As I write this letter, my children have not yet started their school year. When they do, they’ll be joining their classes from makeshift work stations upstairs, while I work at my desk in the living room. Although they’re supposed to start attending school toward the end of this month, it will only be for half a day, once a week at best. For now, it’s hard to believe in the promise of even that much in-person education. It’s easier to assume that we’ll be connecting with the outside world through screens well into next spring.
This past summer, we exiled our 11-year-old’s Chromebook to an undisclosed location, unhappy with how easily he found himself at its mercy after three months of online learning. The results were like something from a TV Turn-Off Week promotion. He started burning through thick books, playing imaginatively in the yard, drawing, trying new recipes, asking questions about plants in the woods—being his best self in general. Perhaps my favorite development has been his rediscovery of a mechanical Olympia typewriter (circa 1960-something) that he brought home from the town dump a few years ago. Its ribbon was exhausted, but with a new one installed, it became a perfectly respectable replacement for a 21st-century word processor. He figured out what all the little levers could do and how hard to strike the keys, and then got down to business writing a tale of adventure. He wrote letters, typed addresses on envelopes, and made himself business cards. Noisy as it is, I’ve enjoyed hearing the machine’s busy thwacking, that old-fashioned sound of creative activity. It’s the sound of resistance to the tyranny of the internet.
As the kids return to school, more or less dependent on electronic devices, I hope that we can all continue to find ways to connect to others, to the past, and to our own curiosity, ways that cut us loose from the monitor’s glare. I hope, too, that in this issue of Literary Mama, you’ll find both inspiration and understanding as you parent through the pandemic. May we all find the best in the digital realm and avoid the worst.
Wishing you good reading in hard times,