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Archive for August, 2010

“Shed a Little Light” by James Taylor. It’s a joyful tribute.

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Decided I wouldn’t read much news today, so I spent my first cup of coffee reading the Sunday comics. Every single one. Got to “Pickles”, the one about the older couple, retired, spending too much time together. But in this one the woman was out having lunch with a friend. She says, “I always carry change with me in case I need to use a pay phone. I  know that sounds silly and outdated, because I do have a cell phone in my purse.”

And I realized that’s me! Whether it’s my regular purse or a lighter one for shopping or a picnic, I always put two quarters in. With my cell phone. I do it automatically. If I had no cell phone coverage and urgently needed to make a call, I’d probably ask someone if I could borrow their cell phone. I don’t think it would even occur to me to look for a payphone. Are there any left?

But my mother trained me well.

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Oh, the joy of discovery just when you’re turning circles on the straight road of reason. I’ve been pondering In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider.

His essay explores what we lose as our physical book collections, gathered by mind, heart and soul, are replaced with millions of restless individual books digitized mainly by google and amazon.

“Memory theater”comes from Frances Yate’s book The Art of Memory. I did not know that from the classical period through the Renaissance era people used mnemonic techniques to  retain, and thus pass along, “vast stores of knowledge before the invention of the printed page.”

Schneider writes: “In those millennia between the advent of knowledge worth clinging to and the invention of the printed word, the Western mind had a desperate obsession with memory—or, one could say, a sensible concern. The art of memory made possible the health of one’s soul, the possession of one’s culture, and the means of reaching God.”

He continues:

“In the age of inexpensive, printed books, our memory theaters have become both richer and more banal; we have entrusted them to our bookshelves rather than to tricks of mental contortion or cosmic schemata. As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored. Without the bookshelf’s landscape to turn to, that manifest remainder from a lifetime of reading, how would one think? What would one write?”

And for me: “How would one feel?”

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I admire people who can write about tragedy in their lives, especially when it’s fresh. Famous people like Joan Didion writing about her husband’s death, even while losing her daughter. Christopher Hitchens while most likely dying of cancer. Regular people who manage to privately journal through their grief and anger. I’ve never been able to. Death in the family, serious illness…the writing part of my brain screams “abort abort!” and slinks behind a television shoveling mindless trash into the void.

Three weeks ago I didn’t suffer a tragedy. No one died or got sick. No one was injured physically. I just got robbed. Some creep came in through my front window, took my tv, laptops, camera, jewelry, and many small items that  had value only to me. My grandmother’s broken watch. A cedar box from my great grandparents. A small gift for a friend not yet given. Paper shillings from a dream trip to Kenya…

I lost video of my grandson’s preschool graduation ceremony, gone with my digital camera. A gold necklace from my mother. Bracelets my niece made. Most of my jewelry were gifts. Every piece, gone.

And some creep went through my dresser drawers, my closet.  Dumped trash on my bed.

I haven’t been able to write a word.

I should have written about the surreal episode with the police, sweat dripping from their noses onto my dresser, my window, as they tried to get fingerprints and instead left their shoe prints on my carpet. About how I could not remember the color of my laptop or the brand of my television as they stared at me with their little notepads open. Or about the cold insurance claims man who determined replacement value of my stuff by shopping on the internet but couldn’t manage to type in a URL so I could prove how much I spent on something I really needed to replace.

Or how I scrutinize every person who walks past my house and decide on looks alone that they’re a thief.

Or how my home doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Today I decided I had try to write. Am I feeling better? Not really. Some days. Nights, not so much. I race out of my bedroom when I hear a noise. Lay awake wondering. But today I’ll try to write.

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