Saturday, September 25, 2010

Yeah, You Are A Smart Ass!

I was taken aback recently by the unintended furor created over a Facebook post in which an attempt was made to provoke some thought about the wisdom of conducting a particular event sponsored by one of our local churches. Some of the reaction to the post was far from thoughtful and was extreme enough to be potentially hurtful, if not for the fact that, as a writer, I’ve learned not to take criticism too personally--especially knee-jerk criticism. Sifting through the charred remains of the aftermath, an attempt was made to evaluate how a Facebook interchange could go so wrong.

Within a couple of days of the now infamous post, Tina Fey was interviewed by Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, principally to plug NBC’s premier that night of her hit comedy, “30 Rock.” During the interview, Ms. Fey was asked, as a fairly well-known celebrity, why she was not on Facebook or Twitter. Her response struck a chord and articulated a concept for me that I shared as well. She replied, “I do not Tweet. Writing is work, and I take it seriously, and I don't necessarily want to be dropping half-baked things into the universe all the time. And I don't have time, I have a kid, I have work, I don't have time to, like, type what kind of sandwich I had into the computer and send it into the universe." Like Tina, I too take writing very seriously and generally don’t plunk down something without thinking about it first. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), not everyone on Facebook is a writer. In fact, the nature of Facebook is such that careful thought rarely enters into the process. As Facebook doesn’t seem to be the proper forum for attempting to initiate thoughtful dialogue about anything, I have decided to leave this social networking venue to the masses in order to post about their sandwiches in peace, and contain my thought-provoking attempts, feeble as they may be, to the Pneuma Project blog.

As strong as my desire was to end the search of why a post could go so wrong by placing the blame at the foot of Facebook’s structural and cultural flaws, I discovered there was something more to the equation. During a recent drive, when my thoughts were swirling around this issue, a sort of personal epiphany occurred. I had a mental flashback to junior high and a memorable incident in Mrs. Redden’s science class. To set the scene, Mrs. Redden was an old biddy, the sort of mean and gruff old woman that one occasionally must endure through the typical 12-year course of public education (how she could’ve possibly found a man willing to make her a Mrs. was a question that continually perplexed us). She was the kind of person who would have enjoyed being asked to be a witness to an execution. This particular day the class was watching a film about weather. Sitting near the back, I decided to add some enlightening commentary to the subject, thinking I was being quiet enough to avoid the declining hearing of my ancient teacher, but just audible enough to be appreciated by my junior high neighbors with acute hearing. At the end of the movie, Mrs. Redden summoned me to the front of the class and said these words, “Mr White, I’ve been waiting for this day all semester.” She instructed me to bend over and grab my ankles and then proceeded to whack my behind three times with her yardstick. Unfortunately, rather than accepting my punishment in humility, I walked back to my chair with a prominent smirk on my face. However, I refrained from movie commentary afterward--at least in that class.

What I realized during my epiphanal moment was that I am a smart ass. Not an insufferable smart ass, like Eddie Haskell from “Leave it to Beaver” (sorry youngsters for the ancient cultural reference), but a smart ass nonetheless. The reason most people might not realize this fact is because I keep the majority of my comments to myself, laughing hysterically inwardly at my own perceived hilarity, while maintaining a totally innocent facade on the outside to the rest of the world. While the majority of us realize that if everyone else in the world could hear our thoughts that we’d all be in big trouble, I surmise I would be in more trouble than most. My self-realization was confirmed when I related my discovery to Robin one day and, after a brief moment of ponderance, she said, “You’re right, you are a smart ass!

So, back to the Facebook post, as I read over my words again I caught a hint of smart ass flavor that may have added an ember or two to the coals of anger being expressed by a few others. For this I apologize. I hope people who know me understand my critical questioning was only to provoke serious thought about an issue and not designed to be an attack on any particular institution or person. As a matter of record, I’ve had conversations with the two people who were most upset with the post and all is well. Going forward, I will make every attempt to keep the smart ass in check.

Northstar, California

PS Anyone who is remotely aware of this blog realizes I haven’t posted in quite some time (since April to be precise). Part of the reason why is because summer is usually such a busy time, when I’m out in the field quite a bit and writing takes a back seat to other activities. However, an equal part is my own insecurity, which is quite well developed. Just about everyone has a blog these days, many of whom actually shouldn’t be “sending it into the universe.” I don’t want to add more inanity to all that noise out there. In my more psychologically healthy moments, I allow for the possibility that my life is unique (as are all of our lives) and that I may, on infrequent occasions, actually have something to say that might be helpful to someone, or that someone else might actually enjoy reading. Donald Miller is one of my favorite contemporary writers, someone whom I really look up to as a master of his craft. My insecurity would never allow me to include myself in his universe. However, I’ve published at least twice as many books as he has. But his books are about important stuff, I say. Mine are just straightforward hiking guides. You see how this all works? So, I will try to fight off my insecurity and hope that my contributions to this blog are worthwhile. I’ll keep plunking away on my keyboard with the hope that at least someone besides my wife and dog find me the slightest bit interesting. 

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