I’ve been struggling recently with the fact that, as part of this newest crop of writers, I am likely to spend much of the rest of my life on the internet. It’s good, no doubt that I can help transmit ideas from person to person without destroying any trees, and it’s also good that anyone who likes can read whatever I’ve written without paying a thing. As hard as this makes it for me to ever become an alcoholic with an expensive taste in Scotch, I think what’s good for the reader is probably good for the writer as well.
What’s difficult is that moving from my bed to my chair and onto the internet is like moving from the clean air of a forest to the interior of a 19th century smokestack. It’s poisonous. I’ve been trying to curate a good Facebook feed — one where the thoughts of thoughtful friends appear and the thoughts of myopic ones don’t, where news from the margins can make its way past the meaningless talking points of the center, and where the humor isn’t too cynical or mean — and now, 10 years into my time on this social media site, I think I’ve realized that it just can’t be done. This is not a tool for thoughtfulness. This is not a tool that will keep me centered and calm.
It became particularly painful over this last week, as I watched from my easy chair, as my entire society slipped back into an easy rage over a common tragedy. What’s more common in America than the shooting of innocent (black) people? What’s more common than racism? And is there anything more preventable? We know how to limit gun violence. And we know how to move forward on race.
But nah. We’ll focus on the flag. Let’s make this about the ugly symbol of racism rather than the racism itself. Let’s make it about the easiest, most polarizing aspect of the debate instead of about the pain and of living in a society where you must see your neighbors murdered and know that it’s because of a culture and a system that you yourself are a part of. It will allow everyone to feel justified, indignant, and better about themselves, if no different. Political change in America is most appreciated when it’s cosmetic.
I don’t much like the fact that this is what I’ll be writing on for the remainder of my life. I don’t much like that I’ll undoubtedly be tasked with contributing to the internet’s cyclical outrage and it’s nihilistic clickbait if I want to feed myself and my family for the next several decades. I’d like to hope that it will change, I’d like to hope that I’ll get better at blocking out everything that’s toxic about the online environment, but I don’t want to count on that. Unlike gun violence and racism, I don’t have any ideas on how a toxic media environment can be fixed.
My hope is that I can be a part of the antidote rather than a part of the poison, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that. The other day, feeling fried and tired of the internet, I got out of my chair and walked to the beach. As I approached the boardwalk, I passed a mother and daughter who were leaving for the day. The daughter, no older than 6, ran up to me holding a clamshell and, while moving the sides of the clamshell like a puppet, shouted, “HEY THERE, I’M MISTER CLAM! NOM NOM NOM!” and then ran off giggling.
I can’t think of a deeper meaning or a metaphor for Mister Clam, and I don’t know how this relates to racial politics in America, but I do know that when I left my darkened, toxic workplace and walked to the beach to meet Mister Clam, I felt a little better. So I’m bringing Mister Clam back onto the internet with me. He has plenty of opinions on the Confederate flag, climate change, and the GOP pool for 2016, but whenever he starts talking, it just sounds like “NOM NOM NOM” to me.
Featured photo by Lew Holzman