“I bet you think you were born in the wrong era,” she said. I smiled grimly and shrugged. I didn’t want to point out to her that Everyone Says That. And it drives me just a little nuts.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time delving into the past and exploring what life was like at various points in history. I’ve written about WWII, Prohibition, the Great Library of Alexandria, and Shakespeare. So “Do you feel like you were born at the wrong point in history?” isn’t an uncommon or even unreasonable question.
Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that since I wrote Howard Carter Saves the World no one has asked whether I felt I might’ve been born on the wrong planet.
It annoys me at times, but it’s a fair question because if anyone was ill at ease in the modern world, it’s me. Let’s face it, I have a lot of skills that aren’t of much use in the 21st century.
By the metric of the rest of the country, my childhood was more on like my dad’s than it was like the rest of my peers. We didn’t have a video game system or a computer of any kind. Dad didn’t believe in video games and didn’t like computers. I learned to type on a typewriter (as is right and proper) and only saw digital systems when I went to a friend’s house or a mall.
My friends refer to this as a ‘sheltered upbringing’ but I’m not sure I’d agree.
I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ farm where grandpa taught me woodworking to keep me out from under foot and where I made a lot of my own toys. I built rafts because I read a lot of Huck Finn. They all sank or broke apart, so I swam to shore and built new ones. It was a world of pocket knives, toy guns, frogs, wooden airplanes… I played with GI Joe while we listened to Fibber McGee & Molly on the radio. I watched Star Wars like every other kid of my age, but read voraciously from a library that was stocked mostly with books written over a half century before I was born.
My childhood was a Mark Twain novel ghostwritten by Ray Bradbury, filtered through an Archie comic.
The world that was shown to me on TV seemed distant and somewhat surreal, simultaneously more modern and less than the world around me.
I still prefer hand tools to electric, my typewriter to my laptop, and a printed book to a digital one. I have no real attachment to those wonders of modern technology that people around me can’t live without. I don’t own a cell phone, though The Engineer has one. It’s not inarguable that I really am a man out of my era and I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that if given a time machine and license to use it that I’d be off like a shot.
I certainly used to think so. I may have been misplaced several centuries! I said as much to my dad once. Dad, who had very little tolerance for bullshit, looked at me and kind of snorted and said “Take off your glasses.”
I have allergies and poor eyesight and I have an asthma inhaler in my pocket as I type this. Even when I join in a historical reenactment and try to sink into a past age, never far from my mind is the fact that I never would have survived childhood in these past worlds.
Books are my time machine along with projects like this one. This is my preferred method of time travel. If someone offered me a trip through time I might not take them up on it if I cannot close the cover and return to the modern era any time I wish.
And it’s not at all about the asthma inhaler. The women around me are valued as highly as the men. My wife is an engineer. My boss is a woman. I can see someone passing me on the street and talk to them without my judgement of them stopping at the color of their skin. I can say whatever I want here and as long as I don’t libel anyone, no one can stop me.
Because honestly… the ‘good old days’ weren’t that good. The Elizabethan era may have birthed the modern world, but it was still firmly anchored in the medieval. The streets stank of the latrine, death stalked the streets, the laws were Draconian and the punishments cruel, the cast system was becoming porous, but only just.
So until the man in the Blue Box comes to escort me to the opening night of Hamlet and then safely home again… I like this time period just fine, thanks.
Frankly, I like it here. The people are mostly friendly, the medicine is pretty good, and I don’t have to worry about people teleporting into my house unannounced yet.
This post first appeared in a slightly different form on my writing blog Pages to Type Before I Sleep… in February of last year. People keep asking the question, though, so I find myself continuing to answer it. ~Scott