Oddments

In search of story


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June 23.21: Coping

Life always was a head-scratcher, but recently more than usual.

For one thing, WordPress got all weird on my computer. No way could I get into it last week.  Eventually it came back but my security program blasted bright red warnings about dangerous and suspicious connections. On WordPress?

I got a new phone from AT&T. Free. Sorry, folks, but I don’t believe anything is free. It’s a flip-top to replace the one that they’re making obsolete. I still haven’t found the strings but I know they’re attached. I took the plunge and started to read the blurbs that came with it. Chapter One: Safety.

OK, so my Mensa invitation didn’t really get lost in the mail, but still I’m smart enough to know that if you’re going to write instructional materials you should tell your reader what your abbreviations mean before page 20. That aside, I learned that I shouldn’t paint or bend my phone, and that no part of the human body should come too close to the antenna, which is inside. Do I put the phone in the kitchen and then go to the living room and yell at it?

You know the rabbits have destroyed most of my flowers. Now I’ve lost the tomatoes. I looked at the poor tomato plants and just shook my head. Since when do rabbits eat tomato plants?

I stood in the vast echo chamber of Lowe’s lumber department asking myself the eternal question: where’s the person who can tell me the difference between quarter-round and shoe molding?

I think there are times in life when we don’t even want the answers any more. A rocking chair and glass of wine will do. Rocking chair optional.

 

 


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January 8.21: Coping

A reflection, dear reader.

Today I turn 78. One becomes reflective when one turns 78 in a year of chaos and disease, when fear and rage, loneliness and grief dominate the human stage. But I was born into World War II. How can I not ask if anything has changed?

Food was rationed, bloodshed headlined daily newspapers, freight trains crisscrossed our lives carrying tank parts and spewing cinders, radio was high-tech, my mom and grandma walked to the corner store, a can of bacon grease ennobled every kitchen and bobby pins every dresser. Coal shoveled into furnaces. White shoe polish a household staple.

You have met my cell phone, humble flip-top that it is. You know it stopped working last month and then mysteriously started working again. Then, a couple days ago, it developed new problems. You may congratulate me vociferously: this time I did what any kindergartener would have done and googled the wretch. I learned that the trick was to put the phone into Airplane Mode and then toggle it out again.

Dear reader, who in the name of heaven would have the least inkling to do such a thing by way of problem-solving? I was irrationally proud of myself and at the same time miffed that I live in a world in which my life experience and hard-earned education seem useless.

As you know, this week has been hideous here but obviously something this mortally serious doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. And so I become 78 in a country with its principles in tatters. In a world where I need to know about Airplane Mode to have a working phone.

I have decided to look at it this way: 78 candles is a lot of light.

 

 

 


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December 8.20: Coping

Yesterday my phone quit. Disheveled, wild-eyed, I scrapped my to-do list and headed for the phone store, where I took my place on the proper social-distance marker. It appeared a long wait was ahead; I was right. A cool-headed young man, the lone employee, was trying valiantly to take care of two accounts with a small masked throng gathering.

In all, I stood for about an hour, enjoying my steady intake of carbon dioxide.  At one point, the cool-headed employee offered snacks; this was not encouraging: do people wait so long there that they have to be fed?

My hips aching, my face steamed, my spirit sagging from the pure misery of being stuck in a world of gizmos, I was dimly aware that more customers had come in behind me. And suddenly everything changed. “Put your mask on!” “Shut up!” This began a shouted rage among three customers.

The anger was intense on both sides. It was impossible not to notice how close to the surface this anger was. The flare-up was too loud, too quick, too easy. The furious unmasked stormed out.

Finally someone looked at my poor phone and said I needed a new one. I drove across the street to Target and bought some Christmas M&Ms instead. Mint M&Ms.

The vicious rumor that my phone dates from the rule of Charlemagne notwithstanding, I am not adjusting well to this. I don’t want a phone. I want some peace. And reason. While my hat’s off to the cool employee who responded so professionally to the outburst, even the powers of Christmas M&Ms couldn’t undo its effects.

In this past year, I have seen much kindness and patience among strangers. It is, I fear, wearing thin.


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December 6.20: Coping

FASTER! it goaded,

SPEED! it said;

I swallowed hard

and shook my head.

I don’t want fast,

I want some slow;

I want more stop

and not more go.

Network, server,

gigabit,

radio wave:

what is it?

Mega, macro,

ultra and such —

improve my life?

Not so much.

I can’t keep up,

my brain is boxed,

must watch some ducks

and get detoxed.

 


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March 15.20

This would be a beautiful morning were it in November and were we not in the world we are now in. The snow is falling thick and white out of a grey sky onto a brown world. The pond is black and shivering. Yes, there are buds, and, yes, there are tips of daffodils and a brilliant purple star of a crocus in the front yard.

But the darkness prevails. As we all know, the darkness is internal. The light, when it comes, will be internal too.

I have not been able to upload new photos into my blog posts. WordPress tells me I have a “New Home” in which I can “learn and grow.” I don’t want someone else to decide when and how I should learn and grow and whether I need a new home. As trivial as this is in the grand scheme of things, this change is the last thing I want to deal with right now. So I have not been posting. But I think of you, dear reader, with concern.

As writers we have two obligations, I think: one is to write what is, and the other is to write what could be. It’s a delicate balance these days as we try to acknowledge what is and not get mired down in it. We do have to keep one eye on that little purple star, which is at present huddled into itself against the cold.

 

 

 

 


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January 22.20

The watering hole. If you can disregard the feeling of cold mud up to your belly, you can see the attraction: an invigorating dip in melted ice and the latest gossip. What’s the word, hummingbird? What’s the tale, nightingale? (Who can forget the immortal lyrics in “Bye, Bye, Birdie”?)

I have a morning routine which involves turning on the computer as I stumble along the well-worn path from bedroom to coffeepot. When I return, hot coffee and cold cereal in hand, I click into my watering hole. Email. Blog. Then I’m fortified for the news and weather.

Yesterday was appallingly different. I settled in with cold cereal and hot coffee, yes, but the computer screen was all wrong: no Internet! Gasp!

Dear reader, can you imagine? I was without Internet all day yesterday, and I do not have television. I felt as though the entire planet had dropped away from me.

I remember life without the Internet. I even remember life without television. Back then I saw the people that mattered — friends and family — every day. Now I meet them on the Internet. I watched the birds in their mucky happy hour, and I missed my watering hole dreadfully.

 


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April 12.19

APOSTROPHE TO AN APOSTROPHE

Oh, you of little ink,

preposterous to think

you’d grow to such a plague,

pestilence and nag.

Everywhere and more

you’re a digital uproar;

documents are shredded

because you’re name-imbedded;

computers gag and sputter,

bureaucracies sweat and mutter,

printers flail and spit —

you just don’t seem to fit.

With all this ID ballyhoo,

I’m boiled in an impossible stew:

oh, my little apostrophe,

how to prove that I am me?

 

If, dear reader, you have an apostrophe in your name, you know the terrors. Some computers will take it; others won’t. Sometimes it’s changed to a comma, sometimes to a period, sometimes just tossed out. Then upper case becomes lower case (e.g., O’Hern becomes Ohern or O. Hern or O,hern). Lo, your last name as documented today does not match your last name on your birth certificate. Ponderously important people behind laptops are going to look at you with suspicion. They will ask you who you REALLY are. By that time the computers will have undone you and you will have no idea.

 


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Disconnections: August 20.18

The chase and the catch, continued from yesterday.

You see “In search of story” at the top of my blog.  For me, trying to write a story is like trying to enjoy a root canal. But I listen to others in an effort to learn about story. And this is what bothers me about the machines: they yield the tidy catch, thereby rendering the messy chase obsolete and attendant stories extinct.

My Grandma Mauck and her siblings would fight to the verbal death about who was born when. With them, it was all about the chase. If they’d had Smartphones to consult, our Thanksgivings might have been quieter, but I wouldn’t have learned about their internecine wars and I’d have been deluded into thinking all my relatives were rational.

My Grandma O’Hern would celebrate summer, no matter how icky hot, with a mountain of pierogi; family and chairs would appear magically and morph into a small city around the table. If they’d had iPads, would I have heard the accounts of how Baby Edna had to walk because Grandpa’s hootch rode in the baby carriage?

How can I hope to develop any story-telling abilities at this point in my life when people are nose-dived into their gadgets, and mind only the catch?

It is arguable that if I don’t know how to tell a story by now I never will. I guess I am stuck in my own messy chase, trying to catch the skill of story-telling, dodging the thumbs of the world.

 

 


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Disconnections: August 19.18

Recently I posted a photo of a blissful Jack Russell (one Lulu by name) with her slimy ball. The question posed was this: which is more fun, the chase or the catch? Chasing and catching had been on my mind.

It used to be that when someone asked a question in a group the others would offer answers based on what they knew (or thought they knew). A hodgepodge formed and grew: bits of memory, stories, irrelevancies, maybe even an argument or a snippet of song. Various voices could be heard.

A lively chase would have been run.

Now the response to a question in a group is silence. Eyes are down, thumbs fly. In half a trice there’s an answer. The catch is caught. Quick, straightforward, efficient. Also sterile.

I think this is not merely the grumping of an old curmudgeon; I think this is the plaintive cry of the writer. What is lost if memory isn’t tapped, stories aren’t told, if no one is wrong, when the path goes straight to the answer, no detours and no curves and no dead ends?

I accord technology the wonder due it, but I’m uncertain about what happens when we don’t dive into our own personal data banks and goofy lives to try to find answers. I’ve been dismayed at how often people dive into their clouds instead.

I grant there’s a place in life for efficiency.  Sometimes the best way is the fast way. But I think the writer in me wants the chase and feels rebuffed in some way by the mere catch.

There’s another part to this. Another post, another day.