Open Books

Does anybody really want to be private anymore?  Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and their many future and inevitable iterations would say otherwise.

The idea that each of us can express opinions on a mass scale and actually be heard – well, read and seen, which are close but not exactly the same thing – feels revolutionary.  Rather than shouting in the wind, or to your family and friends, one can literally shout at the world these days and it is entirely possible that a person or mass of people that one’s never met will see, hear, perhaps even listen… but most importantly RESPOND.   Of course, not always kindly.  File that under be careful what you wish for.

Oh days of yesteryear

Still, one could argue the situation these days is a lot more preferable than it used to be.  There was a time not so long ago that one could die in frustration with one’s inner thoughts or angry outer thoughts that the world too often turned away from.  Certainly not everything one has to say or voice is important to the world but what is certain is that it is very much important to that person.

We all, each of us, have at least one thing in common and that is the desire to be heard, and in turn, hopefully, understood.  By someone.  Or many.  Why?  Well, it varies.  Sometimes it’s on an interpersonal issue with someone we know.  In other more existential moments it is on larger topics and what we believe about ourselves.  about the world, and about humanity.  And in loftier but no less meaningful moments it is about a pressing desire to proclaim what is RIGHT AND WRONG in  ALL of the aforementioned orbits.

It really is hard being the smartest person in the room

When we can’t stop shouting about an instance, an argument or an issue, it’s more than pressing.  It’s crushingly personal.  And we can’t shut up about it no matter how much we try or don’t attempt to.  This, in particular, is where a 2017 life comes in handy.  Even if one doesn’t receive a direct response (DM) there is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone listened.  And might act on what was said.  By US.

Oh, and by the way and on a very much-related topic – this – more than anything else – is the dirty little secret about being a WRITER.  (Note:  Though certainly, not the only one).

Was someone spying on me? #meeveryday

On a recent and quite brilliant stand alone episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s emerging writer Hannah Horvath is summoned to the breathtakingly gorgeous and sprawling apartment of a famous writer played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys.  It seems Hannah has written a think piece for a feminist blog about this man, one of her all-time literary heroes, and his misadventures with a series of four different college age women he mentored and taught with whom he had unwanted or perhaps manipulated wanted, sexual relations.

Hannah tells him she wrote the piece as a means of support to thousands of young women who are forever scarred by a situation of abuse at the hands of someone more powerful.  But the writer makes a powerful case that although her words are brilliantly executed by someone with rare talents, they only tell a partial story of what she merely chose to see based on second and third hand accounts that she read.  For to be a true writer, he tells her, is to not only respect all sides but to dig deeper into one’s subject and understand reality, motivation, connection and situational circumstance in order to truly determine what constitutes the truth.

At which point, Hannah and the author have their own new interaction that EXACTLY mirrors one of the aforementioned circumstances, leaving it to the audience to determine who was right or wrong.  Or if, indeed, such a thing even exists at all.

Oh how I’ll miss you, Girl #hannah4ever

There are all types of writing and each has their individual demands.  But what they all have in common are two very specific things:

1. The truth

and…

2. What the writer believes the truth to be.

Of course, there are few absolutes in the world outside of math and science and lately even those have been brought into question.  Which really only leaves us with #2 and brings us full circle.

As both a writing teacher and someone who annually reads numerous works of writing from all over the country for various grants and scholarships, it becomes joyously and sometimes painfully obvious to me that when reading a writer one learns as much about that person as one does about the issue or subject being presented.  Often more.

You can’t help but begin to wonder – why of all the subjects in the world did this person choose to concoct a story about homeless LGBT youth?  What happened in their background that provoked this individual to pen a story about a 1930s honkytonk in the southwest with such fervor?  Who would choose to devote years to telling the tale of gnome who appears to a young lad in the middle of a cornfield at turn of the 20th century Midwest?

Or a tiny sprite of a girl who loves eggos

I choose these because in the last year all three have been among the most outstanding student and professional pieces I’ve read from young, unknown authors.  And in the cases of at least two of the three (Note: I do not know the author of the third) I know the writers revealed quite a bit more about themselves than they ever intended.  And to their great credit.

I’ve quoted it before but it bears repeating that no less than six famous writers are credited with having once famously stated (and I’m paraphrasing because five of them most certainly did):  Being a writer is easy.  Just open a vein.

And add to that in less witty parlance:  There is no other way to get to the truth.

Perhaps (?) (!) that was what Margaret Atwood was doing in the early eighties when she wrote the now famous A Handmaid’s Tale – a work of fiction in a dystopian world that not only went on to become a best seller which has since never been out of print but has spawned both a feature film and an upcoming Hulu television series where Ms. Atwood herself makes a cameo guest star appearance.

And…… PEGGY!

In her story, a Christian fundamentalist movement takes over the United States -which reeks of pollution and sexually transmitted diseases – and installs a totalitarian regime that subjugates women and forces a particular class of them to serve as the term vessels of unwanted pregnancies to a more powerful group of men forcing their wills on them for what they believe to be the ostensible survival of society.

Well, of course this is a work of fiction!

Fact almost seems more surreal than fiction these days

So much so that Ms. Atwood herself penned a piece several days ago for the NY Times explaining where she was and what she was thinking when she first wrote her perennial bestseller.

As well as what she could offer as to it’s meaning in what has been promised to be a new and improved United States that will once again be great again.

It’s a curious position to be in – addressing the real possibilities of a fictional story written in the past of an unimaginable dictatorial future some believe we are headed towards in the present.  But like any great writer she demurred on how prescient she was, attempting to be vaguely encouraging without providing answers.  In the age of what we’re constantly being told is instant communication, it’s up to all of us to draw those conclusions in the present.  Loudly.  For our futures.  Revealing not only where we stand but real parts of ourselves.  Before that is no longer a possibility.

The Lion and the Lamb

Screen shot 2014-03-30 at 12.51.12 PM Everything is small until it’s big.  No, this is not a metaphor about gaining weight.  Rather, it is an observation about what you DO and SAY as opposed to what you INTEND and MEAN.  Or at least, what you WANT people to think you INTENDED and MEANT once you realize they don’t like your original meaning or intention.

Seldom does anyone mention Gwyneth Paltrow and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the same sentence – except perhaps movie fans in the Trenton statehouse sifting through the credits of Ironman 3 – but strangely enough both have a strong connection at this moment in time.  And that is:

They have each put their feet so far deep down into their mouths this week that even a team of the best surgeons in the world could not remove them without the pair also having to consult a podiatrist instead of an ear, nose and throat doctor whenever they felt a case of laryngitis coming on.  Though in both cases, the latter ailment might be their best prescriptive course of action.

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Yes, we all misspeak, but to use a tennis metaphor in honor of Maria Sharapova’s birthday later this month, these are unforced errors.  The kind of missteps that could have been so easily avoided had they just thought through what were saying or doing beforehand.  Or even, to use a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? metaphor (because why wouldn’t we?), phoned a friend.

To wit:

Oscar winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her rock star husband Chris Martin (you know, that guy from Coldplay) have decided to separate after 10 years of marriage.  That would be a succinct, adequate announcement for the public from two very famous people.

Instead, Ms. Paltrow has decided to bill the dissolution of their marriage as a Conscious Uncoupling, replete with elaborate supporting explanations from her L.A. based doctor/healer/mentor, Dr. Habib Sadeghi, founder of the Be Hive of Healing Integrative Medical Center in Los Angeles (Note: As if we on the left coast don’t have enough problems).

FInal judgement: bullshit

Final judgement: bullshit

Among other things, Dr. Sadeghi explains that because the average human life expectancy was 33 years of age in 50,000 BC and is now 76 and 81 respectively, for men and women, we need to change our concept of divorce.

(Note: Was there even divorce and marriage in 50,000 BC? Wasn’t it more about dragging someone by the hair with one hand under the strength of an ominously large club in the other until death literally did you part?  In fact, I think it might even still be that way in some territories of our 50 United States, plus Puerto Rico)

Not to be outdone by herself, that same prior week Ms. Paltrow also decided to give an interview with E! News expounding on the plight of working mothers and the special challenges she in particular faces in balancing a film career and parenting in comparison to the average Mom who is employed outside the home.

I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening, Ms. Paltrow reckoned.  When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day and that part is very difficult.  I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”

You mean multi-millions of dollars worth of private planes and multiple months of time off DON’T….SOLVE….ANYTHING?

And you wonder why actors need writers.

Hey Gywennie.. why don't you stick to the things you do know?

Hey Gwyennie.. why don’t you stick to the things you do know?

On the flip side, there was an aggressively indignant and embattled Gov. Chris Christie giving yet another hour-long press conference basically announcing that an internal investigation done by a law firm chock full of close friends and associates he hired and had New Jersey citizens pay for at a cost of $1 million to uncover the true story of his administration’s Bridge Gate scandal has totally exonerated him personally of any wrongdoing. In fact, not only did it find that Gov. Christie did not order the closing of car lanes to the George Washington Bridge on the anniversary weekend of 9-11 – thus creating the largest recorded traffic jam in the history of the world – but it also categorically stated that the governor had no knowledge of it (or did he?) until one of its perpetrators, a close Christie appointee to the Port Authority, casually informed him after-the-fact in a large group of people during the hustle and bustle of the oh so many 9-11 commemorations he attended.

www.usnews

No, in this case and in this report the blame for the lion’s share of this mess was heaped on the much, much smaller shoulders of Bridget Kelley, chief of staff for Christie at the time, who the report positioned as in an emotional state of mind when she wrote the memo ordering the lane closures.   The exhaustive 360 page report then elaborates that what contributed in part to her taking this particular action was Ms. Kelley’s foul mood due to her recent romantic breakup with Christie’s other former chief of staff and campaign manager.

On his own the governor has referred to Ms. Kelly as a liar and has in previous press conferences called her actions stupid despite the fact that he never talked to her about any of the above face-to-face and chose to fire her not in person but by proxy for those aforementioned misdeeds and/or moods.  Yet when questioned by Bloomberg news reporter Terence Dopp several days ago about those findings and why he terminated Ms. Kelly without allowing her the chance to present her side to him live or even across a crowded room, the governor leaned in to him and pointedly barked:

I don’t know if you can’t take notes or you’re not listening.  For you to characterize my last answer as ‘I didn’t want to ask her because I didn’t want to know’ is so awful that it’s beneath the job you hold.

Of course, several days earlier the governor chose a more measured tone in a cozy, at-home interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer.  Perhaps it’s because Ms. Sawyer asked her questions regarding the actions of Ms. Kelley and his other aides in a much softer tone and with a fire roaring the background, though we will never know for sure.

Sometimes, people do inexplicably stupid things., the governor more gently reflectedto DS… And so that’s what makes it so hard then to, as the guy in charge ….. none of it made any sense to me.   And to some extent it still does not. 

…You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, he continued. You struggle. You struggle. But I do believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Wait, what was that?  Is this guy a lion or a lamb?  A tiger or a mouse? Huh?  HUH???

Which one is it, Chrissy?

Which one is it, Chrissy?

Well, very much like the truth, it depends not only on what you say but how you say it, how people ask it and how others choose to see and/or hear it.  Or in this specific case perhaps on the power of the person doing the asking and your particular mood and/or strategy at the time.

Certainly we have no idea what is in the hearts of Gov. Christie or Ms. Paltrow or anyone else except what they choose to share with us. Or even if they have hearts at all.  All we have is what they say and our interpretation.  That’s all that anyone has really, even with people they know and love or those that fall everywhere in between.  Sure, we might understand and feel stuff based on past experiences and our intuition, but it is important to note that even Samantha Stevens on Bewitched often made the wrong choice and she was a witch.  Not to mention Prof. Charles Xavier in X-Men, who also had a pretty much infallible gift of seeing into other people’s brains but whose life could hardly be described as trouble-free.

Oh I feel you, Samantha

Oh I feel you, Samantha

Still, for those who are sick of considering these issues through the all-too American lens of celebrity comments,  it might help to reflect on a few morally questionable actions and statements  I personally encountered this week – smaller than life though they might be:

#1 The Facebook Frenzy:What was Facebook really thinking by arbitrarily switching us all to that annoying change of font and their persistent larger-than-life ads?  Certainly, they don’t mean to alienate millions of users plus everyone on my news feed by cavalierly doing this without asking?  Are there reasons for the actions we’re not seeing other than an insatiable need for expansion and money and a general disregard of every one of the loyal customers who made them?  Or is the outrage I’m feeling really misdirected anger towards Direct TV because I can’t get their movies to stream properly in the upstairs room of my house due to a perpetually weak Internet signal? #1stWorldProblems.

YES

YES

#2 The Slow Roll: Did the five awful people doing that rolling drive thing in the cars in front of me on five different days this week – oh, you know the one, where the vehicle is going 8 mph in a 25-35 mph zone and you pull next to them only to see the other driver TEXTING – really intend to be that selfish and cause my trip to be an additional two and a half minutes longer than it should have been?  Well, perhaps their texts were urgent?  Or maybe it’s what we all think – that each of them deserves to die a slow, bloody and painful death.  Preferably via ice pick.

#3 The Missing Plane: Were the powers-that-be at Malaysia Airlines purposely intending to look like the most incompetent corporation in the history of the planet by merely textingthe probable death confirmations of all the missing passengers on Flight 370 to their friends, relatives and loved ones only mere seconds before the news was announced to the entire world via press conference?  Or did they have some other kinder, gentler plan in place that went awry?  But what could that have been?  Not telling them at all???

10711-Are-You-Fucking-Kidding-Me

The take away from all of this is to watch what you say and do because the smallest of things can become very big indeed.   Yes, one could conceivably believe Ms. Paltrow thinks she’s re-languaging the world and that her declaration of conscious uncoupling is among the noblest efforts of all.  And sure, others may agree that Gov. Christie is convinced that by bluntly insulting the press and anyone else who challenges him with a question or tone he doesn’t like, he is providing a much-needed version of tough love to a sissy society gone soft.   Certainly a case could be made for both

But each also has many, many, many more detractors.  Read the open letter one working Mom posted via the NY Post that has gone viral in answer to Ms. Paltrow’s views on work and motherhood –

Or simply consider my own personal view of Gov. Christie, echoed in some form by pretty much every person I know or have read —  that he is more like an abusive parent who enjoys publicly shaming his “children” as loudly and threateningly as possible in front of the greatest number of people he can muster in order to deflect any sort of blame or personal responsibility off of himself.

So what’s the lesson here? Hmm, as with most things the devil is what is in the details of what you make of them.

Though I prefer the explanation  my once working mother would most certainly give were she still around to speak on it.

On Gwyneth:

Oh please – she just thinks her shit doesn’t stink!

On Christie:

Oh come on, he’s just one mean son of a bitch bastard.

Yes, I am my mother’s son.  Though in some cases,  no matter how you look at it, that’s not such a bad thing to be.

 

That’s What De-Friends Are For

My virtual friends.

How do you de-friend someone who was never really your friend to begin with?  That was the dilemma this week when I was called a stupid, ill-informed moron by someone I’ve never met.  But irony of ironies, this person is publicly billed as my friend for all the world to see and knows at least 57 of almost 500 other people who know me.

Of course, I’m talking about Facebook .  One of my oldest friends looked me in the face and said “friend to the friendless” several decades ago as she observed the unusually large number of good, real-life friends in my life.  What can I say – I like people?  I’m a people pleaser?  I don’t like to be alone?  I need approval, an audience or a way to focus on others rather than my own needs?  Or maybe, well – I’m just a really nice guy who likes being around different kinds of people that I really like. Of course, in the same vein I can also really hate being around an awful lot of awful people that I really don’t like.  So there is that.

(One of the perks of getting older, by the way, is that you don’t have the patience for the latter and, as you age, there is even less expectation for you to tolerate nimrods than there is when you’re in your twenties and thirties.  So – that’s one good thing about the disintegration of the body to look forward to – that is aside from Social Security and Medicare while it lasts).

Which brings me back to the subject of de-friending. (Think about it, as you ponder why corporations aren’t people).  As I found out this week, it’s a lot easier to de-friend someone virtually (just a couple of clicks on your mouse) than it is when you’re operating in any sort of physical reality.

When you truly have a REAL friend you’re done with there is often the inevitable unpleasant conversation/fight or the ignoring/freezing out of another human being that at some point is likely to unearth a gnawing kind of guilt in your soul (assuming you have one and that souls indeed exist) that will likely do some sort of damage to you in some other area of life (e.g. karma or retribution).  Live human feelings, good or bad, are like that.  They can make you feel things.  But in turn, your real life and real life friends, if they are truly such, have a way touching you (again good or bad) in places you had never dreamt possible.  That’s what makes, through the ages, the in-person, old-fashioned version of friends and friendships both so agelessly cool, difficult and impossible to quantify or categorize.  It’s a sort of a long-term love affair without the sex (well, most of the time) but with many of the same perks, benefits, shorthands and, yes, responsibilities.  Who needs it, you might say?  Well, as Woody Allen once brilliantly observed of himself (and us) in relationships – “I (we) need the eggs” and I concur.

I’d also stretch that observation to include not only flesh and blood love affairs but also flesh and blood real-life friends.

HOWEVER….

A lot of us now spend as much or even more time in the virtual world where the connections, feelings and costs are not the same as they are in real time/life.  Or are they?  Well, let’s say they’re different.  The fact that I’m even writing about an online de-friending  event would seem evidence enough to make the case that “de-friending” even a virtual pal means something emotionally, though perhaps nowhere near as much as it would if any of us actually knew that person we’re consistently hanging out with via our social media page.

This distance is perhaps one of the key benefits of online life because a virtual way of living lets you say and do things you might never consider in the flesh (or even in the same room, city or neighborhood).  For a writer, or anyone who fancies themselves a bit clever with words, there is something addictingly delectable about this, about all things online, web-based, immersive or virtual.  I know it’s cool to be down on Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg and, and, and… but you won’t hear any of that from me.  I thoroughly enjoy being able to spout my opinions (surprise!) on any subject I choose, connect with people who a decade ago I’d have surely lost touch with, and spy on and share any number of photos, articles and clips of pop culture that I or you would have missed in the simpler decades before most of my college aged students were even born.

My personal fall out (and perhaps yours) from all of this is that it’s emboldened me (us?) to a consistently much bigger and more diverse audience of followers, nee friends, than even before.  So, for instance, when I, a devout liberal, post my concern that the Republican party is about to nominate someone who exhibits severe sociopathic behavior, it’s not just me speaking up and arguing at a dinner party.  For one thing, at a dinner party you don’t get to play, as evidence, a clip of a lesbian mother relating that when she asked then Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney about what to tell her daughter when her daughter asks why one of her “Moms” can’t visit the other at the hospital, he icily replied “I don’t really care what you tell your daughter.  But I suppose you can tell her whatever you already tell her.”

In addition, you also don’t have your significant other, or best friend, kicking you in the shin or under the table before you start that particular argument or play that clip.

Not that it would have made a difference in my case, trust me.  Because, truth be told, I like a good argument and believe one of the biggest problems about contemporary life is that there are not enough of them.  HUH????  Yeah, there are not enough GOOD arguments nowadays.  Meaning it’s important that people challenge each other’s opinions with evidence, discourse, facts and even real and dangerously personal emotions.  How else can we better understand opposing views and move forward even just a little bit, if we don’t?  I look for these kinds of exchanges in the classroom all the time but they happen all too infrequently.  I look for them at family gatherings but usually no one wants to hurt each other’s feelings and they stay silent.  I look for them in journalism – print, TV and radio – but mostly people seem to be shouting or speechifying each other with planned talking points on both sides rather than engaging in any kind of meaningful way.

My Facebook rating of public discourse

Enter the Internet – a sort of a wild west existence where every so often you can really get a raw exchange of views among “friends” that you might not ever get in real life.  It’s crazy, to be sure, but it’s also pretty uncensored and true when it’s working right.  That’s one reason why I enjoy posting about political issues and welcome reading posts from others who are trying to share something they’ve thought and read about regarding the issues of the day.  I mean, if we’re not going to get enough of an exchange going in real life, perhaps we can at least begin virtually, where we can seethe and breathe fire and curse out our opposition within the confines or our own little megabytes.  To put it another way – some reaction is better than no reaction.  Isn’t it?

The upshot, of course, is being ranted at and being called a stupid idiot by those who oppose you – people you might have thought twice of engaging or who might have thought three times of engaging you face-to-face due to some mental defect on either one of your parts.  In the case of my “former friend,” let’s just say in the last year or so I’ve heard him rant and rave in half-crazed ways on the pages of many other mutual friends.  I chalked it up to his passion and general manner and the fact that he seemed so much more shrill to me because I so disagreed with pretty much everything he had to say.  And given that, I was determined NOT to de-friend (un-friend?) him.

But I learned this week, as my former friend’s words got very personal, nasty and more than a little troubling, virtual friendships can signal some of the same warning bells that we encounter in real life ones.  Just like you don’t stay with an abusive, insulting mate, friend or even boss. — the same applies to any kind of online engagement.

wink

I tell my students all the time –  there is NO JOB in show business (or any other business, for that matter) worth staying at where one needs to be consistently insulted and abused.

Well, the same goes for public discourse.  No one EVER gets to call you stupid, or a moron, or even worse in the course of your day.  No matter how controversial they might see your viewpoint.  Online, as in real life, certain rules apply.  Even  Especially for friends.   And if they can’t play by those simple human rules, they are no real or virtual friend of yours at all.