I walked a snowy street, quietly as the falling snow, a snow that melted under foot, not one that crunched - compacting. Everything was deadened by that not-so-cold snow, a snow that swallowed sound, a snow that would have shunned light -- had there been any to shun. But it was night, and I was walking in the snow.
People were too high on pseudo-vindication to mourn the death of journalism. Each day they got a tsunami of information and information-like content that confirmed the world was as they believed (and wanted) it to be.
No matter where one fell on the political spectrum, one could find a site that would ensure that not a single wrinkle of cognitive dissonance would ever befoul one’s brow. Uncomfortable and inconvenient facts were weeded by roving teams of hourly workers.
One might think being a merchant of misinformation would be easy work, having no concerns about factuality. Verification — at most — required a positive focus-group score, rather than time-consuming and often unfruitful research.
But, the shear volume of keeping people hip-deep in content required off-shoring to destinations where one’s readers’ heroes and villains were often unknown. It was hard for the meme-makers in Moscow and Manila to keep square who pleased which Americans. How could the cubicle-dwellers construct appropriate quotes to attach to pictures if they weren’t sure if that person was on the naughty or nice list. Heaven forbid a staffer mislabel a photo — putting it in the “loved” and not the “loathed” folder. Worse yet, what if an actual quote from the pictured person was attached? Talk about egg on the face.
Headline: Meme-Maker Mistakes Condoleeza Rice and Maxine Waters, Human Head Explodes
[Fortunately, the explosion was captured on video and will make a sweet meme.]
In the past, archaeologists had few fragments with which to reconstruct dead civilizations. After the Infocalypse, the archaeologists will be in an ocean of information, thirsting for a fact.
Most people turn a spigot to control the flow of the informational self. Opening the valve at will, and adjusting the flow as the pipe diameter allows. I have a hammer and a dam. Slamming the hammer into the dam yeilds nothing the first knock, and only a few droplets seep through over next several frantic smashings. Then spews a deluge of stone and water. Fortunately (or unfortunately,) by the time the flood crests, everybody has found safe ground elsewhere — usually.
“One-track mind” is a pejorative label, a criticism of an obsession. But the best one can aspire to is a two-track mind. Track One is what you are aware of, and Track Two is being aware of what you’re aware of it — metacognition. [Some Buddhas may be able to mirror it out to a third level, but not me.] Sure, one can juggle things in and out of Track One like a spastic circus worker, but it’s still a one-track mind. And dialing in Track Two is like tuning into one of those cross-country super-stations back in the radio days. The ones that only came in clearly in the stillness of the dead of night, and, otherwise, tipped into static with the slightest provocation on this spinning, orbital world.
My point is that I require a track for actions that usually take place down below the waterline, in the engine room — i.e. eye contact, smiling, etc. So when my one-track mind is occupied with information flows, I’m staring off who knows where — looking like the person who peers over your shoulder at a clock or at the prettier person he wishes he was talking to — but without recovery, because I’m oblivious to what my eyes are taking in. Worse, sometimes I remember to juggle “make eye-contact and smile” into Track One, and then I realize after the fact that I stared down an interlocutor with a maniacal grin until he excused himself, worrying I might have been sizing him up to make a coat of his skin.
Lest you think me wallowing in the mire, there’s a sweet upside. Under the right conditions, I gobble up and manage information like one of those giant harvesters that chews through a 200 acre cornfield in a day — separating grain and chaff — and stowing it away neatly. And, putting my body in motion, I can dive a mile inside, losing my Self and becoming blissfully enamored with this electric life.
Then there’s that aspect of me that I used to feel a curse, but have come to embrace: my inability to give two fucks about things that drive “the normals” to frenetic lunacy, such as:
- collecting and squirreling away bits of matter
- sports teams (A digression: I’ve always found spectator sports to be like being invited to watch a party through the window from the outside. I see why the athletes are fervent about it, but can’t figure out why anyone else would care.)
- the need to be loved by every single person I come into contact with — that must be exhausting
- the need to feel that I understand the world (I love the chase, but I’m like a mutt chasing a Mack truck. Catching it would prove fatal. It might not crush my body, but it would crush my soul.)
I’ve been thought many things:
- People-hating: Untrue. I see each person as a bright and splendid sun. Warming. Soothing. Invigorating. Burning. Scorching. Cancer causing. And, ultimately, fatal. “The poison is in the dose,” as they say. Catch me without sunscreen and I’ll flee. With it, we may know some time together. My wife seems to be the only one free of this harsh and curious radioactivity.
- Arrogant: OK, it’s not wrong that I be thought arrogant, but it’s usually in ways and degrees that do not hold. I once heard Neil Gaiman say something to the effect that a writer must balance humility with the lunatic overconfidence of a seven-year-old schoolboy. To clean out the attic before it explodes out the windows and into the street requires an inexplicable degree of comfort with everybody seeing the skeletons, sex toys, and unused fitness equipment you’re putting to the curb.
- Depressive: Perhaps, in the days I felt the need to be someone else, but more likely just drained from the time-release vampires.
This collection of 34 poems by Vijay Seshadri won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The book includes free verse poetry, lyric poetry, and prose poems. There are poems that reflect Seshadri’s Indian heritage, such as “Three Urdu Poems,” but like Seshadri himself – who moved from Bangalore to America at age five – the preponderance of poems reflect an American experience. Most of the poems are a single page each or less, but the prose poems at the end, such as “Pacific Fishes of Canada,” cover about a dozen pages.
The human and human society, as opposed to nature, takes center stage Seshadri’s work. Dystopian notions that have crept to the fore in the popular conscious are seen in poems such as “Secret Police.” However, this may be more indicative of a look back to the Cold War, which features prominently in the aforementioned nostalgic prose poem “Pacific Fishes of Canada.” The philosophical meditation also plays prominently in this work.
I enjoyed this little sixty-seven page collection, and found it to be evocative and thought-provoking.