SHARING

I’ve been thinking about how much we like to share our thoughts with other people, and how that behavior has changed in the 30-plus years that I have been writing things down and passing them around. 

It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to re-post unoriginal stuff. On January 5, I shared a gif video I saw on Facebook, just because I thought it was cute and hilarious. But that was way off topic for this blog. I did it because it was guick and easy and I was restless with the fact that the blog needed content. Those are the posting criteria of social media, not creative work.

In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. Which is something altogether different from the ordinary. Such work does not refute the ordinary. It is, simply, something else. Its labor requires a different outlook — a different set of priorities. – Mary Oliver

As a creative person, my job is to make something that wasn’t there before, eventually to release it, let it go. Then it doesn’t belong to me anymore; it’s been given as a gift. How can this be true if I’m responding to arbitrary external validation and feedback?

It used to be that I would create a poem, a story, or a letter, and revise it and correct it and re-type it, then finally – perhaps months later – share it with other people. A poem might be shared aloud at a workshop or a reading, or published in a journal or a book. That could take a year or two. In the meantime, I would be working on other things.

There was no hurry, is my point. There was no rush to keep filling the void with something – anything – to remain visible. I wasn’t visible or connected with an audience between events or publications. My work was a very private pursuit, and if I gathered bits of wisdom – poems, quotations, etc. – they were mine to keep to myself. I was woolgathering, and that was part of the process.

I remember one of the first times one of my poems was published. I mailed it in the fall. A few months later, in deep winter, the literary journal wrote to accept it and say my work would be published in the spring edition …of the following year. I’d probably reworked and polished that poem for six months before I mailed it. So that means it was about two years from first draft to publication.

That was the 20th century, the last millennium. Then came the Web. But at first and for years, only companies had websites. To have a personal site was the mark of a serious geek; which I was, so I did. Generally, if you wanted a piece of writing on the Internet, and not just your AOL page, you still had to hand it off to someone else.

Patience is also a form of action.
– Rodin 

Now that process of time, effort, patience, and often disappointment has collapsed to days, hours, even minutes. Nobody can tell us No anymore, condemning our work to the drawer. The creation of the blogosphere made us all who write also editors and publishers. We set our own standards and we decide what goes out and when. And so long as our standards are high enough by our own reckoning, that’s all good.

I believe this about writing:

Writing is work. It takes a lot of contemplation, concentration, and out-and-out sweat. People tend to romanticize it, that somehow your work appears by benefit of some mystical external force. In reality, to be a writer, you have to sit down and write. It’s work, and often it’s hard work.

– Wendelin Van Draanen

Social media (meaning Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., not blogs) creates a shortcut from discovering an idea to expressing it, which I find troubling because I fear it is rewiring our brains. Now if I encounter something interesting – a quote, an image, a song – my first impulse is to put it slap it up on Facebook.  If I take a good photo, it goes on Instagram. Social media bypasses the essential process of ideation, the hard work. It’s the live broadcast, unedited stream of banal human consciousness, largely devoid of reflective self-awareness. We open our streams, and feed back to the beast its own excrescence.

Like and share, like and share, like and share. Ad infinitum.     

Of course, there are exceptions. I sometimes see thoughtful, helpful, kind, and original things posted on social media. You can tell someone spent at least minutes making something where there was nothing, and gave it out as a gift. That’s a good thing. And I belong to a couple of groups in which people are makers of imagery and ideas, and no one is trafficking in contention or discontent.

In general though, social media is an echo chamber and the impulse to create little echoes grows more urgent as the pace of technology increases. This is a problem because the echo chamber also involves a feedback loop. All social interactions involve feedback – positive or negative reinforcement. Positive means I should continue the same type of output; negative means don’t. Basic biology.

Anything that submerges us so deeply in external validation not only anesthetizes the creative process, but scientists now believe it’s actually rewiring our brains.

What is the solution? Should we delete our Facebook and Twitter accounts? Yes, probably. It might come to that. But I think the first step is mindfulness and intentionality. We who would create, or who find ourselves unhappy and unfulfilled in the echo chambers of 2019, need to be very aware of what we are feeding our brains, what we are offering our friends, and do both with the greatest deliberation. We who would be discerning should try to avoid being part of the engine that repeats banality and falsehood, drama and cultural hyperbole.

Second, be selfish. What we gather for our creative process needs to serve our purposes first. This one is mostly for me; it’s not my job to find things on Facebook, or anywhere, to keep my Facebook friends entertained. It’s certainly not my function to make sure everybody sees what everybody is seeing. My job is to feed my soul, to “Make visible what without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” – Robert Bresson.

I think Wendell Berry knows what’s needed better than anyone:

How to Be a Poet

(to remind myself)

i   

Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   

ii   

Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   

iii   

Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

Mary Oliver

Two Mary Oliver quotes from my notebooks, on the day of her passing.  It is sad because her vision of the natural world was extraordinary and powerful, and there will be no more poems from her, and in this spiritually caustic and destitute time we need our elder poets more than ever. They know what is holy and speak its truth.

 

To live in this world,

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go, to let it go.

~~~

“It was merely a moment.
The sun, angling out from the bunched clouds,
cast one could easily imagine tenderly
over the landscape its extraordinary light.”

 

Little Lights

The December darkness chills us
as the clouds have moved away.
Thank God for all the little lights.
A blessing, these strings and streams
of light, these marshes of brightness
in longer nights that bear the fall away.
No pumpkins now but here’s
the consolation of electric grace.

Oh Lord, there is sorrow without solace
but that night brings out the multicolored
dreamland of your Advent.

 

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

Advent

Christmas_Lawn_2018-12-07 a

The Time between Thanksgiving
and Christmas is a mystery to me.
The clocks stop – you can hear
them suddenly not ticking – and
disappear into the walls and all
the shadowed spaces
of our hopeful daily lives.
The clocks go on ticking only
in hospitals and jails.
Once they have stopped and
forsaken their posts, Time takes
a deep breath, looks around
a moment, and begins to run.
It runs out of the school, heading
west, hits the gas at the pizza
place, hard right by the church,
squealing past homes and offices,
feed lots where the animals live
weeping and hardly notice
Time, past my house and yours
with a sound like a sudden rain
on hot tarmac, and on to where
the sun goes down on everything
we love. In the morning, it is
Christmas. There are deer among
the trees, their soft breath steaming
as the light breaks through.

 

 

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

Fire and Rain

Yesterday I reflected on the anniversary of the Thomas Fire and shared a photo of our hills burning. I took this photo today, of rain falling on them.

2018-12-05 14.13.58

What shall we say, shall we call it by a name,
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin.
Water bright as the sky from which it came,
And the name is on the earth that takes it in.
We will not speak but stand inside the rain,
And listen to the thunder shouting I am! I am! I am! I am.

– The Grateful Dead

Grateful

One year ago tonight, at this hour, the electricity was out in my home near Santa Barbara, California. In fact, it was out for many thousands of people from Camarillo to Goleta. That’s a distance of about 50 miles of mostly populated area – coastal cities and towns. There was a fire burning near Santa Paula and the worst power outage I’d ever experienced.

That night I wrote in my journal about the need to keep cell phones charged and batteries handy, mentioned the fire in Santa Paula – which I didn’t know had claimed so much in Ventura – and the power outage, and went to bed.

In the morning we knew that many homes had been lost as the fire swept across the Ventura hillsides, and a woman was dead. A hospital was destroyed and apartments, in addition to many single family homes.

The fire itself took two lives; ultimately 23 more a month later. But in my town, by the time the fire reached us here, days had passed, and thousands of firefighters had arrived in hundreds of fire trucks, with helicopters and airplanes. The winds were calm though there was almost no moisture in the air. This is from my journal:

12.13.2017. On Sunday morning December 10, the fire roared into Carpinteria from the northeast, and the north, from the hills near Divide Peak.

At 1:30 am we lost power and the glow could be seen. The lights went off many times and Dad and I didn’t sleep. An hour before dawn we watched the fire over the hills begin to take the facing side of our valley’s own hills, and spread and come down.

We watched the fire coming using apps, until we could see it descending on the town.

2017-12-10 17.14

On December 11, in the afternoon, I took this photo of the burning hills from the balcony of my condo. See how the smoke from the freshest flames wasn’t even burning toward us? The fire burned slowly down the hills toward the town all day,  with helicopters dropping water and planes dropping retardant, and an army of firefighters waiting for it at the bottom. We didn’t have the insane winds they had in Ventura, or Paradise, or Santa Rosa. And in the Woolsey fire just weeks ago.

2017-12-11 15.05.45a

Tonight I’m grateful for the absence of wind last year, for those many professionals, and for my family, and for the courage and constancy of my little town. I’m thankful for my home with Christmas lights twinkling on the balcony irons. I think about Paradise as I look up at those hills, now turning green with this week’s rain, and I pray for them.  And for Thousand Oaks, Malibu, and so many places in that area.