I’m writing this in bed on my phone (this is one of those sentences that would have been incomprehensible, like, ten years ago–there are so many of those kinds of sentences now), so don’t get all judgey if I lapse into inanity and/or have my text hijacked by autocorrect. I just realized I hadn’t written anything today and hadn’t done much of anything else but lie around on my couch reading science fiction and Laura Ingalls Wilder, a curious combination that I highly recommend for cold, sick days. The past and the future, crashing together between your ears and howling in pain and warning. I’m pretty sure those hours of reading set off some kind of chain reaction in my brain that will result someday in either deathless literature or deranged raving. Meanwhile, however, I have to jot down something today because I told myself I would, every day in February. Damn the promises we make to ourselves.
Maxine Kumin died a few days ago. I hadn’t read much of her poetry before but I liked what I had read, and I read her obituary in the New York Times with great interest. This was the best detail: After meeting in a poetry workshop in the fifties, she and Anne Sexton were best friends, such best friends that each installed a phone line in her home dedicated to their conversations with each other. They’d call each other, then leave the receiver off the hook to keep the connection open while they wrote poetry. When one of them finished a poem, she would whistle into the phone to get the other to come hear it.
The Times dryly called this a precursor to instant messaging, which I suppose is true in the sense that both involve electronic signaling, but I’m not sure that’s the most meaningful comparison. The point of this relationship, it seems to me, wasn’t so much the rapidity of these poets’ communication as its intensity and intimacy. You see the same kinds of relationships being conducted by letter prior to the invention or ubiquity of the telephone–the same meeting of minds. And if Maxine and Anne had just wanted to talk or share their poetry, it wouldn’t have slowed them down much just to dial each other’s number. That’s not what they wanted, though. They wanted to think together. And they didn’t want to do that kind of thinking with anyone else–that’s why they kept the line open to each other, and only to each other.
Now, of course, you can exchange ideas with anyone on the planet so quickly and easily that there would be no point in going to such effort for any one relationship. It’s wonderful, I love it, sometimes I find myself texting or IMing or Facebook messaging with four or five people simultaneously, chattering away, having a great time, sharing ideas, gossiping, whatever…but then each conversation trails off, and each of us is alone again, with our own thoughts. There’s no awareness of the other person still there, on the “other end of the line,” breathing and thinking. There’s talk and no talk, nothing in between. I won’t say there’s no real friendship or intellectual companionship because that’s silly, of course there is, plenty of both. Maybe too much? Harder to discern which are the real voices you should be listening to, when there are so many of them.
I’m thinking on paper as usual and as usual probably making no sense. Feel free to ignore me. But keep that image in the back of your mind, the two poets whistling to each other over the open connection. I have a feeling it might come in handy some time.
an instant message
from the owl