Funny thing about the ol’ interwebs. Every week or so, it’s Let’s Beat Up on (FILL IN THE BLANK) Day. A little ways back, it was Paula Deen. Seems after years of peddling recipes like Deep-Fried, Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake Twinkie Gravy Soup, she came down with the diabetes, but kept right on pimping her southern fried delights for a few years before copping to it. Copping to it right after signing some deal to pimp a diabetes pill instead. Or as well, I’m not clear. So it was open season on Paula Deen for a bit. Even saw some breathless screed a week or so ago about how she’d been SPOTTED EATING A CHEESEBURGER!
I dunno. First, I’m not a Paula Deen watcher – I mean I’d heard of her, I had a vague idea of what her shtick was, but I’d never seen her show. Before the diabetes shit hit the fan, I couldn’t have picked her face out of a line up. But seriously, didn’t everybody already know that pretty much everything she cooked was unhealthy? Didn’t we already know that, if you ate that stuff on a regular basis, you might develop diabetes, or heart disease or some other bad shit? Still, you have days when something like country-fried steak with biscuits and gravy on the side feels like a magic Band-Aid, like it’s the only thing that’s gonna make you feel better after the world’s scraped all the skin off your knees again because your mother’s dead and she can’t kiss it make it better anymore, and so fuck the cholesterol and pass the Crisco.
I don’t watch a lot of cooking shows, but when I’ve tuned in, I’ve never seen anybody making fiber-coated tofu with B-12 frosting. Usually, whatever it is they’re whipping up, it’s something the FDA would stick way up at the don’t-eat-this-more-than-once-a-decade pointy little tip of its food pyramid.
Anyway, today I guess it’s Beat Up on Jonathan Franzen Day. He said some stuff about e-books, and how they feel impermanent to him, and wondered maybe if technology isn’t engendering a sense of impermanence, an addiction to change, that’s at odds with the solidity that a printed book offers. He said that, for him reading something on a screen always leaves him feeling like it could just get deleted. And so, today, people are lining up to take shots at him. He’s a Luddite. He doesn’t understand the technology. He’s too stupid to be one of the cool kids.
I dunno. Franzen and I were born about three weeks apart. And I get it. I have a Kindle, I’ve bought lots of stuff on it, read lots of stuff on it. But the stuff I have on my Kindle, that’s just stuff I wanted to read, not stuff I wanted to own. Books I’ve been waiting for from authors I love? I still buy those hard copy. I like to have them on my shelves. I like to open them and turn their pages with my actual fingers. I like, sometimes when I pull out an old book and I find this smear in the corner of a page and I remember I was reading that by the fireplace one night, and we’d just made cookies, and that smear, that’s a little bit of the chocolate from that evening, and it’s still there and the page is still there and the book is still there, even if that long ago evening is equally gone with all my yesterdays, filling up the far side of the balance that’s dipping lower and lower, hoisting my ass up toward heaven or hell or the void. I like to think that maybe one of my kids might open that book someday and see that smear and think hey, that looks like chocolate, Dad was such a slob, but he was a slob with a book in his hands. I guess I could leave the kids my Kindle, but it would just be a device and the stuff in it would just be files. There won’t be any chocolate stuck to the pages.
A screen is different than a page for me, too. It does feel impermanent. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I didn’t type words onto a screen until I was well into my twenties. I still print out hard copies of stuff when I think it’s final, just so I can read it on a page, read it in its most “real” state. I’m no Jonathan Franzen – you can’t go find me on the shelf of a bookstore anywhere. I’ve had a few short stories published here and there, and I have a collection coming out in a few weeks. It will be an e-book. I tell people about it, but I always feel a little apologetic, always feel I have to preface it by saying “it will just be an e-book.” Because, in my heart, that’s not the same.
I want to have copies to hold in my hand. I want to see it on shelves. I want to be able to sign it and give it to people I know. All I will be able to do is send them a link, same thing I do when I see a good joke about the Kardashians.
In the basement somewhere is a big plastic box filled with samples of my work – old newsletters or brochures or such that I’ve written in the various iterations of my day job over the last three decades. Used to be, if I was pitching a new freelance client or looking for a job, I’d dig through there, pull out the most pertinent stuff, show it to whomever I was trying to impress. I don’t have a printed sample of anything I’ve written in the last five or six years. Even stuff that ended up printed – some of our firm’s collateral, some articles – the way they handle that now, it all goes up on a server and the local office that wants to use it pays to have it printed on demand a couple copies at a time. Sure, it’s more efficient. We don’t end up throwing out gobs of outdated junk. But I have to save PDF files down to my hard drive every so often, before the things go out of date and get deleted off the server. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I think I should add something to my sample library, but when I go up to the server, it’s already gone.
It may just come down to the yawning maw of the grave. I’m going to be deleted off the server someday. I hope, when I am, somebody has some samples in a box somewhere. Or on a shelf.
Nobody wants to be all the way gone.