May You Live In Interesting Times

I don’t have anything to write about. Not really. I know I should go straight to bed at this hour, but I’ll be happier if I get something down.

On paper, I thought, but it won’t be on paper, will it?

I wondered, after hearing that Barnes and Noble is closing down a third of their bookstores, if I should be hoarding my existing books. Should I? Will books even be in print in twenty years? Will any brick and mortar bookstores exist? Should I head over to the used bookstore and buy back my fifty favorite books? How could I decide which books to buy? How would I protect them from disintegrating? It’s not like modern paperbacks are meant to last.

It seems to be a horrible time to be a writer. There are millions of us out there, scrabbling to be read, in print and online, but the possibility of feeling the physical weight of my words seems to be dwindling. I suppose stats will be the way to feel the weight of one’s words in the future. Personally, I keep a list of countries in which I have been read. It’s satisfying, but is it the same as holding a new book in your hands?

I’m whining. Forgive me. If I could choose a different art form, I assure you, I would. Maybe I should be carving my words onto stone. Maybe I should try carving walking sticks instead, take up painting or architecture. At least those things can’t run off through the Internet. Well, maybe they can. I look at online art more often than I see the physical works. Maybe I should learn how to create game apps.

It’s truly odd to think of what has gone defunct in my lifetime. There’s the eight track tape. No surprise there, but the cassette tape is gone too. CDs are on their way out. Typewriters with dried out ribbons are sitting in people’s basements. Mimeographs are long gone along with carbon paper and whiteout. Teachers aren’t teaching cursive in third grade any more. Video cassettes are defunct, though the word persists. Publishing houses have shrunk or vanished. Even email is passe. Newspapers, or at least the big ones are almost entirely online. Articles are shorter now too. Did you notice that? I really don’t like reading a ton of words on a computer. It gives me a headache.

So, I know I’ll be reading books on an electronic notebook before long. I’ll have to. I hear people tell me they love their e-readers. I get it. I really like the blogs that I follow. I hear local news on Facebook. I tell you that it was exciting when a gaggle of women were posting about helicopters flying back and forth over North Bend when that crazy guy barricaded himself into a bunker on Rattlesnake Ridge. Now, that was news. And it really is a better way than a dry newspaper article to find out what’s happening in the PTSA. On Facebook, I’m hearing it straight from the PTSA leaders themselves. So, I’m not against all the changes.

It’s just that life seems to be changing faster and faster and yet the things that are disappearing feel only vaguely lost. How long has it been since you thought about the last time you used your typewriter? For me, it was a college poetry class. And this thing with bookstores snuck up on me too. I was shocked when Borders went out of business. Now Barnes and Noble is reeling in its lines so as not to lose the fishing pole altogether. If they disappear, going for coffee just won’t feel the same. Will coffee shops disappear too? I ask you, who actually sits down at those sad little tables by the espresso stand at grocery stores?

Someone told me, once, that the Chinese have a curse, “May you live in interesting times.” As a writer, it does feel that way, that I’m living in interesting times. And, yes, it feels like a curse.

I still hold out some small hope that books will continue to exist fifty years from now, that not all of it will have been sucked online. Maybe it’s a good thing that I learned how to bind a book a couple of years ago. I might need it so that I can ‘publish a book’ in my future.

Thank you for listening, jules

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