Joyce Hinnefeld


Friday, April 22, 2011

Yes, We're Closed. Forever.

My visit to Indiana University South Bend last weekend left me feeling old (old and, when I see myself next to writer and creative writing faculty member Kelcey Parker, my host at IU South Bend, in the photo above, short).

Actually, I found my conversations with writing students at IU South Bend--including winners of the creative writing program's Student Writing Awards--lively and energizing. What makes me feel old is realizing how young traditional-age college students are now. You’d think I’d know this already, teaching traditional-age college students regularly, as I do. But what triggered this daunting “aha” moment last weekend was talking with the IU South Bend students about books--specifically about the traditional book vs. digitized forms and their various devices.

This was a continuation of a really fascinating, and ongoing, conversation I’ve been having with my poetry students at Moravian this semester, set in motion by one student’s draft poem about her sadness at the potential loss of the physical book--the way it feels in your hands, the way it smells, etc. “But you’re supposed to be the ones who are making this happen,” I said, only half-kidding. “You know, you ‘young people.’ You ‘young people who never read.’”

This released a wonderful torrent. They’re not the problem, they told me. They can’t afford Kindles and I-Pads and the like anyway. The problem is their parents’ generation, and their love of all these new gadgets and devices. “It’s the boomers’ fault,” one of my students said, with a definitive nod.

Of course, everything’s the boomers’ fault (including the alarming rate of climate change, as I learned at a lecture this week). I’m not really kidding here. In a sense, I think this is true. A lot of this mess is our fault. (And I do count myself among the baby-boom generation--though I’m at the tail end of that boom.)

When I mentioned my student’s remark during the Q&A conversation with students at IU South Bend, I jokingly added, “But of course we all love to blame our parents for everything, right?” Here’s what I heard in response: “Um, my grandparents are boomers.”

Well, of course. But I mean, ouch.

Here’s another really interesting detail that came out of this whole conversation with my poetry students: They’re distraught that our local Borders has closed (though they got some great deals on books during the close-out sale). Another realization that I’m old: I still harbor lingering resentment toward both Borders and Barnes & Noble for what these “big box” stores did to small, independent bookstores--way back in another century. But for my students, those are the bookstores they’ve known and loved, and in many cases, worked for. They’ve bought lots of discounted books there, and they love how those rare, antique things known as paperbacks feel in their hands.

It’s good, if a little humbling, when your students bring you back to reality. I’m guessing it was someone around the age of my students, or those students I spoke with in South Bend, Indiana, who made the handwritten sign on the door of a Borders in Wappingers Falls, New York that I tried to stop into recently. “Yes, we’re closed,” it said. “Forever.”

Thanks to Kelcey Parker and other faculty and students at IU South Bend for a wonderful visit last weekend. And thanks to my brother Jerry and sister-in-law Suzanne for the excellent company and comfy guest room and delicious meals.

No comments:

Post a Comment