And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
Light breaks where no sun shines
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides.
Winter SolsticeMy daughter Selene is nine and a half and she's in the fourth grade now. She is named after the Greek goddess of the moon. Tonight there is a big moon. The brightest in 100 years. The brightest for the next 100. News about this has been passing back and forth across the Internet for the past week. Don't miss it, the messages say. As if there were something special about this moon. As if these messages were looking for an answer: what it really means is...
I just went outside and looked. Yeah, very bright.
Before Selene was born, Lauren and I didn't know what to expect. Lauren is my wife. We didn't know she would have a girl. But I had a hunch it would be a girl, so I thought about girls' names. "Selene" was just there, somehow. Not sure where it came from. I thought more about middle names. Godot popped out of nowhere too. I thought Selene Godot sounded cool. I've never read any Beckett, actually, so I don't know why this appealed to me. Waiting for Godot? Some angst-ridden Irish literary genius's belated lamentation on the death of God. Maybe it was that the goddess added a hint of irony. Selene Godot. Like, "Yeah, who's asking?"
But Lauren's relatives were deeply shocked, even though they hadn't read Beckett either. "God dot?" they asked incredulously when they'd seen it spelled out. "Are you insane?" You have to understand that this was in Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers and everything America has chosen to forget about itself since the 1950s. Pittsburgh is full of plain hardworking folks. Good people. I nearly lost my mind living there for five years.
But maybe they had a point. It was too trippy. Nifty, but, well... could it be perhaps just a bit affected? OK, so how about Mirage? You can tell I wasn't going the Tiffani route. Nor the route I'd taken in 1970 when I named my first daughter Shanti. Shanti is about to have a child herself, which will make me a grandfather, of course. Of course, but not of course. It's still a surprise. And of course it's another story. Or is it? I'm no more sure what the story is at this point than you are.
So... Selene Mirage. I liked that a lot. I wondered what kind of person could carry that off, and I hoped she could handle it. She wasn't born yet, but I thought she could. As it turns out, I was right. But just then Mitsubishi came out with a car called the Mirage. Oh shit. Lauren and I talked about it. Maybe the car would bomb. Like the Edsel. Maybe nobody would ever remember it two years later. Yeah, but what if it turned out to be like the Honda Civic or something? Selene Edsel? Selene Camry? No way. We named her Selene Marya, and various relatives were assuaged by this. Tradition was served, if not bowed to. We compromised.
But it made little difference in the end, as she decided to call herself Self. One day I was changing her diaper Lauren says it was one of maybe three times this ever happened and I was praising something she'd just done. "Wow," I said, "you did that all by yourself!" Her eyes got big. She stopped squirming around and looked straight at me. At this juncture, she wasn't quite yet doing what you'd call connected speech, but she was pretty good at making intentional noises. "Self," she said, clear as a bell. "Self," she repeated, pointing to herself. Bingo. I was there for that one.
And she's still Self. Though these days she sometimes calls herself Mirage online.
At school, Self is always Selene. If I ask her why she is always Selene at school, she tells me to fuck off. I don't mean to revert to my nasty habits here. After all, I am writing about a child. But I mean this literally. She says: "Fuck off, Chris!" And my heart leaps. She's at that awkward age when it's difficult for a girl to express genuine affection towards her father. But when she tells me to fuck off, I know she still loves me.
At school, she never tells her teachers to fuck off, though she did send email to the principal once, posing as a teacher, and said she hated him. I don't think she really hates the guy. Or at least she didn't until she got busted and he revoked her computer lab privileges for the balance of last year. This is sort of a private joke, as when she comes home, she's got more computing power in her personal kit than the entire school district. I keep telling her to get a hushmail account. "Look, it's free, it's anonymous, and it's offshore you can get 128-bit encryption..."
"Fuck off!" she says and goes back to bidding on these incredibly expensive Japanese Pokemon cards on Yahoo or eBay or Amazon. Last one set me back 52 bucks.
I talked with Lauren today about Selene's school. Lauren works there half time and evidently they've been putting all these programs into place for "conflict resolution." Last year it was "I messages" as in, "If you and Billy are having difficulties, be sure to use your 'I messages.'" It seems that an "I message" takes the form: "When you kick me in the shin, I feel pain." Or: "I feel confused when you call me a big fat dog turd." Personally, when I hear this kind of low-grade pop psychology being perpetrated on children, I reach for my revolver.
But in fact, it took me awhile to figure out what "I messages" were all about. I was half-hearing Lauren and Self talking about them in the background while I was thinking about more important things. Like EGR. I heard it as "eye messages" and I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, what are they teaching these kids? I thought they were some kind of weird signals you were supposed to send with your eyes. Pleading looks of unbearable anguish? Withering glances conveying abject revulsion? What? It sounded alien, unnatural. And now that I know what it means, it sounds even more so.
Meanwhile, I was at work on The Cluetrain Manifesto, writing things like......this whole gamut of conversation, from infinite jest to point-specific expertise: who needs it?The copy editor flagged the last phrase. "Guns? Is this metaphorical?" Or something along those lines. No it's not metaphorical. I live in Colorado, remember? Columbine? Real guns, real bullets. Real death.
Companies need it. Without it they can't innovate, build consensus or go to market. Markets need it. Without it they don't know what works and what doesn't; don't know why they should give a damn. Cultures need it. Without play and knowledge in equal measure, they begin to die. People get gloomy, anxious and depressed. Eventually, the guns come out.
"Conflict resolution sucks!" I said to Lauren. It started out as a passing comment but within a few minutes, I was fuming. Working myself up to it, into it. "They're starting to panic. They're embarrassed that it's leaking out around the edges. It's bad PR. Conflict resolution my ass!"
Lauren doesn't generally like it much when I get this way, but she wanted to know why I felt so strongly. "What's the big deal?" she said. "The school is trying to help kids find non-violent ways to work out their problems. It's better than kicking the crap out of each other, isn't it?"
"And let me guess," I said, "I bet this has something to do with kids 'getting in touch with their feelings.'"
"Yeah, it does," Lauren said. "And... so what?"
"Don't you see it? They're inviting kids into the lie. The big lie. The ultimate conspiracy. This is where it starts."
"What are you talking about? These are good teachers. They care. They want to help kids figure out how to get along better, express their anger, find other outlets for it..."
"No," I said. "Anger is bad," I said. "The kids already know that. They've already learned how value judgments are formed about everything. How everything is ranked and stratified. If they're good, that's good. They get a gold star, or a pizza party, or maybe a smile if they're fucking lucky. And if they're bad..."
"They don't say anything the kids do is bad," Lauren said, cutting me off for once. "They say it's inappropriate."
"Bullshit!" I shot back. "What a crock. And you think the kids are too dim to get it? They're getting a linguistic fast one pulled on them, a euphemistic substitution, and you think they're missing that? Come on! The institution is lying to them, then saying they should listen to their 'feelings.' How about if the kids said -- using their 'I messages' of course -- 'I feel that you are lying to me, you worthless sack of shit!' Would that be inappropriate?"
"Well, if they said 'shit,' yes, that would not be looked upon favorably..." We both had a chuckle. Self was listening in on all this and we could tell she was trying on the "sack of shit" trope for size. We both knew we'd be hearing it soon. Such an intelligent child, though she hates me calling her that. "Fuck off, you worthless sack of shit," she'll say when she reads this. It makes a Dad proud.
Somewhere in there, I paraphrased the Tao Te Ching. When the idea of good is introduced into the world, there arises at the same moment the idea of evil. Kids are taught from birth to make such distinctions. Our language does it, however honeyed. "Now sweetie, when you pee on the couch, it doesn't make Mommy and Daddy very happy, does it?" Translation: do it again and no more love for you, you little hoser!
Later, you go to school. Why? No one bothers to explain. Here, sit at this desk. Sit here all day with your hands folded and your mouth shut. Do you like that? Good! That's good. If you move, if you fidget, that's bad. No, let's rephrase that. It's inappropriate. And how are we feeling now, class? Pretty good, right? We feel good about ourselves. We're good little boys and girls. We have "self esteem"! We like our little straight jackets, don't we? We feel like we belong. We love our school!
We learn to love the lie we must tell ourselves to survive.
And later still, if we're good, there'll be a nice job waiting. In a nice big company. We will go to work and do good work at our jobs, won't we, team? Not bad work. No. We'll feel good about our work. We'll fit right in. We'll be part of our company, good wives and husbands, responsible members of society, patriots. And we'll kill anyone who bursts our feel-good bubble. Or more likely: die trying.
Because inside, we don't feel so good. We learned to "express our feelings" the only way we were allowed: by denying how we really felt. By ignoring what we knew. By turning off our own intelligence. We know in our hearts that this sucks, that we got ambushed somewhere along the line, got kidnapped somehow when we were little kids. And it makes us angry. So angry we can't look at the anger. It's too big. Too scary. Too uncontrollable.
And one day, on the schoolyard, in the bar, at work, someone says just the wrong words and bam! we go postal. In a split second, freeze-frame by freeze-frame, we see ourselves doing the really bad thing, acting inappropriately, losing the critical ability to stuff our rage... and we are so ashamed. The shame is so deep it's like gasoline poured on a forest fire, feeding fury and frustration. It's too late. We are lost. We explode. We go down in flames. In disgrace.
And some take out as many as they can on the way down. As at Columbine high school. As at some random United States Post Office, or some brokerage firm when the numbers tick down too sharply. As in Viet Nam, where sometimes, well, you know, things got a bit out of hand.
I say let the kids kick the crap out of each other. Sure it's just displacement activity. Sure it's inappropriate. What would be appropriate would be for them to kick the crap out of the teachers and principals and district superintendents and school boards and Secretaries of Education that are crushing their spirits, destroying their lives. And that's just for starters.
When Self got called on the carpet for emailing "I hate you" to her principal, I didn't say, "My God, young lady, what could you possibly have been thinking?!" I thought it was pretty clear. Instead, I did what any sensible parent would do, and offered her a more positive role model. Now the whole family listens to Pink Floyd together.
We don't need no education... We don't need no thought control...
Before there were years, I wonder when people started to notice it was getting darker. Were they human even? You don't usually think of years as having been invented, but they were. By people. Much later than we're talking about here. Then, the days were only dwindling, getting shorter. No time to hunt. No time to gather. No time for much, except to notice it was getting dark, and colder.
There was a pattern here. Each day was less day than the day before it. The people knew colors, tastes and smells. They felt the wind. They saw constellations in the shapes of animals. They had no idea like our idea of time (and whatever you've heard, it's still an idea). But they noticed a pattern. How long did it take before someone did the math? If the sequence held, soon there would be no light at all. And the further north you travelled, the more this was true. Until, if you hunted far, very far, there was only darkness.
Perhaps some returned to tell about it, the land of endless night, with only sometimes an icy moon to see by. And maybe once, a burning ship, some local chieftain's funeral barge heading out from the coast forever. Like a dream. Like a life where the edges of death are uncertain. Where the land ends. Where the sea begins. When the moon disappeared and the storms rolled in, how black was that blackness? What was it like to huddle alone in a skin tent on the edge of the edge of the world and wonder?
We lived through this. Many times. Many years. And for long years we wondered if this year would be the last. A "year" in fact became the period of our recurrent meditation. And it was marked and pinioned at the four furthest quarters of the light: morning, noon, evening, straight-up midnight. The last not the least. The darkest the deepest. The hour of greatest danger we hang all our hopes on in silent dumbstruck vigil, praying as we've never prayed, before or since, for dawn.
Too much. Too many masks. Too many eyes. Too many voices. Too many lies. Too much neurosis, politics, religion. Too many saviors. Too many cooks. Too many formulas. Too many truths. Too many cigarettes. Too much coffee. Too many lovers. Too many cures. Too many births. Too many deaths. Too many dreams. Too many broken hearts. Too many hopes. Too many fears. Too many channels. Too many offers we just can't resist. Too many signals. Too much noise. Too many words. Too much endless everlasting silence.
A sign in the heavens, then, a simple semaphore. A character written in meteoric fire against the cold black deeps of space. Slouching toward Bethlehem tonight, toward the shores of Earth, something strange and something wonderful. Clawing at the stars, awake at last, eyes flashing, something unimagined.
of your goddam glory!
Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time
DisclaimerNothing to disclaim at this time.
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