Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Falling

We are in the middle of a “significant winter-weather event,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What ridiculous words to describe the quiet beauty of the snow falling right now.

I watch out my bay window as my youngest son walks to the neighbor’s house to play. He is light enough to shuffle on top of the thick layer of ice hidden beneath a few inches of snow so dry and fluffy it looks at a distance like a cloud. The effect is quite miraculous, as if he really were an angel just skimming the streets of heaven. His hands are shoved firmly in the pockets of his blue winter coat with the hood up, his blue pants iced with snow from his knees down. He walks on the frozen water without hurrying, as if he has all the time in the world to savor the peace of falling snow.

The neighbor’s deck has seven steps, covered in strata of snow-ice-snow. Jack approaches this obstacle as he has approached so many obstacles in his six years…slowly and deliberately, with confidence and determination. He gauges the safety of his climb with a poke of his snow boot and realizes he must break through the layer of ice under the snow to keep from sliding backward, so he does. He also realizes that with such uncertain footing, he must take his hands out of his pockets for balance and hold the rail. Two stairs up, his hands are cold, so he stops, assures that both feet are firmly planted, pulls one red glove from a pocket, puts it on, extracts the other red glove, and puts it on. Now he can proceed. He wobbles only once and calmly steadies himself. He makes it to the top, saunters to the door, knocks, and waits for it to open. It does, and he disappears inside a warm house full of noisy children.

My house is very quiet. All the noise that filled it yesterday is now at my neighbor’s house. I watch the snow falling and listen to the silence. I revel in the peace.

Jack knows something I have forgotten: the calm peace of taking your time, not rushing hither, thither, and yon in a search for…what? I find myself telling him daily, “Hurry up, Jack. We’re late. We need to get inside. It’s cold. Hurry, hurry, hurry!” Telling him to hurry never works. The more rushing noises I make, the slower he moves, as if my voice chills his blood and makes him sluggish. His slowness says to me, “Slow down, Mommy. We don’t need to rush,” I do not listen.

How frustrating that must be for him. How disappointing that his mother cannot share his pace, his peace, his appreciation of the moment. He stubbornly will not let my rush break through his peace. This is very wise of him, and it drives me crazy.

I do not walk on the clouds. I sink. And in sinking, in fighting the ice, I move more slowly than Jack toward the goal, whatever that goal is. Rushing slows me down. On snow days, the goal gets muffled anyway. The city calls with a recorded message telling people to stay home. We’re under eight inches of snow and ice, which means in bureaucratic-speak we’re under a "Level 2 snow alert." I had not intended to go anywhere anyway.

I love snow days. I need an excuse to stay home, slow down, drink a hot mocha and wait for better weather, weather in which I can rush around again. It takes a severe weather event to slow me down. I need to slow down. I crave it. And I will be happy when it is over and things go back to normal.

Normal. Not better, just normal. I will forget the lesson of falling snow as soon as the roads are clear. I will rush Jack to school again, to therapy, to eat, to brush his teeth. And he will try his best to remind me to slow down, to stop fighting the ice.

I will try to listen to him, to remember the lesson taught by snow falling.

And I will inevitably fail.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strange Metaphors

Greetings from my brand-new shiny Toshiba laptop. When I took Jack to gymnastics Saturday morning, George and Nick rushed out to buy it for me. An hour later, Jack and I walked into the house to find this little beauty up and running.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my husband? Well, I do. Muchly. And not just because he buys me stuff. He’s cute, too.

I’m also feeling better, so thus ends Viruses: A Dramatic Miniseries. Don’t you love a happy ending?

Anyway, this week’s topic for questioning is negativity. Oh, my, aren’t we hearing a lot of negativity in the media lately? If you listen to the media, you might think nothing good ever happens, yet logic and reason tell us this simply isn’t so. Jon Katz wrote a lovely critique of the media’s contribution to our negative vibe
here. As he says, we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore what’s going on, but too much negativity isn’t good for us at all.

As someone who once suffered from serious depression, I know that negativity feeds itself, grows large and invasive like cancer if left unchecked, and can kill you if you don’t fight back. The best way to kill negativity before it kills you is to put life into perspective. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know I’m a huge fan of healthy perspective. If you’re new to Questioning, strap on your seatbelt and prepare for long sentences with lots of commas because perspective brings out the punctuation in me.

Sorry about that.

Before we can fully appreciate perspective, however, we need to lay some groundwork and set my inner geek free to discuss the Law of Entropy, or, as I prefer to call it, the Law of the Mocha. Way back in tenth-grade chemistry, Mr. Harmon taught me that entropy is the tendency of the universe to move from a state of high order and energetic movement to low order and stasis. This is why my house won’t stay clean unless I put a lot of energy into keeping it that way. It’s also why our bodies disintegrate into dust after we die.

But I’d much rather talk about mochas. Wouldn’t you?

If you make a mocha with Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix (which is quite yummy and I highly recommend it), you must stir vigorously to mix the powder in the hot milk. The powder, however, doesn’t dissolve completely, and as the momentum of stirring dissipates, gravity drags the chocolate to the bottom of your mug, where, if left for too long, it will solidify and defy your dishwasher’s best efforts to remove it. Without the chocolate particles suspended in the milk-and-coffee solution, you get way too much bitter coffee flavor. To keep the mocha tasty, you must add energy to the system by periodically stirring it. This is the Law of the Mocha.

And it’s an excellent metaphor for what life is all about: you have to add energy to make life better. God didn’t put us here to sit around on our butts and not stir things up. Having a proper perspective is all about the well-mixed mocha. Life’s made up of good and bad…sweet sugary chocolate and bitter coffee. Balancing the two is key; don’t let one get the better of you. Too much sugar makes you hyper and fat and gives you diabetes, and too much bitter gives you wrinkles from constantly pursed lips and makes people flee at the sight of you coming down the street because you’re too dang negative…like the media.

The bitter is everywhere right now because as a nation we’ve let the sweet chocolate sink to the bottom of our cup. It’s time to stir things up and restore our perspective. Counter all the negativity with some positive movement to make your life…and maybe the lives of others…a bit sweeter. Here are a few random ideas:

Take up a hobby and throw yourself into it. People who actively engage in hobbies live longer, have fewer doctor visits, and consider themselves happier than people who don’t. I love paper crafting and usually make about 800 cards a year. This isn’t as freakishly obsessive as you might think, seeing as I send over 400 cards a year to the troops overseas so they have cards to send back to their families. Baghdad suffers a notable lack of Hallmark stores. Well, maybe 800 cards a year is freakishly obsessive, but hey, I’m having fun. Which is honestly the whole point behind a hobby. If your hobby can make other people happy (like the soldiers overseas), it’s doubly sweet.

Reconnect with long-lost friends. Consider Facebook or another networking website. I’ve had four voices from the past reach out and touch me through the internet in the last few months. How cool is that? Making an effort to stay in touch with others takes some energy, but it’s worth it.

Pray. The power of prayer is extraordinary. I’m not going to get all preachy here, but having a rich spiritual life helps give you purpose above and beyond making money and certainly helps keep things in perspective. If you feel so inclined, spend time regularly talking to God, listening to God, just being with God. If you don’t feel so inclined, try connecting with nature. Walking in the woods is as good a way to pray as any.

Listen to music. Music that makes you happy. Music that gets your toes tapping. Music that energizes you. I feel the need to listen to Jimmy Buffett right now. Excuse me for a minute…. Ahh, that’s better. Changes in attitudes, changes in latitudes. It’s all good.

Set aside differences and come together as a nation (at least for those of us here in America). You may or may not have voted for President Obama (for the record, I didn’t), but he’s our president now, and by golly, I’m excited about it. Who would have thought that America could have internalized Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech in less than 46 years to elect a African American with the middle name of Hussein as president? Honestly, it took us 92 years just to get from the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown v. the Board of Education. This is totally awesome, and we should feel really good about it.

Help other people. This can be as simple as sharing a smile with the server at McDonald’s or as big as regular volunteer work or as all-consuming as becoming a foster parent. You can even get really nutty and spend your vacation in a third-world nation helping build a dam. Most of us, however, can’t do the really big things, but we can all give someone a smile, or do a few hours of volunteer work a month, or donate a few dollars to a good cause. If you’re looking for an easy way to do a little bit to make the world better, subscribe to
Do One Nice Thing, a crusade to make Mondays more fun. My point is, helping others in little ways or big ways stirs up the sweet chocolate in the world’s mocha mug.

Did you know there’s a super-volcano under Yellowstone that could blow at any time and render all our problems—and they are undeniably serious problems—completely obsolete? This doesn’t keep me from flossing every day, if you know what I mean. The sky could fall at any time, but it’s not falling right now, this very minute. I choose to see that as a good sign.

Jimmy’s singing to me right now about searching for strange metaphors and quietly making noise to piss off the old kill-joys. I am so totally on board for this.

In keeping with my strange metaphor, what ideas do you have for stirring the chocolate? Please share them in the comments and let me know you're on board, too.

Edited for mathematical error...can't believe no one caught it before I did! George, you clearly aren't reading very carefully.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Viruses: A Dramatic Miniseries

Viruses are tiny little microbes made up of a protective coating encasing some genetic material. They wreak havoc on our lives by causing everything from annoying colds to horrible, devastating epidemics. As is all too common this time of year, an annoying virus has infected our family with cold symptoms that flattened even George, who has the healthiest immune system I know. The most annoying virus in our house right now, however, resides on my laptop in the form of a Trojan malware program…bits of code encased in a protective coating that makes them very, very hard to remove. George and I will get better with rest and fluids, but my laptop must die before it can function again.

Oh, the tragedy of it all.

This has happened before. A few years ago, George fought valiantly to clear the laptop of another mischievous virus, spending $120 and three hours on the phone with Tech Support Guy in India. George and TSG talked a lot about Indian food—one of George’s many culinary fascinations. Apparently TSG’s mother makes a mean naan, which was nice to know but didn’t help with the virus infecting our computer. The scariest thing about the call to India was how TSG took over our computer from the other side of the planet and made all sorts of stuff happen on the screen while neither of us touched a thing. It was freaky to watch, and when TSG finished working his magic, he assured us that the computer was free of the virus and good to go.

He lied. His naan-making mother should be ashamed.

In the end, George had to kill the hard drive by reformatting it and then resurrect it by reloading all the software. This brutal necessity eliminated all the customizing I’d done to make the computer work happily for me. My favorites, my wall paper, and my desktop all disappeared during reformatting, replaced by a clean slate of empty potential waiting to be re-customized to work happily for me…again. At least George managed to save my address book.

Last weekend, Norton Anti-Virus flashed a notice that my computer had been attacked. Initially, Norton claimed to have blocked the attack, but then all sorts of stuff started going screwy, and when I tried to run a full-system Norton scan, the computer shut down all by itself. When it restarted, there were icky pornography icons on my desktop. George saw them first and asked if I’d been surfing bisexual porn again. I slapped the back of his bald head (he flinched before I moved, so he was expecting it and I just hate to disappoint him). I then asked him to please get that crap off my computer. The porn came off the desktop pretty easily, but that wasn’t the end of the problem.

The virus apparently disabled Norton’s connection to its website so it couldn’t automatically update, and then I got a pop-up to buy some spyware cleaning program that wasn’t a Norton product. Huh? This pop-up sort of took over, installed itself on my task bar, and wouldn’t go away despite being ordered off. Don’t you hate it when an unwelcome guest won’t leave?

Norton Anti-Virus dislikes not being able to communicate with the mother ship so it kept flashing messages telling me there was a problem and giving impossible-to-follow directions to fix said problem. That’s when I contacted Norton’s tech support for a little online chat.

Is there really a person at the other end of an online chat? I always wonder this. Someone or something typed his or its name—something unpronounceable that looked Indian, so maybe it was the same TSG from a few years ago—but for all I know he/it was HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey: “I’m sorry, Susan, but I can’t do that…not until you send me your credit card number and $99.99.”

Not again.

When I explained that we’d reformat the hard drive ourselves and that, thank you, no, he/it couldn’t have my credit card number, he/it replied with several scripted paragraphs (no doubt originally written by a native English speaker in the marketing department) explaining how inconvenient it would be for us to reformat, how we would lose all our data and files, how much time it would take to find our program disks and load them back onto the computer, how he would provide expert service without us having to lift a finger, yada, yada, yada.

Don’t you love that little button on the screen labeled “End Chat”?

What sort of person invents these viruses and why? Obviously, these mad hackers are smart and talented; they are very, very good at writing programs that exploit any weakness anywhere. If they turned their talents to legitimate use, our world would be a much nicer place. Instead, they positively delight in making more trouble in the world by disrupting innocent people’s lives, stealing information or money from them, wasting their time, upsetting them. I’m not normally a violent or vindictive person, but honestly, if the inventor of this infection on my computer were tied up in front of me, I’d smear him or her in honey and set loose the army ants. God help me, I’d relish his/her suffering.

Okay, maybe not. But I’d certainly send his/her butt to jail. Forever. With no internet access, no computer access, no tech device of any kind so there would be no chance for repeat offense. Instead, I sit staring at my sick computer with impotent rage. Mad hackers – 1; Susan – 0.

I hate losing.

Now, I’m waiting for George to reformat my hard drive because it’s much better to play helpless in these situations and let more confident, knowledgeable people deal with the problem. In the meantime, I’m using his computer, which is fine as far as it goes, but it runs on Vista and looks weird to me.

In my continuing research on the human brain, I’ve read about how things that are familiar…things like my laptop with Windows XP…actually make human brains happy. When the familiar changes, however, human brains feel wildly wrong-footed and unhappy. Eventually, brains adapt to change pretty well, but they are highly annoyed when forced to do so.

My brain is currently annoyed. It also has PMS. And a cold. And my IP server is down this morning and I can’t read all the blogs I subscribe to or check the forums at Splitcoast or upload all the photos of my cards I took yesterday to my gallery there. Can a brain explode from annoyance? I suspect our nice, hard skulls keep that from happening, but the pressure’s got to come out somehow. That’s probably why people put their fists through drywall.

Instead of hitting something that might break a knuckle, hurt really bad, and require a visit to the ER, I think I’ll go take a nice, familiar shower. Then maybe I’ll take my annoyed brain to Barnes and Noble for some retail therapy and a mocha….

Ooooh, what a lovely plan. My brain is feeling better already.

B&N was delightful, and Gloria, the nice Café manager, made me a yummy mocha. But when George tried to reformat my hard drive this morning, the computer died completely and cannot be resurrected by boot disk or any other recovery method known to George or the geeky websites he visited from his computer for tips. He suspects that the hard drive itself went bad—it may have been going bad for a while now, and this just pushed it over the edge.

I’m very sad right now, but when I have a new computer up and running, I suspect my brain will get over my loss rather quickly, seeing as the laptop was four years old and obsolete anyway. My fear now is that my thumb drive is infected with the virus. What I’ve written of my book and several blog essays reside on the thumb drive right now. Death by ants is too good for these criminals.

No new computer yet as I am completely paralyzed with indecision over what to buy and when and where to buy it. George usually makes these decisions after I tell him how much to spend (I’m the Minister of Finance in the Raihala Republic), but I think he’s still overwhelmed by his decision to buy a treadmill last month and is tired of my acting all helpless in this matter when he knows good and well that I’m not.

How can the economy be tanking so badly when we’re spending like crazy here?

Anyway, I’m still using George’s computer, which is fine during the day when he’s at work but not so fine at night after the kids are in bed and we both want to plug in, so to speak. I’ll grow a backbone soon and make a decision, but in the meantime, I’m just ticked off by the whole situation. George has fully recovered from his own cold virus and is ridiculously perky, while my wimpy immune system is still struggling with an overabundance of phlegm and shortage of computers. It’s just not fair, not fair, NOT FAIR!

Will someone please give me some cheese to go with that whine?

Smoked gouda would be nice.

To be continued....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Word of the Year Update

I’ve heard from a number of you regarding the Word of the Year Project. Some of you posted comments on the first Word essay HERE; others emailed me privately. Some have told me you are thinking about a word. Take your time. It’s all good. As more of you jump onboard our merry little bandwagon, I will add your words to this list.


Enthusiastic (x2)
Positive (x3)

Aren't these all great words!?! I can't wait to hear how people incorporate them into their daily life in 2009. Please note, if I’ve left your word off the list, send it to me again. As I will explain in another post (to follow shortly), my computer died last weekend. My emails and address book have disappeared into the same place lost socks go in the laundry and will never be found again.


Once you’ve chosen a word, you should probably find a way to keep it in your thoughts. We’re all so busy it’s easy to lose focus. Last year, I created a piece of framed artwork with the word Simplify using my scrapbooking supplies. You need not go to this much trouble, but some sort of visual reminder is important, even if it’s just a post-it note on your bathroom mirror or wallpaper on your computer. Think about programming your electronic calendar to remind you periodically or writing memos on your old-fashioned wall calendar. The key is to find something that works for you.

This year, since my word focuses on being fearless in my writing, my visual reminder is an old Underwood typewriter I picked up at an antique store a few months ago. It’s pretty dilapidated, but I’ve always wanted to have one (writer geeks have weird fixations), so I’ve placed it on the table in our library where I will see it every day. I’m also going to fill up a few of my fountain pens with ink and start writing with them again. I stopped using them after Jack was born, but writing checks or grocery lists with a fine pen of free-flowing ink will remind me of the “other” writing I need to do, writing that is (hopefully) a bit more substantial and meaningful, even if it’s done on a computer…which I still haven’t replaced yet.


Also, share your word with others so they can support and encourage you. Speaking of which…I want to thank each of you who has offered words of encouragement relating to my writing goals for this year. I appreciate your kindness and feel so energized by your enthusiasm.

If you want to share your ideas for keeping your word in front of you, please do so in the comments. Your idea might help someone else…you just never know.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Godiva Chocolate

In early December, 2006, I found myself at Barnes and Noble Booksellers. This should surprise no one who knows me. I adore books and create any excuse to surround myself with them, browse through them, smell them, buy them. I even read them. Happily. Enthusiastically. Voluntarily. Voraciously.

On that particular day in December at Barnes and Noble, I bought something or several somethings—honestly, I don’t remember. I do remember that the check-out clerk asked if I would like to donate a Godiva chocolate to disabled children in our area.

Who can say no to such a request? I pictured in my mind a small child with a serious disability—say, Down syndrome or paraplegia—enjoying a piece of chocolate. That chocolate wouldn’t change his life or make it easier, but absolutely no one can be unhappy or worried while eating chocolate. If Elvis had eaten more chocolate and done fewer drugs, he’d still be alive, don’t you think? Buying a chocolate for a disabled child was the least I could do. So I did it and checked my to-do list for the next holiday errand. I didn’t give that chocolate another thought.

A week later, I went through Jack’s backpack to clean out the day’s work: artwork of Christmas angels made with his handprints, beaded pipe cleaners hooked into Christmas ornaments, the usual assortment of notices from the teacher regarding the Christmas party, pajama day, the book exchange. At the bottom of the mess was a foil-wrapped Godiva chocolate with a note attached.

I’ll give you one guess what that note said.

My child. Disabled?

Of course Jack is disabled. He had been receiving services through IDEA—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—for three months. He had had a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified for five months. He attended speech and occupational therapies at Children’s Hospital and went to two different schools to meet his needs. My schedule was topsy-turvy just trying to get him where he needed to be each day.

None of this added up to “disabled child” for me that day at Barnes and Noble. Then, my definition of “disabled” included only huge, obvious, “bad” things that keep people from functioning normally. Disabilities are made up of amputations, or assistive apparatuses, or senses that don’t work, or brains that can’t learn, or bodies that can’t speak or walk or move easily. Disabilities are really hard things, things that create barriers in life that most people don’t face, barriers that other people face.

The Godiva chocolate in my hand laughed mockingly at me and said, “Your son whom you love more than life itself is ‘disabled.’ What do you think about ‘disability’ now?”

I just hate it when the universe dope-slaps me.

I’ve learned that we really do have a choice how to react to situations like this. It’s easy—and pointless—to take these ironic dope-slaps personally. The universe isn’t picky about choosing its victims, and absolutely every person on this planet gets dope-slapped at least a few times in the course of life. When we take it personally, we are the ones who suffer, mainly from that dreadful waste of time called self-pity.

This reminds me of an apt quotation from the sci-fi series Babylon 5. (You see, I’m a geek as well as a dope.) Marcus, my favorite character, said: “I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

On that December afternoon two years ago, in the face of the general hostility and unfairness of the universe, I chose to laugh at the mocking bit of fine chocolate. Yes, Jack is disabled. His disability isn’t so obvious as Down syndrome or paraplegia, but it is real and it is hard. It does put up barriers for him that most people don’t face. As Jack’s mother, however, I had instinctively chosen to focus on his abilities rather than thinking him “disabled.” Even though his brain works and learns differently from other kids’ brains, I focused on the fact that it does work and it does learn. His hands don’t do fine motor tasks as well as other kids’ hands, but they are learning and can already do a lot. He still has difficulty telling me a story or answering questions, but his speech improves daily.

This is how love sees disability.

Far be it from me to promote political correctness (I prefer good manners), but the PC term “differently abled” has merit. It’s all in the perspective, how you look at it. Yes, we all face really hard things in life, whether we qualify as disabled or not, and these challenges can overwhelm us at times with worry and stress and fear. Been there, done that. Haven’t we all?

But by shifting our focus we’re able to see those challenges differently. To a certain extent, it really is “all in our heads.” How many mothers of children whose disabilities are more severe, more obvious, more challenging than Jack’s see their children through the same filter of love, that same focus on ability rather than disability? My big mistake was in assuming those families were different from mine.

One day last summer, while I waited for Jack to finish speech therapy, a mother and son sat down near me. The son was hard to miss: a large teenager, nonverbal, squinting, tongue sticking out of his mouth, playing with his hands, barking. Well, it sounded like barking. His mother patiently settled him, asked if he wanted a drink, handed him a sports bottle with a straw, told him gently to keep his tongue in his mouth, made small talk without expecting a verbal response but was attentive to nonverbal cues. I was struck by how patient and calm she was. Every time he barked, she smiled. She never shushed him.

There aren’t many moms who could go out in public with a barking teenage boy and make it look like the most natural thing in the world. By the grace of God, she pulled it off and made it poignant and beautiful. I saw God in action in the waiting room.

As it’s impolite to stare, I turned back to my book but was distracted when I heard her speak to another waiting mother: “Oh, that’s his happy sound. He makes it all the time. He is always so happy and brings such joy to our lives. I don’t know what we would do without him.” Love literally glowed from this mother. You could tell she wanted to share it with the world, wanted the world to see her son the way she did. I looked at the young man with fresh eyes. I could see what she meant. He did show joy; I had missed that before because I was looking only at his disabilities.

No doubt the universe heaped its general hostility on this mother and son. No doubt she has felt frustrated, scared, and angry, and has wondered why. No doubt her son is severely disabled. But she made a choice at some point to accept her son for who he is, to see joy and love in him, and to give joy and love to him.

Don’t we all long for acceptance? Don’t we all long for love and compassion and understanding that is unconditional? But how often do we give that sort of love? It’s easy to accept someone who’s just like you, who acts like you, looks like you, and shares your beliefs, interests, language, and politics. It’s harder to accept difference in any form. Much harder. History is largely the record of our collective failure to accept difference.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be judged or dismissed or ignored or feared, and I certainly don’t want either of my children treated that way. We’re all different, but we are also all children of God, human beings created in His image with great capacity for compassion, love, and joy.

An American soldier stuck in the sandstorm during the invasion of Iraq said, “Embrace the suck.” He couldn’t change the weather or the fact he was in it, but he could change his attitude. He embraced the sandstorm just as that mother smiled each time her child barked in joy. The outside world may see our challenges, whatever they are, as uncomfortable, painful, unfortunate, disabling, or tragic, but we don’t have to see them that way at all. When the universe is hostile, we need to embrace the suck, and sometimes we can even transform it into something beautiful through love. Doing this is hard. It requires courage to stand up to the universe’s hostility and let go of a lot of indulgent wallowing in self-pity, but it’s worth the effort. At least I believe it is.

As for the Godiva chocolate…I ate it myself because Jack won’t touch any chocolate that isn’t an M&M or cake frosting.

Don’t you just love irony?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Kicking and Screaming

Thanks in great part to my husband, I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era of high-tech gadgetry. Perhaps it’s the Y chromosome in him, but he actively searches out all sorts of electronic doo-dads to accessorize his life, from cameras, heart-rate monitors (yes, he has more than one), bike computers, treadmill, iPod, and SwimP3 (for listening to tunes as he swims laps). He has a GPS in his car navigation computer and his sports watch. He has a powertap hub for his bike wheel that measures the watts he generates on rides. “It’s all about the data,” he says.

I, on the other hand, am a
Luddite at heart and generally eschew high-tech devices. I did not want a cell phone, and when George wore down my resistance about ten years ago, I only used the phone function and had no idea what other things that phone did. I just didn’t care. My current phone—fourth in the line of phones—is the first I programmed numbers into. It has a camera, text messaging, internet capabilities, email…. I only use the phone and get really annoyed when the phone company sends me text messages. No one else I know “texts” me. My favorite thing about my phone is that it’s cute. And red. And it slides.

God help me, I love the way it slides.

When I went to college, way back in the Jurassic period, only geeky computer science majors used the computer lab. For those of you too young to know, students used to write on notebook paper. I LOVED notebook paper, was quite picky about its quality, and had a very specific method for writing out drafts of papers double-spaced (so I had room to add stuff) and used letters around circled text to indicate where I wanted to move things around. Only when I finished revising did I roll a fresh piece of crisp white paper into the typewriter. In high school, I typed my papers on a manual Smith-Corona. Then mom “upgraded” me to an electric typewriter for college. Even with the electric, footnotes were a pain in the tushy…you never knew how much space they would need, and if you misjudged, you had to type the whole page over again.

In graduate school, I checked out the computer lab and discovered WordPerfect, which absolutely made no sense to me. Then George bought a home computer with Windows and Word. Have you ever done footnotes with Word? Oh my goodness, they are so easy! When I realized that Word had obscure Old English letters—æ, ð, and þ—which I could insert into my papers with a few clicks or keystrokes, I fell absolutely, madly, geekily in love. We medievalists thrill to such small accommodations to our obscure specialty. To this day, I don’t understand why people hate Microsoft’s monopoly. It made my life easier, which is always a good thing.

But I still wrote my papers on notebook paper and then typed them into the computer. It’s taken 13 years to teach myself to compose on the computer. Now, I write my blog essays mostly in Word and then paste them into Blogger, and I’ve even learned some html code. Occasionally, I write the old-fashioned way in a pretty recycled-paper notebook while I’m waiting for Jack as he does his therapy. I still love paper and pen, and haven’t yet taken my laptop out in public. One day, inevitably, that will happen, but not until I get a laptop with a better battery.

To keep track of my busy life, I used to use those fancy day-timer organizers. My favorites were the medium-size ones. The little ones didn’t give enough space to write, and the large ones were just too big. Three years ago, George bought me a Palm Pilot for Christmas. At first, I pretended enthusiasm. I hadn’t asked for one, didn’t need one, and didn’t want one. The idea of transferring all my data from my day-timer to the Palm bothered me. But George had spent a boatload of money on it so I made the effort.

That little Palm Pilot is the coolest gadget George ever bought me. It’s so tiny, so easy to use, so easy to update. It is definitely my favorite gift from George ever.

Until this year.

This year, I sort of expected him to buy me a camera. You see, my digital camera is a Toshiba that my Aunt Sylvia gave me years seven years ago after she bought it late one night off QVC and then experienced buyer’s remorse. I loved that camera (especially because it was free to me), but it has been giving me fits lately. The on/off button doesn’t work reliably, which is a real pain in the butt if you just want to catch a quick shot of your children. I needed a new camera, George is a camera aficionado, and he likes buying me electronic devices. I was sure I’d get it…until I saw a Dick’s Sporting Goods bag on the bed after he had wrapped my present.

Does Dick’s sell cameras? I thought not.

Christmas morning came, and I opened the deceptively big box to find a smaller box inside with a Nikon CoolPix already charged and ready to shoot. George even set the date and everything. Isn’t he just the most thoughtful husband ever? The Dick’s bag, it turns out, was just there by coincidence.

I’m lovin’ my CoolPix.

Mom, from whom I inherited my Luddite tendencies, recently saw the electronic book at Barnes and Noble and is very excited about it. Huh? This is a woman who fears her computer (which my sister and I bullied her into buying) and is terrified that one wrong click will destroy the thing. But when the electronic books come down in price, she plans on buying one. She has lots of good reasons for this act of heresy, but honestly, I’m not sure what’s gotten into her.

I see these electronic books as a sign of the coming apocalypse. Books are living things made of paper, glue, thread, boards, cloth, and ink. I love holding them, opening them, smelling them, creating them. I love surrounding myself with them. I love libraries. I love the sound of a new binding cracking and the soft, susurrous whisper of pages turning.

Pixels and buttons do not give the same sensory satisfaction. They are cold and … electronic. The words on the screen have no permanence, no life. Even George is a tad uncertain about them—he has as many books as I do. I declare, with grave certainty and much kicking and screaming, that I will never, ever have an electronic book.

I have to draw the line somewhere. Consider it drawn.