A Facebook allegory

Imagine you live in a country. It’s larger than Lichtenstein, but smaller than America, lots smaller. Maybe something like Portugal or Austria even.  That’s significantly smaller than Texas. France is a bit smaller than Texas. We’re talking some country only a quarter or less of California. It’s still a country with cities and such–it would take quite a while to walk from one end to the other, especially if you stopped to talk to folks along the way.

Now suppose, in order to make it much, much easier for everyone in the country to talk to each other, all the sports fields–soccer pitches both professional and amateur, all the school yards, all of the parks–were converted into Talk Bubbles. A new technology. Inflated domes were put over these areas, shiny so you couldn’t see inside. Everyone could step inside the Bubble nearest them and talk to anyone…anyone, that is, who also had stepped inside a Bubble in their own locale. You didn’t even have to pay to walk inside your nearest Bubble; all you had to do was agree to wear a monitoring device which you were assured didn’t listen in “exactly” but parsed words it heard and relayed those words back to the folks who ran the Bubbles. Oh, and the device also relayed where you walked in the Bubble. That’s all. Easy-peasy, ever so sleazy. (woops, sorry about that).

You love it at first. Your job took you to Lisbon but look, right over there’s a handful of schoolmates from college, from that little village we loved so well (and so long ago)! And more, from your elementary school! You can just talk to them! Of course, as you walk over to them you have several persons intercept you and say things like, “Have you ever wondered about removing your ugly warts?” and “Let me tell you why you should never invest in stocks!” It’s annoying but you brush them off, basically just ignoring them and walking away.

Over time you start to wonder why the guy about the warts–or a woman; it’s not always the same person but the message is the same–keeps intercepting you no matter where you walk. You realize you once said to your friends, “Remember that song from when we were children, ‘Walter Wart, the Freaky Frog’?” (That’s a real song by the Thorndike Pickledish Choir; look it up.) Suddenly you realize you started seeing Wart Guy after you asked that question. Then you realize you’re starting to see that guy and his cohorts everywhere you walk. Even weirder, nameless folk come up to you and say things like, “Do you know Melissa Mickleberger? She’s over there.” Sometimes you do know Melissa, but sometimes Melissa is just some stranger. These interruptions occur a little more frequently now…plus your paranoia starts to grow, making it doubly annoying.

Later you find out the owners of the Bubbles actually are listening to what you say, and they’re selling that information. Never mind why, it’s too boring and scary all at the same time. What’s far more annoying to the point of effrontery seems to be occurring more and more: a contentious election approaches, and when you’re having a nice polite discussion with your friends, someone else walks up and screams “WHAT A COMPLETE IDIOT YOU ARE!”. Your friend just smiles and says, “Oh, don’t mind Roger, he just gets a little worked up is all.” Then pretty soon your friend starts saying to you, “You know, I’m not sure about that. My friend Roger says, ….” and then adds something so outlandish, you wonder what has happened to this friend of yours. If your friend and you were still in grade five, you would merely point out that Roger also wears his shirts backwards and the two of you would laugh, secure in the knowledge that you’re both still on the same friendship page, and Roger is a Very Peculiar Individual who shouldn’t be trusted to provide accurate, truthful, relevant information. Instead, when you cautiously query your friend privately, you find out she thinks Roger might be on to something. “After all, a lot of Roger’s friends are saying the same thing, and lately so are quite a few of my friends. You’re still my friend, aren’t you?”

Disturbingly, you’ve noticed your friendship now depends, at the very least, on tolerating Roger, and you can see the writing on the wall. Pretty soon you’ll have to agree with what Roger says if you want to remain friends. A friendship built on shared experience has become predicated on Belief and Opinion. You start to notice also that all of this friend’s friends say almost the exact same thing, much like a Twilight Zone episode or that Stepford Wives thing from a long time ago.

It finally comes to this: when you’re standing around as part of a circle of old high school chums–and frankly you don’t know a lot of them, but the ones you do know are all friends with the other ones, and hey, it was a big school–the topic turns political again. Strong opinions get stated, opinions you agree with. One person, though, says something not logical and all the others immediately say, “yeah! That’s right!” When you speak up to say, “well, but that’s not actually factual or logical” the group turns on you as if you were carrying typhoid or you had just molested a child or something equally reprehensible.

You walk to the Bubble’s exit. To the attendant there you state, “I am not coming back. You can take my name off of the list of approved entrants.” “Oh, no!” cries the attendant. “You can’t be serious! Are you sure you don’t want to just take a vacation from the Bubble?” You’ve taken vacations before so you say, “no, I don’t,” to which the attendant replies, sorrowfully, “well, okay, but any time you want to come back in, all you have to do is show up, say to the current attendant ‘just reactivate my Bubble Device’ and you can rejoin the Community!” The last phrase has a near-religious tone to it.

While walking the streets of Lisbon you begin to realize some things. Virtually all of those friends with whom you connected were not so important that you ever took time to look them up when you were in the home village. The few you talked to who weren’t historical friends–in other words, people you met in the Bubble–were people you only knew from limited conversation in the Bubble. You’ve had similarly engaging but shallow conversations in bars on a Thursday evening with strangers. Your friend who kept bringing Roger to the conversation had a habit of listening to and spreading outrageous gossip about teachers and students when she and you were classmates. You also realize your True Friends were those you stayed in contact with before the Bubbles. Though a few say they miss your presence in the Bubble, when they see you on the streets, you still see them, you still laugh/cry/argue with them. Nothing has changed; life still goes on outside the Bubble; the Bubble is not life or an approximation thereof.

And then it hits you: the Bubble has somehow focused, distilled, accentuated the tendencies we had before. It has connected the gossips from your early schooling with those of your university and those early co-workers. All of the people who annoyed you individually but in isolation as you grew up now have the ability to connect in the Bubble and reinforce each other’s message. They’ve grown in volume simply because they speak in unison. The promise of the Bubble–that we can connect and forge a more social and socially aware community–has produced just the opposite. People are meant to interact differently: anonymously sometimes, reservedly most of the time, and definitely more intermittently than in the Bubble.  In the Bubble people seem to talk as if they are in their cars where no one can hear what they’re saying. What the Bubble has produced then are people revealing the thoughts which just ought not to be revealed. Not that individuals should repress themselves, but any psychotherapist will likely confess they hear things which should remain between the patient and the therapist for the good of society, for the individual, and for the individual’s friends and social life.

After a few weeks you notice other, rival Bubbles have sprung up which you did not know about. You see that the people entering these Bubbles do not enter your former company’s Bubble. Far from encouraging societal discourse, you realize people have been splintered into non-communicating Bubbles built, not on ideology but on the corporate interests of those launching the bubbles. Still, you try one, thinking it might offer something a bit less manipulated than the first Bubble. It does, in a limited way, but none of the people you want to talk to are here. The Bubble itself is confusing. Soon, lacking patronage, this alternate Bubble shuts down.

You go back to the Bubble nearest you operated by the original Bubble company (OBC?). When you approach the door, the attendant gets ready to admit you but you say, “No, I want you to erase me from your lists. I want you to make it so I will never enter a Bubble of yours again. I want you to delete all of the information you’ve gathered about me. I frankly never want to enter a Bubble of yours again.” The attendant huffs and makes you sign some forms where you acknowledge you will lose all of the conversations you’ve ever had in the Bubble–to which you inwardly say, “oh thank God”–and then it’s done.

You walk away with a bounce in your step, knowing you will have True and Real conversations for the rest of your life.

yes, I posted this once before…but it was just a year ago, and this month got me thinking, and…

Well, that sucked

Decided to try to get a bit more sophistication to this site. Chose a new theme. I told myself to pay attention to the current theme, like “what is its name?” but I got carried away and didn’t. The one I chose was horribly unsuited to what I do: all photos were B&W! Plus, …well why carry on. I found a theme almost the same as the one I used before. Sigh. I would rather spend the time on the content.

Reporter

the author in better days. note his mind fragmenting like leaves in the breeze.

First, last, and I guess always, I am a reporter. If given facts I can spin them, quickly, making gold where others see dross. As Will Sonnett said, “No brag. Just fact.” Combined with a natural inquisitiveness, a need to understand what I was looking at/hearing, a need to make sense of things, it all served me well. I used these skills to write important documents for drug manufacturers when I knew only a little science and even less engineering. Asking questions make you seem intelligent, it seems, at least if they’re intelligent questions. (Yes, Virginia, there are stupid questions.)

For that reason, I’m redirecting this blog. The poems and essays won’t disappear, but I will write more frequently if I indulge my many ideas playing across my mind, ideas which don’t fit neatly into the holes for “essay” or “poem”.

I spent my teenaged years with a significant amount of time at the kitchen table just talking with my mother. She liked to talk. I like to talk. When the conversation turned to “what are you thinking for your future?”, my response was, “Ideally, I would have a job where I could just talk like this and make money from it.”

I partially achieved that when I graduated from college (finally–it took an “extra’ 18 months) and started working as a news editor/reporter on a weekly newspaper. I listened, I wrote, I published, I basked in the glory…or rather, I got paid a paltry wage that seemed a gift from heaven. After moving to another paper, though, I realized, “hey, I don’t really like going out to find things that people are saying or worse, aren’t saying but we really would like to know. I want to just say things from the heart of me, from inside. I don’t want to have to go find it.” Truthfully, going out there and trying to drum up stories seemed like work.

So I went into teaching. That was great. Except that I realized after nine years…I don’t really love kids, not like my fellow teachers said they did. It was a great run, taught me a lot about being assertive and ‘out there’, gave me a great background in labor issues when I negotiated the collective bargaining agreement with the school district’s administrators (or later, lawyers), but in the end I just accepted that as much as I liked TALKING for six or seven hours a day, this wasn’t my gig.

I decided to realize my dream of being a freelance writer, i.e., a writer who writes what he wants and somehow makes a living at it. I had no idea how to do that, and basically learned over 15 months that I had absolutely no discipline to do this for a living. I entered the business world, used my skills at writing, analyzing, and computing to make a very successful career. But…..

Writing manufacturing process assessments and standard operating procedures (SOP’s) didn’t permit the craziness to get out. I found minor ways to let it out, but they were limited. Some semi-anonymous vice-president isn’t interested in my poem about the reality deep in my hidden soul. After more than a decade of this, Facebook seemed okay for this sort of thing, at least a little….

Pissing away my writing skills on Facebook festered like a chancre. I harbored the desire to write. After this, after that, I started this blog in September 2021.  Now, a year later, I realize the need to write WEIGHTY STUFF just isn’t there, not in the sense that it’s going to happen here on a regular basis. Maybe it’s the lack of discipline thing again. Accordingly, ….

I’m repurposing this blog. It will be the lengthy post I could never do on Facebook, the chattiness that drives my wife crazy, the off-the-cuff observations that might not have any substantial exposition. What is written may fuel the more substantial things which will appear also.

One piece of writing has been sitting for twenty days at this point, waiting to be born. If I worked solidly at others, that wouldn’t be an issue, but that’s not what is happening. The piece of writing I reference had a timeliness which said “publish me quickly”. That hasn’t happened, and now it needs to rewritten. I need to keep priming the pump with whatever is on my mind, even if it’s not sufficiently weighty or well-written. I need to be chatty again.

Here we go.

Where ya been?

It’s been over five weeks. Where have I been? I’ve been thinking of a new direction for this blog. I’ve been thinking that maybe I have little drive to write as much as I thought. I’ve been taking care of other business, frankly. However….

At least there will be photos. My portfolio grew by dozens with our trip recently to visit my brother in Santa Fe, NM. (Our cabdriver from the airport made it very clear there were more than one Santa Fe.)

Sunset near Agua Fria, a small location on the edge of Santa Fe, NM. September 2022.

how to be a writer, part one

As I do near daily, I’ve been perusing the sale books on Kindle (thoughtfully curated for me by two purveyors who I presume must get a cut). Ivan Doig, an author of the Pacific Northwest and the northern tier through Montana, has a book there today, Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America. Unlike most of his books, this one is nonfiction, described as a long-distance dialog between the author and a 19th century American named James Gilchrist Swan. Swan wrote, in Doig’s estimation, about 2.5 million words in his daily diary entries spanning four decades. Doig caught my parents’ eye several decades back, and they bought several of his works. They also made time to go to his readings at Auntie’s bookstore in Spokane, WA, where they lived. The more frequently I see Doig’s works highlighted in this e-book missives, the more I regret not taking the books with me when my brother and I settled up their estate after our mother died in 2019.

But this book evoked other feelings and led to these sentences. Intrigued by the book’s premise, I read the sample of it provided by Amazon. The simple manner in which Doig details how he came to write the book brought a pause. Doig describes first how his encounter with Swan and his diaries led Doig to think he would need to write about it. He found later that the man’s couple dozen careers and other numerous interests couldn’t be contained to the short format of a magazine article, Doig’s then stock in trade. He eventually spent three winter months along the coasts of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, stomping around Swan’s environs as he read the diaries. Doig carried on a diarist-to-diarist conversation with Swan and thus the book was born and published in 1980. (I am taking some license here since I’ve only read the sample online.)

Doig’s ease and compulsion to write fascinates, irritates, motivates, and ultimately frustrates me. At 68 I still pursue the dream that One Day I Will Be A Writer. I have spent half my lifetime failing at that, another half ignoring it, and this past year I’ve attempted to resuscitate this dream which will not die. All of this is despite the evidence that I lack the one thing that would define me as A Writer in my own eyes: writing, on a regular basis; writing, because I had to; writing because there were sentences and paragraphs and chapters which must be written down to get them out of my head. I simply have shown myself time and again that I much prefer other things to writing. I lack the self-discipline to do it, despite having the discipline to do such things as track my daily alcohol consumption for the past ten years, to sing in choirs, to act in plays, to watch hours of television every day, to cook, oh my god, to cook.

This seeming lack of will to consummate a stated dream came to a head in 1992 when, needing a fresh start after a divorce–“if you’re a writer, why aren’t you writing,” she said–I quit teaching English to 13-year-olds (a near-pointless occupation in my opinion) and headed across the continent to Philadelphia. There, I told myself and dozens of others, “I will be a writer!” I rented an apartment that was not cheap, my first mistake. It was around the corner from a woman I was dating, my second mistake. When the checks from my former school district ran out, I cashed out my teacher’s pension. This may or may not have been mistake from the Life Dream perspective, but it definitely was a mistake from the financial perspective: it cost me 10% in penalties but it was enough to live on for a year. (Nine years of teaching for one year’s income. Seems inherently wrong.)

I took a part-time job as a proofreader for business correspondence in an attempt to stretch the pension withdrawal further. This proved to be a mistake because I had to do it from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. which in turn caused me to invert my daily cycle. I had a beer and ate dinner around 8 a.m., then went to bed. I woke at 2 to 3 in the afternoon, ate breakfast, took care of personal business, and attempted to write for a few hours while waiting for my love interest to get back from giving dance lessons to the bored. This usually occurred around 9 to 10 p.m., so I would then find myself drifting off to sleep again around midnight, only to wake at 3:30 a.m. and repeat the whole thing. It left me in a mental daze, partly because the job devolved into only three days a week (Monday-Wednesday-Friday), and I would attempt to return to a normal cycle the rest of the time. I also joined a choral group at the local community college and began classes to join the Roman Catholic Church. These activities impacted the odd schedule too. Looking back, I see that I developed a lingering depression of sorts, not deep, but enough to kill any initiative to do anything. Throughout my life I’ve repeatedly quit activities that required one to hustle a job. Why I thought it would be different this time, I do not know.

I have pictured myself as a writer since I was 13 years old. My language arts teacher one day barked out, “Pilcher! Where’d you learn to write?” When I told him it mostly came from my parents and their love of language, he said, “You should consider writing for a career.” Boom. I was screwed from that point forward. Despite a continual set of data from my schools regarding suitable careers for my talents and preferences (as indicated by now-dubious tests), I persisted in thinking I would be a writer. Not just any writer, but a writer of fiction. High school brought a two-year sojourn into journalism and caused me to apply to the University of Montana for its then-renowned School of Journalism. I began having second thoughts after I was accepted but while still in high school. I had returned to “creative writing” as we called it then. For reasons that will be detailed elsewhere, I spent my entire freshman year of college without ever entering the School of Journalism either academically or physically (to the best of my recollection). With no idea what I really wanted to do–where was my drive to be a writer then?–I dropped out of college to build up cash for another stab at it. And no, I didn’t write in the 15 months I spent working before re-entering college. This time I wasn’t going to be a writer, but a recording engineer…until I switched majors to radio-television news. Not liking the idea of doing that for a living, I attempted to build my own major out of R-TV news and Economics, which would’ve caught the eye of any college advisor of the past 30 years, but back then did not. I dropped out of college again and attempted to write short stories. I did not write many, finished fewer, and none were good.

After five months of this I said to myself, “If you don’t get your ass back in college for real, you’re never going to get a degree. Just get a journalism degree. If you’re on deadline, you have to write.” I enrolled in yet a third institution (the University of Washington), got the degree, and went to work for a weekly newspaper in the Puget Sound area. There I took photographs, sold a little advertising, wrote enough news to fill five or six pages every week, pasted it all together, and drove it to the printer’s shop every Tuesday morning. After three years I moved across the state and did more or less the same thing except in a more professional setting. Within nine months I had gained an editorial position (pretty much doing the same thing except with more pages to fill), had met the woman who became my first wife, and quit to get a teaching degree. I disliked that reporting required you to go out and find the news. I disliked much more that I had to sell ads on the side. Too much hustling. My fiancée taught. “We can have summers off together.” Sounded good to me.

Which brings me full circle. How can one regard oneself as a writer but not write? I’ve known speed junkies who dashed out drivel and thought they had written the beginnings of the next Great American Novel. I’ve known persons who write anecdotal stuff similar to a bad holiday newsletter, publish it on Facebook, and get a few hundred responses all saying, “you should publish this! It’s so good!” I know a person right now who labors mightily to write about his encounters in Christian spirituality. He has about three or four readers who actually leave comments, and he acknowledges my writing skills compared to his. But in my eyes, he is A Writer, and I am not.

Doig’s simple explanation of knowing he needed to write something represents exactly what has been missing for my past 50 years: a compelling, primal need to write, an urge or urgency which drives one to write. I’ve had this need only when teachers assigned papers or when a new week’s blank pages of newsprint caused my stomach to clench up all those years ago. In my later years I wrote business reports and standard operating procedures. It was in the business world of all places where I recognized a need to write. Now that I have retired, so too have my incentives.

I envy the Doigs of the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can find the elusive desire to capture words my soul commands must be captured. Until then I will continue to wait for the occasional spark, such as the one which prompted this.

AWOL

Not sure many (any?) are truly following this site, but I feel the responsibility if they are. Circumstances will prevent regular posting for the next week or so.

Until then, here’s hoping I learn something about WordPress.

Just like a ‘Democratic Party majority’…

…there has been compromise…lots and lots of compromise. (BTW if you’re reading this outside of the USA, sorry, but I will make many allusions to life here, and it is fully understood that this is a singular life experienced pretty much nowhere else on Planet Earth.)

I’m still not sure how this will go, but I do know that this site is now structured with an acquiescence to the reality of WordPress, blog software, and the Internet in general. I still feel thwarted and ‘funneled’ by technology. (Geez, can’t wait for the AI cars! ‘I’m sorry, Ken, I can’t turn right here.’ Me: ‘You idiotic piece of bad programming! This intersection now HAS a right turn! Turn the fucking car!’)

Thwarted by technology again

I’ve been in absentia almost as soon as I started this site (khpilcher.com) because I immediately ran into problems making the site match my vision for it: sections on poetry/prose, general essays, religion and philosophy, and a chattier blog that meanders on about beer, writing, friends, music, photography, and anything else that might once have gone on Facebook (may it crash in flames or at least be broken apart as the monopoly that it is).

This is not possible with WordPress.com and a survey of other sites seems to indicate that it can’t be done with WordPress.org either. I’m having to rethink what I will do. My prime purpose for this site is to publish my writing and secondarily, to share my thoughts on objective truth versus subjective desires. A jumbled mess of all the above categories would indeed live up the name of the site: it would be a roomful of voices vying for attention with no focus. This seems undesirable. I’ve got one work-around in mind, but it would be cumbersome and additionally would raise the question, “Why are you paying for a domain and premium services?”

Until that solution is enacted, I’ll drop one or two things in here, but not much. Until then…