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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Era of Connectivity

In this era, when is too little a good thing? Yesterday I had the good fortune of having some friends spontaneously decide to mount a memorial moment for my father, dead now more than a month, out here in what might well always stay a kind of diaspora for me, the old granite of New York as opposed to the shifting tectonics of California where my father (never knew what to call him in life, never know what to call him in death), a geophysicist in diaspora from his earliest days, one dedicated to this deepest of movements beneath the earth's surface, now lies buried in a pine box in earthquake country: only one New York friend had met him in person, playing harmonica from deep inside the confines of his favorite black armchair.

Yesterday these particular friends met in the orange-walled studio that has let me sustain one long unbroken Renaissance dream -- one of the greatest gifts to my writing life I have ever known -- and of course conversation always gets interesting when people start sharing ghost stories: the negative space around our lives, however real or fabulistic, starts defining all the important impalpables around the life lived. One friend with a troubled relation with her mother spoke of the beauty of finding how much more direct became her communication with her mother starting seconds after the mother's death.

My own little three-year-old daughter had told me, three days after his death but before the funeral, that she had seen Saba in the house, her grandfather having regained use of his legs, and that his ghostly apparition had scared her; she had needed to run and hide. Here, less is a good thing: "I saw Saba and he could walk and I was scared and ran away."

Similarly, a few hours before his death, while we were still in upstate New York, before we knew he'd been taken to a California hospital, this same daughter had gone on one unstoppably emphatic conversational jag, prior to bedtime, about how sometimes people end up in a hospital, sometimes they come out but lots of times they just plain old die. Okay, I had said, that's great -- deep in the muffliing logic of adults -- think you're ready to put on pajamas now?

Some of my friends would say my little one in her late-breaking hospital update was channeling Saba: that, being less muffled, less filled with information, she was able to receive the message about his impending death a bit more directly. That, in other words, Saba chose the most unfilled flute, a three-year-old girl, in which to pipe the knells.

So one question might be: how empty or filled do you need to be in order to recognize truth? So much of this Internet usage, even this ungainly construct of a blog, has to do with belief that being filled is a good thing. We hide, as readers always do, lurking and taking in information, believing that a particularly contemporary and magical silvery information, all these pixel bullets, will help us better navigate lives which paradoxically have become more complex because we must be superheroes in dodging bullets to accomplish anything of meaning. But we continue on, belief morphing into compulsion, silent in our lurking, navigating, dodging, reading, meanwhile creating some kind of noise, what Benedict Anderson called imagined communities of readers, linked around the page.

Ever since a best friend of mine was killed when I was fourteen, I considered the motivating spirit of writing to be made up of  elegy: in absence, we trace the missing forms, the ghostly outlines, the desire to represent now, in text, the idea or person or movement that happened before, though such scripting can also move into the future, inviting the unknowable in the purest spirit of fiction.

In that orange studio yesterday, we boiled down the gift of my father to me: his belief in my potential. In so many of the recent stories that have flown my way about dead or dying parents, I have come to recognize how rare was this particular commodity: sheer belief.

It takes little, as one friend said yesterday, to love a child. Children are inherently lovable, we tend to think;  yet the belief in a child's future offers, if not a script for the future, at least a bare tablet.

For you, then, imagined community, to fill in below?


PS The kind of blogs I have admired have been those like Conversational Reading (http://conversationalreading.com)  in which a wise docent shares sensibility through a specific terrain, helping cleave a path through the onslaught, or those in which the sensibility is just so raw and candid, you feel your subjectivity exploded, expanded, reframed. Not sure yet what this one will be.


  1. "...inviting the unknowable in the purest spirit of fiction."
    Yes! Love that expression. I try to be a portal for the unknowable to render itself visible when I write.
    I appreciate your thoughtful blog. It is refreshing to read such an articulate communication.
    Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Helena!

    Means much.

    On the advice of a trusted giver of such things, I am heading toward writing a few essays in this next period; not that the blog is going dormant, but rather into a period of winter hibernation. That said, I will occasionally still post bits and pieces of textual comestibles, aiming for tastiness, though the board will not groan; i.e., it will not be the daily sustenance I was imagining (for myself and anyone else who cared to join in) back in the shadows of last week.

    Sending good thoughts for now . . .

  3. i saw his email left open on a computer in the biblioteque, and it was like, e-mail one: redress these cylinders!

  4. Dear Edie, the gifts my parents gave me have made me strong - unconditional love to last a lifetime, belief in my potential to be the individual I have become rather than the socially expected wife of somebody else (Mrs. Joe Schmoe), and willingness to see the good/the light/the individuality in everyone (ah yes, the reason I became a teacher). Your friend's comment about how much more direct her communication became after her mother's death is so poignant - true for my experience and yet not what I wish to happen with my son. Next time you come to the earthquake zone, let's go out for a coffee. Your h.s.art teacher, Gretchen G.
    P.S. Loving Lola!

  5. hello from the guy who rented you a car while in California.