Patience, Virtue, Morality, and other lost arts

timeWe live in the instant age, which we can tie directly to the mesmerizing advancement of technology. On the surface, this makes our lives easier. When I first began writing, I worked on a manual typewriter that belonged to my grandmother. In my twenties, I was thrilled to have an electric typewriter! So much easier on my fingers, and a lot better looking result on the page. When I got my first computer in the late 1980s, a used Atari 800, which came with a dot matrix printer, I thought I was in heaven. No more carbon copies, no more typing over mistakes with white tape or using white paint to cover them up! Talk about the wave of the future.

By 1994, home computers were becoming commonplace. Our first was a Pac Bell 486. I barely knew how to turn it on, let alone use it. So I read the manuals for DOS and Windows 3.1 cover to cover until I understood how it worked. It soon became an everyday tool in my writing and a homework helper for my girls. Shortly thereafter, the dial up internet was born. Bills in excess of $50 a month, just to connect and stay online for a few hours a week. Hours to download any type of program or update. Disconnects along the way so you had to start all over.

Today, I have the majority of my music collection, which is extensive, on a digital “cloud” located somewhere in Apple’s Universe. Music that is accessible instantly on my iPhone with the swipe of a finger, or, if I want to get really fancy, via voice command to Siri. Speak into the microphone, and she finds the song and plays it. If I miss a TV show, most are available via aps from the networks. I can swipe my finger again, and watch a full hour long show. Or a movie. I can watch video clips of everything to basketball instant replays to the latest news conference in Washington. Amazing. No other way to describe it.

And as a writing instrument, the modern computer is far more elaborate than I ever could have imagined. When I was working on Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream in the late 1990s, there was next to nothing insofar as research available on the internet. I had to check out books from the library, look at magazines and newspapers on microfilm, and then either photocopy or write down in longhand the information I was researching. Hoop Lore was done about 50/50, as more and more info became available on the net. If I were writing a non-fiction book today, I would expect that 98% of my research would be done from my office chair.

All of that is well and good. But as technology evolves ever faster, we are beginning to see the downside. It reminds me of the series finale of the TV show, Battlestar Galactica. (The Sci-fi network’s remake, not the original.) In that final episode, we learn that several characters have lived through numerous lives, with the society in which they live always ending the same way: technology evolves to the point where it destroys humanity.

Now, I’m not saying we’re going to be taken over by a mean generation of robotic Siris or anything like that. But, it is impossible not to see the effect this instant age is having on the younger generation. Think about that silly AT&T Universe ad campaign currently airing. A 6 or 7 year old boy rocking in chairs with his grandfather talking about how “back in the day” they had to watch TV in the room where it was hooked up. Or, the one that really irks me, the 12 year old boy talking to his brothers about how back in his time, it sometimes took a minute to download a song. I’m not sure who the brains at AT&T are gearing this nonsense toward, but for me, it’s so nauseating I would never consider switching to their service.

As for our day-to-day lives, I have noticed people becoming more and more rude, more and more demanding. They want what they want, and they want it now. (Most don’t want to pay for it either, but that’s a rant for another day.) My husband sees this every day in his contractor’s business. Clients who take months to make up their minds about what they want. Then, when they finally decide, they call him and ask if he can put their kitchens in that afternoon. When he explains others are now waiting ahead of them, many get irate and do whatever they can to spread nasty rumors about his business. I am now seeing the same thing on Ebay. I used to do a lot of selling on there 10-12 years ago. The service was fairly new, and the people using it, buyers and sellers alike, were mostly civil. Others outright friendly. I would estimate that I had trouble with perhaps one out of a hundred customers. Today it’s more like one out of ten. People pay instantly with Paypal, and then expect their package to be sitting on their doorstep the next morning. I wish I could say I’m exaggerating.

Recently, both Julia and I upgraded our computers to systems running Windows 8. Neither of us particularly likes it. It’s very different, geared toward (should have seen this coming) people 20 and under who live their lives walking around checking Facebook and Twitter every five minutes on their phones. When Julia voiced her distaste for this “upgrade” at a writing get-together last week and said she hopes Microsoft dumps it soon, our resident sage, Lesley, said “I don’t think we’re going to go backwards.”

Lesley is right, of course. There’s no going back. Technology changes on a daily basis, and we either strive to change with it or get left behind. I’m sorry to say that there are more and more days where I think I might just opt for the latter.


A Séance with Mad Spirits


by Aubrey Beardsley

We were fortunate to be visited this past New Year’s Eve by Madame Zavosky, a medium of renown in Visalia (or was it Lebec) in California.

She follows the intermittent Grassroots Writers’ Guild blog as well as every other writing blog she can find because they help distract her from her own writing project that at present is running past 800 pages. This work Madame Zavosky titles Channeling the Mad Spirits. Madame Zavosky is depressed about her project, which has been revised a dozen times. Agents are telling her it is old fashioned, too long and full of punctuation errors.

We didn’t know of Madame Zavosky’s writing ambitions when we contacted her, nor did we really care.

All we knew is that her medium services are priced within our budget (cheap).  She had offered, in one of her numerous but always deleted comments on our blog, to stop in Fresno and channel for us for the price of a Macdonald’s burger.

In the midst of intense boredom, it was an offer we couldn’t ignore.  Madame Zavosky arrived in her trailer a few hours before midnight. By a quarter to 12, we three were seated around a table, candles flickering.

“Who iz eet it you vant to speak with?” asked Madame Zavosky.

“Charles Dickens,” I piped up, looking at Connie. She shrugged good-naturedly as if to say, sure, I could have first pick.

“Arrrr you there, Charles Dickens?”

Madame Zavosky did that for a while, crooning and asking for the requested spirit. A few fireworks went off even though it wasn’t quite midnight yet. Kook, Connie’s boxer, lifted his head and Lila, her little dog, started barking.

“He is here!” announced Madame Zavosky. “Vat you vant to ask?”

“What does he think of ebooks?”  I blurted, looking around. I knew enough about séances to realize I wouldn’t see any sign of Charles, but I hadn’t heard his voice and wondered what sign she had of his presence.

“Vat you think of ebooks, Charles Dickens?”

A premature bottle rocket went off in the street. Lila braced her legs and barked her head off for a full thirty seconds.  I wondered how Madame Zavosky was going to be able to hear Charles Dickens’ answer.

“Lila, be quiet,” commanded Connie.

Madame Zavosky smiled. “He vishes ebooks were around in his lifetime,” she said. “Vat more you vant to ask?”

Connie and I exchanged glances. Madame Zavosky hadn’t used a man’s voice to answer with. No wonder she was so cheap.

“Ask Stephen King what he thinks of Stephanie Meyer’s writing,” said Connie, winking at me.

“Stephen King,” repeated Madame Zavosky, “Is he dead?”

“No, actually, he’s not,” admitted Connie.

“Ah. Thank God. That will cost you more,” said our medium.

We looked at each other.

“How much?” I asked.

“Fries and a coke.”

We thought about that for a good ten seconds. “Okay,” we agreed.

“You have land line?”

I thought she said “Land mine,” but Connie heard better through the crackling of fireworks than I did. She got up and brought back a phone.

“Okay. I call now.” Madame Zavosky looked at me. “You can let go my hand.” She dialed and someone immediately picked up.

“Stephen, are you awake?” she asked.

The street exploded with fireworks and Lila ran around yapping.

We couldn’t hear Madame Zavosky talk to Stephen King for several minutes. She hung up and we waited through the explosions. When the street calmed down, we expected her answer.

Madame Zavosky shrugged. “You think I could hear him through that noise?”

Elvis, normally the nicest dog on earth, and who had been sleeping soundly all that time near the front door, began growling.

Madame Zavosky stuck out her hand. “Money, please. I need my dinner.”

After she left, Elvis was still growling.

“What’s wrong with Elvis?” I asked Connie.

“He doesn’t like fakes,” she said.