Inequality for No One

“The Mexicans here, they’re better than the ones in California. They’re polite here. I like our Mexicans: they work hard and don’t make me think about them.”

This was small talk, office talk. It always surprises me how quickly people get comfortable enough with me that they gush out their own prejudices, as if they think/assume I have similar sympathies. I had no idea what to say in reply to something that was no longer small talk, so I mumbled that I was suddenly hungry and was going to the lunch room, immediately. “Our Mexicans” was the only phrase in my head. It kept clanging around in there.

The conversation took place in our shared office cubicle in a factory in Iowa; four of us occupied the space and one joined me in the walk to the cafeteria.

“‘Our Mexicans?'” I repeated. “That’s a concept?” He said he was surprised, too. I suggested that maybe when we returned to the cubicle, I would ask her opinion about Iowa vs. California Jews or other groups of people. I did not.

(In the years since, I have heard “our black people” spoken. By an African-American man. Regional prejudice trumped the more traditional kind, and it got the expected laugh from the white people in the room.)

The speaker who had stunned me was a woman who had moved with her family from California to Iowa—on purpose—to escape from California’s California-ness (read: liberal politics and “awful regulations” on cars and guns) and prevent her young daughters from growing up in the Golden State. No jobs had turned up in Nebraska, which was her and her husband’s first choice, so Iowa it was. Both states are 97%-98% white in population.

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Every woman I know, including the one from California, has reported that she has experienced sexual harassment. Every woman walks through a different day than any man does: she is gauged and judged for her appearance. Young and old, woman are called tarts or teases, or a phrase like “she must have been a looker when she was younger” is used. I dated a woman who had been raped, except she was puzzled when I called it that; in her description she said the guy had “come on strong” and that she should have said “no” more forcefully. “Did you say ‘No’?” I asked. She had, and he had penetrated her. That is rape.

Several women friends have described unpleasant encounters in which anonymous men have exposed themselves; one woman found a man rubbing his open-zippered self against her on a crowded subway, another was given a private show while she was seated on a crowded bus.

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It is not a nature vs. nurture matter that many people seem to think in this progression of loyalties: Self > family > tribe/extended family > neighborhood > region > population type (color or creed) > interest group > nation. I am conscious that I have not included income, but maybe “interest group” covers that. Humans are tribal, but this is not something we are born with; it is taught. We teach each other to find and use power over others, or to act like we have it.

My family inculcated in my sister and me a sense that we all were pretty lucky, blessed even, to be middle-class and white in America of the 1960s and ’70s. And that luck, simple luck, is not something to brag about or wield like a privilege.

Oh, but I am a member of a minority, you see, many of them. I am the product of a “mixed” marriage, Jewish and Baptist. I am disabled, living with a rare neuromuscular disease. Perhaps some breaks can be given to me. Give me some breaks, universe! This thinking is attractive, insidiously so. I deserve something, something more than I have. Say it with me.

I am a part of the uncomplaining majority, which makes me a minority. Reward me now.

It is indeed insidious, and in my lifetime it has become sickeningly popular. Call it the appeal of the self-declared minority, or the privilege of being underprivileged. The majority, the lucky blessed majority, has appropriated the language, and what it thinks is the mindset, of being underprivileged or even a victim. The powerful majority population decided that enough has been asked of it over time and has started to regard each activist minority population demanding mere equality as another squeaky wheel that gets oil. If finding a way to be the squeaky wheel means getting more privileges and benefits, well, how could they be against being the squeaky wheel? It can be one more way to more power.

Justice and fairness are not equal, but they are just and fair. We should do all we can—I should do all I can—to increase those two things.

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Today is Blog Action Day. It is estimated that there are more than 250 million blogs published around the world and spread among many hosting companies, many of which are publicly traded. That is a lot of voices, and if they could be united for one day about something other than the universal appeal of cats, they could direct attention in some productive areas. Public attention is not as productive as action and changing minds, but it is better than no action at all.

Blog Action Day is an annual event that was started in 2007. A topic of activist concern is selected and announced in advance. This year’s topic is “inequality.”

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 16 asks, “Did you know today is Blog Action Day? Join bloggers from around the world and write a post about what inequality means to you. Have you ever encountered it in your daily life?

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Grade School Avant Garde

Art that is odd for the sake of the odd is often neither. Sometimes it is both. Meet the Lettrists.

Greil Marcus, in his essential history book, “Lipstick Traces,” describes a particular type of artist:

There is a figure who appears in this book again and again. His instincts are basically cruel; his manner is intransigent. He trades in hysteria but is immune to it. He is beyond temptation, because despite his utopian rhetoric satisfaction is the last thing on his mind. He is unutterably seductive, yet he trails bitter comrades behind him like Hansel his breadcrumbs … He is a moralist and a rationalist, but he presents himself as a sociopath … No matter how violent his mark on history, he is doomed to obscurity, which he cultivates as a sign of profundity.

Marcus’ book places the punk rock movement of the late ’70s in a “secret history” of western culture beginning in the 17th Century but he finds his greatest excitement in recounting the stories of the Dadaists, the Lettrists, and the Situationist International.

Often, it is the same story, though: Revolutionary thinker(s) who create art via revolutionary thought that (sometimes angrily or destructively) confronts the norms of the era are largely ignored by the culture at large except by a few who incorporate the new art in more popular forms. Something that was created with great energy, occupied 100% of its creator’s brain, becomes a tiny part, sometimes less than 1%, of a larger movement and a footnote in history.

The Lettrists are an example. Some of them are still going, 70 years after Isidore Isou came up with the idea. What was the idea? That the alphabet is a random bit of socially acceptable ordering of language, yet we make many more sounds than are indicated by our 26 letters. Sneezes should have a place in an alphabet, because, well, they communicate.

Here is Orson Welles interviewing Maurice Lemaître and Isou, who is the poet in the center who can not seem to stop grinning:

The dedication to the fantasy of a new language is powerful to witness, but I am not a fan of other people’s fantasies. There is little different between Tolkien and Isou in that they both invented unique alphabets; for me, Isou’s attempts at expanding our way of describing life here on earth is more interesting. But interesting is all that it is. It is seductive in its lack of seductiveness.

Give me Lettrism over “Lord of the Rings” and give me the Sex Pistols over either.

Further, the so-called “flash mobs” that have been invading retail spaces over the last decade or so are the offspring of the Situationists of the late 1960s, except the Situationists wrote long manifestos and conducted public debates about things like the idea of society, and flash mob participants consider the fact of a group making a group statement to be the statement, period. And now flash mobs are a part of any media campaign’s advertising budget.

Yes, I am a cranky “get off my lawn” old man in my punk tastes. This is because I am a cranky old man, deep down, deeper than any punk can reach. (Or this makes me very punk, but no one can declare themselves that.) In the late ’70s one of my schoolmates was an import from London named Dan, and he already had terrible teeth (we were 10 or 11), a gaudy accent, and wore torn t-shirts and played music whose major point was its loudness. (Or so it seemed to my ears.) I wish I could write that in 1978-’79 I was friends with a London kid who introduced me to the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but I can not. I detested the noise. I was also introduced to rap music around then or even earlier: another elementary school classmate was rapping like Gil Scott-Heron in 1976, but we were 8 and what little rap that I remember was about his birthday party.

In the 1990s, I fell in love with what was by then ancient punk rock and started to absorb it; around this same time Johnny Rotten/John Lydon started to become a beloved cultural figure in Great Britain, which he remains.

The energy of anger, the cultural energy of anger, the dedication to anarchy (which brooks no dedication), rarely appealed to me and more frequently scared me. Any anarchists in my circle brought out my inner parent, which is probably why I hated them all the more. (Hate? Wait a second. I do not hate …)

The violence of change indicates a world of absolutes, of either-ors; a world that includes shades of gray and a third way presents yet another either-or, however: Either we live in a universe of absolutes or we do not. The revolutionaries live in the hyphen between the either and the or and like the hyphen, life there is brief. Every culture has an avant garde, and every culture defeats it by ignoring and then absorbing it.

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Image at the top found at: Ideological Art.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 15 asks, “From your musical tastes to your political views, were you ever way ahead of the rest of us, adopting the new and the emerging before everyone else?”

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Sick Transit, Gloria, on a Monday

One could define Hell as the experience of the sensation of wanting to be any place other than where one is at that moment. In the proper wrong circumstances, your bed could be rendered almost as uncomfortable as an MRI tube.

If I convince myself that the seat next to mine presents a better view of the movie screen and I can not slide into it because you are there, ask me in a couple hours what the film was about or who was in it.

Walk through any strip mall shopping plaza on a Sunday afternoon: not only is the place bereft of customers, not one single employee wants to be there, even for the money. Or a Walmart after midnight. Every employee is elsewhere, Walter Mitty’ing their way through life, perturbed to be where they are. Perturbed to be. That is a variety of Hell.

Sic transit gloria mundi, there goes the beauty of the world, in four-hour half-shifts working at a job one does not hate exactly—because hate is a strong enough emotion to inspire actions towards real change—but dislikes, detests, disdains. I detested myself when I disdained my jobs.

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One could also define Hell as the Albany, New York, Greyhound bus station. No one appears happy to be in a bus station, neither the transiting passengers nor the employees. An extended stay in a bus station is the experience of boredom minus information.

Airports present a vast panoply of human experiences, from the fear of permanent change to the excitement of temporary reunions. I have experienced emotions that I have not encountered elsewhere in my life in airports. I realized that I had fallen in love with someone 60 seconds too late in an airport once upon a time. (More correctly, I think that I thought I ought to have gotten a phone number.) I almost missed my next flight in indecisively wandering around O’Hare while debating whether I should run “just like in a movie” to what I thought was the terminal my desired companion had told me her flight was leaving from. If you did not know, O’Hare is too large an airport to be indecisive in.

A wait in a train station is boredom plus information, as the trains are usually on time and people willingly, even happily, strike up conversations. Grand Central Station or Penn Station in New York, South Station in Boston—look at this photo:

South_Station_Terminal_Inside

Boston’s South Station: Filled with sunlight and advertising and well-stocked newsstands. Look at that happy place. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

In memory, this is truly what South Station looks like: full of light. In truth, I remember once sitting beside the late journalist David Halberstam as he waited next to the Martin’s News Shop (see above) for the Acela train to whisk him off to New York City and the two of us watched a man throw up on himself on a bench not eight feet away. I was rendered mute by both seeing someone I idolized and that sight. The great writer was spared an embarrassing “I’m a big fan” speech from me, but maybe I missed making the scene into a conversation-opener. (Mr. Halberstam has since passed away, something that was perhaps hastened by the incident.)

In America, there are only a couple reasons one is in a bus station for an extended period—overnight, say—and two are the side effects of unhappy circumstances, like not knowing anyone in town. A typical long distance bus journey includes a couple changeovers and long breaks between legs in the trip. A traveler has to stay somewhere and if one is the only person one knows in Cleveland, Ohio, (for example) one might spend eight hours walking around the neighborhood, which looks a lot like this photo that I did not take one overnight stay in Cleveland in June 2000:

But the Albany Greyhound Station? No one wants to be there. No traveler or bus driver wants to spend more than 27 seconds there (I have never seen a driver enter the facility; they remain beside the bus even after passengers have collected all bags and boxes, as if afraid the vehicle will be stolen), and no one in a position to change things in that great city wants it to be there, either. For almost 30 years it has sat atop both Greyhound’s list of buildings that need to be replaced or rebuilt and Albany’s. Each wants to see what the other will do before acting. The building’s continued existence is the picture of a stand-off, as no one will invest time, money, or care in the place if it is always about to be razed and rebuilt by the other entity. Greyhound wants to see what Albany will do, and vice-versa. (Here is a recent article.)

Photo by Michael P. Farrell/Times Union. From www.timesunion.com/local/article/Churchill-Albany-s-Greyhound-station-is-a-5320974

Any photo will make the Albany bus station appear benign. Do not be fooled. (Photo by Michael P. Farrell/Times Union. From http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Churchill-Albany-s-Greyhound-station-is-a-5320974.php)

Yet there it stands, dingy and apart. It is a reminder that life ends, but bus stations are not supposed to be memento mori.

(Photo by Michael P. Farrell/Times Union. From http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Churchill-Albany-s-Greyhound-station-is-a-5320974.php)

Hell’s waiting room, the Albany bus station. (Photo by Michael P. Farrell/Times Union. From http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Churchill-Albany-s-Greyhound-station-is-a-5320974.php)


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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 6 asks, “Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?”

Your Inner Bliss Moonlight and Madness: Follow It

In his published works, Allen Ginsberg wrote not one single thing about moonlight and madness, yet there is a popular Internet meme—an Internet poster—usually seen with a handsome photo of our moon and the rousing declaration credited to him that you should “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” (See above.)

It is a Bizarro World version of a speech given by a football coach at halftime. “Follow your inner moonlight, boys, and let’s win one for State! Don’t hide the madness!” (The team huddles together and starts to chant, quietly and slowly at first, but then they build it to a hypnotic intensity: “Don’t. Hide. The. Madness. Don’t. Hide. The. Madness.”)

But did Ginsberg, the bard of the Beats, ever write or say such a thing? Yes, no, and yes. According a post in the blog The Allen Ginsberg Project, exactly 25 years ago Ginsberg’s biographer Michael Schumacher interviewed Ginsberg about writing and inspiration and submitted the answer to a Writer’s Digest publication, “On Being a Writer,” which was a book that read more like a calendar of daily inspirations than a book. The writer at The Allen Ginsberg Project did the footwork and even wrote to Schumacher in the search for an answer, so credit must be given to that blog. The full piece is here: “The Mystery of the Inner Moonlight.”

What Ginsberg wrote to Schumacher was:

“It’s more important to concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. Take [William Carlos] Williams: until he was 50 or 60, he was a local nut from Paterson, New Jersey, as far as the literary world was concerned. He went half a century without real recognition except among his friends and peers.
“You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening. If you’re grasping to get your own voice, you’re making a strained attempt to talk, so it’s a matter of just listening to yourself as you sound when you’re talking about something that’s intensely important to you.”

Long before, he had used one half of the declaration and wrote “Don’t hide the madness” in a poem in 1954. While he was editing William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch” with Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg wrote “On Burroughs’ Work”:

On Burroughs’ Work
The method must be purest meat
and no symbolic dressing,
actual visions & actual prisons
as seen then and now.

Prisons and visions presented
with rare descriptions
corresponding exactly to those
of Alcatraz and Rose.

A naked lunch is natural to us,
we eat reality sandwiches.
But allegories are so much lettuce.
Don’t hide the madness.

For a writer who found his voice in compound nouns and lists of the super-specific details of his humdrum day (some graduate student must have tallied up the many grocery and other kinds of bills that he so frequently includes in his work; perhaps they won an assistantship), the minutiae of his existence, “reality sandwiches” was a great turn of phrase, so good it appears to have surprised the poet. He brings the work to its swift conclusion right there, lest he pile on some allegorical lettuce and bury the meat.

But moonlight? “Inner moonlight,” no less? That was a new one. In 1955, he had already written his best known, best regarded, poem, the long “Howl,” which was published the next year. Its opening line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” seems to tell of a hard-earned caution about the lunacy of following any moonlight, inner or not. But the madness in “Howl” is the pain of those “best minds” attempting to fit in with repressed and repressive society and finding their outlet in self-inflicted agony, trying to find a fix.

By 1989, Ginsberg knew that a phrase like “inner moonlight” voiced a sentiment akin to the similar—and similarly purposefully over-simplified— “follow your bliss” of Joseph Campbell. Both are inscribed in the long history of mal-understood phrases used by people to excuse bad, or self-centered, behavior. Neither one deserves that fate; neither phrase deserves many of the people who declare them as personal credos. (I am happy to report that every post I read in response to this question was an example of a writer genuinely not declaring anything, not anything at all. Writers follow their bliss and do not need to tell the world that they are doing so.)

A writer’s life is not often a conventional one and a writer’s wisdom is often a hard-earned one. Any writing that declares its “wisdom” as “hard-earned” or to be the product of following an inner blissful moonlight is usually missing its own point, and is thus conventional enough to be put on an Internet poster. But the “crazy wisdom” that Ginsberg and Corso and many of the Beats did manage to sometimes touch upon and stare directly at and give to their readers, that is always worth encountering for the first time over and over again.

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What did Allen Ginsberg’s voice sound like, his poet’s voice? Here is a recording, with music said to be by Tom Waits underneath.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 3 asks, “‘Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.’—Allen Ginsberg. Do you follow Ginsberg’s advice—in your writing and/or in your everyday life?”

I, Toward a Metrics of Me

In the interest of full self-disclosure, what follows will disclose nothing about me.

I am a Twitterer. I Tweet. Once a year or so, I will participate in the nightly cocktail party, the veritable Algonquin Round Table, of online wordplay and games that can be found on that social media outlet. Perhaps you’ve seen these games, in which people follow the instruction given in a catchy hashtag, like hashtag (which is this symbol: #) “Add A Word Ruin A Movie.” As in: #AddAWordRuinAMovie. And then a participant, me let us say, will snarkily add a word to a famous movie title to ironically change the entire complexion of the movie. “Midnight in the Olive Garden of Good and Evil” is one that I love but can not claim credit for.

One day last year, the wit-fest of hashtag joking, the hive mind of Twitter intellect, had come up with #DrabFilms, and this was my contribution, and it was met with universal silence:

Not one single re-Tweet on there. Not one “favorite.” Bupkiss.

There is little in the world sadder or lonelier than a one-liner delivered to no one in a crowded room crammed with people ignoring the joke-maker’s contributions. “If a Tweet falls in a forest,” someone philosophically minded might ask, “with no one to re-Tweet it, did it make a sound? Nay, did it even exist?” (There are a handful of congressmen who might have their own answers to this question.)

“I Tweet, therefore I know that I am doing what I told you I am doing once I tell you what I am doing because others tell me that they say that they approve.”

Do I know what I am doing, where I have been, where I am going, who I am with—who I am, even?—without social verification, approval, disapproval, a certain number of thumbs-ups or stars or re-Tweets?

The American corporate world introduced the idea of measuring everything many decades ago but in the late 1990s employees discovered that their continued employment was dependent on finding new ways to measure everything. I remember my revulsion upon hearing the word “metrics” used in a sentence the first time. (For months, I heard the ghost-word “system” every time I heard “metric.”) The precise sentence was, “We are using all available metrics,” and I quickly noticed that no one else at the meeting table was laughing and they were still scribbling notes more furiously than students in a freshman philosophy seminar. For a while, the number of documents I was actively working on was my key metric, I was told by my employer. Then it was the total number of pages. It changed, often, but the accumulated number of metrics used to measure my metrics was never itself added up and counted. For a year or two I was publishing the average number of pages per document completed. Then it was pages per document per day.

Some time after that one, I was let go. A bad attitude has no metrics.

The social media revolution was long in coming and I enjoy it very much, but metrics have infiltrated our lives, even our fun-filled social lives. “How many ‘likes’ did that get?” Does my employment hinge on it? No? Why does it feel like it does?

When a celebrity or otherwise important person finds him or herself in an online controversy, the number of re-Tweets of the news-worthy posting is supplied in news accounts about the contretemps. The fact that a number is available and can be reported does not make it a statistic, much less a statistic worth reporting.

Sadly, I find myself watching the likes and numbers of visits to this web site right here, the one in your hands, every night. “The Gad About Town” is not my employment, it is something I want to do and share. But the fine people at WordPress make the information so easy to find and digest. It is information after all and it looks like an impressive collection of live statistics and it makes me want to have a boss to report it to every night. (So I Tweet it out sometimes, to attract more readers.) “This number of visitors read my work last night, but it is a smaller number tonight. Whycome is that, world?” Sad face.

(Sigh.) Metrics.

Never before in my life have I known how many friends I have, but if I wanted to, I could look and see every morning if the number of my online friends is larger or smaller than yesterday’s. Metrics.

Am I my numbers? Am I my metrics of me? Everything in the world can be counted, and that number can be known and disclosed, but more often than not this one fact does not make it information.
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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 1 asks, “To be, to have, to think, to move—which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?” I Tweet.

Deus Ex

In classical drama, the term deus ex machina refers to a plot device wherein a plot problem is suddenly solved by the arrival of a previously unannounced character who supplies the answer or solution. “But don’t you know? That’s your brother!” would be a typical line delivered by a deus ex machina character, thus helping our heroes avert a troublesome situation.

When a playwright or novelist needs to fix an intractable plot puzzle, he or she might resort to the tool, which is Latin for “god from the machine,” or “you couldn’t figure it out for yourself with the characters you’d created, so you punted,” but audiences since ancient times have tended to see through the fix. “Where did HE come from?” More often than not nowadays, it is used ironically, but when you find yourself reading a book and seeing lines delivered by a character that you do not remember being introduced to, your inattentive reading is not to blame. That character really was not there 20 pages earlier.

A more restrained writer might use a deus ex machina-type character to do something simpler than solve everything; the character might supply background information. Or another character might do something like get a character who knows a secret drunk to spill the story, turning that character into the god-machine. In vino veritas, the Latin expression declares, and I do not think anyone needs it translated here.

Any deus ex machina fixes that you might encounter in real life are more rightly known as surprises. Anyone who reveals something that they claim to have known about all along is either a busybody or a breaker of confidences, and you ought to do everything in your imagination to make sure they get stuck with the bill for every lunch for a year.

But what if you could learn something secret from one of your friends by administering some sort of truth serum? (I would hope, for all of our sakes, that if we could learn what our friends truly think of us that we would learn they hold us in higher esteem than we think they do. Nothing worse. One hopes one’s friendships are that open-faced and honest.)

There in fact is a drug that some consider a truth serum. It is sodium thiopental, better known by its Abbott Laboratories brand name of Sodium Pentothal, and it is a barbiturate that is used as a general anesthetic. Because it is such a strong anesthetic, it is more frequently administered to induce a coma than it is to knock someone out for a tooth extraction; further, it is usually the first drug injected into the arm of a prisoner as he or she is being put to death.

On and off for many decades, police in certain countries (including this one) have administered the drug to get prisoners to talk, to spill the beans, to yack away the location of whatever it is the police are looking for but can not find. Nothing would help in crime solving or crime prevention more than a real-life deus ex machina, and in sodium thiopental veritas goes the thinking. More often than not, the beans that were spilled under the effects of the drug were hallucinations and dreams and probably more revealing of a psyche under duress and being put to sleep than the location of an un-apprehended bad guy’s house.

But police forces keep searching: for bad guys and evildoers as well as for the perfect drug that would get the apprehended bad guys to talk and thus create a real life deus ex machina. For some, Steven Spielberg’s film of Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report” depicts one man’s unnecessary interference with a fine legal system rather than the hopeful end of dystopian nightmare.

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“What’s that, sweetness? Oh, we’re going to dinner? Now? Okay. I’ll finish typing this right about n- -”

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 30 asks, “You’ve come into possession of one vial of truth serum. Who would you give it to (with the person’s consent, of course)—and what questions would you ask?”

Daily Prompt: T.M.I.

Most of us will live somewhere around 28,000 days (75 years, give or take), and it is estimated that most Americans meet three new people every day. That comes to approximately 80,000-plus people you have met or will meet in person in your life.

(Do you say a personal hello to the person who takes your money for coffee in the morning? Count that person, or start saying hello more frequently and don’t be a Scrooge.)

I have worked as a college teacher, a reporter, and as a retail salesman, and I attend various support groups through the week, so my numbers might wind up skewed a bit higher than that, so perhaps I have already met 50,000 on my way to more than 80,000.

That is a small city, 50,000, or even 80,000. It is as if I never left Poughkeepsie, New York, my hometown, and set out to shake hands with every permanent resident there, never had any other ambitions, and never left. We would call that a weird life, a not-very fulfilling one, but that number describes most of our lives. We do not meet all that many people. It is a football stadium, and not a large one.

Going back a couple generations, when a person could live an entire life in one town, which my grandmother who lived to be 98 did, a person probably met about three people a day. Maybe two-and-a-half. One of my great-grandmothers grew up in Pinsk, traveled across Europe with a baby in her arms, came through Ellis Island, and eventually lived out her years in Poughkeepsie. She probably met three people a day. We call our lives more complicated, and claim they are growing more so, but they really are not. Not in person. I do not think that this has changed by a large quantitative margin over the generations. Most of us know, truly know, only a handful of people at any moment; many of us do not even know the names of all eight of our great-grandparents.

I have not included my online life here. Not yet. According to WordPress, this blog has received over 3600 visitors from 50 countries, from some time in late January to today, at an average visitor count of 14 per day. (Since I started publishing every day, the numbers have increased; 1300 visits have been tallied in the last seven weeks.) I have exchanged personal notes with a few readers who make me blush when I think that they know my writing almost as well as I do. I hope I am an encouraging reader for writers, as well.

Until recently, I have limited my Facebook life to friends I personally know, but I have lifted that self-imposed stipulation recently and I am happy I have. I have under 400 Twitter followers and have had perhaps a dozen lengthy personal Tweet-exchanges of some depth in my three or so years on there. In my online life, as in my in-person life, thousands of encounters to find a handful of true friends I value and hope to someday meet.

When we claim that our lives are more complicated and information-packed, we are not, not most of us, speaking of our personal lives. We are reflecting that we have given ourselves the great gift of more. There are more outlets, more ways to declare to any who will read or listen that we are living a “purpose-driven life” or some other catchphrase (sorry, Rick Warren) without actually living that life. If I am telling you I am living one kind of life or another, how do I have so much time to testify to this? (There are exceptions; sometimes the testimony is a part of walking a walk.)

And every song not only has a singer but a listener, it seems. Everything we hear and read is, in its rawest sense, “information,” but not all of it is necessary. What you prepared for dinner certainly is information, and if I send you directions to my house, that is information as well. We can and will filter out each other. I can give you a virtual thumbs-up on a nice-looking meal and forget I did while doing so. You might be amused I sent those directions that we both know you will ignore.

There is a lot of noise in this world because everyone seems to have purchased a mic and an amp and kept their utility bills up-to-date. This just means good has more ways of declaring itself and so does evil. The numbers of people wanting to be heard have not changed over the centuries, the tools to be heard have.

One hopes that most of the people that we truly know and love contribute more to the information side of our lives and less to the noise.

“… Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows …”

—”Everybody Knows,” Leonard Cohen

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 15 asks, “‘Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.’—Gertrude Stein”

News v. ‘News’

The president signed a bill into law today, which is news in and of itself since not much new legislation has made it to his desk in these last two Congresses, but it was the VA bill, a pretty important piece of “gotta fix this now” business. Most news outlets covered the event live, and a live stream even showed up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds (no, not from the White House or the Democrats. From a news organization) so I was aware it was taking place at the moment it was taking place.

It was not so for viewers of one national news channel; that operation had an nearly elderly rock star (Gene Simmons is 64 and is still leading KISS) speaking about global politics, war zones, and the controversial name of an NFL team. I believe “general interest” is what news producers call such a chat, rather than “specific news,” which is what was happening at Fort Belvoir while the president was signing the VA bill there. Simmons was probably on Fox News to plug some book, TV show, or thing, because a Gene Simmons without something to sell is a Gene Simmons we do not see on TV.

And now I have gone and further publicized this by including it in my little blog.

Most news shows tonight will not air the boring footage of a president signing a piece of paper but will instead feature Gene Simmons because he made his points about the name of the Washington Professional Football Team by using some colorful terms, giving us all a “Ha Ha!” moment or a “Shame on Gene Simmons! How old is he nowadays? What color is his hair?” moment. Perhaps someone should get a quote from President Obama about it, in order to keep him in the news.