are bulbous recliners that seem more appropriate to napping than to viewing.  Sitting in them feels like occupying the chair in the Lincoln Memorial.  And who bothers with popcorn when there are servers to take and deliver your dinner order?  If the movie proves disappointing, no problem.  Just keep downing the alcoholic beverages the theater sells.  Let everything melt into a psychedelic nirvana.

What would Mr. Chaplin think were he to peer out from the screen of a modern theater?  Let’s not think about it.  Happily, he’ll never have to see the contemporary hordes snoozing in their overstuffed recliners, slabs of pizza awaiting their attention on pullout trays, half-consumed beers stuck in the drink holders.  Perhaps the best way to state the situation is to paraphrase the words of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.   Movie going used to be big.  It still is.  It’s the theaters that got smaller.