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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Here in the Quiet Backwaters

I was already behind the times as a child, memorizing dramatic Victorian poetry instead of knock-knock jokes. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Knock-knock jokes were part of my repertoire, too, and when it came to reading, I read books contemporary with my childhood as well as those my mother had loved as a girl. So too these days, in a world gone dizzily digital, I still have a foot in two worlds, but the forward foot, I have to say, is often more than a little reluctant.

This format, the blog, is already old-fashioned. Even Facebook is somewhat passé: as one friend commented, when I first ventured into those waters, “If people our age are getting into it, you know it’s old hat.” (Did he really say “old hat” or is that my behind-the-times memory substituting an appropriately behind-the-times phrase for whatever he said that meant the same thing?) Those in the know are all tweeting and twittering now. How long, I wonder, can that possibly remain the cutting edge before the edge moves farther out, leaving even tweets behind?

And here I am, over in the slow lane--but what do you expect from an unrepentant, thoroughly unreconstructed bookseller? I still read printed books, books printed on paper, books bound in cardboard and sometimes (this is becoming a thing of the past, too) cloth or even—gasp!—leather. As for writing, despite the ease of composing on a keyboard, where changes can be made with simple fingertaps, I still from time to time enjoy the feel of a rollerball pen (no, don’t use a quill) on the soft yellow paper of a nice, fat legal pad. Folding the full page over around the cardboard backing gives me a sense of accomplishment (just thinking about it makes me sigh happily) that I don’t get when a new blank Word page pops onto the screen in front of me.

“Are you twittering?” a market-savvy friend asked recently. Maybe she asked, “Are you twittering yet?” I suppose I should never say “Never” (why do people always say that? Shouldn’t we be as careful with always as never?), but so far my feeling is that twittering isn’t me. My sisters, my stepdaughters, my nephews are all on Facebook, which is what convinced me to get on board, and I understand now what one of them said in its favor, that she likes the immediacy. I do get it. It’s a little like riding your bike down a city or suburban street and calling out greetings to people you know as you ride by. That can be very satisfying, gratifying. From my way of thinking, though, it’s no substitute for a blog, at least the way I approach blogging, which is as a slow, rambling walk in the woods. I enjoy other people’s blogs because of that serendipitous chance to drop in on another life, to walk in someone else’s woods (metaphorically speaking), to see a different natural world (maybe mountains instead of woods, maybe a different country altogether) and to share thoughts that might otherwise never have sprung into my mind.

I’m disappointed to see bloggers whose pages I’ve enjoyed dropping away from regular postings. I miss my leisurely visits with them. Is there any connection, I wonder, between lowered attention span in school children and our country’s credit card debt problem? The more gratification becomes instant, the more demand there is for instant gratification, and then the rush is on, the hurry from one gratification to the next, with no time for either true desire or real present enjoyment.

Here is this moment in my life. Sun dapples the tall grass in the popple grove outside my window. Birds sing. Forget-me-nots bloom china blue, reminding me of Don and Suzanne and the day I brought the first clumps of these flowers home from their Glen Arbor studio, years ago. Earlier, before the sun had topped the trees, Sarah and I were out in the tall grass. I wore my tall barn boots, but the bottoms of my pants still got wet, and I can feel that now, so the walk of half an hour ago is part of this moment, too. After the walk, we came indoors, and I read another chapter of A Vanished World, by Anne Gertrude Sneller, who writes of how the Civil War, though it occurred during her mother’s childhood, seemed very much a part of her own life because everyone still talked about it, and fully a third of her school history book was devoted to the conflict, taking pupils through battle by battle, general by general. She writes of her grandfather’s house and the flowers in her aunt’s garden:
The old English names of flowers had not yet been given heavy and unmusical Latin ones, which show botanical knowledge, but have no effect upon the imagination. When we spoke of morning glories, larkspur, marigold, four o’clocks, bleeding hearts, honeysuckle, forget-me-not, and all the other lovely ones, we knew their opening and closing time and their shape and color from their names.

Sneller’s world has not vanished. I open the cover of her book and enter her world. My own world has rich layers of books and paintings, readers and writers, sun and rain, home, travel, friends, family, dog, poetry, morning mist, ephemeral blossoms, waves gentle or crashing, small stones, glorious sunsets and so much more. If you don’t have time to linger, wave as you speed by. I hope I’ll still be here when you have “more time.”


Dawn Parker said...

Time spent with a book is never wasted. Time spent in Northport is never wasted.
Time spent in Northport goes too fast. The gratification of a cinnamon twist is almost instant, but meant to be enjoyed slowly.
(Poetry of a sort, I guess)

Gerry said...

Time is the one thing we'll never have more of. That's why I like to savor what I have in the company of people who enrich my life with their ideas, their humor, their artistry--and especially their friendship.

I'm not sure any of that tweets real effectively.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn and Gerry, thank you for your comments. We all agree, it seems, on the importance of enjoying our lives as we live them, the only way they can be enjoyed, all of it unrepeatable, never to return. In a few minutes I'll be going outdoors to hang laundry on the line in the morning sun. Paradise enow.