One Man’s Prism

August 26, 2019

Looking back; looking forward. Most of us either are or will be prisoners.

“Iron bars do not a prison make.”

Lack of iron bars does not create freedom, either.

When I was first thinking about coming to the Castle on the Park, I imagined that people would be old, but that they could be taught new things. I had in mind a small group that would go to the park, get some lessons on picture taking, come back to my room and learn a little Photoshop and Lightroom.

That was a dream, now long gone.

I was sitting in the “phone room” with Nan. I asked her where her own phone was. “Oh that,” she laughed. “I haven’t seen that in two months. No idea where it went.”

I thought about it afterwards. So she has no phone in her room, and if someone wants to get in touch with her, they need to call the main Castle number, and they use the intercom to tell her she has a phone call, and she hobbles to the door, and to the elevator and eventually down to the first floor public phone. That could easily take 15 minutes depending on the time of day and which elevators are in service.

And yet, as part of her cable / tv package, there is a digital over ip phone, and the social worker could call Spectrum and get her a digital phone with her own number.

But somehow we were talking about WWII and the plot to assassinate Hitler, and she had never heard about that. Nor, she claimed had she heard of the V2 rocket.

I’m sure she must have. It’s just certain parts of the brain have been swept clean.

And she’s one of the highly functioning inmates.

Later I was sitting in the hallway outside the dining room, talking to Art. Art isn’t that old but he knows everything in terms of facts. But he’s terrified of computers and cell phones. I told him about an idea I had where we would have a Seamless (Github) night in my room.

No, no, no. His hands began to shake.

I told him, he didn’t need to make the order or go anywhere near the computer. I would read him the menu and he’d just chip in the cost of his meal.

No, no. He was getting more panicky. You don’t understand, he moaned, I need to have dinner ware, forks and knives in the right place. I can’t eat in the same room as a computer. No. No. Thank you so much. But that’s not for me.

Oscar, who is about the same age, asks me to explain again what Seamless is and how it works. I tell him, and say you don’t even need the computer at all. There are take-out menus downstairs… we could call the order in.

He tells me he has to go now or he’ll miss the first seating.

And I am not even part of the real computer generation. I mean the kids that were using apps before they could crawl.

I didn’t see my first computer until I was 28 years old. Something like that. I ordered the Kaypro without having seen one, from the ad in the back of a home computer magazine. I was cautioned that it wouldn’t be compatible with the IBM PC which was coming out in a few months. Big deal, I said.

What I was trying to say, is that we’re in various types of prisons, sometimes of our own makings, without metal bars, and sometimes it’s just luck or lack of it: the bars are neurological; and sometimes (and I think this is most common), learning is not pleasant. You associate learning with work. With keeping in line. Regimentation.

Look at the 1st graders, shackled together like prisoners for their walk in the park.

Look at the nasty or great teacher you got for science that made all the difference in the sixth grade.

In short, if you are lucky, learning will not be a scary thing to stay away from, but some magical elixir which can melt iron bars and free you. I got that from my father who used to write a column which he thought was a clever pun called One Man’s Prism.