Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What A Modern Man Really Needs

"Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining." (Jef Raskin, developer of the Apple Macintosh)

I love computers.
I hate computers.

I have a college degree.  I've been using computers, for business and pleasure, for over a quarter century now.  So, naturally, I think I know what I'm doing when I'm sitting at my desk here, plinking away on my Dell, or when I'm clicking and whizzing at the speed of light around the Internet.  My computer is my willing servant - delivering the answer to any question I ask at the drop of a Google.  I am a Microsoft maestro.  Call me a "21st Century Man" - I am competent and connected!

But every now and then, out of the blue, when I least expect it...Life reminds me who is really the servant of whom.

Despite the fact that I've asked nothing more of it than I ever have...Even though I've always been kind to it, and gentle, and polite...I've dusted it, and inspected it...Disinfected it, inside and out...Been the perfect, loving caretaker...

My computer freezes.
The download gets lost in the wilds of cyberspace.
The cursor sullenly blinks at me, taunting me with its silence.

And I no longer feel like a "21st Century Man", master of all he surveys.

Instead, as I stare at the screen, I feel more like a lonely, cold Neanderthal, shivering and staring into the flickering fire, wondering what mysterious alchemy - what magic from the gods - created this object in front of me.  And just as Alley Oop would lean over and desperately blow on the flickering flames to keep them alive, I also know only one thing to do to rekindle my Kindle.

Push restart.
Don't ask me why.
Only the gods possess such divine knowledge.

What's the most valuable "software" that I'm required to use with every technological marvel designed to make my life easier?


Now where did I leave my goose quill and inkpot?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Time For A Checkup

I've always liked this quote from Proust - the challenge to have "new eyes" as I go through life.  And this quote came to mind this afternoon as I was sitting at my desk, looking out the window at the world.  What do I see?  What "eyes" am I using as I look out?  Do I see "the same old thing", or is there something new to discover? 

So, instead of sitting here trying to think of something to write about, I'll try just writing about what I see - try to exercise a new set of eyes...peer out through a "clean pair of bifocals" and let something new touch me.

I see...
  • A tiny yellow rose gently leans against my window, surrounded by five sibling buds, ready to pop open.  On the window behind them, there are wet drops - perhaps beads of "posey perspiration" as the buds strain to catch up to their "big brother" before they all have to go in for the winter?
  • Elsewhere in the front yard, I see other examples of some plants still lazily lounging and blooming like it's still summer, while others are busily putting on their fall "coats" and getting ready for chillier times.  A pink foxglove and an orange sunflower definitely look "underdressed", shivering in the breeze.  But the trees - maples, alders, oaks, and poplars - look snug and happy in their red and orange and yellow coats.
  • I see green hills in the distance, crowned by gray, fluffy clouds.  But then, right across the middle of the hills, a band of white sunshine flashes and glows for just a few minutes, warming the rocks and trees underneath.  And as I struggle to find the words to describe this, it fades away as the clouds shift and settle into a cozier spot in the sky.
  • As I look at the trees, I see them rustle and sway as the wind sweeps by them.  But it isn't one wind - "the wind".  It seems like each tree and plant has it's own personal wind that plays with it:  the arbor vitae just gently sway with their wind; the wild rose bush shakes and shimmies like a go-go dancer with its wind; the maple laughs and chuckles as its wind playfully tickles it.  And the little crabapple tree in the lawn sadly droops its head for a moment - no breeze buddy to play with - and then a friendly gust sneaks up and says "Boo!" - and the crabapple shakes and giggles for a moment.
The world I see outside seemed so still and quiet when I first began to look at it.  But then I could see it was so full of life.  Was that life always there?  Or did my fertile imagination simply paint a story that pleased it?

"The question is not what you look at, but what you see." (Henry David Thoreau)

I guess it all depends on which eyes you use to look out of:  the eyes of the mind, or the eyes of the heart.  This exercise has shown me there's no question that there is life outside of my window, outside of me, that I rarely stop to look it.  Who's to say that roses don't sweat, or that trees don't wear sweaters, or that clouds like to snuggle, or that the wind loves to tickle and tease the trees, who can laugh and giggle?

I'd say it's time for some "new eyes".  There's a whole big world out there, just waiting to be seen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two Whispers in My Ear

"Being a writer is having angels whisper in your ear - and devils, too."  (Graycie Harmon)

My, my...it's been awhile since I sat and wrote.  I can probably bluster and shuffle, and come up with all sorts of reasons why:  Been busy, been tired, been sick, ad infinitum.  But I know the real reason why I haven't written.

"...And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." (Friedrich Nietzsche)

I haven't wanted to "stare into the emptiness".  I don't know much about Nietzsche; seems like kind of a grim guy (but probably not unusual for a Teutonic philosopher!).  But I understand a little of what he said above.  I wanted to use writing as more than just a way to convey information, or to amuse.  I wanted to use it to explore myself - to find a "voice".  But there's something about exploring that the history books never tell you.  Something that I never remember them telling me as I read about Columbus and Cook, Hudson and Hillary, Polo and Peary...Stanley and Shackleton...

Real exploration can be scary stuff!  That is, if you really are trying to "go someplace you've never been".  You can begin by "hugging the shores" and only "going out so far".  But sooner or later, you have to head out into the darkness - not knowing a thing about where you might wind up, or what you might run into once you take that first step.  And sometimes, I think, the biggest deterrent can be the thought of not finding ANYTHING there.

I like to think that I'm always filled with light, and charm, and wit, and stories, and clever turns of phrases galore.  And when those times come, it's as if little angels are whispering in my ear:  tickling my mind and making my fingers dance across the keys. 

But I've also come to experience times when it's not a little angel whispering in my ear, but a little devil.  Not a big scary, whip cracking, fire-breathing "Balrog" of a devil.  No.  Just a little imp.  Kind of looks like Sleepy or Dopey of "Seven Dwarves" fame.  And what he whispers doesn't tickle my mind.  Instead, he lulls me to sleep.  "Go rest.", he sighs.  "Writing's awfully hard work. You can always do it tomorrow."  "Besides," he yawns, "There's nothing to see here.  Let's go have some ice cream".

The funny thing is that as long as I'm only listening to the imp with half an ear, not really paying attention - he sounds convincing.  But when I manage to hear his weaselly voice, and give him my full attention, only then do I realize what a charlatan he is.

Because when I'm willing to really listen to his silly, somnambulistic spiel; willing to look into the emptiness and not turn away, I'm always offered a clear choice.

Do I want to stay asleep, or do I want to live...to try something new and fresh?
Do I want to stay "safe and secure" in the harbor of my self, or do I want to take a risk?  Step out into the Sargasso Sea within - find myself becalmed for awhile. But then push ahead and be rewarded for the effort?
Do I just want to "think about stuff", or do I want to actually DO something?

And then I know the angel's back, whispering in my ear.  And I answer with a smile, just as one of my favorite explorers, Meriwether Lewis, did so often in his journals.

"We proceeded on."

And look what I stumbled on to...another "pearl"  There's always something new to learn, if I'm willing to look and listen.