Archive - 2016

December 31st

Watch Night, White Privilege

As a white man from the north
brought up in the twentieth century
I can only imagine
life on a plantation
with slaves.

It goes something like this:

when I couldn’t sleep
I would sneak out of
the plantation house
and down to the slave quarters
where I would hear them talk
about great adventures
seeking some wonderful prize;
travelling through
dangerous swamps
like wise men
following a star;
not the star of Bethlehem
but the northern star.

They would stop
when they saw me
and Auntie
(she wasn’t really my aunt,
it’s just she took care of us
like a good aunt should
unlike my mom’s
older sister,
a widow
who lived with us
and was very strict
and stern
and worried
about uprisings
and wanted us
to keep the slaves
in their place);
Auntie would talk kindly to me
and take me back
to the plantation house.

I think mostly the slaves liked me
although I never really knew
if it was just Christian Charity
or deference
to their master’s son,
but I’d get frustrated
when they talked about
their concerns
and told me
I couldn’t understand
or help.

When I started noticing
how pretty
some of
the slave girls
my age
and flirting with them,
I hoped
they would like me
and not just smile
of my power
and prestige.
Then some of the slave boys
started getting meaner to me.

Then the war came.
They wanted their freedom.
I just wanted
our old way of life back.

Sure, my dad owned slaves,
but I never did.

A century and a half later
I read about
another black kid
and the riots
and Black Lives Matter
and the black folks I know
tell me
I wouldn’t understand
because of my
white privilege
whatever that is.

The buildings
of the great institutions
where I studied
and worshiped
were built by slaves,
but I wasn’t involved.
I don’t have to
“have the talk”
before my kids
walked down the street
and the police
and doctors
and teachers
and others
all treat me justly.

I just want things
to go back
to how they used to be
before all this
racial tension.

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December 29th

What Next in Social Media?

Today, I received invitations to two new social media networks. Treem and Crowdify. They aren’t necessarily all that new, but they are new to me.

Tream’s pitch claims that “a majority of Americans (51.9%) are thinking about dropping out from social media this year”. The top two reasons they list are people wanting to avoid fake news and arguments about Trump. While the reasons sound legit, the assertion about a majority of Americans thinking about dropping out of social media doesn’t sound quite right. It’s interesting how ‘legit’ gets used in conversation these days.

Both Tream and Crowdify appear to be offering ways that people can earn money for their posts. I will spend a little time looking at them to see if they really add value.

As I think of what’s going on in social media, a few other things come to mind. Dan Edwards, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Nevada posted on Facebook a few examples of times when he’s posted things aimed at starting conversations and helping people reconnect, only to receive lots of comments that shut down discussions. He concludes, “We have a lot of work to do”.

So yes, there are issues of trust and community online. There are issues of who gets what money out of social networks. Yet from my perspective, there are some other bigger usability issue that need to be considered, especially as we get more and more information coming at us.

I hope to explore some of these issues in some coming blog posts.

December 28th

Coping with Trauma and Grief in the Digital World.

I understand that when people are grieving telling them to get over it isn’t usually very productive, but I’ve been seeing a lot of #Fuck2016 posts recently about different celebrities that have died this year and I’m starting to see people responding with “get over it”. I must admit, I’m feeling a little bit more in line with the “get over it” crew.

Celebrities die every year; important ones, ones that have shaped our lives. It is sad. We grieve. We remember how they entertained us, how they brought meaning to our lives. A standard response this year, has been to add #fuck2016. Have a substantially higher number of celebrities died this year? I don’t know. Is it that the celebrities are now childhood favorites of people on social media? In 2003, instead of posting #fuck2003 online when Bob Hope died, did people express their grief over a beer at the American Legion? “Remember his Christmas Show in Saigon?”

Other people die every year too. Important to those who loved them. Children in Chicago killed by gun violence. Christopher Brandon-Luckett, Diego Alvarado, Jovan Wilson, and many others.

To put things all into perspective, today is the Feast of Holy Innocents, when we remember the children killed by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus.

So, why is #Fuck2016 so popular right now? Is it that it has simply become the acceptable way to express grief over the death of celebrities? A new behavior normalized through its use in social media?

Or, is there perhaps something else going on, like Collective Trauma? Perhaps it is a combination of the two, since newly normalized behaviors may be a cause or result of collective trauma.

Perhaps most importantly, how do we respond? I posted links to stories of kids killed by gun violence in Chicago on Facebook. I wrote this blog post, and I’m exploring other ways of coping with trauma and grief in the digital world. What are your thoughts?

December 27th

Random Thoughts about my Christmas Reading List

Recently, I wrote about some books I got for Christmas, including Colin Cremin’s book Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guattari: Towards an Affective Theory of Form, Upstream by Mary Oliver, and Parker J. Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. They are all, perhaps, interconnected in unexpected ways. To illustrate this, here are some quotes from these books, woven together in to a fragment of a found poem. Can you tell which quotes are from which books?

“We have a strange conceit in our culture
that simply because we have said something,
we understand what it means”
“untidy approximations
of what they are about.”

“It is an invitation to take flight
that also extends to the reader,
to explore different worlds
and create new ones".

“Now I become myself”
“No, not a place: a becoming.
A becoming that exceeds image, analogy and metaphor.”
“Attention is the being of devotion.”
“The mind acts like a filter
to retrain only
sensations useful to it.”

“Sometimes the desire to be lost again,
as long ago,
comes over me
like a vapor”
“adaptive to the task of liberating desire –
desire being a generative force.”

As I’ve thought about this, I wrote another poetic fragment, this one is my own musings on what I’ve been reading, and isn’t “found”.

We are the characters in a cosmic video game.
We find our meaning
and purpose
in doing
what we were designed to do.

We live and move and have our being
seeking the Designer
not knowing the moves,
the rules,
or the way
and only finding them
by exploration
and experimentation.

One final thought for today. As I read about Deleuze, Guattari, and video games, I am struck by the discussions about realism. Many of the most complex video games are the highly realistic first person shooter games. Often, it seems, realism is something people aim for in video games. Yet other games, especially casual games, tend more towards abstraction without being visually compelling or complex. What might an abstract visually compelling complex video game be like? What might it be like as a multi-player game, an abstract community art video game?

December 26th

The Christmas Louse

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

I have often quoted Robert Burns, “To a Louse” in my blog, and the quote came back to me this morning as I reflected on the gifts I received yesterday. The gifts we receive give us some indication of how others see us. They are based on assumptions about what we are interested in, what we find enjoyable.

I have been thinking about this a lot recently. A couple months ago, a group of people whose vision of who I am has a significant impact on who I may become said that they see me in a very different way than I see myself. It was, and continues to be, jarring. One person suggested I read Parker J. Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. The suggestion says something about how that person views me and based on my reading so far in Palmer’s book, it is a view that clashes with how I see myself.

Another book I was given was The Agpeya: The Coptic Prayer Book of the Seven Hours. In the fall we visited a Coptic Orthodox church in Hamden for their Egyptian fair. My wife, knowing my interest in liturgical prayer from many traditions, picked that up for me. I find the different words and traditions used to pray helpful as I think about prayer and I have started using The Agpeya in some of my prayers.

My wife also got me a copy of Upstream by Mary Oliver. It is a selection of her essays. I really enjoy Mary Oliver’s poetry, but I’ve never read any of her essays. I read the first essay last night, about going upstream, and I really like it. As I reflect on Mary Oliver and Parker Palmer, I suspect that Oliver may have more to say to me than Palmer and that this is something I need to reflect upon in my own writing.

My middle daughter, who built a tiny house as an art project she now lives in, gave me the book, Living at the End of Time by John Hanson Mitchell. From reading the cover, it sounds like the book is about the intersection of my interests and my daughter’s interests; a simple life reconnected to art, beauty, simplicity, and spirituality. I have not yet started it, but I am looking forward to it.

Yet, lest people get too one-sided a view of my interests, my eldest daughter got me Colin Cremin’s book Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guattari: Towards an Affective Theory of Form. I often talk with my eldest daughter, over Skype as I am driving to work in Connecticut and she is coming home from school in Japan about Deleuze and Guattari as well as about videogames. I’m pretty excited about reading this book.

I hope to bring thoughts from each of these books into my writing here for the next several weeks.