Eclectic Electric

It all began with the internet going out.  Less than a month ago the modem was replaced, but the tech this time thought it could be the co-ax cable.  We went outside and he fed the cable through, but when he got to the box he noticed a problem.  “Your electrical drop isn’t attached to the house,” he said.  Sure enough, he was right.  “I can’t replace the rest of the cable until that’s fixed—it’s an electrocution risk.” So I called the electric company.  They said I’d need an electrician to secure the conduit to the house, but they’d send somebody out to look.  The tech must’ve been in the area because he arrived just after I spoke to our electrician.  “Your cable has never been permanently connected to the house,” he observed.  “It should be.  We can do that, but you’ve got to get an electrician to attach that conduit.”

The funny thing about this is actually two-fold.  One is that our home inspector didn’t notice that the electrical cable was not secured to the house (once the tech pointed it out to me it was perfectly obvious).  The second is that the former owner of the house claimed to be an electrician.  In fact, he runs a electrical contracting business.  The electrician we pay has said, on one of his many jobs here, “I don’t think he was an electrician.”  I, for one, believe the guy we pay.  So now we have to have him come out and secure the conduit.  Then call the electric company and have them permanently connect the cable (the house has only been here since 1890, so do a few weeks matter?).  Then we call our internet provider and have them replace the cable that’s been causing our internet issues.

We like our quirky old house.  It does seem, however, that many owners have neglected various aspects of it.  And that our home inspector was a somnambulist.  We’re just trying to get it up to code.  Well, actually, we’re just trying to get a secure internet connection because three livelihoods rely upon it.  Shoddy work has consequences, and caveat emptor reigns.  Few things are more basic to modern life than electricity.  Or even the internet, for that matter.  These things are fragile, it turns out, in ways difficult to imagine.  There’s a lesson hidden here, and it reaches back, I suspect, before the taming of electricity.

Image credit: Mircea Madau, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Reconnecting

Not using the internet for 48 hours isn’t the same as not being able to use the internet for that length of time.  Even politicians (who are notoriously slow at figuring out what people need) have started to make noises about this being an essential aspect of life.  Some (many) things you just can’t do without connectivity.  And during a pandemic taking an entire family to an enclosed space with free wifi (still a rarity) for over a full day so that they can get things done is an issue.  All of this has convinced me of the need to purchase a wifi hotspot, in addition to relying on what Astound Broadband (formerly RCN) is able to provide.  (You see, I’m in charge of a Sunday morning program at a local faith community.  I couldn’t even email anyone to let them know I wouldn’t be able to show up on Sunday without using costly data.)  Now that service has been restored, a kind of nervous normality has returned.

This has been a learning experience.  Of course we’ve got books to read.  I have papers, stories, and a next book to write.  None of those, ostensibly, uses the internet.  All of them do, however.  I’ve been conditioned to look things up on the web while I’m writing.  This is true of both fiction and non; a fact needs checking, a reference requires look-up, a thought occurs to you that has to be dealt with before you move on.  There’s an email you forgot to answer.  Etc.  Etc.  The web is our source of news (what’s happening with Ukraine?), our phonebook, our map, our encyclopedia.  Let’s face it—it’s an addiction.  But a necessary one.

Like many things, our government has the capacity to make internet access available, just like they could do our taxes for us and stop the madness of setting back clocks each year from Daylight Saving Time.  They could ensure universal health care.  They’re too busy “defending” a crumbling, pre-internet way of life and enriching themselves to actually enact any of these things.  And somebody would have to figure out what accountants would have to do if taxes weren’t an issue.  I strongly suspect people would still be willing to pay for more than basic internet connectivity.  But to have a basic signal out there that we could tap into without tapping out our data plans would be a real boon.  I found myself glancing at our neighbors’ houses all around and thinking, “They have internet.”  We pay a lot to have it too, but the only company in the Valley can’t guarantee access, especially on a weekend.  What have I learned?  The ascetics were onto something.

Photo by Nicolas Häns on Unsplash

Outernet

Once in a while (ahem), I interject a note of caution regarding technology.  This blog has been part of my daily routine for over a dozen years.  I try to post every day.  When I experience life outside I often think “that would make a good blog post.”  I make notes.  I ruminate.  One of the things I caution about is the fragility of tech.  In order for me to post these thoughts many different components have to work just right.  Not only that, but if I want to pay bills, or, more importantly, work so that I can pay bills, I have to have internet.  Everyone in my family uses it and they do so all day long.  This weekend is the long anticipated Project for Awesome (check it out at projectforawesome.com) sponsored by the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green.  If the names are familiar it’s perhaps because I’ve read and commented on their books.  Then the internet went out.

Late on Friday afternoon, of course.  Now we’ve had outages before—most recently after a power outage earlier in the week.  I called what used to be RCN, the only service provider in our area, only to be on the phone for half an hour with a tech.  She talked me through the usual rebooting and system checks.  The router was fine, but the only actual connection to the internet is via wifi mediated by a device called Eero.  There’s no ethernet cable (as if Apple laptops even have ethernet ports any more!), no phone line plug-in (ditto), nothing.  Nothing but Eero.  Apparently Eero had died.  And being a weekend a masked tech can’t be sent until Sunday afternoon.  So Friday night with no Disney Plus and Saturday without the long-anticipated Project for Awesome (you really should check it out).

Then my wife noticed her phone could act as a wifi hotspot.  It felt like we were entering a new world of magic.  (And data bills.)  The laptop could covert the G4 that her iPhone could receive into wifi.  It wasn’t ideal, because we have three people who want to use the internet.  With old tech.  All because one component of RCN’s complex system has x’s for eyes.  We had to play Wordle through her phone.  Watch Project for Awesome (it supports charities!) through her phone.  I don’t know, maybe we are even breathing through her phone.  Once in a while I interject a note of caution regarding technology.  This blog post is brought to you by my wife’s phone, acting as an internet hotspot, before anyone else awakes this Saturday morning.

Ancient history!

Routine Interruptions

Ironically, having just written about routines, we experienced a power outage with a wind storm.  Sitting home of an evening, the lights in every occupied room began to flicker.  We grabbed flashlights, suspecting what would come next.  The power outage led to a temporary loss of the internet, the god of this age.  Routine was interrupted.  This brought to mind just how fragile all this is.  As supply-chain issues have demonstrated, everything has to work just right for our society to operate at expected standards.  And an internet outage leads to an interruption of routines.  Whenever this happens, it reminds me of how complex our lives have become.  And how unfair.  There are people across the world who struggle with daily necessities such as clean water, safe homes, and reliable sources of power.  And a wind storm in eastern Pennsylvania doesn’t mean that the company’s power in another state is out.  Does this mean I take a vacation day?

As this winter winds down I again lament the loss of snow days.  They were local holidays, of course, and based on the unpredictability of nature.  Our power outage, followed by internet outage, was a personal kind of snow day.  Nobody wanted it and we all planned to work today.  Other than the outage, we’re fine.  Just like a snow day.  There’s a feeling of helplessness to it.  To fix the internet we rely on someone who knows how to do such technical wizardry.  Anyone can stuff a rag in a hole in the window, but to replace the glass it takes an expert.  How do you contact them when the internet’s out?  (Of course, everything’s back on in time for work.)

No doubt, many aspects of our lives are better.  We can pay our bills without using a stamp.  We can look up basic information online.  Even attend religious services virtually.  (Who doesn’t want to linger in their pajamas on a Sunday morning?)  Yet, for all of this to happen our power must be on and steady.  Our internet connectivity must be strong.  We have to be able to connect to work so that we can be paid so that we can keep the power on.  It seems an odd way to spend our time.  Obviously, if you’re reading this they—that mysterious they—have got things working again.  The power is on so that I can type this, and the internet is connected so that I can post it.  And yet I don’t feel any more secure.  And I know I’m one of those who has it easy.


925

Sometimes you just know.  One of the things I know is that nine-to-five schedules are killers.  Literally.  I grew my permanent teeth as a teacher.  Before that I had been set on being a minister.  Something they have in common is that neither profession relies on a nine-to-five schedule.  The hours are much longer than a forty-hour work week, but they’re flexible.  If you’re not in class, or in church, or a committee meeting, or your office hours, you can dash out to the store if you need to.  You can shut your eyes for a few minutes if you didn’t sleep well the night before.  As long as you get your work done adequately, nobody really bothers you about your time.  My initiation into the nine-to-five, in my mid-forties, was a shock from which I’ve never quite recovered.

A few years into this unnatural territory, my nine-to-five (925 is quicker to type) evolved into the commuting variety.  I didn’t live terribly near New York City, so that meant catching a very early bus.  I’m a morning person, so that’s not really a concern.  The problem is that my brain’s not a 925 brain.  Like one of my professors, I still awake at 1:30 (having gone to bed about five hours before) with an idea that won’t let me go.  When that happens you have to put on heavy layers of clothes against the night’s low thermostat and make your way downstairs to the computer.  By three a.m. your body’s in the fully awake commute mode.  Thing is, you’ve got a 925 day in front of you.  When I was teaching I’d be able to snooze again before even my eight o’clock class (I was never one to object to the early shift) began.

The idea behind the 925 is an atavistic throwback to pre-internet days.  Pre-pandemic days.  Days when you had to be watched to ensure you were working.  When you had to sit in a cubicle where nobody and everybody can see you.  If you’re not staring at your screen or not in a meeting you’re not working.  So this antiquated thinking goes.  Teachers and ministers don’t hold to regular hours.  They identify with their jobs—the very definition of “professional.”  If it’s what you’re born to do you don’t complain.  And if you happen to awake at 1:30 with an idea that just has to be expressed, those who pay you will understand if you yawn a time or two the next day when, ideally, you won’t be stuck staring at a screen.


Perhaps You’d Like…

Back in the early days of the internet I recall wondering how it could be used for research.  I was teaching at Nashotah House at the time and knew of no online resources that couldn’t be had in print.  All of that has changed, of course, with the web becoming the collective brain of humanity.  I tend to use it for research for my fictional tales.  Need to remember a detail about some obscure location you once visited in Scotland?  Check—either Ecosia or Google will take you right there.  Memory problem solved.  For some kinds of facts, however, it’s still a struggle.  There’s the infamous paywall, for example.  Your search brings you right to the info, but you have to pay for the privilege of reading it.  Commercial sites require a subscription that, although it has a cancellation policy, you know you’ll end up paying for forever.  University library websites are even more jealous of guarding their secret knowledge.

Fiction research often involves trying to find general information.  What some specific object is called, for example, or whether there was actually a Burger King in the location about which you’re writing, at the time your story is set.  Fiction writing is an exercise of the imagination, but verisimilitude can make all the difference.  Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be factual.  Here’s where another limitation arises.  If your query can be commodified, it will.  You’ll find yourself wading through pages and pages of vendors trying to sell you stuff, as if knowledge for knowledge’s sake is moribund.  Even WordPress gets into the act.  If your Premium plan fills up, you’re only option is to  “upgrade” to Business or E-Commerce, where you make money on your account.  (This blog remains free.)

I don’t make any money off this blog.  I use it to share the little I’ve figured out by looking deeply at the world—quite often involving observations about religion or books—over half-a-century.  Like many academics I believe knowledge should be free (ah, but they get paid for keeping it within the walls of the university with the occasional free cookie outside.  Or better yet, a paying engagement).  I don’t go to websites to be sold anything.  I maybe want to remember what a Quisp box looked like in 1969 without wanting to special order a box.  For sure, the web is a great place to buy the things you need.  At times, however, all you’re looking for is information.  At that point your price will be the time it takes to scroll through countless pages that assume you’re here to buy, not just to browse.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Vulnerability

Perhaps the most insidious thing 45 has been doing is undermining expertise.  If you’re like me you’ll be subject to that sudden, clenching fear that we live in a house of cards.  Everything is built on an extremely tenuous situation and we don’t understand the basis on which it’s built.  (That’s one reason I take such an interest in geology.)  So this morning I climbed out of bed around 3:30 a.m., my usual time.  There was no internet.  This has happened before, and I know enough to turn off power to the router and reboot.  This I did several times before finally calling RCN.  I pictured a tech sitting in a lonely basement at the wee hours, perhaps glad for a service call.  He was very nice.  Still, after having me do the basic checks again, he said he’d have to send a technician.  They, lazily, don’t start work until 8 a.m.

Now here’s where the expertise comes in.  Most of us use the internet pretty constantly.  We don’t know how it works, and when it’s broken we can’t fix it.  I can’t even figure out what some of these devices are.  In all likelihood the technician (my shining prince or princess) will not understand the underlying coding that makes the devices work.  They’ll be able (I hope, and if you’re reading this my hope is not misplaced) to figure out what’s wrong with the hardware.  I suspect even they, however, wouldn’t be able to lay the cable to my house, or repair it, if it were damaged.  We all rely on others farther down the line to know how to do their jobs.  Experts.  House of cards.  With a president claiming experts to be obsolete, I wonder how even the mighty could tweet without an internet connection.

All of this makes me feel quite vulnerable.  I work from home and I need a solid, reliable, steady internet connection.  The day we moved in, literally, two techs came.  It was a Sunday morning.  One of them fell asleep in the office chair while the younger one, who spoke no English, did all the work.  Every time I use the internet, I feel like I’m trying to add a new story to this house of cards.  I don’t know what to do if it goes wrong.  Since phone (and television, at least theoretically) is bundled in this, I can’t even call.  Well, I couldn’t if I didn’t have a cell phone.  My life is tied up with tech, and I can’t fix it if it’s broken.  I made it through a master’s degree without using a computer.  My frame of reference is ancient.  If a bird tweets and there’s no signal, does it make a sound?  Then, without explanation, the connection was reborn, just before 7 a.m.  Who says there’s no such thing as resurrection?


Early Light

There are times when the Internet’s asleep.  Okay, well, so maybe that’s overstated, but if you have my hours you’ll quickly find the things you can’t do online well before 9 a.m.  For example, just the other day I wanted to check out one of my accounts that I only vaguely understand.  It’s with a company my employer contracts with, and it has an innocuous name that tells you nothing about what it really does.  Still, I had to check in.  After looking up the password, and going through the usual 18-step confirmation of my identity (it didn’t recognize my laptop), I landed on a page stating that it was the routine maintenance period for the website, and would I be so kind as to check back in later.  This is not an isolated incident.  In fact, I often awake around 3 a.m. to find that my laptop’s also doing routine maintenance, although I’m using it nearly every day at that time.  Smart tech, indeed.

You see, the ultra-early riser has a different view of time than the rest of the world.  After about 4 p.m. I don’t have the sharpness that was evident twelve hours before.  Oh, I can still function, but it’s on auxiliary power.  No warp drive that late in the day.  I realize I’m the weird one here.  After visiting friends and family and staying up to the obscenely late hour of 10 p.m., I’ll take an entire week to get back on track with days passing in a fuzzy haze of timely confusion.  I’ve been trying to break the habit for over a year now, but I still occasionally have to go into New York City, and those days require ultra-early awakening.  Knowing such a day is coming up, my body doesn’t want to be vulnerable to that shift.  So I wake up naturally when many others are just getting to bed.

This is mid-day for some of us.

The problem with this is that if you have to get some business done before work hours, many websites are undergoing their maintenance.  They don’t want to be interrupted when I’m actually alert.  There’s a lot of talk about diversity these days, but the person trapped in the early rising net is not a protected category.  It is frustrating to have people say “why don’t you just go back to sleep?” when you can’t.  I’ve gotten used to all that.  The early bird, they say, gets the worm.  That depends, however, whether the worm is on the Internet or not because, believe it or not, the Internet slumbers in the middle of the night.


Internet Epistemology

Where do we find reliable information?  I’m asking this question on an internet-based medium, which itself is ironic.  While spending time with some younger people, it’s become clear that the web is their source of truth.  You find purveyors of information that you trust, and you accept their YouTube channels as representing correct data.  This can be a disorienting experience for an old doubter like me.  One of the reasons for studying for a Ph.D., apart from the vain hope of finding a career in higher education, is to hone critical thinking skills.  When I went through the process, that involved reading lots and lots of print material, assessing it, and weighing it against alternative views, also in print format.  You learn who really makes sense and you judge which publishers have good information more frequently.  As you navigate, you do so critically, questioning where they get their information.

Now, I’m not one of those people who think the younger generation is wrong (in fact, there are YouTube educational videos about just that).  The situation does, however, leave me wondering about how to fact-check when you don’t know the publisher.  It may be an older person’s problem, but it’s essentially the same dilemma behind self-publishing—the reason you trust a self-published book depends on the author alone.  Is s/he persuasive?  Did s/he document the sources of her/his information?  Are those sources good ones?  The young people I know seem quite adept at filtering out obviously biased information.  Many YouTube personalities footnote their presentations with links to sources (many of them online), and after an hour of watching I’m left questioning what’s really real at all.

You see, many of these internet personalities have sponsors.  Sponsors bring money, and money biases anyone’s angle toward the truth.  In fact, many of these YouTube sources call out the lobbying groups that influence public opinion for political ends.  Only someone completely naive—no matter their generation—would not acknowledge that government runs on money provided by corporations with interests to be protected.  There have been reliable sources, even from the days of print, that prove beyond any reasonable doubt just how corrupt governments tend to be.  But who has time to fact-check the government when the rest of the information we receive is suspect?  Those of us with training in advanced critical thinking aren’t immune from biased information.  It’s just that there’s so much data on the web that my head’s spinning.  I think I need to go read a book.


Devil or Con?

You can’t believe everything you read.  That’s one of the first tenets of critical thinking.  This whole process is about how to get to the truth, and in a materialistic world that truth can’t involve anything supernatural.  These were my thoughts upon finishing Gerald Brittle’s The Devil in Connecticut.  Controversy accompanied Ed and Lorraine Warren’s investigations and some of the people involved in these cases have later claimed the extraordinary events didn’t happen.  Others claim that the Warrens offered them to make lots of money by selling their stories.  The effect of reading a book like this is a blend of skepticism and wonder.  Among their fans the Warrens are held in the highest regard.  Anyone who begins to look into their work critically ends up frustrated.

So when I put this potboiler down—it is a compelling read—I went to the internet to find out more.  Then I realized what I was doing.  Using the internet?  To find the truth?  It’s a vast storehouse of opinion, to be sure, but what with fake news and alternative facts who knows what to believe anymore?  I found websites debunking the whole case as a hoax.  Others, naturally, claim the events really happened.  Both kinds of web pages have the backing of someone in the family involved.  It’s a pattern that follows the Warrens’ work.  In one of the many books I’ve read about them they claim to have ten books.  If my math is right this was number ten.  Even that remains open to doubt.

The word “hoax” seems a bit overblown.  Dysfunctional, maybe, but hoax?  Reading Brittle’s account it’s clear there were some issues in this family.  Having grown up in a working class setting, I’m aware such scenarios are extremely common.  Accusations were made that this was an attempt to spin gold from straw.  The nearly constant stress of blue collar families makes that seem less far-fetched than a stereotypical devil showing up in a modern house because a satanic rock band placed a curse on the family.  Lawsuits—the most avaricious of means for determining facts—apparently prevented a movie deal and have even made this book a collector’s item.  Somebody, it seems, is making money off the story.  As after reading the other nine books, the truly curious are left wondering.  My skepticism kicked in early on, but then again, I’ve always liked a good story. 


Internet of Happiness

Are we really happier for instantaneous news?  Has the internet brought us paroxysms of ecstasy with the quality of information?  Wouldn’t you just rather wait?  I don’t think we should go to extremes, or go backward.  Samuel Morse, it is said, developed the telegraph in part because he was away from home and only found out about his wife’s death after her burial, for which he could not return in time.  More rapid communication was necessary and the telegraph provided the means.  No, I’m not suggesting that happiness lies in being uninformed, but perhaps I lingered long enough among the Episcopalians so as to believe in the via media, the middle way.  Some of the happiest times of my life have been spent without a screen glowing in my face.  There is, however, good stuff here.

One example is blogging.  I wish I had more time to read blogs.  Verbomania, for example, showcases writing that sparkles.  The weekly posts set me up for a good weekend.  There are many more that I could name as well—and for me blogging has become a way of life.  Marketers call it “platform building” but I think of it as fun.  And the practice I get writing this blog daily has made my books much more user-friendly.  A family friend with no college education tried to read Weathering the Psalms, with “tried” being the operative word.  There’s no comparison with Holy Horror.  (Weathering the Psalms was written to be my “tenure book,” and it may well be my last technical monograph.)  I have this avocation of blogging to thank for that.

But instantaneous news—does it make us happier?  Sometimes perhaps, but often the opposite.  It’s a phenomenon I call the internet of unhappiness.  (There’s a whole field of study emerging called “the internet of things,” which, no matter how much I ponder I just can’t comprehend.)  News, after all, tends to focus on negatives, as if there’s too much happiness in our lives.  Just yesterday there were early morning helicopters hovering not far from where I live.  Within seconds I could learn of some kind of domestic dispute about which I’d otherwise have been none the wiser.  The next few hours I spent occasionally reloading the page for updates.  They didn’t make me happy.  Add to that the three-ring sideshow that the American government has become and you’ll soon be wanting just three channels from which to select before turning off the TV and going outside for a walk.  And when the 1970s start to look like happy times, you go to your closet and start digging for the semaphore flags.

They must be in here somewhere…


Appily Ever After

While in the theater to see The Nun (which ended up being the biggest take) this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that the pre-movie adds were all about apps.  I couldn’t help it because, much to my own chagrin, I’d left the house too quickly and I hadn’t brought a book to read while waiting.  This may not be news to some people, but different cinema chains have different “channels” of what passes for entertainment and ads to try to draw viewers in early.  The movie house we used to frequent in New Jersey had a variety of goods on show, most of the time.  The one we visited here in Pennsylvania presumed that everyone had their phones in hand, waiting for the show to begin.  On screen was the idolization of the app.

My phone is old enough that most modern apps don’t work on it.  Most of the time that doesn’t matter to me since I’m not addicted to the device.  Of course, when you’re trying to park your car in a town that offers only online options for such a convenience, I sometimes wish I could download the relevant necessary software.  Otherwise, I often wonder what we’ve lost in our lust for connectivity.  Coming out of New York on the longer distance bus recently, the driver called out, as leaving the Port Authority, “Lights on or off?”  The unanimous chorus, for I didn’t speak, answered “Off!”  I glanced around.  I was surrounded by devices.  I carry a book-light with me on the bus, for this has happened before.

“Drink the Kool-Aid” has become post-Jonestown slang for simply following the suggestion of someone without considering the consequences.  I sometimes wonder if our smartphones come in more than one flavor.  I’m not talking about features or physical colors.  As apps chip away at our money, a little bit at a time, they also take larger pieces of our time.  I’ve experienced it too, but mostly on my laptop (I don’t text—my thumbs aren’t that limber, and besides, the apocopated messages often lead to misunderstanding, emojis or not), the wonder of one link leading to another then realizing an hour has disappeared and I still feel hungry.  Perhaps that’s the draw to the modern commuter.  Or movie goer.  I’m sitting in the theater, taking a break from unpacking.  In my version of multitasking, I’m also doing research by watching a horror movie.  Around me eyes glow eerily in the dark.  I’m lost in the forest of unsleeping apps.


Slow to Travel

A family friend recently died.  I was in New York City when I received the news, and I mused how recent a phenomenon this speed of information is.  The news wasn’t necessarily a shock—this friend had been experiencing failing health, he was a close friend of my grandfather—but for some reason Samuel F. B. Morse came to mind.  The story goes that Morse invented the telegraph because of his experience of being away from home when his wife died.  By the time he received the news and was able to get home by the conveyance of the day, she’s already been buried.  He set his inventive mind to improving the speed of communication over a distance.  In these days of receiving texts mere seconds after something momentous happens, it’s difficult to imagine that for the vast majority of human existence, personal news traveled slowly.

Feeling in a reflective mood I recalled how when I was in college I wrote letters home.  Yes, the telephone existed by then—don’t be so cynical!—but long distance bore a cost and college students find ways to save their money for girlfriends or spending a weekend in Pittsburgh.  News traveled more slowly.  Back before Morse, the swiftest option was the letter.  The death of a friend might take days or weeks to reach those close.  Distance in time, as well as space, may not have lessened the shock, but the immediacy of a text wasn’t there.  The death had occurred days or weeks ago.  There was nothing left to do but grieve and get on with life.  Like Samuel Morse—perhaps the only point of comparison between us—I was unable to get away immediately.  New York City isn’t easy to escape quickly.

We move swiftly and slowly at the same time.  I know news moments from the event, but this physical mass I inhabit is sluggish takes some time to get around.  Manhattan’s an island, and although it’s not Styx we’re crossing, the Hudson creates barriers enough.  Now my journey includes crossing the entire state of New Jersey before I can even reach home.  Were I to drive back to my original home, it would add another five hours at least in the car.  Sometimes I wonder if the immediacy of knowing is a blessing or a curse.  The shock is immediate and visceral.  But like an injection, the sharpness is quickly over and the dull ache sets in.  Our family friend had been suffering for some time.  Now he’s at peace.  I like to think he’s with my granddad, and that the two of them together won’t judge me too harshly for moving so slowly.


Traveling Unplugged

Those who pay close attention, or who have nothing better to do in July, may have noticed that I missed a day posting on this blog on Saturday.  That hasn’t happened for a few years now.  I think maybe I ‘m growing up.  Or learning to resist.  Saturday was a travel day—the first I had to make from Pennsylvania, back to Newark in order to fly to Washington state and drive a few hours to the lake.  All in all, it turned out to be a long day in which I didn’t even notice that I was unplugged.  I had a book that I read along the way.  Although it’s against my religion—(call it Moby)—(but I jest)—I even fell into a cat nap or two on the plane.  I didn’t have a window seat and strangers don’t like you staring in their direction for five hours at a time.

Upon awaking, eyes refusing at first to work in tandem, in the chill mountain air, I realized I’d spent the entire day off the internet.  We had to pull out at 2:30 a.m. to meet TSA requirements, and you have to pay for the privilege of connecting to the web in airports and on board jets.  I’ve become so accustomed to being wired that I feel I have to explain why I wasn’t able to post a few thoughts when circumstances were so adverse to getting tangled in the world-wide web.  Yes, it still has a few gaps where one might buzz through without being caught.

It was remarkably freeing to be unplugged.  I believe Morpheus may be correct that they want us to believe reality is otherwise.  I feel guilty for not checking email manically.  What if someone requires something right away?  Some sage response to a communique that just can’t wait until I’m back from vacation?  Some reason that I must ask to be inserted back into the matrix if just for a few moments, to hit the reply button?  We’ve perhaps been exposed to what The Incredibles 2 calls the Screenslaver, the force that draws our gaze from even the beauty of a mountain lake to the device in our hand, whining for attention.  We have wifi here, of course, for the fantasy of living raw is sustainable for only a few hours at a time.  Reality, as you know if you’re reading this, is electronic.  But until I have to reinsert myself at the cost of my soul, I think I’m going to take a dip in the lake.


The Moved Unmover

To say it was an easy move would be a lie.  I write this on a beautiful, cool, clear July morning.  Only I can’t even calculate the last time I slept.  Not new house syndrome, but that move!  Our personal account manager at International Van Lines was supposed to call us between 4 and 6 p.m. on Friday to confirm the time of the move.  She would also tell us how much money was needed, in cash, by the movers.  In cash?  She’d taken my deposit by credit card; why couldn’t the balance be paid that way?  She was supposed to call to clarify.  I suspect my tone makes it sufficiently clear that she didn’t.  I went to bed not knowing if we would be moved or not—I only reread her email after packing the last box (or so I thought) at 7 p.m.  The IVL offices were closed.

I awoke at 3:30 to an email saying they would be there between 9 and 11 a.m.  And they would be wanting an uncomfortably large amount of cash.  My wife went to get it, and three guys and a truck arrived at 9:15.  I could see their faces blanche at the walkthrough.  They’d been told it would be a ten-hour job.  It turned out to be seventeen.  Nothing makes you feel a cad quite like being thought a snake-oil salesman.  Our bill of lading was just a bit short of reality.  Packing the truck wasn’t finished until 9 p.m.  Unpacking until 2:30 a.m.  Our three guys were joined by two more for the unpacking.  Most everything went into the garage because, well, no stairs.

Twice during the day the amount of cash needed was upped by a significant amount.  This was one of those “we’re in it now” situations.  We paid what was requested.  The internet guy was arriving potentially by 8 a.m. this morning.  Who can sleep knowing the alarm is set for four hours from now?  And our labeling scheme was so arcane that, well, most everything ended up in the garage.  The movers themselves?  Absolutely fantastic!  I’m sure they’ll be talking about this move for months to come.  

Looking outside, the yard wants mowing.  The internet guy is coming.  Who needs sleep when my life of telecommuting begins tomorrow?  The good news is it took only half an hour and one trip to the garage to find the coffee filters.  I’m looking out at a beautiful, crisp morning.  Over an Everest of boxes.  But you won’t know any of this until the internet guy gets here.  Somehow I sense we just accomplished something quite extraordinary.