The shell in my hand is deserted. It once housed a whelk, a snail-like creature, and then temporarily, after the death of the first occupant, a little hermit crab, who has run away, leaving his tracks behind him like a delicate vine in the sand.
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea
It’s so funny, watching old films, where the cop or scamp, the young lover or schemer, pops into a phone booth and closes the folding glass door for privacy, to carry on a conversation with no third-party eavesdropping—except in rare cinematic moments when the movie audience is privy to personal secrets and private plots.
With the proliferation of cell phones it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone building a glass enclosure with a sliding door—a 3-D rectangle of silence—to contain such delicious private moments that require people to pause… stationary in time and place.
Instead, we hear it all. At least one-sided versions at Starbucks or Safeway, in doctor’s offices, restaurants, or airports. So, from a storytelling standpoint, you have to wonder about the loss of the Pivotal Phone-Booth Plot Point.
Superman spun booths for his quick-change act, and more than a few gangsters and secret paramours ducked inside to hatch nefarious plans or brainstorm brave rescues. Sure, Matt Damon runs, cell phone in hand, bullets flying or buildings exploding in “The Bourne Supremacy” and its sequel. Yet I can’t help but mourn the loss of scenes where unsuspecting protagonists glance up to see speeding cars bearing down on their would-be see-through coffin, only to escape at the last second by diving just beyond the scatter of shattered glass—a classic element of gritty film noir and 1970s’ Dirty Harry climactic moments.
The demise of the phone booth: A transient technology at best. Inefficient and inconvenient and insular.
Yet a character in itself—lonely, unforgiving, full of mystery and suspense.
I’m not sure if there’s a point to this story
But I’m going to tell it again
So many other people try to tell the tale
Not one of them knows the end . . .
–Lyrics from “Carolina Drama,” by the Raconteurs
In a good piece of writing, which brings you from Point A (a stellar beginning) to Point B (a kicker ending) the writer carries us along, dropping hints and clues, unfolding the storyline bit by bit, so we follow the narrative thread to an inevitable, yet surprising conclusion.
“The author is leaving a popcorn trail,” I tell my students.
“Is that a literary term?” one student asks.
Not exactly. I made it up or borrowed it from childhood tales in which the heroes are almost always prone to get lost in the forest, wandering somewhere amongst all the trees.
“Research has revealed that the brain is dynamic and continues to change across our entire lifespan, varying from person to person and from moment to moment, based on an individual’s life experience. We can recognize the truth based on this insight when we reread without enjoyment a once-favorite book and wonder what about it had formerly appealed to us. . . . As a result of the lifetime plasticity of our brain, we’re literally a different person from the person who read the book the first time.”
— from “Empathy and other Mysteries” by Richard Restak, The American Scholar, Winter 2011
All grown ups should claim a sport of their own, consider themselves athletes of some sort.
Not because exercise is “good for you” or to secure bragging rights or ‘26.2’ bumper stickers. It’s just that when you ask kids to tell you about themselves, they invariably say “I like soccer” or “I play lacrosse.” Kids often quantify their sense of self through such broad characteristics, psychologists say. And we, as parents, sign them up for sports because it creates confidence. Works off energy. Fosters social skills. Builds muscle. Because it’s fun.
So why stop? To counter the sedentary, time-crunched, thumb-tapping elements of our lives, we can pick a sport (a live one, if possible): be it kayaking, or bowling, or yoga, or dancing, or Zumba, or hula hooping, or kickball, or skiing, or basketball, or tennis, or running, or swimming, or fishing, or walking, or soccer . . .
Then we can, when people ask us about ourselves, say “I play such and such,” and be forever young.
“Democracy is bad news for terrorists. The more peaceful channels people have to express grievances and pursue their goals, the less likely they are to turn to violence.”
PAUL R. PILLAR, professor at Georgetown University and former C.I.A. analyst, in an article in The New York Times.