Fall again.  Light thins, weakens, fades; serotonin production slows to a trickle.  I was already in a melancholy mood when I read a friend’s email this morning. He’s a retired biology professor; in fact, the man who directed my husband’s doctoral dissertation at Florida State decades ago. Because he had read my poem Georgia (about Georgia O’Keefe) with its mention of a woman bent in the shape of a microscope, was taking off about the degeneration of microscope design. How modern machines are boxy, how one can hardly tell that a microscope is still inside.

Transference, I thought. What he’s really talking about is aging. Not just the passing of the old-fashioned microscope with its sinuous curve, its concentrated bend, its rapt attention to the object of its focus, but the passing of our once-youthful bodies. How we were once slim and curvilinear ourselves but are now boxy, ungraceful, soon to be obsolete.  Natural–he is, after all, about to turn 80, albeit a youthful 80, still cute in his faded cotton Japanese lounge pants bought in a past life while living in Tokyo doing research on bivalves.  His wife says he’s wondering what his life is about now…figuring it out day to day.

I suppose I am as well.  Myself, though, I don’t miss a microscope, I miss the heavy black typewriters we used in high school typing class. A roomful of clicking. Dings ricocheting as carriages were slung back into starting position .  How sometimes the “a” didn’t strike hard enough to leave an imprint because the little finger wasn’t strong enough to push the key all the way down. Or how there was always one sticking key that left text looking something like this: the quick brooown fooox jumped ooover the l zy dooog. That was a typing exercise that used all the letters of the alphabet, a pangram, although I didn’t know that at the time. I was a pretty fast typist but made a good many typos when timed because waiting for the buzzer to go off caused a kind of jerky semi-paralysis. Also sweaty palms.

And I miss my mother’s old Singer sewing machine with its wrought iron treadle and wheel, its curved black body with gilt lettering and oak cabinet with two small drawers on each side full of thread and bobbins, little mysterious tools and tiny green packets of Singer needles Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Needles. My mother said she missed her old Singer, too, after she sold it and bought a new electric Singer in a boxy, fake wood cabinet. She said she had less control of the speed with the new one, that it went too fast and made her nervous.

Okay, so I’m not good with change, I get attached, not very Zen. One day I’ll be a hermit, having my groceries delivered to the front doorstep. My home will preserve itself simply by never being modernized. The floor will be piled higher and higher with books and New Yorker magazines New Yorker Magazine 2001and Times Literary Supplements Times Literary Supplement Logo(which I can’t possibly get rid of until I’ve read every last sentence and even then may not if the cover art is too frabjous), but no catalogs selling modern, boxy gadgets or faux-European accessories made in China.  The cats will never age, and the basil plant will replenish its leaves as long as I water it.

Ah non. Better yet to live in world where nature dictates design and not vice versa, not like now where nature is manipulated to please our shallow desires or perverted ideas of beauty or practicality. What motivates a designer to make a boxy microscope, a shape so far removed from its use that one would never guess its function? What if we designed everything so that it most closely resembled its function? Telephones might once again have rounded mouth and earpieces, airplanes would stay the same, but microscopes would look the way they used to, like little scientists, bent over the object of their scrutiny.

And typewriters–typewriters would look like, well, type writers and not key boards. Crandall Typewriter


About judy loest

writer, reader, artist, walker, Tai Chi-er with a passion for literature, libraries, reader- as opposed to shopper-bookstores, cats, cemeteries, film (esp foreign, esp French), nature, organic food, and old things, esp ephemera (photos, postcards, letters), buttons, lace, esp old things made in France...does that make me a Frantiquarian?
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One Response to Microscopes

  1. Linda Parsons Marion says:

    Perhaps that’s why the garden appeals more and more to me…I go out in bright weather and overcast, into the artistry and seeming order I have created but can never fully control. Parts of it will age and spread beyond my original vision; for a while, I let the sprawl have its way, then decide how and where to cut back or divide and move elsewhere. The hand of nature raised by my hand sooner or later laughs at my human attempts to keep things, um, in hand. Ultimately it’s an important lesson, practicing patience while the beds inch into my idea of perfection, all the while knowing time and rain will drive all outside their bounds quick as that brown fox over the lazy dog, shading and crowding where once the open sun blasted. Like it or not, we are growing bent and gnarly together. Now I’ve traipsed far afield from microscopes and typewriters, or have I? Some years ago, the former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and his wife, Kathleen, traveled from Nebraska to visit my husband and me in Knoxville, and I was proud to show him around the gardens. I noted that I’d probably overplanted a bed of spirea, iris, and daylilies–and soon it would need thinning out. “I always plant for today,” he said. I think of that, wanting to own my creations, tamp down the semblance of order, keep the beauty of today unchanged. But it’s forever aging into its own character, season after season, every ‘today’ being what it should be, mostly out of my hands.

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