Here’s the problem with writing. I may have said this before. I tend to repeat myself. The problem with writing–in my case, anyway–is that I have a narrator in my head. She’s a sort of Meg Ryan-in-a-Rob Reiner romcom narrator, and there’s generally a soundtrack with lots of plucky strings and the occasional sad trombone. If I were to write a screenplay I’d have both a plucky narrator and plucky strings. And she would wear hats. But I digress.
Today, my narrator started up with a bit about internet disagreements, feuds, and general squabbling. It is said that internet disagreements are subject to Godwin’s Law. Given enough time, the law states, online discussion will eventually come to one party comparing the other’s beliefs to Hitler and/or Nazis. The feud that put me in mind of all this today went something like this:
Person A: WHOOHOO! Obama’s gonna support the gay marriage!!!
Person B: WHOOHOO!11!!
Person C: He was in favor of it in the state legislature but then he waffled when it came time to go national. And he accuses Mitt of Waffing?
Person A: At least he’s taking a stand on civil rights and doesn’t hate gay peple.
Person D: Who says Romney hates gays? Did he tell you tahat?
Person E: NObama is a socialist.
Person F: it’s not a stretch to say that if you don’t believe in civil rights for a particular group you hate em.
Person D: I don’t think toddlers should get married. Does that violate their civil rights? Do I hate toddlrz?
Person A: That’s different.
Person D: WHy? My baby wants to marry his mommy. Why shouldn’t he?
Person G: That’s right. All of you just fall right in line, sheeple. Just like the Brownshirts.
In a previous life I was a sales and management trainer. I had a little speech before I started class. In addition to explaining the parking lot, telling them to turn off their cellphones (wasted breath), and promising to give regular “bio breaks” (a term I hated, but was encouraged to use), I brought up something I called the Alien Theory. The Alien Theory spiel went thusly: “In the course of this class you will, I hope, want to ask questions. I welcome them, but want to caution you about the Alien Theory. We will be discussing a scenario at some point and you will want to come up with the most outrageous, off-the-wall scenario you can think of. You might say, ‘Okay, let’s say I’ve got an alien from Mars who wants to return a dress from 1952 and has a receipt. What do I do?’ At that time, I will gently ask if you have had such a scenario. SHOULD THAT HAVE HAPPENED, I will tell you that you have an issue that is very specific to your own staff or customer base, and I will invite you to discuss your issue after class.”
Internet exchanges generally show off the Alien Theory to its best advantage. There’s always going to be that one person. You might be celebrating National Egg Month–May, by the way–and discussing all the wonderful ways to cook an egg, and BOOM! Eggs are just chicken abortions, you know. I don’t eat them anymore because I once found an actual chicken in mine. Perhaps you are expounding on the wonderful ice cream you served at your child’s birthday party. BAM! You know, I don’t eat ice cream anymore because one time I found a frozen cockroach trying to mate with a frozen cricket right in my cherry cheesecake swirl. Bragging about your new computer? My cousin’s girlfriend had to have a skin graft because her laptop burned the skin off her thighs.
Yes, all those things might have happened, and they are devastating. No doubt. But they are the exceptions, the rarities, the deviations from the central dogma. And you, right there reading this piece might even tell me that I have not made good comparisons. That I’m talking about like three different things. To you I say WELCOME! It must be your first time here! The thing about communication in this brave new world in which we life is that everyone has a voice in every discussion. Even when they are annoying voices. And those voices have weight. And sometime those one or two voices sound just as heavy as the roar of the crowd. Our job as citizens of this world is to separate the people who just like to sing the the Alien Theory solo from those who sing as part of the majority chorus.
No one does that for us. No newscaster, blogger, politician can separate all that for you. You have to do it for yourself. And, yeah, that sucks. But if you’re looking to someone like me to form your opinions, wow. Stop it. We can agree and disagree. You can find data that support your position, but it is YOUR position. Don’t give up that power.
The Idea of Order at Key West
by Wallace Stevens
She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.
The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.
For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.
If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.