“Jeffrey doesn’t like change.” My father said this (in my presence) to my mother as our family contemplated moving to a new state. I must have been twelve or thirteen years old. Prior to this, I was unaware of my aversion to change.
Brief aside #1: Please don’t call me Jeffrey. My father is permitted to because he picked out the name. The only other person in my adult life who called me Jeffrey was a woman I lived with for two years—a period I associate with low self-esteem and doormat tendencies. Hearing “Jeffrey” sets my teeth on edge.
He’s an astute man, my father. Based on my memory, both of my brothers supported the move. I guess my mom did too. I vocally opposed it. I had carved out a niche where we lived. With a circle of friends, surprisingly large for a tiny, immature, odd kid with undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome, I knew I would struggle with a fresh start. I pitched the proverbial fit.
We never moved. I don’t know any details about this. Maybe my father didn’t get the job; maybe the offer sucked; maybe my parents didn’t want to uproot the life of their struggling son. No idea. I’m happy we stayed put. I recall my younger teen years as a generally happy time.
I have a smartphone. Yes, like everyone else in the world, I own a smartphone. I only bought it two years ago. Part of my aversion to change. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, I carried a cellphone for work. Back then, smartphones were just getting started; I carried a flip. And then I took a break. From 2006 through 2017, I went phoneless. During that time, I missed the smartphone revolution. I missed out on some key developmental milestones.
Texting: I text like an old man. When I got my phone, I vowed to become an adept texter like my kids and millennial coworkers. I forced myself to use my clunky thumbs when I wanted to use my pointy fingertip. My speed never built beyond a slow plod. While some of you write whole blog posts on your phones, I can’t even respond to comments. A paragraph on a cellphone takes me about fifteen minutes to write. Better to just wait until I have my laptop handy.
GPS mapping: You don’t leave home without directions. That’s how I grew up. Starting about five years ago, on car trips, my kids would say “Oh, there’s a Cracker Barrel in thirty minutes.” I marveled at their ingenuity. I began to see the possibilities of carrying a phone. I’m still learning the ins and out of Apple maps. “Hey Eli, how do I make my phone show what exit we’re taking?”
The other issue is eBooks: When my kids first entered the world of devices, we got them each a Kindle Fire. This must have been around 2009. After a few years, they moved on to iPods and then iPhones. A bit before I got my smart phone, I got a hankering to start borrowing eBooks from the library. Using one of the eight-year-old Kindle Fires lying around my house, I borrowed two. Orwell’s 1984 and book-two of Julianna Baggot’s Pure series. Then my Kindle died and I switched back to real books.
Brief aside #2: In the Pure series, a dystopian young adult trilogy, Baggot makes constant reference to Bruce Springsteen’s song Thunder Road seemingly for no reason at all. It has nothing to do with the story. She never mentions the song title, she just drops multiple hints about the song by mentioning recognizable bits of the lyrics. Finally, deep in book-three, I sent her an email, “What’s the deal with you and Thunder Road, anyway?” Her husband responded. “Julianna sang that song as a lullaby to her children. The song holds a special place in her heart.” Mental eye-roll on my part. I liked Baggot somewhat less after that.
Last week, I read an eBook on my phone, my first. I expected this to be a horrible experience. I have an iPhone 6. As far as iPhones go, this is about as small as they get. I figured I’d have about fifteen words on the screen at a time. My experience wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it seems like a rather nice way to read a book. I was shocked at how small a font I could comfortably read on my phone. I would never have even tried this, except blogger Mark Johnson gave away free copies of his memoir, From Fertile Ground, on Amazon. He read my book and left an overly generous review, I thought fair-play suggested I should read his book as well.
And now I read eBooks.
I didn’t know what to expect from Mark’s book. As a blogger, I know him as a careful writer who obviously spends time looking for the best words to convey his meaning. The result is clean, clear story telling at a languid pace. I wasn’t sure how this would translate to a book-length memoir.
The narrative that runs through my brain—for how long, fifteen-years?—is that I’m not a real adult. I don’t know where this comes from. I own a home, I’m happily married, I continue working at a successful career, raise children that I like, read books for entertainment—it all seems very grown up. But deep inside, I still feel like a teenager. This is pretty clear in the five hundred essays I’ve written over the past eight years. My hopes and fears come across as adolescent and insecure. Like I’m still nursing the wounds I sustained in middle school.
Reading Mark’s memoir, I found myself comparing our lives. He got out of college, got married, started a family and a career. After college, I drank beer and played in adult soccer leagues for more than a decade. Mark saved money, I squandered mine in bars. Mark retired in his fifties. I’ll be fortunate to quit working at seventy. Mark is only five years older than I am, yet he seems like he’s from a different generation altogether. Even the pictures in his book show a well-dressed, groomed man. I secretly take pride in skipping showers for days. A highlight of my week is wearing jeans to work.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mark’s book. The writing is first rate. His story contains excerpts from his grandfather’s journal, his mother’s letters and his day-to-day story of working through the grief from his mother’s death—something easily relatable for me. It tells a three-generation tale of middle America. It’s insightful and enjoyable and upbeat. I highly recommend it.
All of the memoirs I read are written by broken souls. People who drink too much and use drugs. People who suffer from various mental illnesses. People compelled to run long distances but don’t know why. People who live in excess. Reading Mark’s memoir, the story of a normal person, has left me a little confused. I found it hard to understand why certain scenes didn’t include getting drunk or crawling back into bed to escape a foul mood. His memoir is a glimpse into a psyche I know exists, but I don’t feel. “Normal” shouldn’t seem so exotic to me. I live my life around normal people every day. But seldom, if ever, has someone done such a good job of describing it to me.
Returning to where I started. No I don’t like change, but sometimes change is something to strive for.