It’s been a rollercoaster around here and I’ve kept my game face on, but there are things that need saying. Things about what matters, and why, and how keeping a Pollyanna attitude is no more naïve and no less radical than a scowl.
I don’t presume to take goodness at face value, and no, I don’t believe that all we need is love, or that tragedy and injustice aren’t happening every minute in every town the world. I get that. I do. But I also believe in the power of slicing through that grim nightmare with a sharp and unflinching force of forgiveness, kindness, and grace.
I believe in putting all that noise on MUTE and working tirelessly to build haven after haven from the rain.
I believe in disrupting expectations by giving someone a second chance.
I believe in putting white-knuckle fists to the steering wheel and getting the hell out of dodge — even just for a night — when anything is stuck, or broken, or stagnant. And I believe in ending up the next morning with your feet hanging off a cliff, staring at the ocean, the grand canyon, a cityscape, a mountain range, a cornfield, a playground, or even an empty Walmart parking lot if you have to — just as long as the sun is rising and you’re paying attention and you feel free. I believe in bringing that feeling home with you and pouring it into your work, your home, your loves, and your willingness to fight for another person’s moment of relief.
And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I still believe in the Internet. Like I did in 1999, when my secret and hand-coded log/journal/diary thing that didn’t have a genre name yet was an oasis for people digging through Alta Vista and HotBot late at night for someone who was being honest and telling a story. It didn’t matter what story was being told as long as it sounded like secrets being whispered in the dark. Because that was the sound of not being alone.
I still believe in the Internet like I did before everything was archived and cross-referenced in the Wayback Machine and Google’s public caches. Like I did when still I believed in anonymity.
And some days it’s harder to stay focused on what matters, but I do still believe in the Internet like I did before SEO was a competitive sport. Before businesses started dropping vowels in order to score a good domain name. Before plastic and aluminum grade disposable ads, widgets, and apps littered every square inch of the Internet’s surface like empty Coke bottles after a high school football game.
I believe that sincerity and excitement are critical ingredients for anything to matter, and that that is why the Internet is winning. I believe that everyone who tries to fake those ingredients will either fail or have a house dropped on their heads during a tornado as punishment for their lies and their laziness. But I also believe it’s now commonplace for people to see Internet marketing as a set of cold strategic formulas void of genuine connection, and that this is morally wrong.
It’s not the large companies and marketing agencies that bother me (this has been part of their game forever). It’s the individuals — the folks who are just trying to carve a reasonable space for themselves in the Digital Land of Opportunity — who’ve been taught that analyzing social media profiles and then contacting large groups of strangers with canned and solely self-promotional messages counts as “making connections.” That it’s not spam. That this is how they’re supposed to do it. That this is what it means to contribute to a community. That’s the part that breaks my heart.
And yet, on the same Internet, regular people collaborate with strangers to build free software that makes our lives better. Building a decent website without technical skills is possible. Designers hand out attractive site designs for free, just to make the Internet a more beautiful place. Photographers give strangers permission to use their photos. Musicians offer their tunes up freely for remixing into podcasts and other creative projects. Artists can raise funds for new projects by getting friends excited about them. Anyone can start a community discussion space. Committed members are happy to volunteer.
While I sometimes miss the days when the Internet didn’t feel like a sensory and information overload bomb, I don’t think I’d go back to them. Our tools, creativity, and commitment to each other have come so far. We’re real people now; not anonymous screen-names looking for fantasy cybersex on AOL chatrooms. Our online and offline lives are so tightly woven together that we get to grapple with one another on questions like “How and when should I keep my social circles compartmentalized?”. My mom is on Facebook, and my she has the power to hide my feed because I talk too much. AND we’ve all stopped using <blink> tags. That’s progress.
Last week, the feature for Queer Open Mic (an event I co-organize) opened with a poem that stunned and rocked me back into place. It started with…
She said to me that most trailblazers
may never see the trail.
May never see the path they cut into the earth,
or the feet that come behind them.
Most days, she said, the act of walking
without a set route probably won’t feel like revolution.
There are too many goddamned branches in your face,
Too much to hack through, dulling the machete
and making your muscles scream for the kind of comfort
your mind can’t hope to welcome.
And it ended with…
She told me it was all impossible, and still
she said, “Go.”
She said, “Leave, and scare the shit out of yourself.
You’ll be glad you did.”
— excerpt from She said, “Go” by Tatyana Brown
We’re pushing paths into this Internet together. I believe the tools and opportunities we want to see are worth fighting for — that these branches are absolutely worth hacking through — but only with our feet firmly planted in the what we care about and love.