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Cemetery Nights

November 13, 2012

For the past two weeks I’ve been having my laptop—my only computer, and a college-owned machine—updated. When that resulted in one of the parts not working, then it was repaired, and when in the course of the repair something else broke, it was sent in to the company, and when that company determined that one of the parts couldn’t be replaced, it was finally cobbled back together like a Frankenstein monster from the working parts of two different machines. Now I have it back, with a trackpad that isn’t sensitive to my touch and darts all over the place, seemingly on its own volition.

So now I’m back. Did you miss me?

I wasn’t able to read and respond to most of the things I usually try to pay attention to on the internets. And I wasn’t able to read and process my thoughts by writing about them, as I despise writing longhand and am not patient about doing stuff in stages, like writing a Word document and then emailing it to myself. I have been more dumb than usual.

And I’ve been thinking that blogging can feel like being the dog at the end of this poem by Stephen Dobyns, barking and barking. You don’t know if people hear you. You don’t know if they notice or if they are relieved if you stop for a few nights.

Cemetery Nights

Sweet dreams, sweet memories, sweet taste of earth:
here’s how the dead pretend they’re still alive—
one drags up a chair, a lamp, unwraps
the newspaper from somebody’s garbage,
then sits holding the paper up to his face.
No matter if the lamp is busted and his eyes
have fallen out. Or some of the others
group together in front of the TV, chuckling
and slapping what’s left of their knees.
No matter if the screen is dark. Four more
sit at a table with glasses and plates,
lift forks to their mouths and chew. No matter
if their plates are empty and they chew only air.
Two of the dead roll on the ground
banging and rubbing their bodies together
as if in love of frenzy. No matter if their skin
breaks off, that their genitals are just a memory.

The head cemetery rat calls in all the city rats,
who pay him what rats find valuable—
the wing of a pigeon or ear of a dog.
The rats perch on tombstones and the cheap
statues of angels and, oh, they hold their bellies
and laugh, laugh until their guts half break;
while the stars give off the same cold light
that all these dead once planned their lives by,
and in someone’s yard a dog barks and barks
just to see if some animal as dumb as he is
will wake from sleep and perhaps bark back.

It is a dark time of year, November. It is a year since my father died.

Of course, it can be good for a person to go through the motions; sometimes that’s what you have to do in order to feel normal again. But sometimes the feeling that it’s just motion is a warning that what you’ve been doing doesn’t have enough meaning to make it worth the time—or worse, that the rats have been laughing at you.

This poem says, I think, that it’s just perception. If you’re hearing the rat laughter, then you’ll get dumb. If you’re listening for someone else “as dumb” then you’re bravely forging on. “No matter” if anyone comments. “No matter” if you’re making yourself ridiculous.

Still, I’m listening for a bark back.

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2012 8:45 am

    Had a similar issue with my laptop when it was fixed. I don’t have a “trackpad” per se so the fix I kept finding in troubleshooting sites didn’t work. Finally found a piece of software to download that made my cursor behave. But those were weeks I couldn’t write and I know your frustration. I did, though, do some longhand writing though I don’t like it and find it physically painful. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

    • November 14, 2012 8:22 am

      Yes…I have never liked writing in longhand–I can’t read it afterwards (nor can anyone else) and it doesn’t allow me to organize my thoughts the same way.

      • November 24, 2012 10:03 pm

        I have that problem too. I cannot read my own writing, I can’t organize it, and I can’t keep track of it.

        I do sometimes brainstorm longhand, but that’s usually the short idea-stuff. Real work is on the computer.

        And, yeah, the absence of comments can be a lonely thing!

        • November 24, 2012 10:07 pm

          Says someone who is waaay behind on reading & commenting herself!

          Part of the time the absence of comments on my part is because everyone (the vague “everyone,” not any specific anyone I know) keeps saying they need to be intelligent and relevant or don’t bother, and sometimes, all I have to say is “Yes, I read your post. I read all your posts. Don’t go away.” But not anything specially intelligent or not said before in the comments already about any specific post, if that makes sense.

          • November 25, 2012 8:28 am

            You put it so well—I read your post, I read all your posts, don’t go away. It’s the bloggers’ equivalent of “as you wish.”

  2. November 13, 2012 9:10 am

    That poem also really hits home for me right now. (And yes, we did miss you!)

  3. November 13, 2012 11:21 am

    *barks annoyingly* I was, in fact, just saying to myself, I wish Jeanne would comment on that last post of Jenny’s, because I bet she would have something v. v. sensible to say. And you did! Glad you are back, and sorry to hear that your door into the interwebz is sticking.

    • November 14, 2012 8:27 am

      Love that bark! And yes, I have several different systems for seeing what other people post–it’s clear that one is superior. Plus, for reasons I don’t want to go into that have to do with me being a technical idiot surrounded by technical adepts, I was having trouble getting the various blogging platforms to accept my comments. I would comment, and then it would demand my ID and erase my comment. That gave me a good picture of why non-bloggers don’t comment much. (As I get ready to post this comment, I see that I am now being identified by my Twitter account, rather than by my usual WordPress acount–I will have to fix that, as it means I get notices that I have replied to myself)

  4. November 13, 2012 4:33 pm

    My experience of coming back after a break is that it feels like climbing a mountain, or wading through treacle. I was away for a couple of months once, and afterwards it took a good year or so to get my traffic back to where it was. It’s the kind of thing I can’t think about, though, because I also hate blogging when I don’t feel like it, and think it shows if posts are churned out rather than created out of interest and curiosity. Not that that was your problem! Glad you are back, though, and feed readers are fab for short absences.

    • November 14, 2012 8:31 am

      I do use a feed reader but again, technical idiot surrounded by people who have trouble dumbing it down to my level–I have questions about how it works, but the answers are often over my head, so I don’t ask until it’s absolutely necessary. My use of the word “dumb” in this post was, um, deliberate.

  5. November 13, 2012 6:18 pm

    Hello Jeanne! I, too, the person who gets all the hand-me-down machines in the house, know what you mean. If I can’t write I can’t think, and I like to think. Often I drive myself blind by using the phone. I’ve inherited a new machine now that’s faster than the others. This pleases me immensely. Anyway — glad you are back.

    • November 14, 2012 8:35 am

      I have good technical support, really–chose a bad time, when the laptop was just out of warranty but not on the list yet for replacement. I did learn to use my phone for a few more things, and that’s good, but it makes me feel old, the way the print looks so small and unreadable.

      • November 14, 2012 12:57 pm

        Yes. The phone is not a good substitute. It has made me want an ipad with unseemly desperation.

  6. drgeek permalink
    November 13, 2012 8:02 pm

    The trackpad problem could be caused by a number of things: the new trackpad was not properly installed (causing a loose connection), it might be broken, it sensitivity settings in the operating system might be wrong, or the wrong software driver was installed (unlikely.)
    Have you tried deleting the device and the re-adding it?

    • November 14, 2012 8:37 am

      You have given me something else to ask about. Part of my “dumbness” is not even knowing the right questions.
      We did set and re-set all the sensitivity settings, I’ll tell you that.

  7. November 14, 2012 9:56 am

    Woof! I’m not a rat and I am not ever laughing at you.
    I think Shirley Jackson would have liked this poem but her husband would only have been amused.
    oh, also, you might want to update your twitter profile so that when you do comment at my blog and I get directed to twitter, I can then easily come here. but yea, it probably doesn’t show that I responded to your comment like wordpress-to-wordpress does. I wish they hadn’t made it so darn complicated to track back to someone’s blog!

  8. November 14, 2012 10:36 am

    Update my twitter profile. I’ll put that on my list of stuff I have to work up to doing. That may require an interval of waiting for something and perhaps a chocolate-iced doughnut.
    I do like the way there’s a little caption balloon that lights up orange when someone else who uses WordPress responds to a comment.
    I often go back to the blog when I’ve commented, because I want to see what everybody has said after me. Then sometimes I feel a little silly, when I can’t resist making yet another comment further down the thread. It’s odd to feel like I talk too much, because in life I don’t think I do. Well, maybe I do. Yap, yap.

    • November 14, 2012 12:59 pm

      This knitting thing made me realize that I don’t talk very much — well, not as much as other people. But I think I do talk a lot online. Hmmm. Laconic — in person, that’s me. Otherwise, blabby.

    • November 15, 2012 8:34 am

      What orange caption balloon?!?! I don’t have that! huh. I just click the link off the dashboard menu that is titled Comments-I-Have-Made.
      and I LOVE when I get a reply and they replies start nesting and a convo happens. 😀

      • November 15, 2012 8:44 am

        Using different computers gave me a whole new feel for how different things look on different machines. Maybe the caption balloon is a Mac thing? I do think we all love it when the comments start commenting on each other. That happens on other media now, too, but I don’t find it as satisfying to track fragmented conversations.

  9. November 15, 2012 8:54 am

    I can see the correlations between blogging and that poem for sure. You were definitely missed. What amazes me is that the college didn’t buy a new computer.

  10. November 15, 2012 9:20 am

    Oh good–you see it, and as far as I know, you’re not a big fan of poetry, usually!
    Since it’s just out of warranty, my new Frankencomputer should be good for a while.
    In the meantime, though, I have no backlog of scheduled posts, although I do have a backlog of books to write about.

  11. November 15, 2012 8:26 pm

    Woof woof.

    It is a melancholy feeling to approach an anniversary like the death of your father. Today was my father’s birthday and my brother called just to talk about him and remember him together. Hang in there … it gets a bit better but it never gets easy.

    • November 16, 2012 12:11 pm

      That’s good to know, that it gets a bit better.

  12. November 17, 2012 11:53 pm

    I did miss you. Most of my comments don’t show up on people’s blogs and I still don’t know why, but I do value your bark.

    I’ve found that after more than two years of going through the motions, the motions seem to be changing. Believe it or not, I feel closer to my son as the violent grief has given way to a more peaceful celebration of his life. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

    • November 18, 2012 9:12 am

      That sounds hopeful, that the motions can change.
      I’m glad to hear your bark back. Don’t know what the deal is with your commenting, but have lots more sympathy for those who would like to comment without going through the third degree from the blogging platforms.

  13. November 18, 2012 7:01 am

    That poem is so relevant to blogging. I understand that the year anniversary must be a very tough time for you. Stay strong and remember the good times.

    • November 18, 2012 9:14 am

      I’m glad (and amused) at how many bloggers who don’t ordinarily like poetry see the relevance!
      And thanks for the kind words.

  14. November 18, 2012 8:16 am

    *hug* I hope you are doing okay, Jeanne. I always miss you when I don’t hear from you. I hope your laptop stops its tracking pad problems — that sounds maddening!

  15. November 18, 2012 9:16 am

    Well, according to my computing experts, what is maddening to me is normal. Doesn’t that sound just like life itself?
    In the past two days I’ve managed to put one of the sensitivity settings so high that putting my finger near the trackpad makes it click on things. That makes what happens when I’m online way more mysterious.

  16. November 18, 2012 6:16 pm

    At first I didn’t quite see the connection between the poem and blogging, but as I read your thoughts it made more sense to me. I think we all just have to be like the dog and make a concerted effort to ignore the rats, in everything, or they’re just demoralizing. I hope things have brightened up a bit for you in the last few days (and the laptop is performing better).

    • November 18, 2012 7:56 pm

      I’m not even sure we have to ignore the rats, but we do have to keep on “barking.” It might be that when a person is at the lowest ebb, that’s when what he/she has to say matters most. So I’m persevering with the trackpad, among other things!

  17. November 23, 2012 12:28 am

    This is such a sad poem, isn’t it? And yet at the end, not all hopeless – waking even if dumb, is still waking. I haven’t been here before, I came by way of Ana’s blog, so I’m delighted to find you.

    I’ve never had a laptop before, isn’t the cursor supposed to randomly go off and ruin whatever I’m writing?? especially if I stop writing for a few minutes? lol techie challenged indeed! plus a little afraid of having my laptop go wonky too after repairs. Everything else works fine on it…..

    I’m sorry to hear about your father.

    • November 23, 2012 8:58 am

      Yes, waking, even if dumb, is still waking. I’m delighted that Ana linked to this post, and am now thinking about being “dumb” in terms of what Iris says about occasionally being reluctant to form her opinion in public. It really is a kind of bravery.
      Thanks for coming by and joining in the Twilight Bark!

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