With William Blake, I believe we become what we behold. We emit what we admit. And the voices we use—or think we use—kindasorta become our voice. Kurt Vonnegut says we are what we pretend to be and advises us, then, to be very careful what we pretend to be. I say all this to say that I suspect we become what we do with our tools (or technology). And I say that to say that everyone reading this might do well to avoid the technology called Twitter like the plague.
At least for now, I do not avoid Twitter like the plague. I am often “on” it. When I forgot my password and couldn’t access my account for a couple of days last year, I was powerfully bummed out. Once those difficult days were passed, I told my son, Sam, about it and he laughed in my face. “You couldn’t argue with anyone!” he exclaimed. He was right. I relish the ease of getting into it with people with the aid of a screen and the push of a button and, alas, there was no escape. I had nothing to do but to deal with who and whatever was in front of me instead. It was a little agonizing.
Sometimes content I’ve posted or “retweeted” on Twitter appears on the platform in such a way that it provides folks the opportunity to put a question, a challenge, or a prompt before me that offers me an occasion to say something new. Sometimes those new said somethings take the form of a “thread” that pleases me enough to conclude that I should attempt some paragraphs.
I have an example which begins with a gift vouchsafed unto me this morning by Nate Nyeholt:
If you were to poke around on Twitter long enough with knowledge of how its search engine works, you could find my threaded reply. Threads can do the job of getting words set down, but I truly prefer paragraphs. There are indeed tensions in the question and the testimony offered in the two tweets Nate Nyeholt noticed. I believe I might have advice for managing these tensions. Here goes.
Less than a week ago (around the time Bill Lee took pictures of himself defying Nashville's mask mandate on Lower Broad), I was shopping at Kroger when I heard shouting and then witnessed a white man dressed in camouflage threaten to kill someone who'd asked him to put on a mask. He followed the death threat with this: "It's been a hell of a year!" That observation, obviously, didn’t excuse or change the fact that he’d threatened to kill someone in public, but it offered something of an impromptu narration, I imagine, of how he might have wished bystanders would interpret his actions. It seemed to be a play for sympathy.
That part at the end came to mind again when the "Bad day" line was uttered on behalf of the Atlanta shooter. Both evoke, for me, Jesus' teachings concerning Gehenna in the Sermon on the Mount. "Gehenna" is sometimes translated as hell. I lately think it can be read as a description of a psychic state common to human being that is both figurative and, when made manifest through action, literal. In this sense, I think “Gehenna” can be helpfully rendered Dumpster Fire, a popular colloquialism with which we can name all manner of dysfunction made plain in word, action, image, and output.
When someone like Bill Lee refuses to respect someone else’s boundaries and broadcasts the fact as a kind of winning flex or Senator Marsha Blackburn tweets about "China" in regard to our virus within hours of the Atlanta terror attack on Asian American women or the camouflaged man at Kroger threatens to kill someone, I spy a Dumpster Fire.
Jesus' teaching concerning gouging out eyeballs, cutting off hands, & drowning oneself instead of violating a child is, I think, about managing your own Dumpster Fire instead of terrorizing someone else with it. We are each liable, at times, to project our own chaos on others as a way of asserting a sense of control. What we do with our struggle is what we will have done with our lives. But the greater jihad, we are instructed, is the inner jihad. That’s where the true work gets done.
Preventative self-harm, Jesus grimly notes, is preferable to initiating a new cycle of trauma if you're unwilling to seek the help you need to not hurt other people. Consider the acronym THUG LIFE (“The hate you give little infants f***s everybody”) placed before us by Tupac Shakur. The hate, the Dumpster Fire, within has to be worked out nonviolently. Were I to tell a friend or a family member that, in view of their public or private commitment to white supremacist terror, I'm not comfortable leaving my child alone with them unsupervised, I do risk triggering them. But what’s the alternative?
Taking on that risk is, I think, a form of loving candor. It’s the same loving candor I trust and hope my children will exercise with me when I prove to be in the grip of militant ignorance, my Dumpster Fire, which I cannot see without the assistance of others. The risk is infinitely preferable to pretending that I can't see, smell, & sense the Dumpster Fire friends, family, strangers with and without guns, and my elected officials have succumbed to when they speak and act in such a way that I know they're, at least for now, unhinged and unsafe. We owe it to each other to say what we see. To love a person is to love a process. *points at self*
Hold the door open. Mind the Dumpster Fire within and without. Stay safe, everyone.