Monday, September 16, 2013

Requiem for a Clamshell

Photo credit: Sophie Kalish
I was stirring pasta the other evening when for like the hundredth time – closer to the thousandth, actually – my old clamshell phone slipped from my clutzy hand and crashed to the hard floor, skittering across the tiles. Just then the phone rang, confirming it still worked. I bent down and picked up. My wife was asking what’s for dinner. 
After hanging up, and before returning to the pasta, I took a moment to gaze fondly at the burrs in my Samsung’s battered plastic casing. The scratched and cramped screen. I felt gratitude. Sadness. My little Samsung never failed me. It stood by me for a million or so minutes. 
And now I’m about to clam it shut. Forever.
Next week, with a heavy heart, I plan to buy an iPhone. I can no longer live the life that’s been assigned to me without mobile access to email, the Web, and a decent camera. I’m traveling to New York City to read from my forthcoming novel in Greenwich Village on September 30th. I’ll need to text people for appointments, update my Facebook page. Take nice photos of old friends to post.
My simple Samsung won’t cut it.
For a while I thought of starting a Lonely Clamshell Club, for Luddites like me who own phones like mine. Phones that don’t respond to the name Siri. With cameras barely better than what my daughter constructed in sixth grade from a metal can with a pin hole.
Perhaps we’ll have a requiem. I’ll corral my wife and two dogs and twelve-year daughter, who has experience burying several goldfish and canaries in our backyard. We will dig a small hole and lower the phone into the grave. At the last minute, I’ll snap my fingers and run inside and grab an external floppy adapter I used years ago to back up a long-gone laptop. Gently I’ll place it in the dirt, next to the clamshell, much as Egyptian royalty buried their mummified dead with jewelry and pets. 
Somberly we’ll stand around the small pit, dogs disappointed we’re not burying a canary. Delivering the eulogy, I’d tell how my phone anchored me to the basics even as the world whirled around me, a mess of iPads and Tweets and Emoticons. I purposefully clung to it, not wanting to be distracted by a fancy screen during a hike through the woods. Not wanting to obsessively text, thus ruining my enjoyment of the sad sweet melody of Fur Elise, played by my daughter on the piano.
 We toss spoonfuls of dirt atop bygone technology. We play a cassette tape of “As Time Goes By” on an outdated recorder, as background music for my Samsung’s requiem. It's sung, appropriately, by Sam, the piano player on Casablanca. Then we toss the cassette in the grave too.
And so technology, and time, goes by. May you rest in peace, every obsolete part of you.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

No-Tell Motel for My Muse

Early mornings, without fail, I slip out from under the bed sheets in darkness, softly so as not to wake my wife, and wake the dogs instead. But the other day, as I fumbled for my clothes, a voice startled me.
“Have fun with your mistress,” my wife said.
Without another word she rolled purposefully over in bed, as if that settled it. I knew, of course, she couldn’t mean what she said. But as I stood frozen to the floor, a truth rose in me. I felt the stirrings of guilt – as a husband with a mistress might feel.
A creative writing teacher once told my class that writing ideally should be better than, ahem, sex. That the experience of playing with words and bringing ideas to life on the page is sensual, like foreplay. Discovering a world veiled, at first, by gloom – then clarified, revealing nuances – is a climactic moment writers live for.
If this is true – and I’m not sure it is -- the forest would be the no-tell motel for my muse. Early mornings, no matter what the weather or time of year, I pull into the trailhead at Kinns Road Park, about a mile away from my home, with my dogs and a notebook and pen.
Now the cool September air greets me as I step out of the car into the pre-dawn and unleash my silky terrier and toy poodle. As I follow their bouncing tails down the dimly lit trail, thumbs of trees twirl past. Unseen insects shriek. Then: an unfolding of light. Splotches appear across tree trunks, like paint balls, and in the dawning day I grow visual, scenes unfurling in my mind just like the green canvas before me. I pull out a notepad, even as I walk. The scramble of squirrels makes me jot: Scritch! Scratch! Themes sprout. I think of my next blog topic. I work out a challenge in my novel.
The air warms. My pulse quickens. The forest counsels patience, trees not budging from their assigned places, ruminating in mulch. The counsel calms me as I think of events that have swamped my life, upsetting my meticulous order.
Sometimes, as on a recent gray morning, impulsiveness works better than patience. The sky opens up and vents its wrath, banging cold drops against my skin and notebook pages, smudging ink. I cannot write a word. The drenched dogs turn longingly toward the parking lot. I linger, hoping the sky will clear, but after a few minutes realize it won’t and return home.
My wife hands me a fresh coffee when I return sodden, dripping on the carpet. No need to feel jealous of my time away, I reassure her. Accept you’re co-habiting with an artist. She looks at my soggy notepad, and her arched eyebrows appear unconvinced.
“Why don’t you come with me one day?” I ask.
Too buggy, too rainy, too early, she says. But one morning she does. It’s darker now, deeper into September, breath of change in the air. She grabs my hand on the path as we set out, but I feel awkward, like I’m cheating on the trees.

“Where is she?” she asks, but I sense her black encircling arms. There’s an unfolding as sun cracks through the trees. One moment we are sparring in the shadows, the next, encased by light, we dance to birdsong, maneuvering for space on the path. I hold my wife’s hand for ballast.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Book Goes Live on Amazon!

Hard to believe, but my novel THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYTHING is now live on Amazon! Yes it’s true – you can actually pre-order the book a full six months before its publication on March 11. I am surprised as you are. This is starting to feel scarily real. Something about Amazon confers reality on a book. Here’s the link

First a book cover design, then pre-sales on Amazon. What’s next? Seeing my book on a book shelf?