It’s Sunday morning and I have to write my blog. I always do. For almost three years now, I have posted a blog each Monday at 8 am, and since I started doing this, I have missed only two Mondays, both at Christmas time. Whether I am inspired or not, I have to come up with an idea, put it on paper and have it ready for Monday.
In the past I wrote about family, immigration, books, hiking in the Carpathian Mountains and flying first class. I wrote about school reunions and friends who have died. I published short stories and excerpts from the novel I’m in the process of writing. But today, I have no ideas. My mind is a frozen desert. The North Pole.
It’s not easy to come up with ideas week after week. Often I ask my wife for suggestions and she has helped me out many times. This time she proposed I write about technology, a topic we discussed last night at dinner with friends.
Here is her thought. We love technology and we think of it as indispensable — the cell phone, the GPS, Alexa, Netflix, Romba, the web. As a result, our lives have greatly improved. Yet, we don’t understand technology fully and sometimes feel threatened by it. How often do we object to the manner in which all these new devices collect information about us? To the way ‘they’ are spying on ‘us’? To how Google bombarded us with advertisements of a service or product we have recently searched or only thought about? We pay for the convenience with our data and allow ‘them’ to influence us. And how about the fact that it affects the elections? Isn’t that surprising and scary enough?
It’s a great topic, but, I, too, don’t understand much of it, and writing has to be about things you know well.
To come up with ideas for today’s blog I enumerated for myself the things I have done in the last several days: a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in DC, a visit and dinner at a restaurant in DuPont Circle with a good friend from Denmark, two nights of Democratic debates, a tennis match that I lost 6–0/6–1, a revision to Chapter 1 of my novel in progress to be sent to a competition, an evening of bridge, and another dinner with friends. I ended up empty handed. Nothing seemed worthy enough.
I liked the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. It was the first time we visited it, even though we have lived in this area since 1980. I appreciated the surrounding neighborhood, the impressive stone buildings that form the museum complex and the beautiful Kogod Courtyard, where we had a pleasant lunch. A Korean music and dance group was performing and strange sounds were bouncing off the tall walls and glass canopy like signals from the bottom of the ocean or notes from a different world. I liked the portraits of presidents, 1 through 41 and 43, executed in the predictable classical style, calming and reassuring, with explanations about the contributions of each one of them conveniently pinned nearby; and the modernistic, breaking out with tradition portraits of Clinton (42) and Obama (44), as if to demonstrate that nothing could ever remain the same, that change is coming and we need to get ready and be concerned. But if I were to write about the gallery, what would I say? What could I add to what one could easily read on the Internet? How would I personalize the experience? I don’t know.
After the museum visit, we went with our friend from Denmark to a Russian restaurant called Mari Vanna. When we arrived, we found out that the upstairs dining room was closed. We had dined there before and had enjoyed the evening. This time, our table was just past the noisy bar, close to the kitchen and facing the toilets. But it was fine. We talked about Denmark and the United States, about our families — our friend is the age of our adult children, so when we compared notes about kids, he spoke of his son, and we of our grandchildren — of travel plans and, of course, politics. We told jokes. I’d rather not repeat what our friend thought of the current American political scene. It was depressing enough. Suffice to say that as a present and joke, he gave us a children’s book in Danish entitled Donald Builds a Wall in Kindergarten.
We had nice appetizers, reasonable beer and wine, a reasonable main course and sirniki for dessert — the sweet cheese patties with sour cream my grandmother used to make when I was a child. Actually, one of the most interesting and amusing features in the restaurant were the toilets: reminiscent of old Soviet style apartment bathrooms, with the walls plastered in old Russian newspapers and black and white family photographs and old radios and samovars on the shelves. What else could I write about this evening? Not much.
At home, late into the night, we watched the debates (we had them recorded). The best description I heard about them was that they felt like ten-car pileups. They were noisy, distractive, and lacking in depth. I don’t mean to say that the topics raised in the debates — immigration, health care, wealth distribution, women’s reproductive rights — are not important. They are, but the format didn’t allow any of the candidates to delve into details in a meaningful way. I liked Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg a lot. And of course, being a democrat, I agreed wholeheartedly with the positions most of the twenty candidates took. But in the end, I found out very little I didn’t already know and I longed for the calm dignity of the classical images of presidents at the National Portrait Gallery in DC.
For obvious reasons I’m not going to write how (or why) I lost in tennis, or bridge. As for my new novel, I’ve already blogged about it.
So what’s left to write about?
Waking up this morning, I had a dream. I saw Jerry Seinfeld promoting his show about nothing, and the amazing success it had had. That moment I knew I had found my answer. This blog is a blog about nothing. See you next week!
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