Friday, December 28, 2007

From Too Little to Too Much

I had written about it before but I spent twenty minutes searching for the words. Amazingly, although I wrote the words over ten years ago for WEB posting, I did find them. One day, way back then, I was feeling pressure to enjoy all the books, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV and such that was readily available to me. Not unlike, um, now.

Today some Holidailies participants are donating to First Book, an organization that gets books into the hands of children who would not otherwise have them. As I teeter (on a stack of books) at the other end of the scale, it isn't that I don't remember being on the other end of that spectrum. I do. I never want to be without words, pictures and tunes. Without input. I especially don't want to be without books.

But I still wonder when it went from too little to too much.

Here's what I wrote in 1997:


It's a media-rich world. There's never been more to read, to see, to hear. Or is it an assault, a river that is roaring by with no time for us to grab something and understand how to stay afloat?

I keep trying to decide when the input went from not enough to too much. I still remember when I was a kid, hungry for input. We never had enough books to suit me and I even 'played school' with some ancient school books that had the scribbles left there by my own mother and aunt. When we went to the State Fair in Dallas, we'd collect a sack full of automobile, agricultural and kitchen appliance brochures. We'd carefully review the bright pictures and fill our dreams with them. Once the Sears catalog had been put to use by my mother, I made paper dolls out of the clothing ads and gave my cutout kids the latest toys. (One of those thirty- or forty-year-old catalogs or a sack of those brochures would be an interesting view of my world at the time.) In those days, my mother bought a few magazine subscriptions with our meager budget. It was usually LIFE or LOOK, but once she tried to order Harper's but got, instead, Harper's Bazaar and our lower middle class household (where we mostly wore clothes made from Simplicity patterns) suddenly had a monthly view of the fashion world. A handsome high school boy delivered the 'Sherman Democrat' on foot. It was a skinny paper, but it was the only one we usually saw. I remember sitting on the porch waiting for his arrival. I can't remember, however, if I wanted to read the paper or was interested in how to get a paper route when I got old enough. (I don't think they ever let girls do it in my time, though.)

The TV signed off at midnight or so, I think. We did have all the major networks, but that's it. No remotes and how much fun is surfing three channels anyway? When we got our first TV we still lived on the farm. Mother bought it with bingo winnings at the American Legion hall. My favorite show was 'Sky King.' Hit Parade or something like that had settings and singers do the top songs each week and had to try to keep 'Davy, Davy Crockett' fresh for most of a year. (I got the girl's version of the coonskin hat which was a more feminine rabbit fur and happily the decidedly unfeminine pocket knife.)

In college (North Texas State, now U of NT), I worked in the campus bookstore. Suddenly there were plenty of books and magazines around, the huge library was close by on campus. I was pretty broke, but money wasn't necessary to get input. We had some lulls in the textbook department where I worked. When there was no one to wait on for long periods of time, we could read books and magazines and then put them back on the shelf. It was during this time that I became addicted to 'The New Yorker'--an addiction that I haven't been able to shake to this day. Often, I had to actually pay the quarter of fifty cents (I know it was less than a dollar then) so I could take the magazine home and finish it. Doesn't sound like much, but I think I only got seventy cents an hour. Fortunately, they let us run up a bill and charge everything until payday.

A little over twenty years ago, I was still watching a few channels on a black and white TV, and still couldn't really afford as many books as I would have liked to have around, if unread. At this time computing wasn't exploding and changing so fast either and I thought I might one day feel masterful in my work. I could only dream of having my own computer. An independent San Antonio station picked up a nightly soap opera about this time called 'All That Glitters.' Norman Lear had followed his 'All in The Family' success with 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.' Less successful and very edge, this was followed by 'All That Glitters.' It never even got aired by a network, I don't think. I bring it up because we watched it every night, enthralled at its radical concept: women were powerful in society and men were weak. From this premise, it was easy to put episodes together, the most everyday thing becoming twisted. I bring it up because we had so little to choose from compared to the late '90s, but here was this gem, too radical for its time. Actress Linda Gray was there, pre-Dallas, playing a woman who used to be a man in an upside down world. Sometimes we think we dreamed this TV show since so few people saw it. In fact, I recently spent a half hour or so on the WEB looking for something else on this show. Found a wonderful story about the making of 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.' But 'All That Glitters' seems to have vanished from consciousness. In contrast, I have seen one 'X Files' from beginning to end and no complete 'Ellen' shows. But I saw many episodes of a TV show that seems to have never existed.

One day in 1977 we bought a color TV. It was small, but had a good picture. Tennis was starting to be televised more widely (i.e. not just on public television) and Wimbledon was on. I could actually almost see the ball on this TV. I carefully planned to be in front of the TV for tennis events then. In 1997, I did not manage to see more than a couple of shots of the French Open. This in spite of having a color TV in almost every room. As I write this, a tiny Sony with a two-inch screen is showing a crisp picture of this year's Wimbledon. I imagine I'll soon be distracted from watching rain delays and tapes of the week's matches, I'm sure, by some other activity like this WEB page, or doing my real work---my work machine is sitting nearby as an affront. In fact, we have several dozen channels of cable, mostly unwatched and mostly deserving it, I guess. When we surf, we end up on 'The Simpsons,' an old black and white movie or the history channel; sometimes the sound track is a selection of jazz and classical CDs. Late at night, we might be taking in British sit-coms or old episodes of 'Perry Mason.' We are, however, usually asleep in our chairs as they play. We've recently discovered the Mike Judge cartoon, 'King of the Hill' but funny as it is, it's hard to get in front of the TV at the appointed hour.

Today I own unlistened to CDs, unread books and the unread papers and magazines are piling up. Meanwhile there is information on the WEB that I'm dying to read and study. I simply don't know where to start. I think people who aren't readers, who aren't naturally curious, are happier today than I am because they aren't torn about what information to consume next. Sure maybe surfing channels is getting more confusing, but as an input hungry person, I'm truly overwhelmed. It reminds me of a robot in some movie without, for me, a name (because I've watched it in randomly ordered fifteen minute increments from cable and missed the title). 'Input!' says Johnny Five in a pleading voice. Then he consumes every book in the house and sits up all night consuming TV. I want to do that, but I keep falling asleep or daydreaming. I don't have the robot's stamina.

Well, off to read a book or a magazine or surf the WEB or look at that great shot Venus just made!

Is that funny? I still feel this way, overwhelmed by books and magazines and media. Things once precious to me, still precious to me that I have so much of that I literally can't consume them. Books still call out to me and, when I listen, satisfy something deep inside me. I feel for people who don't desire books and information. And I feel for kids who don't have enough books! Once I was that kid. Somewhere along the line, I reached a tipping point. I'm not sorry either. My worst fear is to be trapped somewhere without words. Even without Internet access or TV, I could be happy if there were enough books and magazines. Better too many than too few.

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