20 January 2010

On Demand

I have migrated to the land of iPod. I was reluctant, not a fan of earplugs, and uncertain why I would want to shutter my mind while walking when I might daydream or ponder the meaning of the universe, much as I love music, or why I might forego the pleasure of total immersion in a book while on a plane.

However, I have discovered the joys of the podcast and the return to my audio Spanish lessons, which, in 30 minute increments, are exactly the time I spend on the treadmill and thus extremely efficient use of time. And I have discovered the joys of podcasting. The opportunity to catch up on programs that I’ve missed while I’m working or simply because radio frequencies are often obstructed by hillsides is truly change I can believe in. Now, I can access my favorite shows whenever I want, via computer or iPod, and I’m hooked.

Although… I’ve been resistant in principle to the on-demand world. The natural outgrowth of my boomer generation’s determination for instant gratification, we now seem to have everything available to us whenever and wherever we want. I don’t DVR and although I have taken one step closer to this personal control of media, I still enjoy the idea, now and then, that I must get home to watch a special show. Remember the many Friday nights we went out late so we could first watch Mary Tyler Moore? I look forward to [some] award shows or Olympics or tennis tournaments and part of the pleasure is the anticipation, which has been neutralized in favor of the I-can-watch-it-later via the recording. Every show or event just another item on the playlist. The very idea of heading home to curl up with something wonderful or stay put to listen just a little longer, is already long gone. Ah, how my mother and I looked forward to Saturday operas broadcast live from the Met. Now we might get to it on Thursday. And I still enjoy the idea that it’s Tuesday night and tonight, when my eyes will no longer focus on a book, I can watch The Good Wife, one of the few decent dramas on TV, although, truth be known, I know own the complete West Wing on DVD [thank you Dana] so I can watch that brilliance whenever I want, and this is awfully nice to know. I confess that I am considering dismantling the television entirely in favor of Netflix and the few television shows worth watching on-line. Ah, the ambivalence.

My boss, a devoted football enthusiast, consoled herself recently with the inability to watch her favorite team in the playoffs because of a Board event, knowing she might watch when she got home, and still enjoy as long as no one snitched the outcome. I suppose it’s wonderful to know that what you want is always within reach, but what’s the trade-off? Certainly we are able to better manage our time because of constant access, but what do we, or more to the point our children, who are acculturated in this technology, lose in personal discipline. The ability to structure our lives and meet the demands as they come, not always as we plan them, is so important to their ability to navigate the world successfully. At least, the world as I see it, which may be the disconnect here.

We no longer have to manage our time beyond the daily work or school clock – what we want to watch or hear is always available, if we’re late we send a text, we can find directions on our phone so why even study the map ahead of time [another guilty pleasure of mine] and we can take classes at our leisure on-line, no worries about rushing to class on time. Will this younger generation fail to learn the fine art of time management and the meaning of being in the right place at the right time? If all or even most of our lives are constructed to our own choosing, how will we navigate through the construct of a larger world, increasingly beyond our control?

Perhaps it is simply that I am rapidly becoming obsolete, approaching life in a context that no longer exists. Which is odd because I am such a fan of technology and delight in its prowess… I’ll ponder this on my next walk. Then again, I’ve got a date with my Spanish teacher in my ear.

Next: The Joys and Woes of the Shuffle.

15 January 2010

Plucking the Poetry

Ah the joys of a great book. I’ve read, and reread portions of The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, an ostensibly simple but fantastically complex and profound study of a modern-day poet-procrastinator-socially inept-loner struggling to write an introduction to an anthology of poetry and doing everything else but. It’s of course a love letter to poetry and to the life of the great poets, but also the study of the human psyche, which in the end is all about poetry.

My dear friend Diane of Diane’s Books sent me the advanced copy and it is now filled with margin notes and folded pages and underlined quotes to be revisited now and then. It’s that sort of book. What you cannot do as well with a Kindle or a Sony electronic reader, nor the amazing Google Books that I’ve recently discovered, where great literature is digitalized so when you’re bored at work you can read a few pages of Jane Austen! I myself have been re-reading Dorian Gray two pages at a time at this gigantic cyberspace library. As fun as that is, there is no thrill of scratching your thoughts in the margins for posterity or circling the tiny number on the bottom of a page to remind you that a passage there is utterly divine.

But this is about the book – a study of life in poetry or poetry in life: Every moment of uncertainty, the challenge of change, the despair of creativity, the pain of loneliness, the jubilation of getting it right and the sheer importance of living in the moment. Lots of little stories within this story, and while it seems on the surface like the stream of conscious reportage of a few months in the life of a writer, it is oh so much more. You will laugh aloud and delight in the telling of tales of great poets’ lives. And you will find yourself nodding in commiseration with his thoughs and with the paralysis we have all felt when something important needs to be done and we just can't do it.

When at last he brings it all together you will rejoice, as we do when we read a truly great poem. This is a book filled with segment after segment, as if stanza’s, that alone are worth the read. Consider this moment as he speaks to a master class, when asked how he achieves the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem. “Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: ‘What was the very best moment of your day?’ The wonder of it was, I told them, that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something that I hadn’t known was important will leap up and hover there in front of me, saying I am – I am the best moment of the day. It’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking diagonally across a parking lot and you’re admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed over the windshield and though, Ah, of course – I’d forgotten. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day.”

Of course, reading this passage was the best moment of that day.

Well, that was after this moment, this passage, which I must also share: ...“Horace didn’t say that. ‘Carpe diem’ doesn’t mean seize the day – it means something gentler and more sensible. ‘Carpe diem’ means pluck the day. Carpe, pluck. Seize the day would be ‘cape diem’ if my school Latin services. Very different piece of advice What Horace had in mind was that you should gently pull on the day’s stem, as if it were, say, a wildflower or an olive, holding it with all the practiced care of your thumb and the side of your finger, which knows how to not crush easily crushed things… Pluck the cranberry or blueberry of the day tenderly free without damaging it is what Horace meant – pick the day, harvest the day, reap the day, mow the day, forage the day. Don’t freaking grab the day in your fist like a burger at a fairground and take a big chomping bite out of it…”

What more can I possibly say? Pluck the day. At the very least, bite into a juicy plum and relish the juice on your chin. That too is poetry, in its way. One of those lovely small moments that make the day.