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Of skeuomorphs and pond scum

August 30, 2007


Beware the skeuomorph, my son,
Mock rocks and balustrades do not exalt!
Nor lions guarding ersatz gates,
Stylistic to a fault!

When I was a child I thought as a child, and I really, really, really wished we could live in Avon Crest. The obvious attraction was the pair of white plaster lions flanking the sign announcing the first name-brand subdivision I had ever seen.

Absurdly circuitous roads looped to nowhere, because somehow it is classier, even in a snowy climate, to live on the arc of a curve than on a straight length of road. Even a child can recognize the idiom of class. I knew that in Avon Crest there wouldn’t be any splinters in the handrails: of course not; there weren’t any stairs because there weren’t any upstairs apartments.

We didn’t move to Avon Crest, but to a grand Victorian house with a cupola and a porch with pillars. We had our own skeuomorphs, the useless features that memorialized another era’s grandness.

I had two acres of woods to roam and a creek to catch tadpoles in, and berries to pick all summer. But every time we drove by Avon Crest, I longed to live beyond the lions.

I understand now why this was so. As a child I felt like a captive. If I lived in a castle guarded by lions, I would be a queen and mistress of animals, in charge of my own captivity.

But the houses of Avon Crest were hardly castles; they were tract houses with brick facades and a few extra pieces of wood to suggest architectural refinement and an idiom of strength and indomitability. More skeuomorphs.

The key to the ersatz kingdom of Avon Crest was golf. The development either bounded or was close to the country club. My family preferred ice skating in the park. My summers were dedicated to the capture of pollywogs and overseeing their safe passage into frogs. Avon Crest afforded no resources for this.

We’re seeing a generation of kids growing up in condos. I don’t mean to be classist, but I feel sad for kids growing up in condos. Some might have an artificial pond. Pollywogs need natural pond scum to thrive. How will kids learn limnology from sterile artificial ponds? How will they understand the connectedness of life without limnology?

My elementary school, up the hill from the Victorian house, had a nature park. We learned to identify 20 species of trees. I’m so glad that we had nature trails in the woods, even though I was afraid of snakes, instead of a soccer field.

I’m glad too that we didn’t move to Avon Crest and have a lawn and a tree and a curved driveway beyond the white cast lions: the same symbol of dominion the Assyrians placed at their gates. It would have been worse than captivity. It would have been captivity with no place to hide.

  1. August 30, 2007 7:13 am

    A lovely reflection on the importance of a heuristic childhood.

    I’ve always had an intense desire to skewer skeuomorphs, even before I knew what they were.

  2. August 30, 2007 7:18 am

    Funny, I had the same pseudo-etymological urge.

  3. August 30, 2007 7:25 am

    I would add that I think there are two ways a culture can deal with childhood: either heuristically, or as a preventable disease. By the time schools ban tag for potential groping, I’m afraid we’ve adopted the latter model.

  4. August 30, 2007 7:29 am

    Ah, now back to cultural algorithms. Childhood as a preventable disease is a model that explains a lot these days.

  5. August 30, 2007 7:34 am

    Yes, I’ve often wondered whether the model was derived from nuclear containment strategies. The containment ethos tells kids that they are haz-mats to one another.

  6. August 30, 2007 7:55 am

    I like the childhood as a preventable disease: that explains a lot. At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, we have maturity being treated as a species of debilitating psychosis. So we can’t have boys and we can’t have men; what’s left?

  7. scribbles2day permalink
    August 30, 2007 7:58 am

    Awesome! I just love it! Your description of childhood is way magical in the appropriate sense. I’ll bet you were a fairy princess.

  8. August 30, 2007 8:06 am

    Ruben, you’re right. We have cradle-to-grave diagnostic and medication protocols to ensure there won’t be a thinking individual left standing.

    Scribster, thanks, but I’ve had a lot of practice, both at childhood and at being a princess! Decades!

  9. scribbles2day permalink
    August 30, 2007 9:52 am

    I believe it! The princess part of you I can ‘hear’ and it speaks of Christ!

  10. kamelda permalink
    August 30, 2007 10:47 am

    I loved this. I never caught pollywogs, though I did play wandering princesses, filling up old glass medicine bottles with all sorts of ratios of water to dirt. It’s the sort of thing wandering princesses naturally do.

  11. August 30, 2007 11:54 am

    Yes. Wandering princesses were given to many tasks. Once when I was a fort commander leading a charge with improvised swords from a construction scrap pile, my father called me home from up the street. I was upset at first, because I was busy, but he wanted me to see a scarlet tanager perched in a tree. I was thrilled! We looked at the scarlet tanager for a long time until he flew away. Then I was ready to go home. Probably the sword fight went on without me. No fatalities were reported.

  12. Mike Pitzler permalink
    September 1, 2007 8:53 am

    I had railroad tracks, which afforded crossing.

  13. September 1, 2007 9:40 am

    I like scarlet tanagers. Tough meat, but tasty.

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