Sorry I’ve Been A Shitty Friend: A Multiple Choice Form Letter

Dear (fill in name of friend here),

How are you? It’s been way too long, I know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of you and then said to myself, I should really (call/write/at least click like on your vacation photos) but I’m sure you know how it goes. No matter how organized I am, it seems like (life/the news/a hangover) is always getting in the way. It’s so true what they say. Time sure does have a habit of flying when you’re (procrastinating/bemoaning the state of humanity/binge watching Better Call Saul), doesn’t it?

Funny thing is, your name came up just the other day. Someone asked me, “Hey, how’s (fill in name of friend here)? (He’s/She’s) got to be almost (ready to move/ready to have a baby/done with school), right? And it really drove home how long it’s been since I (emailed/tweeted/tagged you in a photo)!

I’m so sorry I missed your (birthday/anniversary/relative’s funeral), I really have no excuse other than the fact that I am spending far too much time (arguing with strangers on the internet/drowning my sorrows in Pinot Noir/in the midst of an existential breakdown). Most days it seems all of my time is taken up by (numb shock/carpooling/debating the continued existence of humankind). I keep thinking things are going to settle down in the next few months, at least enough to (stop refreshing Twitter incessantly/clean my house/remember my kids birthdays), but who knows? Crazy world we live in, right??

And here we are half way through the year already! It seems like yesterday (the world was normal/school started/you moved). Time really does go by quickly. Did I say that already? Lol. Oh, God. I really have to stop using (texting/Snapchat/emoji) abbreviations before I lose all ability to (speak/reason/write) coherently!

But hey, (fill in name of friend), listen. You should know that despite how bad I’ve been at keeping in touch, I’m totally (stalking you on Instagram/following your exploits on FaceBook/relying on what my mom tells me). But it’s nice to get a (letter/email/social media comment longer than 140 characters) sometimes, isn’t it? Despite my (radio silence/passive aggressive comments/emoji reduction correspondence) I do think of you often and wonder how everyone’s doing.

So, in case you’re wondering, it’s not you! It’s (me/Brexit/Trump/Camus level existentialism). I really do feel bad about not keeping in touch, though. Honest!

Anyway, hope you’re all (well/sane/not contemplating the meaning of life from a ledge). Please keep me up to date. And let’s not let this long go by again!

All the best!

(Fill in your name here)

At Home on the Death Star

I think I might be a wee bit broken. A life spent increasingly online has done something to me, something that no stream of Distractify quizzes or compilation of cute kittens is able to fix right now.

It’s like I got sucked up by a tractor beam into the wake of the Death Star.

I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist. But I think I was fooling myself. Sure, there were spirals into depression and Woody Allen style NYC neurosis, but underneath it all, under the goth makeup and bad poetry of my youth, the self-deprecating gallows humor of my twenties, even now, amid the swirling eddy of my forty-something rage, was a belief in the goodness of the human raceThe belief that despite a never-ending string of Vaders parading across the world’s stage, the Jedis always win. Sometimes it takes a few prequels to get the schematics and come up with a plan, but the good guys prevail.

I’m beginning to think I was wrong.

Or at least that’s what a life spent online is causing me to think. And this cycle of uncertainty and questioning has a force choke on my sense of self.

In my quest to put my voice out there–as a flare, a guidepost, a way of joining with others to increase the volume, I may have gone too far, gotten lost in too many comment threads, traveled down too many rabbit holes.

It’s pretty dank and dismal down there. If the internet has become my own personal Death Star, right now I’m stuck in the trash compactor, walls closing in, stinking of shit.

Light and dark, good and evil, right and wrong. Which way do we fall on the scales? Sometimes after half a bottle of wine my husband humors me and we have a buzzy debate about the nature of man. Are we inherently bad, kept in check by some complicated contraption of rules and law held together with duct tape and a prayer? Or are we inherently good, mostly Yoda with a few Emperor Palpatines popping up along the way?

I keep insisting we are good. And besides, the nature of man is just that, I argue. Man. Everything’s been tried, my husband says, and it always devolves along the same pattern. No, no, I insist, not everything. And we pour more wine and debate some more until he tells me my allotted time for serious topics is up and there is a football match on television.

But lately my time online has made me doubt my faith in the Rebel Alliances of the world. That, in and of itself is a sad thing. And it is only made sadder because it’s something I brought upon myself.

In my own desire to be part of something, to be seen, heard, in the vain hope that a lone voice could add something to the conversation, my online life has become a pyramid–both an outsize monument and a scheme. I got invited onto the Death Star and I went. And now, after much wandering around, I’m feeling pretty comfy.

I don’t want to live my life with the bitter aftertaste I’m left with after any time spent online these days. I don’t want feel dirty, spent, laying awake at night trying to figure out if my online activities are an exercise in support or if it’s merely feeding my own ego. In reality, it’s probably a mixture of both, but the feeling of accomplishment–a reader reaching out, a civilized debate, conversing with like-minded people– is competing with darker forces.

I am living my own Empire/Rebel Alliance in my life online. The escape pod is in my line of sight: Log off, delete my accounts, go on my merry way.

Yet I don’t. That’s where the ego comes in, I guess. Building the pyramid. I mean, the Death Star was really nothing more than a galactic pyramid if you think about it.

How long can you roam around the halls of the Death Star without starting to feel like one of the troops, before a little bit of the darkness rubs off on you? What happens when the idea of blowing it up becomes hard to imagine because, hey, you’re just getting to know your way around.

I’m not sure what my role is here, or even if there is a role to fill. Life online has brought me joy, and it has connected me with amazing people I wouldn’t otherwise know. It has expanded my tribe and brought me success. It’s brought me laughter and it keeps me informed. But it has also brought me into contact with a dark side of human nature I wasn’t prepared for. Am I better for knowing it exists? Philosophically, yes. In reality? It’s like eating cotton candy and going to bed without brushing your teeth. You feel kind of gross and when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you taste is the very thing that made you feel sick.

Leia would keep looking for new ways to figure it all out. Old man Luke chucked it all in to go live on a craggy rock and do some soul-searching.

Do or do not, there is no try, right?

I’ll let you know. Unless I’m on an uninhabited rock somewhere, you know, without WiFi.

 

Fake Out

newsboy-ned-parfett-announcing-the-sinking-of-the-titanic-english-schoolEvery so often, a word or a phrase insinuates itself into everyday speech. Like a parasite, it worms its way through our conversations, it hooks itself into our lexicon, camps out in  our slang until it’s legitimate enough to find itself plonk in the middle of Merriam-Webster. Sometimes they’re words we’ve been using forever and it’s just the way we use it that changes.

Like fake.

Until recently a fake, was some one or thing which was or assumed to be demonstrably false. Nails, tans, breasts. The guy who gives you a business card pretending to be a modeling scout to get into your knickers. Handbags sold in Chinatown, silk flowers in your Nana’s bathroom, gold watches that tarnish in the rain. Suddenly fake appears to be a word we use whenever any one or thing doesn’t fit within the frame of our personal or communal narrative.

Like fake news.

Fake news–that is news that has no basis in reality, no provable facts, no corroborated sources, is damaging enough. Tandem it with a global word of mouth tool like the internet, and well, forget Bob being your Uncle, Trump’s your President. Real Fake News is an oxymoron waiting to happen. More damaging is the way the phrase is bandied without merit, and with complete disregard for the–to borrow one of 45’s greatest hits–carnage– it’s doing.

One of the things we possess as human beings, in addition to opposable thumbs, is the ability to reason. When every click means more advertising revenue, when every comment means a bump in the social media stakes, news sources want you to read their stories. This is nothing new. Think of the newsboys in those cute caps selling papers by the headline. What is new is that readers are neglecting to use what we hide under those cute caps. Our brains.

news-boy-2

I got into a–let’s call it a debate–on FaceBook the other evening over whether or not an article was fake news. (This particular article was about a draft memo which toyed with the idea of using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants). The headline was sensationalized, all the better to get you to click on it, my dear. But the article, if you bothered to read it, made it abundantly clear that it was a draft memo which never crossed the president’s desk and was, according to the administration, never seriously considered. The article quoted sources, was written by a legitimate news source (i.e. not Brietbart or a Huffington Post ‘contributor’). It also made clear that reporters reached out for comments from the administration and the administration declined to do so. All of that information was within the body of the article.

But you had to actually read it. Which I did, but not before I had to get through the cries of fake news. In ALL CAPS.

Eh…

Contrast this with another article which detailed the Obama’s plans to have tax payers foot the bill for their vacations in perpetuity while they are in Kenya awaiting re-entry into the US. No sources, no evidence, no verifiable documentation.

One is demonstrably false, no sources, easily disproven (hell, social media was fairly exploding with pictures of President Obama wind surfing in the Caribbean with Richard Branson). The other states the existence of a legitimate memo which exists (or did exist) as a verifiable document, makes clear it was a draft, and leaves the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Sensationalized? Absolutely. Fake? Nope.

The danger of course is that we will start overusing the phrase ‘fake news’ the way we overused the word bully, until it means less and less, until people start to ignore it or roll their eyes. The danger is that it lessens the damage real fake news brings in its wake, the same way we lessened the pain of those suffering from bullying behavior by insisting that every toddler in the sandbox was a ‘bully’. We become immune to it, we stop caring about it, it becomes meaningless because it means less.

For all the talk of personal accountability, there seems to be little accountability when it comes to reading, and critically assessing the news. As always, we’re quick to throw out the blame. The media for their sensationalized headlines. Social media for providing a vehicle. Teenagers in Macedonia churning out false articles. Perhaps the blame should rest squarely on the quality of education or the laziness of the person reading–or not reading–the article, or the inability to verify information.

There is too much at stake to simply base our opinions and facts on headlines or tweets or soundbites edited for impact. Right now we’re so ready to believe the worst of each other that of course it’s comforting to see a headline and think, “See!! I knew it!” and leave it at that. If it fits our world view, we’re happy to bathe in our partisan outrage with nothing more than a bold face headline to back us up.

And every time the headline goes against what we like, it becomes fake.

news-boyWhen it’s really not.

If this were the Star Wars universe Yoda would be imploring you. Judiciously you must read.Wisely and widely.

Be like Yoda. You have opposable thumbs. Use them to turn the pages of a newspaper. You have a brain. Use it to think. You have the ability to reason and discern. Don’t cry “Wolf!” so much that no one believes you when the wolf is actually staring down your door with gleaming teeth bared.

All the better to eat you with, my dear.

Faux News

If satire is the highest form of wit, well, this is my way of going high. Right now, it’s all I got.

santaReuters: U.S. Constitution Discovered to Contain ‘fine print’. Supreme Court Nominee Rudy Giuliani Tells Reporters He was Able to Uncover the Text With a Decoder Ring from his BooBerry Breakfast Cereal.

People: After Months of Speculation, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Finally Go Public with Their Relationship. Read ALL the Details of the Couple the Media has Already Dubbed “Prump”. Glad!!

Brietbart: Six Steps to Tame Your Feminist Wife. Take it From Us, These Tricks Will Change Your Life! Hint: You’re Going To Need a Bigger Basement, Chains, and a Padlock!

NY Times: Trump Demands Statue of Liberty Apologize for Welcoming Tired, Poor and Hungry. “Have you seen her? She’s no more than a 3. Sad!”

Country Homes and Garden: Jeff Sessions: Down Home with Alabama’s Favorite Son. We Talk to the AG about His Plans to Overturn the Emancipation Proclamation While Enjoying a Down-Home Barbecue in Beautiful Ante-But-Soon-to-Rise-Again-Bellum Home.

lincoln

Guns and Ammo: Supreme Chancellor Trump Declares Open Season on Sore-Loser Pussy Libtards. No Background Check! No permit! Hunting Season Runs November Through Late January.

Nexus News: Trump to Move 2nd Amendment Up to 1st  Because “I can.”

Elle: Canadian Women Hailed as Heroes for Founding Underground Railroad for American Women Seeking Birth Control.

NPR: The Rise of White Supremacy: Do Endless Headlines, Interviews, and Articles Only Help to Normalize It?

Entertainment Tonight: Listen to Our Exclusive Interview with Twitter Sensation Milos Greeklastnameolis Who Wished a Pox, Rape, and Cancer Upon a Senator’s Family for Wishing him “Happy Holidays”.

preview_newspaperBoston Globe: GOP Scrambling to Spin Trump’s Late Night Twitter Admission: “I thought ‘Hypocrisy’ was just a nickname for a  Hippopotamus named Christina.”

BBC News: Britons Send Congratulations to Americans For Their Stunning Upset at This Year’s Darwin Awards.

Ham Radio Monthly: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???!!!

Hollywood Reporter: Motion Picture Association President Considering Petition to Include America! in This Year’s Oscar In Memoriam.