Monday, March 21, 2011


Sometimes it takes an awful song to put terrible events into perspective.

I didn't know what to say here, you know? About Egypt's and Tunisia's hard battles for freedom. About Libya's even harder battle, and the UN action there. About the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant explosion in Japan. About the war against union workers several Republican governors, including Chris Christie in the state next to mine, are waging. I read and tweet and re-tweet. I don't know what to say that hasn't been said far more clearly by far more clever people. Scarily enough, the really smart people also seem to be struggling to make sense of everything.

Then my work husband's Pandora station, which he's programmed to create the country radio station we crave but can't get as Southern transplants in NYC, played a song I hate. It happens. "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. If you're not familiar with that treacly crime against country music, you can torture yourself here, then play Rebecca Black to soothe your poor ears.

"Sometimes it feels like this world is spinning faster/Than it did in the old days/So naturally we have more natural disasters/From the strain of a fast pace"

Except, you know, we don't. The victims of Mount Vesuvius' explosions and the Black Plague would take exception. So would the Inca and the Maya, if they could. People got the news slowly, if at all. They would wonder why they haven't been getting the silk and spices they used to, go on expeditions, and find out that the whole village was wiped out. Or some tired, dazed traveler who lost his or her entire family would end up in a new place and tell the news of what had happened where they came from, assuming someone in said place understood their language.

The world isn't spinning faster. Information is spreading faster. I've said that a lot, but it's because I have to remind myself, too. Today Twitter turned 5 years old. I've used it for just over a year. My world's become a smaller, scarier, and more interesting place since I used it. I learn about cool new music, shows at Brooklyn Bowl, accidents that will affect my ride home, and the location of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. I correspond with people in Singapore, New Zealand, Great Britain, and California. I get first-hand reports from people in Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, and Japan.

Before then, I blogged. Before that, I was on email lists. Those also introduced me to far-flung people. I first began to get concerned about people I'd never meet in those venues. Before that, TV showed the world the horrors of Vietnam. Newsreels in movie theaters reminded women and children of why the men in their lives had to go so far away. Photography preserved the heartbreaks of the Civil War. And so on, and so on.

"Sometimes I can hear this old earth shouting/Through the trees as the wind blows/Thats when I climb up here on this mountain/To look through God's window"

There are so many fronts on which to fight, so many ways in which to help, that it's dizzying to even choose. And then there's the terrible thought that I can't even help at all. I mean, I'm a secretary who's sometimes fortunate enough to decorate other peoples' homes for money. I'm told I'm bright, but my degree's in marketing, not anything that most people would consider practical. I do know how to swing a hammer and pick up trash, though. Can I, dare I, just put on my boots and go? The technology improved there, too--I really can go and do, well, *something*. Or do I just sit here in comfort, cuddled up with my wife to watch a race or hockey game, until the wolf decides it's time to visit *our* door next?

With vision comes responsibility. We see so very much. I don't want to become one of those hardened New Yorkers who'll keep walking with my face down when I hear someone scream. I try not to feel guilty. I remember my grandfather's admonition against seeking too much excitement, because it will come to you soon enough. I look at the poster of the story of the starfish that hangs in my bathroom. I text to donate $10 to the Red Cross--that's a day we can't go to the coffee shop where the owners treat my wife like their granddaughter for breakfast, but someone else needs it more than us. Someone always needs it more than us, until we become the needy ones. We have been needy before.

"Well I miss Mayberry/Sitting on the porch drinking ice cold Cherry --- Coke/Where everything is black & white"

Technology enables us to leave a record of our present that becomes our past.
Sometimes when I post a blog entry, I wonder what others will think years from now, and how my words will be read. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had Anne Frank or a Cambodian intellectual had been given access to today's technology. The fact that the Library of Congress archives tweets makes me think.

Sometimes I'll record one of my more profound thoughts just so I can leave more to future generations than race results, Penguins game scores, and cocktail recipes. It's not a revolution in real time, but I don't really want that, anyway. That doesn't seem like much fun at all. Then, you know, sometimes I laugh at myself and think the words may simply get lost as the technology to read them becomes obsolete (or unavailable when humanity's made to regress to the Stone Age, just you wait). Even my chatty self can only leave drops in the world's word ocean.

I'm grateful for that, though. I'm glad so many of us can just shout out our messages to the world whenever we feel like, without even having to go find a bottle to float in the ocean. It's good, in art, to have the guiding hand of a skilled editor. However, that editor can affect so much.

I viewed the Andy Griffith Show differently when a sociology professor showed us a random episode, then asked us, casually, "Now, who's missing in this town?" Black people, for one thing. In the 1960s American South, black people were rebelling against stifling laws and social norms. It was a justifiable rebellion, and it scared many white people. Mayberry, North Carolina didn't have any black people. Therefore, there were no concerns about where they ate, sat, worked, or attended school. Therefore, it could remain a sanctuary for scared white people in the 1960s to retreat to when they got home. The show would have been far more controversial, and less wholesome, had Mayberry looked more like a real small Southern town. But Mayberry survives in reruns on multiple basic cable channels, and the reality's harder to find.

"Sunday was the day of rest/Now its one more day for progress"

I'm white, and Southern, but I don't really want to live in Mayberry. I don't want people to get into my business and act all scandalized over what they find. Forget a same-sex marriage--Andy and his girlfriend hardly even kissed. Mayberry didn't have any Pagans like me. No atheists, Jews, or Muslims, either. That "day of rest" on Sunday meant some people were pressured to go to a house of worship dedicated to a God they didn't believe in, lost money at their places of business, and couldn't buy beer. Better isn't better for everyone. I, for one, am happy to have the progress.

I don't mean to pick on just one TV show, or one era. L'Ailee likes detective and procedural shows, which are also super-easy to find in reruns. However, she gets troubled by these shows, which are just a few years old. Russians like her are seldom played by Russian actors, and always seem to be villains or victims. She thought it was very strange that Monk which is set in San Francisco, never seemed to have LGBT people. Wouldn't a San Francisco police precinct occasionally see a bisexual victim, a gay villain, a transsexual witness, a lesbian cop whose wife worried about her? Then again, other shows tend to treat LGBT people pretty badly, so she has to be careful what she wishes for.

I hate that song not just because it's treacly and the singer's horrible, but because it expresses nostalgia over something that never was. I love country because it so often expresses real emotions about real things, and these singers had to pour on the fake saccharine syrup. It's an easy trap to fall into, to think that the images surviving of the past are the past. Nobody wants to dress up as a scullery maid when they put on Victorian costumes, do they? No, we usually get a far better look at the attire of noble women. We don't have to smell the smells, which must have been horrific. We don't have to keep the costumes on. We can take them right off and return to modern life, with all its benefits.

So I use the amazing technology I have access to for tweeting nonsense to my many acquaintances, jokes and hashtag games and cooking advice. I passionately follow a hockey team in a city whose sidewalks my feet have barely touched. I coo over pandas in foreign zoos. I stream songs I might have never heard if I were stuck with the technology of the bad old days, the 1990s. But I keep my eyes open. Only babies think that when they cover their eyes, everyone around them goes away--right? I know there's a way for me to help. I know I might catch something important, and be able to respond in real time. I know sometimes I need to turn the machines off, and see what's around me at this very moment. The voice I need to hear might be transmitted over the wind from a few feet away, not over a WiFi network from Australia. In fact, it almost always is.


Raven said...

Well said. I wish I had more to say but my brain is numb. I hope all is well with you.

BostonPobble said...

If you are looking for an answer and not just pondering rhetorically, then no, do not just pack up and go. Well meaning, but untrained, unskilled, people who show up to pick up trash and carry water end up adding to the problem, rather than helping relieve it. Maybe you can find a group in NY that is doing something ~ putting together care package, gathering donations, something like that ~ where you can volunteer. And don't underestimate the important of marketing to agencies like that. Your impact may feel small and insignificant, but, as you say, it's not to the starfish. And I will admit that I am one of your starfish. Please don't ever stop blogging, being aware, being yourself. I can't be the only starfish and we need you.

CrackerLilo said...

I did think about it, but I know better than to just show up and say "Give me something to do." I've seen it create more work during hurricanes in Florida. More targeted opportunities can, do, and will arise.

Thanks, y'all.