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The Shipwreck Rose: A Pink Carnation

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 11:01

You’ve heard of shinrin-yoku, the practice of “forest bathing”? Shinrin-yoku was in the news a lot — human-interest stories about schools in Scandinavia that were doing a better job than we are, or destination spas in the Berkshires where aging Hollywood stars go for a cleanse — four or five years ago. Forest bathing calls for an intentional day trip into nature, where you breathe in the aromatic pine needle air and the bird sounds of the wilderness and just be in “the now.” I read the other day that shinrin-yoku isn’t some ancient practice from the Far East but was invented by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in the early 1980s. That tracks.

I propose “reality bathing.”

Reality bathing is just sitting there, wherever you are, minus a screen or streaming service. You don’t have to go into the woods for reality bathing. You can reality bathe in the bathtub as the bubbles softly, slowly collapse, or on top of your bed with your slippers still on, or in a patio lounger waiting for the timer to go off on your sheet pan gochujang chicken thighs. I’m going to say it’s legitimate to reality bathe while holding a cat, a dog, or a baby. You do have to lie down and keep still, though; reality bathing isn’t a walking practice or a nature excursion. You just lie there and note the seconds passing and observe the dust motes moving gently in the air. It feels nice. It feels like an indulgence. Try it. Go ahead. Take 60 seconds. Sixty seconds, and then come back. . . .

Most of my readers are, like me, so-called analog natives. We grew into adulthood — or at least passed through adolescence — before AOL and can remember what existence was like before the internet. I’m behind the times, probably, and only just today heard a new way of describing the bridge generations born between 1940 and 1980: If “analog native” doesn’t sound right, or makes you feel inadequate, somehow, try “digital immigrant.” We came from the old country of the earthly and migrated into cyberreality.

I certainly feel like I’ve migrated — made the journey from Old Existence to New Existence, a perilous crossing during which many were lost — and, like most immigrants, I can admit I probably suffer from an almost unseemly nostalgia for my old home, reality-reality. (Analogy reality? Whatever we’re supposed to call it. The physical, material world.) Do we have a word yet for nostalgia — pining — for the pre-digital life? I propose “nostalgaia.” Not “nostalgia,” from the Greek nostos, meaning “return home,” and algos, meaning “pain,” but nostalgaia, from the Greek nostros and the Greek “gaia,” meaning “land” or “earth.”

How ’bout that?

Sociologists say immigrants of the traditional sort, by foot, steamer, or horseback, often develop an oversize sense of nationalistic or patriotic pride in their nation of origin. They insist on lederhosen during Oktoberfest, or sport giant green-foam top hats to St. Patrick’s Day corned beef dinners and shout about the I.R.A. They become more Hungarian than Hungarians, more Cuban than Cubans. It’s possible, just possible, that I have been nurturing a similarly overdeveloped sense of allegiance to my pre-silicon identity.

Have you heard? The kids are calling the last century “the 19-hundreds.” I read a reference to this linguistic trend on social media on Friday and by Saturday, with my own ears, heard the phrase come out of the mouth of a podcaster discussing my favorite television franchise, “The Bachelor”: He referred out loud to “the late-1900s.”

It’s slightly confusing, if you are a digital immigrant born between 1940 and 1980, this “late 1900s” business; it makes me, anyhow, think of gas lamps, sarsaparilla, and high-buttoned boots. But we can get the hang of it, I believe, if we try.

Here’s a little quiz. You know you are a 1900s native if:

You know what a Karmann Ghia is, and an MG Midget. (Where did those sporty little roadsters go? They have driven off into the wide blue yonder of historical cars.) If you know who Warren Beatty is, and remember his reputation as the king of all swordsmen. If you remember bedspreads, before America had duvets. If you can recite “two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.” If you occasionally wake up randomly humming the tunes to ultra-cornball midcentury hit songs like “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler  or “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.” If you know what a sport coat is. A Charleston Chew. Tang. Prince Albert in a Can.

The best thing about reality bathing is that, in addition to intensifying the quotidian pleasures of simply being alive in the mundane — the snow is falling outside the window glass, hitting the roof in patters, the long-haired cat in your lap smells pleasantly of Tide Coldwater Clean because he has been sleeping atop a hamper of clothes warm from the dryer — it slows time. I actually discovered this slowing of time long, long ago. Back in the 1900s, at a cast party for the Young People’s Theater Workshop. The cast party was thrown at the Episcopalian manse on Main Street, to which we, the cast, had strolled after the final performance of “Our Town” at Guild Hall. I loved the cast party so much, and thrilled in the delights of greasepaint so much, and had such a crush on one of the punk rock stagehands that I lay down on the couch in the living room, as the middle school thespians bounced around me singing along together to the chorus of “We Go Together” from “Grease,” and consciously just let my senses soak it all up in as much detail as possible. And thus I have preserved Nat Cramer’s cast party forever in amber.

The only downside to reality bathing is that, when practiced only on occasion as an adjunct to your normal, work-a-day duties online, or cellphone in hand, time passes in a herky-jerky locomotion, and is experienced with fitful halts and starts, rather than the smooth pouring out of time that we digital immigrants recall from our youth, time that poured out like honey. This morning I practiced reality bathing on top of my bed after having brushed my teeth (wintergreen) but before lifting the window shades (green gloaming), and those few moments, eavesdropping on the kids in the kitchen as the slices of potato bread turned to toast, stretched beyond the clock. But the rest of the day is a blur.

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