A Journal of Life Pursued

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Sunday Repost: A Call From the Fog

In Technology, Thinkers on March 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

A repost from three years ago:

The Sirens--Who Can Resist Them?

The Sirens–Who Can Resist Them?

We’ve had a couple of days of snow. And more falling–with fog. Maggie and I, as always, walked the Eastern Prom this morning, post-holing our way. There came a call of the fog-horn from the bay, the sound rolling in from the South. I thought perhaps it was Bug Light, but I’m given to understand Bug is only an optical warning. Regardless, it was haunting. The water, the fog, snow, and the warning call.

I find it refreshing that technology hundreds of years old–the harbor bell, the fog horn, the light house–is still used in the age of satellite navigation and GPS. I stood in the snow and listened quietly. It seemed more a beckoning than a warning. Famously, Odysseus was curious as to the call of the Sirens. He had his sailors plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. He wisely ordered his men to leave him there, no matter how much he begged. And beg he did. But that isn’t the fatalism I’m suggesting. This wasn’t a siren’s death call.

It seemed more a beckoning than a warning. (History is filled with such confusion. Philosophy is doubt, said Montaigne.) But that’s not where I’m heading. Two things. Small things. One: Old technology can still work. Perhaps in the long run we will discover it works best. Secondly, more importantly, stand in the snow, stop and listen. You might be beckoned. Or perhaps warned. Either way, you will miss it with ear buds in.

Habits of Reader-Writers

In Books, Creativity, Life, Literature, Philosophy, Technology, Writing on January 10, 2013 at 6:00 am

We’ve been talking a good bit recently about reading and books. I thought you might be interested in the habits of a few famous reader-writer-thinkers. (In no particular order.)

John Updike (1932-2009), Academy of Achievement, June 12, 2004

Since I’ve gone to some trouble not to teach, and not to have any other employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So I work three or four hours in the morning, and it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases. You begin by answering a letter or two. There’s a lot of junk in your life. There’s a letter. And most people have junk in their lives but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it along steadily that you’re going to forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57. It’s a long time to be doing one thing. I don’t know how to retire. I don’t know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type. It’s still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer, but I do think maybe the time has come for me to be a little less compulsive, and maybe the book-a-year technique which has been basically the way I’ve operated.

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Truman Capote (1924-1984), from The Paris Review, 1957, issue #16

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your writing habits? Do you use a desk? Do you write on a machine?

CAPOTE:  I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.

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According to his son, Francis, here is Charles Darwin‘s (1809 – 1892) routine:

7 am ~ Rose and took a short walk.

7:45 am ~ Breakfast alone.

8-9:30 am ~ Worked in his study; he considered this his best working time.

9:30 – 10:30 am ~ Went to drawing-room and read his letters, followed by reading aloud of family letters.

10:30 am – 12 or 12:15pm ~ Returned to study, which period he considered the end of his working day.

12 noon ~ Walk, starting with visit to greenhouse, then round the sand-walk, a number of times depending on his health, usually alone or with a dog.

12:45 pm ~ Lunch with the whole family, which was his main meal of the day. After lunch read The Times, and answered his letters.

3 pm ~ Rested in his bedroom on the sofa and smoked a cigarette, listened to a novel or other light literature read by ED [Emma, his wife].

4 pm ~ Walked, usually round the sand-walk, sometimes farther afield and sometimes in company.

4:30 – 5:30 pm ~ Worked in study and cleaned up matters of the day.

6 pm ~ Rested again in bedroom, with ED reading aloud.

7:30 pm ~ Light high tea while the family dined. In late years never stayed in the dining room with the men, but retired to the drawing-room with the ladies. If no guests were present, he played two games of backgammon with ED, usually followed by reading to himself, then ED played the piano, followed by reading aloud.

10:00 pm ~ Left the drawing-room and usually in bed by 10:30, but slept badly.

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Emily Dickerson (1830-1886), from the letters of

I will tell you my order of time for the day, as you were so kind as to give me your’s. At 6. oclock, we all rise. We breakfast at 7. Our study hours begin at 8. At 9. we all meet in Seminary Hall, for devotions. At 10¼. I recite a review of Ancient History, in connection with which we read Goldsmith & Grimshaw.  At .11. I recite a lesson in “Pope’s Essay on Man” which is merely transposition. At .12. I practice Calisthenics & at 12¼ read until dinner, which is at 12½ & after dinner, from 1½ until 2 I sing in Seminary Hall. From 2¾ until 3¾. I practise upon the Piano. At 3¾ I go to Sections, where we give in all our accounts of the day, including, Absence – Tardiness – Communications – Breaking Silent Study hours – Receiving Company in our rooms & ten thousand other things, which I will not take time or place to mention. At 4½, we go into Seminary Hall, & receive advice from Miss. Lyon in the form of lecture. We have Supper at 6. & silent-study hours from then until retiring bell, which rings at 8¾, but the tardy bell does not ring untl 9¾, so that we dont often obey the first warning to retire.

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Toni Morrison (b. 1931), Nobel Prize, Literature, 1993, from The Paris Review, 1993, issue #128

INTERVIEWER: What about your writing routine?

MORRISON: I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn’t have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space–a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can’t beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space and no matter what the filing system or how often you clear it out–life, documents, letters, requests, invitations, invoices just keep going back in. I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that–mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job. I had to write either in between those hours, hurriedly, or spend a lot of weekend and predawn time.

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Karl Marx (1818-1883) from the biography by (the great) Sir Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, His Life and Environment 

His mode of living consisted of daily visits to the British Museum reading-room, where he normally remained from nine in the morning until it closed at seven; this was followed by long hours of work at night, accompanied by ceaseless smoking, which from a luxury had become an indispensable anodyne; this affected his health permanently and he became liable to frequent attacks of a disease of the liver sometimes accompanied by boils and an inflammation of the eyes, which interfered with his work, exhausted and irritated him, and interrupted his never certain means of livelihood. “I am plagued like Job, though not so God-fearing,” he wrote in 1858.

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Gunter Grass, (b. 1927), Nobel Prize, Literature, 1999, from The Paris Review, summer, 1991, #124

INTERVIEWER: What is your daily schedule when you work?

GRASS: When I’m working on the first version, I write between five and seven pages a day. For the third version, three pages a day. It’s very slow.

INTERVIEWER:

You do this in the morning or in the afternoon or at night?
GRASS:

Never, never at night. I don’t believe in writing at night because it comes too easily. When I read it in the morning it’s not good. I need daylight to begin. Between nine and ten o’clock I have a long breakfast with reading and music. After breakfast I work, and then take a break for coffee in the afternoon. I start again and finish at seven o’clock in the evening.

Acoustic Living

In Life, Nature, Technology on August 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

Cupsuptic River, Rangeley, Maine

We are camping next week in Rangeley. In a state with an abundance of outdoor venues, Maine makes my head spin. Rangeley, one of the state’s most popular regions, is nestled to the northwest, in the corrugated topography of the Appalachian plateau. I don’t know Rangeley very well, having only passed through a few times. So, in an effort to expand my experience (a discipline I recommend, expanding one’s experience), Rangeley it is.

I contacted a campground on Cupsuptic Lake and made arrangements for a site. Unlike many of the western states, Maine does not have vast regions of public land. One can go Ninja camping–find a spot and pitch a tent–but most likely you will be poaching on someone’s property–land owned by a lumber company or a public trust. I Ninja camp occasionally, particularly if I’m just knocking around the woods; but usually I stay in a campground.

This campground maintains about three dozen sites on the lake, assembled cheek by jowl, one abutting the next. That’s not my style. Instead, I reserved one of the “remote” sites a few miles to the north. Two of the sites are hike-in only, one site is accessible only via four-wheel vehicle, and two or three can be driven to. I went to the map store at Delorme in Freeport and purchased the topographical Kennebago Quadrangle of the area. (Proudly, I am a map nerd.) The remote campsites follow the Cupsuptic River north, dotting the water at intervals of about two miles. One site, called Moocher’s Home, looks particularly inviting. It sits at a twist in the river, about a mile before it spills into the lake.

I find it curious that the campground’s web page claims that “all remote sites have full cell phone service.” They perceive this to be a selling point. Perhaps it is. But not for me. There is an article in today’s Times called, Turn Off the Phone (And the Tension) that speaks to modifying the thirst for the technological. (Admittedly, a personal challenge both desired and illusory, a classic tension.) I’ve written before (read here, or go to my category “technology”) of my longing for a life less digital and more analogue, a life blend I don’t seem capable of achieving. The article quotes an academic of behavioral science who recommends “setting up a kind of screen diet, building in a period each day to go screenless, either by going for a run and leaving your phone at home, or by stashing it in a drawer during dinner or while hanging out with friends.” This sounds like an addict treating his problem by tucking his stash away in a sock drawer, but I guess one has to start somewhere.

Regardless, I am going into the woods untethered–by choice. It will be just a few days. Too, it will provide a warmup for a longer off-line period I’ve scheduled late in October. I’ve blocked off two weeks for what I am calling a “writing retreat.” I’ve rented a cabin Downeast and will go it unplugged, experiencing, if you will, the acoustic version of life. Two weeks is a long time for an addict to go without. It should afford me a clear measure of my problem. My name is Doug and I seek balance.

“My whole life I’ve been a fraud.”

In Technology, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Writing on May 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is a repost. I’m out of the country. Should fortune be shining on me, I will be nowhere near internet connectivity, as you read this.

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Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who is studying the effects of social media and cellphones on children. She has interviewed over 400 young people and their parents. In a recent article in the New York Times Magazine she is reported to worry that “the self was increasingly becoming externally manufactured rather than internally developed.” The journalist, Peggy Orenstein, quotes Turkle: “On Twitter or Facebook you’re trying to express something real about who you are, but because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become performance.”

I am reminded of the beginning of David Foster Wallace’s short story “Good Old Neon.” The story, his last great story, won an O. Henry Award and is mostly the recollection of a now-deceased advertising executive. It begins this way: “My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people.”

To blog or not to blog?

In Photography, Technology, Writers, Writing on March 17, 2012 at 5:53 am

I should clear up something I said in a previous post. I think I was disparaging toward my friends in the blogging community.

I went off on a rant regarding the word blog (and by inference blogging and blogger). I am sensitive to words and how they are used, even to what they look like. The word “impactful,” as an example. I simply cannot accept that word or its usage. I even think it is visually an ugly word. Like, I don’t need to go into details, like do I?

It’s not just the written word. Several spoken phrases in common currency drive me nuts. For instance: “It’s all good,” “reach-out” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Any of one of these will send me running, ears covered. It’s not all good, obviously. And please, call me or write me, but don’t “reach out” to me. You’re not Frankenstein’s monster. Everything happens for a reason? So…is karma the reason behind everything? Or perhaps a fore-ordained plan about which we are witless? (Interestingly, in my experience most of the folks using this phrase also, incongruously, claim they have free will. ) See how easily I can be set off? The word “blog” has the same effect.

Leaving aside my proclivities regarding things under my skin, I must release old discriminations. Blogging, the word and the activity, is here to stay. The question of writing vis-a-vie blogging is an inconsequential battle being waged nowhere but in my head. (If the battles in my head were only understood clearly…but that is another matter.) I confess that I’m an old-school elitist. It’s a mantle I can’t seem to shake. Elitism is haughty and snarky. Who needs that? The older I get, the less attractive is that position. (Maybe it works for a younger man, firm in his opinions, but maturity can wear away such sharp corners–or polish them to a razor edge, depending on the direction in which you choose to focus effort.)

I am certain Montaigne, a personal hero and influence, would have embraced the forum–blogging–and that is good enough for me. This is not just my opinion. Sarah Blackwell, Montaigne’s most recent biographer, commented in the Paris Review that, “Bloggers might be surprised to hear that they are keeping alive a tradition created more than four centuries ago.” Blackwell’s piece, appropriately, was titled “What Bloggers Owe Montaigne.” (I reviewed her Montaigne book, How to Live, last year.)

If I am sounding a little defensive, it is because I am feeling defensive–a little. The blogger-writer question for me is analogous to what has occurred in photography. It once was that only photographers had cameras. Now we all have cameras. That does not make us all photographers. Nor does having a blog necessarily make one a writer. That was my original train of thought. But as so often is the case, the train took the wrong track and ended up at the wrong station.

As I re-read this, I note that I settle no claim here, resolved nothing but to exercise my outcry. Regardless, I believe Montaigne would approve.

Thanks for reading.

My New Library Card

In Books, Reading, Technology, Writing on November 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm

There are books I want to read and own. And there are books I want to just read. So, there being a “read only” book currently in my purview, I marched up to the newly renovated Portland public library and got a library card. I am embarrassed to admit that it is the first library card I’ve had in, maybe, twenty years.

I live in a small place now, already filled with enough books, such that book overflow is beginning to occur in my man-cave office-study in town. Too, there are hundreds of books still back in Maryland, books which presumably will never make their way north to Maine. Also, libraries are green. It is a benchmark recycling notion, this business of taking a book, reading it, and returning it for someone else to enjoy.

I have been thinking a great bit about the impact of technology on modern life. The theme has been explored in a number of posts here. There is a book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers which explores this question. Here’s the jacket blurb:

At a time when we’re all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this revelatory book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.

Using his own life as laboratory and object lesson, and drawing on such great thinkers as Plato, Shakespeare and Thoreau, Powers shows that digital connectedness serves us best when it’s balanced by its opposite, disconnectedness.

Exactly! Powers has been interviewed on PBS & NPR, the book has been discussed in the Wall Street Journal, by Diane Rehm and Katie Couraic. It’s been on the Time’s Best Seller List. Where am I going with this? The library doesn’t have a copy! Nor can they get me one! (I do not use exclamation marks arbitrarily, I want to point out.) I suddenly am feeling as if I live in a remote backwater outpost. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, granted. It’s just a disappointing first library experience. When I pointed out to the librarian, a congenial woman with a terrible hacking cough, all of the above, the press notices, the interviews and so forth, she as much as challenged me, wondering out loud if it really was on the best seller’s list.

I know my reading tends to the esoteric, but this is mainstream, for god’s sake.

Enough ranting. In a follow-up visit I picked up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Chatiwin’s The Songlines–both books I need to refresh myself with for a piece I’m working on. They had the books. No surprise there. I should point out: both books were likely purchased long before the library budget started to get directed to DVDs and audio books, movies and CDs, which were the articles everyone was checking out at the front desk. It would be ironic if libraries were, in the fashion of my experience, to contribute to the death of the written word, being presumably the last bastion of orderliness in the messy digital war of ideas (or lack thereof).

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This just in: “Nearly 2,000 volunteers lined up on the Akoni Pule Highway on Saturday to form a human chain, so they could pass the thousands of books – or huki puke, in Hawaiian – over a mile and a third down the road to the new library.” Check out: Good library news.