You buy a vintage globe for $12. On the Internet you figure out, using clues of old country names, your globe is circa 1937. As a kid you twirled globes and savored exotic names of patchwork places. Siam. Zanzibar. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Chosen. Back then, the world seemed so far away.
Then along comes Googlemaps and anyone with the Internet can find your house.
You carry a supper hamper to your husband who’s working late at the community college. In the student lounge, a young man sits before a laptop. He wears headphones and thumbs the tiny keyboard of his phone. Every so often he speaks to the air: Yeah, job pays ten bucks an hour. Who is he talking to? The person he’s texting? Somebody he’s hearing through the headphones? He never looks up or moves except for his flying thumbs. Later your husband reports he sat like that for hours.
Outside, a passing shower steams the asphalt and the fans of an enormous elephant ear drip precious seconds.
You finish reading Lit by Mary Karr and cry, not a little like you normally would at the end of an affecting book, but a lot. You look up stuff on the Internet, one site after another, click through after click through. You haven’t had breakfast. Or lunch.
People ask how you are and you say okay, fine, a lie because it’s tiresome to talk about that weird dark place you’ve spiraled into again. That country with no name.
You stay awake most of the night thinking up a new book idea. By morning you have it nailed, you just need to check a few facts. To your dismay, you realize it won’t wash. That quick your wonderful shining story is gone. You try to revive it. Find another setting. Find another gripping angle. The morning zips by.
Your mind, usually filled with racing thoughts, slows down until words–no, letters of the alphabet, seem mired in molasses. What if your thoughts just vaporize?
You feel kidnapped by your computer. Is it Internet addiction? You take the test (online, of course). Your score says you’re no more addicted than anyone else–maybe less because you don’t own a smart phone or iPad.
But there’s no question you’ve been in this place before, just last year, in fact. You’re trying to find something–something–in a world that’s so close. Too close.
At least you’re not alone. Author Jeff Vandermeer had his wife hide the router box and cell phone until his writing day was over. Only then would he attend to emails. He says, “Ten years ago no one would’ve had to worry about this kind of intrusion. I remember writing parts of one novel in an apartment that didn’t even have electricity.”
You become nostalgic for the days you wrote on an IBM Selectric, even your first clunky word processor. You want to be Wendell Berry and work on a portable typewriter in an old house by the river.
You want to work.
So you make the decision. Tidy up emails. Post one last blog entry for a while. Then dismember your Internet computer and haul it down to the garage. Ask your husband to lock up your new laptop and even the old laptop. He says the old laptop’s battery is dead. You say you’d find the cord anyway.
Five weeks. You’ll check your email three times a week at the library. You’ll write on your ten-year-old Compaq. And when you’re tired of working, you’ll get up and go outside.
Where the real world is.
On my early morning walks, I watch songbirds leave high leafy roosts. They pour across the bright blue sky–starlings swooping like kites, robins with their distinctive open-close-open-close flight. Grackles rise up in a single shoal, wings sharp as fins, like fish that suddenly decided flying is better than swimming.
The seventeen-year locusts finally wore themselves out (and us). They left behind countless dead branches where they laid their eggs. The regular locusts are still here, sawing half-heartedly away in the afternoons. Crickets take over at night.
But mostly it’s quiet.
Hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, my husband and I spied one bored deer. A wild turkey scuttled in front of us and into the woods. On the trail in Caledon State Park, known for its eagle refuge along the Potomac, we found only a misery of mosquitoes.
My brother in law is still with us though he slips farther away each day.
I drove along a back road that turned to gravel, with no destination in mind, stopping at an old house smothered with wild grape. Cows muttered by the fence. A cabbage moth cut a giddy pattern across the field. I could hear my heartbeat and nothing else.
August is summer holding its breath. Soon we will slide into September with a sigh.