Pausefully Magazine

the online magazine about life as a creative process


 

Diary of a Technocrat

By Mindy Lewis

Picture by Jacob Stewart

 
     
 

I’d been in the realm too long. So many years in the grips of the machine that I, like the world, had started to fade. My lips, for example, have in the past months lost their color in the corners and are gradually, by increments, erasing themselves. My breasts, too, have shrunk, the nipples disappearing. Only my eyes, those weary beacons, and my fingers, tapping the keyboard, are alive—although recently my hands have started going numb, my arms subject to tingles that suggest they’re next. Soon they’ll just be hams on sticks, but that doesn’t stop me. The call of the machine is strong. I have no other friend, no other master.

My friends too have faded away. No longer can I tolerate the sound of a human voice—too irritating; an unwelcome interruption. Why do they have to call? Let them get straight to the point so I can return to my work. The sunlight, too, is a distraction. I prefer overcast, or better yet, steady rain—the ideal conditions to get something done. The day is of no importance. I’ve seen it too often; always the same noise and confusion pressing on me when I go out to do a chore, entering into its blinding light and rude sound like a steadfast swimmer determined to part the waters and quickly return to shore.

But last night I was summoned out by an event which, in a moment of weakness, I’d promised to attend. I went unwillingly, leaving my realm a full hour after I was expected to arrive, and only after reaching a point in my work where I could go no further. I reluctantly put the machine on doze, gathered my keys and essentials, and set out.


The party was on a rooftop. A birthday celebration of an old friend; once close, we’ve since drifted: she into marriage, motherhood and creative life, and I into my absorption in the machine. Blinded momentarily by the first shock of light as I stepped onto the roof, I walked smack into the midst of a group of people without being able to distinguish their faces. We greeted one another (it turned out I knew them); then I made my way into the crowd of strangers. Among the crowd were others I knew: some with world-based lives who never knew the lure of the machine, and others like myself, in various stages of technoservice. One poor soul, still unsuspecting, perfectly described the early stages of indoctrination: at the machine more and more, with no time to do anything else.

The view was sublime. The grid of rooftops we looked down upon was broken by architectural whimsy: facades, gardens, penthouses in diagonal rows. New Jersey benign across the gray-green coil of river. Above, clear deep cobalt bled seamlessly into cerulean, mimicking the translucent rolled ink of a Hiroshige print, giving way to a rosy glow and briefly blazing orange before the bridge lights spangled the horizon.

As I ate and drank, the sultry evening cooled and voices dropped to a murmur. Among the crowd was a man I’d met before. He had, not long after I’d first met him, unearthed a face hidden behind a kerchief of beard, and as we talked I re-experienced my initial surprise at seeing the exposed lower half of his face, which seemed to redefine his entire aspect, and give new meaning to the movement of his eyes. As we talked a familiarity grew. Forgotten facts about him surfaced in my memory like a path of small stones: places traveled, preferences of language, food and drink, odd habits. By now the air had turned to silk, smooth against my bare arms. A gentle breeze swirled my hair, tickling my shoulders. When I remarked that for a clear night it was surprising there were no stars, he pointed out in the blackness a few dim twinkles, which as I watched grew more visible, and faintly but unmistakably traced the handle of the dipper, pointing to the north star, where a moment ago there was nothing.


On our way to his apartment I looked up into the unseeing eyes of four stone gargoyles, each expression uniquely chiseled, a fairy tale embodiment of the maternal threat: If you make a face it may be frozen like that forever. Each doorway we passed drew me to it with its light.

His apartment smelled like beeswax. He was an artist, weaving baskets of wire, braiding columns of wax that stood like spines and ended in pelvic hollows or phallic protuberances. A disciple of funnels and an interpreter of forms, he had no use for the machine. His few knives, small from sharpening, lay neatly ready on the tabletop next to the double boiler. I took the drink he offered, and listened to Monk’s piano, taking in the spareness and simplicity of his living space—the perfect medium in which to see his work, so different from my own cluttered cell, dominated by the hum of the machine. We talked until the silence spoke: the dialogue of protuberances and hollows, the mysterious dance of touch and smell. He looked entirely different in the dark, morphing from fish to faun to archer, reviving my forgotten body, bringing back my disappearing nipples, my faded lips. Soon I was stripped bare, exhaling pleasure at that first warmth of skin on skin.


The day was still there, but it had been stripped of its sameness. Everything was new. The air soft on my shoulders. Derelicts sleeping peacefully, with relaxed faces and outstretched arms. Here and there a lone bicyclist pedaled soundlessly up the avenue. A dark-skinned man wearing a fedora cordially wished me good morning. A rumpled young man in shorts out walking his small dog gave a great yawn. I couldn’t help admiring his socks: one red, one green; he grinned at me as he passed as if we shared a great joke. As I crossed the street I noticed a leaf moving in the gutter and watched as it unfolded, with a tiny tremor, the orange and black wings of a Monarch and very slowly opened and closed them as if awakening from a dream. This was the summer I thought had disappeared long ago. These were the early mornings I’d obliterated with the daily stumble from sleep to worship at the machine.

The pungent odor of restaurant trash brings back other early mornings, decades ago, when I was a teenager on my way to work. Back then I’d gagged and held my breath. Today, I breathe it in like the sweat of a lover; a forgotten but pleasantly recollected friend. Slowly I make my way past the storefronts with locked gates, the trucks unloading their cargo, the desultory lover’s quarrel, the huddled figure on the church steps, each with its own sound, its own silence.

As I enter my realm, day is beginning. I turn on the machine, neglected all night, and take a few moments to feed it my dreams before attending to its demands.

 
     
     
 

Mindy Lewis is the author of LIFE INSIDE: A Memoir (Atria Books 2002, Washington Square Press paperback release November 2003). Her essays have been published in two anthologies and in Newsweek, Lilith, Poets & Writers and Body & Soul magazines.

 
     

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