for the information age



These bite-sized stories chronicle my efforts, both pitiful and successful,

to understand the world and our place in it.


My hope is that they help you do the same.

christmas motive - cross section of red

An emoji is like red lipstick – it's super on lots of people, but not great on me; I try it and wipe it off. But people are sending flowers and hearts and sunglasses and cats and smiley faces – rows and rows of images. Grown-ups are sending emojis. People who take themselves seriously are sending emojis. Are emojis just wacky cartoons, or is something more profound going on?

The smiley face has evolved, and can now be wincing, hopeful, bored, confused, loving. Nuanced emotions are at our fingertips. The crying happy face, for example -- what words for that one? When words fail, are people reaching for a more potent tool to say the thing they mean to say? Are emojis giving voice to our inner complexities, our vulnerabilities? Are they connecting us more intimately to each other? I mean, are we making a kind of poetry with tiny pictures?

I think I'm waiting for emojis to become more beautiful, more Vermeer and less Looney Tunes. But, now that I think about it, the emoji will probably become even zanier. Emojis work because they are funny -- they are Trojan horses, truths in adorable costumes. Emojis are at once happy and shockingly evocative. And there is beauty in that.

Often, something in the book I am reading reminds me of something I ought to do on my phone. I read the word meteorologist, which prompts me to think, I ought to check the weather. As I reach for my phone to check the weather app, I glance out of the window and see that a grey mist has settled; it is overcast. That is the weather. With great difficultly, I put my phone down and do not check.

And so it goes. I read a paragraph or two. I need to check my phone. I return to the book. Try to find my place. Read a bit more. Check my phone.

My hunch is that there are others like me out there – people who have books open in their laps and phones in their hands. People who keep novels in their cars, on their nightstands, in wobbly stacks on the floor. And have cellphones in their hands. Maybe we should make a book group – one where we all make a real effort to get to the end of a story.

I keep two notebooks on my desk.

The first notebook is over-sized – I bought it at an extravagant home store and thought, this will change my life. In the giant notebook, I make tidy, bullet-pointed lists of everything I must do: edit the document, schedule the meeting, pay the exterminator, defrost the chicken. Cuticle cream, cheaper data plan, protein powder, heart worm pills. I feel a strange almost-satisfaction as I check things off this list. It means I am moving, adult-like, through the day. It means I matter.

The second notebook has a worn cover and unlined pages. It is a mess. Pages are dog-eared, words are scrawled sideways, in cursive or all caps, arrows point from one scribble to another. Often, I have to squint and turn the notebook upside-down to decipher what I have written. I jot down books to read. Art to look at. Poetry fragments. Ideas. Phrases I hear people say that are so lovely, they make me want to weep. The beginnings of things I mean to write – a piece about how tired I am of my body. A description of what gardenia smells like – sweet and putrid.

Something I want to write in notebook #2, but do not: burn notebook #1.