Monday, April 20, 2009

Rage Against The Machines...

One of the great pluses of my relationship with my husband is that we're very much alike in key ways: we have similar tastes, we have similar strengths. It can pretty much be guaranteed that if I'm into a new interest or project, my husband will be right there alongside me, proofreading, brainstorming, running off to get supplies, cutting and gluing and creating a mess to help me make this idea take shape. We are very compatible in this: we are both people who are perfectly content in a creative environment, and we both get all angst-y when we are between projects. I think a lot of our self-worth as individuals comes from our creative output, whether this is a healthy attitude or not.

The downside of being so well-matched in terms of strengths is that we're equally similar when it comes to our weaknesses. Neither of us is very practical, for example, though John is more than I am (his inner-Protestant Minnesotan is to blame), and we are not particularly adroit at the day-to-day business of playing bills on time, making sure our son gets enough sleep, finding our respective glasses, getting the clean laundry folded and put away in a timely manner. Sadly, a lot of this sounds like the stereotypical artist's refrain - how do I still thrive in this world of schedules and deadlines and responsibilities? - (and I am well aware of how pretentious and annoying that sounds, as it's hard not to call to mind the clichéd English lit snob writing an epic hand-wringing prose poem in a smoky café) but it accurately reflects the nature of the challenges we face. Not that every day offers insurmountable hurdles or that we are so tightly cloistered in our precious ivory tower of creativity, but just that the daily obligations one assumes in adulthood seem to be a lot easier for other people to accept, you know?

It wouldn't be so hard if machines didn't hate the two of us.

If it has a motor, wheels, gears, is mechanized to any degree, has buttons one must push, must be programmed, has hard little metal and plastic parts made in a factory somewhere, it has invariably been implanted with a computer chip with the directive to foil the two of us whenever possible. Currently, my oven has blown a fuse and does not work, the pilot light went out in our gas tank (April flowers bring cold showers here), our garage door is dysfunctional and must be manually opened, and, last, the car. Oh, the car.

It safely ferried my newborn home from the hospital, it has shuttled us to all manner of exciting and ordinary destinations, it hosts a number of identity-pronouncing bumper stickers (including my all-time favorite, a scratched-to-the-point-of-illegibility gem from Lawrence, Kansas: Bush + Dick = Screwed) but now the ol' wagon is ailing. Car-eating buzzards are circling overhead. The military band is rehearsing Taps in our garage (they had to open the door by hand, of course). The obituary has already been written for Car and Driver Magazine and it's ready to run at a moment's notice. (Beloved Ford Focus wagon, gunmetal grey, vehicle to John, Marla, their child and several hairy beasts, passed away from complications related to age and negligence on Tuesday...)

The Car Talk guys on NPR would egg each other on and laugh and laugh at our sad situation. The transmission is wonky - it gets stuck between gears or something like that - and, lately, the starter has not been, well, starting. We can get somewhere but when we try to leave, it won't start again. And it's unpredictable. Sometimes it takes twenty minutes or so to restart, other times, a couple of hours. Yesterday, we left abandoned the car in the grocery store parking lot and waited for the bus in the cold rain with all our shopping bags to get to my mother's place so I could cook on her stove as ours is currently unusable, as you read two paragraphs up. I am a fan of public transit so that is not an issue, but it can feel a little silly sometimes to be taking the bus to your mother's place so you can cook dinner and bathe (remember the pilot light?). You know, if you're not nineteen or so.

When I have some perspective, I can clearly see that machines do not hate us, at least not all of them. I am writing this right now on a computer that dutifully records every letter typed, and a space heater is warming my legs. Our toaster oven seems to have mastered the job of toasting without complaint. The blender and juicer shouted out from the kitchen that they are humming along just fine.

When the technology around us shorts out, malfunctions or just plain quits, it's hard not to feel like the entire machine world is in on some master plan bent on disrupting our lives. It can take some deep breathing before it sets in that these things are not us, that in our old age, we won't remember the starter problem with the car, but we'll remember the road-trip to Pennsylvania to see friends, the animal sanctuary in Michigan, the adventures with friends and family that the car helped to facilitate.

Maybe in my attempts to make peace with technology, the lesson is that I need to make peace with myself. These are inconvenient bumps in the road, but the real stuff of life is rich, abundant and expansive. Machines can never replace that.

Shalom, everyone.

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