05 February 2013

Anti-Social Media

So recently I upped my involvement with Twitter, and it was fantastic, and then it was an absolute disaster.  Read on, and learn from my mistakes.

First of all, like a lot of folks, I have been a long-time user of facebook, and I have a really good community there - lots of ongoing conversations across the spectrum of opinions and politics.  I pop on for an hour, here and there, and maintain ties to this community with ease.

Twitter ain't like facebook.

Or rather, it is and it isn't.  And learning the similarities and differences has been a painful process.

First of all, I should point out that I am not tweeting as an individual, but instead on behalf of my radio show, Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith.  This led me to think about numbers, numbers, numbers instead of people.

I was going a little nuts, sending out blasts of tweets about various podcast episodes and adding hashtags galore.  For a few days, the response was incredible.  The downloads jumped from a couple dozen to hundreds a day.  It was addictive - the higher the numbers grew, the higher I wanted them to go.  So I tweeted, and retweeted my own tweets, blasting bigger and bigger each time.

Two days ago, the numbers stopped rising.  In fact, they dropped off entirely.

What happened?  Well, Twitter throttled me.  And with good reason.  I was acting like an ass.

You know that guy who shows up at a party, or a funeral, and starts handing out business cards?  You know that "long lost friend" who reconnects out of the blue, only to start trying to sell you on some multi-level marketing scheme?  Yeah.  On Twitter, I now realize I was That Guy.

I never had difficulty understanding how facebook is social media.  To be honest, though, at first Twitter just seemed to me to be a big free for all, a meet market where you threw 140 characters out again and again because, after all, they would blast through the feed and disappear in the noise if you didn't.

The problem, I discovered, was not trying to cut through the noise.  The problem was I had become the noise that needed to be cut through.

So, gentle readers, I am offering this public apology.  I didn't do Twitter right.  I treated readers like numbers, and not like people.  I added to the noise.  I am sorry, and I will not do it again.

I stayed up pretty late last night, thinking about all this.  Lots of friends on facebook gave me some great advice and pointers, too.  I went to bed feeling just like I would have felt if I had been an ass at a party.  Because, in a lot of ways, I was.

What have I learned?  Well, first, that short term explosive growth is exactly that: short term.  It comes at the expense of what really makes social media work, namely relationships and trust.  I learned that just showing up on Twitter and blasting and then disappearing is about the equivalent of drinking too much and insisting folks listen to you sound off about politics loudly in the kitchen.  Folks may listen politely for a while, but eventually the host is going to shut that crap down.

So, this morning, I opened up Twitter, and instead of sounding off about the show, like all last week, I read what other people were saying.  I spent more time listening than I did talking.  I thanked people for the tweets that made me laugh or think, and I found good things to pass along that had nothing to do with promoting me or my radio show.

After a day of doing this, I am beginning to feel better about my relationship to Twitter, and to the followers who trusted me not to ruin their party.  Still a ways to go, but I will say today, Twitter has made more sense to me, and started to feel a little more like the community I value so much on facebook.

There's still a long way to go to make amends for acting like "That Guy," but this feels like a good start.

Thanks for reading.

01 September 2011

Forward in all directions

It's a hundred-plus degrees outside. Kira is waiting to go into labor with our second child at any moment. It's the tail end of the second week of school. And I just got inside from a bout of pruning the rose bushes.

How's that again?

By "pruning," I should instead say, "butchering." There is a gnarled pile of brambled branches by our curb now, and the rose bushes look markedly worse, not better, for my efforts. Did I mention that I am also a sweaty mess? Sweaty and stinky, and punctured and itchy and a little bloodied from gargantuan thorns? I am.

This is my life right now.

My entire life is that thorny bramble of tangled and knotted branches, overgrown and without order. At least, that is how it has felt for the past few months. It's been frustrating.

So I decided, this afternoon, and with things I should probably be doing (like writing or organizing papers or getting through the overfull email inbox) to take a few minutes and hack away at the lowest-priority problem on the planet at the moment, that problem being the cosmetic state of our front yard.

And yet. There I was. And it was just nonsense, I tell you. The rose bushes have become over-overgrown, with branches heading in all directions and braiding around each other. So I just started hacking and snipping, with no plan or direction other than to reduce the total amount of thick overgrowth.

The result? A four foot pile of nettled branches, large and small. And now I can see the underside of the bush, and how bad the whole job is going to be. There's a lot more to do to get these bushes back in order. It will be a multiple-attempt undertaking.

So this was a first step - wild, no plan, just jumping in and going as long as I can. Then stopping, toweling off, and going back inside, until I build up the gumption in a few days to do it again.

This is my life. These rose bushes are my life, at least for right now. Everything - school, parenting, finances, the future - is a thorny, overgrown thickness, tangled and braided from my neglect. It's a bit daunting.

But I learned something today, with those bushes. Jumping in without a plan is not a recipe for disaster (as I initially suspected). Instead, it actually allowed me to get my bearings, and to figure out the real extent of the problem. It got me started, and that's good.

I think I need to apply that approach to the rest of these thorny parts of my life right now. Dive in, hack away, towel off, do it again in a few days. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

I have been avoiding all action, largely because I am afraid, and I don't have a good plan for anything right now. But what I just learned from the roses is that if I can at least hack at it a bit, there might be hope. For everything.

My wife jokingly calls this approach "forward in all directions." I used to be good at it. I lived the whole of my twenties that way. But of late I have been timid. Writers block and being the father of an infant has made me a bit cautious. Or maybe it gave me too much excuse to be too cautious.

Time for a bit of hacking away at things. Time for a bit of gumption.

Forward. In all directions. Towel off. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

25 July 2011

Not an office, not a restaurant.

Several months back my friend Maria posted the following on facebook:

Did you know that Fido [in Nashville's Hillsboro Village neighborhood] turns off its wireless internet if the cafe gets busy to get people to leave their tables? I told the manager that this does not seem to be in the spirit of Bongo Java and Fido. He said that this is a restaurant not an office. The wireless has been turned off and back on twice during the half-hour I've been here. Both times I lost data. Thanks a lot.

That post got me thinking.

There is a great coffee shop here in Memphis - Republic Coffee - I go there often to work (in fact, I am sitting in Republic as I type this). The internet is always on, and when it conks out I tell somebody and the staff apologizes and gets it up and running again.

As a result, I often sit for hours, which means I will likely eat a meal in addition to getting coffee, and sometimes a little nosh between meals as well. Because the staff is so cool about it, and because I feel very comfortable there, Kira and I often make a point to go there on days when I'm not writing, and grab a meal. I'm a good tipper anyway, but my tips are especially high at Republic.

In other words, because of their wireless policy, I have made it a habit both to work there and go out of my way to eat there. In addition, I feel strongly enough about their wireless policy to take up four or five minutes to write a comment in here about it.

I am thinking about these things because I see a stark contrast between the approach Republic is taking to the approach Fido is taking, and it is worth lingering over this difference for a moment or two.

I love taxonomy and definitions, and I think this is an interesting taxonomic problem. Despite the manager's adamant stance, I think he is committing a categorical error.

(First off, let me say that I will avoid the term "cafe" here, since in American culture that is a "gray area" term - it used to mean "coffee house," but now often means informal restaurant where light fare is served quickly, So, in what follows, the polarity is between "restaurant" and "coffee house" - adamantly)

If you serve an espresso at the end of a meal, with dessert, you're a restaurant. If you put coffee drinks at the end of a menu (and they are listed simply "coffee," "cappuccino," "espresso," etc.) , with the desserts, you're a restaurant.

If you put coffee drinks at the front of the menu, with a range of sizes for each, chances are you're a coffee house. If you have more varieties of coffee drinks offered than you have, say, varieties of sandwiches, chances are pretty good you're a coffee house.

A "coffee house" entails coffee house culture - which is a culture of lingering. This is a certain type of lingering, which leads to conversations, creativity, and thought (all of which are goods in themselves, and need no economic justification for their encouragement and flourishing). This type of lingering should not be confused with other types of lingering that are malicious in nature, such as loitering or lurking.

I will agree with the manager that Fido isn't an office, true. But I want to argue that Fido also isn't a restaurant. It is a coffee house, just like Republic Coffee (and my beloved San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company in Atlanta) are coffee houses. It is a third space: not an office, not a restaurant. And that third space is both necessary and important.

When I want to write, I don't go to write in a restaurant, because a restaurant does not convey or foster an atmosphere of lingering or creativity, even though a restaurant will serve me coffee (and, incidentally, I can also get coffee at my office). I write where the vibe is best for writing.

So, I will argue, a coffee house is not about the coffee, at the end of the day. It is about the type of atmosphere and interaction I can expect -- with other patrons and with staff -- when I go there. Furthermore, I don't feel I need to "justify" this expectation in economic terms, even though (as I pointed out above), it certainly seems to me that there is tremendous economic benefit to a coffee house from folks like me, since we tend to attract other folks of like mind (that's the point) to be around us, because that helps us do creative work. Fostering such an atmosphere is beneficial to the establishment itself, of course, because even though the crowd may be there for the atmosphere, as a byproduct we tend to eat and drink and tip.

Why go on about this? Because it matters - at least to me (and, I hope, to folks like me). There is so much pressure to justify the cash value of everything these days, which makes me distracted and sad.

I look at my lovely baby daughter -- no cash value, just unqualified good in her own right. Poetry? No cash value, but unqualified good, nonetheless. I don't want to live in a world where everything has a price, and whose price has been calculated and fractured over time increments.

So I am thankful for little pockets of culture (particularly coffee house culture) that still remain, because these, too, are unqualified goods in themselves. A place to sit, and think, and write, is too rare in the wasteland of strip malls and parking lots that America has become not to spend a few minutes writing praise when we find them.

So I say "amen" to coffee houses, which are neither restaurants nor offices, and I say "shame" to Fido, a sad, confused establishment that yearns to be something it is not, to the detriment of Hillsboro Village, to the detriment of us all.

What do you think?

01 February 2011

Dear Senator Alexander, Please Support the Health Care Law

Dear Senator Alexander,

As I have several times before, I am writing you as a citizen and small business owner firmly in favor of the present health care reforms. I support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act recently made into law by Congress, and support continued efforts on the part of concerned citizens and legislators to improve the law until it contains a government-supported, single-payer option.

I am therefore writing you to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to please cease all efforts to undermine or repeal PPAC. Furthermore, I am asking you to work to continue the momentum begun by the passage of the Act into law. This health care legislation is not perfect, granted, but it is an essential and necessary start. Too many Tennesseans face dire consequences if the law is repealed or if the enactment of its reforms are delayed. Please, for their sakes and for mine, change your position and stand in full support of the Patient Protective and Affordable Care Act!

Your recent vocal efforts in the Senate to spearhead the repeal effort take us backward, not forward. It is the wrong battle, waged against the wrong enemy. Speaking as one of the working poor, as a person scraping every day to make a business work in this economy, we are not the problem. We need Washington to give us support and increased safety nets like the Health Care law, not take threaten to take them away!

I realize we deeply disagree on this issue. Therefore I am hopeful that, if nothing else, I can appeal to your conscience on this matter. I am a Christian, and Scripture clearly states we must protect the least of these among us. When we do so, we honor our Creator. I hope, even if we disagree on much else, we can firmly agree on this point.

At a time when so many dire issues face our nation, I hope you will lead your colleagues in the Senate, as you have so many times in the past, to a higher ground of conversation than I have seen these past two weeks. Now is *not* the time to attach anti-Health Care amendments to each new bill. Now is *not* the time to fixate on repealing Health Care as some sort of "mandate" from the recent election. Now is the time to help the economy by moving forward, not dwelling in the past.

Thank you for your service to the state of Tennessee, and please know that I speak for a great many Tennesseans when I say that I support the Health Care law, and that repeal is not the answer.


David Dault

Dear Senator Corker, Please Support the Health Care Law

Dear Senator Corker,

As I have several times before, I am writing you as a citizen and small business owner firmly in favor of the present health care reforms. I support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act recently made into law by Congress, and support continued efforts on the part of concerned citizens and legislators to improve the law until it contains a government-supported, single-payer option.

I am therefore writing you to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to please cease all efforts to undermine or repeal PPAC. Furthermore, I am asking you to work to continue the momentum begun by the passage of the Act into law. This health care legislation is not perfect, granted, but it is an essential and necessary start. Too many Tennesseans face dire consequences if the law is repealed or if the enactment of its reforms are delayed. Please, for their sakes and for mine, change your position and stand in full support of the Patient Protective and Affordable Care Act!

Mr. Corker, two summers ago you and I spoke face to face at a town hall meeting. At that time you watched as angry voices heckled me because I asked you to help me and my pregnant wife by voting in favor of health care. That evening, you looked me in the eye and I had the feeling you were ashamed at what your constituents were shouting at me. Like me, I hope you feel we are better than that in this state.

Therefore I am hopeful that I can appeal to your conscience on this matter. I am a Christian, and Scripture clearly states we must protect the least of these among us. When we do so, we honor our Creator. I hope, even if we disagree on much else, we can firmly agree on this point.

At a time when so many dire issues face our nation, I hope you will lead your colleagues in the Senate, as you have so many times in the past, to a higher ground of conversation than I have seen these past two weeks. Now is *not* the time to attach anti-Health Care amendments to each new bill. Now is *not* the time to fixate on repealing Health Care as some sort of "mandate" from the recent election. Now is the time to help the economy by moving forward, not dwelling in the past.

Thank you for your service to the state of Tennessee, and please know that I speak for a great many Tennesseans when I say that I support the Health Care law, and that repeal is not the answer.


David Dault

21 January 2011

Five Theses on the X-Files: An Appreciation

As an adult, I have never owned a TV or had television in my home. Nevertheless, those that know me know that I have managed to become fanatical about a handful of shows over the past two decades. Despite not having a TV I have exploited videotapes, then DVDs, and more recently streaming technology to catch up and keep up with my faves. I also have benefited over the years from the generosity of folks who were willing to let me come over week after week when I couldn't wait until the end of a season to find out what happened (Jonathan, Maria, and Laura, I am talking to you).

My fanaticism is no joke. I either ignore TV or I obsess about it. This is likely a holdover from my youth when, as a bored (and boring) child, I watched everything indiscriminately. I could sit and watch awful tripe for hours on end. I avoid that nowadays, but I find that, when I let myself, I fall into narratives and get totally wrapped up.

Some of the shows that have held me fast over the years only did so for a handful of seasons. Smallville, for example, faded for me after several major characters left the show (and it started feeling like Dawson's Creek with super powers). Similarly, though the first two seasons of 24 were gripping, it eventually became formulaic at best and a torture-fest at its worst. I still enjoy going back to episodes of both on occasion, but the series arc overall does not hold me.

Then there are the series that held me the whole way through. LOST immediately comes to mind, as does Buffy the Vampire Slayer (it took sticking through a season to get me hooked, but I got hooked and stayed hooked). A more recent discovery was The Wire, which was utterly fantastic throughout, and AMC's Rubicon, which had tremendous promise but has sadly been canceled at the end of its first season.

Of all this fanaticism, however, nothing holds a place in my heart like the X-Files.

I was first introduced to the series by my friend Theron, and over the years I would catch an episode here and there. Later, when the DVD box sets came out, I watched the "mythology" sets, and then the whole thing. Repeatedly. I loved it.

This past Christmas Theron and I had a conversation about the series, and that got me thinking about some of the things I have come to believe about what it means for me. It made me want to watch it again, as well. So over the past several weeks, my wife Kira and I have begun to re-watch the series from the beginning. We are now just finishing Season Three. This is Kira's second time all the way through. It is my fifth. As we've been talking about the episodes along the way, some observations have come up that seemed fit to share. So thanks for letting me be a nerd for a few minutes about my favorite show.

First of all, this is my first time re-watching the series since I finished watching LOST last year. I'll be honest, I had expected that LOST would have cooled me on the X-Files somewhat, but I am finding that is not the case. If anything, the intricacy and connectedness I find in LOST has just made me appreciate X-Files all the more. In fact (and I don't think JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof or Carlton Cuse would dispute this), in many ways the X-Files made a show like LOST possible. Certainly LOST found an audience primed and hungry for weirdness and conspiracy in the wake of Mulder and Scully's long run. LOST made it respectably through six seasons, weathering a writers' strike and still delivering a quality story throughout. The X-Files managed to make it half-again longer than that, weathering a change of production location and the loss of its major star, and still delivered quality throughout. Kudos to both for that.

I know that some of my readers are long-time fans. I also know some have never seen the show. I hope the following will pique the interest of the latter half and give way to some good conversations with the former half. In what follows, I am going to make some opinionated observations, and I welcome comments and corrections from both newbies and fanatics alike.

Strap in, ladies and gents. We are entering alpha-nerd territory. Here are my five theses about the X-Files:

If you think the X-Files is a series about aliens, you are missing the point. Around the release a couple years ago of the second movie, X-Files: I Want to Believe, I had many conversations with folks who voiced their disappointment and confusion with the film. "Where are the aliens?" was what I heard over and over again.

It makes sense, o
f course. Clearly the alien stories and mythology were an essential part of the series. But -- as important as a backbone is -- it is nothing without the muscles and sinews around it. The X-Files was preoccupied foremost with telling creepy stories, and telling them well. The alien stories were definitely creepy, but so were the stand-alone "monster of the week" episodes (and sometimes more so. Think of "2Shy" from Season 3, or "Home," which some have rightly called "the scariest hour ever aired on television").

Which is all to say that a focus on the aliens alone means you miss a lot of good tingles -- both from the creepy monsters and from all the good development of Mulder and Scully's relationship.

If you think the X-Files is about figuring out the conspiracy, you're missing the point. This is a similar temptation to the one that frustrated a lot of the LOST viewers. Like the LOST writers, Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz and the other key players in the X-Files were very good at weaving intricate, long-running story arcs that dropped clue after clue in an ever-widening web of intrigue.

But the X-Files is not a mystery novel. Despite the pedantic tone of the series finale, the story arc does not neatly resolve or tie itself off in satisfying closure. This is largely because there is not one conspiracy at work in the X-Files, but several overlapping ones at once.

Remember that th
e Consortium are pretty much all dead by the end of Season Six, having been killed off in a hangar by the rebel faceless aliens (alpha-nerd - I warned you). But their death did not mean the conspiracies went away. Even before their demise, we were shown that there were other agendas at work, at all levels of the government and the shadow government.

The one common thread was venality and self-interest. As the conflicting intrigues unfolded we see again and again that self-interest is the strongest loyalty most of the characters hold. Krycheck certainly exemplifies this, selling his services to the highest bidder and repeatedly double-crossing everyone, but he is only the most visible exemplar. Everyone and every organization is out to increase its power and cover its hind quarters. The overlap of these self-aggrandizing machinations drive most of the deep plots of the long-term story arc.

In fact, as time goes by, we come to discover not only multiple agendas among the humans in the show, but also the multi-leveled conflicts among the various alien races, at work for or against the colonization plot, and for or against hybridization. The complexity makes the show rich with narrative possibility, and -- for me -- makes the show's conspiracies all th
e more lifelike and realistic. I mean, spend a little time researching the various conspiracy theories around the Kennedy assassination -- trying to find one clear narrative in that rabbit hole is a lost cause, mostly because everyone's explanation brings in more and more groups that had some interest in the events, from Oswald ad infinitum.

The desire to take the complex story line and find the key to unlocking it can drive other simplifications, as well. So it seems important to say this -

If you think the X-Files is about the struggle between science and the supernatural, you are missing the point. A theme that resurfaces continually in the series riffs on the polarity between Scully, "trained in hard science" and rational inquiry, and Mulder, whose "spooky" ideas have taken him "outside the Bureau mainstream" into laughingstock territory.

In the first two seasons, in fact, this polarity is sharply emphasized, and it leads to some very interesting stories in which Mulder holds the place of "the feminine" in the narrative. What I mean is that the other m
en in the FBI treat him, narratively, as females have often been treated in television procedural dramas. Detectives roll their eyes at him, refuse to take his ideas seriously, and work actively to get him out of the way so the "real work" can be done. It is especially interesting to watch Scully's reaction to this behavior, especially when she participates in it.

If that were the whole of the tension, that would certainly be interesting. As the series develops, however, we are exposed to the complexity of this tension, and the polarity is anything but simple. First of all, while Scully is a rationalist and scientist, she is also a person of religious faith -- a fact that should provide common ground with Mulder's supposed "irrationality." Instead, her faith confounds him. Despite his credulity for all forms of the supernatural, this is one realm into which Mulder refuses to venture. In Mulder's wo
rld, there is room for aliens, but not angels. Scully, however, can see the hand of God in events, and becomes more bold in saying so as time goes by.

This asymmetry makes for one of my favorite aspects of the show. Throughout the series we see both Mulder and Scully facing crises of "faith," as Scully waxes and wanes with her Catholicism and Mulder bitterly abandons his belief in aliens as a result of one of the many false conspiracies that are "revealed" to him by the venal powers manipulating his crusade for their own purposes. In the final episode, when we hear Scully assert to Mulder that "you and I believe the same thing
," the admission is as hard-won as it is accurately inaccurate. Mulder and Scully may believe the same Truth, but their respective articulations of that Truth, and its ultimate meaning, are still deeply personalized.

If you think the X-Files "jumped the shark" after Season Seven, you are missing the point. Next to the lack of aliens in the film, Mulder's departure from the series is often cited by my friends as their bi
ggest disappointment about the series. The implication is that the series went disastrously awry, in terms of character and story, with David Duchovny's absence. In television parlance, this is known as "jumping the shark." Even the Cigarette Smoking Man says, "you know how important Mulder is to the equation."

True as this may be, there is more to the story. Though he is physically absent for the majority of the last two seasons, Mulder's absence forms a central presence to both the narrative and the development of the relationships between Scully and her new partners, Doggett and Reyes.

In Doggett and Reyes we have a chance to see the X-Files through new eyes, and new perspectives. The approaches of both to the unexplained phenomena in the Files are significantly different to those of Mulder, and in confronting these approaches, Scully is pushed to further define her place as the X-Files's advocate. Where her original role was that of skeptic, brought in to debunk Mulder's work, by Season Six she is the voice and the champion of the X-Files in a changed FBI landscape.

I will admit that the final two seasons are somewhat weak, but so are the first two seasons of the show. With the introduction of new major characters, a period of adjustment has to occur for dynamics and relationships to become firmly established. This was certainly true through all of Season One and most of Season Two. Think, for example, of "Ice," an early episode where Mulder and Scul
ly's relationship is tenuous at best and there is very little trust or camaraderie in the face of unknown dangers. In contrast, by Season Two's cliffhanger conclusion, "Anasazi," Scully defends Mulder's innocence despite his violent and aberrant behavior and seeming guilt in the death of his father.

Truly, the high water mark for the X-Files finds its home in seasons Three through Six, but this means that those who would dismiss the Doggett and Reyes episodes should also dismiss the early Mulder and Scully episodes. While weaker than the strongest seasons, I contend that Seasons Eight and Nine are at least as strong as Seasons One and Two, and in some cases stronger.

Which leads to the inevitable conclusion:

If you think the X-Files is about Mulder, you're missing the point. Despite all the twists and turns along the way, the Mulder that we encounter in X-Files: I Want to Believe is fundamentally the sa
me Mulder we first see in the basement office in the Pilot episode of Season One. Mulder is static. He matures, but he does not change.

The X-Files is about Scully. From the very first scene of the series (where we see her enter the J. Edgar Hoover building to be briefed), to the last shot of the show (where she and Mulder lay quiet as the rain falls outside), to the last shot of I Want to Believe
(where she begins the operation to save the boy's life under the prayerful eyes of the nuns), Scully is the focal point. Mulder doesn't change, but Scully does.

While remaining com
mitted to her scientific and rational view of the world, we get to watch as Scully rediscovers her childhood faith, and then watch again as that faith broadens beyond dogma to spirituality, ecstasy, and ecumenism. She meets a boy messiah, angels, miracle children, three incarnations of Satan and at least one incorruptable martyr along the way. It is more than subtly hinted that her inexplicable child, William, has a somewhat Christ-like "dual nature" that could someday bring peace between the aliens and the human race. By the last seasons of the show, she has had a remarkable faith journey, to say the least.

More than this, however, she becomes open to the Truth of the phenomena contained in the X-Files. Not in the way Mulder is open, but she achieves a credulity that remains balanced with her commitment to scientific inquiry. As an empiricist she has encountered overwhelming evidence of mysteries; unlike Mulder, she does not jump to explain them, but she accepts that, until the proper answers are found, these experiences cannot simply be dismissed. By the time she is paired with Agent Doggett, then, she has become the "spooky" one at the FBI. She has not become Mulder, but she understands him and what he must have gone through in those early years alone in the basement office.

This, in the end, is what makes the X-Files -- from very start to very finish -- so compelling for me. The slow build up of trust and affection between Mulder and Scully, the eventual consummation and inseparability they achieve in the narrative, despite Mulder's absence, and the tenderness and respect they show each other, are deeply satisfying to me. Moreover, as a person who makes his living trying to understand the deep conflicts that drive and motivate persons of faith, Scully's struggles and triumphs are to me very realistic and extraordinarily edifying.

And that, from start to finish, is for me the heart and soul of the X-Files. More than any other show I have seen, I think the creators and writers of the X-Files kept integrity with that heart and paid honor to that soul. This is why, to the confusion of my friends, I was so happy with I Want to Believe, despite its lack of aliens, and why I am certain this will not be the last time I watch the whole thing, start to finish. I want to. I believe.

18 January 2011

Overheard on Limbaugh

So today, January 18, 2010, Rush Limbaugh said the following as part of his daily radio program:

The left is constantly telling anybody who will listen how rotten this country is, how rotten we are, how rotten the nation is, how unfair and unjust our economic system is. They create this environment of pessimism, self-hate, and desperation. They tell victims -- and they try to make as many people victims as possible by putting them in groups of victims.

They tell these people that they've got no chance in this unjust and unfair country. "If you're Hispanic, you got no chance. If you're African-American, you got no chance. If you're a woman and African-American, you are doomed! You have no chance. The only out for you is the military, and if you do that, you're stupid, but you really can't be blamed because this economy was so destroyed by George W. Bush, you have no future." What is this going to do to people? And this went on for eight years. And before Clinton got to ten it went on for 16 or 12 years, during Reagan and the first term of Bush. This has been a constant refrain: Uunjust, unfair America is.

What stuck me was how similar, at least on the surface, this sounds to a message written by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, in 1933, in his book The Mis-Education of the Negro:

THE "educated Negroes" have the attitude of contempt toward their own people because in their own as well as in their mixed schools Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton and to despise the African. Of the hundreds of Negro high schools recently examined by an expert in the United States Bureau of Education only eighteen offer a course taking up the history of the Negro, and in most of the Negro colleges and universities where the Negro is thought of, the race is studied only as a problem or dismissed as of little consequence. For example, an officer of a Negro university, thinking that an additional course on the Negro should be given there, called upon a Negro Doctor of Philosophy of the faculty to offer such work. He promptly informed the officer that he knew nothing about the Negro. He did not go to school to waste his time that way. He went to be educated in a system which dismisses the Negro as a nonentity.

I'd like to suggest, however, that there is a vast world of difference between Dr. Woodson saying this from a place of oppression, and Rush saying similar things from behind the gold-plated microphone of the EIB Network. To see the similarities on the face of the messages (that minorities have been fed a load of ideological horse manure about their proper place in society) is to miss the fundamental point.

For a member of the master class to point this out (and El Rushbo is always happy to point out, with his "nicotine stained finger," that he is part of the master class) is perhaps gauche, but has no possibility of being a call to revolutionary consciousness. When Dr. Woodson names it, however, he names not only the problem itself but those who perpetrate and profit by it.

When patriotic critics speak of the inequalities facing the minorities in this country, it is not to score points in the political game. It is to name a problem that, God willing, will be rectified.

The key question, the one El Rushbo doesn't actually ask, is who constitutes the "they" spreading these messages of inferiority? Woodson knows. Were he alive today, Woodson would be pointing steadily at the man behind the gold-plated microphone, and the powerful interests for whom he speaks.

15 January 2011

Love and Loss in a Digital Age

Gmail is eerie to me these days. I still use it, but it has a haunted aspect.

A little over two years ago, my mother passed away. Despite this fact, her presence remains as a ghostly part of my gmail account. When I mouse over her name in my contacts list, a stylized picture of her face appears, hovering, until the mouse moves away. I have archived emails and voicemails the linger, despite her absence from this world. She still has a toe hold here. She remains, though departed.

I am thinking about that today. Today my friends buried a friend of mine. She passed away a little over a week ago, and the funeral was today. Thirty-six years old. Too young. I couldn't be at the funeral. It is eight hours by car, and my wife and daughter are both sick in bed. And yet, here on Facebook, I am connected to the events. I have managed to get a status update or two throughout the afternoon. It breaks my heart that I could not be there. I wanted to be. But the sting is lessened, somewhat, by these odd electrical connections.

And here, in various places, I have her emails and messages to me. I have inklings of places where she and I were connected randomly -- she quotes a lyric from one of my songs here, we have a mutual friend there. None of it adds up to the weight of her absence, but the weight nonetheless is palpable. Substantial. Like my mother, my friend Elizabeth still has a toe hold in this world.

For the last twenty years or more I have kept some records of things. Projects I have been a part of that make me proud. The files they kept on me from grade school and high school (yes. I have them). My poetry, such as it is, and my writings (even the bad ones). Pictures. Old cassette tapes. Every rejection letter from every school and job I ever applied to. I have these things.

Why? Because I want, to whatever degree possible, to leave a breadcrumb trail when I am gone. I want to have pieces that others can piece together. It won't add up to my life, I know, and the life it adds up to will probably only be a parody of the one I lived, a shadow play. But dumb show or not, I want to leave the breadcrumbs and have them be found. I want to leave a toe in this world.

When we were cleaning out my mother's house, there was so little time. So much got passed over, and thrown away, or lost. If she intended tidy endings and well-kept meanings for me, I missed them in the maelstrom. I have had to make my own meanings. So will you. Meanings are for the living, not the dead. No matter how much I would like to control my meaning when I am gone, the best any of us get is the phantom face during a mouse-over.

It is all there is. It is enough.

And so I say goodbye again to my dear, strange mother, as I do every time my mouse glances near her name and that face appears. And I say goodbye today to Elizabeth, though I am certain my goodbyes will echo again and again as I bump into her toe holds here in my digital world. Goodbye. I have loved you as best I could, and I love you still, in my own strange and halting ways. Please pray for me as I pray for you. I hope we meet again -- not as a mouse over, but, as promised, face to face.

I love. I miss. I hope.