It is true?

Is it kind?

It is necessary?

The New York Times’ columnist David Gelles suggests these questions as mindful guidelines for posting on Facebook.

At first glance, fair enough. But on second thought, at least in my case: stifling.

To tackle them one at a time, I will begin with is it true?

We live in a post-truth era, conscious of the fact that at any point the truth can be altered, in effect–or rather, with effect–so that consequences (sometimes global) derive directly from a perceived truth only.  We won’t give up even our simplest of stories: Van Gogh committed suicide, Gandhi is a positive role-model.

Though largely free from the constraints of an imposed dogma, we have truth as a populist construct(s). Our decisions are so often based on misinformation, that some facts are entirely, and literally, inconsequential in regard to the values we hold, the decisions we make.

I would argue that there is a difference between facts and truth. Some facts are omitted from the histories, and others are largely unknowable, glimpsed only on occasion, in hindsight and even then often obliquely from behind a veil (of the current) truth. The coastlines are flooding. The bees are dying. Not because of a lack of facts, but because of faith.

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Occupy Wall Street. 2011

We find our respective narratives. Stick with them.  Repeat them.

Buy the t-shirts.

Truth will always be a matter of faith.

The specific faith of those who write the history books.

Even on a personal scale: whose truth is the truth? Compare two people’s recollections of an event and there are two truths. Both would bet their lives on their version. Simple things, like who ate the last piece of cake all those years ago, that Saturday (or Friday) night when Aunt June came by drunk (or not), with the pink (or brown) bakery box.

And science? Which scientific truths would you bet your life on? In the 1800s “psychiatrists” could read the bumps on your head, and there would be real-world consequences. Bumps in the wrong places might land get you identified as a criminal and land you in an institution for “rehabilitation”.

There is the truth of blood-letting that falls in and out of fashion as a (carefully circumscribed) truth. Anti-depressants. Chemotherapy. Truth is dependent upon a timeline.

What is your measure of truth, should you choose to pronounce one on Facebook? Is it an obligation to correct misinformation? To challenge every person’s faith with facts? (While I doubt such a practice would be unkind, is would certainly be unpleasant).

What about opinions? Educated guesses? Ethical standpoints? Are these untenable as public posts? On Facebook, among “friends”? How do you learn if you limit yourself to making statements regarding what you already believe is true?

I am in no position to know all the truths. And uncertain where my threshold is for defending what I do have faith in.

I am obviously over-thinking this one. Maybe I am not ready for Facebook.

Is it kind? I will admit, I am not always kind. In fact, I am suspicious of people who are only kind, or silent. Silence can be manipulative. And cruel. “Cruel to be kind” is a cliché. And kind to be cruel is, in praxis, a common tactic.

Does this mean it’s not mindful practice to denounce that which one finds inhumane?  To denounce it in a way that doesn’t soft-pedal, or back-pedal, or tolerate what one believes should not be tolerated? Does “generous of spirit” have a limitation, an obligation to shut down in the face of… well… (perceived) evil? Or do you just throw your hands in the air in the face of multiple truths and say, “anything goes”?

Alain de Botton describes tolerance as leaving space for concepts we find incomprehensible. To coexist, parallel without the drive to convert or squash. This is generous. This is kind.

But incomprehensible is not the same as reprehensible.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”Edmund Burke 

There need not be a binary at work: not being kind is not necessarily being “unkind” (dictionary definition).

No, I don’t have a good grasp on the concept of being kind. Not yet. I don’t have faith in the absolute goodness of it.

Is it necessary?

I need a definition of necessary, as well. Because this seems like the easy one: the world will keep turning, and human beings will either continue on generation after generation, or destroy our own habitat and leave the earth to the beetles. In either case, I am not necessary.

I might be important to specific people, be able to make a slight difference here and their on a personal level, but still not necessary. At least, I am in no position to assume so.

Even if I subscribe to a faith that deems every person’s existence as integral and meaningful in a cosmic whole, it sort of follows that even worrying about the necessary-ness of things would be unnecessary.

Clearly, I need to find something better to do with my time.

I can’t function with Geller’s mindfulness guidelines. In my mind, to attempt to do so would be to accept a gross oversimplification of applied ethics. Perhaps Geller tried to boil things down to positive bullet points, which is helpful. But if I haven’t worked along through that process, the bullet points looks like platitudes to me.

So, grateful for Geller’s suggestion, I’m making up my own guidelines for mindful posting on Facebook: in positive and negative terms.

  1. Do I suspect this to be a lie, a distortion or oversimplification of what is likely true?
  2. Am I posting with a malicious or selfish motive?
  3. Is this noise, or do I believe it is useful contribution to a social discussion?

One of the things that keeps me on Facebook is the daily post from Frankie Zelnick. I believe that making people smile is probably one of the most useful things one can do in this world.

Me?

I’m still not sure I will ever post again.

 

 

 

 

One of the most generous openings in conversation is, “Where are you from?” It follows all the rules of good decorum*. It invites the person to talk about herself.

“Where are you from?” is a question I get invariably about two minutes after I have said something in the presence of people who don’t know me. It’s the accent, of course. I moved to Norway at the age of 26, too late (according to experts) to hear the new sounds well enough to mimic them. There is also the fact that, even after private (expensive) tutelage and serious attempts to master it, I still suck at the Norwegian grammar. But the fact is that I have lived here nearly half my life here—more than half my conscious life. I gave birth to two boys here, reared them here, and have worked in the public school system for more than 15 years. My books are in the public libraries. In the school libraries. I was a Norwegian national representative for a human rights organization for several years. There are days when I feel that I kind of belong here–if I belong anywhere.

If I try to brush off the question, and answer that I’m from the US, they say, “I know, but where?”

“I moved around a lot.”

Usually, this is followed by the person telling me where in the US they have ties: aunts here, nephews there. More often than not, they have a much closer connection to a particular part of the country, to particular people over there than I do.

I wonder if my lack of connection leads others to the unconscious understanding that I must be some kind of pariah.

I have been trying to remember which philosopher talked about loneliness as a contagion. It’s human instinct to feel unease around the edges of the community. There is a danger in the association with outsiders. We rush back to the center when we have the opportunity.

Loneliness is a familiar feeling. There is a cold comfort in that, at least. The role of the outsider is at least definable. And now, as a Norwegian citizen, inevitable.

For years I tried to explain to my (ex-) husband about this sense of loneliness. He listened. He said that he could imagine the kind of homesickness I must feel. But it has never been homesickness. At least not in the sense that it is most often used.

Standing on the edge of any conversation and then trying to casually take part—a sudden, disconcerting, change of topic: I experience the question “Where are you from?” as roadblock. A reminder. An unintended declaration of, “We know you don’t belong here.”

More than that, the question makes me feel diminished: whittled to myself at 26. A fraction of my life, and the least interesting part at that. (Or if not the least interesting, the part that is best left presented on a therapist’s couch, not at a buffet table.)

This is my problem.

I know full-well that no one is trying to make me feel small, or excluded. Quite the contrary. But answering the question of where I came from, tells you either far too much for polite conversation… or nothing at all.

I need a good, prepared answer.

I’m thinking Narnia might do?

Or wherever it was that Edna St. Vincent Millay saw her drenched and dripping apple trees.

Those are true answers, if not befuddling.

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I will forever be the awkward one at parties.

But I can aspire to be like the Ada in The Piano,

“I am quite the town freak, which satisfies!”

 

I could be the Horse on the motorway.

Anything but the stereotype of where I come from.


*At least most of the time. But since I am easily identified as American-born, the question is sometimes nothing more than a guise and a segway for the person to wax unpoetically on their views of American politics, or the American character – usually gleaned from their exposure to television shows like Dr. Phil. But that is a digression… and a pet peeve.

 

 

“Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.”

                     – Edward Albee

Or out of her way.

When I was 26, the theater department head told me he was a friend of Susan Sontag, and he was going to send her my scripts. He invited me to stay in town the year after I graduated – he called it a New Play Festival – and I could stage my experimental plays at the university: access to actors and technicians, and a black box.

I did get to stage my work (despite a “supportive” professor who went to the dean and tried to get the whole thing shut down in order to protect me from myself). I got good reviews from the local paper, worked with talented people, and learned a lot.

Of course, my scripts never got to Sontag. And I know now how absurd the thought was, and wonder if the man had been drunk at lunch on a Wednesday when he told me he was so impressed.

I was set to apply to graduate school. But couldn’t afford the application fees.

The story I’ve been telling is that when I moved to Norway later that year (unexpectedly, because that is how love is), I contacted the theater and asked if I could do volunteer work. But the American dramaturge I spoke with told me that they didn’t use volunteers in Norwegian theater; unions were strict. But a few days later he sent me a poetry manuscript for translation – one he didn’t have time to do himself. When I balked, he explained that knowing your own language well was more important than knowing the original language well. In some ways, 20-something years (and nearly as many books of translations) later, I agree with him. And not. But that is a digression.

I worked very closely with the author of that first book. Then a second book, another author. It began a informal apprenticeship in poetry, with many excellent Norwegian writers. This lead to my own books, and my own work being translated.

I told myself I was going back to my roots. After all, I had written poetry as a child and teen (who hasn’t?), and had even taken graduate courses form a celebrated poet who humiliated me, but gave me an A;a man whose work I still admire greatly—though perhaps not so much his teaching techniques.

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Students working with my poems in movement class, 2011. I haven’t dared to repeat it for fear of being seen as exploiting my position as a teacher.

But this week, attending a theater festival, all these forgotten details rushed over me. I hadn’t given up that easily. I wrote four plays the first year I was in Norway. I remembered handing one full-length script to a director who weighed it in his hand, smiled and said, “You must have put a lot of work into this.”

Clearly, he had no intention of reading it.

I was never under the delusion that I was the Next Big Thing on the Great White Way, but I had enjoyed the privilege of being taken seriously.

Several times over the next twenty years, I started and stopped. There were the small excursions into performance work. The libretto that I got a grant to finish, then a grant to produce. But the composer flaked, and the producer dropped the ball. And I shelved it.

I guess it has been easier to forget those failures.

No, not the failures, but the giving-up. Because that is worse.

My sixth poetry collection is coming out just before Christmas. (I am hoping it will appeal to the middle-age market, since it is all about mid-life reckoning, and carpe diem: clearly, this is not a coincidence).

I have a first draft of a bad novel. An outline for a playtext. And I have discovered several old documents on this laptop. One-acts. Fragments.

I have a sputtering start to what is probably my fifth blog, which seems not to have a focus this time around.

I have no idea where to go from here.

This week Collin Kelly, at the Modern Confessional (a long-running blog with a clear focus) asks, “How many publications are enough?”

A part of me says it’s time to chuck genre and forms. To chuck reliance upon approval.

To write. To focus on that, and trust that I don’t need to please the gatekeepers to the Susan Sontags of this world. Not now. Have I earned that? Does one need to earn that?

Maybe it is time to see if this very long distance has just been a great big circle.

I really hate giving up on things. But as I sit here, half past five p.m. in a haze, I am calling it quits.

After 11 days of the two-sleep experiment, which was supposed to run 30 days, I have to stop. This morning during a lecture, I said one thing to the students while writing the opposite thing on the whiteboard.

Which would have been a really cool trick, had it been intentional.

Perhaps this “natural” sleeping pattern is tapping into my creativity, but unregulated creativity is not particularly helpful in the world.

Not my world.

E. described the past days as beginning well, but deteriorating each day. He hasn’t felt creative, just increasingly stressed-out.

I have lived the past 5 years or so with a pretty good routine. I run and get at least a half an hour of writing in before leaving for my day job that begins at 8. This past year, my partner and I have also tried to make sure that we dedicate time each day to be together in the same room, actually paying attention to each other.

What began as a way to address my insomnia and to free up time for peaceful, quiet contemplation (which I sorely miss, having had experienced it o the plateau this summer), became a fractured, anti-social, and military-like schedule of alarms and interruptions.

img_20160831_194911I am celebrating the end of this experiment with a glass of wine, frozen grapes, and Dr. Bronner’s Oh-So-Holy Soap for body and soul. Lavender.

I’ll be in bed at nine-thirty and up at four: happy to greet the pre-dawn as my good-ole, familiar, insomnia-plagued self.

A pseudo-scientist has to know when to call off the experiment for the sake of the health and well-being of the subjects involved. It is best for everyone.

Imagine: I might even stop snapping like a turtle at every gadfly on social media.

I just might begin blogging for real.

What I will take with me?
The darkened rooms, and the candlelight after 8 pm. 


A warning for anyone with bipolar disorder. Do not do this. That is all.
Talk to your doctor. 

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No riding elephants in the park, or else…

As someone who teaches teenagers, I’ve noticed over the years that one of the most telling signs of maturing is the ability to accept Consequences.

Probably because most of us, until the age of 15 or 16, are served consequences in the form of punishment (meted out by parents in an attempt to spare us real-world consequences), it takes time for us to learn to recognize the difference between the two.

As a result: Life is unfair. We blame our parents.

Where I teach, we mark absences each day. Somehow the system has evolved so that students can petition to have absences removed from their record. I find this whole concept baffling. Whether a student was present that day is no longer a matter of fact, but an indication of the student’s character. If they have a good excuse, history will report a falsehood so that they aren’t “punished”. Present or absent no longer reflects the information we might assume the words do. The argument is that if a student is in the hospital for a week, they don’t need to be “doubly punished” for their illness.

Life is unfair. We blame the system. Or beg the system to rewrite facts, instead of widening perspectives.

Life is unfair. Blame God. Or abandon your god. Because even when we, on the surface, begin to discern consequence from punishment, we still find it difficult to disassociate shame from a negative consequence.

Perhaps I should speak for myself: Most of the time I think I have this figured out.

I make choices. Sometimes with risks. And when the consequences are not ideal, I do know God is not punishing me. I know that.

So why then, still, these accompanying feelings of shame?

Still learning. And unlearning, in the face of facts.

You?