E-mail Challenge: When E-Mail Was a Sparkly, Happy Fun Place

In 1997, e-mail was a funky land of fun. I never have fun with e-mail anymore. It’s hard to believe I ever did, though I have proof, having printed out my e-mails from 1997 and kept them warm and cozy in a nice blue folder by the furnace. Hard to believe there was no alcohol, drugs or other substances involved in writing these, but I am pretty sure there wasn’t. And I want to thank my employer for connecting me to the Internet as I am confident all these e-mails were done at the office on company time.

Conversation between me and my friend Nate, who lived in San Francisco:

Happy Weekend Mr. Nate, said the slow and dusty butterfly.
I am headed to St. Louis. Is that in Kentucky?
No, said the butterfly. It’s in Africa. Don’t you know. I saw zebras
there and several tribal bands. Some even have their own boats in
which they capture people and drown them in the Mississippi.
Oh.
Yes, oh.
Oh. Oh.
Meow. (That was my cat. I can hear him 25 miles away.)
The slow butterfly did not believe this. Nevertheless
he continued flying in the dry office air waiting to see if he could be of any
assistance in filing the stacks of papers labelled simply logistics.
Have a fabulous weekend. I have pictures to send you but I shant get
them to you for several days.
Shannon

Pining for Lost Phrases, Antiquated Language

I have lists and lists of phrases I keep in a small notebook in the car just in case there is a chance to use them at the drive-thru window or in conversation with someone I happen to meet while out and about, but there never is.  There’s hardly ever a reason to tell someone you are choked on the brambles of despair even if you are, or that someone excites your warmest sympathy. I use the same excessively commonplace phrases day in and day out.  My father always said he was fair to midlin’ when people asked how he was, something I say as well, though it’s now lost in translation. Often during the day, I make singular discoveries which I can only explain by telling those around me “No, wait, I get it.” I can’t tell people that they arrested my attention or that my friend is, indeed, as honest a woman as ever stood in shoe leather, or that another is so full of cowardly braggadocio that I can’t bear his company a minute longer or that I am disinclined to anything. I can’t use ought or shan’t very easily either. No one ever speaks of anything being dappled anymore unless you’re at the barn, but half my day is surrounded by dappled things. No one screws up their courage and breathes life into what they say anymore.  And as I mentioned before, neither do I.  I have not the courage.  Instead I use my Elmo voice to order Happy Meals for the kids at the drive-thru once a week and we all bust out laughing.  My God, deliver me from the snare of my own iniquity!

 

A Novel is Not Waking Thoughts….

A novel is not waking thoughts although it is written and thought with waking thoughts. But really a novel goes as dreams go in sleeping at night and some dreams are like anything and some dreams change and some dreams are quiet and some dreams are not. And some dreams are just what anyone would do only a little different always just a little different and that is what a novel is.

–from The Superstitions of Fred Anneday, Annday, Anday a Novel of Real Life by Gertrude Stein

I couldn’t say it better. But I have a problem with dreams the same as I do novels. Once you get into a good one, you are trapped. Whether you want it to or not it invades your life and your world is one big impressionistic blotch of reality and fiction or reality and dreams so scrambled inside your head there is no way out. Also the isolation of human beings is never so well felt than in a good dream or a good novel. The best novels I have read lately all seem to wallow in the suffering and isolation of their characters and I suggest you pick them up if you haven’t read them yet: Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, Sister Carrie by Theodore Drieser, Revenants by Daniel Mills. Can anyone think of a good novel that does not star a character isolated in some way?

The Boundaries of Language: Does Anybody Know What I am Saying?

The late psychologist James Hillman is confirming what I already knew when I decided long ago on January 1st to talk less this year, much less.  Words are the very fundamentals of conscious existence but always severed from things and from truth.  As Hillman writes, they exist in a world their own and have no inherent sense, for they can be reduced to quasi-mathematical units. There is a credibility gap since we no longer trust words of any sort as true carriers of meaning.  This is from the book “Blue Fire, Selected Writings of James Hillman”.  Talking less does indeed mean I have had a lot less misinterpretations of what I meant when I spoke, but writing less, that is a problem.  Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote with this idea in mind, a young girl filled to the brim with words she is learning for the SATs and a tireless imagination so the image she paints, like the words themselves, are far from truth.  It is from a story called “The River Draws Near”.  I’d like to see someone try and translate this one.

I was twelve when my Daddy got a long iridescent motorcycle, his first to my unemphatic, unpathwayed, what-I-recall.  I wandered in the front of the shop by the plate glass windows and the heavy door with the cow bell, while he strode around back to take a final look at the portly motorcycle covered in shiny mermaid paint that swirled iridescent.  I perused the shop in my white sandals ambulating back and forth among the sharp smells of steel and leather, among the stink of after-shave, rubber and gasoline, under the buzz of fluorescent lights.  I had a mind to read but I could find no magazines, even in the waiting room near the coffee. Daddy had disappeared in back.  When he returned I asked if I couldn’t borrow his new manual.   I sat outside next door in front of Jim’s Hardware on top of a cooler and looked for spelling bee clinchers: crankshaft, flywheel, cam chain, hydraulic steering damper.   I was to be a world champion speller, I was to win the national spelling bee in the great capital of our country this very spring.  Daddy predicted it and I prayed upon it and now I was going to be a part of history. When it was time to leave, Daddy descended upon me with a pink, porcine-looking helmet and we drove home to Mama and Misty.

When I wasn’t studying the dictionary or Greek and Latin linguistics, I rode with Daddy on his new motorcycle, him and his friends, deep into the country along Dog River, under the big Alabama sky.  I was on behind him, the child in a swarming sway of age.  I snuck stones in my pocket, pawed them up from underneath the porch and aimed them for the river as we sped beside it.

I was twelve that spring, the same spring Daddy was struck by lightening.  He was struck through the phone line with pernicious force, after which he drove himself to the emergency room, his ear singed. He suffered cardio-pulmonary injuries and electrocardiographic changes but Daddy said he was good to go.  He had a bad burn on his ear that made the skin peel and fall off. He kept doing funny things like putting the milk away in the cupboard or forgetting to turn the car off when we got home.

Dog River ran in front of our house.  Daddy never went near it. He had no use for waterways of any kind.  Though he was aqueous, he was not aquatic he said, asking me to spell both.  It’s the aqueous part that acts as a conductor of electricity, he explained.  Electricity needs a conduit, please spell that Mirabel.  A conduit is something that transfers electricity.  My sister Misty and I swam in the cool, muddy water all the time except the spring when the rain came and the currents accelerated, tangling our red hair and careening us into big rocks.

But let me go back to the day Daddy was hit by lightening, because it changed everything.  It was ominous.  The morning woke with swollen gray pupils.  My ruckled senses unfolded and Misty and I looked at each other, sensing the stillness that preceded another storm.  Everything was stopped, looming, hindered, except the small stream of blood that poured out of me and spread into the damp cotton sheets.