an overly elaborate manifesto about the games i don't play
Today's post is difficult to write. It's heavy, emotionally, for me. It'll be too easy for me to come across as defensive. And there's also a sticky matter of confidentiality, in that the conversation that moves me to write happened in a private space. But the opinions and thoughts it inspired are my own and I would like to express them. I can only hope I have succeeded at doing the latter without violating the former.
It's a mess, is what it is. I hope you'll bear with me.
Monday, a dismaying event happened on the national scale. A grand jury announced its decision that a white police officer who killed an unarmed black boy need not go to trial, and that the killer's demonstrable racial prejudice was somehow a mitigating factor and not evidence that the a police officer was unfit for his job and not to be trusted with a gun. The grand jury made this announcement at 7:00 PM Mountain Time, 8:00 Central. The announcement and its implications have dominated national and online discourse since then.
Here are other things that happened Monday:
- I had my last regularly scheduled farm day for 2014.
- The Saints played the Ravens to a disappointing loss.
- I did some more work on the Refurbish the Closet Doors porject
- I blogged about the farm work and the closet doors.
Now, I have a TwitterFeed account set up such that anytime I blog, that blog post gets announced on Twitter. Which means that in the middle of a Twitterstorm about injustice in Ferguson, I not only blogged about something that had nothing to do with that outrage at all, but I committed a self-promotional tweet telling people to go check out that blog post.
Which is something I would not have thought twice about--except that in the course of the aforementioned private conversation, I became informed that such a tweet makes a person look self-absorbed, tone-deaf, offensively oblivious. It would have been even more offensive, apparently, if I'd live tweeted my reactions to the football game (as I sometimes do), or promoted my Patreon campaign (as happens on those Fridays when a fictionette goes up). But my one self-promoting tweet was bad enough. As a responsible citizen of the internet, and especially as a writer with a Twitter account, I should have gauged the online climate before allowing such an inconsequential tweet to go through. Given what an important conversation was going on, I suppose I should have turned off automatic Twitter announcements of my blog posts for the night. Or, better still, not blogged at all unless it was about Ferguson.
Except... well, no.
There's a difference between disrupting a focused conversation on someone else's blog (like, say, the comment thread at the above-linked Slacktivist post) and, well, using Twitter for what Twitter is for. It's a grave misunderstanding of any social media to think that there is only one conversation going on at any time, to which you either contribute appropriately or shut up. Twitter is a microblogging platform on which millions of people have hundreds of thousands of separate conversations at any one time. And different people are listening to different pieces of that conversational storm depending on whom they follow. It's not unlike a huge version of a party where you can talk to your friend about whatever, and other people can overhear you or not as they choose. You can still abuse the venue by interrupting someone else's conversation--for example, at-checking someone inappropriately with your book-promo tweet--but simply talking to someone else about something else while in that room is not an abuse of the venue.
So I blogged Monday because I hold myself to a Monday-through-Friday blogging schedule, and I'm damn proud of myself when I succeed at keeping to that schedule. I post a Friday Fictionette every first through fourth friday because that's the committment I've made to potential Patrons. And someday I hope to be able to tweet that my first published book has become available in bookstores. If something globally awful happens on a day when I'd be blogging, fictionetting, or book-promoing, I'll probably still blog, fictionette, and/or book-promo, though I may choose not to. I may or may not have anything useful to say about the globally awful thing; that too is entirely up to me. One thing I know for sure: My tiny "off-topic" tweet is not going to make the globally awful thing objectively worse.
There is room on the internet, much as there is room in a single mind, for many things at once: raging at injustice, conversing quietly about the changing season, complaining about how long it takes to sand a paint-stripped door, and wondering when the national sportscasters will get tired of their love affair with Jimmy Butterfingers Graham and turn some of their attention to, say, players who are actually catching the ball tonight (or running it for 70+ yards holy fuck Joseph Morgan you are my hero).
That football game it would have been tone-deaf of me to tweet about Monday? A significant subset of both teams' players were a hell of a lot more personally affected by the Ferguson outcome than I. Some of them have sons who could have been Michael Brown. Some of them could have been Michael Brown. I don't know if they got to hear the grand jury's announcement when it happened, or if they were shielded from the news until the game was over. In either case, they had to know the announcement was coming. They probably predicted the way it was going to turn out, while hoping it would turn out otherwise.
And they still played that game, because Monday Night Football happens on Monday night. They participated in post-game interviews and they talked with their coaches and teammates about what tonight's game means for next week.
Normal life doesn't stop for tragedy. Sometimes we wish it would--sometimes it seems downright malicious that the world should keep spinning and gravity keep tugging as though anything could possibly be the same again. And sometimes we're grateful that normal life just keeps driving on regardless, because a veneer of normality can make the difference between coping and spiraling into a black hole of despair.
What you need right now, at this particular moment in American history, is a story that doesn’t stoke your feelings of rage, depression and moral exhaustion. And I am here to give it to you.
--Mary Elizabeth Williams, "The Ferguson library gives a lesson in community"
Monday we learned, or had our suspicions confirmed, that we have a lot more work to do as a society than we might have hoped, that the road toward justice is a lot longer than it has any right to be in 2014. And yet we still have to cook the next meal, earn the next paycheck, write the next story. We may not have to tweet about the latest football game or converse with friends via at-replies, but small pleasures and human interactions can make the hard work easier to bear. It certainly can't hurt.
And metaphorically wearing sackcloth doesn't materially aid the cause of justice any more than finishing your lima beans did a damn thing for the children starving in Ethiopia.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: There are things going on in my life. I'm going to talk about them. I may use Twitter to do it. I'm not going to preemptively gag myself on subjects that aren't objectively as important as the latest breaking national news. The conversations I choose to have aren't subject to anyone else's sense of propriety. That I choose to have one conversation doesn't mean I'm incapable of caring about other issues. The game of Prove That You Care is rigged, and the only way to win is not to play.
You don't have to be in those conversations with me. You may judge me harshly for having those conversations at all. But you can't reasonably expect me to always make the same choices you would about which conversations to have and when. If the choices we make differ enough to make you unhappy with mine, by all means disconnect from me on social media. We'll probably both be happier that way. But I think maybe composing nastygrams about How Dare You Tweet Banalities While Ferguson Is Burning isn't a positive contribution to any situation.
What might be a positive contribution? Well, if you're so inclined, you can donate to the Ferguson Library, because they need it and because they are awesome. Change.org has a petition demanding that Michael Brown's killer be prosecuted in the Missouri Supreme Court; the petition has nearly reached 150,000 signatures tonight. And this HuffPo article has more suggestions for activism in addition to these.
That's (some of) what's on my mind tonight, so that's what I'm choosing to blog/tweet/FB about.
That's how this works.