Smartphone Takes Madwoman Fishing
I am 21.
I enjoy long stretches of aloneness.
I am not sure when it began, really, this fixation with being alone.
Once, I wrote a story about a little girl who loses her father. She’s too young to understand what dying means but she senses a finality in his body being lowered into the ground. She thinks the earth greedy for eating up all the love in the world so wantonly. His absence is still foreign a month after the funeral— an unwanted guest by this point. And then another month, and a third, and it is harvesting season. She walks to the farm earlier than the workers, watches the ground intently, waiting for her father to rise from the earth, maybe even shaking a maize cob and laughing his stupid laugh. How to explain his extended absenteeism? It must be the soil, she concludes, and becomes obsessed with geology. Where is the body? What secrets does the soil keep from us? What tragedies does the earth inflict, and protect (a dying root, a warm body)? Another broken girl, a decaying language, but still so many words, so much background noise.
Maybe it wasn’t the story. Maybe it was coming to the US. There is a certain correlation, so I am inclined to believe this hypothesis. What is it about this country that facilitates a kind of distraction; that prescribes extroversion while imposing a sickly solitude? What demands are placed upon my time, my personality? I can’t really say, but I have gained access to a host of random despairs I didn’t think myself worthy of. My mother thought I would be safe® here, even if alone. I am safe because I am alone; I am alone because I am safe?
Actually, I will be honest and say, it all began when I got a smartphone. I’m not averse to technology, but I never thought it necessary to have multiple devices all magicking knowledge, all of them smarter than me. So I suppose it’s fair to say it was a kind of arrogance. Now, with this phone in my pocket, I constantly feel I am being monitored. Those bubbles pop up: message! message! and something else beeps, and another lights up, green go go go go. a reminder, a ringing here, news alert, ISIS, the economist has downloaded, update hangtime do it all now call your mother reply to email do it all nownow. I feel like I am in a Greek play except the chorus follows me everywhere, their white robes billowing, constantly chiming in: She’s interning with Mephistopheles, yes, consulting; Of course, the man has favoured cold men since that fateful morning; The clouds paused in the sky, ominous etc. And maybe it is a tragedy, but I sit quietly through it. Sometimes I engage my portable rabble, but only to pass the time before a god descends from the machine. But this is the machine. The god. The audience.
I try to be patient. I think, all this background noise will allow for deep insights to emerge, if I’m intelligent, and vigilant. I am not sure what to make of it. Except I feel a relentless urge to feed this faceless mass of judges: What kind of awkward smile is that? Who says “brill” anymore? Can you not spell? Um how many likes?! What are you posting, ooh wait, look no one cares. This gaze, it’s suffocating. They won’t let me sleep. Those glowing eyes scrape my words dry, scrutinize every gesture, dissect each expression, and spit them back in my face. When I think to be brave, to look away, bony hands reach for mine.
And, hope. That there is where it began: that I might have in my hand—my hand!—this broad net, that I would catch even the littlest of friends, even the barest of lovers, and have a potentially captive audience; that they would remember me, that they might think of me kindly, in passing at the very least. In a small village in a small country in a small corner of my mind, a sad girl poring over soil structure, looking for a sliver of a father. In a small college in a small town, a mad woman with a smartphone, wondering how long before a fish trapped in netting begins to asphyxiate. It’s silly, yes; irrational, probably. I imagine if I told some friends, “discourse” would be unleashed. Maybe Gramsci would get in on that. “Foucault,” say it, I dare you. Smarter people—or phones—can get into that. As you can imagine, once I have fed my pet fish, tended to my Greek chorus (and called my mother), I haven’t the energy to address more than 3 humans intensively. Besides, these may be equally difficult to dismiss.
Still, I just can’t get this image out of my head:
Fish with the faces of all my tiny Facebook friends, thrashing about, fins jerking, pearls of water tossed up now sliding, now sinking, always shining, splitting water, parting air and all that light jumping off like juvenile rainbows, god.
There is this poem by Elizabeth Bishop which comes to me every time a bauble with a little disembodied head materializes on my screen, glaring: let the damn fish go.