Thursday, April 15, 2010

Recharge by Norma S. Tucker

On Saturday, March 20, 2010, I attended a conference at The Writer’s Center, “Writing the Future.” We listened to discussions on uses of present and emerging technology in the field of writing. At the start of an afternoon session, the power-point failed. The presenter fumbled, adjusted, and relied on her hand-written notes and memory. This technology failure brought to mind two days in my writing life just a month earlier.

Silence woke me that first morning. The power had gone out, and the soft whir of my humidifier ceased. I got up and looked through the slats of the cold Venetian blinds. Heavy snow had started the day before and continued through the night and into this early morning.

My sister, Sally, called to check on me. I told her how much I had looked forward to a snow day. To spend a whole day at my computer working on my stories: editing, checking facts, preparing for an on-line submission, perhaps start something new.

“Guess I’ll have to adjust, use pen and paper,” I said.

“What a novel idea.” We laughed.

I hadn’t counted on wearing Uggs indoors, long silk underwear beneath layers of clothing, and a shawl over my legs. I packed and stored my refrigerated and frozen food in backpacks and plastic bags and tucked them in the snow on the balcony.

I gathered my emergency supplies: plugged my princess landline phone into a jack and placed flashlights and candles in every room, a box of long kitchen matches by the gas stove. I turned on my AA battery radio to “chill-out” and listen to classical music.

Framed by my living room window, nine floors up, I watched someone in heavy dark clothing, walking and carrying an orange flag for safety. The flag reminded me of “The Gates,” an array of orange saffron flags created by artist Christov and his wife, Jeanne Claude, and hoisted sixteen feet high along the miles of footpaths in snow-covered Central Park during February 2005.

I remembered a painting by nineteenth century French painter, Gustave Courbet. White shadowed snow, dark trees, a last burst of light at sunset, and a small figure in red in a horse-drawn wagon. I saw it only once, years ago, at The Phillips Gallery in Washington, DC. “Winter in the Urals.”

The wind picked up, and snow patterns formed on my windows. I thought they looked like greatly magnified images of a single snowflake.

I kept my cell phone and laptop off to save the charged batteries. I felt keenly my dependence on things made of chips, fiber, batteries, and controls all dependent on electric power.

That evening, I curled into a chair in the living room of a neighbor who still had lighting. I wrote about the day, my adjustments and memories. With my Esterbrook pen on lined paper in my black leather bound journal, I drew circles and arrows in blue ink, changed word and paragraph order. I scratched out phrases, added others, and noted what needed research. No key or mouse to manipulate, no Google to search. My hand-written words and drawings became a mind-map. What thought is prelude to the next? Is there a logical progression or a chaotic crash of words seeking coherence? Will some of that blue spread and take further form – a novel idea.

At the “Writing the Future” conference, panelists talked of how new forms of publishing force us, as writers, to use technology to interact with our publishers and readers. To tweet, to create personal blogs, webpages, and Facebook, to submit our works to on-line publications, and to explore technical novelty in our content.

For me, the effect of a snowstorm created the circumstance to contemplate technical novelty and its significance on the structure of my life. The slower pace of pen to paper allowed me respite from use of this often overwhelming, frustrating, instant novelty, as I waited anxiously for the electricity to be restored, my batteries to recharge, and to reconnect.

Norma Tucker, native of Baltimore, Maryland, lives in Bethesda, Maryland where she is a member of The Writer’s Center. She is a member of SOMOS, Society of the Muse of the Southwest in Taos, New Mexico where she spends summers. Her essays have appeared in The Taos News, “My Turn,” and here on First Person Plural.

Photo by Phaedra Greenwood, Taos, NM

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