to keep ourselves from drowning

In so many ways I’m happy that Fall is here and there is more (self-imposed, mostly) structure in my life.

I’m reading more. Writing more. Working out more. Embracing the zen-ness of nurturing self and others, of cooking and cleaning (who would have predicted some years ago that I would find some odd sort of fulfillment in this? Well, it seems I’m not alone, read Leo Babauta’s take on it here

image by AGC1 via flickr

Ironically enough, I’m reading Hannah Rosin’s new book The End of Men which questions the very “natural order” which I seem to have come to so embrace. Always I bit off I am. But then again it is—and she would agree—all about choices and fluid roles and finding balance, right? I feel balanced indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the way the summer tugged me this way and that, pulled me away from screens and routine, filled my days with so much laughter and delightful conversations (not to mention some amazing meals, usually eaten outside in a strange sort of vampiresque symbiosis where we ate at the same time the mosquitoes sucked our blood).

Anyway… today I received the latest Letter in the Mail from The Rumpus, which I’d been dreading, mostly because I was under the impression that the next one was to be from Emily Gould. I must say I find her story (or what I’ve read of it, here and here) pretty horrifying and yet very interesting, perhaps even more so now that time has passed.

Oh I know, this was all big news some years ago, but I was busy working crazy hours and having babies while she found fame as a 24-year old blogger and gawker-er steeped in coolness. Her confession of sorts (apology?) shows how she felt the sting of overexposure and the nasty cruelty of mankind, one which seems to grow sharper when honed on the whetstone of the internet.

I dreaded her letter (perhaps without reason, I will reserve judgment on it until it arrives, but then again who am I to judge?) because she represents to me so much of what I detest about this atmosphere of privileged arrogance and self-important dissing of the rest of the world so prevalent in the snark of the literary intelligentsia, as amplified by the web, this world of me-me-me.

But at the same time she also elicits in me some serious sympathy (similar feelings I had to Marie Calloway’s story, although she might have learned a thing or to from her predecessor, they should talk). As a woman who survived some rather confusing years, and as a mother, I can’t help but empathize with how hard it is to navigate the ever-changing and conflicting tides of life today, and how vulnerable young people are to its spiky traps.

Her story is a great one to use as illustration of what not to do, how not to live. She herself admits feeling trapped in her own overexposure:

I slumped to the kitchen floor and lay there in the fetal position. I didn’t want to exist. I had made my existence so public in such a strange way, and I wanted to take it all back, but in order to do that I’d have to destroy the entire Internet. If only I could! Google, YouTube, Gawker, Facebook, WordPress, all gone. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for an electromagnetic storm that would cancel out every mistake I’d ever made.

She describes what I find one of the saddest and most damaging aspects of social media, which is that almost involuntary first reaction of the plugged-in ones when experiencing or witnessing something beautiful, wonderful, anything intensely moving: to tweet it, to “share” it, rather than to simply live it. The moment, whose meaning has nary a chance to be experienced deeply, to be contemplated, has become at the same time more elusive and more indelible.

It wasn’t from her, the letter, but from the writer Anthony Doerr. It confirmed for me why I still subscribe to these letters even though at times I find the idea steeped in disnefied insincerity as we all pretend they are “real” letters, one to one, when clearly they are not. This letter was a thoroughly unexpected treat.

Doerr wrote of spending time in a yurt (yes a yurt, with even a drawing of it added by his 8-year old son) in the middle of the Idaho wilderness, describing what it was like to be there with his family, some “fifty miles out of cell phone range and fifteen miles from the nearest human.” He wrote of the “bugles” of elk, the “shrill cheeps” of “caffeinated chipmunks” and, above all, of the “deeply, amazingly, disturbingly, unsettling quiet...”

And then he gets to what he calls his point, which is that in this crazy world we live in it is more important than ever to be vigilant, to “limit our choices, if only for a few days. To keep ourselves from drowning. To keep everything from becoming so available that it becomes meaningless.”

He names this beautiful terrible chaos of modern life the “Too-Muchness of Everything,” and does not deny that he adores it, in ways, yet rues it in others.

“Sometimes when I fall into the wormholes of the internet I start feeling as though God put the Law of Conservation of Matter on pause and started sipping peyote tea with Jorge Luis Borges and they got into a van with a handful of superstring theorists and together at dawn they parked on some bluff above the universe and resolved to remake it a million times over, pouring it all over us in zeroes and ones into a repeating nautilus, a Brobdingnagian hurricane of pixels, the Too-Muchness of Everything.”

[….]

Too much information, too many Facebook friends, too many emails. Sometimes it’s the Too Much Everything that is making the world feel thinner and poorer.”

I was unfamiliar with his writing until today, but am so glad to know it now, his short story “Oranges”  which I’ve just read (you should too!), of such devastating beauty.

He reminds us that it is in the peeling of an orange, the dipping of a line into blue holes full of trout, in the savoring the laughter and the smiles and the words of those we love, where true beauty lies.

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