My mother offered to buy me a Kindle as a Christmas present. I poured out my thanks but turned her down. “But you won’t have a lot of space in your tiny D.C. apartment for books,” she said. “I’ll pile my books on the floor if I have to,” I said. “It’ll be easier to travel with,” she said. “It’s comforting to carry around a physical book,” I said. “It will save you money in the long run,” she said. “I’d sooner give up coffee,” I said.
In my writing classes we’ve been talking a lot about memory. About how many of the things we end up writing about later have been reconstructed in some way. About how, in this age of screens and cutting-edge technology and faster and faster Internet connections, our commitment to memory is lagging, dying. We don’t have the same desperation to retain truth and beauty as we did before the computer and the cell phone. “Remembering” has become too easy. We take a picture and call it a day, not taking the time to physically embody a moment so we can remember it rightly later.
I wonder if we would be better writers if we were more committed to memory. I wonder if literary pursuits would not be a dying art if we were more committed to paying attention.
Whenever I think about my future apartment, the only thing I am sure about is that it will have books. I don’t know anything about roommates or silverware or where I’ll find cheap furniture that isn’t ratty and moldy and covered in mysterious sticky substances. But I do see lots of bookshelves, however makeshift they may be. Even if I find myself unable to make new friends in that new environment, I take comfort in knowing I’ll have familiar titles, colors, words.
I recoil to realize I spend more time with my books than I do with God.
Father, forgive me.
The more time I spend thinking about screens the more I fear them. Something’s alive in there, sucking me in, gluing me to something other than my present surroundings. Even when that’s a welcome escape, when I’m in a room full of intellectuals who intimidate me, I lament that the escape is so easy. I lament how, the moment I re-download a social media app, it becomes my first source of entertainment, rather than the book I packed for this very purpose in my bag. It’s not at all edifying, no matter how many people I mute or time limits I put on my phone. Reading is harder when there’s a screen option. In comparison to mindless scrolling, reading takes effort.
And yet here I am, writing about this vicious cycle again and again only to find zero improvements. And even when I deleted social media for a few weeks my screen time didn’t go down. How did that happen?
If I don’t get an internship this summer I’ll have to read more, I guess. Lie in bed and cry. Experience shame. Fight the darkness in my mind. Write self-indulging essays. Write kind essays. Learn to see writing as an act of grace.