Friday, September 11

bliss in a barrel

there were these two skinny, preoccupied kids walking home from school together. probably about 13 or 14 years old. I remember the girl had on this frilly, bright purple shirt. both of them, the girl trailing just half a step behind her friend, were bowed over their cellphones, texting their brains away.

I noticed these two kids on my way to the library, and when I got to the library, I picked up a book of essays by Jonathan Franzen: How to be Alone. I was going to read it backwards, starting with the last essay in the book, because ... well, because I felt like it. how often is a book divided into segments that you don't really have to read in any order? but then I thought that perhaps Franzen had arranged them in a certain order for a reason. anyway, I'm in the middle of the third essay, which is entitled "Why Bother?"

one of the themes I'm noticing in this collection has to do with the weirdly elusive line between public space and private space. the whole title reminds me of what Lewis Buzbee mentions in The Yellowlighted Bookshop, about places where we go to be alone among others. a bookstore is a very public place. and presumably the sidewalk is too. but just as with so many other things, our definitions get blurry. what makes a space public or private cannot simply be what we do there or who we see there. Franzen says it's how we feel there. do we feel exposed? or do we feel comfortable? but I'm not so sure it's as clear as all that.

the two teenagers ignoring each other in favor of a tiny screen of pixely communication struck me as amusing, but I'm sure it's not uncommon. look at me, sitting in this quiet house, quite fixated with a screen of pixely communication myself. but the internet--this great glob of recorded randomness--it must count as a public place? maybe I can be in both at once. living in my own head but poking air holes in my little cardboard box at the same time.

my world is splintering. but maybe it always was like that. maybe we always had a choice of who we listened to and noticed and cared about. maybe it was always hard to prioritize, to slot our daily 24 hours into all the most important and meaningful pursuits. it seems much too easy to ignore things. there are people I know who are very interested in politics. wars and history and social issues and poverty and literacy and the state of the world. but so far, it doesn't feel like those things need me to worry about them. so I ignore them.

how long will I get away with that?

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