Hamlet’s BlackBerry

(This is a copy of a review posted on GoodReads.)

It’s been a couple of months since I read this, but I think my impressions of it are intact. I picked it up after hearing an interview with the author and learning the topic was one which has been on my mind for years, how to cope with our ever-faster, ever-more-connected, ever-more-constantly-interrupted digital lives. It takes the encouraging approach of offering a series of profiles of individuals throughout Western history who successfully found ways to take advantage of revolutionary changes in the speed and volume of communication while preserving the ability to detach, withdraw, and lead rich inner lives. They found ways, and Powers feels sure we’ll find ways.

Most of what I found here were ideas I and many others have already thought and said, but it did offer some useful terminology to clarify the conundrums, especially Marshall McLuhan’s division of technologies into “hot” and “cold”. Those are handy terms to describe my attempts at digital reading. When I tried to read a book on an iPad, I got nowhere. The “heat” of the 500 other functions lying behind the page was constantly pulling me out of reading. Moments of going to check this or just quickly do that or pursue a Google search of this question prompted by what I was reading piled up until the book was forgotten. The iPad was just too hot a property. It wasn’t until I got a Kindle — good only for reading and abysmally bad at everything else — that the tempo slowed and I made it to the end. I could, of course, have just gotten the physical book if I were willing to forgo the advantages of digital downloads, but I’ve also arranged to have articles from the Web which I’ve marked to be read later forwarded to my Kindle. These also were piling up untouched on my iPad, and now I actually get to them. Paradoxically, buying another, “cooler” (in this sense) gadget can sometimes provide the means of escaping the onslaught and spending slower, more carefully considered time with one selected piece of information.

Powers doesn’t offer many specific suggestions of strategies, encouraging the reader to consider how the examples of the past might be adapted to his or her problems as they arise. I’ve already thought of and tried most of what he does suggest, especially unplugging for periods of time. I try at least three days a week to remain offline and as low-tech as possible at least until noon. I look forward to a time when I have fewer responsibilities and this is more feasible. One method has already failed. I tried turning off all Internet devices and relying on my cellphone, but the cellular coverage in my small town is too inadequate. When I went for a walk, the phone in my pocket chimed, and I found a half-dozen messages from my sister saying my father had been taken to the hospital an hour earlier, and asking where I was. If I’d had the Internet gadgets on, I would have gotten notifications through them, so back on they went. Now I’m pondering whether it’s worth it to buy Magic Jack (about $10 per month for the first six, $30 per year thereafter) and a dollar store corded phone, and have calls forwarded to it. Then I could turn everything else off and still hear a phone ring if I’m needed. Things get so convoluted — we have to buy high-tech to go back to low-tech in our efforts to reach no-tech.

Will we find a healthy balance before we all burn out? I’m encouraged by the kids in my neighborhood. They all have smartphones, but after school, they’re riding skateboards and shooting hoops. They seem smart, physically strong, and polite. I really think they use their technology and aren’t used by it. They probably handle it better than we dinosaurs who didn’t grow up with it. Maybe we need to spend a day with them and learn.

Hamlet’s BlackBerry” is a quick read and worth the time if you are at all feeling the encroachment of electromania. The only problem I see with it is the title. I might have found something with a little more staying power. Do kids today even remember what a BlackBerry was?

Traveling to Baltimore

Carey Street porch

October 24th would have been my 20th anniversary with my first partner, and I’m planning to make a sentimental journey and spend a day or two in Baltimore visiting our home and other places we shared together. If anyone from my Baltimore days will be around then and would like to get together, let me know!


June calendar

An excerpt from today’s diary entries:

I went to the G2H2 party last night at Gordon’s amazing house, all vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, and massive exposed beams, like a National Park lodge. He and his partner ran it as a B&B for 15 years before getting tired of all the work it entailed. It was a potluck, so I set out my tabouli (which I forgot and left behind), loaded my plate, and sat down at a table on the lawn with Richard (doing well, even playing volleyball, five weeks after his stomach surgery) at the end and Karl & Wes across from me. Someone I didn’t know came and sat beside me. The conversation turned to Karl and Wes, who have been together for 25 years and were just married a few weeks ago. They registered Karl’s sister and (I think they said) Wes’s brother as ministers, had a small ceremony at their lake house in Pennsylvania, then went over to the Maryland side of the lake where they could legally file the paperwork. They were just back from their honeymoon in Provincetown.

The man beside me — George, as it turned out — said he and his husband were to celebrate their second anniversary next week, having gone to New York to get married. He paused wide-eyed for a moment, saying “Wait, it is next week, right?…” before reassuring himself that he hadn’t forgotten it. He was vague about it because the day they really celebrate each year is the date they met, June 12th. He said they’ve been together 17 years.

I started.

“17 years?” I asked him, quietly. “So… June 12th, 1996?”

He thought for a second. “Yes, that’s right, it was 1996, June 12th.”

I debated, “Should I tell him?”, but it was too strange not to share.

“I know it’s a little morbid, but that was the day my first partner died,” I said.

What are the chances that I go to a party with a few dozen guys and someone sits beside me with that connection? I should have asked exactly how and when (what time of day) they met, to pinpoint the timeline. They may well have been shaking hands for the first time the very moment I was walking out of the emergency room. How the world does spin ’round and ’round!

Fast finished


Before and after

I broke my fast four days ago, so I’m getting some perspective on the fast itself and the immediate aftermath. It was a far more arduous experience than I expected for reasons I never expected. I thought I would be hungry during it, but I never was, and never craved solid food. Instead, I was sore, miserable, foggy-headed, weak, and tired. The clearheaded, energetic state that people described never hit me, except maybe a little at the end. I think five days was just too short a fast for it to kick in for me.

Once I broke the fast, I continued to have no hunger. In fact, I couldn’t seem to get hungry. At my first meal, I finished a small bowl of soup and an apple, but had to take two thirds of the salad home. That night, I had the first of two nights of insomnia, walking around town at 2 AM. Maybe I should have waited for morning to break the fast, or maybe it was the energy rushing at an importune time.

The next day, I was feeling pretty great. I went to the farmers market, and found an arts festival going on next to it. I walked around and saw all the fried foods and had absolutely no interest. The fast really did reset my taste buds. Candy bars and pastries hold no attraction at the moment.

That afternoon, I started to not feel well, and by evening, I was sick. Really sick. I mean really, really laying on the sofa unable to get up and walk to the next room. I may have eaten the wrong thing too soon, but I think I was pretty careful about starting with simple foods. I really believe it was brought on by restarting Aleve too quickly. I took two pills in the morning, as you can do when restarting it after a break. It’s bothered my stomach in the past when I’ve taken it without food, and though I had it with a bowl of oatmeal and banana, I think my digestive tract said, “Wait, what are you doing here? We need to talk about this. Hang on while I get the rest of the body to help me clarify my position in the most vivid terms possible.”

I laid off the pills after that, and gradually got better. I’m on them again now, and feeling fine. I think I’m starting to get back to my routine, though with my sense of attractions towards foods definitely changed.

Things accomplished?

I set out three goals for this experiment, increased energy, general health improvements (possibly with good consequences for my neck), and weight loss.

The first was a wash. I noticed on re-watching the movie that feelings of energy hit fasters as they neared ten days and beyond, so it probably wasn’t in the cards for a five-day fast.

I do think it made me feel better by the end and after, and that the Night of Nausea was medication-related. I think it’s terrific that it’s left my body with an overwhelming bias towards fresh, whole foods.

My weight dropped from 146 to 138. I’ll attach the before and after photos. The body mass index says my minimum healthy weight is around 130. I’d hoped to reach 140 by the end of summer, so was happy to hit this mark.

And now… ?

Was it worth it? Would I do it again? What will I do going forward?

I think it was definitely worthwhile. I believe I’d do it again, arranging my preparations around my new knowledge of how my body responds (especially remaining off medication for a couple of days after the fast). I’d probably use the 10- or 15-day plan, both of which include transitions from days of simpler foods into and out of the juice-only period.

Going forward, I’m going to continue to make juice at least once a day. It seems to keep my system oriented towards expecting healthy fuel, which should also encourage me to make better use of the local farmers markets and CSA opportunities.

As a side bonus, I realized that having a juicer provides a good solution to a perennial problem of the single person, suddenly realizing you’re not going to be able to finish all the produce in your fridge. If you can’t get it eaten before its shelflife is at an end, down the juicing tube it goes!

(You can find all my updates from the fast here.)

Coming Out Under Fire

(This is a copy of a review posted on Goodreads.)

Book cover

This is a compelling and readable book resulting from an important project, one of those we can be grateful were completed while the veterans were still alive to give first-hand accounts. I enjoyed watching “Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure”, with its description gay life in the Army in the 1950s, and was glad to be able to step back to such a comprehensive look at what happened during the war. The gamut of experience is laid out here, from the difficulty gay soldiers sometimes had just getting in and finding their place in the service and the harrowing abuse and persecution many faced during and after discharge, to the eye-opening small-town gays and lesbians experienced on being moved to cities and discovering thriving gay culture for the first time, and the positions of respect and acceptance many were able to achieve in their units. Particularly moving were the heart-wrenching accounts of soldiers who watched their lovers die in combat, and the surprising compassion and support they received in their grief from their fellow G.I.s. I would have enjoyed hearing even more of this oral history. Google shows that there’s a film based on the book. I’ll hunt it down in the hopes of getting more stories directly from the men and women who went through this.

On a personal note, I was intrigued by the fact that, while less stereotypically gay soldiers might pass right through to combat units, an informal system arose of assigning more obviously gay men to certain jobs in which they seemed to thrive. These men became the medics and chaplain’s assistants and yeomen and entertainers. One recounted how his natural sensitivity led him to be prized by his superiors as a writer of particularly thoughtful and consoling letters of condolence to families of fallen soldiers. I have to wonder whether this is part of what happened when the course of Glenn’s Army career turned from lugging a rifle to pounding a typewriter. Glenn would never, at any time in his life, win awards as the most macho in the crowd. I know he had a year of business college which must have been appealing as the “paper army” ramped up, but I wonder whether a classification officer took a quick look at him and said, “You know, I think we have just the job for you…”