stories

for the information age

 

Many of us are having unprecedented digital work, educational, entertainment, medical and communication experiences. While others are on on the frontlines, providing essential services.  

 

How we can maintain our humanity, awareness of our selves and others through this amazing evolution? After all, we must live. We must work. We must love. We must, from time to time, look up and see the moon, we must see one another. These bite-sized stories chronicle my efforts, both pitiful and successful, to keep the digital world in its place – as a fantastically powerful and useful tool rather than an all-consuming way of life.

 

My hope is that they help you do the same.

christmas motive - cross section of red

One summer, we rented a house by the bay. The house was full of spiders and the kitchen smelled of food gone bad. While my husband took the kids to the beach, I cleaned the refrigerator and vacuumed cobwebs from beneath the beds. I did laundry, folded tiny shirts and big threadbare towels. I swept sand out of the living room and cut watermelon into wet, red cubes. I wiped the cutting board clean. But no matter what I did, the place still smelled iffy.


The house did have an outdoor shower -- a crude spigot over a slatted cedar floor. Every evening, I stood under the warm spray, looked out at the bay and the peninsula of green scrub that jutted into the blue. A whole vacation can happen in a few delicate moments.


It was summer the first time I read James Joyce's novella, The Dead. I read it in that tiny bed by the sea with my husband snoring quietly beside me. At the time, our children were little and we were young. I am not sure what I thought of the story, except that I could only read it in the deep of night when everyone – husband, children, everyone – was bathed, fed, fast asleep, and there was nothing left of the day but the sound of bay waves lapping the pebbled shore. On some nights, an offshore breeze made the old wooden windows rattle in their frames. I turned the pages quietly, tilted the slim book towards the dim light of the lamp.


I don't know why I pulled the tiny volume off of the bookshelf today and hungrily reread it in one sitting; this time, this reading, I am struck. Later, when my husband comes into the kitchen, lifts the pot lid to see what’s for dinner, I tell him, you know, I’ve just read probably the most beautiful thing ever written, and he says, oh, then asks after our son, who had some difficulty today. So that I do not try to explain to him what Joyce has done -- how he has made in one small story the universe of human misunderstanding. ­­­

Updated: May 16


In each of my childhood memories, smoke plumes across the scene. My parents smoked in the car, tipped ashes out of the triangular window, smashed butts into the metal ashtray. They smoked as they cooked, cleaned, weeded the garden. When money ran low, the shopping list looked like this: milk, eggs, bread, case of Marlboro Reds. Sometimes my parents waved at the smoke round their heads, as if it were a pesky fly. But mostly, they loved it. In their marriage, smoking was glue, one thing they shared. When they passed a lit cigarette back-and-forth, taking long, slow drags from the common square, it was an act of intimacy. Even when they could hardly tolerate each other, they smoked well together. This gave us hope.


My father smoked as he wrote articles for the newspaper, wire-rimmed spectacles down on nose, cigarette dangling from lips. For him, smoking and writing were entwined – the DNA of one wound into the other. He always acknowledged that smoking was, what he called, a nasty habit. But he was unable to stop. Or unwilling.


When the lung cancer diagnosis came, my father continued to smoke a pack a day. And as he lay dying in a hospice bed, he held an invisible cigarette between two upright fingers, moving it to and from his lips. In its final push, the cancer metastasized to his brain and he began to vanish in earnest. The last time I saw him, he looked at me, took a puff off of the phantom cigarette and said, do you know, I have a little girl who looks just like you?


I was twenty-six and he was gone.


Habits are just the things we do over and over. We all have them. Some habits will devour everything we love and do. Others bind us to the life we want to live.