I sit here in Corporate Coffee Shop with a friend. My friend and I aren't seeing eye to eye at the moment. We look at each other across the table warily. I don't trust her, and I can't figure out exactly what she's feeling. There is still a mutual need between us that keeps us tied to each other, but our relationship has been a little rocky lately. Nameless tells me that she is trying to come between us. He might be right. (Though I could and have said the same for some of Nameless' friends as well.)
I've named my friend Miss Marple. Literally. I went in and programmed the name. My friend is my Samsung Galaxy III smartphone. I just now picked it up and checked a website. In my car outside of the coffee shop I checked all of my notifications for Facebook before I turned the engine off. Is this healthy? Nameless accuses me of being addicted to it. Is he right?
When I first got the new phone my neck started aching from looking down at it. It was a new toy and I was looking at it constantly. I played the games and got bored with them. I downloaded the Nook app for it, so that I could read anytime, anywhere. I love having a camera and phone in one device. (These cameras are incredible.) It has my calendar; it has my address book, the internet, maps. It is superbly useful.
One of Nameless' friends – the one I took issue with earlier – is the TV. He has it on at all times. It's background noise for him, which I can understand. I generally keep music going for the same reason. However, I find it difficult to be in the presence of a television (one that's turned on) and not stare at it. It sucks my brain out. Even commercials. Especially commercials, I'd say. Those people know what they're doing when they make them. Somebody can be talking to me and I hear nothing of what they're saying because I'm looking at the TV and my mind his held hostage. I don't turn my TV on at home; I don't like the way it makes me feel. It's too much background noise; too much going on. It raises the anxiety level and I can't pay attention, even if it's in the other room. Nameless will have a dinner party and if the TV is on in the next room I find it difficult to pay attention to what people are saying.
I've noticed something about me and my phone. It involves the coffee shop, which is why I came here to write this. I used to sit here and read. I'd get to know some of the people who come in regularly and chat a little. I eventually bought a Nook eReader. That was a step up technologically. (There's not much more room in my apartment for books.) Lately, however, I've noticed that I don't read as much as I used to. Not just in the coffee shop; I just don't read as much. It started when I got my smartphone. The other day I left my phone at home when I went to work. On my way home I stopped at Corporate Coffee Shop because I had my Nook with me. I didn't read, though. I stared at people and not in an interesting way. My hands felt like they wanted to reach for something. I'd read half a page and I'd look up. I couldn't get lost in my book like I used to. What has happened to me? Is my smartphone as big a brain-sucker as the television? Or bigger, even? I mean, it doesn't even have to be making a noise or showing anything and it has half of my attention. The smartphone doesn't have the moving images of the TV shows or the conversations and sound effects of commercials. (It would if I'd let it, but I never do.) But still, it sucks me in. I might go to it to look up a word, and I notice that I have an email and facebook notifications. Before I know it, I've put the phone back down 10 minutes later and I never looked up the word I like I started to. If I pick up the phone again, it will all start all over again. I might never learn what that word means.
There is a difference between my smartphone and a TV, though. The smartphone is useful. I need a phone. I like having the calendar and camera on my phone. I could downgrade, but the calendar wouldn't sync with my Google calendar; the camera wouldn't be as good. I wouldn't be able to use it as well to listen to music, which I'm doing right now because the noise here is getting a little out of hand.
Maybe I can retrain myself. Maybe with effort I can learn to not look at Facebook so frequently, and other social media outlets. It would take more than that. I would have to learn to not WANT to look at those things. I would have to learn how to HAVE a smartphone and not feel the NEED to LOOK at it. This runs counter to everything that smartphone programmers are working toward. Of course they want us addicted to our devices. of course they want us to always be looking at it. I would have to be fighting against what Very Intelligent People are doing to get my attention. I would do this because it is a very useful divice to have. It is phone, calendar, texting, camera, internet, social media. All of those things are good. All of those things are healthy. They are fine, taken in moderation. But, can I do it? I have counted 6 times that I've picked up the phone since I started writing this. And writing it has been agony. Words are not flowing; Ideas are not taking shape as easily. The smartphone knows what I'm doing and it's fighting me.
I think I can do it, though. I miss the eArnie that read on rainy days. I miss the me that had a book and read it in the coffee shop without half of my brain wondering what other people were doing in Facebook, etc. Rather than give up the things that are good about it; I will try to take back control of my device. I will keep it in the pocket of my messenger bag. It will take a while. In less than a year my brain is acutely atuned to seeing tiny cues as notifications from Facebook, email and other social things. But, there is too much good to be had with this device to give it up for the sake of some of the vendors that I've invited into it. Dark Side vs. Light Side.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Written in 1953. How accurate it was.
Today I got lost in the supermarket. I don't know why I go there when I'm feeling dizzy, except that I needed groceries and things, it was morning and it makes perfect sense to get up, drink coffee, have breakfast and then go to the store. I should know that being dizzy makes it more difficult. But, if I go home, then I'll just go back to sleep for hours and that won't do anybody any good.
While I was at the store I saw a man, an older man... a very older man... he was looking at light bulbs. My heart went out to him; I don't understand light bulbs any more, either. I sometimes feel like I'm not a part of my own world any more, then something in my mind taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that I never really was part of it to begin with. It's just that sometimes I do a better job of impersonating a normal person than other times.
On NPR the other day I heard a discussion about light bulbs. Frankly, I'm frightened. I can't keep up. Just when I've resigned myself to using florescent bulbs, I'm now being told that I'm a bad, ignorant person if I do. Granted, I did read that they contained mercury and I hated that the world was turning to them, but I'm not the one making the calls here. I'm just trying to keep up. LED lights seem to be the new way to go. Or was it halogen? Maybe halogen was two generations ago...
Not too long ago I took my father shopping. His vision has failed – irreparably it seems – and he needs a ride to the store, to the doctor, etc. He can see a little, especially if the light is bright. But, it's a challenge for somebody who lived for 75 years with relatively good vision to adjust to this limitation. We went around the store; he knew the layout fairly well and was able to get most of what he wanted with minimal assistance. He didn't ask me to grab anything for him; he just took his time looking at things right up next to his face until he found the ones he wanted. My father lives with my sister; he has a little room with a bathroom, small refrigerator, coffee pot and other things so that he can have his own space. Even in the main kitchen he knows his way around. He can cook if he wants to, or make a sandwich. When he stayed with my brother for a week his handicap was rather accentuated. He doesn't know that kitchen or house; so he's not as self-sufficient.
So, back at the supermarket and me passing by in a dizzy spell, glancing at an older man looking – with his face very close to the products – at light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs have been around since around 1870. Imagine going through the depression, battling for work, for money, for food. Having been through the war and ration stamps. Having raised a family, made a home, your kids grew up to raise families of their own, giving you grandkids and then the grandkids growing up and beginning lives and families of their own. All through this, the most you've though about light bulbs is either not having light in the depression, or screwing a bulb in. And for over seventy years your most common concern with light bulbs is turning the light switch on. Then, in your retirement age when you're either becoming more dependent on the younger generation, or that dependence looms over you, suddenly you don't know squat about something you've taken for granted all your life – not only something you've taken for granted, but something of fundamental importance that you've taken for granted. And, not only do you not know squat, the rules are changing almost as soon as they are written.
I'll admit that I don't keep up, but the last time I checked incandescent bulbs were still on the shelf at the store. But, what frightens me is ending up like that man I saw, or like my father. I don't have children to come take me to the store. I never got around to children. (I can hear my Catholic friends chiding me about the importance of family, and all I can say to them is that if I HAD had children, they would have hated me and our combined incomes wouldn't be enough to cover the cost of the psychologist bills for them and for me. I don't think I was ever father material. Uncle, maybe. Father, no.) So what's going to happen when I'm old and unable to walk very far or see very far? And then suddenly somebody changes all the rules on me. I will be like my father in my younger brother's house. I won't know my way around and I don't know that I will have it in me to keep up. Hell, I haven't kept up this far. I go to the store and people look at me like I'm demented as it is. What am I going to do when I actually AM demented? If something as simple and fundamental as turning on a light switch isn't safe from the winds of change, how will I fare when I'm too frail to fight?
I love finding a good book. Not just any old read, but a book that I can spend time with, get to know, take to coffee, snuggle up with on the sofa. A book that captures my mind and leaves me feeling its lack while I'm at work, that distracts me when I'm hanging out with friends. A book for which I will steal away during a dinner party for a few covert pages.
Sometimes I find myself looking at used books. It might be at a used bookstore, or a thrift store that sells books. I might be glancing at titles in a garage sale or coveting novels on somebody's bookshelf. I'm glancing through the shiny dust covers and something catches my eye – something different, something interesting. Something promising. Like the furtive eye contact made from across the room with a stranger. Something in their eyes says that they, too, are looking for something. Maybe you're looking for the same thing - be it romance, lust or just to get the hell out of there with somebody and have an intelligent conversation. Maybe what you're longing for doesn't correspond with their needs; maybe you'll never even know. But the spark happened and it will not be ignored. This first contact stirs something in the belly, and I felt this the other day as I was looking at the hardcovers on top of the bookcase in the mass market paperback mystery section of a used bookstore. Between the garish and tawdry dustcovers a trade paperback in a matt, darker-color was tucked in, with typeface that called attention to itself by being subtle – a lighter color on the darker background – along with filligree in just slightly darker shade than the type. This could be my next romance. Something just felt right in the second that my eye passed over the spine. A couple of seconds later, though, I realized that I already knew this work. We had already spent our time together on the sofa, in the coffee shop and even – dare I write it here – in my bed. I had held it in my hand as I talked with friends, so that I could feel its presence even when I wasn't able to read its pages. Indeed this one was special; the design on the cover did not lie. Our affair was intense and lasted longer than most of my other affairs. But, it had already come to its inevitable end, and oh, but it's sad when a love affair dies – as the song says.
It's too soon yet, Meaning of Night. Maybe someday we will revisit our romance, but for now, love, let us keep fond the memories we have of each other.
"This must be the worst Agatha Christie book ever."
"The math is off, so badly and so often..."
I heard a story on NPR the other day in which a professor had analyzed several of Agatha Christie's novels. He fed the text of a selection of them that spanned her career into a computer. He was looking at what he referred to as "indefinite words" (thing, something, anything, etc) and he also noted the number of different words used. Apparently in her penultimate novel, Elephants Can Remember, her vocabulary dropped by 20 percent and her use of these indefinite words spiked. It has been speculated that Dame Agatha suffered Alzheimer's disease.
I have loved her books. I read the Miss Marple series, then reluctantly read the Poirot series - start to finish. In order. (I ended up loving the Poirot books as well, but for entirely different reasons.) In the later novels a character named Ariadne Oliver was somewhat of a sidekick to Poirot. She was a writer, a scatty writer who seems very much to be a way for Christie to poke fun at herself through her novels.
I also read her Autobiography. Hers wasn't a glamorous, action-packed life that one would associate with a celebrity, but Autobiography was frank and sincere. She indicated that she wrote her first mystery because she had time on her hands and it was a kind of challenge her sister had given her. She had studied piano and singing. She had done needlepoint. Writing was sort of the next step. She referred to her work as "definitely low-brow". I never read that she began - or continued - writing because of a fire inside to write, a calling or an inner need to write. She looked at it financially. If she produced one book a year she could live on that. (Granted, she also said that she could write whatever she wanted to aside from that, which gave her time to write other non-mystery books that may or may not sell.) Ariadne thought to herself in Elephants Can Remember that she wasn't necessarily Noble, as one reader had called her, "She was a lucky woman who had established a happy knack of writing what quite a lot of people wanted to read."
Back to the novel. The NPR story indicated that she might have been expressing her mental situation in the book. (My goodness, she was 81 years old when she wrote Elephants Can Remember. I probably would have gotten bored of the whole thing much earlier than that.) I had already read this book, but hearing the story on the radio I had to read it again. This time it was different for me. That is to say that I took note of the atmosphere more than I previously had. It has a slight air of melancholy and even Hercule Poirot waxes nostalgic in thinking about his relationship with Ariadne. People complained that it was confusing trying to keep up with the disparate events and conversations, that there were discrepancies in the timing. The second time I read it I noticed those. Some of them were clearly discrepancies, but some of them were - it seems to me - part of the story.
The murder is one that happened in the past. How far back in the past is part of the question. Ariadne sets out to interview "Elephants" because elephants can remember. That is the way of this book - what people remember and why. How, even when people remember things incorrectly, it can be a good clue, because there is probably a reason that they remembered them that way. The events changed from one person's story to the next. The murder was 10 years ago, 15, 12. The ages of the people involved changed or were inconsistent with information that other people told Ariadne. But, that's the way of people who remember.
The murder in question was a tragedy; everybody agreed about that. And there seemed to be a certain sadness in everybody when talking about it. Even people who would love to gossip, even people who knew very little about it. Perhaps it was Ariadne projecting her weariness. Because she was weary. She was tired. It seems that she didn't want to continue investigating and even her natural curiosity wasn't enough to keep her going. Her goddaughter is why she continued. Her goddaughter feared that she might have inherited a genetic disposition to mental disorder and was hesitant to marry the man she loved.
If Christie was having trouble with memory, maybe this was her way of expressing it. So many people have said that it was one of her worst novels. But, maybe it is a better work of art if one looks at it from a different perspective. Don't look at it so much as a mystery. Set aside all of the other mysteries that she wrote, in which one took every little fact into consideration when trying to figure out whodunnit. Set aside the inconsistencies, or rather look at them in a different way. What if the book is not so much about a mystery as it is about memory. What if Dame Agatha was painting a picture of what life is like when one begins to lose their memory. The person is confused, lost in the details that are remembered incorrectly, tired from trying to think and remember, a little sad that they aren't as lucid as they once were. Of course she would present this painting in a mystery novel; that's what she was known for, that would be the best way to get people to read it. She had already established a character she could use to represent herself. It's brilliant, and beautiful and a little sad. But, she was woman who loved life. She did so much. And through it all, she kept writing.
What a beautiful day. It's been unusually cold this winter; we've had several cold snaps in which it froze. The school districts have closed several times due to "Inclement weather", but that simply means that it might freeze with precipitation, which could lead to ice on bridges. And indeed, 50-car pile-ups happened on more than one occasion. The plants on my porch have mostly died and I cut them all back last week.
But, today it was clear, the sun was out and it went from 45º to 73º. I wore a decent T-shirt under my hoody so that when it warmed up I could take the outer layer off. I went to Corporate Coffee Shop to start with. I intended to go home and work around the condo, but I decided to enjoy the day. Walk around outside. Be out of the condo.
This is where I think that things always get a little odd, where things go wrong. I was reading a book and it mentioned the impression that a character got when entering a building. I was thinking that I should make my home be like that. I have stuff to make it impressive and homey, but I wasn't at home. I was out enjoying the weather. I have copies of book jackets that I've been meaning to frame and hang. (I ordered a reprint of an Agatha Christie novel - in exactly the original style, typefaces and dust jacket and everything - that I found particularly impressive [for reasons other than just the novel itself.] If you're interested, it's http://www.bookdepository.com.) I've been meaning to hang copies of the cover art in my office space to inspire me to write. I have pottery that I've acquired from artist friends of Nameless. It's still in bags wrapped in bubble wrap. I've made The Room more presentable and comfortable, but I'm not in there writing. I'm out and about at thrift stores and used book stores looking for things to make my home cool, never mind that I still have things that I've acquired to make it cool and that stuff is not yet adorning my home or making anything fabulous. It's just waiting.
I am back in the habit of walking around my home and not really seeing, like putting blinders on a horse or filters on my eyes. Like selective hearing, but for vision. I can see the kitchen, but I don't see the stuff on the floor right outside the kitchen door. I see my table, but not the stuff piled on top of it.
So, I found a couple of frames for the book jackets. I found coffee and the sun and a beautiful day. I found a couple of books that I need to have on my shelves. Now, I'm at home with the griddle heating up so that I can make a petite sandwich for dinner and I have the urge to open my eyes and look around at my home and try to make it better.