Disconnecting Through Connection

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In a book I read a few weeks ago (author Jim Sterba’s ‘Frankie’s Place’), Jim refers to reading material that one brings into the bathroom to read as “toi lit.” This term stayed with me-I found it way too amusing. It can be seen as a reflection of times that have changed. Think about it. I’ve always been a veracious reader; that hasn’t changed. But I used to enjoy reading ‘the newspaper.’ That was my alone time pleasure. The ‘local’ paperboy is just not a thing anymore.

I had a paperboy when I lived across town; a very dependable, polite and cheerful young man with Downs Syndrome. I also had a Siamese cat named Sam; short for Samantha. She liked vocalizing and had a sound for everything she did; a whole array of sounds. One guttural yowl was used when she was walking through the house with a sock in her mouth. It was her “sock stealing meowl.” She had a coin stealing chirp too. She’d see a penny; a dime, quarter or nickel on the counter or bedside stand and next thing you know she was traipsing through the house with a coin delicately held between her teeth. She liked to place it on the shiny hardwood living room floor and swat the coins around. Then she’d pick one up and walk around some more with it between her teeth just so.

If the paperboy showed up and I was short a few coins to pay him, I’d lift a throw rug or two and there I would find the exact amount I needed to pay him.

I don’t bother with a newspaper anymore. First of all, the local paperboy has gone by the wayside; replaced by early risers in family sedans who’ve awakened early to throw papers onto porches as a second means of income… It’s depersonalized now and the paper itself seems to be less and less about local news- and also it’s WAY more expensive to get a paper these days. I don’t even remember when I last saw a newspaper machine; there used to be one in walking distance.

“Breaking” news pops up on my Smart Phone now in alerts. If someone mentions, “Did you hear about the ___?” this is not my reply: “Really? I’ll have to get a newspaper.” Because I can ‘look it up’ immediately.

It’s all about connectivity.

I don’t have to tell you it only costs the price of a monthly wi-fi connection to make a call overseas or even Skype someone. Used to be, a call abroad could really set back your phone bill. Same with pictures. Phones are capable of video-chats face to face, they look up news and everything else. No more adolescents filching nudie mags-they have only to push a button now.

Phones have a built in calculator, weather forecast, calendar, note writing section (eliminating the need to carry pen and paper around or handheld shopping lists), games, and oh yeah- they make actual phone calls… But people seldom do that, right? They text now.

These highly connected “smart” phones ensure there’s always a camera on hand too. My agent’s assistant William once asked me for a picture for a book I’d written. After sending several to him which he quickly deemed unusable, he finally said, “Just take a picture with your cell phone. A lot of them take better pictures than cameras these days.” I did and that’s the photo he ended up using.

I see internet connections as modern miracles really. A child’s friend moves away and yet they never cut ties the way our generation did when someone moved. They are still connected: Skype, Tumblr, Facebook, IMs, and phone texting. Imagine invisible energy, thinner than spider’s silk, connecting everyone. It’s almost psychic; the way the complex circuitry of our brains are plugged in to the complex circuitry of the world and tuned out to what’s right in front of our noses. We achieve a change, and another unexpected result comes about.

I read this true story (in Sterba’s book) recently about former President Nixon’s red setter dog who used to chew up the rug in the Oval Office. So Nixon used to toss dog biscuits at the dog to give him to chew on instead. This diverted him for a little while but the dog would go right on chewing the rug, and of course Nixon would throw more biscuits at him. Finally, after observing this over and over, Henry Kissinger remarked, “Mr. President, you’re teaching the dog to chew the rug.”

It’s like that with “progress.” With change. We think we are getting one result when in fact, when viewed from another perspective, the situation can be seen in an entirely different way. It’s worth stating again: With connection, comes disconnection too.

When I was younger and lived with my parents across from a cow pasture, there was a barbed wire fence to keep the cows in their place. Within walking distance from our grey house was a factory called “ManBarrier” and it is just as it sounds: they manufactured fences just like this to be used at prisons.

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I would ride my bike around the neighborhood and think, I know those are sharp as razors. I wonder if at times little birds land on the ManBarrier wires and cut up their little feet.

One thing truly sets in motion other things. There is a ‘discovery tool’ called Occam’s Razor, which I’m sure you know is not an irrefutable scientific thing. It’s a way to develop theories which states that there are often an incomprehensive amount of complex alternatives to a problem or situation and sometimes the preferable theories are the simplest.

I often see people interviewed on their hundredth birthdays, and a question usually asked is, “What changes have you seen in the world in your century?” The answers are fascinating of course.

I’m a little over halfway to that milestone and already IPhones are the new toi lit.

When my mother’s health was failing (2005-2007), she often became forgetful. She and my father had a vegetable garden and would often give me bags of food. One time I called her up and asked, “What is the yellow thing in the bag? The curly yellow vegetable?”

“That’s a squash. They’re delicious,” she’d replied.

I boiled it, buttered it, salt and peppered it, put a forkful in my mouth, and jumped up so fast, spitting and sputtering that mouthful all over the table; that the chair I was sitting in nearly tipped over! Turns out she’d unknowingly given me a decorative gourd to eat. TIP: don’t eat them. The bitter taste stays with you. A long long time.

It’s like this with change. I abhor it. I crave it, too.

In retrospect, the eating of that gourd (actually I never got it past the tastebuds and did not swallow it) is a metaphor; a bitter pill if you will, a flashing “Dangerous Curves Ahead” warning that my mother was failing. I just didn’t know it at the time, or wasn’t at a place where I could accept it, that this change in her was a sign that she would not be with us long.

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I’ve deliberately become a person who always looks for the meaning in things. Truthfully, I buy gourds and display them every year and yet I was blind to the obvious: this is an inedible decorative gourd. I should’ve known that sometimes the simpler hypothesis is the right one. But I was blind to it. If my mother said so, then it is true. But people change, they are not infallible.

I’ve been thinking about change a lot because I’m working on a book with very delicate, sensitive issues and reminding myself to explore all perspectives as I write.

Here’s a positive change: Here in the eastern U.S. spring has arrived. It’s almost time to put my Morning Glory shoots in the ground. I think I’ll bring a few starter Morning Glory plants to Elizabeth Stringer-Keefe when I return to Boston this weekend to pick up unsold paintings from the show; as a small token of appreciation for all she’s done. I’ve sold a painting and possible a few more-there has been interest in a few in addition to the one that sold.

That’s all for now folks.

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