In the face of “fake news,” it feels inappropriate to gracefully accept ignorance and incomplete knowledge, as I feel I must do every time I sit down to write. In the week before Trump’s inauguration, journalist and activist Masha Gessen, as the first controversies and confusions began to simmer, tweeted “We are now fully immersed in the anonymous, the unverified, and the unverifiable. And he hasn’t even taken office. Trumpism sure is fast.” The complete breakdown in mainstream means of information delivery has meant that the drive to be truthful, complete, an expert, weighs even heavier, and every conversation carries the rhetoric of urgency. Where is it acceptable to have a conversation that begins with, “I would like to know more?” The world is slipping to memes, so I must be as thorough, precise, nuanced and careful as possible. The ease with which people can now take another’s words and drive them into the ground as signposts pointing in wildly differing directions is horrifying. And so, to put a sentence on the internet and make it, in essence, able to be stolen from you and your intent, seems almost ludicrous. I have found myself recently paralyzed by the need to be iron-clad. Every argument I make must be authoritative, unquestionable, fully-researched and sound.
But the result of that has simply been silence on my end. Ironically despite all my commitment to wabi sabi, I have done a terrible job of incorporating it into this facet of my life, where I have let perfectionism stop me dead. Inspiration to move forward with essay writing, especially in a time when it seems even the most basic rational thought process of human beings are, extraordinarily, being mocked, comes only rarely. But Charles D’Ambrosio, in prefacing his recently published book of essays, provides a bit of relief.
A good essay seemed to question itself in a way that a novel or short story did not—or perhaps it was simply that the personal essay left its questions on the page, there for everyone to see; it was a forum for self-doubt, for an attempt whose outcome wasn’t assured. That one mind would speak so candidly to another mind held a special appeal to me at a time when I didn’t even know I had such a thing. Late at night, sitting on a cold stoop, waiting for the bus, the free and easy conversations I fell into via the essay seemed to suit my station in life perfectly. (D’Ambrosio, Loitering. 2015)
How I envy the ease with which he embraces a lack of surety in the long-form. I wonder though, why he has such permission and another might not.
The BBC published an article shortly after inauguration on what a group of 8-year-old “Trump supporters” were saying. Childish racism, “Mexicans just take our jobs,” the unthinking regurgitation of parental rants. They are unexposed, but also simply, undeveloped. Why did we need to hear these views? Are they relevant? Other than simply the shock of a child’s voice chanting “build the wall?” But apart from the lax journalism of it, what horrifies me the most is the fact that these 8-year-olds are now in a way beholden to their 8-year-old perspectives. In 8 years, when these children are now teenagers, this article will forever exist in the archives of the internet. How much more difficult is it to go through the necessary identity-crises, the need to rebel and form selfhood, when your name is already attached to a political viewpoint? How desperately unfair.
Perhaps unnecessarily so, this potential circumstance has haunted me. I can give myself permission to change and grow in my views and perspectives, but do others? How can I lower the stakes, so to speak, in what I post under my name, to be forever preserved by the archiving bots of the web?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure how to be successfully unsure, as D’Ambrosio seems to have discovered.
And with that lack of finality, I’ll end. The pages of unpublished posts are building up, and they need my attention.