Stepping Back From Collapse

A few weeks ago, I stopped over at Aunt Tomato’s for a cup of tea and a treat involving cake and ice cream. I refrained from sweeping crumbs on the floor. AT says that the “coffee pot’s always on.” Those aren’t just words—she means it and I’m enjoying having her only 6 miles away, across the river, instead of living in a neighboring state.

AT and I have been going round and round about what we refer to as “collapse.” If you aren’t a reader of blogs by James Kunstler, Morris Berman, and John Michael Greer, I’ll excuse you now, as this may or may not make much sense to you. However, if you’ll hang with me for a few more paragraphs, I think it might start hitting home with some of you, even if you’re not well-versed in the collapse industrial complex. Some of you might connect with my premise that social media and all its attendant promises are as filled with rocks as Charlie Brown’s Halloween bag. More on that in a little bit.

AT surprised me a bit two weeks ago when she told me that while she knows that working for Whitey the Man for enough shekels to keep a roof over her head can be frustrating and sometimes damn near impossible to deal with, overall, she’s happy with the things that Whitey allows her to have with the scraps he offers from his table. That’s American capitalism 101, really. She’s also not going to try to single-handedly save the world, either. Preach it sista!

On this particular day, I threw out a “what if” scenario, given our history of talking about men in tinfoil hats that implied that perhaps everything collapse-centric was designed to get us all to give up and stop enjoying the beauty in life, and the attendant joys that life lived on this side of paradise has to offer. I could tell that she was seriously pondering what I was offering up.

Collapse is more than the zombie apocalypse.

Collapse is more than the zombie-apocalypse.

Tuesday’s post, about good ole’ Charlie Baker, down south in the Commonwealth, offered a “trailer,” and a glimpse at what collapse might look like, when you are smack dab in the midst of it, which I believe that we are. This isn’t too far afield from the kind of narrative that John Michael Greer delivers once a week at The Archdruid Report.

Following up on our conversation, I sent an email to AT on Thursday, related to “Charlie Baker’s Conflict” down in Boston, and Beverly Scott’s resignation. Not being able to keep the trains running on time is a problem, even when no one’s been paying any attention to infrastructure upgrades, and things like buying a few subway cars.

I shared with AT that I’ve been enjoying my time spent reading a real, big city newspaper. That paper would be the Boston Globe, a publication that had me front and center with my feature about Biddeford in the previous Sunday’s business section.

Here’s a bit of what I wrote in my email:

I see Boston as a really good surrogate for what’s been happening in America for decades. Like many urban environments, when you dig a little deeper—below all the lifestyle articles and reviews of the latest trendy restaurants—you see that infrastructure is crumbling (often due to deferred maintenance and politicians simply “kicking the can down the road”), and/or, the local govt. is so corrupt that they’ve been skimming money that should have been going into infrastructure upgrades, and putting it in their pockets (or hiring friends and family to work for “their” govt. agency).

Back to my point and somewhat facetious question I posed, re: collapse, is this. What I don’t like about the cottage industry that’s sprung up around collapse (Kunstler, Berman, Orlov, and even JMGreer), is that they emit this “joie de vivre” about it–they seem almost “happy” that things are spiraling downward. There also seems to be a lack of “distance” from the subject that renders some or most of what they comment on, lacking a certain objectivity.

You and I can’t stem the march of events and history. In fact, we are all actors on the stage. Whether we work in insurance, the local branch of the US Postal Service, serve the gods of mammon in a library, sell office supplies, or are chasing shekels writing stories, the die is cast and we watch, wondering what the next act in this strange play called life will offer up.

Now, a bit about Charlie Brown, and his bag of rocks.

I have a friend named Emily. She’s someone I met back in 2009 at a crappy Chamber breakfast in Waterville. I’ve learned a lot from her, especially relative to things like managing my anxiety, and trying to maintain distance and space from people and things that potentially can make me crazy (and used to). I’m still working on this aspect of my life, but I’ve been happy to update Emily recently that I’m making some progress.

One thing I know about Emily is that she doesn’t do Facebook. She actually mentioned in an email at the end of 2014, wrapping up the year and sharing things she learned that her greatest accomplishment last year was “somehow having a satisfying life without Facebook.” I’m guessing that she was being a bit facetious, but there was some real wisdom in what she wrote—in fact, it made me think about my own life during the past year. I asked myself a simple question; what had social media offered me in terms of value in 2014. If I was being brutally honest, the answer would be a loud “nothing.” In fact, Facebook and Twitter were making me anxious and even angry. Too much verbal “vomit” as AT would characterize it, and not enough “distance” to parrot Emily.

Since early January, I’ve been limiting my social media time, especially my time on Facebook. The result? I’m less anxious, and to be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I posted about this and I’ve remained consistent in my strategy relative to this particular social media platform.

Twitter has been another story. I really like Twitter as a news aggregator, and unlike Facebook, there has been some benefit to having a Twitter presence. However, there’s way too much drama and shit, also. How to manage this in light of my quest to calm things down early in 2015? Well, I just unloaded a bevy of followers the other morning. No more following social commentators that others seem to think have something to offer in 140 character blasts of feckless drivel. In the old days, I’d name names, but at this point, it’s not worth it. I’m done with them, and I’ve moved on. “Fuck ‘em to hell,” as my old friend Ken used to say.

A few weeks ago, I posted about the alt-weekly mess that happened in Portland. Some lesser light on Twitter took umbrage with what I wrote and vomited up 140 characters of indignation. It bothered me, as these things often do. Then, I stepped back (thanks, Emily) and realized that I’d decided to get Biblical about my writing and opportunities. Read Luke 9:5 if you want to get a sense about my strategy for 2015. Oh, and what I wrote was pretty prescient in light of what’s happened over the last week at the “new” Portland Phoenix—but I digress.

So you might be asking, if I’m so down on social media, “why bother with your blog?” Here’s the short answer. Words matter.

I’m a longform kind of guy. Writing requires some real estate to make a point. Hearkening back to the print that I grew up with, there’s a reason why most articles in the newspaper are 750 to 1,500 words. I prefer even longer narratives than that—give me 3,000 to 5,000 words I’m down with that. Twitter’s truncation on the other hand can’t even come close on the story side of things.

Blogging, at least the kind of blogging I follow, approximates print journalism, and the longer form narrative that I’m a fan of. That’s why I remain committed to blogging, when so many others who once blogged, or who followed blogging and bloggers, have thrown their hats in with the Twitter crowd.

This may be the age of Twitter, but I’m convinced that there are some like me that see the limits to abbreviated communication.

7 thoughts on “Stepping Back From Collapse

  1. I loved this post! I love it that you stop by my house and sweep crumbs on the floor! And I love the ironic humor in your writing as of late. It reminds me of being young and laughing uncontrollably at something for some unknown (or known only to us) reason.

    But mostly, I love the idea you are suggesting, that life can be good and that “enjoying the beauty in life, and the attendant joys that life lived on this side of paradise has to offer” might just be part of the “how now shall we live.”

    Preach it, brother!

  2. This was just plain fun to read. Both of you have always made me laugh when I needed it most. I must stop by to visit AT and have some coffee. Jim, I’ll see you Sunday for the making-of-the-sauerkraut, unless we get another blizzard, which seems likely. Keep up the blogging!

  3. We’re all working for the pharaoh, that’s for certain. Even those of us who aren’t working.

    I’d like to get you to expand on your second italicised paragraph because I’m not sure I see what you’re getting at. I’ll hit you up on email, and I need Devo’s email anyway. I had a burning question to ask him the other day, and now can’t remember it at all, but it will come return.

  4. @JAB
    Community isn’t some overly-intellectualized exercise conducted by teams of academics. It’s local people, taking time out of their busy lives (and away from Whitey TM’s tasks) to share a cup of tea or coffee and a treat and remember that there is beauty and joy in the midst of all the crazy shit that happens all around us. Sometimes it’s even stopping and laughing our asses off about something silly. It’s nice having a place to land and do that once in awhile, just across the river.

    I remember as a kid, thumbing through the Reader’s Digests lying ’round our house and the column, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” A Rx of laughter is sometimes just what the doctor ordered, this coming from someone who is often a little too serious.

    While the Valentine’s Day Blizzard will foil our Sunday sauerkraut-making this time, there’s still a few months left in sauerkraut season to get together and put up a batch.

    While I have no issues with the idea that we’re in the midst of collapse, I do have problems with some of the members of the “cottage industry” that seems to take pleasure in trains not running on time, and major cities being shut down. I guess I could throw up my hands and decide everything is helpless, or I could figure out what my niche might be and try to fill it.

    Some good people have helped me see that “distance and space” from many of the “problems of the world,” and we’ve always had them, is a healthier and happier approach.

  5. Jim, I have not been a Facebook person, and now that I know that you have given it up for Lent (or maybe longer ! ) , it gives me yet another reason to believe that I can live with out Facebook ! !

    When you talk about the infrastructure crumbling literally around us, there are so many things that come to mind – not the least of which is the current situation right here in Maine – where with the looming budget cuts that this guy who claims to be the governor wants to implement – goodness knows if anyone if going to be able to travel anywhere without losing a wheel, or much worse, having a life threatening accident.

    I was darn proud of the town officials who went to Augusta on Tuesday, and who I understand are also there today in the concerted organized effort to protest this part of the proposed budget.

    IN reality, I think that it is quite interesting that the very people who voted for the current Gov are from the very small towns that will suffer the most if his budget is adopted …and he claims that he is not a politician ! !

    If it weren’t so serious, it would be laughable for sure – for now I put my faith in folks like you, Jim, that get up everyday and conscientiously string words together in a way the resonates with those of us that still have a brain – as the late song writer, Richie Havens once sang, “We won’t be fooled again ! “

  6. Ah, finally a new (but “new” in a different way) approach clearly written to an aged dilemma. I think first of my sainted Gramma who never tired of reminding me of the starving children in …wherever whenever I could no longer sit facing shriveled peas…or whatever. Things DO fall apart (like Yeats said) but he made art that taught survival. I wonder how Yeats would fare listening to Maine’s Governor’s latest “solutions’?

  7. @Rosie
    Actually, my sister is the one who gave Facebook up for Lent, which isn’t a bad thing to do at all. I’ve decided to cut my time at my page. In fact, you are now the second person I know that’s mentioned not having a Facebook page and obviously, you are managing to survive and prosper. Imagine that!

    Btw, love the RosieWorks website. Looks great!

    Art-making is one way to deal with the running downward of society and culture. Berman touched on that when he talked about “New Monastic Individuals” in his book, The Twilight of American Culture. This isn’t a religious order; instead, he advised readers to fend off cultural attempts intended to get you to “belong, consume,” have a Facebook page. He wrote (and still does at his blog) about preserving Enlightenment traditions.

    This would align with your council to seek out writers like Yeats, I think.

    I’m thinking that Yeats would be incredulous that someone like LePage could ascend to his position of leading a state (straight into the ditch). Or perhaps, not. History is full of buffoons assuming positions of power.

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