Breathing Machine(s)

Reading early responses to Leigh Alexander’s Breathing Machine, it looks like a lot of folks couldn’t help but reminisce.

It’s the mark of a particularly powerful work, like a dish whose heady spices remind you of childhood.

Invoking things like HyperCard, and mazes of twisty passages, she mentions a “primitive voice program” on an old powerbook. That certainly shakes the rust off the old memory machine. I think of 7th grade typing class where I fed some boxy school mac a spontaneously-concocted and hugely offensive story, then set it to play during “quiet typing time.” I remember Mr. Frank (with his horrible lisp) infuriated, demanding to know “Whosse responssible for thiss?” And everyone shamelessly points to me.

I laughed most of the way to the principal's office.

In places, Breathing Machine feels like a book typed in a haze, when suddenly out of the mist Alexander’s surreal half-memories give way to vividly-painted “cool” disc jockeys and porn site promoters. It's part of what makes the book evocative. For me, that adolescent internet fog blends together like so many nights in bars. It is, I suspect, a mix of fog and memory that defines childhood for so many of us.

Too few books talk about that, let alone capture it.

Back then they really were breathing machines, for some of us.

AOL had a button to randomly contact any other user. And it was not completely unexpected or unwelcome to get such a message. One night you could be telling flirtatious Australian ladies that you were a 24 year old hunk (with a monstrous and efficacious… pickup truck) the next a New York poker champion just rarin’ to give a 15-year-old The Lady Advice. It was in that atmosphere, and on the clunky Mirabilis chat program “I seek you” that I fell in love for the very first time.

And so, because of Leigh’s book, I thought I would share that story with you now.

Then I thought again. 

I was struck by the imagery, from her book, of sushi being served from the torso of a vivisected woman, who blushes. We're handing out our stories like so many ice-bathed kidneys, and I already plan to put plenty of my life on the rotating sushi bar of this new internet.

So I'll keep that one to myself. 

But thank the book, for a healthy little stroll down memory lane. 

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