08 September 2007

Op-Ed Rant: On-and Off-Line Friendship and Community

OK, people. Best way to start this is to begin at the beginning, which for me, means this morning, when I found that one of my top eight MySpace friends, a certain Mille Omnisciente, had disappeared, not only from my top Eight, but from my Friends list altogether.

Checked and re-checked, even went to some other friends' profiles, and posted a quick entry in my MySpace blog("Odds My Bodkins"), but not a trace of her was to be found.

Yes, even did a MySpace search for her, and, zip, zero, zilch, except for two mentions on two separate profiles.

Every comment she ever left there and on my profile-gone, as if they had never existed to start.

This isn't the first MySpace friend I've had disappear on me like this; two others, Jason Quiggle and Linda vanished, or actually, had their profiles deleted within the past two months there. How and why I don't know, but, gone they are, period. Just like that.

With M.O's disappearance, though, this has really struck me hard, because she was an friend and acquaintance with the old Cafe Roma poetry set days, and because I generally found her poetry, her views and she herself to be enchanting. It's also because of the sudden and almost total disappearance of her from MySpace, with no message of good-bye or anything else. Just Voof!!!! Gone, and not even in a puff of smoke.

But, I also know that, in many respects, we weren't close at all on MySpace or off-line either. I wasn't on her preferred friends list, and we certainly never met nor hung out together off-line, either.

Why???? Well, am guessing here, but I would say that the facts that she was married, with an eight-year-old son, and a busy career as a para-legal at a law office specialising in disability advocacy issues, plus the fact that we weren't, with the exception of a very, very brief period of time back in late '91, early '92, all that terribly close to begin with.

We were never, as far as I can remember, at odds, but we, like so many members of that set, drifted apart over time, because we had separate interests, lives and life paths to follow.

I may not have liked it, and I can miss that sense of community, but it happens, and there were plenty of times back when it was in operation, where I felt alienated from it, for various reasons. That also happens.

That's why it was so good to meet up with her, and a fair number of other old Cafe Roma and Copioh friends and acquaintances here on MySpace again over the past nearly four years I've been on here, and, to tell you the truth, she definitely inspired the burst I've had in the past two months in the amount and variety of blogs I've done there and here.

That said, was thinking about this earlier this afternoon, and realised that, whether she's here or not, I have to continue blogging and the like for ME-no one else. Sounds self-indulgent, and perhaps it is. But, part of being an adult is realising that self-expression, in its various forms, ultimately has to be by, for and about what a given person thinks and feels is important to them. If other people "get it", and like it, and it even leads to some sort of career, great.

If they don't, well, it can hurt and disappoint, but, in the end, other people's approbation or denigration also matters so much, particularly if one isn't engaged in a money-making enterprise, as this one most certainly isn't.

Opinions are indeed like arseholes, in that everyone has them. Some people's opinions , family's close friends, even acquaintances and strangers for whom one may have a high regard or respect, may matter more than others, but, in the end, while a derogatory opinion or being ignored by someone whose opinion one values highly can and does hurt and disappoint badly, their opinions are just that, opinions, not knife blades nor bullets, and if one can survive those, one can survive bad opinions or being ignored.

I will miss Mille Omnisciente's presence on MySpace, just as I do Jason Quiggle's and Linda's, and, if there are any mutual friends of ours out there, who would care to pass the following e-mail address and blog URL along, I'd appreciate it; they are, respectively, bakuninmeow@hotmail.com and http://afistfulofteeth.blogspot.com/.

If you can, great. But, to be honest, even though there's a part of me that would like to, I shan't be holding my breath in anticipation of hearing from them anytime soon.

Why??? Because, they have their own lives and connections to live and follow, and, when all's said and done, whatever past or present connections we've had, I am just an on-line acquaintance. Whatever blow that realisation makes to my ego, that is a fact.

I can get quite lonely here in my little cave with my cats at times, and there are times that I can and do wish for something more, and I certainly hope for it. At the same time, as the past few years have gone along, I find that less and less, I care to venture from my neighbourhood.

Say what you like about it, but this is so. And yes, I do go through cycles like these, have often done so in the past, and will probably do so again in the future. That is the way I function, or malfunction, if you prefer.

There will be times when I can get out of the house on a quite regular basis and go out and see and hear all manner of sights and sounds, and then there are others where I don't care to, not at all.

To be honest, money does play a significant role in this, in that, not having a car, I have to calculate how much I'm going to spend on bus fare, plus getting something to drink or eat while I'm out, cigarette costs are another factor, and Goodness Knows what else as well.

Also, there is the amount of time to be spent walking to the bus stop, waiting for the bus, then being in transit from the bus stop to the stop nearest my eventual destination, and so on, and it does add up, Folks.

Now, mind you, this just ain't my situation, and there are folks who are tonnes worse off than I am. But, I hope you can see my point here.

The cause, person or event had better be important enough for me to want to go and support, see or hear for me to take the time, money and trouble to go out and do just that.

Otherwise, why bother????

When I was younger, it was both geographically and financially easier for me to go to the Cafes Roma and Copioh, because I lived in the University District, or, when I lived down-town, could catch the various buses to that area far more easily than I can to-day, and, since I generally tended to stick to either the house blends of coffee or just plain Coke, I could make my drinks last much longer over the course of an evening than I would have been able to in a bar, or a more expensive cafe-style setting.

Even down-town, I could generally walk home from a First Friday, drunk as a lord, under my own steam. Have done so, since moving out to Vegas' North-East, but it's not something I want to make a habit of, anymore than I can help.

Also, the fact that I've been in drunken punch-ups on various occasions at First Fridays has rather put me off of generally going to them, though I should say that the last First Friday I attended, back in March of this year, went very well indeed. One, I came after the events were over, and two, I stuck to a Coca-Cola diet the entire night and morning I was at the Art Bar.

But, for the most part, I now tend to stay away from a lot of the arts and cultural gatherings here in town. Mind you, even when I go, a lot of the time, it is in the hope of seeing familiar faces that I've not seen in a while and catching up with them about how they've been doing, rather than seeing the latest and greatest local, national and international art works.

Shallow??? Perhaps. But, that is why I go, when I do go to such events. Of course, I also enjoy meeting new folks as well, and, perhaps, if we click enough, maybe some sort of artistic or other form of collaboration or friendship might work out.

But, it generally doesn't, and as much as it might disappoint me, that is the way it's generally worked out for me in my life.

It's also one of the reasons, plus my experiences from my involvements with Las Vegas and Reno area arts and left political groups, like the late Las Vegas Indy Media project, why I tend to be often very sceptical about the whole idealised notion of "community" that some folks on the Left and Right have.

God knows, for a very long time in my life, I wanted, and can still want, this idealised community, in which everyone's on the same page, believes the same things, lives in the same manner, and so on.

But, as I grow older and more conservative, or at least more sceptical, I find that some of the notions of community I've seen in some environmentalist Left articles I've viewed over the Spring and Summer of this year, particularly those that posit what the world might be like in the absence of oil, don't particularly appeal to me any more than the kind of "rugged individualist" pro-capitalist rhetoric I've grown up seeing and hearing.

In the end, it all sounds like a jolly place for would-be Little Hitlers, only dressed in tye-dye shirts and other "alternative" clothing, just as libertarian capitalist Utopias, or racist ones, or even the kind of bollocksed-up society we currently have, are, or would be, paradises for Little Hitlers on the make, whether in expensive or cheap suits, working-class clothes, or Nazi-Skin garb or Brown Shirts, just like Mother used to make.

Just about all of these would-be Utopias, whether Left, Centrist, Right, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever else, tend to overlook a basic fact of human nature, and that is that people are often self-centred, silly, irrationally contrary and complicated beasties, just as they often are kind, generous, decent and caring ones.

These aspects are all parts of what it is to BE human, and the idea that everyone in the whole world can be made to look, dress, think and live alike, like so many car parts or I-Pods, is extremely silly and doomed to failure in the long run.

There are aspects of living on which most people can agree, albeit from very different world-views and with qualifications, and, on issues like ensuring that our atmosphere, air, water, land and other aspects of our environment don't become so fucked up that it becomes impossible for our species, or any others, to live here, I think there can be at least some agreement on the basic issues and courses of action to take.

But, that doesn't mean that there ever can be COMPLETE unnaminity of premises and practises on everyone's parts, on this, or any other issue, and that's fine by me.

Just so long as there's enough of a common consensus on the parts of the vast majority of people living on the planet that our atmosphere, air, water, land, etc, aren't so badly polluted, all in the name of making money, national development, socialist construction, whatever, that it becomes impossible for people to make a simple, sustainable and satisfactory living for themselves and their loved ones.

It means having conditions of living where people don't feel, or are, degraded or alienated, from who and what they are, and what they make or provide, just to put bread, rice, chapatli, or other foods on the table at day's end, and that means taking into account the fact that one can't eat scenery, no matter how lovely it is.

Hunting and gathering, agriculture, and animal husbandry are all, or at least can be, hard, tough, uncertain ways to make a living. So, it shouldn't come as any surprise that many people in small towns and villages will often jump at the chance when some oil company rep, mining company exec, what have you, comes in, flashing dollars, yen, rupiah, what have you, in front of their faces, telling them, "You can have better schools, roads, more money in your pockets, etc, if only you'll sign here on the dotted line."

Hell, if you're not making very much or anything that will keep you and yours going, I can see where some folks in situations like those will jump at the chance to get enough scratch to get going, and get gone, if that's what they want.

That doesn't mean I agree with them, as I think they're selling themselves, theirs and their birth-rights out, for a mess of God-Damned pottage. But, I'm an American and Nevadan city-boy, as are most Nevadans, by the way, and only barely understand the realities of rural and small-town life from a great remove.

But, then again, most environmentalists, whether conservative, moderate or radical in orientation, are city and suburban-bred folks, and, unless they either come from a rural background, have family who does, or have lived and worked with rural and small town folks in various parts of the world at one point or another in their lives, and I don't think that their understanding of the living and working conditions in rural and small town areas is all that great, either.

Yes, yes, you can read all you like about eco-systems, how people in various parts of the world interact with them and each other, political economy, social economy, and other aspects of how humans, animals, plants, and other portions of the world's eco-systems.

But, without some sort of field experience, that knowledge is incomplete, just as field experience without some sort of intellectual context, like reading, talking with others and researching the various aspects and issues involved, is incomplete, because, while the experience is there, if not further developed, it can be a very provincial, particularistic, kind of experience that doesn't take larger issues into account, nor wants to.

It means, as much as one possibly can, trying to find a balance between the two types of experience, and then translating one's understanding of them into the sort of actions that will benefit the eco-systems and the people living in them in the best, fairest possible manner.

There are groups and individuals out there who are doing that, or are at least trying to, some more successfully than others, I'm sure, though I don't know, because I don't keep up with every aspect of the environmental movement world-wide.

Some of these groups' premises I might probably agree with, and others not. That's par for the course, just as it is for economic and social justice issues, political issues, etc.

I'm not going to agree with everyone out there, and they're not with me, and that's fine.

As long as we're not trying to intimidate, bully, prevent each other from making an honest living for ourselves and our loved ones, hurt or kill each other, that's fine.

It really does take all kinds to make a world, even if we don't like what they have to say, or the manner in which they say it.

But, the minute that one balls up a fist, picks up a rock, knife, gun, or some other weapon in a cause that's not in immediate self-defence, or defence of others, that's the second, minute, hour and day that one loses both the argument and the right to have that set of arguments respected, period.

Killing someone, wounding them, enslaving them, or driving them off of their land, for whatever reason, is indefensible, especially when it's done in the name of concepts like racial or ethnic purity, religious beliefs, what have you.

Very often, those concepts are either masks or are hand in hand with the idea of who gets and who don't, and, at its core, that is what many such struggles are really about, whether it's some nasty little elite and its servants trying to hold onto land, solid gold goodies, or some privileged social, political and economic status, or those who have been dispossessed of their economic, social, and political rights trying to get them back, or to get them, if they've never had them before.

There are better, but much harder and time-consuming ways, like various forms of negotiation and diplomacy, to get what one wants. But, the advantage of jaw-jawing over war-waring, to use a quote from that war-loving, old arch-imperialist Sir Winston Churchill, is that, as long, hard and slowly as the processes of negotiation and diplomacy might be, they are far better and far less wasteful of time, talent, resources and, most importantly, lives, than is either war or other "lesser" forms of armed conflict.

An all-or-nothing approach to any aspect of life, and especially those aspects of life that involve mass numbers of people's, animals', and plants' lives in the balance, is foolish, and, in the end, doomed to only partial success at best, simply because the levels of expectations raised on the various sides of a given violent conflict exceed the abilities of the winners to fulfill them after the conflict ends.

David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain during the latter half of the First World War, promised a "Land Fit For Heroes", with plenty of new housing stock and the like, to both British troops and civilians towards that war's end. But, due to the post-war economic slump, the British government wasn't able to carry that promise out, nor would it be able to until well after the Second World War.

That's one example of how war-time rhetoric and expectations don't always translate well, if they translate at all, into reality, and it's something that every revolutionary or would-be revolutionary should keep in mind. Grand expectations may help motivate soldiers and civilians to fight and work that much harder to achieve final victory. But, if you can't even try to keep the promises you've made, better not to have ever made them at all, rather than disappoint those who've sacrificed so much for whatever cause you espouse, and risk disillusionment and any consequences that come from that afterwards.

Now, as for how this works in my particular situation here in Las Vegas, it's like this; one of the many pieces of advice that my therapist has given me over the years is not to have any expectations of how a given social or other situation will turn out.

I can tell you that it's far easier said than done, and, quite often, because I've often been disappointed by such situations in my life, and, am sure that I've often disappointed others in turn, I can be very cynical about whether anything good will come out of participating in a given group or event, or not.

That said, I also understand that that attitude is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, what to do, one might ask????

Well, what I figure I can do, is to approach each and every situation and person as they come, accept them or not, for who and what they are, and go from there, or leave it and them well enough alone, if I don't care for them.

It also means that I have to be choosier than I might have been in the past, because of the time, trouble and relative expense on my part, and not just go out because I don't want to be alone, am horny, bored, or whatever other mood I might be in at any given point in time.

It means that I will undoubtedly be lonely much of the time. But, I have the cats, my connections on-line, some good friends here with whom I can speak on the phone, even if I don't get to see them very often, my blogs here and on MySpace, my family and close friends, who, although separated from them by time and distance, are there to be contacted, and, yes, myself.

That doesn't mean I'm not aware of the fact that these individuals and social connections can and will change and decline with the passing of the years. People, animals and plants grow old and die, social and other circumstances change, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better, and what I can do is best adapt, and, whenever possible, try to create the best possible means for a kind of life that I want and will enjoy.

That said, I also know there are no guarantees of success in any such endeavours I might make.

If one wants a guarantee, buy a toaster, please. Social interactions don't come with money-back guarantees, nor can they.

In the end, I will miss Mille Omnisciente's presence, as I do Jason Quiggle's and Linda's, but that doesn't mean that I don't, and won't prize the friends I have on MySpace, and elsewhere, any the less, nor does it mean that I will stop posting the various kinds of blog entries I have there,and here.

I'll do that only if and when I want to, or if MySpace, for whatever reasons its management team might have, decides to delete my account here.

That's another good reason why I have my other blog here, at which, in one way or another, I can always be reached, should you ever want to.

As for the trio of former MySpace friends I mentioned all throughout this essay, if I should ever see them again, on- or off-line, I will be more than happy to greet them and find out how they've been and are doing. That is what friends, whether in cyber-space or in the real world, do.

Be seeing you.

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