I haven’t always been partial to George Orwell. But, curmudgeonly, chauvinistic and often prone to hyperbole as his work can be, he has become somewhat of an earthy voice of exhortation for me. True, certain phrases and images like, “if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- forever”from 1984; or, the unjust and deeply troubling shipment of Boxer, the loyal and lovable workhorse, to the glue factory in Animal Farm; or, Gordon Comstock, the nonconformist protagonist from Keep the Aspidistra Flying, who is characterized by sentiments like, “this is the life we live nowadays! It’s not life, it’s stagnation, death-in-life…we’re all corpses. Just rotting upright ”are hardly uplifting. However, to limit our vision of Orwell to Room 101 or vague announcements of “oh, how very Orwellian”is to miss out on something really important.
Richard Linklater made a movie about growing up called Boyhood. He cast a six-year-old boy named Ellar Coltraneto play Mason, an ordinary American boy growing up in ordinary American suburbs. Then he shot the story of Mason’s life over twelve years, ending as he graduates from high school and moves into his first dorm room in college.
As I prepare to host some friends for a 50th anniversary screening of the The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, I’ve been thinking about that period in history when people went so nuts that John Lennon could suggest The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Beatlemania really was something like a religious experience; kids acted as if rock and roll could save them.
During Lent, on the advice of a friend, I read my way slowly through the book of John. I had told her I wanted to meditate on the mystery of the cross. I found a short commentary — A Simple Guide to John by Paul J McCarren — and tucked it into my bag along with my Bible, and I read passages during my light rail commute to downtown Portland, where I work as a language teacher.