North of Santa Barbara a wildfire burns and a plume of smoke is visible from the city. Winds are pushing the fire east, into the dry backcountry. The fire hasn’t discouraged the tourist trade, as evidenced by the crowds sipping wine in the so-called “Funk Zone” and a jam-packed 101 southbound.
My daughter begins 10th grade tomorrow, and she is apprehensive, not about her classes but about her wardrobe. After two days of shopping with her mother, and the expenditure of a minor fortune, the girl announces that she is ready. Tomorrow morning will be a struggle. After weeks of sleeping past 10:00 a.m., my daughter will be roused from sleep by her iPhone, and trudge droopy-eyed to the kitchen, where, without opening her eyes, she will fill a bowl with rice krispies and milk. I know better than to talk to her in the morning. She tells me that she hates school, a sentiment which cuts me, given that I have spent the last 17 years working for the local school district. My aspirations for her are modest -- that she learn to think critically and challenge what she is told to take for granted, and that she enjoy learning for the rest of her life.
I am an introvert by nature, and prefer small gatherings to large ones; I need to spend a good deal of time alone, and I do, particularly in the early morning, before the sun rises and my family wakes. I read, scribble in my notebook, sip coffee, listen to the birds. As I get older I think about mortality, how life can be so fragile, so easily upended by a single encounter or the caprice of chance. I scan the news, read, with sinking heart, about the flooding in Louisiana or the war in Syria; I imagine brown water rising to the roof line of a house; I imagine a refugee family trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind. Life can change course in the blink of an eye. I can’t protect my children from this harsh fact.
I recognize that I am getting older, crankier, more judgmental, because the young women who live across the driveway from us annoy me no end with their loud voices, vacuous conversations, off-key singing. Their names are Chloe and Tiffany and Kira, but I’m not sure which one is which. One of them drives a black Audi. People come and go over there, a parade of faces, cars, voices.
John Coltrane playing, the miracle of digital music, everything at one’s fingertips, with almost no interval between desire and fulfillment. Amazon delivers happiness, even on Sundays; but no day is sacred in a capitalist society. With the rising sun comes another opportunity to be sold, to buy, to acquire. Technology without limits is a deal with the Devil, all of us down at the crossroads on our knees, our heads bowed, ready to pay a very dear price for ephemeral happiness.