Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lazy Days

The customs of a Sunday in this house allow for more naps than noise, more rest than effort. We are not churched, nor likely ever again to be. We do not test the weather, except to get the paper, or because we run low on cigarettes. Each of us, A. and I, entertain ourselves as best we will, separately and together, as the day dictates. We watch movies, or not, read until sleepy, eat when we're hungry and usually too much. To make a proper meal on a Sunday requires occasion; the return of a favorite program, a craving referenced earlier in the week, the need to make something before it spoils or to mark time or to make a rare fuss. A. is likelier to recognize or invent such occasions than I. This is yet more proof of my superior judgement in marrying him and his superior patience in keeping and feeding me.

Sundays are my Saturdays: my first day each week off from work, and I want nothing from them but the pleasure of promised inactivity, respite and reading for pleasure, no company, no phone conversations, no planning, no bills and no interruption. A. is usually up well before me, so that when I eventually, lazily wake, the newspaper is at the foot of our bed. I've only to switch on a light, light a cigarette, and read. Is there any more delicious moment in my week? Some Sundays, most, I hold that moment off long enough to brush my teeth, make an embarrassingly easy breakfast of whatever comes to hand, if A. has not already made it for me. But the best Sunday mornings require nothing more than my paper, still rolled, quiet, and a light.

Such a one was today. Matthew Arnold famously said, "journalism is literature in a hurry," and even in the present sorry state of things, even as our local paper looks to be gone entirely soon, I can not but think that the loss when that Sunday comes without our newspaper, or with some newspaper not ours, will be a loss not just of the local news, which might be had, after sad fashion elsewhere, but a loss for words. Unrolling my paper this morning, pulling the sections out, stacking them in the order in which they are always read, I noted again the thinness of the thing, the growing size of the pictures, the sad new preponderance of news-wire stories, national advice columns, stuff and nonsense. I made trouble for myself elsewhere before, lamenting all this, and I won't do it again, even here. I will say, today, I read every word not culled from the wires or delivered canned. I read every local writer when I could distinguish them as such, even reading about sports, which bores me, and the summaries of the week's obituaries, though most I'd read already at full length. I read as I did just to see for myself if I might not be foolishly sentimental in thinking our paper ought to be local, our news important enough to sustain a salaried staff, our local writers as deserving of a living as any who report for the national press. Reading the newspaper in this way, consciously reading it as a citizen of Seattle, I was made to appreciate how rare a thing it is to have access, daily access, these days to such consistently good writing, in not one but two excellent newspapers. If only one consistently reflects my politics, and that the likelier to go first, at least, in either I find reasonable prose, thoughtful and disciplined reporting, and a commitment to both this place and to a standard of truth, and respect for the language, that will be lost, or at the very least lessened if and when newspapers are allowed to go.

Two bookstore I loved and where I worked for many years are going out of business as I write. Newspapers likewise are disappearing from this country at a rate as alarming as that at which Independent Bookstores have been failing now for a decade or more. The change is not, I am convinced, in the number or devotion of readers, and neither is it the result, as some cynical comments, particularly online, would suggest because of either mismanagement or a cultural shift to the visual in preference to the verbal. The world is noisier than it has ever been. Neither business, newspapers or books, has been rendered obsolete by the machine I write on, nor ruined by irrelevance, incompetence or greed. What has changed, it seems to me, is our willingness, as a Culture, to pay for what we have no damned right to assume we deserve for free; be it the maintenance of our liberty, the honesty of our government, our newspapers or our lasting literature.

What I do here, I am glad of the chance to do, but I do not delude myself that this contributes anything more to the Culture than conversation. Mine is a record only of my own gab, my thoughts are stray, my only proper topic myself. I am not a journalist; I answer to no editor, I report nothing not taken from my own life, I record only such history as enters this room. Likewise I sell nothing here, no one profits by my writing but in, I would hope, some modest sense that one might profit from the conversation of a friend. My Sundays are my own, but the pleasure of them, comes not so much from the chatter I produce here tonight, but from my reliable, local newspaper, just as my books have come from my local bookstores, just as my breakfast comes, when it does, because my husband makes it, or, as this morning, not at all. Now my company may be reward enough for the cook, but to the newspaper and the bookstore, I owe something less personal, to them I owe a living, else I deserve neither, (just as I wonder daily why I deserve so good a mate.)

If this is my day to be lazy, so be it. I have a right. I've earned my rest. But have we really become so collectively lazy, so intellectually and politically complacent, as to imagine that all voices in a democracy are of equal and lasting value, that we might do without the press, or do with what we write ourselves, as I do this, at home in my pajamas?! Is our literature really to be no better than this? A free rant here, a stray thought there, a random review of individual musings, the passing entertainments of an hour or a minute?

The thought that anyone would read this in preference to the product of paid journalism, or mistake this for the editorial comment of a reliable and experienced writer, or what I write here for literature, is ridiculous. There is no news on the Internet, save what was made in the real world, not the virtual, and reported by real men and women, making their living by doing so, often as not, at newspapers. There is no lasting literature but what is sold in books, nor is there likely to be any at all should the books we buy be sold like so many widgets exclusively by anonymous, corporate entertainment companies. Our Culture must be paid for, one way or another, either in fair wages and real money, or in ignorance, poverty of imagination and the failure of our society.

But I am just a man in his pajamas. Please, do not take my word for this.

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