Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Grandma and the Grammy's

Today my friend Jon sent me an email about Arcade Fire's surprise Grammy win and the chorus of people who've responded, "Who are The Arcade Fire?" His first line was, "I think your grandma's a trendsetter!"

And clearly she is! The aftermath of the Grammy's has left a lot of people saying, "Arcade Fire? Never heard of them!" If Grandma watched the Grammy's she would certainly be in that number. I think she'd also have a comment about how she never saw such haircuts.

The article, in New York magazine, is a really thoughtful analysis of taste and communities and how the internet can build both connections and insularity. This paragraph really stood out for me.

"'Never heard of it': This has been the natural and traditional response of all sorts of ordinary American humans to all sorts of phenomena. It’s not really about knowledge or information. It’s an argument, for the most part, and a faintly aggressive one — a way of insisting that what you pay attention to really does define the world. What you’ve heard of is real, and everything else is marginal. The center holds, and you are that center. You are normal and aware, and not just some tiny atomized entity that can only hope to know one tiny corner of the universe."

I wonder if Grandma's frequent bursts of "Never heard of that!" and its sibling, "I never saw such a thing!" are an attempt to cope with her dementia. Maybe she prefers the assertive "Never heard of it!" to the vulnerability of "Oh, I must have forgotten." As the author suggests, maybe she is defining the world and putting herself in the center, even as the dementia is making her world smaller by the day. She is concerned with the garbage pick-up, if her church is being closed to widen the street, what Aunt Dee has stolen lately, and that she lost 18 pounds. Her brain has fixed on these topics and can't really process anything beyond that. If she can write off my over-the-knee boots, tofu, and "giant" frying pan with a dismissive "Never heard of it!" then I am the weird one and she does not need to acknowledge her diminishing awareness of the world at large.

It's hard to say if Grandma is really aware of her condition. She refuses to admit that she is ever wrong or less independent than she used to be. Her doctor wants her to use a cane. "I don't need it." She refused to wear the Life Alert Aunt Dee bought her, "I won't fall." Even when I've caught her losing or forgetting something she'll say, "I'm not senile, you know." I can't tell if "Never heard of it!" is a defense mechanism or simply a sign of the generational divide.

But, Arcade Fire? They're awesome.

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