Did anyone else want to resign from the human race during the stench-y live-streaming Depp v. Heard defamation trial? Or because they couldn’t escape news on the over-spent, smug weddings of the why-are-they-famous people who profess to resent (but welcome) the paparazzi and People Magazine stories? Or reading about wars, or viewing ass-backwards discussions of our society’s gross predilections for violence? Or seeing the statistics on the world’s insatiable habit of unworthy media-grazing?
Anyone else considering living like a tortoise – one who decides to pull their head deep under their shell where only the computer (sans wi-fi), and refrigerator and the bed reside? Shutting out everything else?
I was pulling my head in when I happened on an interview on the BBC with novelist/short story writer Jennifer Egan (multi-award winner including a Pulitzer for A Visit from the Goon Squad); she was saying she loved to read “old” books by writers in earlier eras (Industrial, Progressive, New Deal, Golden Age etc.) to see what people were thinking, working on, dealing with in former times. She made the often-heard, and often-repeated observation that people do not change, only technology does.
But, in my brain, an argument took shape: Isn’t technology changing people? Some scientists point to how the use of it trains our brains in new ways. Sociologists bemoan the lessening of attention spans, the increasing disability of ferreting out truths, how the extreme “me-generation’s” love of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram junki-ness lessens our sense of self-esteem and feeds a wonky need to feel present in strangers’ lives.
Psychologist have written extensively on the decline in mental health because of ‘legitimate’ uses – and ‘criminal and deceptive’ misuses – of technology.
Listening to the interview, I was getting pretty down, realizing that, as a writer, I could include myself as one of the “invaders”. Didn’t I desire to be in strangers’ lives? Didn’t I want people (those I knew and didn’t know), to read my books?
The ‘why do I put in hours every day to bring a story to life’ question that sometimes crops up (usually if the day is not going well), suddenly consumed me and threatened to send me into a descending ‘why’ spiral.
But then, my attention was pulled back to Egan’s interview. She was saying she felt she was compelled to write for some of the same reasons she was compelled to read “old” books. She wanted to leave a trail of how the society she rendered was thinking, what they were doing, what was important to them. Who did they love, revere? Who did they hate, vilify?
She said she had no idea if her books would be among those that remained on library shelves (or offered at online bookstores) a hundred years from now, but if that happened, she hoped that they would reveal the political, social and human nature of a certain time.
And then Egan revealed (almost as if she was ashamed of it), her deepest desire regarding her writing; what she was going for every time she set pen to paper, or fingers to computer keys. She wanted to entertain. She said she wanted to take readers out of their “everyday” lives, transport them, make them care about imaginary characters – to empathize, sympathize, perhaps see themselves or others in her characters. She wanted the reader to enjoy a few philosophical sidetracks and themes that were on her mind. But mostly – to entertain.
Writing stories was a way to entertain herself, she said – and hopefully others.
My descending spiral ground to a halt and took an up-tick. Egan’s ultimate reason made sense to me, and it felt kind and giving and not at all narcissistic. More like serving guests a scrumptious dinner with fine wine and then offering a mouth-watering dessert – things I could do while I let technology do its thing: my Spotify could play a program of calm jazz, my ‘smart’ tv could run through images of waterfalls, my phone could obey the ‘silent’ mode, my computer could automatically graze for the latest research I wanted to access, and Instagram could organize the latest photos my daughter posted of her life in Los Angeles.
The interview made me feel better. But, even as Egan’s interview came to a close, I could still feel a ‘tortoise week’ crooking its finger at me… you know you want me, it seemed to say….