Living in the Future, Singing in the Darkness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perception, perspective, stagnation of both, and changes in each. One image my thoughts return to is this:

“The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. Mars has a big, puffy atmosphere, taller than ours, but there’s barely anything to it at that level. 30 Pascals of pressure, which is what we get in an industrial vacuum furnace here on Earth. You may as well be in space. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space.”

–Warren Ellis,
How To See the Future

Walk into space. The closest I can get to imagining this is the descriptions of “the Wall” in Robert Silverberg’s Kingdoms of the Wall (a fantasy/sci-fi I highly recommend). And even those wouldn’t come close to what I’m sure must be the awesome reality of Mars’s Olympus Mons.

Unfortunately, as Ellis goes on to say, “manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.”

There’s a lot of cynicism and snarkiness floating around nowadays. I can’t tell if it’s more intense than it used to be, or if we’re just more aware of it because we can dip into the negativity of a fellow human on the other side of the planet within 5 seconds of their posting their vitriolic rant on their blog. Ah well, at least it’s not a GeoCities page.

But with pessimism and sarcasm just a mouseclick away, I feel as though the negativity is ubiquitous. And it’s addictive. Sunshine unicorns glitter rainbows kittens cotton candy might be just as readily available for consumption as doom and gloom, but we humans tend to down the doom long before we reach for the rainbows.

I’ve written about this before, delving in to the creepy origins of the word “sarcasm.” So I won’t repeat myself here, not about that. But I’m still thinking all of those same thoughts about negativity and cynicism, and I’m thinking specifically of how they affect our perspective on the incredible world we live in today with all its amazing advances and advantages.

Just yesterday, I was reading an article on how women and men all over the world are using the internet and social media to fight back against rape culture. It’s tempting to gnash one’s teeth over the fact that rape culture ever existed and still exists. But instead of gnashing over that, what if we rejoiced at the brilliant and powerful ways in which right-minded people are combating it? If we didn’t live in such fabulous times, all of those beautiful, ringing, truth-filled voices would be silent and silenced.

In his article, Ellis points out a dozen? dozens of? advances in science and technology that most of us tend to take for granted and find boring — even though these things were beyond imagination not many years ago. Not many years ago, these things would’ve been considered “magic.” Not many years ago, the “magic” of uniting voices worldwide for a single would’ve been impossible.

Let’s open our eyes, is what I’m getting at. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to see all the beauty and the brilliance and the boldness that awaken hope. It’s there for the seeing, and it’s there for the claiming if we want it.

My daughter is almost 9 months old. Sometimes, when we’re out somewhere, I catch her examining her feet. Her eyes are huge, and her mouth is wide open, and she gives me this look as if to say, “Mama! These feet aren’t just at home. These feet are HERE, too! Aren’t they amazing?!”

Yes, my love, they are amazing. And I am amazed to see the world with fresh, unjaded, untainted eyes, through you.

Dream. Think. Do. Marvel like a child at the intricacy and the mind-blowing beauty of this place we live in. And let your heart sing through every darkness. Other hearts will answer.

soapbubble

yellow flower

BringItClose

Glances That Fall Like Sunshine

Considering that thing I posted yesterday about sarcasm and its morbid relationship to the gouging, ripping, and consuming of flesh, I thought it well that I continue my thoughts in a more uplifting manner today.

NOTE: In comments on yesterday’s post, I assured Josh that not every one of my Blog-Every-Day August posts will be of such a weighty nature. I do intend to indulge in my regular fluff and silliness; it’s just that these weightier things are on my mind right now. Welcome to my thoughts. ; )

But I, yet again, digress.

Delve Greedily and Deep

A few days ago, I came across the following poem excerpt, and it stuck with me:

It is difficult
to get the news
from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

~William Carlos Williams
in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”
1955

Mayhap in the future, I’ll write a whole post about the value of reading poetry, the purpose of poetry, the craft of poetry, and cetera. Believe me, there’s an entire book, nay, an encyclopedia of blogposts one could write on the subject. (Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to that much nerdery. [Or will I? {The plot sickens.}]) But for now, I’ll simply say this:

When a poet utilizes her artistry — when he intentionally and intensively creates a work of beauty and craftsmanship — the resulting work will contain a deep meaning beyond most things that most of us encounter in daily life. These are not soundbytes, flippant remarks, or 140-character snippets. These are words, phrases, and images that must be probed and pondered before their true meaning comes to light.

Williams wrote these words between 1952 and 1955. I’m sure they were accurate then; they’re certainly accurate now. In a world where “the news” is equal to whatever spin a particular media wants us to believe, finding The Truth is next to impossible. And every day, we collectively die a little more on the inside because we can’t (READ: won’t) take the time to set the misery aside, breathe, and delve more deeply to find the true essence of our own reality.

Brighten the Corner Where You Are

As I think of seeking out and discovering The Truth via poetry, I think of two poems in particular. This first one is new to me. Its first stanza makes my heart soar and my spirit rejoice, because there’s so much hope and vibrance in it. The second stanza sobers me, because it’s a reminder of what I wrote yesterday: that I have a responsibility for the words I say.

We are all connected; I believe this without doubt; and since I believe it, I have a responsibility to act on it. One of the ways I must act on it is by “bringing the sunshine.”

But here, I’ll let George Eliot say it better than I can:

 

 

Count That Day Lost

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went —
Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,
You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay —
If, through it all
You’ve nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face —
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost —
Then count that day as worse than lost.

~ George Eliot

The second poem I’ve thought of is one of my ever-favorites:

What Is Success?

What is success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

All of which I relate back to this:

“Brighten the corner where you are, and you will light the world.”
~ Dean Koontz

“You should be a light for other people. …Do to others what you would want them to do to you.”
~ Jesus of Nazareth

On Sarcasm: How Much Flesh Will You Eat?

Earlier today, I read and commented on Twitter Angst and the 2012 Olympics by blogger Ben Howard**.

Notably, my comment did not concern my aversion to the American usage of the word “Angst,” which in German has no aura of mental-emotional weirdness about it but, instead, simply means “fear.”

*ahem* But I digress. ; )

No, my comment was in reference to what Ben writes about the apparent increase of snarkiness, negativity, and cynicism on the Internet. What I said was this:

As time goes on, I watch the attitude of the masses with growing concern. When did pithiest and snarkiest and most cynical become the ideal to which we should all aspire? It seems like if you don’t infuse your every word with the utmost of sarcasm, then you’re not worth listening to.

What’s frightening about that is that the Greek root of “sarcasm” is the same as “sarcophagus” — which, directly translated, means “eater of flesh.” So basically, if we’re not tearing at each other’s vitals, then we have no right to a voice?

Is it just Ben and me? Or has anyone else noticed this?

eater of flesh


To get attention on the internet (and maybe we should be asking why you would want to), you’ve got to have the snappy, snippy comeback. You’ve got to infuse your every line with passive-aggressive insult aimed at one group or another. In order to make your side look good, you gotta make the other side look bad.

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, my best friend and I got teased all the time by a couple of boys who were two or three years older than we were. They laughed at us. They made fun of us. (Scarily, they picked us up and swung us around because we were too light-weight to fight back.) They mocked and insulted us at every opportunity.

I told my parents about it and tearfully asked why those boys were treating us this way.

My dad replied, “Honey, it’s because they’re bullies. They feel really bad about themselves. They feel like really small people, and it makes them feel better and bigger when they make others look smaller.”

What he really meant by “smaller” was inferior, but it would be a couple of years before I fully grasped that concept.

So. You get what I’m saying here, right? It seems that in the cyberverse, the best way to get attention is to be a bully: to make yourself look bigger and better by making someone else look smaller. You don’t get to feel superior, you don’t get to have others think you’re superior until you make someone else look inferior.

Is the internet really nothing more than an elementary school playground? Are we all really nothing but a bunch of petty, childish bullies?

I say “we” on purpose, because I know I’ve been guilty of this. When I mentioned “the masses” in my comment on Ben’s post, I mentally included myself. No, I haven’t outright bullied anyone. But I’ve done more than my fair share of sarcastic snarking. In his response to my comment, Ben calls the use of sarcasm “seductive” — and he’s right, it is.

When you’re a writer, you tend to be good with words. When you’re good with words, you tend to know pretty quickly, in any given situation, which words and phrases will cut the deepest. And if you’re in the mood — or if you’re mad about the situation/topic — or if you’re just a bully, you shoot the stealth zingers without hesitation because you know you’re going to hit your mark and feel triumphant…better than you felt before you aimed and fired.

“You.”

…I?

Sarcophagus: eater of flesh.

Sarcasm: ripping the heart and soul out of an adversary.

Or out of a friend?

Out of a beloved?

Are we creating this online culture of negativity, hate, and cruelty? Do we think because it’s not “IRL*” that it doesn’t really matter? We can toss our verbal grenades, let them explode and cause the requisite amount of damage, and then turn off our computers and pretend that we didn’t just maim someone?

No. People, NO. What happens online is real. What we say online is REAL. Words matter, and they do hurt. We don’t get to pretend that our sarcasm doesn’t affect the world IRL. We don’t get to pretend that we’re not gleefully tearing at the flesh of another soul. When we let ourselves speak those words — and yes, you do know the ones I mean — when we indulge in the pithiness, the snark, we make ourselves over into tombs for rotting meat and dead men’s bones.

And we carry that stench into every corner of our lives. Online and offline.

How many pounds of flesh are we going to eat tomorrow?

_____

*In Real Life

**Beneath his post, Ben says of himself:

“When he isn’t channeling Andy Rooney for a post about the Olympics, Ben spends his time in a field with Snoopy waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin,”

which I think is positively cramazing.