Home      About Dan      News      Books      Forum      Art      Writing Well

<back to index | previous letter | next letter

Now Join Your Hands, And With Your Hands, Your <3s... ROFL!

Greetings, and a very happy 2009 to you! Wow, 2009—does that look really foreign to anyone else?

At least it’s a little easier to type “2009” than “2008”... but this is coming from someone who types numbers with all the grace and agility of a dolphin trying to open a can of tuna. Numbers have always been my Achilles heel on the keyboard.

I don’t blame myself for this. I blame the typing program that I was forced to practice in school, circa 1990, which involved a large orange cat (who had all the personality of a rotator cuff) doing various awkwardly animated tasks after you typed a certain number of words per minute without making a mistake. Our computer teacher would make us sit in solitude and practice typing until we got good enough to make the cat get up from a nap or swat at a ball of yarn, and when we became questionably proficient we’d raise our hands and the computer teacher would come stand over our computer and watch us. If she was convinced of our typing skills, she would let us get up to find the next (actual) floppy disk in the Big Dumb Cat Typing Lessons Series. Imagine that! One proficiency level per floppy disk! Those were the days.

I picked up typing pretty fast and I was actually pretty good at it when I was a little tater tot, but I would get so nervous when the teacher came over to watch me that I seem to remember failing every single typing test. It makes my palms sweat just thinking about it.

The kids could all see each other’s screens, so my friends would watch me put my cat through his menial kitty tasks over and over, and then stifle smiles when the teacher arrived and my cat lay motionless, staring straight ahead at me in disgust as I typed “I like to eat bmamas, they aew the best friop to eat if upi aew a kid”. I would break out into a full case of flop sweat as the teacher would peer over her glasses at me in frustration and inquire why they keyboard was all wet.

(*side note: I just googled “typing test cat” to see if anyone else is having Post Traumatic Typing Class issues, and this website was the first hit: http://www.bitboost.com/pawsense/  ... in case your problem isn’t “learning to type with the use of a cat”, but rather, “your cat is typing on your computer without adult supervision”. This may explain some IM conversations I had online in the earliest days of AOL)

Anyway, as much as I hated that cat, computer class was the thing that made my heart beat fastest in the world. For it was there, in that dark room with ugly square Macs staring back at us with a single blinking green cursor, that we were allowed—for reasons still unknown to me except for a passing attempt at educating us about American history—to play Oregon Trail until it was lunchtime. I’ve had a deliciously happy life, but I’m not sure if anything has ever made me as happy as those rare times when Oregon Trail day would coincide with Baked Cheese Sandwich day. I’m not kidding. I’m trying to think of something in my current life that would even come close, but the only thing that comes to mind is if I came home tomorrow to find LeVar Burton down on one knee with an engagement ring, and a 24 hr. marathon of Family Ties, The Sopranos and Planet Earth running on every channel in the background. And even then, I’m not sure if that would be better than the times that Baked Cheese Sandwich day coincided with Oregon Trail day.

I digress, so I will just say this:
If you have not experienced the thrill of pushing your slap bracelets up your arm before delicately removing an Oregon Trail floppy disk from its crinkled white sleeve, inserting it into the disk drive, sliding the catch into place and booting up the greatest game known to man while swinging your Velcro-shoe-clad feet with joy under your static-inducing orange chair... well, my friend, all I can say is that I feel a great loss for you.

True story: my friend just came into the coffee shop I’m writing in, and I’m so confident that she will share my joy in Oregon Trail, I will transcribe our entire conversation as it happens. (*yeah, I’m that kind of friend. You may want to duck behind a newspaper and run if you suspect that I’m in the same coffee shop as you)

Laura: Jane K! What are you writing about?

Jane: Hello, friend! Well, I was going to write about my favorite topic—having an identity crisis-- but this essay’s off to an odd start with a multi-page nostalgic visit to the days of Oregon Trail.

Laura: (hands flailing and eyebrows waggling) I LOVED THAT GAME!!!

Jane: (breaking down the 4th wall to make eye contact with her readers in a silent and solemn promise that she did not bribe Laura to say that)

Laura: (still making excited dolphin noises) You really had to think on your feet in that game. “Are we going to forge the river? Absolutely. But we’re going to lose little Jimmy in the process... oh, well! Ready, set, forge the river!”

Jane: I feel like the things I really remember about the game weren’t necessarily ‘educational’

Laura: Were you like me-- all the people in your wagon were named after the people in your class that you liked?

Jane: (experiencing a swift dose of flashback) Oh no. You’re right—all this time I was just thinking that Ryan Froshaug, Eric Wood and Ben Hoge were the names of famous pioneers. No wonder I got a C- on that paper in college.

Laura: Nope, we all named our husbands after the boys that we had crushes on. It was weird that we named our kids after our friends, though. The whole thing usually got very incestuous and weird.

Jane: What were some of the biggest challenges for you?

Laura: Forging the stupid river. And I never wanted to buy an axle because I was always confident that it wouldn’t break, but it would ALWAYS break.  You know, you’d go to the general store, but you were just thinking about getting butter and eggs. Who’s got time to look for an axle?

Jane: Or an ox. I always forgot to get an ox when I went to the store.
Hey, Remember “hunting”, when you basically had a big green pixel that allowed you to awkwardly “shoot” at a bear? And even if you got a 200lb bison or something, you could only carry 5 pounds of meat back, and you’d sulk the rest of the day about how your bison was just festering out in the green, poorly-drawn wasteland of a forest?

Laura: The thing I remember about hunting is that sometimes all you could get was squirrels after you’d accidentally killed off your son who was named after your best friend. Those were tough times, my friend! Things would always take a turn for the worst when you sucked it up and bought the axle—you’d start to lose your family and everyone would be eating squirrels all day.

Jane: I wonder if these things will come up in our therapy sessions when we’re famous and neurotic?

Laura: Talk about a game of strategy... you had to try to learn history while struggling with the social dynamics of intentionally killing off the people in your wagon...

Jane: I never made it to Oregon. Did I ever make it to Oregon?! They should’ve taught ‘memory’ in that damn cat game, too.

Laura: Here’s the thing. We’d make it to Oregon about 50% of the time, but never with the ultimate cast. We’d always try to kill off a certain cast member who we’d named after someone who was mean to us, but it was always sweet Amelia who died. That was a weird part of the game, psychologically... killing off people you liked.

Jane: However, it was highly educational. Would I know what yellow fever or dysentery were without Oregon Trail? No. It’s really everything you could want in a game.

(at this point in our conversation, my friend Thad entered the mix via text message to say: “Snakebites. I always. Died. From snakebites”. We sensed a tone of bitter resentment)

Jane: (wistfully) I still wish I could remember what happened if you actually made it to Oregon.

Laura: Wait a second... SIM CITY! That’s where they picked up! I just put it together. When you get to Oregon, you just switch over to Sim City, which is similar, but the biggest difference is – wow, this is getting me all riled up.

Jane: (mopping coffee off of my scarf) Yes, yes, go on!

Laura: Sim City had the same problems, except I would put off stuff like building a water line instead of not buying an axle at the store. Who wants to put in water lines when you could be building two lakes and, uh, ten fire houses?

Jane: Yeah, weird... there was always a fire going on. Here we go with the destructive themes again.

Laura: But instead of killing off your friends, this time you’re just building a city and populating it with your friends. A city... that you’ll eventually destroy.

Jane: And we were always triggering earthquakes, just to mix it up.

Laura: I guess what we’ve learned here is I don’t like taking the time to lay the foundation. I like all the flashy stuff on the outside. Give me the earthquakes and tornados any day! I’m all about flash and not substance, Jane.

*          *          *          *          *

Having reached an existential place, Laura and I left the coffee shop and went our separate ways... but I kept thinking about those early computer class days.

Things have really changed since the days of big green screens and games that required hitting the spacebar at 3-second intervals to shoot a squirrel. Those were the days of Duck Hunt and Pac Man, when our biggest problems were washing our Hypercolor t-shirts in water that was too hot, or having to ask our Girl Scout troupe leader for a quarter so we could listen to “The Bodyguard” soundtrack on the jukebox at Pizza Hut. Am I finally at the point where thinking “those were the days” becomes a resounding theme of my life?

Part of me misses the era when the only blend of technology and my social life was when I named my Oregon Trail husband after the boy I liked. Today, there’s so much e-mail and internet chatter... meeting people in real life is a phenomenon that’s about to be taxidermied and displayed in natural history museums.

Take internet dating, for example. It offers an active approach to finding a significant other, and it allows people to explain who they are and who they’re looking for in as much detail as they want. But part of me balks at the idea of picking and choosing what attributes I want others to know about me, or what others want me to know about them.

I recently read a NYT column by a woman who had Googled the man who had just asked her out on a date, and she later spent their first date tormented by her inner monologue as she attempted to sashay around the information that she’d already learned—his favorite foods, how fast he ran the mile, what college he went to. That column might as well be the single person’s manifesto. In the realm of instant information, where’s the romance? Where’s the intimacy... where’s the fun in learning about each other?

As a hopeless romantic, I look back on hundreds of years of valor and chivalry with the detached interest of someone researching the ill-fated Dodo bird. I’ve seen paintings and read literature that described fighting for a woman’s honor by means of duals, jousts, foot races, love poems, and steeds galloping across misty moors as the hungry snarls of wolves echoed in the distance. And I also hear that the Dodo was flightless and somewhat awkward at dinner parties.

*(Wait... don’t freak out. I’m not yearning for the days of feet binding or being traded by my father for a dyslexic goat and an armful of chickens)

I can read about the old days of passion and romance, but the closest my friends and I tend to get to “chivalry” or “passion” is updating our Facebook homepage or inspecting our cell phones to see if we might’ve possibly missed a message because the other person was low on service/ held at gunpoint / drafted into the Turkish army/ in a coma.

I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I have literally turned to each other after sadly checking our cell phone for the 300,000th time before asking—in all seriousness—“I’m starting to get worried. What if he/she is in a coma?”

Did Juliet ever turn to her lady in waiting and ask if Romeo was in a coma because he hadn’t replied to her text message in four days? Hell, no! But believe me, you... if Romeo had a cell phone, that would’ve been a HUGE part of the original play.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say, what are u doin 2morrow nite? ;)”

“What light, through yonder window—can you hear me now?”

Exit, pursued by a Verizon bill.

Where’s the fun in technology?

Where’s the ‘meet me in the coffee shop—I’ll be the one with a rose next to my copy of Swann’s Way’, or the ‘I saw you standing there with the sun illuminating the blonde locks of hair that were framing your face, and I knew right then what it meant to be alive?’ C’mon, we’re lucky if we even hear from someone after meeting them and exchanging numbers. And even then, half the time it’s a text of a winky-face and a misplaced asterisk.

My friends, Keats was not confined to 160 characters. The Brontes never rolled on the floor laughing and left you waiting by their manuscript while they went to get a Mountain Dew refill.

I don’t mean to sound bitter—I’m just concerned that Romance, capital R, and genuine human connection are being threatened by the ominous glow of our techno-gadgets. Gadgets offer anonymity, so we become bold as we half-focus on what we’re typing, relaxing in front of a football game in our pajamas and messy ponytail. However, this leads to a curious backlash when our anonymous courage leaves us holding each other at an arm’s length in person. With all the quasi-chatter going on, it becomes harder and harder to actually talk to each other.

As someone who struggles to balance her shy side with her outgoing and unbridled love of meeting and learning about people, gadgets certainly come in handy when face-to-face courage fails. Business cards are exchanged in lieu of home phone numbers; emails are sent instead of in-the-moment conversations. But this always depresses me on some level, like the day when my college roommate and I were sitting next to each other writing papers, and we started instant messaging each other about what time we should leave for dinner.  

Laptops, iPhones, Sidekicks, BlackBerries... we live in a world of fun toys and marketing campaigns that promise us we’ll “find someone special in six months, or receive an additional six months of internet dating for free!”

But as an old-fashioned bachelorette who’s swimming through the seas of her quarter-life-crisis, I can’t help but to shake my puny fists at the heavens and cry out into the starry night, “Until our hearts are replaced with motherboards, I hope that we can still look each other in the eye and speak to each other. I hope that we can still remember to introduce ourselves in elevators and cafes and do-it-yourself car washes. I hope that we still hold ourselves accountable for the things we say, without relying on a follow-up email or a winky-face to let others know how to interpret our actions.”

And for the love of all that is holy, I hope that we can remember to buy the axle at the beginning of our trip, before the kids complicate things by coming down with typhoid fever 100 miles before we reach Chimney Rock.

Yours truly, from the romantic land of solitary cyber musings,

Jane Kathryn

^top | more of Jane's work>

Home     Books     Curtis on Publishing     Previews     Bio     Bibliography     Snapshots      Reader's Forum     Art