…is when you spend the better part of Saturday morning writing “Density part 3” despite not having slept well, finding yourself quite satisfied with the product, then upon clicking “publish,” discover that the internet connection has dropped off and Blogger is unable to publish the damn thing.
Then, because you haven’t slept well, you forget the wonderful thing that is cut and paste – the very last thing I think about when figuring out how to save my work but is probably the most obvious. Microsoft Word has its flaws but is still ten thousand times more reliable than the internet because you’re not relying on some connection outside the computer. That is probably not an educated way to discuss software or cyberspace, but it is what I feel.
Sometimes I think about getting a computer without internet. Is that even possible? I once typed at an old computer – or was it one of those electronic typewriters?- at my father’s office (they are not too eager to upgrade their technology…when I first started at this company my father asked if I was going to learn notation and shorthand. I gave him a blank stare.) I sat at this desk that was straight out of the seventies and typed away:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Hello my name is Betty. My. Name. Is. Betty. There once was a boy named Otto. He jumped over the lazy dog and called the Fox a liar.
It’s a variation of what I type when testing out keyboards. Once, at Best Buy and on a different occasion at Costco, I left that little nugget on all the laptops. Anyway, at my father’s office on this antiquated behemoth of a word processor, I experienced a strange quiet. Firstly, it was quiet. My garrulous aunt was out of the office and my father was readying some things before preparing to leave. I sat and clicked away, wondering if this was what it was like to be a secretary some decades back. I sat up straight and imagined my hair to be in a neat little bun. Horn rimmed glasses. Nylons and sensible heels. Polished nails. A memory that clicked just like the keys on the typewriter.Then my father came out wearing his faded Costco polo shirt and his beaten up briefcase, saying he was ready to go. He broke the quiet which I never quite forgot.
Later in the car, I fantasized about that machine. Just it and me in a small studio apartment high up in the city somewhere, overlooking half a park and half a city block – a writer’s window. No internet. Just a landline, disconnected and a refrigerator filled with iced tea and granny smith apples (I am trying to quit coffee and food in general). I remembered a story about Victor Hugo locking himself in a tower and not coming out until he’d written something like 1,000 pages. He emerged alright, emaciated but euphoric because he’d produced. Good stuff, the fruit of labor unadulterated by internet and text messages and other people’s noise.
I can’t imagine it now. Before, I had some semblance of being disconnected. I didn’t text or call much, and though I discovered chat rooms at an early age, didn’t use the internet for nearly as much as I do now. My blog grows. Hopefully my readership expands, but my diary and the solitude necessary to populate its pages in a meaningful way has all but disappeared from my life. They have taken a back seat to noise, to media, to my damn iPhone. A few weekends ago I bent down to the low cabinet in which I keep all my diaries dating back to when I was sixteen. Sixteen! A decade ago! Crouching there near my desk chair, peering into the belly of this low cabinet, I could make out the high and low shapes of the various notebooks I’d kept. Some were fat, some were thing, most had a few blank pages at the end when I became tired of the actual material of the notebook, like its pages were the interior of an old office I had seen one too many times. I squinted, almost hesitant to touch those notebooks but when I finally did couldn’t stop rereading them. Though really, was there a need to reread? What is that paradox? The words, the words. They ALWAYS come at me with that damned paradox. Familiar yet strange. Strange yet familiar. 16, 18, 20, 24, 25, and now 26. Have I always been at odds with myself. Have I changed at all?
But it’s not all in my diary. There are huge chunks of my younger self floating out in cyberspace. I’ve referred to them before – these aliases created on a whim but now alone can represent an entire era of my life. Dharris. Citizenneb (a failed attempt at sound French, which is dumb because the French word for ‘citizen’ is ‘citoyen.’ People kept asking me, “What’s Neb?” I still didn’t learn after the four or five years I spent on AIM as GeeLFocker because GLFocker was taken. (Seriously, when I was sixteen, I thought Gaylord Focker in “Meet the Parents” was the funniest thing. My friends asked, “What’s a Geel?” God what was wrong with me.) And finally, after much hemming and hawing in college, a clean slate – I cast away the Xanga so that people would stop saying, “You have a Xanga?” In the same tone you’d say, “You used to be a stripper?”
I wonder if this plateau I detect in my supposed intellectual growth can be attributed to the internet. On one end it’s a goldmine of information, all of it (I hate to say it but there is no better way to say it but with this pedestrian cliche): seriously, ridiculously, literally right at my fingertips. On the other hand it’s a landmine of wasted minutes which together form hours which turn into days. Landmines because if you don’t watch your step, you end up blasting to bits hours of your life. If I add up all the hours I’ve spent surfing Facebook (mostly of strangers, because I know all I need to know about my friends), fashion, food and travel blogs, and dicking-around blogs (if you’re looking to dick around, these two are la creme de la creme: 1. 2. Okay, okay, and a third.)
Anyway. I didn’t mean to write such a long winded musing. Or even about frustration.
I had wanted merely to record the fact that I had wandered into my mother’s room in search of a qtip and on her vanity found a notebook on which she’d written: “Travel Diary,” in her light pencil. My mother is the queen of impermanence when it comes to writing. She prefers pencil to pen and doesn’t press down very hard, making her words seem faint and almost insincere. Were they meant to be written? Does she even really want to record this? I suppose. I never took my mother for a diarist, but there it was – a simple diary. Nothing so bloated and self-indulgent as her daughter’s tucked away tomes or blog – my mother, when I really think about it, can be quite laconic. I had early on, when I became aware of this attributed it to her aging, but when I think back to my childhood and when I can remember her castigating me for one thing or other, it wasn’t that she was wordy, but she spoke very sharply certain words. Like, “NEVER.” or “I DARE YOU.” or “BETTY.” Words that on their own are neither sharp nor round but out of her enraged throat could have been wrapped in broken glass. My father is a talker. My mother…it depends. Between us the tables have turned – she doesn’t live vicariously through me – her life is much richer than mine now that she has found her groove both as a teacher and wife, and as a mother, she has learned that her daughter and son, 26 and 31, respectively, are finding their own ways in the world and this path, this particular walk involves talking things through.
She lets me ramble. This may have something to do with my writing less. She lets me ramble, like a good mother should.
Anyway, I forgot about the Qtip and zeroed in on this notebook. I think nothing of reading other people’s diaries. Stories are meant to be read. If you write it down, you want it to be read. Perhaps not by me, but that’s not really in your control when you’re not in the room, is it?
She had written down her activities in the past week: a baby shower here, a birthday party there, a line dancing class here, here and there. Perhaps she had always kept something like this, but I’m a snoop: how did I miss it before? And it seemed like a recent endeavor, as the notebook was fairly new and…she was still in the first few pages. There were no thoughts or elaborations, just a simple line or two for each day. What cities they’d visited on a recent trip to Taiwan, what relatives they ate with and where. It was interesting, but as the dates went on I gathered that she was gaining steam. I couldn’t read all the Chinese but felt the passages growing. Or were they? Who knows. It is never too late to start a diary. Never too late to dip ones toes into that wonderful white white space between lines on paper. That space! I call it optimism.
I wonder how long she will keep it up. Is it for the fond memories, or just for memory alone, the bare bones of why we write things down: fear of forgetting?
Many many walks ago I said to Courage, I am nothing if I do not write. Or something along those lines. I wonder if all along, it was a genetic thing.
“We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” – Henry James The Middle Years