Wendell Berry’s “The Joy of Sales Resistance” [February 1994] delighted the nontechnological me. The technological me sells computer equipment for a living (if you can call it living). I don’t believe that all salespersons are untrustworthy, but I do believe that selling technology is noncreative, boring, and frustrating. We laugh at the computer jocks and call them “propeller heads,” but without them we’d be broke.
I do enjoy using some modern machines. For instance, I love my coffee pot that starts brewing before I wake up in the morning. But like Berry, I draw the line at reading a book on a computer. To hold a book, admire the cover, and actively participate in the creativity of the author is one of my greatest pleasures, and I want no short cuts.
I agree with Berry that the popular assumption that reading is an ordeal is symptomatic of what is wrong with our society today. There is a severe lack of soulfulness in our personal and professional lives, educational system, and communities that no amount of technological expediency can cure.
Having just read Wendell Berry’s essay, I am ashamed to admit that not only do I know what hypertext is, I’ve used it. More than once. I will probably use it again. I have even recommended it to a friend.
My shame is compounded by the fact that I am a librarian. Not one of the old-fashioned, bun-wearing, book-toting librarians of yore. No, I am one of those professional librarians responsible for indoctrinating the innocent minds of faculty and students alike to the wonders of the electronic age. Worse still, I have worked as a consultant in this field. A consultant for the government, no less. Dare I continue?
There is only one thing I can say in my defense. I read books. Printed. On paper. I’ve read most of Wendell Berry’s. I started reading his books ten years ago when he spoke to my poetry class. I’ll read his latest one too. In fact, I’ll probably buy it.
In David Reynolds’s reply to two letters [Correspondence, February 1994] about his interview “Necessary Guilt” [November 1993], he states, “Now firewood, now ashes. Now neurotic suffering, now no suffering. Larsen posits some firelike process in between. Such a belief keeps lots of psychotherapists in business.”
I disagree. Saying there’s no firelike process is simply denial. Recently I began to have incest memories (without having seen a psychotherapist), and as I confronted them I went through five months of a firelike process. Challenging denial and fear in order to fully feel, experience, and know has empowered me to take productive action. This contradicts Reynolds’s idea of a division between a “feeling-centered life” and an “action-centered life.” When feelings are denied, movement freezes. They are interconnected.
Reynolds also seems to believe that our view of our parents must be either all positive or all negative. But it’s possible to acknowledge both the good and the bad things a person does. I can love my parents and some of their actions while hating their hurtful behavior. At the same time I can work to stop such behavior where I see it today. By accepting and processing all of what I saw and felt, I am not only grateful for life and healing, but for my parents and the childhood that gave me the opportunity to become stronger, clearer, and motivated to help others.
Referring to the seriously abused child Sally Deveaux described, Reynolds writes, “[Deveaux] should get protection for that child immediately. Now is the time for concrete help, not in some therapist’s office later.” But simply removing a child from shame-filled physical harm will not end the chain of abuse. Concrete help must include mental and emotional care as well as physical protection.
Finally, I do not agree that “humility and possibility and purposeful action” are missing from a self-reflective life in which one is willing to face and unblock old fears. Traumas once repressed for survival become blocks to health, happiness, and productivity. Denial of the child’s abuse is the first problem; continued denial as an adult is the second.
“Garden Secrets” by Sarah Fazakerley [February 1994] was a jewel of insight. I nodded my head as I read her mum’s question, “Why does one come around to gardening in one’s thirties?” That’s exactly what happened to me, and now I can’t get enough of my perennials and wildflowers. Happiness is a morning spent in the petunia patch or weeding the vegetables. I cried with joy when my mom came to visit with a trunk full of shoots from her favorite perennials to transplant in my garden. My life was now complete! And I suspect that hers was, too.