Sunday, September 29, 2013

The World Is Too Much With Us

Anne Truitt writes in Daybook about the sounds of her childhood and those that her children had always heard. She had no Muzak, no droning voices coming from a TV set.

In the time when she became aware of the world, magazines were text-laden, not image-driven. Pictures to her were paintings, not photographs. Her life wasn't tranquil, there were cataclysmic wars and the Depression, but it was quiet.

Now silence is a luxury; people travel to experience it. Although I live alone and work at home, noise is a constant presence. The sound of jets, buses, street construction, passersby, the apartment-dweller above me who comes back home after the bars close--I never play music anymore and only turn on my television at night for baseball or a movie. Still I live with the constant presence of sound. I wear earplugs to bed and frequently turn on my bathroom fan to create a barrier of white noise.

Mornings have the closest approximation of silence and if I'm careful, my mind is still unrippled then. That's when words come most easily and the work that is truly mine takes place--but only if I ignore the icons on my computer screen. If I let myself click once, the world is with me and the morning becomes sociable. Because I live alone, that one click is perilously seductive.

My computer isn''t just my workspace. It's supplanted letters, the telephone, the daily newspaper, a set of encyclopedia. It's how I stay in touch (on a superficial level) with friends on other continents. It's immediate gratification, an instant cocktail party. It's becoming my memory in a way that frightens me--can't remember? Google it.

I could stop going to the grocery store if I chose to, forgo DVDs for "streaming," have conversations through a social medium. Why not? Already so much of what I used to enjoy comes through this screen. Sometimes I think the only part of my life that can't come through a computer is travel. It's why I yearn for the discomfort of being wedged into an airline seat for hours on end; it's one of the few inevitably raw acts in my life.

I wish someone would bring back the word processor, a glorified typewriter with no accompanying distractions. Without that, I have to learn not to squander the best time of my day by clicking an icon. It will all be there, the photos, the links, the badinage, the Scrabble game, the abbreviated letters, waiting for my tapping finger to bring it into being. But the work won't wait. It fades away with sociability, dissolves into a weird sludge of the mind and spirit if it isn't given voice. 

Carrie Fisher once said "The trouble with instant gratification is it takes too long." She said that in the early '90s; today it's as quaint as any sentiment embroidered on a Victorian piece of needlework. Now the trouble with instant gratification is it can strain the muscles in your index fingers.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Not Everything Fits in a Capsule

Many thoughts occupy my mind but few of them fit comfortably in a blog post. It's not a matter of length, but of tone. Who wants to read about the feelings that come crashing in along with the arrival of a Medicare card? Or  the realization that one is the oldest in an extended family but isn't ready to be a matriarch? Or what to do about back pain which seems to have ambitions of settling in for the long haul? Or about that fine line between solitude and loneliness?

Does anyone really want to know the "if a tree falls in the forest" feeling that comes after a book comes out into the world? Didn't think so,,,

What about the restlessness that erupts after being in the same place for two years? Yes, I'm yawning too.

The happiness that comes when the shape of a book is in place and it's ready for revision, which could be my favorite part of being a writer? The pure and wholehearted joy that descends after finishing all three books written by Jesmyn Ward and discovering that they fit into an intriguing whole piece of literature that stands up to frequent reading and re-reading? Close but no cigarillo. (Which brings up the strong urge I've had to start smoking again, if I could only afford that stupidity...)

The realization that economic class is as defining a factor in our country as race and the unexamined truth that huge amounts of money are spent by the powerful to conceal that fact? And the sadness that we have a president who would be listened to if he brought this up for public discussion, and yet he chooses to be silent?

Is the queasiness and waves of chill that I've felt for the past few days caused by swallowing unvoiced thoughts or is it the flu? "Horseman, ride by."