Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cheating

I think I’m cheating. I’m listening to Joan Didion’s latest memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. Yes, listening. Thus the reason why I believe I’m cheating.

I love Joan Didion’s simple and pithy sentences, her uncanny way of describing the ordinary in a fresh light. I love the way that she uses scientific and medical jargon to distance herself from the gaping chasm of grief left in the wake of her husband’s death. I fell in love with the way she described the whining Santa Ana wind in her essay about Lucille Miller that opens Slouching Toward Bethlehem when I first encountered it as part of a course packet. Joan Didion was the very first writer I studied as a part of my Nonfiction Literature course seven years ago. Shortly after reading that first essay, I devoured that book, reading until the wee hours of the morning despite the fact that I would get up for work early the next day. So I feel I might be committing some sacrilege by listening to her work instead of admiring the look and feel of her written pages.

But, I’m obsessed. My library system has just introduced a new digital download section of their webpage. I can temporarily download audio versions of nearly any book and listen while I’m cleaning, driving, working on lesson plans (see earlier blog about how I never seem to be able to leave school behind even while on summer vacation), or like today, blogging. I must confess that I tried something I think only an English teacher might attempt. Yesterday while listening to This I Believe, a collection of essays that came out of NPR’s weekly program by the same name, I attempted to read something else. Granted, it was a text version of a number of the essays I was listening to, but I found myself reading different essays than the ones that I was listening to, half-tuning in to the audio version, realizing I wasn’t comprehending what I had just read, then refocusing my attention on the text version, an ever looping cycle. I think this is the pitfall of technology.

Technology begs us to multitask. I have learned to multitask, and those high school students that I teach have grown up multitasking. They IM and draft an essay while they listen to the latest Fallout Boy cd. I’m attempting to listen to one of my favorite writers and write myself. It is an attempt, a futile attempt I now realize. As I write these words I realize that I’ve just missed the last few lines of Joan Didion’s novel. I’m attempting to accomplish too much. Technology promises to make our lives easier, but I wonder if it also turns our attention away from fully engaging in one activity, one idea. As we multitask, we distance ourselves, much like Didion uses her scientific inquiry into the brain and the body to distance herself from the reality of death and grief. Technology distances us from our lives, from fully engaging in the world just outside our door. So, maybe I should stop listening to The Year of Magical Thinking and go pick up the book. Unfortunately, I also have Barbara Kingsolver’s new memoir already in my cue downloading to listen to later.
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