Unmarked Crossings: a poet and her journeys

Connemara, Carl Sandburg, and Me

March 14, 2010

Tags: residencies, notable poets, travel

March 14, 2010

Another night tossing and turning. It seems that every other night is one where I either sleep like a log or can’t sleep at all. I believe, rather like New Year’s I was awake at 2 a.m. to welcome in Daylight Savings Time 2010. At 4 a.m., I turned on the light and read the remainder of Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout. I remember my mother having trouble sleeping to the point that, after she retired from working at St. Mary’s Hospital in Galesburg, she had jobs sitting with patients at the hospital. She would be contracted to stay bedside of patients whose families wanted a respite from their vigils. A few times, she went to the patients’ homes after they were dismissed to watch over them through the night. Mother would work crossword puzzles or crochet and, as I did in the wee hours of this morning, read books.

I was pretty sure I would not go back to sleep after finishing the Strout book, so I started another: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It is a delightful book written by two British women. Set in the years directly following WWII, the entire format of the book seems to be letters between the main character, Juliet, and her friends, business acquaintances, lovers, and the people of the island of Guernsey (one of the channel islands that was occupied by the Germans during WWII). I look forward to reading more tonight when I lay me down to sleep (and hopefully, sleep).

I stayed in for the remainder of the day here, more gray, rainy hours. I don’t mean that as a complaint, just a fact. I could see people out and about here at Connemara, despite the on again, off again nature of the impending springtime. As I sit here at my computer, I can watch people coming and going a couple hundred yards away: elderly couples hand-in-hand, families with babies in slings and backpacks and young children in tow. Connemara allows dogs, as well, so I can also see people starting up the rise toward the big house with one arm outstretched as their pooches strain to catch the smells of a new (or familiar) place. I missed seeing the goats today, but tomorrow with the DST in effect, I hope to be there before 5 p.m. closing.

Today I have been thinking about technology and Sandburg and this beautiful estate. When Sandburg died in 1967, the family had many amenities offered people at that time. The head of the Zenith Corporation, a close friend of Sandburg’s, had given the family many televisions, radios, and record players, most of which remain in the house. The children were encouraged to watch selective programs and, to be honest, back then we were all lucky to have more than three or four channels to watch. I remember back in Galesburg, we got Channels 4,6,and 8 (from the Quad Cities), but if manually switched the TV to UHF channels, we could sometimes pull in one or more of the Peoria channels (19, 25, 31), which seemed almost exotic to us.

At my home in Kentucky, I do not have cable or a dish or any other way to get more than the free channels available (now with an HD converter). Even at that, I get fifteen or sixteen channels, including six versions of PBS. I wonder what Mr. Sandburg would think of cable TV and being able to watch hundreds of channels, some in foreign languages.I’m sure he would not waste his time on reality TV, cartoon families and their “lives,” or the raunchiness that is readily available to our children. I remember the first time I heard the word “damn” on television, back in 1977. It was not an earthshaking moment, but it stunned me enough that I remember where I was standing in the big living room of the parsonage on Prairie Street in Dwight, Illinois, ironing clothes for my family.

Beyond television, there is much that has changed in technology since 1967. In this ancient cottage, the exterior looks pretty much unchanged since the Sandburg’s were here. Inside, however, there is are sprinkler and alarm systems to protect this piece of history. The thermostat is automated and glows like a nightlight in the dark (I admit to changing it sometimes for a few hours when my feet get cold). In the kitchen there is a microwave and automatic coffee pot. A little alcove holds a very nice washer and dryer. Mrs. Sandburg had both, but even she would be surprised with the newer models available now that use less water and energy, but promise cleaner, fresher laundry results.

And here I sit at my computer, typing away. Excuse me, “typing” is even an archaic word. I suppose I am “Key-boarding.” I saw several old, manual typewriters in the main house here, one sitting on an orange crate that Sandburg could move from place to place (his version of a portable typewriter), even outside to his sitting rock behind the house. This computer, a rather inexpensive PC, has several hundred music albums, literally thousands of photographs, and every piece I’ve written over the past ten years or so. I can plug a thumb drive into it and, now with 8 GB versions of that miracle of technology, remove everything from my computer and carry it in my pocket or purse.

When Steve and I had the stores ( drug store and two Hallmark shops), we were very much agreeable to technology and, unlike a lot of small businesses at the time, had most of our operations computerized by the mid-1980’s. We had a little Mac with a screen the size of half a sheet of paper, but an external hard drive for storage for the gift shops. When the pharmacy was computerized it had a large computer the size of suitcase that had 40 MB of memory. That’s it. It did one thing, stored data from customer’s prescriptions. Now I carry my cell phone (a Palm Centro) that has a 4 GB chip that holds most of my music, a camera, video camera, and PDA, not to mention all the other capabilities I don’t use (such as Internet, texting, games, etc.).

I believe, like most people who are thinkers and doers, Sandburg may have embraced some technology that would have helped him stay in touch with what was going on in the world. Would he be on Facebook, My Space, or Twitter? I doubt it. He didn’t even drive. The old Jeep that belonged to the Sandburg’s, still in a garage between where I sit and the goat yard, was driven primarily by Lillian (aka Paula) Sandburg as she went around the farm. Sandburg spent his time writing.

So, I’m about to put a frozen pizza into the oven, open some Green Tea Ginger Ale, and have a bite before checking my email accounts (student and personal, find out what my friends and students are doing on Facebook, then drift off listening to my “Strong Woman” playlist on my cell phone. But not before I hold an honest-to-goodness real paper book in my hands and go back to a place and time sixty years ago. You don’t need technology for that.

Comments

  1. March 15, 2010 7:40 AM EDT
    Interesting, as usual. So where do you stand on the Kindle? I still much prefer reading "real" books.
    - Marc Gunther
  2. March 15, 2010 9:56 AM EDT
    Marc--I know several people who own a Kindle or other reading tool (for want of a better word) and are totally hooked on them. One person has severe vision problems and is happy that he can adjust the pages so that he can read the text. Others like the availability of so many books at the touch of a screen. For me, however, there is nothing like opening a real book for the first time and falling into a story printed on the page. Or, better yet, opening a book that has been loved and read over and over (by myself or others), one that is dog-eared or with marginal notes made by a stranger or has an inscription to someone who is long dead but remembered in some shaky script. I have many old, old books that I treasure. I can't see how someone a hundred years from now will pick up an (by then) archaic Kindle, tap the screen (that will no longer work due to new technology), and see nothing but blankness. There will be new technology, of course, and readers will flock to the next big thing. But even if they are only treasured as antiques, printed books will still be around. In my opinion, there is just something visceral about holding someone's thoughts or ideas in that combination of ink and paper in one's hand that can't be equaled by a computerized screen.
    - Christina Lovin