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The sun painted chalk on the asphalt

Filed Under , on March 31st, 2018

Editor’s Note–TFF Issue #17

By Seth Kabala

I find myself sitting at my kitchen table on the best day of the year, weather wise. I’m inside but close enough to the patio door to feel the sun’s rays radiating through the glass. Their circle of influence grows strong today.

According to my Apple Watch, the temperature is 62 degrees; conditions are described as fair, just an angel breath’s kiss of light breeze outside; and enough surplus sunshine bounds around the city to roust generations-old feelings of snake-oil salesman in the most honest person, doubtless some variation of this thought grabbing the mic and shouting, Does anybody know how to bottle this? This sunshiny super sunny sunshine? Because I’m about to create a business with a product that y’all will be beggin’ me for when the rain comes back, Yes, indeed.

Did anybody hear Chris Tucker of Rush Hour fame? Perhaps that dude from the “hide yo’ kids; hide yo’ wife; and hide yo’ husband, ’cause they rapin’ everybody out here” viral video from a few years back? If I tried to channel Chris Tucker’s manic energy, I’d be forced to move to a one-story house. All of my energy would be dedicated to talking. Nothing left for the arduous chore of engaging the hip flexors and climbing stairs.

Same thing for the viral video dude. I understand he was milking the news spot fame teat for all it was worth, and in that regard, his legacy endures, forever ensconced in auto-tune glory, among other mediums. I imagine either of these gentlemen could bring unmatched energy to reporting the news of the day.

However, kangaroo-hopping energy fails to meet the standard for reflection. A type A personality may miss the simple beauty of an early Spring day and the evidence that the digital demon has failed to subjugate all of America’s youth. I’m somewhere in the middle of the alphabet. Here’s what I see.

In my family, we are all readers. I prefer hard-edged crime fiction, historical battle fiction, and the occasional literary novel and biography; Amy, fantasy, dystopian, and Janet Evanovich and her ilk; Will, 12, anything Star Wars, Minecraft, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid-related, as well as a growing affinity for graphic novels; Anna, 10, kid mysteries, Dork Diaries, Greek god fantasy novels (specifically featuring Pegasus), and also graphic novels; Ella, 6, at the moment, the Princess in Black and Princess Posey series, but she’s progressed so fast that next year, she may be reading Solzhenitsyn.

At the beginning of the year, I asked each member of our family (me included) to write 2018 goals. We each produced a list. Each of us determined to read a certain number of books: me, 26; Amy, 24; Will, 12; Anna, 12; and Ella, 100. Here’s where we are so far: me, 10; Amy, 14; Will, 15; Anna, 37; and Ella, 94.

This is evidence of growing resistance to the digital demon. When we go to the library (as a family whenever we can, but some faction of us regardless of presence of the whole) each week to select new material, mainly because we’ve devoured the previous week’s catch, we gain ground on the demon. When we repeatedly catch our kids staying up way past bedtime, noses buried in pages–real, tangible paper, spritzed with the scent of industry and the promise of knowledge–we weaken the demon’s fortress.

The demon has a standing invitation into our house. We make use of the demon’s screens, devices, apps, glowing, limitless colors, and endless entertainment options, but we hold the keys to balance. We maintain control–except for the odd scream fest over I was almost done with that [insert level, episode, boss, etc.]!

I remarked to Amy today, as we drove back from the library, on the value of keeping real, weighty, physical things in your life, such as books and chess boards. Stephen King agrees with me. In On Writing, his seminal work on the craft, he wrote, “Words have weight.” Real, weighty things add an extra layer of tread to your shoes. They give you something to hold onto so the plough doesn’t run away and wreak destruction.

I love technology, as you can tell from my Apple Watch intro, but I believe the battle for control of our souls rages with greater intensity than ever. Advances in artificial intelligence are moving us toward a world where real sensory activation is optional; everything can be simulated (sex, taste of wine, fading wood smoke embers from a router bit that ran too hot and compressed wood shavings and filled a garage with the aroma of charred pine).

I don’t wish for these technologies to fail; I love options, but I also love choice and control. I want mine and my family’s sense of self to derive from real things and real choice, not from a world that lies photons away from chaos if the electrical grid suffers disruption.

On our back patio, a giant monster-eating sunflower curves its way across concrete. A cat/dragon crouches a couple feet away. Perry the Platypus hangs out on the other side of the slab. Paw prints thread through all of these things and many more, original and recreations from the minds of my children and their chalk-wielding hands.

I walk to the patio. The breeze is as advertised: light and warm. I swipe my hand across the sunflower’s base. The tips of my fingers are covered in green chalk dust. It’s a mess. Probably get all over my hoodie and pants, but I think I’ll leave it there for a while. The sensation of rough concrete, lightly pressed against my fingers, lingers, but it’s still there. I remember the buzz. I smile.

It’s a real mess.


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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, musician, family man, and juggler of balls--big ones. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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