Monday, March 10, 2014

A verbal selfie


In a NTYBR review of the diaries of famed diplomat George Kennan, I read this quoted extract from December 1927:
I cannot help but regret that I did not live 50 or 100 years sooner. Life is too full in these times to be comprehensible. We know too many cities to be able to grow into any of them…too many friends to have any real friendships, too many books to know any of them well, and the quality of our impressions gives way to the quantity, so that life begins to seem like a movie, with hundreds of kaleidoscopic scenes flashing on and off our field of perception, gone before we have time to consider them.
If life seemed that hyper 87 years ago, what would poor George make of life today? How many Twitter followers would he have? How many Facebook friends? How many books on his Kindle?

I dare say if George Kennan had lived 50 or 100 years earlier –- or 200, or 400 -– he would have found cause for the same complaint. There are those who go rushing into the future like ducks to water, and those who instinctively cling to an idealized past. Kennan was clearly in the latter category. So, I suppose, am I.

No Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram. I don't scorn these things, I just don't see the point. Every week I get a message from Facebook saying that 60 or 70 folks want to be friends, mostly names I don't recognize. I appreciate the interest, but what I'm looking forward to right now is a walk alone on the beach. I have made myself a nest on the blogosphere, and I am instructed and gratified by those who visit, but the main reason for being here is the selfish opportunity to leisurely consider "those kaleidoscopic scenes flashing on and off [my] field of perception," such as a provocative paragraph in a NYTBR review. Coffee, a quiet chair, my MacBook Air –- solitude and silence.

Oh, I scoot about, as you know, among three beautiful places, but when I get there I hunker down, like the naturalist John Burroughs, and wait (as Burroughs said) for the turning seasons to bring everything by my door. I hope I'm not as cranky as Kennan, but I'm not rushing into the future, either.