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What We Keep

Snowy day...

The critics
Classes are cancelled so I am at a loose end, and ought to be industriously writing. I am not. I am watching robins out the window. They have arrived from whatever southern clime they winter in, little suitcases in hand, ready for spring in Virginia, and it has snowed on them. They look disgruntled rummaging around in the snow and I feel as if I should put out a bowl of worms.

The dogs are reluctant to go outside, preferring to line up on the sofa and wait for me to come sit with them, where we can bark at the mailman together. I don’t even have to cook tonight since I made two dinners last night in anticipation of my Monday night class.

So why am I not writing? The farthest I have got is to re-read (for the twentieth time) a short story that needs something. I discover upon re-reading that I still don’t know what it needs. It has dogs in it. Perhaps I should consult the pugs. Alas, they will just assure me that they like it very much, the best thing I have ever done, and how about a dog biscuit since they are worn out with literary criticism.

It should be so easy to write just now. No need to leave the house, a handy computer, a story that needs work. And so easy to revise – just delete, insert, cut and paste, move the first scene to the middle, drag and drop. Like magic. No retyping, no correcting with white-out, no renumbering pages. Technology at my fingertips.

Instead, I start making a list of things that technology has made it impossible to do. Person-to-person calls on the telephone, for instance. When I was growing up, my family developed an excellent system for not paying for long distance calls at all. If you called person-to-person and the person wasn’t there, you didn’t have to pay for the call. But you could hear everything the operator said to whoever answered the phone, and they could hear you. When I was in college, a person-to-person call home for myself meant that I had made my standby flight. When I missed it, I called for Mr. Charleston DeLay or Mr. L. A. Sunday, and told the operator that I would try again about 6:00, thus announcing my new arrival time. My favorite was a call made by my father to a friend who was hosting that week’s poker game, just outside the local rate area. The friend was notorious for forgetting to take the chicken meant for the the players’ dinner out of the freezer until they arrived and reminded her to. Thus a person-to-person call for Mme. Poulet deFrost.

You can’t kite a check anymore either. When banks did their business by mail, a check for $50 from Person A to Person B could be deposited and used before it cleared. All Person B had to do was mail a check in return to Person A, who deposited it to cover the first check. You kept that up until someone actually laid their hands on $50 and put a stop to the whole thing. I learned that from my father too. Lest I seem to have come from criminal stock, someone always did eventually cover the check. And he considered a poke in the eye to the phone company (there was just one, and it otherwise did pretty much what it pleased) to be a noble goal.

He was a working writer all his life, but there were days when he said it just wasn’t there and went out to prune the pear trees instead. I miss him dreadfully. I think I will take a page from his book and watch robins. Read More 
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