A night of luminaries

luminaries“Oh,” says the man in the fedora when we are introduced, “You were on the radio yesterday.”

What a great way to enter a party, especially when you have come alone and you are not sure who else will be there.

He has just recorded a couple of spots for the same program and writes a column for the paper and a blog about restoring a 1954 Chevy truck. He doesn’t mention it, but he has a day job with an international engineering and geospatial software firm. Now, if we hadn’t started off talking about writing we might have chatted about our jobs and left it at that. When meeting people at parties I am not extending my urbane, tabby paw and declaring myself to be The Wertis.

The great thing about social media, my husband jokes, is that nobody knows you’re a dog.

Yeah, says the dog, before there was Twitter, no one would talk to me about anything of substance.

Social media blurs all the lines between your professional, family and private life. And while it is important in, say, marketing to connect your brand across platforms, I am not wanting, personally, to become this seamless online entity. I don’t want to log in to news media through my Facebook account or Tweet my Amazon purchases or be the same six people everywhere I turn up. I don’t want people to read this blog because I am the mother of the older or younger daughter. I want there to be a little opacity even if it is an illusion.

The cat’s mother: she has followers.

The world being flattened by social media is good for education, health, the arts, technology, maybe democracy, but all the facets of your life and all your social groups merged into one avatar is a bit horrible and tedious. You don’t need to know me as the charming professional that I might be. This blog is where I get to be grumpy or go off topic or be uncertain. If I felt that I were writing for people I see every day it might be a bit weird. I like to think of my readership as mostly far-flung. And not everyone at work wants to know about my obsession with keeping the scissors in the kitchen or what I think about when I drive.

On the second Saturday in December, 5,000 glowing paper bags line the roads of the historic districts of our small city.

But I didn’t know about this and so, when driving to my friend’s open house, my first thought was that, as I turned off an arterial road into the dark residential one, these were little stone plinths to help drivers avoid running onto lawns. Or to warn them off. The neighborhood association had gone a bit bonkers I thought, baring their teeth at me. These white markers extended all the way down the street, in an endless maw.

As my eyes adjusted, I realized that the brutal white teeth were paper not concrete. This transformation and their impermanence made them beautiful. I had the idea that they were there to guide the runners of whatever race had taken place during day, for the stragglers, to light their way to the finish line.

When the network of light expanded at the first cross-street, I saw that it was too complex to be part of the race. As a marathon route, this would have been like one of those puzzles where you have to trace a design without lifting your pencil or retracing any segment, which, town of engineers that we are, would go down a treat. They could call it The Mental Mile.

I tell the man in the hat about a post I have been trying to write about a friend, how I think that both of us consider each others’ lives to be a form of writer’s colony. Is that fair? It is so hard it is to write about people you know. Other people will read what you have written, if you’re lucky. You will have made your friend both larger and smaller than real life. You have reduced them to fit the form of your writing, but at the same time you have made them a larger character with whom more people might identify. You expose them to interpretation.

Dotted around the room, I see people I know. I run the course between them, without lifting my pen. The night, the bags of light, the people walking on the street are all part of an evening called Luminaries, which involves house tours and people being expected to decorate.

On my way home, I see a set of blue upholstered French Regency chairs arranged in a front parlor. The room behind them is alight and the light falls on the cushions so that they take on an air of mystery and importance, like a cat disappearing into the shadows.


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