When we moved from the US to Asia, more than a decade ago, I got rid of at least three quarters of my material possessions. One thing I kept, though, were photographs. We shipped two plastic crates of prints and negatives, plus a box of fancy photo albums where I’d pasted the very best of our travel and party photos, selected to showcase our adventures to others.
Photographs possessed a certain importance, a gravitas, as historical markers. They were artifacts to be preserved and cherished. Family photos adorned the walls in my mother’s and grandmother’s homes, not only of people that I knew, but also of people I’d never met. Our family marked important transitions with group portraits. My archives include the originals of at least two expensive studio shots of me and my siblings, one when I was around seven, the other aged twelve. In addition, my first lover was an amateur photographer, who taught me a bit about his craft. Among the boxes we shipped were envelopes of black and white “art” photos I shot in my junior and senior year in high school with my used Kodak single lens reflex – and developed myself.
Photos were precious then.
How things have changed! Now we all carry cameras in our pockets, and capture images of the most prosaic subjects. We flip through the pictures, allocating a few seconds to each – “sharing” them, deleting them, editing and enhancing them, rarely if ever printing them. Photos have become nothing but electronic data, ephemeral. We keep them on our devices, upload them to social media, and sometimes download them to our hard disk. If we don’t back them up regularly (and how many of us do?) they could all vanish with a single computer crash. Life’s history, gone in an instant. Maybe that doesn’t matter, but it’s quite a contrast to the thick-parchment, colorized, pricey studio photos of my childhood.
Books have followed the same trend. In that move halfway around the world, I also kept a selection of my favorite volumes from my youth. In fact, they’re still sitting on my shelves here, in some cases fifty to sixty years after I acquired them. Many are what I’d consider timeless classics: the complete Sherlock Holmes stories; Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; Edgar Allen Poe; Shakespeare’s plays. I also have very old versions of books that have been important to me personally, including Anne Rice’s vampire books (a 1975 edition of Interview with the Vampire) and The Story of O.
A book was a magical object, back then. Opening the covers, you entered the gates to another world. This was still true when I published my own first novel, twenty years ago. I held the paperback in my hand – the paperback with my name on the cover! – and marveled that I had joined the illustrious ranks of real authors. Like all writers, I even fantasized about my book becoming a best-seller or a classic.
And now? Books are just bits. I have a box full of author copies I can’t get rid of, including four different versions of that first novel, and a hard disk packed with manuscript files. There are multiple different versions of many tales, published and re-published, tweaked, expanded, reworked. The notion of a book as a finished creation, whole and perfect, has disappeared.
I used to suffer from what I called “narrative inertia”. What I meant was that I found it almost impossible to make significant alterations to a book after I’d written “The End”. My work seemed to resist revision. Almost as if it were solid and real.
I’m past that now. I can slice and dice my books to suit the perceived market. They have no special status, and I have no illusions about their pretensions to longevity.
The notion of a timeless classic being published today almost seems laughable. Fifty years from now – nay, even twenty years – hardware and software will have evolved to the point that ebooks from this era may not even be readable.
Of course, according to Eastern spiritual traditions, change is the only constant. Everything is ephemeral, the universe a construct of our minds and emotions. It’s all Maya, the sparkling, ever-mutating illusion that masks the incomprehensible, eternal nature of God.
(Gee, am I really talking about God on the ERWA blog? Well, why not?)
Perhaps it’s a side-effect of growing old, but these days almost everything seems temporary. News. Crises. Fashions. Celebrities. Technologies. Scandals. The rate of change seems to be constantly increasing. I don’t even bother to pay attention to much of what flashes through my life, or across my screen. It’ll be gone before I can even grasp it.
In fact, one of the less ephemeral phenomena in my life happens to be the Erotica Readers & Writers Association. Next January will mark twenty years that I’ve been part of the ERWA community. (ERWA itself has been in existence for twenty three years! Nearly a quarter century!) There are actually a few people on the email lists whom I’ve known that entire time. I’ve been writing the Erotic Lure newsletter since 2004 – fifteen years. That’s a lot of alliteration under the bridge.
Of course, ERWA has changed. We have new blood – young, talented, energetic writers and editors who help keep things interesting. The feelings, though, remain remarkably constant: warmth, respect for others, a spirit of fun, and of course a lively interest in all things erotic.
It’s pretty amazing that a community that exists only in cyberspace could be so resilient and so real. Our communications are just bits – but they matter. I enjoy closer relationships with some of the friends I’ve made here than with people I know in “meat-space”. Watching the world rush by, buffeted by the winds of change, I am truly grateful for ERWA, a “place” that doesn’t even exist, but where I always feel at home.