“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” –Brené Brown
This Friday I went out to my neighborhood bar to celebrate the first week of the new year. I took my journal and my favorite pen and my phone, and sat next to another person dining solo. She had her phone propped up on her martini glass and never raised her eyes from it, even as she consumed her dinner and dessert and a second martini. I thought about how if she had a book at hand it would be the most natural thing in the world to ask her what she was reading, or to say, I’ve read that, it was great, even if I had no idea what the book was. And yet for a long time, though our elbows were four inches apart, I felt compelled to observe the mores of Seattle social etiquette: the closer you are to a stranger, the less you say.
Finally I could not resist my curiosity, and I asked if she was reading the news. This compelled her to raise her eyes and to list off her news feed, which included all the mainstream media plus “Mumbai, for some reason. My favorite is the BBC, I trust them.” I asked her if she ever read the indie news sources like Truthout or Common Dreams and she pursed her lips and shook her head.”I would never read something like that.” Conversation over. A few minutes later she raised her head again and reported, “Arkansas Lieutenant Governor accused of misconduct,” and went back to chewing her fries with aioli.
As the daughter of a newspaper publisher and a political activist, I will be the first to acknowledge an abject obsession with news, the worse the better. Trying to reconcile the big world and the little world, to parse the truth and find some meaning in making art in the middle of the apocalyptic mediafeed is a constant daily activity around here, which if you follow this blog you have read about before (sorry!). As part of my New Years resolutions I had vowed to be more mindful of what it does to my brain to allow the news in unfiltered, and to have perhaps a little more choice (hah!). On Friday as I browsed my phone in chastened silence and waited for dinner I came across a link on Facebook to Brené Brown’s brilliant Ted Talk about Vulnerability. Which of course made me think immediately about the NSA and the comment from our President after the first set of leaks to the effect that “perhaps some way would be found to work on encryption to make data safe.” Which was followed shortly by a new set of leaks about how yes, in fact the NSA was developing backdoor ways to un-encrypt private data to make it safe for the NSA to read our private mail at its leisure.
In other words, we are now all vulnerable all the time. According to Brené “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” but I am not quite sure this is what she had in mind.
A few hops and skips led me to a truly outlier independent news source that mentioned casually that soon drones the size of fleas will be able to see into our homes and hear what we are saying. Sigh, there goes pillow talk. Pick the strangest science fiction you find, and soon we will be living in it. Really, I just want to go back to “normal.” I so wish we could shut the box of hysteria unleashed after 9.11 and confine eavesdropping to the secret lives of plants.
There is always a flower in Pandora’s box, and the key to smelling its scent is, yes, vulnerability. It is raining here in Seattle, and spring is soon to come. There are good things. And if anybody is listening in, that’s all you’re going to hear today. “There are good things, there are good things……..”