Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing..."

The Bad Catholic writes:
Thought Experiment: Two people are watching a beautiful sunset. The first person watches. The second person pulls out his iPhone, snaps a shot, tweets it with a caption ‘watching a beautiful sunset’ then gets back to watching the sunset. Who is watching the sunset?

The second has certainly conquered the moment. It has been captured, sent, and subjugated to description. But I hold that the greatest moments should conquer us. All moments should conquer us. That’s what it means to be open to God; to be open to having our wills entirely conquered. To live in the present moment is to live with the willingness to be swept away. Is to name moments – to update your status with them – to lose them? Maybe. Sometimes.

I don't "Tweet," and I use Facebook for work and to keep in touch with friends, (not, by the way, "friends". Something I really don't get about Facebook is this weird habit of just collecting masses of people on your list whom you don't know. Maybe I have totally misunderstood the purpose of Facebook, but I get loads of "friend" requests from people I've never heard of. I always refuse them, but it's weird and slightly creepy.) When I post status updates, it's mostly to keep people I know either personally or through work updated on my cancer issue. I use it to make jokes that only my friend will get and to upload photos because Mac has an automatic thing that makes it much easier. I have moved around the world a lot in life and have really liked having Facebook to help me not entirely lose the people who stayed behind. But I see people with lists of 4000 "friends" and it's weird. What's the point? Those 4000 people aren't going to get your jokes.

But I do blog, and have been doing it now for seven years. I mainly do it for the same reason a person with a tick twitches, because I can't stop. I also treat my blog like my living room and, though I realise that it can be read by anyone with an internet connection, I normally treat it like a tea party at my house. I more or less subconsciously expect that only about ten people read me and they are all people I know either in the flesh, people who just happen to live 6000 miles away, or people who I've got to "know" through the internet, like Evil Steve and Dale Price.

I blog for them. People I know, or at least "know". I don't write for the faceless masses, for 4000 "friends" or "followers," but for Ann, Tracy, Edward, Fr. Tom, Fr. Paul, Sally, Vicky, Chris, Gregory, Deb, Giancarlo, Dale, Dorothy, Evil Steve, Other Steve, Other Other Steve, Ian, Karen, Scott, Billy, Paul, John, Six-Bells John, Other John, John Henry, Kathleen, Louise, Sean and Tom.

I've occasionally struggled with the idea that blogging is a thing that contributes to the Great Retreat from the world, my own and that of my readers. Am I helping or hindering? I think in the years I have been doing it, I've worked out how to do it in a way that doesn't contribute to the problem. I hope so anyway.

When I blog, I try to blog about The Real. Things that are actually happening that I have experienced or that I know are really going on. And I am writing to people I know and like. (It isn't hard, by the way, to get on that list, but the reason I insist on real or at least plausible sounding names, is that in writing about The Real to real people, I think I have a right to insist that the people writing back declare themselves to be a part of that, and fearlessly.)

Bad Catholic's comments about Facebook and Twitter and all that social networking and media stuff are really about our cultural loss of The Real. There is this thing in Catholic spirituality, that you can find in Buddhist and other kinds of beliefs: being in the present moment. Be where you really are, right now. Only the Real counts.

BC again:
That’s not at all to say things shouldn’t be shared, but we share them like words on a tombstone, brief summations of the life of the thing – that really amount to its death. Why? Because as soon as we move from the event to the status update, when we give the event a small conglomerate of signs and symbols that by their nature as words cannot fully describe – hence, “you had to be there” – we make our events small, and then we are done with them.

This is probably why we are so irritated with tourists who take pictures of everything in sight. We instinctively know there is something wrong with it. I stopped taking pictures several times in Florence because I realised I was trying harder to save Florence for later than I was trying to actually be there at the time.

It is only in the here and now that life can actually be lived. When you are thinking about doing an act of charity or committing a sin, you aren't actually doing it. The act itself is the meritorious or culpable thing, not the contemplation of it. Humans in the West have been retreating from The Real for a long time. The reason Twitting is so popular is that it offers us a new way of doing what we have been doing for decades, pulling back and becoming observers rather than participants.



Mrs McLean said...

How nice to be on the list! I enjoy your blog because I like to read all your news and see what you're working on and, of course, to think with you about The Real.

Thank you, by the way, for demystifying drawing and painting. It gives me hope.

I cannot think about The Real without thinking about Lonergan, which I know will make you scowl with Lonergan-loathing, but there it is. Lonergan writes about "bias" and "the flight from understanding", which really is not much more than people refusing to see what really IS but to distract themselves from it by any means necessary.


Gary Johannes said...

Blake knew: "He who binds to himself a joy/Doth the winged life destroy;/But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in Eternity's sunrise."

BillyHW said...


You break my heart, Hilary.

Anonymous said...

Don't cry, Billy. I might be "Other John" but I'm not sure.


Andrew Cusack said...

Should I feel privileged not to be on the list? I wonder!

hjw said...

Oh, I knew everyone I missed was going to start complaining!

Fr. T. said...

I'm a huge fan of the 'third eye', that eye in the middle of the brain that, no matter what is going on, no matter how intense it is, keeps on observing---if just to have some absurdity to report later on.

Fr. T. said...

Third eye e.g.: I'm in Haiti, it's hot, and we are burying the body of child because ... I look down at my feet and see some kind of clothes, an orange dress. Hmmm---I look at little closer and I realize I'm an standing on the grave's previous' occupant, who has been thrust out to make room for the new. A skull stares back at me. In that moment before the horror engulfs me a little light goes on---I must come back to a take a picture of this.

Anonymous said...

I'm not into the cranky trad critique of the internet. People have found new ways to be rude and annoying with it, sure, but being rude and annoying is not new. It would be better if people were expressing themselves with better forms, but it's worse to not express yourself at all. These are the folk art forms that are available to us. I think the criticism of youtubing and twittering and facebooking mostly come from people who are perfectly capable of ignoring that stuff and keeping their attention on high art, like you do, Miss White, but that would require effort and they're lazy.

I also do not believe in the assertion that the internet ruins people's concentration. Not concentrating is what ruins your concentration.

People need to discipline themselves and exercise their will, same as always. I take my iphone, my knitting, and a paperback Henry James to the park. The iphone is not the cause of my facebooking instead of reading. Sure, it's the medium; but it's also the medium of looking up references without having to go home and if the 18mo chews up too many pages of my paper copy I can read the entire text on my little device. - Karen

Anonymous said...

Assuming I'm the "Louise" on your list, I just have to say that I'm really touched that you write for me. I mean, really really touched. I just think you should know. And even if it's another Louise, I'm still really touched, b/c it's a lovely thing to do - to write about the Real, for real people.

I must say, that I do often wish I had more photos, b/c I'm normally too busy living the moments to take them. Sometimes, for the kids' birthday parties, I will assign one of my older children, or my Mum to be the official photographer.

Florence would be hard not to photograph!!!!

Also, I really love your beautiful drawings. Yes, I'm sure you have a way to go to perfect your technique etc, but it's a great privelege to see your work and to see what can be learnt even in our middle age - things that are Real and beautiful and worth all the effort.

Beauty saves!

You are beautiful, Hilary - let your light keep shining!

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Yep, you're that Louise. And I have always enjoyed your posts and look forward to them. I also quite admired your blog, and still think that your alternate history "What if Henry VIII hadn't been a twit" was one of the funniest and best things I've read on the net.

Anonymous said...

Gee - that is a much appreciated boost! Thanks! I confess, I laughed my head off when I wrote that thing. It was probably the best thing I'll ever write.

Still really enjoying your art posts.

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