Echo Chambers, Common Sense: Leaving Twitter for the Gym
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
It’s been a while since my last update. I don’t know that I’ve stopped writing in some big sense or that I feel some type of way about my output this year. What I do know is that I got really, really tired of watching talented writers settle for (even worse, celebrate) the scraps of the Twitter/Lit Mag feedback loop. (This has nothing to do with Elon).
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If you don’t know how it works, it’s something like this: write a good (honestly, there are so many talented people) poem or story and send it to a million online mags, have it rejected thirty-thousand times, read what was accepted instead, grumble, internalize, Twitter-gripe about other things, then maybe, just maybe, get accepted, eventually, by a great independent online journal and share your honest delight, and/or get accepted by a mag with 30 follows and share your bogus joy. Use words like “gutted” and phrases like “dream mag,” repeat. As Melvin Udall might say, it’s exhausting. And that’s to say nothing of the constant drama, the virtue policing, or what we’ve come to refer to, tongue-in-cheek, as The Discourse.
I’ve been going to the gym instead.
Out of One Echo Chamber, Into Another
There’s this guy at the gym. I’ll call him Weight Belt on the Treadmill guy. Weight Belt for short. He's 65, knows Everything About Everything. I think the word is blowhard. He’s the King of Conventional Wisdom, the High Priest of Common Sense. His oracles match, exactly, the Talking Points of a recently ousted cable news host not named Don Lemon. From his perch on the treadmill, he waves his hand up at the television and says to the man on the elliptical behind him, “all this green stuff? Leftist garbage. Too expensive, unnecessary.” They proceed to have a conversation devoid of any facts about things of which they are thoroughly certain. It strikes me that they have mastered the great rhetorical trick of people who love to talk but hate to read: the Appeal to Common Sense.
How elitist I feel from my own elliptical. So I think about it more. I come to the conclusion that there is a profound, mostly ignored difference between Common Sense and honest wisdom. I may be highly educated (okay, I am); these gents may not be, but there’s no reason I should have the wisdom. I don’t claim to. I’m 10 years younger than Elliptical Guy, who takes a passive role in this health club punditry. I’m 20 years younger than Weight Belt, who now says, over his shoulder, “Knowledge is power. Where’s the best place to go for knowledge?” Elliptical Guy says “the Word,” by which he means the Bible. Weight Belt is very pleased.
The Bible, of course, says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.There is nothing in the sacred texts of Jews or Christians about supplication to Cable News. The network Weight Belt parrots also parrots him. It’s true that there is also “Leftist garbage,” and there are outlets on the extreme Left doing the exact same kind of thing, even if they’re cultivating different harm. Or maybe it’s the same. I just know it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed. I think people want to do what’s right; I think people, like the God of scripture, want to bring order to chaos in this life. And somewhere in that process, extremists on both sides weaponize Common Sense, convince themselves it’s wisdom. Weight Belt is bellicose: “What did you learn, today, Elliptical?” The condescension is pristine, almost a work of art. Elliptical Guy answers dutifully, maybe just to end the conversation. Weight Belt is satisfied that he’s Accomplished Something.
My point, I suppose, is that true wisdom is seldom conventional. It’s not the exclusive purview of people on the Right or Left or even in the Middle. On Twitter, you can build the Echo Chamber of your dreams. In real life, you have less control over who’s broadcasting from the treadmill next to yours. But you do choose your relationships, the way you spend your time, the things you read. With practice, you can even start to choose the weight you give to various inputs. With time, you become wise. With talking points, you dull the blade.
The Poetry Industrial Complex
I came across this poem yesterday:
This is mint and here are three pinks I have brought you, Mother. They are wet with rain And shining with it. The pinks smell like more of them In a blue vase: The mint smells like summer In many gardens. Hilda Conkling
Hilda Conkling was 8 when she wrote it. Here’s what Amy Lowell says:
“[s]he probably hardly thought at all, so natural was it, to say that three pinks ‘smell like more of them in a blue vase,’ but the expression fills the air with so strong a scent that no superlative could increase it. ‘Gift’ is a lovely poem, it has feeling, expression, originality, cadence. If a child can write such a poem at eight years old, what does it mean? That depends, I think, on how long the instructors of youth can be persuaded to keep ‘hands off.’ A period of imitation is, I fear, inevitable, but if consciousness is not induced by direct criticism, if instruction in the art of writing is abjured, the imitative period will probably be got [sic] through without undue loss. I think there is too much native sense of beauty and proportion here to be entirely killed even by the drying and freezing process which goes by the name of education.”
The poem (and Lowell’s assessment) was sent to me by the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day email. I find all of that ironic. Did Lowell really think education was some kind of Shiva? If so, was she right? What would Weight Belt do?
Still, there’s some truth to Lowell’s 100-year-old pantomime. Here’s what I think is true, at least in this case: If Hilda Conkling could write such a poem spontaneously at 8 years old, literary Twitter can spare me the workshops and courses led by people settling for scraps. Read books, read poems, read the gifts around you.
Crazyhorse is swamp pink
Like I said, I’ve dipped out of Twitter for a while. I missed the rebrand/relaunch of the former Crazyhorse as swamp pink. Three immediate impressions:
A change was needed.
The new name is awful.
The stylization is worse.
I agree with the need for a change. The journal’s explanation for the change talks about the idea that some people don’t have the right to use certain words and images. I agree that a journal having nothing to do with Native American experience was, certainly, exploiting the imagery and history and should never have done so. I’m less convinced of the idea, in general, of having rights to words. We all have the right to use whichever words we want. Having the right to use them doesn’t make it right to use them. I think most people know that. Does that make it Common Sense? Sadly, no. In the name of Common Sense, people tried to boycott Land-O-Lakes for ditching their exploitative branding, and in the name of Common Sense, people fought tooth and nail against changing the name of the football team in Washington. Common Sense, of course, had nothing to do with these reactions. Sure, we have the right to use whatever words and images we want. Knowing that having a right to do something doesn’t make that thing right…that feels more like wisdom.
I’m almost late for the gym.
Fear in the sense of awe, wonder, humility.
I don’t mean CNN.