On the pull of the screen, the internet, the click-click-click tedium of computer work:
The screen exerts an oppressive power, and I am as seduced as anyone by the clips and pics, the news and noise of the Internet. I would rather e-mail than talk on the phone. I have pals I know only nline and am grateful for those connections. But there is no other place I can think of where one can consume so much and absorb so little. The Internet has no equal in that regard. I am leery of its sirensong, the way it beckons, and of my own inability to ignore its call. It's a rabbit-hole exit, a tumbling in space with Wonderland ever always one click away.And:
The newspaper taught me what rote was. Sitting at my desk in the newsroom, fingertips tip-tapping, click-clicking, the dull glow of the screen reflecting off the pale skin of my cheeks, my glazed eyes, I'd felt a brain-dulled mechanization, action without thought, action without meaning or purpose. But here, with the tiles, each one had its place, part of the whole, each measurement had a purpose, each cut. There was no slumped semi-consciousness. It was repetitive, yes, but somehow not boring.She talks about the "'perversity of inanimate objects,'" a phrase from her grandmother referring to uncooperative jar lids and screws and doors that won't close properly: "moments when the dumbness of things outdoes your ability to calmly deal with them." We've all been there; it's nice to see that frustration reflected in someone else's words.
She talks about anger:
Anger had cleaned me out. The hangover from it, the aftermath of all that frustration and embarassment, left me feeling unfamiliar with myself. I hated Mary a few minutes ago. I regretted every decision I'd made a few minutes ago. What a potent intoxicant, anger. This wasn't the truth, was it?
She gives us the history of tools (hammers, screwdrivers, the tape measure!, levels) and etymologies of strange words (why does porcelain derive from the same word as pork?). She gives us quotes from her favorite books and thoughts on family and literature and femininity and sexism and work:
It wasn't until after I left my job at the newspaper that I realized how significant a part of my identity working there had become; it was how I understood myself and made myself understood to other people. What am I now? I wondered, jobless.
And on not working:
Fallow periods are something to savor. Times of low productivity can be one of life's luxuries. Thought there might be no outward proof of action or making--nothing written, nothing built--such time is hardly wasted; puzzles are explored and problems solved in the head.
MacLaughlin is a strong writer (not surprising, given her background as a journalist) and has written a strong book (also not surprising, considering her journalism work included book reviews). Through the lens of her own experience, she encourages us to consider how we decide what is right for us, in the end, and how we want to spend our time. Never prescriptive, Hammer Head is instead a reminder, simply, to give it some thought.
Copy from my public library.
Hammer Head | Nina MacLaughlin | W.W. Norton | Hardcover | March 2015 | Buy from an indie near you