Saturday, October 1, 2016

I've been thinking a lot about letter writing. (Now that email is over, will letter-writing come back?) I found this post from April 2015 celebrating children's books about letter-writing through a search for Books of Wonder. (I took Wally to that lovely children's bookstore yesterday to pick out his September Book-of-the-Month, an annual holiday gift from my parents. I was worried because the store felt kind of big and empty and the cafe that once flourished there was gone, now a storage space.) 

It's weird to me to think how my college friends and I wrote copious letters to each other, even though we all had email. I have a box full of our letters, which tapered off around 1999/2000.  

Emails, as Sarah of One Blue Sail wrote in one of the comments, felt like a replacement for letters, faster, of course, but the same idea, a long, thoughtful means of communicating with one other person. 

Then our Inboxes exploded, with marketing, spam, charities, campaigns, mass emails. Too much. 

It makes sense, given the Inbox overload, that we're searching for something else. The current mode - text/snapchat/FB - the bite-size, constant interruptions (though young people don't consider them interruptions, MIT professor Sherry Turkle points out in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, October 2015) - doesn't seem like a replacement for letter writing, phone calls or email. 

What is the replacement for sustained, one-to-one communication? 

Even now, I'm batting my kids away so I can write. There is always this struggle. I may be the worst offender for the bite-size, broken up days. 

The Jolly Postman was one of my all-time favorites. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

I've been trying to wake up before the kids so I have time to write first thing in the morning. But however early I get up, they get up too.

Petra is confused about why it's still "night" for another hour or so. She thinks we should do Goodnight Yoga. No, if anything, we should do Good Morning Yoga - perfect, magical time with a candle pre-dawn. But really, you (Petra) should still be in bed. Wally up early is fine. He just reads. 

I don't know why in the evening (now) I can't sink into the mood of writing here anymore. I used to love writing in the evenings. 

All I can think of now is a jumble. 

That was last night. Let's see if I can find any more clarity today. Wally is behind me reading. He's reading great books this year. Books I remember from around his age (although I remember them being read to us at floor time). James and the Giant Peach. The Wind in the Willows. He also read The Dragon of Lonely Island, by an author I hadn't heard of -- Rebecca Rupp. She has a fantastic web site where she organizes children's books by category, for example letter writing books , books inspired by Shakespeare, and gardening books. Oh she has a great section on banned books too. She's a Ph.D. in cell biology and biochemistry from Vermont. 

Okay so Wally is quietly reading behind me. The light is ever so slowly just beginning to appear. Not even the light yet, it's just that the sky isn ow a lovely gray blue. the lights of the Empire State Building still shine bright against it. 

"Where's that hot chocolate?" Wally asks. (Friday is hot chocolate day.)

"Coming soon," I tell him. I am selfishly trying to write, but you see I'm not getting far. If I had gone for Twitter, I could have gotten a nice pick and an attempt at a pithy message out into the world. 

Maybe I could have checked email and - answered something about work that would have felt like "checking something off" an infinite, impossibly entangled and constantly renewing To Do? Or answered (or at least read) something from a friend? More on that soon. I've noticed just in the past several weeks a dramatic drop-off from email. I know "no one uses it anymore" but something really suddenly seems to have changed.

Yesterday I rode a bike down to Wally's school and back. I have hardly ridden at all in NYC. Once or twice briefly I took Alex's citibike out to the river and back. I saw my friend Kara on Monday. She biked up to meet me and said she rides all the time. I kept thinking -- that must totally change your perception of the city. Instead of the crowded, frustrating, stressful subway, riding out there by the river, past the Wisteria and the boats and the Honeysuckle.

So yesterday, when Wally got on the bus then turned around and said, "It's the second year in a row I forgot it was picture day," I quickly dropped Petra off then came home and scrambled through his closet. Aha! One kinda nice button-down shirt he's had a few years but should still fit. I grabbed it, gave it a quick glance before stuffing it in a bag, and realized it had red paint on it. Pulled other things out and finally settled on a nice blue plaid shirt my mom had gotten him in June. As I was zipping my backpack I checked the clock and realized the only possible way to get to the school before it started was to ride a bike. I don't have the citibike membership but you can pay for a day (total would only be $6 more than the subway, and well worth the workout I thought). I raced down, not knowing which streets were best, ending up on cobblestone for an uncomfortable stretch. Wally didn't want the clothes after all. I hopped on the bike and road back, this time along the glorious river, past the Wisteria, the Heather, the boats and the Honeysuckle.

Yes it does, absolutely, change one's view of the city. I almost imagined myself in Provence. I near-swooned picturing cooking something later that night with the adorable herbs by Provence Trade Joe's now cells in a little glass bottle with a wooden spoon.

(Instead I spent the day lost in data spreadsheets and sore beyond belief! Rubbing Icy Hot with happy memories of my grandmother - the apartment was full of that minty smell.)

Much lighter now the sky just in the past 10 minutes since I began. Time to turn to other duties. Even wake Petra! Get the kids off. Greet the day without so many racing thoughts for once I hope. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Not hard to take today's Outdoors Family Challenge - Eat Local from this blog, eating swiss chard fresh (cooked) from the garden tonight. Petra with her look-alike friend (or maybe it's just the t-shirts and same height?)



Saturday, September 24, 2016

From one moment to the next


Working on a mindful gardening project, which has led me to pick up Louise Dickinson Rich's book We Took to the Woods again. Not sure why--does she garden much in particular? She's out in the woods and there is some kind of garden I think. She's very mindful. Very deliberate. Very able to live in the present and not give into any fear of missing out. I was flipping through the section where she presents a defense to people who worry that she's "out of touch" with culture/news etc. In response she talks about how much she has been able to read out there (all of Proust, for example, which didn't impress her (!?)) and "The Education of Henry Adams" among other works. Here she talks about what she sees as the benefit of waiting for Friday to get a summary of that week's news. "We get our news a little late, but I wouldn't be surprised if in the long run we have a clearer and more sensible idea of what is going on that those who read every special edition and listen to the special spot-news broadcasts on the radio all day long. Frankly, I don't see how they can possibly know where they're at from one moment to the next, and I should think they'd all go raving mad" (255). 

So of course you know that I'm thinking--doesn't that sound like today's, say, New York Times reader, who get the paper delivered to the door, versus those of us who refresh Huffpo and Twitter constantly to see if we missed any major happenings in the last 5 minutes? Yes, partly I am thinking that. And my initial take is that it's all the worse now. You thought that was bad? The all-day radio listener was the addict? Just like in The Gift from the Sea when Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about housewives no longer able to draw on their imaginations anymore because of radio. Or a 1979 article from the Times that talked about people getting rid of their answering machines when being tracked down became too burdensome and annoying. Or early revolts against the telephone for displacing the once beloved art of the letter. At first these anachronistic complaints of speed or distraction highlight how far we've fallen away from having time and space and room to think and be alone. But then I also wonder if the problem of new technology's disorientating effects has always been in place. In his 2004 In Praise of Slowness Carl Honore talks about the reaction against ancient writing systems and the hysteria about its corrosive effects on memory. 

I don't think that's the right conclusion either. To say - every age reacts against change. But I just want to acknowledge that possible interpretation, before making a claim for exponential growth of speed and distraction. Except I can't make that claim tonight. I must get back to a bunch of tasks here, big and small ones, mostly small. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Worth reading: My Distraction Sickness -- And Yours, by Andrew Sullivan. 

Even though pulling out a few quotes (rather than letting you go a read the whole article) seems maybe counterproductive, more speed, more distraction, more imperfect distillation, I'm worried that you, the few who still venture into the quiet, won't have/make the time to read the whole article and I want to make sure you know how good it is. So here are a few of the most important points. 

"I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living."

"Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time." 

Sullivan chooses to be a human being for a while, and in the end returns to a half real/half virtual playing field, the one where we all battle.