Sunday, August 14, 2011

30 Years in 30 Seconds

Thirty seconds or possibly a minute was about how long I had.  

I remember you and no, I didn’t have to look at your name tag to cheat (or I did).
Wow, haven’t seen you in a long time.
Where are you living now?
What are you doing?
That’s nice.  
How many kids?  Grandkids? I have one.
It really has been a long time.
Very nice to see you.

Time to move on.  

It wasn’t so much as a reunion as it was a perverse form of sincere speed dating.  You really had a connection with these people many years ago and the thrill of being remembered, acknowledged and smiled at, created an immediate and pleasurable sense of belonging.  It was surprisingly powerful and it was the hope for these types of experiences that brought me back to the unfamiliar halls of what is now known as Davis High School.  The evening provided countless such experiences.

The pleasurable was countered with the realization that for whatever reason one or two of my classmates had de-friended me on FaceBook for --  I’m supposing -- my perceived offenses in expressing my ambivalence towards the reunion.  If meeting people I hadn’t seen in 30 years for 30 seconds made me briefly feel really good, the rejection on FaceBook, was the equivalent negative reaction.

The rejection pain makes me realize that I have undoubtedly committed countless acts of hypocrisy.  I rejected people throughout the evening.  I recognized it as soon as the evening was done and it was too late to do anything about it.  If I didn’t engage you, didn’t talk to you, didn’t acknowledge you and it hurt your feelings, I’m sorry.  You really want to talk to me send me an email and I won’t bite.  This is my version of a plea for forgiveness for both the knowing and the unknowing assaults I’ve committed on social connection.

Acceptance into a social group is critical for human survival and we are all hard wired to want to belong.  The desire to belong is so strong and the negative emotional responses of not belonging are so painful, that we do whatever we can to eliminate the potentiality of rejection.   This can take the form of rejecting first, avoidance or collapsing into the clique we remember as “safe”.  

I watched as people I knew fell back into the same groups as high school.  Maybe they’ve maintained those relationships, probably not, but those social connections, even after 30 years, have weathered time.  Think about who you spent most of your time with during the reunion.  It was with those former friends who provided you with the most safety and comfort.  Maybe the reunion was a nice reminder of a time when you had a group of friends who kept you safe from outside social rejection.  

The desire to create a social group in which there was perceived safety manifest itself in the oddly placed prayer that launched dinner.  The retreat to the predominant religious culture surely felt safe and comforting to the majority believers.  But religion of this sort may comfort the majority, but when bringing back together a secular high school class, the prayer ran counter to its intended purpose,  a divisive, rather than inclusive act.  For something whose purported goal is to create a community of one heart, one mind and one soul, religion is a poor tool.  Compassion and empathy are much better tools if they are employed.

Aging was another theme of the evening, which is probably inevitable, since all of us are being faced with the specter of mortality, at the very least in our parents.  Bringing up mortality creates all sorts of unanticipated emotional responses.  Yet, we will all die.  All we have is our current lives, less 48 years.

Of those 48 years, each person carries memories that are as unique to them as the person themselves.  Throughout the night I was reminded of events, circumstances and classmates of which I had no recollection.  Did those things really happen?  Probably.  I had the reverse thing happen to me when I would recall something about another person and they had no recollection of the event.  These memory gaps were the more subtle rejections of the evening, “This was important to me, but not to you -- ouch.” And I daresay they were prevalent.  Given the lapse of time, they were probably more prevalent than having two memories collide head-on on the same event.

So none of us remember anything the same from 30 years ago.  We cling to the groups that make us feel the safest against the onslaught of time.  We overdose on the saccharine sweet reconnection and acceptance, trying our best to ignore the aftertaste that lets you know that everything is just a little off kilter.  

The act of reconnecting ironically turned into a reminder of how disconnected we have all become.  

Now, Myron Casdorph told me that I was -- and this was last night, and I’ve already forgotten, just imagine what 30 years did to me -- grumpy, crabby or some similar epithet.  He was joking and I was laughing and in a way it was true -- I am a little darker than most in my outlook.  The dark outlook for me illuminates those things that are truly giving off light.   Myron exuded the light and life of someone doing what they love and completely comfortable in his own skin.  I saw a lot of that last night.  Those were the people who inspired me the most because they seemed to have their life figured out.  They were real, genuine and most importantly, themselves.  To all of you who gave me that glimpse -- thank you.  Makes me a little less crabby and a little less grumpy and a lot less dark.

A life has a trajectory and it is propulsive force.  Like the space shuttle, we launched into our adult lives in 1981.  Several have experienced spectacular explosions and screw ups, while others have headed straight, never wavering, laser guided towards an intended goal.  My life, as with many others I’m sure, has felt more like a Lagoon ride gone off the rails.

Ultimately, the best thing the reunion gave to me was perspective on my current life, causing me to examine where I am heading and what is driving me.  Having my wife with me at the reunion provided that connection and base to my real world existence, throughout the  fantastical, brief and surreal reunions. The reunion came to a crashing close for me when real life text messages from children began pouring in.  I walked out of the halls of Davis High and remembered the feeling 30 years ago after graduation when I walked out of the school in the same general geographic vicinity, wondering where my life was going.  I had no idea, I felt scared, lost and giddy with the excitement of the unknown.  

Last night, I walked out the high school doors again, but my step was more sure.  My wife sat waiting for me on a concrete abutment in the light of the full moon.  I took her hand and we walked to our car.  I realized that I know what drives my life.  I realized that about the best you can do with life’s controls is point them in a general direction and (to utilize a cliche because it works) hang on for dear life.  No longer, lost, scared or directionless, I was again giddy with excitement of heading into the unknown as I walked out the doors of my high school.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Digital Tipping Point: Why 12% is more like 80%

Statistics can be such a misleading thing -- take the latest: 12% of the United States has eReaders.   Not very many is it -- only 12%.  Yet, something nags at my mathematical brain -- a stat I remembered hearing.  I found a lot of reference to it, but could never verify it, yet it has that ring of truth -- namely, 80% of American households didn't buy a book in the last year (could never find the original source, so it may be apocryphal, but it smacks of relevance when 30% don't know who the US declared independence from in 1776) . Now, that 80% chunk of the population is not going to buy an eReader and even assuming the other 20% buy an equal number of books, eReaders have tipped and most books are now bought in digital format. Amazon's public announcements also mirror this.

Bottom line -- the relevant stat is not what percentage own an eReader, but what percentage of book buyers buy digital books -- and I know that is much higher than 12% .  If you want to sell a book these days, you better get it in digital format.

Digital Genres

What are the new digital genres? New lingo is springing up — “cross-platform” or in the phrase that shows up no where in Google, so that must mean I coined it (not saying I did, just that Google can’t find it — “re-sourcing digital content”, by resourcing digital content, I mean that when an artist or author creates digital content, how do you use that resource. Each digital publisher needs a Digital Resource Department that operates like a Human Resource Department — assigning the digital content out to its numerous potential incarnations. Digital genres aren’t so much new genres as new genres that have the potential to be monetized.

Some Potential Digital Generes:

Interactive fiction: A merging of the gaming genre with the literary world. Many forms of game have long contained a form of interactive story telling — for my generation, Dungeons and Dragons.

Non-linear fiction: Using hyperlinks to create a non-linear narrative. This genre could easily split into multiple genres — romance, mystery, erotic, literary. Traditional publishing has gone down the non-linear rabbit hole. A memorable non-linear text for me was The House of Leaves. James Joyce at least feels non-linear to me and almost anything by David Foster Wallace proves that footnotes are the print version of hyperlinks. Poetry is replete with non-linear type images and narratives (thus the success of T.S. Eliot “The Wasteland” App on iTunes) .

Multi-media Fiction: This seems to be the genre that gets the most attention, but also the one that I think in a way is a little overblown. Is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, multi-media fiction because it contains a chapter that is a PowerPoint presentation? What about DVD extras that include text? Audio books? The written or spoken word changed into digital form moves seamlessly across media, that isn’t genre, that is flexibility.

The difference between the artist and the publisher is the publisher’s concern over how to monetize a new digital genre. The digital world only seems to exacerbate the century old conflict of cash and artistic purity. Yet, the potential for profitably monetizing artistic efforts in the digital realm that expands your potential market into the millions and billions, you only need a micro-percentage, a relatively small tribe of followers to patronize the artist to artistic freedom.

The palate of digital expression is larger than any artists or writers have had at their disposal in the history of the earth. The critical question is how do you sell what you do digitally. Where is your audience going to read it — a phone app, on their iPad, Kindle, Nook or computer screen? How are you going to get them to pay for it? I want exciting digital genres, but like any artist, you need to pay attention to your canvas and the gallery where you can sell your wares.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sex, Politics, Gender, Morality and the Publication of the Private(s)

        Sex and politics have always been strange bedfellows where the trysts and couplings of political ideology and sexual mores end up resembling either Dr. Doolitle’s Push-me-Pull-you or a Caligulan orgy, neither of which allow delineation of what belongs to whom.  Unfortunately for Anthony Weiner, he tweeted on to the zeitgeist’s resonant frequency.[1]
        Politics has a constant right/left shift.  Sex oscillates between the male and the female.  Our social ambivalence to technology veers between (betweet?)  analog and digital.  Gender issues battle over power and weakness.  Religion, at least among the monotheists, is a three way tug-of-war between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Race and ethnic biases still pulse with the historical tension throughout our society -- Loving v. Virginia[2] is not as old as I am and the election of a black president has only illuminated the strong racist undercurrent that still exists in this country[3].   We shut our blinds to watch reality TV, as the public and private battle it out.  
        The easy jumping off point for most people was the punny --  Weiner’s weiner and the slew of puns that are, uh, hard to pass up.  The first phase however was political.  Politicians and politicos have long used the sexual proclivities of their political opponents to try and gain a political advantage.  Andrew Breitbart is only the most recent in a long line of *uckrakers[4], beginning with James T. Callendar, who went after none other than the drafter of the Declaration of Independence.  Did Thomas Jefferson’s fathering of children by Sally Hemming impinge on the morality of the truths that we hold to be self-evident?  I don’t think so.  Apparently all men are created equally in the struggling with sexuality department, too. [5]   
Politics and sex have been over exposed so I’ll move on to a more important question: Are women turned on by the site of a man’s junk or is women porn really a guy vacuuming?  I would say inquiring minds want to know, but the discussion digresses into a slew of jokes about which head is doing the thinking and  devolves into flat condemnation of men’s brutish sexual flashing.
I’m more interested in the flip side, which is the defusing of female sexuality.  Sexual imagery is arousing to both sexes, yet in a Kinsey-ian flashback,[6] our culture seems unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge that, yes, women too are sexual beings.  Sexism is the attribution of a supposed negative aspects to a specific gender.  Saying women are not as bright as men is clearly a sexist comment, but so is saying men are more sexual than women. Not to belabor a biological point - but you are reading this and that means your mother did it.  
The ambivalence to female sexuality (most of Weiner’s texts/chats/pictures) were sent in the context of mutual sexual cyber-play with women, who presumably have the ability and wherewith-all to locate the send, enter and power buttons on their computers.  Yet there is an undercurrent on the Weiner story of his “attack” on these women.  Nothing overt, just a sense of a Weiner attack.   More horrific than Weiner’s picture seems to be the fear that any of these women were sexually complicit.
Enter race and stereotype --  Philip Roth’s lascivious Jew, Portnoy complaining  as he defiles the family dinner.  A horny, dirty swarthy Jew is sending dirty pictures to middle America white, wholesome, pure, virginal girls!  Look at that nose.  Pretty damning stuff, so how do you hide racist motivations?
Marriage is what brings the racists together.[7]  The Jew was married -- and his wife is pregnant!  Not only is he defiling wholesome mid-western porn stars, but traditional American institutions as well -- marriage and motherhood.  He probably Portnoy-ed the apple pie in a Chevy, too.  
 However, in post 9-11 America, nothing is so simple.  The paragon of motherhood and virtue -- a powerful woman of Saudi Arabian (Is she Muslim?) descent, Huma Aberdin, right hand “man?” to Hilary Clinton.  Huma is the embodiment of political and traditional male power, marriage and motherhood all rolled into one neat and ethnically diverse and confusing package.[8] Her husband?  A name subjected to adolescent sophomoric humor that he will now never escape -- Portnoy’s Complaint made flesh.
Amidst all of the political and sexual machinations, a question begs to be asked.  What of the personal should be exposed?  The compulsion to seek approval of one’s male virility makes men’s sexual actions often seem foolish and non-thinking.  Should that be subjected to public scorn, ridicule and judgment?
Regardless of one’s thoughts on sexual morality, the public-ization of the private is a balance that the law and society has constantly struggled to maintain.  A common euphemism for genitalia is “privates”  and if you ask the Congressman, I’m sure he would tell you that he would have liked for his private purveying of his private private pictures to remain private.  Yet, technology has made the private more public and if anything, the Weiner incident (scandal is overblown) illustrates the rapidity with which the private can go public and viral.  And as with any virus, those most infected will experience the crushing emotion of ostracization and societal scorn, while the observers can rest in the ease of knowing their private shame and privates remain private.  No need for compassion when it is not your life being ridiculed.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of commentary, but not once did I hear anyone suggest that Weiner, should have simply said when asked if it was his photo -- “None, of your damn business.”  Of course, everyone would have taken that as an admission, which ultimately came anyway, but it would have drawn a line between the private and the public.  No tearful, Breitbart co-opted press conference required.  
Weiner’s waggle in the public eye combined sex, politics, gender and morality, but most overlooked, it held up a mirror to our uneasiness with technology and social media, where the private can become the public with a push of the button.   And as the private personal fantasy enters public reality, the consummation gives birth to the surreal.  

[1]“Resonant frequency” is the physics term describing the frequency at which a system oscillates at larger amplitudes than the normal  frequencies.  It is the reason your car will shake at certain speeds, but will smooth out if you go a little bit faster or a little bit slower.  
[2]Loving v. Virgina is the 1967 anti-State’s right, 14th Amendment case in which the Supreme Court outlawed the type of marriage that allowed current Justice, Clarence Thomas, to marry his right wing, tea partying wife.  Insert irony here.
[3]And the racism crosses cultural boundaries, from the notorious New Yorker cover to the birthers.
[4]F or M, you decide.
[5]Footnotes appear to be in my ironic blood today.  Judging from the treatment of David Vitter by the Republican power network, including Utah’s own hymn writing senator Orrin Hatch, Weiner would have been better off getting his sex the oldest fashioned way -- paying for it.
[6]Congressional inquiries were made into whether Kinsey or the Rockefeller Foundation were Communists.  The sexualization of women had to be a Communist plot.  Newspapers and editorials lambasted Kinsey for his attack on “American womanhood”, all while he was telling them to pay more attention to the American woman’s hood.
[7]My apologies to A Princess Bride.
[8]And she didn’t literally “stand by” her man.