Of Books and Blogs

Whether we’re growing up or catching up in the digital age, most of us have at least a few ounces of trepidation (or a modicum of snobbery) when it comes to the printed word up against its electronic counterpart on a computer (insert iPad, iPod, Kindle) screen.   Ambivalence about new technologies and modes of expression prevails, even among writers.  Author Kelcey Parker talks about the relationship between her writing and technology in an interview in the new online literary magazine, Talking Writing to which I’ve just subscribed:  “I’m particularly drawn in by the tensions between the book as object, as a primitive reading machine, and the transition to digital reading machines.”  Kelcey teaches university classes in making books by hand to “exploit these tensions.”

As a long-time photographer and media geek, I’ve always been a “gadget girl.”  I love any (preferably small) electronic device that will record or play images and sound, produce documents, do my accounting, or mix margaritas.  Technology is fun, and keeping up with it makes me feel a part of this world, today’s world.  Not only am I fascinated by new ways of doing things, I don’t want to get left behind.  The downside is that it can all be overwhelming, and somehow take us away from what is “real.”  It can somehow be lacking in the tactile, the sensual, the scent-ual.

I know from photography that most arts have a scientific aspect:  Not only is the photographer concerned with capturing images and expressing ideas, but she also has to worry about balancing f-stops and shutter speeds, understanding the interplay between time, light, and distance.  Photographers used to have to know something about chemistry as well, and now, about the digital counterparts to old-school capture and processing.

But it is mastering the science of photography that sets the artist free to express, with intention, what she sees and cares about sharing.  I think of blogging the same way.  To understand the options available for how your blog appears online, what widgets and plug-ins might help drive activity to your site or connect you with your intended reader, to understand RSS and be able to follow other bloggers, or know how to organize your site for ease of navigation, all serve to enhance your content.  If the medium is the message, then form is as important as function.

Technical knowhow can help us achieve a blending of form and function, bringing depth and soul to digital media.  The most appealing blogs:  A, have something worthwhile to say; B, are easy to navigate your way to around; C, are beautiful to look at; and D, mix concept and content in a seamless, conceptual whole:  the nearest equivalent to a well-crafted book.

Yes, I love technology and the cool brilliance of gadgets, but I also love the crisp hand of paper, the friendly weight and weft of a book.  There’s something about the cellulose in the pages, the gesture of typography, the tiny, colorful headband at edge of the spine, the endpapers, the ink – that match the warmth and depth of a book’s contents.

If I could, I would bring the bite of a paper page into my blog, the richness of a silver print onto my screen, and something scented and worn like a generation-old leather-bound book into my writing.

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Of Moonwalks and Red Soda

So as soon as I tell you I don’t have any exotic third-world travels to write about, I realize that I lied.  Or, more accurately, that I forgot.  When I was ten, I traveled with my sister and a family friend to Barranquilla, Colombia.  Socorro – whose name, my father told us, means “help” in Spanish – took us on a week-long trip to her well-to-do family’s home.  She was divorced from her husband and was returning to retrieve her young son that summer.  We didn’t really know anyone who was divorced.

To this day, I’m not sure what possessed or motivated my parents to send their two pre-adolescent daughters to a South American country with a family friend, but I’m glad they did.

Like the rest of life, I don’t think you remember travels in a linear way – at least I don’t.  I remember the broken bottles set into the concrete wall around the perimeter of our hosts’ property, or playing a game of ball with the cousins – sign-language only – at the back of the house among the lime trees where the parrot lived.  I definitely remember the toasty coconut in the rice, the clear bottles of red soda, the malty raw taste of the chocolate cow’s milk on ice, or the punchy orange juice squeezed from fruit off a backyard tree by one of the housemaids each morning.

I remember the pine-pitch flavor of the guava – “gwayaba” – we were supposed to find delectable, and the way my sister and I whispered and giggled as we cut pieces and slipped them through the bars of the first-floor window to the side-yard alley to dispose of them.  I remember Socorro’s ex-husband taking us for a ride without helmets around the neighborhood on his motorbike and the way Socorro scolded him when he returned with us – spitting angry Spanish trills as severe as the dark eyeliner she wore.

In the open-air theater, we watched a subtitled To Sir With Love, smugly understanding the English, and amazed to see the night sky, sitting in a movie theater with no roof.  I remember the way people pronounced my name “Lowrrra,” and the secret dis-ease in my stomach when nothing feels quite comfortable, quite like home.

The way my mom packed papery-pink sanitary napkins in my big sister’s Samsonite “just in case,” and how my sister made sure they stayed hidden under her clothes, stands out clearly in memory, as does my sister’s insistence that I face the wall with my arms outstretched to guard the two unlock-able doors to the bathroom while she showered.  I remember being confused that “C” was the hot faucet on the sink and not the cold, and recall the surprise and laughter that emerged along with the water from the porcelain bidet, accidentally spraying the ceiling when we turned the knob.  I remember throwing towels in the air to try to catch the dripping.

It’s these details that seem so much more vivid in memory than the humid Sunday night we were shuttled into the family den, Socorro’s Dad stretched out on the couch, to watch something special on TV.  I know now it was July 20, 1969, but all I can really remember is it was late at night and we stood crowded in the small, dark den, to watch scratchy black and gray images of a man in a spacesuit stepping onto the moon.  Perhaps I was just sleepy, but somehow I can’t remember much else, except feeling, somehow, that this was just a little more about us, than it was about them.

Barranquilla would one day become the port of choice of Colombian drug lords.  My family would fall out of touch with Socorro.  My own parents would divorce and begin new marriages now longer than their first, and my sister would remain my best friend.  Forty-one years later I found the same illegible images of Neil Armstrong on YouTube and get chills I don’t think I felt the first time.  And I still keep an eye out for those clear bottles of red soda hoping, someday, to find them.

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The Longest Road

Okay, blog post number one.  Ever.  Let me start by telling you about the name.  If you follow Route 6 eastward on the trip from Boston to Cape Cod, you will eventually come to exit 10, which is where I get off the highway on my way home from most anywhere.  Were you to continue on Route 6 to its endpoint, you would find yourself in Provincetown – the quirky, playful town famous for its art, liberal and expressive sexuality, as well as its wild dunes and beaches.  P-town is known for the quality of its light, surrounded as it is, on three sides, by the sea.

Most mothers know that they can often have the best conversations with their kids while driving in the car.  Most writers know that this is where they often get (and often subsequently lose, for lack of a pen) their best ideas – by virtue of the relaxed right-brain or the lack of anything better to do than steer.  For me, this is true, and when I’m driving home from an evening class in the city, by the time I get to Route 6 I’m either fully engaged in creative thought or hanging my head out the window, air conditioning blasting, singing “American Pie” as loudly as I can to the white lines beneath my wheels.

Yes, six east (which I do, somehow, keep mistyping as “sexiast”) is what takes me home, leads toward the land of light, to the surrounding ocean of possibilities where we all might sink, swim, or sail.  So what more fitting name for the blog where I hope to generate ideas, to find something in my experience worth sharing, something that might lead in toward the home within myself, or out toward the light which surrounds us.  What more fitting name for the device that dumps me into the vast ocean of the world-wide-web where I’m not one-in-a-million (as my husband or mother might tell me), but one in 110 million as my blogging professor says!  Yikes.  Now if that’s not intimidating, what is?

In the vast sense, blogging is the new chronicling of this age – an itemization and linking of experience, goals, culture, news – an impermanent attempt to both connect and tell our stories, to talk and be listened to.  A blog – whether it aims to comment, chronicle, or further a cause – is, as my on-board Apple dictionary tells me, “a web site on which an individual or group of users produces an ongoing narrative,” and narrative, as we know, is the telling of stories.

I’ve never thought my life was overly remarkable or that I have much worth telling – no dark dysfunctional childhood or exotic third-world travels – never mind competing with over a hundred million people to find readers who might be interested in what I write, so I turn to the pedestrian, the everyday, and the real-life challenges of being this woman at this time in history.  Since, more than anything, I believe a good blog is an honest blog, and will not only inform but also entertain, that will be my aim here.

Route 6, whose 3,249 miles stretch from the west coast to the east, was never intended to be an interstate but grew to become, at one time, the longest highway in America.  As a new blogger, September 3, 2010, I feel I’m jumping on such a highway in the early days of its construction.  I’m one of many on the road.  My hope (did I say I was an idealist?) is that – despite potholes and pitfalls, traffic and bad drivers – this road and my place on it will serve to connect people who might be oceans apart physically but share the same drive to find peace, or light, inspiration, or connection in a place they choose to call home.

Posted in Cape Cod, Creativity, Writing & Digital Media | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment